Cuba plane crash: Damojh company 'had safety complaints'

Cuba plane crash: Damojh company 'had safety complaints'

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The Mexican charter company whose plane crashed in Cuba on Friday, killing 110 people on board, had received prior safety complaints, two-ex pilots say.

One of the pilots described on Facebook how a plane rented from Damojh Airlines had dropped off-radar completely some eight years ago, prompting key crew members to be suspended.

Mexican authorities say they will carry out a safety audit of the company.

Separately, it was revealed that 10 priests were among the crash victims.

Three women survived the crash near Havana airport – Cuba’s deadliest aviation disaster in more than 30 years.

One of two “black boxes” that hold key flight data and information about what happened to the plane has been recovered and is said to be in good condition.

Cuban authorities have launched an investigation into the crash, as rescuers continue to comb through the wreckage site some 20km (12 miles) south of the Cuban capital.

What were the safety complaints?

Allegations of previous safety complaints have emerged against the Mexican Damojh company, which leased both the Boeing 737 and its crew to Cuba’s flagship state Cubana airline.

The head of Guyana’s civil aviation body, Cpt Egbert Field, told the Associated Press news agency the same plane – which was nearly 40 years old – had been barred from using Guyanese airspace last year after authorities found its crew were overloading luggage on flights in Cuba.

In one instance, the news agency reports, Guyanese authorities had discovered suitcases stored in the plane’s toilets.

Meanwhile, a retired pilot for Cubana wrote on Facebook that another plane rented by his airline from the same company had briefly dropped off radar for unspecified reasons while over the central Cuban city of Santa Clara in 2010 or 2011.

The captain and co-pilot of that flight were later suspended for “problems and serious lack of technical knowledge,” said Ovidio Martinez Lopez, who worked for Cubana for more than 40 years.

He said “many flight attendants, flight attendants and flight safety personnel” had refused to fly on certain Cubana planes over the years.

Another pilot who used to work for Damojh told Mexican newspaper Milenio he had complained about a lack of adequate maintenance of planes.

“I experienced several incidents at this company, like engine failure or the electrical system went when we took off from Mexico on one occasion”, Marco Aurelio Hernandez was quoted as saying.

The company has yet to comment on the allegations.

Who were the victims?

Cuba’s transport minister said on Saturday that five children were among the victims. Adel Yzquierdo also updated the official death toll to 110, and listed the nationalities of the victims:

  • 99 Cubans
  • Six Mexican crew members
  • One Mexican tourist
  • An Argentine couple
  • Two passengers from the Western Sahara (a disputed territory annexed by Morocco after Spain withdrew in 1975)

Also among the dead were 10 evangelical priests and their spouses who had been meeting in Havana for several days and were returning to their homes in Holguin province, where the flight was destined to land.

“On that plane were 10 couples of pastors. Twenty people. All of the Nazarene Church in the eastern region,” confirmed Maite Quesada, a member of the Cuban Council of Churches.

The Argentine couple have been named by their government as Dora Beatriz Cifuentes and Oscar Hugo Almaras, both in their 60s.

Several victims’ relatives have travelled to Havana to help identify the deceased.

Meanwhile, the three survivors remain in critical condition with serious burns.

“My daughter is a fighter, she’s strong, she’ll save herself,” the mother of a 23-year-old survivor, Amparo Font, told Reuters news agency.

Syria war: IS militants 'leave Damascus suburbs'

Syria war: IS militants 'leave Damascus suburbs'

Militants from the Islamic State (IS) group have been evacuated from an enclave in the southern suburbs of the Syrian capital Damascus, activists say.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a temporary ceasefire had come into effect following heavy bombardment by the Syrian military.

But Syrian officials denied there was any ceasefire, and have made no mention of the reported evacuation.

The area includes the once-thriving Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp.

The SOHR said buses had entered the enclave, centred around the al-Hajar al-Aswad district, after midnight local time and left towards Badia, a thinly populated area east of Damascus where IS still holds some territory.

The reported move follows an apparent lull in fighting around midday on Saturday. Pro-government forces have been fighting to regain the enclave since 19 April.

Meanwhile, Syrian state TV said army operations in the area were nearing their end and insurgent lines were collapsing.

No mention was made on TV of any ceasefire or evacuation.

The enclave comprises the suburbs of Yarmouk, Tadamun, Qadam and al-Hajar al-Aswad.

The Yarmouk camp once contained more than 100,000 mostly Palestinian refugees but only a few hundred people are now thought to remain.

Negotiated withdrawals have become a familiar feature of the war as the government, backed by Russia and Iran, reclaims territory.

Rebels have mostly been allowed to go to northwestern Syria, where they still hold territory.

Over seven years of war, more than 400,000 people have been killed or reported missing, according to the SOHR.

More than half the population of 22 million have been driven from their homes with at least 6.1 million Syrians internally displaced, and another 5.6 million living abroad, the vast majority of them in neighbouring countries like Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia women's driving activists 'targeted in smear campaign'

Saudi Arabia women's driving activists 'targeted in smear campaign'

The woman behind the movement to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia says she and her fellow activists in the kingdom are being targeted in a smear campaign.

Saudi native Manal al-Sharif said she has been receiving death threats online ahead of the ban’s removal.

She was speaking after several activists in the kingdom were arrested.

They have been accused of being “traitors” and working with foreign powers – charges Amnesty International called “blatant intimidation tactics”.

The group is accused of “contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country’s stability and social fabric”, the human rights group said.

Manal al-Sharif, who is currently living in Australia, said the “organised defamation campaign” targeting the activists was similar to the campaign that targeted the movement in 2011.

The ban is due to be lifted on 24 June.

‘Crackdown on dissent’

Seven people – men and women – were arrested earlier this week. They are believed to include Loujain al-Hathloul, a well-known figure in the campaign for women’s driving rights.

Ms Hathloul has been detained previously, including once in 2014 when she attempted to drive across the border from the United Arab Emirates. She served 73 days at a juvenile detention centre as a result, and documented many of her experiences on Twitter.

Amnesty said it believes that women’s rights activists Eman al-Nafjan, Aziz al-Yousef, Dr Aisha al-Manea, Dr Ibrahim al-Modeimigh, and Mohammad al-Rabea have also been arrested.

Saudi Arabia’s laws require women to seek male permission for various decisions and actions, and that extends to the ban on women driving.

Previously, that meant that families had to hire private drivers to transport female relatives.

Influential Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has widely been credited with a range of social reforms in the traditionally conservative kingdom.

He was, however, singled out for criticism in a statement from Amnesty.

“Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has presented himself as a ‘reformer’, but such promises fall flat amid the intensifying crackdown on dissenting voices in the kingdom,” it said.

“His pledges amount to very little if those who fought for the right to drive are now all behind bars for peacefully campaigning for freedom of movement and equality.”

Venezuela election: Everything you need to know

Venezuela election: Everything you need to know

Venezuela is choosing its next president on Sunday – in an election widely seen as a foregone conclusion.

After years of turmoil which at one point saw almost daily street protests, President Nicolas Maduro is looking to consolidate his power.

The opposition, however, refuses to even take part.

Who’s going to win?

Most analysts agree that President Maduro is likely to win on Sunday. His opponents say they expect widespread electoral fraud – and are resigned to it.

The elections were supposed to be held in December 2018, but the National Constituent Assembly, filled exclusively with Mr Maduro’s supporters, brought them forward.

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The opposition Democratic Unity coalition is currently divided, and says the elections have been moved to take advantage of its disarray. Its two biggest candidates were also barred from running, and others have fled the country.

Of course, Mr Maduro has many vocal supporters who will be delighted if he does win.

So there’s no opposition taking part?

Not quite. There are a handful of minor candidates who don’t stand any real chance – and one viable alternative to Mr Maduro.

That’s Henri Falcón.

Mr Falcón was a governor under former President Hugo Chávez. He came from the same socialist party as President Maduro, but left in 2010 to join the opposition.

So, if there’s an opposition boycott, why is he running?

Mr Falcón says the only way to dislodge President Maduro is through elections. He believes the majority of Venezuelans want rid of the controversial president – and that they should be given the chance to vote him out.

The rest of the opposition, however, has frowned on his breaking ranks – with some even branding him a traitor.

But is the election legitimate or not?

Mr Maduro’s camp and the government claim the election is a fair process. Not everyone agrees.

Part of the reason behind the opposition boycott is the result of elections for state governorships last year. Mr Maduro’s party won 17 of 23 states – and his opponents cried foul.

That was after the company that makes Venezuela’s voting machines said, in July last year, that the figures had been tampered with during the controversial election of the constituent assembly.

It does not help that the electoral commission is mostly made up of government supporters – like the powerful constituent assembly and the supreme court.

All of this had led to a situation where international observers like the EU and US have suggested they might impose sanctions on Venezuela if democracy is undermined.

And some of Venezuela’s Latin American neighbours may not officially recognise the outcome.

Given all the uncertainty, it is expected that many citizens simply will not vote at all.

What about ordinary Venezuelan people?

Things are hard in Venezuela – with an inflation rate measured in several hundred percent.

An economic crisis means the economy has shrunk dramatically every year – so for the average citizen, there’s a shortage of basics like food and medicine.

In some poorer parts of the country, 70% of children suffer from malnutrition.

Venezuela election: Everything you need to know

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The national currency, the bolívar, is virtually worthless, and long queues form at banks where there simply isn’t enough cash to make purchases.

Residents carry large bags, filled with banknotes – or try to pay with cards where possible.

Faced with the difficulties of life at home, hundreds of thousands have fled the country – many to neighbouring Colombia or Brazil.

Venezuela election: Everything you need to know

Venezuela election: Everything you need to know

Venezuela is choosing its next president on Sunday – in an election widely seen as a foregone conclusion.

After years of turmoil which at one point saw almost daily street protests, President Nicolas Maduro is looking to consolidate his power.

The opposition, however, refuses to even take part.

Who’s going to win?

Most analysts agree that President Maduro is likely to win on Sunday. His opponents say they expect widespread electoral fraud – and are resigned to it.

The elections were supposed to be held in December 2018, but the National Constituent Assembly, filled exclusively with Mr Maduro’s supporters, brought them forward.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

The opposition Democratic Unity coalition is currently divided, and says the elections have been moved to take advantage of its disarray. Its two biggest candidates were also barred from running, and others have fled the country.

Of course, Mr Maduro has many vocal supporters who will be delighted if he does win.

So there’s no opposition taking part?

Not quite. There are a handful of minor candidates who don’t stand any real chance – and one viable alternative to Mr Maduro.

That’s Henri Falcón.

Mr Falcón was a governor under former President Hugo Chávez. He came from the same socialist party as President Maduro, but left in 2010 to join the opposition.

So, if there’s an opposition boycott, why is he running?

Mr Falcón says the only way to dislodge President Maduro is through elections. He believes the majority of Venezuelans want rid of the controversial president – and that they should be given the chance to vote him out.

The rest of the opposition, however, has frowned on his breaking ranks – with some even branding him a traitor.

But is the election legitimate or not?

Mr Maduro’s camp and the government claim the election is a fair process. Not everyone agrees.

Part of the reason behind the opposition boycott is the result of elections for state governorships last year. Mr Maduro’s party won 17 of 23 states – and his opponents cried foul.

That was after the company that makes Venezuela’s voting machines said, in July last year, that the figures had been tampered with during the controversial election of the constituent assembly.

It does not help that the electoral commission is mostly made up of government supporters – like the powerful constituent assembly and the supreme court.

All of this had led to a situation where international observers like the EU and US have suggested they might impose sanctions on Venezuela if democracy is undermined.

And some of Venezuela’s Latin American neighbours may not officially recognise the outcome.

Given all the uncertainty, it is expected that many citizens simply will not vote at all.

What about ordinary Venezuelan people?

Things are hard in Venezuela – with an inflation rate measured in several hundred percent.

An economic crisis means the economy has shrunk dramatically every year – so for the average citizen, there’s a shortage of basics like food and medicine.

In some poorer parts of the country, 70% of children suffer from malnutrition.

Venezuela election: Everything you need to know

Media playback is unsupported on your device

The national currency, the bolívar, is virtually worthless, and long queues form at banks where there simply isn’t enough cash to make purchases.

Residents carry large bags, filled with banknotes – or try to pay with cards where possible.

Faced with the difficulties of life at home, hundreds of thousands have fled the country – many to neighbouring Colombia or Brazil.