Wednesday, September 30, 2015

As survivors' accounts emerge Mexico demands reparations for deaths/injuries of nationals; Egypt wages media battle

Mexico is demanding compensation for the families of the tourists who were killed in an accidental military airstrike in Egypt’s Western Desert last Sunday, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported, as Egyptian officials wage a battle against unflattering media coverage of the tragedy.

The Mexican foreign affairs ministry submitted the demand in writing to Yassir Sharban, Egypt’s ambassador to Mexico, on Thursday. That night in Cairo, Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu accompanied survivors from the attack and relatives of the victims on a flight back home.

The airstrike killed eight Mexican tourists and four Egyptians who were in a convoy of four jeeps reportedly en route back to their hotel. The bombardment injured 10 others. Egyptian authorities assert that the convoy was in a restricted zone where the Armed Forces were waging a security operation against alleged terrorists.

But members of the General Tourist Guides Syndicate said that the convoy had the necessary security permits for the trip, had submitted an itinerary to the police and was accompanied by a police escort.

"The Mexican government demands the necessary guarantees so that the victims of the tragic and regrettable attack perpetrated on September 13, all of them innocent civilians and their families, receive full reparations for the damage, including compensation," the statement said.

Mexican officials also reiterated their demands for an exhaustive investigation into the attack to bring those responsible for committing the lethal error to justice.

In a joint press conference on Wednesday, foreign ministers from both countries emphasized their efforts to expedite investigations into the tragedy.

The survivors and relatives of the victims are expected to arrive home on Friday. Unnamed security sources told the privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm that Ruiz Massieu accompanied them to the Cairo International Airport on Thursday night. They arrived in six ambulances guarded by a police convoy. A medical team from the Nasser Institute and the Ambulance Authority was also present to aid the wounded.

Mexican news outlets have begun publishing the survivors’ accounts of the deadly attack.

Susana Calderon was in the convoy and survived with serious injuries, but her husband of 20 years died in the assault. They were on the “trip of a lifetime” and had planned to visit France, Belgium, Germany, Austria and Italy after their sojourn in Egypt.

She spoke to the Mexico City-based newspaper El Universal while convalescing at Cairo’s Dar al-Fouad Hospital.

Calderon said the group had stopped to eat in the desert and the tour operators were preparing lunch when the assault began.

“We were bombed five times from the air,” she said. “It lasted at least three hours.”

A driver, the son of one of the trip’s organizers and the police escort were all killed in the first hour, she said. After the first round of bombs, one of the convoy drivers called someone — Calderon believes he was calling for help, and that’s why the ambulances arrived shortly thereafter.

“I saw my husband when they were putting me on the stretcher to take me to the hospital,” Calderon continued. “I heard him telling me he loved me. I told him I loved him too. That’s the last I knew about him. Every day I asked the nurses, and they told me he was here in the hospital. They didn’t want to tell me” that he had died.

While the Mexican government and press have circulated detailed accounts of the attack, Egyptian authorities continue to remain tight-lipped, while condemning media coverage that's inconsistent with official accounts.

On Wednesday, the prosecutor general issued a media gag on coverage of investigations. Then late Thursday night, the Foreign Affairs Ministry published an open letter to the New York Times editorial board lambasting what it called “disingenuous and misleading” coverage of the attack.

Such biased, partial reporting has become the norm in that newspaper, the letter alleged. “Responsible and ethical reporting requires the media to report facts, not pass judgment and baseless accusations in the absence of any evidence,” the ministry argued.

The ministry accused the New York Times editors of taking official statements out of context and casting doubt on official investigations into the incident. The newspaper’s coverage comes across as a deliberate attempt to “provoke the people of Mexico and incite negative sentiments," the statement continued.

“Given the impact the media has on public opinion, it is the duty of the New York Times and its editorial board to choose professionalism over sensationalism and integrity over partiality,” ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid wrote. “Unfortunately, this has not been the case in this particular incident and in many others before it.”

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