Iraqi forces retake Islamic State Ramadi stronghold

Iraqi forces have retaken a former government compound in Ramadi from where Islamic State (IS) group militants have been resisting an army offensive, the military has said.

The complex was "under complete control" and there was no sign of IS fighters, a spokesman said.

He said this heralded the defeat of IS in the city, although he admitted there could be pockets of resistance.

The government has been trying to retake Ramadi for weeks.

The mainly Sunni Arab city, about 55 miles (90km) west of Baghdad, fell to IS in May, and was seen as an embarrassing defeat for the army.

Islamic State conflict

Life under IS

Viewpoint: How to defeat IS

In recent days, troops have been picking their way through booby-trapped streets and buildings as they pushed towards the city centre, seizing several districts on the way.

After sniper fire from the compound stopped and aerial surveillance detected no human activity, Iraqi soldiers moved in.

The military spokesman, Sabah al-Numani, told Reuters: "The complex is under our complete control, there is no presence whatsoever of [IS] fighters in the complex.

"By controlling the complex this means that they have been defeated in Ramadi. The next step is to clear pockets that could exist here or there in the city."


Analysis: BBC's Thomas Fessy in Baghdad

Controlling this compound is key to retaking Ramadi. Iraqi soldiers are slowly clearing it as they fear it may have been rigged to explode.

Troops are also busy in the surrounding neighbourhood, where pockets of resistance remain.

The authorities will hail this week's offensive as a success - in stark contrast with the security forces' hasty retreat from Ramadi last May.

However, it took months to mount this ground campaign, in co-ordination with coalition air strikes.


There had been no clear indications of the number of IS militants who had been defending the city, although some reports put it at about 400. No official toll of Iraqi army casualties has been given.

The Iraqi military believes the remaining militants have headed north-east; with fighting also reported to be under way to the south-west of the compound.

Gen Ismail al-Mahlawi, head of Anbar military operations, told Associated Press that the fighting had been tough given IS's use of suicide bombers, snipers and booby traps.

Concern also remains for the plight of hundreds of families who have been trapped on the frontline.


Image copyright AFP

Image caption The Iraqi army was ousted from Mosul by Islamic State in June 2014

Will Mosul be next target?

  • Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi says the army will move soon to retake the northern city - and that it would be the biggest prize
  • With the population of about 1.5m, Iraq's second biggest city is also the largest centre under IS control since June 2014
  • The Iraqi military expects the battle for the strategic city of the Tigris River will be much longer
  • Mosul is seen as a focal point for all sides of the conflict - Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs and Kurds
  • IS is reported to be making significant sums of money by selling locally produced oil

Life in Mosul under IS

The fight for Mosul


Although the full extent of the situation on the ground remains unclear, Agence France-Presse reported there had been celebrations on the streets of a number of Iraqi cities.

The operation to recapture Ramadi began in early November, but made slow progress, mainly because the government chose not to use the powerful Shia-dominated paramilitary force that helped it regain the northern city of Tikrit, to avoid increasing sectarian tensions.

Source: bbc.com

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I deserve credit for managing power crisis – Power Minister

Power Minister, Kwabena Donkor, says he deserves credit for managing the power crisis that has crippled businesses and left many people jobless.
In his view, he has done enough to reduce the intensity of the crisis, although there is still work to be done.
“If you set an exam and somebody gets 99 percent, is it not possible to say the person has done extremely well,” he queried.
Responding to a question regarding his promise to resign if the load shedding does persists after December 31, 2015, Dr Donkor said “if it is my going that people want then that’s fine."
He was speaking on Joy News’ end of year review programme, Dr Donkor said he and his ministry, together with government are working tirelessly to bring the situation to an end.
Dr Donkor made news earlier in the year when he said in an interview with Joy News that he will resign from his position if he is unable to end the power crisis by the end of the year.
He has been heavily criticized for failing to handle the situation as the crisis seems to have worsened, crippling many businesses and forcing others to lay off their workers in order to cut cost.
However, briefing Parliament’s Assurances Committee on progress made so far with regards to the power crisis, Dr Donkor said he still stands by his promise but a two-week extension into the New Year will help solve the situation entirely if things work according to plan.
“All things being equal, at the end of this year…that is seven days from today the load shedding will end. But the only caveat I will throw in is that the end of the year can move up to about two weeks of the New Year.”
The public has however, not taken his comments lightly. They insist that he must resign since he has failed in handling the power crisis.
The Minister insists that "give or take", the crisis will cease by the end of the year, adding “for the last three days there has been no load shedding in Ghana, so if you’re in a particular locality and there is no power then it means it is a fault particular to that locality.
“That is what I’ve been struggling over the past weeks to distinguish. It is possible there will be no load shedding but you can still have faults in particular localities arising out of a number of reasons and that is a reality,” he said.

Source: myjoyonline.com

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Christmas Day blaze guts Australia homes

A Christmas Day bushfire has destroyed more than 100 homes in Australia's Victoria state, officials say.

Officials said 98 homes had been razed in Wye River and 18 at Separation Creek. No injuries are reported.

Hundreds of firefighters have been battling the blaze along the famous Great Ocean Road in Victoria's south-west, popular with holidaymakers.

A change to cooler weather and rain has greatly reduced the threat, but some emergency warnings remain in place.

Some 1,600 residents and tourists from the popular tourist spot of Lorne were evacuated on Friday amid fears that a wind change would push the fire towards the town, but were allowed to return on Saturday.

Many of those forced to leave their homes had to spend Christmas night in hastily-arranged shelters.

More than 500 firefighters, 60 tankers and 18 aircraft have been involved in fighting the flames.

Victoria Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley said they were "working around the clock to bring this fire under control".

He warned that although the immediate threat had eased, the fire had the "potential to burn" for weeks to come.

'Dropped everything'

Thousands of tourists typically descend on the area in the days after Christmas to visit coastal towns.

But many residents and holidaymakers were forced to flee, as festivities were abandoned when the scale of the threat became apparent.

"They (residents) were all prepared, putting their barbecues on, they were cooking away, and all of a sudden they could see the smoke coming over the hill," local resident Patrick Carey said.

"They thought it was still four hours away according to what they'd heard. And then all of a sudden it was an hour away, and all of a sudden it was half-an-hour away. So, they just dropped everything, stopped cooking and hopped in their car."

Anyone still planning to travel to the area is being asked to check emergency warnings and to avoid the Great Ocean Road if possible.

The Falls Music and Arts Festival, which is held annually near Lorne, may not go ahead because of the fires, its organisers said.

The fire began with a lightning strike on 19 December and has been fanned by strong winds and intense heat in recent days, burning across 2,200 hectares (5,437 acres) so far.

Victoria is one of the most fire-prone regions in the world.

Many bushfires are started by lightning strikes, while others are sparked accidentally by campers or discarded cigarettes.

Some are the work of arsonists.

In 2009, more than 170 people died in Victoria during Australia's worst ever bushfire disaster.

Source: bbc.com

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Syria war: Yarmouk camp evacuation 'on hold'

The expected evacuation of thousands of rebels from in and around Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus has been put on hold, reports say.

Safety issues and the killing of a top rebel have been blamed for the delay.

Militants and their families were due to be bussed to areas under the control of their respective groups, under a deal between rebels and the government.

About 18,000 civilians have been trapped in Yarmouk by the fighting and a government siege since 2012.

Islamic State (IS) militants took over parts of the camp earlier this year.

They were pushed back by Palestinian militias and Syrian rebels after weeks of fierce fighting, and Yarmouk has since been divided into areas controlled by IS, the rival al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, and pro- and anti-government Palestinian militants.

Government forces maintain checkpoints around the area preventing civilians from leaving.

Safe passage

Under the deal, fighters will withdraw from Yarmouk and the neighbouring districts of Hajar al-Aswad and al-Qadam.

Eighteen buses which will transport rebels and their families were reported to have arrived at the camp on Friday.

However, Lebanese Hezbollah al-Manar TV said the evacuation was held up because the convoy was due to pass through territory controlled by rebel group Jaysh al-Islam, whose leader was killed in an air strike later that day.

The UK-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said it was paused for "logistic reasons" in order to secure the road to IS-held Raqqa in the north-east.

The plan would see IS fighters and their families given safe passage there, and al-Nusra militants transferred to the northern province of Idlib.

Once Yarmouk is made safe, the UN will be able to get aid to the civilians who have been trapped.

Yarmouk was first built for Palestinians fleeing the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Before the Syrian civil war began in 2011, it had more than 150,000 refugees living there.

Those trapped in the camp for the past two years, including 3,500 children, have no access to regular food supplies, clean water or healthcare.

Source: bbc.com

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500 Army Recruits Sacked...For Demonstrating Against ‘Strenuous’ Training - GAF

500 recruits undergoing training at the Army Recruit Training School at Shai Hills in the Greater Accra region have all been sent home for misconduct.

A statement signed by the Director of Public Relations, Col. Aggrey-Quashie explained that the recruits were sacked after their training was halted following demonstrations by army recruits.

The recruits followed their protest with other acts of insubordination, according to the statement. The Army says such acts of insubordination are detrimental to national security, hence the decision to dismiss the recruits. 


Read full statement below

The Ghana Armed Forces wishes to inform the General Public and relatives of recruits undergoing training at the Army Recruits Training School, Shai Hills, that there is cessation of training of the Recruits.

The cessation has become necessary following an incident which took place at the Training School on 3 December 2015.  At about 0200 hours on that day, the recruits without due authorization dressed up in their outing attire (black trousers and white shirt) staged an unauthorized assembly on the School square and later marched to the instructors accommodation to be sent home because the training was strenuous, a situation the recruits considered as maltreatment. This was followed by other insubordinate behaviours by the recruits that same day.

The implications of the recruits’ behavour are far reaching and inimical to the security of the State.

The Ghana Armed Forces take this opportunity to wish all Ghanaians Merry Christmas and a Prosperous new year.

 

Signed

E. Aggrey-Quashie

Colonel

Director Public Relations

 

Source: peacefmonline.com

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US storms: At least 11 dead in trail of destruction

At least 11 people have been killed and scores more injured by a devastating storm which left a path of destruction across the US South on Christmas Eve.

Seven people were killed as tornadoes moved through northern Mississippi overnight, officials said, and three more died in Tennessee and one in Arkansas.

There have been reports of at least 20 tornadoes of varying severity.

A seven-year-old boy was among those killed.

Authorities in parts of Mississippi are conducting a house-by-house search-and-rescue operation after the state was hit by multiple tornadoes.

The boy was inside a car, which was picked up and tossed in the storm. His relatives, who were also in the vehicle, were taken to a hospital for treatment.

Planes at a small airport in the north-west of the state were overturned and an unknown number of people were injured.

"I'm looking at some horrific damage right now," Clarksdale Mayor Bill Luckett was quoted by the AP news agency as saying.

"Sheet metal is wrapped around trees; there are overturned airplanes; a building is just destroyed."

Mississippi's Interstate 55 was closed in both directions as the tornado approached, the state's Highway Patrol said.

There are reports that one large tornado touched land in Mississippi and travelled 100 miles to Tennessee.

The threat of tornadoes eased as the line of storms moved east on Thursday, but heavy rain and thunderstorms caused flooding and travel chaos in Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas.

The national Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma had released a "particularly dangerous situation" warning for the first time since June 2014 when two massive tornadoes destroyed a rural Nebraska town, killing two people.

The possibility of bad weather just before Christmas in the US is not unusual, officials at the centre say.

One year ago a tornado hit south-eastern Mississippi, killing five people and injuring dozens more.

A storm on Christmas Day in 2012 which included several tornadoes damaged homes from Texas to Alabama.

Source: bbc.com

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Iran hostage crisis: Victims 'to be compensated' 36 years later

The US victims of the Iran hostage crisis are to receive compensation 36 years after their ordeal, reports say.

Each of the 53 hostages or their estates will receive up to $4.4m (£3m), according to a US spending bill passed last Friday.

The victims of other state-sponsored terror attacks such as the US embassy bombings in East Africa in 1998 will also be eligible.

The hostage-taking lasted 444 days and led the US to break off ties with Iran.

The decision to award compensation follows a controversial deal between world powers and Iran over its nuclear programme.

"Those negotiations resulted in an understanding that an inevitable next step in securing a relationship was to address the reason for the rupture, which was our kidnapping and torture," former hostage Rodney Sickmann told the New York Times.

US outrage at Iran 'hostage-taker' envoy

Remembering the Iran hostage crisis

In pictures: Iran hostage crisis

US-Iran relations: a brief guide

The hostages have long fought for restitution, but the agreement that secured their release barred them from making such claims and their attempts were repeatedly blocked by the courts, including an appeal denied by the Supreme Court.

Congress was also unable to pass laws granting them compensation.

The money for compensation is likely to come from a huge $9bn fine for French bank Paribas for violating sanctions against Iran, Sudan and Cuba, the New York Times reported.

About $1bn will go into a fund for victims of terrorism and an additional $2.8bn will be set aside to help the victims of the 9/11 attacks and their families.

The new law allows for payments of up to $10,000 for each day of captivity, while spouses and children are eligible for a payment of up to $600,000. Initial payments are due within a year.

Thirty-seven of the 53 hostages held after a mob stormed the US embassy in Tehran are still alive.

Timeline: Iran hostage crisis

4 November 1979: Iranian students storm the US embassy in Tehran and take 99 people hostage, including 66 Americans. They demand the extradition of Iran's former ruler, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, from the US

17 November 1979: Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini orders the release of female and African-American hostages, bringing the number of hostages to 53

28 January 1980: Six US embassy employees, who had avoided capture and hidden in the homes of Canadian embassy officials, flee Iran

7 April 1980: President Jimmy Carter cuts ties with Iran

25 April 1980: An attempt to rescue the hostages fails when a helicopter and a transport plane collide, killing eight US soldiers

11 July 1980: A hostage is released due to illness

19 January 1981: The US and Iran sign an agreement to release the hostages

20 January 1981: The remaining 52 hostages are released and flown to Germany

Source: bbc.com

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Ghana demands return of $500,000 spent on bus rebrand

hana has demanded a $500,000 (£350,000) refund after its transport ministry spent $1m to paint more than 100 buses with portraits of the country's recent leaders.

The contractor, Smartty's Management Limited, has been asked to return the excess payment, the government said.

On Wednesday, Transport Minister Dzifa Attivor resigned following a public outcry over the deal.

Ghana is struggling with a large budget deficit and a widening public debt.

The branding involved respraying the 116 imported passenger buses and adding portraits of the current President John Mahama, his three immediate predecessors and Ghana's first head of state, Kwame Nkrumah.

'Not value for money'

A proper procurement method was "not followed and the contract did not ensure value for money," the government said after a review by Attorney General Marietta Brew Appiah-Opong.

Opposition and anti-corruption campaigners have raised concerns over the amount spent, which they said was far too much, forcing the presidency to set up an investigation.

The BBC's Sammy Darko in the capital, Accra, says many people think the government is not doing enough to tackle budget mismanagement.

They want to see people being charged for causing financial loss to the state, he adds.

Mrs Attivor's resignation is the first by a Ghanaian minister in more than a decade and comes amid efforts by the government to cut spending as it implements a three-year International Monetary Fund plan to restore fiscal stability.

Earlier this week, Mr Mahama banned public officials, including ministers, from first class air travel and he suspended non-essential trips.

Source: bbc.com

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Pope Francis in his Christmas homily denounces materialism

Pope Francis has warned the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics not to be "intoxicated" by possessions in his annual Christmas homily.

He called for more sobriety in a world obsessed by "consumerism and hedonism, wealth and extravagance".

The Pope was celebrating a Christmas eve Mass in St Peter's Basilica in front of about 10,000 people.

Later on Friday he will deliver his traditional Christmas message from the central balcony of St Peter's Square.

Celebrating Mass, the Pope said Christmas was the time to "once more discover who we are".

He called on believers to show the same simplicity as the child Jesus, "born into poverty in a manger despite his divinity" to inspire their lives.

"In a society so often intoxicated by consumerism and hedonism, wealth and extravagance, appearances and narcissism, this child calls us to act soberly, in other words, in a way that is simple, balanced, consistent, capable of seeing and doing what is essential," he said.

World's Christians celebrate Christmas

Welby: Islamic State is Herod of today

"Amid a culture of indifference which not infrequently turns ruthless, our style of life should instead be devout, filled with empathy, compassion and mercy."

Security was tight at the service with police carrying out spot checks in the area surrounding the Vatican. Everyone who went into the basilica, the largest church in Christendom, had to pass through metal detectors.

Correspondents say the Pope, 79, used his homily to reflect the key themes of three years in office - mercy, compassion, empathy and justice.

"In a world which all too often is merciless to the sinner and lenient to the sin, we need to cultivate a strong sense of justice, to discern and to do God's will," he said.

His voice was occasionally hoarse - the effect of a slight flu earlier this week.

Source: bbc.com

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US prisoners released early by software bug

More than 3,200 US prisoners have been released early because of a software glitch.

The bug miscalculated the sentence reductions prisoners in Washington state had received for good behaviour.

It was introduced in 2002 as part of an update that followed a court ruling about applying good behaviour credits.

State officials said that many early-release prisoners would have to return to jail to finish their sentences.

"That this problem was allowed to continue for 13 years is deeply disappointing to me, totally unacceptable and, frankly, maddening," said Washington's governor Jay Inslee at a press conference.

The Washington Department of Corrections (DoC) added that it was made aware of the problem in 2012 when the family of one victim found out that the offender was getting out too early.

Despite this, the faulty software was not corrected until a new IT boss for the DoC was appointed, who realised how serious the problem had become.

The manager then informed senior staff at the DoC and the governor's office.

 

Analysis of the errors showed that, on average, prisoners whose sentences were wrongly calculated got out 49 days early. One prisoner had his sentence cut by 600 days. It is not known if any offender committed further crimes after being released prematurely.

Local police are now helping to round up those who still need to spend time in jail. Five people have already been returned to cells.

Mr Inslee said he had ordered the DoC to fix the software as quickly as possible.

An update that applies the correct formula for calculating sentence cuts is due to be in place by 7 January. Until then the DoC has been ordered not to release any prisoner without checking manually that they should be released.

An independent investigation has also been started to find out how the mistake was left uncorrected for so long.

Source: bbc.com

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Colombia fully legalises medical marijuana ("Weed", "Wee")

Colombia's president has signed a decree fully legalising medical marijuana in a shift away from preventing drug crop production.

Juan Manuel Santos said the move put Colombia "in the group of countries that are at the forefront...in the use of natural resources to fight disease".

But, he said, the country would still fight illegal drug production.

Up until now, marijuana production in Colombia had fallen into a legal grey area.

While a 1986 law allowed for the manufacture, export, sale and medical and scientific use of marijuana, the practice was, until Tuesday, never formally regulated.

Anyone wishing to grow marijuana must now apply to the National Narcotics Council for a licence. Medical marijuana is used for medical ailments such as Crohn's disease, seizures, HIV and nausea.

Last year, Mr Santos, who has admitted smoking cannabis while a student in Kansas in the 1970s, said legalisation would take drug production out of the hands of drug traffickers.

A number of countries in Latin America have decriminalised or legalised marijuana use in recent years, as have US states such as Colorado, Oregon and Washington. Uruguay fully legalised the production, sale and recreational use of marijuana in 2013.

Colombia has been plagued by decades of drug-related violence, and is better known as the world's biggest producer of cocaine, along with Peru.

Source: bbc.com

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Panama orders arrest of ex-leader Ricardo Martinelli

Panama's Supreme Court has ordered the arrest of former President Ricardo Martinelli, who governed the Central American country from 2009 to 2014.

Mr Martinelli is accused of using public funds to illegally spy on more than 150 prominent people.

Among those he allegedly spied on are trade union activists, politicians, lawyers, doctors and business people.

Mr Martinelli denied the allegations, saying they were part of a vendetta by current President Juan Carlos Varela.

Illegal wiretaps

The court ordered the arrest because Mr Martinelli failed to appear at a hearing earlier this month.

He left Panama in January days before the Supreme Court voted in favour of having him investigated over separate corruption allegations.

He is believed to be living in Miami, Florida.

The court did not give any details about how his detention would be sought.

On Monday, Mr Martinelli tweeted [in Spanish]: "First round of the political trial: without having been properly documented, without charges, without proper notification and without sentence, my provisional arrest has been ordered."

The Supreme Court launched an investigation into the alleged spying ordered by Mr Martinelli in June.

It came after dozens of people alleged they had their phones tapped and that the administration of Mr Martinelli prepared dossiers against them containing intimate information.

Among the alleged victims are high-ranking members of the opposition Revolutionary Democratic Party, as well as lawmaker Jose Luis Varela, who is the brother of current President Juan Carlos Varela.

Investigators said the wiretaps were carried out by members of Panama's National Security Council.

Source: bbc.com

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Russian ex-tycoon Khodorkovsky may seek UK asylum

Former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, says he is considering applying for political asylum in the UK and feels safe in London.

He was speaking in a BBC interview after a Russian court put him on an international wanted list over the 1990s murder of a Siberian mayor.

"Definitely I'm considering asking for asylum in the UK," he said.

Mr Putin "sees me - it's obvious now - as a serious threat", he said.

Once Russia's richest man, the former head of the now defunct Yukos oil firm spent 10 years in a Siberian prison on fraud charges, which he says were politically motivated.

Mr Putin pardoned him in 2013 and he now lives abroad, mainly in Switzerland.

"I'm considered by President Putin as a threat, economically, because of the possible seizure of Russian assets abroad, and politically, as someone who will potentially help democratic candidates in the coming 2016 elections," he said.

Russia will hold elections to the lower house of parliament - the State Duma - next year. The Duma is currently dominated by Mr Putin's supporters.

London base?

The BBC's Richard Galpin asked Mr Khodorkovsky whether he felt at risk in light of the murders of prominent opponents of Mr Putin in recent years. Among them was former secret agent Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned with radioactive polonium in a London hotel in 2006.

"The history of deaths of opponents of this regime is impressive... but I was in jail for 10 years, I could have been killed any day easily. In London I feel much safer than during those years," he replied.

When he left Russia in 2013 he said he would not get involved in politics - which was was widely believed to have been the reason for his early release.

He told the BBC on Wednesday that he would "help young political activists in Russia to gain political experience and present an alternative to the existing regime".

He said it was "far too optimistic" to speak of regime change in Russia now, "but I'm quite confident that within 10 years the regime will be changed and I hope I will play a significant role in that".

Charge sheet

Earlier, referring to the Russian order for his arrest, he said the Moscow authorities had "gone mad".

He is accused of ordering several of his employees to kill both the mayor and a businessman, who survived.

Investigators allege Vladimir Petukhov, the mayor of Nefteyugansk, was killed on 26 June 1998 for demanding Mr Khodorkovsky's oil firm, Yukos, pay taxes that the company had allegedly been avoiding.

Local businessman Yevgeny Rybin was allegedly targeted because his activities "clashed with Yukos's interests", Russia's powerful Investigative Committee (SK)said in a statement (in Russian).

Mr Rybin survived a gun attack in November 1998 and a second attack on his car in March 1999, when another man in the vehicle was killed and several people were injured.

Five people have already been tried for the attacks and the arrest warrant is unlikely to make any difference unless Mr Khodorkovsky returns to Russia, the BBC's Sarah Rainsford reports from Moscow.

Armed police raided the Moscow offices of Mr Khodorkovsky's Open Russia pro-democracy movement on Tuesday, in a move that authorities said was linked to allegations of tax evasion. The flats of at least seven activists who work for Mr Khodorkovsky were also searched.

After Mr Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003, Yukos was broken up and taken over by a state oil firm.

Last year an international arbitration court in The Hague said Russian officials had manipulated the legal system to bankrupt Yukos, and jail Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The court told Russia to pay former shareholders in Yukos $50bn (£32bn) in compensation.

Timeline: Mikhail Khodorkovsky

1963 - Born in Moscow, son of chemical engineers

1987 - Founds Menatep bank

1995 - Buys Yukos for $350m, with Menatep assuming $2bn in debt

2003 - Arrested for tax evasion, embezzlement and fraud

2005 - Found guilty on six of seven charges, jailed for eight years

2007 - Yukos declared bankrupt

2010 - Convicted of embezzlement and money laundering

2013 - Pardoned by President Putin after request for clemency; leaves Russia for Germany

2015 - Charged with ordering 1990s murder of Siberian mayor; says he is considering asking for political asylum in the UK

Source: bbc.com

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Dying Pakistani student's family granted Australia visas

A decision to deny a dying Pakistani student's family a visa to visit Australia has been overturned.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the mother and brother of Hassan Asif would be granted visas to Australia.

Mr Asif was studying architecture at a university in Melbourne when he was diagnosed with terminal skin cancer in July.

His case attracted wide media attention after he made an emotional plea to see his family before died.

Mr Dutton's office told the BBC he received a call on Wednesday afternoon confirming the decision to grant Mr Asif's mother and brother a visa.

Family wish

Mr Asif told Network Ten on Tuesday night that it was difficult to face the prospect of death without his family around him and questioned why they had been denied visas.

"I'm dying and it's really hard because of the pain. In these circumstances everybody would like to be with family," he said.

At an earlier press conference, Mr Dutton said that in such cases immigration officials would have considered several factors before granting or denying visas, including the likelihood applicants might overstay their visa or make a claim for protection.

"In some cases that can result in millions of dollars of expense to the taxpayer," he said.

"It may mean that somebody is here on welfare for an extended period of time so the consideration has to be in the national interest."

Bucket list

The Melbourne City Mission homelessness centre has been caring for Mr Asif, who was previously living in a squat.

The centre's director, Sheridan Bruinhout, said Mr Asif had a relatively small social network because his focus had been on studying.

But he was currently ticking off a "bucket list" that included getting his feet wet at the beach, going to the movies and visiting the Melbourne Aquarium, she said.

Source: bbc.com

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Mass graves for '300 Shia Nigerians' in Zaria

Nigeria's military killed and quickly buried the bodies of at least 300 Shia Muslims in an unjustified attack in the northern Zaria city earlier this month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.

The bodies were buried without family members' permission, it added.

Military spokesman Brig General Rabe Abubakar told the BBC the army had not killed anyone.

Reports of the deaths sparked outrage among Shia around the world and Iran called for their protection.

HRW said Nigeria's army version of events "does not stack up" and called for an independent judicial investigation into what happened.

The Shia have rejected a committee set up by the government to look into the incident, saying it would be biased.

"At best it was a brutal overreaction and at worst it was a planned attack on the minority Shia group," HRW Africa direction Daniel Bekele said.

The military accuses the pro-Iranian sect of trying to assassinate army chief Gen Tukur Buratai, which it denies.

It also released images purportedly showing Shia with sticks and some throwing stones at them when they tried to pass through a makeshift roadblock erected by the group.

But Human Rights Watch says there has been no "credible information" that any soldiers were injured or killed.

It is difficult to determine an accurate death toll but the information was gathered from hospital sources and eyewitnesses, the campaign group added in a statement.

Nigeria's Islamic spiritual leader, the Sultan of Sokoto, has warned that the raids on the sect, known as the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), could spark a new insurgency.

Militant Sunni Islamist group Boko Haram has killed thousands of people in its pursuit of an Islamic state, and has attacked the IMN.

The IMN said the military had destroyed its religious shrine and the home of its leader Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky during the raid.

Sheikh Zakzaky is currently being held by the police.

Those killed during the incident include the group's deputy leader and its spokesman.

Last year, three sons of Sheikh Zakzaky were killed in clashes between the army and pilgrims in a religious procession.

Shia in NigeriaAFP

  • Shia are minority in Nigeria but their numbers are increasing
  • The IMN, formed in the 1980s, is the main Shia group led by Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky
  • They operate their own schools and hospitals in some northern states
  • They have a history of clashes with the security forces
  • The IMN is backed by Shia-dominated Iran and its members often go there to study
  • Sunni jihadist group Boko Haram condemns Shias as heretics who should be killed

Source: bbc.com

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Somalia bans Christmas celebrations

Somalia's government has banned the celebration of Christmas, warning that such Christian festivities could threaten the nation's Muslim faith.

"Those celebrations are not in any way related to Islam," an official at the religious affairs ministry said.

Security agencies have been directed to stay alert to stop any gatherings.

Foreigners are free to mark the Christian holiday in their own homes, but hotels and other public places have been prohibited from marking the day.

"Having Muslims celebrate Christmas in Somalia is not the right thing, such things are akin to the abandonment," local media quote Mohamed Kheyrow, a top official at Somalia's justice and religious affairs ministry, as saying.

Correspondents say as the country recovers from years of civil war, a growing number of Somalis who grew up in the diaspora are returning home, some of them bringing Western customs with them.

Christmas is not widely celebrated in Somalia, which officially adopted Sharia in 2009, but the odd event was held - especially as an excuse to hold a party.

Mogadishu's mayor, Yusuf Hussein Jimale, told the BBC that such gatherings might also be a target for the Islamist al-Shabab group that has targeted hotels in the city in the past.

Celebrations will be allowed at UN compounds and bases for African Union peacekeepers, who are in the country to back the government's fight against the al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Source: bbc.com

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Syria conflict: Russian air strikes 'killed 200 civilians'

At least 200 civilians were killed in Russian air strikes in Syria in the two months to the end of November, an Amnesty International report says.

Quoting witnesses, the human rights group accuses Russia of using cluster bombs in civilian areas and says such attacks could constitute war crimes.

Russia's defence ministry dismissed the report as containing "fake information" and "trite cliches".

It also rejected Amnesty's accusations about cluster bombs, Reuters reports.

Amnesty said in its report it was also researching concerns about the US-led coalition air strikes in Syria.

The US has rarely acknowledged civilian deaths in its air bombardment of the so-called Islamic State (IS), which began in September 2014, although some monitoring groups say the toll could run into hundreds.

'Russian strikes kill scores' in Syria

Activists criticise Raqqa air strikes

Russia began air strikes in September this year, saying it was acting at the request of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It is targeting IS and other groups it designates as terrorists - some of which are backed by the West.

'No military targets'

In the report, Amnesty said it had "researched remotely" more than 25 Russian attacks that took place in Homs, Hama, Idlib, Latakia and Aleppo between 30 September, when the Russian air campaign began, and 29 November.

It had interviewed by phone or over the internet witnesses to the attacks, and had audio and video evidence, as well as "advice from weapons experts". Amnesty said.

It said there was evidence that Russia's military "unlawfully used unguided bombs in densely populated areas and inherently indiscriminate cluster munitions".

Amnesty set out its findings into six attacks - each of which, it said, caused dozens of civilian casualties, but had no obvious military target nearby.

On 29 November, for example, it said at least one suspected Russian warplane fired three missiles into a busy public market in Ariha, in Idlib province.

A local activist group said a total of 49 civilians were either killed or missing and feared dead.

"It was a normal Sunday; there was nothing unusual. People were buying goods; children were eating," the activist, Mohammed Qurabi al-Ghazal, told Amnesty.

"First there was a loud explosion - dirt flying in the air - followed immediately by shock. In just a few moments, people were screaming, the smell of burning was in the air and there was just chaos."

He said the armed group Jaysh al-Fateh controlled the area, but did not have any presence inside Ariha itself.

"Some Russian air strikes appear to have directly attacked civilians or civilian objects by striking residential areas with no evident military target and even medical facilities, resulting in deaths and injuries to civilians," Amnesty's Philip Luther said.

"Such attacks may amount to war crimes," he added.

A report by another group, Human Rights Watch, three days ago accused Syrian government forces and their Russian allies of making "extensive" use of cluster munitions against rebel groups.

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday Russia was "conducting its operation in strict conformity with principles and norms of the international law".

The Kremlin has previously described similar reports as "information warfare" aimed at discrediting its operations in Syria.

President Vladimir Putin said in October that reports of alleged civilian casualties had emerged before the first air strikes were even carried out.

More than 250,000 people are believed to have been killed and millions of people have been forced to flee their homes since the conflict began in Syria in March 2011.

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35162523

 

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'Terror attack' foiled in France

French police have foiled a terror attack on police and army personnel in the region of Orleans, the interior minister has said.

Bernard Cazeneuve said on Tuesday that two men, aged 20 and 24, were arrested on 19 December and were being held for questioning.

Both are thought to have had contact with a Frenchman who is believed to be in Syria.

France saw its worst attacks in decades last month, with 130 killed in Paris.

Speaking in the southern city of Toulouse, Mr Cazeneuve said 10 attacks had been foiled in France so far this year.

He said the investigation into the latest alleged plot south-west of Paris will look into whether the Frenchman in Syria, thought to be a jihadist, ordered the attack.

Paris attacks - in depth

One of the detainees confessed they had intended to attack police officers, military personnel and anyone identified with the French state, Mr Cazeneuve said.

Investigators think the suspects had raised money for the plot and were searching for weapons.

One of the men arrested is reported to be of Moroccan descent, while the other is said to be from Togo. One suspect was reportedly unknown to police, while the other was a known petty criminal.

Mr Cazeneuve also said 3,414 people had been denied entry to France since a state of emergency was declared in the wake of the Paris attacks, "due to the risk they present to security and public order".

Source: bbc.com

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Transport Minister, AG sued over GHC3.6m bus branding contract

Some private citizens have filed a suit against Transport Minister, Dzifa Attivor and Attorney General, Marrieta Brew Appiah-Oppong at the High Court over the controversial 3.6 million Ghana cedis bus branding contract.

They are praying the court to issue “An order directed the Honourable Minister of Transport to make full disclosure on the contract for the branding of the 116 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) buses”.

The bus branding contract has generated a lot of public debate amid suspicisons of bloated expenditure.

The 116 buses have been branded with photographs of former Heads of State and the current President John Mahama.
Source: myjoyonline.com

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God gave us the Korle, and he gave them a Korle too - The story after the visit to Cartagena, Colombia

I walked past the historical walled city of Cartagena de Indias, a port city on the Northern Coast of Colombia in the Caribbean, thinking of what else I would miss aside the noise  from  rusty generators  that often fill the air in the business district of Accra. 

At least for my few weeks stay as a fellow of the Gabriel Marquez Fellowship in Cultural Journalism, having a decent sleep knowing the lights would not go off unannounced was a soothing thought.  A native of the town had told me he has no memory of the lights ever going out.

Cartagena, Colombia’s most important tourist city, was just home thousands of miles away from home – fruit sellers and petty traders lined the major streets of the city; taxi drivers beckon pedestrians in the middle of the road while ‘okada’ operators do brisk business  with their bikes.

With temperatures ranging between 28 and 30 degrees Celsius at daytime, it was certainly not a place to have any major cultural shock for someone coming from Accra.

A few uncollected garbage littered the median of some major roads, and I had looked on in awe while the drivers' mates of rickety public transport busses wait till the bus moved a few metres away before they do the about 50-metre dash to catch up and clinch onto its doors and then look away with a smile that only portrays a skill well executed.

Drivers' mates making the 100-metre dash to catch up with moving bus was a fashionable phenomenon in Ghana in the 90s: a mate’s smartness was determined by how fast he makes  the dash to catch up with the moving bus; however, the death toll from such escapades ended the phenomenon.

Stopping a taxi in the middle of the street and imposing myself on drivers to grant access was a common feature in this twin sister city of Accra.

“You would have to throw yourself at them, but make sure they have actually granted you access”, I was told.

A blend of old and modern architecture provides that unique picture of its history --- it is history in every step of the way. 

Aside its rich cultural heritage, rapid urbanisation has also been a dominant demographic trend.

Increased pace of social and economic development, and resulting growth in city and town population, has had its own effect on this historical city.

In the heart of the city are long stretches of strands and mangroves gracing the banks of its lagoons that drain into the sea and divide the city of Cartagena into two halves.

The Laguna de San Lazaro, a semblance of the Korle Lagoon, runs through the neighborhoods of Getsemeni and Manga.

At a morning meeting for participants of the fellowship programme, I had indicated my resolve to work on a writing project on how Carthaginians have conserved their lagoon resources over the years.

I had noticed the uneasiness on the faces of the native participants at the programme; the lagoon was not the best of examples the city would want to exhibit as part of its rich heritage, due to some level of pollution.

The two masters of the programme briefly consulted with each other for a few seconds and then warned that the example I may find may not be the best.

Fact is, I was not looking for a perfect example: for a people with similar cultures and lifestyle as Ghanaians, it only comes across that, with the right orientation, we could also resurrect the rotting Korle Lagoon, which continues to blot the collective conscience of a country that prides itself as the gateway to West Africa. 

That afternoon after the workshop, I had a comfortable seat on one of the roots of the mangroves that grace the bank of the lagoon and watched a geese drift away with the current on floating debris, and was almost lost in thought on when exactly Ghana lost it all in conserving its water resources.  

Although human activities and settlements have sprung up along the banks of the lagoons here, it still plays an important socio-economic role for the thousands of Colombians whose livelihoods depend on it.

The Korle Lagoon, on the other hand, has become one of the most polluted water bodies on earth. It is the principal outlet through which all major drainage channels in the city empty their wastes into the sea.

Once relished for its attractive scenery and its abundant stock of fish, the Korle is virtually dead, thus it has lost its significance for both commercial and recreation purposes.

With a small metal hook done without much skill, a young lad lowers his upper body into the Laguna and skillfully snares out a crab into an open jute sack where he had kept many others.

In a split second, another lad flips and dives into the lagoon, emerging few seconds later shaking off water from his curly hair. "That would have been suicide in the Korle," I muttered to myself.  

The only close human activity I have ever witnessed in the Korle in recent time is that incident when a thief eluded his pursuers by choosing to immense himself in the stench than get lynched. His pursuers had looked on with surprise at his decision, though satisfied that his choice was equally a good punishment for his crime. 

Seven kilometres away from Cartagena and away from all of its allure and grandeur, I travelled north of the city to La Boquilla, a sprawling community along the marshy lands of the Cienaga de la Virgen - the biggest coastal lagoon, which spans a length of 22.5km and empties into the sea.

Down its sandy beach road, empty thatch-roofed sheds of local restaurants line up miles away, flying on top of them are Colombian flags that have suffered much of the weather.

Carefully choosing where next to plant the next foot, Markus, a local contact, led the way through the muddy paths into this predominantly fishing community of migrants who had fled conflicts in their home regions and found home in this wetland.

Children drift on floating wooden board in between houses that sit on elevated structures in the marshy ground.

The fisher folks in the community have resorted to fish farming as a more innovative way to cope with the depletion of the fish resources they have lived on over the years. 

Bron had lived and fished in this part of the city for 10 years, and  narrated how fishing in the lagoon has been  a major activity that  has supported the local economy in that neigbourhood over the years.

He led me to his fish pond a few metres away from his residence. An old fishing net hanged loosely on poles planted around the pond and bordered with pieces of broken plastic buckets and wood. 

He throws in some cooked rice, and big ‘sabalos’ emerged to the surface to feed.

Selling fish from the ponds is has become the easiest and more economical way of making ends meet in this neigbourhood.

Bron narrated how fishing in the lagoon was gradually moving away to the sea because of diminishing fish stock, and this, he said, comes at a cost because “we now use big engines and nets to fish in the sea”. 

Pointing to areas now inhabited by people, he narrates how human settlement had filled in most of the tributaries of the Ciénaga. 

Alcideso, another fisherman, now  survives on the sale of octopus, lobsters and fish from the sea. 

He finds the potentials in the lagoon less lucrative now compared to 30 years ago when he was able to make a good catch in the lagoon to support his family of 10.

Now he makes close to half a million pesos a day from fishing in the sea, which he uses to support his 10 sons in school.

He talked about changing rainfall patterns in the region and how human settlements have affected the resource that they once so much depended on.

With the help of satellite images on his laptop computer, Rafael Vergara, a former M19 guerilla fighter turned environmental activist, shows me images of vast lands of freshwater bodies of the city of Cartagena from the late 1960s.

The migration of people escaping violence from other regions, he says, has changed the ecology of the ecosystem in the region tremendously as vast portions of conserved areas have been sacrificed for human settlements.

He was satisfied that although conservation laws are not strictly being enforced by the appropriate state agencies, a level of consciousness has been created among the public to be responsible to the environment.  

“We have created a sense of consciousness among the people, and this has helped the collective effort in preserving what you see today. It has not been easy; we fought, and I have sued at least not less than a hundred times, in the fight to protect the remaining reserved lands”.

A concept to conserve this all-important water reserve in Cartagena is a new proposal to re-create and reconstruct the mangrove forest under a new park concept. The idea is to give the city of Cartagena a big protective mangrove peri-urban forest that can function as a bio shield against sea level rise and climate change.

 

In Ghana, several approaches have been suggested to restore the dignity of the dead lagoon. The Korle Lagoon Ecological Restoration Project is just one of such initiatives. The project aims at dredging the lagoon and converting the areas around its bank into a recreational area.

 

As things stand now, bringing life back to the Korle will not only need political will power and the necessary investment but, most importantly, behavioural change to make the needed impact.

 For a resource which otherwise would have been a scenic landscape that would support socio-economic activities in the metropolis, leaving it  to its current fate as a channel for uncontrolled discharges of domestic and industrial waste, as well as raw sewage is a blot on the collective  conscience of the country.

The Korle must live again to serve its socio-economic purpose, and we owe it to the generation yet unborn to bring life back to the lagoon.


By Daniel Nonor

Source: thefinderonline.com

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Islamic State conflict: Iraqi forces 'move into Ramadi'

Iraqi forces are advancing into the centre of Ramadi, after launching a major assault to drive Islamic State militants from the city, officials say.

Security sources told the BBC that troops and allied tribesmen, backed by US-led air strikes, had already retaken two districts, and entered two others.

They are heading towards the main government complex, and have come up against snipers and suicide bombers.

Ramadi fell to IS in May in an embarrassing defeat for the Iraqi army.

Last month, government forces completed their encirclement of the predominantly Sunni Arab city, about 90km (55 miles) west of Baghdad, cutting off militants inside the centre from strongholds elsewhere in Anbar province and in neighbouring Syria.

How tactical change boosted offensive

Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service spokesman Sabah al-Numani said its troops, supported by soldiers, police and Sunni tribesmen, had begun the assault on central Ramadi at dawn and were advancing on the government complex.

"We went into the centre of Ramadi from several fronts and we began purging residential areas," he told the AFP news agency.

"The city will be cleared in the coming 72 hours."

"We did not face strong resistance - only snipers and suicide bombers, and this is a tactic we expected," he added.

Sources in the Iraqi military's Anbar Operations Command told the BBC that engineers had built temporary bridges over the River Euphrates, which flows along the north and west of the city centre. This had enabled troops to enter directly the al-Haouz district, south-west of the government complex.

By Tuesday afternoon, government forces had retaken the al-Thubat and al-Aramil districts, and entered nearby al-Malaab and Bakir, the sources said.


Sunnis to the fore - Lina Sinjab, BBC News, Beirut

If the battle to recapture Ramadi succeeds, it will be the second largest city after Tikrit to be taken back from the self-proclaimed Islamic State in the past 18 months. It would be a major boost for the morale of the Iraqi security forces and for those Sunnis opposing IS in Iraq.

That is not only because the city of Ramadi is predominantly Sunni and a key IS stronghold, but also because the forces fighting to take it back are spearheaded by Sunni tribesmen.

The Shia-dominated paramilitary force known as Popular Mobilisation (al-Hashd al-Shaabi) has been involved in many battles against IS, but the government has chosen not to deploy it in Ramadi.

The force was accused of human rights abuses against Sunnis after the recapture of Tikrit in April, and it is believed previous atrocities carried out by Shia militias helped alienate Sunnis and push them into the arms of IS.


A spokesman for the US-led coalition against IS, which carried out at least 12 air strikes in support of the offensive on Tuesday, said the fall of Ramadi was "inevitable", but warned that it would be a "tough fight".

Col Steve Warren suggested there were between 250 and 350 IS militants entrenched in the city centre, with some hundreds more to the north and west.

The Iraqi defence ministry said the jihadists had prevented civilians leaving Ramadi since leaflets warning of an assault were dropped over the city last month.

"They plan to use them as human shields," spokesman Naseer Nuri told the Reuters news agency on Monday.

Col Warren said there were still thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of civilians inside Ramadi.

Sources inside Ramadi told the BBC that IS had carried out a campaign of raids and mass arrests of residents in districts still under its control, in an attempt to prevent an uprising in support of the government offensive.

The operation to recapture Ramadi, which began in early November, has made slow progress, mainly because the government has chosen not to use the powerful Shia-dominated paramilitary force that helped it regain the northern city of Tikrit to avoid increasing sectarian tensions.

IS has lost control of several key towns in Iraq to government and Kurdish forces since overrunning large swathes of the country's west and north in June 2014 and proclaiming the creation of a "caliphate" that also extended into neighbouring Syria.

On Monday, analysis by IHS Jane's suggested that IS had lost 14% of its overall territory in Iraq and Syria, about 12,800 sq km (4,940 sq miles), over the past year.

Despite this, the group has been able to capture new territory of strategic value over the same period, including Ramadi and Palmyra in Syria's Homs province. It also still controls the Iraqi cities of Falluja, east of Ramadi, and Mosul, in the north.

What is Islamic State?

A notoriously violent Islamist group which controls large parts of Syria and Iraq. It has declared its territory a caliphate - a state governed in accordance with Islamic law - under its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

What does it want?

IS demands allegiance from all Muslims, rejects national borders and seeks to expand its territory. It adheres to its own extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam and regards non-believers as deserving of death.

How strong is IS?

IS projects a powerful image, partly through propaganda and sheer brutality, and is the world's richest insurgent group. It has about 30,000 fighters but is facing daily bombing by a US-led multinational coalition which has vowed to destroy it.

Source: bbc.com

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Las Vegas Strip crash driver 'faces murder charge'

Las Vegas prosecutors say a woman accused of deliberately driving her car into a crowd of pedestrians, killing one, will be charged with murder.

Police said Lakeisha Holloway, 24, from Oregon, drove her vehicle onto a pavement packed with more than 100 people, then fled the scene.

Officials believe the crash on Sunday evening was intentional, but did not discuss Ms Holloway's motive.

Three of the 36 people injured in the crash remain in a critical condition.

On Monday, Clark County Coroner John Fudenberg named the deceased victim of the crash as Jessica Valenzuela, 32, of Buckeye, Arizona, who was visiting the city with her husband.

Ms Holloway's three-year-old daughter who was in the car at the time is said to be "fine" and in the custody of child services.

District Attorney Steve Wolfson said Ms Holloway would initially be charged with murder, adding that charges of attempted murder, child abuse and leaving the scene of an accident would probably follow.

Las Vegas County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said he did not believe the crash to be an act of terrorism, but added that he was "not ruling it out 100%" because of the difficulty in obtaining details about the background of the suspect, who had apparently been living in her car in Las Vegas for a week.

Mr Lombardo said video suggested the crash was an intentional act, adding that Ms Holloway had driven to a hotel and asked a valet to call the emergency services after explaining what had happened.

The Miss Universe beauty pageant was being held in a nearby hotel at the time of the crash.

Five Canadians, as well as a group of university students from Oregon were among those injured.

The car appeared to be travelling between 30-40mph (48kph-64kph) as it hit pedestrians, according to one witness.

"It was just massacring people," Justin Cochrane told the Associated Press news agency.

Another witness said she saw victims "flying through the air."

"The car was like a bowling ball and the human bodies were like pins," Rabia Qureshi told local broadcaster KSNV.

Source: bbc.com

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Kenyan Muslims shield Christians in Mandera bus attack

A group of Kenyan Muslims travelling on a bus ambushed by Islamist gunmen protected Christian passengers by refusing to be split into groups, according to eyewitnesses.

They told the militants "to kill them together or leave them alone", a local governor told Kenyan media.

At least two people were killed in the attack, near the north-eastern village of El Wak on the Somali border.

The Somali based al-Shabab group is the main suspect for the attack.

It has not said if it was responsible, but often carries out attacks in Kenya's north-east.

The bus was travelling from the capital Nairobi to the town of Mandera.

When al-Shabab killed 148 people in an attack on Garissa University College in April, the militants reportedly singled out Christians and shot them, while freeing many Muslims.

Last year, a bus was attacked near Mandera by al-Shabab militants, who killed 36 non-Muslims travelling to Nairobi for Christmas celebrations.

"The locals showed a sense of patriotism and belonging to each other," Mandera governor Ali Roba told Kenya's private Daily Nation newspaper.

The militants decided to leave after the passengers' show of unity, he added.

The passengers on the bus showed great bravery, but there was another quality revealed by their surprising decision to stand up to the gunmen: Frustration.

The majority of the local population in the north-east are Kenyan Muslims of Somali descent, and they have been hit hard by the consequences of al-Shabab attacks, even if non-Muslims are supposedly the main target of the Somali militant group.

An attack last year in Mandera, in which Christians were killed after being separated from Muslims, caused the departure of more than 2,000 teachers, as well as many health workers who had come from other parts of the country.

Perhaps the passengers felt that the region could simply not afford another such attack.

It will be interesting to see if their actions embolden local populations to increase their resistance to al-Shabab, which has attacked the area several times.


An employee of the Makkah bus company, who had spoken to the driver involved in the attack, confirmed to the BBC that Muslims had refused to be separated from their fellow Christian passengers.

One of the victims was shot dead after trying to run away from the militants after passengers had been forced off the bus, the same employee told the BBC's Bashkas Jugsodaay in Nairobi.

Al-Shabab has been at war with Kenya ever since Kenyan forces entered Somalia in October 2011 in an effort to crush the militants.

Kenya's north-eastern region has a large population of ethnic Somalis.

Source: bbc.com

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Six US service members killed in Afghan suicide bombing : RIP fallen Soldiers

A suicide bombing in Afghanistan has killed six US service members in one of the deadliest attacks on American forces this year, US officials say.

The Taliban said they were behind the blast, which also injured several US and Nato soldiers.

US officials said the troops were meeting a local Afghan leader when they were targeted by a fighter riding a motorbike rigged with explosives.

Attacks on foreign troops have risen in recent months as forces have withdrawn.

To date, 16 US service members have been killed in combat this year, but most of those deaths were due to aircraft crashes, according to the Pentagon.

In October, a helicopter crash killed six US service members in Jalalabad.

Source: bbc.com

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Fake bomb forces Air France flight to make Kenya emergency landing. Are we safe travelling by air?

An Air France passenger jet was forced to make an emergency landing in Kenya after a fake bomb was found in a toilet, the airline says.

The Boeing 777, on its way from Mauritius to Paris, was evacuated at Mombasa airport and the suspicious device taken away for examination.

Air France chief Frederic Gagey later said it was made of a cardboard box, paper and a timer.

He described it as an "extremely aggressive act".

The plane, carrying 459 passengers and 14 crew, had left Mauritius at 01:00 GMT and had been due to fly directly to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.

Several passengers from the flight have been questioned by Kenyan police.

Mr Gagey told a news conference that the airline would press charges against those responsible and an inquiry would be held.

But he denied there had been any problem with security checks in Mauritius, saying the device contained no explosives, so would not have been detected.

He said the device appeared to be made of a cardboard, sheets of paper and some kind of kitchen timer, and had been placed in a cupboard behind a mirror in the toilet.

Mr Gagey said he did not know exactly when it had been placed there, but that the cupboard had been checked before the flight so it was assumed that it was put there during the flight.

He said the object was made of material not usually found on the plane.

Mr Gagey thanked the crew and the Kenyan authorities for the way they had handled the incident.

Earlier, a police official quoted by AP news agency said a passenger had noticed an object in the toilet that looked like "a stopwatch mounted on a box".

Mr Gagey said the crew was alerted, and the pilots decided to land at the nearest airport. Both the aircraft and Moi International Airport in Mombasa were evacuated while the device was removed.

Joseph Nkaissery, cabinet secretary at Kenya's ministry of interior, said authorities from France and Mauritius had been helping with the investigation.

One of those on board the aircraft, Benoit Lucchini, said passengers were calm and were told by the crew that the plane was being diverted because of a technical problem.

"The plane just went down, slowly, slowly, slowly, so we just realised probably, something was wrong," he said.

"But the personnel of Air France were just great, just wonderful. So they keep everybody calm and really quiet."

France is still on high alert following bomb attacks and shootings in Paris.

So-called Islamic State (IS) said it carried out the attacks in response to France's military action in Syria.

Source: bbc.com

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Four students arrested over occultism. Is it a crime?

Four students of the Koforidua Technical Institute (KOTEC) in the Eastern region have been arrested by a vigilante group in Boti for practicing occultism.

Starr News sources indicates that the students, four in number were caught chanting in a nearby bush at night.

The vigilante group who were suspicious of their activities rounded them up and handed them over to the Police.

One of the students, however, managed to escape.

During interrogation by the Nkurakan Police, the students admitted the offence but explained that the rituals were meant to cast spells on some beautiful female students in the school to be their sexual partners.

Koforidua Technical Institute, formerly known as Koforidua Technical School is one of top Technical Institutions in the Eastern region which trains the youth to the industrial job market however, the school in recent times has been noted for notoriety and vandalism.

Source: starrfmonline.com

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Libya militia chases away US troops

US forces flown to Libya to support government troops had to leave after landing because of demands from a local militia group, US officials say.

It follows reports that 20 US special forces troops, equipped with advanced weaponry, landed on Monday at an airbase in western Libya.

The troops chose to leave "in an effort to avoid conflict", a US Africa Command (Africom) spokesman told the BBC.

Libya has been in chaos since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.

The US forces had travelled to Libya in order to "foster relationships and enhance communication with their counterparts in the Libyan National Army", Africom spokesman Anthony Falvo told the BBC.

The soldiers left without incident, he added.


Source: bbc.com

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Burundi crisis: African Union plans to deploy peacekeepers

The African Union (AU) has announced a plan to send 5,000 peacekeepers to protect civilians in Burundi, even without the government's consent.

The proposal was approved by the AU's Peace and Security Council but will need to get the backing of the UN.

On Thursday the AU said it would not allow genocide to take place in Burundi.

But Burundi said if the AU sent troops with the government's consent it would consider the move "an attack" on it.

Government official Philippe Nzobonariba told the BBC Great Lakes service that the legal process should be followed, and suggested that a peacekeeping force would be better employed in Rwanda.

Burundi has previously accused its neighbour of training rebels seeking to destabilise the country.

Unrest in Burundi began in April when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term in office. He survived a coup attempt in May, and secured a third term in disputed elections in July.

The proposal by the AU marks the first time it has invoked a rule allowing it to deploy a force without a country's consent, the BBC's Anne Soy reports from Nairobi.

The clause in the AU charter allows it to intervene in a member state because of grave circumstances, which include war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

The decision comes amid fears that violence could spiral into civil war and possible ethnic conflict.

Diplomatic moves to prevent a civil war in Burundi have recently accelerated with the UN, the European Union and the East African Community fearful of the impact of worsening violence both on the local population and the region.

At a special session convened at the US' request to discuss the conflict, the UN Human Rights Council resolved to despatch independent investigators to Burundi to probe abuses.

The government has said there is no threat of genocide.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said on Thursday that "Burundi is at bursting point, on the very cusp of a civil war" which could have "ethnic overtones" similar to past conflicts in Burundi.

At least 400 people have been killed, nearly 3,500 arrested and at least 220,000 people have fled the country since April, Mr Hussein said.

The worst spate of killings happened last Friday when 87 people were killed in clashes in the capital, Bujumbura.

An AU fact-finding mission returned from Burundi on Sunday and in its preliminary findings it said "members of the team heard reports of arbitrary killings, torture and the arbitrary... closure of some civil society organisations and the media".

Ethnic conflict between Hutus and Tutsis in the 1990s claimed an estimated 300,000 lives.

Mr Nkurunziza is the former leader of a Hutu rebel group, who has been in power since a 2005 peace deal.

Both the government and the opposition are ethnically mixed.


Timeline - Burundi crisis

  • April 2015 - Protests erupt after President Pierre Nkurunziza announces he will seek a third term in office.
  • May 2015 - Constitutional court rules in favour of Mr Nkurunziza, amid reports of judges being intimidated. Tens of thousands flee violence amid protests.
  • May 2015 - Army officers launch a coup attempt, which fails.
  • July 2015 - Elections are held, with Mr Nkurunziza re-elected. The polls are disputed, with opposition leader Agathon Rwasa describing them as "a joke".
  • November 2015 - Burundi government gives those opposing President Nkurunziza's third term five days to surrender their weapons ahead of a promised crackdown.
  • November 2015 - UN warns it is less equipped to deal with violence in Burundi than it was for the Rwandan genocide.
  • December 2015 - 87 people killed on one day as soldiers respond to an attack on military sites in Bujumbura.

Source: bbc.com

 

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Syria war: UN Security Council unanimously backs peace plan

The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution outlining a peace process in Syria.

The 15-member council reached rare agreement on the issue in a session in New York on Friday.

The resolution endorses talks between the Syrian government and opposition in early January, as well as a ceasefire.

The Syrian war, which is heading towards its fifth year, has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced millions more, the UN says.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, chairing the session, said the resolution sent "a clear message to all concerned that the time is now to stop the killing in Syria".

"The resolution we just reached is a milestone, because it sets specific goals and specific timeframes," he added.

The resolution calls for a ceasefire that should be implemented in parallel with the talks.

However, actions against groups considered terrorist organisations would not be affected. This would allow Russian, French and US air-strikes against Islamic State to continue.

One of the major sticking points so far has been which rebel groups should be considered terrorist outfits and consequently excluded from any talks or ceasefire.

The agreement demands that all parties cease attacks against civilians.

The resolution also makes no mention of the future rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia, an ally of Assad, has argued against his departure being a precondition for talks.

Source: bbc.com

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Ex-US defence chief blasts Obama on Syria

Former US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has criticised the Obama administration for lacking an overarching policy on Syria.

In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine (FP), Mr Hagel described long, tedious policy meetings that often concluded without decision.

The moderate Republican served as Mr Obama's defence chief for two tumultuous years from 2013 to 2015.

His tenure ended, he said, with backstabbing and character destruction.

Mr Hagel believes that a coherent US strategy for Syria still has not been fleshed out.

"The administration is still struggling with a political strategy, but Secretary Kerry is making some progress toward the right strategy," Mr Hagel tells the magazine, in reference to talks with Russian, Iranian and Arab leaders.

Mr Hagel's tenure in the Obama administration was marked by contention from the start.

Some of Mr Hagel's criticisms come across as minor or personal. "There were way too many meetings" at the White House, he says. And people there said mean things about him behind his back, "vilifying me in a gutless, off-the-record kind of way".

But his criticism of Mr Obama's strategy towards Syria and the fight against the Islamic State group is sharp - and is likely to resonate. In short, says Hagel: "We don't have a policy."

As Washington prepares to enter another election campaign, his remarks will provide fellow Republicans with yet more proof - from a trusted insider- that Mr Obama is a weak leader without a Middle East strategy.

Among those Mr Hagel had the worst relationship with was National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

He alleged that meetings chaired by Ms Rice, were long, frequent and fruitless.

"We kept kind of deferring the tough decisions. And there were always too many people in the room," he is quoted as saying.

He contrasted these meetings with those run by President Barack Obama, which he said were more effectual.

However, Mr Hagel seemed to be most critical of Mr Obama's Syria policy.

Joining his boss in opposing a large troop deployment to Syria or Iraq, he insisted however on a clearer diplomatic stance.

In particular, he pointed to an embarrassing Senate hearing, where he was grilled over whether the US would defend the rebels it was training and equipping in Syria from attacks by Assad forces.

"We had never come down on an answer or a conclusion in the White House," Mr Hagel told FP. "I couldn't say 'No'. Christ, every ally would have walked away from us in the Middle East".

In a memo penned a month later, Mr Hagel called on the administration to formulate a clearer policy. He said memo was not well received.

A month later, Mr Obama accepted his resignation amid reports of differences over policy.

Some have suggested that those antagonistic relationships may have led to Mr Hagel being pushed out.

The White House has declined a BBC request for comment on this story.

Source: bbc.com

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Burundi crisis: African Union 'won't allow genocide'

The African Union, discussing the situation in Burundi, says Africa will "not allow another genocide to take place on its soil".

There are concerns that the recent deadly violence could spiral into civil war and possible ethnic conflict.

Last Friday, 87 people were killed in clashes in the capital, Bujumbura, the army said.

Protests in Burundi began in April when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term in office.

AU Peace and Security Commissioner Smail Chergui has tweeted that the "clear" message coming from the AU is that the "killings in Burundi must stop immediately".

The government has said there is no threat of genocide.

The AU's peace and security council has been discussing sending an AU force to Burundi.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said on Thursday that "Burundi is at bursting point, on the very cusp of a civil war" which could have "ethnic overtones" similar to past conflicts in Burundi.

Mr al-Hussein has been asked by the UN Human Rights Council to send independent investigators to Burundi, the AFP news agency reports.

An AU fact-finding mission returned from Burundi on Sunday and in its preliminary findings it said "members of the team heard reports of arbitrary killings, torture and the "arbitrary... closure of some civil society organisations and the media".

Ethnic conflict between Hutus and Tutsis in the 1990s claimed an estimated 300,000 lives.

President Nkurunziza is the former leader of a Hutu rebel group, who has been in power since a 2005 peace deal.

Both the government and the opposition are ethnically mixed.


Timeline - Burundi crisis

  • April 2015 - Protests erupt after President Pierre Nkurunziza announces he will seek a third term in office.
  • May 2015 - Constitutional court rules in favour of Mr Nkurunziza, amid reports of judges being intimidated. Tens of thousands flee violence amid protests.
  • May 2015 - Army officers launch a coup attempt, which fails.
  • July 2015 - Elections are held, with Mr Nkurunziza re-elected. The polls are disputed, with opposition leader Agathon Rwasa describing them as "a joke".
  • November 2015 - Burundi government gives those opposing President Nkurunziza's third term five days to surrender their weapons ahead of a promised crackdown.
  • November 2015 - UN warns it is less equipped to deal with violence in Burundi than it was for the Rwandan genocide.
  • December 2015 - 87 people killed on one day as soldiers respond to an attack on military sites in Bujumbura

Source: bbc.com

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Ibrahim Mahama returns fire; I won’t stop taking gov’t contracts

The CEO of Engineers and Planners, Ibrahim Mahama in an exclusive interview with Citi News says he has developed a nonchalant attitude towards critics who claim he wins government contracts because of his brother President John Mahama.

According to him, he doesn’t care how his detractors accuse him of unduly benefiting from state projects because of his affiliation with the president.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Citi News’ Franklin Badu Jnr, Ibrahim Mahama said he will continue to work for the state when his service is needed.

"I will work for the state, I am entitled to it. I voted and I am entitled to anything any Ghanaian is entitled to. I don’t know why politicians will couch me into fear, no".

Ibrahim Mahama has in recent times been in the news for allegedly being involved in the Ameri Power deal which brought ten turbines into Ghana.

Following reports by a Nowergian Newspaper that Ameri Power might have short-changed the country for charging about twice the amount for the turbines, the NPP accused Ibrahim Mahama of benefiting from the deal.

But Ibrahim Mahama denied the claim saying he was only contracted by the Volta River Authority (VRA) to prepare the place for the turbines; a work he had long completed and been paid.

Click below for the full interview:

https://soundcloud.com/citi97-3/ibrahim-mahama-speaks-exclusively-to-citi-fm

 

Source: citifmonline.com

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I Don’t Own Merchant Bank; I Won’t Buy A Bank Or Construct Mall…- Ibrahim Mahama

Those with the firm belief that the Chief Executive Officer of Engineers and Planners Company Limited, Mr. Ibrahim Mahama owns Merchant Bank now Unversal Merchant Bank, West Hills Mall and other Malls in the country should revise their notes.

Mr. Mahama has stated emphatically that Merchant Bank now Universal Merchant Bank does not belong to him as Ghanaians have been made to believe.

There was hue and cry in the run-up to the sale of Merchant Bank to Fortiz Equity Fund.

Prior to the take-over of Merchant Bank’s 90% shares by Fortiz for GHC 90 million, members of the NPP, found it extremely intriguing that government could turn down bids from multinational companies which offered a higher sum for a lower percentage shares.

The sale of the bank developed into a running debate and majority of NPP MP’s openly voicing out their views. They raised several points but their centralized message was that the sale of Merchant Bank to Private Equity Fund, Fortiz, was simply a fraudulent deal.

Months after the acquisition, it was later re-branded to Universal Merchant bank.

Speaking on Okay Fm’s Ade Akye Abia Morning Show, the E&P CEO intimated he will not buy a bank or construct shopping Malls because these two ventures are not profitable enough for a businessman like him to engage in.

If I have money, I won’t buy a bank or build shopping malls; those are not profitable ventures. If you deal with a bank, you ask yourself why the banks exist…Merchant bank is not for me; you can go and ask the workers. You can ask the owners of Merchant Bank; I have nothing to do with the bank,” he stated.

Touching on the news of his indebtedness to Merchant Bank, Mr. Ibrahim Mahama said as at the time some NPP members accused him of collapsing the Merchant bank as a result of the $68m debt he owed the financial institution, some of his friends in the opposition party were indebted to the bank to the tune of $200 million.

He reminded his accusers to note that he didn’t go in for the loan during his brother (President John Dramani Mahama's) tenure as President, but rather during the era of former President Kufuor.

"...I urge those attributing my tireless efforts to make it in life...my ability to win contracts and access loan facilities...to the position of my brother, President John Mahama...to cease forthwith," he said.

Whiles stressing that he has already repaid the loan facility he took from Merchant bank, Ibrahim Mahama indicated that he has developed a thick skin which makes him immune to such negative stories about him.

I have paid my debt to Merchant Bank and they are even asking me to come and transact further business with them again but I told them no...I told them I would be interested in banking with them when John Mahama is not the President of Ghana…even if I bank with you, people will say I own the bank, so for now, I don’t want to,” he stated.

Source: peacefmonline.com

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Qatar hunters abducted in Iraq desert by gunmen

Gunmen have kidnapped at least 27 Qatari hunters - including members of the ruling family - in a desert area of Iraq near the Saudi border, say police and the local governor.

The attackers were driving dozens of four-wheel drive vehicles when they swept into the hunters' camp at dawn on Wednesday, officials said.

They struck near Layyah, 190km (118 miles) from regional capital, Samawa.

A wide-scale search has been launched for the attackers, police say.

The Qatari foreign ministry released a statement saying it was working with the Iraqi government "at the highest security and political levels... to find out the details of the Qatari citizens' abduction and work on their release as soon as possible".

It said they had been hunting with official Iraqi permission - though Iraq's interior ministry accused the hunters of failing to abide by its instructions to remain inside secured areas.

The aim of the abduction was "to achieve political and media goals", the interior ministry said.

The remote area where the incident took place is highly tribal in nature and a Shia region, reports the BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut.

The Shia political parties which dominate the Iraqi government are highly critical of Qatar's role in supporting Sunni rebels in Syria - so this is bound to be a serious diplomatic incident, he says.


Analysis: Frank Gardner, BBC security correspondent

Iraq is one of several countries frequented by Gulf Arab huntsmen and falconers as they search for prey that either does not exist in their own countries or which has been almost hunted to extinction there.

Their favoured prey is the Asian houbara bustard, akin to a small turkey, and to find it and other similar species Gulf hunters often travel to Morocco, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

They take with them their prized falcons, typically peregrines, sakers and lanners, which are expertly trained to home in on their quarry at high speed. According to a former CIA officer, in 1998 a CIA-run sniper team in Afghanistan observed Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda followers gathered at a camp near Kandahar but they were ordered to take no action for risk of harming the Emirati hunters who were with them.

Other Gulf hunting expeditions have even extended as far as the Central African Republic in search of big game.

Two Iraqi officers providing security for the party were also taken by the gunmen but later released, officials said.

No details were provided on which members of the Qatari royal family were among those held.

Wealthy practitioners of the ancient sport of falconry from various Gulf states often travel to the area at this time of year.

The hunters had been escorted by Iraqi security forces but they decided not to engage a large number of gunmen, a police colonel from Samawa - the capital of Muthanna governorate - told Reuters.

"We are talking about at least 100 gunmen armed with light and medium weapons," he said.

More than 12 years after the US-led invasion and occupation, Iraq is still plagued by violent crime and militant attacks.

In September, 16 Turkish construction workers were freed a month after being kidnapped in the capital, Baghdad, apparently by Shia Muslim militants.

Falconry was an important skill for Bedouin hunters in the harsh deserts of Arabia and Syria and has been around for thousands of years.

But the Asian houbara bustard (or MacQueen's bustard) - a likely target of the kidnapped hunters - only came to prominence as a favoured prey in the 1970s, when lavish hunting trips became popular, and when the availability of four-wheel-drives and guns prompted a sudden decline in the species, which is now threatened.

The bird's popularity may be partly explained by its elegant plumage and because some consider its meat to be an aphrodisiac.

Arabs' pursuit of the Asian houbara has caused tension elsewhere. There has been growing hostility in Pakistan, where Gulf Arab hunting parties were until recently regularly granted permission to bring in falcons to hunt the Asian houbara despite a ban on locals hunting - and sometimes killed thousands at a time. Amid a conservationists' outcry, two months ago Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered a total ban on hunting of the species.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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Are we serious as a nation?

An amount of 3, 649, 004 Ghana cedis of oil funds allocated for the re-branding of Metro Mass Rapid Transit buses generated huge controversy in Parliament yesterday.

 Minority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu says the allocation is unacceptable and a waste of resources.

“The branding of each bus costs 31, 000.00 cedis and this is too huge and unacceptable,” he asserted.

The Member of Parliament for Suame constituency quoted the figures from the 2015 annual report on the Petroleum Funds.

The amount captured under the annual Petroleum Fund is meant to brand 116 MMRT buses with pictures.

Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu questioned government’s priorities especially when key sectors of the economy are underfunded.

The issue however could not be addressed by the Transport Minister Dzifa Attivor when she appeared before the legislators. She claimed said she did not have the details of the re-branding at hand and promised to make it available to the House at a later date.

The Speaker of Parliament, Edward Doe Adjaho said the matter has been referred to Roads and Transport Committee in parliament for review.

Presenting the Roads and Transport Committee’s report to the house, Chairman of the Committee, Theophilus Tetteh Chaie said the 2015 approved budget for the Ministry and its agencies were drastically revised downwards to GH 50,047,963 by the Ministry of Finance from GH 179, 767,991.

Accra-based Citi FM Mr. Chaie as saying the reason for the revision was because “the expected revenue inflow was particularly affected by the slump in the international oil price.”

He added that the “committee however could not review the 2015 ceiling for the Annual Budget Funding Amount (ABFA) item since the mid year review did not specify the reduction for the Ministry.”

Source: myjoyonline.com

An amount of 3, 649, 004 Ghana cedis of oil funds allocated for the re-branding of Metro Mass Rapid Transit buses generated huge controversy in Parliament yesterday.

 Minority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu says the allocation is unacceptable and a waste of resources.

“The branding of each bus costs 31, 000.00 cedis and this is too huge and unacceptable,” he asserted.

The Member of Parliament for Suame constituency quoted the figures from the 2015 annual report on the Petroleum Funds.

The amount captured under the annual Petroleum Fund is meant to brand 116 MMRT buses with pictures.

Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu questioned government’s priorities especially when key sectors of the economy are underfunded.

The issue however could not be addressed by the Transport Minister Dzifa Attivor when she appeared before the legislators. She claimed said she did not have the details of the re-branding at hand and promised to make it available to the House at a later date.

The Speaker of Parliament, Edward Doe Adjaho said the matter has been referred to Roads and Transport Committee in parliament for review.

Presenting the Roads and Transport Committee’s report to the house, Chairman of the Committee, Theophilus Tetteh Chaie said the 2015 approved budget for the Ministry and its agencies were drastically revised downwards to GH 50,047,963 by the Ministry of Finance from GH 179, 767,991.

Accra-based Citi FM Mr. Chaie as saying the reason for the revision was because “the expected revenue inflow was particularly affected by the slump in the international oil price.”

He added that the “committee however could not review the 2015 ceiling for the Annual Budget Funding Amount (ABFA) item since the mid year review did not specify the reduction for the Ministry.”

- See more at: http://myjoyonline.com/news/2015/December-16th/govt-spends-over-36-million-on-re-branding-of-metro-mass-buses.php#sthash.5qzSoyvr.dpuf
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We are on course to develop Ghana – President Mahama

“Ghana is on the path of recovery and our medium term prospects of becoming an upper middle income country are brighter now than ever in the history of our country.”

The above was how President John Dramani Mahama on Tuesday night summed up his assessment of the development prospects facing the country, as he rendered account of what his government has been up to in pursuit of bettering the lot of the people.

The occasion was the ‘Accounting to the People Forum’ held at the State Banquet Hall in Accra to account for the stewardship of his administration, and said the developments, as captured in a book, ‘Accounting to the People’ “represents meaningful, measurable and veritable improvements in the lives of our people.”

He said “development occurs within space and time and so very often it’s not easy to comprehend that development is taking place because if you live in, say Chorkor, and there is a hospital being built in Nungua, you might not have the consciousness that healthcare is improving.

And so what I’ve tried to do with this book is to bring an overview of what we’ve been doing in the whole country over the period of our governance. Accounting to the people brings together in one space and volume, major highlights of what we have achieved so far as a government.”

He also wished Ghanaians Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in advance.

The above was how President John Dramani Mahama on Tuesday night summed up his assessment of the development prospects facing the country, as he rendered account of what his government has been up to in pursuit of bettering the lot of the people.

The occasion was the ‘Accounting to the People Forum’ held at the State Banquet Hall in Accra to account for the stewardship of his administration, and said the developments, as captured in a book, ‘Accounting to the People’ “represents meaningful, measurable and veritable improvements in the lives of our people.”

He said “development occurs within space and time and so very often it’s not easy to comprehend that development is taking place because if you live in, say Chorkor, and there is a hospital being built in Nungua, you might not have the consciousness that healthcare is improving.

And so what I’ve tried to do with this book is to bring an overview of what we’ve been doing in the whole country over the period of our governance. Accounting to the people brings together in one space and volume, major highlights of what we have achieved so far as a government.”

He also wished Ghanaians Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in advance.

Achievements

President Mahama observed that if there was any particular area that had enjoyed enormous investments, it should be in health infrastructure.

“The number of hospitals that we have built or are building, or are in various stages of construction, are phenomenal. From regional hospitals to district hospitals, to polyclinics, to specialized hospitals, there are so many of them,” he said, all in an effort to improve the quality of healthcare.

He said having operated the National Health Insurance Scheme for a while now, it would not make sense if one had the NHIS card but has no facility to visit for care. In such an instance, he said the cost of travelling long distances to access healthcare could be avoided if the facilities were close enough, adding also that by adding more infrastructure, healthcare has been brought to the doorstep of the people.

The president said work was ongoing on two teaching hospitals, four regional hospitals and 14 district hospitals and over 30 health centres.

He also said five additional polyclinics have been completed while 15 other polyclinics for the Eastern and Central regions have just been approved by Parliament.

President Mahama said 1,260 CHIPS Compound have been built across the country. The number of health training institutions have also been increased from 25 in 2005 to 95 in 2015 in order to train more qualified health personnel. Student intake into these training institutions also moved up from 12,000 to 23,000 over the same period.

On the NHIS, he said in 2008, utilization (number of visits made by patients holding NHIS cards) was 9.3 million. In 2014, the number went up to 29.6 million.

And so when people say that the national health insurance scheme has collapsed, he does not get it.

“We are treating far more people today than ever have been treated in history", he said

Source: Graphic.com.gh

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Adomi Bridge to re-open this weekend

Commuters on the Accra-Ho road can heave a sigh of relief following news the iconic Adomi Bridge is expected to be reopened to traffic this Saturday.

According to the Asuogyaman District Chief Executive, Apim Darko, work on the bridge is near completion and workers are putting finishing touches to it ahead of this weekend.

“I can confirm that work is almost complete. About last week we had a site meeting and there is every indication that they have finished with the work.”

“They are cleaning up the place and putting finishing touches to it,” he added.

Mr Darko went on to state the bridge will be open to traffic immediately after it is commissioned by President John Mahama this weekend on Saturday December 19.

He said, “The commissioning has been scheduled for Saturday the 19. We are expecting his Excellency [President Mahama] to come and then commission so we can start using the bridge again.”

“The bridge will be opened to traffic immediately after President John Mahama commissions it,” he continued.

The Adomi Bridge was closed to vehicular traffic to allow major rehabilitation on March 14, 2014.

The aftermath of the closure of the bridge saw drivers and passengers facing various problems in their efforts to commute between the Eastern and the Volta regions of the country.
There were technical problems with one of the two pontoons purchased by the Ministry of Roads and Highways to convey vehicles, people and goods across the Volta Lake further complicating the once simple commute across regions.

The idea to construct the Adomi suspension bridge in 1957 was necessitated by the need to link the Volta Region some parts of the Eastern Region that were cut off from the rest of Ghana.

Prior to the construction of the bridge, travelers to and from those parts Ghana had to cross the Volta Lake on boats at Senchi.

The Adomi Bridge was therefore built across the Lake at Atimpoku up north of Senchi in 1956 to ease the burden of travelers.

The bridge was designed and completed by William Brown, of the engineers Freeman Fox & Partners.

Source: citifmonline.com

Commuters on the Accra-Ho road can heave a sigh of relief following news the iconic Adomi Bridge is expected to be reopened to traffic this Saturday.

According to the Asuogyaman District Chief Executive, Apim Darko, work on the bridge is near completion and workers are putting finishing touches to it ahead of this weekend.

- See more at: http://citifmonline.com/2015/12/15/adomi-bridge-to-re-open-this-weekend-2/#sthash.PBNNJcjJ.dpuf
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Ghana arrests 'Burkina Faso arms dealer' in Kumasi

A suspected arms dealer from Burkina Faso has been arrested in Ghana after officers found weapons capable of shooting down an aircraft in his bedroom, a police commander has said.

The 72-year-old man was detained in the city of Kumasi along with four other people suspected of buying weapons.

He confessed to smuggling in arms from Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Niger, police in Kumasi said.

Machine guns and anti-aircraft ammunition were among the arms found.

Ashanti Regional Police Commander Nathan Kofi Boakye said some of the weapons found could be fired for six hours continuously.

Some of them were like those found mounted on the back of a pick-up truck in rebel-held areas, he said.

The search for an arms dealer started in October after a number of bullets were discovered by police, the commander said.

Source: bbc.co.uk

 

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Nigerian Shia Muslims protest over military crackdown

Shia Muslims are protesting in six northern Nigerian cities against a military crackdown they allege has left hundreds of their members dead.

Many businesses have shut in Kaduna, one of the cities worst-affected by the demonstrations, a BBC reporter says.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani phoned his Nigerian counterpart, Muhammadu Buhari, about the crackdown.

Nigeria's military accuses the pro-Iranian sect of trying to assassinate army chief Gen Tukur Buratai.

Meeting Sheikh Zakzaky


According to Iranian media, during his conversation with Mr Buhari, President Rouhani inquired about the fate of Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky, the IMN leader arrested after troops besieged his home in the northern city of Zaria.

The IMN alleges that the military killed hundreds of its members and destroyed a religious shrine and the sheikh's home during the raid.

A leading human rights activist, Chidi Odinkalu, has backed that figure and called on President Buhari to conduct an independent investigation into what happened.

"It is not tolerable. Nigerians have the right to live like citizens of any other nation," he told the BBC.

"How can a professional military respond with guns to people protesting with stones?" Mr Odinkalu added.

The latest protests were triggered by a photo that went viral on social media, purportedly showing him sitting on the ground with a bloodied face.

The IMN has its headquarters in Kaduna, where security forces have taken up positions at strategic places as IMN members protest in the streets, says the the BBC's Nura Muhammed Ringim in the city.

Some residents have stayed in doors because they fear violence, he says.

The cities of Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, Zamfara and Bauchi have also been hit by protests.

In Iran, a group gathered in front of the UN office in the north-eastern religious city of Mashhad to protest about the violence in Nigeria, Tehran-based private Tasnim news agency reports.

The military has not given casualty figures, but has denied the IMN's claim that the wife of Sheikh Zakzaky, Zeenat Ibrahim, was killed during the weekend clashes.

Maj Gen Oyebado, the army head of the Kaduna division, said on Monday that she was in the army's custody.

He did not confirm or deny the death of the couple's son, Sayyid Ibraheem Zakzaky.

Last year, three other sons of Sheikh Zakzaky were killed in clashes between the army and pilgrims in a religious procession.

Source: bbc.co.uk

 

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Los Angeles schools shut over email threat to students

Los Angeles schools have been closed as an unspecified threat emailed to the school district is being investigated.

The threat against the second largest school system in the US led to 640,000 pupils being told to stay away, while school buses were returned to depots.

A school district spokesman said it involved rucksacks, and they were exercising "an abundance of caution".

New York City officials said they received the same threat that closed LA schools but concluded it was a hoax.

The city's police commissioner, William Bratton, said an emailed threat came from overseas, purporting to be from jihadists, but was not considered credible.

He said he thought Los Angeles officials overreacted.

But LA Police Chief Charlie Beck responded by saying it was "irresponsible" to criticise when you didn't have the responsibility of safeguarding three-quarters of a million lives.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has more than 1,000 schools, which all still being searched.

"Earlier this morning we did receive an electronic threat that mentions the safety of our schools," said Steven Zipperman, chief of the Los Angeles school police department.

"We have chosen to close our schools today until we can be absolutely sure that our campuses are safe."

The email, which was sent to several school districts across the US late on Monday, is believed to have come from an IP address in Frankfurt, Germany.

The threat comes amid a heightened alert after 14 people were killed by a radicalised Muslim couple in San Bernardino, 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

"I think it's important to take this precaution based on what has happened recently and what has happened in the past," said district superintendent Ramon Cortines, who learned of the threat early on Tuesday.

"It was not to one school, two schools or three schools. It was to many schools, not specifically identified... it was to students at schools."

When asked what was meant be "electronic" threat, he said simply that "it was a message".

Officials were notifying parents to keep children at home or pick them up.

Lupita Vela, parent of an eight-year-old daughter who attends school in the district, told the AP news agency she was "terrified" getting the announcement, especially following the San Bernardino attacks.

She wants her daughter to feel safe at school, she said.

Another parent of a LAUSD student, Elinor McMillan, said she's a "nervous wreck".

In a separate incident, classes were also cancelled at San Bernardino Valley College on Tuesday due to a bomb threat made on Monday afternoon.


What's a credible threat?

FBI officials use the term "specific but non credible" when they have details about the location of the threat, such as a school or a house. But the officials can't say for sure that the person who made the threat is dangerous (and it's not a schoolboy prank).

"Specific means a very clear target," Frank Cilluffo, the director of George Washington University's homeland security policy institute, told me.

There are other cases when militants or criminals, known to them, make a threat, but they haven't said where the attack would take place.

That's when law-enforcement officials talk about a threat that is "credible but not specific".

Source: bbc.co.uk

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New Utility Tariffs Suspended: Ghana

The new tariff increment which has generated public uproar in the country has been suspended.

This follows a directive by an Accra High following a suit by Consumer Protection Agency (CPA) led by Kofi Kapito. The Public Utility Regulatory Commission (PURC) announced a 59.2 percent and 67.2 percent hikes in electricity and water last week Monday.

The CPA prayed the court to set aside the 59.2% increase in electricity tariff announced by the PURC which was expected to take effect on Monday December 14, 2015.

Kofi Kapito in the writ said the increase is unfair and illegal in the wake of the power crisis known in local parlance as Dumsor in the country. The High Court heeded the plea and has ruled that the new tariffs be suspended.

Some Ghanaians who spoke to Adom News expressed joy at the directive by the court. They indicated that an increase in the tariff was a double jeopardy.

Meanwhile, Executive Director of African Institute of Energy and Sustainability, Dr. Samuel Kojo Nuamah is calling for the PURC to live up to its constitutional mandate and seek the welfare of the consumers. According to him, PURC is irrelevant and has outlived its usefulness.

Dr. Kojo Nuamah added that the body which is expected to seek the welfare of consumers is rather in bed with the power producers to overburden Ghanaians.
 

Source: Peace Fm online

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Nigeria's Sambo Dasuki charged over '$68m fraud'

Nigeria's ex-national security adviser has appeared in court, charged over an alleged $68m fraud.

Sambo Dasuki was charged on 19 counts of fraud, money laundering and criminal breach of trust at the high court in the capital Abuja.

He pleaded not guilty on all counts.

Mr Dasuki is accused of illegally transferring $50m from the national security budget to fund election campaigns for members of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan's party.

President Muhammadu Buhari ordered his arrest two weeks ago, after a government investigation alleged that $2bn (£1.3bn) meant to buy arms to fight Boko Haram had gone missing.

He is the most senior official to be arrested as a result of an investigation into arms procurement during the administration of Mr Jonathan, defeated by Mr Buhari in the March 2015 elections.

A government investigation found that Sambo Dasuki had awarded "ghost contracts" to buy 12 helicopters and four fighter jets which never materialised. He also denies those allegations.

Islamist militant group Boko Haram has killed thousands in north-eastern Nigeria in its six-year campaign to create an Islamic state.

Sambo Dasuki

  • From a royal family, he's the son of the 18th Sultan of Sokoto, spiritual leader of Nigeria's Muslim community
  • A career soldier, rose to be a colonel in the army until his retirement
  • Reportedly one of the officers who arrested current President Muhammadu Buhari when he was overthrown as military head of state 30 years ago - something he denies
  • Became former President Goodluck Jonathan's national security adviser in 2012
  • Oversaw the fight against Boko Haram under his presidency
  • At the centre of a row over Nigeria's unorthodox arms procurement in 2014, when South Africa seized suitcases packed with millions of dollars of cash at an airport in Johannesburg
  • Charged for possessing illegal weapons in August 2015
  • Was put under house arrest despite a court order to allow him to travel abroad for cancer treatment

Source: bbc.co.uk

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US hitting IS harder than ever, says Obama

The US is hitting so-called Islamic State (IS) harder than ever, President Barack Obama has said.

More air strikes were launched against the group in November than in any other month, he said in a Pentagon speech.

In recent weeks, the US-led coalition has killed a number of its leaders and attacked the oil facilities it uses to finance its operations, he added.

Mr Obama has been seeking to reassure the public following an attack in California that killed 14 people.

The two suspects were a radicalised Muslim couple who struck weeks after the killing of 130 people by Islamist gunmen in Paris.

Around 9,000 air strikes have been launched against the group since the start of the campaign in the summer of 2014.

Noting that IS had lost 40% of the territory it once controlled in Iraq, Mr Obama said that the terror group had not had a single successful ground operation in either Syria or Iraq since the summer.

He cautioned that the US and its partners faced "a very tough fight ahead".

Mr Obama listed the militant group's leaders who had been targeted and killed.

Using another acronym for the group, he said: "The point is, Isil leaders cannot hide and our next message to them is simple: 'You are next.'"

Among those listed was Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born British militant known as Jihadi John, who appeared in videos of the beheadings of Western hostages and who was killed last month.

On Thursday, the president will visit the National Counterterrorism Center in Virginia where he is expected to receive a briefing and then speak.

The two visits come as Mr Obama tries to reassure a wary US public of his strategy against the militant group.

Just over a week ago, he gave a major televised speech with the same objective and to warn against anti-Muslim sentiment.

Critics of his strategy continue to ratchet up pressure.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, said on Monday: "It's obvious that the president's current strategy isn't working.

"Far from being contained - much less defeated - Isis has now extended the reach of its terror farther than ever before."

In recent weeks, US fears of a terror attack have swelled, with about 70% of Americans saying the risk of an attack in the US is at least "somewhat high".

 

Source: bbc.co.uk

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Sad news in Argentina: Many killed after bus falls off bridge

At least 41 people, most of them police officers, have been killed after a bus fell off a bridge in north-west Argentina, officials say.

The bus was carrying at least 50 people, most of them members of Argentina's border police, when it came off the road and fell about 20m (65ft) into a riverbed.

Emergency workers are trying to free a number of trapped passengers.

They said that so far, six passengers had been rescued from the wreck.

The bus came off the road at about 02:00 local time (05:00 GMT) near the town of Rosario del Fuente in Salta province, police officials said.

It was one of three police buses travelling on national highway 34.

A local police statement said there were indications that one of the bus's tyres had burst and caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle.

Speaking at a public event, President Mauricio Macri, expressed his condolences.

Source: bbc.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Read: What Norwegian newspaper VG reported about AMERI deal Source

Ghana's minister of power does not even bother to lift his eyes when two journalists from the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang (VG) enter his huge office at the government quarter in the capital city of Accra.

His desk is covered with large stacks of document that are strewn in front of him. Kwabena Donkor has one cell phone on top of a stack of papers, while a second phone is charging on the windowsill.

It is September 9th, and Donkor is a very busy politician: A crippling energy crisis is playing havoc with Ghana, and it is the minister's job to solve the problem.

Donkor confirmed to VG that the government of Ghana had acquired ten gas turbines from a company called Ameri Group. The minister had signed the contract seven months earlier, which may be the best transaction ever for the mystical Dubai-based company he did his business with.

VG showed the minister a photo of a wanted man; a Pakistani Norwegian named Umar Farooq Zahoor (40). The 40-year-old man from Oslo is wanted by Norwegian and Swiss police for spectacular acts of fraud committed the last ten years.

VG showed the minister a picture, and he pointed to the Pakistani Norwegian right away. He knows him as the head of the Ameri Group.

– I know him; he is the Chief executive of Ameri Group, Donkor says.

Then we show the minister a picture of the man who co-signed the agreement with Umar Farooq Zahoor, a prince from the ruling family in Dubai. The minister has no doubts:

– The sheikh, his royal highness. They both work for Ameri Group, he said.

VG investigated what happened after the wanted man from Norway and the prince from Dubai acquired ten gas turbines for Ghana for 510 million US dollars.

VG’s investigations show that these turbines usually sell for 220 million dollars.

So why did the West African country pay 290 million dollars more than the standard price?

Mohammed Amin Adam, the director of a Ghanaian think tank called Africa Centre for Energy Policy, is highly sceptical.

– If you can help us find out who these people at Ameri Group are we would certainly pursue the case here, he told VG when we met him at his office in Accra.

VG has been following Ameri Group’s tracks for seven months on several continents. The full name of Ameri Group is Africa and Middle East Resources Investment Group.

According to the company website, the company works to develop, co-own and operate power plants in different parts of the world.

The company has apparently achieved spectacular success in a very short period of time. Their website was created two months before the multi-million dollar contract was signed with the government of Ghana.

It's pitch dark in one of Accra’s poorest neighbourhoods, Nima. The sun has set for today, and the electricity is gone. Power can disappear for 24 hours at a time in this impoverished neighbourhood.

Everything goes black, every day, more and more often and for longer periods of time. The energy crisis is very debilitating for the country.

In 2014 alone, Ghana lost over two billion dollars due to the national power crisis, according to a report from Ghana's largest university.

The residents of the neighbourhood told VG just how desperate the situation really was: Electrical systems are damaged, food stored in freezers rots and businesses go bankrupt.

The crisis got so bad last year that the president of Ghana handpicked someone to solve the problem: Dr Kwabena Donkor.

Donkor signed the agreement with Ameri Group six weeks later on the 10th of February this year.

Ameri Group would provide Ghana with ten gas turbines. This procurement would help solve the energy crisis.

The contract was signed by the minister of power and another prominent representative of Ghanaian authorities, Assistant Attorney General and Minister of Justice Dominic Ayine.

VG got its hands on a copy of the agreement, which is 49 pages long. The director who signed for the company in Dubai is now a well-known name among investigators at the Financial Crime Section of the Oslo Police District: Pakistani Norwegian Umar Farooq Zahoor.

As early as 2013, Deputy Chief of Police for Oslo Gro Smogeli singled out Zahoor as a ringleader of one of Norway's boldest and biggest bank frauds ever; the so-called Nordea Swindle.

VG can announced today that Farooq Zahoor is also wanted internationally by Norwegian police and Interpol for his leading role in this scam.

Deputy police constable Gro Smogeli in Oslo confirms to VG that Umar Farooq Zahoor is wanted worldwide for fraud.

– He is wanted by Oslo police distric through Interpol-channels, she says.

The Borgarting Court of Appeal announced its unanimous verdict on 26 November confirming reasonable grounds to suspect the 40-year-old of fraud, as part of organized criminal activity subject to Norway’s mafia activities paragraph.

The Pakistani Norwegian is also wanted for running a fake bank in Switzerland.

Umar Farooq Zahoor portrays himself as a busy and prosperous businessman. His base of operations the past nine years has been the United Arab Emirate of Dubai. He has been living here in a luxurious mansion in one of Dubai’s most fashionable neighbourhoods, as new luxury cars appear in his garage from time to time.

His story began in 1971 when Umar Farooq Zahoor’s father left a small village in Pakistan to try his luck in Europe. He ended up in Oslo. He set up the first immigrant store in the neighbourhood of Grønland, Oslo, together with his wife who joined him in Norway some years later.

20 years later the family owned 5 stores in the same neighbourhood. They sold food, clothing, gold items and ran a travel agency.

The couple had 15 children. Umar was the second oldest son. As the parents ran their businesses, many of their sons learned to be criminals.

Umar was sentenced to one year in prison in 2003 for embezzling airline tickets from his family’s travel agency. The Oslo District Court stated that he had shown clear criminal intent, and that his actions were thoroughly planned and had a professional touch.

Umar Farooq Zahoor did not appear in court. Before the trial the judge had received a letter from the accused asking for a postponement in the case. In the letter, the man from Oslo told the court he was in the midst of business negotiations with bank connections in Switzerland.

Later on the police discovered that he was in full swing at the time with a new and spectacular crime. He had rented office space with a New Zealander in Zürich’s best business, at which they hung up a gilded sign that read Bank.

What customers thought was a real bank would drain its victims for a combined loss of 20 million dollars.

Farooq Zahoor’s business partner was sentenced to three years and six months in prison for this super scam. During his trial, Zahoor’s partner told the Zurich District Court that starting a fake bank was his Farooq Zahoors partner’s idea.

By the time the Swiss police headed off to arrest the Farooq Zahoor he had already moved to his father's country of origin.

Some years later the man from Oslo was on the run again, this time heading for Dubai, where he began his dubious affairs again.

Together with a band of fraudsters he managed to empty the Nordea bank account of a very wealthy widow over the course of 13 days in the summer of 2010. He recieved help from an employee at the bank's branch office in Oslo to withdraw 10 million dollars.

6 million dollars were transferred to two accounts that belonged to a Norwegian businesswoman who lived in Dubai named Sonia Rashid.

On the 25 th of June 2013, nearly three years after this record-breaking fraud, Sonia Rashid admitted to VG that she had withdrawn this money in cash.

She said she gave the millions to Umar Farooq Zahoor.

“Umar was with me when I withdrew the money. He sat in the car while I drove from bank to bank. I went inside the banks and withdrew money that had been transferred to my accounts in Dubai. I gave him the money when I got in the car”, Rashid said.

Despite extensive media coverage in recent years, Zahoor continued to work for major financial institutions in Norway. He has worked the last six years as a consultant for a Norwegian company called NBT ASA, which develops wind power projects in China and in the Karachi area of Pakistan.

The three largest owners of NBT ASA are the corporate finance company Arctic Securities, billionaire Lars Nilsen via his investment company and Kjell Inge Røkke’s Aker Capital AS.

17 September this year: The Greek EPC contractor and industrial group METKA issued a press release from its headquarters in Athens. The company specialises in major energy, infrastructure and defence projects has good news:

They have secured the first major contract in Sub-Saharan Africa. The entrepreneurial giant had opened an office in Ghana's capital city only a few weeks earlier.

METKA is owned by one of the richest dynasties in Greece, the Mytilineos family. According to the press release, the industrial giant had acquired a new partner: Ameri Group.

The Greek corporation informed that its wholly-owned Turkish subsidiary will be providing Ghana with ten brand new gas turbines manufactured by General Electric (GE). In addition to that, the Greeks will be responsible for operation and maintenance of the turbines.

The press release said this is a five-year agreement with the government of Ghana and METKA’s partners in the agreement, Ameri Group.

METKA said their share of the deal exeeds 350 million dollars. This sum is up to 160 million dollars less than the 510 million that Ghana will be paying Ameri for the turbines.

Nobody yet knows who got their hands on this money.

VG has posed several questions to METKA. The company's spokesperson Elli Gardiki replied in an email, saying they cannot speak about the details of this agreement, referring to the press release from September.

– The projects we carry out are complex technical projects, and as such each one is by no means identical. Each project varies significantly depending on many factors, such as overall project scope, delivery time, site and others. No project and no contract is identical and simplified comparisons can lead to wrong conclusions, she stated.

Ameri Energy was presented in the press release from September as part of energy investments made by His Royal Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Dalmook Al Maktoum, a member of the ruling family in Dubai.

The press release also stated that the project was made possible with active support from General Electric (GE) in the United States.

GE would not comment on what active support means, VG was told by Communication Manager Ivar Simensen at General Electric Norway.


“METKA will respond to its own press releases”, GE's communication manager said.

GE's spokesperson would not comment on whether they sold gas turbines to the Ameri Group, or what price the turbines were sold for.

Dubai's largest traffic artery is the Sheikh Zayed Road. Its 16 lanes cut right through the city and continue west toward Abu Dhabi.

On the right side of the highway, not far from the Burj Khalifa Skyscraper, lies a weatherworn five-storey building. The Emgate Building consists of business offices and apartments. Until recently one could visit a streetside used car store named Deals on Wheels.

This is where the Ameri Group supposedly has its headquarters. The contract and the company’s websites give this as their main office.

VG has been in contact with the employees of a medical center in the same building. They have never heard of the company.

Ameri Group had not posted its name on the signboard of tenants in the building four months after the contract was signed.

Umar Farooq Zahoor signed the multi-million dollar contract in Ghana together with Prince of Dubai Sheikh Ahmed Bin Dalmook Al Maktoum. The Arabian prince is named and mentioned frequently in Ameri’s websites. The 40-year-old Pakistani Norwegian is not mentioned anywhere.

Ameri Group’s website states that the company’s affairs are based on trust, integrity and transparency. We are a very ethical corporation and are proud of our work, it states.

The multi-million dollar contract was signed in the greatest secrecy. There were no members of the press present when the contract was entered into. Until now, the name of the person who represented the company was a well-kept secret.

Ameri Group’s website also lists the prince as chairman of the board. The website also maintains that the prince travels to poor countries in the third world and participates in development projects to provide energy solutions for electricity, water and better infrastructure for the inhabitants of those countries.

According to the Ameri Group, the prince’s motto is: a better world for the less fortunate.

Director Mohammed Amin Adam of the think tank Africa Centre for Energy Policy (ACEP) does not believe this agreement will make the world a better place.

On the contrary, he is very critical to the agreement between the Ghanaian government and Ameri Group.

According to the agreement, Ghana will lease the ten gas turbines for five years. After that, Ghana becomes owner of the turbines after paying an equipment cost of 510 million dollars.

– That same equipment could have been purchased for 220 million dollars. The Ghanaian authorities would have saved 290 million dollars, said Amin Adam.

– Why did the authorities decide to trust Ameri Group?

– It makes no sense economically. We think someone is making money on of this deal, but we do not have any evidence yet, the head of the think tank said.

In addition to an equipment price of 510 million dollars, Ghana will pay variable costs of 16 million dollars annually, according to a report from the National Assembly of Ghana. Ghana will also need to pay for the gas to power the ten turbines.

According to the agreement the ten gas turbines are type TM2500+, often referred to as a power plant on wheels.

VG’s investigations show that the standard price for these turbines is about 20 million dollars. Last summer, GE sold eight identical turbines to Sonelgaz, the state energy company in Algeria, for 161 million dollars.

Professor Olav Bolland is one of Norway's foremost experts on gas power plants.

– This is one of the world's most popular turbines, if not the most common, he said.

– A simple internet search indicates that they sell for about 22 million dollars each. That seems to be a reasonable price if you ask me based on my previous experience pricing power plants.

 He leads the Institute of Energy and Process Engineering at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

The agreement was sent to the National Assembly for approval after the government had signed the agreement with Ameri Group.

The minister's delegation reported to Ghanaian elected representatives that a direct purchase of the ten turbines would cost 411 million dollars. This amount is almost double the standard price for such turbines on the world market.

A crucial reason for choosing Ameri Group, was that the company could deliver the turbines quickly, while it would take nine months or a year for GE to manufacture ten turbines, the minister said.

But it was not until late October (eight months after the agreement was signed) that the turbines were unloaded at the Port of Accra.

From there they were transported to a power station in the west, where they are now being connected to the power grid and soon ready to produce electricity.

The minister of power have argued to VG that he did nothing wrong when he signed the agreement with the mysterious company:

– I would not get involved in anything that is not good for Ghana, he said.

VG made a number of attempts to get Umar Farooq Zahoor, the prince and Ameri Group to explain why Ghana had to pay such an enormous price. Neither the prince nor the wanted Oslo man have responded to VG’s enquiries.

After sending an email to the address listed on the company’s website, someone named Kate spoke on behalf of Ameri Group saying:

– Mr Umar stopped working for our company a few months ago to pursue bigger business opportunities.

The mysterious company does not want to answer VG’s question:

– We are a privately held company in Dubai that does business all over the world, also in Ghana. We see no reason to answer any of your questions. We do not understand why a Norwegian newspaper would be interested in what we do, she writes.

Not many inhabitants of the Accra slum care anymore.

“They are all corrupt thieves!”

Head of the neighbourhood council, Aziz Haruna, is furious over his countries politicians.

It's six o'clock in the evening and power in the city's most densely-populated neighbourhood has just gone.

Like so many others in this neighbourhood, Haruna has lost faith in politics and politicians. He waves his arms and says:

– Our politicians are stealing our country's resources. If you want to be rich in Ghana, you need to become a politician.

Source: myjoyonline.com

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Power Ministry denies ‘false’ publication on AMERI deal

The Ministry of Power has denied publications suggesting that the AMERI power deal was signed with a dubious company and at an inflated cost of $510 million.

Power Minister, Kwabena Donkor, has issued a statement Monday describing the publication by the Norwegian newspaper VG as “false, misleading and a gross misrepresentation of the facts”.

The publication, which has been widely circulated in Ghanaian media, among other things reports that one Umar Farooq Zahoor, a top official at AMERI is a wanted fraudster.

Farooq Zahoor according to VG is on the wanted list of Norwegian police and Interpol for his lead roles in various scams in Norway and other countries.

“The Government of Ghana has not entered into any agreement with Umar Farooq Zahoor. The Government of Ghana has an agreement with AMERI Energy.

“The Chairman of AMERI Energy is Sheikh Mohamed AL Maktoum who signed the agreement for his firm. Umar Farooq signed as a witness for him,” the Power Minister explains.

The publication also alleged that the $510 million power deal could have been gotten at lower cost -- quoting about $220 million as the going price for the 10 power generators on wheels.

However, the Minister states: "the Government of Ghana has not made any payments to AMERI and will not be making any payments for the cost of the equipment."

Read below the Minister’s statement on the report.

MINISTRY OF POWER STATEMENT ON FALSE PUBLICATIONS ABOUT AMERI ENERGY POWER PROJECT

The Ministry of Power has noted publications in sections of the media attributed to a Norwegian newspaper, VG. The thrust of these publications is that:

1. The Ministry of Power representing Government entered into an arrangement to secure a 250MW power plant with a company of dubious background.

2. That the transaction amount of $510 million is inflated compared to other options.

The Ministry wishes to state that these publications are false, misleading and a gross misrepresentation of the facts. For the avoidance of doubt, the Ministry of Power wishes to clarify the matter as follows:

ISSUE OF COST OF PLANT

The Ministry wishes to state that the agreement with AMERI is a Build, Own, Operate and Transfer (BOOT) agreement and not an outright purchase of generating plants.

The Government of Ghana has not made ANY PAYMENTS to AMERI and will not be making any payments for the cost of the equipment.

Per the agreement with AMERI, the Government of Ghana through the Volta River Authority (VRA) will only make payments to Ameri for power produced and supplied to the VRA just like any other Independent Power Producer (IPP).

Also, per the agreement, Government was required to provide a standby Letter of Credit (LC) for an amount of US$51 million, which LC has been raised. Ghana will however assume eventual ownership of the equipment after five (5) years of production and sale of the power to the VRA.

It must also be explained that the quoted price of $220 million in the Norwegian story for outright purchase of similar turbines is exclusive of all other costs such as auxiliaries, balance of plant, civil works, sub-station, installation of equipment, cost of financing, operation and maintenance etc.

- Under the agreement with AMERI Energy, the cost of all these auxiliary works is being borne by AMERI Energy.

- From the foregoing, it is false to claim that the Government of Ghana signed a $510 million agreement for the plant, when it should have been $220 million.

- On claims that the manufacturers of the plant, GE, could have been contacted to negotiate a direct purchase, the Ministry wishes to state that an earlier offer from GE Consortium to the VRA for similar equipment on rental basis proved to be far more expensive and was therefore rejected by the VRA.

ISSUE OF DUE DILIGENCE ON AMERI ENERGY POWER PLANT

- The Government of Ghana has not entered into any agreement with Umar Farooq Zahoor. The Government of Ghana has an agreement with AMERI Energy.

-The Chairman of AMERI Energy is Sheikh Mohamed AL Maktoum who signed the agreement for his firm. Umar Farooq signed as a witness for him.

- The Bank of Ghana before establishing the Standby LC conducted its own due diligence on AMERI Energy.

- The American firm, JP Morgan also independently conducted its own due diligence before confirming the Standby LC for the project.

- Government of Ghana represented by the Ministry of Power and the Attorney General’s Department also conducted due diligence on AMERI Energy and reviewed strenuously the project agreement before submitting to Parliament.

- Parliament, upon receipt of relevant documentation on the project and the agreement, also scrutinized and reviewed the agreement before approving it at the Committee Level unanimously and later by the House.

CONCLUSION

The Ministry of Power will continue to work assiduously to end the current power sector challenges. In doing so we expect all stakeholders to commit to the noble path of resolving this national challenge instead of throwing in misleading claims programmed to disrupt and derail its efforts.

We wish to reiterate that as part of efforts to resolve the current load shedding exercise, the following are underway:

- 225MW Karpower Barge is ramping up generation to attain the contracted generation capacity.

- The 250MW AMERI Plant is undergoing commissioning.

-The first unit of the 220MW Kpone Thermal Plant is also undergoing commissioning.

- The 12OMW TICO Steam Expansion has been completed.

- The first part of 120MW of the 360MW Sunon Asogli Plant is near completion.

Dr. Kwabena DONKOR

MINISTER FOR POWER

ACCRA

Source: http://www.myjoyonline.com/news/2015/December-14th/power-ministry-denies-false-publication-on-ameri-deal.php

The Ministry of Power has denied publications suggesting that the AMERI power deal was signed with a dubious company and at an inflated cost of $510 million.

Power Minister, Kwabena Donkor, has issued a statement Monday describing the publication by the Norwegian newspaper VG as “false, misleading and a gross misrepresentation of the facts”.

The publication, which has been widely circulated in Ghanaian media, among other things reports that one Umar Farooq Zahoor, a top official at AMERI is a wanted fraudster.

Farooq Zahoor according to VG is on the wanted list of Norwegian police and Interpol for his lead roles in various scams in Norway and other countries.

“The Government of Ghana has not entered into any agreement with Umar Farooq Zahoor. The Government of Ghana has an agreement with AMERI Energy.

“The Chairman of AMERI Energy is Sheikh Mohamed AL Maktoum who signed the agreement for his firm. Umar Farooq signed as a witness for him,” the Power Minister explains.

The publication also alleged that the $510 million power deal could have been gotten at lower cost -- quoting about $220 million as the going price for the 10 power generators on wheels.

However, the Minister states: "the Government of Ghana has not made any payments to AMERI and will not be making any payments for the cost of the equipment."

Read below the Minister’s statement on the report.

MINISTRY OF POWER STATEMENT ON FALSE PUBLICATIONS ABOUT AMERI ENERGY POWER PROJECT

The Ministry of Power has noted publications in sections of the media attributed to a Norwegian newspaper, VG. The thrust of these publications is that:

1. The Ministry of Power representing Government entered into an arrangement to secure a 250MW power plant with a company of dubious background.

2. That the transaction amount of $510 million is inflated compared to other options.

The Ministry wishes to state that these publications are false, misleading and a gross misrepresentation of the facts. For the avoidance of doubt, the Ministry of Power wishes to clarify the matter as follows:

ISSUE OF COST OF PLANT

The Ministry wishes to state that the agreement with AMERI is a Build, Own, Operate and Transfer (BOOT) agreement and not an outright purchase of generating plants.

The Government of Ghana has not made ANY PAYMENTS to AMERI and will not be making any payments for the cost of the equipment.

Per the agreement with AMERI, the Government of Ghana through the Volta River Authority (VRA) will only make payments to Ameri for power produced and supplied to the VRA just like any other Independent Power Producer (IPP).

Also, per the agreement, Government was required to provide a standby Letter of Credit (LC) for an amount of US$51 million, which LC has been raised. Ghana will however assume eventual ownership of the equipment after five (5) years of production and sale of the power to the VRA.

It must also be explained that the quoted price of $220 million in the Norwegian story for outright purchase of similar turbines is exclusive of all other costs such as auxiliaries, balance of plant, civil works, sub-station, installation of equipment, cost of financing, operation and maintenance etc.

- Under the agreement with AMERI Energy, the cost of all these auxiliary works is being borne by AMERI Energy.

- From the foregoing, it is false to claim that the Government of Ghana signed a $510 million agreement for the plant, when it should have been $220 million.

- On claims that the manufacturers of the plant, GE, could have been contacted to negotiate a direct purchase, the Ministry wishes to state that an earlier offer from GE Consortium to the VRA for similar equipment on rental basis proved to be far more expensive and was therefore rejected by the VRA.

ISSUE OF DUE DILIGENCE ON AMERI ENERGY POWER PLANT

- The Government of Ghana has not entered into any agreement with Umar Farooq Zahoor. The Government of Ghana has an agreement with AMERI Energy.

-The Chairman of AMERI Energy is Sheikh Mohamed AL Maktoum who signed the agreement for his firm. Umar Farooq signed as a witness for him.

- The Bank of Ghana before establishing the Standby LC conducted its own due diligence on AMERI Energy.

- The American firm, JP Morgan also independently conducted its own due diligence before confirming the Standby LC for the project.

- Government of Ghana represented by the Ministry of Power and the Attorney General’s Department also conducted due diligence on AMERI Energy and reviewed strenuously the project agreement before submitting to Parliament.

- Parliament, upon receipt of relevant documentation on the project and the agreement, also scrutinized and reviewed the agreement before approving it at the Committee Level unanimously and later by the House.

CONCLUSION

The Ministry of Power will continue to work assiduously to end the current power sector challenges. In doing so we expect all stakeholders to commit to the noble path of resolving this national challenge instead of throwing in misleading claims programmed to disrupt and derail its efforts.

We wish to reiterate that as part of efforts to resolve the current load shedding exercise, the following are underway:

- 225MW Karpower Barge is ramping up generation to attain the contracted generation capacity.

- The 250MW AMERI Plant is undergoing commissioning.

-The first unit of the 220MW Kpone Thermal Plant is also undergoing commissioning.

- The 12OMW TICO Steam Expansion has been completed.

- The first part of 120MW of the 360MW Sunon Asogli Plant is near completion.

Dr. Kwabena DONKOR

MINISTER FOR POWER

ACCRA

- See more at: http://myjoyonline.com/news/2015/December-14th/power-ministry-denies-false-publication-on-ameri-deal.php#sthash.JDBm8pyD.dpuf
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Ghanaians to pay more for electricity consumption at night

Power Minister Dr. Kwabena Donkow says his ministry is exploring a new electricity tariff regime that will see Ghanaians pay more for power consumed during peak periods.

That, he explained, aims at discouraging consumers to cut down on their consumption during peak periods, which runs from between 6:00PM and 11:00PM.

He said the ministry is advocating “a differentiation in tariff…where during peak demand period, (6pm -11pm) tariff will be higher and off peak it will be lower so that you can tailor your demand to meet cheaper tariff periods”.

Dr. Donkor made the revelation when he took the hot seat on TV3’s Hot Issues current affairs programme to outline measures being put in place to resolve the country’s electricity crisis. The programme airs today at 12:00 noon on TV3

The minister explained that this regime is being practised in other jurisdiction and was hopeful that the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission will be receptive towards this kind of tariff regime.

Utility hikes

Commenting on the recent upward adjustment of utility prices, Dr. Donkor said his ministry expected more than the 59.2 per cent increment in the electricity prices announced on Monday.

He said although they did not expect to get the 128.6 percent increment, they had wanted more than approved by the PURC, which has already generated public uproar considering that the power situation has not improved.

“My sector had expected more than what we got. However, I also appreciate the job of PURC as a referee between competing interests. It will be selfish of my sector to want to expect to get all what they want but at least, it’s a very useful step” he stated.

Notwithstanding the increment, which takes effect from December 14, he said consumers can maintain the same amount of payment that they presently make by being prudent their consumption.

He said consumers can do that “by just being conscious of the need for efficiency in power usage. We are generally extremely inefficient. There are simple things we can do to reduce our consumption so that notwithstanding the increase in tariff our levels in terms of household income could remain the same”.

Source: http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/-400483

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It is impossible to end 'dumsor' next week

The Communications Minister Dr Omane Boamah says it is impossible for the current load shedding to end by next week.

His comment is a palpable contradiction of an assurance by the Power Minister Dr Kwabena Donkor that given the measures put in place dumsor will end by next week.

Speaking on TV3's Hot Issues programme, the sector Minister who has promised to resign if Dumsor persist by end of December said:

“Barring any unforeseen circumstance, from next week, consumers will begin to feel the easing of the load shedding and by Christmas, but again, subject to any unforeseen circumstances, load shedding should be at the barest minimum if it exist at all.

“It may not exist as at Christmas or as at the end of the month. But the caveat is that, for example if the SPO trips, we'll have a challenge for the short period that we will have to bring it back."

But speaking on Joy FM's Newsfile programme, the last edition for the year, the Communications Minister says it is impossible for dumsor to end by next week.

Answering a question from the former General Secretary of the New Patriotic Party Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie about whether the Power Minister's assurance should be taken seriously, the Communications Minister said per the arrangement in place it is impossible for dumsor to end by next week.

The Communications Minister Dr Omane Boamah says it is impossible for the current load shedding to end by next week.

His comment is a palpable contradiction of an assurance by the Power Minister Dr Kwabena Donkor that given the measures put in place dumsor will end by next week.

Speaking on TV3's Hot Issues programme, the sector Minister who has promised to resign if Dumsor persist by end of December said:

“Barring any unforeseen circumstance, from next week, consumers will begin to feel the easing of the load shedding and by Christmas, but again, subject to any unforeseen circumstances, load shedding should be at the barest minimum if it exist at all.

“It may not exist as at Christmas or as at the end of the month. But the caveat is that, for example if the SPO trips, we'll have a challenge for the short period that we will have to bring it back."

But speaking on Joy FM's Newsfile programme, the last edition for the year, the Communications Minister says it is impossible for dumsor to end by next week.

Answering a question from the former General Secretary of the New Patriotic Party Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie about whether the Power Minister's assurance should be taken seriously, the Communications Minister said per the arrangement in place it is impossible for dumsor to end by next week.

The Deputy Power Minister, John Jinapor who was also on the programme carried live at the Coconut Groove Hotel, says the ministry is working around the clock to ensure that there is regular power supply during the Christmas period.

“We are determined to ensure that we have a very good Christmas and we are likely not to have load shedding.”

Mr Jinapor however noted that it will depend on the load that is available during Christmas but was hopeful that since most industries will be on break during the period, the demand for power will be low as compared to normal days.

He indicated that the Karpower has begun supplying some power into the system and with the smooth flow of gas from Nigeria, there should be enough power for the festivities.

The Deputy Minister indicated that not only is government working to provide power during Christmas but “we are working around the clock to continue to provide power in a reliable and sustainable manner”.

“We will continue to bridge the gap and lower the load shedding until eventually we move out of load shedding. We are determined to ensure that we fix this problem in a comprehensive manner, not only making power available but making it available at a relatively cheaper cost, ensure that the power is sustainable and reliable”, he said.

Source: http://myjoyonline.com/news/2015/December-12th/it-is-impossible-to-end-dumsor-next-week-omane-boamah-contradicts-power-minister.php

 

The Deputy Power Minister, John Jinapor who was also on the programme carried live at the Coconut Groove Hotel, says the ministry is working around the clock to ensure that there is regular power supply during the Christmas period.

“We are determined to ensure that we have a very good Christmas and we are likely not to have load shedding.”

Mr Jinapor however noted that it will depend on the load that is available during Christmas but was hopeful that since most industries will be on break during the period, the demand for power will be low as compared to normal days.

He indicated that the Karpower has begun supplying some power into the system and with the smooth flow of gas from Nigeria, there should be enough power for the festivities.

- See more at: http://myjoyonline.com/news/2015/December-12th/it-is-impossible-to-end-dumsor-next-week-omane-boamah-contradicts-power-minister.php#sthash.76eUx3wK.dpuf

The Communications Minister Dr Omane Boamah says it is impossible for the current load shedding to end by next week.

His comment is a palpable contradiction of an assurance by the Power Minister Dr Kwabena Donkor that given the measures put in place dumsor will end by next week.

Speaking on TV3's Hot Issues programme, the sector Minister who has promised to resign if Dumsor persist by end of December said:

“Barring any unforeseen circumstance, from next week, consumers will begin to feel the easing of the load shedding and by Christmas, but again, subject to any unforeseen circumstances, load shedding should be at the barest minimum if it exist at all.

“It may not exist as at Christmas or as at the end of the month. But the caveat is that, for example if the SPO trips, we'll have a challenge for the short period that we will have to bring it back."

But speaking on Joy FM's Newsfile programme, the last edition for the year, the Communications Minister says it is impossible for dumsor to end by next week.

Answering a question from the former General Secretary of the New Patriotic Party Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie about whether the Power Minister's assurance should be taken seriously, the Communications Minister said per the arrangement in place it is impossible for dumsor to end by next week.

- See more at: http://myjoyonline.com/news/2015/December-12th/it-is-impossible-to-end-dumsor-next-week-omane-boamah-contradicts-power-minister.php#sthash.76eUx3wK.dpuf

The Communications Minister Dr Omane Boamah says it is impossible for the current load shedding to end by next week.

His comment is a palpable contradiction of an assurance by the Power Minister Dr Kwabena Donkor that given the measures put in place dumsor will end by next week.

Speaking on TV3's Hot Issues programme, the sector Minister who has promised to resign if Dumsor persist by end of December said:

“Barring any unforeseen circumstance, from next week, consumers will begin to feel the easing of the load shedding and by Christmas, but again, subject to any unforeseen circumstances, load shedding should be at the barest minimum if it exist at all.

“It may not exist as at Christmas or as at the end of the month. But the caveat is that, for example if the SPO trips, we'll have a challenge for the short period that we will have to bring it back."

But speaking on Joy FM's Newsfile programme, the last edition for the year, the Communications Minister says it is impossible for dumsor to end by next week.

Answering a question from the former General Secretary of the New Patriotic Party Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie about whether the Power Minister's assurance should be taken seriously, the Communications Minister said per the arrangement in place it is impossible for dumsor to end by next week.

- See more at: http://myjoyonline.com/news/2015/December-12th/it-is-impossible-to-end-dumsor-next-week-omane-boamah-contradicts-power-minister.php#sthash.76eUx3wK.dpuf

The Communications Minister Dr Omane Boamah says it is impossible for the current load shedding to end by next week.

His comment is a palpable contradiction of an assurance by the Power Minister Dr Kwabena Donkor that given the measures put in place dumsor will end by next week.

Speaking on TV3's Hot Issues programme, the sector Minister who has promised to resign if Dumsor persist by end of December said:

“Barring any unforeseen circumstance, from next week, consumers will begin to feel the easing of the load shedding and by Christmas, but again, subject to any unforeseen circumstances, load shedding should be at the barest minimum if it exist at all.

“It may not exist as at Christmas or as at the end of the month. But the caveat is that, for example if the SPO trips, we'll have a challenge for the short period that we will have to bring it back."

But speaking on Joy FM's Newsfile programme, the last edition for the year, the Communications Minister says it is impossible for dumsor to end by next week.

Answering a question from the former General Secretary of the New Patriotic Party Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie about whether the Power Minister's assurance should be taken seriously, the Communications Minister said per the arrangement in place it is impossible for dumsor to end by next week.

- See more at: http://myjoyonline.com/news/2015/December-12th/it-is-impossible-to-end-dumsor-next-week-omane-boamah-contradicts-power-minister.php#sthash.76eUx3wK.dpuf
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Gambia declared Islamic republic by President Yahya Jammeh

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has declared his Muslim-majority country an Islamic republic, saying the move marks a break with the colonial past.

Mr Jammeh told state TV the proclamation was in line with Gambia's "religious identity and values".

He added that no dress code would be imposed and citizens of other faiths would be allowed to practise freely.

Some 90% of Gambians are Muslim. The former British colony's economy relies heavily on tourism.

However, relations with the West have soured recently.

The European Union temporarily withheld aid money to Gambia last year over its poor human rights record.

Mr Jammeh has been president of the tiny West African country for 21 years.

"As Muslims are the majority in the country, the Gambia cannot afford to continue the colonial legacy," Mr Jammeh told state TV, explaining his decision to proclaim an Islamic republic.

Other Islamic republics include Iran, Pakistan and - in Africa, Mauritania.

Mr Jammeh withdrew Gambia from the Commonwealth in 2013, describing the organisation as neo-colonial.

In 2007, he claimed to have found a herbal cure for Aids.

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-35082343

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Burundi crisis: Army says 87 killed in day of violence

Eighty-seven people were killed in violence that broke out after three military sites were attacked in Burundi on Friday, the army says.

Eight of those who died were security officers and 49 people were captured, Col Gaspard Baratuza said.

Residents in the capital earlier said the bodies of some 34 men were found on the streets - and accused police of taking revenge. It is not clear if that number is included in the army's total.

Unrest has hit Burundi since April.

There have been continued protests since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his decision to seek a third term in office, which he won in a disputed election in July.

Friday saw some of the worst violence since the unrest began. Officials described heavily armed attackers launching co-ordinated early morning assaults on army installations in three areas - Ngagara, Musaga and Mujejuru.

Fighting could then be heard throughout the day and sporadic gunfire continued overnight.

Residents said dozens of men were rounded up as their homes were raided, and many of their bodies were found on the streets of the capital on Saturday morning.

The largest number of bodies were found in Nyakabiga district, a focus of anti-government protests. Others were discovered in the southern neighbourhood of Musaga.

One witness told the AFP news agency that some of the victims were "kids" and had been shot execution-style "through the top of the skull".

BBC Africa analyst Richard Hamilton says bodies on the streets are almost a daily occurrence in Bujumbura but this was by far the largest number of deaths in one night.

Col Gaspard Baratuza, giving details of the final toll, said that "79 enemies" were killed, "45 captured and 97 weapons seized and on our side eight soldiers and policemen were killed and 21 wounded".

According to the UN, at least 240 people have been killed since April and more than 200,000 have fled to neighbouring countries.

There have been regular killings of both opposition activists and Nkurunziza supporters.

The violence has raised fears of a return to worsening ethnic tension between Hutus and Tutsis.

Mr Nkurunziza led a Hutu rebel group against the then Tutsi-dominated army during the civil war that followed the killing of Hutu President Melchior Ndadaye in 1993.


Timeline - Burundi crisis

April 2015 - Protests erupt after President Pierre Nkurunziza announces he will seek a third term in office.

May 2015 - Constitutional court rules in favour of Mr Nkurunziza, amid reports of judges being intimidated. Tens of thousands flee violence amid protests.

May 2015 - Army officers launch a coup attempt, which fails.

July 2015 - Elections are held, with Mr Nkurunziza re-elected. The polls are disputed, with opposition leader Agathon Rwasa describing them as a "joke".

November 2015 - Burundi government gives those opposing President Nkurunziza's third term five days to surrender their weapons ahead of a promised crackdown.

November 2015 - UN warns it is less equipped to deal with violence in Burundi than it was for the Rwandan genocide

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-35083823

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