Scores dead, hundreds missing after migrant ship sinks off Italian coast

By Danielle Wiener-Bronner
October 3, 2013

African migrants drown after ship sinks off Lampedusa, EU gives Turkey the cold shoulder, and India jails former railways minister for embezzlement. Today is Thursday, October 3, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.  

Rescued migrants arrive onboard a coastguard vessel at the harbour of Lampedusa , October 3, 2013. REUTERS/Nino Randazzo/ASP press office/Handout via Reuters

“Like a cemetery.” Italian officials report that at least 100 people died and over 200 were missing in what looks to be one of the worst disasters to hit migrants attempting the dangerous route from Europe to Africa:

The disaster occurred when the boat’s motor stopped working and the vessel began to take on water, Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said. People on board burned a sheet to attract the attention of rescuers, starting a fire on board. “Once the fire started, there was a concern about the boat sinking and everyone moved to one side, causing the boat to go down,” he told a news conference. The 20-metre (66 ft) vessel sank no more than 1 km (half a mile) from shore. Bodies fished from the water were laid out along the quayside as the death toll rose in what looked like one of the worst disasters to hit the perilous route for migrants seeking to reach Europe from Africa. “It’s horrific, like a cemetery, they are still bringing them out,” Lampedusa Mayor Giusi Nicolini told reporters. Alfano said three children and two pregnant women were among the victims.

Between 450 and 500 people, most migrants from Eritrea or Somalia, appeared to have been on the boat. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres commended the coastguard’s swift reaction to the tragedy, adding that he is “dismayed at the rising global phenomenon of migrants and people fleeing conflict or persecution or perishing at sea.” Pope Francis said he felt “great pain” for the victims, adding “the word that comes to mind is ‘shame.’” Roughly 15,000 migrants arrived at Italy and Malta by sea last year, and nearly 500 people were reported dead or missing crossing from Tunisia to Italy, according to the U.N. Italy, whose government was nearly shattered this week by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s attempt to break up the leading coalition, has asked for help from the EU in solving the country’s migrant crisis.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses the media in Ankara, September 30, 2013. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Turkey troubles. Despite a recent push to win favor in Brussels, including a set of reforms welcomed by the EU and Prime Minister Erdogan’s efforts to make peace with Kurdish insurgents, Turkey continues to face resistance to its EU membership bid:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives oppose Turkish EU membership on the grounds that its size would “overburden” the bloc. While she may be forced into a coalition with the Social Democrats or the Greens who want the EU to continue accession talks with Turkey, it is not a top priority. Some EU states, including Britain, strongly support Turkey’s membership bid, seeing the addition of a dynamic economy and a powerful player in Middle East politics as a benefit for the EU… Rights group Amnesty International accused Turkish authorities on Wednesday of committing human rights violations on a massive scale in their attempts to crush protests earlier this year, a report likely to be used as ammunition by those skeptical of Turkish membership. Turkey became an associate of the bloc in the 1960s but accession talks launched in 2005 got bogged down in a dispute over the divided island of Cyprus, an EU member.

Turkey’s application has been essentially frozen for three years. EU members fear the influence that would be wielded by the populous Turkey, and worry that the largely Muslim country would have trouble integrating into the union. One of six small Balkan countries is likely to be the next addition to the EU.

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) Chief and a former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav (C) arrives at a court in the eastern Indian city of Ranchi, September 30, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

Corruption consequences. An Indian court today sentenced a powerful ally of the country’s leading political party to five years in prison for embezzlement, in a move that points to a public fed up with corruption:

[Lalu Prasad] Yadav, 65, a former railways minister was convicted along with dozens of others earlier this week for his part in a 1990s animal fodder racket in the poverty-plagued eastern state of Bihar in which millions of dollars went missing. Yadav was the chief minister of Bihar for most of the 1990s and was succeeded by his wife. His conviction and expulsion from parliament presents the Congress party with a dilemma as it heads into an election, due by next May, whose outcome will most likely depend on coalition alliances. In a move critics say was designed to shield Yadav and other allies, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet hurriedly passed an executive order last week that would have allowed convicted lawmakers to stay in office and stand for election. Amid the outcry that followed, Rahul Gandhi – a contender for prime minister if the Congress party returns to power in the elections – slammed the cabinet move as “nonsense”, a stunning intervention by the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that embarrassed Singh and made his government look divided.

Lawmakers agreed on Wednesday to cancel the executive order that would allow convicted politicians to run for office. Roughly 30 percent of Indian politicians have been criminally charged, some for murder, rape, and kidnapping.

Nota Bene: Syrian rebels try to end infighting on Turkish border.

Standouts:

North Korea Pole - A Chinese travel agency pushes trips to North Korea over Christmas. (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Unhappy meal - Australians protest to keep McDonald’s out of their town. (BBC)

Submarine stunt - Italian insurance company stages elaboratepublicity stunt in Milan. (The Atlantic Cities)

City under siege - Inside Pakistan’s terror capital. (Time)

Fighting fair - Indian activists launch “Dark is Beautiful” campaign. (Al Jazeera)

From the File:

  • Plane crash near Nigeria’s Lagos airport kills 15.
  • Leader of Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party jailed before trial.
  • Pakistan rules against death penalty, with thousands on death row.
  • EU prepares to charge Russia’s Gazprom in antitrust case.
  • China’s Xi sidesteps pressure over South China Sea disputes.
No comments so far

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/