War games stoke fears in Balkans
VILNIUS, Lithuania — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are watching with concern the latest round of Russian military drills that some analysts think might be the largest of their kind since the Cold War.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, who often criticizes Russian leaders, said the war games getting underway in Belarus on Thursday are a sign the Kremlin is preparing for conflict with NATO .
“We are anxious about this drill ... it is an open preparation for war with the West,” Grybauskaite told reporters.
Soldiers, tanks and weapons have arrived in Belarus, according to Lithuania’s military. Leaders and defence analysts in the Baltic states fear some of the equipment could remain in Belarus once the drills are done.
“Leaving weapons in Belarus means the Russian army could prepare bases for a sudden broad attack ... right at the NATO border,” Lithuanian officer Darius Antanaitis said.
Russia and Belarus say the exer- cises scheduled to run until Sept. 20 involve 5,500 Russian and 7,200 Belarusian troops. Estonian Defence Minister Juri Liuk has said Moscow could deploy up to 100,000 troops.
While Liuk doesn’t believe the drills represent a “preparatory move” against NATO , he said “there is reason for concern, because Russian intents are often unclear.”
The 29- member alliance, of which the Baltic states are members, has boosted its own military presence in eastern Europe. The U.S. last month sent additional F-15 fighter jets to patrol the Baltic Sea region.
“Russia has already used similar exercises to launch military interventions to other countries like Georgia or Ukraine,” Nerijus Maliukevicius, a political analyst at Vilnius University’s Institute of International Relations and Political Science, said.
These viewed are echoed on the streets of Tallinn, the medieval capital of Estonia.
“I do not feel very good having these military exercises very close to Estonia, but again we are part of NATO ,” resident Piret Veigel said. “That gives me some comfort.”
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A fire that blocked the only exit to an Islamic school dormitory killed 23 people, mostly teenagers, on the outskirts of Malaysia’s largest city early Thursday, officials said. A government official said a wall separating the victims from a second exit “shouldn’t have been there.”
Firefighters and witnesses described scenes of horror — first of boys screaming for help behind barred windows as neighbours watched helplessly, and later of burned bodies huddled in corners of the room. Islamic teacher Arif Mawardy said he woke up to what he thought was a thunderstorm, only to realize it was the sound of people screaming.
Firefighters rushed to the scene after receiving a distress call at 5:41 a.m. local time and took an hour to put out the blaze, which started on the top floor of the three-storey building, Kuala Lumpur police chief Amar Singh said.
Singh said 23 bodies were recovered — 21 boys between the ages of 13 and 17 and two teachers.
“We believe (they died of ) suffocation ... the bodies were totally burnt,” he said. Singh said 14 other students and four teachers were rescued.
Health Minister S. Subramaniam said six other students and a resident who went to help were hospitalized, with four of them in critical condition. He said the 23 bodies were waiting to be identified through DNA.
The fire broke out near the only door to the boys’ dormitory, trapping the victims because the windows were barred, fire department senior official Abu Obaidat Mohamad Saithalimat said. He said the cause was believed to be an electrical short-circuit, though Singh said the investigation was continuing.
Another fire department official, Soiman Jahid, said firefighters heard shouts for help when they arrived at the school. He said they found a pile of bodies in the right corner of the dorm and another pile in the left corner.
A resident, Nurhayati Abdul Halim, was quoted as saying that she saw the boys crying and screaming for help.
“I saw their little hands out of the grilled windows; crying for help. ... I heard their screams and cries but I could not do anything. The fire was too strong for me to do anything,” she said. She added that the school had been operating in the area for the past year.