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Battle rages around Tripoli, thousands displaced

Dozens of people have been killed and more than 300 wounded over the last eight days

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A smoke plume rising from an air strike behind a tank and technicals belonging to forces loyal to Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA)

Forces answering to Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar battled units that back Tripoli’s unity government on the edge of the capital Friday, days into a new round of conflict that has killed dozens and displaced thousands.

Gunfire and blasts rang out and smoke rose as forces backing the fragile UN-backed government of Fayez al-Sarraj attempted to block an offensive by Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA).

Dozens of people have been killed and more than 300 wounded over the last eight days, the World Health Organization said on Friday.

The United Nations said the fighting had driven 8,000 people from their homes and that “displacements from areas affected by the clashes in and around Tripoli continue to surge”.

“Many families remain stranded inside conflict-affected areas,” with supplies running short, UN spokesman Rheal Leblanc told reporters in Geneva.

French authorities said Friday they were in touch with all parties to Libya’s conflict.

But they did not confirm a report in Italy’s La Repubblica, citing a source at the French presidency, saying Haftar had sent envoys to Paris several hours before he launched his offensive on Tripoli on April 4.

“Like our partners, we talk to all parties in the Libya conflict, in order to obtain a ceasefire”, said Agnes von der Muhll, a spokesperson for France’s foreign ministry.

“We were not warned about the offensive on Tripoli, which we condemned when it was launched,” she said.

The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord on Friday expressed “hope” that the UN will act to halt Haftar’s offensive.

“We hope that the UN Security Council succeeds in stopping the force that is attacking the capital and convinces countries that are supporting it to change their positions”, the GNA’s foreign minister Tahar Siala told reporters on Friday.

“We want a political, not a military, intervention,” he added.

Air raids, black smoke

The LNA and Haftar refuse to recognise the authority of Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA).

Haftar, a former military commander under toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi who later lived in the United States, has the support of key Gulf Arab states, Egypt and Russia.

His forces swept from their eastern stronghold through Libya’s sparsely populated desert, including parts of the south, before announcing their assault on to Tripoli.

Haftar’s men were fighting GNA troops in the southern suburbs of the capital Friday, particularly in Ain Zara, Wadi Rabi and al-Swani, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the city centre.

AFP journalists saw an air raid in Wadi Rabi, while other witnesses reported another air strike in Tajoura, in the eastern suburbs of the capital, apparently targeting a military academy.

“A column of smoke was rising from this site into the sky,” witnesses said.

Anti-aircraft fire was also heard in the region, near the capital’s Mitiga airport which was hit by the LNA in an air strike on Tuesday.

An air strike Friday targeted an “empty and unused” barracks south of Zouara, near the Tunisian border, about 100 kilometre west of Tripoli, a security source said.

The strike did not cause casualties, the source said, attributing the attack to Haftar.

Migrants repatriated

The United Nations had vowed to push on with a planned national conference set to begin Sunday to draw up a roadmap to elections, but has postponed it as the fighting escalated.

The long-mooted polls are meant to turn the page on years of turmoil that have engulfed the country since Kadhafi was deposed in 2011.

World powers, the UN and NATO have called for calm in Libya, but the clashes have shown no sign of abating.

Libya has long been a major transit country for migrants desperate to reach Europe via the Mediterranean, with many held under abject conditions in detention centres.

International aid groups have warned migrants could be used as human shields or forcibly recruited to fight.

The International Organization for Migration said Friday it had flown 160 migrants to Mali — with some destined to return to the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso — late Thursday.

“We continue to support a safe and dignified return for migrants to their home countries,” said Othman Belbeisi, IOM Libya chief of mission, in a statement.

“Our teams are working around the clock to provide much needed humanitarian support in Tripoli and across Libya.”

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North Africa

Sudanese Muslim cleric slams new women’s football league

Cleric Abdel Hay Youssef claims Islam prohibits women from playing football

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Sudanese Muslim cleric slams new women's football league
A picture taken on October 11, 2019 shows Sudanese hardline cleric Abdel Hay Youssef after Friday prayers at a mosque in Gabra neighborhood in the south of the capital Khartoum. - Crowds of Sudanese rallied after Friday prayers in support of the Islamist cleric who has slammed the new female sports minister Wala Essam for holding the country's first ever women's football league. (Photo by Ebrahim HAMID / AFP)

Crowds rallied after Friday prayers in support of a hardline Islamist cleric who has slammed Sudan’s new female sports minister for backing the country’s first-ever women’s football league.

Sudan’s women’s football league held its first match on September 30 in the presence of the Minister of Sports Wala Essam and several foreign diplomats.

“We will give special attention to women’s sport and women’s football,”  Essam said at that time.

Cleric Abdel Hay Youssef, known for his fiery speeches and for backing ousted Islamist ruler Omar al-Bashir, claims Islam prohibits women from playing football and has harshly criticised Essam for supporting the game.

Youssef supporters rallied outside a mosque in south Khartoum where the cleric preaches, chanting slogans of support for him, a correspondent said.

“We are with you Abdel Hay Youssef,” chanted the crowds, a correspondent said.

Some even called the cleric “Amir al-Muminin” (Arabic for “Commander of the Faithful)”.

According to media reports, Youssef had links with Al-Qaeda and financed and trained fighters of the Islamic State group in Libya. He has denied these accusations.

Women’s football has faced an uphill fight in Sudan since the country adopted Islamic sharia law in 1983, six years before Bashir had seized power in an Islamist-backed coup.

Bashir was ousted by the army in a palace coup on April 11 on the back of nationwide protests against his iron-fisted rule of three decades.

Islamist parties stayed on the sidelines during the protests while women played a central role.

A new joint civilian-military ruling body, called the sovereign council, is governing the country for a transition period of 39 months.

The launch of a women’s football league came amid expectations that the transition period will see liberal policies implemented in Sudan, including measures to promote freedom of speech, women’s rights, sport and arts.

Last year, Saudi Arabia allowed women to attend a football match for the first time ever in the conservative Muslim-ruled kingdom.

And on Thursday, women attended a football match for the first time in decades in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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Eight years on from the Arab Spring Tunisia looks back

Ahead of Sunday’s presidential runoff vote, here is a recap of key developments in Tunisia since its 2011 revolution.

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Ahead of Sunday’s presidential runoff vote, here is a recap of key developments in Tunisia since its 2011 revolution.

President flees 

Demonstrations erupt in central Tunisia in December 2010 after the self-immolation of a fruit seller protesting police harassment and unemployment.

After weeks of unrest in which 338 people are killed, dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali flees in January 2011, ending 23 years in power. 

He is the first leader to be toppled by the Arab Spring, which spreads through the region like wildfire.

Read Also: Tunisia prepares for Arab League Summit with high hopes

 Victory for Islamists 

In October 2011, Tunisia’s first free election sees Islamist group Ennahda win 89 of 217 seats in a new constituent assembly. 

The assembly elects former opposition leader Moncef Marzouki as president in December. Hamadi Jebali, Ennahda’s number two, is charged with forming a government.

Attacks

In April 2012, police clash with thousands of jobless protesters in the southwestern mining belt.

More violent demonstrations follow in June and August, and jihadists stage attacks.

In September, hundreds of demonstrators attack the US embassy, in protest at an online US-made film that mocked Islam.

A series of strikes and demonstrations affect industry, public services, transport and business, with unrest mostly in the economically marginalised interior.

Opposition leaders killed 

In February 2013, prominent leftist opposition leader Chokri Belaid was assassinated in Tunis, four month later In July, fellow leftist Mohamed Brahmi is also shot dead.

Islamic State (IS) group claim both killings.

Democratic transition 

In January 2014, a new constitution is adopted, a year later than planned. A government of technocrats is formed and Islamists withdraw from power. In October, the secular Nidaa Tounes party led by Beji Caid Essebsi comes top in parliamentary polls and forms a coalition with Ennahda. Two months later, Essebsi wins Tunisia’s first free presidential election.

String of attacks 

In 2015, Tunisia suffers three attacks claimed by IS militants.

The attacks left 72 dead, mostly foreign tourists and security personnel, including at the Bardo Museum in Tunis and a coastal resort.

In 2016, jihadists attack security installations in a town on the Libyan border, killing 13 members of the security services and seven civilians.

Fresh protests 

In January 2016, a new wave of protests erupted after the death of a young unemployed man in a demonstration.

In May, the International Monetary Fund green lights a new four-year loan of $2.9 billion.

In January 2018, protests erupt after an austerity budget takes effect.

Political instability 

Essebsi in September announces the end of his party’s alliance with Ennahda, which had been part of a unity government since 2016. In July 2019, the ailing Essebsi dies aged 92, months before the end of his term.

In August a newcomer to the political arena who is running for president in elections set for the following month, Nabil Karoui, is arrested on charges of money laundering.

He nonetheless comes second in the first round of the vote in September, with nearly 16 percent behind independent law professor Kais Saied who has 18 percent.

In legislative elections on October 6, Ennahda takes the most seats — 52 out of 217 — but far short of the 109 needed to govern.

In a further twist, Karoui is released from jail on October 9, days ahead of the presidential runoff vote.

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Sudan appoints first female as head of judiciary

Her appointment comes weeks after Asma Mohamed Abdalla was appointed as the country’s first-ever female foreign minister

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Sudan appoints first female as head of judiciary

Sudan’s ruling body on Thursday appointed two top judicial officials, including the country’s first-ever female chief of the judiciary, state media reported.

Veteran Supreme Court judge Neemat Abdullah Kheir was appointed as chief of the judiciary by the 11-member ruling sovereign council, the official SUNA news agency reported.

The sovereign council also appointed Taj Al-Sir Ali as the country’s new prosecutor general.

Kheir’s appointment is seen to be in line with the transitional authorities’ aim to achieve gender balance given that Sudanese women were at the forefront of the uprising that led to the ouster of autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April.

Her appointment comes weeks after Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok appointed Asma Mohamed Abdalla, a seasoned diplomat, as the country’s first-ever female foreign minister.

On Thursday, the sovereign council also extended by three months the nationwide state of emergency, which had been imposed by Bashir on February 22.

Bashir had imposed the emergency law as a last-ditch effort to crush the protest movement that had swelled against his iron-fisted rule of three decades.

The extended state of emergency comes into effect on Friday.

Protests erupted against Bashir’s rule in December after his then government tripled the price of bread.

The protests swiftly escalated into a nationwide movement against his rule that finally saw the army ousting him on April 11.

The protests then continued against a military council of generals that seized power after ousting him.

Later in August, Sudan swore in the joint civilian-military sovereign council, marking the first time that the country was not under full military rule since Bashir came to power in a 1989 coup.

The sovereign council also includes two women members, including a member of Sudan’s Christian minority.

The council is tasked with overseeing the country’s overall transition to a civilian rule, the key demand of the protest movement.

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