Friday, December 15, 2017
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Mugabe in Singapore for medical check up

Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe, who was ousted from power last month, visited a Singapore hospital Friday during a trip to the city-state for a medical check-up.

It was the first time he has been seen in public since he was forced to resign after a military takeover brought a sudden end to his authoritarian 37-year reign.

The 93-year-old was seen leaving a lift in Gleneagles Hospital in downtown Singapore around midday (0400 GMT), wearing a white shirt and black trousers, and accompanied by eight people, AFP journalists said.

He walked quickly out of the building before he and his party were driven off in two cars.

Two hospital employees, speaking anonymously as they were not authorised to talk to the media, confirmed to AFP that Mugabe had visited. A spokeswoman for Gleneagles declined to comment, citing patient confidentiality.

His ex-spokesman, George Charamba, said Thursday that Mugabe was visiting Singapore for a medical check-up as “part of his package as a retired president to travel overseas”, adding the new government was keen to show him respect.

The military stepped in on November 14 and ushered President Emmerson Mnangagwa into office after a power struggle with supporters of Mugabe’s wife Grace, 52, who had emerged as his chosen successor.

He has been in increasingly frail health and has reportedly battled prostate cancer.

In recent years he has made several trips to Singapore, a popular medical tourism destination, for undisclosed medical reasons.

Mnangagwa was formerly one of Mugabe’s closest allies, and the ruling ZANU-PF party remains in control.

Mugabe will miss the party’s annual conference in Harare on Friday when Mnangagwa is expected to be confirmed as its candidate for elections next year.

South Africa’s ANC to announce party leader on Sunday

South African president Jacob Zuma with one of the frontrunners Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) will announce current president Jacob Zuma’s successor as party leader on Sunday as it looks to conclude a bruising leadership battle and focus on policy, a party spokesman told radio station 702 on Friday.

“On Sunday morning as we arrive we should be able to make an announcement of the top six and take nomination of the rest of the leadership. We need to take out this item from the conference agenda as quickly as possible,” party spokesman Zizi Kodwa said.

The ANC holds an election this weekend to replace Zuma as party leader in a closely fought contest whose winner is likely to emerge as the nation’s next president.

The front runners are Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, a former trade union leader and one of South Africa’s richest people, and Zuma’s preferred candidate, his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a former minister and chairwoman of the African Union Commission.

The top six lead the party’s national executive committee which sets the tone for policy and the appointment of members of parliament.

The structure includes the president, deputy and key positions of secretary general and treasurer.

In the last 18 months, the executive has been the scene of fierce factional battles as Zuma’s leadership came under scrutiny, particularly after the most recent cabinet reshuffle in March that saw Pravin Gordhan fired as finance minister.

In August, Zuma narrowly survived an umpteenth attempt in parliament to force him from office after some members of his party voted with the opposition.

Libya’s Bani Walid offers rare ‘Safe House’ for migrants

For migrants who escape torture and starvation at the hands of people traffickers, a “Safe House” in an oasis town offers a rare commodity in Libya: shelter and medical care.

Bani Walid, on the edge of the desert 170 kilometres (110 miles) southeast of the capital Tripoli, is a transit point on the way to the coast and perilous boat journeys across the Mediterranean to Europe.

With the old green flags of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime fluttering in the wind, time appears to have stood still in what was one of its last bastions before he was toppled and slain in the 2011 revolution.

The basic housing consists of rooms made of concrete bricks built around a central courtyard in the industrial zone of Bani Walid, a town outside the control of Libya’s UN-backed government in Tripoli.

Amara, a 30-year-old from Mali, is one of the lucky ones.

“There were three of us… ,” he said, hesitating to hold back the tears before telling of how the other two died of starvation in one of the jails run by trafficking gangs extorting money from desperate migrants.

“We told them we had no money to pay, so they only gave us food one day out of two,” said the Malian with a gaunt face behind a full beard.

Seated on a breeze-block, Amara was unable to stand up on legs that bore the scars of eight months of being locked up and tortured.

One of his guards, having given up hope of any ransom being paid and taking pity on Amara, decided to let him go before he ended up the same way as his two companions.

According to a local official, Bani Walid numbers around 20 illegal detention centres or gathering points of migrants.

– ‘They beat me morning and night’ –

A 28-year-old Nigerian, named Lucky Monday, received treatment from the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) which makes weekly visits to the shelter appropriately named Safe House.

“I was planning to go to Europe so that I can live a better life, but unfortunately in this country… they can take your life at any moment,” he said.

Lucky was kidnapped by a militia who demanded $2,000 to let him go.

“They beat me and destroyed my hand. They beat me morning and night,” said the Nigerian with his hand in plaster, whose ordeal lasted three months.

He finally came up with the money after asking his family back home to sell a small plot of land he owned and transferring the funds.

Behind him was a fellow resident with tuberculosis who was spitting blood into a plastic bottle.

“Rasta, that man needs to be isolated, away from the others, until a doctor comes to examine him,” said Salah Ghummaidh of a local activists group that runs the refuge housing around 400 migrants.

Rasta Moraba, a 32-year-old from the Ivory Coast, is a founder of the Safe House.

Having arrived in Libya two years ago to work, Rasta came across many migrants robbed of their possessions and left without shelter in the wild by kidnappers.

“I decided I had to do something… and I started to organise things here,” with help from local residents, said Rasta.

“I’ve seen a lot of things here. I’ve seen people die. They come here very sick” from torture and abuse.

– Cemetery in lunar landscape –

Apart from running the Safe House, the “Association for Peace in Bani Walid” has set aside a two-hectare (five-acre) plot for a cemetery to bury migrants’ corpses.

Between 30 and 40 are found in the area every month, said its chairman, Hatem Atawaijir.

“Most have died of hunger, but some of them carry signs of torture,” he said.

The cemetery is set in a lunar landscape, an arid plot dotted with black volcanic rocks at the end of a stony track some 15 kilometres out of Bani Walid.

Diggers have carved out one-metre-wide (one-yard-wide) trenches, ready for the next anonymous victims to add to the 400 already buried.

On a visit to the grim scene, Atawaijir could not control his anger over what he termed the indifference of Libyan authorities and the international community.

“Their only concern is to prevent migrants reaching their side of the Mediterranean!” he fumed.

EU leaders bicker in Brussels over refugees crisis

Two years after the Mediterranean migrant crisis blew a hole in the European Union, a tentative effort to patch up differences over what to do with refugees underlined continuing rifts among the bloc’s leaders.

A free-wheeling discussion over a Brussels summit dinner that began on Thursday night and spilled into the wee hours of Friday was intended to clear the air and see if there was a way to reconcile opposing views on how to reform defunct asylum rules.

But leaders emerging from nearly three hours of talks made clear that while there was little of the angry passion of 2015, when a million people flooded into Greece and headed for Germany, the “frank and sober” discussion failed to blunt sharp rifts pitting some eastern states against many of the rest.

“We have a lot of work to do,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters. “The positions have not changed.”

Divisions over how to share out relatively small numbers of refugees have poisoned relations in the EU, complicating efforts to present a united front in talks with London on Brexit and to agree an EU budget out to 2028.

New Polish and Czech leaders stuck to lines shared with Hungary and Slovakia that their ex-communist societies cannot accept significant immigration, especially of Muslims.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis called the debate “quite stormy” and told reporters that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had been “quite aggressive.” But, he said, the eastern allies would not let the majority impose obligatory refugee quotas on them.

Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni were among those who demanded that all countries take in a mandatory share of people requiring asylum, who have been concentrated on the Mediterranean coast, or after chaotic movements across Europe, in the richer northwest of the bloc.

German officials said Merkel has been critical of the summit chair, Donald Tusk, a former Polish premier, who in an letter to leaders earlier in the week, said that a controversial scheme of the European Commission – the EU’s executive arm – to relocate refugees around the bloc according to mandatory quotas had failed.

That echoed the complaints of the eastern sceptics but it irritated many western states and the European Commission itself.

Merkel said there was a broad appreciation for work on bolstering the bloc’s common borders, which has sharply reduced the number of people arriving, notably through deals with Turkey and Balkan states to close off the migrant route through Greece.

“I made very clear that I am not satisfied with the fact that the rules we have are not working,” she said. “Solidarity cannot just apply externally, but must also be internal.”

One EU official, anxious to accentuate the positive in the discussions, said Tusk had succeeded in having an honest and open debate on the most contentious issues that would help EU leaders see where there was room for compromise.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he would not rule out ramming through mandatory relocation quotas by majority vote next year, something Tusk has been trying to avoid to prevent a repeat of the bitter rift a similar vote caused in 2015.

A diplomat from a country in favour of compulsory quotas said there could be a move to vote if there was no consensus in sight by the time leaders discuss asylum reform in June.

Gentiloni, preparing for an election in March, insisted that such mandatory relocation was vital and should be expanded. The leaders of Luxembourg and Belgium, among others, echoed his comments.

Nigerian pleads guilty in New York to taking part in global email scams

A Nigerian man was sentenced to three years and five months in prison by a U.S. judge on Thursday after he pleaded guilty to taking part in email scams to defraud thousands of victims around the world of millions of dollars, U.S. prosecutors said.

David Chukwuneke Adindu, 30, was sentenced U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty in Manhattan, according to an announcement from Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim in Manhattan.

Prosecutors said in a court filing Tuesday that Adindu tricked victims into wiring more than $25 million into bank accounts he opened in China, where they said the funds would be difficult for victims in the United States to recover.

Gary Conroy, a lawyer for Adindu, said Adindu’s role consisted mostly of setting up bank accounts in China and Hong Kong. He noted that the sentence was substantially less than the 97 to 121 months called for by federal guidelines.

“I think the judge accurately assessed his relatively minor role in this conspiracy,” Conroy said.

Adindu defrauded his victims by impersonating executives or vendors of companies, prosecutors said, directing employees of those companies to make large wire transfers. Such scams are known as “business email compromise.”

Prosecutors said in Tuesday’s court submission that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has found that business email compromise scammers often use Chinese bank accounts.

Adindu was arrested at a Houston airport last year. Prosecutors said in an indictment that Adindu, who during the period in question resided in both Guangzhou, China, and Lagos, Nigeria, worked with others to carry out business email compromise scams from 2014 to 2016.

Prosecutors said the scammers’ targets included an unnamed New York investment firm, where an employee received an email claiming in June 2015 to be from an investment adviser at another firm asking for a $25,200 wire transfer.

The employee later learned the email was not actually sent by that adviser and as a result did not comply with a second wire transfer request for $75,100, according to the indictment.

Zimbabwean’s Mnangagwa vows crackdown on corruption

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Thursday vowed a crackdown on corruption as he warned that he will name and shame all those who externalised funds if they fail to return them.

Mnangagwa issued a three-month window which expires at the end of February 2018 for all people who shipped money out to bring it back without any questions being asked or face arrest.

Addressing his first ruling ZANU-PF central committee meeting since taking over from former president Robert Mugabe three weeks ago, Mnangagwa said the nation needs to get rid of corruption and create jobs for the people.

“I have a list of the people who took money out. So in March when the three-month grace period expires, those who would not have heeded my call, I will name and shame them,” Mnangagwa said.

He said the ruling party needs re-orientation so that it does not only focus on politics but on the economy as well.

“We will not be able to accomplish much for as long as the sense of party work remains in the old template of looking at politics and politics alone. No more – we want politics and the economy. The best politics comes from the market place where livelihoods are made,” he said.

He said his administration was wasting no time in implementing measures to attract foreign direct investment and ensure Zimbabwe becomes a safe haven for foreign capital.

Among the measures is the scrapping last week of the indigenization law limiting foreign shareholding to 49 percent. The requirement now only applies to two minerals – platinum and diamond.

While appreciating the support his new administration had received from regional and international countries, the president reiterated his call for the removal of Western sanctions on Zimbabwe.

He said the sanctions had crippled national development. His comments came a day after the United States said it would maintain sanctions on Zimbabwe until the new administration commits to implementing political reforms.

This was after some members of Zimbabwe opposition and civil society appeared before the U.S. Senate foreign relations committee this week where they allegedly urged the Western country to maintain sanctions on Zimbabwe.

Mnangagwa reiterated that his administration will work to ensure next year’s polls are credible, free and fair.

In a move to quell jostling for posts by senior party members which may spring new divisions within the party, Mnangagwa extended the tenure of the current central committee by another five years until 2022 when the next elective congress is due.

He has also maintained the same politburo until the end of its term in 2019.

Morocco’s Casablanca gets over $200m loan to improve urban management

The World Bank has approved a loan of 172 million Euros (202.6 million U.S. dollars) to improve the urban management of Morocco’s largest city of Casablanca, local media reported Thursday.

The loan will help fund the Greater Casablanca Development Plan 2015-2020, which aims to boost the city’s economic attractiveness and competitiveness, the financial news website Medias24.com reported.

The objective of the World Bank’s support is to increase the city’s investment capacity by improving Casablanca’s revenue management systems, and attracting private investment in urban infrastructure and services through public-private partnerships.

The program will also support reforms aiming to promote an environment conducive to business development by automating business procedures, increasing administrative transparency and reducing delays to obtain authorizations such as building permits and business licenses.

Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly, World Bank’s country director for the Maghreb and Malta, Middle East and North Africa, hailed Casablanca’s ambition “to enhance its role as the main driver of the country’s economy.”

With the regionalization agenda, Casablanca will prioritize its efforts to respond to citizens’ demands for more efficient urban services, Marie-Nelly said.

“Strengthening the municipality, both financially and institutionally, and helping it reduce intra-city disparities are key to allow it to fulfill its service provision mandate while being accountable to the city dwellers,” she added.

Boasting around 12 percent of Morocco’s total population and contributing 20 percent of the national GDP, Casablanca is faced with mounting urban management challenges.

Liberian opposition party backs George Weah presidency

A Liberian opposition party formally backed George Weah for president on Thursday despite mounting a prolonged legal fight with his opponent, Vice-President Joseph Boakai, against the country’s electoral commission.

Weah and Boakai are due to face each other in a December 26 run-off triggered when the two men took first and second spots respectively in an October 10 presidential election but failed to win more than 50 percent of ballots cast.

The Liberty Party, whose standard bearer Charles Brumskine complained of fraud and irregularities after he scraped third with 9.6 percent of ballots, had joined forces with Boakai’s ruling Unity Party in arguing the National Elections Commission (NEC) had rigged the vote.

“You are the choice of the people,” Liberty Party Chairman Benjamin Sanvee told a press conference. “Senator Weah, we endorse your presidency. We endorse your presidency because the people have spoken.”

All sides accepted the Supreme Court’s ruling on Tuesday that Boakai and Brumskine lacked the evidence to prove sustained fraud across the nation, paving the way for the run-off to go ahead seven weeks later than planned.

The Liberty Party endorsement will give Weah significant clout in the crucial central county of Grand Bassa, which Brumskine won by a 23-point margin.

The vote is seen as a crucial test of Liberia’s stability after back-to-back civil wars between 1989 and 2003 and an Ebola crisis that killed thousands from 2014 to 2016.

It would represent Liberia’s first democratic transfer of power in more than seven decades.

Whoever wins will replace Liberia’s Nobel Peace prize-winning president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is also Africa’s first female elected head of state. She is stepping down after a maximum two six-year terms.

During her tenure, she steered the country away from the trauma of war, although poverty remains entrenched and has been one of the main election issues.

Bomber in police uniform kills at least 15 at Somalia’s police academy

A suicide bomber disguised as a policeman blew himself up inside a police training camp in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu on Thursday and killed at least 15 officers, officials said.

Police spokesman Major Mohamed Hussein said the attacker had explosives strapped to his body and infiltrated the General Kahiye Police Training Academy during an early morning parade.

“So far 15 have died and 17 others were injured,” Abdullahi Nur, another police official, told Reuters.

Earlier, the head of a local ambulance service said they had moved the bodies of 13 victims as well as 15 injured people.

The militant Islamist group al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack and gave a higher death toll.

“We killed 27 police (officers) and injured more,” Abdiasis Abu Musab, the group’s military operations spokesman, told Reuters. Al Shabaab carries out frequent bombings in Mogadishu and other towns.

The group, which is allied to al Qaeda, is waging an insurgency against the U.N.-backed government and its African Union allies in a bid to topple the weak administration and impose its own strict interpretation of Islam.

The militants were driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 and have since been steadily losing territory to the combined forces of African Union peacekeepers and Somali security forces.

Al Shabaab’s attacks come at a time when the African Union is finalizing plans to trim its peacekeeping mission called AMISOM.

The force of 22,000 deployed a decade ago but is set to lose 1,000 soldiers this month as part of a long-term plan to pull out of the country and hand security to the Somali army.

The peacekeepers were deployed to help secure a government that has struggled to establish central control in a country that plunged into civil war in the early 1990s.

Indonesia court fails to outlaw extramarital sex

A women receives lashes in an Islamic court

A bid to make all sex outside marriage illegal was thrown out by an Indonesian court Thursday, as concerns grow over rising intolerance in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country.

Five out of nine judges on the Constitutional Court in the capital Jakarta narrowly rejected the push to criminalise extramarital relations.

The unsuccessful petition would have affected unmarried heterosexuals and gay people, who cannot marry in Indonesia — several months after the arrests of a group of men accused of holding a “gay party”.

The court heard a judicial review filed by Islamic activist group the Family Love Alliance that sought to alter the criminal code.

“The appeal is rejected in its entirety,” said the Constitutional Court’s chief justice Arief Hidayat.

Under current laws, sex is only illegal in Indonesia for both homosexual and heterosexual people if it involves a minor.

However, gay sex is illegal in conservative Aceh province, which upholds sharia law. Under a local law that came into force in 2015, people can also be punished for having gay sex with up to 100 strokes of the cane.

Aceh, on Sumatra island, began implementing Islamic law after being granted special autonomy in 2001, an attempt by the central government to quell a long-running separatist insurgency.

There was a backlash against the country’s LGBT community last year with government ministers publicly making anti-gay statements.

In May, police arrested a group of men holding party in two hotel rooms in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-biggest city.

Some of the men were watching gay porn and performing “deviant sexual acts”, police said at the time.

Authorities named eight men as suspects and filed preliminary charges against them under Indonesia’s tough anti-pornography law, which can result in years in jail.

Also this year, two men having sex were caught by a group of vigilantes who raided a boarding house in Aceh.

Indonesia has often been praised for its moderate inclusive brand of Islam, and the constitution guarantees freedom of worship for six religions.

However, the diverse archipelago’s sizeable religious minorities — mainly Christians and Muslim minority Shiites and Ahmadis — have been increasingly targeted in recent years.