At Least 45 People Killed In Bulgaria Bus Blaze

Officials work on the site, where 45 people were killed when a bus with North Macedonian plates caught fire on a highway, near the village of Bosnek on November 23, 2021. PHOTO: DIMITAR KYOSEMARLIEV / AFP

 

At least 45 people, including a dozen minors, were killed after a bus caught fire south of the Bulgarian capital early Tuesday, officials said.

A cause has yet to be determined but officials believe a fire broke out onboard and the bus crashed into guardrails.

There were no other vehicles involved in the accident, which occurred around 2:00 am (0000 GMT) on a highway about 40 kilometres (26 miles) from Sofia, near the village of Bosnek.

“Of the victims… 12 in total were under the age of 18,” national police chief Stanimir Stanev said.

He said that 45 of the 52 people on the bus were killed.

“The driver died immediately so there was no one able to open the doors,” he added.

READ ALSO: Five Dead, 40 Wounded After Vehicle Hits US Christmas Parade

North Macedonian Health Minister Venko Filipce added that the seven survivors included a 16-year-old girl.

All seven — two women and five men — are from the same family, he said after visiting the survivors in the Sofia hospital where they were being treated for serious burns.

Survivors “jumped out of the windows”, said Maya Arguirova, head of the treatment centre for severe burns where they were transported.

Images showed the carcass of the totally burned out bus, having broken through the guardrails between the two sides of the highway.

 

– ‘Great tragedy’ –

According to a Television in Bulgaria, the bus was travelling from Turkey’s main city of Istanbul to Skopje in North Macedonia.

Local media in Macedonia report that the bus was registered to the “Besa trans” tourist agency, which organises touristic and shopping tours to Istanbul.

North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told state news agency MIA that he had spoken to one survivor.

“He explained that they were sleeping in the bus when an explosion was heard. They succeeded to brake one of the windows and save few people. Unfortunately, the rest did not succeed,” he said.

“It is great tragedy… 12 (victims) are under 18 years old, and the rest are young people about 20 to 30 years old. Most of them are our citizens, but there are (some) from Serbia too,” he added.

But police chief Stanev said while the two drivers of the bus were Macedonian, the passengers were Albanian.

“Initial information shows that 52 people were travelling in the bus, including two drivers with Macedonian nationality and 50 passengers with Albanian nationality,” he said.

Bulgaria’s interim Prime Minister Stefan Yanev and Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov rushed to the site of the crash Tuesday morning, while local media said that the North Macedonian and Albanian premiers were also on their way.

“It’s a terrifying picture in there. I haven’t seen anything like that before,” Rashkov told journalists at the site.

“Nobody can say for certain how many are there and who they were. The bodies are badly burned and have to be identified one by one,” he added.

Bulgaria has a history of deadly bus accidents. Seventeen Bulgarian tourists died in 2018 when their bus skidded on a wet road and overturned.

A total of 628 people died in road accidents in 2019 and 463 in 2020 in the country of 6.9 million people, according to official data. The accidents were often attributed to poor road conditions, outdated cars and speeding.

Tuesday’s accident happened on a section of highway with steep gradients and without clear demarcation lines, where many accidents have taken place, according to Diana Roussinova of a road safety NGO, which has complained to authorities about the stretch in the past.

AFP

10 Die In North Macedonia COVID-19 Hospital Fire

Police and firefighters inspect the scene at a Covid-19 clinic after a fire broke out, in Tetovo, North Macedonia on September 8, 2021. (Photo by Arbnora MEMETI / AFP)

 

Fourteen people have died in a fire  at a hospital treating coronavirus patients in North Macedonia, authorities said on Thursday.

The fire broke out late on Wednesday following an explosion in a Covid-19 clinic in Tetovo in the northwest of the Balkan country, said Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who immediately headed to the town.

“A huge tragedy has occurred in the Tetovo Covid-19 centre,” Zaev said on Twitter overnight. “An explosion caused a fire. The fire was extinguished but many lives were lost.”

At least 14 people died in the disaster, the prosecutor’s office later said in a statement, raising the toll from the 10 deaths confirmed overnight.

“Prosecutors have ordered autopsies to identify the bodies of the 14 people who died in the fire and we are looking into whether there are others dead,” the statement said.

Health Minister Venko Filipce had earlier expressed “profound condolences” to the victims’ families on Twitter.

The fire broke out as the former Yugoslav republic celebrated the 30th anniversary of its independence, with festivities in the capital Skopje, including a military parade.

The blaze destroyed part of the modular units recently built in front of the hospital to accommodate Covid patients.

Several hours after the disaster, people walked past charred containers while stretcher bearers went back and forth to rescue vehicles.

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‘Fight for life’ 

Police and firefighters inspect the scene at a Covid-19 clinic after a fire broke out, in Tetovo, North Macedonia on September 8, 2021. (Photo by Arbnora MEMETI / AFP).

 

Investigators have gone to the site to try to determine the cause of the disaster.

Fire services were alerted to the blaze at around 1900 GMT, and it took about 45 minutes to extinguish.

Construction work on the modular Covid unit only began in December at the hospital in Tetovo, a town of around 50,000 people.

“The fire was huge because the hospital is modular, there was plastic,” Tetovo deputy fire chief Saso Trajcevski told local television.

“We took out victims while we put out the flames.”

Several injured people were transported to hospitals in the capital.

“The fight for life is still going on and all services are doing everything they can to save people,” Zaev said earlier, expressing “deep condolences to the families and of the deceased”.

“I wish the injured a quick recovery.”

North Macedonia, with a population of around two million, is a poor country with a rundown healthcare system.

Hospitals are overwhelmed in some areas, particularly where vaccination rates are low.

The country has reported a rise in coronavirus infections recently, with the daily death toll reaching around 30.

It has recorded more than 6,100 fatalities in total since the start of the pandemic.

Covid-19 hospitals in other countries have been hit by explosions followed by fires.

In Iraq, dozens of people were killed in fires that occurred after oxygen cylinders exploded in April and July.

AFP

Germany’s Loss To Macedonia Prompts Calls For Loew’s Sacking

Germany's coach Joachim Loew wears a face mask as he arives for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualification football match Germany v North Macedonia in Duisburg, western Germany on March 31, 2021. Ina Fassbender / AFP
Germany’s coach Joachim Loew wears a face mask as he arives for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualification football match Germany v North Macedonia in Duisburg, western Germany on March 31, 2021. Ina Fassbender / AFP

 

Four-time World Cup winners Germany’s defeat to North Macedonia sparked calls on Thursday for coach Joachim Loew to stand down instead of waiting till after this summer’s European Championship.

Goran Pandev had put North Macedonia ahead in Wednesday’s 2022 World Cup qualifier just before half-time and although Ilkay Gundogan equalised from the penalty spot early in the second half, the minnows snatched victory when Eljif Elmas scored a late winner in Duisburg.

Loew, who led Germany to glory at the 2014 World Cup but has suffered a string of poor results almost ever since, had announced last month that he will stand down after Euro 2020.

READ ALSO: Top Seeds Medvedev, Osaka Crash Out Of Miami Open

Bild, Germany’s most-read newspaper, said that decision should be reversed after the loss to the world’s 65th-ranked team.

“It’s over Jogi,” it said in its headline. “The magic that Loew conjured up during the World Cup (in 2014) has unfortunately disappeared. His achievements for German football cannot be questioned but his time has gone,” the paper said.

Loew has tried to forge a young new team without veteran stars such as Thomas Mueller and Jerome Boateng that he discarded after early Germany’s early elimination from the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Kicker magazine said the rebuilding project was not working.

“This newly formed German national team is still looking for direction and trying to find its way… both in the players’ legs and heads,” it said.

Kicker said Loew’s explanation that his players were “tired” simply “does not stand up… against opponents of that level”.

And Sport1 website said the team had “dishonoured itself”, and was particularly critical of Chelsea forward Timo Werner who missed an open goal.

“Some players are not reaching their usual level,” the website said.

The performance will only add fuel to the argument that 31-year-old Mueller, who is again in good form this season after leading Bayern Munich to victory in the 2020 Champions League, be recalled for the Euro finals this summer when Germany face a tough first-round group of reigning champions Portugal, World Cup holders France and Hungary.

The loudest calls came from Uli Hoeness, Bayern’s honorary president.

“Mueller should be in the team, he can still score goals and he can help any team in the world to get out of difficult situations,” Hoeness said.

Loew meanwhile insisted he had not lost faith in his team for the Euro — and he urged Germans not to either.

“We must not lose belief,” Loew said. “In the coming days and weeks we will check over everything once again.”

 

AFP

13 Killed As Bus Overturns On Highway In North Macedonia

 

At least 13 people were killed and more than 30 others injured when a passenger bus overturned on a highway in North Macedonia on Wednesday, the health minister said.

“Thirteen people were killed. I am honestly deeply sorry. All I can say is that the health institutions were there on time and helped everyone,” Minister Venko Filipce told reporters.

“There are more than 30 injured,” out of the 50 people on the bus, he told AFP, adding that “the number of dead may increase because there are people in surgery and in critical condition” following the accident which happened around 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the capital Skopje.

READ ALSO: Suicide Attack On Iran Revolutionary Guards Bus Kills 27

Ilir Asani, head of the emergency centre at Skopje’s main hospital, told local media that at least “five people were severely injured, including a pregnant woman”.

Since Tuesday former Macedonia has been known by its new name the Republic of North Macedonia following its historic agreement with neighbouring Greece

Earlier on Wednesday, the government informed the United Nations about the use of a new name.

‘History On Our Side,’ Macedonia FM Elated By ‘Republican’ Tag

Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov speaks during a interview in Skopje on January 23, 2019. Robert ATANASOVSKI / AFP

 

Supporters of Macedonia’s name-change deal with Greece are “on the right side of history” and their critics will eventually agree, Macedonia’s foreign minister told AFP as the accord approaches the final step of ratification.  

Skopje’s top diplomat, Nikola Dimitrov, was speaking as the Greek parliament heads towards a tense vote this week on the agreement that would christen his Balkan country the “Republic of North Macedonia”.

Dimitrov and his Greek counterpart at the time, Nikos Kotzias, were among the top architects of the June 2018 deal that proposed adding “North” to Macedonia’s name in an attempt to extinguish a decades-long row between the neighbours.

For more than a quarter-century, Athens has blocked Skopje from organisations like NATO and the EU because it claims exclusive rights to the name Macedonia for a province in northern Greece.

But the champagne the leaders popped on the day their “Prespa Agreement” was signed was in fact only a prelude to months of fraught politics at home, with nationalist critics in both countries protesting against the name change.

Macedonia pushed through a series of challenging steps to ratify the deal, and now it is Greece’s turn to give the final green light.

Tens of thousands have protested in Athens ahead of the vote.

Speaking to AFP in his Skopje office, Dimitrov said he believed protesters, including critics in his own country who see the name change as an embarrassing concession, would someday come around.

“I feel that I am definitely on the right side of history on this one, and I think that some years from now… even those who are now angry protesters, will say: ‘Looks like they were right’,” he told AFP.

– Eyes on EU –

If Greece does approve the deal, Macedonia is expected to be swiftly accepted into NATO.

Then all eyes will turn to Brussels, which last year said it would open EU accession negotiations for Macedonia in June 2019.

Macedonia’s government, led by Social Democrat Zoran Zaev, has heavily emphasised the prospect of an EU future in efforts to sell the name change to the public.

Yet there is a sense of waning interest in enlargement among some member states, in particular, France, where President Emmanuel Macron has urged new bids to be considered with “great caution and rigour”.

If the EU fails to make good on promises to start Macedonia’s membership talks, there will be a “loss of credibility of the whole accession process,” Dimitrov warned.

“We will do our best to make it almost embarrassing for any member state not to join the consensus” to open Skopje’s bid in June, he added.

Acknowledging that Macedonia has serious reforms to undertake before it would be ready to join the bloc, he added: “What we want is to start the journey”.

The name agreement has been a rare positive news story in the Balkans, a region riddled with complex disagreements and tense relations between neighbours.

Dimitrov urged other countries to follow the Prespa model, saying action on a host of problems from diplomatic disputes to education and health must be taken fast to curb the exodus of young people across the region.

Many of the region’s entrenched political rows are tied up with historical turf debates, a legacy of frequent territorial changes in a corner of Europe that has suffered numerous wars and foreign interventions.

“By the time we end debate on which is the oldest nation, all of our younger generation will be in Germany and elsewhere,” Dimitrov warned of the emigration crisis.

AFP

Police Fire Tear Gas As Greeks Protest Against Macedonia Name Deal

Protesters clash with police officers during a demonstration against the agreement reached by Greece and Macedonia / Reuters

 

Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters outside parliament on Sunday as tens of thousands of Greeks rallied in Athens to protest ahead of next week’s parliamentary vote to ratify a naming deal with Macedonia.

Central Athens turned into a sea of people holding blue and white Greek flags as thousands came from all over the country to rally against the accord to name the ex-Yugoslav state North Macedonia.

Many Greeks believe the name Macedonia implies a territorial claim over their country’s own northern region of that name.

The issue evokes strong emotions among Greeks who consider Macedonia, the ancient kingdom ruled by Alexander the Great, to be an integral part of their homeland and heritage.

The accord, signed by the two governments, unblocks the ex-Yugoslav republic’s desire to join NATO and the European Union once it is ratified by Greece’s parliament.

“We cannot stomach this deal, to give away our Macedonia, our history,” said pensioner Amalia Savrami, 67, as she waved a large Greek flag on Athens’s Syntagma Square.

“Macedonia is Greek, period.”

Macedonia declared independence in 1991, avoiding the violence that accompanied much of the break-up of Yugoslavia. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has sought to accelerate the country’s bid to join the EU and NATO and to work on resolving the decades-old name dispute with Greece.

Greece had agreed that until the name dispute is resolved, its northern neighbour, with a population of about 2 million, could be referred to internationally as “FYROM” – Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. That is the name under which it was admitted to the United Nations in 1993.

Settling the issue would be hailed as a success by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose left-right coalition came to power in 2015. He won a confidence motion this month after the junior partner in his coalition pulled out.

“The Prespes accord is a historic step not only for the two countries and the broader region but for Europe as a whole. It cements relations of friendship, cooperation and stability,” Tsipras told Sunday’s Avgi newspaper.

The agreement with Skopje had strained relations with the right-wing Independent Greeks party, his coalition ally, which objected to the use of Macedonia in any agreed name.

United Nations diplomat Matthew Nimetz, who has mediated talks between the two countries, said he looked forward to Greece’s ratification of the accord after FYROM delivered on related constitutional amendments.

Pope Francis To Visit Bulgaria, Macedonia In May

File  photo of Pope Francis  

Pope Francis will visit Bulgaria and Macedonia in May, the Vatican announced on Thursday, adding to a 2019 schedule which is already swiftly filling up.

The pope has accepted invitations to travel to Bulgaria from May 5 to 7 and to Macedonia on May 7, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said in a statement.

The Argentinian pontiff, who turns 82 next week, is gearing up for a full schedule in 2019 having already pencilled in a February trip Abu Dhabi.

That trip will follow hard on the heels of World Youth Day, which the pontiff will attend in Panama in January.

He will then travel to Morocco for two days at the end of March before heading to Bulgaria, where Catholics, as in Macedonia, constitute a small minority in an overwhelmingly Orthodox country.

Visiting two Orthodox nations will reinforce the image Francis wishes to project of a pontiff who is seeking wider dialogue with other branches of Christendom as well as other faiths.

In September, Francis said he hoped to visit Japan in 2019 and a trip to Madagascar has also been mentioned. In contrast the Vatican has yet to unveil which invitations from Catholic nations will be taken up next year.

AFP

US Hails Outcome Of Macedonia’s Name Change Referendum

Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his son Dushko cast their ballot for a referendum to re-name their country North Macedonia on September 30, 2018. Photo: DIMITAR DILKOFF / AFP

 

The United States has welcomed the outcome of a referendum in Macedonia on changing its name, that could bring it economically and militarily closer to the West.

Macedonian voters chose to support a plan to rename the country in a way that will end a decades-long spat with Greece and unlock a path to NATO and EU membership.

With ballots from 93 percent of polling stations counted, 91.3 percent of votes favoured the name changing to North Macedonia, compared to 5.7 percent opposed, according to the electoral commission’s official count.

However, only a third of the 1.8 million-strong electorate voted.

“The United States strongly supports the agreement’s full implementation, which will allow Macedonia to take its rightful place in NATO and the EU, contributing to regional stability, security, and prosperity,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

She urged Macedonian lawmakers “to rise above partisan politics and seize this historic opportunity to secure a brighter future for the country as a full participant in Western institutions”.

Supporters of a boycott for the name-change referendum celebrate in front of the Parliament in Skopje on September 30, 2018, as the vote was marred by a low turnout, with only a third of the electorate voting. Photo: Armend NIMANI / AFP

AFP

Thousands Of Greeks Protest Against Macedonia Name Compromise

People take part in a demonstration to urge the government not to compromise in the festering name row with neighbouring Macedonia, at the Syntagma Square in Athens, on February 4, 2018. LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / AFP

Tens of thousands of Greeks staged a mass rally in Athens on Sunday, urging the government not to compromise in a festering name row with neighbouring Macedonia.

Organisers claimed some 1.5 million people from across Greece and the Greek diaspora turned out to express their opposition to attempts by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ government to broker a deal.

But police put the figure at around 140,000.

“The million protesters that the organisers imagined was wishful thinking,” Tsipras said in a statement released by his office.

“The crushing majority of Greek people conclude that foreign policy issues should not be dealt with fanaticism.”

Earlier in the day a huge Greek flag flew over central Syntagma Square from atop a crane, and Greeks from all over the country and abroad chanted “Hands off Macedonia”, “Macedonia is Greek” and “We won’t leave until we are vindicated”.

Among those in the cross-generation crowd was former PM Antonis Samaras — who was the foreign minister when the name row began in 1991 — in addition to mayors, senior clerics, army officers and monks.

Keynote speaker Mikis Theodorakis, the renowned Zorba the Greek composer and resistance icon, called on the government to hold a referendum before taking a decision.

“Macedonia was, is and will forever be Greek,” 92-year-old Theodorakis told the cheering crowd of protesters.

“If a government considers signing on behalf of our country… there is no doubt it must first ask the Greek people,” he said, calling the neighbouring northern state “illegitimate”.

Athens objects to Macedonia’s name, arguing it suggests that Skopje has claimed to the territory and heritage of Greece’s historic northern region of the same name.

“Macedonians united Greece against the (Persian Empire),” said Nina Gatzoulis of the US Pan-Macedonian Association, arguing that a Greek climbdown on the name issue would create “permanent instability” in the region.

However, leftist Tsipras has been considering a resolution to the 27-year-old dispute, angering many opposition members and his own nationalist coalition partners.

– Unresolved dispute –

Several protesters wore traditional garb, including the uniform of Greek guerrillas who fought Bulgarian bands and Ottoman forces in Macedonia in the early 20th century.

“Cretan eagles lie in the earth of Macedonia,” a Cretan representative told the crowd. “We tell our sister, Macedonia, we will not allow anyone to carve you up.”

The protest — the second on the Macedonia issue in a fortnight — was organised and funded by Greek diaspora groups, with the support of retired officer associations, cultural unions and church groups.

Anarchists stationed a counter-protest nearby, with riot police deployed to keep the two crowds apart.

Two weeks ago, tens of thousands had protested in Thessaloniki, the capital of Greece’s Macedonia region. Police had estimated the turnout at over 90,000, while organisers claimed at least 400,000 attended.

The dispute has remained unresolved since the former Yugoslav republic’s independence in 1991.

Greece considers the name “Macedonia” to be part of its own cultural heritage, as the province was the core of Alexander the Great’s ancient empire.

Athens seeks guarantees that the use of the name by its neighbour implies no claim to parts of its own territory.

The government has accused far-right hardliners and the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party of trying to exploit the issue.

– Boost Balkan stability –

The government insists the rallies will not affect its determination to solve the issue and boost stability in the often tense Balkan region.

Athens says it is ready to accept a composite name that will establish a clear distinction from Greek Macedonia.

“The government is trying to give a patriotic solution to a problem that has troubled the country, its international relations and its diplomacy for over 25 years,” government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said Sunday.

“Not having a solution undermines our national interest,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said last week.

Because of Greece’s objections, Macedonia in 1993 joined the United Nations as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

To break the deadlock, longterm UN mediator Matthew Nimetz has now proposed several alternative names in Macedonian, including “Republika Nova Makedonija” or the “Republic of New Macedonia”.

A resolution of the issue is needed before Macedonia can join NATO or the EU.

“They seek to join NATO and the EU with our own vote, so they can threaten us tomorrow from a position of strength,” Theodorakis said.

Greece in 2008 threatened to veto Macedonia’s NATO entry. Skopje subsequently took the issue to the International Court of Justice, which said Athens had been wrong to block its land-locked neighbour’s aspirations.

AFP

Migrants Crisis: EU Ministers Meet Amid Tension

MigrantsAustria and Balkan nations have agreed on measures to restrict numbers drawing criticism from Greece, where thousands of migrants have been left stranded after Macedonia blocked entry to Afghans.

EU Ministers are meeting in Brussels later amid warnings that the migrant crisis could threaten the bloc’s survival.

The EU Interior Ministers would hear plans drawn up by Austria and eight Balkan countries that include fingerprinting all entrants and turning back anyone without a passport or holding fake documents.

The countries have also pledged to accept only those they deem to be in need of protection, which has already been interpreted by some government officials as meaning only Syrians and Iraqis.

Last September, EU Ministers agreed plans to relocate 120,000 migrants from Italy, Greece and Hungary to other EU countries.

But majority vote decision was opposed by Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

On Wednesday, Hungary announced it would hold a referendum on accepting mandatory EU migrant quotas.

Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, stressed that the quotas “could redraw Europe’s cultural and religious identity.”

Macedonian Police Fires Tear Gas At Migrants

Macedonian policeMacedonian police have fired tear gas and stun grenades as thousands of people try to enter Macedonia from Greece.

It came up a day after Macedonia declared a state of emergency in two border regions to cope with an influx of migrants, many from the Middle East.

The state of emergency was declared because of the number of people wanting to head north to Europe, leading to desperate scenes of crowds battling to board packed trains.

There were several attempts to charge officers by angry people among a crowd of 3,000 from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

They had spent the night in the open in a no man’s land between the two countries after Macedonia sealed its southern border to migrants and refugees.

At least eight people were injured in the confrontation earlier and one youngster was seen bleeding.

Large numbers spent the night stuck on Macedonia’s southern frontier, and tried to charge police in the morning.

The Balkan nation has become a major transit point for migrants trying to reach northern EU members.

Some 44,000 people have reportedly travelled through Macedonia in the past two months.

An 18-year-old Syrian man told Reuters he was able to cross overnight into Macedonia, but others were caught and drove back.

“I ran fast and escaped,” he said. “They got my brother and most of the others and sent them back to Greece.”

Greece, particularly on the tourist hotspot islands, has been overwhelmed by the influx because some 160,000 had arrived in the country so far this year.

Others have walked to Bulgaria from Turkey before making their way through Macedonia or Serbia before heading north to the EU.

Some 39,000 migrants, mostly Syrians, have been registered as passing through Macedonia in the past month – twice as many as the previous month.

The situation at the border with Greece is not helped by Macedonia’s tense relationship with Athens.

The dispute originates over the Macedonia’s name after it declared independence from the then Yugoslavia in 1991.