Gang makes off with church offerings in Kenya

Nairobi – An unknown gang reportedly broke into a Catholic church in Kenya and made off with offerings on Sunday night. 

According to Nairobi News, the incident took place on Sunday evening in Meru County, some 200km north east of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

The gang attacked St Joseph Chuka Catholic Church around midnight, local time. Nuns at the convent suspected that it was an inside job.

Sister Jacinta Gakii was quoted as saying that she had heard a big bang after the thieves broke a door into the convent around midnight, and that she screamed for help.

She said a second nun, who was responding to the distress call, was grabbed by the gang and ordered to take them to the priest’s house, where they made off with the day’s offerings.

It was estimated that the gang made away with about KES 16 000, collected during the day, Kenya County News reported.

Area Police Commander Beatrice Karaguri confirmed the incident and said that no one was injured. She noted that the incident must have been well planned because a window at the priest’s house was marked.

In late December 2015, The Star reported that two people were arrested for allegedly breaking into a church and stealing a KES 6 500 offering in Nyangusu town, Kisii county.

Police said that the “notorious thieves” also stole a generator, regulator, baptism cards, a radio, clothes and a bag of maize from the church

Zim journo freed after 4 nights in jail, says time in custody was ‘humiliating’

Harare – A Zimbabwe journalist, who has been released after spending four nights in cells, says his time in custody was a “humiliating” experience.

Paidamoyo Muzulu was picked up on Thursday in Africa Unity Square along with a number of activists taking part in the Occupy Africa Unity Square protest, which was inspired by missing activist Itai Dzamara.

More activists were arrested on Friday. The Occupy Africa Unity Square group puts the total at 45 although lawyers cannot confirm this. 

Some of the activists are still in custody – partly because bail has been set unusually high at $500 for some and $1 000 for others, tough sums to rake together in the best of times in Zimbabwe where the average salary stands at less than $400. 

As cash shortages grip the southern African country, that kind of amount is now even harder to get one’s hands on.

Humiliating and Intimidating tactic 

Writing on Facebook, Muzulu suggested that colleagues had helped post bail for him.

“My wife, daughters and me feel eternally indebted [comrades] Zhangazha, Koliwe Nyoni, Jacqueline Chikakano and Misa Zimbabwe for going beyond online solidarity and facilitating my release by providing the bail money,” he said.

Muzulu was released on Monday. He says police were acting on “political instructions” and did not bother to carry out basic investigations before arresting him. 

“Being imprisoned is a humiliating and intimidating tactic by the [government],” he tweeted.

Commenting on his release, @ZimMediaReview said: “Journalism is not a crime.”

A lawyer told our correspondent that 15 of those arrested last week (when Muzulu was taken in) faced charges of either robbery or defeating the course of justice. They deny the charges. 

Tight press laws and President Robert Mugabe’s government’s dislike of critical voices make working as a journalist in Zimbabwe difficult, particularly for those reporting for the privately-owned press.

In a separate case, press watchdog Misa-Zimbabwe said in an alert on Tuesday that Zimbabwe journalist Wellington Mukanhaire was due to appear in court this week on charges of “holding oneself as an accredited [press-card carrying] journalist without being so accredited”.

Bushiri payed me to lie to the church that he healed me: Woman confessed

FOR THREE long months, Margareth tried to make peace with her guilty conscience.
But now she has come to the papers to confess how she sold her soul for R500 a week.

I WAS PAID TO LIE TO SICK PEOPLE WHO COME TO CHURCH FOR HEALING, SHE SAID.
Margareth Hlatshwayo (38) from Soshanguve near Mabopane, Pretoria said she is terrified that God will punish her. She said she heard she could get a job at a church in Pretoria Showground and would be paid R500 the same day.
“I didn’t know what kind of job it was,” she said.

When she arrived at the church they told her the lies she had to tell to get the money. “I was told I must act in a holy way and pretend I was healed. I had to testify to living a horrible life before.” Margareth knew what she was doing was wrong but she couldn’t resist.

I needed the money to feed my three children and I couldn’t turn down the offer so I did what they told me.”
That started Margareth’s life of lying.
“I lied to people and agreed to everything the pastor asked me,” she said.

“I said I was unemployed but I had recently got a job through God’s power after the pastor prayed for me. I have not had a job for the past four years. My only job was telling lies recently at church in Pretoria Showground.”

But then the pastor stopped paying her on time. “I think it’s because the church now has a lot of people lying and giving false testimonials for the prophet and then at the end there isn’t enough money to pay us all.” Says Margareth.

“The pastor kept promising that he was going to pay me. Sometimes he would give me R300 and sometimes nothing at all.” She said some people were lying that they were wheelchair bound before the pastor’s prayers saved them and now they could walk again. Margareth said she only did it to get the money but now her conscience is killing her. “I’m so ashamed.”

Another woman who went to the same church confirmed what Margareth said.
“I was paid for two weeks but when the pastor stopped paying me, I stopped going.” Reporters spoke to one of the church leaders and representative of the church, who called himself a prophet and a follower of Sheperd Bushiri.

He didn’t deny he knew Margareth but he denied paying people to testify.
“If you want to speak to Shepered Bushiri for information you need to make an appointment to come to the office or come to church and witnesses the man of God change lives. I don’t know you and I’m not prepared to talk to you any longer,” he said, and dropped the phone.

50 killed in Florida nightclub, shooter pledged ISIS allegiance

Police say 50 people killed in the shooting
Attacker identified by officials as a 29-year-old US citizen with Afghan origins
One police officer injured in shootout
Nightclub urged patrons to “get out” and “keep running”
Police said they carried out a “controlled explosion” at the club
Injured people have been transferred to nearby hospitals
Fifty people have been killed, including the assailant, and at least 53 injured in an attack inside a gay nightclub in the US state of Florida, authorities said, in the worst mass shooting in US history.

Authorities identified the shooter on Sunday as Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old man born in New York with Afghan origins.

Mateen, who was armed with an assault-type rifle and a handgun, was killed in a shootout with at least 11 police officers inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

Ron Hopper, of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, confirmed that Mateen was interviewed twice by the FBI in 2013, after he made “inflammatory comments” to co-workers alleging possible “terrorist ties”.

In 2014, authorities interroragated Mateen anew for possible ties to an American suicide bomber.

In both cases, the FBI closed the investigations as they turned out be be “inconclusive” at that time, Hopper said.  

Hopper also confirmed that Mateen made 911 calls to police during the standoff, and referred to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL also known as ISIS).

In a televised statement, President Barack Obama condemned the shooting as “an act of terror and act of hate”, calling the shooter “a person filled with hatred”.

“As Americans, we are united in grief and outrage,” he said, adding that the attack is “a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon” and commit violence in the US.

Florida medical officials said many of those who were injured are “critically ill” [Reuters]
Florida Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in Orlando.

Orlando Police chief John Mina described the shooting as “one of the worst tragedies we have seen”, adding that police officers “were shaken by what they have seen inside the club”.

“It’s a tragedy not only for the city but the entire nation,” he said. “Just a look into the eyes of our officers told the whole story.”

The injured, many in critical condition, were transferred to nearby hospitals. Among those injured was one police officer, whose kevlar helmet was hit by a round from the suspect. 

The suspect exchanged gunfire with a police officer working at the club, which had more than 300 people inside. The gunman then went back inside and took hostages, Mina said.

Around 5am, authorities sent in a SWAT team to rescue the hostages.

As the shooting occurred, the nightclub urged patrons to “get out” and “keep running” in a post on its Facebook page.

One witness, who said he was inside the building during the incident, said he heard about 40 shots being fired.

Christopher Hansen said he was in the VIP lounge of the club when he heard gunshots. He continued to hear shooting even after he emerged and police urged people to back away from the club. He saw the wounded being tended to across the street.

“I was thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’ So I just dropped down. I just said, ‘Please, please, please, I want to make it out,'” he said. “And when I did, I saw people shot. I saw blood. You hope and pray you don’t get shot.”

One witness said that he heard about 40 shots being fired during the Orlando attack [EPA]
Police said they carried out a “controlled explosion” at the club hours after the shooting broke out, while entering the nightclub.

Video posted online showed a large number of police and emergency vehicles outside the nightclub, following the shooting.

The nightclub shooting came just a day after a man thought to be a deranged fan fatally shot Christina Grimmie, a rising singing star who gained fame on YouTube and as a contestant on The Voice, while she was signing autographs after a concert in Orlando.

Lebanese PM hints he might resign after protests

Lebanon’s prime minister hinted on Sunday he might resign after violent protests against government corruption and political dysfunction triggered by a month-long trash crisis in Beirut. Tammam Salam also pledged that security forces that used violence against demonstrators would be held accountable.

Salam said in a news conference at the government’s headquarters that the right to demonstrate is protected by the constitution.

Salam told the protesters he is ready to have a dialogue with them, while about 100 protesters outside the building chanted “leave, leave”.

“Anyone who behaved in a way that harmed or caused damage to those people will be held responsible,” Salam said.

His comments came a day after police firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons battled thousands of protesters in downtown Beirut.

Gunfire echoed through the streets into the night.

Lebanese Red Cross spokesperson George Kattaneh told AP that 55 protesters and police officers were wounded during the protests on Saturday and taken to hospitals. Another 70 people were treated on the spot by paramedics.

Salam said if next Thursday’s Cabinet meeting is not productive, “then there is no need for the council of ministers”.

Lebanon has a sectarian power-sharing system that ensures equal representation between the country’s main religious sects. The arrangement often leads to complete paralysis.

Saturday saw the biggest demonstrations by far since garbage began piling up on the streets after the capital’s main landfill was closed a month ago. Bickering politicians have been unable to agree on an alternative system for waste management.

Residents in this proud Mediterranean city have resorted to burning trash on the streets and dumping garbage into valleys, rivers and near the sea, leading to warnings of a health catastrophe.

An online group calling itself “You Stink!” and other civil society groups organized the rallies, urging others to join them in a revolt against a corrupt system. They said they plan to stay in downtown Beirut near the government building and parliament.

The activists were expected to give an official response to Salam’s statements later on Sunday.

Despite Salam’s hint about resignation, it is highly unlikely to happen as the move could create a total political vacuum and eventually plunge Lebanon into chaos.

Lebanon has been without a president since May 2014. Parliament has been paralysed and unable to meet to elect a president because of lack of quorum.

Rockets kill 4 Pakistani soldiers near border

The Pakistani army says rockets fired by militants from across the Afghan border have hit a military post, killing four soldiers and wounding four others.

An army statement says troops at the post in Akhandwala Pass in the Khyber tribal region killed the militants behind the attack on Sunday. The military did not say which militant group launched the attack.

The Pakistani army is currently engaged in a massive operation to drive out militants in Khyber and other tribal regions.

Local and foreign militants have used safe havens in tribal regions for years to carry out attacks on both sides of the border, frequently attacking army positions in the mountainous terrain.

Germany vows to fight xenophobia after attacks on refugee home

Germany’s interior minister led calls on Sunday for a crackdown on right wing militants and racists after a second night of scuffles between protesters and police outside a refugee shelter in the eastern German town of Heidenau.

Just one day after 31 police officers were hurt in violent protests against the asylum seekers, a Reuters photographer on Saturday night saw some 200 mostly drunk militants in Heidenau throwing fireworks and bottles at police.

Some shouted “Heil Hitler”.

As Europe struggles with an influx of migrants fleeing war in countries such as Syria and Iraq, German politicians are worried about the financial and social effects on their country, the EU’s biggest recipient of refugees.

Germany, which has relatively liberal asylum laws, expects the number of refugees to quadruple this year to 800 000, almost one percent of the population. Chancellor Angela Merkel says the issue is a bigger problem for Europe than Greece’s debt crisis.

Interior Minster Thomas de Maiziere has described the situation as a big challenge and condemned attacks on refugees.

“At the same time as a we see a wave of people wanting to help, we have a rise in hate, insults and violence against asylum seekers. That is obscene and unworthy of our country,” de Maiziere told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

“Anyone who acts like that faces the full force of the law.”

Justice Minister Heiko Maas responded to the Heidenau riot by saying there was zero tolerance for xenophobia or racism.

Many politicians have warned about a rise in hostility towards foreigners and, in the first half of the year alone, some 150 arson or other attacks were recorded on refugee shelters.

With some in Merkel’s party wanting to curb benefits offered to asylum seekers and pushing for other EU states to take more of the burden, Merkel faces a delicate political balancing act.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the Social Democrats who share power with Merkel’s conservatives, on Sunday called for a tripling of the money municipalities get for accommodation, medical care and education for refugees.

Other politicians called for a speeding up of the processing of asylum applications, which currently takes about eight months on average. More than one third of asylum seekers in Germany are from southeastern European countries such as Albania and Serbia.

Planes crash at Swiss air show, at least 1 dead

Two small planes crashed at an air show in Dittingen, Switzerland, on Sunday, killing at least one person, police said.

Two planes in a formation of three aircraft crashed shortly before 09:30 GMT, Basel-Landschaft police said in a statement.

34 killed in Syria regime strikes near Damascus

The toll from heavy government bombardment of a rebel stronghold outside the Syrian capital rose on Sunday to 34 civilians including 12 children, a monitoring group said.

A separate rocket attack on Sunday in a regime-held neighbourhood northeast of Damascus killed 11 people, state television said.

“There are now 34 civilians that were killed in Saturday’s attacks on Douma, among them 12 children and eight women,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad targetted the rebel-held town of Douma with shelling and air raids on Saturday.

By late evening, the Observatory said 20 civilians had been killed, but also that rescuers were still searching for more victims.

“Overnight, they found more victims underneath the rubble, and others who were wounded died,” Abdel Rahman said on Sunday.

He said some strikes killed entire families inside their homes.

Local volunteers and civil defence teams worked on Sunday morning to locate seven people who were still unaccounted for, the Britain-based Observatory said.

The Douma Coordination Committee, a local activist group, published the names and photos of documented casualties on Facebook.

One picture showed a toddler the group said had been rescued from beneath the rubble but who succumbed to his wounds shortly afterwards.

At least 11 air strikes targeted the Eastern Ghouta area, of which Douma is a part, on Sunday. The Observatory said several people had been wounded, but had no further details.

On August 16, a series of regime strikes killed more than 117 people – mostly civilians – in Douma, sparking international condemnation of the Assad regime.

Eastern Ghouta has been under a government siege for nearly two years and comes under regular air attack.

Meanwhile, northeast of Damascus at least 11 people were killed and 56 wounded by rocket fire outside Adra prison on Sunday, state television said.

It said the rockets were fired by “terrorist groups” and that women and children were among the wounded.

The Observatory’s Abdel Rahman said nine people were killed, including civilians.

Syria’s war, which began in March 2011 with anti-regime protests, has spiralled into a multi-front conflict that has killed more than 240 000 people.

Iranians begin hajj amid tensions with Saudi

Iranians have begun travelling to Saudi Arabia for the hajj months after Tehran suspended a minor pilgrimage over the alleged abuse of two pilgrims by Saudi authorities.

State TV says in a report on its website on Sunday that 700 pilgrims left for Mecca and Medina, Islam’s two holiest cities. Some 64 000 Iranians have permits to attend the pilgrimage this year. The hajj is required of all Muslims who can afford it and who are physically able.

Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran are regional rivals who back opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

In April, Iran suspended the minor pilgrimage, known as umrah, after two Iranians were allegedly abused by Saudi security forces at an airport. It’s not clear whether Iran will resume the minor pilgrimage.

British hostage rescued in Yemen operation

A British hostage has been freed in Yemen following an operation by United Arab Emirates forces, the Foreign Office in London announced on Sunday.

“I’m pleased to confirm that a British hostage held in Yemen has been extracted by UAE forces in a military intelligence operation,” Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in a statement.

Hammond added that the freed hostage was “safe and well” and that Britain was “very grateful for the assistance of the UAE”.

The statement did not identify the person or give any further details of the operation to free them.

Yemen has been wracked by conflict since March, when a Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes against Iranian-backed Huthi rebels.

Yemeni loyalists are backed by countries including Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The war has killed nearly 4 500 people, many of them civilians, according to the United Nations.

Last year, British teacher Mike Harvey was released after being held for five months in Yemen following negotiations by the government in Sanaa.

China blast death toll rises to 123

The death toll from a series of explosions earlier this month that rocked the northern port city of Tianjin rose to 123, state media reported on Sunday.

Fifty people are still missing and 624 are still in hospital a little more than a week after the blasts, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing local officials.

The explosions at a hazardous goods storage facility on August 12 triggered a giant fireball and new fires broke out as recently as Friday.

China’s powerful State Council, or cabinet, has vowed to conduct a “rigorous” investigation into the cause of the explosions, Xinhua said on Saturday.

The owners of the hazardous goods storage company at the centre of the incident, Rui Hai International Logistics, reportedly included the son of a former police chief who used his connections to help the firm obtain the necessary permits and pass inspections.

The blasts have also sparked fears of toxic pollutants contaminating the air and water of the city, which has a population of around 15 million people.

Thousands of tonnes of hazardous chemicals were stored at the site, officials have said, including about 700 tonnes of highly poisonous sodium cyanide, a white powder or crystal which can give off lethal hydrogen cyanide gas.

Thailand blast: Lack of equipment hampers probe

Authorities on Sunday urged patience in their hunt for the Bangkok shrine bomber, as the police chief admitted Thailand lacks some of the “modern equipment” to find the prime suspect captured on security cameras.

Anxiety is mounting six days after the attack, which killed 20 people in the capital’s commercial heart, with the bomber still on the run.

The hunt has so far focused on a suspect in a yellow T-shirt seen on CCTV placing a rucksack under a bench at the Erawan shrine minutes before the blast.

A sketch of the man has been widely circulated. He is described on his arrest warrant as “foreign” but police have since said he could in fact be Thai or of mixed race.

Unverified footage, time-stamped just a few minutes after Monday’s blast, shows a second man in a blue T-shirt kicking a package into water near a bridge in the same spot where a device exploded on Tuesday without injuries.

But police have not publicly linked the two blasts despite pressure to reveal more.

“The slowness of the investigation is not because the police lack capacity,” national police chief Somyot Poompanmoungyot told reporters.

“But it’s because we don’t have the modern equipment that supports the work.”

He did not reveal the equipment the police need but it is likely to be facial recognition technology or programmes to enhance security camera footage.

Earlier in the week junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha bristled at suggestions his government should seek overseas help in a complicated inquiry, with both the United Kingdom and Australia offering their expertise.

Despite their technological limitations, Thai police say the investigation is progressing.

“We cannot give details of that progress… let the police work,” police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri said.

“We are working around the clock…. but this kind of a case is not easy.”

The shrine bomb killed mostly ethnic Chinese tourists from across Asia. More than 50 people remain in hospital.

With no-one claiming responsibility, rumours and speculation have swirled in Thailand over the country’s worst single mass-casualty attack in living memory.

The potential perpetrators named by police and experts alike include international jihadists, members of Thailand’s southern Malay-Muslim insurgency, militants on both sides of Thailand’s festering political divide or even someone with a personal grudge.

Italy rescues refugees stranded off Libya

Italy’s coastguard says authorities have rescued about 3 000 refugees who were stranded in overcrowded and rickety vessels in the Mediterranean after receiving distress calls from 20 boats drifting in waters off the Libyan coast.

One of the biggest single-day rescue operations to date in the Mediterranean Sea reportedly occurred on Saturday, the Italian navy said.

The rescued refugees included a group of 311, including a new-born baby, who were picked up by a boat belonging to the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders. The boat is expected to dock on Monday in Vibo Valentia in Calabria, according to port authorities.

Two navy ships also transported to safety almost 1 000 refugees from two wooden boats in danger of sinking just off Libya, the Italian navy said.

A further 370 had been picked up by the Italian customs police and were headed for Messina in Sicily.

No casualties have been reported in the rescues.

Al Jazeera’s Claudio Lavanga, reporting from the town of Scilla in Calabria, said that 14 of the vessels used by the refugees were rubber dinghies.

“This is not the first time we have seen so many vessels carrying refugees being rescued at the same time. It is clearly a tactic by human smugglers who wait for good weather and sea conditions before they send out as many boats as they can,” he said.

Despite the favourable conditions for the rescue operation, it is still a very dangerous situation, he added.

“As we have seen in the past, many migrants die or risk their lives just as they see their rescuers approach them,” he said.

In a separate development, police in the Sicilian town of Palermo announced on Saturday that they arrested six Egyptian nationals on suspicion of people smuggling following the rescue of a stricken boat on August 19.

Testimony from the 432 people on board suggest the vessel had been packed with more than 10 times the number of people it was designed for, with many of the passengers, including a number of women and children, locked below decks.

More than 170 000 migrants and refugees from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia had landed at Italy’s southern ports in 2014 after being rescued in the Mediterranean, while the total for 2015 so far has already topped 104 000. Another 135 000 or more have landed in Greece since January.

Thousands of refugees and migrants have died at sea while trying to reach Europe.

Minister urges Egyptians to donate to buy statue

Egypt’s antiquities minister urged his countrymen on Saturday to raise nearly $25m so that the country can buy back an ancient statue sold by the English Northampton Museum to an unknown party.

Mamdouh el-Damaty said a British ban on the Sekhemka statue leaving the country expires Friday, meaning it could end up in a private collection unless Egypt can buy it. Northampton Museum sold the statue in an auction July 2014.

The sale is deemed legal in Britain. Egypt, home to a massive wealth of ancient antiquities, banned their sale in 1983.

“What this museum is doing is considered an ethical crime against human and Egyptian heritage,” el-Damaty told journalists in Cairo. These pieces of history are given to museums “to spread information about civilisation, heritage, arts, and culture. Therefore, the final resting place for any antiquity is the museum.”

El-Damaty said this was the first time a known sale of an Egyptian antiquity from a museum has taken place, adding that Egypt has halted all dealings with the museum in protest of the sale.

The British government is trying to find a local buyer to be able to keep the statue inside the United Kingdom. El-Damaty is urging Egyptians, especially those in England, to buy the statue in order to have a say on where the statue ends up. He did not say why the government didn’t buy the statue itself.

The 4 000-year-old statue dates to Egypt’s 5th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, the same period when the Giza pyramids were built. The statue left Egypt in 1849, bought by the second Marquis of Northampton, Spencer Compton, before Egypt banned the sale of antiquities. Campton’s son gave the statue to Northampton Museum.

Burkina election candidates dominated by old political guard

DAKAR, Aug 22 – An ex-prime minister and several ministers were among 22 candidates who registered for Burkina Faso’s October election, a court said on Saturday, meaning the West African country’s next president would likely come from the old political guard.

Friday was the deadline for candidates to register for the October 11 vote on the successor of long-time president Blaise Compaore, who was toppled in October by street protests as he tried to extend his 27-year rule.

A turbulent transitional government changed the electoral law in April to exclude anyone who supported Compaore’s bid to stay in office, but the top court of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the highest appeal tribunal in the region, overruled that in July.

Amongst the favourites is former prime minister Roch Marc Kabore, a long-time stalwart of Compaore’s regime who split away last year to found the opposition People’s Movement for Progress (MPP). Kabore enjoys support among Burkina’s business community and traditional leaders.

Another leading candidate is Zephirin Diabre, a former finance minister under Compaore, who worked for French nuclear group Areva before founding his Union for Progress and Change (UPC) party in 2010. Former foreign minister Djibrill Bassole will also represent a coalition of opposition groups.

Compaore’s former ruling party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), named a little-known businessman and former member of parliament, Eddie Komboigo, as its presidential candidate in July.

The transition has been marred by tensions between the powerful Regiment of Presidential Security (RSP), Compaore’s well-armed praetorian guard, and the government led by Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida, a former second-in-command of the elite unit.

Transitional authorities have vowed to clamp down on corruption and two former ministers in Compaore regime were arrested last week as part of an ongoing investigation.

Egypt sentences Muslim Brotherhood leader to life in prison

Egypt’s state-run news agency says Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie and 16 others have been sentenced to life in prison on charges related to the killing of five people in an attack on a police station in 2013.

The news agency report on Saturday says Badie and senior Brotherhood members Mohammed el-Beltagy and Safwat Hegazy were accused of inciting other Brotherhood members to attack the police station in the Mediterranean city of Port Said, and kill its officers and soldiers.

The court sentenced 76 others in absentia to the same punishment. Badie has already been sentenced to death and to life in prison in other trials.

The case is one of a series of mass trials involving supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood since they were toppled from power in 2013.

14 Somali soldiers killed in Shebab suicide attack

At least 14 Somali soldiers were killed and more than 20 others wounded on Saturday in suicide attack by Shebab rebels in southern Somalia, officials and witnesses said.

The attack occurred inside a former university building on the outskirts of Kismayo, where African Union peacekeepers from Kenya and Somali soldiers are stationed, officials said.

“A minibus loaded with explosives was detonated inside the training part of the military camp. Fourteen soldiers were confirmed dead and more than 20 wounded,” Mohamed Abisalad, a Somali military official in Kismayo, told our correspondent.

“The incident is still being investigated to establish how the suicide bomber managed to pass by several checkpoints outside the camp,” he added.

Witnesses said the wounded soldiers were admitted to Kismayo’s main hospital. Eyewitness Adan Hussein also said at least 10 soldiers died in the attack.

The al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab said it carried out the attack, and claimed the death toll was significantly higher than reported.

“One hundred apostate militia were killed in an operation carried out by one of the brave Mujahedeen suicide attackers who drove his vehicle through the enemy inside a training camp and detonated. May Allah accept him,” the group said in a statement.

The group is fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu.

Ghana doctors union to suspend three-week strike

Doctors in Ghana will suspend a three-week strike they called to press for better conditions of service, the Ghana Medical Association (GMA) said on Friday.

The decision will come as a relief to President John Mahama’s government, which is under pressure to control spending and stick to the terms of an International Monetary Fund deal aimed at reviving economic growth and ending a fiscal crisis.

The strike was the first major test of whether the government would adhere to the terms of the three-year program before talks with other unions who complain that salaries are undermined by inflation of nearly 18%.

“The ongoing withdrawal of out-patient and emergency services by members of the GMA is suspended,” from 08:00 on Monday, a GMA statement said.

Talks with the government should continue, it said.

Ghana’s doctors say the government has failed to deliver a conditions of service document to define their terms of work including how they should be remunerated for additional hours. They also accuse the government of negotiating in bad faith.

Two in Zim court for smuggling gold worth R3.8m

Two men who tried to smuggle gold worth R3.8m out of Zimbabwe in the fuel tank of their car have appeared in court in the border town of Plumtree, where two South Africans were also arrested for gold smuggling earlier this month, it was reported on Saturday.

Francis Maranjesi appeared in court on Friday with Nathan Mnaba, 29, who is alleged to own the mine where the 8kg gold was from, the state-owned chronicle newspaper reported.

It is still not clear where the mine is located in Zimbabwe.

Border police found the gold bars in the fuel tank of a Toyota sedan being driven by Maranjesi, 47, on June 24, the report said.

Maranjesi said he was going shopping across the border but was actually going to deliver the gold.
Gold smuggling is reported to be rife at Plumtree.

“Most smugglers caught will be attempting to sell the gold in South Africa,” the Chronicle said.

Two South Africans were arrested at the border post on August 2 trying to smuggle through 5.3kg of gold, according to a report in the Sunday News earlier this month.

The two — named by the paper as Arthur Strydom, 29 and Dale Lombard, 28, both of Johannesburg — had allegedly hidden the gold in the spare wheel compartment of their car boot.

Their case is still before the courts, according to the Chronicle.

Meantime the private Newsday reported on Saturday that President Robert Mugabe’s cabinet will next endorse a Mines and Minerals Bill that seeks to decriminalise panning, which is rife in Zimbabwe.

Mines deputy minister Freddy Moyo said decriminalising panning “would go a long way in increasing revenue from the minerals sector and rebuilding the economy,” according to Newsday.

Gold output in Zimbabwe last year was reported to be 13.9 tonnes.

Nigerian army chief unharmed after suspected Boko Haram attack

Suspected Boko Haram fighters ambushed a convoy carrying the head of the Nigerian army, the military said on Sunday, sparking a firefight in which 10 militants and a soldier were killed.

Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, who was unharmed, was visiting troops in the northeast on Saturday when insurgents attacked in Faljari village, 45km east of Borno State capital Maiduguri, army spokesperson Sani Usman said in a statement.

“The terrorists encountered an overwhelming firepower from the troops in which 10 of them were killed. The troops captured five terrorists,” he said.

“During the encounter, sadly, we lost a soldier, while an officer and four soldiers sustained gunshot wounds.”

News of the attack came with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon due to arrive in Nigeria later Sunday to commemorate the fourth anniversary of a deadly attack on the global body by Boko Haram in the capital Abuja.

The Islamist group has stepped up its attacks in Borno and two neighbouring states in its northeastern heartland since President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in May.

The fresh wave of violence has claimed more than 1 000 lives over the last three months, dealing a setback to a four-country offensive launched in February that had chalked up a number of victories against the jihadists.

Algerian soldiers kill 2 Islamist militants – ministry

Algerian soldiers have killed two Islamist gunmen in an operation east of the capital, the defence ministry announced on Sunday.

It said in a statement that the men were killed on Saturday by the army about 500km east of Algiers near Skikda.

“During an operation in the Ain Laksar area, army units shot dead two terrorists,” the statement said.

It added that weapons including a Kalashnikov assault rifle and an RPK machinegun were recovered, as were three magazines and a quantity of ammunition.

Islamist-linked violence rocked the country in the 1990s but has since waned, although armed groups remain active in central and eastern Algeria.

The army says that more than 60 Islamists in the North African nation have been killed this year, and that upwards of 100 were killed in 2014.

Egypt arrests 3 under terror law for spreading ISIS ideology

Egyptian police have arrested three individuals under a new anti-terrorism law who are accused of spreading Islamic State propaganda through Facebook.

The police directorate in the southern Sohag province said on Sunday the three had two laptops containing ISIS videos.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi approved a draconian law last week that sets a wide-ranging definition of terrorism and prescribes harsh punishments.

El-Sisi has waged a crackdown on Islamists and other opponents since 2013, when he led the military overthrow of the Islamist Mohammed Morsi, the country’s first freely elected president, during mass protests against his rule.

Following Morsi’s ouster, a long-running insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula surged, with attacks targeting security forces there and on the mainland. The most powerful insurgent group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group last year.

OMG!!!! Baboon Rapes Female Teachers In Zimbabwe Run Away With Their Underwears.

Sources at the school who cannot be named for professional reasons said female members of staff would wake up without their underwear or with signs that they had sex overnight.

“One of the teachers said she woke up towards midnight on July 10 and saw a man with a baboon in her room. She said she screamed and the two disappeared through a wall” said a source.

A villager, Samson Ncube, 70, said other teachers rushed to her room and when they heard her story, they called for an emergency meeting with village elders.

Ncube said the meeting was held on Saturday July 11 and the teachers said they would not spend another night at the school. “They said they were being sexually abused by the baboon.

Everyone’s story came out with some saying they had been afraid to speak out because they weren’t sure of what was going on,” he said.

Lessons for the 439 pupils have been suspended as only the headmaster, Mandlenkosi Maqeda, and two male teachers have remained.

They said 10 female teachers fled after the baboon, suspected to be a goblin, had been terrorising them for a month.

Tsholotsho district education officer Kelvin Mathe said the matter was under investigation.

He, however, declined to give details and referred questions to the Matabeleland North provincial education director Boithatelo Mnguni.

“We got a report from the school about a troublesome baboon and we’re still investigating,” said Mathe.
Mnguni could not be reached fo comment.

According to villagers, the baboon has been appearing at the school for the past one month and a number of meetings have been held at the school to try and bring a solution to the disturbances.

“The baboon has been appearing at the school since June and it has scared off female teachers. The teachers first saw strange foot prints at the school and called villagers, who were also not familiar with the prints.

“A few days later, one of the teachers saw the baboon outside a classroom while she was teaching. She rushed to call the other teachers but the baboon disappeared. We thought it was a petty issue until the female teachers started telling us that the baboon was sexually abusing them while they were sleeping,” said the headman, Qhelile Mkhwananzi.
He said the community was yet to come up with a solution to the problem.

Villager Melitha Dube said it was a strange incident that had brought fear within the community.

“We’ve heard reports about the baboon for weeks now and we were called to a meeting after most of the female teachers abandoned the school. Unfortunately there was no clear solution to the problem. Some villagers have, however, suggested that we should hold prayers while we think of a solution,” said Dube.
An elderly villager, Vusumuzi Sibanda, said he was shocked to see the baboon spoor as he had never seen one in the area before.

“This isn’t an area for baboons. I was born here 72 years ago and I’ve never seen baboons here. I strongly suspect that this could be the works of witchcraft by some evil people and it calls for serious investigation,” said Sibanda.

“The whole community has no idea how to solve this problem because it’s something strange to us. It’s unfortunate that some teachers have decided to abandon the pupils and they’re missing their lessons.”

I know what’s on your mind now it’s sign of end time right?  

May God save us all.

Dear Homosexual America, I’m sorry | An open letter from a Christian

Kaitlin Ebeling

America, in light of the SCOTUS ruling yesterday legalizing gay marriage, I wrote you a letter.

Before I begin, I want to share a little bit about myself so you know exactly who it is writing this letter. My name is Kaitlin. I am a 20 year old college grad with a degree in Business. I am a social entrepreneur. I am a fighter for ethical clothing. I am a braker for birds, thrift store aficionado, travel junkie, and outdoor enthusiast. I am a twin. I am a daughter. I am a friend. I am a people lover. But even that doesn’t tell you much about me.

My core, my very identity is this: I am a sinner, saved by grace. I am the daughter of the King of kings, Lord of the nations, Creator of the earth and Lover of souls. I am fearfully and wonderfully made by God’s hands…

View original post 1,323 more words

Why Is The ICC Targeting Africa?

Since its establishment in 2002, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has heard 22 cases and indicted 36 individuals, all of them from Africa. Now, in the midst of multiple ongoing ICC investigations in African countries, the continent has shot back. All members of the African Union (AU) — with the sole exception of Botswana — expressed their distrust in the institution during the 23rd annual African Union summit. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni even threatened to put forward a motion to have all African countries withdraw from the Court. Robert Mugabe, the new chairman of the AU, has echoed Museveni’s sentiments by insisting that a mass pullout appear on the AU’s next agenda.

Although these leaders have claimed that an inherent bias against the continent has caused the ICC to unfairly target African nations for review, the debate is not so simple. Instead, factors such as the limitations imposed on the Court’s jurisdiction — along with the lack of domestic or regional alternatives for prosecuting crimes against humanity — have been the real culprits in the alleged injustice. 
The foundations for the ICC were established after the Cold War demonstrated the need for an international judicial body that could prosecute individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The institution, headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands, currently has 123 member states. These states are party to the Rome Statute, which serves as both the Court’s governing document and its statement of intent. Of the 123 countries that have signed and ratified the Rome Statute, just under one-third are African nations, and the continent’s delegates and representatives have historically played an important role both in the drafting of the statute and in the development of the judicial institution.

At first glance, the subjects of the Court’s scrutiny do not seem to be indicative of any geographical or continental bias. Currently, the Court is conducting multiple preliminary examinations in Colombia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Georgia, Guinea, Honduras, Iraq, Ukraine and Palestine. Despite the wide mosaic of global hotspots the Court seems to consider improper, the only official investigations that have gone to trial have their roots in African countries.
There are a number of structural reasons why this lopsided attention has developed, and one of them is fundamentally jurisdictional. Despite its large membership and narrow focus, the ICC’s jurisdiction is a messy and byzantine affair.

The Office of the Prosecutor is responsible for conducting investigations and may open cases when a situation is referred to the office by a member of the ICC, by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) or by individuals or organizations that report on crimes in countries within the Court’s jurisdiction. Additionally, jurisdiction is not only limited to crimes committed after July 2002, but also by subject matter. Because the Court can only investigate cases involving genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, it is unable to prosecute other serious global transgressions. Further restrictions compound the jurisdictional issue even more.

The prosecutor cannot open a case if a similar one is being tried at the national level. The only exception occurs if the Office of the Prosecutor concludes that there has not been a genuine process of justice on a national level — but such a conclusion is both subjective and political. Crucially, the ICC is limited by its lack of jurisdiction over states that haven’t ratified the Rome Statute — a list that happens to include some of the most powerful nations in the world: the United States, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and Turkey.
The same rule that excludes the United States and Turkey from the ICC’s scrutiny also affects the Court’s ability to investigate and prosecute nonstate actors.

The ICC can only investigate a nonstate actor if it receives an invitation to do so via a state’s formal declaration to the UNSC. However, this process is long and, because such a declaration requires unanimity in the UNSC, is frequently beset by political maneuvering between heavyweight rivals. In the case of Syria, for example, the fact that the conflict involves both state and nonstate actors means that the ICC can only intervene if the UNSC refers the case, which is not likely to happen since Russia and China have veto powers and do not wish for the ICC to get involved in the conflict. The ICC’s limited prosecutorial abilities have also hampered the pursuit of nonstate actors in similar cases.

The cumulative weight of these limitations on the Court drastically reduces its possible targets, resulting in stringent boundaries on its reach. Since many countries in which cases could be brought are out of the ICC’s territory, an emphasis has been put on African nations as the ICC’s primary viable targets, as they make up a large chunk of the small handful of nations still within the Court’s capacity.

Another factor that has calibrated the ICC’s focus to Africa is the lack of viable alternative institutions for the promotion of justice. Currently, the only options are the African Human Rights Court (AHRC) and the Court of Justice of the African Union. Though the two courts are planning to combine, not enough countries have ratified the change. In the meantime, these courts are minimally effective at best; they can hardly punish a normal robber, let alone genocide perpetrators or mass murderers.

Furthermore, the AHRC is limited in that only 27 of 54 African countries have so far ratified its protocol and are party to its jurisdiction. And even in the areas in which the AHRC does retain jurisdiction, it has done little. The Court has yet to prosecute any serious offenders since its establishment 11 years ago. The reality is that attempting to make use of these failed courts will only serve to entrench impunity for African leaders, allowing them to continue to perpetrate crimes.

Although African countries have often tried to resolve their major judicial issues within their national court systems, the ICC has proven time and again to be the only viable option. Both the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR) sought to try perpetrators domestically but turned to the ICC for help after failing to make headway. The DRC could not agree on the details for establishing a tribunal; the CAR could not prosecute the leader in question due to the political immunity he was guaranteed as vice president.

A recent case in Kenya followed a similar pattern. After disputed presidential elections in December 2007, violence rocked several parts of the country, leaving over 1,000 people dead and thousands of others injured or displaced.

At first, the national government sought to open a criminal investigation into the primary instigators of the violence, the Ocampo Six, which included the Deputy Prime Minister, the Industrialization Minister, the Education Minister, a cabinet secretary, a former police commissioner and a radio executive. But when the investigation began to face difficulties, the Kenyan parliament voted to end the internal examination and instead send a report to the ICC prosecutor. The prominence of the slogan, “Don’t be vague, let’s go to The Hague,” demonstrates the popular support for the move. The ICC subsequently accepted the case and completed its initial investigation within a year, summoning the Ocampo Six to trial in two separate cases to denounce their crimes against humanity.

In this light, it makes sense that the ICC’s spotlight shines so harshly on the African continent. The disproportionality lamented by African leaders is primarily driven by limitations on the ICC’s jurisdiction and the lack of alternative judicial pathways in Africa. Yet in a world where race and geopolitics are sensitive global issues, the continent’s luminaries and other ICC critics have not hesitated to express their opposition to the ICC.

Recently, the ICC’s attentional imbalance on Africa has resulted in several African leaders criticizing the Court’s focus on the continent as inappropriate: The threat to pull out of the Rome Statute en masse is just one example of angered rhetoric from African leaders.

But it is a critical one, since a mass pullout would damage the Court’s functionality. Recognizing both African anger and the importance of its African members, the Court has taken some steps to placate its critics. But even recent changes like the appointment of Gambia’s Fatou Bensouda to the Office of the Prosecutor have not spared the Court from increasingly harsh critiques.

One such critic is former AU Commissioner Jean Ping. Ping believes that the Court is not just unfairly targeting Africa, but that it is designed to do precisely that. His lament can be summed up in his recent exclamation: “Why not Myanmar…Why not Iraq?”
Ping’s question has an answer: Myanmar is not party to the ICC, and the Court is indeed targeting countries like Iraq.

The current Iraq case is undergoing a procedural “Phase 2” investigation, a subject matter jurisdiction phase in which the Court analyzes all the information it has gathered to determine whether the preconditions for it to exercise its jurisdiction are satisfied. Although the Court decided to discontinue its investigation in 2006, the then-Prosecutor for the ICC, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, announced that investigations could be re-opened if more information became available.

And so it has. Last January, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, together with Public Interest Lawyers, submitted a communication to the Court alleging the responsibility of United Kingdom officials in war crimes involving systematic detainee abuse in Iraq from 2003 to 2008. While Iraq is not party to the Rome Statute, the UK is, placing a new case within ICC jurisdiction.

The Court is now in the process of conducting a preliminary examination to determine whether there is a reasonable basis for it to proceed further with its investigation. It remains to be seen if the ICC will rise above the criticism regarding its geographical focus and open a case against the UK.

Though the AU’s claim of bias may be unsubstantiated, it is not their only concern regarding foul play from the ICC. The AU has also accused the Court of breaking international law, saying that by investigating sitting heads of African states, it has failed to respect political figures’ guarantees of immunity from prosecution.

Prosecuted figures include the current president and vice president of Kenya as well as the president of Sudan. The international immunity law stems from an understanding that while in office, state officials fulfill critical executive duties and that undergoing prosecution for criminal offenses could hinder their performance.

Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus summed up the sentiment at a recent summit, when he said that asking a sitting president to appear before the Court was tantamount to infringing on the sovereignty of a country. And in this regard, the critics may be right: The ICC has indeed taken improper action against African leaders while they remained in office.
Yet even this complaint is not so clear-cut. In the Sudanese case, like the Libyan one, it was the UNSC that referred the problems to the ICC.

Both referrals had the full support of all the African countries that were represented in the UNSC at the time. And in even more striking irony, many of the African cases investigated by the ICC were referred to the Court by the governments of these countries themselves. The procedures of the ICC require that justice be a two-way street: When the international community or even a country’s own government asks for international aid in bringing justice, the ICC has a heavy responsibility to take act.

Much of the current criticism of the ICC is reflective of some questionable political practices. In Kenya’s Ocampo Six case, for example, although government officials originally referred the case to the ICC, the rhetorical tide quickly began to turn after the initial investigation closed.

Those who suspected that they might be held culpable as a result of the trial quickly began to denounce the Court. Many of the same people who had originally selected the ICC as their preferred pathway towards justice began to openly complain about the Court’s failures in handling the case, accusing it of basing its evidence on hearsay rather than conducting a serious investigation.

Ultimately, facing a new surge of pressure from Kenya, the ICC had to drop most of the charges due to what it deemed “noncooperation by the government.” The Kenyan government has also vowed to continue to impede the progress of the ICC on any remaining cases in order to prevent it from taking any decisive steps towards the provision of justice. In short, Kenya exemplifies the way in which criticisms of the ICC and its supposed focus on Africa have primarily become political maneuvers and knee-jerk reactions from those who are likely to face justice in The Hague’s halls.

Nor is Kenya the only government to have backtracked on its support for the ICC after the Court’s scrutiny turned to its leaders. For example, in 2003, under the leadership of Laurent Gbagbo, the government of Côte d’Ivoire submitted a declaration accepting the jurisdiction of the ICC.

Following violence related to the country’s disputed elections of 2010, the new president, Alassane Outtara, reaffirmed the former declaration, an act that ultimately led to the indictment of former President Gbagbo. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gbagbo and his supporters’ public view of the Court shifted once it had issued arrest warrants against him and his wife.

So although the statement that the ICC has prosecuted African individuals disproportionately is undeniable, the disproportionality is not, as has been alleged, the result of any inherent prejudice. Rather, it is the result of structural factors such as limitations on the ICC’s jurisdiction and a lack of alternatives for effectively prosecuting African leaders. Moreover, the accusations are often rooted in the desire of powermongers to deflect unwanted scrutiny from their own actions, rather than in any substantive malaise lurking at the core of the ICC.

As long as the ICC remains the Mother Continent’s best path towards justice, African countries would be wise to avoid retreating from the Court in the name of regional autonomy.

Global reaction to Sepp Blatter’s decision to resign

Reaction from around the globe to Sepp Blatter’s sudden announcement Tuesday that he will step down as FIFA president amid a corruption scandal:


“It was a difficult decision, a brave decision, and the right decision.” — Michel Platini, president of European soccer federation UEFA.


“A good day for FIFA and for football … Change is finally coming. I said on Friday that the day would come sooner or later. Here it is! Now we should, responsibly and calmly, find a consensual solution worldwide in order to start new era of dynamism, transparency and democracy in FIFA.” — Former Portugal great and one-time FIFA presidential candidate Luis Figo.


“I think that it is the right move from Sepp Blatter and I think we have to look to the future … I am at the disposal of all the national associations who want a change, including all of those who were afraid to make a change.” — Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, who lost to Blatter in last Friday’s election:


“We highly respect this decision of President Blatter to step down and to initiate the necessary reforms — and to make way for a new leadership of FIFA to drive these changes.” — IOC President Thomas Bach.


“He says he won’t step down until the next president is elected. If there is no specific reason (for his resignation) there is no need for him to step down. I think there is an obligation to explain this.” — FIFA Executive Committee member and Japan Football Association vice-president Kozo Tashima.


“We are at an important moment for the game, a moment that we must not squander. CONCACAF stands ready to assist in the process of rebuilding FIFA in a way that strengthens the game for many years to come.” CONCACAF President Alfredo Hawit.


“FIFPro welcomes the decision of FIFA president Sepp Blatter to resign as this creates an overdue and unique opportunity to fundamentally reform the governance of football. … The effort will fail without the direct involvement of the players.” — world players’ union FIFPro.


“I was kind of expecting that the pressures — the external pressures — would be sustained, and therefore Mr. Blatter would soon have to retreat. Because he should.” Raymond Tim Kee, President of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association.


Michel Platini “suits the role of president of FIFA better than anyone else … (He is) a more prepared and experienced person.” — Russian Football Union acting president Nikita Simonyan.


“The CBF sees the announcement of the resignation of Joseph Blatter with surprise. It’s a decision that is personal and deserves our most profound understanding.” — Brazil’s football confederation, the CBF.


“It is a good afternoon. I think it’s brilliant for world football. This is the start of something new.” — England’s Football Association chairman Greg Dyke.


“I wanted change for the FIFA and this may be a very big step in the right direction. Let’s truly accomplish.” — Dutch FA chief and one-time FIFA presidential candidate Michael van Praag on Twitter.


“Blatter wasn’t sole responsible, more have to follow. Transparency and voting reform, then we move on and bring back ethics.”— Manchester City and Belgium defender Vincent Kompany on Twitter.


“The announcement today by President Blatter represents an exceptional and immediate opportunity for positive change within FIFA. I commend him for making a decision that puts FIFA and the sport we love above all other interests.” — U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati.


“I want the full facts around the bidding to be known. If there was fairness and transparency, then good, well done. If it is found there was improper behavior in any way they must have a look at whether they should reopen the processes.” — Simon Johnson, member of England’s team which unsuccessfully bid to stage the 2018 World Cup.


“We welcome his belated announcement today but this is only the beginning of the process of change we need to see from FIFA. I sincerely hope this is the first step to a new FIFA that can command the confidence and respect of the football world once again.” — British Culture Secretary John Whittingdale.


“As I announced following the election at FIFA Congress, I simply could not countenance serving on the FIFA Executive Committee alongside Mr. Blatter. I respect his decision but am pleased he is standing aside and by the clear determination for real change within FIFA. This in turn allows me to reconsider my position.” — English FA Vice Chairman David Gill.


“His fall will come as a tsunami to every corrupt leader in the confederations around the world. … We need the corrupt ones in prison, and we need the contributions from great idols, good sports leaders and football lovers.” — Former Brazil great Romario.


“This man (Blatter) was probably and surely under a lot of pressure and he resigned from the game and now it’s time to reboot FIFA and reboot the game of football and that’s the most important.” — Former France winger David Ginola, who previously tried unsuccessfully to stand as a FIFA presidential candidate.

Zim minister defends govt inability to find missing activist

President Robert Mugabe’s government’s failure to find missing activist Itai Dzamara is just like the UK’s inability to stop its citizens slipping away to fight in Syria, Zimbabwe’s information minister argued on Tuesday.

Asked on Twitter why the authorities had not located Dzamara, who was abducted on March 9, Jonathan Moyo said: “For the same reasons the British government is not aware of hundreds… of its citizens who go to Syria despite security.”

At least 500 British citizens are thought to have gone to fight in Syria, with some of them joining ISIS. 

Zimbabwean activist Dzamara, 35, was abducted from a barber’s shop in a Harare township by unidentified men and driven off in a vehicle with masked number plates. 

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change and many activists believe state agents are behind Dzamara’s disappearance, especially as the former journalist had been calling on the 91-year-old Mugabe to stand down.

Dzamara had been previously assaulted by police.

In comments broadcast this week, Moyo told a BBC interviewer that Dzamara’s disappearance “was obviously of concern to the government”. 

“People disappear every day… We have quite porous borders,” Moyo argued.

A court order for police to search for Dzamara has yielded nothing, and his family now say they have hired a private investigator. Rumours circulate from time to time saying that the father-of-two has been found but nothing concrete has emerged. 

Visiting top US diplomat Steven Feldstein said last week that the US wanted “the facts” on Dzamara’s disappearance as soon as possible.

Former MDC advisor Alex Magaisa tweeted on Tuesday: “1 man tried a protest. He was abducted & disappeared. Zimboz have just got on with their lives.”

West African leaders to discuss presidential term limits

West African leaders are due to discuss a proposal aimed at limiting presidential mandates to two terms at a regional summit on Tuesday, officials said.

The talks by members of West Africa’s Ecowas bloc come as several long-standing African presidents are approaching legal term limits. Attempts to change the law, or circumvent it, have sparked unrest in Burundi and Burkina Faso.

Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the top United Nations official in West Africa, told Reuters that countries in the region without term limits would be encouraged to introduce them.

Togo and Gambia do not have term limits.

Another official with direct knowledge of the talks said leaders would be asked to commit to protecting clauses on term limits from any broader revisions of constitutions.

Ecowas can suspend members who do not comply with regional measures.

Ethiopia’s newest party takes on ruling juggernaut

Addis Ababa – The leader of Ethiopia’s newest opposition party hopes discontent among urban youth will win him support in a weekend election that could otherwise be a clean sweep for the ruling party in Africa’s most populous nation after Nigeria.

Over 36 million people have registered for the May 24 polls, the country’s first election since long-serving leader Meles Zenawi died in 2012.

His Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has been in power for almost a quarter of a century, and faces no reasonable prospect of defeat – the current 547-seat parliament has just one opposition member.

Yilekal Getinet, chairman of the three-year old Blue Party, or Semayawi in Amharic, says it originally put forward 400 candidates but electoral authorities cut the list to 139.

Semayawi expects to win seats in the urban areas in spite of such obstacles.

No real threat

“The people’s anger is increasing from time to time. By the strong opposition from the people and demands for further changes we may win in towns,” he said.

Semayawi, which wants less government involvement in the economy, sees itself as offering change in Ethiopian politics, with the vast majority of its members younger than 35.

Some 57 opposition parties are taking part in the polls but analysts say they present no real threat.

The opposition won an unprecedented 147 seats in an election 10 years ago but most of them did not join parliament, alleging the ballot had been rigged. Many of then spent two years behind bars on charges of inciting violence.

Lottery

Yilekal says over 50 party members have been detained by police, and accuses the government of unfairly allocating financial resources to the ruling party and depriving opposition parties of television air time, claims rejected by authorities.

Yilekal’s name will not be on the ballot after he was disqualified by the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), which ran a draw to pick candidates for 52 parties that had never taken part in an election.

NEBE chairperson Merga Bekana said most of Semayawi’s candidates had broken electoral rules by belonging to another party, adding the board had been tough on all sides.

Two ruling party members have been arrested in recent days on charges of breaking the law, Merga said, adding the environment was “conducive” to open politics.

Yilekal was not reassured. “There may be an increment in some numbers but that does not show that Ethiopia is in a democratic process. The whole process is deteriorating,” he said.

Interpol: Islamic extremist rebel to be extradited to Uganda

The head of Interpol in Uganda says an Islamic extremist leader who was arrested in Tanzania will be extradited to Uganda after Tanzanian authorities agreed to co-operate.

Asan Kasingye told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Jamil Mukulu appeared on Friday in a Dar es Salaam court, charged with multiple counts of murder, after his extradition papers were filed.

Mukulu is the Ugandan leader of the Allied Democratic Forces, or ADF, an armed group that originated in Uganda but which now operates in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The ADF is accused of carrying out massacres in Uganda as well as in parts of eastern DRC, including savage killings earlier this month near the town of Beni in DRC North Kivu province.

WHO: Humanitarian crisis unfolding among Burundi refugees

The World Health Organisation says a severe humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Tanzania as thousands of Burundians seek refuge there because of political tensions back home.

WHO said in a statement on Tuesday that the situation is “especially worrisome” in Tanzania’s Kagunga village, where the original population of 11 382 has increased to over 90 000 since April.

It said between 500 and 2 000 people are arriving daily, overwhelming the health infrastructure.

Cases of acute diarrhoea and cholera have been confirmed among the refugees, and experts who assessed the situation have recommended emergency measures to ensure a timely response in the Kigoma region near the border with Burundi, according to WHO.

Amid political unrest, more than 105 000 Burundians have sought refuge in Tanzania, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ebola cases rise in Guinea, Sierra Leone – WHO

Ebola has spread further in Guinea and Sierra Leone, with 36 cases in the past week, four times as many cases as the week before, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday.

The findings were a reminder that “this virus will not go quietly and it will take an extraordinary effort to finish the job”, the WHO’s special representative for Ebola, Bruce Aylward, told a technical briefing attended by health ministers.

“With the start of the rainy season today, the doubling of effort will be that much more difficult, that much more important,” he added.

Liberia was declared Ebola-free earlier this month.

Burundi: Foreign journos barred from area of protests

Bujumbura – Protesters opposed to Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza called for him to step down Tuesday, defying warnings to end weeks of demonstrations as security forces tried to restore order after a failed coup.

“We cannot stop the protests, because President Nkurunziza has not withdrawn his candidacy,” said Bernard, a 34-year old unemployed man. But he also admitted that the “numbers of protesters were diminishing because people fear the bullets… we’ve started to see soldiers firing to intimidate the population.”

Small groups gathered in the capital Bujumbura chanting, “no to violence!”, although others gathered up piles of stones, apparently in case of attack by security forces.

At least 20 people died in over two weeks of street battles with security forces before the demonstrations ended when generals launched a failed coup attempt last week.

Fair trials

Nkurunziza has been accused by rights groups of launching a campaign of repression against opponents and trying to silence independent media since coup leaders admitted defeat on Friday after fierce fighting with loyalist troops.

But the presidency dismissed such claims on Tuesday, saying it would never carry out “revenge” raids and promising fair trials for those arrested.

“Those involved in the shameful attempt to overthrow legitimate institutions will be arrested and prosecuted by the courts, and only by them – and it will be up to them to fix the punishment, as prescribed by law,” a statement read.

Almost a week on since the coup attempt led by a top general – which saw soldiers battling each other on the streets – troops have largely replaced the police to stem the protests.

Bujumbura mayor Juma Saidi warned in broadcasts on the weekend that “demonstrators will be considered as part of the coup, and security forces have been ordered to treat them as such”.

Journalists restricted

But there were also signs of weariness among some protesters, some of whom have been on the streets since late April.

“The people, we’re almost dying – there is no transport, there is no more money,” said Deogratias, aged 55, an artist. He said that while he supported protests, he wanted it organised so that people could still carry out day-to-day life and businesses.

More than 100 000 people have fled to neighbouring nations from political violence according to the UN.

Opposition and rights groups insist that Nkurunziza’s bid for a third five-year term is against the constitution and the terms of the peace deal that brought an end to the country’s 13-year long civil war in 2006.

Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader and born-again Christian who believes he has divine backing to lead the country, argues his first term did not count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people.

For the first time on Tuesday, foreign journalists were barred from reporting on one area of protests, in the capital’s Musaga district, with one policemen saying it was in the journalist’s “interest” as the “security was not ensured.”

Four key private radio stations were attacked and closed during the coup bid, and there is now virtually no independent media in the country, with government broadcasts relying presidential messages.

Several journalists, civil society members and leaders of the anti-third term protest have gone into hiding fearing arrest or attacks from government supporters.

Porn or pop? Ugandan singer on trial for music video

Bouncing and grinding, singer Jemimah Kansiime’s music video was a hit among her Ugandan fans, but not for conservative politicians who say it broke a tough new anti-pornography law.

The 21-year old singer, who uses the stage name “Panadol wa Basajja” – literally, “medicine for men” – has already spent five weeks in jail after her arrest for a music video that gives a lingering and generous focus on wet and soapy buttocks.

Now she faces up to 10 years in jail, if found guilty in the first full trial under the law – which took effect in February 2014 – that critics such as Human Rights Watch argue so loosely defines pornography it has encouraged public attacks on women wearing skimpy clothing.

Sex sells

Critics say it is part of a growing anti-liberal movement including tough laws against homosexuals in Uganda, where religious-driven conservatism appears to be on the rise and where US evangelical preachers rather than pop stars like Kansiime often receive rock star welcomes.

“I was aware that there are some sections of society that are conservative,” said the singer, smoothing her rainbow coloured hair extensions that always cover one eye.

But one thing she thought she had learnt from her idols – including Rihanna and Nicki Minaj – is that sex sells.

“I was just experimenting to see if I put on a short dress, will the audience like it?” said the singer.

She made the video that has placed her in hot water last year for her song “Nkulinze” – or “I am waiting for you” – about “a young lover’s intimate fantasies”.

‘Intended for adults’

It has proved popular, and the video has been watched over 140 000 times on YouTube. But Kansiime said she never dreamt that writhing in her underwear was breaking the law. She and her then manager Didi Muchwa Mugisha were arrested in November.

Mugisha pleaded guilty and was fined 200 000 Ugandan shillings, but Kansiime pleaded not guilty, and was held for five weeks before raising the cash bail.

“When I was making that video I never intended it for children, I intended it for adults. I did not sell or distribute the song,” said Kansiime, wearing a short, leopard print dress with tiny straps, revealing a push up bra underneath.

“My rights have been trampled upon, my freedom of expression has been trampled upon,” she told GNR in her simple tin-shack home in the capital Kampala.

Shocked minister

Her lawyer, Isaac Semakadde, argues the case is a test for the right of Ugandan performers to “express themselves”.

“That right to erotic entertainment, there has to be a space for it in an open and free society,” he told GNR, saying divisions must be made between clearly criminal offences such as child pornography.

“To ban all forms of pornography, all forms of nudity, is outrageous,” he said.

She was tracked down and arrested after Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo was shocked at the video. Lokodo has recently boasted that he and his “intelligence team” of spies are “on the ground” watching such singers closely.

“That’s why Panadol was arrested,” he said, describing her videos as “very obscene and vulgar”, and warning of more arrests.

The former priest said singers such as Rihanna were “the type of people I’m condemning.”

“She’s a very provocative dancer… there’s nothing at all good there,” he said.

In his continued crackdown on pornography, Lokodo has this year ordered police to arrest men who procure prostitutes and described a popular local television dating show as prostitution. Local media reported that he also confronted Uganda’s youngest MP when she walked into parliament in a short skirt.

Semakadde accuses the ethic ministry of ignoring more pressing issues.

“The decadence in society does not start and stop with prostitution,” he said. “There’s corruption – but they have no answers to that, so they go for the most vulnerable.”

‘I have not benefited from that video’

Kansiime is due next in court later this month. But Semakadde said he will request the case is halted while the Constitutional Court deals with a separate petition brought by activists against the law, arguing it is “over-broad and vague”.

Amnesty International has called for the law to be repealed and Semakadde ultimately wants it scrapped, too.

Inspired by her struggle, Kansiime’s next song tackles unemployment.

As she awaits her next court appearance, she insisted that she had the right to film “whatever I want”, but conceded she may need to cater for more conservative tastes if she is to make a living from her music.

“I have to do something that people like, I have not benefited from that video,” she admitted.

Watch The Video Below:

Clinton calls for release of her e-mails

US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Tuesday said she wanted the State Department to release her e-mails from her time as secretary of state as soon as possible.

“Anything that they might do to expedite that process I heartily support,” Clinton, a Democrat, told reporters on the sidelines of a campaign event.

“I want them out as soon as they can get out.”

Prince Charles meets Irish republican leader

Prince Charles on Tuesday became the first British royal to meet Irish republican leader Gerry Adams, on a visit that will take him to the scene of his great-uncle’s murder by the IRA.

Charles, the heir to the British throne, shook hands with Adams, the veteran president of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the no longer active Irish Republican Army paramilitary group.

The prince and Adams, both 66, met at the National University of Ireland’s campus in Galway on the west coast, shortly after starting a two-day visit to the republic.

They shook hands in public, then later had a private meeting at Adams’ request, during which, the republican figurehead said, both expressed “regret” over the Troubles – the three decades of sectarian bloodshed in Northern Ireland which left 3 500 people dead.

“We did discuss the need for the entire process to move forward… and the need to heal,” Adams said.

“He reflected on the fact that he has suffered has given him an affinity and an understanding of other people.

“I think it’s fair to say that Charles is also looking to the future and wants to be a positive influence.

“Both he and we expressed regret for what happened from 1968 onwards.”

Adams said of the 15-minute meeting: “It obviously was a big thing for him to do and it was also a big thing for us to do.”

Adams has always rejected allegations that he was a key figure in the IRA, which murdered Charles’s beloved great-uncle, godfather and mentor Earl Mountbatten in 1979.

Before the visit, Adams had referred to Charles by his title as colonel-in-chief of the British army’s Parachute Regiment.

Soldiers from the regiment were found responsible for several killings during the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre – one of the worst incidents in The Troubles.

Father figure to Charles

Seven years later, the IRA blew up a boat carrying Mountbatten at Mullaghmore off the west coast of Ireland, in one of their most high-profile assassinations.

The 79-year-old, who was the last viceroy of British-ruled India and a father figure to Charles, was killed along with two relatives, and Paul Maxwell, a 15-year-old local boy who worked on the fishing boat.

Charles was presented Tuesday with a 330-million-year-old piece of fossil coral from Mullaghmore, as he toured Ireland’s Marine Institute, a gift intended to give a longer-term perspective on the area.

The prince was expected to travel on Wednesday to the rugged stretch of coastline near where Mountbatten’s murder took place, becoming the first royal to do so.

The visit is to include a religious service in a nearby church and will be an emotional moment for the prince.

Mountbatten’s grandson, Timothy Knatchbull, who survived the bomb blast, is also expected to attend, along with Peter McHugh, a local resident who helped pull bodies from the sea, British media reported.

Adams and other senior Sinn Fein members boycotted Queen Elizabeth II’s ground-breaking visit to Ireland in 2011, the first by a British monarch since the future Republic of Ireland gained independence from Britain in 1922.

But Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, a Sinn Fein leader who was an IRA commander in the 1970s, later shook hands with the queen during her visit to Belfast in 2012 in a historic meeting.

Charles praises Irish spirit

Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan said Charles’s visit would celebrate Irish-British ties “while also acknowledging more difficult moments from the past”.

Charles kicked off the trip, described by palace aides as promoting “peace and reconciliation”, by praising the “wonderful spirit” of the Irish and the “fun of being in Ireland”.

“There is a magic, a unique magic about Ireland which is totally irresistible. So wherever I go in the world and meet Irish people, I promise you, it always makes me feel better,” he said at the university.

A major security operation was in place for the two-day visit, days after Irish police found guns and explosive materials in a series of raids.

Charles and his wife Camilla will visit Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, on Thursday and Friday.

In 1995, Charles became the first member of the royal family to visit the country since independence. He visited again in 2002.

Masturbation helps prevent prostate cancer, boosts immune system: Study

it is already well known that masturbation helps prevent prostate cancer in men, now a German study has found it also boosts the immune system. According to the study, which is available on Pubmed, the investigators got 11 male volunteers to masturbate until orgasm, and to perform a control activity that didn’t involve any sex at all.

OBJECTIVE:
Sexual arousal and orgasm induce an increase in sympathetic activity as well as in catecholamine and prolactin plasma concentrations. However, the effects of sexual arousal and orgasm on immune functions in man are unknown. Thus, this study investigated the effects of masturbation-induced orgasm on lymphocyte circulation and cytokine production in healthy young males.

METHODS:
In a crossover design, 11 volunteers completed an experimental condition in which they were asked to masturbate until orgasm and to participate in a control condition without sexual activity. Blood was drawn continuously for determination of endocrine parameters. In addition, leukocyte and lymphocyte subsets were analyzed via flow cytometry, and the production of lipopolysaccharide-induced interleukin 6 and tumor necrosis factor alpha was measured before and then 5 and 45 min after the orgasm.

RESULTS:
The results confirmed transient increases in adrenaline and prolactin plasma concentrations. Sexual arousal and orgasm increased the absolute number of leukocytes, in particular natural killer cells (CD3-CD16+CD56+), in the peripheral blood. In contrast, T cell (CD3+) and B cell (CD3-CD20+) subpopulations as well as the production of interleukin 6 and tumor necrosins factor alpha remained unaffected by sexual activity.

CONCLUSION:
These findings demonstrate that components of the innate immune system are activated by sexual arousal and orgasm.

Neighbours agree to swap wives

A village council in northern India allegedly ordered a woman, whose husband ran off with their neighbour’s wife, to live with the abandoned man or pay him compensation.

Police are investigating a complaint that Rajendra Meghwal asked the council in the desert state of Rajasthan for help after his wife and their two children disappeared with Kalulal Meghwal.

Kalulal’s wife Mamta has told police that the council or “khap panchayat” ordered her to pay Rajendra 300,000 rupees ($4,775) in compensation for her husband’s actions or move in with Rajendra.

“The woman was not present in the khap meeting but she complained to us that she has been asked to pay money or live with Rajendra,” local police officer Sanjay Kumar told AFP.

It was unclear whether the woman was asked to live with him as his spouse or as his employee in the house.

Kumar said officers have started questioning council members in Bundi district after Mamta filed a harassment complaint with police.

Panchayats often comprise an unelected group of elders, who are seen as the social and moral arbiters of village life.

Although they carry no legal weight, khap panchayats can be highly influential and have been blamed for numerous abuses such as the sanctioning of “honour killings” of women whose actions are deemed to have shamed their family.

Branded “kangaroo courts” by their critics, they have been known to hand down public beatings and other punishments for perceived crimes.

Man jailed for insulting national flag

A Turkish man was handed a prison sentence of 13 year and nine month for insulting the national flag during a protest in the predominantly-Kurdish south-east of the country, local media reported.

Prosecutors had accused the man of carrying out the act in the name of a terrorist organisation, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported. The defendant denied the charges.

The demonstration, during which the man climbed up a flag pole at a military base and lowered the national symbol, took place last year, after two Kurdish protesters were killed by security forces.

The man was sentenced at a court in Diyarbakir, in the south-east.

Turkey has strict laws about desecrating the national flag and the incident stoked anti-Kurdish sentiment among Turkish nationalists.

Major hospital in Syria shuts down because of bombings

One of two major hospitals in Syria’s violence-torn northern city, Aleppo, has suspended its operations after it was bombed at least twice last week, the international aid organisation Doctors Without Borders said on Monday.

The city, once Syria’s commercial hub, has been divided between government and opposition forces since mid-2012, and fighting there has raged since.

Government warplanes have dropped explosives-filled barrels on rebel-held neighbourhoods there, killing thousands while Syrian rebels have shelled residential areas in government-held parts of the contested city in the past, killing hundreds.

On Sunday, a Syrian government air raid struck near a school in Aleppo, killing at least seven people including children.

Doctors Without Borders said amid intense fighting, hospitals and medical centres are often targeted to make the population suffer.

The hospital in the eastern district of Sakhour, which is controlled by rebels, provides critical services for over 40 000 people. In March alone, the hospital performed more than 300 trauma surgeries, the group said.

Debris

It said doctors are currently assessing the damage inflicted to several parts of the hospital building.

“It is unclear if or when the hospital will be operative again,” Doctors without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, said.

Activists said government aircraft dropped barrel bombs in Sakhour district on Thursday. Pictures posted on social media showed doctors posing before what appears to be debris from the severely damaged hospital building.

The hospital was closed for several weeks in 2014, also following damages from strikes.

“These new attacks on medical infrastructures are intolerable,” said Raquel Ayora, MSF’s director of operations.

The group said another medical center in Aleppo targeted in the violence has also shut down since April 17.

Syria’s health care system has collapsed in the civil war, now in its fifth year. More than 220 000 people have been killed and more than 1 million wounded since 2011.

Clinton agrees to testify on Benghazi, emails

Hillary Rodham Clinton has agreed to testify on Capitol Hill later this month about the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and about her email practices.

Her lawyer David Kendall wrote to lawmakers on Monday telling them she would agree to the request from a special panel investigating the September 2012 attacks that killed four Americans.

But Kendall said Clinton would testify only for one session. The committee chairman, Republican Republican Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, had requested that she appear twice, for a hearing on Clinton’s use of private emails and for a separate session on Benghazi.

Kendall said Clinton would answer all lawmakers’ questions during one session and it would not be necessary for her to appear twice.

Boston bomber’s brother talked of ‘rage of hatred’

Convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s brother, who described feeling a “rage of hatred”, frightened at least one relative during a visit to Russia in 2012 when he espoused radical Islamist beliefs, a family member said on Monday.

Several of Tsarnaev’s relatives appeared in Boston federal court to testify at the second phase of his trial, where a jury will determine whether he is sentenced to death for killing three people and wounding 264 in the April 15 2013 bombing attack on Boston’s best-attended sporting event.

Defence attorneys are trying to paint the 21-year-old ethnic Chechen as a secondary player in an attack conceived and led by his 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died after a gunfight with police four days after the bombing.

Naida Suleimanova, a cousin of the brothers, said she was scared when she learned Tamerlan had adopted extremist views.

“When we were told that he was an adherent of some kind of radical Islam, I was afraid,” Suleimanova said through an interpreter.

“I don’t understand this. Our parents didn’t teach us these things. They taught us to pray and to read the prayers and I am very far away from all this.”

Suleimanova, who appeared to be holding back tears during her testimony, identified Tamerlan’s voice on an audio recording in which he discusses the idea of establishing an Islamic Caliphate with other men, who are not identified.

“I have this rage of hatred inside of me,” Tamerlan said on the recording, according to a translation of the Russian conversation.

Federal prosecutors have cited extremist publications found on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s computers, as well as a note in which he suggested the attack was in retribution for US military campaigns in Muslim-dominated countries, as evidence that he wanted “to punish America” with one of the highest-profile attacks on US soil since 9/11.

Martin Richard, 8, Chinese exchange student Lu Lingzi, 23, and restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29, died in the bombing. The Tsarnaev brothers shot dead Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier three days later.

A change in Tsarnaev’s mother

The Tsarnaev family had moved frequently between Dagestan, Siberia and parts of central Asia before relocating to the United States a decade before the attack, Suleimanova and her sister, nurse Raisat Suleimanova, testified.

The two said they were surprised when Tsarnaev’s mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, returned for a visit with her hair covered in an Islamic head scarf. Previously she had been a flashy, stylish dresser and not particularly devout, her nieces testified.

“It was a shock for me,” Raisat Suleimanova said through an interpreter. “Knowing what kind of person Zubeidat used to be, it was strange to see that.”

Raisat Suleimanova described Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as having been a “very kind, very warm” child, who was loved by his family.

“I categorically reject what he did,” Suleimanova said. “It’s a great tragedy of course.”

The jury also saw several photos of Dzhokhar as a young boy, including one where Tamerlan carried him on his shoulder.

“Dzhokhar loved his older brother very much,” Naida Suleimanova said. “As is the custom in our families, you would always listen to your older sibling.”

Final push begins in Britain’s knife-edge election

The Conservatives and Labour on Monday launched their final push to woo voters ahead of Britain’s general election this week, as potential kingmaker parties made their pitch for power.

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband kicked off the final three days of campaigning with stark messages to voters about the choice before them.

With polls showing the two main parties neck-and-neck and unlikely to win a majority in Thursday’s vote, power will likely hinge on the performance of smaller parties such as the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Liberal Democrats.

“It’s the start of a week when Britain will decide its future. By Friday you’ll either have Ed Miliband or me as your prime minister,” Cameron said.

“Your vote can and will make a difference. It’s that’s close.”

He told voters: “We have got one big argument about the economy, about leadership, about security, that we guarantee – and about the massive risk there would be of an Ed Miliband government propped up by the SNP.”

Miliband said the election was a “clash of two visions” about wages, health and young people.

He tried to hang the remaining election battle on contrasting plans for the state-funded National Health Service.

“In the final few days of this general election, the future of the NHS is at risk in the way it hasn’t been for a generation,” he said.

Revolutionary comic backs Miliband

He received a major boost when comedian and revolutionary activist Russell Brand dropped his anti-voting stance and endorsed Labour in a tweet to his 9.6 million followers.

Following his interview with Miliband last week, Brand said he had become convinced Miliband would allow the building of “community-led activism”.

“I think this bloke will listen to us,” Brand told his followers in a YouTube video from his bed.

Labour also received backing on the campaign trail from celebrity chef Delia Smith and cross-dressing actor-comedian Eddie Izzard.

If Thursday’s vote results in a hung parliament, it could trigger days, if not weeks, of tricky negotiations as political parties try to come up with an arrangement for forming a stable government.

That could mean deals with smaller parties in exchange for agreeing to their manifesto pledges, or even coalition agreements.

The latest BBC poll of polls out Saturday gave the centre-right Conservatives 34% and centre-left Labour 33%.

The populist UK Independence Party were on 14%, the centrist Liberal Democrats 8%, the left-wing Greens on 5% and others on 6%.

These figures would leave both major parties well short of winning the 326 seats needed for an absolute majority in parliament’s lower House of Commons.

‘Kingmakers’ stand their ground

The Liberal Democrats, led by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, have spent the past five years as the junior partners to the Conservatives in the governing coalition.

They are pitching themselves as mainstream potential coalition partners that would anchor either major party in the centre ground.

“The Liberal Democrats are now the only guarantors of stability in British politics today,” Clegg said on the campaign trail.

“Despite whatever David Cameron and Ed Miliband might say bravely in public, they all know that they’re actually not going to win a majority.

“So the question is… who’s going to be there alongside them?”

Miliband has ruled out striking a formal coalition or deal with the left-wing secessionist SNP, who opinion polls predict will form the third-biggest bloc, perhaps even winning all 59 Scottish seats.

But he refused to say on Monday if Labour could form a legitimate government with fewer seats than the Conservatives.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said the next government must reflect the whole of Britain if it is to be considered legitimate, and cannot “ignore” Scottish voices.

“Surely a test of legitimacy that should be applied… cannot simply be that it is the largest party in England,” she said.

Nigeria’s Boko Haram fracturing

Boko Haram is fracturing as shortages of weapons and fuel foment tensions between its foot soldiers and leaders, women rescued from the Islamist jihadi fighters by Nigerian troops told Reuters.

The group abducted an estimated 2 000 women and girls last year as it sought to carve out an Islamic state in the northeast of Africa’s biggest economy. The army has freed nearly 700 in the past week as it advances on Boko Haram’s last stronghold in the vast Sambisa forest.

The militants began complaining to their captives about lacking guns and ammunition last month, two of the women said, and many were reduced to carrying sticks while some of their vehicles were either broken down or lacked petrol.

A 45-year old mother of two, Aisha Abbas, who was taken from Dikwa in April, said the fighters all had guns at first but recently, only some carried them.

Even the wife of their captors’ leader, Adam Bitri, openly criticized him and subsequently fled, two of the women said, with one describing Bitri as short and fat with a beard.

Of 275 freed captives brought to a government-run camp for internally displaced people in the Malkohi hamlet on the outskirts of Adamawa state capital, Yola, only 61 were over 18, and many small children hobbled around visibly malnourished.

The women said they were kept inside, occasionally brought food and sometimes beaten severely. The children were left to run around or do errands for Boko Haram while those of the fighters were trained to shoot guns.

“One evening in April, Boko Haram followers stood before us and said ‘Our leaders don’t want to give us enough fuel and guns and now the soldiers are encroaching on us in Sambisa. We will leave you.'” one of the women, 18-year old Binta Ibrahim from northern Adamawa state said.

“They threatened us but after they went we were happy and prayed the soldiers would come and save us.”

Crushed

The women said once the militants spotted two helicopters circling at noon on the day of their rescue, they began trying to sell the women for up to $10 each. Towards evening, as the army approached, the captives refused to flee with Boko Haram fighters, who began stoning them but then ran away.

“We heard bullets flying around … we lay on the floor. Some of the women were crushed [by army vehicles] and others wounded by bullets. Eighteen were killed. We counted them, they included infants,” Salamatu Mohamed from the Damboa area in Borno said. The defence ministry was not immediately available for comment.

Mohamed said she gave birth while in captivity and had trouble feeding her newborn as there was not enough food.

Boko Haram seemed almost unstoppable and fast becoming a regional threat after it gained control of an area larger than Belgium last year and increased cross-border attacks on Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

Its six-year-old insurgency has killed thousands and forced 1.5 million people from their homes and the group caused a global outcry when it abducted over 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok.

The women said the men frequently threatened to sell them or bring them to Boko Haram’s elusive leader, Abubakar Shekau, deep in the forest. Nigeria has claimed to have killed him several times. Defence spokesperson Chris Olukolade told Reuters the man was not a priority target.

Hanatu Musa, a 22-year old mother kidnapped in June from Gwoza in Borno state, quoted the fighters as saying their leader had deceived them into fighting and killing in the name of religion.

While the Nigerian army, which launched its counter-attack in January, is confident it has the group cornered in the Sambisa nature reserve, a final push to clear them from the area has been curtailed by landmines.

None of the women interviewed had seen any of the Chibok girls, but Abbas said fighters who travelled from a camp in Sambisa where they were held to source food would describe the situation.

“They said the Chibok girls were married off this year. Some sold to slavery, then others [militants] each married two or four of the girls,” Abbas said.

Over 200 women rescued from Boko Haram are pregnant

At least 214 young women and girls recently rescued from Boko Haram in north-eastern Nigeria are pregnant, the UN Population Fund said on Monday.

Nigeria’s army freed almost 7 000 women from various Boko Haram camps last week.

“Already, many of them are undergoing screening for various diseases, infections including HIV/Aids,” UNFPA Nigeria executive director Babatunde Oshotimehin told the Nigerian news agency.

Boko Haram kidnaps young girls to force them to convert to Islam, and presses them into marriage or keeps them as slaves.

None of those rescued have been identified as belonging to the more than 200 girls who were kidnapped from a school in the village of Chibok in April 2014.

Soldiers found an additional 260 women and children on Monday on the outskirts of Chalawa village in Adamawa State who had escaped from the terrorists, army spokesperson Chris Olukolade said in a statement.

Most of them come from the nearby town of Madagali and surrounding communities, according to the spokesperson.

Some had been abducted and later fled Boko Haram camps, while others had been on the run since the insurgents attacked Madagali several weeks ago. 

US gives $45m for Kenya refugees

The United States said on Monday it will give $45m to help Kenya deal with an increasingly complex refugee crisis in a region long defined by Somalia’s endemic violence, but where war in nearby Yemen is now creating conditions so dire that some people are even fleeing to Somalia.

In Nairobi, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the funding for the UN refugee agency’s operations in the east African country as it struggles to provide for some 600 000 refugees. More than half are Somalis living in the sprawling Dadaab complex, the world’s largest for refugees and the subject of what have been intense diplomatic talks between Kenyan officials threatening to close the camp and Americans insisting such action would violate international law.

Kerry said he received assurances on Monday from Kenya’s once-shunned president, Uhuru Kenyatta, that the camp would stay open while an international plan is devised to make Somalia safe enough for its citizens to return. He said he came away from the discussions with a deeper appreciation for the refugee burden Kenya carries.

The talks on refugees were part of a whirlwind day for the secretary of state that included commemorating the victims of Kenya’s past and more recent terror attacks, and holding extensive discussions with Kenyatta and other officials on combating al-Shabaab extremists operating out of Somalia.

His trip sets the stage for President Barack Obama’s visit this summer.

Kerry said he needed to make no explicit demand regarding Dadaab, even though Deputy President William Ruto said last month the camp would close before August if the UN High Commissioner for Refugees didn’t relocate the refugees to Somalia, likening his government’s anti-terror efforts to those of the US after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The massacre last month at Garissa University College killed 148 people, mainly students. Other recent attacks in Kenya include one on the Westgate shopping mall in 2013, where 67 people were killed by an al-Shabaab network that has been severely hampered by African military efforts and US drone strikes in Somalia, but is expanding its activities elsewhere.

Kenyan officials have regularly claimed Dadaab is a breeding ground for extremist attacks. But the US has seen no evidence linking Dadaab to any of al-Shabaab’s recent atrocities, according to a senior State Department official.

The US would reconsider its financial support if the camp is shut down or if Somalis are forcibly returned home, said the official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on Kerry’s private diplomatic discussions and spoke on condition of anonymity. The US has provided Kenya hundreds of millions of dollars in counter-terrorism and refugee assistance in recent years.

Publicly lambasted

Kenya’s burden is only a piece of a larger refugee challenge that has grown more acute with fighting in South Sudan – whose leaders Kerry publicly lambasted on Monday – and more recently across the Gulf of Aden in Yemen.

Yemen has long suffered from desperate poverty, political dysfunction and al-Qaeda’s most lethal branch. It has become more unstable in recent months as Iran-backed Shiite rebels seized much of the country, chasing Yemen’s internationally recognized president into exile and prompting a Saudi-led military intervention of Sunni Arab governments.

Since the bombing campaign began in late March, 3 500 people have fled Yemen for the northern Somali regions of Somaliland and Puntland. These include Yemenis and some of the estimated 1 million Somali refugees and migrants residing in that country, according to UN and International Organisation for Migration figures.

Around 1 000 people have reached neighbouring Djibouti, which is dealing with its own refugee strain. Seven thousand more have transited through the country, including American citizens, and Kerry plans to visit Djibouti on Wednesday.

The crisis could get drastically worse. Aid agencies are undertaking contingency planning for a prolonged conflict that could prompt 100 000 people to flee to Somalia and 30 000 to Djibouti this year. It’s unclear how Somalia, in particular, would be able to handle such an influx amid persistent fighting throughout much of its territory.

The UN estimates 16 million people in Yemen need humanitarian assistance.

Earlier Monday, Kerry laid a wreath for the victims of the deadly 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Kenya. The twin al-Qaeda embassy attacks in Nairobi and the Tanzanian capital of Dar Es Salaam killed 224 people.

Kerry’s talks with Kenyatta were the most extensive talks since the International Criminal Court dropped charges of crimes against humanity against the Kenyan leader in December. Those were linked to violence that killed hundreds of people after Kenya’s contested 2007 presidential election.

Nevertheless, the US believes Kenyatta should do more to improve human rights, from addressing the post-election killings to stamping out continued incidents of police violence and pressure against journalists, activists and political opponents.

Kenyan VP slammed over homosexuality remarks

Kenya’s deputy president has said there is “no room” for homosexuality in Kenyan society, the latest comments from an African government to anger activists and likely also to annoy Western donors who say gays are targeted on the continent.

William Ruto made the remarks at a church service on Sunday, the day U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived for talks. The United States has been at the forefront of calls for gay rights in Africa and criticises anti-gay laws on the continent.

“The Republic of Kenya is a republic that worships God. We have no room for gays and those others,” Ruto told a Nairobi church congregation in the national Swahili language, according to an online video posted by Kenyan broadcaster KTN.

Speaking to Reuters on Monday, Ruto’s spokesperson Emmanuel Talam confirmed the deputy president’s remarks, adding: “The government believes that homosexual relations are unnatural and unAfrican.”

Valuable donor to Kenya

Like most of sub-Saharan Africa, Kenyan society is strongly religious and socially conservative. Anti-gay remarks by African leaders often win public support but puts them at odds with Western donors who provide vital economic and other support.

When neighbouring Uganda passed a law last year that toughened prison sentences against gays, Kerry described it as “atrocious” and compared it to anti-Semitic laws in Nazi Germany. The law was later struck down by a court.

The United States is a valuable donor to Kenya, providing annual aid of almost $1bn, some of it to help the security forces but much of it to support treatment of HIV/Aids victims.

Homosexuality is illegal in Kenya and has been so since colonial British rule, which ended in 1963.

‘Spreading hate’

Kenyan activists condemned Ruto’s remarks on social media.

“Kenya’s deputy president joins an important tradition by Africans in power to spread hate in church on a Sunday,” Binyavanga Wainana, a prominent Kenyan writer who is openly gay, said on his Twitter account.

Last week, Kenya’s High Court ruled that a prominent gay rights group could register as a non-governmental organisation after a board overseeing such applications refused its request.

Activists praised the ruling but the attorney general has appealed against it.

Ruto, who took office in 2013, is being tried on charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in the Hague for his alleged role in stoking ethnic violence after Kenya’s 2007 presidential election. He denies the accusations.

President Uhuru Kenyatta had faced similar charges, but they were withdrawn last year.

Somalia orders Shabaab renamed ‘the group that massacres’

Somalia’s government has ordered journalists to call Islamist Shabaab insurgents “the Group that Massacres the Somali People”, or “Ugus”, the acronym of the phrase in Somali.

“The meaning of al-Shabaab is ‘The Youth’, and that is a good name,” Somalia’s intelligence chief Abdirahman Mohamud Turyare told reporters.

“We cannot allow that good name to be blemished, so the enemy we are fighting is called Ugus, an acronym of ‘The Group that Massacres the Somali People’,” he said.

The al-Qaeda aligned group emerged in 2006 to lead a bitter insurgency against Ethiopia, whose troops entered Somalia in a US-backed invasion to topple the Islamic Courts Union that controlled the capital Mogadishu at the time.

“It represents what they do, they massacre people,” Turyare said of the new name. “I hope all the media join in taking this name as their official title.”

The term Ugus is already in use by government-run radio and television stations, after its introduction several weeks ago.

Shabaab rebels stage frequent attacks in their fight to overthrow Somalia’s internationally-backed government, and to counter claims that they are close to defeat due to the loss of territory, regular US drone strikes against their leaders and defections.

They have also carried out revenge attacks across the wider region targeting countries which contribute troops to the 22 000-strong African Union force.