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Students in Algeria protest against army chief1 min read

Military chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah has emerged as a de facto strongman after replacing ousted leader, Abdelaziz Bouteflika

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Students in Algeria students protest against army chief
Algerian students march with a banner during a weekly demonstration in the capital Algiers on May 28, 2019. - Algerian media said Monday there was very little chance a presidential election will be held as planned on July 4, after only two candidates -both little known- submitted their candidacies. (Photo by RYAD KRAMDI / AFP)

Thousands of Algerian students and teachers took to the streets of Algiers chanting slogans against the armed forces’ chief currently ruling the country and plans for an election in July.

Protesters are keeping up the pressure on the ruling elite with demands for more sweeping changes in the country nearly two months after veteran president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned.

Military chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah has emerged as a de facto strongman after easing his former boss from power but demonstrators insist he and other Bouteflika-era stalwarts must go before a new presidential poll can be held.

“No elections, mafia gangs,” shouted the crowds as they marched peacefully through Algiers in the face of heavy police deployment.

The latest protests came as Gaid Salah called for “mutual concessions” between the country’s interim leaders and those taking to the streets.

Gaid Salah has repeatedly called for a constitutional solution through a July 4 presidential election.

But only two little-known figures submitted their candidacies on time for the disputed poll, raising doubts about plans to stage it.

Algeria has been rocked by months of protests since the ailing Bouteflika announced in February that he would run for a fifth term.

He quit office but protesters have kept up mass demonstrations calling for an overhaul of the “system” and departure of key Bouteflika-era figures.

Under the constitution, interim president Abdelkader Bensalah has 90 days to organise a presidential election from the date of his appointment on April 9.

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Libya airstrike leaves about 7 dead, 30 wounded

At least seven civilians were killed, most of them foreign workers, and 30 wounded in an airstrike on Monday

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Libya airstrike leaves about 7 dead, 30 wounded
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / This picture taken on November 18, 2019 shows the aftermath of a reported air strike on a factory south of the Libyan capital Tripoli where several people were killed according to a spokesman of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

At least seven civilians were killed, most of them foreign workers, and 30 wounded in an airstrike on Monday that hit a biscuit factory in southern Tripoli, Libya’s health ministry said.

Ministry spokesman Amin al-Hachemi told reporters that two Libyans and nationals from Bangladesh, Egypt and Niger died when the factory in Wadi Rabi took a direct hit, with foreign workers also accounting for the 30 wounded.

The suburb has been at the centre of an assault launched in April by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces to wrest control of the capital from fighters loyal to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).

Libya airstrike leaves about 7 dead, 30 wounded
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / This picture taken on November 18, 2019 shows the aftermath of a reported air strike on a factory south of the Libyan capital Tripoli where several people were killed according to a spokesman of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

Pro-GNA forces, on their Facebook page, charged that the raid was carried out by United Arab Emirates drones in support of Haftar, from whose camp there was no immediate reaction.

The military strongman is backed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, while Turkey and Qatar back his rival, the United Nations-recognised GNA.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

The battle for Tripoli, which has come to a standstill on the ground after initial advances by Haftar’s forces, has killed more than 1,000 people and displaced about 120,000 others, according to the UN.

The United States last week urged Haftar to call off his offensive and accused Russia of working to exploit Libya’s latest conflict.

“The United States calls on the ‘Libyan National Army’ to end its offensive on Tripoli,” a joint statement said after a GNA delegation held talks in Washington, referring to Haftar’s self-styled LNA.

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / This picture taken on November 18, 2019 in the Libyan town of Tajura, about 14 kilometres east of the capital Tripoli, shows the bodies of victims who were killed a reported air strike at a location south of Tripoli according to a spokesman of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

“This will facilitate further US-Libya cooperation to prevent undue foreign interference, reinforce legitimate state authority and address the issues underlying the conflict,” the statement added.

The US also “underscored support for Libya’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s attempts to exploit the conflict against the will of the Libyan people”.

Western powers have sent mixed signals, with France and Italy welcoming Haftar for visits and US President Donald Trump earlier this year hailing his role in “fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources”.

But the US has since distanced itself from the field marshal and joined calls for a ceasefire.

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Sudanese hope Ethiopian dam ends Blue Nile floods

This year alone, flash flooding has killed more than 60 and injured dozens in Sudan

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The Blue Nile is a renegade river, according to Sudanese farmer Osman Idris, its unpredictable flooding swallows crops and houses as it crashes through Sudan from Ethiopia on its way to Egypt.

“Tonight, the level of water will be low,” said Idris, a resident of Juref Gharb, a small village on the bank of the Blue Nile outside Khartoum.

“Tomorrow, it will swallow all the houses… It’s a renegade river, it rises so fast,” said the 60-year-old, dressed in a traditional Sudanese robe.

For Idris, Ethiopia’s construction of a controversial dam on the Blue Nile is a dream come true, as it promises to regulate the floods that inundate Sudan every rainy season.

This year alone, flash flooding has killed more than 60 and injured dozens in Sudan. 

The Blue Nile joins the White Nile in Khartoum and supplies the overwhelming majority of the Nile’s water, which runs through Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea.

Construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam began in 2012, but since then Egypt has sounded the alarm that the project would severely reduce its water supplies. 

Egypt depends on the Nile for about 90 per cent of its irrigation and drinking water and says it has “historic rights” to the river guaranteed by treaties from 1929 and 1959.

It sees the project as an existential threat, fearing Ethiopia’s rapid construction of the dam might lead to water and food scarcity for millions of Egyptians.

More cash crops 

After several rounds of talks failed to resolve the issue, a new dialogue between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan was mediated by the United States in Washington earlier this month.

The three delegations agreed to resolve the dispute by January 15, with ministerial-level talks being held this week in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia insists the $4 billion hydro-electric barrage is essential for its economic growth given that most of its population still lives without electricity.

And in Sudan, farmers hope the dam will provide predictable flow.

Over the years, farmers like Idris who own farms along the Nile have been forced to change their crops due to flood devastation and tonnes of deposited silt.

Brickmakers fire blocks of mud in riverside kilns, producing smoke harmful to crops.

“I had to shift from cultivating fruits and vegetables to animal feed,” Idris told reporters.

Being reliant on flooding for irrigation means only one harvest per year and limits the kind of crops that can be grown.

If the river’s flow were regulated, more intensive agriculture could be practised, Idris said.

“We can plant crops throughout the year. It will be better for the environment and for marketing our products, which means more income for us,” Idris said.

Ekram Dagash, a professor at Khartoum’s Al-Zaiem Al-Azhari University, agreed that Sudan stands to gain from the dam, which will maintain water levels and block unwanted silt.

“Ethiopia is building the dam for one reason only, to produce electricity and export it, not only to neighbouring countries but to the whole African continent,” she told reporters.

Worried brickmakers 

But one group of Sudanese are concerned about the dam: brickmakers, who depend on the silt for their livelihood.

Dozens of small kilns line the river, providing an income for hundreds of brickmakers like Yakoub Noreen.

“If the dam is built, this won’t arrive,” the 40-year-old said of the silt he was standing in, as he pressed wet clay into a mould. 

Nearby, workers stacked bricks into a kiln belching thick smoke. Later they will be sold for 1,500 Sudanese pounds ($32) per 1,000 bricks, Noreen said.

Professor Dagash said workers can be compensated and provided alternative livelihoods if brickworks close, adding that benefits from the dam outweighed such losses.

Vast areas of land would open up for agriculture as well as industrial projects, she said.

“The dam will provide Sudan with low-cost electricity… and low-cost electricity means more growth,” she said.

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Supporters of Sudan’s Bashir oppose handover to ICC

Supporters of ousted Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir held a protest Saturday vowing to oppose any move by the country’s new authorities to hand him over to the International Criminal Court

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Supporters of ousted Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir held a protest Saturday vowing to oppose any move by the country’s new authorities to hand him over to the International Criminal Court.

Dozens of his supporters, carrying Bashir’s portrait, gathered outside the Khartoum court where he is being tried on charges of illegally acquiring and using foreign funds.

“We are with you. We will never betray you. No, no to ICC,” chanted the crowd as the former president was brought to the courthouse for a hearing.

The demonstration comes amid growing calls from human rights groups, activists and victims of Sudan’s Darfur war for the surrender of Bashir to The Hague-based court.

“President Bashir represents the whole of Sudan. We have an independent judiciary and if any trials are to be held, they must be held here,” said protester Mohamed Ali Daklai.

“We reject any outside or foreign tribunal. ICC is anyway a political court used by Western countries to pressure the weak.”

Bashir was ousted by the army on April 11 following nationwide protests against his iron-fisted rule of three decades.

The military generals who initially seized power after the president’s fall refused to hand Bashir over to the ICC.

He is wanted by the ICC for his alleged role in the Darfur war that erupted in 2003 as ethnic African rebels took up arms against Bashir’s then Arab-dominated government, accusing it of marginalizing the region economically and politically.

Khartoum applied what rights groups say was a scorched earth policy against ethnic groups suspected of supporting the rebels — raping, killing, looting and burning villages.

The ICC has accused Bashir of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the vast western region of Darfur. He denies the charges.

About 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million displaced in the conflict, according to the United Nations.

Bashir, who ruled Sudan for three decades after seizing power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989, is being held in a Khartoum prison and facing trial on corruption charges.

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