120,000 Nigerians likely face Boko Haram-created famine: UN

The Associated Press
Thu, 2017-02-09

JOHANNESBURG: More than 120,000 Nigerians likely will suffer “catastrophic” famine-like conditions caused by Boko Haram’s uprising, among 11 million confronting severe food shortages this year, according to a new UN report.
The report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (WFP)
predicts that Africa’s biggest humanitarian crisis likely will deteriorate during the “lean” food season between June and August in northeast Nigeria.
Worst affected is Borno state, the birthplace of Boko Haram, which may hold 65 percent of those “expected to face famine conditions.”
UN agencies have reported that children already are dying in the region and some half a million face death if they do not get help.
Corruption and conflict between the government and aid agencies is compounding the crisis. Officials are investigating reports that local government agencies are stealing food aid.
Despite the crisis, Nigeria’s cereal production went up by about 5 percent in 2016, the report said, even though the Boko Haram uprising has forced hundreds of thousands of farmers off their land.
The report credited increased government support for agriculture, above-average rainfall and increased commodity prices.
But Nigeria remains a “food-deficit country” with cereal imports, mainly rice and wheat, forecast to exceed 7 million tons this year, it said.
Nigeria remains the world’s biggest importer of rice, indicating a failure of government efforts to reduce dependence on food imports amid a crushing shortage of foreign currency caused by low global prices for oil.
Thousands of Nigerians marched this week to protest growing hardship brought on by high food prices, poverty, corruption and unemployment, among other issues.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo told them he feels their pain but life will get better. “With complete focus on improving the economy every day, the recession will soon be history,” he said in a statement Tuesday, without elaborating.

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Pirates kidnap Russian, Ukrainian sailors off Nigeria

Thu, 2017-02-09

MOSCOW: A crew of seven Russians and a Ukrainian have been taken hostage off the coast of Nigeria after their ship was attacked, diplomats in Moscow and Kiev said Wednesday.
“According to the information of the Russian Embassy in Abuja, there has been an armed attack on the cargo ship BBC Caribbean which belongs to German company Briese Schiffahrt,” a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said.
“Seven Russian citizens who are members of the crew have been taken hostage,” it said, adding that Russian diplomats are in contact with Nigerian authorities who are searching for the vessel.
A Ukrainian consular official said there is also one Ukrainian national on the ship.
“At this time the kidnappers have not made any demands and we do not know the location of the kidnapped sailors,” said an official with the consular department of Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry, Vasyl Kyrylych.
The BBC Caribbean is a multipurpose vessel intended for dry cargo and flies the flag of Antigua and Barbuda, according to the company’s website.
Ship-monitoring website Marine Traffic said the BBC Carribean last departed the port of Douala in Cameroon on Feb. 4, headed for Spain’s Las Palmas.
It reported that the ship was attacked by pirates on a motor boat in the Gulf of Guinea who were repelled in a firefight and later proceeded westward.

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Former PM ‘Farmajo’ wins Somali presidential election

Thu, 2017-02-09

MOGADISHU: Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, a dual US-Somali citizen and former prime minister, was sworn in as Somalia’s new president on Wednesday after lawmakers voted behind the secure blast walls of the capital’s airport.
Celebratory gunfire erupted across Mogadishu at his victory, after a security lockdown in the seaside city aimed at deterring attacks by the Al-Shabab militant group which had threatened to derail the Western-backed election process.
“President Farmajo,” residents shouted in the streets.
Outgoing President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, whose administration faced public and Western criticism for corruption scandals, conceded defeat as it became clear he could not win in a third round of voting.
After six hours and two rounds of voting, Farmajo failed to win the required two-thirds majority, but had 184 votes to Mohamud’s 97, prompting the incumbent to drop out of a third round.
“This is a victory for Somalia and the Somalis,” Farmajo told members of parliament shortly after taking the oath of office in a hall on the airport compound, which is surrounded by concrete barriers and guarded by African peacekeeping troops.
The voting process, which lasted months, began with 14,000 elders and regional figures choosing 275 members of parliament and 54 senators, who then had to choose among 21 candidates.
Pervasive corruption is one of the biggest complaints among ordinary Somalis and Western donors. Rival candidates accused each other of buying votes. Anti-corruption group Marqaati said tens of thousands of dollars changed hands in campaigning.
Western donors had said the voting process was far from perfect but marked a modest step forward from 2012 when just 135 elders picked the lawmakers, who then chose the president.
The threat from Al-Shabab rebels, who regularly launch attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere, meant the government and its Western backers scrapped a plan to give each adult a vote because of the challenge of securing polling stations.
As well as tackling the militant insurgency, the new president also has to deal with a severe food crisis in parts of the country, a young population demanding jobs and empty state coffers.
Farmajo, born in 1962, was prime minister from 2010 to 2011, when he slashed the size of the cabinet and was credited with appointing technocrats. He quit during a power struggle between the then-president and parliament speaker.
One of his main campaign promises was to halt corruption in the aid-dependent nation. “If I become a president, Somali government officials will not misuse revenue,” he said in one speech.
Abdirashid Hashi, the director of Mogadishu-based Heritage Institute for Policy Studies who served in Farmajo’s cabinet, said the president had a popular touch and was “not clannish or corrupt” in a nation where clan rivalries usually dominate politics.
He said Farmajo was a US citizen who backed Republicans, the party of President Donald Trump. “If a Somali politician could make headway with the Trump administration, he might have chance make a go of it,” he said.

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Gunmen kidnap Colombian nun in southern Mali

Thu, 2017-02-09

BAMAKO: A Colombian nun has been kidnapped by gunmen in southern Mali, a Malian security source and a local official said Wednesday.
The woman was kidnapped late Tuesday near Koutiala, a city some 400-kilometer (250-mile) east of the capital, Bamako, which is in the Sikasso region near the Burkina Faso border.
“The Malian army is in pursuit,” a security source who asked not to be identified told AFP.
A local official said the kidnappers drove away in a vehicle owned by the nun’s Franciscan order.
The kidnapped woman was one of four living in the village of Karangasso, according to a worker at her church speaking to AFP by phone.
Edmond Dembele, the secretary-general of the Episcopal Conference of Mali, said bishops were seeking further information about the kidnap, which took place around midnight on Tuesday, he told the Catholic missions press agency Fides.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the kidnapping which follows the Christmas Eve capture of a French aid worker, Sophie Petronin, in the restive north of Mali.
A Burkinabe security source told AFP “the kidnappers headed back in the direction of Burkina Faso” after the nun was taken.
Attacks on Mali’s south by militants have become increasingly common, a threat that was once confined to the north.
Last month, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa released a new proof-of-life video of Swiss missionary Beatrice Stockly, who has been held hostage by the group for more than a year.
The north fell under the control of Tuareg-led rebels and militant groups linked to Al-Qaeda in 2012 who were largely ousted by a French-led military operation in January 2013. But the implementation of a peace accord struck in 2015 has been piecemeal with insurgents still active across large parts of the nation.

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Fresh gunfire in army barracks town in Ivory Coast

Thu, 2017-02-09

ABIDJAN: Ivory Coast special forces fired in the air in the army barracks town of Adiake for a second day Wednesday, the latest incident in weeks of trouble with mutinous soldiers and security forces.
The elite troops appeared to be angling for a deal with the government along the lines of one struck in January that offered some soldiers large one-off lump sum payments.
“The shooting has started again. Today, it is market day, and they (the troops) told the women to return to their houses. Everyone is terrified, and holed up in their homes,” a resident of Adiake told AFP by phone.
The gunfire in Adiake, located to the east of the commercial capital Abidjan, is the first protest action by special forces troops based there who are in charge of the president’s security.
Protests in January were by soldiers and members of the security forces.
Adiake also is home to a maritime base that trains marine commandos and provides coastal surveillance in an area that shares a border with Ghana.
The elite troops were on the front line of fighting in March last year when militant forces attacked the resort of Grand Bassam east of Abidjan, leaving 19 people dead.
They are also tasked with ensuring the security of President Alassane Ouattara.Troops first launched a mutiny over pay on Jan. 5.
The initial protests were quelled when the government reached a deal with 8,500 mutineers, agreeing to give them 12 million CFA francs ($19,000) each.
However more soldiers have since taken to the streets demanding similar bonuses.
Last year Ivory Coast approved an ambitious military planning budget seeking to modernize the army and buy new equipment.

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Cambodia promises harsher drug crackdown as arrests soar

Thu, 2017-02-09

PHNOM PENH: Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen pledged on Wednesday to intensify a campaign against drugs after the arrest of more than 2,400 people for drug-related offenses in a month.
The campaign since January in the Southeast Asian country has drawn parallels with the drug crackdown in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte, but Hun Sen said that in Cambodia it would not lead to bloodshed.
More than 7,000 people have been killed in the Philippines in the seven month-old drug war under Duterte.
“In the Philippines and other countries, they ordered for the killings of people right on the spot,” Hun Sen told a ceremony at a pagoda. “Cambodia will not allow this to happen.”
Over the past month, 2,428 people have been arrested in Cambodia for drug-related offenses, with 1,243 arrested for using drugs, according to official data. In the whole of last year, 9,800 people were arrested in drug cases.
Hun Sen appealed to the public for help with the campaign, saying that parents with children who are addicted to drugs should keep them at home.
“The issue here is whether you must have your children in prison or educate them not to use drugs,” Hun Sen said. “The good choice is that parents must control their children well.”
Police in the Philippines have suspended anti-narcotics operations, saying they must first root out police corruption after the kidnap and killing of a South Korean businessman by drug squad officers.

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4 killed in militant attack on Somali hotel

Thu, 2017-02-09

BOSASSO: Militants stormed a hotel in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region on Wednesday, killing four guards, a senior official and an Daesh agency said.
Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack in Bosasso, according to its news agency Amaq. A group declaring allegiance to Daesh has been active in the Puntland region in recent months.
The senior official had earlier blamed militants from Al-Shabab, but a spokesman for the Somali group denied this.
Three fighters stormed the International Village Hotel, Yusuf Mohamed, the governor of Bari region, told Reuters. “Four guards and two of the attackers died in the fighting,” he said.
He said the militants had managed to enter the compound but not the main building of the hotel, which is popular with foreigners.
Militant leader Abdiqadir Mumin broke away from the main Al-Shabab insurgency in 2015 and swore allegiance to Daesh. Experts says the group’s strength is unclear, but he may have fighters numbering in the low hundreds under his command.
However, experts say his group has no known operational links to Daesh in the Middle East.
Al-Shabab regularly launches attacks in Somalia, but tends to focus on the capital Mogadishu and other regions controlled by the federal government.
Until 2011, the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab controlled most of Somalia including Mogadishu. Since then it has been pushed out of the capital and slowly forced out of other strongholds by African Union troops and Somali soldiers.

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Thousands homeless as fire engulfs Philippine slum

Agence France Presse
Wed, 2017-02-08

MANILA, Philippines: As many as 15,000 people are homeless after a huge fire engulfed an overcrowded slum in Manila, destroying thousands of homes and sending residents fleeing with their few possessions.
The inferno started in a sprawling slum near the port late Tuesday and raged for about 10 hours, as hundreds of firefighters from across the Philippine capital hauled their hoses across rickety, tin roofs to reach the flames.
As the blaze whipped across the squalid area, sending a huge plume of smoke billowing into the night sky, residents ran for their lives carrying refrigerators, religious icons and other valuables.
Others, desperate to save their homes, used buckets of water to douse the fire.
About 3,200 homes, many made from little more than scrap wood, were destroyed and four people were injured, Edilberto Cruz, a fire investigator looking into the cause of blaze, told reporters Wednesday.
“The houses in that place are all (made of) light materials. That is why the fire was quick to spread. We are just lucky that no one was killed,” he said.
Manila city government officials told AFP that between 9,000 and 15,000 people from the area, which is hit by fires almost every year, were left homeless.
At daylight thousands of people gathered on surrounding streets, warily guarding the belongings they had managed to salvage in the chaos while they waited for food and other aid to arrive.
Temporary evacuation centers have been set up at nearby gyms and schools.
The Manila fire department said such fires were common in the city’s densely populated slums where many residents still use candles to light their homes.
Nearly a quarter of Manila’s 13 million residents live in slums due to poverty and a shortage of low-cost housing, studies have found.

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Voting starts in Somalia’s presidential election

Wed, 2017-02-08

MOGADISHU, Somalia: Voting started Wednesday in Somalia’s groundbreaking presidential election amid a security lockdown that has closed the capital’s international airport and cleared major streets.
Members of the upper and lower houses of the legislature dropped their ballots into clear boxes in the first round with 21 candidates for president.
Fears of attacks by Islamic extremist group Al-Shabab have limited the election to the country’s legislators, who are voting at a heavily guarded former air force base in the capital, Mogadishu. The voting is being streamed online . Rounds of voting are expected to narrow down the large field of candidates to a winner. One candidate dropped out Wednesday before the voting started.
This Horn of Africa nation is trying to put together its first fully functioning central government in a quarter-century. Years of warlord-led conflict and Al-Shabab attacks, along with famine, have left this country of about 12 million people largely shattered.
Somalia’s instability landed it among the seven Muslim-majority countries affected by President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, even though its government has been an increasingly important partner for the US military on counterterrorism efforts.
In a sign of the dangers that remain in the capital, Mogadishu, two mortar rounds fired by suspected extremists late Tuesday hit near the election venue.
While the international community has pushed Somalia to hold this election as a symbol of strength, including the US pouring in hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years for political and economic recovery, the vote has been marred by reports of widespread corruption.
The legislators voting — 275 members of the lower legislative house and 54 senators — were selected by the country’s powerful, intricate network of clans. Weeks ago, a joint statement by the United Nations, the US, European Union and others warned of “egregious cases of abuse of the electoral process.”
Examples included violence, intimidation and men taking seats that had been reserved for female candidates, the joint statement said.
With reports of votes being sold for up to $30,000 apiece, “This is probably the most expensive election, per vote, in history,” the Mogadishu-based anti-corruption group Marqaati said in a report released Tuesday.
Among the candidates, many who also hold foreign passports, incumbent President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is seeking re-election and may have an edge to win a second five-year term.
But rival candidate and Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke has accused regional countries of interfering in the electoral process by pushing for certain candidates. “Those neighboring countries should respect our sovereignty and stop meddling in our affairs,” he said, without naming the states. Various Muslim-majority countries seek a friendly Somali government, including Turkey, which has invested heavily in the country. The United Arab Emirates and Qatar are backing different candidates.

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Trump, Erdogan ‘agree Syria cooperation, CIA chief visit’

Wed, 2017-02-08

ISTANBUL: President Donald Trump and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan have agreed to cooperate in the fight against jihadists in Syria, in their first phone call since the new US leader took office, Ankara said Wednesday.
The leaders of the two NATO allies also agreed that the new CIA chief, Mike Pompeo, would visit Turkey this week, a Turkish presidential source said.
In their eagerly awaited phone call late Tuesday, the presidents discussed acting together in Turkey’s battle to capture the Syrian town of Al-Bab from Daesh terrorists and taking the extremist group’s main stronghold of Raqqa.
“Both leaders agreed to act together in Al-Bab and Raqqa” in Syria, the source said.
A member of the US-led coalition against Daesh, Turkey in August launched a unilateral incursion in Syria, backing Syrian rebels to clear its border from terrorist fighters and also pushing back Syrian Kurdish militia.
However, the battle for Al-Bab has proved the toughest yet of the Turkish incursion, with the army suffering increasing casualties and Erdogan complaining Ankara has been left alone.
Meanwhile a joint US-Turkey operation to take Raqqa was mooted before but never developed further.
Erdogan has high hopes of Trump after expressing disappointment in the past with the former US administration of Barack Obama.
Turkey was particularly enraged by US support for Syrian Kurdish militia which Washington regards as the most effective group in the fight against Daesh.
Turkey sees the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), a terror groups and branches of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
In their phone call, Erdogan stressed the importance of the fight against the PKK and said that Washington should not support the PYD and YPG, according to the Turkish presidential source.
Erdogan also said Turkey expected Washington to stand by Ankara in the fight against the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who it accuses of staging the failed July 15 coup against Erdogan.
Ankara charges Gulen runs a group called Fethullah Terror Organization (FETO), something he denies.
The source also said that Central Intelligence Agency director Pompeo will visit Turkey Thursday which will be his first trip overseas since being sworn in January.
“He will consult with Turkish authorities’ agenda items particularly the PYD and FETO,” the source said.
The White House said in their phone call Trump spoke of the “their shared commitment to combating terrorism in all its forms,” saying Trump reiterated US support to Turkey as a “strategic partner and NATO ally.”

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