Monthly Archives: September 2019

Yemen’s Saleh back in Sanaa as battles rage

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh returned to Sanaa after more than three months of medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, even as his forces were battling dissident troops in the capital.

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Saleh’s surprise return was announced by state television. He arrived by plane in Sanaa at 5:00 am, an airport source told AFP.

The 69-year-old Saleh, who has since January faced massive street protests demanding he step down, was hospitalised in Riyadh on June 4, a day after being badly wounded in a bomb attack on his Sanaa compound.

It was not clear if his homecoming presaged a yielding to demands since January that he step down or plans to reassert his authority over an increasingly divided country.

His return came as his forces fought dissidents loyal to General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar in Sanaa for a sixth straight day, with more than 100 people killed in the surge of violence that erupted on Sunday.

Both sides are backed by rival tribesmen, with witnesses saying the fighting on Friday was concentrated in the capital’s northern Al-Hasaba district but was also raging in other neighbourhoods.

On Thursday, Al-Hasaba became the theatre of bloody clashes between gunmen loyal to powerful dissident tribal chief Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, from the same tribe as General Ahmar, and followers of Saghir bin Aziz, a tribesman allied to Saleh.

After dying down during the night, the fighting resumed at dawn Friday. Witnesses reported shelling and machine-gun fire in Al-Hasaba, and tribal sources said Saleh’s forces were bombarding the district with mortars.

An Ahmar tribal source said four people were killed in Al-Hasaba, while medics reported two people killed when a shell smashed into Change Square, epicentre of anti-Saleh protests in the centre of Sanaa.

The latest deaths bring the toll since the latest surge of fighting erupted in Sanaa on Sunday to 101, according to a tally of figures by medics and tribal sources.

Most of the fighting since Sunday has been in the centre of Sanaa, pitting Republican Guard troops commanded by Saleh’s son Ahmed against General Ahmar’s dissidents.

The general’s forces have been protecting anti-regime protesters who since February have camped out in their thousands at Change Square to press their demand that Saleh, in power for 33 years, step aside.

Friday’s fighting comes ahead of the weekly Muslim main prayers, traditionally followed by rival rallies attended by tens of thousands of Saleh supporters and those opposed to him.

In Taez, southwest of Sanaa, one person was killed and two wounded when a shell struck among anti-regime protesters in Liberty Square, and a hotel caught fire, demonstrators said.

Saleh was released from hospital at the beginning of August but has been recuperating ever since in the Saudi capital.

He appeared for the first time after the bomb attack on television on July 7, covered in bandages and his face clearly showing burn wounds.

On September 12, he authorised his deputy to negotiate a power transfer as part of a Gulf Cooperation Council initiative to end the political stalemate that has gripped his country since January.

The latest bloodletting has stalled the peace deal. GCC chief Abdullatif al-Zayani, who had been hoping earlier in the week to persuade all sides to sign on to the pact, left Yemen empty-handed on Wednesday.

He is expected in New York on Friday to discuss the crisis with GCC foreign ministers and international diplomats gathered for the annual UN General Assembly, a Yemeni diplomat said.

The soaring violence has raised long-standing fears that Yemen, which faces a Shiite rebellion in the north and a separatist movement and the growing influence of Al-Qaeda in the south, is heading for full-blown civil war.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned Thursday that Yemen was at a “dangerous crossroad.”

She noted that a mission dispatched by her office last week criticised the regime for deploying excessive force including live ammunition, snipers and heavy weaponry to quell protests, which led to a “heavy loss of life.”

“It is disappointing that lessons have not been learnt and violations repeated,” she added.

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Row over al-Bashir warrant

Sudan has ordered Kenya’s ambassador to leave the country after a Kenyan judge issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Darfur, the foreign ministry said.

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“The Sudanese government has ordered the Kenyan ambassador to leave the country within 72 hours,” foreign ministry spokesman Al-Obeid Meruh told AFP.

“They have also ordered the Sudanese ambassador to leave Kenya and return to Khartoum,” he added.

Bashir is wanted in The Hague-based ICC for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in Sudan’s Darfur region, where the UN says at least 300,000 people have been killed in the eight-year conflict.

Kenya has ratified the ICC’s founding Rome statute, which theoretically obliges it to execute the court’s warrants, but it failed to arrest the Sudanese leader when he visited the country in August 2010.

After issuing the arrest warrant on Monday, the Kenyan high court judge said Bashir’s arrest should be arranged by the Attorney General and the Minister for Internal Security “should he ever set foot in Kenya”.

BASHIR’S LAST VISIT

Bashir flew to Nairobi last year to attend a ceremony marking the adoption of Kenya’s new constitution.

After leaving the country a free man, the Kenyan chapter of the International Commission of Jurists, an association of legal professionals that promotes human rights, approached the courts to issue a warrant.

“Bashir came in August and we filed (our suit) in October 2010. It was in response to his arrival here,” George Kegoro, ICJ Kenya’s executive director told AFP.

Just hours before announcing the expulsion of the Kenyan ambassador, Sudan’s foreign ministry spokesman had said the arrest warrant was linked to internal political wranglings in Kenya and would not affect bilateral relations.

The African Union has on several occasions called on its members’ states not to arrest the Sudanese president, accusing the ICC of targeting only Africans and arguing that Bashir’s arrest would hurt the peace process between Sudan and South Sudan.

Bashir took part in a regional summit in Malawi in mid-October after attending an investiture ceremony for Djibouti President Ismaël Omar Guelleh in May.

DARFUR CONFLICT

The Darfur conflict first erupted between non-Arab rebels and the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime in 2003.

Around 1.9 million people remain displaced in addition to the hundreds of thousands dead, according to UN estimates.

The Sudanese government puts the death toll at 10,000 and blames the continuing lack of security on tribal conflict, minority armed forces and banditry.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has accused Bashir of having personally instructed his forces to annihilate the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups in Darfur.

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Obama tests marshmallow gun

US President Barack Obama tested a new high-powered prototype Tuesday for his commander-in-chief’s arsenal — a high-powered marshmallow gun that sent a tasty missile screaming through the White House.

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Watched over by a brooding portrait of his hero Abraham Lincoln, the US president fired the launcher and marvelled at other inventions on display at a White House youth Science Fair.

Obama gleefully examined a “Skype on wheels” robot that allows elderly people use the Internet to talk to far away relatives and a unique sugar sachet that dissolves in a cup of coffee, to avoid creating garbage. But he could not resist the marshmallow launcher.

“The Secret Service is going to be mad at me about this,” Obama said, before energetically pumping a compressor and shooting the marshmallow gun, invented by 14-year-old Joe Huddy.

Obama watched open-mouthed as the candy shot across the room before crashing into the wall near the entrance to the Red Room, an elegant state parlour which stuffed with rare 19th century French furniture.

All the fun of the science fair had a serious purpose. Obama wanted to highlight the importance he places on innovation, science and education — which will be reflected in his budget to be unveiled next week.

The president says that Republican budget cuts would dry up the kind of government spending that is necessary to inspire a new generation of scientists and visionaries to build a competitive 21st century economy.

“The young people I met today… you guys inspire me. It’s young people like you that make me so confident that America’s best days are still to come,” he said.

“When you work and study and excel at what you doing in math and science, when you compete in something like this, you’re not just trying to win a prize today; you’re getting America in shape to win the future.”

Obama said that the budget he unveils next week will include programs to prepare new math and science teachers and to qualify one million more US graduates in science, technology, engineering and math over 10 years.

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Nigeria fury as fuel prices double

Police fired tear gas at protesters in the Nigerian capital as anger mounted after the government ended fuel subsidies, more than doubling petrol prices in the poverty stricken country.

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The move announced Sunday in Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer, saw petrol prices rocket to about 140 niara (0.66 euros, $0.96) per litre on Monday from 65 niara, where the price had been artificially held.

Most Nigerians live on less than two dollars a day.

Queues formed Sunday and again on Monday, a public holiday, with drivers hoping to purchase fuel before prices rise further and fearing a strike by tanker drivers will result in a shortage.

In Lagos, the country’s largest city, and in the capital Abuja, an initial rush on petrol stations died out later Monday, but there were fears of what lay ahead Tuesday when Nigerians return from the Christmas holidays.

Police fired tear gas to break up a protest in Abuja, according to video taken by local Channels television and seen by AFP.

The demonstration included former member of parliament Dino Melaye, and the video appeared to show security agents taking him away, with several hundred people present.

Police said they had dispersed people blocking a road, but did not confirm that tear gas was used.

“A group of people whose identities were not known were blocking a public highway, obstructing the movement of vehicles,” said police spokesman Yemi Ajayi. “They were dispersed.”

Melaye had earlier organised the signing of a petition near the capital’s main parade ground, Eagle Square, which armed soldiers and policemen had cordoned off to bar more people from joining the early protest arrivals.

“The essence of this is to mobilise Nigerians to register their displeasure against the satanic increase of the pump price of petroleum products,” Melaye told reporters earlier.

“It is also to kickstart a mass protest that will follow … The battle to fight this is a battle of no retreat, no surrender.”

Protests of several hundred people broke out in Kano, the largest city in Nigeria’s north, with a student leader threatening riots if the decision was not reversed, while the country’s main labour unions warned of mass action.

“We intend to work with other groups to completely paralyse the government and make the country ungovernable,” said Denja Yaqub, assistant secretary general of the Nigeria Labour Congress.

Protest threats in Nigeria have often fizzled out in the past, but the fuel subsidy issue is one of the few that unites much of the vast country, with widespread popular opposition to the move.

Economists and government officials view removing the subsidy as essential to allowing for more spending on the country’s woefully inadequate infrastructure and to ease pressure on its foreign reserves.

Nigerians however see the subsidy as their only benefit from the nation’s oil wealth.

The government says more than $8 billion was spent in 2011 on fuel subsidies.

Nigeria refines very little of its crude despite being a major oil producer and OPEC member, a situation blamed on corruption and mismanagement, forcing the country to import fuel even while it exports crude.

Subsidies were supposed to keep pump prices low even though fuel is imported at market prices, but there have been serious questions over how the subsidy cash has been paid out.

There have been accusations that much of the money goes to corrupt elites. Fuel was also sold above the set price in many areas outside of major cities.

The new policy deregulates the sector, though prices will still have to be in line with a benchmark rate to be posted regularly on the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency website. The rate will be in line with market conditions.

President Goodluck Jonathan along with his highly respected central bank chief, Lamido Sanusi, and the finance minister, ex-World Bank managing director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, pushed hard for the subsidy removal.

They have argued that it is key to unlocking development in a country that has been unable to provide even sufficient electricity to its population despite its oil wealth.

Years of deeply rooted corruption have resulted in profound distrust of government officials in Nigeria.

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Rushdie wins name battle with Facebook

British author Salman Rushdie has won a tussle with Facebook over his profile page on the social network.

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Rushdie’s run-in with Facebook stemmed from his insistence he be allowed to use his middle name – Salman, the one he is universally known by – instead of his first name – Ahmed – on Facebook.

Rushdie recounted the saga in a series of tweets on Monday to the more than 113,000 followers of his Twitter account salmanrushdie.

Facebook requires its more than 800 million members to use their real names on the social networking site and also bars pseudonyms.

Rushdie, who spent a decade in hiding after his book The Satanic Verses sparked threats against his life, said Facebook deactivated his page at the weekend “saying they didn’t believe I was me”.

Rushdie said he sent a photograph of his passport to Facebook.

“They said yes, I was me, but insisted I use the name Ahmed which appears before Salman on my passport and which I have never used,” he said.

“They have reactivated my FB page as ‘Ahmed Rushdie,’ in spite of the world knowing me as Salman. Morons,” he said.

Rushdie even tried reaching out directly to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on Twitter.

“Where are you hiding, Mark? Come out here and give me back my name!” he said.

Failing to get a response from Facebook, Rushdie turned to what he called “ridicule by the Twitterverse”.

“Dear Facebook, forcing me to change my FB name from Salman to Ahmed Rushdie is like forcing J Edgar to become John Hoover,” he said.

“Or, if F Scott Fitzgerald was on Facebook, would they force him to be Francis Fitzgerald? What about F Murray Abraham?”

Rushdie’s pleas were eventually answered.

“Victory! Facebook has buckled! I’m Salman Rushdie again. I feel SO much better. An identity crisis at my age is no fun. Thank you Twitter!” he said.

“Just received an apology from The Facebook Team,” he added. “All is sweetness and light.”

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