Tuesday, January 31, 2023

DC Arrests City Employee Over Shooting Death of 13-Year-Old


FILE - Flowers are secured to a pole as a memorial to Karon Blake, 13, on the corner of Quincy Street NE and Michigan Avenue NE in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, Jan. 10, 2023. The note reads, "Karon we will love and miss you dearly." Jason Lewis, a longtime Parks and Recreation Department employee, turned himself in Tuesday morning to face charges of second-degree murder while armed. Lewis shot middle schooler Karon Blake on Jan. 7, around 4 a.m. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Police arrested a D.C. city employee Tuesday over the fatal shooting of a 13-year old that has roiled community passions.

Jason Lewis, a longtime Parks and Recreation Department employee, turned himself in Tuesday morning to face charges of second-degree murder while armed. Lewis shot Karon Blake on Jan. 7, around 4 a.m., across the street from the middle school Blake attended.

The shooting prompted a fierce community response, with Metropolitan Police Department chief Robert Contee facing intense public pressure to either arrest the shooter or reveal their identity. Lewis. 41, was ordered held without bond until a Feb. 13 court appearance.

“The investigation took the amount of time that it needed to take,” Contee said Tuesday. “There was somewhat of a self-defense claim that needed to be overcome.”

The charges don’t hinge directly on the shots that killed Blake, but rather to an earlier gunshot that Lewis didn’t mention in his initial statement to police. The arrest warrant acknowledges that Blake was part of a group of youths apparently robbing parked cars, and that Blake apparently ran straight at Lewis before he opened fire from his property.

But it charges Lewis with setting off the violent chain of events with an earlier shot that he fired — one which Contee said ”was not part of the initial discussion that we had,” when Lewis made his original statement to police.

Contee said multiple residents on the block came forward with video evidence from their own security cameras. The arrest warrant delves into a chilling level of detail from that footage, including Blake pleading after he was shot.

“The decedent (Blake) can then be heard yelling, ‘I am sorry’ numerous times, followed by ‘Please don’t’ and ‘No’ numerous times. The decedent yells, ‘I am a kid’ and ‘I am only 12’ numerous times,” it states.

That footage, which hasn’t been publicly released, showed Blake and his companions emerging from what turned out to be a stolen car and breaking into parked cars in Lewis’ Brookland neighborhood, the warrant claims. “They had flashlights, they were peering into cars and they were going into the cars,” Contee said.

Lewis is charged with firing first at the young man who remained seated in the stolen car. In the confusion after that first shot, Blake apparently ran directly at Lewis and was fatally wounded.

“The first shot was fired ... at someone sitting in a vehicle who wasn’t an immediate threat,” Contee said Tuesday. This original shot, when Lewis had no claim of being personally under threat, was “where things really unraveled” and “put the chain of events into place” that resulted in Blake’s death, Contee said.

“I don’t know if (Blake) knew that Mr. Lewis was standing where he was standing,” he said.

The police chief encouraged the youths who were with Blake that night to come forward to police with their own testimony. But he stopped short Tuesday of promising any sort of amnesty from criminal charges.

“My assessment is that these young men obviously need some sort of intervention,” he said. “Ï want to make sure they get what they need.”

A statement from Lewis’ attorney, Lee Smith, maintained his innocence and said, “While this is certainly a tragedy, once all the facts are heard, I believe that a jury will find that there was no crime here.”

Alaska Gold, Copper Mine Blocked Over Environmental Worries


This Sept. 2011 aerial photo provided by the Environmental Protection Agency, shows the Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, effectively vetoed a proposed copper and gold mine in the remote region of southwest Alaska that is coveted by mining interests but that also supports the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery. (Joseph Ebersole/EPA via AP)

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took an unusually strong step Tuesday and blocked a proposed mine heralded by backers as the most significant undeveloped copper and gold resource in the world because of concerns about its environmental impact on a rich Alaska aquatic ecosystem that supports the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.

The move, cheered by Alaska Native tribes and environmentalists and condemned by some state officials and mining interests, deals a heavy blow to the proposed Pebble Mine. The intended site is in a remote area of southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, about 200 miles (322 kilometers) southwest of Anchorage.

The mine site is accessible only by helicopter and snowmobile in winter, developer Pebble Limited Partnership said in a permit application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As proposed, the project called for a mining rate of up to 73 million tons a year.

An appeal by the Pebble partnership of a separate rejection of a key federal permit is unresolved.

In a statement, Pebble Limited Partnership CEO John Shively called the EPA’s action “unlawful” and political and said litigation was likely. Shively has cast the project as key to the Biden administration’s push to reach green energy goals and make the U.S. less dependent on foreign nations for such minerals.

The Pebble Limited Partnership is owned Canada-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd.

The Pebble deposit is near the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed, which supports a bounty of salmon “unrivaled anywhere in North America,” according to the EPA.

Tuesday’s announcement marks only the 14th time in the roughly 50-year history of the federal Clean Water Act that the EPA has flexed its powers to bar or restrict activities over their potential impact on waters, including fisheries. EPA Administrator Michael Regan said his agency’s use of its so-called veto authority in this case “underscores the true irreplaceable and invaluable natural wonder that is Bristol Bay.”

The veto is a victory for the environment, economy and tribes of Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, which have fought the proposal for more than a decade, said Joel Reynolds, western director and senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The mine would have jeopardized the region’s salmon fishery, which brings 15,000 jobs to the area and supplies about half the world’s sockeye salmon, Reynolds said. The 2022 harvest was more than 60 million fish, state officials reported last year.

“It’s a victory for science over politics. For biodiversity over extinction. For democracy over corporate power,” Reynolds said.

The EPA, citing an analysis by the Army Corps of Engineers, said discharges of dredged or fill material to build and operate the proposed mine site would result in a loss of about 100 miles (160 kilometers) of stream habitat, as well as wetlands.

The Pebble partnership has maintained that the project can coexist with salmon. The partnership’s website says the deposit is at the upper reaches of three “very small tributaries” and expresses confidence any impacts on the fishery “in the unlikely event of an incident” would be “minimal.”

Republican Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said the EPA’s veto was a dangerous precedent that could affect future development in the state, while state Attorney General Treg Taylor called the agency’s action “legally indefensible.”

“Alarmingly, it lays the foundation to stop any development project, mining or non-mining, in any area of Alaska with wetlands and fish-bearing streams,” Dunleavy said.

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she opposed the mine but that the EPA’s veto shouldn’t be allowed to jeopardize future mining operations in the state.

“This determination must not serve as precedent to target any other project in our state and must be the only time EPA ever uses its veto authority under the Clean Water Act in Alaska,” Murkowski said in a statement.

Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell called the EPA’s action “the final nail in the coffin for the Pebble Mine” and the culmination of a hard fought battle.

“Now, we will have a thriving Bristol Bay salmon run for generations to come,” she said.

Tribes in the Bristol Bay region in 2010 petitioned the EPA to protect the area under the federal Clean Water Act. Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, said that to call the EPA announcement “welcome news is an understatement.”

Tim Bristol, executive director with the group SalmonState, lauded the EPA’s decision, saying it “may be the most popular thing the federal government has ever done for Alaska.”

The EPA’s decision is the latest in a yearslong back-and-forth over the project that has spanned administrations.

Leila Kimbrell, executive director for the Resource Development Council for Alaska Inc., called the decision “a dangerous abuse of power and federal overreach.” The National Mining Association, citing high demand for minerals and fragile global supply chains, said domestic mining has “never been more important.” It said EPA’s decision is “in stark contrast to national and global realities.”


Whittle reported from Portland, Maine.

Omaha Police Fatally Shoot Armed Man in Target Store


Law enforcement officers are pictured at the scene of a reported shooting at a Target store in Omaha, Neb., on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023. Omaha Police Chief Todd R. Schmaderer says city police confronted and shot a man with an assault rifle. (Chris Machian/Omaha World-Herald via AP)

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A man with an AR-15-style rifle and more than a dozen ammunition magazines opened fire inside a Target store in Omaha, sending panicked shoppers and employees scrambling for safety before he was fatally shot by police Tuesday afternoon, authorities said. No injuries were reported.

The white man in his 30s, who has not been identified, fired multiple rounds as he entered the store but it wasn’t clear if he fired at anyone, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said.

Target employee Lauren Murphy had just started her break when she heard the shots, and was in the store’s front restroom. She got a text telling her to either run or stay put — so she hid in a bathroom stall, lifting her feet off the ground, and began texting her family and friends to say she loved them. A child next to her was crying.

“I was scared that this is how I might die at work,” said Murphy, 21.

“I was just clutching onto the side of the toilet getting my feet off the ground, making sure I wasn’t visible,” she added.

Another 21-year-old employee, Samuel Jacobsen, was filling a personal shopping order when he heard the first gunshot. But he wasn’t sure what the sound was, and kept working.

“Then my coworker ran by and she said, ‘He’s got a gun, get out!’” Jacobsen said. “I was like, ‘Oh this is real. I have to get out, I have to get out, I have to get out.’”

He hid behind the store, texting coworkers to make sure they were OK.

Cathy Mahannah, a customer, said the scene inside was “sheer panic.”

The 62-year-old grandmother was near the store’s entrance picking out Valentine’s Day gifts for her family when she heard a banging sound. She thought something had fallen, but then saw a mass of people running for the exit.

A shopper told her there was an active shooter, and she ran. She heard at least one more gunshot in the store and a few more when she was outside.

Mahannah was so rattled she initially couldn’t find her car and jumped into a vehicle with a stranger.

“The moments in that parking lot were terrifying when I heard the shots and thought, ‘Where do I hide? I don’t know what to do,’” she said.

At least 29 calls to 911 came in around noon, and the city’s police chief said officers were at the store within minutes. The first officers on the scene included Omaha police officers and a Nebraska State Trooper.

“The first arriving officers went into the building, confronted the suspect and shot him dead,” Schmaderer said. “He had an AR-15 rifle with him and plenty of ammunition.”

Police said the officers gave several loud commands for the man to drop the rifle before an Omaha officer shot the suspect, who died at the scene.

Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives happened to be nearby and helped get victims to safety, bureau spokesperson John Ham said.

The ATF is tracing the weapon to determine where it came from, whether it was acquired legally and whether it has been used in other crimes, Ham said.

Target spokesperson Brian Harper-Tibaldo said in a statement that all shoppers and employees were safely evacuated from the store, which will remain closed indefinitely.

Lt. Neal Bonacci, a police spokesperson, said officers are trained to enter such scenes quickly to prevent mass casualties.

“We’ve learned a lot from other jurisdictions, other areas, other cities that have unfortunately experienced this,” he said. “We enter right away. We’re trained to do so. Whether it’s one officer or 10, we go inside and neutralize the threat.”

Several other shootings have taken place at stores across the country in recent months, at a time when mass shootings have commanded public attention on a disturbingly frequent basis.

In January, one woman was injured in a shooting at a Walmart store in Evansville, Indiana. Police said it could have been much worse if not for heroic actions by an employee and police. Officers arrived within minutes and fatally shot the gunman. A Walmart manager in Chesapeake, Virginia, killed six people in November when he began shooting wildly inside a break room. Six others were wounded. The gunman shot and killed himself before officers arrived.

In Buffalo, New York, an 18-year-old fatally shot 10 people and injured three others last May, after seeking out a grocery store in a predominately Black neighborhood. Authorities immediately called it a hate crime.

The Omaha shooting came just over 15 years after the deadly December 2007 shooting at a Von Maur department store, when a 19-year-old gunman killed eight people and himself.

Nebraska allows gun owners to carry firearms — including assault-style rifles — in public view, as long as they don’t have a criminal record that bars them from possessing one and aren’t in a place where guns are prohibited. To legally conceal a gun, Nebraskans must submit to a state patrol background check, get fingerprinted and take a gun safety course.

Republican state Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon is sponsoring a bill that would allow people to carry concealed handguns without a permit. The measure also would prohibit cities and counties from issuing local laws with more stringent controls than the state law. The proposal has 25 cosponsors.

Jacobsen, the store employee, said he wants stricter, not looser, gun laws.

“As someone who grew up here, I always hear about this part of Omaha and west Omaha being so safe,” he said. But Tuesday’s shooting “really drives it home that it could happen anywhere.”


Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Missouri, and Jim Salter in O’Fallon, Missouri, contributed to this report.

Fate of Last Ex-cop Charged in Floyd Murder Lies with Judge


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The attorney for a former Minneapolis police officer who held back bystanders while his colleagues restrained a dying George Floyd said in court filings Tuesday that his client is innocent of criminal wrongdoing and should be acquitted on state charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

But prosecutors argued in their filings that Tou Thao “acted without courage and displayed no compassion” despite his nearly nine years of experience and that he disregarded his training even though he could see Floyd’s life slowly ebbing away.

Tuesday was the deadline for prosecutors and defense attorneys to file final written arguments in the case of Thao, the last of the four former officers facing judgement in Floyd’s killing.

The state and federal cases against Derek Chauvin and the two other officers involved have largely been resolved, except for Chauvin’s appeal of his murder conviction. But Thao asked Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill to decide, based on stipulated evidence, whether he is guilty of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s killing, rather than going to trial.

Floyd, a Black man, died May 25, 2020, after Chauvin, who is white, pinned him to the ground with his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes. A bystander video captured Floyd’s fading cries of “I can’t breathe.” Floyd’s murder touched off protests around the world and forced a national reckoning with police brutality and racism.

Unlike the other three former officers, Thao has maintained that he did nothing wrong. When he rejected a plea deal last August, he said “it would be lying” to plead guilty.

Defense attorney Robert Paule argued in his written closing argument that the state has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Thao knew that Chauvin was committing a crime, nor that Thao intended to aid in a crime.

“The death of George Floyd was a tragedy,” Paule wrote. “Yet the fact that a tragic death occurred does not transfer it into a criminal act. Thao is innocent of the charges against him because he did not intend that his specific actions were done to assist in the commission of a crime. Every one of Thao’s actions was done based upon the training he received from the Minneapolis Police Department.”

Paule argued that Thao “reasonably believed” that Floyd was experiencing a controversial set of symptoms known as “excited delirium” and that the actions he took at the scene were with the intention of helping to get Floyd medical attention faster because he was trained to view excited delirium as life threatening. He said Thao was not aware that Floyd was not breathing or had no pulse.

Prosecutor Matthew Frank disputed that defense, writing that even witnesses who believe excited delirium exists testified previously that Floyd displayed none of the symptoms.

“Thao was aware that his three colleagues were on top of Floyd, and were restraining Floyd in the prone position,” Frank wrote. “Thao knew that this prone restraint was extremely dangerous because it can cause asphyxia — the inability to breathe — the exact condition from which Floyd repeatedly complained he was suffering. Yet Thao made the conscious decision to aid that dangerous restraint: He actively encouraged the other three officers, and assisted their crime by holding back concerned bystanders.”

Cahill has 90 days to rule and hand down a sentence if he finds Thao guilty. He’ll base his decision on evidence agreed to by both sides — exhibits and transcripts from Chauvin’s 2021 murder trial in state court and the federal civil rights trial of Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane last year. Thao was specifically convicted then of depriving Floyd of his right to medical care and of failing to intervene and stop Chauvin.

Thao testified during his federal trial that he was relying on the other officers to care for Floyd’s medical needs while he served as a served as “a human traffic cone” to control the crowd and traffic outside a Minneapolis convenience store where Floyd tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill.

Thao told the court that when he and Chauvin arrived, the other officers were struggling with Floyd. He said it was clear to him, as the other officers tried to put Floyd into a squad car, “that he was under the influence of some type of drugs.”

His body camera video shows that at one point he told the onlookers, “This is why you don’t do drugs, kids.” When an off-duty, out-of-uniform Minneapolis firefighter arrived and asked if officers had checked Floyd’s pulse, he ordered her, “Back off!”

Thao acknowledged he heard onlookers becoming more anxious about Floyd’s condition and calling on officers to check his pulse. But he said his role was crowd control; there were about 15 bystanders. While he acknowledged hearing Floyd saying, “I can’t breathe,” he said he didn’t know there was anything seriously wrong with him even as an ambulance took him away.

Cahill is already familiar with much of the evidence, having presided over Chauvin’s trial. But the evidence in this case will also include details from the federal trial about Thao’s training and work history, as well as his interview with investigators from the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Thao, Kueng and Lane got federal sentences ranging from 3 1/2 years for Thao to 2 1/2 years for Lane and are serving their time in prisons in otherstates, as is Chauvin, who pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge and is serving a 21-year sentence that will keep him in prison longer than the 22 1/2-year sentence Cahill gave him on the state second-degree murder charge because he would qualify for parole earlier in the state system..

Thao is Hmong American, Kueng is Black and Lane is white.

If Thao is convicted of aiding and abetting manslaughter, a more serious murder count with a presumptive sentence of 12 1/2 years will be dropped. Minnesota guidelines recommend four years on the manslaughter count. He would serve his state term concurrent with his federal sentence.

Mississippi’s 1st Black Woman Legislator Won’t Seek New Term


State Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, speaks to reporters about her tenure in the Mississippi Legislature, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, in Jackson, Miss. Clarke, who was first elected to the House in 1985, announced Tuesday that she will not seek reelection. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The first Black woman elected to the Mississippi Legislature said Tuesday that she will not seek another term, 38 years after she first took office.

Democratic Rep. Alyce Clarke of Jackson, 83, announced her decision one day before candidates’ qualifying deadline for statewide, regional, legislative and county offices in Mississippi.

“You can’t make a difference unless you’re at the table. And I’m glad we finally got to the table,” Clarke told The Associated Press after she made her announcement to her House colleagues.

The first Black man to win a seat in the Mississippi Legislature in the 20th century was Robert Clark, no relation, a Democrat from Ebenezer who was elected in 1967.

Alyce Clarke won a March 1985 special election. Her time as the only Black woman in the Legislature was relatively short, since in 1987, Democrat Alice Harden of Jackson won a seat in the state Senate.

Several other Black women have since been elected to Mississippi’s 122-member House and 52-member Senate, but women generally remain a small minority in both chambers.

Only three white women were House members when Clarke arrived. The men had a restroom near the House chamber on the Capitol’s third floor, but the women had to go to restrooms on another floor — an inconvenience that prevented them from sneaking out during long debates.

Clarke said that early in her legislative career, she saw a House staff member slip a key to one of her white female colleagues for a private women’s restroom on the second floor. Clarke had been going all the way down to a public restroom on the first floor.

“Stupid me,” Clarke recalled Tuesday. “I said, ‘It’s never been locked when I was in there.’ And then I saw the other two ladies look at each other kind of strange. I said, ‘Something’s not quite right about this.’”

She said she went home and told her husband: “‘The white ladies have a bathroom.’”

Her husband urged her to call reporters. She did, and the snub of the only Black female legislator made headlines.

Clarke said when she arrived at the Capitol the next day, a security officer gave her a key to the private restroom and told her she was being summoned to see then-House Speaker C.B. “Buddie” Newman, a Democrat.

Clarke said Newman — who apparently hadn’t read the newspapers — told her that if she promised not to tell the media about the restroom situation, he would get a committee to work on putting a new women’s restroom near the House chamber.

“I said, ‘I promise you I won’t tell them because I told them last night,’” Clarke said.

Within a relatively short time, female lawmakers had the same ease of access to a restroom as their male colleagues, with the women’s room installed in a space formerly used for the men’s shoeshine stand.

Potty parity aside, Clarke said Tuesday that women have made a difference in the legislative process.

“If you happen to be in the committee, quite often there are things you think of that they don’t think of,” she said. “And it appears that we are really more concerned about educating our children and making sure they don’t end up in prison.”

Democratic Rep. Ed Blackmon — who for many years shared a two-person desk with Clarke in the House chamber — said Tuesday that Clarke accomplished goals by being persistent.

“She bothers you — I’ll put it that way,” Blackmon said with a chuckle. “But she’s real nice in the way she bothers you.”

Clarke pushed early in her legislative career to establish Born Free, a drug and alcohol treatment center for pregnant women. She said she had seen a need for the program while working in a nutrition program at a public health center.

In the 1990s, she led an effort to establish Mississippi’s first drug courts, which provide supervision, drug testing and treatment services to help keep some people out of prison.

She was also instrumental in persuading her colleagues to establish a state lottery. Clarke filed lottery bills for 19 years before legislators voted in 2018 to create a lottery to help pay for highways. Recognizing her persistence, the House and Senate voted to name the legislation the Alyce G. Clarke Mississippi Lottery Law. When lottery tickets went on sale in 2019, Clarke bought the ceremonial first ticket at a Jackson convenience store.

The current House speaker, Republican Philip Gunn, said Tuesday that Clarke has served with class and dignity.

“You have made the state of Mississippi proud,” he told Clarke, and her colleagues applauded.

Serbia Won’t Supply Weapons to Ukraine — Vucic

Czech President Milos Zeman said Serbia’s refusal to join Western sanctions on Russia was its advantage

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic

BELGRADE, January 30. /TASS/. Serbia is not supplying weapons to Ukraine and has no plans to do this in the future, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Monday.

"Serbia’s specialized industry will have a lot of new investment and also undergo many changes so they can make money and sell their weapons. We don’t sell weapons to Russia and Ukraine, but we will sell it to anyone else," Vucic said at a joint news conference with Czech President Milos Zeman.

Czech President Milos Zeman said Serbia’s refusal to join Western sanctions on Russia was its advantage.

"Of course, I understand Serbia’s position and understand its neutrality," he said at the same news conference. "The position of neutrality held by Serbia, which doesn’t support sanctions on Russia, could be a sort of an advantage for the possible role of a mediator because a mediator shouldn’t clearly take either side, or it would be unable to be a mediator."

The Serbian leader said earlier that Russia's special military operation in Ukraine prompted enormous Western pressure on Serbia, including with respect to the issue of anti-Russian sanctions. Vucic has repeatedly said that if Serbia joined the sanctions policy directed against Russia, that wouldn’t bring any results. The Serbian leader told news media in an interview in November 2022 that Belgrade would impose sanctions against Moscow "only with the sword of Damocles over its head."

After the start of Russia's special military operation in Ukraine, Vucic said in an address to the nation, following a meeting of the Security Council, that Serbia supported the territorial integrity of Ukraine, but wouldn’t impose sanctions on Russia. The president said that the republic was temporarily suspending army and police exercises with all foreign partners. He said that Serbia considers Russia and Ukraine fraternal states, regrets what is happening in the east of Europe, and is ready to provide humanitarian assistance to Kiev.

Hungary, Austria not to ship weapons to Ukraine, Defense Ministers confirm

Klaudia Tanner said that she considers the Ukrainian conflict spilling into Europe the greatest danger

BUDAPEST, January 30. /TASS/. Hungary and Austria will not send weapons to Ukraine and would like to prevent the escalation of the ongoing conflict, Kristof Szalay-Bobrovniczky said after the talks with his Austrian counterpart Klaudia Tanner in Budapest Monday.

"Hungary’s position is clear: we do not ship weapons to the area of conflict, because we want to avoid its escalation, and our position coincides with Austria’s position," Szalay-Bobrovniczky said, noting that the two ministers discussed the situation in Ukraine. "The neutral Austria also does not ship weapons to where hostilities take place."

Meanwhile, Tanner said that she considers the Ukrainian conflict spilling into Europe the greatest danger.

"We are not talking about conventional war alone, but also about non-traditional threats, such as growth of migration, exacerbated by the war," she said, according to the MTI news agency.

Croatia’s President Criticizes Tank Deliveries to Ukraine

FILE - Croatian President elect Zoran Milanovic addresses dignitaries after taking the oath in Zagreb, Croatia, Feb. 18, 2020. Croatia's president has criticized Western nations for sending heavy tanks and other arms to Ukraine for its defense against the Russian aggression, saying it will only prolong the war. Speaking to reporters in the Croatian capital, Zoran Milanovic said Monday Jan. 30. 2023, it is "manic" to believe that Russia can be defeated in a conventional war. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic, File)

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — NATO-member Croatia’s president on Monday criticized Western nations for supplying Ukraine with heavy tanks and other weapons in its campaign against invading Russian forces, saying those arms deliveries will only prolong the war.

Zoran Milanovic told reporters in the Croatian capital that it’s “mad” to believe that Russia can be defeated in a conventional war.

“I am against sending any lethal arms there,” Milanovic said. “It prolongs the war.”

“What is the goal? Disintegration of Russia, change of the government? There is also talk of tearing Russia apart. This is mad,” he added.

Milanovic won the presidential election in Croatia in 2019 as a left-leaning liberal candidate, a counterpoint to the conservative government currently in power in the European Union and NATO-member state. But he has since made a turn to populist nationalism and criticized Western policies toward Russia as well as the Balkans.

Milanovic has built a reputation of being pro-Russian, which he has repeatedly denied. Yet in recent months, he has openly opposed the admission of Finland and Sweden into NATO as well as the training of Ukrainian troops in Croatia as part of EU aid to the embattled country.

On Monday, the Croatian president expanded his narrative by saying he believes that Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, will never again be part of Ukraine.

After months of hesitation, the U.S. said it will send 31 of its 70-ton Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, and Germany announced it will dispatch 14 Leopard 2 tanks and allow other countries to do the same.

Milanovic said that “from 2014 to 2022, we are watching how someone provokes Russia with the intention of starting this war.”

“What is the goal of this war? A war against a nuclear power that is at war in another country? Is there a conventional way to defeat such a country?” Milanovic asked on Monday. “Who pays the price? Europe. America pays the least,” he said.

“A year has passed and we are only now talking about tanks,” Milanovic said. “Not a single American tank will go to Ukraine in a year. Only German tanks will be sent there.”

Although the presidential post is mostly ceremonial in Croatia, Milanovic is formally the supreme commander of the armed forces. His latest anti-Western outbursts have embarrassed and irritated the country’s government which has fully supported Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s aggression.

On Monday, Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic reacted to the president’s positions by saying they “directly harm Croatia’s foreign policy position.”

“The summary of that narrative is: let’s sit down as soon as possible, let the Russians take away I don’t know how many thousands of square kilometers of Ukraine and forget about the expansion of NATO,” Plenkovic said.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Zimbabwe, Belarus Cement Ties

31 JANUARY 2023

The Herald (Harare)

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko arrived in the country yesterday for a historic three-day State visit where several deals in key sectors of agriculture, mining, infrastructural development, science and innovation are expected to be consummated.

President Lukashenko arrived at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport yesterday afternoon and was welcomed by President Mnangagwa, Cabinet ministers, diplomats and hordes of jubilant Zanu PF supporters who celebrated the fruits of the country's engagement and re-engagement agenda.

The visit by President Lukashenko is a first of its kind to Sub-Saharan Africa and signifies Zimbabwe's growing global influence and success of President Mnangagwa's policy of "a friend to all and enemy to none" and also the Zimbabwe is Open for Business Mantra.

The visiting President was welcomed with a 21-gun salute, a guard of honour which he inspected, and the national anthems of the two nations, on a sunny day, with traditional dances and songs also in the offing.

After the rousing welcome, the two Presidents departed the airport in the same car, and later had a private dinner.

Today, the two leaders will have a tête-à-tête at State House and then another one thereafter with their delegations where several deals will be signed.

President Mnangagwa welcomes his Belarusian counterpart President Alexander Lukashenko upon his arrival at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport in Harare yesterday.

Yesterday, a business delegation from Belarus held talks with their Zimbabwean counterparts that which will continue today.

Commenting on Twitter, President Mnangagwa described the visit as "historic".

"Today Belarus President, Alexander Lukashenko, arrived in Zimbabwe for an historic three-day State visit, his first such visit to a sub-Saharan country. I look forward to exploring how our two great countries may work together and trade with each other in the future."

After the departure of the two Presidents, the Dean of African Ambassadors to Zimbabwe, Mr James Musoni, who is also Rwanda's Ambassador, said the visit is a game-changer for Zimbabwe.

"It's a sign of good co-operation between Zimbabwe and Belarus, this takes relations to another level," he said.

On his part, Russia Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Nikolai Krasilnikov said the visit is good for the two countries.

"We believe it is very important to develop co-operation with Zimbabwe and Russia always stands ready to work with progressive nations and the three brotherly nations," he said.

Zanu PF supporters sung and danced as they welcome visiting Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport in Harare yesterday.

In 2019, President Mnangagwa, as part of his engagement and re-engagement agenda, visited Belarus where the two countries, inter alia, signed an MoU establishing a Joint Permanent Commission, a framework under which commitments were made to strengthen co-operation in various sectors including agriculture, mining, infrastructural development, science and innovation.

This comes as President Mnangagwa, using scientific methods, has put in place mechanisms to ensure that the country's agriculture sector is both mechanised and rewarding to farmers, by being responsive not only to local demand but global demands vis-à-vis shortages of cereals wrought by climate change, Covid-19 and also conflicts.

Thus, today that visit is not only being reciprocated but also being cemented through the launch of the Second Phase of the Belarus Mechanisation Facility, the first of which was launched last year.

Under Phase One of the Belarus Mechanisation programme, Zimbabwe took delivery of 474 tractors, 60 combine harvesters, 210 planters, and 5 low bed trucks which were distributed to farmers through CBZ and the Land Bank.

Positive effects of the programme are being felt across the country as farmers increase production and productivity through mechanised farming that uses modern technology to meet not only food security but sovereignty, as espoused by President Mnangagwa.

At its inauguration, the Second Republic set its eyes on the goal of achieving National Food Security through local production, by among other things increasing access to, and greater utilisation of land, and modernising the Agricultural sector through mechanisation, science, and more intensive farmer extension support.


The 'It's Probably Me' hitmaker performed six sold-out shows in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Musician Gregory Porter. Picture: Instagram

Celeste Martin | 30 January 2023 17:11

Cape Town – United States jazz singer Gregory Porter has thanked his South African fans for the love they showed him during his concerts in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

“For me, music has always been about coming with a humble and honest expression about love and life. South Africa, I'm humbled by your exuberant radiant love.” Porter posted on social media.


A Joburg resident shared a video of blue water coming out of her tap on Sunday, 29 January 2023. Picture: @_ntombim_/Twitter.

Gloria Motsoere | 30 January 2023 19:44

JOHANNESBURG - Joburg Water says it has taken note of a complaint by a Johannesburg resident that the water coming from her taps is blue.

The resident shared a picture and video on social media on Sunday, which has since been shared widely.

Joburg Water says it has been in touch with the resident and will be investigating the matter.

It says it suspects that the blue colour may be caused by the levels of copper in the building.

"We have since sent the customer details to our lab, they will be taking samples from the meter because that's where we supply and be advised further. We shall wait for the results from our lab" said Joburg water spokesperson Puleng Mopeli.


Addressing the close of the ANC NEC lekgotla on Monday night, Ramaphosa said party leaders have backed calls for the state of disaster to speedily address South Africa's power crisis in a much shorter period than the 18 to 24 months government had originally communicated to South Africans.

FILE: ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the ANC NEC Lekgotla in Johannesburg on 29 January 2023. Picture: Twitter/@AthiGeleba

Kevin Brandt | 31 January 2023 06:03

CAPE TOWN - Imposing a national state of disaster similar to the conditions imposed on South Africans during the COVID-19 pandemic would form part of discussion during Wednesday's cabinet lekgotla, President Cyril Ramaphosa has said.

Addressing the close of the ANC NEC lekgotla on Monday night, Ramaphosa said party leaders have backed calls for the state of disaster to speedily address South Africa's power crisis in a much shorter period than the 18 to 24 months government had originally communicated to South Africans.

Ramaphosa and his cabinet are set to meet on Wednesday to thrash out government's priorities for 2023 ahead of next week's state-of-the-nation address.

A national state of disaster would likely top the agenda.

"There's broad agreement that we should move in that direction...work is already underway within government to establish whether the legal requirements for the declaration of a national state of disaster are met," Ramaphosa told the ANC lekgotla.

Ramaphosa said government would also get clarity on the extent of the powers the declaration would give government to eradicate load shedding.

"It was observed that it would be necessary to have a national state of disaster, because that would enable use to have the instruments that would be necessary to fully address the challenge that our nation faces."

Manhunt Underway in South Africa

South African Police Service (SAPS) officers enforce a perimeter around a crime scene

Africa News


South African police has launched a manhunt for two gunmen behind the killing of eight people attending a birthday party on Sunday in a township of the port city of Gqeberha, formerly known as Port Elizabeth.

According to the police, the birthday host and house owner was among the victims.

Police Minister Bheki Cele visited the scene on Monday.

"We will have to reverse this huge trend as I am saying to you. We are also sending some national capacities in all units of police. It could be in crime intelligence, it could be detectives we will be adding in both personnel and in both material and things that can help to reverse this situation", said Police Minister Bheki Cele.

Last November, six people died not far from the scene of Sunday's shooting in another township in Gqeberha.

Police said it was a drugs-related crime.

"Andile had just arrived from East London; within thirty minutes this thing happened. My sister was also here, she actually escaped death, sadly so that she had a few friends around as well as.. those of my brothers and some of her friends have also passed on", said Nomhle “Chinese” Tys, aunt of one of the victims.

South Africa is one of the most violent countries in the world and is notorious for its high crime rate. 

According to the latest official police statistics, a murder is committed in South Africa every 19 minutes.

Horn of Africa Drought Drives over 22 Million People to Hunger

Women walk through shelters in Sebedow Internally displaced Person (IDP) camp, one of more than 500 that surround Baidoa hosting 900,000 displaced people, in Baidoa, Somalia

Africa News


From southern Ethiopia to northern Kenya and Somalia, around 22 million people are at risk of hunger as the worst drought in four decades grips the Horn of Africa.

In the afflicted areas, inhabitants -- who eke out a living mainly from herding and subsistence farming -- are experiencing their fifth consecutive poor rainy season since the end of 2020.

The United Nations says 12 million people in Ethiopia, 5.6 million in Somalia and 4.3 million in Kenya are "acutely food insecure".

The overall figure has almost doubled from 13 million at the start of 2022, the UN's World Food Programme said in a January 23 report.

Across the region, 1.7 million people have been driven from their homes by a lack of water and pasture, it said.

The Horn of Africa is one of the regions most vulnerable to climate change, and extreme weather events are occurring with increased frequency and intensity.

Since 2016, eight of the 13 rainy seasons have seen below-average rainfall, according to data from the US-based Climate Hazards Center.

The last famine was declared in Somalia in 2011, when 260,000 people -- half of them children under the age of six -- died of hunger, partly because the international community did not act fast enough, according to the UN.

At that time, the region had encountered two poor rainy seasons, compared to five in the current drought.

Crops, already ravaged by a locust invasion between 2019 and 2021, have been wiped out and livestock has suffered a similar fate.

The UN's humanitarian agency OCHA estimated in November that 9.5 million cattle had perished.

Humanitarian groups warn that the situation is only likely to worsen, with the next rainy season from March to May also expected to be below average.

Dire conditions in the Horn have been amplified by the war in Ukraine, which has contributed to soaring food and fuel costs, disrupted global supply chains and diverted aid money away from the region.

Somalia is the hardest hit country, with the drought affecting more than half of its population, about 7.85 million people.

In December, OCHA said the troubled nation was technically not yet in the grip of full-blown famine thanks to the response of aid agencies and local communities.

But people were nevertheless suffering "catastrophic" food shortages, it said, warning that if assistance is not scaled up, famine is expected in southern Somalia between April and June.

Agropastoral populations in Baidoa and Burhakaba districts, and displaced people in Baidoa town and the capital Mogadishu were most at risk.

OCHA warned that by June, the number of people at the highest level on the UN's five-scale food insecurity classification was expected to more than triple to 727,000 from October, meaning they have dangerously little access to food and could face starvation.

According to the UN children's agency UNICEF, almost two million children across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia require urgent treatment for severe acute malnutrition, the deadliest form of hunger.

It said in September that 730 children had died between January and July in nutrition centres in Somalia, but that the real numbers were likely much higher.

Lacking water, milk and food, and often living in squalid conditions, the youngest become so weak they are vulnerable to diseases such as measles and cholera, and their long-term growth can be restricted.

Some 2.7 million children have also stopped going to school, it said.

"There is no end in sight for the hunger crisis and hope is slowly fizzling out," said Xavier Joubert, Ethiopia director for the British charity Save the Children.

"There's no doubt that the need has grown to an enormous scale," he said, adding that more funds were urgently required.

Currently only 55.5 percent of the $5.9 billion sought by the United Nations to tackle the crisis has been funded.

Early humanitarian action averted a famine in Somalia in 2017.

DRC's Capital, Kinshasa, Ready to Welcome Pope Francis

Construction workers lay concrete outside the Cathedral Notre Dame du Congo in Kinshasa

Africa News


In Kinshasa's Ndolo airport everything is ready to welcome Pope Francis. 

The Holy Pontiff arrives on Tuesday in Kinshasa, capital of the DRC and Africa's largest catholic country.

On Wednesday more than a million people are expected to attend a morning mass.

In total, Pope Francis will deliver twelve speeches and will meet, in addition to the authorities, victims of violence, displaced persons, members of the clergy and representatives of charities.

On Monday, Congolese and foreign activists called on Pope Francis to speak out and sanction a priest accused of sexually abusing a minor in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where he will stay from Tuesday to Friday.

The Congolese justice cleared the priest of any wrongdoing.

Eswatini: 52-year-old Human Rights Lawyer Thulani Maseko Laid to Rest

Mourners stand next to the coffin of Thulani Maseko, a political activist and fierce critic of authorities, during his funeral in Luhleko, near Manzini, on January 29, 2023,

Africa News


Throngs of human rights activists and politicians came to bid farewell to Thulani Maseko, Sunday (Jan. 29).

Gathered at the deceased home in western Eswatini, they paid him a last homage.

The human rights lawyer was a leading figure in the push for Eswtini, an absolute monarchy, to transition into a multi-party democracy.

"It is now up to us to make sure that the Freedom that comrade Thulani fought and died for is a reality in our lifetime," Wandile Dludlu, the Secretary General of The People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) urged.

"For the struggle we are fighting to continue, it will require sacrifice from the men and women. We may need to sacrifice our lives, our professions and everything we have."

"The death of Thulani Maseko to us as the Swaziland youth congress is a sharp object to our hearts because Thulani Maseko is the person who introduced us to SWAYOCO, ( Swaziland Youth Congress). He is the person who introduced us to the Swazi struggle," the president of SWAYOCO, Sakhile Nxumalo, lamented.

Calls for justice

Thulani Maseko was shot dead in his home last week, hours after a speech of defiance by the king against opponents of his absolute rule.

Local and international groups called for an independent and effective investigation into the killing.

"The international community and all the people that are concerned must put pressure on King Mswati the 3rd," Jabulani Dlamini, a political activist insisted.

52-year-old Thulani Maseko is survived by his wife, and 4 children.

At the time of his death, he was working as a lawyer for two people facing trial for offenses allegedly committed during the unrest in 2021, the U.N. said.

The country was engulfed in pro-democracy protests two years ago, when there were reports of state violence against demonstrators and King Mswati III was accused of repressing any opposition.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Memphis Beating Video Puts Spotlight on First Police Account


January 28, 2023

Newly released video shows Memphis police officers battering motorist Tyre Nichols with punches and kicks and also using pepper spray and a baton, with Nichols howling in pain as he tried to shield the blows.

Yet initially, in a statement posted on social media the day after the incident, Memphis police used vague language to describe the attack and said nothing to suggest the officers had acted with the callousness and violence captured by the video clips made public late Friday.

It’s the latest example in a long string of early police accounts regarding use of force that were later shown to have minimized or ignored violent and sometimes deadly encounters, including the account given by Minneapolis police after George Floyd’s killing in 2020.

In its first comment on the arrest the night of Jan. 7 of Nichols, a 29-year-old FedEx worker, by members of the city police’s so-called Scorpion unit, the department said vaguely that the officers involved had been “routinely relieved of duty” during an investigation and an outside agency had been brought in.

As Nichols was dying in a hospital, the official police account said he had been stopped for reckless driving when “a confrontation occurred” and he fled on foot. He was nearly home after having taken sunset photos at a park.

“While attempting to take the suspect into custody, another confrontation occurred; however, the suspect was ultimately apprehended,” police said Jan. 8. ”Afterward, the suspect complained of having a shortness of breath, at which time an ambulance was called to the scene. The suspect was transported to St. Francis Hospital in critical condition.”

No mention was made of punches, kicks, pepper spray or baton strikes.

Police departments could increase trust among the public by being more transparent and forthcoming with initial statements about such encounters, Case Western Reserve Law School professor Ayesha Bell Hardaway said.

“It’s misleading,” Bell Hardaway said regarding the first police statement about the Nichols arrest. “It rings of a regular traffic stop, when in fact we know that these were not officers on patrol looking for speeding.”

“I wonder what prompted them to call out this incident and to acknowledge it at all,” Bell Hardaway said.

Asked about that initial statement, Memphis police spokeswoman Maj. Karen Rudolph on Saturday said only that like “all information that is released, it is preliminary.”

Nichols and the five officers, who have been charged with murder and fired from the department, are all Black.

It’s common for police agencies to issue information on an incident with very little description when they lack complete details, often just “information that is so generic that it is effectively unhelpful,” said University of South Carolina law professor Seth Stoughton, a former police officer.

“I don’t actually think that’s a huge problem, so long as there is a detailed follow-up,” Stoughton said. “Agencies need to be attuned to the potential of lies by omission. Or deception, let’s not say lies, or being misleading by omission.”

Civil rights lawyer Michael Avery, a founder of the National Police Accountability Project, said police and elected officials can have a stake in downplaying officers’ misconduct.

“They don’t want to acknowledge that these things are happening, particularly not in their town or on their watch,” Avery said. “I would say there’s a predisposition toward deniability.”

He said the use of passive tense in the initial Memphis police statement — that confrontations had occurred — disguised what really happened.

“It’s also not true,” Avery said. “He complained of shortness of breath? When you watch the video, he’s lying there either unconscious or semi-conscious. To describe that as a complaint about shortness of breath is ridiculous.”

Nichols died Jan. 10. In announcing his death the following day, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said he had “succumbed to his injuries” but did not describe their nature.

Only three days later, on Jan. 14, did the public learn that Nichols suffered cardiac arrest and kidney failure after being beaten by police, when his stepfather told local media. More recently, lawyers for Nichols’ family have said an autopsy conducted by a forensic pathologist they hired found extensive internal bleeding.

The reference to breathing problems was reminiscent of Floyd’s 2020 death after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on the back of his neck for minutes as he lay face-down on the street and repeatedly cried out, “I can’t breathe.” Police there initially said publicly that Floyd died of a “medical incident during a police interaction.”

The Minneapolis Police spokesperson who issued that statement later said that he had not visited the scene or reviewed body camera footage, and that once bystander video surfaced and outside agencies were brought in, he was unable to issue a corrected statement.

Publicly released videos have also contradicted police accounts elsewhere, such as in Buffalo, New York, where officers said a protester struck his head when he “tripped and fell” but video showed he had been shoved by two officers.

In Philadelphia, officers said a college student who suffered a serious head wound from a metal police baton had assaulted an officer. But the student was released after prosecutors saw a video showing an officer striking him on the head and neck with the baton.

Ethiopia’s PM Calls on Sudanese to Solve Problems without Foreign Interference

Al-Burhan welcomes Ahmed at the Khartoum airport on January 26, 2023

January 26, 2023 (KHARTOUM) – Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Thursday paid a one-day working visit to Khartoum where he advised Sudanese political forces to solve problems without external interference.

The visit to the Sudanese capital was the first for the Ethiopian leader since border clashes between the two neighbours.

“I’m pleased to come back again and be among the wise and vibrant people of Sudan. My appreciation to General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan for the warm welcome,” Abiy said in a tweet after his arrival in Khartoum.

“Ethiopia continues to stand in solidarity with Sudan in their current self-led political process,” he stressed.

After a welcome at the Khartoum airport, al-Burhan and Ahmed held a meeting to discuss bilateral relations.

A joint communiqué released at the end of the visit said that the talks included the giant dam and the border dispute. The leaders reaffirmed the need to resolve it through establishment mechanisms.

The communiqué stressed the purpose of the one-day visit was to show solidarity and support for the government and people of Sudan as they exert efforts to reach an intra-Sudanese consensus to establish a smooth transitional period.

“Sudanese are capable of solving their internal problems,” stressed the statement issued at the end of the visit.

“The Ethiopian side expressed hope that the Sudanese reach an agreement to form a transitional civilian government and other institutions, paving the way towards elections at the end of the transition,” further said the statement.

The pro-democracy political groups led by the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) and the military leaders signed a framework agreement to restore a civilian government on December 5, 2022.

But two armed groups, signatories of the Juba peace agreement, and their allies of the Democratic Bloc oppose the process and seek to renegotiate the deal, which provides an end to the participation of the political forces in the transitional government.

The Ethiopian prime minister held separate meetings with the FFC leaders and the Democratic Bloc. He exhorted them to put aside their difference and find homegrown solutions.

The non-signatory groups prepare to travel to Cairo where they are invited by the Egyptian government for a seven-day meeting.

Also, Ahmed met with Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo “Hemetti” to discuss bilateral relations.

The Ethiopian leader met the members of the Trilateral Mechanism from the UN, the African Union and the IGAD who have been facilitating the political process in Sudan.


JEM Declines to Participate in Sudan’s Peace Review Process

Leaders of former Darfur rebel groups Minni Minnawi (L) Gibril Ibrahim (C), participate in the a founding meeting of the FFC National Charter in Khartoum on October 2, 2021. (AFP photo)

January 28, 2023 (KHARTOUM)- Juba agreement signatory groups of the Democratic Bloc declined an invitation by the tripartite facilitation mechanism to participate in a conference to review the peace deal scheduled to take place on January 31.

The Bloc rejects the ongoing political process facilitated by the Trilateral Mechanism and calls to open the framework agreement for negotiations.

Deputy Political Secretary of the Justice and Equality Movement, Mohamed Zakaria, told Sudan Tribune on Saturday that UNITAMS head, Volker Perthes extended an invitation to his movement to participate in the conference to evaluate the peace agreement.

The movement “declined to participate in the conference for several reasons, including that the meeting is being held based on the outcomes of the framework agreement, which the movement rejects.”

JEM and SLM of Minni Minnawi are the two groups that the signatories of the Political  Framework Agreement say they can join them because even if they backed the coup d’état they remain signatories of the Juba peace pact.

For his part, Hassan Ibrahim Fadl JEM Deputy Spokesman stressed they are not concerned with the workshops and meetings organized by the political forces in Khartoum on January 31.

The Juba agreement clearly defined the mechanisms and parties to the evaluation process and those who organize the conference are not parties to the process, Fadl further pointed out.

“These people pretend they want to review the agreement, but in fact, they secretly intend to cancel it. Therefore, we will not tolerate any action targeting the agreement, regardless of its results,” he stressed.

Further, he confirmed they had received an invitation from the South Sudanese mediator for a two-stage workshop in Juba from 10 to 18 February to evaluate the peace implementation process.

According to the invitation extended by the mediation from February 10 to 13, a workshop would be held to determine what has been implemented and what has not been implemented, the obstacles that hindered the implementation process, and how to address this.

This first round will involve the government, the chief negotiators of the various signatories and the mediation.

During the second phase, the parties would consider the findings of the first meeting and endorse a new implementation matrix for the peace agreement.

This week, the FFC leaders held a series of meetings in Juba with the South Sudanese senior officials including President Salva Kiir. But they failed to dissuade the South Sudanese mediators from adjourning this meeting.


Sudan, Chad Agree to Strengthening Operations of Joint Border Force

Mohamed Deby welcome Abdel Fattah al-Burhan at his arrival to Ndjemena on Januray 31, 2023

January 29, 2023 (KHARTOUM) – The transition’s leaders in Sudan and Chad agreed on Sunday to bolster joint patrols of the two armies along the border after the increase of insecurity and attacks in the triangle area with the Central African Republic (CAR).

The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of Mohamed Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti” increased its activities along the border area with the CAR and West Darfur border area with Chad marginalizing the joint border force that Chad and Sudan established in 2010.

Recently, reports from the CAR mentioned joint operations including RSF, CAR army and the Russian Wagner contractors against rebel groups in the border area with Sudan and northern CAR where are also stationed Chadians rebels.

Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the Transitional Sovereign Council was in Ndjamena for talks with Mohamed Deby head of the Transitional Military Council discussed bilateral relations and the situation on the border area.

The joint statement released in the Chadian capital at the end of the visit said the two leaders said concerned by the increase of the inter-communal attacks in the border area.

“To this end, they stressed the urgency of strengthening the operational capacity of the Chad-Sudan Mixed Force, to face the security challenges which are more and more frequent in the border area of the two countries (…),” reads the statement.

Accordingly, the army and security have to establish “direct and continuous relations” added the statement. Also, the two sides agreed to share information and intelligence between the security services.

“In addition, they raised the need to operationalize the Joint Tripartite Force Sudan / CAR / Chad created on January 18, 2005, in Khartoum for the fight against insecurity at the common borders of the three countries,” stressed the statement in its Arabic and French versions.

Sudanese diplomatic sources told Sudan Tribune that the visit discussed the increased presence of the RSF in the border areas and agreed to deploy Sudanese-Chadian forces along the joint border in West Darfur State.

Also, al-Burhan and Deby discussed the Chadian-French concerns about the massive presence of the RSF along the border with the CAR, stressed the sources.

Russian expansion in the Francophone countries has become a source of concern for Washington and Paris.

The RSF leader who has close relations with the Wagner group spoke earlier in January about a coup attempt to overthrow President Faustin-Archange Touadéra and the involvement of Sudanese elements close to tribal leader Musa Hilal.

Mohamed Hamdan Daglo Hemetti is expected to travel to Ndjamena on Monday.


Sierra Leone's Political Trailblazer Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr Runs into Hurdles

Friday, January 27, 2023 

Mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr poses for a portrait at her office in Freetown on December 5, 2022 .

Saidu Bah | AFP

Freetown, Sierra Leone 

When Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr was elected mayor of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown in 2018, many saw the bright and brazen British-educated figure as a rising political star.

Pitching environmental initiatives in the climate-vulnerable West African country, she appointed Africa's first Chief Heat Officer and vowed to tackle the city's trash mountain and build a cable car system to boost mobility.

But as Aki-Sawyerr's first term draws to an end, much of her agenda has been thwarted by rows and legal battles.

Her problems have showcased some of the political tensions in this youthful democracy, which emerged in 2002 from a decade-long civil war, and where elections are due in June.

Aki-Sawyerr's critics say she has cut corners and wasted taxpayers' money pandering to the poor. She accuses the government of blocking her as a member of the opposition All People's Congress (APC) party.

The current president is Julius Maada Bio, who narrowly won elections in 2018 as champion of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP).

"My biggest shock has been to see programmes, interventions, initiatives held back because of a perception that I am a political opponent as opposed to collaborator in development," Aki-Sawyerr, 55, told AFP from the newly-built skyscraper she works in -- a donation from the South Korean government.

Criminal trial  

A dual British national who trained as a chartered accountant and cut her teeth in London's private sector, Aki-Sawyerr returned to Sierra Leone in 2014 to help fight Ebola -- work for which she was awarded the Order of the British Empire.

She says she has no plans to leave Sierra Leone, although she has lived apart from her husband and now-adult children for eight years.

As mayor, Aki-Sawyerr has secured large sums of external funding, including a $1 million Bloomberg Philanthropies Award.

But domestically, she has raised hackles with her brisk style -- preferring her own, internationally-educated teams rather than veteran civil servants for major projects -- and plans to streamline outdated processes.

She has been audited, investigated for corruption and summoned to testify about her initiatives in parliament.

She is also fighting charges of obstructing the police and disorderly behaviour over the arrest of one of her city councillors.

He is accused of incitement over cost-of-living protests last August that spiralled into anti-government riots.

Cost-of-living protests

It is common for Freetown mayors to go head-to-head with the central government.

But the backlash Aki-Sawyerr has received for doing so seems unprecedented.

"You need to know how to deliver, but you (also) have to play the politics," said activist Valnora Edwin.

"Unfortunately she seems to be falling directly in their trap -- she might have a court matter until it's time to nominate candidates for elections, and then she will not be suitable (to run)."

One of Aki-Sawyerr's key goals has been to overhaul the city's manual taxation system.

"I kid you not, it was a book -- it was a ledger written in by hand," she said.

With financial support from the UK government, the mayor had satellite images taken and measured rooftops and other metrics to build up a digital property tax database.

She claims to have brought 70 percent more taxpayers into the system. She also raised rates on those already paying tax.

But within days of its rollout, the programme was frozen by the national authorities for nearly a year, and compliance remains low.

One resident who refuses to pay his property tax is lawyer Chukwuemeka Taylor. He says it is unfair to raise rates on existing taxpayers, while providing inadequate services.

"I have to do the roads myself, I have to do the drains myself, and I'm paying property taxes?", he said, accusing her of milking the tax issue to appeal to poorer voters.

She talks to you

The mayor does have sympathisers among lower-income residents.

"She has a lot of challenges… but she still is pushing," said Marie Bob-Kandeh, head of a market women's group.

Last year, the mayor provided shades in markets to protect vendors from the hot sun.

In the slums, she has worked with donors to construct public toilets and water taps.

"She talks to you," said Nancy Sesay, a resident of Susan's Bay slum. "When there is a problem, she comes."

Presidential, parliamentary and local elections are scheduled for June 24.

Aki-Sawyerr says she intends to run again for mayor. But her party is expected to tap her as running mate for the presidency against Bio, who will bid for second term.

Asked whether Sierra Leone is ready for a female vice president, Aki-Sawyerr said: "I think people respond to what they're presented with, and if they're presented with the right person, they respond to that."

Muslim Women Deserve Education

Monday, January 30, 2023 

Students of Imenti North Muslim Girls Boarding School celebrate at the institution after a marked improvement in the KCSE exams in 2016. Kenya’s Muslim girls deserve a higher standard of education than elsewhere and not low-grade tokenism to teaching colleges.

File | Nation Media Group

By Kaltum D. Guyo, Legal researcher

When I wrote an article in this column last week titled “Hijab: Cultural dominance over Muslim women or a moral act?” my intention was to open discussions on the impact of Islamic attire on African cultures, whether it is, indeed, a moral act and if there is a risk of subjugating Muslim women and stifling their right to education. 

I was not surprised that most of those who took to bashing me on Twitter were Muslim men. Their response validates the view that, in fact, the Hijab rule was made by men for women.

None of the attackers addressed the challenges Muslim women face in accessing education both here in Kenya and in places such as Afghanistan, where women’s education is banned.

The forced aspect of Hijab on African Muslim women to a point of decreeing Fatwa on those against it reeks of radical Islam, which should not have a place in constitutionally secular Kenya.

Hijab has in the recent past morphed into ‘blankets’ that cover women from head to toe, with, in some cases, face covering ordered too. Where is this going to stop next? 

Curtailing Muslim women’s movement in Kenya? This now signals the spread of Wahhabism, which is blighting the rights of women in Afghanistan, where their freedom of movement and education is curtailed. In the meantime, Kenyan Muslim men advocating the wearing of Hijab walk about in three-piece suits beloved of the West they love so much to besmirch.

Religious attire and adornments do not prove one’s moral compass. Is a poor Muslim woman who cannot afford a Hijab less moral than a rich one with a wardrobe full of Hijabs? I think not. It is down to behavioural patterns one inculcates or picks up through indoctrination and environmental factors. If that indoctrination is about knowing how to hide the evils and sins of this world beneath the veil, then that will be the behaviour exhibited. 

'Mechanised Islam'

Islam is not bereft of characters with amoral behaviour just by virtue of turning up to mosques and wearing veils. Trying to police women’s behaviour through Hijab is doing it all wrong. This mechanised version of Islam has not made Muslim countries any more moral or peaceful than the rest; it is human to err. 

Islam comprises people prone to immoral dereliction like other humans. Blaming the woman as the cause of man sinning and forcing Hijab on them does not solve the man’s weaknesses. An immoral Muslim man would still sexually harass other women from non-Hijab-wearing society. Neither does Hijab mean that it is the end of sexual violence and abuse of women in Islamic societies? If anything it runs the risk of camouflaging abuse of women.

Subscribed to Arabism and Islam

I am not going to make apologies for wishing to preserve my Borana African culture as it faces threats from Islam. It is a question that many African communities need to start asking themselves. Many younger Muslims are more Arabic than they are Africans. If they were to be pinned down, they won’t know a hoot about their African culture as they subscribed to Arabism and Islam hook, line and sinker. 

I don’t think asking such a question is an attack on Islam. It is interrogating whether, indeed, Africans can still maintain their primary identity drawn from their cultures while subscribing to Islam. Preservation of African cultures is important so that the current generation of African Muslims has the opportunity to bequeath future generations aspects of their culture being swallowed by Islam and Arabism.

What Muslim men in Africa, and particularly Kenya, ought to be wary of as they copy-paste strict Hijab rules is that such acts have been detrimental to women in other parts of the Muslim world. Africa is already grappling with low literacy levels among women and any new ideology that retrogresses their education further will only harm African societies in the long run.

The focus needs to be on improving education for girls in areas that are battling insecurity caused by Islamic groups such as Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab. Northeastern Kenya faces the brunt of challenges brought about by Al-Shabaab insurgency, which is affecting education for girls. 

The Muslim male politicians rooting for Hijab do not put the same emphasis on improving girls’ education and ending insecurity in areas impacting education because they can afford to educate their daughters in safer urban schools or even abroad. This is hypocritical. It shows it’s the majority of girls from poor backgrounds who are forced to endure the hardships of insecurity, forced Hijab rules and lack of education who suffer.

Kenya’s Muslim girls deserve a higher standard of education than elsewhere and not low-grade tokenism to teaching colleges. No place needs highly trained teachers, more female nurses and doctors than those with high child mortality rates and poverty. And that’s the Muslim-dominant northern and coastal Kenya. It is not feministic but realistic to say Muslim women should be given a fair shot at education.

Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. kdiguyo@gmail.com. @kdiguyo

Rwanda Troops Clash with DRC Police in Lake Kivu: DR Congolese Sources

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Soldiers ride on a patrol car on National Road 2 at the edge of the area that was attacked by M23 rebels during clashes with the Congolese army in Kibumba, near the town of Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on June 1, 2022. 

Guerchom Ndebo | AFP

Bukavu, DR Congo  

A clash between Rwandan soldiers and DR Congo police on a small island in Lake Kivu sparked panic given ongoing tensions between Kigali and Kinshasa, Congolese sources said Sunday.

Police stationed on Ibindja island in eastern Congo, on the south side of the lake which the neighbours' border bisects, challenged three boats carrying armed Rwandan troops as they approached their base on Saturday, a DRC navy source based in the region said on condition of anonymity.

According to the source, a DRC policeman went to challenge the soldiers as to why they were on the Congolese side of the border.

After a discussion, "voices were raised and there were exchanges of gunfire," sparking panic among locals in earshot in Chivumu village.

Several families fled the island and took refuge just across the water at Birava, local civil society representative Jackson Kalimba said.

Naval sources said the Rwandan troops returned to base without disembarking on the island and Archimede Karhebwa, DRC local assistant administrator, said the situation was under control Sunday.

He said one police officer had suffered a gunshot wound and added the local naval regiment was on alert pending military high command taking "measures to reinforce surveillance of Lake Kivu".

Rwandan authorities contacted by AFP had not commented on the spat by Sunday afternoon.

Relations between the neighbours have been tense owing to the recent resurgence of the Tutsi-led rebel group M23.

The group has pledged to retreat from conquered territories after months of advancing towards Goma, capital of the DRC province of North Kivu at the northern end of the lake and likewise bordering Rwanda.

Kinshasa accuses Kigali of backing the rebels, which Rwanda denies.

Government to Resettle 35,000 Maasai Mau Evictees

Sunday, January 29, 2023 

President William Ruto (centre), his deputy Rigathi Gachagua and other leaders during the interdenominational prayer service at William Ole Ntimama's Stadium in Narok County on January 29, 2023.

Nation Media Group

By Robert Kiplagat, Correspondent

Nation Media Group

The government has announced plans to resettle more than 35,000 Maasai Mau Forest evictees. 

This was revealed by President William Ruto at the William ole Ntimama Stadium on Sunday during an interdenominational prayer service.

The President said the government will compensate those who were evicted from the forest in 2019.

"The issue of Mau Forest is now over. What is remaining now is to complete fencing the water tower and planting trees. We are also going to look for alternative settlement for the evictees," said Dr Ruto.

The Head of State reiterated that the invasion of the forest should never recur.

Plant 15 billion trees

Dr Ruto also maintained that his government was upbeat to actualise the 15 billion trees in the next 10 years. He asked Kenyans to plant more trees to combat climate change.

He said the ongoing drought in different parts of the country will be a thing of the past should Kenyans plant more trees.

To tackle the drought, President Ruto revealed that his administration will construct 100 mega dams and 1000 water pans in pastoral counties. 

The families who were evicted from the land around the Mau Forest Complex in Narok County live in squalid conditions in two camps.

Hundreds of children who dropped out of school for lack of fees and uniforms work alongside their parents as casual labourers on farms near the camps to put food on the table.

Most girls of school age have been sexually exploited and have become mothers at a tender age in the camps at Tendwet and Olmekenyu in Narok South.

 Many people have also succumbed to various diseases in the two camps while many others are depressed after losing property and their livelihoods.

15 public schools

The evictees were ejected from Olaba, Kipchoge, Kitoben, Cheptuech, Mjerian, Kapkoros, Simboyon, Lemeonik, Tebeswet, Kabarak, Ndianit, Sagai Soi, Katama, Chemoko, Total, Milimani, Kiletien, Kamaech, Kipkurkot and Chelusto villages. The areas have been converted into forest land by the government.

Following the evictions, more than 15 public schools were shut down. The Teachers Service Commission transferred hundreds of teachers to other schools.

In October last year, the Maasai Mau Forest evictees were dealt a huge blow after the Narok Environment and Lands Court ruled the government was justified in evicting them.

The three-judge bench, comprising Mr John Mutungi, Mr Mohammed Kullow and Mr George Ong'ondo, constituted to hear their petition challenging the government’s move to evict people from the forest, also declared the evictees’ title deeds as irregularly issued and null and void.

The over 35,000 evictees argued that their title deeds were valid and that they deserved to be compensated by the government.

The evictees argued that the land they had settled in was a trust land and not a gazetted forest.