Venezuela’s Maduro Wins Re-Election Amid Opposition Boycott

President extends predecessor’s radical leftist movement

Nicolás Maduro won a second term as president on Sunday. However, polls show Mr. Maduro is unpopular and that most Venezuelans blame him and his policies for an economic crisis.
Nicolás Maduro won a second term as president on Sunday. However, polls show Mr. Maduro is unpopular and that most Venezuelans blame him and his policies for an economic crisis. PHOTO: CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

CARACAS, Venezuela— Nicolás Maduro won re-election to a six-year term in a Venezuelan presidential election deemed illegitimate by the opposition and foreign governments, paving the way for heavier international sanctions amid widespread discontent over his management of an economy in free fall.

Even before the ballots were counted, opposition candidate Henri Falcón cried foul, saying the election was a sham and calling for a new vote this year.

“We do not recognize this electoral process as valid,” he said. “For us, there were no elections.”

The state electoral board, which is allied with the government, said Mr. Maduro had won 5.8 million votes, or 67% of the total, with nearly 93% of the vote counted, compared to 1.8 million, or 21%, for his main challenger, Mr. Falcón, a leftist former governor and ex-soldier. Mr. Falcón had broken with other opposition leaders who called for a boycott.

Those figures were a far cry from what pollsters had forecast. Most polls before the race gave the edge to Mr. Falcon.

Despite near empty polling stations for much of the day in parts of the country, the election board said turnout was 46%—a number that marked the weakest turnout in a presidential vote in nearly two decades.

“How they underestimated me, but here we are: triumphing,” Mr. Maduro told a crowd of supporters in Caracas. He called his victory “a knockout.”

Surrounded by supporters on a stage, Mr. Maduro celebrated what he called the biggest margin of victory a president had recorded here.

“You have confided in me and I’m going to respond to that infinite confidence, that loving confidence,” he said. “All Venezuela has triumphed. Legitimate elections, accompanied by the only one who can decide the future, the people.”

The victory means Chavismo—the radical leftist movement named for the president’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez—will begin a third decade of uninterrupted rule when Mr. Maduro is sworn in for a second term early next year. But it is a government struggling to survive: By the end of the year, the economy will have contracted by 50% since 2013, hyperinflation is expected to top 13,000% and the U.S. has imposed sanctions on much of the top leadership of the government for alleged crimes, including drug trafficking.

Opposition candidate Henri Falcón spoke Sunday night after polls showed less than half of Venezuela’s electorate voted.
Opposition candidate Henri Falcón spoke Sunday night after polls showed less than half of Venezuela’s electorate voted. PHOTO: MARCO BELLO/REUTERS

Millions of Venezuelans don’t have enough to eat, polls show.

“What we’re living is so hard,” said Yelitza Hernandez, a nurse with two young sons she has trouble feeding. Ms. Hernandez said she would vote, but didn’t want to say for whom.

Mr. Maduro’s victory will likely plunge Venezuela into deeper crisis. It will likely spur more Venezuelans to leave, deepening the cost of looking after refugees for neighbors like Colombia and Brazil. It also means Venezuela’s oil industry will continue to collapse, keeping vital oil off global markets at a time of rising international oil prices.

Phil Gunson, who tracks Venezuela for the International Crisis Group policy analysis organization, said Mr. Maduro faces anarchy.

“What he hasn’t done is anything to fix hyperinflation, food scarcity, the collapse of basic services, how to pay the foreign debt, what to do about all the creditors lining up,” Mr. Gunson said. “He has no plan to fix it and no credible team in place either that could, for example, renegotiate that debt.”

Mr. Falcón had hoped widespread gloom and the appeal of his far-reaching proposals, like adopting the dollar as a way to stop hyperinflation, would swamp voting booths with supporters and force the government to concede. Judging by the empty polling booths all day, that didn’t happen.

In a speech late Sunday, ahead of the election results, he railed against the abstention movement as a lost opportunity. But he also said there were myriad violations, including some 90,000 complaints by his team of electoral monitors who denounced so-called assisted votes, where Socialist Party workers accompanied voters and actually cast ballots for them.

Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a tweet calling the elections a “sham.” U.S. leaders had said in recent weeks that more sanctions against Venezuela’s leaders—about 60 of whom have been targeted—could be coming.

State Department spokswoman Heather Nauert said the elections weren’t legitimate, echoing what the European Union and the biggest countries in Latin America have said.

“The United States stands with democratic nations around the world in support of the Venezuelan people and their sovereign right to elect their representatives through free and fair elections,” she said in a Twitter message.

In recent weeks, polls had shown that Mr. Falcón would beat an unpopular president whose five years in office have been marked by the exodus of hundreds of thousands of people to other countries.

But Mr. Falcón’s campaign not only faced the electoral machinery of Venezuela’s Socialist government but also the boycott, which pollsters predicted would hurt him. In addition to facing Mr. Maduro, he had to contend with a second challenger, Javier Bertucci, a televangelist and businessman who siphoned votes from Mr. Falcón. In the end, Mr. Bertucci collected 925,000 votes, or 10.7%, the National Electoral Council said.

Opposition leaders, though, said Mr. Falcón never stood a chance against a government whose leaders have said publicly in speeches that they would never give up power.

Venezuela’s electoral council, stacked with government supporters, in 2016 blocked a recall referendum on Mr. Maduro, though the vote was permitted in the constitution, and two elections last year were marked by widespread fraud. Mr. Maduro’s allies also barred the most popular opposition leaders from running for president.

On Sunday, Mr. Falcón denounced the government for pressuring ordinary people by keeping track of who voted by scanning IDs called Fatherland Cards that are also used to track the state benefits voters receive.

It was one of seven violations of an 11-point agreement that Mr. Falcón had signed with Mr. Maduro in March to ensure as fair a vote as possible. His campaign said the government also failed to allow equal access to state media outlets, technical auditing of the voting machine, include independent international observers and keep pro-government campaigners away from voting centers.

“Today in Venezuela, this has become a virus,” Mr. Falcón said from the central city of Barquisimeto, where he voted and used to be mayor. He criticized the government for “political and social blackmail of a sector of the population whose dignity they’re trying to purchase.”

A former bus driver who received his formative political training in Communist Cuba, Mr. Maduro told voters that he wanted another chance to guide his country. “I will carry out an economic revolution that will shake the entire world,” Mr. Maduro had said at a Thursday rally.

He and his allies have contended the shortages and economic chaos have been the result of U.S. sanctions and local businesses that hoard, explanations rejected by independent economists who blame government policies.

Voting was more robust in the districts where the government has traditionally drawn support. Buses were used to move people to the polls, and teams of pro-government supporters went door-to-door herding residents to the ballot box and reminding them of the monthly food boxes they receive.

“Thanks to Maduro that we get our benefits; before we used to get nothing,” said Victor Vasquez, a 54-year-old truck driver in an east Caracas slum. He feared losing the food and frequent bonuses in the near-worthless bolivar currency if the Socialist leader were to be replaced.

Another government supporter, Humberto Vargas, 72, said Mr. Maduro was “guaranteeing peace” in the face of hostility by the opposition and governments that have opposed the president, such as the U.S. “The United States and the opposition have caused the hunger that many people are suffering,” he said.

Polls, though, show that Mr. Maduro is deeply unpopular and that most Venezuelans blame him and his policies, including price controls, a highly stringent currency exchange and expropriations, for having gutted the economy and decimated a once vigorous middle class.

Anger over what had happened to her country led Carmen Arrechedera, 56, a homemaker, to remain home like so many others.

“No one should have tried to legitimize Maduro but rather leave him alone” in the race, she said. “I don’t believe in the electoral system. It’s fraudulent, and there aren’t even international observers you can confide in. There’s an authoritarian regime in Venezuela that won’t permit itself to be removed from power.”

Write to Kejal Vyas at kejal.vyas@wsj.com and Juan Forero at Juan.Forero@wsj.com

Boeing 737 crashes on takeoff from Havana airport

There appear to be few survivors after a passenger jet carrying 113 people crashed shortly after takeoff. The flight from the capital, Havana, to the eastern city of Holguin went down near the airport.

    
Cuba jet crashed just after takeoff (Getty Images/AFP/A. Roque)

The jet crashed near to Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport, with a thick column of smoke rising from the scene.

Footage showed the plane lying in a field looking heavily damaged and burnt. Firefighters were extinguishing the smoldering remains.

What we know so far

  • Most of those on board are feared dead, with three survivors known to be in a critical condition.
  • There were 104 passengers and nine crew members on the plane at the time.
  • The cause of the accident remains unclear.
  • The plane, a Boeing 737- 200 belonged to the Mexican company Damojh, now known as Global Air, and was being operated on behalf of state airline Cubana.

‘High number of victims’

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who rushed to the scene, said many on board were thought to have died. “The news is not very promising, it seems that there is a high number of victims,” Diaz-Canel was quoted as saying after his visit.

Ambulances at the crash site (Getty Images/AFP/Y. Lage)Ambulances were at the site, and took some of those who had survived to hospital

There were messages of support from across the Spanish-speaking world.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro sent a message of support for the families of the victims. “Our message of condolence for the families and the victims of the deadly accident today in Havana. Strength and peace to them at this moment of pain. They have all  our support.”

The King of Spain Felipe VI and Queen Letizia, expressed their “support and solidarity for the families of those who died and best wishes for the recovery of those who were injured.”

Past issues with air safety

Cubana has withdrawn many of its own planes from service in recent months because of mechanical problems.

Cuba has a poor record on air safety. The most serious to date was in September 1989, when an Ilyushin 62 jet operated by Cubana and carrying 126 people crashed after taking off from Havana for Milan, Italy.

Among Cubans, Cubana is notorious for frequent delays and cancellations, a problem the airline blames on a lack of parts and airplanes due to the US trade embargo on Cuba. Cuba’s First Vice President Salvador Valdes Mesa met Cubana officials on Thursday to discuss improvements in its heavily criticized service.

rc/msh (EFE, dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)

COURTESY: DW

9 dead, 16 injured after van plows into pedestrians in Toronto (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

9 dead, 16 injured after van plows into pedestrians in Toronto (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)
Nine people have been killed and 16 more are injured after a white van struck a number of pedestrians in Toronto, police said.

The incident on Yonge Street and Finch Avenue East occurred just after 1 pm local time, according to the Toronto Police Department.

Photos and videos from the scene show groups of onlookers gathered behind police cordons as emergency services deal with the aftermath of the incident. One video shows a person bleeding heavily while another shows a body covered with a piece of tarpaulin.

According to local reports, police have detained the driver of the vehicle. The area has been closed off.

Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital says it received seven patients after the incident. The hospital said on Twitter that its emergency department is on lockdown as an “added precaution.”

Eyewitness Alex Shaker told CTV News that the van mounted the curb at high speed before travelling southbound.

“He started going down on the sidewalk and crumbling down people one by one,” Shaker said.

Bystanders have posted images to social media showing the aftermath and a number of emergency vehicles tending to the scene.

Obelix@henrimiller100

White Van seen plowing into people on injuries everywhere

The thoroughfares of Yonge Street and Finch Avenue East are located close to a metro station in east-west Toronto. The Toronto Transport Commission has closed off the Yonge Street station due to the police investigation.

The scene of the incident is approximately 30 kilometers from downtown Toronto, where government ministers from France, US, Colombia, Croatia, and Colombia were meeting about an upcoming G7 summit.

Police have dismissed reports of a shooting in the area.

Toronto Police OPS

@TPSOperations

Shooting:Dundas and Chestnut area. Reports of a male with a lower body injury. Further when I get more. ^gl

Toronto Police OPS

@TPSOperations

Update: Upon further investigation this seems to be NO shooting. we are clearing ^gl

Courtesy: RT

Sovereign cryptocurrency: Marshall Islands to launch world-first digital legal tender

As cryptocurrencies become increasingly mainstream, a small island nation will launch the first digital legal tender. Lawmakers hope the residents will use the SOV for everything from paying taxes to buying groceries.

An aerial view of Kwajalein Atoll

The Marshall Islands will launch the world’s first legal tender cryptocurrency after a law passed by parliament earlier this week went unopposed by an official council.

The nuclear-ravaged nation has partnered with Israeli company Neema to issue 24 million units of the Sovereign (SOV) digital currency. It will cap the number to prevent inflation.

The move follows Venezuela’s launch of the Petro cryptocurrency in February. Investors supposedly shelled out $735 million (€600 million) for the oil-backed, sanction-skirting currency, according to President Nicolas Maduro.

Unlike the Petro, the SOV will be recognized in law as legal tender, holding equal status as the US dollar, which is the Pacific island nation’s current currency.

“This is a historic moment for our people, finally issuing and using our own currency, alongside the USD,” said President Hilda Heine in a statement. “It is another step of manifesting our national liberty.”

Lawmakers hope the country’s 60,000 residents will use the SOV for everything from paying taxes to buying groceries.

Read more: Bitcoin ‘creator’ slammed with $5 billion lawsuit

Watch video01:22

Venezuela launches cryptocurrency

Partner firm takes half coins

Half of the 24 million coins will go to the government and the other half to the Israeli financial technology startup helping with the plans.

Six million SOVs will be made available to international investors, with the money raised used to help pay the budget, invest in anti-global-warming projects, and supporting people still affected by US nuclear testing. Residents will receive 2.4 million SOVs.

David Paul, minister-in-assistance to the president of the Marshall Islands, said the government had not yet determined a launch date for the initial coin offering, a popular, but controversial, way to launch a cryptocurrency, but that it would begin soon.

Read more: Marshall Islands nuclear arms case fizzles at ICJ

David Paul, right, minister-in-assistance to the president of the Marshall Islands, addresses senators during a public hearing in Majuro, Marshall Islands.Senators passed the law on Monday and will launch the currency “soon”

No anonymity

Unlike most popular cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, the SOV will require currency holders to identify themselves, hopefully avoiding the problems of regulating an anonymous currency.

Neema Chief Executive Barak Ben-Ezer said the coins represented a new era for cryptocurrency, with banks and regulators failing to recognize previous currencies.

“SOV is about getting rid of the excuses” for not shifting to digital assets, he said in a statement.

Read more: Bitcoin — charting the life and times of a cryptocurrency

Unappealing for international investors

Jehan Chu, the Hong Kong-based co-founder of blockchain platform Kenetic, told the Reuters news agency it was an amazing move by the Marshall Islands and was the way of the future.

“Physical currency is going by the wayside as an antiquated, obsolete form of transacting,” he said.

But Chu said the currency was unlikely to hold much appeal for international investors or be particularly valuable outside the Marshall Islands.

Several governments, including China, Estonia, and Iran, have discussed plans for their own digital currency.

aw/jlw (AP, Reuters)

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COURTESY: DW

Jonestown cult survivor recalls horrifying massacre in new documentary: I thought I would die at 22

Leslie Wagner-Wilson escaped death at age 22 when she strapped her 3-year-old son, Jakari, to her back and trekked over 30 miles through the jungles of Guyana with nine others.

On Nov. 18, 1978, Jim Jones, the leader of the People’s Temple, had ordered the deaths of 918 followers by cyanide poisoning; 304 of them were children. Wilson lost six of her family members.

Jones, the leader of the religious movement, was found dead from a gunshot wound to the head at 47.

The Arizona-based grandmother is now coming forward to share her story for a new documentary on A&E, titled “Jonestown: The Women Behind the Massacre,” which examines the influence that four women in the cult leader’s inner circle had on the infamous mass murder and suicide ritual.

Sundance TV has also greenlit a docuseries that will air this November to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the tragedy with Oscar-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio serving as executive producer.

Wilson hopes her participation in the A&E documentary will shed new light on a catastrophe that, prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, marked the single largest loss of U.S. civilian lives in a non-natural disaster.

“I think Peoples Temple rose from a social/political environment that’s similar to what we’re facing now,” Wilson told Fox News. “There’s a need. People want to be a part of something. They want to feel safe, they want to feel a sense of community… I want Jonestown to be a lesson… There are still folks out there and they are running under the guise of religious organizations. I just want people to be careful.”

Leslie Wagner Wilson Jonestown 2

Wilson described a happy childhood in San Francisco filled with summer camps and vacations. However, things changed when she turned 13.  (Courtesy Leslie Wagner-Wilson)

Wilson can still vividly remember life before Jonestown. She described a happy childhood in San Francisco filled with summer camps and vacations. However, things changed when she turned 13.

“This was the late ‘60s, during the love and peace movement,” she said. “A lot of drugs, which my sister Michelle became involved in. Acid, LSD… My mother was told by a friend about an organization, People’s Temple, that had a great drug rehab program. That’s how we got involved.”

Jones, a charismatic preacher, first opened the People’s Temple in the mid-1950s in Indianapolis. By the early ‘70s, Jones and his wife relocated their headquarters to San Francisco, and his popularity grew. Jones’ message of social justice and a racially integrated congregation attracted a diverse group of followers, many of them African-American.

Wilson was proud to become a part of the community.

“I felt like I was going to make a difference in the world,” said Wilson. “I didn’t know children were going to bed hungry, people were being jailed or there was racism or discrimination [in the world]… I felt really compelled… to just be a young girl who would be active on social issues. And I loved it, I really did.”

But by 15, Wilson was starting to have doubts about Jones’ message.

“I think he was so insecure that he would always tout his sexual prowess and talk about how men were homosexuals,” she said. “He treated the women better because the women were more loyal… But also, he was very manipulative and would try to separate families and destroy marriages, which would give him more power… [And] we thought Jim could read our minds so I would stay away. We would say, ‘Don’t ever say anything negative when he passes us because he can read our minds.’ We were totally fooled in a lot of ways… It just became very controlling. It wasn’t fun anymore.”

Leslie Wagner Wilson now

Wilson hopes the documentary will show audiences Jones had enablers to help him lead a cult and that her personal journey will warn people that similar groups still exist.  (Courtesy Leslie Wagner-Wilson)

Jones, who is said to have believed he was the only heterosexual on the planet, had sexual relationships with several of his female followers. He also became increasingly addicted to pharmaceutical drugs.

“In San Francisco, he would say that he’s tired because he stayed up all night doing all of this good work,” recalled Wilson. “We didn’t know about the drug use… But towards the end, there were times when he never came out of his house. You can hear him slurring his words, but he would just make up excuses, say he was tired or wasn’t feeling well. The community had no idea, even in San Francisco, that he was abusing drugs. That was new to me after the suicide massacre.”

Wilson wasn’t the only one to have doubts. In the ‘70s, news media were beginning to investigate claims of abuse and tyranny, prompting Jones to summon his followers to Jonestown, his sanctuary in Guyana. However, it was far from a utopia.

“It was tough,” she explained. “We had outhouses. We didn’t have flushing toilets… Cold showers were OK because it was so humid and hot. But, I went in with an open mind and tried to find the positive in that. I felt that this was a community where we could make a difference… We were hopeful. We were optimistic that we could build something that was incredible. And with that comes some sacrifice.”

But death awaited Wilson if she stayed. A day before the massacre, Congressman Leo Ryan and several newsmen had come to investigate the remote settlement, only to be shot dead by Jones’ followers. And prior to the massacre, Jones reportedly ordered “revolutionary suicide” rehearsals.

“It just became a place where there was no future,” she said. “I had a child… We were basically starving. We were eating rice every day. No vegetables. No nutrients. It just became obvious this place was a prison… I was ready to go. And if Jim had given people the option to go, I think there would have been a lot of people who were ready to get back to the states… But we had no voice. And that didn’t change in Jonestown.”

Wilson fled in secret with her son.

“I feel grateful every day because I did not believe I was going to live past the age of 22,” she said. “I had to forgive Jim Jones and those involved in order for me to move on and live. I have two other children. I have grandchildren. I have a good life.”

Wilson hopes the documentary will show audiences Jones had enablers to help him lead a cult and that her personal journey will warn people that similar groups still exist.

“I cannot believe there weren’t people like myself whose mind first said there’s something wrong, but because everyone else is embracing it and clapping and being joyous, you look at yourself and say, ‘It must be me,’” she said. “It’s important we don’t see this again in this magnitude.”

COURTESY: Fox News

Powerful earthquake hits southwest Mexico

Five months after a major earthquake devastated Mexico City, a powerful tremor has struck the country again. A helicopter carrying government officials who were to examine the damage crashed in an unrelated incident.

People stand on the street after an earthquake shook buildings in Mexico City, Mexico February 16, 2018

A powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit southern Mexico on Friday, causing minor building damage and panic in the capital, just five months after an earthquake killed hundreds of people.

The US Geological Survey put the epicenter 37 kilometers (22 miles) northeast of Pinotepa de Don Luis in the southwestern state of Oaxaca. This was away from major urban centers, but it was powerful enough to leave tall buildings swaying for more than a minute in Mexico City, more than 400 kilometers (250 miles) away.

Shortly afterward, a magnitude 5.8 aftershock hit with a similar epicenter.

Local media published images and videos showing bricks and rubble that had fallen from buildings, and products falling off shelves in a supermarket.

Helicopter crash kills 13

Also on Saturday, officials said a helicopter with the Mexican interior minister and a state governor on board crashed near the center of the earthquake in the country’s south, killing 13 people on the ground.

Interior Minister Alfonso Navarrete and Oaxaca governor Alejandro Murat had been on their way to examine the scene left by the earthquake when the accident happened.

Navarrete told Mexico’s Televisa network that a number of the helicopter’s passengers were injured and that the pilot of the military helicopter, which had flown from Mexico City to Pinotepa de Don Luis, some 37 kilometers (22 miles) southwest of the epicenter, lost control of the chopper 40 meters above the ground as it was coming in to land.

Read more: Waterfalls dry up after Mexico quakes

Fear of a repeat

Panicked residents ran into the street in Mexico City, fearing a repeat of September’s deadly earthquake.

“To be honest, we’re all pretty upset. We start crying whenever the [earthquake] alarm goes off. We’re stressed out, we have flashbacks. So we run out into the street. It’s all we can do,” 38-year-old publicist Kevin Valladolid told the Agence France-Presse news agency through tears in central Mexico City.

“It was awful,” Mercedes Rojas Huerta, 57, told The Associated Press, too frightened to go back inside. “It started to shake; the cars were going here and there. What do I do?”

Interior Minister Alfonso Navarrete said there had been some superficial damage to buildings in Oaxaca, but that no deaths had been reported.

The US National Weather service said it was not issuing a tsunami alert.

Read more: Mexico City honors earthquake victims in Day of the Dead parade

aw/cmk (AP, Reuters, AFP)

Every evening at 1830 UTC, DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

Watch video01:48

Buildings at risk of collapse after Mexico quake

COURTESY: DW

Bridge collapse in Colombia kills 10 construction workers, several missing

The collapse occured in the mountainous region of Chirajara in central Colombia. The 446-meter-long bridge was set to be opened in March as part of a major highway linked to the capital Bogota.

Bridge collapse in Colombia (picture-alliance/dpa/Ministerio de Transporte/colprensa)

At least 10 construction workers died and several were injured after a partially constructed bridge in central Colombia collapsed on Monday.

The laborers were working on the bridge’s drainage system when the incident occurred. The victims fell 280 meters (920 feet) into a ravine in Chirajara about 95 kilometers (60 miles) from the Colombian capital of Bogota.

Nine of the workers were killed immediately and a tenth worker died of his injuries in a nearby hospital. Several laborers were injured and 11 are reportedly missing.

The agency in charge of the project, Coviandes, said that the injured have been taken to a hospital in Villavicencio, the capital of the department of Meta.

Authorities said they are investigating the cause of the collapse and trying to find out how many people were on the structure.

Watch video00:42

Bridge collapses in Colombia

“4G” infrastructure program

The 446-meter-long bridge was set to be inaugurated in March as part of a highway connecting Bogota to the city of Villavicencio.

Transportation Minister German Cardona flew over the site of the collapse later on Monday and visited rescue staff on the ground with Dimitri Zaninovich, the head of the national infrastructure agency.

The bridge and road overhaul are a part of the country’s massive “4G” infrastructure program that is attracting billions of dollars in private-public partnership investments to improve Colombia’s transportation system with eight bridges and five tunnels.

Read more: 

– Fatal motorway bridge collapse in Italy

– Prague bridge collapse leaves 4 injured

– London-Channel highway reopens after truck crash, bridge collapse

amp/jm (Reuters, AP, dpa)

COURTESY: DW

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