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Libya PM accuses rival of betrayal over Tripoli offensive

Pro-government forces in Tripoli confirmed they had targeted Haftar’s men with “intensive strikes”

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The head of Libya's UN-backed unity government, Fayez al-Sarraj (C), visits military and security commanders of the government forces who supervised recapture of the checkpoint 27 in Janzour, between Tripoli and the coastal town of Zawiya on April 5, 2019, hours after Haftar's froces were pushed back from the key spot, less than 30 kilometres (18 miles) from the capital. - Forces loyal to Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar were pushed back on April 5 from the key checkpoint by pro-government forces. The Tripoli Protection Force, an alliance of pro-government militias in the capital, said its fighters had taken part in the recapture of the checkpoint 27 kilometres (17 miles) to its south. (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

The head of Libya’s UN-backed government Fayez al-Sarraj on Saturday accused his rival Khalifa Haftar of betraying him over a military offensive against the capital Tripoli which risks plunging the country into civil war.

Forces loyal to the Libyan commander have pressed on with their assault despite international calls to halt hostilities.

In a televised address, Sarraj warned of a “war without a winner”.

“We have extended our hands towards peace but after the aggression that has taken place on the part of forces belonging to Haftar… he will find nothing but strength and firmness,” he said.

Pro-Haftar fighters have been slowed in their advance by forces loyal to Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA), which is based in the capital.

For the first time, forces backing the GNA launched air strikes earlier Saturday on Haftar’s self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) — which vowed to retaliate — around 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Tripoli.

Pro-government forces in Tripoli confirmed they had targeted Haftar’s men with “intensive strikes”.

The air strikes came as fresh fighting flared Saturday south of Tripoli between the pro-government forces and Haftar’s troops despite calls from the international community to halt the military offensive.

Several European foreign ministers warned Haftar not to countenance any further military action, with France’s Jean-Yves Le Drian warning “there will be no military victory”.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said there should be pressure on all the actors in Libya “especially general Haftar”.

A similar stance was taken by the UN Security Council which, following a closed-door emergency meeting Friday, said those responsible for re-igniting the conflict will be held responsible.

Residents stockpile

Libya has struggled to counter unrest since the 2011 overthrow of dictator Moamer Kadhafi, leaving dozens of militia to fill the void and ally with either the GNA or the rival administration in the east backed by Haftar.

At least one armed group from Misrata — whose forces are mostly loyal to the UN-backed government — arrived Saturday in eastern Tripoli to join the counter-offensive, according to an AFP photographer.

“We are waiting for orders to repel any advance by the enemy towards Tripoli,” said the group’s spokesman Khaled Abu Jazia.

Dozens of armed vehicles mounted with anti-aircraft guns were gathered in Tajura, in the suburbs east of the capital.

Tripoli residents have expressed concern that large-scale fighting could break out and began stocking up on food and petrol.

On Saturday large queues formed at petrol stations and supermarkets, an AFP journalist said. 

“We must store everything we need for the family, just in case, especially those with young children,” said Farida, a mother pushing a full shopping cart.

“You never know how long it will last,” she added.

Haftar’s forces were driven back by a few kilometres on Friday evening after briefly seizing Tripoli’s international airport, which was destroyed in 2014.

They were also pushed back from a key checkpoint west of the capital, less than 24 hours after seizing it during their lightning offensive towards Tripoli.

UN ‘determined’ for talks –

The latest escalation in the conflict-wracked country comes just days ahead of a UN-backed conference intended to unite Libya’s rivals and pave the way for elections.

Russia’s top diplomat on Saturday called for Libyans to “decide their future themselves” through “inclusive” dialogue.

“Without any sort of artificial dates that some are trying to force upon them from outside,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a visit to Cairo.

Despite the Tripoli flare-up, UN envoy Ghassan Salame insisted the April 14-16 talks in the Libyan city of Ghadames would go ahead.

“We are determined” to hold the talks “as scheduled” unless prevented by serious obstacles, Salame told a press conference.

“We want to reassure Libyans that we will stay alongside the Libyan people to make the political process a success without resorting to escalation.”

Libya’s unity government was created at UN-backed talks in 2015 but it has struggled to assert control, while a number of international initiatives since have failed to unite the country.

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Gabon’s Ali Bongo vows to “complete mission” despite health challenges

Bongo said he was “fiercely determined” to push ahead with a campaign against graft

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Gabonese President Ali Bongo vows to "complete mission" despite failing health

Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba on Wednesday completed a decade in office, vowing to push ahead with economic reforms and an anti-corruption drive despite questions over his health after suffering a stroke nearly a year ago.

“I feel good. And feeling better and better each day,” Bongo said in an interview published on Wednesday in the pro-government daily, l’Union. 

“I will complete my mission.”

Bongo said he was “fiercely determined” to push ahead with a campaign against graft. Government departments have been shaken up in recent weeks with a string of top-level changes.

“Mistakes were made in the past, but they won’t be able to be made again in the future,” Bongo said.

“Over time, the standards I require of government members has increased while my level of patience has fallen,” he said.

During his months-long absence abroad for treatment, speculation over Bongo’s fitness surged and the army quashed a brief attempted coup.

At one point, his spokesman was forced to deny rumours that Bongo had died and been replaced by a lookalike, while opposition members made an unsuccessful attempt to have a court assess whether he was fit to rule.

Since returning home, Bongo has attended several well-scripted public events, but every appearance is widely scrutinised for any signs of any disability.

READ: Gabonese President Bongo undergoes ‘routine medical checks’ in London

Nostalgia for father –

The drama has played out against the backdrop of a stuttering economy in the country of two million. 

Bongo initiated an array of major infrastructure projects after coming to power, such as new roads and stadiums, which drew on a flurry of investment from China.

But oil prices slumped after 2014, provoking an economic crisis and discontent, although the country’s political opposition is fractured.

There is widespread nostalgia for the free-spending reign of Bongo’s father, Omar Bongo Ondimba, who ruled the country for 42 years until his death in 2009, when he was succeeded by his son.

“Gabon has fallen into deep sleep,” said 33-year-old Gael Ndong, reflecting a commonly-expressed opinion.

“It was better before.”

“Ali Bongo has never enjoyed the legitimacy that his father was able to have,” said Florence Bernault, a professor of sub-Saharan history at Sciences Po in Paris.

His reputation was further battered after elections in 2016 marred by deadly violence and allegations of fraud, she added. His current term ends in 2023. 

READ: Gabon’s Ali Bongo makes post-stroke appearance

Diversify –

Under Bongo senior, Gabon became an oil major. Today, hydrocarbons account for 80 per cent of exports and almost half of GDP.

Under Bongo junior, the government is trying to diversify the economy, turning to managed forestry, minerals and other underdeveloped sectors to pick up the slack.

But the president’s vow 10 years ago to place Gabon on the path to emerging nation status remains “far away” from attainment, said Gabon economist Mays Mouissi.

Gabon may rank among Africa’s most prosperous countries but still badly lacks adequate roads, hospitals, homes and schools.

“Bongo did not know how to efficiently use the oil wealth he benefited from at the start of his first term,” said Mouissi, describing the “lost decade” as a wasted opportunity. Joblessness among the young is more than a third.

Bongo, in Wednesday’s interview, argued the reforms are “beginning to bear fruit.”

READ: Ali Bongo joins independence celebration in Libreville

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) this month predicted growth will reach 3.4 per cent this year compared with 0.8 per cent in 2018, although “ambitious macroeconomic measures and far-reaching structural reforms” were still needed.

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Former South African President Jacob Zuma delays corruption trial with appeal

If it goes ahead, the trial would be the first time Zuma faces a court on graft charges

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Former South African President Jacob Zuma delays corruption trial with appeal
South Africa's embattled former president Jacob Zuma (C) appears in the Pietermaritzburg High Court where he is appearing on corruption charges, in what would be the first time he faces trial for graft despite multiple accusations, in Pietermaritzburg on October 15, 2019. - Zuma stands accused of taking kickbacks before he became president from a 51-billion-rand ($3.4-billion) purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military equipment manufactured by five European firms, including French defence company Thales. (Photo by Michele Spatari / POOL / AFP)

The corruption trial of South Africa’s embattled former President Jacob Zuma has been delayed again after his lawyer announced Tuesday he would appeal.

The last-minute move pushes back a long-awaited trial over bribery allegations dating back to a 1990s arms deal. Zuma dismissed the charges as a conspiracy.

If it goes ahead, the trial would be the first time Zuma faces a court on graft charges, despite a string of accusations over his long political career.

The High Court in the southeastern city of Pietermaritzburg last week rejected his request to have 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering dismissed, clearing the way for the trial to start on Tuesday.

READ: Ex-South African President Jacob Zuma claims he has been vilified

But Zuma’s lawyer Thabani Masuku told the court at the start of the trial that the ex-president would appeal, dragging on a case that has seen numerous legal twists over 15 years.

After the hearing, Zuma told a small group of supporters gathered outside court that “there have been many conspirators against me”. 

“There is no justice that will be served by continuing with this case,” he told the crowd in Zulu.

Zuma was forced to resign as president last year by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party after a nine-year reign marred by corruption allegations and dwindling popularity.

He is accused of taking bribes worth R4 million when he was deputy president from a R51 billion 1999 arms purchase by five European firms, including French defence company Thales.

Both Zuma and Thales, which are accused of paying the bribes and was also to stand trial, deny the charges.

‘Another cunning move’ –

Former South African President Jacob Zuma delays corruption trial with appeal
South Africa’s embattled former president Jacob Zuma (C) appears in the Pietermaritzburg High Court where he is appearing on corruption charges, in what would be the first time he faces trial for graft despite multiple accusations, in Pietermaritzburg on October 15, 2019. (Photo by Michele Spatari / POOL / AFP)

The appeal, which must be filed by November 1, will be heard on November 22. If denied, proceedings are scheduled to resume on the provisional date of February 4.

READ: Jacob Zuma’s son denies offering $40 million bribe to former South African minister

State lawyer Billy Downer told the court that the prosecution believed the appeal would fail and requested the trial starts as soon as possible.

Legal analysts have said a delay would have been likely even without the appeal, given the size of the case.

For its part, Zuma’s defence team maintained that the ex-president had been ready for trial for 14 years.

Legal expert Pierre de Vos of the University of Cape Town said that “if all the courts refuse to hear the appeal, there will be a short delay.”

“If they hear the appeal there will be another year or two before they can begin a trial,” he told reporters, adding that he could face 15 years in jail if found guilty.

Analysts have warned that if Zuma goes on trial, he will drag down with him many leaders of Nelson Mandela’s ANC, which has governed the country since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The opposition Democratic Alliance party in a statement slammed “yet another cunning move by Zuma to avoid jail” and called for the government to ensure the ex-president pay his legal fees.

After a court ruled last year that he should pay his own way, Zuma claimed he was so broke that he had to sell his socks.

‘Teflon president’ –

Former South African President Jacob Zuma delays corruption trial with appeal
South Africa’s embattled former president Jacob Zuma (L) leaves the Pietermaritzburg High Court where he is appearing on corruption charges, in what would be the first time he faces trial for graft despite multiple accusations, in Pietermaritzburg on October 15, 2019. (Photo by Michele Spatari / POOL / AFP)

Critics have dubbed Zuma the “Teflon president” for his reputed ability to evade judicial reckoning.

READ: Former South African President Zuma receives court order to face corruption scandal

He has also been accused of organising the systematic plunder of government coffers in a scandal known as “state capture”.

He appeared at an inquiry into the scandal in July, putting on a defiant performance and denying all wrongdoing.

Zuma’s successor President Cyril Ramaphosa told a conference hosted by the Financial Times in London this week that corruption during Zuma’s administration is estimated to have cost the country more than R500 billion.

Ramaphosa has vowed to tackle deep-seated corruption but faces opposition from powerful senior ANC members, many of whom remain Zuma allies.

“Zuma was in charge for nearly two terms but did very little for us ordinary people,” Sakhile Dube, a 30-year-old clothes seller, told reporters outside the Pietermaritzburg court.

“We are still waiting to see if Ramaphosa can assist us and remedy the situation,” he added. 

READ: Former South African President Zuma withdraws from graft inquiry

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Nigerian police rescues over 300 pupils from another ‘torture house’

Katsina police chief Sanusi Buba told reporters in Daura that the young men were chained and tortured

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Nigerian police rescues over 300 from 'torture house' | News Central
(File photo)

Police in northern Nigeria said on Monday they rescued over 300 young men from an Islamic boarding school where they were chained and sexually abused, the second such operation in a month. 

A police team raided the school in Daura in Katsina state after some students escaped from their hostel on Sunday and poured into the streets in protest.

Katsina police chief Sanusi Buba told reporters in Daura that the young men were chained and tortured.

“We learnt that the inmates here are over 300 and because of the inhuman treatments they are being subjected to they revolted yesterday (Sunday),” he said.

READ: Nigeria’s uncovered torture “school” sparks concerns over state of Islamic schools

“Some of the inmates escaped while…about 60 of them stayed back,” he said, with most of them found in chains.

Buba said the school was established by 78-year-old Muslim cleric, Bello Mai Almajirai, 40 years ago. He later transferred management of the school to his son.

He said the school enrolled students brought by their families to learn the Koran and be treated for drug addiction and other ailments.

Daura which lies 70 kilometres from the state capital and near the border with Niger, is the hometown of President Muhammadu Buhari.

The students are from “various parts of Nigeria”, including Katsina state and neighbouring Niger Republic, said the police chief.

According to Buba, the abused inmates were “subjected to inhuman conditions,” with some of the students revealing that they were sodomised by their teachers.

Police will liaise with the state government to establish the identities of the young men and contact their families to return them home, he said.

READ: Nigerian police rescue over 300 students from abusive ‘school’ in Kaduna

Buba promised to arrest the proprietor and his teachers who managed to escape during the raid but will “face the full wrath of the law”.

Last month, police in nearby Kaduna state, freed more than 300 male students from a similar boarding school where they were chained, tortured and sexually abused.

A high rate of drug use and lack of rehabilitation facilities in northern Nigeria are forcing parents to enrol their children in informal reformatory Islamic schools where they are subjected to abuses.

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