Paris, Apr 16 (AP/UNB) — Experts are assessing the blackened shell of Paris' iconic Notre Dame cathedral to establish next steps to save what remains after a devastating fire destroyed much of the almost 900-year-old building.
With the fire that broke out Monday evening and quickly consumed the cathedral now under control, attention is turning to ensuring the structural integrity of the remaining building.
Junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez announced that architects and other experts would meet at the cathedral early Tuesday "to determine if the structure is stable and if the firefighters can go inside to continue their work."
Officials consider the fire an accident, possibly as a result of restoration work taking place at the global architectural treasure, but that news has done nothing to ease the national mourning.
Paris, Apr 15 (AP/UNB) — A massive fire engulfed the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in the heart of the French capital Monday, toppling its spire and sending thick plumes of smoke high into the blue sky as tourists and Parisians watched in horror from the streets below.
A spokesman said the entire wooden frame of the cathedral would likely come down, and that the vault of the edifice could be threatened too.
"Everything is burning, nothing will remain from the frame," Notre Dame spokesman Andre Finot told French media. The 12th-century cathedral is home to incalculable works of art and is one of the world's most famous tourist attractions.
The cause of the catastrophic blaze was not known, but French media quoted the Paris fire brigade as saying the fire is "potentially linked" to a 6 million-euro ($6.8 million) renovation project on the church's spire and its 250 tons of lead. Prosecutors opened an investigation as Paris police said there were no reported deaths.
Flames shot out of the roof behind the nave of the cathedral, among the most visited landmarks in the world. Hundreds of people lined up bridges around the island that houses the cathedral, watching in shock as acrid smoke rose in plumes.
French President Emmanuel Macron postponed a televised speech to the nation because of the stunning blaze and was going to the cathedral himself.
Paris deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire said emergency services are trying to salvage the famed art pieces stored in the cathedral.
Built in the 12th and 13th centuries, Notre Dame is the most famous of the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages as well as one of the most beloved structures in the world. Situated on the Ile de la Cite, an island in the Seine, the cathedral's architecture is famous for, among other things, its many gargoyles and its iconic flying buttresses.
Among the most celebrated artworks inside are its three stained-glass rose windows, placed high up on the west, north and south faces of the cathedral. Its priceless treasures also include a Catholic relic, the crown of thorns, which is only occasionally displayed, including on Fridays during Lent.
The cathedral was immortalized in Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," published in 1831, and has long been a subject of fascination in popular culture as well as the traditional art world.
French historian Camille Pascal told BFM broadcast channel the blaze marked "the destruction of invaluable heritage."
"It's been 800 years that the Cathedral watches over Paris", Pascal said. "Happy and unfortunate events for centuries have been marked by the bells of Notre Dame."
He added: "We can be only horrified by what we see."
Associated Press reporters at the scene saw massive plumes of yellow brown smoke filling the air above the Cathedral and ash falling on the island that houses Notre Dame and marks the center of Paris. As the spire fell, the sky lit up orange.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is in despair at the "terrible fire." Hidalgo said in a Twitter message that Paris firefighters are still trying to limit the fire and urged Paris citizens to respect the security perimeter that has been set around the cathedral.
Hidalgo said Paris authorities are in touch with Paris diocese.
Reactions from around the world came swiftly.
In Washington, Trump tweeted: "So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris" and suggested first responders use "flying water tankers" to put it out.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said he was praying "to ask the intercession of Notre Dame, our Lady, for the Cathedral at the heart of Paris, and of civilization, now in flames! God preserve this splendid house of prayer, and protect those battling the blaze."
The Hague, Apr 15 (AP/UNB) — A Dutch fertility doctor who used his own sperm to father 49 children, without telling their mothers he was the donor, may have even more children.
Ties van der Meer of the Dutch Donor Child Foundation said Monday that three more people contacted him over the weekend because they suspect they may also have been conceived using the sperm of Dr. Jan Karbaat.
DNA tests revealed last week that Karbaat, who died two years ago, was the biological father of 49 children.
Publicity surrounding the case means that the extended family may grow even larger as more people check their DNA against Karbaat's.
Meanwhile, dozens of people who now know who their biological father is are coming to terms with the news. One of them, Joey Hoofdman, says "we are all happy with the clarity."
London, Apr 14 (AP/UNB) — As a symbol of the woes of Britain's Brexit-era democracy, it could hardly be bettered. Lawmakers had to be sent home in mid-debate last week when water from a burst pipe began gushing into the House of Commons chamber.
The image perfectly illustrates Parliament's problem as it tries to solve the puzzle that is Brexit. On the outside, the U.K. institution is resplendent, a world-famous symbol of democracy sitting majestically on the River Thames. On the inside, it's decrepit and increasingly unfit for use.
The hidden flaws in Britain's political system have been laid bare — and televised worldwide — since voters chose, almost three years ago, to leave the European Union.
Decision-making has ground to a standstill, even as business leaders and residents alike cry out for certainty. Many Britons feel a mix of frustration, fascination and shame at the ongoing political chaos. So do politicians on both sides of the Brexit divide.
"I am ashamed to be a member of this Parliament," said pro-EU Liberal Democrat lawmaker Norman Lamb after lawmakers once again failed to find a way forward on Brexit.
Bill Cash, a pro-Brexit Conservative, said this week that Britain had been "humiliated" by failing to leave the EU on time.
The last few months in Parliament, as lawmakers repeatedly tried and failed to agree on a roadmap for Britain's departure, have produced close votes, late nights and high drama. It's a political soap opera that has sent the viewership of Parliament's live-streaming website soaring and made an international celebrity of House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, with his bellowing cries of "Orderrrrr" and "The ayes have it!"
But all the sound and fury signifies — not much. Britain is no further out the EU door or clearer about its post-Brexit direction than it was at the start of the year.
A divorce agreement struck between Prime Minister Theresa May's government and EU late in 2018 lays out the terms of an orderly U.K. departure and promising close future ties. Since January, Parliament has rejected it three times. Pro-Brexit lawmakers won't vote for it because they favor a more definitive break with the bloc. Pro-EU politicians reject it because they think it's a poor substitute for EU membership.
Parliament has also voted on other options including leaving without a deal and holding a new referendum on Britain's EU membership. And twice lawmakers have rejected them all.
To avoid a chaotic no-deal departure that could devastate an economy already weighed down by Brexit uncertainty, May has twice gone to the EU asking for more time. Despite the bloc's increasing exasperation at Britain, it has twice agreed, delaying Brexit Day first from March 29 to April 12 and then again until Oct. 31.
British businesses breathed a sigh of relief, but feared the respite would be temporary unless politicians can resolve a political crisis that been building since the surprise result of the 2016 Brexit referendum. Amid widespread mistrust in politicians, a feeling that had been growing for years, voters opted to leave the EU against the advice of the government, most economists and major business groups.
Britain's political system has proven itself ill-equipped to implement the demand.
May's Conservative minority government does not have a majority of seats in Parliament — a rare occurrence in Britain — and struggles to deliver its policies. The country's two main parties, Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party, are both internally divided over Brexit and have begun to fray, with more than a dozen lawmakers quitting in recent months to sit as independents.
Pro-EU backbench lawmakers have gone to war with the government, seizing control of the parliamentary timetable to hold debates and votes on Brexit. Pro-Brexit Conservatives have demanded that May resign for failing to take Britain out of the EU.
In this environment, Parliament's stressed, exhausted politicians and their staff are frankly relieved at the 10-day Easter break that began on Friday. The prime minister has implored them to relax, reflect and come back ready to strike a Brexit compromise. In the meantime, May's government is still holding talks with Labour in hopes of finding common ground.
But there are few signs of any emerging consensus. Brexiteers in the Conservative Party are still plotting to remove May and replace her with a more strongly pro-Brexit leader, such as former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Pro-EU politicians are still hoping to secure a new referendum on Brexit that could deliver a mandate for Britain to stay in the bloc. Labour craves a national election, despite the risk that voters could decide to punish all politicians amid exasperation over the Brexit debacle.
There is no end in sight to the Brexit drama, which has left observers around the world scratching their heads — and sometimes chuckling — at Britain's plight.
Richard Ashworth, a British member of the European parliament, told EU colleagues that Brexit had had produced "a sad nation, divided like never before, and a House of Commons in crisis."
"Let Brexit stand as a cautionary tale to the people of Europe," he warned.
But some observers feel sympathy as Britain so publicly struggles with deep, divisive questions about its values and place in the world — questions that are not confined to the U.K.
"Parliament is representing the divisions in our county," said Anand Menon, director of the U.K. in a Changing Europe think-tank. "It's brutal. It's horrible. It's inconclusive. It's democratic politics at its most visceral.
"Among international observers I speak to, there is a sense of, 'There but for the grace of God go I.'
London, Apr 14 (AP/UNB) — British lawmakers are heaping pressure on the government to make sure that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faces Swedish justice if prosecutors there reopen a rape investigation against him.
There is mounting concern that Assange should not be allowed to sidestep the Swedish investigation stemming from his 2010 visit to Sweden. The complaints from two women eventually led him to seek refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London rather than return to Sweden for questioning.
Some are calling for the British government to extradite Assange to Sweden, if it makes an official request, rather than to the U.S., which seeks him on conspiracy charges.
More than 70 British lawmakers signed a letter late Friday urging Home Secretary Sajid Javid to "do everything you can to champion action that will ensure Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden in the event Sweden makes an extradition request."
Prominent Conservative Party lawmaker Alistair Burt, a former Foreign Office minister, said Saturday that it's "quite disturbing" to see the sexual allegations minimized.
He said the testimony of the two women makes it "essential" that Assange face justice, to either be cleared in a Swedish court or be convicted.
Assange, 47, has denied the sexual misconduct allegations, which he claims are politically motivated. He claims the sex was consensual.
Sweden suspended its investigation into possible sexual misconduct against Assange two years ago because he was beyond their reach while he was living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London with political asylum status. Prosecutors said the investigation could be revived if his situation changed.
Assange was arrested Thursday after Ecuador withdrew his asylum. He is now in Belmarsh Prison in southeast London, waiting to be sentenced for jumping bail in Britain and facing an extradition request from the United States on charges of conspiring to break into a Pentagon computer.
WikiLeaks says Assange will fight the U.S. extradition request and has been meeting with his legal team to plan his defense.
He has not had a chance to enter a plea in response to the U.S. charge, but he says all of his WikiLeaks actions are those of a legitimate journalist.
If Britain receives competing extradition requests, lawyers say the Home Secretary would have some leeway in deciding which takes priority. Considerations usually include which request came first and which alleged crime is more serious.
Most of the lawmakers who signed the letter are from the opposition Labour Party, whose leader, Jeremy Corbyn, wants Britain to refuse to send Assange to the U.S. After Assange's arrest, Corbyn praised him for exposing U.S. atrocities committed in Iraq and Afghanistan when WikiLeaks released tens of thousands of confidential U.S. documents in 2010.
British politicians are free to lobby the government for a certain course of action, but it's up to the courts to decide whether the U.S. request for Assange's extradition — and a possible future request from Sweden — should be honored.
The Home Secretary, a senior Cabinet official, can block extradition under certain circumstances, including cases where a person might face capital punishment or torture in the country seeking their extradition.
Swedish prosecutors opened an investigation into Assange after two women accused him of sexual offenses during a 2010 visit to Sweden. Some of the sexual misconduct accusations are no longer viable because their time ran out. But Swedish prosecutors have said a rape case could be reactivated since the statute of limitations for that runs until August 2020.
After Assange's arrest this week, Swedish prosecutor Eva-Marie Persson was tapped to look into a request from a lawyer for one of the accusers, to find out whether the case can be pursued.
Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the lawyer for the woman who reported being raped by Assange, told The Associated Press that she would "do everything" to have the Swedish case reopened so Assange can be extradited to Sweden and prosecuted.
The extradition process is not swift, and Assange could appeal several times if decisions go against him. It's expected it would take a year or longer for him to be sent to the United States or possibly to Sweden even if he ultimately loses in court.