A huge fire at a Liberian Quranic school killed at least 26 pupils and two teachers on Wednesday when flames engulfed their dormitory, in one of the worst disasters of its kind in the country.
The boys were sleeping at the school when the overnight fire began, said police spokesman Moses Carter, adding that an electrical fault could have caused the blaze.
President George Weah visited the site in Paynesville, on the outskirts of the capital Monrovia, and said the cause was still unknown.
“We are here to encourage parents of the victims to have strength, because it is painful to lose your kids in this manner,” Weah told reporters at the scene.
The president’s office said 26 pupils between the ages of 10 and 20 died along with two teachers. The police spokesman said 27 students had been killed.
On Wednesday evening, the president of neighbouring Guinea, Alpha Conde, said several of his country’s nationals died in the blaze.
In a statement, he expressed “great emotion” over the deaths and gave his “deepest condolences to the Liberian people and the Guinean community in Liberia” adding that he was following the investigation closely.
“We extend our sympathy to the bereaved families. We don’t know the cause of the fire yet, but we will encourage our investigators to find how it happened,” he added.
Rescuers in white masks and surgical gloves carried the children’s bodies in bags from the burnt-out building as crowds of people and relatives pressed together outside.
“Our team is investigating the cause of the fire,” the police spokesman said. “It may be electrical,” he added, while refusing to rule out the possibility that the fire was a criminal act.
The children were asleep –
“I was sleeping when I heard noise outside. My wife opened the back door and we saw smoke coming from the front. We came out and saw fire at the back,” said local resident Zazay Ballah, who said they had helped in the rescue efforts.
“We went for water, trying to put it out… When the firefighters came, the fire was already going down.”
The victims were buried swiftly in a collective ceremony, in the Muslim tradition.
In an earlier tweet, Weah offered condolences to the families of those affected.
“My prayers go out to the families of the children that died last night in Paynesville City as a result of a deadly fire that engulfed their school building,” he wrote.
“This is a tough time for the families of the victims and all of Liberia.”
The Liberian authorities are all too familiar with deadly fires, often caused by malfunctioning generators, though “not on this scale,” the presidential spokesman said.
Nigerian police rescues over 300 pupils from another ‘torture house’
Katsina police chief Sanusi Buba told reporters in Daura that the young men were chained and tortured
Police in northern Nigeria said on Monday they rescued over 300 young men from an Islamic boarding school where they were chained and sexually abused, the second such operation in a month.
A police team raided the school in Daura in Katsina state after some students escaped from their hostel on Sunday and poured into the streets in protest.
Katsina police chief Sanusi Buba told reporters in Daura that the young men were chained and tortured.
“We learnt that the inmates here are over 300 and because of the inhuman treatments they are being subjected to they revolted yesterday (Sunday),” he said.
“Some of the inmates escaped while…about 60 of them stayed back,” he said, with most of them found in chains.
Buba said the school was established by 78-year-old Muslim cleric, Bello Mai Almajirai, 40 years ago. He later transferred management of the school to his son.
He said the school enrolled students brought by their families to learn the Koran and be treated for drug addiction and other ailments.
Daura which lies 70 kilometres from the state capital and near the border with Niger, is the hometown of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The students are from “various parts of Nigeria”, including Katsina state and neighbouring Niger Republic, said the police chief.
According to Buba, the abused inmates were “subjected to inhuman conditions,” with some of the students revealing that they were sodomised by their teachers.
Police will liaise with the state government to establish the identities of the young men and contact their families to return them home, he said.
Buba promised to arrest the proprietor and his teachers who managed to escape during the raid but will “face the full wrath of the law”.
Last month, police in nearby Kaduna state, freed more than 300 male students from a similar boarding school where they were chained, tortured and sexually abused.
A high rate of drug use and lack of rehabilitation facilities in northern Nigeria are forcing parents to enrol their children in informal reformatory Islamic schools where they are subjected to abuses.
Ivory Coast ex-President Gbagbo’s lawyer calls on ICC to free ex-leader
The ICC’s chief prosecutor has appealed the ruling alleging “legal and procedural errors”
The lawyer for former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has asked the International Criminal Court to “immediately and unconditionally” release him after his acquittal over post-electoral violence that killed around 3,000 people.
Gbagbo, the first head of state to stand trial in The Hague, and his deputy Charles Ble Goude were both cleared of crimes against humanity in January and released under conditions the following month.
The ICC’s chief prosecutor has appealed the ruling alleging “legal and procedural errors”. Belgium agreed to host Gbagbo, 73, after he was released in February under conditions including that he would return to court for any prosecution appeal against his acquittal.
Ble Goude is living in the Netherlands under similar conditions.
Gbagbo’s lawyer Emmanuel Altit sent a 22-page letter to the ICC asking it to “immediately and unconditionally free Gbagbo … and to say that he is free to go wherever he wishes, for example his own country,” adding that he should be able to contest next year’s presidential election.
“Laurent Gbagbo could in effect, at the demand of political players in the country, be allowed to participate in the campaign … or even be a candidate,” said the letter, seen on Tuesday.
“Restrictions on his freedom could … prevent him from playing a role in the public life of his country and in reconciliation.”
Gbagbo faced charges on four counts of crimes against humanity over the 2010-2011 bloodshed which following a disputed vote in the West African nation.
Prosecutors said Gbagbo clung to power “by all means” after he was narrowly defeated by his rival – now president – Alassane Ouattara in elections in the world’s largest cocoa producer.
He and Ble Goude were tried over responsibility for murder, attempted murder, rape, persecution and “other inhumane acts” during five months of violence, both pleading not guilty. However, judges dismissed the charges, saying that the prosecution “failed to satisfy the burden of proof to the requisite standard.”
Against the backdrop of the Gbagbo controversy, Ivory Coast’s opposition are trying to mark out common ground ahead of next year’s presidential poll in which Ouattara, 77, has yet to confirm he is standing.
Fourth UN peacekeeper dies after Central Africa chopper crash
A fourth Senegalese UN peacekeeper has died in hospital after he was injured in a combat helicopter crash
A fourth Senegalese UN peacekeeper has died in hospital after he was injured in a combat helicopter crash in the Central African Republic two weeks ago, the UN said on Monday.
Three other Senegalese crew died when the Russian-made helicopter went down on September 27 in Bouar, in the western CAR, during a UN operation.
The Senegalese captain, badly wounded in the accident, died of his injuries on October 6, Mankeur Ndiaye, chief of the UN mission known as MINUSCA, said on Twitter.
The helicopter crew were part of a military operation against the 3R militia, one of several Central African armed groups, UN officials said.
The militia group is one of 14 that signed up to an eighth attempted peace agreement with the Central African government this year, but militias have breached the accord repeatedly.
One of the world’s poorest and most unstable nations, CAR has suffered several violent crises since 2003 when former president Francois Bozize seized power in a coup.
The country spiralled into bloodshed after Bozize was overthrown in 2013.
Fighting has since forced nearly a quarter of the country’s 4.5 million people to flee their homes and rival militia groups control most of the country.
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