World In Review 2012
Compiled By Dinouk Colombage
Passengers’ Terror As Police Swoop On Bus
Sitting bewildered on the road, dozens of coach passengers find themselves at the centre of a terror alert on Wednesday. Armed officers surrounded the vehicle after a passenger is thought to have dialled 999 on their mobile because they had seen smoke coming from a fellow traveller’s bag. In fact it was a false alarm – and the other passenger had simply been ‘smoking’ a fake cigarette.
Although Britain is on a high state of alert in advance of the Olympic Games, Staffordshire police were facing accusations of gross over-reaction.
All 48 passengers were kept on the coach for three hours before being marched off to be treated as potential suspects. They were then held for a further hour while they were frisked and had their luggage searched.
The lengthy delay in getting them off the bus suggests the police already knew there was no immediate threat, otherwise they would have evacuated the passengers to a place of safety rather than leaving them completely exposed. After finally disembarking, they were ordered into a ‘contamination’ zone where they were ordered to sit apart – silently and cross-legged – before the all-clear was eventually given.
The chaos left thousands of motorists delayed and the motorway closed for more than six hours before police finally revealed the alert had been triggered by ‘a health improvement aid for smokers’ – an electronic cigarette. Passengers on the Preston to London service told how they faced up to three hours of ‘sheer terror’ on board the coach as motoring organisations criticised Staffordshire Police for ‘over-reacting’.
Police insisted they had reacted responsibly to reports by a ‘concerned member of the public’ of smoke being seen on board.
But Vermilion Von Kangur, 20, a student from Preston, said she was forced to step off the coach at gunpoint, fearing that ‘if I made a wrong move I could have been shot’.
Arriving in London seven hours late, she added: ‘We were told to get off the coach one by one and told to keep our arms by our sides and walk towards armed officers. I felt scared, my legs were like jelly, it was very intimidating.’
A yellow decontamination unit was set up on the opposite carriageway as passengers in queues building up behind the coach were warned to keep their windows closed and air conditioning off. Miss Von Kangur said passengers initially thought the coach had broken down or stopped to change driver when it pulled up after the toll barriers at 8.20am.
When ambulances began to arrive they wondered if there had been a crash further ahead.
It was not until 9.30am that the 20-year-old and her friend Lindsay Parker, 18, noticed armed police flanking the coach – and it was another two hours before they were escorted off the vehicle in single file. She said: ‘We spotted armed officers pointing their guns at the bus. At this point everyone was terrified.
‘Some people thought it was a bomb, or a suspected terrorist attack, while others thought we might have an escaped prisoner on board. All the coach driver told us was, “There is a situation”. That was it.’
She said there were two children among the passengers on board the service, which had left Preston at 5.10am and was due at Victoria Coach Station in London at 10.55am.
The evacuation started at around 11.30am – a full three hours after the driver pulled up.
Miss Von Kangur told how she was frisked by a police officer with sniffer dogs nearby, and ordered to sit in what police described as a ‘contamination zone’ on the motorway.
Miss Parker, also a college student, said: ‘I believe the person with the fake cigarette was sitting at the front. We were told a passing driver spotted smoke on the bus, but we don’t know what to believe. Some people were crying and we were really confused.
‘There were armed police at the side of the bus, they were looking at us through binoculars.
‘Eventually they started evacuating us – one passenger every five or ten minutes. We were told to keep our arms at our sides and not to put them in our pockets we were told we were not allowed to talk to each other.’
The motorway was closed between junctions T3 and T4 at Lichfield. The southbound carriageway was eventually reopened when police confirmed the incident had been a false alarm, shortly before 3pm. The northbound carriageway reopened around 90 minutes earlier.
A Staffordshire Police spokesman said the electronic cigarette produced a ‘smoke-like vapour’ and the alarm had been raised by a ‘genuinely concerned member of the public’, but it was not clear if that person was on the coach or saw the smoke from another vehicle.
Electronic cigarettes, known as e-cigarettes, are aimed at smokers seeking to quit and look like regular cigarettes but use a tobacco flavoured cartridges which can contain various levels of nicotine, or none at all. They release ‘puffs’ of vapour to simulate the experience of smoking.
It is thought the passenger may have been trying to disguise what he was doing with his bag, even though it is legal to use the ‘smokeless’ devices indoors. The police spokesman added: ‘Given the nature of the report, we responded swiftly and proportionately, treating the information as credible and extremely seriously.’
The force rejected suggestions it had over-reacted and said a ‘sufficient number of officers attended the incident’.
Courtesy Daily Mail UK
Argentina’s Videla And Bignone Guilty Of Baby Theft
Two former leaders during Argentina’s military rule have been found guilty of overseeing the systematic theft of babies from political prisoners.
A court in Buenos Aires sentenced Jorge Videla to 50 years in prison and Reynaldo Bignone to 15 years.
They are already serving lengthy jail sentences for crimes committed under military rule, between 1976 and 1983. At least 400 babies are thought to have been taken from their parents while they were held in detention centres.
The verdict is the culmination of a trial that began in February 2011.
In total, 11 people, most of them former military and police officials, were facing charges. Nine, including Videla and Bignone, were convicted in the case over the theft of 34 babies. Two were found not guilty.
Videla, 86, received the maximum sentence as he was held criminally responsible for 20 of the thefts. The court said Videla he was guilty of the “systematic abduction, detention and hiding of minors under the age of 10”.
Videla listened to the verdict without showing any visible emotion. Both he and Bignone were already serving time in prison. Videla was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2010 for the torture and deaths of 31 dissidents during his rule.
Bignone was also given a life sentence in April 2011 for the torture and murder of political opponents.
Victims’ groups nevertheless welcomed the latest verdicts as a confirmation of the defendants’ guilt for what many consider as the most heinous crimes committed under military rule.
Relatives of the stolen babies, and those who were abducted themselves, cheered as the verdicts were read out. One of the victims, Macarena Gelman, said the conviction was “historic”.
“To see the faces of those responsible is a sign that justice is making progress,” she told Efe news agency. Ms Gelman was raised by a police officer in Uruguay after her Argentine parents were abducted by the military in 1976.
Her mother was taken to a clandestine prison in Uruguay and disappeared. Her father’s body was later found in a cement-filled drum dumped in a river.
Ms Gelman has since been re-united with her grandfather, Argentine poet Juan Gelman. More than 100 children given for adoption to military or police couples have been reunited with their biological families.
The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an association that works to uncover the real identities of the stolen children, believes several hundred babies were abducted. However, some of the children have said they would rather not know their origins, especially if the information implicates their adoptive parents in illegal acts.
Human rights groups say that during military rule, known as the “Dirty War”, some 30,000 people were killed or made to disappear by the armed forces in their campaign against opposition activists and left-wing guerrillas.
Courtesy BBC UK