30 May 2012

Arrest warrants issued over Doha fire

11:00 pm on 30 May 2012

Families whose children died in a shopping mall fire in Doha are no closer to learning what caused the blaze that killed 19 people including New Zealand triplets.

On Tuesday, Qatar's Attorney-General issued five arrest warrants in relation to the blaze, but it remains unclear what, if any, charges those people face.

Thirteen children including New Zealand two-year-olds Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes, died after fire engulfed the Gympanzee daycare centre on Monday.

Media in Doha say the owner of the Villagio Mall, as well as its manager, assistant manager and assistant director of security are among those to be arrested.

The Attorney-General has also ordered the arrest of the daycare centre's owner Iman Al Kuwari, the daughter of the Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage.

The Ministry of the Interior said it would not release any findings of its investigation into the fire until next week.

New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister said diplomatic staff are in Doha supporting the family including parents Martin and Jane Weekes.

Murray McCully said consul Brian Chambers, who is normally based in Saudi Arabia, is providing as helpful an environment as he can for the family.

The minister said he is monitoring the situation and has made it clear that he will pick up the phone to his Qatari counterpart if he feels the response there is not good enough. However, Mr McCully is confident authorities can be relied on to provide the support required.

Meanwhile, officials said a small fire broke out in the Qatar Aeronautical College on Tuesday while messages on social media say another was put out at the Fatima Bint Al-Mogeera school in Doha, Reuters reports.

No one was hurt in the fires, but they raised questions about safety standards in Qatar, one of the richest countries in the world.

Memorial services held

On Tuesday, hundreds of people attended a memorial service at a public park near the mall, including Martin and Jane Weekes.

In a statement, the couple described the triplets as the joy of their lives and said they were grateful for the love and support they have received.

''Lillie, Jackson and Willsher came into this world together and were inseparable as siblings, best friends and the joy of our life.

''Tragically they left together after only two short years. A time that was lived to the full everyday with us laughing, playing, waking us at all hours of the night and simply being the sunshine in our world.

''We would like to thank everyone for their love and support. Our thoughts are also with the other families affected by this tragedy.''

Correspondent Tarek Bazley told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme that hundreds of people attended the vigil and onlookers were in tears as several New Zealanders performed a haka and a karanga. Steve Walker told the programme every New Zealander should be proud of their actions.

Meanwhile, more than 2000 people attended the funerals of three victims, a South African boy, a South African nurse and an Iranian firefighter, while nearly 1000 people attended a memorial service at a church south of Doha for four Spanish children.

Special commission ordered

A special commission has been ordered by Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to investigate the fire.

The safety standards of public buildings in the kingdom has been questioned, amid witness reports that fire alarms were not functioning properly and emergency exists were blocked.

Jane Weekes runs play groups for mothers of twins and triplets for Doha Mums, a group which supports expatriates in Qatar. Director Roxanne Davis says there are many ways the tragedy could have been averted and could have been handled better.

Ms Davis told Morning Report says the expatriate community has many questions that need to be answered and hope the Qatari government will find answers and solutions to prevent another disaster from happening.