Monday January 28, 2013

Fire at Brazil club kills more than 230 as partiers stampede toward exit, choke on toxic smoke

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) -- Flames raced through a crowded nightclub in southern Brazil early Sunday, killing more than 230 people as panicked partygoers gasped for breath in the smoke-filled air, stampeding toward a single exit partially blocked by those already dead. It appeared to be the world’s deadliest nightclub fire in more than a decade.

Witnesses said a flare or firework lit by band members may have started the blaze in Santa Maria, a university city of about 225,000 people.

Television images showed smoke pouring out of the Kiss nightclub as shirtless young men who had attended a university party joined firefighters using axes and sledgehammers to pound at windows and walls to free those trapped inside.

Guido Pedroso Melo, commander of the city’s fire department, told the O Globo newspaper that firefighters had a hard time getting inside the club because "there was a barrier of bodies blocking the entrance."

Teenagers sprinted from the scene desperately seeking help. Others carried injured and burned friends away in their arms.

Brazil fire recalls pain of repeated history for survivors of R.I. nightclub fire a decade ago

Argentina, a year later. Thailand in 2008. Russia in 2009.

For survivors of a 2003 Rhode Island nightclub fire that was one of the deadliest in U.S. history, the fire in Brazil that killed hundreds Sunday is the latest in a series of reminders that no matter how far away, those who ignore the lessons of their tragedy can pay a horrible cost.

On a cold night in February 2003, the rock band Great White took the stage at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I. During the show, pyrotechnics set fire to flammable soundproofing foam that lined the walls and ceiling, killing 100 and injuring 200.

Over the decade since, survivors have come together time and again over news of similar disastrous fires overseas.

"We’re very tight," said Todd King, one of the survivors. "You can’t put into words what we saw."

In push for personalized guns of the future, a window into gun debate’s long, divisive past

NEW YORK (AP) -- It sounds, at first, like a bold, next-generation solution: personalizing guns with technology that keeps them from firing if they ever get into the wrong hands.

But when the White House called for pushing ahead with such new technology as part of President Obama’s plan to cut gun violence, the administration did not mention the concept’s embattled past. As with so much else in the nation’s long-running divisions over gun rights and regulation, what sounds like a futuristic vision is, in fact, an idea that has been kicked around for years, sidelined by intense suspicion, doubts about feasibility and pressure tactics.

Now proponents of so-called personalized or smart guns are hoping the nation’s renewed attention on firearms following the Newtown school massacre will kick start research and sale of safer weapons. But despite the Obama administration’s promise to "encourage the development of innovative gun safety technology," advocates have good reason to be wary.

In the fiery debate over guns, personalized weapons have long occupied particularly shaky ground -- an idea criticized both by gun-rights groups and some gun control advocates.

To the gun groups, the idea of using technology to control who can fire a gun smacks of a limitation on personal rights, particularly if it might be mandated by government. At the same time, some gun control advocates worry that such technology, by making guns appear falsely safe, would encourage Americans to stock up on even more weapons then they already have in their homes.

Egypt’s president declares 30-day state of emergency, curfew in 3 Suez Canal provinces

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt’s president declared on Sunday a 30-day state of emergency and night curfew in the three Suez Canal provinces hit hardest by the wave of violence that has left more than 50 dead in three days.

Angry and almost screaming, Mohammed Morsi vowed in a televised address that he would not hesitate to take even more action to stem the latest eruption of violence across much of the country.

But at the same time, he sought to reassure Egyptians that his latest moves would not plunge the country back into authoritarianism.

"There is no going back on freedom, democracy and the supremacy of the law," he said.

The three provinces are Port Said, Ismailiya and Suez and the curfew, also for a month, is effective 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Berlusconi: Except for anti-Jewish laws, Mussolini did much good; defends support of Hitler

ROME (AP) -- Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi praised Benito Mussolini for "having done good" despite the Fascist dictator’s anti-Jewish laws, immediately sparking expressions of outrage as Europe on Sunday held Holocaust remembrances.

Berlusconi also defended Mussolini for allying himself with Hitler, saying he likely reasoned that it would be better to be on the winning side.

The media mogul, whose conservative forces are polling second in voter surveys ahead of next month’s election, spoke to reporters on the sidelines of a ceremony in Milan to commemorate the Holocaust.

In 1938, before the outbreak of World War II, Mussolini’s regime passed the so-called "racial laws," barring Jews from Italy’s universities and many professions, among other bans. When Germany’s Nazi regime occupied Italy during the war, thousands from the tiny Italian Jewish community were deported to death camps.

"It is difficult now to put oneself in the shoes of who was making decisions back then," Berlusconi said of Mussolini’s support for Hitler. "Certainly the (Italian) government then, fearing that German power would turn into a general victory, preferred to be allied with Hitler’s Germany rather than oppose it."

Israeli Holocaust memorial displays recovered personal items for international remembrance day

JERUSALEM (AP) -- When Stella Knobel’s family fled World War II Poland in 1939, the only thing the 7-year-old girl could take with her was her teddy bear. For the next six years, the stuffed animal never left her side as the family wandered through the Soviet Union, to Iran and finally the Holy Land.

"He was like family. He was all I had. He knew all my secrets," the 80-year-old said with a smile. "I saved him all these years. But I worried what would happen to him when I died."

So when she heard about a project launched by Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial and museum, to collect artifacts from aging survivors, she reluctantly handed over her beloved bear Misiu, Polish for "teddy bear," so the memories of the era could be preserved.

"We’ve been through a lot together, so it was hard to let him go," said Knobel, who was widowed 12 years ago and has no children. "But here he has found a haven."

The German Nazis and their collaborators murdered 6 million Jews during World War II. In addition to rounding up Jews and shipping them to death camps, the Nazis also confiscated their possessions and stole their valuables, leaving little behind. Those who survived often had just a small item or two they managed to keep. Many have clung to the sentimental objects ever since.

Stanley Karnow, famed Vietnam reporter and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, dies at 87

Stanley Karnow, the award-winning author and journalist who wrote a definitive book about the Vietnam War, worked on an accompanying documentary and later won a Pulitzer for a history of the Philippines, died Sunday morning. He was 87.

Karnow, who had congestive heart failure, died in his sleep at his home in Potomac, Md., said son Michael Karnow.

A Paris-based correspondent for Time magazine early in his career, Karnow was assigned in 1958 to Hong Kong as bureau chief for Southeast Asia and soon arrived in Vietnam, when the American presence was still confined to a small core of advisers. In 1959, Karnow reported on the first two American deaths in Vietnam, not suspecting that tens of thousands would follow.

Into the 1970s, Karnow would cover the war off and on for Time, The Washington Post and other publications and then draw upon his experience for an epic PBS documentary and for the million-selling "Vietnam: A History," published in 1983 and widely regarded as an essential, even-handed summation.

Karnow’s "In Our Image," a companion to a PBS documentary on the Philippines, won the Pulitzer in 1990. His other books included "Mao and China," which in 1973 received a National Book Award nomination, and "Paris in The Fifties," a memoir published in 1997.

Obama is a big football fan, but says he’d think ‘long and hard’ before letting a son play

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is a big football fan with two daughters, but if he had a son, he says he’d "have to think long and hard" before letting him play because of the physical toll the game takes.

"I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence," Obama tells The New Republic.

"In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won’t have to examine our consciences quite as much."

In an interview in the magazine’s Feb. 11 issue, Obama said he worries more about college players than he does about those in the NFL.

"The NFL players have a union, they’re grown men, they can make some of these decisions on their own, and most of them are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies," Obama said. "You read some of these stories about college players who undergo some of these same problems with concussions and so forth and then have nothing to fall back on. That’s something that I’d like to see the NCAA think about."