Some personal notes on Space: 1999
by Erkki Rautio

September 13th 1999

13th  1999 September 13th, 1999, turned out to be less dramatic in our parallel universum than in that of the TV series. No cosmic catastrophes of apocalyptic scale and no exploding space stations, but the world of 1999 was still in turmoil as the situation was tense all over the globe - in Moscow, as Russia had drifted into another war in Caucasus and another act of terrorism had taken place; in East Timor, as locals struggled for their independence from Indonesia; as the bloody civil war in Kosovo and NATO's Jugoslavia air strikes were still in good memory; also, as nature had again shown its cruel force in Turkey in the form of another lethal earthquake, and in the United States, when Hurricane Floyd was approaching Florida. Simultaneously, some light was seen at the end of the tunnel, as North Korea announced halting missile tests, but it remained to be seen if the hope was only temporary as it had been so many times before. People were living in the anticipation of Millennium: some of them hopeful, some scared, but something was clearly in the air.

Trivia: September 13th is also Barbara Bain's birthday.

What was in the headlines on Monday, the 13th of September, 1999?

Police blame bomb for Moscow blast; death toll hits 121

MOSCOW -- A powerful explosion ripped through an apartment building in southern Moscow early Monday, killing at least 121 people. Rescue workers with sniffing dogs were searching the wreckage of the eight-story building after the blast, which occurred shortly after 5 a.m. (0200 GMT). The explosion follows a blast Thursday that left at least 91 people dead.

The Ministry of Emergency Situations said at least 121 people, including a child, were killed in Monday's explosion. Five people were injured, it said. The explosion leveled the building, which housed more than 125 people. Police said a bomb was the apparent cause of the blast and they were treating the explosion as a terrorist attack. They appealed for help in finding a man they believed could be linked to Monday's explosion and the blast last week, which also ripped through an apartment building.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who vowed a "super-tough" response to the blast, cut short his trip to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and headed back to Russia to deal with the situation. The Kremlin said President Boris Yeltsin would chair an emergency meeting of top officials on Monday to discuss the latest blast. Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and the head of Russia's main domestic intelligence agency, Nikolai Patrushev, were expected to attend the meeting, the Kremlin spokesman said.

Official: Little hope of finding survivors

Vladimir Legofhin of the Ministry of Emergency Situations said there was little hope of finding many survivors because the whole building collapsed. The explosion apparently was at the center of the building on the ground floor, he said. "If anyone is left alive it would be an absolute wonder," he said while directing rescue efforts at the scene.

More than 300 rescue workers with scores of ambulances and fire engines were at the scene. The voices of survivors were heard initially in the rubble and rescue workers with sniffer dogs were trying to find them. Residents, crying and wide-eyed with fear, watched as bodies were dragged out. Books and clothes lay scattered on the ground and hung in branches of nearby trees. Across the street from the devastated apartment building a school stood with its windows blown out. "This huge explosion shook me out of my bed and there was a huge cloud of dust. I understood immediately it was a bomb. I know there were many old people and children living in the building," said Vladimir Kanshin, who lived in a neighboring building.

Investigators release sketch of suspect

Officials drew sharp parallels between Monday's explosion and the blast four days ago in the southeast section of the capital. The head of the Moscow police, Nikolai Kulikov, told reporters authorities are searching for a 35-year-old man, Mukhit Laipanov, who rented space in the first building and also owned a furniture store in the apartment block that was destroyed Monday.

"I appeal to all citizens, all businessmen, to inform the authorities urgently of all they might know about this person," Kulikov, head of Moscow's Interior Ministry department, told NTV television, showing a sketch of a dark-haired, bespectacled man. The Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia's main domestic intelligence agency, announced Saturday it had detained two people suspected of being involved in the Thursday explosion, but declined to identify the suspects or say what their motive might have been.

Several officials, including Luzhkov, linked Thursday's blast to fighting in the southern Russian region of Dagestan, where government troops are battling Islamic rebels who have occupied several villages. A Chechen warlord denied Sunday that Islamic militants he commands were responsible for that explosion.

Blast was fourth in two weeks

Monday's blast was the fourth major explosion in Russia in the past two weeks. It came on the day of national mourning that President Boris Yeltsin had ordered for the victims of last week's Moscow blast and of another explosion in the Dagestani town of Buinaksk, which killed 64 people. A bomb blast in an upscale shopping mall just outside the Kremlin left one woman dead and 40 injured on August 31. Russia has been plagued by scores of explosions in recent years, but the recent spate has been the deadliest. Police have not solved any of the major bombing cases.

Hundreds injured in Turkey's second deadly quake in month

GOLCUK, Turkey -- Terrified residents jumped from windows Monday as a 5.8-magnitude earthquake jolted the same area of western Turkey where more than 14,000 people died in an earthquake last month. At least seven people were killed and more than 420 injured in the latest quake.

In the hard-hit coastal town of Golcuk, one building damaged in last month's quake slid into the sea, apparently trapping four people who had gone inside to salvage their belongings. Rescue workers from civil defense, military and civilian rescue groups were on a 6-foot corner section of the building jutting from the water, pulling at the rubble. Navy divers searched the water. "Our only chance is that they are out of the water," said rescue worker Emre Ayan.

Rescue workers were also pulling debris from at least one other site in Golcuk where survivors might be trapped. The quake was centered in Ismit, just northeast of Golcuk and some 50 miles southeast of Istanbul, the city's Kandilli Observatory reported.

"It was very disorienting," said John Augsburger, a structural engineer from Harrisonburg, Virginia, who was in Golcuk at the time of the aftershock. "We were right next to a building. It moved so much, it looked like rubber," Augsburger said. The tremor sent thousands rushing for open ground. Most of the injured suffered broken bones as they jumped from buildings. "I am worried people who were already very jittery are now panicking," the Anatolian news agency quoted President Suleyman Demirel as saying.

Victims crushed under rubble, inside car

Six people died under falling masonry and rubble, three of them crushed inside a vehicle in the town of Golcuk and another three in the nearby city of Izmit, capital of Kocaeli province, according to Anatolian. One woman suffered a fatal heart attack in the town of Adapazari, which was also hit hard in last month's quake. Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said 15 buildings in Izmit and seven in Golcuk collapsed in Monday's tremor. Rescue teams were rushing to the region to search for people possibly trapped under the rubble, he said. More than 420 people were being treated from injuries or severe psychological trauma, state-owned TRT television reported.

Telephone communications with the region were badly damaged, making assessment of casualties or damage difficult. Television pictures taken in Golcuk showed residents running through the streets in panic after the quake struck at about 3 p.m. (1200 GMT).

Scores of terrified residents were injured when they leaped from windows and balconies, fearing that their shaking buildings would collapse. Streets and parks in towns throughout the region were filled with nervous residents unwilling to return to offices or homes. A massive earthquake August 17 killed more than 14,000 and left many buildings uninhabitable. Thousands of families in the region have been living in tent cities in fields. Monday's earthquake was also felt in Turkey's biggest city, Istanbul. "We were on the fourth floor and it really shook. Everyone rushed out of the building straight away. I was really scared," said Zeynep Peker, an office worker in the city.

Strong aftershock 'had been expected'

It was the strongest aftershock since the 7.8-magnitude quake in August. "It was the strong aftershock which had been expected," said Aykut Barka, professor of geology at Istanbul Technical University. Ecevit, who suspended classes in the region of Monday's quake, urged citizens to remain calm: "These aftershocks may continue and I hope they will not be as violent as the one today. We will have to learn to live with them."

UN, Australia hope for quick deployment of Force to East Timor

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas departed for New York on Monday to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other key U.N. members demanding immediate deployment of international peacekeepers to violence-torn East Timor.

Indonesian President B.J. Habibie's decision Sunday to accept a U.N. peacekeeping force for East Timor was applauded by Annan, who made clear that he wanted the arrangements finalized on an urgent basis. Annan said that a quick agreement is essential "so that the Security Council can take rapid action and the uncertainty and suffering of the East Timorese people will not be prolonged."

The immediate aim of the peacekeeping force will be to restore security after days of bloody rampages by anti-independence militias after East Timor's voters overwhelmingly chose independence over autonomy in an August 30 ballot.

Australia ready to lead peacekeepers

Australia, which has offered to lead the initial peacekeeping force, dispatched Foreign Minister Alex Downer to U.N. headquarters. Indonesia's neighbor has already placed 2,000 troops on 24-hour alert near the northern city of Darwin, 690 kilometers (430 miles) from East Timor.

Australian Defense Minister John Moore said Monday that Australian troops could be deployed in a matter of days. "By the end of the week or the start of next week, we should be in position to start to deploy elements of the peacekeeping force into East Timor," Moore said Monday.

But key issues must first be resolved so Indonesian and U.N-backed troops can work together -- including the command and composition of the peacekeeping operation. Australia is expected to provide 4,500 soldiers to the initial force of about 7,000 peacekeepers. Before departing for New York, Downer insisted that the peacekeeping force would have to be under Australian leadership if it was to be effective. "For the force to be effective and for it to be on the move quickly, it has to have Australian leadership and a major Australian role," he said.

ASEAN offers troops

The Australian foreign minister said he expected the initial contingent would consist of troops from Australia and other countries which could deploy their forces rapidly. Several members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, have already offered to contribute troops. The United States and several Western nations will likely provide mostly technical and logistical support to the operation. The Australian Foreign Minister also hoped that the Security Council would pass a strong resolution that would not tie the hands of the force. Its top objectives will likely include protecting refugees, safeguarding humanitarian aid for displaced persons and working with Indonesian troops already in East Timor.

Pro-Jakarta militias began their bloody rampage more than a week ago, after 78.5 percent of the territory's voters cast ballots supporting independence. The Indonesian military has increasingly come under heavy international criticism for allowing violence to escalate and has also been accused of killing refugees.

Humanitarian crisis worsens

Although there are signs that the violence has abated, the United Nations and several aid groups say that hundreds of thousands of refugee now face starvation. "There are hundreds of thousands of refugees in various parts of East Timor clustered in mountains without adequate food or with no food at all, living on roots, living on whatever they can scavenge," said UNAMET spokesman David Wimhurst. "We are also concerned about the situation in West Timor, where there are an unknown number of refugees, most of them forcibly deported there," he added.

Janet Hunt, executive director of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid, said Monday that her group had received reports of refugees dying from starvation. She said that two planeloads of food, medical and emergency equipment were in Darwin ready to be air dropped into East Timor once the security situation improves.

Wimhurst said that aid agencies were negotiating to launch aid airdrops to refugees prior to peacekeepers arriving. "I do not know if that is likely within 24 hours, but I do know it is an option being discussed," he said.

The Australian government said that large-scale humanitarian relief efforts would follow the restoration of law and order in East Timor and the Dili airport was secured by peacekeepers.

North Korea tentatively agrees to halt missile tests

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- North Korea has agreed to a deal with the United States to halt testing of its long-range ballistic missiles while the two countries continue talks on improving relations, U.S. National Security Adviser Samuel Berger said Monday. In return, the United States is considering measures to ease sanctions against the reclusive communist state, Berger told reporters at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in New Zealand. "It is now our understanding and expectation that North Korea will refrain from testing any long-range missiles for the duration our negotiations," Berger said. "This is an important initial step for addressing our concerns about North Korea's missile program." The agreement was reached during six days of talks between U.S. and North Korean negotiators in Berlin. Berger said he was pleased with the progress made in the missile talks. Negotiations are expected to continue, although a date and venue have not been set.

Cautious optimism in Seoul, Tokyo

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung issued a statement welcoming the development, and pledged Seoul's help in trying to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula and throughout Asia. "We will do our best to make the agreement reached in the Berlin talks happen. We view this result as a show of sincerity by the North." Tensions have been high in the region since North Korea launched a three-stage Taepodong rocket over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean in August 1998. The North's missile program also caused alarm in the United States, especially after intelligent reports revealed that it planned to test a longer-range Taepodong 2 rocket that could reach 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles), or as far as Alaska and Hawaii. Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi welcomed news of the agreement, but remained cautious. "I see it as a step toward North Korea freezing a missile launch, but I don't think of the agreement as a sign that the North has abandoned a launch completely," Obuchi said.

A slow process

North Korea, which has been hobbled by economic crisis and famine in recent years, has flaunted its potential nuclear weapons program and won a good deal from Washington in return for freezing it. Last year, Pyongyang allowed inspections of an suspected underground nuclear complex in exchange for more economic aid. The United States also hopes North Korea will sign a formal peace treaty to end the 1950-1953 Korean conflict. The two Koreas are still technically at war and 37,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea. Its remains unclear whether U.S. and North Korean officials will hold on further issues separating them. "This is a process that must proceed step by step but I believe a process that is moving in the right direction," said Berger. "Obviously all of the people of this region will be safer if we move farther along on this constructive path."

Hurricane watch goes up for Florida

MIAMI -- Hurricane watches were posted for parts of Florida Monday as Hurricane Floyd raced toward the Bahamas packing winds nearing 155 mph (248 km/h). The East Coast of Florida from Hallandale north to Flagler Beach was put under a hurricane watch at 5 a.m. Monday. Northwest and central Bahamas was under a hurricane warning. "It is very powerful hurricane -- you don't get much more powerful," said Todd Kimberlain, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. As its sustained winds neared 155 mph, Floyd was on the threshold of becoming a Category 5 storm -- the strongest category there is.

By 5 a.m. Monday, the Category 4 storm was centered 245 miles (390 km) east of San Salvador island in the central Bahamas. It was headed west at 14 mph (22 km/h). If it keeps its track, Floyd would pass Monday night or early Tuesday 120 miles (192 km) east of Nassau, the Bahamian capital, Kimberlain said. The Hurricane Center said it looked as if Floyd would reach Florida on Wednesday. Forecasters said it was on course to hit land in central Florida, though it was possible it would turn to the north, either skirting the coast or lashing Georgia and the Carolinas. "I think the northern Bahamas are under the gun. It is a little less certain for the central Bahamas. It (Floyd) should be moving through the northern Bahamas on Tuesday," an NHC spokesman, James Franklin said. "South Florida is not out of the woods yet," Kimberlain added.

Florida's Division of Emergency Management warned Florida residents to start getting ready for a visit by Floyd. Many people were already heeding the warning, stocking up with water and supplies in supermarkets and heading to hardware stores for plywood to shutter windows. Miami TV stations also ran advisories telling people how to protect their homes. Floyd was designated a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir Simpson scale on Sunday, meaning it can rip off roofs on small residences, damage doors and windows, tear down trees and signs, destroy mobile homes and cause severe flooding.

Hurricane Andrew, which devastated swaths of south Florida in August 1992 and killed more than 40 people, was Category 4. The Atlantic season's sixth tropical storm, Floyd formed on Wednesday and reached hurricane strength early Friday. Meanwhile, another tempest, Tropical Storm Gert, was roiling in the central Atlantic. Gert, the seventh named storm of the season, was located about 1,500 miles east of The Lesser Antilles and moving westward late Sunday.

Election defeats for Schroeder's SPD

BERLIN -- The Christian Democrat opposition in Germany continues to celebrate victories in the country's local elections.

The CDU made more gains yesterday in areas previously regarded as strongholds for the SPD Social Democrats, led by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. In the depressed eastern state of Thuringia, the CDU, led by Prime Minister Bernhard Fogel, swept the SPD out of government and into third place.

It was a similar story in lower level municipal elections in Germany's biggest state, North Rhine Westphalia. The working class bastion of Cologne swung to the CDU and Dortmund will have its first conservative council since the defeat of the Nazis.

For the SPD, the results offer little cheer for next year's state election. They also reflect national disenchantment with near record unemployment and the governing coalition's austerity policies which were introduced to cure it.

The defeats also increase the pressure on Chancellor Schroeder who was last week forced into bargaining with the opposition to get key economic reforms through Parliament.

Other headlines

  • GOP promises broad probe into Waco
  • Before new talks, chasm divides Israelis and Palestinians
  • Governments urged to declare AIDS emergency in Africa
  • Flooding forces evacuations in El Salvador
  • Serbia urges UN and NATO to disband Kosovo rebel army
  • Calls grow to prosecute Britain's great-granny spy
  • London begins putting millennium Ferris wheel in place

    Sources: CNN, Euronews


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