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Germanwings Airbus crashes in French Alps, 150 feared dead


By Jean-Francois Rosnoblet

0SEYNE-LES-ALPES, France (Reuters)--An Airbus operated by Lufthansa's (LHAG.DE) Germanwings budget airline crashed in a  remote snowy area of the French Alps on Tuesday and all 150 on board were feared dead.
  French President Francois Hollande said he believed none of those on board the A320 had survived, while the head of Lufthansa spoke of a dark day for the
German airline. Germanwings confirmed its flight 4U9525 from Barcelona to Duesseldorf crashed in the French Alps with 144 passengers and six crew members on board.
  Hollande said: "The conditions of the accident, which have not yet been clarified, lead us to think there are no survivors." Officials said the plane issued a distress call at 0947 GMT, about 52 minutes after take-off.
  Unofficial website tracking data suggested the aircraft made a sharp descent from its cruising height of 35,000 feet but that it did not appear to have plummeted as quickly as aircraft known to have lost complete control. However, safety experts warned against reading too much into the third-party data, especially over remote areas, and said black boxes holding the probable answers to the crash were expected to be retrieved quickly
  The accident happened in an alpine region known for skiing, hiking and rafting, but which is hard for rescue services to reach. As helicopters and emergency vehicles assembled, the weather was reported to be closing in.
  "There will be a lot of cloud cover this afternoon, with local storms, snow above 1,800 metres and relatively low clouds. That will not help the helicopters in their work," an official from the local weather centre told Reuters.
  Hollande said there were likely to be significant numbers of Germans on the flight. Spain's deputy prime minister said 45 passengers had Spanish names.
  It was the first crash of a large passenger jet on French soil since the Concorde disaster just outside Paris nearly 15 years ago. The A320 is a workhorse of worldwide aviation fleets. They are the world’s most used passenger jets and have a good though not unblemished safety record.
  Lufthansa Chief Executive Carsten Spohr, who planned to go to the crash site, spoke of a "dark day" for the airline. "We do not yet know what has happened to flight 4U9525. My deepest sympathy goes to the families and friends of our passengers and crew," Lufthansa said on Twitter, citing Spohr.
  "If our fears are confirmed, this is a dark day for Lufthansa. We hope to find survivors," it said.
  A spokesman for France's DGAC aviation authority said the airliner crashed near the town of Barcelonnette about 100 km (65 miles) north of the French Riviera city of Nice. French and German accident investigators were heading for the crash site in Meolans-Revel, a remote and sparsely inhabited commune in the Alps.
  German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt would also travel to the crash site, a ministry spokesman said.
  Airbus (AIR.PA) said it was aware of reports of the crash. "We are aware of the media reports," Airbus said on Twitter. "All efforts are now going towards assessing the situation. We will provide further information as soon as available."
  Officials at Barcelona airport said the flight took off at 0855 GMT. Families of those on board the plane were gathering at a specially prepared building there.
  The crashed A320 is 24 years old -- at the upper end of useful life of an aircraft in first-tier airlines -- and has been with the parent Lufthansa group since 1991, according to online database airfleets.net
  (Additional reporting by Nicolas Bertin, Gregory Blachier, Tim Hepher; and Sabine Siebold; writing by Giles Elgood; editing by Mark John, James Regan and Anna Willard)



Former MP arrested for threats, firearms found

PHILIPSBURG--Former Member of Parliament Romain Laville was arrested on Thursday morning, following allegations made against him in two unrelated cases.

The first case concerns gun threats made against Isidore York, better known as steel pan musician Mighty Dow, in an argument over local artistes not having been paid the same rate as foreign artistes during an event. York at the time stated that Laville had derided him for protesting against promoter Tempo, which wanted local artistes to perform for free.

Laville was said to have launched a verbal and profane tirade at Dow, because, while Laville had asked local artistes not to go to the media while the situation pertaining to remuneration was being sorted out, the artistes had complained publicly that Tempo did not have the respect to treat local artistes fairly.

The second case relates to MP Jules James, who alleged that Laville threatened him on June 11, 2012, in parliament, and that Laville showed him a firearm during that incident.

Spokeswoman for the Prosecutor's Office Tineke Kamps confirmed that Laville had indeed been arrested by the Landsrecherche (National Detectives) on suspicion of threatening York on November 28, 2012, making threats against James on June 11, 2012, and possession of one or more firearms.

Kamps confirmed that two firearms had indeed been seized at the time of Laville's arrest, and that there had been no incidents at the time of the arrest.

Laville has been questioned by detectives, before being released on Thursday night, Kamps added. The detectives are now investigating whether Laville had a valid permit, which would allow him to carry the weapons.

Solicitor-General Taco Stein had confirmed in August 2013, that several people had been questioned in the case relating to the threat against James. However, Stein said at that time he did not have the details of who exactly had been interviewed and when. It was understood at the time that a number of MPs, who witnessed the altercation in Parliament House, had been interviewed by the National Detectives, including Frans Richardson.

Laville, who had been fraction leader of the United People's Party (UP) before becoming independent, had wanted to be a minister in the previous cabinet, but did not pass the screening because of the two incidents.

Govt approves ‘function book’ for police, prison

page3a260PHILIPSBURG--Over four years of lobbying by general police union NAPB seems to have reaped fruit on Thursday when Justice Minister Dennis Richardson made a surprise announcement that government has approved the function book for the police and prison.

Richardson made the announcement during the first of the two-day NAPB National Congress at Divi Little Bay Beach Resort.

Richardson said the Council of Ministers on Tuesday established the “functiehuis” and “rechtspositieregeling” or the organisational setup and legal rights and obligations of police officers and prison staff, matters that NAPB has been lobbying for, several years now. The function book covers a range of areas such as the general police law, structure, placement plan and salary package, amongst other things.

Richardson said the approved document will now have to be handled by the Council of Advice. “It has taken more than four years to reach this point,” he said adding that Rome wasn’t built in a day and in St. Maarten it takes just a day longer.

The minister also “assured” the union that bullet proof vests “will be purchased for law enforcement officers.” He said preparations for the decision making are now in its final stages

“We will have to do what we have to do on our own with the means that we have. It will take in some cases a little longer, we do it with pride and conviction,” the minister said.

Richardson said he stood fully behind the stance that NAPB has taken that a minister of Justice “cannot stand idly by whilst others whose performance does not justify their arrogance unjustly denigrate local law enforcement agencies.”

Shortly after the announcement NAPB police union President Ephewoldus “Joe” Josepha told reporters attending the congress that the announcement was a surprise as he was unaware of the Council’s decision. He said putting the function house into effect will automatically solve 60 per cent of the “problems” of police. “We are going full speed ahead. We will not stop. We are not there yet, but this is a good first step,” Josepha said. “Just bringing this news to the members will bring joy to some of the members. It was something that was keeping me up at night.”

Attending the congress were representatives of NAPB St. Maarten, Curaçao and the Dutch Caribbean (Saba, St. Eustatius and Bonaire).

St. Martin Tourism Office staff on strike

page1a260MARIGOT--St. Martin Tourism Office was closed on Thursday as staff staged a walk-out to protest what employees said was disrespect of a long standing Labour Collective Agreement on worker's rights established by the French Government (State).

Labour Collective Agreements were implemented by Government for various institutions, for example for all hotels, tourism offices, car rental companies, and others.

Thursday's strike was the second such protest action in about a month on the same subject.

"The first action was about our rights not being respected," explained Emile Louisy. "Around February 24, we had an issue in the office where we tried to get our voice heard through the union and Labour Department because the Labour Collective Agreement is not being respected. We approached management on many occasions to respect this agreement but to no avail.

"We still tried to sit down with management and politicians and a lot of promises were made. Some of the promises were supposed to be met on March 10, but now we are at March 26, and promises have not materialised and questions have not been answered. Up to now the President Jeanne Rogers-Vanterpool has refused to meet with us."

He noted a Marshall had been sent to observe the strikers with an instruction to break open the padlock to the front gate, however, the gate was reportedly not opened.

According to Louisy the agreement was "partially" respected during the previous tourism office administration but today, disrespecting it amounted to an "abuse of power."

Payment of overtime is one crucial point in the agreement, Grégoire Dumel added.

"The nature of our industry is such that we work all kinds of hours that have not been paid," he said. "In addition, the meal vouchers that we used to get were stopped in October without consulting the staff and up to today we don't know why that was done. On March 2 we had a meeting with the Director, President, and a lawyer but we have not heard any outcome of that meeting. This is a strike by the whole tourism office staff that want answers to their grievances. We did not want to reach to this point but it seems discussion with management is not an option."

Dumel indicated since 2013 there have been no meetings with staff and management concerning staff issues.

"Neither has there been any staff training in six years. Training is imperative to stay competitive and to keep up with changing technology," he said. "But management still wants the budgets, action plans, and reports from us."

Interim Tourism Office Director Kate Richardson explained management is trying to resolve the issues with a lawyer and Inspection du Travail (Labour Inspector).

"It was decided to hire a lawyer specialised in these social issues and social law to get everything back in order," she said. "We hope to get it all resolved as soon as possible."

President Jeanne Rogers-Vanterpool told The Daily Herald: "I was made aware of an illegal barricade of the Tourism Office this morning. Since there has been no notice of grievances or a strike, I am unable to comment on the actions of the persons barricading the gates. A Marshall of the Courts was sent to remove the barricade and was turned away by said persons. Currently, since this is in the hands of our legal affairs department, I am constrained to not comment further."

Protocol for SMMC improvement signed

PHILIPSBURG--Healthcare stakeholders have signed a protocol for the improvement of St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC), which includes the development of a business plan for the hospital within three months.

The signing follows what was described as “an intense tripartite meeting” amongst Health Minister Rita Bourne-Gumbs, SMMC Director Kees Klarenbeek and SZV Interim Director Glen Carty at the Westin St. Maarten Dawn Beach Resort and Spa on March 19.

The protocol was signed on March 26, amongst SMMC, SZV and the Health Ministry and “bonds” the “cooperation intentions” of the signatories.

SZV also indicated its willingness to help SMMC in its financial woes. A letter to this effect was presented to SMMC at the signing ceremony.

“The three parties must realise the seriousness of signing this protocol,” Prime Minister Gumbs said at the signing ceremony. “The protocol states the development of the business case for SMMC within three months, and I expect that everyone will do their best, leave the past in the past and successfully realise the plans in this protocol on time. No more excuses,” he stressed.

Bourne-Gumbs said she looked forward to the future working relationship amongst parties, as well as the plan to work out a business plan for the improvement of SMMC.

Carty thanked everyone who worked behind the scenes on the preparation of the tripartite meeting, as this brought “the good spirit” to the meeting last week resulting in the protocol. “Everybody, advisors and lawyers behind the scenes worked together showing the cooperation that is needed for the future,” Carty said.

Klarenbeek: “I am glad that we are on the same page for looking for sustainable solutions for the healthcare on St. Maarten.”

Gumbs and Finance Minister Martin Hassink witnessed the signing. Member of SMMC’s Council Luzz-Marie Tuitt signed on behalf of Council Chairman Robert-Jan James.

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