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Sudanese ex-President Bashir admits receiving $90 million from Saudi royal4 min read

Bashir faces charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide from the International Criminal Court

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Sudanese ex-President Bashir got $90 million from Saudi royals -Investigator
Sudan's deposed military ruler Omar al-Bashir stands in a defendant's cage during the opening of his corruption trial in Khartoum on August 19, 2019. - Bashir has admitted to receiving $90 million in cash from Saudi monarchs, an investigator told a Khartoum court today. (Photo by Ebrahim HAMID / AFP)

Omar al-Bashir received $90 million in cash from Saudi royals, an investigator told a court at the opening Monday of the deposed Sudanese strongman’s corruption trial.

The former President, who was forced from power by months of protests in April after 30 years in power, sat in a metal cage wearing a traditional white gown.

His relatives chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) as proceedings got underway in the Khartoum court where he arrived in a huge military convoy.

Bashir faces a raft of charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide from the International Criminal Court over his role in the Darfur war but Monday’s trial is over graft allegations.

READ: Former president, Omar al-Bashir appears before a prosecutor

Large amounts of cash were found at this residence after he was toppled and the investigator said the case brought forward to the court probed some of that money.

“The accused told us that the money was part of a sum of $25 million sent to him by Prince Mohammed bin Salman to be used outside of the state budget,” investigator Ahmed Ali said.

According to him, Bashir had said he also received two previous payments of $35 million and $30 million from Saudi King Abdullah, who died in 2015.

“This money was not part of the state budget and I was the one who authorised its spending,” the investigator quoted Bashir as saying.

Sudan’s deposed military ruler Omar al-Bashir stands in a defendant’s cage during the opening of his corruption trial in Khartoum on August 19, 2019. (Photo by Ebrahim HAMID / AFP)

Bashir had said the Saudi money was exchanged and spent and that he could not remember how nor did he have documents providing further details, he added.

READ: Sudan to begin trial of former leader Bashir August 17

Bashir looked calm during the nearly three-hour session, which a photographer and correspondent attended. The next hearing was scheduled for August 24.

Darfur crimes –

In May, Sudan’s prosecutor general also said Bashir had been charged over killings during the anti-regime protests which eventually led to his ouster.

London-based rights watchdog, Amnesty International has warned, however, that the corruption trial should not distract from his Darfur indictments.

“While this trial is a positive step towards accountability for some of his alleged crimes, he remains wanted for heinous crimes committed against the Sudanese people,” Amnesty said.

Amnesty urged the country’s new transitional institutions to ratify the ICC’s Rome Statute, a move that would allow for his transfer to the international tribunal.

The Hague-based ICC has for years demanded that Bashir stand trial, and has renewed its call since his fall.

The head of Bashir’s defence team, Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir, said in July that the ousted leader’s trial had no “political background”.

“It is an absolute criminal case with a baseless accusation.”

It was the sudden tripling of bread prices in December that sparked the mushrooming protests which led to the toppling of Bashir by the army in April.

Sovereign Council –

The trial comes as the composition of the joint civilian and military sovereign council that will steer the country of 40 million through a 39-month transition was due to be unveiled on Monday.

The line-up had been expected to be announced on Sunday but it was delayed after one of the five nominees put forward by the opposition alliance representing protest leaders turned down the job.

READ: Sudanese leaders sign historic deal for civilian rule

Sudanese ex-President Bashir admits receiving $90 million from Saudi royal
Sudan’s protest leader Ahmad Rabie (2nd-R), flashes the victory gesture alongside General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (C), the chief of Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC), during a ceremony where they signed a “constitutional declaration” that paves the way for a transition to civilian rule, in the capital Khartoum. (Photo by Ebrahim HAMID / AFP)

The ruling sovereign council will be composed of 11 members including six civilians and five from the military. 

It will be headed by a general for the first 21 months and by a civilian for the remaining 18 months.

The council will oversee the formation of a transitional civilian administration including a cabinet and a legislative body.

The transition’s key documents were signed on Saturday at a ceremony attended by a host of foreign dignitaries, signalling that Sudan could be on its way to shedding the pariah status the Darfur atrocities and Bashir’s international arrest warrant had conferred on it.

Amidst the euphoria celebrating the promise of civilian rule, unease was palpable, however, within the protest camp that brought about one of the most crucial changes in Sudan’s modern history.

One of its main causes is the omnipresence in the transition of General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, a paramilitary commander and one of the signatories of the documents, whose forces are blamed for the deadly repression of the protests.

And it remains unclear how the transitional institutions will tackle the daunting task of pacifying a country plagued by several conflicts, including in the regions of Darfur, Kordofan and Blue Nile.

READ: Sudan’s new sovereign council faces delayed unveiling

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Egypt celebrates 150 years of the Suez Canal

Dug in the 19th century using “rudimentary tools,” the canal has today become “a lifeline for Egypt and countries around the world

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Egypt celebrates 150 years of the Suez Canal

One hundred and fifty years after the Suez Canal opened, the international waterway is hugely significant to the economy of modern-day Egypt, which nationalised it in 1956.

The canal, which links the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, was opened to navigation in 1869 and was expanded in 2015 to accommodate larger ships. 

Dug in the 19th century using “rudimentary tools,” the canal has today become “a lifeline for Egypt and countries around the world,” Admiral Osama Rabie, head of the Suez Canal Authority, told AFP in a rare interview.

“We give credit to Ferdinand de Lesseps for putting forward the idea,” he said, referring to the diplomat who masterminded the waterway dug over a decade between 1859 to 1869.

But he insisted it was thanks to the “genius” of the Egyptian people that the project really came to life.

“It was a miracle by all accounts to excavate a 164-kilometre-long canal in 10 years with rudimentary tools,” he said.

“A quarter of Egyptians took part in the excavations, that was about a million citizens out of the population of 4.5 million people at that time.” 

“Between 100,000 to 120,000 died,” Rabie added, highlighting that many succumbed to disease. 

In 2015, Egyptians threw their support behind President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s project to expand the canal, “purchasing 64 billion Egyptian pounds of investment certificates within eight days”.

Thanks to that project, transit time has now been cut from 22 to 11 hours, and the number of vessels crossing daily has increased from an average of 40-45 to 60-65 giant tankers, he said.

Nowadays, container ships account for more than half of the canal’s total traffic, with some of them being among the largest in the world reaching a capacity of up to 23,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit). 

Giant oil tankers carrying more than 200,000 tonnes can now transit through the canal as well. 

Authorities have also sought to develop the Sinai Peninsula, which lies on the eastern edge of the canal.

“We have also dug six tunnels under the Suez Canal to facilitate movement crossing to and from the Sinai,” Rabie said. 

“Before we used to talk about developing the Sinai peninsula without any serious decisions having been taken. Now access is easy for people and investors.” 

Egypt is also developing a free-zone trade hub spanning 461 square kilometres (178 square miles) known as “the Suez Canal Economic Zone”. 

“Many projects exist along the banks,” said Rabie, citing ship supply zones, pharmaceutical factories and car assembly plants. 

He maintained also that the canal “is perfectly secured” under the command of the Egyptian armed forces. 

Ongoing fighting between the Egyptian army against the Islamist insurgents in North Sinai “has not affected” the canal or trade, he stressed.

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Cameroon presidency announces February 9 for parliamentary polls

Opposition parties reacting cautiously to the decree, asking for a reform of the electoral code

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cameroon announces parliamentary election date

Cameroon’s presidency announced Sunday that parliamentary elections will be held on February 9, in the latest sign that veteran ruler Paul Biya is seeking to end a long-running political crisis.

Opposition parties reacted cautiously to the presidential decree, with one spokesman urging a reform of the electoral code before the vote. The last parliamentary elections took place in 2013 for a mandate of five years, but President Biya, who has ruled Cameroon for 37 years, has twice postponed fresh polls.

Biya, 86, was re-elected last year, but the result was contested by his main opposition rival in the vote, Maurice Kamto of the Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC). The 65-year-old Kamto was jailed in January after his party staged several peaceful marches challenging that result.

Released in October, he has since tried three times to hold marches but was denied permission each time.

cameroon announces parliamentary election date
President Paul Biya waves as he arrives to vote at a polling station in Yaounde on September 30, 2013, for legislative and local polls set to shore up the strong parliamentary majority of the President’s ruling party. Since winning a presidential election in 1984, Biya, aged 80, has led with extensive powers and has taken steps to prolong his term in office. AFP PHOTO / REINNIER KAZE (Photo by Reinnier KAZE / AFP)

The West African country was for years considered relatively stable, but it has been shaken by a two-year-old separatist uprising in the west as well as attacks by the jihadist group Boko Haram in the north.

Biya, under international pressure, held a national peace dialogue last month during which he announced the release of 333 detainees linked to the separatist crisis. He also ordered the release of 102 opposition activists arrested in 2018 during protests over his re-election.

Contacted by journalists, MRC general secretary Christopher Ndong said the party needed time to evaluate the news of fresh elections before responding. “We have asked that certain preconditions be met, such as the revision of the electoral code,” he said.

The main opposition party in parliament is still the Social Democratic Front (SDF), even though its candidate in last year’s presidential election garnered only 3.35 per cent of the vote, coming in fourth.

The party was not immediately willing to say whether it would take part in next year’s elections. Late last month, Washington announced it was stripping Cameroon of its preferential trade status because of its poor rights record.

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Guinea announces date for parliamentary elections

At least 16 civilians and a police officer have been killed in bloody clashes

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Guinea Bissau electoral commission president Pedro Sambu speaks at a polling station

Guinea’s electoral commission has announced a long-delayed parliamentary election will be held in February next year, with tensions high after deadly clashes during opposition protests.

The West African nation has been shaken by violence during weeks of demonstrations over opposition suspicions that President Alpha Conde is seeking to prolong his rule. 

The head of the country’s electoral commission, Amadou Salif Kebe, said in a statement on Saturday that a parliamentary election would go ahead on February 16, 2020. But uncertainty remained over whether the poll would go ahead on that date after previous delays and lingering concerns over the electoral roll.

In September the commission head had proposed the parliamentary vote be held on December 28, a date the opposition condemned as unrealistic and in the interest of Conde seeking a constitutionally-banned third term in office next year. 

The International Organisation of Francophonie, which is helping implement recommendations for auditing the electoral roll, said the December 28 date needed “to be reconsidered”. The current parliament started its five-year term in January 2014 and an election had been due in late 2018 or earlier this year.

But the vote was delayed after heated debates between the government and opposition. In January Conde extended the current parliament’s term indefinitely. The electoral commission said on Saturday it had unanimously approved the February date.

Commission head Salif Kebe said a review of the electoral roll had begun and the results were “very comforting”. Conde, 81, became Guinea’s first democratically-elected president in 2010, but critics say his rule has been marred by a growing crackdown on dissent.

The president, whose second term ends next year, launched constitutional consultations in September, saying the former French colony’s basic law “concentrates corporate interests” and needed reforms. The opposition, fearing the president will try to push through an amendment allowing him to seek a third term, took to the streets.

At least 16 civilians and a police officer have been killed in bloody clashes since the protests began in mid-October, according to the opposition, with dozens injured and arrested. Conde has neither confirmed nor denied his intention to seek a third term.

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