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Archive for December, 2014

Yemen’s Huthis seize Sanaa state offices


SANAA – Shiite Huthi militiamen have stormed government installations in the Yemeni capital, tightening their grip on power in the city they overran in September, witnesses said Wednesday.

Gunmen from the Ansarullah movement occupied the headquarters of the state-owned Safer oil and gas company and barred employees from entering the premises, company sources said.

The movement appointed a new chief for Safer, the country’s largest producer of natural gas and second-largest oil producer, the sources said.

In another show of force, militiamen stormed the headquarters of state television and radio, according to sources at both media.

They have said the move is part of their fight against alleged corruption.

The Huthis, who fought authorities for a decade in their northern stronghold, overran Sanaa on September 21 and have since expanded to coastal areas and southern regions, where they faced Sunni tribes backed by Al-Qaeda militants.

Huthi gunmen have also blocked the entrance to Hudaida port on the Red Sea, and prevented its chief Mohammed Ishaq from reaching his office, witnesses said.

On Tuesday, a group of Shiite militiamen broke into the offices of Ath-Thawra newspaper demanding the dismissal of its board chairman, Faisal Makram, a source at the official daily said.

They said they were following orders from their leader, Abdelmalek al-Huthi, “to end corruption in all state institutions”.

Armed Huthis also surrounded the defense ministry in Sanaa after having been denied access, a military source said.

In another sign of its weakness, the government of Khaled Bahah lost a parliamentary vote of confidence on Tuesday.

Loyalists of ousted former president Ali Abdullah Saleh derailed the vote by leaving the assembly.

Saleh remains influential in Yemen nearly three years after he was forced to step aside following a bloody year-long crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired protests against his iron-fisted rule.

He has been accused of backing the Huthis.

Source: Middle East Online.



Sudan postpones April elections by 11 days

21 December 2014 Sunday

Nationwide elections slated for April 2 will now be held on April 13, the head of Sudan’s elections committee said on Saturday, in a move seen as preventing legal confusion over a constitutional amendment.

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir proposed a constitutional change on Nov. 3 to make state governors appointed positions rather than elected ones, but the alteration only becomes legally valid 60 days from that date.

Postponing the election allows for the state governor positions to be removed from the forthcoming poll before the new nomination period starts on Jan. 11.

Mokhtar al-Assam, the elections head, did not mention the constitutional issue in comments to Reuters, but said: “The postponement came for very important reasons that we will announce tomorrow.”

Sudan’s ruling National Congress party last month chose Bashir as its candidate for the presidential vote, making it almost certain that he will extend his rule after 25 years in power.

The opposition Popular Congress party has said it will boycott the election because of what it sees as a restrictive political climate.

Source: World Bulletin.


5 dead in al-Shabab raid on AU base

Thu Dec 25, 2014

At least five al-Shabab militants have reportedly been killed after attacking a military base belonging to the African Union (AU) mission in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Colonel Ali Aden Houmed, spokesman for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), said on Thursday that the militants launched an attack on the Halane military base, Somalia’s largest base for AU troops, in Mogadishu.

The AU official said at least eight militants stormed the base, adding that three of them were shot dead, while two others detonated their explosives and died near a fuel depot.

Three others were also believed to have fled the scene of the attack.

The al-Shabab militant group has claimed responsibility for the assault, saying it was targeting a Christmas party at the base near the capital’s airport, which also houses UN offices.

Witnesses said the attack prompted a heavy exchange of fire between the AU forces and the militants.

The Somali government and the African Union forces have stepped up safety measures in an effort to prevent assaults by al-Shabab, which was pushed out of Mogadishu by the African Union troops in 2011.

However, the group still holds several smaller towns and areas in the center and south of the country.

Somalia has been the scene of clashes between government forces and al-Shabab since 1991.

The country did not have an effective central government until September 2012, when lawmakers elected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the new president.

Source: PressTV.


Somalia appoints new PM after bitter infighting


MOGADISHU – Somalia’s president on Wednesday appointed a new prime minister, 11 days after the war-torn nation’s previous premier was ousted amid bitter infighting.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said he had appointed political heavyweight Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, 54, who becomes the first person to hold the post twice.

“I’m very happy that I have picked Omar Abdirashid Ali as the new prime minister of the country. I expect him to fulfill his commandments,” the president said at Villa Somalia, the fortified compound and seat of the country’s fragile internationally backed government.

Sharmarke, a dual Canadian and Somali national, replaces sacked prime minster Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed, ousted by parliament after just over a year in the post.

The United Nations, United States and European Union have all warned that power struggles in the Villa Somalia were a damaging distraction for the country as it tries to battle Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab rebels.

United Nations special envoy Nicholas Kay also said the tensions put at risk political goals including a referendum on a new constitution due to take place next year, ahead of elections in 2016.

The new prime minister told reporters he would “continue working on the efforts to bring about stability” and “taking the country the way forward to free elections”.

– Son of former president –

The economist was previously prime minister during the transitional government from 2009-2010, when he resigned after falling out with the then president.

Most recently, he became in July the first Somali ambassador to the United States in over two decades, and has previously worked for the United Nations as political adviser, including in Sudan.

Sharmarke’s father was also a former prime minister and was president between 1967 and 1969. He was assassinated by his own bodyguard, paving the way for the takeover by Siad Barre.

Hardliner Barre ruled Somalia until he himself was toppled in 1991 as the country descended into the civil war that still continues.

Like previous prime ministers, he faces a giant task to rein in corruption, quash Shebab insurgents battling to topple the central government, and rebuild the troubled Horn of Africa nation.

Sharmarke was born in the capital Mogadishu but comes from the northeastern Puntland region, from the Majeerteen clan.

In Somalia’s complex clan politics, each community expects to be represented in the corridors of power.

The Somali government, which took power in August 2012, was the first to be given global recognition since the collapse of Siad Barre’s hardline regime in 1991.

Billions in foreign aid has been poured in, including funding for the UN-mandated 22,000-strong African Union force, which has done much of the heavy fighting against Shebab rebels.

Source: Middle East Online.


SOMALIA: Rape – The Hidden Side of the Famine Crisis

By Isaiah Esipisu

DADAAB, Kenya, Oct 5 2011 (IPS) – When Aisha Diis and her five children fled their home in Somalia seeking aid from the famine devastating the region, she could not have known the dangers of the journey, or even fathom that she would be raped along the way.

Diis left her village of Kismayu, southwest of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, for the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya’s North Eastern Province in April.

“I was in a group of many women and children, but four of us had come from the same village, hence, we related (to each other) as one family. Along the way, we stopped to make some strong tea since the children were feeling very tired and hungry. One woman remained behind with the children and the three of us went to search for firewood,” Diis told IPS through a translator.

“We were ambushed by a group of five men who stripped us naked and raped us repeatedly,” she said as tears rolled down her cheeks. “It is something I have not been able to forget. But I wouldn’t like my children to know about it.”

But the trauma Diis and the other two women had to undergo is not an isolated incident.

As hundreds of tired, weak and malnourished women and children stream into Dadaab from famine-hit Somalia daily, the journey, for many of the women, would have been a harrowing one.

Tired and dusty, most women carry their babies tied to their backs. For many this precious cargo is the only possession they have managed to save from their homes in Somalia. Some, however, are slightly more fortunate and come with their children and what few belongings they have packed onto donkey carts.

They rarely talk about what has happened to them on the way here, when they arrive.

Instead, most register as refugees and undergo medical screening with their children. Then they are allocated a tent and basic household equipment.

The tents have no lockable doors, no windows, and no furniture, not even a bed. But all the same this is a place that the refugees can call home – for now, and perhaps for many years to come. (Some of the refugees were born here in 1991 when the camp was first established, and have not known any other home.)

But even after the women have settled in, many do not come forward to speak about the violence they experienced on their way to the camp.

“Gender-based violence is a hidden side of the famine crisis,” said Sinead Murray, the gender-based violence (GBV) program manager for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) at Dadaab.

“As per the rapid assessment done on GBV in Dadaab released by the IRC in July, rape and sexual violence were mentioned as the most pressing concerns for women and girls while fleeing Somalia and as an ongoing, though lesser concern, in the camps,” Murray told IPS.

“Some women interviewed during (the IRC) survey said they witnessed women and girls being raped in front of their husbands and parents, at the insistence of perpetrators described as ‘men with guns.’ Others were forced to strip down naked, and in the event they were raped by multiple perpetrators,” said Murray.

But Diis, and the two women who were raped with her, are some of the few Somali women who reported the violence they have been subjected to on their journey to Dadaab. In Diis’ case, she was brave enough to do so because she is a widow, and does not fear recrimination from her family as other women do.

“I did not fear to disclose my case to the medical officer because I did not have a husband,” said the widow whose husband was gunned down in Somalia by unknown assailants seven months ago.

“Many women are assaulted on their way to the refugee camp by unknown armed men, especially when travelling in a group without men,” said Ann Burton, a senior public health officer at the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) at Dadaab.

“However, most of them are reluctant to report such cases since they fear that their families will blame them, communities will reject them or simply because they feel ashamed to talk about it.”

Diis was given post exposure prophylaxis, a short-term antiretroviral treatment used to reduce the likelihood of HIV infection, after she reported her rape.

“After I reported my case I was given some medicine, and I was monitored for three months after which I was informed that I had not contracted HIV. That was one of my biggest concerns,” said Diis. She also received counselling.

The other two women who were raped with Diis were also counselled and received post exposure prophylaxis.

Diis said that she is aware of other women who were raped before their immediate family members and did not report it to the medical staff at the camp.

Not reporting the rape just adds to the suffering of the women. Burton said: “Survivors often do not get critical life-saving care because of keeping it a secret.”

So far, only 30 cases of rape were reported between January and July 2011 according to the UNHCR at Dadaab. But medical experts at the camp say that this is a small fraction of a huge problem faced by women.

Once they arrive at Dadaab some women continue to experience gender-based violence from their intimate partners. Murray said this includes early marriages and survival sex – where women are forced to exchange sex for access to basic needs.

Though such GBV incidents are said to be less frequent within the camps, some women told IPS that they feel insecure and scared at night while sleeping in the makeshift shelters.

“The camps do not have fences and at the same time we are not able to lock our shelters throughout the night. Anything can happen in the dark hours,” said Amina Muhammad who lives in Dadaab.

The biggest risk at the camp, according to the women IPS spoke to, is when they travel long distances in search of firewood.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).


Pakistan to set up military courts for terrorism

December 24, 2014

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s prime minister announced Thursday the country will set up special trial courts under the supervision of military officers to prosecute terrorism cases in the wake of the Taliban school massacre.

Nawaz Sharif spoke in a nationally televised address after a marathon meeting with all political parties and the country’s military leadership to hash out new counter-terrorism policies in the wake of the horrific attack.

“The Peshawar attack has shocked the nation. We will not let the blood of our children go in vain,” said Sharif. In the wake of the Pakistani Taliban attack on Dec. 16 that killed 149 people the government has scrambled to show that it is getting tough on militancy.

The military has stepped up operations in the tribal areas, and the government has reinstated the death penalty. Already six people have been executed. The military-run courts were the most controversial of 25 measures announced by Sharif after the daylong meeting earlier Wednesday in the capital. He gave few details about how the courts would function, except to say they would operate for the next two years and that changes to the current laws would be needed.

In the wake of the Taliban attack on a school in the frontier city of Peshawar, the government has been discussing numerous options for battling militancy, including ways to make it easier to detain and prosecute suspected terrorists.

Suspected terrorists are rarely convicted in Pakistan’s troubled legal system due to shoddy police investigations and intimidation of witnesses and judges. Court cases can also drag on for months and years with little resolution, so the military courts are seen as a way to speed up the system.

But courts supervised by the country’s powerful military raise questions of whether there will be enough or any civilian oversight or media access and how much rights suspects will have. Critics contend that quick-fix measures such as military courts or reinstating the death penalty do little to improve the legal process and the police in the long run. The new courts would also greatly strengthen the role of the military in a country where the army has already taken power in three coups and still wields enormous power behind the scenes.

Some of the other issues Sharif mentioned in his speech were the need to cut off funding for terrorists, preventing banned militant groups from simply changing their names so they can freely operate and stopping the media from glorifying militants or their statements.

Burying the dead after Pakistan’s school massacre

December 20, 2014

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — One of the gravediggers at Peshawar’s largest graveyard has a rule. He says he never cries when he buries the dead. He’s a professional, he says.

But as the dead bodies — mostly children — started coming in from a school massacre this week that killed 148 people, he began to weep. “I have buried bodies of the deceased of different ages, sizes, and weights,” Taj Muhammad told The Associated Press. “Those small bodies I’ve been burying since yesterday felt much heavier than any of the big ones I’ve buried before.”

Muhammad spoke during a break from the digging, as he drank green tea with one of his colleagues and his two sons who work with him in the Rahman Baba graveyard, named after a beloved Sufi poet, in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Wearing a faded shalwar kameez, a traditional dress of baggy pants and a long tunic, the 43-year-old Muhammad was covered in dust from a freshly dug grave. The school massacre on Tuesday horrified Pakistanis across the country. The militants, wearing suicide vests, climbed over the fence into a military-run school, burst into an auditorium filled with students and opened fire. The bloodshed went on for several hours until security forces finally were able to kill the attackers. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

For hours after, the dead, wrapped in white sheets, were brought to the cemetery. In Islam, the dead are generally buried quickly, so most funerals were held Tuesday and Wednesday. This was the worst terrorist attack in years but it was hardly the first in Peshawar, a city near the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan where militants have their strongholds.

Muhammad has buried some of the dead from those past attacks as well, like the Mina Bazaar bombing in 2009 that killed 105 people, and the Khyber Bazaar bombing, also in 2009, that killed nearly 50. But Tuesday’s bodies were hard to take.

For the first time “I couldn’t control my tears. I cannot explain but I wept. I know it was against the rules of our profession but it was the moment to break the rules,” the father of eight children said.

Muhammed said he usually charges 2,000 to 5,000 rupees — about $20 to $50 — to dig a grave. And it is money he needs. In the past six or seven months, his income has dropped with fewer bodies to bury, a sign of the lull in violence in the city until this week.

But he didn’t charge anyone to bury the victims of Tuesday’s attack. It was like burying his own children, he said. “How could I ask or receive money for making the grave of my own child?”

Associated Press writer Rebecca Santana contributed to this report.

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