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Ninety-nine killed in fuel tanker blast in Sierra Leone capital

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November 6, 2021

By Umaru Fofana

FREETOWN (Reuters) -At least 99 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the capital of Sierra Leone late on Friday when a fuel tanker exploded following a collision, local authorities said.

Emergency crews worked to clear the scene on Saturday in the eastern Freetown suburb of Wellington where a burnt human body and the blackened shells of cars and motorbikes blocked the road following the crash, a Reuters reporter said.

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The wounded were being treated in hospitals and clinics across the capital, deputy health minister Amara Jambai told Reuters.

Victims included people who had flocked to collect fuel leaking from the ruptured vehicle, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, mayor of the port city, said in a post on Facebook, although that post was later edited to remove the reference.

“We’ve got so many casualties, burnt corpses,” said Brima Bureh Sesay, head of the National Disaster Management Agency, in a video from the scene shared online. “It’s a terrible, terrible accident.”

Videos shared online shortly after the explosion showed people running through clouds of thick smoke as large fires lit up the night sky. Reuters was not able immediately to verify the images.

The crash provided a major challenge for Freetown’s health service already creaking from years of underfunding. The 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic gutted its ranks of medical staff, 250 of whom died, and the system has not recovered.

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Connaught Hospital was overwhelmed with the influx of patients, so some of the injured were moved to other locations, including a military hospital, said Swaray Lengor, a program manager at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

“The situation at the hospital, especially Connaught hospital … is overwhelming. Inadequate medical consumables and bed capacity,” Lengor told Reuters via text. “NGO partners were requested to support with equipment, medical commodities and food.”

The death toll would likely rise, he said.

Accidents with tanker trucks in Sub-Saharan Africa have previously killed scores of people who gathered at the site to collect spilled fuel and were hit by secondary blasts.

In 2019, a tanker explosion in Tanzania killed 85 people, while around 50 people were killed in a similar disaster in Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018.

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“My profound sympathies with families who have lost loved ones and those who have been maimed as a result,” President Julius Maada Bio tweeted. “My Government will do everything to support affected families.”

(Reporting by Umaru Fofana in Freetown; Bhargav Acharya in Bengaluru; and Edward McAllister in DakarWritig by Bhargav Acharya and Alessandra PrenticeEditing by Frances Kerry, Giles Elgood and Edmund Blair)

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One of suspected killers of Saudi journalist Khashoggi arrested in France – RTL

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December 7, 2021

PARIS (Reuters) – One of the suspected killers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was arrested at the Roissy airport near Paris on Tuesday as he was about to board a flight to Riyadh, French RTL radio reported.

RTL said the person arrested was a former Royal Guard of Saudi Arabia who is believed to have been involved in the killing of Kashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Writing by GV De Clercq, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Biden, Putin begin talks, RIA says, after U.S. warning of toughest sanctions yet if Russia invades Ukraine

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December 7, 2021

By Steve Holland and Andrew Osborn

WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden began a video conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, Russian state television said, after U.S. officials warned Moscow could be hit with the toughest economic sanctions yet if it invades Ukraine.

The officials said the sanctions, which one source said could target Russia’s biggest banks and Moscow’s ability to convert roubles into dollars and other currencies, were designed to dissuade Putin from using tens of thousands of troops massed near the Ukrainian border to attack its southern neighbour.

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The Kremlin, which said before the meeting it did not expect any breakthroughs, has denied harbouring such intentions and has said its troop posture is defensive.

But Moscow has voiced rising vexation over Western military aid to Ukraine, a fellow former Soviet republic that has tilted towards the West since a popular revolt toppled a pro-Russian president in 2014, and what it calls creeping NATO expansion.

Moscow has likewise questioned Ukrainian intentions and said it wants guarantees that Kyiv will not use force to try to retake territory lost in 2014 to Russia-backed separatists, a scenario Ukraine has ruled out.

“We’re looking for good, predictable relations with the United States. Russia has never intended to attack anyone, but we have our concerns and we have our red lines,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

Calling for everyone to keep “a cool head”, Peskov said it was vital that Putin and Biden speak given what he called the extraordinary escalation of tensions in Europe.

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The Russian rouble weakened slightly on Tuesday, with some market analysts predicting the talks would de-escalate tensions and others saying that the U.S. sanctions threat eroded hopes of finding common ground.

Ahead of his first direct talks with Putin since July, Biden discussed the sanctions plan with European allies on Monday, seeking a strong joint stance in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

He spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

They called on Russia to defuse tensions and return to diplomacy and said their teams would stay in close touch, including in consultation with NATO allies and EU partners, on a “coordinated and comprehensive approach”, the White House said.

Biden’s team has identified a set of economic penalties to impose should Russia launch an invasion, a senior Biden administration official said.

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A separate source familiar with the situation said targeting Putin’s inner circle has been discussed but no decision made. Sanctions against Russia’s biggest banks and curbing the conversion of roubles into dollars and other currencies were also being considered, another source said.

(Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington, Gleb Stolyarov, Dmitry Antonov, Alexander Marrow, Tom Balmforth and Katya Golubkova in Moscow, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Catherine Evans and Mark Heinrich)

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Britain reports 101 more cases of Omicron coronavirus variant

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December 7, 2021

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain has found a further 101 confirmed cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the UK Health Security Agency said on Tuesday, taking the total number of cases to 437.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by William Schomberg)

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