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18 killed, 20 injured as 2 car bombs explode in Mogadishu

Twin car bombs exploded in Somalia’s capital on Friday, killing 18 people and wounding 20 others, the city’s ambulance service said, and Islamist militant group al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack.

Shooting broke out near the president’s residence at the time of the blasts, police and ambulance services said.

“So far we carried 18 dead people and 20 others injured from the blasts tonight,” Abdikadir Abdirahman, the director of Amin ambulances, told Reuters.

A big cloud of smoke rose near the palace and gunfire erupted near the president’s residence, a Reuters witness said.

Police and witnesses said the second blast was a car bomb parked in front of a hotel away from the palace.

Police said the first car bomb went off after suspected militants breached a checkpoint near the president’s residence by shooting at security personnel at the checkpoint.

“The militants got off when they neared the palace, the suicide car bomb exploded outside the palace where there were many military soldiers who guarded the street adjacent to the palace,” Major Omar Abdullahi told Reuters.

Al Shabaab, who have claimed responsibility for previous bombings and gun attacks in the capital, said they killed 15 soldiers in Friday’s attack.

“Two operations including two car bomb martyrdoms went on around the presidential palace and a national security forces’ base called Habar Kadija,” al Shabaab’s military spokesman, Abdiasis Abu Musab, told Reuters.

The group, which is linked to al Qaeda, wants to overthrow the Somali government and impose its own harsh interpretation of Islamic law. It has killed hundreds of civilians across East Africa and thousands of Somalis in a decade-long insurgency.

The streets around the palace and near the new hotel were surrounded by security forces who denied access to ambulances and reporters, witnesses said.

In October, more than 500 people were killed in twin bomb blasts in Mogadishu. The bomb attacks were the deadliest since al Shabaab began an insurgency in 2007. Al Shabaab did not claim responsibility for that incident.

5 killed, 20 injured, in Rwanda refugee camp food protest

At least five refugees were killed and 20 injured at a camp in Rwanda after a protest over a cut in food rations turned violent, Rwandan police said on Friday. Seven policemen were also injured.

Around 3,000 refugees had camped outside United Nations offices at the camp since Tuesday. On Thursday police tried to disperse them using teargas, police spokesman Theos Badege told state radio.

“We used force … yesterday afternoon after warning that security forces would be used,” he said.

“They started pelting stones, pieces of metal and in that 20 refugees were injured and seven police officers. Five of the refugees died.”

Fifteen refugees were arrested, the police said on their Twitter account.

The refugees from neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo had left their camp in Kiziba and walked 15 km (10 miles) to Karongi, in western Rwanda, to protest against a 25 percent cut implemented last month in rations provided by the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR). The camp houses 17,000 Congolese.

Rwanda hosts about 174,000 refugees, including 57,000 people from neighboring Burundi who fled violence in 2015. Most of the rest fled the Democratic Republic of Congo during bouts of instability there over the past 20 years.

In January, UNHCR said it was cutting rations due to funding shortages.

It said on Thursday that its funding appeal of 2018 for Rwanda of $98.8 million was only 2 percent funded, and the World Food Programme had warned of more cuts if its monthly requirements of $2.5 million were not met.

Anger in Dapchi, Yobe Nigeria over kidnapped school girls

The governor of Nigeria’s Yobe state told residents of the village of Dapchi in person on Thursday that 76 of their schoolgirls who were reported to have been rescued from Islamist Boko Haram kidnappers were in fact still missing.

His government on Wednesday said the schoolgirls had been rescued by the military, sparking celebration in the streets.

But a day later, Ibrahim Gaidam told villagers the girls were still unaccounted for, according to an apologetic statement from his spokesman.

“The government said yesterday the girls have been found, then the governor came today to say the soldiers are yet to find them,” said Ali Maidoya, who lives in Dapchi. “Why did they lie to us before?”

A deserted Hostel in Government Girls Science and Technical School Dapchi, following the Boko Haram attack

The students’ disappearance may be one of the largest since Boko Haram abducted more than 270 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in 2014. That case drew global attention to the nine-year insurgency, which has sparked what the United Nations has called one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

A roll-call at the girls’ school on Tuesday showed that 91 students were absent, two people with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Wednesday.

Boko Haram insurgents drove into Dapchi on Monday evening in trucks, some of them camouflaged and mounted with heavy guns, and attacked the girls’ school, sending hundreds of students fleeing.

On Wednesday, one witness told Reuters he had seen three trucks filled with weeping girls as he was forced by the militants to guide them away from the region.

Confusion Over Numbers

There is confusion over the number now missing, with estimates ranging from around 50 to more than 100. State police, the Yobe government and others have all given different figures.

Monday’s Dapchi attack is likely to have been carried out by a faction of Boko Haram allied with Islamic State, two people briefed on the matter told Reuters, declining to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to media.

Until now, that group, led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, has typically attacked military targets, those people said.

The other major faction, led by Abubakar Shekau, which purports to hold some of the remaining Chibok girls, frequently uses suicide bombers to try to kill civilians.

Last year, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration agreed to pay millions of euros to secure the release of some of the Chibok girls, as well as ransoms for kidnapped university staff, after negotiations with Boko Haram aided by Switzerland and the Red Cross.

The kidnapping of the Dapchi schoolgirls may have been carried out in the hope of securing a similar multi-million euro ransom, said one of the people briefed on the matter.

The shadow of Chibok hangs over Dapchi in other ways too.

Nigerian authorities at the time denied and played down the Chibok kidnapping, as they have done for more recent abductions. Residents now fear the same is happening in Dapchi.

“We were happy yesterday when the government said they have found our daughters. Now the story has changed,” said Ali Yari.

On Wednesday, parents and other local witnesses told Reuters they had been warned by Nigerian security and government officials not to disclose the students’ disappearance.

Soldiers now prowl Dapchi and guard the perimeter fence of the school, which is almost deserted except for a few police.

21 Islamic extremists sentenced to death for planning attacks in Egypt

An Egyptian court on Thursday sentenced 21 suspected extremists to death, including 16 in absentia, on charges of bomb making and planning attacks on public and private infrastructure, judicial sources said.

The charges also included having extremist Islamist views and forming an illegal group, the sources said.

Those sentenced had been arrested in 2015.

The Cairo criminal court sentenced four other people in the same case to life in prison and three others to 15 years.

Egypt’s life sentence is 25 years.

Those who were in court to hear their verdicts on Thursday can appeal the decision within 60 days.

Egypt has cracked down on suspected Islamists since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi led the overthrow of former president Mohamed Mursi of the now banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Sisi took office a year later. With Egypt facing an Islamic State insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, he has ordered the military to clear the region of Islamists ahead of next month’s presidential election.

Hundreds of Islamists, including Muslim Brotherhood supporters and members, have received death sentences since 2013, and Egypt has carried out dozens of executions, according to security sources and rights groups.

Ethiopia frees 1,500 prisoners in eastern Somali region

Ethiopia has released more than 1,500 prisoners in its eastern Somali region, government officials said on social media, days after the government declared a state of emergency to try to tamp down unrest in Africa’s second most populous nation.

“On Wednesday, over 1,500 prisoners were released following a pardon by President Abdi Mohammed Omer,” the Somali Region’s communications bureau said on Facebook late on Wednesday, referring to the regional president.

“The inmates had been jailed on charges that include anti-peace activities,” it added, without giving details.

Ethiopia has already released more than 6,000 prisoners since January, including some high-profile journalists and opposition leaders. They were charged with a variety of offences, including terrorism.

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said the releases were designed to increase “political space” in Ethiopia following anti-government protests that began in 2015.

Hundreds of people were killed during two years of protests that convulsed the country’s two most populous provinces, whose ethnic Oromo and Amharic communities complain they are under-represented in the country’s corridors of power.

Friday’s declaration of a six-month-long state of emergency followed Hailemariam’s surprise resignation on Thursday. He remains in office, overseeing the region’s biggest economy, until a new prime minister is appointed.

The government previously imposed a state of emergency in October 2016, which was lifted in August 2017. During that time, curfews were in place, movement was restricted and about 29,000 people were detained. It’s unclear how many remain in prison.

Zambia upbeat about 2018 economic prospect

Zambia minister of Finance, Margaret Mwanakatwe

The Zambian government on Thursday said the country’s economic performance for 2018 was expected to remain positive supported by a stable macroeconomic environment.

Minister of Finance Margaret Mwanakatwe said this will be anchored on implementation of various policy, structural and legal reforms under a government economic stabilization and growth program.

“Growth is projected to remain positive while inflation is expected to be low and in single-digit, while the fiscal deficit will be maintained within budgeted levels,” she said in a statement released by her office.

The Zambian government will step up fiscal reforms to ensure fiscal consolidation is fully attained, she added.

She however noted that uncertainties in weather patterns as well as relatively high lending rates may impact negatively on the country’s agricultural activities and electricity generation.

She underscored the need to sustain economic and fiscal governance through maintenance of price stability.

According to her, fiscal and monetary policy coordination will be strengthened and that the government will continue to enhance domestic revenue mobilization and expenditure restraint to attain a 3-percent-of-GDP fiscal deficit in the medium term.

She further said key to expenditure restraint was government’s resolve to concentrate on completing ongoing projects.

Workers evacuated from Libya’s oilfield in guards’ pay protest

Some workers at Libya’s El Feel oil field have been evacuated after guards withdrew in protest over pay, a local source from the town of Murzuq said on Wednesday.

It was not clear if there was any impact on production at El Feel, which has been pumping at least 60,000 barrels per day (bpd) in recent months and has a capacity of more than 100,000 bpd.

The field is operated by Mellitah, a joint venture between Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) and Italy’s Eni. There was no immediate comment from the NOC.

The source said guards at the field had withdrawn in protest over pay and other benefits they say they have not received.

That led to the evacuation of some staff by plane on Wednesday, the source said. Other staff were due to be evacuated on Thursday and negotiations over the dispute were expected to continue, he said.

Production at El Feel, in Libya’s southwestern desert, has been hampered in the past because of action by guards employed at the field.

Explosive kill 2 French soldiers in Mali

Two French soldiers were killed after their armoured vehicle was hit by an explosive device in Mali, the French president’s office said on Wednesday.

“It is with great sorrow that the President of the Republic learned of the death in combat of two soldiers from first regiment of Valencia, killed this morning in Mali in an improvised explosive device attack on their armoured vehicle,” said a statement released by the Élysée presidential office.

France has deployed around 4,000 French troops in the West Africa’s Sahel region as part of Operation Barkhane aimed at tackling Islamist militants in the region.

The Sahel region with its huge expanse of remote desert is home to several jihadist groups. The area has seen several armed attacks on targets in neighbouring Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast in recent years.

France began a military intervention in Mali in January 2013 to drive out al Qaeda-linked militants who hijacked a rebellion in 2012 by ethnic Tuaregs and attempted to take control of the central government in Bamako.

EU to double funding for Sahel security force

The French soldiers’ deaths came as the EU is set to double its funding for a joint African military force to fight jihadists in the Sahel region with a 50-million-euro boost, AFP reported Wednesday citing EU sources.

The bloc is expected to announce the new money for the G5 Sahel force, grouping Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, at talks in Brussels on Friday which will be attended by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The move comes as a surge in rebel attacks has underscored the challenge facing the five countries, among the poorest in the world, which are on the frontline of a war against Islamist militants.

Ambassadors from the 28 EU member states gave their approval for the funding on Tuesday, two European diplomats told AFP, adding to the 50 million euros ($62 million) Brussels provided in June to help set up the force.

More than $350 million has already been pledged for the G5 Sahel force but more is needed to help it reach its target of 5,000 properly trained and equipped troops to patrol hotspots and restore authority in lawless areas.

African migrants in Israel begin hunger strike over planned expulsion

Hundreds of African migrants launched a hunger strike to protest Israel’s implementation of a policy to expel or indefinitely imprison them, a spokesman for the group said Wednesday.

Israel has resolved to expel thousands of Eritreans and Sudanese who entered illegally over the years, giving them an ultimatum to leave or risk being imprisoned indefinitely.

As the migrants could face danger or imprisonment if returned to their homelands, Israel is offering to relocate them to an unnamed third country, which the migrants and aid workers say is Rwanda or Uganda.

Authorities on Tuesday transferred seven Africans from the Holot detention centre to a nearby prison, prompting the 750 men held in Holot to launch a hunger strike that evening, said Abdat Ishmael, an Eritrean held at the southern Israel open facility.

On Wednesday, another five were taken to prison, Ishmael told AFP.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli interior ministry confirmed they had begun implementing the deportation or prison policy on Holot detainees ahead of the April 1 mark for the rest of the Africans who had entered Israeli illegally.

Ishmael said they would prefer prison over deportation to Africa.

“We saw what happened to people who went (to other African countries) a year or two ago, they don’t receive asylum and can die,” he said.

Migrants began entering Israel through what was then a porous Egyptian border in 2007. The border has since been strengthened, all but ending illegal crossings.

Israel’s deportation or imprisonment plan has drawn criticism from the United Nations’ refugee agency as well as some in Israel.

According to interior ministry figures, there are currently some 42,000 African migrants in Israel, half of them children, women or men with families, who are not facing the April deportation deadline.

Israeli officials stress that no one they classify as a refugee or asylum seeker will be deported.

Robbers raid police station in S.Africa killing 6

An armed gang stormed into a rural police station in South Africa on Wednesday and stole firearms in an attack that left five officers and a soldier dead, police said.

The robbers entered the police station in the southern village of Engcobo shortly after midnight, opening fire on the officers and seizing two others, who were later shot and killed, police spokesman Vish Naidoo said.

“During the early hours of this morning six people were killed when robbers attacked Engcobo police station,” Naidoo told AFP.

“Five of the six were on-duty police officers. Three police officers were killed at the police station when robbers attacked the station and randomly opened fire on the members.”

Naidoo said the robbers made off with firearms and bundled two other officers into a police car. The bodies of the two were later found dumped on the side of a road.

The attackers also shot and killed a soldier as they fled.

Attacks on police are common in South Africa, which has one of the highest crime rates in the world.

At least 57 police officers were killed in the line of duty in the 12 months between April 2016 and March 2017, according to the latest crime statistics available.

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