17 Colombian civil leaders ‘massacred’: officials

BOGOTA – Colombian officials said Monday that 17 civil campaigners have been murdered over the past two months in the country, amid tensions over its contested peace process.
President Juan Manuel Santos has warned that fresh violence could destabilise the demobilisation of the leftist FARC rebels under a historic peace accord.
He signed the deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and pushed it through the legislature in December, defying criticism from conservative rivals.
In the weeks following, reports emerged of killings by local civil campaigners by unidentified groups in conflict areas.
On Monday the Victims’ Unit, a state conflict resolution body, said in a statement that “17 civil leaders have been murdered since December 1, after Congress ratified the peace accord.”
The last known victim was Porfirio Jaramillo, leader of a group demanding rural land restitution. He was killed on Saturday in Antioquia department, in the northwest, it said.
Land rights were at the heart of the conflict that pitted the Marxist FARC against Colombian state forces since 1964.
The peace agreement reconciles the two main rival forces in the war, but there are fears of score-settling between renegade players in the multi-sided conflict.
As well as leftist rebels and state forces, the conflict drew in right-wing paramilitaries backed by landowners.
They were supposedly disbanded in the 2000s but the FARC and other groups say former members of them are still active.
The Victims’ Unit said Jaramillo was taken away from his home by four armed men. Police found his dead body on Sunday morning.
“We are extremely worried by these events, because the truth is they are massacring social leaders,” the unit’s director, Alan Jara, said in a statement.
He called on prosecutors to investigate the killings and urged authorities to provide protection for social group leaders.

Chad foreign minister to head African Union

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Chad’s foreign minister Moussa Faki Mahamat was named Monday as the new AU Commission chairperson, beating four others to succeed South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, diplomats told AFP
.Several delegates leaving the election hall confirmed the win, while grinning Chadian delegates hugged each other in celebration.
Former Burundian president Pierre Buyoya confirmed Faki’s victory, telling AFP it came after a final round battle with Kenyan foreign minister Amina Mohamed.
The 56-year-old former prime minister has been at the forefront of the fight against Islamists in Nigeria, Mali and the Sahel and has promised “development and security” will be top of his agenda as chief of the continental bloc.
He said he dreams of an Africa where the “sound of guns will be drowned out by cultural songs and rumbling factories” and pledged to streamline the bureaucratic AU during his four-year term in office.
Member states elected him after seven rounds of voting, according to a statement from Kenya congratulating him on his victory.
Other losing candidates were from Botswana, Equatorial Guinea and Senegal.

Kim Kardashian Jewels Stolen In Paris Heist Have Been Melted, Re-Cut: The Only Piece Left Is Her $4.5 Million Engagement Ring

A transcript of police interrogation of the leader of the gang in the Kim Kardashian Paris jewelry heist leaked to the French newspaper Le Monde suggests that Kim Kardashian is “unlikely to get back” most of the cache of jewels worth more than $10 million stolen from her in Paris because the robbers melted down or re-cut them before selling them off.
Officers who interrogated the alleged gang boss, Aomar Ait Khedache, in police custody, learned that shortly after the heist, the gang melted the metals and re-cut the stones to make them unrecognizable before selling them off on the black market. The metals were melted down and transformed into bars while the stones were re-cut to change their appearance and remove distinctive markings.
“So that the jewels wouldn’t be recognized, we took a joint decision to melt them down,” Khedache said, according to the Daily Mail. “One of us took care of that… He came back with bars… altogether there must have been a bit more than 800 grams.”
“They separate the stone from the metal,,, melt the metal, and [re-cut] the stones completely, in order to remove all markings or modify the shape,” said Jerome Guillochon, the president of a French jewelers federation, explaining how criminals process their loot to make then unrecognizable, according to the Sun.
According to Guillochon, crooks use sophisticated equipment such as lasers to alter the appearance of jewelry. The altered product could then be disposed off in the black market safely.
But the 36-year-old Keeping Up With The Kardashians reality TV star may still get back her $4.5 million diamond engagement ring that her husband rapper Kanye West gave to her. Khedache told police interrogators that he kept the ring because he was afraid to offer it on the market because it was distinctive and easily recognizable.
Most of Kim’s stolen jewelry had distinctive markings and design that made them easily recognizable. Her ring, for instance, had the name of Adidas, the international sportswear company.
Police investigators have so far arrested nine men and a woman in connection with the daring heist at Kim’s luxury apartment in central Paris.
Kim was sleeping alone in her apartment when the robbers broke in. They woke her up, tied her up and placed her inside her bathtub after they had forced her to show them where she kept her jewels. Kim was in a state of profound shock when police interviewed her about the incident on October 3, two hours after the robbers had escaped.
Police investigators confirmed during interrogation that the men who broke into Kim’s Paris apartment at about 2:35 a.m. on October 3 were 60-year-old Aomar Ait Khedache, nicknamed “Omar le Vieux” (“Old Omar”) and 61-year-old Didier Dubreucq, nicknamed “Blue Eyes.”
“Both men were hooded, one had a ski mask and he had a cap and a jacket with ‘Police’ on it,” Kim told investigators. “The second man had the same ‘Police’ clothes, but did not have any ski mask.”
They asked her where she kept her diamond engagement ring. When she did not reply one of the men took out a gun. Terrified, Kim showed them the ring.
After she had showed them where she kept the ring they tied her up using plastic cables. They then taped her mouth and legs, took her to her bathroom and dumped her inside the bathtub.
But Khedache insisted during interrogation that his gang treated Kim gently.
Kim listed the jewelry that the men took away. She estimated the value of the jewels at about $5 million but it was later confirmed that it was a massive haul worth more than $10 million.
Other members of the gang in police custody include Aomar Khedache’s 70-year-old girlfriend Christaine. Khedache’s 27-year-old son Harminy and Yunice Abas, 63.

China launches emergency measures over missing tourist boat in Malaysia

BEIJING — The China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) on Sunday activated emergency measures after a boat carrying mainly Chinese tourists was reported to have gone missing in Malaysia.
An emergency team led by a deputy chief of the administration has been set up to deal with the incident, according to a CNTA statement.
The administration is checking the information of the tourists, and the staff in its Singapore office are preparing to search the area where the boat went missing, the statement said.
A boat carrying 31 people, among them more than 20 tourists from China, lost contact with marine authorities after it left a port in Kota Kinabalu (KK) in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah to Pulau Mengalum, a popular tourist island 60 km west of KK, on Saturday, the Consulate General of China in KK said Sunday.
It is not clear yet what caused the disappearance of the boat, but an official from the Chinese consulate said there was unfavorable weather condition Saturday.
Bad weather hampers search effort Bad weather has hampered search effort for the boat carrying mostly Chinese tourists that went missing off Malaysia’s Sabah state, authorities said Sunday.
Senior official of Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency Rahim Ramli said the rescue personnel faced strong winds and choppy waters, according to the local Star newspaper.
Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency said the boat was carrying 31 people, include 28 tourists from China. It sailed out at 9:00 am local time on Saturday from Sabah’s state capital of Kota Kinabalu to Pulau Mengalum, a popular tourist island 60 km to the west.
The Chinese Consulate General’s office has confirmed at least some 20 passengers are Chinese citizens.
The MMEA received a call about the boat’s disappearance on Saturday night and a search and rescue operation was launched to cover an area of 400 square nautical miles. The operation was jointly conducted by MMEA, the Malaysian Navy and Air Force.

Children held in Iraq over suspected Isis links ‘say they were tortured’

Children detained by Iraq’s Kurdistan regional government on suspicion of connections to Islamic State say they were tortured, according to a report from an international human rights group.
The children – who have not been formally charged with a crime – said they were held in stress positions, burned with cigarettes, shocked with electricity and beaten with plastic pipes, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York based international watchdog.
More than 180 boys under the age of 18 are being held, HRW estimates, and government officials have not informed their families where they are, increasing the likelihood of the children being disappeared.
Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Legitimate security concerns do not give security forces licence to beat, manhandle, or use electric shocks on children.
“Many children escaping from Isis are victims who need help, yet face further abuse by Asayish [Kurdish security] forces.”
The rights group said it had interviewed 19 boys aged 11 to 17 while they were in custody at a children’s reformatory in Erbil. The group said the interviews had been conducted without a security official or intelligence officer present.
As Iraqi security forces have retaken territory from Isis over the past year and a half, they have also detained hundreds of men and boys.
Many of those detained are likely to have suffered inhumane treatment or been tortured. Rights groups warn that such practices risk sowing resentment against Iraqi security forces in the wake of military victories against Isis.
“If the authorities and the international coalition really care about combatting Isis, they need to look beyond the military solution, and at the policies that have empowered it,” said Belkis Wille, the senior Iraq researcher for HRW.
“Policies like torture, enforced disappearances, destruction of property and displacement are and will continue to [be] drivers for victims’ families to join extremist groups,” she added.
Iraqi forces have pushed Isis out of nearly all the cities and towns the group once held in Iraq. Mosul is the last major urban centre Isis holds in Iraq and Iraqi forces have retaken half the city since the operation was officially launched in October.

US air raids’ kill civilians, al-Qaeda chiefs in Bayda

Dawn raids by US drones and helicopters have killed at least 20 people in Yemen, including civilians and three tribal chiefs linked to al-Qaeda, local sources say.
A source told our correspondent that at least six homes were destroyed and a number civilians were trapped under the rubble in Yakla district, in the southern province of al-Bayda.
Eight women and eight children were among those killed, a provincial official, who did not want to be named, and tribal sources told the AFP news agency.
The killed al-Qaeda figures were identified as brothers Abdulraouf and Sultan al-Zahab and Saif Alawi al-Jawfi.
Three US helicopters were reportedly involved in the attacks, firing missiles and helicopter machine guns.
There was no comment from Washington on the raids. The operation was the first in Yemen attributed to the US since President Donald Trump took office on January 20.
The US has stepped up its use of drone strikes in recent years and is the only force known to be operating drones over Yemen.
Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, known as ISIS) have exploited Yemen’s two-year war to carry out assassinations and bombings, mostly in lawless areas in the south.
According to the UN, more than 10,000 people have died – nearly half of them civilians – since a Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes on Yemen in March 2015.

Clashes on Yemen west coast kill over 100: medics

Fierce battles between Yemeni government forces and Shiite rebels on the country’s west coast have killed more than 100 fighters in the past 24 hours, officials said on Sunday.
The bodies of at least 90 Huthi rebels were taken to a hospital in the Red Sea city of Hodeida, which is controlled by the insurgents, while 19 dead soldiers were taken to the southern port city of Aden, the medical and military sources said.
Deadly clashes have shaken the area around the key Red Sea town of Mokha since the start of the year when loyalist fighters launched an offensive to oust the Iran-backed Huthis and their allies.
Loyalists backed by the firepower of a Saudi-led Arab coalition advanced on Saturday into the town after having captured its port on Monday, despite strong rebel resistance.
Clashes raged in the town on Sunday, a military official said.
Air strikes hit rebel supplies Air strikes by coalition war-planes hit rebel supplies along the route between Mokha and Hodeida, the official said.
Huthi forces had controlled Mokha since they overran capital Sana’a in September 2014 and advanced on other regions aided by troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Forces supporting President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, backed by the coalition, launched a vast offensive on January 7 to retake the coastline overlooking the strategic Bab al-Mandab Strait.
Mokha was Yemen’s main port serving as its export hub for coffee until it was overtaken by Aden and Hodeida in the 19th century.
Nearly 370 combatants have been killed since government forces launched their drive up the Red Sea coastline.

Pakistan lifts ban on Indian movies

Islamabad: Pakistan has lifted a ban on the import and screening of movies from neighbouring India after months of suspension amid tension over the disputed region of Kashmir.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb announced the government would uphold a 2007 decision to lift a ban on importing Indian film content, adding in a statement that “the Pakistani film industry has been revived and strengthened” by Indian cinema.
Nasar Khan from Hum Films, which imports and screens Indian movies, welcomed the announcement.
Khan said that his distribution company has applied for a so-called non-objection certificate, required for all films screened in Pakistan, for the latest film Kaabil, adding that he hopes it would be cleared on Monday.
A fatal attack by militants on an Indian army base in Kashmir in September triggered deadly border clashes between the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals, bringing cultural ties to a halt.
A blanket ban on Indian content in Pakistani media came into effect the following month.
Despite the ban, Pakistan’s Film Exhibitors Association had announced it would resume screenings Indian movies.
“Cinemas in Pakistan will go bankrupt if they don’t screen Indian stuff,” Aamir Haider, a member of the Pakistan Film Exhibitors Association, said in December.

Children held in Iraq over suspected Isis links ‘say they were tortured’

Children detained by Iraq’s Kurdistan regional government on suspicion of connections to Islamic State say they were tortured, according to a report from an international human rights group.
The children – who have not been formally charged with a crime – said they were held in stress positions, burned with cigarettes, shocked with electricity and beaten with plastic pipes, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York based international watchdog.
More than 180 boys under the age of 18 are being held, HRW estimates, and government officials have not informed their families where they are, increasing the likelihood of the children being disappeared.
Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Legitimate security concerns do not give security forces licence to beat, manhandle, or use electric shocks on children.
“Many children escaping from Isis are victims who need help, yet face further abuse by Asayish [Kurdish security] forces.”
The rights group said it had interviewed 19 boys aged 11 to 17 while they were in custody at a children’s reformatory in Erbil. The group said the interviews had been conducted without a security official or intelligence officer present.
As Iraqi security forces have retaken territory from Isis over the past year and a half, they have also detained hundreds of men and boys.
Many of those detained are likely to have suffered inhumane treatment or been tortured. Rights groups warn that such practices risk sowing resentment against Iraqi security forces in the wake of military victories against Isis.
“If the authorities and the international coalition really care about combatting Isis, they need to look beyond the military solution, and at the policies that have empowered it,” said Belkis Wille, the senior Iraq researcher for HRW.
“Policies like torture, enforced disappearances, destruction of property and displacement are and will continue to [be] drivers for victims’ families to join extremist groups,” she added.
Iraqi forces have pushed Isis out of nearly all the cities and towns the group once held in Iraq. Mosul is the last major urban centre Isis holds in Iraq and Iraqi forces have retaken half the city since the operation was officially launched in October.

CCTV clue in hunt for killer of man shot near Liverpool market

CCTV footage could provide vital clues to assist hunting the killer of a man shot dead in Liverpool, police have said.
Thomas Baker was shot at the meat and fish market in the Old Swan area of the city on Friday.
Officers were called at about 8.15am and provided first aid to Baker before an ambulance crew took him to hospital. He was treated for injuries to his head and chest, before being pronounced dead.
Baker, 44, was found injured at the market on Prescot Road. Police are now saying CCTV in the area could help detectives to identify the killer.
Officers are likely to request data from businesses operating in and around the complex. Images from cameras located on the market and overlooking the car park exit – through which the gunman is thought to have fled – could be crucial to the investigation.
Merseyside police retained a heavy presence at the murder scene throughout Saturday.
Baker, from Everton, was shot outside a gym near the meat market. A post-mortem examination confirmed he died as a result of gunshot injuries.
A swath of the market’s car park remained cordoned off on day two of the inquiry. By mid-afternoon, four police vans – including several from the force’s anti-gun and gang crime Matrix squad – and three squad cars were still based around the cordon.
Baker was shot as he left Phoenix Gym, with detectives believing he was attacked by a man lying in wait. The killer is thought to have been in a small grey car parked alongside Baker’s black BMW. He fled the market in the car, turning on to Prescot Road and heading in the direction of Liverpool city centre.
Detectives continue to appeal to the public for information on the incident, the fifth shooting in Merseyside this month.
Detective Superintendent Mark Guinness said: “My message to those involved in gun crime is clear: Merseyside police is steadfast in its commitment to tackling gun crime… But we can’t do this alone. Communities need to take a stand and help us to make the streets safer.”

How Israel polices Palestinian voices online

At about this time last year, Israel was facing what came to be known as the “knife intifada” – hundreds of apparently uncoordinated attacks involving Palestinians stabbing Israelis. While 36 Israelis lost their lives, more than 200 Palestinians were killed, during that period, by Israeli security forces. The other weapon, apart from kitchen knives, that drew the attention of the Israeli security establishment was social media.
The rationale offered: because some attackers went online to signal their intent or had been exposed to provocative posts there, the internet required policing for what the authorities called “incitement”. The result: hundreds of arrests and prison sentences for Palestinian activists, ordinary citizens, as well as journalists – based on what they wrote or shared – particularly on Facebook.
The occupiers are going through our posts one by one, word by word. They look for words like “martyr”, “hero”, “resistance fighter” or “intifada”. If they find one word they can build an entire case around it and you could end in prison, for nothing.
Facebook itself has reportedly responded to numerous requests from the Israelis to censor its content, but that hasn’t stopped politicians pushing for new laws to force social media companies to comply more fully.
Palestinians affected say Facebook is just another place where their voices have been silenced. The Listening Post’s Will Yong reports from Israel and the Occupied Territories on the emergence of social media as yet another battleground in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Last March, at the height of a wave of so-called “lone wolf” attacks, Israeli soldiers arrested Palestinian journalist Sami Al-Sa’ee in a night raid on his home. Sentenced to nine months in prison, Al-Sa’ee became one of a growing number of Palestinians charged solely or primarily with the offence of online incitement.
“Due to the nature of my job as a news editor, I’m active on my personal Facebook page. I would share news about a martyr and post his picture, or about a girl who was arrested and post her picture, or about a child killed by the Israelis in Hebron and post her picture. Throughout the entire interrogation they were saying that I was sharing inciting posts that enraged people on the street,” Sami Sa’ee told Al Jazeera.
But how does Israel define incitement? Nadim Nashef, co-founder, 7amleh, says: “Israel defines incitement very loosely. Firstly there is the meaning and content of the post itself, whether it contains incitement to violence according to the criteria of the Israeli courts. Then there is the extent of its influence. According to the logic of these courts, how many friends a person has, how many shares a post has, how many likes – all of these are considered evidence of influence over public opinion and contributing to a discourse that could eventually lead to acts of resistance against the occupation.”
With walls, fences, checkpoints and other restrictions coming between the Palestinians in the West Bank and those in Gaza – and separating them from their families and friends among the Arab citizens of Israel – platforms such as Facebook provide a place online to share their stories, opinions and experiences. But arrests, charges and convictions based on social media activity have more than doubled in the past year, leaving Palestinians wondering whether social media is yet another space where Israel gets to make the rules. And, perhaps, where Facebook enforces them.
Last June, when the Silicon Valley giant needed a new head of policy and communication for Israel, it hired Jordana Cutler, formerly Chief of Staff at the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC and, before that, adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The appointment came as top Israeli politicians publicly criticised the company and Israeli lawyers threatened it with a $1bn lawsuit. Cutler’s appointment was hailed by Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan as “an advance in dialogue between the State of Israel and Facebook”. Three months later Facebook representatives traveled to Tel Aviv to meet Israeli officials who, after the talks, said that the two sides would “work together” to tackle online incitement.
This begs the question of whether Facebook is neutral on the Palestine-Israel conflict. The giant social network is taking a stand with the occupier, say Palestinian activists.
“Facebook claims that it respects local laws; but when it backs Israeli accusations of incitement we are talking about an occupation state, so this accusation should not exist in the first place. We have reached a stage where there is high-level cooperation between Facebook on one side, and the Israeli occupation on the other and this is very dangerous,” says Nashef.
Israeli minister Ayelet Shaked told members of the press: “A year ago Facebook removed 50 percent of content that we requested. Today Facebook is removing 95 percent of content we ask them to.”
Even so, politicians are currently debating a so-called “Facebook Bill” which – if passed into law – would give Israeli officials even more power to force Facebook to censor as the Israeli government sees fit. For Palestinians, the consequences are felt beyond their computer screens and smartphones, reaching into society itself.

Trump immigration ban loses first legal battle

The ruling coincided with a wave of anger and concern abroad, including among US allies, and rallies at major airports across the United States.
“Victory!!!!!!” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which had sued the government, tweeted after US District Judge Ann Donnelly in New York issued an emergency stay.
“Our courts today worked as they should as bulwarks against government abuse or unconstitutional policies and orders,” the ACLU said.
But the ruling, which did not touch on the constitutionality of Trump’s order, did not quiet protestors at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, where thousands had gathered.
“People are prepared to stand against this” said David Gaddis.
“It’s not surprising that people are mobilizing,” the 43-year-old said. “Every day he’s in office, it’s a national emergency.”
Mass protests also broke out at major airports, including Washington, Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Dallas.
Trump’s executive order, signed Friday, suspends the arrival of refugees for at least 120 days and bars visas for travelers from seven Muslim majority countries for the next three months.
The exact number of those affected is unclear, but Donnelly ordered the government to provide lists of all those detained at US airports since the measure went into effect.
Sending those travelers back to their home countries following Trump’s order exposes them to “substantial and irreparable injury,” she wrote in her decision.
A second federal judge in Virginia also issued a temporary order restricting immigration authorities for seven days from deporting legal permanent residents detained at Dulles Airport just outside Washington.
The ACLU’s legal challenge sought the release of two Iraqi men on grounds of unlawful detention.
One of them — Hameed Khalid Darweesh, who has worked as interpreter and in other roles for the US in Iraq — was released on Saturday after being detained the day before.
The List Project, which helps Iraqis whose personal safety is threatened because they have worked for the US, was outraged over Darweesh’s detention, warning it put American lives at risk too.
“I can’t say this in blunt-enough terms: you can’t screw over the people that risked their lives and bled for this country without consequences,” wrote the project’s founder and director Kirk Johnson.
Trump’s order follows through on one of his most controversial campaign promises, to subject travelers from Muslim-majority countries to “extreme vetting” — which he declared would make America safe from “radical Islamic terrorists.”
The targeted countries are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
“We knew that was coming — we were prepared,” said Camille Mackler, a lawyer who heads legal initiatives at the New York Immigration Coalition, one of the groups that quickly mounted the demonstration there.
“But we didn’t know when, and we couldn’t believe it would be immediate, that there’d be people in an airplane the moment the order was taking effect.”
According to Trump aide Rudy Giuliani, the president originally dubbed his executive order a “Muslim ban,” and asked the former New York mayor to show him “the right way to do it legally.”

“When he first announced it, he said, ‘Muslim ban,” Giuliani told Fox News Saturday, adding that the seven countries were targeted because they are “the areas of the world that create danger for us.”

The State Department has said that people from the seven countries under the 90-day travel ban will be prohibited entry no matter their visa status. Only those holding a dual citizenship with the US will be allowed to enter.
The plan triggered a fierce political backlash at home and abroad, including from Trump’s fellow Republicans.
Orrin Hatch, the most senior Republican in the US Senate, spoke of America’s “legal and moral obligations to help the innocent victims of these terrible conflicts.”
Trump’s Democratic campaign rival Hillary Clinton chimed in on Twitter: “this is not who we are.”
Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, wrote, “to my colleagues: don’t ever again lecture me on American moral leadership if you chose to be silent today.”
His tweet was accompanied by the now iconic photograph of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015 after a failed attempt to flee Syria’s brutal war to join relatives in Canada.
The rapid mobilization against the order suggests a protracted battle is shaping up between migrant advocates and Trump and his administration.
The battle could end up in the US Supreme Court, which has not ruled on this type of immigration issue since the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.
In Europe, French President Francois Hollande lashed the refusal of refugees, and called out to fellow EU members: “We have to respond.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel likewise condemned the restrictions, saying that however hard the fight against terrorism was, “it is not justified to place people from a certain origin or belief under general suspicion,” her spokesman said.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May, who is seeking to strike up a friendship with Trump, said US immigration policy was “a matter for the government of the United States… but we do not agree with this kind of approach.”
On Sunday Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called Trump’s ban “a great gift to extremists.”
“#MuslimBan will be recorded in history as a great gift to extremists and their supporters,” Zarif said as part of a string of tweets.

Mnangagwa faces fresh humiliation

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is expected to fly back home today ending his month-long annual vacation, amid reports that rival Zanu PF factions were plotting to dress each other down when they converge at Harare International Airport to welcome him.
Zanu PF Harare provincial commissar, Shadreck Mashayamombe, yesterday confirmed plans for Mugabe’s “massive welcome rally” at the airport this afternoon, but denied reports that they were planning to use the occasion to embarrass Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa over his alleged growing ambitions to succeed Mugabe.

“We will, as usual, welcome the President. It is now our tradition, but this is just routine for us and nothing sinister about it,” he said.

“The President is coming tomorrow (today) and we are urging our members to come in their numbers. But our plans are dependent on his itinerary, which we do not have as of now.”

Mashayamombe denied claims they wanted to demonstrate against Mnangagwa, who is said to be in India, saying that was not how the party operates.

“We would never do that (seek to embarrass Mnangagwa) at the airport. It is not the way we do things,” he said.

“We are a peaceful people and are disciplined. If anyone wants to take advantage, we will see them.”

Some insiders claimed T-shirts and placards inscribed There is only one boss had been printed, in response to pictures that emerged of Mnangagwa carrying a mug written I’m the boss, which have caused ructions in Zanu PF.

A similar strategy was used in 2015, when T-shirts showing a picture of Mugabe and the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo embracing with the words The unity that shall never collapse and Munhu wese kuna amai were distributed at the late Sikhanyiso Ndlovu’s burial, which were again targeted at Mnangagwa after he was accused of denigrating the former Zapu leader.

Zanu PF youth leader, Kudzai Chipanga, professed ignorance of the rally, although the ruling party’s Harare provincial youth leader, Edison Takataka, confirmed it.

“We know we will welcome our father, but I have not been advised as to when. As for the issue of T-shirts, it was just a suggestion, which I am not sure will be implemented,” Takataka said.

“But I can assure you, as chairperson, I will have mine. Of course, there is only one boss and that’s the President.”

Mashayamombe is linked to Zanu PF’s G40 faction, which is bitterly opposed to Mnangagwa’s bid to take over from the ailing Mugabe.

Mnangagwa is reportedly leading the other faction known as Team Lacoste.

Insiders said the plots to embarrass Mnangagwa would continue after today’s rally up to Mugabe’s 93rd birthday celebrations set for Matobo next month.

“They have printed different paraphernalia, which will carry messages taunting Mnangagwa’s recent pronouncements on Gukurahundi and their ‘mug declaration’. It is a plan to whip up emotions in the party against Mnangagwa,” one source said.

Other Zanu PF sources said today’s welcome rally could be moved to next Tuesday to allow Mugabe to travel to the African Union summit in Ethiopia, before “he is officially welcomed” back home to resume his duties.

In a bizarre twist, former Zanu PF provincial youth leader, Godfrey Tsenengamu, seen to be aligned to Mnangagwa, yesterday declared he would attend Mugabe’s welcome rally.

“Mugabe is the President of Zimbabwe and our understanding is that the function is not a party gathering,” he said.

“So we will also attend in our numbers as citizens. We hear they have made arrangements to embarrass Mnangagwa or picket against him. If anyone is to be allowed such mischief, they should expect similar doses from us. We will deal with anybody who is planning to be up to no good.”

This will not be the first time Mnangagwa would have been embarrassed at a public event.

In February last year, Hurungwe East lawmaker, Sarah Mahoka, launched a broadside at the Vice-President and was followed by Manicaland Provincial Affairs minister Mandiitawepi Chimene six months later.

Nobel Peace laureate Malala ‘heartbroken’ by Trump order

New York – Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani student activist and Nobel Peace laureate, said on Friday she was “heartbroken” by Donald Trump’s order on refugees and urged the US president not to abandon the world’s “most defenseless”.
“I am heartbroken that today President Trump is closing the door on children, mothers and fathers fleeing violence and war,” said the 19-year-old, shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 after publicly advocating education for girls in her home country.
“In this time of uncertainty and unrest around the world, I ask President Trump not to turn his back on the world’s most defenseless children and families,” she added in a statement just moments after Trump signed the decree.
Yousafzai is the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which she shared in 2014 with India’s Kailash Satyarthi, a fellow education activist.
Now living in England, she made a remarkable recovery after undergoing medical treatment and has travelled the world as a campaigner.
“I am heartbroken that America is turning its back on a proud history of welcoming refugees and immigrants – the people who helped build your country, ready to work hard in exchange for a fair chance at a new life,” she said.
The decree signed by Trump was entitled: “Protection of the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States.”
The White House did not immediately make the wording public, but a draft text leaked to US media said it would suspend the entire US refugee resettlement program for at least 120 days while tough new vetting rules are established.
In addition, it specifically bars Syrian refugees from the United States indefinitely, or until Trump decides that they no longer pose a threat.
“I am heartbroken that Syrian refugee children, who have suffered through six years of war by no fault of their own, are singled out for discrimination,” said Yousafzai.
She named a friend who had fled wars in Somalia, Yemen and Egypt to study in the United States, where she had hoped to be reunited with her sister.
“Today her hope of being reunited with her precious sister dims,” she said.

Trudeau to end Canada’s secret political fundraisers

OTTAWA – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will lift the veil of secrecy around cash-for-access fundraisers, a government source said on Friday, bowing to pressure over the events that allowed wealthy donors to meet with top officials away from prying eyes.
The move comes after months of media scrutiny and criticism of the meetings between Liberal government leaders and donors, often at elite social events, that had tarnished Trudeau’s image as a youthful reformer.
The government will introduce legislation that requires future fundraisers for cabinet members, party leaders and leadership candidates to be held in publicly available spaces rather than private homes and clubs, according to a government source.
Future fundraisers also must be advertised in advance and reported on after the fact “in a timely manner” and other measures might follow after a discussion with other political parties, said the source, who requested anonymity because the legislation has not yet been made public.
With a parliamentary majority, the Liberals typically can pass legislation without amendments.
Tom Mulcair, leader of the opposition New Democrats, said the changes would not actually stop Cabinet minister from taking money for access.
“If Justin Trudeau suddenly believes that the fundraisers he held during his leadership race were wrong, will he be returning all of that money?” Mulcair said in an emailed statement.
The move will affect not only Trudeau and his cabinet but also the leadership candidates of both opposition parties. The Conservatives and the New Democrats are embroiled in separate battles to replace their leaders in 2017.
Trudeau, who took power in November 2015 after promising to run an open and ethical government, has been dogged by a string of controversies involving money and access, including his holiday vacation at the private Caribbean island owned by the Aga Khan.
The son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, he said this week he has been vacationing with the Aga Khan, a family friend, since he was a child.
While the exclusive vacation and elite fundraisers rarely came up during Trudeau’s recent cross-country tour to meet ordinary Canadians, they clashed with his government’s oft-repeated focus on the concerns of middle-class families.

Mali arrests two suspects in planned terror attack

BAMAKO, Mali -Malian officials said Friday two suspected jihadists have been arrested after they planned to stage a suicide attack in the capital Bamako during the France-Africa summit earlier this month.
“In two separate operations in Bamako on Thursday, Malian special intelligence operatives arrested two jihadists who were preparing to commit a large scale attack in Bamako against foreign targets,” a security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The attack was planned for the France-Africa summit on January 13 and 14, which gathered some 30 African states and France to discuss the fight against extremists, the struggle to improve governance and the migrant crisis.
But stringent security measures forced the suspects to delay their plans, the official said. Another Malian security source confirmed the report.
Both suspects are Malian nationals from the country’s unrest-wracked north, which fell under the control of Tuareg-led rebels and jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in 2012.
The Islamists sidelined the rebels to take sole control.
Although they were largely ousted by a French-led military operation in January 2013, implementation of a peace accord struck in 2015 has been piecemeal with insurgents still active across large parts of the region.
The suspects were arrested carrying “compromising materials,” the official said, including a “GPS system, ammunition and explosive material.”
“The first (suspect) was the logistics specialist who did the tracking,” while the second was likely the would-be suicide bomber, the second security source said.
He also said that both men belonged to the group of Algerian jihadist and Al-Qaeda ally Mokhtar Belmokhtar, which claimed responsibility for a January 18 suicide bombing that killed more than 70 people in the northern city of Gao.
The group, allied to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), targeted militia groups committed to restoring peace in Mali.
That attack, which struck a fresh blow at efforts to stabilise the troubled north, occurred five days after French President Francois Hollande visited the military base at Gao en route to the France-Africa summit.
French special forces had arrested several people ahead of the summit suspected of planning attacks during the gathering, according to Malian and foreign officials.

Zambian police warned over marrying foreigners

LUSAKA – Zambian police officers have been warned that it is illegal for them to marry foreigners, officials said Thursday, in a crackdown over national security.
The move to strictly enforce long-established wedding regulations attracted criticism from human rights’ groups that described it as discrimination.
The police force said that increasing numbers of officers were getting married to foreigners in defiance of the law.
“What prompted us to say that officers should not marry foreigners is because there are officers who are breaching the law,” police spokeswoman Esther Katongo told AFP.
“Issues of security are delicate and we cannot just sit and watch men in uniforms marrying women from foreign countries.”
Katongo declined to identify the nationalities of the foreigners, but some local cases have involved marriages to Rwandans, according to AFP reporters.
In an internal memo this month, inspector general of police Kakoma Kanganja ordered that the law over police marriages had to be obeyed.
He said that all foreign marriages must be declared within one week or officers would face disciplinary actions.
But the constitutionally mandated Human Rights Commission said that the law was discriminatory and should be repealed.
“We believe in globalisation and this order is not sitting well with human rights,” said commission spokesman Mwelwa Muleya.
“It’s a prejudiced position against people. It is discriminatory and it is our hope that the police will review this order. It might have served a purpose at some point but not now.”
Zambia is a relatively stable and peaceful country, though elections last year were criticised for violence during the campaign and muzzling of the media.

Senegal police arrest former boss of Gambia’s notorious prisons

ABIDJAN – Senegalese police said on Friday that they had arrested General Bora Colley, the man who ran Gambia’s prisons, where human rights groups say perceived opponents were tortured and in some cases died.
Colley was made the director of prisons by Gambia’s former leader, Yahya Jammeh, who lost an election last month but refused to step down. Jammeh fled into exile in Equatorial Guinea last week as a West African regional military force stood poised to remove him.
Senegal surrounds tiny Gambia on three sides, and it spearheaded the operation to install opposition figure Adama Barrow, the election winner. Its police reinforced border checks following Jammeh’s departure.
“These checks led to, among other results, the arrest on January 25, 2017, of Gambian General Bora Colley by police at the border checkpoint in Mpack as he attempted to enter Guinea-Bissau,” the police said in a statement.
Colley was later handed over to Senegalese military authorities, it said. Neither Colley nor any of his associates could be reached for comment.
Jammeh seized power in a 1994 coup and ruled Gambia for 22 years. His regime grew increasingly brutal and his election defeat, which he initially acknowledged before a dramatic reversal a week later, was celebrated across the country.
Colley served as commander of the military camp in Jammeh’s home village of Kanilai. He was appointed director of Gambia’s prisons in 2012.
Human Rights Watch accused Jammeh’s government of forced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and the torture of journalists, human rights activists, political opponents and critics. Gay, lesbian and transgender people were also targeted.
Many of those abuses were committed in jails, including the notorious Mile 2 Central Prison in the capital, Banjul.
More than 90 opposition members were jailed following a wave of peaceful protests that began last April. Two died while in custody.
UN officials, who were allowed into the country for the first time in 2014, found that “torture is a consistent practice” and “avoiding arrest is a necessary preoccupation for Gambian citizens”.

Billionaire Carlos Slim tells Mexico not to fear Trump

On the day before his 77th birthday, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim said he was celebrating, not his birth, but the unity of his country.
The world’s fourth-richest person, according to Forbes, on Friday entered a standing-room-only press conference in the same building from which he runs his empire, holding a set of papers with handwritten notes and a book with several pages marked, titled: “Great Again: How to Fix our Crippled America,” by Donald Trump.
With camera lights flashing, the investor sat down at a table, alongside his two sons and his son-in-law for a rare press conference, and began a pep talk that led to a wide-ranging discourse on economic development.

“This meeting was a reason for joy and happiness and emotion, to see how all Mexico has joined together, ” he said.
Slim praised his country for solidarity at a time when the country is applauding its President, Enrique Peña Nieto, for canceling a scheduled meeting with US President Trump.
The leader decided not to meet with Trump after the US President tweeted, “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.”
The last time Slim met with Trump was in December at the President’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. He described the dinner meeting as three-on-three. Slim was accompanied by his son-in-law and spokesman. Trump wasn’t alone, either.
“Meal was very cordial,” he said. “He’s got great estimation for Mexico and the importance of having a solid country as a neighbor, the importance of having more economic activity. There’s interest that things work, but he has talked about the inconvenience of commercial deficit.”
Businessman sees opportunities for Mexico
Slim has studied Trump’s actions and words.
He hasn’t finished reading the President’s book, but he is taking notes.
After holding up the well-worn paperback to the crowd of reporters, he urged others to read it as a way to understand the new American leader. After thumbing through a few pages, Slim quoted directly from the book to explain why Trump’s governing principles may not always be politically correct.
Trump’s strategy, according to Slim, is to shock and provoke. But in the end, Slim said, Trump’s “not a terminator, he’s a negotiator.”
The businessman believes Trump is attempting to transform the United States, and says this could be an opportunity for Mexico, its economy and its workers.
“What President Trump signifies for us is a big change, a big change in politics and we need to make adjustments in this new civilization,” he said.
The change, he says, is favorable for Mexico. “The engineer,” as others refer to him, doesn’t think Mexicans will end up paying for a wall, especially if Trump’s plan is to use a tax on goods coming into the United States.
“The taxes would be paid, not by Mexico, but by those who import and those who are going to be the users.”
‘Twitter is not a way to negotiate
When it comes to trade, Slim believes Mexico’s relationships with its trading partners are strong and have potential to grow, especially with Asia.
“China has moved from agriculture and rural society, from that to new society that is industrialized and technologized and they have take 20 to 30 million people out of poverty to take them to those great levels of education.”
Trade and a wall are no reason to get angry, he says. It’s a reason to negotiate. While he declined to offer advice to Trump or Peña Nieto, Slim offered a small piece of advice on negotiations.
“Twitter is not a way to negotiate. Glad they were able to talk over the phone.”
While Trump and Peña Nieto are both avid Twitter users, you won’t see Slim engaging in that conversation. The billionaire doesn’t own a Twitter account.

Trump vows ‘new vetting’ to weed out Islamic radicals

US President Donald Trump signed a sweeping new executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough new controls on travelers from seven Muslim countries.Making good on one of his most controversial campaign promises, and to the horror of human rights groups, Trump said he was making America safe from “radical Islamic terrorists.”

“This is big stuff,” he declared at the Pentagon, after signing an order entitled: “Protection of the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States.”

Trump’s decree suspends the entire US refugee resettlement program for at least 120 days while tough new vetting rules are established.

These new protocols will “ensure that those approved for refugee admission do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States.”

In addition, it specifically bars Syrian refugees from the United States indefinitely, or until the president himself decides that they no longer pose a threat.

Meanwhile, no visas will be issued for 90 days to migrants or visitors from seven mainly-Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

– Extreme vetting –

During the suspensions of the refugee and visa programs, new rules will be devised for what Trump as called the “extreme vetting” of applicants’ backgrounds.

Some exceptions will be made for members of “religious minorities,” which — in the countries targeted by the decree — would imply favorable treatment for Christians.

Civil liberties groups and many counterterror experts condemned the measures, declaring it inhumane to lump the victims of conflict in with the extremists who threaten them.

“‘Extreme vetting’ is just a euphemism for discriminating against Muslims,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Romero argued that, by choosing countries with Muslim majorities for tougher treatment, Trump’s order breaches the US Constitution’s ban on religious discrimination.

Ahmed Rehab, director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said his group would mount legal challenges to fight the order “tooth and nail.”

“It is targeting people based on their faith and national origin, and not on their character or their criminality,” he told AFP.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist and Nobel peace laureate who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012, said she was “heartbroken.”

She urged Trump not to abandon the world’s “most defenseless children and families.”

But the measure will be popular with Trump’s nationalist base, and stops short of a threat made during last year’s campaign to halt all Muslim travel to the United States.

Trump’s supporters defend the measures as necessary to prevent supporters of Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State group from infiltrating the US homeland disguised as refugees.

And the State Department, which with the Department of Homeland Security will have to implement the measures, said it was ready to put them into immediate effect.

“We will announce any changes affecting travelers to the United States as soon as that information is available,” spokesman Mark Toner said.

“We take seriously our responsibility to safeguard the American public while remaining committed to assisting the world’s most vulnerable people.”

  • ‘Wonderful thing’ –

Trump signed the order — which will cut the number of refugees the United States plans to resettle this fiscal year from 110,000 to 50,000 — in a ceremony at the Pentagon.

Moments earlier, he had signed an order to “rebuild” the US military and had watched Vice President Mike Pence swear in respected former Marine general James Mattis as his new secretary of defense.

Trump showered Mattis with praise and had earlier admitted he would allow the general’s opposition to the use of torture to override his own enthusiasm for harsh measures.

In what was a busy day from Trump, one week after his inauguration, he also met with Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May, the first foreign leader to visit his White House.

He hailed the “most special relationship” between the twin Atlantic powers and praised Britain’s decision to leave the European Union as a “wonderful thing.”

“When it irons out, you’re going to have your own identity, and you are going to have the people that you want in your country,” Trump said, in a nod to his own immigration stance.

“You’re going to be able to make free trade deals without having somebody watching you and what you are doing.”

May conveyed an invitation from Queen Elizabeth II for Trump to come to Britain for a state visit this year, and thanked him for his “100 percent” support of NATO.

Over the weekend, Trump is due to make calls to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, France’s President Francois Hollande and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

He is keen to develop friendly ties with Moscow, but played down reports that he might quickly end US economic sanctions imposed on Russia for its intervention in Ukraine.

Church of England bishops reject lifting opposition to same-sex marriage

There was also “some support” in the House for the new document including “penitence for the treatment some lesbian and gay people have received at the hands of the Church”.
Questioning of candidates for the priesthood should also change, as singling out their personal sexual conduct was seen as “pastorally unhelpful”, the report says.
But the report, which will be discussed at the General Synod in February, also said there was still “little support for changing the Church of England’s teaching on marriage” – that it is between one man and one woman.

Britain could have ‘fastrack back to EU’ after Brexit, says European Parliament chief Brexit negotiator

Whilst stopping short of calling for a “punitive” deal, Mr Verhofstadt said the EU would be guided by the principle that “you can never have outside the European Union a better status than as member of the European Union”.
He also ruled out Mrs May’s contention that the UK could wrap up the outlines of a trade deal, saying that was “technically impossible” – a reference to the EU’s hardline position that Britain must first complete the terms of its ‘divorce’ agreement, including hefty payments, before starts talks on a new free trade deal.

Asked why he thought the British public had elected to leave an organisation which Mr Verhofstadt so passionately advocates as a force for good in Europe, he singled out the issue of free movement of people. “Mainly the migration,” he said, “It’s very clear.”

He is my only child’ – mother of Boko Haram militant struggles without her son

While she does not miss life in the Sambisa forest – a vast former game reserve in northeast Nigeria and the jihadists’ final stronghold – Falta is worried about her son, Mamman Nur, who is believed to be one of Boko Haram’s leading commanders.
Nur was the suspected mastermind behind a suicide bomb on U.N. headquarters in the capital Abuja in August 2011 that killed 23 people. Nigeria’s state security service has offered a $160,000 bounty for information leading to his capture.
The question of whether Boko Haram still has a base in the Sambisa is disputed, with President Muhammadu Buhari last month saying their last enclave in the forest was captured, before a man purporting to be the militants’ leader denied the claim.
Falta, a frail grandmother who describes herself as an ‘old woman’, recalled how her son insisted that his entire family move to the Sambisa for their safety following clashes between Boko Haram and the army in their hometown of Banki.
With no-one else to look after her, Falta said she had no choice but to go with her son, his three wives and his children to the base from which the militant group has waged a bloody seven-year campaign to create an Islamic state in the northeast.
“He is my only remaining child … his father died when he was a child,” said Falta, who had been a farmer in Banki.
Despite her doubts, life in the Sambisa was comfortable for Falta. Vans arrived regularly with food and clothes, a hospital staffed with doctors and nurses tended to the ill, and Falta had her own room in a house she shared with her son and his wives.
“I was happy to have my grandchildren around me,” she said.
NOWHERE TO GO Falta lived with her son for more than four years before she and his wives were captured by the Nigerian military in a 2015 raid on the Sambisa forest that took place while Nur was away.
Sitting on a mat in the government safe house, Falta said she had repeatedly tried to talk her son out of joining the Islamist militant group, which has killed some 15,000 people and forced more than two million to flee their homes since 2009.
“But he did not listen to me,” Falta said, explaining that she does not know when or why her son joined the jihadists. “I gave birth to him, but I did not give birth to his lifestyle.”
“After he moved to the Sambisa, I decided it was no longer any use talking … I could see he was already deeply involved.”
President Buhari in December said Boko Haram’s last enclave in the forest had been captured in the “final crushing” of the group, yet the Thomson Reuters Foundation has been unable to independently verify that the area was captured.
Days after Buhari’s announcement, a man purporting to be the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, denied the claim in a video seen by Reuters, which could not be verified as genuine.
The Nigerian army has retaken most areas held by Boko Haram, yet the group still often stages attacks and suicide bombings.
While the government is ready to release Falta from the safe house, the mother of the Boko Haram commander has nowhere to go.
Holding her face in her hands, Falta described her anxiety at not knowing anything about what has become of her only child.
Since leaving the forest, she has heard nothing of him.

“Anybody who has a child will know exactly how I feel,” she said. “I don’t know if he is dead or alive.”

New German foreign minister to meet Trump administration next week: report

Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, enjoyed a close relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. When Trump won the White House race in November, Merkel pointedly offered to work closely with him on the basis of values of democracy, freedom and respect for the law.
Gabriel, a Social Democrat and a frequent critic of Trump, will meet with Vice President Mike Pence and Trump’s designated secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, Handelsblatt reported, citing government sources.
Gabriel left his job as economics minister and replaced Frank-Walter Steinmeier as foreign minister in a ceremony on Friday.
A source told Reuters Merkel was likely to speak with Trump on Saturday, with the conversation likely to centre on Russia.
It was unclear if Trump would discuss a possible lifting of the U.S. sanctions that were imposed on Russia in the wake of its intervention in Ukraine.
Gabriel and his Social Democrats historically favor more dialogue with Moscow and have been more open to the idea of gradually reducing sanctions than Merkel and her conservative Christian Democrats.
Gabriel will begin his new post with a short trip to France on Saturday, officials said.

Shabaab attacks Kenya army base in Somalia

The attack on the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) base at Kolbiyow, close to the Kenyan border in Somalia’s Lower Juba region, began with suicide truck bombers blasting their way into the camp, followed by militants attacking from different directions.
Shabaab claimed in a statement to have overrun the base, captured military vehicles and equipment and to have killed scores of Kenyan soldiers.
“Fighters have taken control of the base and the overall Kolbiyow area after massacring the Kenyan infidels,” the statement said.
KDF spokesman Paul Njuguna denied the base had been overrun, but gave no casualty figures.
“We are engaging the enemy and we have actually repulsed them, but it is ongoing,” Njuguna said.
Shabaab frequently overstates the death toll from its attacks while Kenya commonly underplays its losses.
In January last year a Kenyan base at El-Adde was attacked and overrun by Shabaab fighters who claimed to have killed over 100 Kenyan soldiers. The government never gave its own toll.
The Shabaab, which once controlled much of Somalia, is fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu.
It launches regular attacks on government, military and civilian targets and has carried out a series of deadly assaults against foreign soldiers deployed in Somalia as part of an African Union force.
On Tuesday at least 28 people were killed when Shabaab bombers and fighters attacked a hotel in the capital.

Thailand jails man for 11 years for royal defamation, cyber crime

The country’s strict lese-majeste law makes it a crime to defame, insult or threaten the king, queen, heir to the throne or regent. Each offence is punishable with a jail term of up to 15 years.

Burin Intin, 28, pleaded guilty to two charges of royal defamation and violating Thailand’s Computer Crime Act over posts deemed insulting to the monarchy in a comment on Facebook and online chat, his lawyer, Anon Numpa, said.

He was detained on April 27 last year after taking part in a peaceful protest against the country’s ruling junta, and held on remand in Bangkok, the capital, since April 30.

Anon said he would not appeal against Friday’s decision, but would submit a petition for a royal pardon.

Last month, Thailand’s new King Maha Vajiralongkorn pardoned or commuted the sentences of up to 150,000 prison inmates, including some jailed under one of the world’s toughest laws against royal insult.

Merkel, Hollande call for European unity in face of big challenges

French President Francois Hollande said the rise of populists on the continent was a major threat for the European Union.
NICE – German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande underscored the need for European unity in the face of growing internal and external threats, including the rise of populism across Europe and US threats to abandon free trade.
“Europe faces big internal and external challenges which we … can only master by working together,” Merkel told a news conference on Friday with Hollande.

She added: “We need a clear, common commitment to the European Union, to what we have accomplished, and to the values of our liberal, democratic democracies.”

Hollande said the rise of populists on the continent was a major threat for the European Union.

“To be very honest, what threatens Europe doesn’t only come from outside. It is also from inside. This means the rise of extremists who use external factors to cause disruption internally,” Hollande said.

The two leaders did not take questions.

Britain becoming US vassal state, says French presidential hopeful Macron

British Prime Minister Theresa May, who will hold talks with Trump later on Friday, wants a renewal of the “special relationship” between London and Washington at a time her conservative government redraws its relationship with Europe.
“Britain lived in an equilibrium with Europe,” Macron told France Culture radio. “But now it is becoming a vassal state, meaning it is becoming the junior partner of the United State.”
French opinion polls show Macron, a former investment banker running as an independent in this spring’s presidential election, closing in on the two frontrunners, conservative candidate Francois Fillon and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Speaking about Trump, May joked on Thursday that “opposites attract” as she signalled a shift in foreign policy that will bring her position more in line with that of Trump.
Macron said Trump’s early policy moves suggested the United States might become a destabilising force on the world stage.
“What’s happening today with Trump’s first statements and choices is extremely serious and worrying,” Macron said. “It’s firstly a choice that it will be an America that provokes… an America that destabilises things that have been built for decades.”
Macron has previously said he was sure Trump would maintain close ties with the European Union, but on Friday he appeared to concede this may no longer be the case.
“It signifies that the U.S. will no longer be in a position to co-organise globalisation and be the world’s policeman with the European Union,” the former economy minister said.
“The unpredictable choices, the outbursts and the inward-looking United States of Trump no longer guarantees Europe’s security.”

Nigeria seizes $1.2bn oil bloc in Shell, Eni scandal

A court document shows Nigeria is seizing back one of Africa’s richest oil blocs and could prosecute petroleum giants Shell and Eni in a corruption scandal that has drawn investigators from the United States, Italy, France, Switzerland and Holland.Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission says Friday that a Federal High Court has ceded control of Oil Prospecting License 245 to the federal government while it investigates and prosecutes suspects in the “Malabu Oil scam.”

The commission’s petition says Dutch-British Shell and Italian Agip — now Eni — bought the bloc knowing the transaction was “fraught with fraud” and that the $1.2bn payment to former petroleum minister Dan Etete and his cronies was a bribe. The state oil company got only $210m from the deal.

Landlord kills ‘mentally-ill’ tenant for ‘failing to flush toilet

Accra – A Ghanaian home owner reportedly hit and killed his “mentally-ill” tenant with an unidentified metallic object for “failing to flush the toilet” after using it.
According to Ghana Web, Nana Konadu died three days following the incident.
Konadu had apparently hailed insults at the landlord, only identified as Mr Oppong, when he queried why she had not flushed the toilet. This angered Oppong, who in turn hit her with the metallic object.

Ghana live.TV, said the deceased had always forgotten to flush the toilet after use.
Konadu died on admission at a local hospital. She had complained of severe pains following the alleged assault.

The suspected landlord was reportedly still on the run.

Prison boss makes appeal to reduce overcrowding in jails

Johannesburg – Correctional Services National Commissioner Zach Modise on Wednesday appealed to government security agencies to reduce overcrowding in the country’s correctional facilities.
The Western Cape High Court ruled in December that the number of inmates at Pollsmoor’s remand detention facility be reduced to 150% of its capacity within the next six months.

At its worst, Pollsmoor was 247% above its accommodation capacity, the acting regional commissioner for correctional services, Freddie Engelbrecht said at the time.

However, the ruling left many prisoners unhappy. Engelbrecht said what upset prisoners was that, in some cases, they were being taken further away from their families. Often relatives could not afford the increased travel costs.

Modise said overcrowding was not a correctional services predicament alone.

Monthly progress reports

“It is a well-known fact that overcrowding of correctional centres indicates a larger systemic ill in society, which is that of crime itself. Therefore, crime prevention, in co-operation with communities, remains a priority.”

He said the Justice, Crime Prevention, and Security Cluster (JCPS) had agreed on the need for national, provincial and local governments to find lasting solutions to prison overcrowding.
It was agreed at a meeting of the national JCPS directors general on Friday, that the Western Cape JCPS cluster had to come up with a plan to address the problem. Monthly progress reports had to be submitted to the high court.
Modise said he was confident a solution would be found.

The JCPS cluster partners include police, the Hawks, State Security Agency, Special Investigating Unit, National Prosecuting Authority, Office of the Chief Justice, and the departments of justice and constitutional development, and defence.

Modise said the intention was to have a humane, efficient, and effective correctional system that complied with national and international standards.

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.