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Copenhagen's 'Notre Dame moment' as old bourse burns, loses spire

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Copenhagen, April 16 (IANS/DPA) The Danish capital Copenhagen suffered its “Notre Dame moment” after the historic stock exchange, one of its oldest and most iconic buildings, was engulfed by a major fire on Tuesday, causing its spire to collapse into the flames.

Even hours after the fire broke out, smoke was still rising, flames were blazing and people were gathering at the site.

According to the fire brigade, the fire had already engulfed around half of the huge building by mid-morning. The fire has damaged supporting structures, the brigade said later, confirming that part of the 400-year-old building was badly burnt.

However, the emergency services said they did not initially expect the entire building to collapse.

Around 120 firefighters and around 60 volunteers from the armed forces were deployed, according to the Danish news agency Ritzau.

The building, known as Børsen in Danish, houses a large art collection, including the monumental 19th-century oil painting “From Copenhagen Stock Exchange” by PS Krøyer, which was carried away by several people.

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The police announced on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, that several streets and the area around the building had been cordoned off.

Danish Defence Minister Troels Lund Poulsen expressed his shock. “Terrible pictures from the Børsen. So sad. An iconic building that means a lot to all of us. Our own Notre Dame moment,” he wrote, comparing the blaze to the one that severely damaged the famous Paris landmark five years ago.

Notre Dame Cathedral is expected to reopen in December after its reconstruction, with the spire restored.

King Frederik X wrote in a statement of a sad sight. “An important part of our architectural heritage was and still is in flames.”

The striking Dragon Spire, which has now collapsed, has helped to shape the cityscape and define Copenhagen as the “City of Towers,” the king said.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen also expressed her dismay. “Terrible images we are seeing right now. A piece of Danish history in flames,” Frederiksen wrote on Instagram.

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“The stock exchange is one of Copenhagen’s most iconic buildings. A symbol of 400 years of business history in Denmark. Irreplaceable cultural heritage. It hurts to see,” Frederiksen wrote.

At the same time, the prime minister thanked the fire brigade, police and everyone “who bravely fought the fire.”

“I will do everything I can to ensure that the Dragon Spire once again towers over Copenhagen as a symbol of Denmark’s strong history as a trading nation,” Danish Culture Minister Jakob Engel-Schmidt wrote on X.

The cause of the fire was initially unclear.

The Dutch Renaissance-style building was completed in 1625 with a 56-metre-high spire featuring four intertwined dragon tails and is one of the oldest buildings in Copenhagen. The spire is a symbol of the city.

Located on the eastern tip of the island of Slotsholmen on the Holmens Canal opposite the National Bank of Denmark, it is a major tourist attraction.

Today it houses the Chamber of Commerce, which also owns the building.

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It is currently being restored and is therefore covered in scaffolding. The restoration was intended to correct an improper renovation of the building in the 19th century and restore the façade to its original appearance.

The Provianthuset, a wing of Christiansborg Palace where several MPs and journalists have offices, was also evacuated in the morning due to the fire.

The palace itself houses Denmark’s parliament. Meetings in the parliamentary chamber and committee rooms were initially scheduled to take place as planned.

However the Copenhagen police said the Ministry of Finance buildings would be evacuated.

–IANS/DAP

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Netanyahu predicts warrant application will turn ICC into a 'farce'

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Tel Aviv, May 21 (IANS/DPA) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that the decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor to apply for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders will bring shame down on the court and turn it into a farce.

“As the Prime Minister of Israel, I reject with disgust the prosecutor’s comparison between democratic Israel and the mass murderers of Hamas. This is a complete distortion of reality,” Netanyahu said on Monday.

“The outrageous decision by the ICC prosecutor, Karim Khan, to seek arrest warrants against the democratically-elected leaders of Israel is a moral outrage of historic proportions. It will cast an everlasting mark of shame on the international court,” the Israeli Prime Minister said in a video message posted on X.

Israel was waging a just war against Hamas, Netanyahu said, describing Hamas as a “genocidal terrorist organisation”.

He rejected any moral equivalence between Hamas and Israeli leaders as “twisted and false”.

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The warrant application was a “travesty of justice and a disgrace,” he said.

It was an attempt to deny Israel the basic right of self-defence and would fail.

Netanyahu accused Khan of pouring fuel on the fires of “anti-Semitism” and said his abuse of his authority would turn the ICC into “nothing more than a farce”.

–IANS/DPA

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Biden slams 'outrageous' ICC request for Netanyahu's arrest warrant

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Washington, May 21 (IANS/DPA) US President Joe Biden has termed as “outrageous” the application by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to have an arrest warrant issued against Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

“The ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders is outrageous. And let me be clear: whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas,” Biden said on Monday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken termed the ICC prosecutor’s equivalence of Israel with Hamas “shameful”.

“We reject the prosecutor’s equivalence of Israel with Hamas. It is shameful. Hamas is a brutal terrorist organisation that carried out the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and is still holding dozens of innocent people, hostage, including Americans,” he said.

The US had made clear before the current war that the ICC had no jurisdiction in this matter, Blinken said.

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He noted that Israel had cooperated with the prosecutor, even though it was not a member of the court.

“Fundamentally, this decision does nothing to help and could jeopardise, ongoing efforts to reach a ceasefire agreement that would get hostages out and surge humanitarian assistance in, which are the goals the US continues to pursue relentlessly,” Blinken concluded.

–IANS/DPA

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Container ship Dali that brought down Baltimore bridge moved from crash site

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Baltimore, May 20 (IANS) Container ship ‘Dali’ that brought down the Francis Scott Key (FSK) Bridge in Baltimore on March 26 was re-floated on Monday for the first time in nearly eight weeks.

“The M/V DALI became buoyant at roughly 6:40 a.m. As of 7:00 a.m., it is currently being moved by tugboats under favourable environmental conditions,” the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Baltimore District, posted on X late on Monday evening (India time).

As Dali began transiting, USACE added that the FSK Bridge was visible for the first time without the vessel in several weeks.

The 20 Indian members of the crew of Dali still remain on board the vessel, more than 50 days after the early morning maritime accident in the last week of March that claimed the lives of six men who were working on the bridge at the time.

Dali hit a pillar of the 50-year-old bridge that served thousands of motorists every day.

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The collision brought the bridge and blocked the passage of all cargo ships waiting to be on their way after Dali.

The FBI has launched a criminal inquiry into the incident apart from separate probes that are underway by National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard’s Marine Board of Investigation.

–IANS

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Israel plans to expand Rafah operation despite US concerns

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Tel Aviv, May 20 (IANS/DPA) Israel intends to expand its military operation in Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip to defeat Hamas and to free the hostages the militant organisation is still holding, despite US concerns, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Monday.

Gallant was speaking during a meeting with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Tel Aviv, according to Israeli radio. Israeli Chief of the Defence Staff Herzi Halevi also attended the meeting.

Gallant’s office said he had briefed Sullivan “on developments in the war against the Hamas terrorist organisation in Gaza, as well as the various efforts made to ensure the return of 128 hostages held by Hamas.”

Gallant also presented humanitarian aid plans for the population of the Gaza Strip. “This includes significant efforts to evacuate the civilian population in Rafah, facilitating the provision of humanitarian services, and operating in a precise manner to avoid harm to uninvolved civilians,” the statement said.

The tensions on Israel’s border with Lebanon were also discussed. Gallant accused the Lebanese Hezbollah militia of refusing to reach a diplomatic agreement on the withdrawal of its fighters from the border area, risking “a significant escalation.”

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Sullivan had earlier repeated that the United States continued to reject a wide scale offensive in the overcrowded city of Rafah in talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem on Sunday.

According to the White House, Sullivan nevertheless showed understanding for Israeli efforts to locate Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip.

The White House statement said that Sullivan had reaffirmed “the need for Israel to connect its military operations to a political strategy that can ensure the lasting defeat of Hamas, the release of all the hostages, and a better future for Gaza.”

According to estimates from the United Nations, around 800,000 Palestinians have fled Rafah since the start of the operation two weeks ago. Many of them are refugees from other parts of the Gaza Strip who had sought refuge in its southernmost point.

The White House said that Sullivan had provided information on discussions with Egypt to secure its border with Rafah and to secure the continued flow of humanitarian assistance through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel into the southern Gaza Strip.

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Kerem Shalom has become key to supplying humanitarian aid following the closure of the Rafah crossing by Israeli forces at the start of the month. Hamas has recently attacked the crossing and Israeli settlements with rockets.

According to media reports, Egypt has indicated it will not coordinate aid transports through Rafah until the Israeli forces withdraw. Talks on reopening the crossing are reported to be continuing.

Following his talks with Sullivan in Jerusalem, Netanyahu posted on the X messaging service that the continuation of the war in Gaza, with an emphasis on Rafah, were discussed, along with “increasing the humanitarian effort in the Strip.”

According to the White House, Sullivan and the Israelis discussed ways of ensuring that humanitarian workers could safely deliver aid to those in need and establish fixed corridors inside Gaza to ensure aid is able to reach all those in need.

Aid has also been arriving by sea at a temporary pier constructed off the Gazan coast by the US Navy.

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Reflecting a rise in tensions within the Israeli government, Gallant has demanded the creation of a political alternative to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Benny Gantz, a fellow cabinet member, threatened over the weekend to resign if a plan was not in place by June 8 to set up a civilian administration to run the Gaza Strip.

Israeli military operations continued in other parts of the Gaza Strip. The Hamas-controlled health authority reported the deaths on Sunday of at least 24 Palestinians in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the centre of the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli army confirmed that a senior Hamas police officer had been killed in a targeted attack and that another Hamas commander and five activists had been killed in a separate attack in Nuseirat.

Tunnels on the border to Egypt had also been discovered and destroyed.

–IANS/DPA

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Julian Assange wins UK High Court victory in case against extradition to US

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London, May 20 (IANS) WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Monday won a victory in his ongoing battle against extradition from the United Kingdom (UK) to the United States after the High Court in London granted him permission to appeal.

Assange had been granted permission to appeal only if the U.S. government was unable to provide the court with suitable assurances that Assange is permitted to rely on the First Amendment (free speech) for protections, reports Xinhua News Agency.

The U.S. government had to assure that Assange, who is Australian, shall not be prejudiced at trial by reason of his nationality and is afforded the same protections as a U.S. citizen.

The U.S. side also had to provide assurance that Assange would not be sentenced to death if convicted.

Assange’s legal team criticized the assurances provided by the U.S. government at the hearing, arguing that “based on the principle of the separation of powers, the U.S. court can and will apply U.S. law, whatever the executive may say or do.”

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Most of the assurances were “blatantly inadequate,” said Edward Fitzgerald KC, representing Assange. But the legal team had accepted the promise about the death penalty.

The lawyer said in written submissions that while the assurance over the death penalty was “an unambiguous executive promise,” the other assurance does not give “any reliable promise as to future action.”

According to Assange’s legal team, it could be months before the new appeal is heard.

The latest move came after the High Court deferred a decision in March on whether Assange could take his case to another appeal hearing.

Assange, 52, is wanted by the United States on allegations of disclosing national defense information following WikiLeaks’s publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked military documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars a decade ago, which included an Apache helicopter video footage documenting the U.S. military gunning down journalists and children in Baghdad’s streets in 2007.

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He has been held at southeast London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison since 2019. The UK approved his extradition to the United States in 2022 under then Home Secretary Priti Patel after a judge initially blocked it on Assange’s mental health concerns. Assange and his lawyers have appealed since then.

–IANS

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