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Fire outbreak in Quranic school kills 26 pupils and 2 teachers in Liberia2 min read

President George Weah visited the site in Paynesville, on the outskirts of the capital Monrovia, and said the cause was still unknown

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Fire outbreak in Quranic school kills 26 pupils and 2 teachers in Liberia
Women react as they watch from a balcony how the bodies of pupils and a teacher, who were killed in an overnight fire at a Quranic school, are prepared to be taken to the burial site, in Monrovia, on September 18, 2019. - Dozens of children were killed on September 18 in a fire at a Koranic school near the Liberian capital Monrovia. At least 26 children and two teachers died in the blaze overnight, the president's office said, citing information from the emergency services. President Weah visited the site in Paynesville, on the outskirts of the capital, and said the cause was still unknown. (Photo by Carielle DOE / AFP)

A huge fire at a Liberian Quranic school killed at least 26 pupils and two teachers on Wednesday when flames engulfed their dormitory, in one of the worst disasters of its kind in the country.

The boys were sleeping at the school when the overnight fire began, said police spokesman Moses Carter, adding that an electrical fault could have caused the blaze.

President George Weah visited the site in Paynesville, on the outskirts of the capital Monrovia, and said the cause was still unknown.

“We are here to encourage parents of the victims to have strength, because it is painful to lose your kids in this manner,” Weah told reporters at the scene.

The president’s office said 26 pupils between the ages of 10 and 20 died along with two teachers. The police spokesman said 27 students had been killed.

On Wednesday evening, the president of neighbouring Guinea, Alpha Conde, said several of his country’s nationals died in the blaze.

In a statement, he expressed “great emotion” over the deaths and gave his “deepest condolences to the Liberian people and the Guinean community in Liberia” adding that he was following the investigation closely.  

“We extend our sympathy to the bereaved families. We don’t know the cause of the fire yet, but we will encourage our investigators to find how it happened,” he added.

Fire outbreak in Quranic school kills 26 pupils and 2 teachers in Liberia
Liberian President George Weah (2R) stands among other men to pay his respects in front of the bodies of pupils and a teacher who were killed in an overnight fire at a Koranic school, in Monrovia, on September 18, 2019. (Photo by Carielle DOE / AFP)

Rescuers in white masks and surgical gloves carried the children’s bodies in bags from the burnt-out building as crowds of people and relatives pressed together outside. 

“Our team is investigating the cause of the fire,” the police spokesman said. “It may be electrical,” he added, while refusing to rule out the possibility that the fire was a criminal act.

The children were asleep –

“I was sleeping when I heard noise outside. My wife opened the back door and we saw smoke coming from the front. We came out and saw fire at the back,” said local resident Zazay Ballah, who said they had helped in the rescue efforts.

“We went for water, trying to put it out… When the firefighters came, the fire was already going down.” 

The victims were buried swiftly in a collective ceremony, in the Muslim tradition.

In an earlier tweet, Weah offered condolences to the families of those affected.

“My prayers go out to the families of the children that died last night in Paynesville City as a result of a deadly fire that engulfed their school building,” he wrote.

“This is a tough time for the families of the victims and all of Liberia.”

The Liberian authorities are all too familiar with deadly fires, often caused by malfunctioning generators, though “not on this scale,” the presidential spokesman said.

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West Africa News

Ghana reverses ‘premature’ recognition of Kosovo

Ghana has revoked its “premature” recognition of Kosovo, the West African nation said, a move backed by Serbia, which opposes statehood for the former Yugoslav province.

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Ghana has revoked its “premature” recognition of Kosovo, the West African nation said, a move backed by Serbia, which opposes statehood for the former Yugoslav province.

“The Government of Ghana has decided to withdraw Ghana’s recognition of Kosovo as an independent state,” the deputy foreign affairs minister, Charles Owiredu told AFP on Monday.

The reasons were communicated to Serbia in a letter, he said.

“The decision to recognize Kosovo turned out to be premature”, the letter said of its recognition in 2012.

“Ghana has taken into account the ongoing dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo aimed at resolving the issue of the latter’s quest to be recognized as an independent and sovereign entity and supports the ongoing process to bring finality to the matter,” it said.

The announcement could further hinder the resumption of a long-running dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, led by the European Union (EU), which has been frozen for more than a year.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 in the final chapter of Yugoslavia’s long and bloody breakup.

The former province is recognized by most of the West but needs Serbia — and Belgrade’s allies Russia and China — to accept its statehood in order to get a seat in the UN.

The ministerial statement said Kosovo’s unilaterally-proclaimed independence was “in contravention of the UN Security Council resolution 1244”, a reference to the 1999 resolution that placed the ex-province under international protection.

That resolution gave Kosovo “substantial autonomy” within Yugoslavia, which Serbia was a part of at the time, and does not mention full independence.

Ghana said it expected its decision to “encourage also some other UN members” to follow suit. Sixteen countries, most of them small, have reversed their recognitions. 

Kosovo says it is recognized by 116 countries.

Serbia said it hopes to bring the tally to below half of the UN’s 193 members. 

The special US envoy to the Western Balkans, Matthew Palmer, warned earlier this month against “efforts to delegitimize Kosovo”.

Serbia’s “campaign to incentivize countries to withdraw recognition of Kosovo and to block Kosovo’s membership in international organizations must cease,” Palmer said in a visit to Pristina.

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Nigerian forces release fire in the air to stop protest

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NIGERIA-POLITICS
People demonstrate to demand the release of activist and opposition politician Omoyele Sowore(Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

Nigerian security forces used tear gas and fired in the air on Tuesday to disperse protesters seeking the release of an opposition figure held since August after calling for a revolution.

Omoyele Sowore, the founder of local news site Sahara Reporters and a candidate in February’s presidential polls has been detained for “treason.”

At the end of September, the Nigerian judiciary ordered his release but the authorities have not complied. 

About 80 protesters gathered outside the headquarters of the Department of State Services (DSS) in the capital Abuja, shouting slogans against President Muhammadu Buhari, a journalist said.

Nigerian forces release fire in the air to stop protest
(Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

Some 50 heavily armed DSS agents confronted the demonstrators on bikes and in armoured trucks firing tear gas and shooting in the air, the reporter said, adding that they also attacked one journalist. 

Some sustained injuries after being trampled by demonstrators fleeing the scene.

The government of Buhari — who was re-elected this year — has accused Sowore and his “Revolution Now” movement of “plotting to destabilise Nigeria.”

Sowore, who came tenth in the polls and has been a virulent critic of the government, has drawn the ire of Nigerian authorities.

In August, Sahara Reporters, which regularly reports on government corruption, had called for nationwide protests against misrule in Nigeria.  

Two days ahead of the planned protest, he was arrested on August 5 and has been in detention since.

Nigerian forces release fire in the air to stop protest
(Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

The government’s handling of his case has sparked criticism from rights activists and prominent Nigerians, including Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, as well as rights groups like Amnesty International.

Last week, according to local media reports, a spokesperson for the DSS admitted the agency had received a court order for Sowore’s release but said it was detaining him “because no person has turned up at the DSS to take delivery of him.”

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Politics

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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