Journalist shot dead in Northern Ireland rioting

Journalist Lyra McKee smiles outside the Sunflower Pub on Union Street during a portrait session in Belfast, Northern Ireland May 19, 2017. (Jess Lowe Photography/Reuters)
Updated 19 April 2019
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Journalist shot dead in Northern Ireland rioting

  • An eyewitness told the BBC that a gunman fired indiscriminately into a crowd during riots on the crowded Creggan housing complex
  • Hamilton said the force's assessment "is that the New IRA are most likely to be the ones behind this and that forms our primary line of inquiry"

LONDON: The dissident republican group, the New IRA, was most likely responsible for the fatal shooting of a journalist during overnight rioting in the city of Londonderry, police in Northern Ireland said Friday.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland said 29-year-old journalist and author Lyra McKee died after she was shot during rioting in the Creggan area.
Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said a gunman fired a number of shots at police during the unrest Thursday evening.
"We believe this to be a terrorist act," he said. "We believe it has been carried out by violent dissident republicans."
Hamilton said the force's assessment "is that the New IRA are most likely to be the ones behind this and that forms our primary line of inquiry."
A murder investigation has been launched but there have been no arrests. Hamilton appealed for calm to prevail on Easter weekend.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May called the death of McKee "shocking and truly senseless."
"She was a journalist who died doing her job with great courage," May said.
An eyewitness told the BBC that a gunman fired indiscriminately into a crowd during riots on the crowded Creggan housing complex.
The New IRA is a small group of republicans who reject the 1998 Good Friday agreement that marked the Irish Republican Army's embrace of a political solution to the long-running violence known as "The Troubles" that claimed more than 3,700 lives.
The group is also blamed for a Londonderry car bombing that did not cause any injuries in January. It is regarded as the largest of the splinter dissident groups still operating and has been linked to several other killings in the past decade.
There has been an increase in tensions in Northern Ireland in recent months with sporadic violence, much of it focused in Londonderry, also known as Derry.
McKee, the victim of the shooting, rose to prominence in 2014 with a moving blog post — "Letter to my 14 year old self" — describing the struggle of growing up gay in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland.
In the post, she described the shame she felt at 14 as she kept the "secret" of being gay from her family and friends and the love she received when she was finally able to reveal it.
McKee had recently signed a contract to write two books.
Hours before her death she tweeted a photo of the riot with the words: "Derry tonight. Absolute madness."
Seamus Dooley, Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said he was shocked by the murder of a journalist "of courage, style and integrity."
He offered sympathy to "her partner, her family and many friends."


Desperate migrants jump off rescue ship, seeking Italy

Updated 20 August 2019
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Desperate migrants jump off rescue ship, seeking Italy

  • The migrantsl were seeking the shores of Lampedusa, a short distance away from the anchored ship
  • Live video showed people wearing life vests floating in the sea

MILAN: At least 15 more migrants jumped into the sea Tuesday from the Open Arms rescue ship in desperate bids to reach the shores of Italy after 19 days on the boat in deteriorating conditions as Italy refuses to open its ports.
With the situation on board described by Open Arms as “out of control” and “desperate” over Italy’s repeated refusal to allow the migrants into the southern island of Lampedusa, Spain said it was dispatching a naval ship to escort the aid group’s boat and its passengers to a port in the Spanish island of Mallorca.
“After analyzing all the options, this is the most adequate and the one that would allow resolving within this week the humanitarian emergency on board the Open Arms,” the statement said.
But the journey of the Audaz warship from its base in southern Spain to Lampedusa is expected to last three days, adding to the ordeal of the migrants.
Dozens of them have been evacuated in recent days because they were underage or ill, but 83 remain on board.
That was after one migrant jumped off the ship early on Tuesday and was rescued by the Italian coast guard, followed by two groups of nine and five more who launched themselves into the sea wearing orange life vests.
All were seeking the shores of Lampedusa, a short distance away from the anchored ship.
A reporter with the Spanish public broadcaster TVE said the first jumper refused to return to the Open Arms and was brought to Lampedusa instead, prompting others to follow his lead. The reporter said those jumping were “desperate and going mad” after 19 days trapped on board.
Live video showed people wearing life vests floating in the sea, some in groups and some individually, with a coast guard vessel nearby and rubber dinghies trying to reach them.
Open Arms said the Italian coast guard rescued all 15 jumpers and brought them to Lampedusa.
A spokeswoman for the charity, Laura Lanuza, said she heard from Open Arms crew members that “those who remain aboard are threatening to jump as well.” The Open Arms captain previously informed Italian authorities that the crew of 17 can no longer control the situation on board, as frustrated migrants resort to fighting.
Italy’s hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has refused port access to the ship, even though six other European countries have agreed to take in the migrants, who were rescued at sea in early August off the coast of Libya.
Italy’s transport minister, Danilo Toninelli, said on social media that he has been in touch with Spanish officials to demand that “they do everything to stop the NGO.” He did not specify what he expects Spain to do, and Spain said it was awaiting clarification.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte announced last week that six nations — Spain, Portugal, Germany, France, Romania and Luxembourg — had offered to take the migrants aboard Open Arms.
But in his post, Toninelli complained those countries were waiting until the migrants were on land “and then they will see.”
Impasses involving Italy’s refusal to allow migrant ships to dock started immediately after the populist coalition of the League and the 5-Star Movement took office last June. In the first, a ship made the long trip to Spain with 630 migrants after Madrid opened its ports.
But Spain has changed its approach since then, saying that international marine laws and EU regulations require that rescued people need to be taken to the closest and safest port. It also says that EU members need to find a long-lasting solution for dealing with migration that doesn’t rely so much on just the Mediterranean countries.
Open Arms sailed within a few hundred meters of Lampedusa last week after Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s ban on private rescue boats entering Italy’s waters was overturned by a court. Salvini has appealed that ruling and warned that his ban on docking still holds.
Meanwhile, the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, which is operated by two French humanitarian groups and has 356 rescued migrants aboard, has been sailing between Malta and the Italian island of Linosa as it waits for a port of safety to be assigned.
Italy’s standoff with Open Arms has further raised tensions in the country’s failing ruling coalition, as Cabinet members from the 5-Star Movement, including the defense and transport ministers, increasingly question the handling of the rescue ship by Salvini, leader of the right-wing League party.
Toninelli said other European countries were turning their backs on Italy “and there is one person responsible: Matteo Salvini, who has weakened the government and as a consequence our position in Europe.”