Monday, November 30, 2015

By ‘Covering’ Turkey Politically, NATO Took Responsibility for Downing of Russian Su-24 – Envoy
1 Dec, 2015 03:58

By refusing to render an opinion on Turkey’s “intentional” downing of Russia’s bomber over Syria, and instead providing Ankara with political backing, NATO’s leadership has taken responsibility for the incident, Russia’s NATO envoy, Aleksandr Grushko, said.

Grushko gave his comments to reporters on Monday after it emerged that he had met with NATO’s Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow to discuss the November 24 incident when a Russian Su-24 bomber was shot down by a Turkish F-16 while striking terrorist positions in Syria.

“Yes, indeed I had talks with Deputy Secretary-General A. Vershbow over the Su-24 incident…. I laid out the Russian assessment of the incident and cited a series of military and political factors which indicate of the intentional nature of the attack on the Russian plane in the Syrian airspace,” Grushko, Russia’s Permanent Representative at NATO, said.

However, Vershbow would not give any assessment of Turkey’s aggressive action, according to the Russian diplomat, and only called for restraint and direct contact between Moscow and Ankara concerning the issue.

“NATO prefers not to go into detail on what the reason was for Turkey’s decision to launch a missile to down a plane which was flying in Syrian airspace and which posed no threat to Turkey,” Grushko pointed out.

The Russian envoy to NATO stressed that Turkey’s decision to down a non-hostile plane in the border region goes against the alliance’s rules of engagement.

“In the case of the November 24 incident, even if we take for granted the absolutely ungrounded version of violation of Turkey’s airspace, these NATO’s practices were not observed, since, according to Ankara, the pilots did not even know the identity of the violator plane,” he stressed.

In light of this, the absence of any criticism and the fact that Turkey was quick to receive NATO support following the attack means that the block is equally responsible, the diplomat said.

“NATO, which gave no principled assessment of this illegal act and, as a matter of fact, politically covered for Ankara as the member of the alliance, thus shares responsibility for the incident. Once again, we see that political considerations are getting the upper hand over objectivity and mere common sense,” Grushko said.

Ankara maintains that the Russian Su-24 bomber violated Turkish airspace for “17 seconds” and was repeatedly warned before an air-to-air missile was fired. However, the surviving Russian pilot, Konstantin Murakhtin, said the crew of two received no radio or visual warning from the F-16, despite it having superior speed and maneuverability than that of the Russian bomber. According to Murakhtin, they had never violated Turkish airspace and the rocket struck out of the blue, leaving them hardly any time to react. Both ejected from the aircraft.

The Russian jet’s commander, later identified as Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Peshkov, was killed by machine gunfire from a Turkmen rebel group while parachuting to the ground. It has emerged that the militant group is led by a Turkish ultranationalist called Alparslan Çelik, a son of a former mayor of the Keban municipality in Turkey’s Elazig province.

Peshkov’s remains were repatriated via Ankara on Monday and were received with military honors at a military airfield outside Moscow.

The Turkish attack led to another Russian casualty during a 12-hour rescue operation for the pilots, as a marine, Aleksandr Pozynich, was killed after leaving a malfunctioning helicopter that had come under heavy rebel fire. Pozynich’s fellow 11 Marines survived the mission despite their helicopter being blown up. They managed to leave the area with the cover of Syrian troops.
Minneapolis Mayor Calls for End to Black Lives Matter Police Station Encampment
11/30/15 AT 2:59 PM

Members of the Black Lives Matter movement march to city hall during a protest in Minneapolis on November 24. CRAIG LASSIG/REUTERS
Minneapolis's mayor on Monday called for protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement to end their 16-day encampment of a city police station, which has been occupied since Jamar Clark was killed by a police officer earlier this month.

Clark, a 24-year-old African-American man, was shot by police on November 15 and died the following day. Hours after his death, protesters marched from the site of the shooting to north Minneapolis's 4th Precinct police station, which they have refused to leave until authorities release video of the shooting.

"The occupation of the 4th Precinct is unsafe for everyone," Mayor Betsy Hodges said Monday at a press conference, adding that she hasn't set a deadline to force out the protesters from the station, but said she hopes they leave voluntarily. "I am still willing to talk with any of the protesters willing to come to the table," she added.

Local officials said residents have voiced their concerns about the dangers and inconveniences posed by the protesters as they block streets and burn wood to keep warm. Over the weekend, fire officials met with demonstrators to discuss safety and health concerns about the smoke from the fires.

City leaders and public safety officials said they approve of the protesters using their First Amendment rights, but only if they do so lawfully. They said that many of the protesters' demands have been met.

Steve Belton, interim president and chief executive officer of the Minneapolis Urban League, told demonstrators that leaders will stand beside them as they continue to draw attention to police misconduct and racial injustices. But for now, he added, they must be satisfied.

"Take 'yes' as an answer," he said. "We're asking that you respect the community and the people that you have said you are here to serve."

Demonstrators were initially upset that officials didn't immediately release Clark's identity or condition. They also asked the police department to fire and prosecute the officers responsible for the shooting, and release the video from the incident. They also called for a federal investigation. Police since have released the names of the two officers and, following demands by Hodges and activists, the FBI agreed to conduct a criminal civil rights investigation into the shooting. At the request of the Minneapolis Police Department, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension also is reviewing the incident.

Officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, who both served for seven years, have been placed on standard paid administrative leave during the ongoing investigations.

U.S. Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, whose district includes north Minneapolis, said the demonstrators have a worthy goal in calling for justice for Clark, but they are causing trouble and asked them to avoid harming other people.

"The byproduct of that goal are having very negative impacts on people in the neighborhood," he said at the press conference. "My plea is to minimize the impact—the negative impact—on the neighbors."

Clark's family has asked for peace in memory of their son.

Questions remain about whether Clark was handcuffed when he was shot. Authorities haven't released video from the scene of the shooting, saying they don't have footage that captures the event in its entirety. Belton on Monday said police releasing footage while investigations are ongoing would violate the law.

Reverend Alfred Babington-Johnson asked demonstrators to relocate from the 4th Precinct to open spaces nearby to conduct peaceful protests.

A week ago, five demonstrators were shot and wounded near the 4th Precinct. Four men were arrested in connection to the shooting. On Monday, charges were filed against the alleged suspects. Allen Scarsella III, 23, was charged with one count of second-degree riot while armed and five counts of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon, according to the Star Tribune. The other three men, Nathan Gustavsson, 21, Daniel Macey, 26, and Joseph M. Backman, 27, were charged with the same riot count as Scarsella.

Authorities are considering whether to treat the shooting as a hate crime. The four suspects are expected to appear in court on Tuesday afternoon.
Chicago Officer, Charged With Murdering Black Teen, Posts Bond

A white Chicago police officer, charged with murdering a black teenager, posted bond on Monday afternoon as protests continued over a patrol car's dashboard camera video that showed the officer shooting the teen 16 times.

Protesters including NAACP President Cornell William Brooks were arrested on Monday, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Demonstrators have objected strongly to the 13-month delay in releasing the video and charging the officer for the 2014 shooting.

Police officer Jason Van Dyke appeared in shackles at Monday's hearing, where Cook County Criminal Court Associate Judge Donald Panarese, Jr. set bail at $1.5 million, of which 10 percent had to be posted.

The police union president said union members were helping Van Dyke's family raise the amount needed for Van Dyke to get out of jail.

Last week, Van Dyke was denied bail because the judge wanted to see the video first. Prosecutors asked on Monday that the previous ruling stand, but Van Dyke's lawyer, Daniel Herbert, said his client posed no flight risk.

Several days of protests in the third-largest U.S. city have followed the release last Tuesday of the video, which showed Van Dyke gunning down 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in the middle of the street on Oct. 20, 2014, as McDonald was walking away from police who had confronted him. Van Dyke, 37, was charged with first-degree murder.

High-profile killings of black men at the hands of mainly white law enforcement officials in U.S. cities over the past two years have prompted demonstrations across the country, and have stoked a national debate on race relations and police tactics.

Herbert said Van Dyke is prepared to defend himself. "He is very scared about the consequences that he's facing. He's concerned for his wife and his children. But he's handling it like a professional," Herbert said.

"When you see the video alone it does not seem like a justifiable shooting," Herbert said. But he said that consulting with Van Dyke and experts in the field, he decided the case was "absolutely defensible.

Dean Angelo, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police union, said he saw the video of the shooting, yet believed Van Dyke took "action that he believed at that time to be justified."

The case prompted an online threat that closed the University of Chicago on Monday. Jabari Dean, 21, a student at the nearby University of Illinois at Chicago, was arrested and charged with threatening to kill 16 white male students or staff in retaliation for the shooting of McDonald, federal prosecutors said.

Ten people were arrested for disrupting traffic on Monday, including Brooks and several seminary students as they knelt to pray in the middle of LaSalle Street outside City Hall. The protest began with singing and marching around with empty caskets.

One participant, NAACP College and Youth Director Stephen Green, said he knew they would be arrested and that they decided "to break the man's law to uphold moral law for transformation in the city of Chicago."

Green said up to 300 people took part in the protest, and more were planned. He said a court date is pending with a possible fine.

Chicago police confirmed that citations were issued and everyone was released.

(Reporting by Justin Madden and Mary Wisniewski; Writing by Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Grant McCool and Cynthia Osterman)

Read more at Reuters
First Trial in Death of Freddie Gray Begins in a City Still on Edge

Baltimore officer William G. Porter is one of six police officers charged in the April death of Gray, who was severely injured while in police custody.

By Justin Jouvenal, Lynh Bui and DeNeen L. Brown
November 30 at 10:00 PM  

BALTIMORE — Shortly after the first trial in the death of Freddie Gray got underway Monday, a judge asked more than 70 potential jurors several questions: How many had not heard of the case? About the curfew that followed? The city’s settlement with Gray’s family?

As the judge scanned the room, not a single person spoke up. Few in Baltimore have been left untouched by the events that left the city ablaze after Gray’s arrest and death in April. Seven months later, the impact of the 25-year-old’s death was clear as jury selection began in the trial of William G. Porter, one of the six officers charged in the Gray case.

Chants from demonstrators — standing outside in the cold, light rain — filtered into the marbled courtroom: “We won’t stop until killer cops are in cellblocks.”

The echoes of unrest are expected to linger as Porter’s trial continues through at least mid-December and the other officers charged in the case go to court next year.

Sharon Black, 66, a retired registered nurse, stood among the demonstrators holding a yellow banner that read, “No police terror; black lives matter.” She said that her group has been at the courthouse during each major development in the case.

“We’ve been out here, primarily to keep the pressure on,” Black said. “We want not only for these officers to be indicted, but that they be convicted and that they be jailed like the average people on the street. . . . We feel the Freddie Gray case is a symbol of police terror, police abuse and systematic racism.”

Steven Ceci, 41, a bartender who lives in the city’s Waverly neighborhood, said the demonstrations were important to show Baltimore officials “that people around the world have their eyes on Baltimore and to make sure justice is served.” He said they would continue “from the beginning of the first trial until the end of the last.”

Inside the courtroom, Circuit Court Judge Barry G. Williams asked a series of questions to the jury pool before heading into a conference room to conduct individual interviews with potential jurors, along with attorneys from both sides.

After asking the potential jurors whether they had heard about the Gray case, the curfew related to the unrest that followed and the $6.4 million civil settlement Baltimore reached with Gray’s family, the judge turned to more nuanced matters.

Did prospective jurors know any of the nearly 200 possible witnesses in the case, which included more than 100 police officers and former Baltimore police commissioner Anthony Batts? (Only a few.)

Would any of them give more or less weight to the testimony of police officers? (Twelve said they would.)

Here's what you need to know as the trial of William G. Porter, one of six police officers charged in the case of Freddie Gray, starts in Baltimore. (Ashleigh Joplin/The Washington Post)
And did any of them have connections to law enforcement? (Twelve again indicated they did.)

Twenty-nine said they could not serve on the jury; an additional 38 said they had been victims of crime or had been investigated or previously incarcerated. And 26 said they had strong feelings about the charges Porter faces, including manslaughter and police misconduct.

The trial of Porter, 26, will be watched closely locally and across the country and comes amid renewed concerns about police use of force against minorities and after recent protests over shootings in Chicago and Minneapolis. Williams told jurors that the trial would begin in earnest in a “day or two” and would end by Dec. 17.

Gray and three of the charged officers, including Porter, are black. The other three officers are white.

Porter, wearing a dark blue suit and yellow tie, arrived with his attorneys shortly after 9 a.m., and prosecutors arrived about 10 minutes later. Porter sat with his attorneys taking notes on a legal pad. About 40 members of the media and public filled the courtroom along with potential jurors.

The proceedings are expected to provide fresh details about how Gray suffered a severe spinal injury while being transported in a police van. The trial also could bring the first public account from one of the officers charged in the case; Porter’s attorneys have said that he probably will take the stand.

Prosecutors are expected to argue that Gray was critically injured because he was unbelted, with legs and arms restrained, during the transport. Prosecutors have said officers then ignored Gray’s pleas for medical help.

Defense attorneys, however, have said prosecutors rushed to judgment in filing charges against Porter and his colleagues. And Porter’s attorneys probably will dispute the medical examiner’s report that classified Gray’s death as a homicide, saying coroners relied too heavily on information from prosecutors to reach their conclusions.

The incident began April 12, when Gray fled after encountering a police officer. He was apprehended quickly. Officers found a small knife in his possession and he was arrested, according to charging documents.

Gray — who had asked for his inhaler and said he could not breathe while being detained — was loaded into the back of a police van for transport to central booking, prosecutors allege. He was not belted properly into a seat as required by police department policy, according to charging documents.

Precisely what officers knew about that rule, though, is expected to be a key point at the trial. The policy had taken effect April 3, and a message was sent to officers about it April 9 — three days before Gray’s arrest. Defense attorneys have argued that prosecutors cannot prove that Porter knew about the policy change.

The van made stops. During one, officers placed flexible handcuffs and leg shackles on Gray before putting him on the floor of the van on his belly, prosecutors have said. After the transport resumed, prosecutors have said, Gray suffered the injury.

Prosecutors have not detailed exactly how Gray was injured, but medical examiners wrote in an autopsy report obtained by the Baltimore Sun that Gray may have gotten onto his feet and then fallen as the van was turning, accelerating or slowing.

Prosecutors have said that, at some point, the officer driving the van called dispatch for help in checking on Gray, which is when Porter arrived on the scene, according to charging documents.

Both officers went to the back to see Gray, who requested help, saying he could not breathe and twice asking for a medic, according to prosecutors. Prosecutors have said neither officer sought care for Gray.

Charging documents say Porter helped Gray to a seat in the back of the van. Porter then left to assist in another arrest.

Gray was driven to the Western District police station, where he was found not breathing and in cardiac arrest, according to charging documents. He was hospitalized and died April 19.

Porter, who has been on the force since 2012, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. He has pleaded not guilty.

Hours after court ended for the day, between 30 and 50 demonstrators marched from the courthouse several blocks to the Inner Harbor and then to City Hall, where they dispersed shortly before 8 p.m.

Along the way, they stopped in front of several businesses, shouting, “Shut it down!” Police said the group moved briskly and disbanded without incident.

Peter Hermann and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.

Lynh Bui is a Prince George's County public safety reporter and former Montgomery County education reporter.

DeNeen L. Brown is an award-winning staff writer at The Washington Post who has covered night police, education, courts, politics and culture.
More Than 100 Arrested at Paris Climate Summit Protest
Sun, 29 Nov 2015

French police arrested more than 100 people following scuffles in the centre of Paris

Some 10,000 people gathered to form a three-kilometre human chain through the city along the route of a cancelled march against climate change.

Although the event was mostly peaceful, clashes erupted in Place de la République between some 200 people and the police shortly afterwards.

Demonstrations in the capital have been temporarily banned under the nationwide state of emergency declared following the deadly Paris attacks on November 13.

Police say 24 activists suspected of planning violent protests have been placed under house arrest in accordance with the state of emergency rules.

Earlier on Sunday, tens of thousands of shoes were laid out on the same square to represent those who had planned to join the march.

The rally was planned to coincide with the eve of the United Nations’ COP 21 climate change conference.

Its aim is to find a mechanism to limit average global temperature increases to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

In total 152 heads of state and government are due to attend the Paris forum, just over two weeks after terrorist attacks killed 130 people in the capital.

For some, the first order of business on arrival was to visit the Bataclan concert venue, where the greatest loss of life occurred, to pay tribute to those who died.

Clashes in Paris Before Opening of COP21

By Ben Brumfield, CNN
Mon November 30, 2015

Nearly 150 world leaders are meeting in Paris over one mission: Agree on legally binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

As global average temperatures soar, they will try to get a handle on the cause.

On Monday, the leaders of the main players necessary to achieve the ambitious goal -- China and the United States -- will sit down together at the COP21. They are also the largest producers of greenhouse gases.

COP stands for Conference of Parties, an annual forum to try to tackle climate on a global political level.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, will hold their bilateral meeting at around 9:30 a.m. local time. Obama will make official remarks three hours later.

The COP21, also named the Paris Climate Change Conference, kicks off under the specter of the November 13 terror attacks in Paris that killed 130, and world leaders will observe a moment of silence in honor of the victims on Monday.

Authorities have clamped down on anti-global warming demonstrations in the city out of security concerns.

Nevertheless, disappointed demonstrators turned out on Sunday, and brief clashes erupted with police at the Place de la Republique, where peaceful protesters had placed rows of shoes and name tags to represent the crowds not allowed to show up.

But violent protesters pelted officers with shoes, bottles and even candles police said were taken from memorials to those killed in the terror attacks, and police arrested more than 200 people.

Paris Police Chief Michel Cadot said taking the candles and using them against police showed "an extreme lack of respect to those events."

Riot police responded with tear gas.

French President Francois Hollande called the clashes "scandalous" and said authorities knew "troubling elements" would arrive in Paris for the talks and said that was why "these sorts of assemblies were banned and some were ordered to stay home."

In many countries, people gathered to protest against human-made climate change on Sunday. There is a broad consensus among scientists that global warming is driven by human activity, foremost the burning of fossil fuels.

A look at the history of the COP illustrates the challenge in achieving this year's goal of a legally binding agreement -- especially when it comes to the biggest greenhouse gas emitters.

Probably the best-known milestone to come out of a previous COP was the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, a nonbinding agreement by 192 states to lower greenhouse gas emissions to 5% below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.

The United States did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol and dropped out of it completely in 2001. Canada dumped it, too, and China, India and other developing countries were exempt from it.

It has taken 20 years of U.N. negotiations to reach this attempt at a legally binding global emissions agreement to prevent a global average temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius higher than during preindustrial times, COP organizers have said.

President Hollande met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday. Afterward, Ban's office released a statement praising France for going ahead with the meeting despite the terror attack. He said he and Hollande had agreed that "failure to reach an agreement was not an option and would have disastrous consequences."

More than 40,000 delegates from 195 countries are attending COP21.

CNN's Jethro Mullen, Kevin Wang and journalist Melia Ljuljanovic contributed to this report.

Cop21 Opens Amid US Railroading

November 30, 2015
From Caesar Zvayi in PARIS, France

THE 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP21, is set to open here today amid indications the dream of coming up with a legally binding, universal agreement on climate change mitigation to curb rising atmospheric temperatures could suffer a stillbirth following an accord struck between the COP21 chair and host, France and the perennial spoilsport and notorious polluter, the United States.

President Mugabe, who carries Africa’s voice as African Union chairman, is set to join 195 other world leaders for the official opening ceremony at the Le Bourguet Complex. A pall, however, hangs over the Summit amid revelations France offered the US a key concession on the eve of the meeting which holds that a new global climate accord will not be called a treaty and might not contain legally binding emission reduction targets, effectively pre-emptying summit deliberations and the main objective of COP21.

Should the Franco-Saxon accord hold sway, it will be de javu for the climate talks as the US again sealed the fate of the Kyoto protocol that COP21 seeks to rectify by refusing to sign this one too. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius told the media here that COP21 could not come up with a treaty as that would pose problems for the US as the treaty must pass through Congress for approval.

US secretary of state John Kerry echoed Fabius’ sentiments saying COP21 cannot deliver a treaty that enforces compliance with emissions reduction. Developing countries like Zimbabwe that have agro-based economies depend on rain-fed agriculture and have a majority of their populations living in rural and farming areas, are most affected by the impact of climate change and are keen on fruitful deliberations.

Zimbabweans experienced first hand the effects of global warming during the recent heatwave that broke decades-old temperature records throughout the country. Climate change has also manifested in reduced water inflows from northern Zambia, which feeds the mighty Zambezi River, a development that has curtailed the hydro-power station’s generation capacity culminating in up to 18 hours of load-shedding in many areas.

Zimbabwe and other developing countries are pressing for successful deliberations as they bear the brunt of global warming due to over-dependence on rain-fed agriculture. The dilemma for Africa, however, is that many countries are discovering huge, untapped hydro-carbon reserves which must be used to improve energy access and drive economic growth, but at the same time being mindful of the need to cut down on emissions to combat climate change.

Zimbabwe and other developing countries insist that the industrialised north is not taking a fair share of the burden of climate change given their contribution to the phenomenon and should thus lead by example by cutting emissions and also providing financial support to poorer nations as stated in the Climate Change Convention.

In the wake of successive failures of previous climate change summits, COP21 has been dubbed “last chance for humanity” to find common ground between the north and south on mitigating climate change.
China President to Visit Zimbabwe: Special Friendship Touches New High
Zimbabwe Sunday Mail

The word “historic” is often thrown around needlessly.

Not so when the leader of the world’s second-largest economy, President Xi Jinping, makes a genuinely historic State visit to Zimbabwe.

President Xi arrives on Tuesday to herald what he himself has termed “a new high” in relations that will “deliver more benefits” for the people of the two countries.

His delegation of about 200 people will include Cabinet ministers and members of the Communist Party of China, amongst other officials.

Over and above this, a host of private sector players from various sectors will be in the wings to unlock fresh opportunities as well as give fresh impetus to mega Sino-Zimbabwe deals signed last year when President Mugabe made his State visit to China.

And all this will be captured by scores of journalists from Zimbabwe, China and other countries. A new set of deals are set to be signed in areas such as infrastructure, energy, transport and agriculture.

In an interview on Friday, China’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Huang Ping said President Xi viewed his relationship with President Mugabe as “special.”

“President Xi regards Zimbabwe as special. The fact that Zimbabwe is one of the only two countries President Xi will visit during this trip to Africa demonstrates that he attaches great importance to China-Zimbabwe relations and has special feelings for the Zimbabwean people.

“Actually, when our two Heads of States met in Beijing in August last year and in Jakarta (Indonesia) in April this year, President Xi spoke very highly of the traditional friendship between China and Zimbabwe and our current bilateral relations.”

Speaking to The Sunday Mail, Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to China Mr Paul Chikawa said a high-powered delegation would accompany President Xi to enhance implementation of existing agreements and to initiate new projects.

“In fact one of the most prominent people in the delegation will be the Chairman of the NDRC (National Development and Reform Commission). You will remember that the NDRC came into the country some time back, but this delegation will be strengthened through their chairman…

“In terms of the companies that are coming with the President, we have companies that are interested in the railway business, we also have companies in real estate, who are interested in housing and hotels, we also have companies interested in the energy and the textile sector.

“Over and above the China Export and Import Bank, we also have financial institutions that will be coming. One that I think will be of note is the ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.) I single it out because it is already present in Zimbabwe through their shareholding in Stanbic and it is one of the biggest banks in the world.”

Ambassador Chikawa said China – which has the highest foreign currency reserves in the world at US$3,8 trillion – was poised to increase investments in Zimbabwe.

“China is relocating some of its industries, where it has now lost the natural competitive edge. For instance, while 20 or 30 years ago it was cheaper to produce fabric or textiles in China, it is no longer the case.

“… but we in Zimbabwe can still do that competitively. Not only can we produce raw materials, but we can provide the labour.

“It is important to note that China has the highest foreign currency reserves of US$3,8 trillion in the world. China has been reconfiguring this foreign currency holding, some of it was in Treasury Bonds but now they want to invest it so that the rate of return is higher; so that is an opportunity for us.”
Ambassador Chikawa said President Xi’s visit justified the Look East Policy.

“For President Mugabe it’s a vindication. He has really espoused the Look East Policy from a long time ago and we have the Chinese President coming here. It also vindicates our Chinese friends, that they are sincere.

“President Xi is visiting Africa for the second time since getting into office and we are the first country of two to be visited on the second round. And that all this happening on the eve of the Focac meeting shows that our relations are sound.”

In a powerful message on his visit to Zimbabwe, President Xi said his mission would focus on ensuring that people benefited from his engagements with President Mugabe.

“I look forward to having an in-depth exchange of views with President Mugabe and friends from all sectors of Zimbabwe during my visit, with the aim of enhancing friendship between our two countries, exploring new opportunities and delivering benefits to our two peoples.”

He went on: “As one Zimbabwe idiom goes, ‘Chikuni chimwe hachikodzi sadza’. Chinese people also believe that “When everybody adds firewood, the flames will raise high’.”

President Xi’s visit has attracted huge interest from the international media. Last week, about 100 journalists reportedly arrived to cover President Xi’s two-day visit.

China’s National English Daily will run a special publication in Zimbabwe over the course of the engagements.

After this, Presidents Mugabe and Xi will attend the Forum on China Africa Co-operation Summit in South Africa.

The Focac Summit is only the second to be held in Africa in the 15-year history of the China-Africa convention.

Sino-Zimbabwe trade exceeded the US$1 billion mark over the last two years.

Since 2009, China has been Africa’s premier trading partner with volumes hitting US$220 billion and expectations are that it will reach US$400 billion by 2020.

President Xi to sign co-operation agreements

Africa Moyo

CHINESE President Mr Xi Jinping arrives in Zimbabwe on Tuesday on a two-day state visit amid expectations that the high profile visit – the first of its kind by the Asian tiger’s sitting president – will see a number of cooperation agreements being signed in critical sectors such as water, energy and infrastructure.

A high-powered team of Chinese businesspeople is also part of the delegation and are expected to exchange notes with their local counterparts as they explore possibilities of joint ventures.

There are also indications that President Xi’s visit will result in an accelerated implementation of at least nine mega deals worth billions of dollars signed between the two countries in August last year.

The Zimbabwean delegation led by President Mugabe, signed nine landmark agreements that will see China providing financial support to the economic enablers in critical sectors such as roads, national railway networks, energy, telecommunications, agriculture and tourism.

All the projects dovetail with the aspirations of the country’s economic blueprint, the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset), which has four key pillars including infrastructure and utilities, food security and nutrition, social services and poverty eradication and value addition and beneficiation.

Last week, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Joey Bimha confirmed to The Sunday Mail Business that numerous agreements will be signed in various sectors of the economy.

Ambassador Bimha said the agreements will enhance cooperation between Zimbabwe and the world’s second largest economy.

“There is going to be signing of agreements of cooperation in a number of sectors; in the energy sector, water sector and infrastructure.

“These are the agreements that will be signed to enhance our cooperation with China,” said Ambassador Bimha.

He added that President Xi’s visit was important given China’s influence in the world economy and that it is a country “we cooperate with well”.

“So his visit is a reflection of cooperation between our two countries. The agreements that are going to be signed will increase cooperation between our two countries.

“There are also businesspeople in the delegation, so we are hoping that we will have high interaction between our businesspeople (and the Chinese) which might speak to more Chinese investment or joint ventures and business benefits to Zimbabwe,” said Ambassador Bimha.

President Xi’s visit comes ahead of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (Focac) penciled for December 4-5 in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the emerging global giant is expected to announce the package of cooperation proposals.

The Asian country’s Vice Commerce, Minister Mr Qian Keming told journalists in Beijing last Thursday that the package will see China helping African countries to upgrade industrial structure, safeguard food security and build infrastructure.

“To that end, China will give African countries more low-interest loans and set up funds to finance the cooperation,” said Mr Keming.

He added that there are plans to increase investment in Africa and buy more non-resources products from the continent, on the back of falling metal prices.

China plans to export advanced industrial production capacity to African countries as it seeks to maintain its stranglehold on the continent that had suffered for a long time under exploitative trade agreements with Europe and the United States.

Beijing also seeks to diversify imports from the continent and buy more products in addition to primary commodities, particularly natural resources, which account for the bulk of China-Africa trade.

The Asian tiger has become Harare’s biggest trade partner with trade statistics between the two countries peaking to nearly US$1,2 billion between January and November last year compared to US$1,1 billion for the whole of 2013.

In the first five months of 2015, statistics from the Zimbabwe Investment Authority (ZIA) showed that Beijing remained Harare’s largest investor accounting for 74 percent of the US$134 million of the foreign direct investments that came into the country.

Between January and September 2015 this year, ZIA approved FDI (including joint ventures) coming from China worth US$153,561,602.

The approved FDI in agriculture was US$1,5 million while construction recorded US$42,3 million, with US$64,9 million going to the manufacturing sector, US$41 million to mining, US$3,3 million for services and US$400 000 benefiting the transport sector.

Last week, ZIA board chairman, Dr Nigel Chanakira also told The Sunday Mail Business that the coming of President Xi underscores the point that Zimbabwe remains an attractive investment destination.

“The visit by President Xi has been contemplated for quite a long time and quite a number of people have cast aspersions on whether he was going to come or not given the situation. So for me it is further confirmation that as an investment destination, Zimbabwe remains attractive,” said Dr Chanakira.

He added that China has “a very State-oriented approach in terms of investment planning”.

“That is how the Chinese work, they normally work State-to-State. In this particular case, there has been a number of visits (to China) on the part of our Presidency.

“For example in terms of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), there has been a lot of specific work done and the former Ambassadors, you recall, made assistance in terms of study tours to China so that we will model and mimic what the Chinese have done because that is the way they operate and they like a similar operating environment.

“A lot of people have then seen quite a significant amount of project sign-ups and they have been asking if these projects will come to fruition.

“China has been in our top three sources of investments since we dollarised. If you note the work of the resident Ambassador here and our embassy in China, these are what we would call the busiest embassies in terms of definitely liaising with ZIA with regards to specific projects and coordinating investment approvals. The numbers don’t lie.”

A number of Chinese companies have already invested in Zimbabwe while others have opted for partnerships with local companies.

Sino Hydro Corporation, for instance, has partnered the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) in the expansion of Kariba South Hydro Power Station in a US$533 million project, which upon completion in 2017, will increase power generation at Kariba by another 300 megawatts (MW).

Sino Hydro is also expanding Hwange Thermal Power Station in a US$1,3 billion project that will add 600MW to the national grid.

Countries visited by the Chinese top political leadership have tended to get more investments and it is expected that Zimbabwe will equally benefit.

Statistics also show that China has been consistently doubling its financing commitment to Africa in the last three Focac meetings from US$5 billion in 2006 to US$10 billion in 2009 and US$20 billion in 2012.

In April this year, Equatorial Guinea signed several agreements with Chinese companies to increase generation of electricity and develop its industrial sector, a key goal of the government’s plan to diversify its economy and reduce dependence on oil production.

The largest was a US$2 billion agreement with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), China’s biggest lender by assets, to provide financial support to the Malabo government and Chinese businesses operating in the country.

The agreement was signed on April 30 following a meeting held in Beijing between Equatorial Guinea President Theodore Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and his Chinese counterpart, President Xi.

Apart from former Premier Zhou Enlai’s ideology-tinged visits to Africa in the 1960s, past Chinese presidents rarely travelled to Africa until recently when investment on the continent became high on the country’s agenda.

Former president Hu Jintao visited Africa six times between 1999 and 2009.

In January and February 1999 when he was Vice President, Mr Hu first visited Madagascar, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa and after two years, he visited Uganda.

In 2004 when he became president, he visited Egypt, Gabon and Algeria.

Records show that it is rare for both the Chinese President and Prime Minister to visit the same region in the same year but former President Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao separately visited Africa in April and June, covering 10 countries.

Prime Minister Wen visited Ghana, Egypt, the Republic of Congo, Angola, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

In his first overseas visit in 2007, former President Hu visited eight countries in Africa – Cameroon, Sudan, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, Liberia, Zambia and South Africa.

In all the countries he visited, Mr Hu announced new aid and investment programs.

There have been allegations that China is only interested in resource-rich African countries but in February 2009, Mr Hu visited Mali, Senegal, Tanzania and Mauritius that are neither rich in resources nor oil production.

Instead, China helped build schools, hospitals and other infrastructure projects in the countries visited.

Mr Hu’s predecessor Mr Jiang Zemin also visited three African countries in 2002 – Nigeria, Libya and Tunisia while in 2004, Vice President Zeng Qinghong travelled to Tunisia, Togo, Benin and South Africa.

In 2004 around the time when Zimbabwe vigorously started pursuing the ‘Look East Policy’, National People’s Congress chairman Mr Wu Bangguo visited Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Nigeria.

It has also become almost a New Year ritual for the Chinese Foreign Minister to begin his annual overseas visits in Africa since the early 1990s.

While former colonisers treated Africa in a condescending way, China considers itself part of the developing world and former President Hu said the partnership was based on “political equality and mutual trust”.

When he visited South Africa in 2007, Mr Hu said “China did not, does not, and will not impose its will or inequality on other countries, as well as do anything that would harm the African people”.

Since 2000, the United States trade relations with Africa have been dictated by the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

As a unilateral preference scheme of the United States to promote trade and investment in Africa, AGOA was meant to boost America’s trade with Africa and develop the continent.

But by last year, United States trade in goods with Africa has demonstrated a shocking downward trend since 2011, dwindling from US$125 billion in 2011 to US$99 billion in 2012 and US$85 billion in 2013.

Last year, trade in goods between the United States and Africa was US$50 billion.

In comparison, Beijing has been quite low-key in disseminating its Africa trade promotion efforts, although its trade with Africa has been growing exponentially.

China surpassed the United States as Africa’s largest trading partner in 2009. China-Africa trade reached US$166 billion in 2011, an 83 percent rise from 2009.

The bilateral trade further increased another 19,3 percent to US$198 billion in 2012, and passed the US$200 billion threshold to US$210 billion in 2013.

In terms of trade volume, Chinese trade with Africa not only dwarfs United States’ trade with Africa, but the gap is as large as 2,5 times the magnitude of 2013.

Between January and November last year, China-Africa trade totalled US$201.1 billion, going up 5,4 percent year on year, with its annual trade hitting US$200 billion once again.

Among others, China’s export to Africa saw a robust growth, up 13.2 percent year on year, 8.3 percent higher than China’s export growth over the same period.

In recent years, Africa has become an emerging destination of China’s outbound investment.

In January-November 2014, Chinese enterprises made a non-financial direct investment of US$3,5 billion in Africa, up 19 percent year on year.

More than 2 500 Chinese enterprises did business in Africa, and it covered various areas including finance, telecommunications, energy, manufacturing and agriculture, creating more than 100,000 jobs directly for local people.

However, Chinese investments to Africa had fallen by 40 percent in the first half of this year, with analysts saying the sharp decline was a sign of the broader impact of the country’s slowing economy while others posit that the decline is more related to Beijing’s changing approach to investments overseas.

President Xi is expected to clear up whether Beijing’s overseas investment strategy is changing when he speaks at the Focac in Johannesburg this week.
Research Underpins Agriculture
November 30, 2015
Opinion & Analysis
George Chisoko Senior Assistant Editor
Zimbabwe Herald

Whenever the word agriculture is mentioned, what quickly comes to the minds of many people is simply cropping in terms of the availability of inputs. It denotes only the cultivation of the land for production yet by definition agriculture is very broad and includes cultivation of the land for farming, animal husbandry, research and development. However, for there to be meaningful and profitable agriculture, one that makes the machines of industry turn, impacting positively on capacity utilisation, contributing to the Gross Domestic Product, food security and poverty reduction, greater and conscious emphasis must be placed on agricultural research for the greater good of the economy.

It is what drives agriculture and any slackening in that regard can easily cause serious productivity problems, especially given the threat of climate change. A lot has been written on climate change and further deliberations are taking place in Paris, France so this article will not dwell much on it.

Not many people have given a serious thought to the significant role agricultural research plays in crop and livestock production. Investment in it will always pay dividends while neglecting it is tantamount to abandoning agriculture yet we know that it cannot be wished away because everyone needs food and that food availability is a result of rigorous, purposive, systematic, testable and replicable research work. So governments must make deliberate efforts to seek both financial and human capital to capacitate agricultural research institutions.

Loebenstein and Thottapilly (2007) define agricultural research as any research activity aimed at improving productivity and quality of crops by genetic improvement, better plant protection, irrigation, storage methods, farm mechanisation, efficient markets and better management of resources.

From the definition, it is clear that nations can only pay little attention to their agricultural research institutions at their own peril.

Nations that inject huge amounts of money in research, such as India, have more than reaped the benefits and have become self-sufficient in food production while those that have paid lip service and have at the same time been confronted with the effects of climate change have sadly transformed themselves into perennial food importers.

Yes, agricultural research is the business of governments but the private sector needs to be actively involved through funding and assisting in the transfer of innovations to the farmers. The biggest concern of farmers the world over is having the seed to plant, the fertiliser to apply, the chemicals to spray and in the end the output or production to sell. They are not worried about research. There are some people who should have sleepless nights worrying about this and those are our researchers and scientists.

Agricultural research is not a domain of farmers. But, to a greater extent, it is a matter that should concern them since the new technologies, production techniques and inputs that are made available to them and that increase agricultural production are essentially products of agricultural research. So whatever happens at the research institutions has a direct bearing on their land utilisation.

We note from the above definition that agricultural research, contrary to the belief that it concerns itself much with crop genetic improvement and plant protection, it in fact extends to irrigation, storage methods, bearing in mind that there is increasing concern with post harvest losses, irrigation in light of the threat that climate change poses to rain-fed agriculture, efficient markets and better management of resources. Agricultural research provides a complete package that is essential to economic revival, especially for countries like Zimbabwe which is dependent on agriculture.

Let me draw an analogue of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), a 110-year-old agriculture research institute, to buttress the argument on the significance of research. The IARI conducts research in all spheres of agriculture and knowledge management. India has become self-sufficient in food production largely because of the enormous research work carried at the institute.

India’s wheat production currently stands at 2 million tonnes annually, cotton at 2,2 million tonnes and sugar at 2 million tonnes. It exports 10 million tonnes of rice every year earning $5,5 billion. This has been made possible because of the importance the Government of India attaches to agricultural research that has seen the institute dynamically revising its priorities to focus more on increasing support for advanced research. Our crop production figures pale into embarrassing insignificance when juxtaposed with those of India, however, for varying reasons.

To this end the IARI has established the following in pursuit of advanced research:

1) Centre for Environment Science and Climate Resilient Agriculture

2) Division of Food Science and Post Harvest Technology

3) Centre for Protected Cultivation Technology and Precision Farming

4) Centre for Molecular Breeding

5) State of the art Pesticide Residue Analysis Lab

This has been given impetus by the increasing realisation that agricultural production hinges on research and that neglecting agricultural research is abandoning agriculture. The food self-sufficiency that India boasts of is a function of massive investment in agricultural research.

In Zimbabwe we are not far off from the Indian case study as we also have the Department of Research and Specialist Services (DRSS) under the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development.

This department spearheads all research work in the areas of genetic engineering, plant breeding and plant protection. A lot of new crop varieties that are high yielding, drought and disease tolerant have been produced over the years.

With good rainfall, the right fertiliser application amounts, the correct chemical usage, tillage methods and growing interest in conducting soil analysis to determine the level of alkalinity and acidity of the soil, farmers have been able to produce enough for domestic consumption and a surplus for sale. Soil testing is something our farmers have never taken seriously yet it informs them of the kind of fertiliser to use, the type of crop to grow and the whole crop rotation.

Of course a lot more needs be done, especially now when we are under the unrelenting threat of climate change. New farming technologies need to be developed while new techniques of production have become a necessity. Crop inputs, such as maize, soya beans and wheat to name a few, more than before require serious research work to come up with new varieties that are resilient to climate change.

While the benefits that nations derive from agricultural research are far too many to mention, they cannot be doubted.

The new technologies, the new input varieties and new production techniques easily result in an increase in agricultural productivity and consequently in food security and poverty reduction. This is why governments should seriously be seized with giving priority to agricultural research in their budgets allocation.

Events of Thursday during the Budget presentation were very telling indeed. Agricultural research was allocated money specific to itself. Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa allocated agricultural research $3,2 million to carry out its work. In Africa the question of underfunding of research institutions has always been a matter of great headache.

It must, however, be borne in mind that with a well-funded agricultural research, the size of land holding ceases to matter in production. What matters most becomes the crop yield farmers produce per unit area of land. What research does is to produce high yielding varieties that can withstand the harsh vagaries of the weather given that the necessary inputs are used for production.

Take Brazil for example; tobacco is produced by smallholder farmers on small pieces of land of about 0,5 hectares each yet it produces over 800 million kg of tobacco. It is the yield per unit area that comes into play and not the size of arable land holding.

I am thus very optimistic that with the money allocated to agricultural research, we will begin to see more work being done to benefit the farmers and the country to fight the threat of climate change. It is real and it will be in our best interest to heighten our agricultural research so that we begin to produce materials that will make the negative impact of climate change a little less. We can even have the patented innovations licensed to various companies at nominal fees and that assists in the transfer of innovations to the farmers who are the final users.

Let us therefore put the money to agricultural research and nothing more. No buying spree of vehicles and other luxuries because what lies ahead of us needs us to be committed to issues of productivity and climate change mitigation but obviously we will not be disappointed to see the department recruiting more scientists to do the work.

Carrying out agricultural research is one aspect of the equation as the problem always lies with transferring innovation from the research corridors to the farmer’ fields. Again I refer to the Indian experience of transferring farmer-friendly technologies developed at the IARI to farmers and entrepreneurs through the following innovative approaches.

1) Seed Village and Participatory Seed Production Programmes

2) Operational Research Projects

3) Integrated Area Development Programme

4) Single Window System of Information Dissemination

5) Entrepreneur Development Training

6) Post-office Model for Transfer of Technology

In order to ensure that the technologies are adopted on a wide scale and reach the remotely located farmers, the IARI works through the public private partnership model (PPP). The six extension programmes outlined above ensure that the new innovations get to the farmers for adoption. This has always been a major challenge of agricultural research.

As Zimbabwe, I believe we can always copy the level others have put their agricultural research and technology transfer approaches that have worked in those countries and tailor-make them to suit our situation.
Pope Francis Visits Capital of Central African Republic
Associated Press
Nicole Winfield and Krista Larson, Associated Press

Photo: A crowds of people cheer at Pope Francis upon his arrival in Bangui, Central African Republic, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015. The Pope has landed in the capital of Central African Republic, his final stop in Africa and where he will seek to heal a country wracked by conflict between Muslims and Christians. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — Flanked by Vatican bodyguards in flak jackets and machine-gun-toting U.N. peacekeepers, Pope Francis plunged Sunday into conflict-wracked Central African Republic and urged the country's Christian and Muslim factions to lay down their weapons and instead arm themselves with peace and forgiveness.

Francis issued the appeal from the altar of Bangui's cathedral after arriving in the badly-divided capital on the final leg of his three-nation African tour.

Schoolgirls dressed in the yellow and white of the Holy See flag and women wearing traditional African fabric dresses emblazoned with the pope's face joined government and church authorities to welcome Francis at Bangui airport amid tight security.

Cheering crowds lined his motorcade route — about five kilometers (three miles) of it in his open-sided popemobile. The crowds swelled again at a displacement camp, where children sang him songs of welcome and held up hand-made signs saying "Peace," ''Love" and "Unity."

"My wish for you, and for all Central Africans, is peace," Francis told the nearly 4,000 residents in the St. Sauveur church camp. With the help of a Sango translator, he then led them in a chant: "We are all brothers. We are all brothers."

"And because we are brothers, we want peace," he said.

Sunday's visit was a rare moment of jubilation in Central African Republic, where Muslim rebels overthrew the Christian president in early 2013, ushering in a brutal reign that led to a swift and horrific backlash against Muslim civilians when the rebel leader left power the following year.

Throughout the early months of 2014, mobs attacked Muslims in the streets, even decapitating and dismembering them and setting their corpses ablaze. Tens of thousands of Muslim civilians fled for their lives to neighboring Chad and Cameroon. Today, the capital that once had 122,000 Muslims has only around 15,000, according to Human Rights Watch.

Overall, 1 million people in a country of 4.8 million have been forced from their homes.

While ecstatic crowds celebrated the pope's visit and message of reconciliation, thousands of Muslims remained essentially blockaded in their neighborhood of PK5, unable to leave because of the armed Christian militia fighters called the anti-Balaka who surround its perimeter.

Francis plans to enter this highly volatile neighborhood on Monday morning to meet with the local imam and Muslims in the mosque before returning to Rome.

In his inaugural Mass on Sunday night, Francis reminded the faithful that their primary vocation was to love their enemy and be courageous in forgiving and overcoming hatred, violence, persecution and injustice.

"To all those who unjustly use weapons in this world, I appeal: Put down your weapons of death; arm yourselves instead with justice, love, mercy and authentic guarantees of peace," he said to applause.

The precarious security in Bangui, which is awash in weapons, had raised the possibility in recent weeks that the pope could cancel his visit or at least trim it back. While sectarian clashes have left at least 100 people dead over the last two months, in recent days Bangui has been relatively free of gunfire.

Welcoming Francis at the presidential palace, President Catherine Samba-Panza thanked him for his "lesson in courage" in simply coming, saying his presence showed the "victory of faith over fear."

In a nod to Francis' appeal for personal soul-searching, she offered a public confession.

"In the name of the entire governing class of this country and also in the name of all those who have contributed in some way to its descent into hell, I confess all the evil that has been done here over history and ask forgiveness from the bottom of my heart," she said.

In response, Francis told her he was here as a "pilgrim of peace, an apostle of hope," and that he hoped elections scheduled for next month would enable the conflict-torn country to "serenely begin a new phase of its history.

But the security situation remains tense and fragile: Bangui's archbishop travels into the city's Muslim enclave under escort from armed peacekeepers. Bangui has long been under a nightly curfew of 8 p.m. as gunbattles have rung out after dark in the flashpoint neighborhoods.

Adding to the joy of Francis' arrival was that the curfew was extended to 10 p.m. to accommodate the prayer vigil Francis celebrated Sunday night at the cathedral.

Security, however, was understandably tight.

A U.N. helicopter hovered overhead at the airport and armed peacekeepers on foot stood about 20 feet (six meters) apart lining the road into the capital before the pope's arrival. Vatican gendarmes already on the ground when Francis arrived donned flak vests - an unusual if not unprecedented occurrence.

At the St. Sauveur church displacement camp where Francis visited, dozens of U.N. peacekeepers stood guard and security forces wielded portable metal detectors - a rare event in this largely anarchic country.

"It is a great joy and we are very touched that he is coming to visit," said Merline Bambou, 24, as she left Sunday Mass wearing a two-piece dress with Francis' face on it. "For two years we have been crying. We hope the visit of the pope will change things for the better."

Francis underscored the message of the need for forgiveness and mercy by hearing confessions from several young Catholics at a Sunday evening vigil.

He started the Mass with a ceremonial opening of the cathedral's Holy Door - officially launching his Jubilee Year of Mercy a week early in a bid to give Africa a special spiritual boost.

Brigitte Kanga, 50, among the thousands gathered on the lawn outside the cathedral for the Mass on Sunday, said she personally was ready to forgive but she knows not all those who suffered under the Muslim rebel regime are ready to do the same.

"Nothing is impossible but it will take time."

The Muslim community, as well, hopes the visit will improve the bleak condition they're living in. Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, presidennt of the Central African Islamic Community, said the country's Muslims want the pope to pray for them all.

"For the reconciliation of our hearts, the hearts of all the Central Africans, and be the door - our open door - because we don't have a voice now, we are really living in a precarious situation that doesn't have a name."

In an amazing sight outside the cathedral before Francis arrived, a lone Muslim wearing a white robe and traditional Muslim cap toted a sign reading "One God. One Earth. Same Ancestor."

Adoum Silick, 45, acknowledged the risk in venturing to the grounds of the cathedral but said "sometimes we have to be courageous."

"Life is very difficult for the Muslims who remain," he said. "I am taking advantage of all the security here to come."

But at the displacement camp at Bangui's airport, where thousands have lived for nearly two years, there is a sense that things now are the worst they've been since December 2013. Sandrine Sanze and her family are now back for a second time after the recent clashes, having initially spent nine months at the airport camp.

"It is our prayer that with the pope's visit that peace will return, we can go home and life can start anew," she said, sitting on the ground outside her home of scrap metal that she and her husband dragged to the site.

"We Christians and Muslims lived together for many years and then it was torn apart," said Georges Pokama, 62, as he sat in the shade of a roadside shop in Bangui with his portable radio in hand wearing a hat that said "United for Peace. "The pope is a great mediator and we must listen to his message."

Associated Press writer Gabriela Matthews contributed to this report.
Under Tightest Security, Pope Francis Urges Peace in Central African Republic
NOV 29, 2015 - 18:48
By Philip Pullella and Joe Bavier

BANGUI (Reuters) - Protected by the heaviest security ever seen on his trips, Pope Francis on Sunday preached reconciliation in the divided Central African Republic, a nation racked by bloodshed between Muslims and Christians.

As the pope's Alitalia plane touched down from Uganda to start his first visit to a war zone, attack helicopters patrolled the skies and armoured personnel carriers from French and U.N. peacekeeping forces waited outside the airport.

Special security forces wearing patches of the yellow and white colours of the Vatican flag were on hand to help his normal security retinue.

In an unprecedented precaution for papal trips, a U.N. soldier armed with a rifle rode in each of the minibuses carrying reporters accompanying the pope.

Bangui, the capital of the former French colony, has seen a surge in clashes that have left at least 100 people dead since late September.

France, which has around 900 soldiers deployed in the country, warned the Vatican this month that the visit could be risky but the pope was determined to go to the majority Christian nation.

"Reconciliation, forgiveness, love, peace," he said in a dramatic voice in the homily of a Mass at the city's cathedral in the afternoon, appealing to warring militias to "lay down these instruments of death".

Francis was driven past tens of thousands of cheering people to and from events in a simple car or an open popemobile.

"Work, pray, do everything for peace. But remember, peace without love, friendship and tolerance is nothing," he said at one stop, a visit to camp housing some 4,000 people displaced by the violence in Bangui's neighbourhoods.

He was mobbed by the crowd and asked them all to shout out repeatedly in their native Songo language: "We are all brothers".

The tight security continued in the afternoon when he opened a "holy door" at the city's cathedral for a symbolic local start of the Roman Catholic Church's jubilee year on the theme of mercy. The jubilee begins officially at the Vatican on Dec. 8.

"The Holy Year of Mercy is coming early to this land that has been suffering for years from hate, incomprehension and lack of peace," he said, standing on the cathedral steps.

"For Bangui, for all the people of the Central African Republic and for all the countries in the world suffering from war, we ask for peace," he said in the unprepared remarks to a crowd outside.


Shortly after his arrival Francis heard interim head of state Catherine Samba-Panza paint a bleak picture of her country.

"We absolutely need forgiveness because our hearts have been hardened by the forces of evil. We have lost the sincere love for others and we are henceforth anchored in intolerance, the loss of our values and the disorder that is the result," she told him at the official welcoming ceremony.

France sent in soldiers in 2013 in an attempt to stem the violence. Muslims and Christians have since split into segregated communities. Tens of thousands of Muslims have fled to the far north, creating a de facto partition.

About 80 percent of the impoverished country's population is Christian, roughly 15 percent is Muslim and 5 percent animist.

Central African Republic's government is deploying around 500 police and gendarmes to secure the visit. More than 3,000 peacekeepers from the MINUSCA U.N. mission will also be deployed and French troops will be on alert as well.

The most dangerous segment of the pope's African trip takes place on Monday when he will enter Bangui's PK5 Muslim enclave and visit its central mosque. The neighbourhood, epicentre of a fresh surge in violence, is encircled by Christian militias who have imposed a blockade.

Bangui is the final leg of his first African trip that has already taken him to Kenya and Uganda.

(Additional reporting by Crispin Dembassa-Kette; Editing by Ros Russell)
Burkina Faso Begins Counting Ballots in Presidential Vote
Roch Marc Christian Kabore casts ballot in Burkinabe elections.
Simon Gongo  Olivier Monnier
November 29, 2015 — 2:14 PM EST

Burkina Faso voted Sunday in the first election since mass protests last year forced Blaise Compaore to step down as president after ruling Africa’s fourth-biggest gold producer for almost three decades.

About 5 million people were eligible to cast ballots in both presidential and legislative elections.

Twelve hours of voting ended about 6 p.m. local time, and officials began counting the ballots Sunday night. Results could be announced in a few days.

Most polling stations opened on time and no incidents were reported, Cecile Kyenge, head of the European Union observer mission, said in an interview.

The elections will mark the first democratic handover of power in the history of Burkina Faso, where the revolt against Compaore inspired protest movements by citizens from Burundi to the Democratic Republic of Congo who were unhappy with rulers clinging to power. The protests were led mainly by youth and civil society groups.

In a country where three-quarters of the population is under 30 years, many young people voted for the first time. The election “will bring a bit of change to Burkina Faso,” said Jocelyne Rouamba, a 20-year-old voter.

Majority Vote

An interim government appointed after Compaore’s ouster organized the vote, in which 14 candidates vied for the presidency. Members of the former ruling party have been barred from participating. A candidate needs to win a majority to avoid a runoff, which would be held next month.

Sunday’s elections will help restore investors’ confidence as foreign investment slowed down after Compaore’s departure. The International Monetary Fund expects the economy to expand 5 percent this year.

The front-runners are ex-Prime Minister Roch Marc Christian Kabore and Zephirin Diabre, a former regional chief of French nuclear company Areva SA. As many as 99 political parties put forward 7,000 candidates for 127 seats in the legislature.

In September, a coup by members of the former presidential guard, known for its loyalty to Compaore, forced a delay of the vote planned in mid-October. The seven-day military takeover failed amid fresh protests and lack of support from the national army.
Burkina Faso Kicks Off Presidential Vote Amid Serenity
2015-11-29 22:51:22
Editor: huaxia

Photo: Zephirin Diabre, former economy minister and leader of Union for Change and Progress (UPC), casts his vote into the polling box at a polling station in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, on Nov. 29, 2015. Polling stations on Sunday opened nationwide in Burkina Faso for the presidential and general elections that are expected to restore democratic order and provide the West African country with new legitimate authorities. (Xinhua)

OUAGADOUGOU, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) -- Polling stations on Sunday opened nationwide in Burkina Faso for the presidential and general elections that are expected to restore democratic order and provide the West African country with new legitimate authorities.

Polling has been going on peacefully apart from deficiencies at some polling stations due to lack of electoral equipments.

In Ouagadougou, the capital city, and many localities, long queues of voters are observed.

Over 5.5 million Burkinabes are expected to cast their votes to choose a new president and 127 members of parliament.

Among them were many young men who voted for the first time to fulfill their civic duties and chose the new president from among fourteen candidates in competition.

"I am here since 5 a.m ... and on my arrival , there were only two persons before me. I am determined to cast my vote", said Tahirou Kone, a 20-year-old student.

"This election is a capital for our future. We chased Blaise Compaore from power and we must show the world that we were not mistaken", said Gisele Tapsoba, a voter and mother bearing a child on her back.

Candidate Roch Marc Christian Kabore is one of the favorites in competition. Just after casting his vote at Patte d'Oie primary school in Ouagadougou, nearby his residence, he said he was "confident" and "serene" for victory.

"It is a landmark day", Mr. Kabore said, adding that he has voted " with a sense of pride and serenity as well as of hope for the future of Burkina Faso".

Mr. Kabore said that the current polling will provide the country, since its independence in 1960, with a civilian president for the first time.

The other challenger, the 55-year-old economist Zephirin Diabre , leader of Union for Change and Progress (UPC), also expressed his confidence to win the election.

"My state of mind of a winner is reinforced by excitement my social project generated in 45 provinces of Burkina Faso," Mr. Diabre said, just after casting his vote.

The election came after President Blaise Compaore's resignation in October 2014 amid popular insurrection against his attempt to stand for a new term after 27 years on power.

The elections, originally scheduled to take place on Oct. 11, were delayed after a coup attempt in September by presidential guards loyal to former President Blaise Compaore to overturn the interim government.
Burkina Faso Votes to Choose First New Leader in Decades

Burkina Faso voted on Sunday in an election to choose the country's first new president in decades, a year after longtime leader Blaise Compaore was toppled in a popular uprising in which demonstrators faced down the security forces.

A successful election would establish the country as a beacon for democratic aspirations in Africa, where veteran rulers in Burundi and Congo Republic have changed constitutions to pave the way for fresh terms in office.

It also represents a turning point for a West African nation which, for most of its history since independence from France in 1960, has been ruled by leaders who came to power in coups.

Compaore seized power by that route and ruled for 27 years, winning four elections, all of which were criticized as unfair. He was ousted in October 2014 when demonstrators protested against his attempt to change the constitution to extend his tenure.

"I am proud to have accomplished my duty as a citizen ... It's the first time that I can be really sure that we won't end up with Blaise Compaore," said Ousmane Ouedraogo, as he cast his ballot in the capital Ouagadougou.

People formed long lines at polling stations to vote for the president to serve for a five year term and deputies for the National Assembly. Polls closed at 6 p.m. (1800 GMT). A second round will be held if no candidate secures a majority.


Analysts say only two of the 14 presidential candidates stand a real chance of winning.

One is Roch Marc Kabore, prime minister and president of the National Assembly under Compaore. The other is Zephirin Diabre, who was minister of finance in the 1990s before stepping down to start an opposition party.

Kabore heads the Movement of People for Progress (MPP), made up of disaffected allies of Compaore who left the party months before he stood down. Diabre fronts the Union for Progress and Change (UPC), which was the formal opposition.

Kabore draws support from the business elite and, as a member of the largest ethnic group, traditional chiefs. Diabre has international ties from his years at the United Nations Development Programme and at Areva, a French nuclear company.

"We must do everything to show that civilians can ensure the correct government of the country and restore it to democratic normality," Kabore said as he cast his ballot.

Many people say they will vote for the candidate who has the best chance of promoting economic growth in a landlocked country that exports gold and cotton but remains impoverished.

The election was pushed back from Oct. 11 because of an abortive coup in September by members of the elite presidential guard, in which transitional President Michel Kafando and his prime minister were taken hostage.

That coup cost more than $50 million in lost revenue, trimming growth by 0.3 percentage points. The guard has since been disbanded. Kafando will step down once a new leader is sworn in.

Corruption and justice are also issues for voters, prompting a resurgence in the popularity of former leader Thomas Sankara, a Marxist revolutionary dubbed "Africa's Che Guevara" who was assassinated in a 1987 coup led by Compaore.

(Additional reporting by Nadoun Coulibaly; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Ros Russell)

Read more at Reuters
Burkina Faso Election: Millions Vote in First Poll Since Coup
The vote is believed to be the country’s most democratic ever and comes after months of turmoil following removal of president Blaise Compaore last year

Burkinabe people line up at a polling station to cast their ballots in the general elections in Ouagadougou. Photograph: Wouter Elsen/EPA

Sunday 29 November 2015 19.42 EST

Millions of people have cast their ballots in Burkina Faso’s first presidential and legislative elections since a popular uprising removed the nation’s long-time leader last year.

The vote is considered by some to be the most democratic in the West African nation’s history, because no incumbent is on the ballot paper and the presidential guard has been dissolved.

Security was tight at polling stations, but there were no reports of any unrest.

After the polls closed, the president of the independent national electoral commission (CENI) Barthelemy Kere said the vote had been “generally satisfactory”.

Long queues had formed outside polling stations throughout the day, forcing some to stay open past 1800 GMT, and Kere praised voters’ “patience, tolerance and understanding”.

The first results were expected early on Monday, according to CENI. Presidential candidates need more than 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff.

“It is a victory for the youth that has expressed its will for change and for real democracy,” said transitional president Michel Kafando after casting his vote.

Kafando said it was a victory for the about 17 million citizens of Burkina Faso who have waited decades for a democratic election and called on citizens to avoid violence after results are announced.

“For the first time in 50 years there is an electoral uncertainty ... we don’t know the winner in advance,” said Abdoulaye Soma, the head of the Burkinabe society of constitutional law.

A popular uprising in October 2014 forced Blaise Compaore to resign 27 years as president. A transitional government was put in place, but it did not have the support of Compaore’s elite presidential guard. The presidential guard staged a coup in September that lasted only a week and caused the election, originally scheduled for October, to be postponed. It was the country’s sixth coup since it gained independence from France in 1960.

Burkina Faso’s new electoral code bars presidential candidates who supported Compaore’s bid to change the constitution from taking part, although the ex-president’s party could have a strong showing in the legislative election.

“We must show that civilians can rule the country, and bring it to normality. We have faced a lot of coups and it is enough,” said Roch Marc Christian Kabore, one of the frontrunners.

Abdoulaye Sawadogo, an engineer at a road building company, said he hopes the new leader will address issues of employment, health and education.

Cynthia Ohayon, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, said whoever was elected would have a hard time fulfilling voters’ hopes.

“The expectations are so high – for change, for justice, for the fight against corruption,” Ohayon said.

Some 5.5 million people were registered to vote at more than 17,800 polling stations.

More than 17,000 local and foreign observers monitored the poll, and 25,000 soldiers and police were deployed.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Burkina Faso Set for Vote After Year of Turmoil
Ouagadougou holds first election since last year's popular uprising toppled longtime ruler Blaise Compaore

29 Nov 2015 06:31 GMT

Burkina Faso holds elections on Sunday, the first since a popular uprising toppled the West African nation's longtime leader and launched a turbulent period of transition.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens took to the streets in October 2014, furious over then-President Blaise Compaore's bid to scrap constitutional term limits and stay in office.

Compaore resigned and fled the country, ending his 27-year rule of one of the poorest countries in the world. But the transitional government soon found itself at odds with his elite presidential guard.

With no incumbent on the ballot and the presidential guard now dissolved, candidates and analysts say the vote will be the most open and democratic in Burkina Faso's history.

"We have a real chance for democracy here," said Tahirou Barry, one of 14 presidential candidates. "For the first time, the incumbent president is not a candidate. This leaves the voters free of pressure, and there is fair play in the process."

In September, members of the guard staged a failed coup that saw the interim government restored one week later.

At least 14 people, including two children, were killed during a crackdown on resistance to the coup, according to Amnesty International.

A revised electoral code bars candidates who supported the ex-president's bid to change the constitution, though Compaore's party could have a strong showing in the legislative election.

Some 5.5 million people are registered to vote, according to the election commission, which has said it will publish preliminary results as soon as Monday.

A candidate needs more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a run-off, which would be held 15 days after first-round results are finalised.

More than 17,000 local and foreign observers are expected to monitor the poll. Security Minister Alain Zagre has said 25,000 soldiers and police will be deployed across the country.

Source: Agencies
Prominent Kurdish Lawyer Shot Dead in Southeast Turkey
28 Nov, 2015 10:51

The president of the bar association in southeastern Diyarbakir province has been shot dead by unidentified gunmen while giving a public speech.

A campaigner for Kurdish rights, Tahir Elci had been criticized for challenging Turkey's official stance of calling the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) a terrorist organization.

Elci died of gunshots to the head, hospital sources confirmed.

After making comments about PKK on CNN Turk TV in October, Elci was detained. He was subsequently released and had been awaiting trial.

The killing took place while Tahir Elci was making a statement to the media. According to the state Anadolu news agency, it was Kurdish insurgents that opened fire, killing Elci, as well as a police officer, and injuring three other people, among them correspondents of the leading Turkish media organizations – the Anatolia and Dogan news agencies.

Two policemen were also killed in the attack, officials said, adding that one officer had been shot dead on the spot while another died of his injuries later in hospital.

A gun battle erupted after gunfire was opened at police from an unidentified car, Interior Minister Efkan Ala told the media. The official did not mention if anyone had been detained, Reuters reported.

The attack in which Elci was killed might be "an assassination," Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Saturday in a televised speech, Hurriyet Daily News reported. But "there are two possibilities," the PM added, saying that the other might be an accident, with the lawyer having been caught in an exchange of fire between security forces and attackers.

A curfew was declared in the region.

Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) described Elci's killing as a "planned assassination," Reuters reported citing HDP's statement, which added: "In the place left by Tahir Elci, thousands more Tahir Elcis will carry on the work in the struggle for law and justice."

Tahir Elci studied law in Europe and took part in many high profile cases in the Turkish courts. The lawyer was among the founding members of many human rights and non-governmental organizations.

“The moment the statement ended, the crowd was sprayed with bullets,” Reuters cited Omer Tastan, a local official from the pro-Kurdish HDP party, as saying.

“A single bullet struck Elci in the head,” Tastan said, adding that 11 people were also wounded in the incident.

Dogan News Agency recorded a video of the incident, showing a group of gunmen hiding behind the minaret of a nearby mosque close to where Elci was making his statement. When he finished speaking, the group opened fire at the lawyer and people standing beside him.

“A person ran towards Tahir Elci, fired and then started to run away,” Dogan news agency’s reporter Felat Bozarslan recalls.

The PKK demands greater autonomy for Turkey's Kurds and is classified as a terrorist organization in Turkey and the US.

After the ceasefire agreement between the PKK and Turkish security forces ended in July, hundreds of people were killed in terror acts and clashes in addition to the estimated 40,000 who have died since the Kurds started their armed struggle for autonomy in 1984.