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Haiti revives army, raising fears of political crackdown

Author: 
AFP
Thu, 2017-07-13 04:35
ID: 
1499964772395932400

PORT-AU-PRINCE: After two decades with no army, Haiti has announced plans to rebuild its military to handle disasters and smuggling, though some fear the force could return to misdeeds, and be a tool of oppression.
The poorest country in the Americas has announced an initial recruitment of 500 men and women aged 18-25, invoking the need to “reclaim national sovereignty,” as a 13-year UN peacekeeping mission, known as the blue helmets, comes to an end.
The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) was deployed in 2004 to stem violence following the sudden departure of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and is set to leave in October amid an improving security situation and a successful electoral process after two years of political turmoil.
It will leave behind a residual training force of international police officers.
“The departure of the blue helmets is a challenge, but it is something we have planned for,” Defense Minister Herve Denis told AFP.
The government says it plans to deploy troops along the border with the Dominican Republic in the fight against smuggling, and in regions hit by natural disasters.
Denis added it will also wage war on terrorists: “Even if there isn’t a high threat-level, we still have regional responsibilities,” said Denis, while recognizing that, for the time being, the chronically unstable country is not being threatened by any external enemies.
Re-forming an army is merely a requirement of the country’s Constitution, which calls for a military alongside the police, Denis said, but added he prefers to use the term “defense and security force.”
“I want people to understand that it’s a new kind of institution that we want to create, one which is with the country in its quest toward development,” he said.
A major part of that rebranding effort is the institution’s checkered past.
Haiti’s armed forces were dissolved in 1995 by then-President Aristide, who was ousted in a military coup seven months after he took power in 1991 — bringing an end to decades of political interference and dozens of coups.
But the nation has a bloody history of brutal militias, which brought terror to the mountainous Caribbean nation under various leaders.
More than 20 years after the soldiers were sent home, the fresh recruitment drive is causing disquiet among civil society groups.
“There is no legal framework to define the missions of this army,” said Pierre Esperance, director of the National Network Defense of Human Rights. “Those in power want to create a political militia or a paramilitary group, not an army.”
With Haiti’s total national budget just $2.2 billion — the cost of the force, which will eventually count between 3,000 and 5,000 staff, has been questioned by local and foreign observers.
“It would be better if authorities concentrated their efforts on the national police force … who should be better equipped to do their job,” said Esperance.
The Haitian National Police was created in 1995 after the army disbanded. Its strength stands below 13,000, widely deemed insufficient for its population of 11 million.

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Malaysia says MH17 suspects to face charges could be known by year-end

Author: 
Reuters
Thu, 2017-07-13 13:01
ID: 
1499964335175872700

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia hopes that suspects in the July 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 to face charges in the Netherlands should be known by the end of the year, its transport minister, Liow Tiong Lai, said on Thursday.
The Boeing 777 was shot down over eastern Ukrainian territory held by pro-Russia separatists fighting Ukrainian government forces, by a Russian-made Buk missile, the Dutch Safety Board concluded in an October 2015 report.
All 298 people on board, most of them Dutch, were killed.
The Netherlands Foreign Ministry announced last week that any suspects identified in bringing down the aircraft will be tried in a Dutch court and under Dutch law.
“Hopefully end of the year or early next year, we can get a decision on who we can actually charge in court,” Liow told reporters at an MH17 memorial service in Putrajaya, Malaysia’s administrative capital on Thursday.
About 90 family members of 43 Malaysians killed in the crash attended the service, where they were briefed on the latest developments in the investigation.
A Dutch-led team of investigators from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, and Ukraine, concluded in September that the rocket was fired from territory in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatists.
That finding contradicts Russia’s suggestion that the aircraft was brought down by Ukraine’s military, not the separatists.
Authorities urged the people responsible for launching the Buk missile to come forward, Liow said, adding that the investigators’ conclusions were sound.
“We are confident that we will be able to identify the criminals responsible and that we will be able to bring them to court,” he said.
Md Salim Sarmo, 68, whose son was on board MH17, said he had been waiting for justice.
“We were told that it’s just a matter of time before they can be brought to justice … this is a decision that we’ve been waiting for,” he said.
Victims of the disaster came from 17 countries, including 196 Dutch citizens.

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Botswana risks China ties with visit from Dalai Lama

Author: 
AFP
Thu, 2017-07-13 15:10
ID: 
1499964291235861700

GABORONE, Botswana: The Dalai Lama will visit Botswana next month and meet with President Ian Khama in a trip likely to anger China, a key investor across Africa and its largest trade partner.
Beijing views the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist campaigning for Tibetan independence and consistently condemns foreign leaders who meet him.
Botswana “will be extending the normal courtesies for visiting dignitaries,” the government said Wednesday in a statement.
“His Excellency (President Khama) will meet the Dalai Lama when he is in Botswana.”
The Tibetan spiritual leader, who lives in exile in India, is due to make a public address at the three-day “Mind and Life Dialogue” conference in the Botswana capital Gaborone on Aug. 19.
Botswana’s neighbor South Africa has repeatedly denied the Dalai Lama a visa in an apparent attempt to further boost ties with China, drawing fierce criticism from archbishop Desmond Tutu and others.
China’s growing demand for raw materials has seen a rapid rise in trade with Africa.
The Chinese government has helped build coal-powered power plants, road networks, bridges and schools in Botswana, in some of its many infrastructure projects in Africa.
Many in the continent see Beijing as a counterbalance to the West, but the relationship has also raised accusations of neo-colonialism.
Botswana, one of the world’s largest diamond producers, has a population of just two million people and is known for its stable political scene.
A government spokesman declined to comment to AFP on any risk to relations with China.
The Dalai Lama says he seeks more autonomy for Tibet rather than outright independence.
“Botswana, I am really excited,” he said in a video clip on the conference website.
“I am looking forward to come there, to participate and in the meantime see my African brothers and sisters.”
The website, which offers tickets ranging from $25 to $500, said Khama would give the opening speech at the conference.
China has made no immediate comment on the visit.

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DR Congo must identify those behind Kasai massacres: UN official

Author: 
AFP
Thu, 2017-07-13 15:08
ID: 
1499964078115825600

KINSHASA: DR Congo must identify both senior army personnel and politicians behind the massacres in the volatile Kasai region, a top UN human rights official told AFP Thursday.
Jose-Maria Aranaz, the UN human rights director in the country, was speaking just a day the UN said another 38 suspected mass graves had been discovered in this central part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“With more than 80 mass graves identified … it is essential that the inquiry goes beyond those who physically did it and identifies command responsibilities at the military and political level,” said Aranaz.
Aranaz dismissed as “unconvincing” the suggestion that rogue elements of the security forces were responsible for the violence.
“We have to stop the killing,” he said.
The international community has voiced alarm over the violence, which has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people, according to statistics compiled by the Roman Catholic church.
The UN’s MONUSCO peacekeeping mission in the country had previously spoken of “more than 400 dead” while about 1.3 million people are thought to have fled their homes.
An investigative mission this month found the latest mass graves in the Diboko and Sumbula areas of the Kamonia territory, the UN said.
The violence began last year when a tribal chieftain known as the Kamwina Nsapu openly challenged the authority of President Joseph Kabila’s government.
That provoked a crackdown by security forces and the Kamwina Nsapu was killed in a police operation in August 2016.
His armed followers fight on and some believe that their leader is still alive because authorities failed to give his body appropriate funeral rites.
In February MONUSCO accused the Kamwina Nsapu militia of “atrocities … including the recruiting and use of child soldiers,” but also condemned “a disproportionate use of force” by government troops.
Two western experts sent to investigate the conflict by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres went missing in March. Their bodies were found in a shallow grave by peacekeepers a fortnight later.
The government blamed the tribal militia for their murders.
On Tuesday, the US urged the UN Security Council to punish those responsible for the flareup of violence. It also threatened sanctions against the Democratic Republic of Congo if elections are not held this year.
President Joseph Kabila’s mandate is due to end in December.

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South Sudan’s President Kiir sacks judges over strike

Author: 
Reuters
Thu, 2017-07-13 11:42
ID: 
1499959029515197500

JUBA: South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has sacked several judges who had been on strike over poor pay and living conditions for the last two months, officials said on Thursday.
The world’s youngest country plunged into civil war in 2013 just two years after gaining independence after Kiir fired his deputy, triggering a conflict fought largely along ethnic lines.
The conflict has slashed oil revenues and paralyzed agriculture. Civil servants and soldiers go unpaid for months and hyperinflation renders money almost worthless.
On Wednesday evening, Kiir issued a decree that dismissed a group of 12 judges who went on strike in a bid to force reform in the judicial system, Deputy Information Minister Akol Paul Kordit told Reuters.
“These judges who were supposed to deliver justice obstructed justice themselves. They denied our people justice for reasons that could be resolved through administrative channels,” he said.
The group comprised of appeals court judges who demanded that the chief justice resigned on grounds that he obstructed the judicial system, as well as more judges be appointed and promoted.
“These were the demands we put forward. Now the complainers have been sacked,” said Guri Raymondo, a spokesman for the judges’ union.
“We will seat down and hear from the general assembly what is the next step,” he told Reuters.
Junior judges receive a salary of 4,000 South Sudan pounds ($25) a month in the country of 12 million people, where a kilo of rice costs 130 pounds. There are 150 pounds to the dollar on the black market.
South Sudan had only 274 judges on its payroll in its last budget, some of whom have since resigned.
War in the country has forced more than a quarter of its entire population to flee their homes and plunged parts of it into famine, creating Africa’s biggest refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

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14 dead in twin Cameroon bombings

Author: 
AFP
Thu, 2017-07-13 12:09
ID: 
1499958977725184400

Yaoundé: Two bombers blew themselves up in northeastern Cameroon killing 14 people and injuring 30 people in an attack likely staged by Boko Haram militants, security sources said Thursday.
The bombings, which took place on Wednesday evening in Waza near the Nigerian border, targeted a busy area in the market town, the sources said.
The bombers struck an area with “restaurants, telephone cabins and kiosks,” a local official said.
“The town has been sealed off. Nobody can enter and nobody can leave,” the source said, adding that some of the wounded were in “quite serious” condition.
Though Boko Haram was born in Nigeria, the Daesh-affiliated group has carried out frequent attacks in Cameroon, Chad and Niger, prompting the formation of a regional force to fight back.
Cameroon’s Far North region, which borders Nigeria, has seen a resurgence in attacks blamed on Boko Haram after months of relative calm.
Six civilians were killed in mid-June in a double suicide attack in Kolofata, and two others died in Limani at the start of last month when a female bomber blew herself up near the town’s public school.
Some 200,000 Cameroonians from the Far North region have fled their homes in fear of the violence.
Meanwhile, 19 people have now been confirmed dead after four female suicide bombers detonated their explosives in Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria, police said.
Borno state police commissioner Damian Chukwu said the bombers had targeted mourners at a funeral ceremony in the suburb of Molai Kolemari on Tuesday night.
Most of the victims were from a vigilante group called the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), which assists the military in the hunt for Boko Haram.
“In all, 12 Civilian JTF members lost their lives with seven villagers and the four female suicide bombers, bringing the total number of deaths to 23,” said Chukwu.
Another 23 people were injured and taken to hospital for treatment, he added in a statement on Wednesday night.
Maiduguri is the capital of Borno state and has been repeatedly attacked during the eight-year Boko Haram insurgency, which has killed at least 20,000.
Women and young girls have increasingly been deployed as suicide bombers to hit crowded civilian “soft” targets such as mosques, markets and bus stations.

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Taiwan lawmakers go for the jugular in Parliament brawl

Author: 
AFP
Thu, 2017-07-13 12:43
ID: 
1499958940515173300

TAIPEI: Taiwanese lawmakers tried to choke each other and threw water bombs during a chaotic session at the island’s Parliament Thursday as the government of President Tsai Ing-wen pressed ahead with controversial reforms.
Female legislators from opposing camps had their hands on each other’s throats as a dozen colleagues pushed and shouted trying to separate them in the main chamber during a review of the budget for a major infrastructure project.
The opposition Kuomintang party is against the plan, saying it favors cities and counties faithful to Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and has been devised to secure support for the party ahead of next year’s regional elections.
The project includes light rail lines, flood control measures and green energy facilities.
Critics have also questioned whether the whopping Tw$420 billion ($14 billion) cost of the project is really worthwhile.
The morning review hearing was suspended following the brawl as Kuomintang lawmakers occupied the podium.
Lunch failed to calm tensions and the clashes continued into the afternoon when opposition lawmakers honked air horns and tried to throw balloons filled with water at Premier Lin Chuan.
One of the balloons flew near Lin and burst mid-air. He was forced to leave the chamber without delivering a report on the budget and the session was again abandoned.
The DPP condemned what it called the KMT’S “violent boycott” and demanded an apology.
“We call for rational discussions … to resolve differences,” it said in a statement.
Tsai has seen her popularity plummet to under 40 percent from nearly 70 percent when she took office in May last year as her government attempts to tackle a range of controversial issues from gay marriage to pension and judicial reforms.
Violent protests erupted outside the Parliament in April when opponents of pension reforms attacked politicians and scuffled with police, prompting Tsai to call for calm and restraint.
Parliament was also plunged into chaos late last year when opposing lawmakers brawled in the chamber, as labor activists set off smoke bombs outside in protest at proposed holiday cuts.

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Melania Trump tours French pediatric hospital

Author: 
AP
Thu, 2017-07-13 03:00
ID: 
1499934107512717000

PARIS: First Lady Melania Trump has arrived at France’s biggest pediatric hospital on her first engagement in the two-day French visit.
The sprawling Necker Hospital is one of Paris’ oldest and was founded in 1778. American artist Keith Haring gave a large, multicolored totem sculpture to the hospital in 1987, called “The Tower.”
Melania Trump is touring the hospital shortly after her arrival in France with President Donald Trump aboard Air Force One.
The first lady was greeted by senior Paris medical officials during the tour and later met with some of the hospital’s young patients.
President Donald Trump will be meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron (eh-mahn-yoo-EHL’ mah-KROHN’) as part of his visit to France for Bastille Day celebrations in Paris.
Trump arrived in Paris on Thursday morning, and was traveling to the US Ambassador’s residence and then attending a luncheon with US military leaders. He’s also expected to tour the museums at Les Invalides (lehz ahn-vah-leed) with Macron and then holding meetings with the French leader.
Trump and Macron are expected to discuss possible solutions to the crisis in Syria and counterterrorism.
The two leaders will appear later in the day for a joint news conference. Trump will be attending the Bastille Day celebrations on Friday before returning to the United States.
President Donald Trump and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron (eh-mahn-yoo-EHL’ mah-KROHN’), are looking to set aside differences on trade and climate change and find common ground as they meet ahead of Bastille Day celebrations in Paris.
Trump arrived in the French capital Thursday morning, hours before he meets with Macron to tackle potential solutions to the crisis in Syria and broader counterterrorism strategies.
Trump’s decision last month to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord sparked outrage across Europe and anti-Trump protests are planned while he is in Paris.
The leaders plan to hold a news conference after their talks. Trump may face tough questions about e-mails revealing that his eldest son welcomed the prospect of receiving Russian government support in last year’s presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton.

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Former Brazil leader Lula gets nearly 10 years in jail for graft

Author: 
AFP
Thu, 2017-07-13 10:58
ID: 
1499934107492716900

BRAZIL: Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison for graft in a stark fall from grace for the iconic leftist leader.
Lula, who ruled Brazil from 2003-2010, was convicted and handed a 9.5-year prison term on Wednesday for accepting a luxury seaside apartment and $1.1 million, the latest twist in a giant corruption probe engulfing Latin America’s largest economy.
But anti-corruption judge Sergio Moro said the 71-year-old Lula would remain free pending an appeal — something his lawyers immediately said they would lodge.
“We are appealing and will prove his innocence,” the lawyers said in a statement sent to AFP.
The conviction nevertheless landed a heavy blow on the prospect of Lula making a political comeback in presidential elections due in October next year.
The verdict also sent a dramatic message to much of Brazil’s political class that they, too, risked falling afoul of the anti-graft drive.
Even the current president, Michel Temer, has been charged with taking bribes and several of his ministers have resigned after corruption claims were made.
The sea change has come about because of Operation “Car Wash,” a sweeping probe looking into a giant embezzlement and kickbacks scheme involving state-owned oil group Petrobras, construction firms and several political parties — Lula’s Workers’ Party chief among them.

But while many Brazilians welcome the long-overdue clean-up, the uncertainty is hobbling their country’s struggle to exit from a historic recession.
The verdict against Lula “all but rules him out of the running for next year’s presidential election,” said Capital Economics, an economic analysis firm.
It said the court’s decision was “likely to give a near-term boost to Brazilian markets” as the likelihood waned of Lula, a former union leader, returning to power and quashing needed economic reforms championed by Temer.
Lula has repeatedly denied taking any bribes during or after his presidency.
He has described the investigation against him as a campaign to prevent his return to power.
The Workers’ Party called Lula’s conviction and sentence “an attack on democracy” and Brazil’s constitution, accusing the judge of bias.
Lula was “serene” upon receiving the news, though he felt “a natural indignation, like anyone convicted without proof,” said one of his lawyers, Cristiano Zanin Martins.
Another lawyer, Valeska Zanin Martins, added: “They want to leave Lula out of the presidential race, and Lula leads the polls.”
The conviction focused on allegations that Lula received the triplex apartment and cash as bribes from one of Brazil’s biggest construction companies, OAS.
The judge ordered that the apartment be confiscated.
“Between the crimes of corruption and money laundering, there are sufficient grounds for sentences totaling nine years and six months of incarceration,” Moro said in his verdict.

The sentence by Moro — whose wide popularity in Brazil for his anti-corruption work has prompted some to see him as a possible presidential candidate — fed into broader political ructions in Brazil.
Lula’s chosen successor, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached and booted from office last year, with Temer, her vice president, taking over.
Two weeks ago, Moro sentenced an influential minister in the Lula and Rousseff governments, Antonio Palocci, to 12 years in prison for corruption.
Palocci played a central role in the “Car Wash” scheme, most of which unfolded when Lula’s Workers’ Party was in power from 2003 to 2016.
Prosecutors said Palocci was a pointman in the flow of “bribes between the Odebrecht construction group and intermediaries of the Workers’ Party,” laundering more than $10 million used for party campaign finances.
Odebrecht, an industrial conglomerate with projects around the world, named Palocci “the Italian” in its list of code names for politicians regularly taking bribes in exchange for lucrative contracts with Petrobras and other favors.
The apartment bribe is one of five corruption cases stacked against Lula.
Others include allegations that Odebrecht gave $3.7 million to Lula so he could buy land to build the Lula Institution highlighting his political legacy, and that he received a kickback in Brazil’s purchase of Swedish warplanes.

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