Three Climbers Presumed Dead in Banff Avalanche

Three renowned mountain climbers are presumed dead after an avalanche in Alberta’s Banff National Park, Canadian officials said Thursday.

Outdoor apparel company The North Face said that American Jess Roskelley and Austrians David Lama and Hansjorg Auer disappeared while attempting to climb the east face of Howse Peak on the Icefields Parkway. They were reported overdue Wednesday.

“They are missing, and local search and rescue has assumed the worst,” North Face said in a statement.

Roskelley climbed Mount Everest in 2003 at age 20. At the time he was the youngest American to climb the world’s highest peak.

The North Face says it is doing what it can to support the climbers’ families and friends.

Parks Canada said the three men were attempting to climb the east face of Howse Peak on the Icefields Parkway Wednesday.

Officials say recovery efforts are on hold because of a continued risk of avalanches.

Parks Canada says safety specialists immediately responded by air and observed signs of multiple avalanches and debris containing climbing equipment.

“Parks Canada extends its sincerest condolences to the families, friends and loved ones of the mountaineers,” Parks Canada said in a statement.

Roskelley’s father, John Roskelley, was himself a world-renowned climber who had many notable ascents in Nepal and Pakistan, mostly in the 1970s. John Roskelley joined his son on the successful Everest expedition in 2003.

Jess Roskelley grew up in Spokane, Washington, where his father was a county commissioner. John Roskelley told The Spokesman-Review the route his son and the other climbers were attempting was first done in 2000.

“It’s just one of those routes where you have to have the right conditions or it turns into a nightmare. This is one of those trips where it turned into a nightmare,” John Roskelley said.

John Roskelley had climbed the 10,810-foot Howse Peak, via a different route, in the 1970s and knows the area well. On Thursday he was preparing to go to Canada to gather Jess Roskelley’s belongings and see if he could get into the area.

“It’s in an area above a basin,” he said. “There must have been a lot of snow that came down and got them off the face.”

The elder Roskelley said: “When you’re climbing mountains, danger is not too far away. … It’s terrible for my wife and I. But it’s even worse for his wife.”

Police Official: Short-Circuit Likely Caused Notre Dame Fire

Paris police investigators think an electrical short-circuit most likely caused the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, a police official said Thursday, as France paid a daylong tribute to the firefighters who saved the world-renowned landmark.

A judicial police official told The Associated Press that investigators made an initial assessment of the cathedral Wednesday but don’t have a green light to search Notre Dame’s charred interior because of ongoing safety hazards.

The cathedral’s fragile walls were being shored up with wooden planks, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak by name about an ongoing investigation. 

Investigators believe the fire was accidental, and are questioning both cathedral staff and workers who were carrying out renovations. Some 40 people had been questioned by Thursday, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office.

The police official would not comment on an unsourced report in Le Parisian newspaper that investigators are looking at whether the fire could have been linked to a computer glitch or the temporary elevators used in the renovation work, among other things. The prosecutor’s office said only that “all leads must be explored.”

Temporary structure proposed

Since the cathedral will be closed to the public for years, the rector of the Catholic parish that worships there has proposed building a temporary structure on the plaza in front of the Gothic-era landmark, and City Hall gave its approval Thursday “subject to technical restraints.” 

“The rector has no cathedral for the moment. … But I’m going to try to invent something,” Bishop Patrick Chauvet said. 

A crypt containing vestiges dating from antiquity is located under the vast esplanade. 

President Emmanuel Macron has said he wants Notre Dame to be restored in five years, in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics, which Paris is hosting. Restoration specialists have questioned the ambitious timeline, with some saying it could take three times that long to rebuild the 850-year-old architectural treasure. 

Honoring the firefighters

Earlier Thursday, Macron held a ceremony at the Elysee Palace to thank the hundreds of firefighters who battled the fast-moving fire at Notre Dame for nine hours starting Monday evening, preventing the structure’s destruction and rescuing many of the important relics held inside.

“We’ve seen before our eyes the right things perfectly organized in a few moments, with responsibility, courage, solidarity and a meticulous organization,” Macron said. “The worst has been avoided.” 

The cathedral’s lead roof and its soaring spire were destroyed, but Notre Dame’s iconic bell towers, rose windows, organ and precious artworks were saved. 

Macron said the firefighters will receive an Honor Medal for their courage and devotion. 

Paris City Hall also held a ceremony in the firefighters’ honor Thursday afternoon, with a Bach violin concert, two giant banners strung from the monumental city headquarters and readings from Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” 

Remarkably, no one was killed in the blaze that broke out as the cathedral was in the initial stages of a lengthy restoration. 

Securing area, cathedral

A large swath of the island in the Seine River where Notre Dame is located was officially closed Thursday by police, who cited “important risks” of collapse and falling objects. The area had been unofficially blocked off since the fire. 

Meanwhile, workers using a crane removed some statues to lessen the weight on the cathedral’s fragile gables, or support walls, to keep them from collapsing since they were no longer supported by the roof and its network of centuries-old timbers that were consumed by the inferno. 

They also secured the support structure above one of Notre Dame’s rose windows with wooden planks. 

Saving history

Among the firefighters honored Thursday was Paris fire brigade chaplain Jean-Marc Fournier, who told the Le Parisian daily he was able to save the cathedral’s consecrated hosts. The paper said he climbed on altars to remove large paintings, but that he was especially proud “to have removed Jesus” from the Cathedral — a reference to the Catholic belief that consecrated hosts are the body of Christ. 

An earlier report credited Fournier with helping salvage the crown of thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus at his crucifixion, but Fournier told France Info Thursday he arrived after rescuers had already broken the relic’s protective covering and an official who had the secret code needed to unlock it finished the job. He praised the action that preserved “this extraordinary relic, this patrimony of humanity.”

Among others honored was Myriam Chudzinski, one of the first firefighters to reach the roof as the blaze raged. Loaded with gear, they climbed hundreds of steps up the cathedral’s narrow spiral staircase to the top of one of the two towers.

“We knew that the roof was burning, but we didn’t really know the intensity,” she told reporters. “It was from upstairs that you understood that it was really dramatic. It was very hot and we had to retreat, retreat. It was spreading quickly.” 

Benedicte Contamin, who came to view the damaged cathedral from afar Thursday, said she’s sad but grateful it’s still there. 

“It’s a chance for France to bounce back, a chance to realize what unites us, because we have been too much divided over the past years,” she said.

Officials Pay Tribute to Victims of Madeira Tourist Bus Crash

In a show of solidarity, the foreign ministers of Germany and Portugal laid two wreaths near the site where 29 German tourists died on Wednesday after their bus overturned on the Portuguese island of Madeira.

The bus — carrying 55 tourists, a guide and a driver — veered off a steep road in the coastal town of Canico, near Madeira’s capital city, Funchal, and came to a halt next to a house, which was damaged in the crash, authorities said.

Portugal’s public prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into the accident, the cause of which authorities said they could not yet determine. Local TV channel SIC attributed it to either brake failure or a problem with the accelerator cable.

Heiko Maas, Germany’s foreign minister, landed in Madeira on Thursday evening with a team of doctors, psychologists and consular officials to meet those affected and thank Portugal for its help.

As soon as he touched down, the minister and his team headed to the scene of the crash, where he paid tribute to the victims and, alongside his Portuguese counterpart, held a minute of silence.

Flowers left near accident site

Shocked residents also laid flowers by the road where the accident took place.

“This is a terrible event,” Maas told reporters during his visit to the site. “We can’t just stay in Germany watching and celebrating Easter.”

Maas then visited Funchal’s hospital, where 28 people were treated for head, abdominal, chest and other injuries, a hospital spokesman said on Thursday morning.

A statement released on Thursday evening by Madeira’s regional health service confirmed that 17 of the 28 injured remained in hospital and that 10 people were already discharged.

None of those injured are currently in a life-threatening condition, Portugal’s foreign minister, Augusto Santos Silva, told reporters after he arrived in Madeira on Thursday afternoon.

“We are working flat-out to bring people who are injured and capable of being transported, to identify those who have died and to inform their families.” Maas said. “It is very difficult work.”

Many victims were retirees

Authorities on the island confirmed all 29 people killed were German. Madeira’s regional health service said 17 were women and 12 were men. Many were retirees, said Germany’s best-selling daily, Bild.

The 29 victims were members of a bigger holiday group, other members of which were traveling on another bus, a regional civil protection spokesman said.

Two of the injured were Portuguese and the rest were foreign nationals, a hospital spokesman said. Santos Silva confirmed the two Portuguese citizens were the driver and the tour guide.

Images taken by Reuters photographers on Thursday showed the bulk of the wreckage had been removed, leaving some debris still scattered on the ground.

Tributes poured in and three days of mourning were declared in Portugal on Thursday in honor of the victims of the bus crash.

“I have no words to describe what happened. I cannot face the suffering of these people,” Canico Mayor Filipe Sousa told SIC TV.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa sent his “deepest condolences” to victims’ families, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed “sadness and shock” at the scale of the tragedy.

Mass Graves From Franco Era Become Spanish Election Issue

When archaeologists in Spain unearthed layers of human bones from a mass grave last year, the remains of one body emerged draped in a shirt that had the letters “MG” embroidered on it in red.

The initials spoke volumes to Daniel Galán.

They sparked hope he would be able to provide a proper burial for his grandfather, Miguel Galán, a village mayor who disappeared eight decades ago along with tens of thousands of others summarily executed by the forces of Gen. Francisco Franco during and after the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War.

Galán is among a small number of descendants promised provincial government funds for DNA tests to confirm that their ancestors were tossed into a mass grave at Paterna Cemetery in Valencia. But with Spain’s national election later this month exposing an ideological divide that has echoes of the clash of left and right during the civil war, some Spaniards worry they may lose the chance to recover their dead.

The far-right Vox party, which recently exploded onto Spain’s political scene, wants to scrap efforts to exhume and identify Franco’s victims. Its ambition counters the pledge by the ruling Socialists to remove Franco’s remains from a huge, publicly maintained mausoleum near Madrid so they no longer attract nationalists celebrating the dictator as a hero.

“Depending on who wins, logically there would be a change. If the right wins, well, all this will just stop or worse,” Galán, 61, said while visiting Paterna Cemetery to repair the grainy black-and-white photo of his grandfather, which had fallen off the headstone.

For other Spaniards, digging up bodies just stirs up a painful past unnecessarily and runs counter to the desire for reconciliation that made it possible for Spain to have a bloodless transition from dictatorship to democracy after Franco’s death in 1975. They also fear that the exhumations could lead to a shaming of those who had relatives on the side of Franco*s right-wing forces.

“I think that that period of history was settled,” Elena Escribano, a 60-year-old housewife, said at a Vox rally. “Not knowing where a relative is is hard, but there are victims on both sides. We must pray for them but we must look to the future.”

Activists and relatives pushed for the excavations after the then-Socialist government passed the 2007 Law of Historical Memory, which allowed exhumations of mass graves and condemned atrocities committed during Franco’s regime. But the law did not guarantee funding, and the conservative Popular Party that governed between 2011 and 2018 included none in the national budget.

The result is a piecemeal and sometimes cumbersome process.

At Paterna, the precarious funding scheme and a backlog of work meant the remains of 244 people — Galán’s grandfather possibly among them — ended up being stored in a ceramics museum.

Rosa Pérez, a local lawmaker who championed funding for families to exhume mass graves at Paterna Cemetery and other sites in the province of Valencia, has promised that money will be there to carry out forensic and DNA tests on the bones stored in the museum regardless of who wins the April 28 national election.

But Pérez is putting on hold any spending for new exhumations until after regional and local elections this month and next to see if her United Left party remains in power locally. So far, archaeologists have removed the remains of 450 of the 2,237 bodies thought to be in the mass graves at the Paterna Cemetery.

“This shouldn’t be how this is being handled,” Pérez said. “We have been in need of a national plan for a long time.”

Experts have estimated for the Spanish government that 740 mass graves and 9,000 bodies have been exhumed nationally since 2000. That leaves an estimated 114,000 bodies still hidden in 2,500 mass graves, they added.

The Socialist government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez wanted to include 15 million euros ($20 million) in the national budget that failed to pass this year to continue identifying victims of Franco’s regime. It has also mentioned establishing a “truth commission” to investigate the crimes of his dictatorship, and is studying a plan to have 25,000 bodies exhumed in five years.

But Sánchez faces strong competition in the April 28 national election, at which the far-right Vox is widely anticipated to win its first seats in the Spanish Parliament.

Vox has already successfully pushed the Popular Party to commit to rolling back regional laws that allow the exhumations of mass graves in Spain’s south in order to support their formation of a government for Andalusia earlier this year.

Now, Vox could prove influential in the creation of possible coalition government at the national level after the election.

Popular Party president and opposition leader, Pablo Casado, who in 2015 called those who want to recover the mass grave bodies “old fogeys,” wants a new “Law of Concord” that would subsume the Law of Historical Memory.

The leader of Vox, Santiago Abascal, criticized the exhumations when he kicked off his campaign.

“How are we going to condemn our grandparents?” Abascal asked supporters. “For us, we only have one doctrine for the recent historical memory. And that is liberty: liberty for you to respect your grandparents.”

Outside the walls of the Paterna Cemetery, a walk through scrubland leads to a wall in which bullet holes from the Francoist firing squads that executed people like Miguel Galán still are visible.

Galán insists he does not want to drag Spain back into its bloody past.

“The difference is between them lying in mass graves like rotting dogs and being able to take them and give them dignified burial,” Galán said. “For those who say we are only reopening old wounds, that is not true, because these wounds have been open for 80 years.”

 

Populists Expected to Gain Seats in May’s EU Elections

The European Parliament is predicting that nationalist, populist and anti-migrant groups will make significant gains in the May 23-26 EU elections but says it thinks mainstream parties will keep control over the assembly.

 

Projections released Thursday suggest the center-right European People’s Party will remain the biggest group, with 180 seats in the 751-seat parliament, down 37 seats. The center-left Socialists and Democrats would drop from 186 to 149 seats.

 

The Europe of Nations and Freedom group, which combines right-wing and far-right parties like Italy’s Liga, Britain’s UKIP and France’s National Rally would win 62 seats, compared to 37 currently.

 

New parties like former UKIP figurehead Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, which are listed as “other,” are expected to expand from 21 seats to 62.

 

The data is collected from national surveys and assumes that Britain will participate.

 

 

Ukraine Reverses Nationalization of Tycoon’s Bank

A Ukrainian court has ruled that the 2016 nationalization of a major bank owned by a powerful tycoon was illegal.

The court in Kyiv ruled on Thursday that Pryvatbank, owned by tycoon Ihor Kolomoyskyi, was nationalized in 2016 illegally.

It was not immediately clear how the government would return the bank, once Ukraine’s biggest private lender with a reported capital shortfall of $5 billion, to Kolomoyskyi.

Ukraine’s National Bank vowed to appeal the ruling.

Kolomoiskyi’s figure has loomed large in Ukraine in the past few weeks as the country goes to the polls to elect a new president Sunday. Kolomoyskyi is an archrival of incumbent President Petro Poroshenko. The tycoon is believed to have ties to Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian who emerged as an odds-on favorite in the race.

 

 

France Launches Global Contest to Replace Notre-Dame Spire

France on Wednesday announced it would invite architects from around the world to submit designs for replacing the spire of Notre-Dame cathedral after a devastating blaze, as the government braced for a mammoth restoration challenge.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the contest would decide whether the monument should have a new spire at all and if so, whether it should be identical to the fallen 19th-century model or be a wholly new design.

The world looked on in horror Monday as flames engulfed the 850-year-old gothic masterpiece seen as encapsulating the soul of Paris and the spire came crashing down.

Explaining that having no new spire at all was an option, Philippe noted that Notre-Dame had been without a steeple for part of its history.

“The international contest will settle the question of whether we should build a new spire, whether we should rebuild the spire that was designed and built by [Eugene] Viollet-Le-Duc, in identical fashion, or whether we should… endow Notre-Dame cathedral with a new spire adapted to the techniques and the challenges of our era.”

Philippe described the task of rebuilding it as “a huge challenge and historic responsibility,” a day after President Emmanuel Macron said the entire restoration should be completed in just five years.

The bells of French cathedrals were to ring out at 1650 GMT on Wednesday to mark the exact moment when the fire started on Monday.

Macron had vowed to rebuild the iconic monument, the real star of Victor Hugo’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame” by 2024 when France hosts the summer Olympics.

“We can do it,” he said Tuesday, calling France “a nation of builders.”

On Wednesday afternoon, he was set to chair a meeting of senior government, church, conservation and Paris city officials to launch the reconstruction process.

Rebate debate

No sooner had firefighters extinguished the flames than pledges of donations towards restoring France’s best-loved monument, which attracted 12 million visitors in 2018, began to pour in.

Within 24 hours, the pledges had reached more than 800 million euros ($900 million), with French business magnates and corporations jostling to outshine each other with displays of generosity.

But the slew of announcements raised eyebrows in France, with some leftist politicians arguing that the ultra-rich could best help protect the country’s cultural heritage by fully paying their taxes — or helping the “human cathedral” of people in need.

The huge tax breaks available on the donations also caused some unease, prompting Francois-Henri Pinault, the billionaire CEO of the Kering luxury goods empire, to announce he would forfeit his rebate.

“The donation for Notre-Dame of Paris will not be the object of any tax deduction. Indeed, the Pinault family considers that it is out of the question to make French taxpayers shoulder the burden,” Pinault said in a statement.

Pinault had led the pledges of donations starting Monday night with a promise of 100 million euros.

Billionaire Bernard Arnault and his LVMH luxury conglomerate, Total oil company and cosmetics giant L’Oreal also each pledged 100 million euros or more, while US tech giant Apple said it would give an unspecified amount.

French corporations are eligible for a 60-percent tax rebate on cultural donations.

The government said Wednesday that figure would remain unchanged, but increased the rebate to 75 percent on individual donations for Notre-Dame of up to 1,000 euros.

Bigger private donations will continue to qualify for the standard 66 percent rebate.

Rebuilding for 2024 Olympics

On Tuesday evening, Macron set out an ambitious timeline for restoring the landmark that took nearly two centuries to build and which has played a role in many of the defining moments of French history.

“We will rebuild the cathedral even more beautifully and I want it to be finished within five years,” Macron said in an address to the nation, in which he hailed how the fire had shown the capacity of France to mobilize and unite.

In a sign of the monument’s resilience, the copper rooster that topped its spire was found Tuesday in the rubble of the roof, “battered but apparently restorable” according to a spokesperson for the culture ministry.

The walls, bell towers and the most famous circular stained-glass windows also remain intact.

But the floor of the nave was left strewn with blackened roof beams and chunks of the collapsed upper vaulting.

Experts have warned that full restoration could take longer than five years, with one of the biggest tasks involving replacing the precious oak “forest” that propped up the roof.

“I’d say decades,” Eric Fischer, head of the foundation in charge of restoring the 1,000-year-old Strasbourg cathedral, told AFP.

‘Long, complex’ investigation

Investigators trying to determine the cause of the blaze are questioning workers who were renovating the steeple, an operation suspected of accidentally triggering the blaze.

The police have already spoken to around 30 people from five different construction companies.

Public prosecutor Remy Heitz has said the investigation threatened to be “long and complex”.

Meanwhile, work to secure the cathedral continues.

Junior interior minister Laurent Nunez said Tuesday that although “some weaknesses” had been identified, overall the building was “holding up OK”.

Former Spy: Hungary Used as Logistical Base for Russian Intelligence Activity

“Is your boss working for Moscow?”

It isn’t a question any Western counter-intelligence officer wants to be asked by counterparts in agencies from allied NATO countries, but for Ferenc Katrein it wasn’t such an infrequent query during his decade-and-a-half at Hungary’s Constitution Protection Office.

Worst of all, there were grounds for suspicions about Hungary’s civilian intelligence services, doubts Katrein himself harbored.

Five-and-half years ago Katrein left Hungary’s counter-espionage agency, where he’d risen to become executive head of operations and later chief adviser to the director. “There comes a point when you have to say no,” he told me as we sipped coffee in a cafe near a railway station.

“It was both a matter of being asked to do things I didn’t think right and blocked from doing things we needed to do,” he adds. The final straw for Ferenc was being obstructed from mounting operations to counter Russian intelligence activity in Hungary by, among other things, targeting Russian officers in a bid to recruit them as double agents.

‘Russian’ bank relocation

Katrein, who now lives outside Hungary, agreed to be interviewed by VOA amid a political storm in Budapest over a controversial decision by the government of Viktor Orban to agree to the relocation to the Hungarian capital of a Russian-controlled development bank steeped in Cold War history.

Known now as the International Investment Bank, formerly as Comecon, the obscure Russian-controlled financial institution is headed by Nikolai Kosov, whose parents had storied careers in the Soviet spy agency KGB.

Opposition politicians in Hungary, as well as Western security officials, have expressed fear the bank will be used as cover for Russian espionage activities in Europe.

Katrein shares the worries, hence his agreement to the interview and his readiness to discuss the politicization of the Hungarian intelligence services and the Russian threat to Europe.

“The Russians will use the bank, as they use other state-owned companies and organizations that set up shop overseas, for intelligence purposes,” he says. “This hurts me as a former counter-intelligence officer to see this bank being allowed to re-base in Budapest,” he adds.

The bank has denied it or its director is in any way linked to Russian intelligence.

But Katrein says his old agency won’t have the resources or manpower to be able to monitor what the bank is up to or the activities of its employees. The Orban government has extended diplomatic immunity to the bank, further shielding it. He believes Orban is anxious to play Russia and the West against each other.

“All the Russian [intelligence] services — the GRU, FSB and SVR — are highly active in Hungary and they have free rein, that was my problem. There was no effort to curtail or control them. We are a member of NATO and we have a responsibility to our allies. The question some of us started asking was, ‘Who is our partner, NATO or the Russians? The question was being asked inside the building. We didn’t understand what was going on,” he says.

The original sin in Hungary after the fall of communism was not to effect a root-and-branch clearing of the country’s intelligence agencies. “We didn’t do what the Czechs did or what happened to the intelligence services in the Baltic countries. They all rebuilt their agencies from scratch, with the help of the British,” he says.

One of the first triggers for Hungarian agents to question operations in their agencies was in 2007, a decade after Hungary had joined NATO. During the socialist administration of Ferenc Gyurcsany, the then-chief intelligence director Lajos Galambos invited Russian operatives to help him find the source of political leaks to Orban’s party, Fidesz.

Sixteen Hungarian intelligence officers were polygraphed by two Russian operatives, who pretended to be Bulgarian psychologists, according to documents declassified and released by Hungary’s general prosecutor last week.

Katrein says the focus was on up-and-coming younger officers, many of whom are now in leadership positions in the agency. “The polygraphs were very deep and probing and they have a lot of information on those people. If I had that information on the leaders of Russian counterintelligence, I’d consider that a big coup,” he says.

Counterintelligence in crisis

The politicization, as well as demoralization, of the counterintelligence agency continued under Orban, who was re-elected in 2010 replacing Gyurcsany, says Katrein. Around 100 experienced intelligence specialists have left the agency in the past eight years, frustrated by having their hands tied when it comes to combating Russian espionage activity.

“Hungary is being used as a logistical base to launch operations in other European Union countries,” Katrein explains. “They can organize operations and missions in Hungary without many worries,” he adds.

Asked how he would characterize the Russian espionage and active measures threat to Europe, he doesn’t hesitate in replying, “It is grave.” Katrein adds, “I have no problems with Russians; I like the culture. But the Russian government is very aggressive against the European Union. You shouldn’t underestimate these guys.”

 

Ukraine: Russian ‘Terror Group’ Thwarted

Ukrainian authorities say they have arrested seven people they claim were sent by Russian security services to carry out political killings and other “terrorist” acts, including the slaying of Ukrainian intelligence agents.

Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) chief Vasyl Hrytsak made the announcement April 17, four days ahead of Ukraine’s presidential runoff vote.

At a news conference, Hrytsak said the SBU thwarted “a sabotage and reconnaissance terrorist group of the Russian special services” that consisted of seven people, all of whom have been arrested.

One person who assisted the group was arrested April 17, he said, but it was not clear if that was in addition to the other seven.

Russia seized control of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and has given crucial backing to militants who hold parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in a war that has killed some 13,000 people since April 2014.

Hrytsak alleged that since early 2017, the Russian security services had sent several “autonomously operating” sabotage groups into parts of Ukraine including the separatist-held section of the Donetsk region.

He said these groups were responsible for attacks including a car bombing that killed Ukrainian military intelligence officer Maksim Shapoval in June 2017 and one that missed its apparent target, also a military intelligence officer, in Kyiv earlier this month.

Prosecutors said at the time that the man suspected of planting that bomb, on April 4, was killed by the blast. However, Hrytsak said that the suspect, a Russian man, was alive and had given information to the Ukrainian authorities.

Hrytsak alleged that “the true organizer” of operations that included the killing of Shapoval was an officer of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), Dmitry Minayev.

SBU officials identified one of the seven suspects whose arrests were announced on April 17 as Timur Dzortov, who they said was deputy chief of staff to the leader of Russia’s Ingushetia region, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, in 2015-17.

There was no immediate comment from Russian officials.

Parisians, Tourists Flock to See Crippled ‘Mother’ of France

Just a couple of days ago, Severine Vilbert strolled by Notre Dame with her eldest daughter on a chilly but brilliantly sunny day. The blossoms were out and the cathedral glistened in the light. 

“We were looking at Notre Dame and saying, ‘Wow, it’s such a beautiful monument, how proud we were to be Parisian and live in this beautiful city,'” Vilbert recalled, not bothering to fight back tears. “And then, it was like a nightmare for us.”

On Tuesday, Vilbert retraced her footsteps in a transformed Paris. A few drops of rain fell from a slate grey sky, as she joined thousands of Parisians and tourists paying a vigil of sorts to a smoking-but-still-cherished icon. 

The inferno that raced through the more than 850-year-old cathedral Monday night destroyed most of the roof. Its 90-meter (295-foot) spire collapsed in the blaze, causing selfie-snapping onlookers to gasp.

Investigators are scouring for clues from the fire that they consider likely, for the moment, accidental. 

“I’m a Christian. I’m a Catholic. I think it’s really terrible about what’s happened,” George Castro, a French-Colombian, said of the blaze that occurred just a week before Easter. “It’s really, really sad.” 

But amazingly, no lives have been lost and priceless treasures were saved, along with Notre Dame’s stunning rose window. Reports quoted experts assessing the building as structurally sound. 

The fire is the latest assault on one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Over the past few years, Paris has weathered two massive terrorist attacks that bookended 2015, and most recently the yellow vest crisis that defaced some of its most prestigious landmarks and deeply divided French citizens. 

Some Parisians, like Nicolas Chouin, believe the blaze can help to reconcile a fractured France. 

“It’s something beyond us, beyond our little problems of everyday life,” he said, gazing at the skeleton of the cathedral’s roof. “Of course, it doesn’t solve all the political issues — let’s see if it’s just a parenthesis.”

President Emmanuel Macron canceled a major address to the nation Monday night, in which he was expected to outline measures to assuage the yellow vest anger, to race to the scene of the fire. 

“We will rebuild the cathedral even more beautiful,” he vowed on Tuesday, promising to restore the edifice within five years.

Companies and business tycoons have lost no time to turn his promises into reality, donating hundreds of millions of dollars within hours of the blaze. The French government and Paris city hall have promised to donate hundreds of millions more. 

“We’re French, we’re proud of being French, and we’re going to rebuild it,” Vilbert said. “It’s going to take many years, but it’s going to be great.” 

Tourists and foreign residents, who flock to the French capital yearly by the millions, are just as devastated. 

“There’s beauty, there’s history, there’s culture — it represents Paris,” said Briton Rhia Patel, who studies French literature at the Sorbonne University. “It’s what people travel long and far to come and find.” 

Staring at the charred remains, retired Paris firefighter Philippe Facquet offered an expert assessment of the challenges that faced his former colleagues. 

“Attacking this kind of fire is very difficult,” he said, “because there are narrow spiral staircases, so carrying hoses and other heavy material is very difficult. And the adjacent roads are very narrow — so a lot of complications.” 

Then Facquet offered his personal assessment — that he felt “very bad.”

“It’s our mother, it’s our patrimony, it’s the symbol of Paris,” he said. “Our heart is bleeding.” 

Rebuilding Notre Dame Will Be Long, Fraught and Expensive

Notre Dame in Paris is not the first great cathedral to suffer a devastating fire, and it probably won’t be the last.

In a sense, that is good news. A global army of experts and craftspeople can be called on for the long, complex process of restoring the gutted landmark.

The work will face substantial challenges — starting immediately, with the urgent need to protect the inside of the 850-year-old cathedral from the elements, after its timber-beamed roof was consumed by flames.

The first priority is to put up a temporary metal or plastic roof to stop rain from getting in. Then, engineers and architects will begin to assess the damage.

Fortunately, Notre Dame is a thoroughly documented building. Over the years, historians and archeologists have made exhaustive plans and images, including minutely detailed, 3-D laser-scanned re-creations of the interior.

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of the conservation organization Historic England, said Tuesday that the cathedral will need to be made secure without disturbing the debris scattered inside, which may provide valuable information — and material — for restorers.

“The second challenge is actually salvaging the material,” he said. “Some of that material may be reusable, and that’s a painstaking exercise. It’s like an archaeological excavation.”

Despite fears at the height of the inferno that the whole cathedral would be lost, the structure appears intact. Its two rectangular towers still jut into the Paris skyline, and the great stone vault stands atop heavy walls supported by massive flying buttresses. An edifice built to last an eternity withstood its greatest test.

Tom Nickson, a senior lecturer in medieval art and architecture at London’s Courtauld Institute, said the stone vault “acted as a kind of fire door between the highly flammable roof and the highly flammable interior” — just as the cathedral’s medieval builders intended.

Now, careful checks will be needed to determine whether the stones of the vaulted ceiling have been weakened and cracked by the heat. If so, the whole vault may need to be torn down and re-erected.

The cathedral’s exquisite stained-glass rose windows appear intact but are probably suffering “thermal shock” from intense heat followed by cold water, said Jenny Alexander, an expert on medieval art and architecture at the University of Warwick. That means the glass, set in lead, could have sagged or been weakened and will need minute examination.

Once the building has been stabilized and the damage assessed, restoration work can begin. It’s likely to be an international effort.

“Structural engineers, stained-glass experts, stone experts are all going to be packing their bags and heading for Paris in the next few weeks,” Alexander said.

One big decision will be whether to preserve the cathedral just as it was before the fire, or to take a more creative approach.

It’s not always a straightforward choice. Notre Dame’s spire, destroyed in Monday’s blaze, was added to the Gothic cathedral during 19th-century renovations. Should it be rebuilt as it was, or replaced with a new design for the 21st century?

Financial and political considerations, as well as aesthetic ones, are likely to play a part in the decision.

Getting materials may also be a challenge. The cathedral roof was made from oak beams cut from centuries-old trees. Even in the 13th century, they were hard to come by. Nickson said there is probably no country in Europe with big enough trees today.

Alternatives could include a different type of structure made from smaller beams, or even a metal roof — though that would be unpopular with purists.

The restored building will have to reflect modern-day health and safety standards. But Eric Salmon, a former site manager at the Paris cathedral, said it is impossible to eliminate all risk.

“It is like a street accident. It can happen anywhere, anytime,” said Salmon, who now serves as technical director at the Notre Dame cathedral in Strasbourg, France.

The roof of Strasbourg’s Notre Dame was set ablaze during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. It took up to five years to restore the wooden structure. Nowadays the roof is split into three fire-resistant sections to make sure one blaze can’t destroy it all. Smoke detectors are at regular intervals.

Still, Salmon said that what worked in Strasbourg may not be suitable for Paris. Each cathedral is unique.

“We are not going to modify an historic monument to respect the rules. The rules have to be adapted to the building,” he said.

Experts agree the project will take years, if not decades. Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural organization, said restoring Notre Dame “will last a long time and cost a lot of money.” A government appeal for funds has already raised hundreds of millions of euros (dollars) from French businesses.

But few doubt that Notre Dame will rise again.

“Cathedrals are stone phoenixes — reminders that out of adversity we may be reborn,” said Emma Wells, a buildings archaeologist at the University of York.

“The silver lining, if we can call it that, is this allows for historians and archaeologists to come in and uncover more of its history than we ever knew before. It is a palimpsest of layers of history, and we can come in and understand the craft of our medieval forebears.”

Spain Pulls Far Right Vox Party From Pre-Election Debate

Spain’s election board blocked on Tuesday the far-right Vox party from participating in the only confirmed debate between leading contenders for the April 28 election.

The ruling shows the complexity of Spain’s shift from decades of two-party rule to a fragmented political landscape where no one party looks set to win a majority and Vox has gone from relative obscurity to major force in less than a year.

Vox has never won more than 5 percent of votes in national elections, but achieved a surprise victory in regional elections last year and is predicted by polls to win around 10 percent in this month’s parliamentary vote.

That was why Spain’s Atresmedia network chose it to join the four major national parties for a scheduled April 23 debate over other movements like Catalan and Basque nationalists.

But the electoral commission said that was a violation of electoral law. Several smaller parties had demanded inclusion in the debate, based on previous electoral performance.

Atresmedia said it would comply – though it did not agree.

“Atresmedia maintains that a debate between five candidates is of the greatest journalistic value and most relevance for voters,” the network said in a statement after the ruling.

Vox reacted defiantly, tweeting that separatist parties had swayed the decision. “It’s clear who calls the shots still in Spain: the separatists. Until April 28. Because a great victory for #LongLiveSpain will see those parties who wish to destroy our co-existence, constitution and homeland banned.”

The vote looks set to be one of Spain’s most bitterly-fought in decades. It will probably be split between five parties for the first time since a return to democracy 40 years ago, polls show, making coalition negotiations or even repeat elections a possibility.