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3 women of Bissau-Guinean descent become first black women in Portuguese parliament3 minutes read

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Black women of Guinea-Bissauan descent become members of parliament in Portugal
Portuguese MP Joacine Katar Moreira arrives to the swearing-in ceremony of the new government at Ajuda palace in Lisbon on October 26, 2019. (Photo by CARLOS COSTA / AFP)

Members of Portugal’s new parliament took up office on Friday, among them the country’s first black women lawmakers who campaigned on promises to fight racism and inequality.

The three women, who all trace their origins to Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony in West Africa, won office in the October 6 general election when Prime Minister Antonio Costa’s Socialists were re-elected but without an absolute majority.

A total of 89 women were elected — an unprecedented number in the 230-seat parliament — following a new gender parity law requiring that 40 per cent of elected lawmakers are female. 

Portugal has a significant minority population from its former African colonies in Angola, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, Guinea Bissau, and Cape Verde as well as Brazil.

Campaigners complain of discrimination in areas ranging from education to housing, employment to the justice system and of a shortage of black faces in business, the media and politics, although progress has been made in recent years.

General view of the Portuguese parliament building in Lisbon on October 25, 2019. (Photo by CARLOS COSTA / AFP)

After taking office in 2015, Costa, who is of Indian descent, nominated Portugal’s first black cabinet minister, appointing Francisca Van Dunem, who was born in Angola, as justice minister. 

She is keeping the post in Costa’s new cabinet which will be sworn in on Saturday.

The best known of the newcomers is Joacine Katar Moreira, 37, an anti-racism activist who moved to Portugal from Guinea-Bissau when she was just eight and headed a list of upstart eco-socialist party LIVRE, or “FREE”, winning the new formation’s first and only seat in parliament.

Read: Guinea Bissau president appoints Prime Minister

The others are Romualda Fernandes, a 65-year-old lawyer and migration expert who won a seat representing the Socialists and Beatriz Gomes Dias, 48, the president of anti-racism association Djass, who ran with the far-left Left Bloc party.

Djass has proposed a memorial honouring the millions of African slaves which Portuguese ships transported to the Americas. The project has become a lightning rod for debate about the country’s colonial past.

Portuguese Justice minister Francisca Van Dunem smiles during the swearing-in ceremony of the new government at Ajuda palace in Lisbon on October 26, 2019. (Photo by CARLOS COSTA / AFP)

Up until now the only black person to serve as a member of parliament since Portugal returned to democracy in 1974 was a man — Helder Amaral who represented the conservative CDS party between 2002 and 2019.

Moreira, who became a Portuguese national in 2003, vowed during her victory speech to become the voice of “anti-racism” and “leftwing radical feminism” in parliament.

Thousands of people have signed an online petition demanding that she not be allowed to take up her seat because, at her victory celebration, several people were seen waving flags from Guinea-Bissau instead of Portugal.

“This has always been a war for people like me,” Moreira tweeted in response to the petition.

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North Africa Politics

Algeria recalls its ambassador in France over airing of films on protests

Algeria’s interior ministry said films including two broadcast on Tuesday, while “seemingly spontaneous and under the pretext of freedom of expression, are in fact attacks on the Algerian people and its institutions” including the army.

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Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune

Algeria plans to “immediately” recall its ambassador from France for consultations after documentaries about the North African country’s anti-government protest movement were aired on French public television, officials said Wednesday. 

The interior ministry said films including two broadcast on Tuesday, while “seemingly spontaneous and under the pretext of freedom of expression, are in fact attacks on the Algerian people and its institutions” including the army.

Citing the “recurrent character” of such programmes on French public TV, it singled out two documentaries broadcast on Tuesday by France 5 and the former colonial power’s Parliamentary Channel.

Unprecedented mass protests rocked Algeria early last year to demand the departure of veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, sparked by the ailing 82-year-old’s announcement that he would stand for a fifth term.

In April 2019 he resigned, and in December, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected on an official turnout of less than 40 percent. Analysts say participation was considerably lower. 

Mass protests against the ruling system only halted when the novel coronavirus arrived in Algeria earlier this year.

Despite the movement suspending demonstrations since mid-March, a crackdown has continued against regime opponents and independent media.

– ‘Malicious and lasting intentions’ –

The films cited by the Algerian ministry had sparked fierce debates on social media. 

“Algeria, my love”, aired by France 5, told the story of the Hirak protest movement through the eyes of five Algerians in their 20s from across the country. 

Directed by French journalist of Algerian origin Mustapha Kessous, it broke with a number of taboos and highlighted sociocultural divisions driving the movement, triggering heated discussion on social networks.

The second film, “Algeria: the Promises of the Dawn” was broadcast on France’s Parliamentary Channel.

In its statement, the Algerian ministry cited what it said were “malicious and lasting intentions on the part of certain circles, which do not wish to see peaceful relations between Algeria and France after 58 years of independence”.

France Televisions, which owns France 5, declined to comment on the Algerian announcement on Wednesday evening.

France and Algeria have often had tense ties since Algeria won independence in 1962 after eight years of war.

In early April, the French ambassador to Algeria, Xavier Driencourt, was summoned to the foreign ministry after statements on the France 24 satellite news channel about Chinese medical aid.

Earlier in the year, Tebboune had called for “mutual respect” in Franco-Algerian relations, saying his country “will not accept any interference or tutelage” from abroad.

He was referring to statements made by French President Emmanuel Macron early on in the Hirak protest movement, calling for “a transition of reasonable duration” — remarks seen by Algiers as “interference” in its internal affairs.

In recent weeks, the Algerian government has repeatedly blamed “foreign” NGOs for influencing Algerian media outlets aiming to damage state institutions.

Last month, authorities blocked three news websites that had covered the protests.

Algeria ranks 146 out of 180 countries on RSF’s world press freedom index for 2020.

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East Africa Politics News

“I have not killed any Tutsis”, Rwandan genocide suspect Kabuga tells court

“Since 1994, Felicien Kabuga, known to have been the financier of Rwanda genocide, had with impunity stayed in Germany, Belgium, Congo-Kinshasa, Kenya, or Switzerland,” a French justice ministry statement said.

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A wanted poster with a photograph of Felicien Kabuga is displayed at the French Gendarmerie's Central Office for Combating Crimes Against Humanity, Genocides and War Crimes (OCLCH) in Paris on May 19, 2020. © Benoît Tessier, REUTERS

Arrested Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga has told a French court that the international charges against him are lies, affirming his innocence at the resumed hearing on Wednesday.

Asked if he understood the charges made against him by a United Nations tribunal, Kabuga dismissed the chargesheet as full of “lies”.

“All of this is lies. I have not killed any Tutsis. I was working with them”, Kabuga told the court through an interpreter.

Kabuga, who was arrested near Paris earlier this month after more than two decades on the run, is accused of financing and arming the ethnic Hutu militia that slaughtered over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994.

France has not disclosed when and how Kabuga who had a $5m US reward on his head, entered France.

“Since 1994, Felicien Kabuga, accused of being a financier of Rwandan genocide, had stayed in Germany, Belgium, Congo-Kinshasa, Kenya, or Switzerland,” a French justice ministry statement said.

His ability to hide to evade an international manhunt for more than 20 years has raised questions over whether he had accomplices in foreign countries.

“It is difficult to imagine he could have escaped into French territory without the help of accomplices in such places,” Patrick Baudoin of the International Federation for Human Rights said.

The International Federation for Human Rights has supported survivors in the prosecution of other Rwandan genocide suspects living in France.

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Health

Algeria insists on hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19 treatment

WHO said on Monday it had temporarily suspended clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for coronavirus.

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Algeria has disclosed plans to continue the use of hydroxychloroquine in tackling the coronavirus, despite the discouragement by the World Health Organization that has suspended clinical trials of such treatments following a study which showed that the drug caused more harm than good.

“We’ve treated thousands of cases with this medicine, very successfully so far,” said Mohamed Bekkat, a member of the scientific committee on the North African country’s Covid-19 outbreak. 

“We haven’t noted any undesirable reactions,” he said.

Bekkat, who is also head of the Order of Algerian Doctors, said the country had not registered any deaths caused by hydroxychloroquine.

“For confirmed cases, we use hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. Then there is a whole protocol for serious cases,” a health ministry official said on Monday.

Bekkat’s comments came days after medical journal The Lancet published a study of nearly 100,000 coronavirus patients, showing no benefit in those treated with the drug, which is normally used against arthritis.

The study found that administering the medicine or, separately, the related anti-malarial chloroquine, actually increased Covid-19 patients’ risk of dying.

The World Health Organization said on Monday it had temporarily suspended clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for coronavirus, following the Lancet study.

Bekkat argued that the Lancet study had led to “confusion” as it “seems to concern serious cases in which hydroxychloroquine is of no help”.

“There is evidence that the use of chloroquine by some Arab and African countries has proven to be effective when used early,” he explained.  

Public figures including US President Donald Trump have backed the drug as a virus treatment, prompting governments to bulk buy — despite several studies showing it to be ineffective and even increasing COVID-19 hospital deaths.

Algeria’s coronavirus outbreak is one of the worst in Africa, with a total of 8,503 cases and 609 deaths officially recorded since February 25.

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