Poland, Jan 6(AP/UNB) — A faulty heating system appeared to have caused a fire at a house in northern Poland where five teenage girls died while locked inside a recreational escape room that was installed in the rented dwelling, investigators said Saturday.
Firefighters in the city of Koszalin found the bodies of the 15-year-old victims Friday after they extinguished a fire in a room adjacent to the one the girls had entered while celebrating a birthday.
Autopsies showed the girls died of carbon monoxide asphyxiation, prosecutors said, using a technical term for smoke inhalation.
A 26-year-old man employed at the location was hospitalized with burns.
Players in escape room games are locked inside a room or building and must solve puzzles and find clues that lead them to the key that will unlock the door. Regarded as an intellectual challenge, the games are highly popular among teenagers in Poland.
Koszalin prosecutor Ryszard Gasiorowski said a leak in a bottled gas heating system was a probable cause of the fire. Earlier, firefighters blamed faulty electric wiring and substandard security procedures.
"Preliminary findings suggest that the fire was caused by an unsealed gas container inside a heater," Gasiorowski said.
The fire broke out in a part of the detached house that was being used as a reception room for the entertainment venue and blocked the employee's way to the girls, he said.
Firefighters and other witnesses were questioned, but the injured employee's condition prevented investigators from interviewing him immediately, Gasiorowski said.
Earlier Saturday, national firefighters' chief Leszek Suski said there was evidence of "a lot of negligence" at the venue, including makeshift electrical wiring too close to flammable materials and the absence of a proper evacuation route.
"Security was not ensured, and that led to the tragedy," Suski said.
A spokesman for local firefighters, Tomasz Kubiak, said the units responding to the blaze had to use specialized equipment and force their way into the locked escape room of some 7 square meters (75 square feet.)
Poland's interior minister has ordered fire safety inspections at more than 1,000 escape room locations across the country. The first inspections were being held Saturday, the Interior Ministry said. Previously, there was no official requirement for fire safety certificates at such locations.
Teachers, psychologists and local education authorities met Saturday to discuss ways of helping students at the school the five girls attended deal with the trauma.
Students, teachers, city authorities and residents attended a memorial Catholic Mass at noon at the local church. Local residents placed flowers and lights in front of the location, a two-story house with a huge "Escape Room" sign in front.
Koszalin Mayor Piotr Jedlinski declared Sunday a day of mourning and appealed to residents to hold no entertainment gatherings or parties. The annual Epiphany procession was canceled.
"The families want peace and quiet as they face their great tragedy," Jedlinski said.
Mexico City, Jan 6 (AP/UNB) — President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador launched an ambitious plan Saturday to stimulate economic activity on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border, reinforcing his country's commitment to manufacturing and trade despite recent U.S. threats to close the border entirely.
Mexico will slash income and corporate taxes to 20 percent from 30 percent for 43 municipalities in six states just south of the U.S., while halving to 8 percent the value-added tax in the region. Business leaders and union representatives have also agreed to double the minimum wage along the border, to 176.2 pesos a day, the equivalent of $9.07 at current exchange rates.
Lopez Obrador, who took office on Dec. 1, said the idea is to stoke wage and job growth via fiscal incentives and productivity gains. U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly complained that low wages in Mexico lure jobs from the U.S. Mexico committed to boost wages during last year's negotiations to retool its free trade agreement with the U.S. and Canada.
Speaking from Ciudad Juarez, a manufacturing hub south of El Paso, Texas, Lopez Obrador said Saturday he agrees with Trump that Mexican wages "should improve." He decried, for instance, that Mexican auto workers earn a fraction of what their U.S. counterparts take home, topping out at just $3 an hour versus a typical wage of $23 an hour in the U.S.
Yet the economic plan comes at a delicate moment for the border region. Trump threatened as recently as last week to close the U.S.-Mexico border "entirely" if Democrats refuse to allot $5.6 billion to expand the wall that separates the two countries.
Economy Minister Graciela Marquez noted Saturday that the border region targeted for economic stimulus accounts for 7.5 percent of Mexico's gross domestic product. And in recent years, she said, the 43 municipalities included in the plan have boasted combined economic growth of 3.1 percent, above the national average of 2.6 percent for the six years through 2017.
Much of that robustness owes to trade and proximity with the U.S., the world's biggest economy.
"We have to take advantage of this locomotive that we have on the other side of the border," she said.
Marquez expressed optimism that the stimulus plan will direct more Mexican and foreign investment into the border region. The plan for the border region is part of what Lopez Obrador calls "curtains of development" to shore up different corridors of the country so that Mexicans stay rather than migrating in search of better economic prospects.
Rome, Jan 6 (AP/UNB) — The leaders of the populist parties that formed Italy's government sparred Saturday over more migrants stranded on private rescue vessels in the Mediterranean Sea, exposing cracks in their coalition's position on immigration.
German humanitarian groups Sea-Watch and Sea Eye are seeking a port where two ships can disembark passengers who were picked up from unseaworthy smugglers' boats, 32 of them on Dec. 22 and 17 more in recent days.
Malta allowed the aid boats to shelter from bad weather near its coast and to take on fresh crew, food and water. But the tiny island nation has refused to let any of those migrants step onto Maltese land, saying the rescues took place outside the country's search-and-rescue area.
Italian Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio, who heads the 5-Star Movement, insisted Saturday that Malta had to allow the 49 people off the ships. De Maio said Italy was willing to take the 10 mothers on the aid vessels and their children.
Since the coalition government came to power in mid-2018, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who heads the right-wing, anti-migrant League party, has made it strict policy that no private aid group receive authorization to transfer rescued migrants to land in Italian ports.
Both he and Di Maio have likened private aid vessels to "taxi services" for Libya-based human traffickers. Amid criticism of the Italian government's new hard-line stand, they also have reminded other European Union nation's that Italy has taken in hundreds of thousands of rescued migrants as asylum-seekers in recent years.
Di Maio stressed Saturday that Italy was offering to accept the limited number of women and children from the rescue ships to keep families together. Such as gesture, he said, would also give "a good moral slap" to EU nations that have ignored Italy's insistence that the burden of caring for rescued asylum-seekers be shared.
"We're not going backward on migration policy, which has allowed us to reduce disembarking considerably," Di Maio said.
But Salvini contradicted his governing partner, telling journalists Italy intended to stick with its private rescue vessel ban and wouldn't be taking the 10 mothers and their children.
"We opened our hearts and our wallets. Now, it's someone else's turn," Salvini said.
As for any possible softening of Italy's immigration policy, Salvini also tweeted "I'm not changing my mind."
Both politicians slammed Malta for refusing to let the 49 disembark, but the EU nation retorted that it had rescued and permitted onto on its shores some 250 migrants between Christmas and New Year's.
The recent rescues "are putting a strain on our services," Maltese Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia said, adding that Italian authorities had not articulated a clear position about the migrants on the aid boats due to the contradictory statements by Italy's leaders.
Farrugia has said the EU's executive branch, the European Commission, was working on an ad hoc plan to find countries where the 250 migrants in Malta and the 49 on the aid boats could have asylum applications processed.
While politicians squabbled, Sea-Watch appealed on Twitter for a rapid, "reasonable solution that guarantees a port, medical care and food to women, children and men at the mercy of the waves."
Di Maio's opening to taking some of the migrants appeared calculated to placate a faction of his party uncomfortable with the government's rejection of rescued migrants.
Championing that 5-Star faction is Roberto Fico, the speaker of the Italian Parliament's lower chamber.
"We can't allow human beings, who are fleeing from pain, death and suffering to be left in unacceptable conditions," he wrote on Facebook.
New York, Jan 6 (AP/UNB) — The federal agency tasked with guaranteeing US airport security acknowledged an increase in the number of its employees calling off work during the partial government shutdown.
Employees of the Transportation Security Administration are expected to work without pay during the shutdown because their jobs are considered essential.
The TSA said in a statement Friday that call outs that began over the holiday period have increased. The agency did not say how many of its employees have called out, but it said the call outs have had "minimal impact given that there are 51,739 employees supporting the screening process." The statement said wait times "may be affected" but so far "remain well within TSA standards."
"TSA is closely monitoring the situation," the agency statement said. "Security effectiveness will not be compromised."
The Department of Homeland Security and President Donald Trump pushed back Saturday on suggestions that the call outs represented a "sickout" that was having significant consequences on U.S. air travel. White House officials and congressional aides were in talks Saturday to end the shutdown, which entered its 15th day. Negotiations are at an impasse over Trump's demands for $5.6 billion to fund a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
TSA spokesman Michael Bilello tweeted that 5.5 percent of the TSA workforce at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport called out Friday, compared with 3.5 percent on a normal day. He said wait times "may be affected" but that all passengers would be screened as normal.
Hydrick Thomas, president of the national TSA employee union, told CNN that up to 170 TSA employees at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport have called out each day this week. Union officials did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.
Airport officials said no unusual screening delays were being experienced at JFK, Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports, or Miami International Airport.
New Delhi, Jan 6 (AP/UNB) — Six schoolchildren and their bus driver were killed as the vehicle rolled down a gorge on a hilly road in northern India, police said.
Another 12 children were hospitalized with injuries after the school bus skidded off the road in Himachal Pradesh state on Saturday, said police officer Rohit Malpani.
Malpani said three students aged 5 to 14 and the driver died on the spot. Three students died later in a hospital.
The cause of the accident is being investigated.
Around 150,000 people die every year on India's roads, often because of reckless driving, badly maintained roads and vehicles overcrowded with passengers.
In September, 55 people were killed when a bus carrying pilgrims from a Hindu temple in the hills of south India plunged off a road.