Powerful Quake Kills At Least 4 In Northern Italy, One of the strongest earthquakes to shake northern Italy rattled the region around Bologna early Sunday, a magnitude-6.0 temblor that killed at least four people, toppled buildings and sent residents running into the streets, emergency services and news reports said.
The quake struck at 4:04 a.m. Sunday between Modena and Mantova, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) north-northwest of Bologna at a relatively shallow depth of 5 kilometers (3.2 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said.
It was one of the strongest quakes to shake the region, seismologists said, and initial television footage indicated that older buildings had suffered damage: roofs collapsed, church towers showed c***ks and the bricks of some stone walls tumbled into the street. As dawn broke over the region, residents milled about the streets inspecting the damage.
News reports, citing emergency services, said three people were killed in Sant’Agostino di Ferrara when a ceramics factory collapsed. Another person was killed in Ponte Rodoni do Bondeno, ANSA said.
Italy’s Sky TG24 showed images of the collapsed ceramics factory where the two workers were reportedly killed; the structure, which appeared to be a hangar of sorts, had twisted metal supports jutting out at odd angles amid the mangled collapsed roof.
“This is immense damage but the worst part is we lost two people,” said Stefano Zeni, a worker in the factory.
SKY said two other people died of apparent heart attacks in the wake of the quake.
“It was a strong one, and it lasted quite a long time,” said Emilio Bianco, receptionist at Modena’s Canalgrande hotel, housed in an ornate 18th century palazzo. The hotel suffered no damage and Modena itself was spared, but guests spilled into the streets as soon as the quake hit, he said. (AP)
Escaped China Activist In U.S. Protection: Rights Group, A blind legal activist who fled house arrest in rural China is under the protection of American officials and top-level talks are taking place between the countries about his fate, a human rights group said.
Texas-based ChinaAid said in a statement that Chen Guangcheng was under US protection in Beijing. Some activists say Mr Chen is in the US embassy after escaping from 18 months of house arrest in Shandong province earlier this week.
Blinded by fever in infancy, Mr Chen served four years in prison for exposing forced abortions and sterilisations.
Since his release in September 2010, regional authorities confined him to his home, despite the lack of legal grounds for doing so.
The whereabouts of Mr Chen could be a major political complication for the two countries as secretary of state Hillary Clinton and other top US officials are due in China this coming week for the latest round of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue.
“Chen is under US protection and high-level talks are currently under way between US and Chinese officials regarding Chen’s status,” said ChinaAid, citing a source close to the situation.
ChinaAid and its founder Bob Fu have been active in promoting Mr Chen’s case and confirmed yesterday that he had escaped to Beijing from where he was being held in his village in Shandong province in eastern China.
The US embassy in Beijing declined to comment, as did US officials in Washington. (UKPA)
Activists: Blind Chinese Lawyer Flees House Arrest, A blind legal activist who is a key figure in China’s rights movement escaped the house arrest he has lived under for a year and a half, fleeing to an unknown location and angering his captors, fellow rights campaigners said Friday.
Chen Guangcheng slipped out of his usually well-guarded house in Dongshigu town on Sunday, said the campaigners, who are based in China and overseas. He Peirong, a leading campaigner for Chen’s freedom, said she picked him up and drove him to “a relatively safe place” she would not further describe.
If confirmed, Chen’s freedom would be a boost for a persecuted dissident community that has seen repression increase over the past two years. His plight under house arrest has been closely monitored by Western governments and by local activists, who have seen Chen – a self-taught lawyer who was blinded by a fever in infancy – as an inspiring, determined fighter for justice.
“His mental state is pretty good. He’s alive, but whether he’s safe I don’t know,” He said from her home city of Nanjing. She said she left Chen a few days ago but declined to discuss further details, other than to say he is no longer in his home province of Shandong, southeast of Beijing.
She denied an online report by Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao newspaper that Chen entered the U.S. Embassy in Beijing on Thursday night. The paper did not name a source.
“I can tell you he’s not at the U.S. Embassy, and he’s not in Shandong. I did talk to the U.S. Embassy people, though,” He said.
The embassy would not comment. Security outside the embassy appeared normal Friday. (AP)
Campaigning For The ‘cool’ Vote, President Barack Obama may be hipper than Mitt Romney but will it make a difference on election day? That’s the question we are tackling today on The Bottom Line.
Here’s why we’re doing it. It was that Obama slow-jam on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” It’s buzzing around everywhere. It got boffo ratings, went viral and the crowd seemed to love it. But the GOP jumped on it too and put out this video which contrasted the slow-jam by Obama with Romney giving his victory speech on Tuesday. It’s supposed to make Obama look sophomoric compared with a serious Romney.
Sound familiar? Remember back in 2008 that was a theme the John McCain campaign tried too. That campaign attempted to portray Obama as someone running for “celebrity-in-chief” when he spoke in front of huge crowds in Berlin. And it did seem to give McCain a little traction in the late summer before the financial crisis hit.
My Bottom Line: This skirmish is going to end up being a draw. It’s not the first time there has been a pop culture twist to a presidential campaign, going all the way back to Richard Nixon in 1968 on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” and of course in 1992 Bill Clinton famously played the saxophone on “The Arsenio Hall Show.” And even Romney himself has gone on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and is mulling over a “Saturday Night Live” appearance. (ABC News)
Jet With 127 Aboard Crashes In Pakistan, A Pakistani passenger jet with 127 people on board crashed Friday as it was landing in bad weather at an airport near the capital, Islamabad, officials said. A government minister expressed little hope of finding survivors.
The Bhoja Air Boeing 737-200 went down in farmland just a few kilometers (miles) away from the Benazir Bhutto International Airport, Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhar said.
Mukhar said civil aviation officials had reported it was unlikely anybody had survived. It was unclear if any casualties occurred on the ground, but the crash happened in what appeared to be a relatively unpopulated rural area.
A violent rain and wind storm was lashing parts of the capital around the same time as the crash, which occurred about 6:40 p.m.
The aircraft had been traveling from the country’s largest city of Karachi to the Pakistani capital, officials said.
“We can see the plane’s wreckage is on fire and we are trying to extinguish it,” emergency official Saifur Rehman told Geo TV from the scene. “We are looking for survivors.”
TV footage showed wreckage of the plane, including parts of what looked like its engine and wing, up against the wall of a small building. Rescue officials were working in the dark, with many using flashlights as they combed the area.
The last major plane crash in the country – and Pakistan’s worst ever – occurred in July 2010 when an Airbus A321 aircraft operated by Airblue crashed in the hills overlooking Islamabad, killing all 152 people on board.
A government investigation blamed the pilot for veering off course amid stormy weather. The impact of the crash was devastating, scorching a wide swath of the hillside and scattering wreckage over a kilometer (half-mile) stretch. Most bodies were so badly damaged that identification will require DNA testing. (AP)
Levon Helm Dead At Age 71, Much of the Band’s innovative sound was born in the “Big Pink.”
It was a house in idyllic Woodstock, N.Y., rented for $125 a week and nicknamed for its distinctive pink paint job. The group would gather for hours at a time to create songs. Musicians would walk by a typewriter on the kitchen table, dash off a verse or two to a song, and wander off. A microphone once was placed on top of the hot-water heater in the basement. Although they lived in other houses nearby, the Big Pink became the place for them to live communally and make music.
In an age of war, riots and assassinations, the Band lived out a dream of simpler times. They dressed plainly, played tightly and did not upstage each other. The tall, lanky Robbie Robertson was an expert blues-rock guitarist and the group’s best lyricist, his songs inspired in part by Bob Dylan and by his travels through the American South. The baby-faced Rick Danko was a fluid bassist and accomplished singer. The bearish Garth Hudson was an ingenious keyboardist of uncommon wit and emotion, while the sad-eyed Richard Manuel’s haunting falsetto on “Whispering Pines,” ”Tears of Rage” and others led drummer Levon Helm to call him the group’s lead singer.
But for many Band admirers, honors belonged to Helm, whose life spanned and helped tell the history of rock ‘n’ roll, whose voice called back to the earliest days of American song.
The short, scrappy Helm, who died Thursday at age 71, had a bold tenor once likened to a town crier calling a meeting to order. He not only sang “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” but inhabited it, becoming the Confederate Virgil Caine, “hungry, just barely alive”; his brother killed by the Yankees; the South itself in ruins. It was the kind of heartbreaking, complicated story and performance that had even Northerners rooting for the proud and desperate Virgil. Helm was also the musical leader on stage, and played drums loose-limbed and funky, shoulders hunched, head to the side when he sang.
In some ways, the Band was the closest this country ever came to the camaraderie and achievement of the Beatles. They were a quintessential American group, but only Helm came from the United States. The son of an Arkansas cotton farmer, Mark Lavon (he later changed it “Levon”), Helm was born in Elaine, Ark., in 1940. He grew up around music and witnessed rock’s early days, seeing Elvis Presley perform before he was famous. The Helm family enjoyed listening to the Grand Ole Opry and Helm saw his first live show at age 6 – bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe. He would later say the experience “tattooed” his brain. (AP)