SWIEBODZIN, Poland – A gigantic statue of Jesus that Poles claim is the world’s largest rose majestically above a small town on Saturday, as the grandiose dream of a local priest finally came to pass.
The white statue with outstretched arms and golden crown rising above the western Polish plains in Swiebodzin provides competition to Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Christ the Redeemer.
The mayor of the western Polish town, Dariusz Bekisz, claims it is now the world’s tallest.
The Rev. Sylwester Zawadzki, the 78-year-old priest who created the statue, said it rises 33 meters – one meter for every year that Jesus lived. Other members of the construction team, however, gave differing figures. One said it rises 167 feet if you include a mound it sits on and the crown.
By comparison, the statue in Brazil’s Rio is 125 feet tall.
After workers using a crane assembled the statue, hundreds of onlookers broke into applause, and some prayed, grasping rosaries. Workers in safety helmets and neon vests gathered at the base of the statue for a group photo, and Zawadzki waded into an adoring crowd.
“I have never been as happy as I am today,” he said.
One attempt to mount the figure had to be aborted because it turned out that the crane at hand was not powerful enough to lift the arms and shoulders – weighing 30 tons – onto the standing body.
Protests fighting reform lose steam
PARIS – The two months of French protests against the government’s bill to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 fizzled on Saturday, with President Nicolas Sarkozy all but certain to sign it into law this month.
The march on Saturday led by labor unions was the eighth since early September aimed at derailing Sarkozy’s efforts to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 in order to salvage a money-losing pension system.
Some union members suggested that the Saturday march was one too many – though another one is planned for later this month – and more militant ones said the strikes didn’t go long enough.
Police said 375,000 had turned out nationwide, down from 560,000 that hit the streets on Oct. 28.
“I think this has been a waste,” said Jean-Claude Mailly, secretary-general of the Workers’ Force.
Ash slows arrival of medical aid
MOUNT MERAPI, Indonesia – International airlines fearful of volcanic ash canceled flights Saturday into Indonesia’s capital, while the closure of airports nearest Mount Merapi has delayed the arrival of burn cream and ventilators for those whose skin and lungs were singed by searing gases. The series of eruptions, including the deadliest in decades, has killed 138 people.
Of the 31 burn victims taken to Sardjito hospital, at the foot of the volcano, the burn unit has room for just nine. Of those, only eight get a ventilator.
With nearby airports closed because of poor visibility, hospital officials said lots of supplies – including burn cream, oxygen masks and saline solution for IVs – were stuck in Jakarta. Dr. Ishandono Dahlan said he needed at least four more ventilators to protect the delicate, inflamed lung tissue of patients from the ash hanging in the air. In the meantime, nursing students were pumping emergency respirators – normally only used in short ambulance trips – by hand.
Indonesia’s most volatile mountain unleashed nearly 2 billion cubic feet of gas, rocks and ash Friday that raced down its slopes at highway speeds, mowing down a slope-side village and leaving a trail of charred corpses in its path. Photos taken by a disaster management team afterward showed bodies frozen in their last moments, covered in a thick charcoal-like ash.
The number of people killed by Mount Merapi in the last two weeks climbed to 138, according to Sigit Priohutomo, a senior hospital official.