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Australia floods still rising with two dead, four missing

Author: 
Daniel De Carteret | AFP
Sat, 2017-04-01 13:20
ID: 
1491031209402580300

BEENLEIGH, Australia: Flooded rivers were still rising Saturday in two Australian states with two women dead and four people missing after torrential rains in the wake of a powerful tropical cyclone.
Queensland police warned that the Logan River, which runs through Beenleigh south of Brisbane, would only hit peak flood levels during the afternoon while further north the city of Rockhampton was also facing a serious threat.
Commissioner Ian Stewart warned there was “still a major risk to the community around Logan and further south caused by that flooding situation.”
Rockhampton, with a population of over 80,000 on the Fitzroy River, was expected to suffer flood levels not seen for a century and Stewart urged residents in low-lying areas to leave.
“By Wednesday, we will be at peak flooding in Rockhampton,” he said.
“It will be a gradual rise, so I encourage people to move now.”
Queensland police tweeted “we currently have four people missing… that we have serious concerns about,” including a 77-year-old man.
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from a string of towns in Queensland and New South Wales as the floods move south toward Ballina, cutting roads.
Others have tried to stick it out to save their properties.
The scene was grim along the Logan river.
Casey Bently, a 47-year-old mechanic from North Maclean appeared visibly upset as she looked at her house, submerged to the roof.
“We got as much out as we could in the short time that we had,” she told AFP.
“People have lost everything. I’d only just finished renovating the house, and it is all gone again now.”
Nearby a calf was stuck in a tree as a man in a kayak paddled out to see if it was alive. Dozens gathered to watch but by the time two people on jet skis arrived to help the calf only to discover it was dead.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called on residents in affected areas to exercise caution.
“In many parts of the country you will see floodwaters continuing to rise over the next days,” he told reporters.
“This is a very dangerous time in these flooded areas.
“I want to say to everybody who is affected by these floods — do not go into flooded waters. Do not cross flooded roads.”
Category four Cyclone Debbie hit northeastern Australia on Tuesday between Bowen and Airlie Beach ripping up trees and causing widespread damage that is still being assessed.
It was downgraded to a tropical low as it tracked southeast still packing high winds and dumping huge amounts of rain all down the east coast to Sydney and beyond before blowing out over the Tasman Sea.
Police on Friday found the body of a woman who disappeared in floodwaters near Murwillumbah just south of the Queensland border.
And a 64-year-old woman, whose vehicle was swept off a causeway on a property in Gungal, in the Hunter Valley south of Sydney was also found dead Friday.
Lismore, south of Murwillumbah was among the worst flooded towns on Friday with Tweed Heads, Kingscliff and Murwillumbah also subject to evacuation orders.
In areas further north where the cyclone made landfall, water and power were still being restored.
Bowen, Mackay and the Whitsunday islands bore the brunt of the cyclone and nearly 40,000 homes were waiting to be re-connected on Saturday.
The military has mobilized 1,300 soldiers for the clean-up with helicopters and planes deploying to restore infrastructure and supply emergency food, water and fuel.
The Insurance Council of Australia declared the Queensland and northern NSW regions disaster zones, adding that the damage bill could top Aus$1 billion (US $770 million).

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Military called in as deadly floods batter Australia
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Brothers recount Indian mob attacks leaving Africans fearful

Author: 
MUNEEZA NAQVI | AP
Sat, 2017-04-01 12:40
ID: 
1491025842702496800

GREATER NOIDA, India: The Amalawa brothers were wandering through a mall in a New Delhi suburb when the phone rang with warnings from a friend: Hurry home, mobs of Indians are attacking Africans across the area.
The brothers, Nigerians who came to India to seek better education and work opportunities, rushed out and tried to hail an autorickshaw, just as a mob of Indian men saw them and ran toward them. The Amalawas ran back inside the mall but dozens of screaming men followed them. Precious Amalawa hid inside a changing room but Endurance got dragged out.
“They attacked him with bricks, sticks, belts,” 23-year-old Precious said Friday as he sat, still stiff with shock and fear, in their apartment. Endurance’s body was dotted with medical staples — on his temple, his cheek and both arms. Precious’ arms were covered in cuts and bruises from when the mob chased him from his hiding place by shoving sharp objects through the changing room’s thin walls.
The violence started March 24 when a teenage boy disappeared in Greater Noida, outside New Delhi, and angry relatives claimed he’d been killed by his Nigerian neighbors. A mob of people began searching the area for Africans, with some accusing kidnappers of eating the boy.
The boy returned home Saturday morning. He died later that day of what police said was a drug overdose.
Five men who had been charged with kidnapping and murder were let go within hours because police could find no evidence.
But rumors about cannibalism swirled and mobs began to attack Africans across the suburb. The last attacks were reported Wednesday. There were reports of mobs pulling Africans out of taxi cabs and autorickshaws and assaulting them.
In shaky cellphone videos of the attack on the Amalawa brothers last Monday afternoon, more than a dozen men can be seen brutally beating Endurance with whatever they could lay their hands on — one man smashed a large metal trash can repeatedly on his torso and head. Another man used a collapsible metal chair to hit the cowering man as he lay on the ground. The snap of leather belts can be heard. One man even attempts a selfie with the violence in the background.
Endurance, 21, wouldn’t talk about the attack at all as he sat, still tense with fear, in the sparsely furnished apartment.
The African Students’ Association in India asked Africans across the capital to remain alert and especially warned those living in Greater Noida from stepping out at all.
“All African Students Studying in Greater Noida are hereby instructed to stay at home as the situation remains volatile,” the statement said.
The association has been arranging food and water for African students in Greater Noida as most of them hide at home.
Police say they have arrested five men for attacking the brothers and are searching for others. Police patrols in the area have been increased after India’s foreign minister asked that the local government ensure the safety of Greater Noida’s African population.
Tens of thousands of Africans in live and study in India, and newly built suburbs like Greater Noida especially draw students because they are home to several sprawling private universities.
But prejudice and racism are near-constants. Skin color and appearances are used to place people in India’s strict social order, and stereotyping of all African men as drug dealers and women as prostitutes is prevalent. Landlords shun Africans in all but the poorest neighborhoods and charge them unusually high rent. And gang assaults are not uncommon.
“We face street aggression, abuses. We also face difficulty in getting accommodation, we face difficulty in naturally integrating with the local community,” said Samuel Jack, the president of the African Students’ Association of India.
“I just give you an example. I have Indian friends in my school, I have never visited their house and they have never ever decided to ask me: Where do you live? Can I come and see you?“
The sufferings Africans experience daily go largely unnoticed, and Africans, most of whom are young students, also hesitate to complain and draw attention to themselves.
That changed when a Congolese student was killed in a dispute over hiring an autorickshaw in New Delhi last year. Three men who insisted they had hired the vehicle beat him up and hit him on the head with a rock, killing him, according to police.
The death made the city’s African students, diplomats and business owners’ rally together demanding quick justice. The African Heads of Mission in New Delhi asked the government to address “racism and Afro-phobia” in the country.
Other examples of anti-African prejudice in India have occurred.
Early last year a Tanzanian woman was beaten and stripped naked by a mob in Bangalore after a Sudanese student’s car hit an Indian woman. In 2014, a video of three African men being beaten inside a security booth at a New Delhi Metro station went viral. For several minutes a large mob beat the men with bare hands and sticks and shoes as they climbed up the walls of the glass booth in terror. The police were absent.
These incidents made it to the local newspapers. Hundreds more do not.
For Precious and Endurance Amalawa the memory of their suffering will be impossible to forget. Their fear is palpable even inside their home.
When Endurance stepped out on the balcony to make a phone call, his brother’s eyes darted toward him.
“Come back inside Eddy. Come inside,” he said calling him by his nickname.

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3 arrested in fire underneath US interstate bridge

Author: 
By BILL BARROW and KATE BRUMBACK | AP
Sat, 2017-04-01 12:40
ID: 
1491028049142531300

ATLANTA, US: Three people have been arrested in connection with the raging fire that collapsed a portion of Interstate 85 a few miles north of downtown Atlanta, crippling a major traffic artery in a city already known for dreadful rush-hour congestion.
Deputy Insurance Commissioner Jay Florence said Friday evening that Basil Eleby faces a charge of criminal damage to property, and Sophia Bruner and Barry Thomas each were charged with criminal trespass.
“We believe they were together when the fire was set and Eleby is the one who set the fire,” Florence told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Florence would not discuss how the fire was started or why, saying those details would be released as the investigation progresses.
The fire broke out Thursday afternoon in an area used to store state-owned construction materials and equipment, sending flames and smoke high into the air.
Dozens of firefighters battling the roaring blaze beneath the roadway moved safely out of harm’s way amid telltale signs the roadway was breaking apart from the intense heat.
“They heard the cracking of the concrete,” Atlanta Fire Chief Joel Baker said. “They could see concrete was flying all over the place toward firefighters.”
Firefighters shut down the roadway before it fell and retreated safely without injury.
Experts in structural engineering said fires on highways and bridges rarely burn long enough or hot enough to cause a complete collapse — but it has happened. Intense heat can compromise even steel-reinforced concrete, said Lauren Stewart, director of the Structural Engineering and Materials Laboratory at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
“With fires, especially fires that burn for long periods and with high heat, you can see structures, anything from buildings to bridges, can have their material properties degrade,” Stewart said.
It’s happened before. In 1996, a fire in a big pile of tires beneath I-95 in Philadelphia left a span too weak to handle cars, forcing authorities to shut down 4 miles of the busy East Coast route for repairs.
Andy Herrmann, a retired partner with the New York-based engineering firm Hardesty & Hanover, said there have also been a few instances of gasoline trucks crashing and causing intense heat that damaged overpasses.
Herrmann said concrete will undergo severe cracking at about 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit (815 degree Celsius) and start disintegrating at higher temperatures. Building roads to withstand such heat would be prohibitively expensive, he said.
“We have limited dollars for maintaining our bridges,” Herrmann said. “This is such a rare thing to occur.”
The highway collapse in Atlanta forced commuters Friday to find different routes to work or to use mass transit. Things won’t be back to normal for months, said Russell McMurry, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation.
McMurry told a news conference Friday that 350 feet of highway will need to be replaced in both directions on I-85, which carries about 400,000 cars a day through Atlanta and is one of the South’s most important north-south routes. He said repairs will take “at least several months.”
Traffic was bumper to bumper Friday on streets near the closed stretch of highway. Amelia Ford picked a new route to drive to work and said it took her 45 minutes to travel 3 miles from her Atlanta home to the nearest open on-ramp to the interstate.
McMurry said his department stored coils of plastic conduit, used in fiber optic networks, beneath the span but insisted they were noncombustible.
US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao promptly released $10 million for the initial repair work, and the Federal Highway Administration promised more in emergency repair funds. Officials gave no estimate of how much the job would cost.
Built in 1953 and renovated in 1985, the collapsed span scored a sufficiency rating of 94.6 out of 100 in its last inspection in 2015, said Natalie Dale, a spokeswoman for the Georgia DOT.
___
AP writers Alex Sanz in Atlanta; Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; and Kevin McGill and Rebecca Santana in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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Witness: Driver in deadly Texas road collision was texting

Author: 
By JUAN A. LOZANO | AP
Sat, 2017-04-01 03:00
ID: 
1491025859892497400

HOUSTON: A witness says the driver of a pickup truck that collided with a church minibus in rural Texas, killing 13 people, acknowledged he had been texting while driving — a development that highlights the dangers of sending messages on smartphones while behind the wheel.
Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Conrad Hein wouldn’t comment Friday on whether texting might have played a role in the Wednesday collision on a two-lane road about 75 miles west (120 km) of San Antonio, near the town of Concan. But officials have said the truck driver appeared to have crossed the center line.
Jennifer Morrison, the investigator in charge of the team from the National Transportation Safety Board, would only say that distracted driving will be among the issues investigated.
The witness who is saying the pickup driver was texting while driving recounted the incident Friday in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday. Jody Kuchler, a 55-year-old self-employed welder, said he and his girlfriend were driving back to their home in the nearby town of Leakey when he came across a truck that was driving erratically across the road.
“He kept going off the road and into oncoming traffic and he just kept doing that,” said Kuchler, who first shared the account of what happened with the San Antonio Express-News.
Kuchler, who followed the truck for at least 15 minutes, said he called the sheriff’s offices for both Uvalde and Real counties and told them “they needed to get him off the road before he hit somebody.”
Kuchler said he witnessed the crash and afterward, he checked on both the bus and the truck and was able to speak with the driver of the truck, who the Department of Public Safety has identified as 20-year-old Jack Dillon Young, of Leakey.
“He said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I was texting.’ I said, ‘Son, do you know what you just did?’ He said, ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry,’” Kuchler recalled.
Texas is unusual in that it has no statewide ban on texting while driving. Dozens of cities across the state prohibit the practice, but local ordinances may not have applied in the rural area where Wednesday’s crash occurred. Laws in 46 other states ban sending or reading e-mail, using apps or engaging in other use of the Internet while driving.
The Republican-controlled Texas Legislature approved a statewide ban in 2011 but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Rick Perry, who characterized such prohibitions as government micromanagement and said educating drivers was the key to deterrence. A similar proposal passed the Texas House a few weeks ago but has yet to make it to a Senate floor vote.
The wreck on Wednesday occurred along a curve in the road where the speed limit is 65 mph, according to Department of Public Safety officials. The bus occupants — members of First Baptist Church of New Braunfels in Texas — were returning from a three-day retreat in Leakey, about 9 miles (15 kilometers) from where the crash happened.
Twelve people on the bus died at the scene, authorities said. Another died at a hospital. One bus passenger remains hospitalized in serious but stable condition, according to the church.
Young, the driver of the pickup, also remains hospitalized.
The number of motor vehicle deaths in the US last year topped 40,000 for the first time since 2007, according to the National Safety Council. The number of vehicle crash deaths in Texas rose 7 percent last year to 3,464, slightly higher than the national rise. One-in-10 driving fatalities in 2015 were caused by some kind of distraction, the USDepartment of Transportation said.
Morrison said most, if not all, of the bus occupants in the Texas crash — who ranged in age from 61 to 87 — were wearing seat belts. The driver and front-passenger seats had three-point lap-and-shoulder belts while the rest of the seats behind had lap belts only, she said.
Three-point seat belts are always preferable to lap belts because they hold the upper torso in place and help prevent head injuries, said automotive safety advocate Joan Claybrook. One of the problems with lap belts only is that in a frontal impact crash, people will remain in their seats but their upper bodies will go forward and their heads can strike the back of the seat in front, she said.
If the passengers wearing lap-only belts are seated along the sides of the buses, instead of facing forward, they will often hit their heads on the sides of the vehicle or the windows, said Henry Jasny, senior vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. A frontal crash of this type would be like “hitting a brick wall,” he said.
The NTSB identified the church vehicle as a 2004 Ford E-350 series van that had been converted to a minibus. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the only safety issues identified with that vehicle model from that particular year was a fuse problem reported in 2007 in vehicles that had been retrofitted to become ambulances.
___
Associated Press writers Joan Lowy in Washington, D.C., Will Weissert in Austin and David Warren in Dallas contributed to this report.

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UK defense secretary says no future for Assad

Author: 
Reuters, AFP, AP
Sat, 2017-04-01 03:00
ID: 
1490998538418553300

LONDON/WASHINGTON: British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said Friday that the UK does not “see a long-term future in Syria for (Syrian President Bashar) Assad.”
However, the White House said that the US must accept the political reality that the future of Assad is up to the Syrian people and the US focus in the region must be on defeating Daesh militants.
“With respect to Assad, there is a political reality that we have to accept in terms of where we are right now. We lost a lot of opportunity in the last administration with respect to Assad,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told a news briefing.
Meanwhile, the UN envoy for Syria wrapped up a fifth round of talks between opposition leaders and the government Friday, pointing to “incremental” progress while acknowledging no peace deal is foreseeable as the country enters its seventh year of war.
Negotiators from the Syrian regime and opposition traded insults, calling each other “terrorists” and “adolescents” after the eight-day round of talks. The two sides do not meet but negotiate via UN mediator Staffan de Mistura, saving their liveliest invective for the TV cameras after each meeting with him.
Opposition negotiator Nasr Al-Hariri said the “terrorist regime” of Assad had refused to discuss political transition during the talks and said Assad was a war criminal who must step down in the name of peace.
“They are solely discussing their empty rhetoric about countering terrorism,” Al-Hariri told reporters, vowing there could be “no peace without justice.”
“War crimes and crimes against humanity must not be an option for negotiations. From now, venues must be found for transitional justice to ensure holding the perpetrators accountable,” he said.
Al-Hariri said he was looking for a negotiating partner who put the interests of the Syrian people first, while his opposite number, the government’s chief negotiator, Bashar Al-Jaafari, said he only wanted to negotiate with someone “patriotic.”
Al-Jaafari mocked the opposition delegation as “adolescents” who thought they were appearing on a television talent show such as “Arab Idol” or “The Voice,” and were under the illusion that government would simply hand over the keys to the country.
“In fact they are tools, they are mercenaries in the hands of their lords, their operators, and it seems they have not received instructions from them, except instructions to continue supporting terrorism and to create havoc in these rounds.”

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Arab leaders flock to Washington: Trump meets El-Sisi and King Abdallah next week

Author: 
JOYCE KARAM
Sat, 2017-04-01 03:00
ID: 
1490998538348552700

WASHINGTON: Following last month’s visits to Washington by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdallah are set to follow suit next week to hold official meetings with US President Donald Trump separately at the White House.
The visits, in what Arab diplomatic sources described as “an inter-regional horse race” to meet with Trump, are expected to build on decisions reached at the Arab League Summit this week in Jordan.
El-Sisi’s arrival in Washington, expected today, will mark the first of an Egyptian president to the White House since 2009.
His meeting with Trump on Monday coincides historically with the first meeting that former President Jimmy Carter held with his Egyptian counterpart Anwar Sadat on April 3, 1977.
Forty years since that meeting, a White House official described Egypt as a “traditional pillar of stability” in the Middle East. “President Trump is excited to welcome President Sisi,” the official told reporters Friday. “He wants to use President Sisi’s visit to reboot the bilateral relationship and build on the strong connection the two presidents established when they first met in New York last September.”
Chemistry between Trump and El-Sisi was visible in their New York meeting, in contrast to the body language and tense relations he had with former US President Barack Obama. El-Sisi, a former commander in chief of Egypt’s Army, was the first foreign leader to call Trump on his cell phone after his electoral victory on Nov. 9.
The White House is seeking to “improve the tone of the relationship” and “boost military and economic cooperation with Egypt,” said the US official, who praised El-Sisi’s economic reforms. While designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization was highly considered by the Trump team, and would have been welcomed by Cairo, the White House gave a noncommittal response on the issue.
“We, along with a number of countries, have some concerns about various activities that the Muslim Brotherhood has conducted in the region,” the official said. US sources told Arab News that the White House is backtracking on the designation “for legal purposes,” but “could consider other measures.”
Counterterrorism and deepening military cooperation will be high on the agenda. The US gives $1.3 billion annually in military aid to Egypt, which will continue under Trump. “We’re in the budget process right now, and those discussions are ongoing as to how it will be broken out,” the official said, prioritizing “the defeat of the terrorist threat in Sinai and improving security cooperation.”
The issues of human rights and democracy appear to have taken a back seat publicly in the Trump administration. White House statements since Trump took office emphasize security and stability. A US official said: “Our approach is to handle these types of sensitive issues in a private, more discreet way. We believe it’s the most effective way to advance those issues to a favorable outcome.”
Trump is expected to host King Abdallah on Wednesday at the Oval Office. The meeting is their first official one in the White House, and the second since last February following an informal sit-down at National Breakfast prayer in Washington.
The White House official described King Abdallah as a “key partner” for the US in the region, and drew a long list for the discussions between the two leaders. “They will discuss a range of shared priorities, the fight against Islamic State (Daesh) militants, the Syria crisis and advancing peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” said the White House.
Interim zones of stability in Syria will be raised with Jordan, said the White House official, as well as the new US position on Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“Our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out,” US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said on Thursday, a position that echoes a new set of priorities in Syria for the US shared by Jordan and Egypt.
Resuming negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians will be central in Trump’s meetings with both El-Sisi and King Abdallah. Securing a regional umbrella for the talks is sought by all sides before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ visit to Washington, expected at the end of this month.

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4 countries face famine threat as global food crisis deepens

Author: 
Reuters, AFP
Sat, 2017-04-01 03:00
ID: 
1490994465188320700

LONDON/WASHINGTON: Global food crises worsened significantly in 2016 and conditions look set to deteriorate further this year in some areas with an increasing risk of famine, a report said on Friday.
“There is a high risk of famine in some areas of north-eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen because of armed conflict, drought and macro-economic collapse,” the Food Security Information Network (FSIN) said.
FSIN, which is co-sponsored by the UN food agency, the World Food Programme and the International Food Policy Research Institute, said the demand for humanitarian assistance was escalating.
FSIN said that 108 million people were reported to be facing crisis-level food insecurity or worse in 2016, a drastic increase from the previous year’s total of almost 80 million.
The network uses a five-phase scale with the third level classified as crisis, fourth as emergency and fifth as famine/catastrophe.
“In 2017, widespread food insecurity is likely to persist in Iraq, Syria (including among refugees in neighboring countries), Malawi and Zimbabwe,” the report said.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump has boosted the US military’s authority to step up airstrikes in the fight against insurgents in Somalia, the Defense Department said on Thursday.
According to a Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the new leeway accorded to the military will mean they no longer will have to justify a decision to launch airstrikes, potentially leading to more aggressive bombardments on militant hideouts.
This broader authority would allow the US to carry out offensive strikes against Al-Shabab militants even if the militants were not attacking partnered forces, the officials said.
They said rules to avoid civilian casualties would not be loosened.
The expanded powers also will give greater autonomy in decision-making on airstrikes to the head of US forces in Africa, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser.
“The president has approved a Department of Defense proposal to provide additional precision fires in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia and Somali security forces operations,” said Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, in a statement, released on Thursday.
The decision mirrors one the White House made in January this year when it declared parts of three provinces in Yemen an “area of active hostilities,” allowing the military greater flexibility to target Al-Qaeda militants there.
The forces are fighting to defeat Al-Shabab militants who were forced out of the capital in 2011 by African Union (AU) troops but still controls parts of the country.
“The additional support provided by this authority will help deny Al-Shabab safe havens from which it could attack US citizens or US interests in the region,” Davis said.
The decision is in line with the Republican Trump administration’s policy to expand the authority of the military, particularly in authorizing more aggressive airstrikes in certain countries.
The military had accused the previous Democratic administration of President Barack Obama of micromanaging combat operations.
Obama notably kept tight control over armed drone strikes, which his successor is pursuing in Somalia and Yemen.
Last Friday, Gen. Waldhauser said that greater ability to fight the militants would lead to more flexibility and quicker targeting.
In recent months, the US has carried out more than 40 strikes against Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen, which lies just across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia.
As many as 12 civilians, some of them women and children, were killed along with a US commando in a January raid in southern Yemen. The US has said that raid gathered valuable intelligence.
Al-Shabab has been able to carry out deadly bombings despite losing most of its territory to AU peacekeepers supporting the Somali government. The group’s insurgency aims to drive out the peacekeepers and topple Somalia’s Western-backed government.
The US has a small presence in Somalia and is allowed to carry out strikes in defense of partnered forces.
Two US defense officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said parts of Somalia had been declared an “area of active hostilities” for at least 180 days by the White House on Wednesday night. The capital Mogadishu was not included.

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South Sudanese forces blamed for torching thousands of homes

Author: 
By JUSTIN LYNCH | AP
Fri, 2017-03-31 03:00
ID: 
1490976296926547200

NAIROBI, Kenya: South Sudanese government troops burned thousands of civilians’ homes late last year, monitors of the country’s troubled peace agreement said Friday, making some of the strongest allegations yet against security forces in the three-year civil war.
The new report says three villages in the southern Yei region visited by investigators had been abandoned and destroyed. A visit to Yei in November led the UN special adviser on genocide to warn that South Sudan could slip into genocide, while an Associated Press reporter found charred bodies there, some with hands bound.
“In most cases the buildings were deliberately set on fire by government forces,” the report says. At least 3,000 homes were burned in a single village.
Government forces denied UN officials and investigators access to one Yei village, and government officials blamed rebels and wildfires for the destruction, the report says. Investigators found that unlikely.
Satellite data from Amnesty International shows about 2,000 structures were destroyed along a highway near Yei between late December and January. Separately, UN satellite images obtained by the AP show that a buildup of military installations near Yei began as early as September, and the destruction of homes started as early as October.
The once-peaceful Yei region became a target after clashes broke out in the capital, Juba, in July and reignited fighting across the country. A fragile peace deal reached in 2015 under international pressure quickly fell apart.
Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the region around Yei to neighboring Uganda, which has warned it is reaching breaking point amid the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.
A separate report by the peace deal monitors says both government and rebel forces prey on civilians in the southern part of the country, but it says more evidence implicates government or allied fighters.
It is “high time” that President Salva Kiir and his commanders are held to account “for these outrageous, well-documented and repeated breaches of international law,” said Jonathan Pedneault, a researcher on South Sudan at Human Rights Watch.

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Sacking triggers civil war in South Africa’s ruling ANC

Author: 
Agence France Presse
Fri, 2017-03-31 14:54
ID: 
1490973492426314900

JOHANNESBURG: The sacking of South Africa’s respected finance minister in a cabinet purge pitched the ruling ANC party into chaos Friday, creating one of its biggest tests since leading the fight against apartheid.
The country’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa launched a unprecedented verbal attack on President Jacob Zuma, whose midnight reshuffle sent the rand currency plunging and triggered accusations that he was promoting graft.
Zuma’s axing of finance minister Pravin Gordhan also unleashed a wave of opposition in the African National Congress, which came to power under Nelson Mandela in the euphoric 1994 elections but has suffered declining support.
Gordhan was widely seen as a competent manager of one of the world’s most important emerging economies.
Ramaphosa went public with his anger, openly attacking his boss.
“I told him that I would not agree with him,” Ramaphosa told reporters.
“There are quite a number of other colleagues and comrades who are unhappy about this situation, particularly the removal of the minister of finance who was serving the country with absolute distinction.”
Gordhan was reportedly sacked because of an alleged intelligence report on meetings he held in London earlier this week.
“For him to be removed for this type of reasoning is to me unacceptable,” Ramaphosa said.
Gordhan held a press conference on Friday, saying he heard of his sacking via television and dismissing the intelligence report “as absolute nonsense.”
“We hope more and more South Africans would make it clear that our country is not for sale,” he added.
Zuma made 20 new government appointments in the reshuffle.
“I’m very uncomfortable because areas where ministers do not perform have not been touched,” Gwede Mantashe, the influential ANC secretary general, said.
“We can’t be happy (with the decision to sack Gordhan) because we think that the finance minister was a hard worker.”
Gordhan had been at loggerheads with Zuma for months, receiving support from several ministers and major foreign investors, as well as many ordinary South Africans and veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle.
He campaigned for budget discipline and against corruption, but Zuma’s allies have accused Gordhan of thwarting the president’s desire to enact radical policies to tackle racial inequality.
Mantashe told 702 radio that Zuma was aware that many in the ANC were “unhappy” about the purge, in which Gordhan was replaced by home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba.
“The president came with a list. (He) said ‘you can comment if you want to comment, but this is my decision,’” Mantashe said.
The ANC, which was banned under white-minority rule, has lost popularity due to corruption allegations, record unemployment and slow economic growth.
The president is accused of being in the sway of the wealthy Gupta business family, allegedly granting them influence over government appointments, contracts and state-owned businesses.
John Steenhuisen, chief whip of the main opposition Democratic Alliance party, described the reshuffle as a “midnight massacre.”
“Zuma has got what he wanted, a Gupta ally in control (of the treasury),” he told AFP.
“Bad news for our country, bad news for the economy but mostly bad news for the nine million unemployed South Africans.”
The president said that the changes were “to bring about radical socio-economic transformation.”
The rand was down more than seven percent for the week, after days of speculation that Zuma was about to move against Gordhan.
Zuma is due to step down as head of the ANC in December, ahead of the 2019 general election.
He is seen as favoring his ex-wife, former African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to succeed him — rather than Ramaphosa.
Zuma retains widespread support from ANC members in some rural areas and has been able to rely on the party’s majority in parliament to survive several votes of no confidence.
Since coming to power in 2009, he has been hit by a series of corruption scandals, while the ANC suffered its worst ever results in local polls in August.

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Muslim protesters march against Jakarta’s Christian governor

Author: 
NINIEK KARMINI | AP
Fri, 2017-03-31 03:00
ID: 
1490973229486287400

JAKARTA, Indonesia: Undeterred by the arrest of hard-line protest leaders, thousands of Muslims marched in Indonesia’s capital on Friday, calling for the jailing of the city’s minority Christian governor.
Following Friday prayers, the protesters marched from Istiqlal Mosque in central Jakarta to the nearby presidential palace, which was under heavy police guard.
Protests against Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama have snowballed since September when he was accused of blaspheming the Qur’an and subsequently charged. His trial is still underway.
The turnout for Friday’s protest was small compared with the hundreds of thousands who answered the call of hard-line Islamic groups to flood central Jakarta for demonstrations in November, December and February. Jakarta police’s director of traffic Ermayudi Sumarsono estimated the crowd at 13,000 to 15,000. Police estimates are often conservative.
Earlier Friday, police said they had arrested Muhammad Al Khaththath, the leader of the Muslim Peoples Forum umbrella group, and several other activists for suspected treason.
“We are not cowed by the arrest of our leaders,” said a protester who identified himself as Wahyudi. “We’ll keep fighting for the dignity of Islam. There’s no room for kafir to lead in this nation.”
The blasphemy case, slurs against Ahok’s Chinese ethnicity and the ease with which hard-liners attracted huge numbers of people to protest have undermined Indonesia’s reputation for practicing a moderate form of Islam and shaken the secular government as well as mainstream Muslim groups.
Blasphemy is a criminal offense in Indonesia, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Ahok will compete in a runoff election for governor next week against a former cabinet minister backed by conservative Muslim clerics.
He was popular with Jakarta’s middle class because of his drive to eliminate corruption and his efforts to make the overflowing polluted city more livable. But demolitions of some of the slum neighborhoods that are home to millions and ill-considered outspokenness proved to be his Achilles’ heel.
Opponents seized their moment last year when a video surfaced of Ahok telling voters they were being deceived if they believed a specific verse in the Qur’an prohibited Muslims from electing a non-Muslim as leader.
Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono said Al Khaththath and the other activists were arrested early Friday. Local media said one of those men was the deputy coordinator for Friday’s protest.
It was the second round of arrests for suspected treason related to anti-Ahok protests. Police rounded up 10 people including high-profile citizens after a Dec. 2 protest turned violent, with dozens injured and one person killed by tear gas side-effects. They were all subsequently released.
Wiranto, the top security minister, met with representatives of the protesters and said he reiterated that the government won’t interfere in Ahok’s trial.
He defended the police’s decision to arrest protest leaders.
Effendi Lubis, who traveled from Bogor in West Java for the demonstration, said Muslims would continue protesting until Ahok is in prison.
He said he was also protesting to “defend our Islamic leaders who were arrested and treated unfairly.”

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