Central African Republic peacekeepers to be sent home over 'sex abuse'

More than 100 UN peacekeepers will be sent home from the Central African Republic after an investigation into sex abuse allegations, the UN says.

The UN says it is investigating eight new reports of sex abuse, following more than 20 previous allegations.

One 14 year-old says she was raped by an armed soldier near the airport.

The 120 soldiers who will be repatriated are from Congo-Brazzaville. During the investigation, they will be confined to barracks.

Living under a shadow of fear

Road to anarchy

Last week the UN said European troops were implicated in child sex abuse allegations.

Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the UN envoy for CAR, travelled to Bambari, the country's second biggest city where the latest abuse allegedly occurred, on Thursday.

He expressed outrage and shame.

There is "sufficient initial evidence" that five of the alleged victims are minors and one adult has been sexually exploited, according to a fact-finding expert sent to the city.

The NGO Human Rights Watch said most of the abuse occurred while the Congolese peacekeepers were temporarily deployed to protect the city's airport.

UN assistant secretary-general Anthony Banbury said there are likely to be 22 confirmed allegations of sexual abuse or exploitation in the UN's peacekeeping mission in CAR. That may rise as a result of the latest allegations.

Last week, the UN said a number of girls aged between 14 and 16 alleged they had been raped by Georgian members of the EU's operation Eufor in CAR.

A seven-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy said they were abused by French troops.

The troops were sent to stem violence between Christian militias and largely Muslim rebels.

'Gross institutional failure'

The rebels seized power in March 2013 - in response, the militias took up arms against them.

Last December an independent panel criticised the UN's handling of abuse allegations in the CAR, calling it "seriously flawed" and a "gross institutional failure".

It accused senior UN officials of abusing their authority by failing to take action over allegations of abuse by soldiers from France, Equatorial Guinea and Chad.

A 10,000-strong UN force took over a peacekeeping mission in September 2014.

Source: bbc.com

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Somali plane lands in Mogadishu with hole in its side

A passenger plane has made an emergency landing in Somalia's capital with a gaping hole in its fuselage.

The hole in the plane's side appeared shortly after take-off from Mogadishu at 10,000ft (3,048m), a colleague of one of the passengers told the BBC.

It is not clear what caused the damage. Officials say two passengers were hurt.

The Daallo Airlines flight, bound for Djibouti, was carrying about 60 people on board, a police officer at the scene told the Bloomberg news agency.

Some reports say a fire broke out shortly after take-off.

Darren Howe, who had a colleague on the plane, took a photo of the damaged aircraft after it had landed.

"It was not an explosion but a fuselage failure at 10,000ft," he told the BBC.

Daallo Airlines flies regularly from its base in Dubai to Somalia and Djibouti.

Source: bbc.com

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Kenya investigates 'barbaric' Uber attacks in Nairobi

Kenyan police have launched an investigation after a spate of attacks on Uber drivers in Nairobi.

Criminal gangs have attacked drivers for the app-based taxi service over the past two days, authorities say.

The violence has been linked to traditional taxi drivers angered at being undercut by the new service, which often charges far cheaper fares.

The company has sparked protests in many of the cities in the 68 countries where it now operates.

The Kenyan interior ministry said in its statement that "barbaric acts" should never be committed to settle business rivalries.

Police told local media that they had received reports of people ordering Uber taxis, in order to assault the drivers when they arrived.

The company acknowledged "cases of isolated intimidation towards Uber driver-partners" in a statement carried by local media.

"These cases shock and sadden us, as these driver-partners are simply using the Uber platform to earn a living for themselves and their families," it added.

Kenya's Taxi Cab Association has demanded that Uber suspend its operations in Nairobi, arguing that it has an unfair advantage because its drivers do not pay costly registration fees, Capital FM reports.

Uber, which launched in Kenya in January 2015, is thought to be the world's most valuable private company, with an estimated worth of more than $50bn (£35bn).

Source: bbc.com

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Zimbabwe chief prosecutor charged over Mugabe bomb plot case

Zimbabwe's chief prosecutor has been charged with obstructing the course of justice after allegedly dropping charges against people accused of plotting to bomb the president's dairy.

Four army officers also appeared at the magistrates court in the capital Harare charged with treason.

Attorney General Johannes Tomana denies the charges. He was brought to court in the back of a police pick-up truck.

The milk production plant is run by President Robert Mugabe's wife, Grace.

The prosecutor told the court that the four army officers were allegedly caught with firearms and sought to get bombs designed to blow up the dairy, reports the BBC's Brian Hungwe from the capital, Harare.

Our correspondent adds that the court was told the four had formed a political party called Zimbabwe People Front and had set up a military training camp.

Mr Tomana is accused of dropping charges against two of the four army officers.

Mr Mugabe has been in power since 1980.

The ruling Zanu-PF party has been hit by factionalism as rivals disagree on who will succeed 91-year-old Mr Mugabe.

One faction of the ruling party is backing Grace Mugabe to take over from her husband while another camp is backing Deputy President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Source: bbc.com

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Zika virus infection 'through sex' reported in US

A rare case of the Zika virus being transmitted through sex, not a mosquito bite, has been reported in the US.

A patient infected in Dallas, Texas, is likely to have been infected by sexual contact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) told the BBC.

The person had not travelled to infected areas but their partner had returned from Venezuela.

Zika is carried by mosquitoes and has been linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains.

It is spreading through the Americas and the World Health Organization has declared the virus a global public health emergency.

The American Red Cross has meanwhile urged prospective blood donors returning from Zika-hit countries to wait at least 28 days before donating their blood.

The "self-deferral" should apply to people returning from Mexico, the Caribbean or Central or South America during the past four weeks, the Red Cross said in a statement.

In another development, two cases of the Zika virus have been confirmed in Australia. Officials said the two Sydney residents had recently returned from the Caribbean.

Race to understand Zika baby risk

What is the risk to unborn children?

Worried mothers' stories

Meanwhile, Brazil - the country worst hit by the outbreak - has revealed it is investigating 3,670 suspected cases of microcephaly in babies linked to the Zika virus.

Analysis by James Gallagher, health editor, BBC News website

If Zika can readily spread through sex, then it poses a risk to every country not just those with the Aedes mosquito.

So far, authorities have said sexual transmission is rare, but last year they would have said any case of Zika was rare, too.

This explosive outbreak has caught the world by surprise and many key questions remain unanswered.

Exactly how common or rare is sexual transmission? Can it be spread by the 80% of people who show no symptoms? How long does the virus persist in semen? When is it safe to have sex again?

What should men do after visiting affected countries? Can women also spread the virus through sex?

However, this is not a new HIV/Aids moment. HIV infection is incurable and dramatically shortens lives without daily medication.

Zika infections are short, mild and pose a significant threat only in pregnancy.

The ministry also said 76 infant deaths from microcephaly, either during pregnancy or just after birth, were suspected.

The case in Dallas would be the first known infection to take place in the mainland US, though Texas has seen seven other Zika cases all related to foreign travel.

Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director for CDC, said this was the first case it had dealt with involving a "non-traveller".

"We don't believe this was spread through mosquito bites, but we do believe it was spread through a sexual contact."

A statement issued by the CDC said the best way to avoid Zika virus infection was "to prevent mosquito bites AND to avoid exposure to semen from someone who has been exposed to Zika".

The case is "significant" if it was definitely transmitted through sexual contact, Alaka Basu, a senior fellow for public health at the UN Foundation, told the BBC.

Graphic showing babies' head size

"This significance is parallel with the HIV/Aids case. It's worse in some ways, because there are two modes of transmission."

It is not the first known case of sexual transmission. There was a case in 2013 in French Polynesia, according to the CDC website.

The CDC recommends that pregnant women avoid travel to more than two dozen countries with Zika outbreaks, mostly in the Caribbean and Latin America, including Venezuela.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said her government was focused on eradicating the mosquito that transmits the virus.

In an address to a joint session of Congress, she said considerable funds would be set aside for the programme.

"We should all be worried about microcephaly," she said.

The alert issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday puts Zika in the same category of concern as Ebola.

It means research and aid will be fast-tracked to tackle the infection.

WHO director general, Margaret Chan called Zika an "extraordinary event" that needed a co-ordinated response.

She said the priorities were to protect pregnant women and their babies from harm and to control the mosquitoes that are spreading the virus.

WHO has said it could take up to nine months for experts to prove or disprove any connection between the virus and babies born with microcephaly.

Source: bbc.com

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Migrant crisis: Germany moves to cut asylum claims

Germany has unveiled plans to add Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to its list of safe countries, as it tries to curb growing numbers of migrants.

Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said nationals from those countries would now be unlikely to be granted asylum.

The move is part of new measures aimed at tightening rules in a country which last year received more than 1.1 million asylum seekers.

Earlier, 26 migrants drowned off a Greek island after their boat capsized.

The migrants died near the island of Samos, near Turkey. Ten of the victims were children.

In other developments:

  • Six bodies were discovered by the Italian navy in a sinking dinghy off the Libyan coast
  • The Netherlands proposed sending migrants reaching Greece back to Turkey by ferry
  • Sweden said as many as 80,000 people who arrived to the country last year could fail in their requests for asylum and face deportation

Migrant crisis: Who does the EU send back?

Strained relations

Mr Gabriel's comments came after his Social Democrats held talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and their Bavaria-based sister party, the Christian Social Union.

"The mood is good," Mr Gabriel was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

Morocco has already responded to the proposal, saying it would repatriate any of its nationals who had arrived illegally in Germany.

The German coalition partners also agreed that migrants with restricted asylum status would be unable to bring relatives into the country for two years.

The deportation of failed asylum seekers would also be speeded up.

The migrant issue has been straining the coalition, with the CSU threatening to take Mrs Merkel's government to court if the party's demand to stem the flow of asylum seekers is not dealt with decisively.

The coalition proposals still need to be approved by the government and parliament.

Where Europe is failing on migrants

  • The 28 member states have not agreed on an EU-wide mechanism for relocating migrants, to ease the burden on Greece and Italy; only small groups have been relocated so far - and several states in Central and Eastern Europe refuse to accept migrants
  • The Schengen agreement on freedom of movement is in jeopardy - Hungary fenced off its borders with Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia; meanwhile Germany, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and France have also reimposed border controls
  • The Dublin regulation, under which refugees are required to claim asylum in the member state in which they first arrive, is not working effectively; countries are no longer sending back migrants to their first point of entry to the EU
  • Thousands of migrants - many of them Syrian war refugees - still arrive daily from Turkey
  • Processing of asylum applications is slow and there is a big backlog - so reception centres are overcrowded
  • Germany - the main destination for migrants - is rethinking its open-door policy, partly because of outrage over assaults on women in Cologne at New Year

Source: bbc.com

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'No progress on African corruption' says watchdog

Corruption is a "serious problem" in 40 of sub-Saharan Africa's 46 states, says an anti-corruption watchdog.

Transparency International (TI) says it has seen no improvement in powerhouses Nigeria and South Africa.

Its corruption index puts Somalia at the top of the list of the world's most corrupt countries.

The annual index looks at factors such as the prevalence of bribery and the perception that government officials go unpunished for corruption.

The watchdog said the countries perceived to be the most corrupt tend to be in conflict; have weak institutions such as the police and the courts and lack independent media.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since its long-serving ruler, Siad Barre, was overthrown in 1991.

North Korea, which has been one of the world's most secretive societies, shared the spot of most corrupt with Somalia.

The "cleanest" countries, such as Denmark, Finland and Sweden, tend to show the public how money is spent and have judges that don't differentiate between rich and poor, the report says.

TI picked out Ghana - which has been rocked by an undercover film showing judges allegedly taking bribes - as a pocket of hope where activists "worked hard to drive out the corrupt".

Senegal, where the government has introduced a series of anti-corruptions laws, was one of the biggest improvers this year, TI said.

The countries where public sector corruption is perceived highest. Source: Transparency International

1. Somalia and North Korea

2. Afghanistan

3. Sudan

4. South Sudan

5. Angola

6. Libya

7. Iraq

8. Venezuela

9. Guinea-Bissau

10. Haiti

The countries where public sector corruption is perceived lowest

1. Denmark

2. Finland

3. Sweden

4. New Zealand

5. Netherlands

6. Norway

7. Switzerland

8. Singapore

9. Canada

10. Luxembourg and UK


Source: bbc.com


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Chibok: Deadly suicide blasts hit north-eastern Nigerian town

Suicide bombers have hit the north-eastern Nigerian town of Chibok during market day, killing at least 13 people, reports said.

At least three attackers were involved, some of them female, witnesses said. More than 30 people were injured.

It is not yet known who was behind the attack.

But suspicion is likely to fall on militants from the Boko Haram Islamist group, who abducted more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok in 2014.

A town elder warned that the death toll could rise.

"The situation is now tense and there's so much confusion. It will take some time before we can be able to have a clearer picture of the casualties," Ayuba Chibok told the AFP news agency.

'In shock'

One of the attackers struck at a security checkpoint, while another managed to reach the busy market. A third was identified by residents before detonating explosives close to the market, the reports said.

"People I spoke to are in shock, some of them are still crying," a former town resident Malam Ayouba told the BBC Hausa service.

A map showing Chibok in Nigeria

On Monday at least 25 people died in suicide bombings in the northern Cameroonian town of Bodo.

Earlier this month, Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari ordered a new investigation into the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok by Boko Haram.

The militants stormed a boarding school, abducting the girls from their dormitories.

Although the Nigerian military has freed hundreds of people held by Boko Haram in recent months, they did not include any of the Chibok girls.

Boko Haram at a glance:

  • Founded in 2002, initially focused on opposing Western-style education - Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria, hundreds abducted, including at least 200 schoolgirls
  • Joined so-called Islamic State, now calls itself IS's "West African province"
  • Seized large area in north-east, where it declared caliphate
  • Regional force has retaken most territory this year

Why Boko Haram remains a threat

Source: bbc.com

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Sweden 'to expel up to 80,000 failed asylum-seekers'

The authorities in Sweden are making plans to expel as many as 80,000 failed asylum-seekers, the interior minister was quoted as saying.

Anders Ygeman said that charter aircraft would be used to deport the migrants over several years.

"We are talking about 60,000 people but the number could climb to 80,000," Swedish media quoted him as saying.

Some 163,000 migrants applied for asylum in Sweden in 2015, the highest per capita number in Europe.

Of the approximately 58,800 cases processed last year, 55% were accepted.

Earlier on Wednesday, Greece's government responded to allegations in a draft European Commission report that it had "seriously neglected" its obligations to control the external frontier of Europe's passport-free Schengen zone.

Greek government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili accused the Commission of "blame games" and said it had failed to act on a programme agreed last year to relocate tens of thousands of migrants and refugees stranded in Greece.

Europe is struggling to deal with a crisis that has seen tens of thousands more migrants arrive on Greek beaches, undeterred by cold wintry conditions.

The UN says more than 46,000 people have arrived in Greece so far this year, with more than 170 people killed making the dangerous crossing.

Which countries are in the Schengen zone?

Schengen zone

Mr Ygeman was quoted as giving the figure of 80,000 by Swedish Public TV and Dagens Industri business newspaper (in Swedish).

He later tweeted to say he had not taken a position on how many migrants had grounds for asylum, it being a matter for the authorities and the courts.

Sweden recently introduced temporary border checks in a bid to control the influx of people. Along with Germany, the Scandinavian country is is a prime destination for refugees and other migrants entering the EU illegally.

Where Europe is failing on migrants

Map of arrivals

  • The 28 member states have not agreed on an EU-wide mechanism for relocating migrants, meant to ease the burden on Greece and Italy. Only small groups have been relocated so far - and several states in Central and Eastern Europe refuse to accept migrants
  • The Schengen agreement on freedom of movement is in jeopardy - Hungary fenced off its borders with Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia; meanwhile Germany, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and France also reimposed border controls
  • The Dublin regulation, under which refugees are required to claim asylum in the member state in which they first arrive, is not working effectively. Countries are no longer sending back migrants to their first point of entry to the EU
  • Thousands of migrants - many of them Syrian war refugees - still arrive daily from Turkey
  • Processing of asylum applications is slow and there is a big backlog - so reception centres are overcrowded
  • Germany - the main destination for migrants - is rethinking its open-door policy, partly because of outrage over assaults on women in Cologne at New Year

Sweden earlier this week became the latest of a number of European nations to see tensions over migrants heightened by violence. A 15-year-old asylum seeker was arrested in Molndal, near Gothenburg, after a 22-year-old asylum centre employee was stabbed to death.

Migration officials say 35,400 unaccompanied minors sought asylum in Sweden in 2015, five times the number in 2014.

In neighbouring Denmark, meanwhile, the government this week approved legislation to seize the valuables of refugees in the hope of limiting the influx of migrants.

Some have likened the Danish proposals to the confiscation of gold and other valuables from Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Source: bbc.com

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Senegal detains 900 people in security drive

Police in Senegal have detained 900 people as part of a security operation following militant attacks in Burkina Faso and Mali.

The detentions, which were not terror-related, took place over the weekend in the capital Dakar and Thies.

The assaults on a hotel in Mali and a hotel and restaurant in Burkina Faso, both claimed by Islamists, have raised security fears in the region.

Senegal has been comparatively safe but is a popular tourist destination.

Last week the Senegalese government ordered hotels to improve security or face closure.

Senegalese security forces would also step up patrols, the interior minister said.

Eyewitnesses report that presence is already being felt, with police being seen in higher numbers and many vehicles searched.

Those detained over the weekend were not targeted as terror suspects but as part of the wider security alert, officials said.

Senegalese security forces guard a hotel in the capital Dakar

Senegalese hotels have been ordered to boost security, or face closure

Their offences ranged from possessing drugs to having incorrect documents for their vehicles, according to the authorities.

"Security has been reinforced on all levels,'' justice ministry spokesman Soro Diop was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said it was behind the attack in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, last month that killed 30 people.

The Islamist militant group also claimed the siege on the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital, Bamako, in November last year, that left 20 people dead.

AQIM is based in the Sahara Desert and roams between Mali, Niger and Algeria.

Senegal has so far avoided a major attack by Islamist militants, despite sharing a border with Mali.

Source: bbc.com


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Oregon protest leader Ammon Bundy seized in deadly clash

US police say they have arrested the leader of an armed militia which has occupied a wildlife refuge in Oregon, with one person killed in a shoot-out.

Ammon Bundy and four others were arrested during a traffic stop. One person was injured. Three others were held in separate incidents.

The militia occupied the refuge this month to support two ranchers jailed for setting fire to federal land.

They say the government has taken land illegally from ranchers for decades.

Other members of the group were reportedly still at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon, where the FBI was setting up a perimeter.

Analysis: James Cook, US West Coast correspondent, BBC News

On Oregon's snowy plains, over the past few weeks, there has been some sympathy for the leaders of the occupation. Many people in the little town of Burns said they understood the militia's message about federal government "interference."

The federal government is not popular with ranchers in Harney County who accuse it of failing to respect a distinct way of life. But there was also hostility to the tactics employed by Ammon Bundy and his followers.

Armed militiamen rumbling in and out of town to gather supplies made residents nervous. So, too, did the presence of the FBI. The community had repeatedly asked the militia to leave but law enforcement officials had come in for criticism, too, accused of passivity in the face of flagrant criminality.

In recent days the pressure had mounted, with Oregon's Governor Kate Brown writing to the White House to demand federal action to end the stand-off. But with both sides heavily armed, violence was always a possibility when, and if, that moment came.

Inside the US refuge seized by militiamen

FBI officials said in a statement that Mr Bundy, 40, was arrested in a traffic stop on Highway 395 along with his brother Ryan Bundy, 43, Bryan Cavalier, 44, Shawna Cox, 59, and Ryan Walen Payne, 32.

Two other activists connected to the group, Joseph Donald O'Shaughnessy, 45, and Peter Santilli, 50, were later arrested, separately, in Burns, Oregon.

Each of the defendants faces a charge of conspiracy to impede police from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats, the FBI said.

Ammon Bundy arrives to address the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon in this January 5, 2016 file photo.

Ammon Bundy (centre) pictured earlier this month at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

According to the Oregonian newspaper, Mr Bundy was en route to a community meeting in John Day, Oregon, where he was scheduled to be a guest speaker, when authorities stopped his vehicle.

The newspaper said Ryan Bundy was injured in the arrest, suffering a minor gunshot wound. Authorities did not release the identity of the person killed.

However, local media named the man as Arizona native Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, a regular spokesman for the group.

His daughter, Arianna Finicum Brown, told The Oregonian he was a "good, good man, through and through".

Another occupier of the refuge, Jon Eric Ritzheimer, 32, surrendered to police in Arizona on Tuesday night.

Some 25 miles (40 km) of Highway 395 was shut in both directions following the incident, local officials said.

Map of Burns, Oregon

Mr Bundy and a right-wing militia group occupied the refuge on 2 January to protest against the imprisonment of two ranchers in rural Harney County.

Dwight and Steven Hammond had set fires on federal land in 2001 and 2006, they say to clear invasive plants and protect their land from wildfires. A federal judge in October ruled their initial sentences were too short and jailed them for about four years each.

The pair have distanced themselves from the militia movement and although many residents are sympathetic with its cause, many also oppose the occupation of the refuge.

Analysts say security forces took a low-key approach to the Oregon stand-off, fearful of a repetition of the bloody end to the siege at Waco in Texas in 1993.

My Bundy and his brother are sons of rancher Clive Bundy, who was in 2014 involved in a stand-off over grazing rights between armed anti-government activists and federal officials.

The militia includes people from many areas, including, Nevada, Arizona and Michigan.

Source: bbc.com

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South Sudan misses deadline to form unity government

South Sudan has missed a key deadline to create a transitional government, after the president increased the number of provinces from 10 to 28.

The plan for a unity government was part of a peace deal in August to end the civil war which began in 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his then-deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup.

The two sides blame each other for violating the terms of the agreement.

Thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced since 2013.

President Kiir, who said he had "reservations" about the August peace deal, appointed 28 new governors for the new provinces, just as rebel delegates arrived in the capital Juba, to begin work on the new government.

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The former president of Botswana and head of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, Festus Mogae, told Al Jazeera the move was one of the many barriers to peace.

"One important one that has occurred, unfortunate in its timing, is the creation of 28 states because it's inconsistent with what is envisaged in the [peace] agreement and, therefore, it is not acceptable," Mr Mogae said.

The United Nations released a report this week, accusing both President Kiir's forces and Mr Machar's rebels of mutual killings, including "hundreds of extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, gang-rapes, sexual slavery, forced abortion, [and] massive child soldier recruitment".

Peter Schumann, former director of the UN Mission in Southern Sudan told All Africa he would have been surprised if the transitional government had been established.

"Both parties have different agendas and do not follow their agreements," Mr Schumann said. "There is no peaceful solution, because both parties are trying to control territory and oil resources."

Source: bbc.com

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US blizzard 2016: New York begins clear-up after mammoth snowfall

A travel ban in New York City has ended as the eastern US begins digging out from the weekend's massive snowstorm.

New York, the most populated city in the US, saw its second-highest snowfall since records began in 1869, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

As five states saw snowfall of three feet (91cm) or more, the hazards of shovelling snow were brought home by at least six deaths.

A further 12 people have died in other snow-related incidents since Friday.

The storm, dubbed Snowmageddon and Snowzilla on social media, is weakening and heading for the Atlantic Ocean.

It has affected some 85 million people, cutting power to 200,000 people. The heaviest fall was recorded in Glengary, West Virginia, which had 42ins (107 cm).

In Washington DC, the metro is set to remain closed and air travel in the region faces further disruption.

Some 7,000 flights were cancelled this weekend and disruption is to continue into the working week, with at least 615 cancelled for Monday.

Live updates on US blizzard

In pictures: #snowmageddon2016

How New Yorkers avoided going stir crazy

Why do so many people die shovelling snow?

Why was there so much snow?

Elements often come together to create snow, but not always in the same way and to this extent - it was the perfect winter storm

  • A low pressure system was able to transport and circulate huge amounts of moisture north from the Gulf of Mexico
  • The position of the jet stream allowed a low pressure system to be picked up and drawn northwards along the eastern seaboard
  • Very warm air falling into very cold air from the north and mixing meant there was only one thing that would happen - snow
  • Very strong winds: low pressure moves in one direction and high pressure in another and, much like cogs in a wheel, they increased the wind
  • The storm moved especially slowly, leading to more snow being dumped over a long time

Many people have taken to streets and parks to enjoy the snow, with a giant snowball fight breaking out on Times Square, New York, overnight.

A resident shovels snow away from the entrance to his home in Union City, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Midtown Manhattan, after the second-biggest winter storm in New York history, January 24, 2016.

Union City in New Jersey, across the water from Manhattan, saw particularly high snow drifts

By the time the snow had stopped falling after two days, late on Saturday, New York's Central Park had received 26.8in, the second-biggest fall recorded since 1869.

The total was just 0.1in (0.25cm) shy of the all-time high, 26.9in, recorded in February 2006.

However, the 26.6in that fell in the park on Saturday alone was a one-day record for the city.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said the Long Island Rail Road would remain out of action until at least Monday as the line had suffered "significant damage".

"This one is a cautionary tale for all of us," Mr de Blasio said on Sunday. "A storm that a day before, on Friday, was still being projected at eight to 12 inches, ends up being close to 27 inches."

States of emergency were declared in 11 states and in the District of Columbia.

DC director of homeland security Chris Geller warned on Sunday that roads would turn icy overnight, and urged people not to drive.

The capital's mayor, Muriel Bowser, asked residents to help clear snow from the business district.

In Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, drivers were stranded for hours on snowbound highways.

At least five people in the New York area died while shovelling or removing snow, the New York Times reports. A sixth death was reported in Baltimore, Maryland.

Among other deaths attributed to the storm was that of a man in North Carolina who stopped to help a motorist whose car had veered off an icy road. Police said the Good Samaritan was shot by the man he had gone to help.

In Ohio, a teenager sledding behind an all-terrain vehicle was hit by a lorry and killed.

Source: bbc.com

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Kenya troops killed by 'huge bomb' in Somalia attack

Explosives three times as powerful as the bomb used in the 1998 US embassy attack in Nairobi were used against Kenyan troops last week, the army says.

A Kenyan contingent of the African Union force in Somalia was attacked by al-Shabab militants in el-Ade, in the south of the country.

Kenya has not said how many soldiers died, but al-Shabab puts the figure at more than 100.

The army has asked people to be patient while it investigates what happened.

In 1998 more than 200 people died when al-Qaeda attacked the US embassy in Kenya's capital, in one of the first operations launched by the jihadist group.

Kenya's Chief of Defence Forces Gen Samson Mwathe told journalists in Nairobi to imagine the damage that "three of those in that small defensive position" can cause.

The BBC's Wanyama Chebusiri in Nairobi says that anxiety and anger has gripped the country in the wake of last week's attack in Somalia and Gen Mwathe may be psychologically preparing the country for news of a large loss of life.

The armed forces chief said that given the size of the explosion, DNA tests may be required for the identification of some of those who died.

But while Kenyans wait for answers, Gen Mwathe said that people should "exercise patience and support out families" as an investigation is carried out.

US embassy after the 1998 bombing

The US embassy was razed to the ground by the attack in 1998

Last week, an al-Shabab official told the BBC that its fighters had attacked the base after morning prayers, starting with a car bomb before storming the facility.

"We took control of the base after one hour of fierce fighting," he said.

Al-Shabab was ousted from the capital, Mogadishu, in August 2011, but still has a presence in large areas of southern Somalia and often stages attacks across the country.

Kenyan sent troops into Somalia to help the government battle al-Shabab in 2011.

Source: bbc.com

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Flint water crisis: Barack Obama says people 'short-changed'

US President Barack Obama has pledged his support to the Michigan city beset by a water contamination crisis, saying Flint had been "short-changed".

Speaking from nearby Detroit, he said: "If I were a parent up there, I would be beside myself that my kid's health could be at risk."

The city's water became contaminated when lead leached from old pipes after a change in supplier in 2014.

Since then, residents have complained of bad smells, headaches and rashes.

Unable to drink tap water, the National Guard has joined volunteers in distributing lead tests, filters and bottled water.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has faced calls to resign over the way he has handled the crisis.

On Wednesday he released a batch of emails from 2014 and 2015 concerning the issue.

One email suggests that a day after doctors reported high levels of lead in local children, one of the governor's top advisers told him city officials, not state officials, had to "deal with it".

The switch to a river water source was a money-saving move when the city was under state financial management.

The water from Flint River stripped lead from the pipes and into the supply.

Lead exposure can cause learning disabilities and behavioural problems in children.

Last week, Mr Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint, which is predominantly an African-American, working-class city.

That declaration brought $5m (£3.5m) in federal aid but was far short of the $31m requested by Republican governor Mr Snyder.

Protests in Michigan

Governor Rick Snyder is blamed by protesters

A day after meeting Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, the president said: "I told her we are going to have her back and all the people of Flint's back as they work their way through this terrible tragedy.

"It is a reminder that we can't short-change the basic services we provide to our people."

Mr Snyder has urged Mr Obama to class the crisis as a federal disaster, saying its severity poses an "imminent and long-term threat" to residents.

By classing it as such, on the same level as natural disasters, the city would be able to get much more federal aid.

In an interview this week, Mr Snyder admitted it was a disaster but denied it was his "Katrina moment" - a reference to the much-criticised response of President George W Bush to the hurricane that devastated New Orleans in 2005.

Source: bbc.com

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'Crippling' snow storm could slam US east coast

Hundreds of thousands of people along the US mid-Atlantic region should be bracing for "perhaps crippling" snow, the National Weather Service has said.

Forecasters say up to 16in (40.6cm) of snow could fall over the weekend in an area that spans big cities such as Washington and Philadelphia.

Blizzard warnings have been issued in some areas, warning of heavy winds and wet snow could lead to power outages.

Earlier storms on Wednesday left drivers in hours-long gridlock.

Crews have cleared roads in the Washington, Virginia and Maryland areas after a small storm left roads icy just ahead of rush hour commutes.

There were reports of otherwise routine short commutes lasting up to three hours, and of some people abandoning their cars.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser tweeted an apology to her constituents, saying that officials had "failed to deploy the necessary resources in response to the snow - for that I am sorry".

However, National Weather Service forecasters are warning that Wednesday's storms were just a prelude to a powerful storm that will hit the region on Friday and last until Saturday night.

The details of the coming storm remain uncertain.

When exactly the storm will begin and predictions of the amount of snow that will fall have varied.

"There's a lot of details that are yet to be seen," Rich Otto of the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center said. "Subtle changes can make a big difference. We've seen that in storms in the past."

Across the US east coast at a glance:

  • grocery store queues are long with residents purchasing milk, laundry detergent and other necessities
  • classes were cancelled at schools in Kentucky and Tennessee, the first states being affected by the storm
  • major airlines are allowing travellers in affected regions to rebook onto flights ahead of or after the storm.
  • Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser has requested Humvees from the National Guard so that emergency responders can reach isolated people and places
  • West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has activated the National Guard to assist with the storm that could dump 2ft of snow in some parts of the state
  • in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania officials are touting large salt stockpiles and plough vehicles in good repair
  • in southern New England broadly, predictions are uncertain, but officials are preparing for up to 6in of snow

Source: bbc.com

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Pupils in poor countries lack textbooks, says Unesco

Pupils in the poorest countries are suffering from a lack of basic textbooks, according to a report from a United Nations agency.

The study from Unesco gives examples such as reading books in Cameroon being shared between 12 students.

The report is calling for a more centralised buying system which would make them more affordable.

Report director Aaron Benavot says textbooks are an important way of raising standards in school.

"Next to a good teacher, well-designed textbooks in sufficient quantities are the most effective way to improve students' learning," says Mr Benavot, director of Unesco's Global Education Monitoring Report.

The report suggests the process of distributing textbooks should be approached in the same systematic way as public health programmes.

"We must learn from health and set up a new system so that textbooks can move cheaply and effectively from a printing house to school and into the hands of children," says Mr Benavot.

Unesco says that hundreds of millions of pounds could be saved by a better co-ordinated procurement process.

At present, the different distribution systems around the world, which mean that many pupils have no meaningful access to books, suffer from unreliable funding, a lack of transparency about how money is spent and a failure in predicting demand.

The lack of availability of textbooks from schools means that many families would have to pay for their own copies, which would be unaffordable to the poorest.

Unesco says that in 12 African countries, paying for schools accounts for a third of total household spending.

The report warns that rising numbers of pupils in countries such as Kenya, Malawi and Namibia are making textbooks even scarcer.

There is a warning of a lack of spending on textbooks by governments, with some using less than 1% of education budgets on books.

The Unesco study claims that providing one textbook per pupil in sub-Saharan African countries would increase literacy scores by between 5% and 20%.

The report highlights that the lack of textbooks is not limited to Africa as there are also many pupils without books or having to share them in Paraguay and Argentina.

There have been warnings from the OECD economic think tank that the amount of overseas aid to the poorest countries is falling, as international aid is increasingly being diverted to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Source: bbc.com

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Kenyan Muslim who shielded Christians in al-Shabab attack dies

A Muslim teacher who shielded Christian fellow passengers when their bus was attacked by Islamist militants has died in surgery to treat his bullet wound.

Salah Farah was on a bus travelling through Mandera in Kenya when it was attacked by al-Shabab in December.

The attackers told the Muslims and Christians to split up but he was among Muslim passengers who refused.

A bullet hit Mr Farah and almost a month on, he died in hospital in the capital, Nairobi.

In previous attacks in the area, al-Shabab has killed Christians and spared Muslims.

At the time, Mr Farah told the BBC's Bashkas Jugsodaay that attackers had offered him an escape.

"They told us if you are a Muslim, we are safe. There were some people who were not Muslim. They hid their heads," he said.

However, he recalled to Kenya's The Daily Nation that people were told to separate but they refused.

"We asked them to kill all of us or leave us alone."

Explaining his actions, he told Voice of America earlier this month that "people should live peacefully together".

"We are brothers.

"It's only the religion that is the difference, so I ask my brother Muslims to take care of the Christians so that the Christians also take care of us... and let us help one another and let us live together peacefully".

After his death, Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet paid tribute to Mr Farah, telling Kenya's Standard Mr Farah was "a true hero".

Mr Farah's brother Rashid told Kenya's The Star newspaper he hoped his brother's death would bring religious harmony and encourage Kenyans to live as one community.

Source: bbc.com

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Hawking: Humans at risk of lethal 'own goal'

Humanity is at risk from a series of dangers of our own making, according to Prof Stephen Hawking.

Nuclear war, global warming and genetically-engineered viruses are among the scenarios he singles out.

And he says that further progress in science and technology will create "new ways things can go wrong".

Prof Hawking is giving this year's BBC Reith Lectures, which explore research into black holes, and his warning came in answer to audience questions.

He says that assuming humanity eventually establishes colonies on other worlds, it will be able to survive.

"Although the chance of a disaster to planet Earth in a given year may be quite low, it adds up over time, and becomes a near certainty in the next thousand or ten thousand years.

"By that time we should have spread out into space, and to other stars, so a disaster on Earth would not mean the end of the human race.

"However, we will not establish self-sustaining colonies in space for at least the next hundred years, so we have to be very careful in this period."

Reith Lectures: Prof Stephen Hawking

Prof Hawking's first Reith Lecture will be broadcast on 26 January and on 2 February at 9am on BBC Radio 4. BBC World Service listeners can tune in on 26 January at 15:06 GMT and 2 February at 15:06 GMT or catch up online via www.bbc.com/worldserviceradio

BBC News online will be publishing the text of Prof Hawking's lectures with accompanying notes by our science editor, David Shukman.

iWonder: A brief history of Stephen Hawking

It is ironic that such a prominent figure in science identifies scientific progress itself as the major source of new threats.

On previous occasions, he has highlighted the potential risks of artificial intelligence (AI) becoming powerful enough to cause the extinction of the human race.

But he insists that ways will be found to cope.

"We are not going to stop making progress, or reverse it, so we have to recognise the dangers and control them. I'm an optimist, and I believe we can."

Asked for advice for young scientists, Prof Hawking said they should retain a sense of wonder about "our vast and complex" Universe.

"From my own perspective, it has been a glorious time to be alive and doing research in theoretical physics. There is nothing like the Eureka moment of discovering something that no one knew before."

But he also said that future generations of researchers should be aware of how scientific and technological progress is changing the world, and to help the wider public understand it.

Stephen Hawking

Prof Hawking said humans are creating "new ways things can go wrong"

"It's important to ensure that these changes are heading in the right directions. In a democratic society, this means that everyone needs to have a basic understanding of science to make informed decisions about the future.

"So communicate plainly what you are trying to do in science, and who knows, you might even end up understanding it yourself."

Since his diagnosis with motor neurone disease, Prof Hawking's determination to overcome the immense physical challenges of his disability has been a source of worldwide admiration and fascination.

His daughter Lucy, a journalist and writer, who has co-written children's science books with Prof Hawking, was asked to explain his drive.

"I think he's enormously stubborn and has a very enviable wish to keep going and the ability to summon all his reserves, all his energy, all his mental focus and press them all into that goal of keeping going," she said.

"But not just to keep going for the purposes of survival, but to transcend this by producing extraordinary work, writing books, giving lectures, inspiring other people with neurodegenerative and other disabilities, and being a family man, a friend and a colleague to so many people and keeping up with friends across the world."

Source: bbc.com


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Flint, Michigan water contamination: Obama declares emergency

US President Barack Obama has declared a state of emergency in Flint, Michigan, where the water has become contaminated with lead.

The city's water became contaminated after a change in supplier in 2014. Corrosive water leached lead from old pipes into the water supply.

Lead reportedly leached from old pipes into the water supply, after a change in supplier in 2014.  and residence say tap water 'made our hair fall out'.

The emergency declaration will unlock $5m (£3.5m) in federal funding.

Earlier in the week, Governor Rick Snyder had requested $31m from the federal government.

He said the need in the city of almost 100,000 people "far exceeds the state's capability" and sought a disaster declaration.

But reports in Michigan said Mr Obama denied that request, that would have freed up more than the $5m, as such declarations are only made for natural disasters.

In October, testing revealed increased lead levels in water supplies and in children's blood. Lead exposure can cause learning disabilities and behavioural problems in children.

Before then, residents had complained of discoloured water, bad smells and headaches and rashes from using the water from the city's new supplier.

The city switched its water source from the city of Detroit to the Flint River in 2014. It has since switched back to Detroit's water.

Michigan's attorney general has said he will investigate the water crisis to see whether any state laws were violated.

The lack of clean water in Flint "is a human tragedy in which families are struggling even with the most basic parts of daily life", said Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Mr Snyder has already declared an emergency in Flint due to the water situation. Local officials deemed it a public health emergency in October.

He has been criticised for his handling of the water crisis, with protesters calling for him to resign.

As a result of Mr Obama's announcement, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) will co-ordinate the response in Flint.

On Saturday, the singer Cher said she would donate bottled water to Flint residents, with some 180,000 bottles to be shipped.

"This is a tragedy of staggering proportion and shocking that it's happening in the middle of our country," she said.

Source: bbc.com


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Barack Obama's migrant plan taken up by US Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court has said it will consider a challenge to one of President Barack Obama's key immigration reform plans.

The plan would lift the threat of deportation from five million migrants living illegally in the US.

A coalition of 26 mostly conservative states, led by Texas, has been successful in lower court challenges.

A decision from the highest US court is expected in the early summer, just as the US election gets into full swing.

"We are confident that the policies will be upheld as lawful," said White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine.

President Obama announced the plan, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), in November 2014.

He justified using his presidential powers, without Congress, by saying it was in response to inaction over the issue of immigration from Congress.

Analysis - Anthony Zurcher, BBC News, Washington

This will only heighten the drama surrounding this issue as the US presidential election season shifts into high gear this summer.

If the White House wins this case, the stakes could not be higher. Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, has already pledged to expand upon Mr Obama's unilateral efforts.

Thanks to the efforts of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump to push his party to the right on immigration policy, the Republican nominee - whatever his or her identity - will be nearly certain to reverse course from the first day in office.

If Obama loses the case, the outlook is somewhat murkier. Such a development could boost turnout of a frustrated Hispanic electorate, who largely support the Democrats.

Or it could rally conservatives who view the Supreme Court - whose future composition may be shaped by the next president - as their last bulwark against liberal power.

If allowed to go forward, it would allow people who have lived in the US for more than five years and who have children who are living in the country legally to apply for work authorisation.

In announcing the plan, Mr Obama said it would allow those who qualify to "come out of the shadows and get right with the law".

Challenges to the plan began shortly after Mr Obama's announcement, with a federal court in Texas effectively putting a pause on it in February.

The Obama administration lost an appeal in November, keeping the injunction in place.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in April and deliver its decision by late June, about a month before the Republican and Democratic parties gather for their nominating conventions.

The White House has vowed to kickstart the programme if the court backs the plan, so migrants could began enrolling before a new president takes office in January 2017.

One of the largest questions looming over the case is whether the state challengers have the right to do so.

Texas argues it will have to spend millions of dollars to provide driver's licences to people who are part of the programme.

The issue of immigration has become a controversial and polarising issue in the 2016 presidential race.

Leading Democrat Hillary Clinton has said she would maintain and expand President Obama's reforms, while her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump has said he would reverse the reforms and step up enforcement.

Source: bbc.com

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Foreigners killed at Burkina Faso luxury hotel

Burkina Faso's government says 26 people were killed and a further 56 injured after Islamist militants attacked a hotel in the capital, Ouagadougou, popular with foreigners.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has said it carried out the attack, which began on Friday night.

Those killed come from at least 18 different countries, and include two French nationals.

Burkina Faso is to observe 72 hours of national mourning for the victims.

The siege at the Splendid Hotel was declared over after a joint operation by local and French security forces.

At least four attackers died in the assaults. There were claims that some of those involved were women.

As well as the luxury hotel, a cafe and another hotel nearby were targeted. The operation to take back the hotel lasted through the night and into the morning.

Bukinabe President Roch Kabore, who arrived at the scene on Saturday morning amid tight security, said at least 150 hostages had been liberated.

The French government said two of its nationals were killed in the assault, and one is known to be injured. French medical teams were providing support, and forensic officers were travelling to Ouagadougou, it added.

The UK's Foreign Office advised British nationals in Burkina Faso to avoid the area where the attack took place and monitor its travel advice.

In another development, the Burkina Faso government said a foreign doctor and his wife were kidnapped on Friday night in the north of the country, near the border with Mali. There was initial confusion over the pair's nationality - the Burkinabe government said they were Austrian, but later corrected this to Australian.

In November, an AQIM attack on a hotel in Bamako, capital of neighbouring Mali, left 19 people dead.

At the scene: Thomas Fessy, BBC Dakar correspondent

The area surrounding the Splendid Hotel has been cordoned off. Soldiers can still be seen walking in and out of the building but the siege is now over.

At least three cars parked right outside the front door are completely charred, the remains of another two sit just across the street. Two burnt motorbikes lie in the middle.

The light purple colour of the Splendid Hotel's front side now looks black, probably caused by the smoke generated by explosions.

The Yibi hotel, opposite the Splendid, also shows signs of the attack, and the authorities say at least one attacker was killed inside the building.

US hostage describes Burkina terror

Damaged vehicles outside the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, 16 January 2016

The exterior of the Splendid Hotel was damaged by car bombs

A foreign soldier on a rooftop in Ouagadougou, 16 soldiers

A foreign soldier could be seen on the roof of the hotel


Militants attacked the Splendid and the nearby Cappuccino cafe on Friday evening, setting off several explosions. Both places are popular with UN staff and foreigners.

Survivors described how the militants went from person to person, touching their bodies to see if they moved.

"They started shooting, shooting, and everybody lay down on the ground," said Mariette, who escaped from the hotel with her younger sister.

"As soon as you lifted your head they would shoot straightaway, so you had to pretend to be dead. And they even came to touch our feet to check if we were alive. As soon as you were alive, they would shoot at you."

Background: Tomi Oladipo, BBC Africa security correspondent

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb grew from a remnant of a defunct rebel force, rooted in Algeria's civil war in the 1990s, into a wealthy and feared militant group that made its money from kidnapping Westerners and trafficking arms and drugs.

In 2007 it announced it had joined the al-Qaeda network to fight against Western interests. Later though, some of its members left to form their own factions. The most notable of these was Mokhtar Belmokhtar who was behind the 2013 siege of a gas plant in Algeria.

In November 2015 Belmokhtar's faction said it had worked with its parent group to attack a hotel in Mali. That signalled the mending of relations between some of the factions to rebuild the original AQIM, which was being overshadowed by its rival, the so-called Islamic State.

This latest attack in Burkina Faso would seem to be an attempt by AQIM not just to reinforce itself as the main jihadist group in the region, but also to show that it can spread its violent campaign to new frontiers.

Al-Qaeda in North Africa

Interior Minister Simon Compaore said 10 bodies had been found on the cafe terrace alone.

As the end of the siege at the Splendid was being announced, reports came in that militants had taken up position at the Yibi hotel, a short distance away. One attacker was killed at the Yibi, officials said later.

Remi Dandjinou, the Burkinabe communications minister, told the BBC earlier that between six and seven militants had attacked the Splendid, adding that they had been staying at the hotel as guests.

Mr Compaore said two black Africans and an Arab were among the militants killed.

Burkina Faso recently held its first presidential election since a coup earlier last year.

That coup toppled long-time leader Blaise Compaore, who had governed for 27 years.

Map of West Africa

Source: bbc.com

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Jason Rezaian and three other US prisoners freed in Iran

Iran has released Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and three other Iranian-American prisoners as it anticipates the lifting of international sanctions.

Rezaian, 39, was convicted of espionage in Iran last year.

The US citizens are being flown to Switzerland and will be taken to a US base in Germany for medical treatment.

The US said it was offering clemency to seven Iranians being held in the United States.

The other three Americans were named as Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari.

A US official said a diplomatic channel was established "with the focus of getting our detained US citizens home".

"Iran has also committed to continue co-operating with the United States to determine the whereabouts of Robert Levinson," the official said.

According to the Associated Press news agency, Mr Levinson is a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007 while working for the CIA on an unapproved intelligence mission.

A further 14 Iranians sought by the US would be removed from an Interpol wanted list, the US and Iran said.

The Iranian state news agency listed the seven Iranian citizens being held in the US as Nader Modanlo, Bahram Mechanic, Khosrow Afghani, Arash Ghahreman, Tooraj Faridi, Nima Golestaneh and Ali Saboun.

News of the releases came after Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif predicted that international sanctions against his country would be lifted on Saturday.

He is in Vienna for talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry over Iran's nuclear deal.

The international nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, is expected to confirm that Iran has scaled back its atomic activities in line with the agreement.

Billions of dollars of frozen Iranian assets are expected to be released and the sale of Iranian oil on the world market will again be permitted.

Iran nuclear deal: Key details

Lifting sanctions would unfreeze billions of dollars of assets and allow Iranian oil to be sold internationally.

Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post's Tehran correspondent, had been detained in Iran for more than a year before his sentencing last November. The WP has dismissed the charges as absurd.

The other three freed on Saturday were: Saeed Abedini, 35, a Christian pastor who had been imprisoned since July 2012 for organising churches in people's houses; Amir Hekmati, 32, a former Marine who spent more than four years in prison on spying charges following his arrest in August 2011 during a visit to see his grandmother. The detention of Khosrawi-Roodsari had not been previously released.

Analysis: Sebastian Usher, Middle East Editor, BBC World Service

For months after his arrest in 2014, there was uncertainty over what accusations Jason Rezaian was facing. He was held in the notorious Evin prison before finally being found guilty on charges that his lawyer said included espionage.

His newspaper vigorously denied this. President Barack Obama said he would not rest until he was freed. Now, his release has been announced in what Iran calls a prisoner swap - an indication he might have been used as a bargaining chip.

Coming just before sanctions are due to be lifted on Iran, his release removes a shadow that had lain over relations between Tehran and Washington even as they were thawing with the nuclear deal.

Jason Rezaian - Now a free man

Iran's press anticipates lifting of sanctions

Many newspapers have hailed "good days ahead" for the economy, but the hardline press has lamented nuclear restrictions, with Vatan-e Emruz declaring closing the Arak reactor amounted to a "nuclear burial".

Moderate Iran and reformist Mardom Salari feared Saudi Arabia and US Republicans would try to sabotage the deal, the latter predicting that "powerful hands will try to boobytrap this path".

Meanwhile Conservative Hemayat said the nuclear deal would not "resolve the problem with the village chief" - referring to the US - and hardline Keyhan argued that the deal had not led to a let-up in US "anti-Iranian propaganda".

Source: BBC Monitoring

What is the nuclear deal?

In July 2015, Iran agreed a landmark nuclear deal with six world powers to limit its sensitive nuclear activities for more than a decade in return for the lifting of crippling sanctions. The US is confident the agreement will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Iran says it has the right to nuclear energy - and stresses that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only.

When is 'implementation day'?

Iran will not see the UN, US and EU sanctions lifted until the global nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), certifies that it has fulfilled its commitments under the deal. The precise date of the so-called "implementation day" has not been determined. But Iran says it has met those commitments earlier than expected.

What does Iran stand to gain?

The sanctions have cost Iran more than more than $160bn (£102bn) in oil revenue since 2012 alone. Once they are lifted, the country will be able to resume selling oil on international markets and using the global financial system for trade. Iran has the fourth largest oil reserves in the world and the energy industry is braced for lower prices. Iran will also be able to access more than $100bn in assets frozen overseas.

Source: bbc.com

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No where cool afterall as Michigan seeks US government aid in water crisis

Michigan is seeking millions in US government aid for the water crisis in Flint, where the water has become contaminated with lead.

Governor Rick Snyder is requesting $31 million (£22 million) from the federal government because the need "far exceeds the state's capability".

The state has applied for a federal disaster declaration, which the Obama administration will consider.

The city's water became contaminated after switching suppliers in 2014.

Corrosive water leached lead from old pipes into the water supply.

Michigan's attorney general has said he will investigate the water crisis whether any state laws were violated.

The lack of clean water in Flint "is a human tragedy in which families are struggling even with the most basic parts of daily life", said Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it will send a recommendation to President Barack Obama as "expeditiously as possible".

Mr Snyder has already declared an emergency in Flint due to the water situation. Local officials deemed it a public health emergency in October.

Residents complained of discoloured water, bad smells and headaches and rashes from using the water from the city's new supplier.

The city switched its water source from the city of Detroit to the Flint River in 2014.

They have since switched back to Detroit's water.

In October, testing revealed increased lead levels in water supplies and in children's blood. Lead exposure can cause learning disabilities and behavioural problems in children.

Mr Snyder has been criticised for how he has handled the water crisis, with protesters calling for him to resign.

Source: bbc.com

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Two US military helicopters collide near Hawaii

Two US Marine helicopters have collided near the Hawaiian island of Oahu, each with six people on board.

The crash occurred during a night-time training mission late on Thursday but it is unclear why.

Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers said debris was seen in the ocean.

Marine Capt Timothy Irish told the Associated Press news agency that a search and rescue was under way for the two CH-53 transport helicopters.

The aircraft were from the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing from Marine Corps Base Hawaii, he said.

Ms Mooers told Los Angeles radio station KNX-AM the search would be tough because of darkness and a high surf advisory.

Less than a year ago, a Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey crashed during a training exercise, killing two Marines.

USMC confirmed the crash


Source: bbc.com

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Egypt steps up raids ahead of revolution anniversary

Egypt's security forces have stepped up raids ahead of the fifth anniversary of the uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

At least five people have been arrested in recent days, including activists accused of running Facebook pages supporting the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and calling for protests.

The offices of an independent news website were also raided and its managing editor was detained.

Officials have warned against protests marking the 25 January revolution.

Operations have intensified in recent weeks and several other people have been reportedly arrested.

Sites popular with activists have also been shut down to prevent anniversary gatherings.

'Ruin the country'

Two of those detained were identified as a 26-year-old man responsible for 41 Facebook pages and a 22-year-old woman who managed six sites, interior ministry spokesman Abu Bakr Abdel Karim was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

Facebook and other social media sites have been used to organise protests and rallies, and several groups have called for demonstrations on the anniversary of the uprising that toppled President Mubarak in 2011.

"The administrators of these pages were arrested on charges of inciting against state institutions and spreading the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as calling for marches on the coming 25 January," Mr Abdel Karim said.

"The ministry will continue to stand against these terrorist pages that have long incited violence against state institutions and made fun of the major incidents experienced by the country recently."

Security forces also raided the offices of the independent news website Masr al-Arabiya. Its managing editor Ahmed Abdel Gawad was reportedly released after being arrested on Thursday.

Authorities have expressed concern over protests and Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has warned that another revolution could "ruin the country."

Religious leaders have also warned against protests.

As former armed forces chief, Mr Sisi led the army's overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi, an ex-Muslim Brotherhood official, in 2013 following mass protests.

Since then, more than 1,000 people have been killed and 40,000 are believed to have been jailed in a crackdown on dissent. Most of them have been supporters of the Brotherhood, which was banned in 2013.

But secular and liberal activists have also been prosecuted for breaking a 2013 anti-protest law that gives the interior ministry the power to ban gatherings of more than 10 people.

Last year, the government approved a anti-terrorism legislation which activists said further eroded basic rights and enshrined a permanent state of emergency.

Source: bbc.com

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Kosovo war crimes court to try KLA suspects in The Hague

A special court is being set up in The Hague to try war crimes committed during the 1999-2000 war in Kosovo, the Dutch government says.

It will try serious crimes allegedly committed by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) against ethnic minorities and political opponents, a statement said.

The court is set to begin operating later this year.

The conflict pitted ethnic Albanian rebels against Serbian forces.

Until 2008, Kosovo was a province of Serbia. Years of tensions turned into open conflict in 1998, when the Serbian government launched a crackdown.

It eventually withdrew its troops from Kosovo after a two-month campaign of air strikes by Nato in 1999.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, although Serbia has never recognised this.

An estimated 10,000 people died in the conflict and about 1,700 remain missing.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has tried and convicted many Serb officials over the past two decades, but it has generally failed to find justice for hundreds of thousands of ethnic Serbs who were themselves the victims of forced displacements or atrocities.

This has damaged the ICTY's credibility, especially in Serbia, and hampered reconciliation efforts.

Officially, the new tribunal will be a national court of Kosovo, despite its location in The Hague.

But it should finally deal with the long-festering allegations that members of the KLA - many of whom have risen to high positions in the government - committed atrocities.

Members of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority who view the KLA as heroes may resent the process. But the tribunal might prove vital, as Serbia and Kosovo continue efforts to normalise relations.

The Dutch statement admits that trying war crimes "is a sensitive issue in Kosovo".

"Possible suspects may be seen by sections of Kosovan society as freedom fighters, and witnesses may feel threatened in Kosovo," hence the reason for cases to be heard abroad.

"It is important for justice to be done," Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said.

"So we are pleased to be able to offer the court a home."

A 2011 report from the Council of Europe, which monitors human rights, accused KLA rebels of serious crimes, including the trafficking of prisoners' organs.

Parliament in Kosovo approved the creation of the tribunal last year, despite protests and an opposition boycott of the vote.

Kosovan Albanians make up about 90% of the population, and tensions remain with the Serb minority.

Earlier this month anti-government protesters clashed with police in a demonstration against a deal giving more power to ethnic Serbs.

Source: bbc.com

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Al-Shabab seizes African Union base in Somalia

Al-Shabab militants have overrun an African Union military base outside the southern Somali town of el-Ade.

The Islamist group says it has taken "complete control" of the AU camp and killed more than 60 Kenyan soldiers.

Residents told the BBC that al-Shabab had raised its flag at a camp for Kenyan troops and said insurgents had paraded bodies through the town.

But Kenya's army spokesman said it was a nearby Somali base that was stormed and Kenyan troops counter-attacked.

The number of casualties on both sides was not known, Kenyan military spokesman Col David Obonyo said in a statement.

He told the BBC that reports of high Kenyan casualties were "normal propaganda from al-Shabab".

Kenya contributes more than 4,000 troops to the 22,000-strong AU force that is in Somalia helping the UN-backed government battle al-Shabab, which is part of al-Qaeda.

An el-Ade resident told the BBC by phone that he had heard a loud explosion at about 05:30 local time (02:30 GMT), followed by heavy gunfire.

"We then saw an al-Shabab fighter in the town. We also saw Kenyan soldiers who were fleeing from the camp.

"At the moment the camp is in the hands of al-Shabab. We can see military cars burning and dead soldiers all over the place. There are no civilian casualties but most people have fled the town."

Analysis: Tomi Oladipo, BBC Monitoring Africa security correspondent

Al-Shabab is keen to stress - both to the foreign forces in Somalia and would-be defectors within its ranks enamoured by so-called Islamic State - that it is a force to be reckoned with.

It is true that the group exaggerates the scale of its attacks but whether or not the death toll from el-Ade attack is as high as claimed, the African Union mission (Amisom) will have to recognise it still has a long way to go to gain full control of the country.

It says a lot for the insurgents to be daring enough to strike at the heart of an African Union base and engage troops in hours of combat.

They have done this before - in two major attacks targeting the Somali military last year, dozens of Burundian troops and Ugandans soldiers were killed.

Despite these setbacks, Amisom has achieved a lot recently by managing to push al-Shabab out of many parts of southern Somalia.

An al-Shabab official told the BBC that its fighters had attacked the base after morning prayers, starting with a car bomb before storming the facility.

"We took control of the base after one hour of fierce fighting," he said.

"We counted 63 Kenyan bodies inside the base. The other Kenyan troops have run away into the bush and we are hunting them down."

He said the militants were confiscating 28 of 31 military vehicles inside the camp and all arms and ammunition.

The two military bases - one for Somali troops and the other for AU soldiers - neighbour each other on the outskirts of el-Ade, which is in Gedo region, about 380km (240 miles) west of Mogadishu.

Al-Shabab was ousted from the capital, Mogadishu, in August 2011, but still has a presence in large areas of southern Somalia and often stages attacks across the country.

Map of Somalia

Source: bbc.com

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Cologne attacks: Migrant men banned from German swimming pool

A German town has banned male asylum seekers from a public swimming pool after women complained of harassment.

A government official in Bornheim said men from a nearby asylum shelter would be barred until they "got the message" that such behaviour was not acceptable.

It follows outrage over hundreds of sexual assaults in nearby Cologne and other German cities on New Year's Eve.

Those attacks, by men of mainly Arab and North African origin, raised tensions over the influx of migrants.

More than 1.1 million people claimed asylum in Germany in 2015.

The head of the social affairs department in Bornheim - about 20km (12 miles) south of Cologne - said the move to ban migrant men followed increasing number of reports of inappropriate behaviour from female swimmers and staff members.

"There have been complaints of sexual harassment and chatting-up going on in this swimming pool... by groups of young men, and this has prompted some women to leave," Markus Schnapka told Reuters.

He said none of the complaints involved a crime being committed, but that social workers in the town would help to ensure the asylum seekers changed their behaviour.

It is unclear how this rule will be enforced, although Germany is set to introduce new ID cards for migrants in February.

Support falling

Correspondents say the pool ban is the latest sign of increased tensions following the Cologne attacks.

On Thursday, the authorities in another town in west Germany, Rheinberg, cancelled a carnival parade planned for February over security concerns.

Rheinberg's public security chief, Jonny Strey, told German media that events in Cologne had influenced the decision and that officials were worried about from men from migrant backgrounds misbehaving.

Rheinberg Mayor Frank Tatzel later denied this, according to Reuters.

Cologne authorities expressed concern about the city's own carnival in February following the NYE attacks, promising to step up security and public awareness.

An opinion poll on Friday showed public anxiety increasing over the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Germany.

In the research, published by broadcaster ZDF (in German), 66% of the 1,203 respondents said Germany could not handle the arrivals, up from 46% in December.

Support for Chancellor Angela Merkel, under pressure over her policies to welcome refugees, also fell - with 39% of people agreeing the chancellor was doing a "good job" in this area, down from 47% in December.

Source: bbc.com

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Burkina Faso attack: Ouagadougou hotel hit by gunfire

Gunmen have attacked a hotel used by westerners in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, in west Africa.

Eyewitnesses said two car bombs went off outside the Splendid hotel at around 19:30 local time (same as GMT).

Three to four masked men then stormed the Splendid Hotel, which is used by UN staff and westerners, witnesses said.

A member of staff at the nearby Cappuccino cafe told Agence France Presse that "several people" had been killed there.

Local media report that at least one person has been taken hostage inside the building.

One jihadi monitoring group said al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed it was behind the attack.

Eyewitnesses reported hearing exchanges of gunfire between the men and security forces, as well as sporadic gunfire from inside the four-star hotel close to the country's international airport.

At least one car was seen burning outside the building.

Three hours after the attack started, an Associated Press reporter at the scene reported seeing soldiers in an armoured vehicle arrive in the area.

In the latest developments:

  • Local TV station Burkina 24 says that security forces are preparing to intervene
  • France's ambassador to Burkina Faso, Gilles Thibault, says a curfew is in place until 06:00 local time
  • The US embassy in Ouagadougou says it is aware of the incident and is "closely following" the situation

Map of West Africa

A similar attack by Islamist militants on a hotel in neighbouring Mali in November left 20 people dead.

Burkina Faso had recently held its first presidential election since a coup earlier last year.

That coup toppled long-time leader Blaise Compaore, who had governed for 27 years.

"We are still in a context of political fragility, so I think the timing of this attack is meaningful," Cynthia Ohayon, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, told the BBC from Ouagadougou.

"The country has long borders with Mali and Niger, and we know there are armed groups present on the border, so this was probably something we had coming."

Source: bbc.com

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GNAT bleeds as Ex Gen.-Sec. purchases a GH¢48,000 vehicle for a mere GH¢7,000

The circumstances under which the recent past General Secretary of the Ghana National Teachers Association (GNAT), Mrs Irene Duncan-Adanusa, bought a two-year-old Toyota Hilux pick-up belonging to the association for a ridiculously low  price of GH¢7,000 has angered many teachers in the country.

Some of the teachers who spoke to Weekend Finder have raised serious concerns regarding how prudent their contributions are being managed by their executives. 

Documents available to Weekend Finder indicate that the former head of the association offered to pay an amount of GH¢7000 for a two-year-old Toyota Hilux pick-up. 

A letter dated March 5, 2013 and authored by then head of the association read: “I wish to purchase one of the used official vehicles - Toyota Hilux Reg No. [The registration number was not stated.]

“I am therefore making an offer of GH¢7,000 (Seven thousand cedis) for the vehicle.

“Hoping my offer will be favourably considered”.

These were contained in a report of a committee of enquiry into allegations of corruption and mismanagement in the association.

According to information gathered from GNAT, the vehicle in question was bought at a value of GH¢48,828.10 in 2013 for official use.

Incoming General Secretary of GNAT, Mr David Ofori Acheampong, who is expected to take office on February 1, 2016, explained that due to the rigorous use of official vehicles of the association, they are changed every five years.

 “The truth of the matter is that the vehicles that we use in doing our jobs have a life span of five years. If we buy the vehicles fresh, because of the way we travel, so after five years we dispose it off and buy new vehicles for the safety of our personnel”, he said.

He explained that as of 2013 when the car was auctioned to the then General Secretary, it had a book value of GH¢29,000.

He explained further that official vehicles of the association depreciate at a 20% rate every year.

Initially, Mr David Ofori Acheampong said he would find it hard to believe that the vehicle in question could be sold for GH¢7,000 because all the cars that were auctioned in 2014 had a value of not less than GH¢10,000.

“I don’t believe that there are any records to show that that particular vehicle was sold for GH¢7,000. Because I know that even some of the old Land Cruisers sold at about GH¢15,000.

“I will be very, very surprised if it is so”, he added.  

After cross-checking the facts from the Accounts Office, and satisfying himself that the information was true, he came back to tell this reporter that the vehicle in question might be an “exit package” for the former boss.

Weekend Finder’s checks indicate that the car in question was not part of the exit package for the former head.

In our subsequent stories, this paper will update readers on its findings on how teachers’ contributions have been used by officials of the association. 

By Daniel NONOR, of  thefinderonline.com

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Nigerian ex-military chiefs in arms fraud probe

The Nigerian president has ordered 20 former military chiefs and officers to be investigated over alleged arms procurement fraud.

Among them are the chiefs of defence and air staff under the last administration.

President Muhammadu Buhari's office said it was "on the recommendation of" a committee set up to examine procurement from 2007 to 2015.

The activities of 20 companies will also be investigated.

One of the names on the list is of a former security adviser to the government. Sambo Dasuki was charged in December over an alleged $68m fraud. He was accused of awarding phantom contracts to buy helicopters, fighter jets and ammunition.

He denied the allegations and said they were politically motivated.

A previous investigation found that phantom contracts worth $2bn had been awarded.

During the fight against Islamist militant group Boko Haram, many soldiers reported that they did not have enough equipment to take on the insurgents.

Others on the list include Alex Sabundu Badeh, a former chief of defence staff, and the former chief of air staff Adesola Nunayon Amosu. Both served under former President Goodluck Jonathan.

President Buhari was largely elected on a promise to tackle corruption.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is spearheading the anti-corruption campaign.

Source: bbc.com

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Burundi security troops gang-raped women, UN says

The United Nations says it has evidence that Burundi's security forces gang-raped women while searching the homes of suspected opposition leaders.

Security forces separated the women and raped them, the UN said, adding that it had documented 13 cases.

Forces also kidnapped, tortured and killed dozens of young men, it said.

Meanwhile, a court has sentenced four generals to life in jail for their part in trying to overthrow President Pierre Nkurunziza in May last year.

Nine other officers were jailed for 30 years and eight soldiers, including drivers and body guards, to five years for their role in the unrest sparked by Mr Nkurunziza's announcement that he would run for a third term.

He secured a third term in disputed elections in July.

More on Burundi

The abuses documented by the UN took place immediately after rebel attacks in December against three military camps in the country's capital, Bujumbura, the UN's human rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, said in a statement.

The UN believes the army is taking revenge for the attacks.

Mr Hussein also called for an investigation into reports that nine mass graves were found in and around Bujumbura, warning about the "increasing ethnic dimension of the crisis".

Some witnesses say that violence from security forces was directed at the Tutsi minority.

Burundi has been plagued by tension between Tutsis and Hutus since independence in 1962.

However, analysts say ethnicity is not at the heart of the conflict.

The failed coup leader, ex-General Godefroid Niyombare, who is on the run, is a Hutu.

His allies sentenced to life in jail by the Supreme Court were a mix of ethnicities.

Gen Cyrille Ndayirukiye, the former defence minister, and Hermenegilde Nimenya, a police general, are Tutsis and army generals Zenon Ndabaneze and Juvenal Niyungeko are Hutu.

Source: bbc.com

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France clinical trial: 90 given drug, one man brain-dead

One man is brain-dead and another five people are in hospital after an experimental drug was administered to 90 people in a French clinical trial.

There is no known antidote to the drug, the chief neuroscientist at the hospital in Rennes said.

Of the five men in hospital, three could have permanent brain damage, Gilles Edan added.

Reports that the drug is a cannabis-based painkiller have been denied by the health ministry.

The trial, which involved taking the drug orally and has now been suspended, was conducted by a private laboratory in Rennes.

The experimental drug was manufactured by the Portuguese company Bial.

All those who volunteered for the trial have been recalled and the Paris prosecutor's office has opened an investigation.

Health Minister Marisol Touraine pledged to "get to the bottom... of this tragic accident".

"I was overwhelmed by their distress" she told reporters. "Their lives have been brutally turned upside down".


By James Gallagher, health editor, BBC News website

This is the bitter price of the new medicines we take for granted. Testing such experimental drugs, at the cutting edge of science, can never be completely risk-free.

The safety and effectiveness of these drugs are rigorously tested in animals. The risks are low but there must still be a leap of faith when they are tried in people for the first time.

This trial has been taking place since July without such major events being reported. Generally in Phase I trials the dose is increased slowly over time, which could be why the side-effects are appearing now.

The hospitalised men started taking the drug regularly on 7 January and began showing severe side-effects three days later.

Three of the volunteers are now facing a lifetime of disability in this "accident of exceptional gravity".

It is a high price to pay, but thousands of people do safely take part in similar trials each year.

The trial was conducted by Biotrial, a French-based company with an international reputation which has carried out thousands of trials since it was set up in 1989.

In a message on its website, the company said that "serious adverse events related to the test drug" had occurred.

The company insisted that "international regulations and Biotrial's procedures were followed at every stage".

According to the health ministry, the adverse effects occurred on Thursday.

Clinical trials

Trials typically have three phases to assess a new medicine for safety and effectiveness

  • Phase I tests for safety. A small number of people, sometimes healthy, and sometimes with a medical condition, are given a tiny dose of the drug under careful supervision, not to test if the drug works, but in order to check for any side effects
  • Phase II sees the drug given to people who have a medical condition to see if it does indeed help them
  • Phase III trials are only for medicines or devices that have already passed the first two stages, and involve them being compared to existing treatments or a placebo. The trials often last a year or more, involving several thousand patients

Has drug trial safety improved?

German medics challenge new EU clinical drug trials

Why some new drugs cost so much

The study was a Phase I clinical trial, in which healthy volunteers take the medication to evaluate the safety of its use, the ministry said.

Before any new medicine can be given to patients, detailed information about how it works and how safe it is must be collected.

Clinical trials are the key to getting that data - and without volunteers to take part in the trials, there would be no new treatments for serious diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and arthritis.

Every year around the world thousands of people take part in clinical trials but incidents like this are very rare, the BBC's Hugh Schofield reports from Paris.

New EU regulations to speed up clinical drug trials and streamline testing procedures across the 28-nation bloc are due to take effect in 2018.

Source: bbc.com

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MH370 search team finds second shipwreck

Search teams looking for the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 think they have stumbled across a 19th-Century shipwreck.

Underwater sonar equipment turned up a strange object more than two miles beneath the waves just before Christmas.

Earlier this month they sent down an unmanned submarine to take a picture.

Experts at the Western Australian Museum think it is a 19th-century ship made of metal.

This is the second uncharted shipwreck found miles beneath the waves during the search for the missing plane.

Last year, investigators released ghostly images of man-made debris scattered along the sea floor, including what is clearly an old anchor.

The hunt for MH370 no longer makes headlines, but what some have described as the most complex search in history has continued for almost two years.

Three ships are methodically combing the belly of the southern Indian Ocean. Before this search, scientists knew more about the surface of the moon than the bottom of this stretch of water, so it is not surprising that they keep revealing secrets.

Along with the shipwrecks, a number of previously unknown underwater volcanoes have been discovered.

The search teams have now checked two thirds of the 120,000 sq km search zone.

Wing find

That is an area not much smaller than Greece, so mountainous that it dwarfs the Alps, with weather as hostile as any on earth. Because conditions are so dangerous, the three ships involved travel at walking pace.

MH370 wing

The search will conclude later this year and after that the authorities have admitted they will give up unless some debris is found.

They are confident they are looking in the right place after a piece of a wing from MH370 was washed up on an Indian Ocean island thousands of miles away.

Oceanographers have modelled the way the sea would have moved the fragment, and how long it would have taken to reach Reunion island.

They say it all points to the aircraft coming down where they are currently looking, although no-one has any idea why it ended up so far off course.

The plane had 239 people on board and was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March 2014 when air traffic controllers lost contact with it.

Last year Malaysia Airlines appointed Aer Lingus boss Christoph Mueller as chief executive in a bid to revive the ailing company.

In June the airline announced plans to axe 6,000 jobs from its 20,000-strong workforce and abandon unprofitable routes to stem substantial losses.

Source: bbc.com

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Ethiopia cancels Addis Ababa master plan after Oromo protests

Ethiopia's government is set to abandon plans to expand the boundaries of the capital, Addis Ababa, which have caused months of deadly protests.

Demonstrations by people from the Oromo ethnic group have been sparked by fears that Oromo farmers could be displaced.

Human rights groups have estimated that at least 140 people were killed by security forces during the protests.

The ruling party in the Oromia region said it was dropping the plan following discussions with local people.

The Oromo People's Democratic Organisation (OPDO) made the decision after three days of talks, the state broadcaster EBC reports.

The OPDO, along with the Addis Ababa city authority, would have been responsible for implementing the "master plan".

Oromia is Ethiopia's largest region, and completely surrounds the capital.


The government has disputed the death toll quoted by the New York-based Human Rights Watch, saying the figure was an overestimation.

Abiy Berhane from Ethiopia's London embassy told the BBC's Focus on Africa radio programme that the government "has been trying to avoid confrontation", but the protests were hijacked "by people whose intention it was to induce violent confrontation".

The government has also said that plan was going to be implemented only once "a consensus had been reached after in-depth and full discussions".

But a message on the Facebook page of a leading online campaigner says Oromo activists have "dismissed" the government's change of heart as "as too little too late".

The master plan was proposed as a way to incorporate the areas close to Addis Ababa into the capital's rapidly developing economy.

The recent wave of protests began in November last year, but anger over the proposed expansion of Addis Ababa goes back to 2014.

Observers say that the Oromo protests build on long-standing complaints that the community has been excluded from political and economic power.

At the last census in 2007, the Oromo made up Ethiopia's biggest ethnic group, at about 25 million people out of a population at the time of nearly 74 million.

Source: bbc.com

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US thanks Iran for swift release of 10 Navy sailors

The US is investigating how the sailors entered Iranian waters.

Thanking Iranian authorities for their "co-operation and quick response", Mr Kerry said: "These are always situations which have an ability if not properly guided to get out of control...

"This kind of issue was able to be peacefully resolved and officially resolved, and that is testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong," he added.

Iranian state broadcaster Irib News has published pictures of the sailorsapparently being detained.

Iran-US relations pass a test: Jonathan Marcus, BBC diplomatic correspondent

The tentative and still largely potential softening of relations between Washington and Tehran in the wake of the nuclear deal seems to have passed a delicate initial test.

The Tehran authorities have quickly accepted that the US patrol boats strayed into their waters by accident.

The process to begin lifting the sanctions imposed on Iran due to its nuclear activities is expected to get under way at the end of this week.

There are many conservatives and hardliners in both countries who would dearly love to sabotage the deal. Consequently both governments may well have been eager to get this episode resolved as quickly as possible.

Clearly the economic benefits of lifting the sanctions may have been too great an inducement for the agreement to be derailed now.

Mr Kerry called Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif shortly after the incident. The pair developed a personal rapport during the nuclear talks.

Those detained - nine men and one woman - were taken to Farsi Island, in the middle of the Gulf, where Iran has a naval base.

A map showing Farsi Island in the Gulf

Conservatives in both countries have opposed the nuclear deal, under which Iran will limit its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

In the US, Republican presidential candidates were among those expressing outrage at the sailors' detention.

"Iran is testing the boundaries of this administration's resolve," said Marco Rubio.

"[Barack] Obama's humiliatingly weak Iran policy is exposed again," Jeb Bush said in a tweet before the sailors were released.

Donald Trump said Iran was "toying" with the US.

Iran's deputy nuclear chief has meanwhile denied a report the Arak heavy-water reactor had been decommissioned, which would be a final step towards implementation of the nuclear deal.

Restraint in Iranian media, by BBC Monitoring

Iranian state media's coverage of the incident has been studiously restrained and measured in tone.

The usual pejorative terms usually reserved for the US and other Western powers - such as "global arrogance" and "enemies" - have been conspicuous by their absence.

State TV and radio reports did highlight that the US incursion had been "illegal" and that Tehran wanted an apology, later reporting that it had got it.

The mood music was far less tense and confrontational than during the capture of British sailors in in 2007, with Iran insisting they strayed into its water - an accusation London denied.

Then, the Iranian media initially accused the UK servicemen of spying, and later mockingly reported that one of them had cried when his music player was confiscated.

Read the full media report

Q&A: Iran's nuclear deal

What is it? In July, Iran agreed a landmark nuclear deal with six world powers to limit its sensitive nuclear activities for more than a decade in return for the lifting of crippling sanctions. The US is confident the agreement will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Iran says it has the right to nuclear energy - and stresses that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only.

When is 'implementation day'? Iran will not see the UN, US and EU sanctions lifted until the global nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), certifies that it has fulfilled its commitments under the deal. Iran reportedly says the IAEA will do so this Friday. US Secretary of State John Kerry says implementation will take place "within coming days".

What does Iran stand to gain? The sanctions have cost Iran more than more than $160bn (£102bn) in oil revenue since 2012 alone. Once they are lifted, the country will be able to resume selling oil on international markets and using the global financial system for trade. Iran has the fourth largest oil reserves in the world and the energy industry is braced for lower prices. Iran will also be able to access more than $100bn in assets frozen overseas.

Source: bbc.com

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Barack Obama 'offered Biden money when son Beau sick'

President Barack Obama offered money to Joe Biden when his son was terminally ill, the vice-president has said.

Mr Biden's son later died from brain cancer but when he had lost the ability to speak and work, his father thought he might have to sell his home.

"Whatever you need, I'll give you the money," the president told his deputy over lunch, Joe Biden told CNN.

The vice-president also said Bernie Sanders was more "authentic" on inequality issues than Hillary Clinton.

The Vermont senator and the former US Secretary of State are leading the field in the Democratic race to succeed Mr Obama.

Backing from the popular vice-president would be a coup but like the president, Mr Biden refused to publicly support either candidate.

He did, however, imply Mr Sanders had more credibility on the issue of wealth disparity.

Sanders speaks to "a yearning that is deep and real", said Mr Biden, but Mrs Clinton was new to it.

"Hillary's focus has been other things up to now [but] no one questions Bernie's authenticity on those issues."

Beau Biden with father Joe

Beau Biden was a lawyer and US Army Captain

When he and the president had lunch and discussed Beau Biden's declining health, Joe Biden revealed his concern about how his son, Delaware's attorney general, would support his family.

The vice-president and his wife had discussed selling their house, he told Mr Obama.

"He said, 'I'll give you the money,'" recalled Mr Biden. "'Whatever you need, I'll give you the money. Don't, Joe, promise me. Promise me.'"

Beau Biden died in May last year. Months later, his father revealed he would not run for president in 2016.

Source: bbc.com

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Hillary Clinton calls for end to 'divisive' deportation raids

Leading Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has called for an end to deportation raids targeting Central American families living in the US illegally.

A spike in raids in recent weeks, largely aimed at women and children, has drawn the ire of rights groups.

Mrs Clinton said the raids "have sown fear and division in immigrant communities across the country".

Immigration has been one of the leading issues in the 2016 race.

Mrs Clinton, who is top of the Democratic pack in the race, said she would ensure government lawyers were provided for unaccompanied minors and would increase funding for immigration courts.

The raids, which spiked over the holiday season, have angered migrants' rights activists as well as lawmakers in Mr Obama's Democratic party.

Why are the raids happening?

They come as fears grow that a spike in immigration from Central America may be foreshadowing a repeat of the 2014 crisis that saw tens of thousands of migrants - especially unaccompanied children - cross the border.

The White House has defended the raids, with spokesman Josh Earnest saying the president was aware of the outrage but that "the enforcement strategy and priorities that the administration has articulated are not going to change".

The Obama administration has unilaterally enacted immigration reform to protect undocumented immigrants who have been in the country a long time, but has said deportations would continue. In February, Mr Obama said that the forced removals would be "focusing on potential felons".

"I think the administration sees is as important to complete some of these removal orders to discourage future irregular immigration from Central America," Marc Rosenblum of the Migration Policy Institute told the BBC.

"It's difficult to grant relief to deserving cases if you're not also going to deport cases found not to be deserving."

What has the reaction been?

The raids have riled lawmakers and activists, who say they are disruptive and ill-timed, and were breaking families apart as well as spreading fear across immigrant communities.

Rep Nydia Vlazquez, a member of the Hispanic caucus, said that "immigrants and their families are terrorised".

"These are some of the most vulnerable members of society and we are treating them like criminals."

The anger prompted White House officials to meet with politicians on Thursday in an attempt to dampen the anger.

A man comforts a woman after immigration authorities detain them

A man comforts a woman after immigration authorities detain them


How has immigration played in the 2016 campaign?

Leading Republican candidate Donald Trump prompted a weeks-long outrageover the summer when he described Mexican immigrants as "rapists" and "criminals" and called for a wall to be built on the southern border.

Meanwhile, one of his rivals, Marco Rubio, is framing the issue as one of national security, saying that radical jihadist groups could exploit the immigration system.

Mr Rubio's support for immigration reforms in the past could be a liability for the candidate during primary elections, as he attempts to climb to the top of the crowded and mainly conservative Republican pack.

Democrats have taken a different approach to the issue, urging a humanitarian response.

Senator Bernie Sanders, currently in second place, wrote a letter to President Obama earlier this month saying: "I urge you to immediately cease these raids and not deport families back to countries where a death sentence awaits."

Martin O'Malley, who is in a distant third place, has attacked his two rivals saying that their support for immigrants was recent and politically expedient.

Source: bbc.com

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Kenya's Evangelical Alliance opposes registration plan

Kenya's evangelical churches have condemned government plans to make it tougher for religious bodies and clerics from all faiths to operate.

The move was aimed at stopping the growth of evangelical churches, said the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya.

But a leading Anglican cleric welcomed the proposals as an attempt to end the "commercialisation" of religion.

The proposals require all religious bodies to register, and for preachers to have police clearance.

All religious institutions would also be required to submit their statements of faith to a government-backed body for examination.

Christians form the majority in Kenya, while Muslims are the second-largest group.

Their main body, the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, was also opposed to the proposals, warning they could violate "freedom of worship and amount to a clampdown on religious institutions", the privately owned The Standard newspaper reports.

The Catholic Church - the largest Christian denomination in Kenya, and to which President Uhuru Kenyatta belongs - has not yet commented on the proposals.

Catholic Church faithfuls take part in a procession, to re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, on April 3, 2015 in Machakos, during the Holy Week celebrations
About 30% of Kenyans are baptised Catholics

The BBC's Muliro Telewa in the capital, Nairobi, says Attorney-General Githu Muigai unveiled the proposals last week, and would hold public consultations before drafting legislation.

Other proposals include:

  • All preachers have to undergo theological training at a reputable seminary
  • The Ethics and Anti-Corruption commission will have to certify that clergy are not corrupt and
  • Foreign pastors will need a work permit, and a recommendation from their government

Our correspondent says the proposals seem to target self-proclaimed Christian prophets and faith healers whose influence is growing, as well as Muslim preachers who promote extremism in a country where militant Islamist group al-Shabab is active.

Election threat

The Evangelical Alliance of Kenya (EAK) said it would launch a campaign to obtain three million signatures to block the government from enforcing the proposals.

"Registration of churches was stopped since 2014. We believe this is meant to stop evangelism and growth of the church since other societies are being registered freely," said EAK chairman Bishop Mark Kariuki, the private Daily Nation newspaper reports.

He warned that the EAK would urge its followers not to vote for the government in elections next year if it implemented the proposals.

He said: "2017 is very close and we will not hesitate to use those [voter] cards."

Kenyan Muslims perform Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Sir Ali Muslim Club in Nairobi, 24 October 2006

Muslims are the second-biggest religious group in Kenya


However, Anglican Church of Kenya Bishop Beneah Salah said government intervention was needed because the church was not in a healthy state.

"Horrible things are happening in the church today. There is a lot of commercialisation of the gospel with this prosperity gospel," he is quoted by The Standard as saying.

"Perhaps God is using the state to punish the church as he did in the past, where he used kings or nations to discipline the church," he added.

The head of the tiny Atheists in Kenya group, Harrison Mumia, said the government had a responsibility to protect desperate Kenyans from faith healers who took advantage of them.

Last week, Kenya's Communications Authority published new broadcasting regulations which will ban preachers from soliciting money on air.

Source: bbc.com

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Turkey: 'IS suicide bomber' kills 10 in Istanbul Sultanahmet district

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu telephoned German Chancellor Angela Merkel to offer his condolences, the Anadolu news agency said.

Mr Davutoglu later said: "We have determined that the perpetrator of the attack is a foreigner who is a member of Daesh [IS]."

Analysis: BBC's Paul Wood in Istanbul

The shops and restaurants around the Blue Mosque are open tonight but deserted - no surprise when the German government has warned its tourists to stay away from crowded open areas.

The Turkish government now firmly believes this was an attack by the so-called Islamic State - a reflection of Turkish foreign policy, with Turkey an increasingly active part of the US coalition against IS.

One source said Turkey had taken the lead recently at a meeting of anti-IS armed groups on the Syrian border. IS has been losing territory in Iraq and in Syria. The Syrian town of Manbij may be next to fall - there are reports of IS commanders pulling out.

As IS comes under pressure, it has warned of more attacks against its enemies - not only in Turkey, but in Europe and the US.

He vowed to find and punish those linked to the bomber and pledged to continue the fight against IS militants.

Mrs Merkel said: "Today Istanbul was the target, before Paris, Copenhagen, Tunis... The terrorists are the enemies of all free people, indeed the enemies of all humanity."

Foreign Minister Franz-Walter Steinmeier said at least eight Germans were dead, following initial reports of nine.

Turkey's Deputy PM Numan Kurtulmus said earlier: "It has been identified that the suicide bomber is Syrian."

The suspect was said to have been born in 1988 and was identified from body parts.

Some Turkish media said the suspect had been born in Saudi Arabia.

Mr Kurtulmus said the suspect was not on Turkey's militant watch-list and was believed to have recently crossed into Turkey from Syria.

Turkey last year took a more active role against IS in Syria, carrying out air strikes and allowing US warplanes to use its Incirlik base for missions.

'Further trouble'

Eyewitness Murat Manaz said: "It was a suicide bomb. I went there and saw it and came back to the hotel. There was chaos. Everybody was running somewhere.

"Policemen did not see this coming. They were distressed but at the same time they were trying to evacuate the area because they said there was a possibility that a second bomb could go off."

Paramedics carry dead bodies after an explosion near the Blue Mosque, in the Sultanahmet district of central Istanbul

Bishop Pat Buckley, from Northern Ireland, had been taking photos in Sultanahmet Square shortly before the blast and had moved on into the Blue Mosque.

He told the BBC: "I have lived in Northern Ireland since the 70s, and I have heard explosions, and this was incredibly loud. I saw dust through the doorway of the mosque and I could smell the explosives."

He added: "I am slightly worried because there is talk here that they are expecting further trouble and we have been warned to avoid crowds."

One Norwegian was confirmed among the injured.

Germany currently provides the largest number of tourists visiting Turkey. In 2014, 23.6 million people visited, with the top three:

  • Germans - 5.1 million (21.5%)
  • Russians - 3.7 million (15.6%)
  • Britons - 1.5 million (6.3%)

What is the security situation in Turkey?

Turkey faces myriad security threats and establishing which group is behind this latest attack will be a matter of urgency. The Islamic State group has been blamed for three bombings in Turkey in the past year, including an attack in Ankara that killed more than 100 people. Violence has also soared between Turkish security forces and PKK militants, battling for more autonomy for the Kurds, after a ceasefire agreement broke down in July. A PKK offshoot, the TAK, fired a mortar at Istanbul airport last month. Far left groups are also active in Turkey, and a female suicide bomber attacked a police station in Istanbul's Sultanahmet district last year.

Police have sealed off the area

Who could be behind the latest attack?

President Erdogan has blamed a "suicide bomber of Syrian origin". The conflict in Syria has not only seen the rise of IS but also strengthened the PKK's offshoot in Syria, known as the YPG. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but correspondents point out that IS was similarly silent following previous attacks last year that were widely blamed on the jihadist group.

How is the Turkish government responding?

Last year Turkey agreed to take a more active role in the US-led campaign against IS, carrying out air strikes in Syria. It also allowed US warplanes to strike IS targets from its base in Incirlik and moved to tighten security along its 900km (560 mile) border with Syria. Meanwhile Turkish forces have also been targeting Kurdish militants in northern Iraq. And violence has flared in Turkey's mainly Kurdish south-east, where the Turkish military says it has killed some 600 PKK militants over the past month, according to Anadolou Agency.

Turkey violence: How dangerous is instability?

Turkey v Islamic State v the Kurds: What's going on?

Source: bbc.com


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‘It’s an error for Mahama to reward Koala driver’

A legal scholar, Professor Stephen Kwaku Asare, has condemned President John Mahama over his decision to reward the taxi driver who foiled a robbery operation with a house.

The Cabby rammed his car into the motorbike of two robbers - Abaliku Sannie, 35, and Oko Quaicoo, 30 - who shot at a sales girl of the Koala Supermarket on her way to deposit sales at the bank.

The supermarket is getting him a new car, the police has scheduled to honour him in addition to a house being sponsored by the Mahama-led administration.

Prof. Asare feels the initiative of the government is laudable, but could be a recipe for disaster.

“But the State should be more careful. Driving your car into someone is a crime, even if the person is a suspected criminal. As tempting as it is to be seen to be endorsing what the Driver did, I strongly believe it is error for the President to reward it,” the US-based Ghanaian law professor posted on his Facebook.

Below is his full post:

“Does the President's state funded reward to the Koala Taxi Driver endorse vigilantism as part of the criminal justice system?

“PS: For the avoidance of doubt, I do not have any difficulties with the Koala Driver. I like what he did and would easily give him a reward.

“But the State should be more careful. Driving your car into someone is a crime, even if the person is a suspected criminal. As tempting as it is to be seen to be endorsing what the Driver did, I strongly believe it is error for the President to reward it.

“Let us not forget that the Koala driver saw something and acted. Someone may have only seen the driver running into the suspects. Will that someone, seeing the driver running into what the driver thought were suspects but whom the someone thinks are regular motor bikers, be justified in pouncing on the driver and pouring acid on him?

“State supported Vigilantism will put all of us on a slippery slope to chaos.

“Da Yie!”

The robbers shot the sales girl on her way to deposit the previous day’s sales at the bank. While bolting, the driver rammed into the motorbike of the thieves, forcing them into a nearby drain.

An armed soldier who chanced on the scene intervened to effect the arrest of the duo, who were still shooting in their injured state.

Source: starrfmonline.com

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Bus rebranding: Smarttys, AG agree on GHC1.9M refund plan

Lawyers of Smarttys Management Limited – the company that rebranded government buses at a controversial amount- have met with the Attorney General to discuss a refund plan for the excess amount in the contentious contract.

This was disclosed by President John Mahama at a media briefing at the Flagstaff House Tuesday.

According to him, government is bent on retrieving the GHC 1.9 million excess payment as advised by the attorney general and will not relent on it.

The GHC3.6 million that was given to Smarttys for rebranding 116 government buses became a matter of public concern as many Ghanaians were incensed by the outrageous fee charged by the company owned by actress Selassie Ibrahim.

“...Yesterday, the lawyers of the company met with the Attorney General to agree on a payment plan to refund the excess money,” Mr Mahama stated.

Transport minister Dzifa Attivor resigned her post after the Chief of Staff Julius Debrah ordered a probe into the controversial contract.

Source: StarrFMonline.com

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Security Analyst refutes claims by Gitmo detainees they are innocent

Security Expert, Dr Kwesi Aning, wants claims by the two former Guantanamo Bay detainees that they are not a part or against any terrorist group to be taken with a pinch of salt.

The Director of the Faculty of Academic Affairs and Research at the Kofi Annan Peace Keeping Centre says the claims by the two detainees during an interview on Accra-based Uniq FM Monday could be a ruse.

"The nature of terrorist recruitment strategies and the brainwashing that takes place means that these guys are highly-trained operatives, they know how to tell stories that seem convincing and they will continue to do what they've done," Dr Aning told Joy News' Kwabena Owusu-Ampratwum.

The two former terror suspects, Mahmud Umar Muhammad Bin Atef and Khalid Muhammad Salih Al-Dhuby said they are grateful to President John Mahama for providing them a new home in Ghana and have reolved to lead peaceful lives.

They say they are innocent people who were unjustifiably detained by the United States government for 14 years.

They insist they are not a threat to Ghana.

"We are not a part or against any group like Al qaeda or other things. We  do not belong to any part of them.

"We are here and want to live a normal life. We have been wrongly arrested for 14 years without any charge against us.

"We want to live in Ghana quietly and peacefully. We are happy for the warm reception accorded to us," one of the detainees said during the interview.

The Uniq FM interview is seen by many as a strategy to quell public fear of a possible terror attack  as Ghana accepts the detainees from the US government.

However, Dr Aning thinks the interview on Monday evening was unnecessary and a deception.

"If the US, with all its enhanced interrogation techniques could not break these people down and they now have the perception that these people are safe, I am worried and disturbed that we are giving such  platform to these individuals to try and convince a nation of 24 million people that they are peaceful," he stated.

Dr Aning cited a US Department of Defence report in 2009 that described Mahmud Umar Muhammad Bin Atef as posing a high risk to the United States, its interest and allies to drum home his point that the two detainees pose a threat to the country's security.

"They [the US] are telling us seven years down the line that their assessment has changed. That raises even more questions.

"If those assessments are now perceived to be wrong,  what assessments were made in terms of the way in which their supporters and those groups that they belong to will react to their being brought to Ghana. What will be the perception of Islamic State in West Africa, that is the previous Boko Haram and Al qaeda " he demanded.

Source: myjoyonline.com

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We are not part or against any terrorist group - Terror suspects break silence

The terror suspects and former detainees at Guantanamo Bay who are now in Ghana say they are not a part or against any terrorist group.

The two, Mahmud Umar Muhammad Bin Atef and Khalid Muhammad Salih Al-Dhuby are gracious to Ghana's president for providing them a new home in Ghana and have promised to lead peaceful lives.

They insist they are innocent people who were unjustifiably detained by the United States for 14 years but they were quick to add that they are not a threat to Ghana.

The admission into Ghana of the two detainees have been a raging controversy in the country with many Ghanaians accusing the government of risking the security of its citizenry.

Political parties, civil society groups, including the Christian Council of Ghana have all kicked against government's decision to accept the two. But the government says it accepted to admit the two as part of an obligation to the international community.

In the midst of the controversy, the two suspects have for the first time broken their silence.

Speaking in an interview on Uniq Fm, the  detainees assured Ghanaians they are not a threat.

"We want to thank the president and the good people of Ghana for the decision they made to accept us.

"We are not a part or against any group like Al qaeda or other things. We  do not belong to any part of them.

"We are here and want to live a normal life. We have been wrongly arrested for 14 years without any charge against us.

"We want to live in Ghana quietly and peacefully. We are happy for the warm reception accorded to us," one of them stated.

Source: http://myjoyonline.com

Listen to the audio below

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Former China deputy security chief Li Dongsheng jailed

China's former deputy national police chief Li Dongsheng has been jailed for 15 years for corruption offences, according to state media.

Li had ties to Zhou Yongkang, jailed for life in June in one of China's biggest ever corruption scandals.

The sentence was reported on an official China Central Television social media account.

The former deputy security minister stood accused of taking nearly 22m yuan ($3.3m; £2.3m) in bribes.

He was also accused of abuse of power in positions he held between 1996 and 2013, according to state media reports at the time.

Li was formally sacked in February last year, after coming under investigation, along with several other former associates of Zhou Yongkang.

Zhou served as China's security chief before retiring in 2012.

The former politician - one of the most senior in China - was convicted of a series of corruption charges, including bribery, abuse of power and leaking state secrets.

Source: bbc.com

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Evacuation call at starving Syrian town

Some 400 people in the besieged Syrian town of Madaya need to be urgently evacuated for medical treatment, says UN humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien.

After briefing the UN Security Council on the crisis in the rebel-held town near Damascus, he warned that those people could die.

Earlier, an aid convoy brought food to 40,000 town residents who have been under government siege for six months.

The UN says it has received credible reports of people dying of starvation.

Simultaneously, aid lorries entered two towns besieged by rebel forces in the northern province of Idlib under a deal between the warring parties.

The situation in Foah and Kefraya is also said to be extremely dire, with an estimated 20,000 people trapped there since March.

The arrival of the aid was delayed until both sets of lorries were ready to enter the towns.

Siege warfare in Syria

Syria's civilians living a 'life worse than death'

'Simply too weak'

Mr O'Brien was speaking at the UN headquarters in New York after the Security Council held an urgent meeting to discuss the crisis.

"I've just been told by the humanitarian co-ordinator, Yacoub El Hillo, that whilst he was at the hospital in Madaya he saw that there were around 400 people who must be evacuated immediately.

"We must seek to do this and put the arrangements in place as soon as possible for medical treatment. Or they are in grave peril of losing their lives and dying with either the causes being from malnutrition or for complications for other medical reasons," Mr O'Brien said.

A few town residents were given permission to leave and could be seen with belongings awaiting evacuation.

In total, some 44 lorries operated by the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Syrian Red Crescent and the World Food Programme (WFP) reached Madaya from Damascus on Monday.

The convoy brought in food and medicines, as well as blankets, shelter materials and soap.

The distribution of supplies was expected to continue through the night.

Pawel Krzysiek, who is with the ICRC in Madaya, said after arriving: "The people... were coming every five minutes asking, 'Listen, did you bring food, did you bring medicine?'

"Some are smiling and waving at us but many are just simply too weak, with a very bleak expression, too tired."

Mr El Hillo told the BBC that UN staff saw starving children in the town.

One resident, Hiba Abdel Rahman, 17, told the AFP: "For 15 days we have been eating only soup.

"I saw a young man killing cats and presenting the meat to members of his family as rabbit. Some people went through garbage bins, others ate grass. We sought food from the fighters but they refused to give it to us."

Madaya, which is about 25km (15 miles) north-west of Damascus and 11km from the border with Lebanon, been besieged since early July by government forces and their allies in Lebanon's Shia Islamist Hezbollah movement.

Meanwhile, 21 lorries on Monday entered Another entered Foah and Kefraya.

They were carrying basic food items - including rice, vegetable oil, flour, sugar and salt - as well as water, infant formula, blankets, medicines and surgical supplies.

Map showing besieged parts of Syria

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Sunday that a total of 28 people - including six children less than one year old - had died of starvation in Madaya since 1 December.

However, Syrian officials and Hezbollah have denied that there have been any deaths in the town.

"The Syrian government is not and will not exert any policy of starvation against its own people," Syria's UN ambassador Bashar Ja'afari was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

Rebel leaders were also accused of selling food to Madaya residents at exorbitant prices.

Blockades have been a feature of Syria's civil war. Up to 4.5 million people live in hard-to-reach areas, including nearly 400,000 people in 15 besieged locations who do not have access to life-saving aid.

What's happening in Syria?

More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in almost five years of conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a brutal civil war. More than 11 million others have been forced from their homes as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and rebels opposed to his rule battle each other - as well as jihadist militants from Islamic State.

Why are civilians under siege?

All parties to the conflict are using siege warfare, encircling populated areas, preventing civilians from leaving and blocking humanitarian access in an attempt to force opponents to surrender. Shortages of food, water, medicine, electricity and fuel have led to malnutrition and deaths among vulnerable groups.

Where are the sieges?

Government forces are besieging various locations in the eastern Ghouta area, outside Damascus, as well as the capital's western suburb of Darayya and the nearby mountain towns of Zabadani and Madaya. Rebel forces have encircled the villages of Foah and Kefraya in the northern province of Idlib, while IS militants are besieging government-held areas in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour.

Source: bbc.com

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Koala supervisor, three others arrested in a botched robbery

Police have arrested a supervisor at the Cantonments branch of Koala Shopping Mall in Accra after his alleged role in a foiled robbery attempt Saturday.
Greater Accra Region Police Public Relations Officer ASP Afia Tenge told Joy News, Gilbert Osabutey allegedly gave information to two armed robbers leading to an attack on a colleague who was on her way to deposit money at the bank.
The incident occured at about 10am and involved two robbers including a Nigerian and an accomplice, Doe Ahiagbeku 28, alias 'Old Soldier' who is a security man at ACACIA Construction firm. They have been arrested and are assisting the police in their investigations.
The robbers - Abaliku Sannie 35 and Oko Quaicoo 30 - who were on a motor bike shot at the lady in an attempt to take the company's money she was carrying.
Apparently, she had been sent by her office, Koala Shopping Mall, to deposit the undisclosed amount at the bank.
A taxi driver who witnessed the incident, gave the two a chase and knocked them down. They were arrested by passers-by.
“The police preliminary investigations indicate that the entire robbery was masterminded by the supervisor of the Koala Shopping Mall,” ASP Afia Tenge said.
Extracts of a video of the arrest of the two robbers circulating on social media show angry eyewitnesses pouncing on them to ensure they don’t run away.
The victim who sustained gunshot wounds in her thigh and calf is receiving medical attention.
The robbers are also responding to treatment.
ASP Afia Tenge indicated that the taxi driver whose effort helped in arresting the robbers would be rewarded by the police administration and including repairing his damaged vechilce.

Source: myjoyonline.com

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UN aid convoy to leave for besieged Syrian town

An aid convoy is expected to leave for Madaya, a Syrian town under government siege, where people are reported to have been starving to death.

"We are pretty confident," UN refugee agency spokesperson Melissa Fleming told the BBC.

A convoy which had been due to reach the rebel-held town on Sunday was delayed by last-minute hitches.

Some 40,000 people are in Madaya, near Lebanon's border, with residents said to be eating pets and grass to survive.

Syria: The story of the conflict

Where key countries stand on Syria

"I have just got confirmation that our humanitarian convoy will leave tomorrow (Monday) morning," Ms Fleming said.

"This is typical that it takes a while - the administrative hurdles are constant," she added.

Meanwhile, Brice de la Vigne from the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) medical charity described the situation in the town as "quite horrific".

Mr de la Vigne, whose organisation has been in contact with doctors inside Madaya, told the BBC that more than 250 people there had "acute malnutrition".

He added that "10 of them need immediate medical evacuation" or they would die.

The World Food Programme (WFP) earlier had hoped to take a first shipment of food and medicine to Madaya.

It was not clear what caused the delay but the BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says negotiating access across battlefronts in a siege situation has always been a tricky business.

It involves agreement at the top political level on both sides of the conflict, as well as individual fighters on the ground.

A similar operation for two government-held villages in the north - Kefraya and Foah - has also been discussed.

Blockades have been a feature of Syria's civil war but the plight of Madaya has drawn international attention, partly due to images emerging of severely malnourished residents.

Up to 4.5 million people in Syria live in hard-to-reach areas, including nearly 400,000 people in 15 besieged locations who do not have access to life-saving aid.

Madaya has been besieged since early July by government forces and their allies in Lebanon's Shia Islamist Hezbollah movement.

The situation in Foah and Kefraya, under siege from rebels, is also reported to be worsening, with an estimated 30,000 people trapped.

What's happening in Syria?

More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in almost five years of conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a brutal civil war. More than 11 million others have been forced from their homes as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and rebels opposed to his rule battle each other - as well as jihadist militants from Islamic State.

Why are civilians under siege?

All parties to the conflict are using siege warfare, encircling populated areas, preventing civilians from leaving and blocking humanitarian access in an attempt to force opponents to surrender. Shortages of food, water, medicine, electricity and fuel have led to malnutrition and deaths among vulnerable groups.

Where are the sieges?

Government forces are besieging various locations in the eastern Ghouta area, outside Damascus, as well as the capital's western suburb of Darayya and the nearby mountain towns of Zabadani and Madaya. Rebel forces have encircled the villages of Foah and Kefraya in the northern province of Idlib, while IS militants are besieging government-held areas in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour.

Source: bbc.com

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Ghana-US Guantanamo deal lacks transparency – CCG

The Christian Council of Ghana (CCG) has challenged the government to come clean on the Guantanamo Bay ex-detainees transfer deal with the US.

The John Mahama-led administration has brokered a deal with the Obama government to house two ‘high risk’ ex-detainees of the dreaded prison camp in the West African country over a period of two years.

The Council has expressed worry over the pact which has been shrouded in secrecy.

“The whole process lacks transparency,” the CCG pointed out in a statement.

According to the General Secretary of the Council Rev. Dr. Kwabena Opuni-Frimpong, the general public is at risk because the government failed to consult.

“The non-engagement of civil society and other stakeholders on such sensitive security issue that affects the common good of the nation has put all of us at risk as the ordinary people don’t know what is required of them in the current potential security threat. Infact the whole process lacks transparency.”

It has therefore advised the government to “consider immediate recession of the decision and relocate the inmates outside the country.”

“It will be recalled that, in 2007, the United States (US) government wanted to establish its African Command (AFRICOM) in Ghana and most Ghanaians and African countries kicked against it.

“The admission of the Guantanamo inmates into Ghana is no different from setting up an AFRICOM in Ghana.

“We are of the strongest view that, the inadequate public consultation and broader consensus building by government is exposing our nation and the entire sub-region to terrorist attack, and must be reversed,” the Council noted.
“According to FoxNews, one of the two prisoners brought from Guantanamo Bay to Ghana, in the person of Bin Atef “is an admitted member of the Taliban and fought for Usama bin Laden, while [the other] Al-Dhuby trained with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.”

“The website adds; “the two inmates [who have spent close to 14 years in prison] are the first of a group of 17 detainees expected to be transferred out of Guantanamo Bay that includes “multiple bad guys” and “Al Qaeda followers.”

“There are enough evidences for us to believe that these inmates have Al Qaeda ties and put all of us at risk.

“Government must answer the following questions and give further information about the whole thing;

1. Who is funding their stay in Ghana?
2. Will their families be allowed to visit them in Ghana?
3. Are they going to have any public interactions?
4. Are they going to be camped, restricted or reintegrated into the society as refugees?
5. Have Ghanaians been properly educated on public safety and security consciousness in the wake of terrorism?
6. Do we have what it takes to detect and deal with any threat of terrorism?

“We are very much aware that Ghana belongs to a community of nations which requires her to support international humanitarian efforts such as the provision of assistance to refugees and asylum seekers.

“However, the case of the Guantanamo inmates is entirely different and is not in our national interest.

“It is our hope and prayer that the President will listen to the lamentations of Ghanaians and quickly relocate the inmates,” the statement concluded.

Source: starrfmonline.com

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