Friday, April 12, 2024

Three Killed in Ethiopia Shootout as Regional Rebellions Spill into the Capital

9:53 AM EDT, April 12, 2024

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A shootout between militiamen and police officers killed three people Friday in the Ethiopian capital in a rare case of the country’s many regional rebellions spilling into the city.

The violence occurred near Millenium Hall in Addis Ababa’s downtown as officers tried to apprehend three fighters from a militia known as Fano. The fighters were “on a mission to carry out a terrorist attack,” a police statement said.

Two of the militia members were killed, and police arrested the third. A bystander also was killed during the gunbattle, and two police officers were injured.

“The extremists were asked to surrender but refused to do so,” the police statement said.

Ethiopia’s security services have been battling a full-blown rebellion by the Fano, an ethno-nationalist group, since August. It was sparked by a disputed plan to integrate regional forces into the federal military and has rendered lawless much of Amhara, Ethiopia’s second-biggest region.

One of the Fano rebellion’s bloodiest episodes occurred on Jan 29, when soldiers went door-to-door killing dozens of civilians in the Amhara town of Merawi after clashes with local Fano members, according to rights groups.

In a report released Friday, Amnesty International put the death toll in Merawi at more than 50. The rights group said federal soldiers “rounded up local men from their homes, shops and the streets and shot and killed scores.”

Addis Ababa has been largely insulated from Ethiopia’s regional revolts. In addition to the violence in Amhara, the federal government is also battling a separate ethnic-based insurgency in Oromia, the country’s biggest region.

Other armed groups are active in the Gambella, Benishangul-Gumuz and Somali regions of Ethiopia. Between 2020 and 2022, the federal military fought a bloody war against the northern Tigray regions, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

The Fano fought alongside the federal government in the Tigray war, but relations soured even during that conflict. Tigray rebels advanced to within 185 kilometers (115 miles) of the capital before retreating.

The shootout in Addis Ababa followed the shooting of Bate Urgessa, a prominent opposition figure, in the Oromia town of Meki on Tuesday night. The United States, Britain and several other countries have called for a full investigation into his death.

Russian Military Trainers Arrive in Niger as Relations Deteriorate with the U.S.

BY JESSICA DONATI

4:31 PM EDT, April 12, 2024

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Russian military trainers arrived this week in Niger to reinforce the country’s air defenses as the west African nation pulls away from close cooperation with the U.S. in counterterrorism efforts, turning instead to Russia for security.

State television in Niger on Thursday broadcast footage of Russian military trainers arriving in the country aboard a plane equipped with military supplies. Two Russian trainers were filmed in front of the plane at night wearing military uniforms, caps and face coverings.

“We are here to train the Nigerian army to use the military equipment that is here,” one of the Russian trainers said in the broadcast, speaking in French. “We are here to develop military cooperation between Russia and Niger.”

Niger’s ruling military council, known as the CNSP, has yet to order American troops out, U.S. officials have said. But the arrival of Russian forces makes it complicated for the U.S. forces, along with diplomatic and civilian personnel, to remain in the country and throws into doubt the future of joint Niger-US counterinsurgency operations.

Until recently, Washington considered Niger a key partner and ally in a region swept by coups in recent years, investing millions of dollars in an airbase in a desert area that served as the heart of American counterinsurgency operations in the sub-Saharan region known as the Sahel.

The U.S. also invested heavily in training Niger’s forces to beat back insurgencies by militants linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State which ravaged the country and its neighbors. But last summer, some of those elite U.S.-trained forces took part in a coup that ousted the elected president. Since then, relations between Niger’s new leaders and Washington have deteriorated.

Following the visit last month of a U.S. delegation led by the top U.S. envoy to Africa, Molly Phee, the junta announced on state television that flights from the U.S.-built airbase were illegal and that it no longer recognized the American military presence in the country. The junta criticized the U.S. for warning Niger against cooperating with Russia and Iran, saying it was trying to force the African nation to choose between partners.

A senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing talks, said Washington was looking at options for revising military cooperation with Niger. While the path forward would not be easy, there was still hope for finding a formula that addressed concerns and interests on both sides, the official said.

The Russian plane had arrived on Wednesday night, the report by Niger’s state television said Thursday, and carried Russian military supplies to help Niger improve its air defenses. The broadcast said the arrival of Russian trainers followed a call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the country’s military leaders in March. Niger’s military leaders are seeking to diversify their partnerships and achieve greater sovereignty, the broadcast said.

“The arrival of a Russian air defense system can be viewed as part of the junta’s effort to reclaim sovereignty, this time over its airspace, and force the U.S. and Russia to cooperate with each other in Niger,” said John Lechner, Africa analyst and author on the Wagner Group. But he added that, “Such cooperation is unlikely.”

He said the Niger government may be trying to compel the U.S. forces to withdraw without explicitly pushing them out.

Since 2012, Niger and other neighbors in the region have been gripped by a worsening insurgency fought by groups linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State group.

As recently as December, some 600 U.S. troops and hundreds more contractors were stationed in Niger, tasked with flying manned and unmanned surveillance operations and supporting local forces against jihadi groups.

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Associated Press writer Sam Mednick in Jerusalem contributed.

Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Visits Kim Jong Il Military and Political Academy

Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, gave field guidance at Kim Jong Il Military and Political Academy, the highest institute of military education in the DPRK, on April 10.

He was accompanied by Pak Jong Chon, secretary of the Central Committee of the WPK and vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK, Kang Sun Nam, minister of National Defence of the DPRK, Ri Yong Gil, chief of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army, Hwang Pyong So, general adviser to the Ministry of National Defence, and other major cadres of the WPK Central Committee.

The teaching staff and cadets of the academy were full of excitement and joy as they came to greet the moment of the greatest glory and happiness of seeing Marshal Kim Jong Un, whom they yearned for so much, with the unique pride and confidence of training the backbones of the KPA on the sacred campus shining with the august name of the great leader.

When the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un entered the compound of the university, all the teaching staff and cadets greeted him with stormy cheers of “Hurrah!” as a token of their deep reverence for the great teacher and tender-hearted father who developed the university into the highest institute of Juche-based military education and guides its work step by step with rare military wisdom and energetic leadership so that it can remain faithful to its honorable mission to make tangible contributions to the WPK’s cause of building a powerful army.

Upon arrival, he received a salute from the chancellor of the academy.

He gave a salute to the glorious military colours, the militant banner of victory, and reviewed the ranks of commanding officers, Party committee executive members and major leading teachers of the academy.

A teacher and a cadet of the academy presented fragrant bouquets to the Supreme Commander.

He waved his hand in response to the enthusiastic cheers of the teaching staff, extending his militant greetings to them who are making great contributions, which no others can do, to the WPK’s great cause of building a powerful army.

Looking round the academy, he recollected with deep emotion the course of its proud development that left brilliant footprints along with the victorious history of the KPA.

The academy, which started its historic mission on March 7, 1973 under the far-reaching plan of President Kim Il Sung, has trained a great number of core commanding officers of the KPA for the past 50-odd years, true to the WPK’s policy of effecting a revolution in military education, thus making distinguished contributions to the unstained succession and strenuous advance of the Juche cause. It has made remarkable progress in all aspects, including education and scientific research, dynamically steering the Juche-oriented military education and the building of a powerful army as the institute that represents the military academies of the DPRK.

Kim Jong Un said that the mightiness and invincibility of the KPA, for which the country has firmly held the position of a world-class military power, would be unthinkable apart from this academy, the elite academy reputed for training highest-ranking military and political cadres, which has adorned its 50-odd-year history with glory and feats. It is a source of pride of our Party and state to have such a “pedigree farm” for training military and political activists, he added.

He saw the cadets at an operation and tactical lecture at the military lecture room and made rounds of the rooms for teaching methods study and training to learn in detail about education.

He highly appreciated the academy for having achieved great encouraging successes in making its teaching Party policy-oriented, practical and modern by improving the educational programme and contents, actively applying advantageous and fresh forms and methods to teaching in reflection of the principles of Juche-oriented military science and the ever-changing aspects of modern warfare and introducing various equipment and means while thoroughly adhering to the WPK’s overall principle of revolution in military education.

Then he went round bedroom and mess hall, taking care of the living of the cadets with paternal affection.

Learning about whether the living condition is convenient and how heating is provided at the bedroom, he said that the Party would organize the renovation and modernization work to create better educational environment and living conditions so that the cadets can devote themselves to studying without experiencing any inconvenience.

He went to the mess room to acquaint himself with the supply service for the cadets and made sure that various dishes he personally brought were put on teachers and cadets’ dinner tables.

At the operation study room, he learned about the study of the enemy’s major operation and action plans and their forces, and about the operation plans of services and corps worked out by teachers and cadets before indicating the important principled issues to be adhered to and applied in modern operation.

The WPK, which is pushing forward with the building of a world’s strongest army as a goal, gives priority to the training of military talents in adding glory to the noble name and dignity of the KPA as an invincible heroic army and attaches special importance to the work of this academy, the parent base for training the highest-ranking military and political officers of the KPA, he said, indicating important tasks to be fulfilled by the academy.

He said that the academy is a great asset of the KPA just like Kim Il Sung Military University and an important strategic base for the successful building of a powerful army and the future of the Korean revolution.

Noting that the might of the revolutionary army depends on the commanding art of the commanding officers and their ideological traits and military qualifications are determined by the level of education at military schools, he said that the academy should arm its cadets thoroughly with the revolutionary ideas of the WPK and the Juche-oriented military strategic line in conformity with its duty and characteristics of training high-ranking officers of the revolutionary army of the Party and train more competent military cadres possessed of high ability for organizing combined operations and commanding actual war by scientifically innovating the educational structure and contents under the goal to fully integrate all the processes and occasions of education with modern warfare.

It is an immutable law of war victory to neutralize the numerical and military and technical superiority of the enemy by means of superiority in ideology and war methods, he said, calling for making it a revolutionary spirit and the primary ethics of the academy to remain absolutely loyal and obedient to the leadership of the Party Central Committee and conducting energetic and effective organizational and political work to perfectly embody the Party’s military ideas and policy in the training of military talents, military science development and overall management of the academy.

Outlining the complicated international situation being seriously aggravated due to ever-escalating violence and armed conflicts and the insecure and unstable military and political situation around the DPRK, he said that now is the time to be more thoroughly prepared for a war than ever before and that the DPRK should be more firmly and perfectly prepared for a war, which should be won without fail, not just for a possible war.

Affirming that if the enemy opts for military confrontation with the DPRK, the DPRK will deal a deadly blow to the enemy without hesitation by mobilizing all means in its possession, he urged the academy to make greater successes in education so as to fill the different levels of the entire army with competent and versatile commanding officers gifted with special qualities and spirit to overpower the enemy with ideological, mental, militant, moral and tactical superiority.

Expressing expectation and belief that the academy, which trains brave officers of the revolutionary army of the Party, would remain boundlessly faithful to its mission and duty as the “pedigree farm” for training the best military talents, consolidating the core position of the armed forces of the DPRK as firm as rock by creditably carrying forward its glorious traditions, he had a photo session with the teaching staff and cadets.

All the teaching staff and cadets of the academy, who were greatly honoured to enjoy the deepest trust by the great brilliant commander, made a firm pledge to remain absolutely loyal to Kim Jong Un who provided the immortal guidelines for bringing about a great turn in military education for building an elite revolutionary army with his iron faith that military strength just means the national sovereignty and the national dignity and added to their faith in sure victory and revolutionary enthusiasm. They also hardened their will to carry out his instruction unto death and live up to the expectations of the Party Central Committee with remarkable achievements in strengthening the military muscle.

KCNA

2024-04-11

Stamp Exhibition Begins to Celebrate 112th Birth Anniversary of Kim Il Sung

A stamp exhibition “Our eternal father” started at the Korean Stamp Exhibition House in the capital city of Pyongyang on April 10 to celebrate the 112th birth anniversary of President Kim Il Sung.

Stamps carrying photos of President Kim Il Sung, Chairman Kim Jong Il and the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un are on display at the exhibition venue.

There are also stamps dealing with the noble revolutionary career of the President who performed immortal exploits for the country and the revolution, the times and history with his outstanding ideas and gigantic revolutionary practice.

They remind the visitors of the revolutionary history of the peerless patriot, a great sage, who built an invincible socialist state on this land and laid a solid foundation for its prosperity under the banner of Juche.

There are also stamps dealing with the history of the immortal revolutionary leadership of Kim Jong Un, who is vigorously guiding the work for the prosperity and development of Korean-style socialism with his gifted wisdom and extraordinary leadership.

Presented to the exhibition are various stamps collected by philatelists in Pyongyang.

KCNA

2024-04-12

Celebration Performance by Agricultural Workers

The artistic motivational team of the Central Committee of the Union of Agricultural Workers of Korea gave a performance at the Jangchon House of Culture in Sadong District of Pyongyang on April 10 to celebrate the 12th anniversary of the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un’s assumption of the top posts of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the state.

Among the audience were Han Jong Hyok, chairman of the UAWK Central Committee, Hong Chol Jin, secretary of the Pyongyang Municipal Committee of the WPK, officials concerned, officials of the UAWK and agricultural workers in Sadong District.

The performance began with chorus Glory to General Kim Jong Un, and put colourful numbers on the stage.

The performers sang of boundless gratitude and reverence for Kim Jong Un who is leading the Party and the state along the road to victory and glory.

The performance included numbers dealing with the pride and joy of agricultural workers enjoying happiness in the ideal socialist villages wonderfully built under the benevolence of the Party.

There were also numbers reflecting the strong will of agricultural workers to contribute to implementing the new regional development policy.

The performance ended with chorus We Will Defend General Kim Jong Un with Our Lives.

KCNA

2024-04-12

DPRK Unique Land-saving Greenhouses

Ladder-type rotary multi-layer cultivation

The Kangdong Greenhouse Complex has introduced multi-layer cultivation of vegetables in three doom-shaped glass hydroponic greenhouses.

Horizontal shelves in the greenhouse equipped with ladder-type rotary multi-layer cultivation units are fixed at the rotating frames to allow their vertical movement. This makes it possible to ensure the growth environment of various species of vegetables in a scientific and balanced way so as to maximize their production potentials.

With an area of hundreds of square metres, the greenhouse produces a large quantity of functional vegetables through ten rounds of cultivation a year.

The greenhouse with horizontal multi-layer cultivation units by means of LED lamps is designed to grow vegetables on multi-layer frames.

Its vegetable production based on pillar-type cultivation frames is conspicuous.

All conditions such as temperature, humidity, luminous intensity and the supply of carbon dioxide and nutritive liquid are automatically monitored by an intelligent integrated control system.

Yang Ryon Hui

2024-04-12

Why Did Yoon’s Party Lose in South Korea’s Elections and What Troubles Does He Face Now?

The Associated Press Journalist Hyung-jin Kim explains the possible implications of the outcome of South Korea’s parliamentary election for President Yoon Suk Yeol and Prime Minister Han Duck-soo. (AP video/Yong-ho Kim and Yon Jun Chang)

BY HYUNG-JIN KIM

2:59 AM EDT, April 12, 2024

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean voters have handed liberals extended opposition control of parliament in what looks like a massive political setback to conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol.

Some experts say the results of Wednesday’s parliamentary elections make Yoon “a lame duck” — or even “a dead duck” — for his remaining three years in office. Others disagree, saying Yoon still has many policy levers and could aggressively push his foreign policy agenda.

But it’s certain that the election outcome poses the toughest political challenge to Yoon since the former top prosecutor took office in 2022 for a single five-year term.

Here is a look at what the election results mean to Yoon and South Korean politics.

HOW DAMAGED IS YOON POLITICALLY?

Even before Yoon’s inauguration, South Korea’s single-chamber National Assembly was controlled by the liberal Democratic Party. Squabbling with Yoon over a range of issues, Democratic Party lawmakers have frequently limited his domestic agenda.

Yoon badly needed his party to regain a parliamentary majority so they could support his agenda. But his People Power Party and its satellite party only won 108 seats in the 300-member parliament, while the Democratic Party and two other liberal parties took a combined 187 seats.

The incoming parliament has a four-year term, meaning its liberal control will likely continue until after Yoon leaves office in 2027. Yoon’s hold on the ruling party could be subsequently weakened because many members’ loyalty to the president was largely based on their hopes to get party tickets to run for elections.

“He’d be more like a dead duck, rather than a lame duck,” said Park Sung-min, president of Seoul-based MIN Consulting, a political consulting firm. “In the past two years, he was able to control the ruling party as there were elections coming. But the elections are over now, and he’s in a considerably difficult situation.”

Hong Sung Gul, a public administration professor at Seoul’s Kookmin University, said Yoon will likely face increasing Democratic Party-led opposition against his push for business-friendly policies, tax reforms and other major policies that require legislative endorsement.

Yoon’s prime minister and senior presidential advisers offered to resign en masse on Thursday in an apparent effort to restore public confidence in the government. Hong said Yoon may need to reshuffle Cabinet members as well.

WHY DID YOON’S PARTY LOSE THE ELECTIONS?

The elections were widely viewed as a mid-term litmus test of Yoon’s government. So he’s being chiefly blamed for the election debacle.

Since becoming president, Yoon has struggled with low approval ratings — hovering between 30% and 40%. Critics accuse him of mismanaging economic issues like rising prices; failing to seek cooperation with opposition leaders over policy priorities; and filling key posts with former prosecutors and associates, while refusing to replace some of those who were involved in scandals.

Also hurting his popularity were scandals involving his wife and first lady Kim Keon Hee. Spy camera footage was released that purportedly showed her accepting a luxury bag as a gift from a pastor.

Earlier this year, Yoon’s approval ratings briefly rose thanks to public support over his high-stakes push to drastically increase the number of medical students, a step that his predecessors failed to achieve. But thousands of incumbent doctors have gone on strike in protest of Yoon’s plan, leaving him with growing calls to seek a compromise.

“Yoon has carried out some reform steps. But his style is tough and he is pushing things forward so hard. But what matters is our people won’t tolerate leaders being seen as arrogant,” Hong said.

IS YOON’S FOREIGN POLICY INTACT?

Despite the election defeat, Yoon’s major foreign policies remain unchanged, as they usually don’t need parliamentary approval.

“Yoon will likely accelerate his foreign policies, like on North Korea, strengthening the alliance with the U.S., improving relations with Japan and contributing more to global issues because of his own conviction and style,” said Duyeon Kim, a senior analyst at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security. “He may even pursue bolder foreign policies."

Kim said a potential challenge in implementing such policies is “whether the bureaucrats will implement them with the same fervor as they have been,” especially if parliament cuts budgets or if bureaucrats feel that the domestic political environment is unstable until 2027, when South Korea holds an election to choose Yoon’s successor.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said that Yoon is not a lame duck “because his administration still has many policy levers and is likely to maintain its approach to international relations.”

“Pyongyang has little reason to comment directly on election outcomes but could intensify efforts at sowing divisions in South Korean society,” Easley said.

WHAT ARE THE PROSPECTS FOR OTHER POLITICAL LEADERS?

The election results boosted the political standing of Lee Jae-myung, the Democratic Party chairman who lost the hotly contested 2022 presidential election to Yoon. Lee is one of the early favorites to run in 2027, along with Han Dong-hoon, a Yoon ally who directed the ruling party’s campaign.

Also in the media spotlight is Cho Kuk, a disgraced liberal former justice minister whose newly launched small party won 12 seats. Observers say Cho is a potential liberal challenger to Lee.

But both Lee and Cho face legal issues. Lee is under a slew of corruption investigations that he says were politically orchestrated by the Yoon government. Cho could also go to jail if the Supreme Court upholds lower court rulings that sentenced him to two years in prison on various charges, including abuse of power and faking credentials to help his children get into prestigious schools.

The election results dealt a blow to Han. But much of the criticism is against Yoon, while Han, a former justice minister and political novice, built a strong political fanbase during the election campaign. If both Lee and Cho survive their legal troubles and vie for presidency, they could split the liberal vote, helping conservatives.

“Han isn’t still free from the defeat,” said Cho Jinman, a professor at Seoul’s Duksung Women’s University. “The conservatives have to seek changes so they may look for a new face to run for the next presidency too.”

20 Years Later, Abu Ghraib Detainees Get Their Day in US Court

BY MATTHEW BARAKAT

12:23 AM EDT, April 12, 2024

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Twenty years ago this month, photos of abused prisoners and smiling U.S. soldiers guarding them at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison were released, shocking the world.

Now, three survivors of Abu Ghraib will finally get their day in U.S. court against the military contractor they hold responsible for their mistreatment.

The trial is scheduled to begin Monday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, and will be the first time that Abu Ghraib survivors are able to bring their claims of torture to a U.S. jury, said Baher Azmy, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights representing the plaintiffs.

The defendant in the civil suit, CACI, supplied the interrogators who worked at the prison. The Virginia-based contractor denies any wrongdoing, and has emphasized throughout 16 years of litigation that its employees are not alleged to have inflicted any abuse on any of the plaintiffs in the case.

The plaintiffs, though, seek to hold CACI responsible for setting the conditions that resulted in the torture they endured, citing evidence in government investigations that CACI contractors instructed military police to “soften up” detainees for their interrogations.

Retired Army Gen. Antonio Taguba, who led an investigation into the Abu Ghraib scandal, is among those expected to testify. His inquiry concluded that at least one CACI interrogator should be held accountable for instructing military police to set conditions that amounted to physical abuse.

There is little dispute that the abuse was horrific. The photos released in 2004 showed naked prisoners stacked into pyramids or dragged by leashes. Some photos had a soldier smiling and giving a thumbs up while posing next to a corpse, or detainees being threatened with dogs, or hooded and attached to electrical wires.

The plaintiffs cannot be clearly identified in any of the infamous images, but their descriptions of mistreatment are unnerving.

Suhail Al Shimari has described sexual assaults and beatings during his two months at the prison. He was also electrically shocked and dragged around the prison by a rope tied around his neck. Former Al-Jazeera reporter Salah Al-Ejaili said he was subjected to stress positions that caused him to vomit black liquid. He was also deprived of sleep, forced to wear women’s underwear and threatened with dogs.

CACI, though, has said the U.S. military is the institution that bears responsibility for setting the conditions at Abu Ghraib and that its employees weren’t in a position to be giving orders to soldiers. In court papers, lawyers for the contractor group have said the “entire case is nothing more than an attempt to impose liability on CACI PT because its personnel worked in a war zone prison with a climate of activity that reeks of something foul. The law, however, does not recognize guilt by association with Abu Ghraib.”

The case has bounced through the courts since 2008, and CACI has tried roughly 20 times to have it tossed out of court. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2021 ultimately turned back CACI’s appeal efforts and sent the case back to district court for trial.

In one of CACI’s appeal arguments, the company contended that the U.S. enjoys sovereign immunity against the torture claims, and that CACI enjoys derivative immunity as a contractor doing the government’s bidding. But U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, in a first-of-its kind ruling, determined that the U.S. government can’t claim immunity when it comes to allegations that violate established international norms, like torturing prisoners, so CACI as a result can’t claim any derivative immunity.

Jurors next week are also expected to hear testimony from some of the soldiers who were convicted in military court of directly inflicting the abuse. Ivan Frederick, a former staff sergeant who was sentenced to more than eight years of confinement after a court-martial conviction on charges including assault, indecent acts and dereliction of duty, has provided deposition testimony that is expected to be played for the jury because he has refused to attend the trial voluntarily. The two sides have differed on whether his testimony establishes that soldiers were working under the direction of CACI interrogators.

The U.S. government may present a wild card in the trial, which is scheduled to last two weeks. Both the plaintiffs and CACI have complained that their cases have been hampered by government assertions that some evidence, if made public, would divulge state secrets that would harm national security.

Government lawyers will be at the trial ready to object if witnesses stray into territory they deem to be a state secret, they said at a pretrial hearing April 5.

Judge Brinkema, who has overseen complex national security cases many times, warned the government that if it asserts such a privilege at trial, “it better be a genuine state secret.”

Jason Lynch, a government lawyer, assured her, “We’re trying to stay out of the way as much as we possibly can.”

Of the three plaintiffs, only Al-Ejaili, who now lives in Sweden, is expected to testify in person. The other two will testify remotely from Iraq. Brinkema has ruled that the reasons they were sent to Abu Ghraib are irrelevant and won’t be given to jurors. All three were released after periods of detention ranging from two months to a year without ever being charged with a crime, according to court papers.

“Even if they were terrorists it doesn’t excuse the conduct that’s alleged here,” she said at the April 5 hearing.

More Than Half of Foreign-born People in US Live in Just 4 States and Half are Naturalized Citizens

FILE - Women representing more than 20 countries take part in a Naturalization Ceremony, March 8, 2024, in San Antonio. More than half of the foreign-born population in the United States lives in just four states — California, Texas, Florida and New York — and their numbers grew older and more educated over the past dozen years, according to a new report released Tuesday, April 9, 2024, by the U.S. Census Bureau. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

BY MIKE SCHNEIDER

3:42 PM EDT, April 9, 2024

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — More than half of the foreign-born population in the United States lives in just four states — California, Texas, Florida and New York — and their numbers grew older and more educated over the past dozen years, according to a new report released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 2022, the foreign-born population was estimated to be 46.2 million people, or almost 14% of the U.S. population, with most states seeing double-digit percentage increases in the last dozen years, according to the figures from the bureau’s American Community Survey.

In California, New Jersey, New York and Florida, foreign-born individuals comprised more than 20% of each state’s population. They constituted 1.8% of West Virginia’s population, the smallest rate in the U.S.

Half of the foreign-born residents in the U.S. were from Latin America, although their composition has shifted in the past dozen years, with those from Mexico dropping by about 1 million people and those from South America and Central America increasing by 2.1 million people.

The share of the foreign population from Asia went from more than a quarter to under a third during that time, while the share of African-born went from 4% to 6%.

The report was released as immigration has become a top issue during the 2024 presidential race, with the Biden administration struggling to manage an unprecedented influx of migrants at the Southwest border. Immigration is shaping the elections in a way that could determine control of Congress as Democrats try to outflank Republicans and convince voters they can address problems at the U.S. border with Mexico.

The Census Bureau report didn’t provide estimates on the number of people in the U.S. illegally.

However, the figures show that more than half of the foreign-born are naturalized citizens, with European-born and Asian-born people leading the way with naturalization rates at around two-thirds of their numbers. Around two-thirds of the foreign-born population came to the U.S. before 2010.

The foreign-born population has grown older in the past dozen years, a reflection of some members’ longevity in the U.S., with the median age increasing five years to 46.7 years. They also became more educated from 2010 to 2022, with the rate of foreign-born people holding at least a high school degree going from more than two-thirds to three-quarters of the population.

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Follow Mike Schneider on X, formerly known as Twitter: @MikeSchneiderAP.

Real Estate Tycoon’s Death Sentence is a Turning Point in Vietnam’s Anti-corruption Campaign

A Vietnamese real estate tycoon has been sentenced to death in the country’s biggest ever financial fraud case, a shocking development in an intensifying anti-corruption drive in the southeast Asian nation. Truong My Lan, a high-profile businesswoman who chaired a sprawling real estate company, was arrested in 2022. The 67-year-old was accused of fraud amounting to $12.5 billion, nearly 3% of the country’s 2022 GDP

BY ANIRUDDHA GHOSAL

6:18 AM EDT, April 12, 2024

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — The unusually harsh death sentence given to a real estate tycoon in Vietnam was a pivotal moment in the decadelong “Blazing Furnace” anti-corruption campaign as the Vietnamese business community wrestled with an uncertain future Friday.

Real estate tycoon Truong My Lan, who was sentenced to death Thursday by a court in Ho Chi Minh city for orchestrating the country’s largest ever financial fraud case, was one of Vietnam’s most important businesspeople for years. She has been convicted for fraud amounting to $12.5 billion — nearly 3% of the country’s 2022 GDP — and for illegally controlling a major bank and allowing loans that resulted in losses of $27 billion, state media outlets reported.

Vietnam typically gives death penalties crimes like terrorism or murder and, according to Amnesty International, has among the highest rates of capital punishment worldwide. But a death sentence for a financial crime is rare in the country.

Thursday’s sentencing marked a “big turning point” in the ongoing anti-corruption drive in Vietnam, said Nguyen Khac Giang, an analyst at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

“It signals that the party’s commitment to a crackdown on corruption has … expanded,” he said.

The Communist Party’s so-called Blazing Furnace campaign began in 2013, but it wasn’t until 2018 that authorities began scanning the private sector. Since then, several owners of Vietnam’s fast-growing businesses have been arrested. The trial for Trinh Van Quyet — the former chair of the real estate company FLC, which also owns Vietnam’s third-largest airline, Bamboo Airways — will likely be heard next. He was arrested in 2022. Giang said Lan’s trial was “an example” for upcoming cases.

The anti-corruption campaign is a hallmark of Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Vietnam’s top politician. The 79-year-old ideologue views corruption as a grave threat facing the party and has vowed that the campaign will be a “blazing furnace” where no one is untouchable.

It’s making foreign investors jittery while dampening Vietnam’s economic outlook at a time when the country has been positioning itself as the ideal home for businesses looking to shift their supply chains away from China. Vietnam already lost two presidents in a little over a year and the country’s bureaucracy has ground to a halt with terrified officials choosing to do nothing lest they be in the crosshairs.

Lan’s death sentence sent “shockwaves” across the Vietnamese business community, creating a “sense of uncertainty” about the future, said Giang.

The real estate sector in particular is floundering. An estimated 1,300 property firms withdrew from the market in 2023 and high-rises lie empty in major cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. Add to this poor global demand and reduced public investment slowing Vietnam’s economic growth down to 5.05% last year, compared to 8.02% in 2022, according to government data.

Meanwhile, despite the long campaign against graft, public opinion about corruption in Vietnam remains mixed, according to an annual survey built on interviews with nearly 20,000 people known as the Vietnam Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index. It found that, while fewer people were asked for bribes, the number of people who felt the government was serious about fighting corruption had actually dipped in 2023 from the previous year.

Giang said that these were now “uncharted waters” for Vietnam, making it impossible to predict what lay next.

“We haven’t really seen anything like this before,” he said.

ANIRUDDHA GHOSAL

Ghosal covers the intersection of business and climate change in southeast Asia for The Associated Press. He is based out of Hanoi in Vietnam.

Hamas Adhering to Its Conditions for Prisoner Deal: Haniyeh-Exclusive

By Al Mayadeen English

The head of Hamas's Political Bureau tells Al Mayadeen that the Israeli government shall not retrieve its captives in Gaza except through "an honorable deal."

The head of Hamas's Political Bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, reiterated told Al Mayadeen that the Palestinian Resistance group is adhering to its conditions in negotiations and will not engage in any deal with "Israel" without their fulfillment.

Haniyeh emphasized the Resistance's insistence on the necessity of declaring a permanent and clear ceasefire in Gaza.

He made it clear that the Israeli occupation has not eliminated Hamas, and shall not eliminate it, pointing out that the Israeli government has not retrieved its captives held in Gaza and shall not retrieve them except through "an honorable deal."

The Palestinian leader affirmed the Resistance's insistence on the complete withdrawal and the return of the displaced people to Gaza without any conditions or barriers, in addition to the conditions regarding relief and the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, leading to a prisoner exchange deal.

Haniyeh touched on Israeli media's speculations that the Israeli assassination of his sons and grandchildren is aimed at pressuring Hamas to ease its demands during ceasefire negotiations, underlining that "this will not happen."

The Hamas chief indicated that the massacres and crimes committed by the Israeli occupation in Gaza reflect its strategic failure after not achieving its declared goals of the war.

"Israel, the spoiled child of the West, is no longer as it once was, and its image has been shattered," he told Al Mayadeen, adding that what is happening in the "corridors of diplomacy" indicates an unprecedented isolation for the Israeli occupation entity.

Addressing the entire nation, Haniyeh highlighted that the ongoing genocide in Gaza requires a different stance from the past six months.

Red Sea Rising: Exposing the West's Diminishing Naval Power

By Ali Halawi

Source: Al Mayadeen English

Western naval forces' repeated exposés in the Red Sea highlight NATO's weak seaborne air defenses and the rising power of the Axis of Resistance in contested waters.

The Red Sea has witnessed several developments that brought to light the West’s fading power, as its enemies simultaneously and continuously develop precision weapons and naval capabilities.

Although ongoing escort, air defense, and aerial attack operations in the Red Sea are viewed as uncostly, in terms of human capital, and training routines that will raise the preparedness of NATO forces in the region, they have also unveiled a quite unpleasant reality for Western navies. On the flip side, the aerial attacks of Yemeni Armed Forces (YAF) on Israeli-affiliated ships, which were later expanded to include US-UK-affiliated ships in the Red Sea, add to an extended bill that NATO countries pay for securing the Israeli genocide of the Palestinian people. 

The weapons used in these operations are similar to Iranian-designed drones, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles and have been described as "cheap" yet effective weapons by US CENTCOM commanders. These precise guided munitions have been disseminated across factions in the Axis of Resistance, via direct armament or technology sharing. When put to the correct use the weapons have proven challenging for some of the world's most well-trained and equipped forces.

West Asia casts a shadow over NATO military industrial complexes

Some weapons could have been transferred with the blueprints for the production of their main compartments and assembly at their final destination, bringing costs down and production levels up, further deepening the hole for Western counterparts. In the case of Ansar Allah in Yemen, the YAF owns and announces to locally produce a wide array of anti-ship weapons, as well as missiles, and drones that have been appropriated for attacking seaborne targets; currently being put to use to tighten a naval blockade on "Israel" through the Red Sea.

On the other hand, flailing Western military hegemony over the seas pushed the US and its allies to embark on a poorly planned campaign to protect Israeli shipping routes, forcing them to deal with these relatively low-cost weapons in the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, where the YAF has dealt direct hits to multiple non-military vessels and threatened near hits some of the most advanced American military ships. This has been the case in Iraq, Syria, and Jordan, where US military bases have suffered from the horrors of cheap low-flying, and ballistic weapons in more than 100 operations on US assets, which dealt precise hits to their targets on multiple occasions. 

When countering these attacks, Western forces have utilized some of the most sophisticated anti-air surface-to-air missiles, which are estimated to cost millions of dollars of taxpayer money. In the Red Sea, the US-led Western alliance has relied on NATO-standard interceptors, each of which was developed to counter specific inbound aerial objects.

According to The Responsible Statecraft and news circulating on Western media outlets regarding the mishaps of air defense units, the Western coalition has depended on the use of a layered anti-air model, consisting of RIM-116 (RAM), RIM-66 (SM-2), RIM-174 (SM-6), RIM-162 (ESSM), and RIM-161 (SM-3) interceptors. Each interceptor has been developed to counter specific weaponry, however, they all share in common extremely pricey tags. 

Price list for NATO's Israeli maritime protection campaign

Below is a list of the cost of a single interceptor, excluding operational and battery costs, as of 2022:

RIM-116 (RAM): $905,000

RIM-66 (SM-2): $2,100,000

RIM-174 (SM-6): $3,901,818

RIM-162 (ESSM): $2,031,875

RIM 161 (SM-3) Block IB: $9,698,617

RIM-161 (SM-3) Block IIA: $27,915,625

The price list is retrieved from the US Department of Defense and military-industrial complexes' official documents. 

Germany's Navy ridicules itself

Keeping the aforementioned price ranges in mind, an outrageous fluke that came as a result of a failed surface-to-air missile interception attempt by the German Navy's Hessen frigate exposed the deep-lying issues for the US-led Naval alliance in the Red Sea.

What should have been a strike on a low-cost Yemeni drone turned into a shabby affair in which the German Navy misidentified the drone, launched a dual attack on an allied asset, failed to hit the aircraft, and suffered malfunctions that led to the destruction of two interceptors midflight. 

At first glance, the attack underlines several glaring issues including, the under-preparedness of the German air defense crew, inadequate storage or production of interceptors, and poor communication between NATO allied forces at Sea. Some military-concerned outlets have attempted to shift the blame on outdated German comms, however, further investigation of the incident reveals an issue of economic cost that could tip the scale towards NATO's enemies.

Germany's embarrassing mishap would cost the country around $4.2 million, as the Hessen launched two SM-2s at a US MQ-9 reaper drone that it failed to identify. 

The cost of the failed operation should not be the only consideration here, as the last time Raethon sold a batch of its SM-2 Block IIIA interceptors was in a deal it signed with Denmark back in 2018. The deal was worth $152 million for 46 SM-2 Block IIIA interceptors and corresponding equipment for a couple of vertical launch systems. Now, the company has stopped producing the system, and the interceptors for lack of international orders and plans to resume production in 2035. 

However, conflict in Ukraine, the war on Gaza, and tensions in East Asia may prompt reconsideration, especially as the genocide of Palestinian people drags on while their allies in Yemen, Lebanon, and Iraq tie their operations to the status of the aggression on Gaza itself. 

Large-scale confrontation might see selective engagement

The fact that Raethon has not received any major orders since 2018 brings up the possibility of Western shortages in air defense systems and interceptors, in case of larger-scale engagement erupting in the region. The phenomenon cannot be limited to SM-2 interceptors but could affect a range of staple NATO-developed and produced SAMs, including the infamous Patriot systems, THAAD, Israeil Iron Dome, and other anti-ballistic and cruise missile systems. 

Large-scale engagement will most likely see the Colletive West prioritize assets and selectively down often low-cost but deadly targets.

One Yemeni strike was capable of sinking a bulk carrier in the Red Sea, while an attack on a secret US outpost on the Jordanian-Syrian border injured and killed more than a hundred US service people. 

In a war of attrition, the Axis of Resistance's factions will have the economic advantage of pumping out low-cost munition that targets multi-million systems and vehicles, the morale advantage of deep-rooted ideological motives related to religion and nativity to the lands they defend.

Another blunder: Denmark's unreported defensive failure gets chief sacked

More recently, Denmark sacked its defense chief Flemming Lentfer after major faults were discovered in air defense systems on a frigate that it sent to the Red Sea earlier. Lentfer was axed on Wednesday night after failing to report to the Danish Defense Minister, Troels Lund Poulsen, that the Iver Huitfeldt vessel had experienced a 30 minutes-long malfunction in one of its missile and radar systems, during a drone attack in the Red Sea. The malfunction led Danish authorities to recall the frigate from its mission, marking the gravity of the faults.

"I have lost trust in the chief of defense," said Poulsen. Shockingly, he found out about the incident from a specialist military outlet, rather than any of his subordinates. 

"We are facing a historic and necessary strengthening of Denmark’s defense forces. This places great demands on our organization and on the military advice at a political level," he asserted. 

Danish news website Olfi was the one to break the news to the Minister of Defense, explaining that the frigate was commanded by Commander Sune Lund, who complained about a problem with the ship's active radar and C-Flex combat management system. 

Unexplained outrages to the systems were severe enough to prevent the frigate from launching its ESSM interceptors. The Danish frigate's 76 mm guns were also reported to be defective on several occasions during deployment to the Red Sea. Other reports revealed other aspects of the commander's message, in which he stated that the equipment problems reportedly had been known about for "years", but that little had been done to address them.

Germany's "Embarrassment" vs Yemen's Victory

Back to Germany's flop in the Red Sea, which was described by German media outlet BILD as an "Embarrassment to our (the German) Navy in the Red Sea", the YAF had just marked another milestone by downing a US-operated MQ-9 Reaper Drone over Hodeidah a few days prior to the blunder. 

Although both forces attempted to target different MQ-9-type drones using their own SAMs, the Yemeni Armed Forces were able to destroy the highly prized American drone with a "locally produced" air defense system while the Germans harrowingly failed. The Germans said that they mistakenly targeted a drone on February 28, 2024. However, their failure to down the then-unidentified object was due to unnamed technical malfunctions that led to the detonation of the two SM-2 missiles midflight, rather than active efforts to avert the disaster.

Interestingly, Sanaa had only unveiled two air defense systems capable of achieving such a hit. One of which is seemingly a copy of the Iranian-developed compact air-defense missile, dubbed Saqer-2. The missile can be easily transported and launched to take down close-range targets, flying at relatively slow speeds. The Saqer-2, a copycat of the Iranian so-called 358 surface-to-air missile reportedly functions like a one-way attack drone, reaching the required via a liquid fuel-propelled engine, to later hover near an aerial target, approaching it and detonating its warhead after being manually locked on to it by a ground operator, or by working in an autonomous mode. 

However, footage published by the YAF's Military Media indicated that the air defense system utilized in the incident was similar to traditional supersonic SAMs due to the speed at which it reached its target and the sound produced during its flight in the video.

Notably, the missile impacted the drone in a near direct trajectory and did not pause to hover nearby or for directions by operators. Examining the publicly revealed arsenal of the YAF, this likely indicates that the missile in use was the Bareq-1 or Bareq-2 SAM. 

The missiles resemble the Iranian Taer line of missiles, which are used on a multitude of staple air defense systems. Digging deeper into the origin of the technology, it is clear that the Taer or Bareq lines of missiles are actually reverse-engineered models of the Soviet-era 3M9, incorporating certain elements from NATO Standard Missiles.

Presuming that the Bareq-2 was used by the YAF for the operation reveals an even deeper hole dug by Western military complexes for their own armies. Moreover, NATO's SMs are much more developed than the YAF's interceptors, as they incorporate a wide range of technological and hardware additions, putting them in a class of their own.

These additions allow for 360° scope for air defense teams allowing Hessen and other vessels to fire at any surrounding target within its range at any time without having to adjust their position while boosters on the SM-6 allow for longer-range targeting.

Still, the single-stage and aimed single launch conducted by the YAF achieved a direct hit to the 20 m-long US drone obliterating it to pieces that were scavenged by fighters on al-Hodeidah's shore.

Yemen's support to Palestine uncovers deep crises in NATO's Naval power

Putting this series of unfolding events into the context of the Yemeni Armed Forces' support to Palestine, as the Western-backed Israeli regime continues its genocidal war on Gaza, is key to not only regional security but global security as a whole. 

The equations drawn by the YAF have been unprecedented in the history of the nation's struggle against Western imperialism, as for the first time, an Arab nation has taken the responsibility of launching an expansive naval campaign to support a moral and national cause, whose result will alter the course of human history. By setting this historical precedent, Yemen has not only altered regional security to the favor of natives, but it has also exposed essential faults in NATO's military and naval structure which can and will be taken advantage of by adversaries. 

These events have not been limited to uncovering the flaws of Danish and German forces, but they have laid bare essential challenges for the far more superior American and British navies. 

For the US issues have concentrated around logistics and the high cost of operating multiple strike groups, in order to maintain feeble objectives. The UK on the other hand has witnessed multiple accidents and complications during the period of its operations. 

The Yemeni Armed Forces' strategic engagements in the Red Sea highlight a significant shift in naval dynamics, exposing vulnerabilities in Western military prowess and logistical strategies. Despite maintaining relatively low-scale engagements, the YAF's precision attacks on military vessels have yielded valuable experience and expanded their target list, aided by direct repercussions from the US's involvement in the genocidal war on Gaza. This evolving scenario underscores the importance of the Axis of Resistance's strategic foresight and adaptive responses in navigating the complexities of Western provocations, in the context of modern naval warfare, signaling a paradigmatic challenge for maintaining Western military hegemony in the region.

Air Algerie Ditches French, Adopts Arabic in All Correspondences

By Al Mayadeen English

10 Apr 2024 08:33

The initiative aligns with Article 3 of the Algerian Constitution, which designates Arabic as the official national language.

Air Algerie, the national flag carrier of Algeria, has implemented new protocols to promote the use of the Arabic language in official communications with different departments, embassies, and governmental entities, as per a report by the Algerian newspaper Echorouk.

In compliance with Article 3 of the Algerian Constitution, which designates Arabic as the national and official language, Air Algerie will now Arabize the speeches and letters of its president and general manager.

Despite ongoing English training for its staff, consistent with the international standard for civil aviation, the company will prioritize the use of Arabic in official communications to align with constitutional mandates.

In recent weeks, the airline has begun formalizing the adoption of Arabic in all internal communications and interactions. This encompasses letters from the CEO, Hamza Benhamouda, such as messages marking notable occasions like the anniversary of the Tamanrasset plane crash and International Women’s Day. This choice underscores the company's dedication to upholding Algeria's official language policy and cultural heritage, as reported by Dzair Tube.

A flashback

Algeria was a French colony for 130 years and gained independence in 1962 after a devastating eight-year war. Paris has repeatedly refused to apologize for the occupation, a source of deep contention with Algiers.

In 2021, reports emerged stating that several Algerian ministries opted to discontinue the use of French in both internal and external communications.

They decided to begin the adoption of Arabic on November 1, the date of the anniversary of the eruption of the Algerian revolution against French colonialism.

Observers said the move was in response to French President Emmanuel Macron’s denial of "the existence of an Algerian nation" before the French invasion of Algeria in 1830.

At the time, the North African nation increased its emphasis on English in the education sector, while reinforcing efforts to enforce a law mandating that private schools, including those teaching in French, adhere to the predominantly Arabic national curriculum.

Kenyan Hospital Lays Off 100 Striking Doctors as Nationwide Strike Nears a Month

BY EVELYNE MUSAMBI

9:55 PM EDT, April 9, 2024

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A public hospital in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, has laid off 100 doctors who are taking part in a nationwide strike that has been ongoing for almost a month, its management said Tuesday.

The Kenyatta University Referral Hospital said new doctors had been hired in place of those striking.

Doctors in Kenya went on a nationwide strike in mid-March demanding better pay and working conditions.

President William Ruto on Sunday broke his silence over the strike saying there was no money to pay striking doctors.

“We must be honest with ourselves and the truth is that we must live within our means, we can’t borrow money to pay salaries”, Ruto said.

The doctors’ union has remained adamant, and on Tuesday hundreds of doctors took part in protests and presented a petition to parliament urging lawmakers to intervene in their labor dispute.

This is not the first time Kenyan doctors are striking over poor pay and working conditions. In 2017 doctors took part in a 100-day strike that saw people dying from lack of care. The strike ended with the doctors’ union signing an agreement with the government to increase their pay.

Doctors now say part of what was agreed upon in 2017 has not been implemented.

Ethiopia’s Rights Body Calls for Investigation into the Killing of a Prominent Opposition Figure

BY EVELYNE MUSAMBI

3:17 PM EDT, April 10, 2024

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Ethiopia’s state-appointed rights commission on Wednesday called for an investigation into the killing of a prominent opposition figure recently released from prison.

Bate Urgessa was gunned down on Tuesday night in his hometown of Meki in Oromia, Ethiopia’s biggest region, according to the Oromo Liberation Front, or OLF. He was a political officer with the OLF, a legally registered opposition group that boycotted elections in 2021.

The OLF said it has information indicating that Bate “was shot dead,” adding that it’s investigating.

Daniel Bekele, head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, called for “a prompt, impartial and full investigation by both the Oromia regional and Ethiopian federal authorities to hold perpetrators to account.”

Oromia’s regional government condemned Bate’s killing as “unacceptable” and denied any involvement. In a statement Wednesday, it said it was also committed to an investigation.

An outspoken critic of the government, Bate spent several stints in prison over the years. In 2022, he fell seriously ill while he was detained alongside other senior OLF members for several months.

In February, he was arrested alongside Antoine Galindo, a French journalist, as the two met at a hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. They were accused of working with rebel groups in a “conspiracy to spread chaos.” Galindo was released after one week, and Bate was released a few days later.

The OLF once waged a guerrilla war against Ethiopia’s federal government, claiming to fight for more rights for the Oromo people, the country’s biggest ethnic group.

In 2018, the OLF signed a peace deal with the government, but part of its armed wing, the Oromo Liberation Army, continued the struggle and has stepped up its efforts against the army in recent months.

EVELYNE MUSAMBI

Musambi is an Associated Press reporter based in Nairobi, Kenya. She covers regional security, geopolitics, trade relations and foreign policy across East Africa.

Mali’s Junta Bans the Media from Reporting on Political Activities in a Deepening Crackdown

Mali’s ruling junta has banned the media from reporting on activities of political parties and associations, a day after barring political parties and groups. The order applies to all forms of the media, including television, radio, newspapers and journals, and followed an earlier decision that banned all political party activities until further notice.

BY BABA AHMED AND JESSICA DONATI

10:42 PM EDT, April 11, 2024

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — In a deepening crackdown, Mali’s ruling junta on Thursday banned the media from reporting on activities of political parties and associations, a day after suspending all political activities in the country until further notice.

The order, issued by Mali’s high authority for communication, was distributed on social media. The notice said it applied to all forms of the media, including television, radio, online and print newspapers.

Mali has experienced two coups since 2020, leading a wave of political instability that has swept across West and Central Africa in recent years. Along with its political troubles, the country is also in the grip of a worsening insurgency by militants linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.

The scope of the ban — or how it would be applied in practice — was not immediately clear. It was also not known if journalists would still be allowed to report on issues such as the economy, which are closely tied to politics and who would monitor their work.

The umbrella organization that represents journalists in Mali responded with an unusually stern rebuttal.

The group, known as Maison de le Press, or Press House, said it rejects the order and called on journalists to continue to report on politics in Mali. It also urged them to “stand tall, remain unified and to mobilize to defend the right of citizens to have access to information.”

Mali’s national commission for human rights also expressed regret and profound concern over the decision in a statement published late Thursday. It warned the junta the decision could prove harmful.

“Instead of calming the social climate, these restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms could potentially stir up trouble and tension, which the country does not need,” it said.

The clampdown on the media followed a similar action on Wednesday, when the junta ordered the suspension of all activities by political parties until further notice, citing a a need to preserve public order. The news was broadcast on state television as the population was celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan during which observant Muslims fast from dawn till dusk.

Analysts said the move was likely a backlash against political figures, civil society and students who have expressed frustration with the junta’s failure to return the country to democratic rule as promised.

“Recent weeks saw mounting pressure by political parties and figures,” Rida Lyammouri of the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank, told The Associated Press. “For the first time, the public and politicians have publicly criticized junta leaders and accused them of a lack of seriousness.”

Col. Assimi Goita, who took charge after a second coup in 2021, promised to return the country to democracy in early 2024. But in September, the junta canceled elections scheduled for February 2024 indefinitely, citing the need for further technical preparations.

The junta has vowed to end the insurgency that emerged in 2012 after deposing the elected government. It cut military ties with France amid growing frustration with the lack of progress after a decade of assistance, and turned to Russian contractors, mercenaries from the Wagner group, for security support instead. But analysts say the violence has only grown worse.

The United States said it was “deeply concerned” by the ban on political activities. “Freedom of expression and freedom of association are critical to an open society,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters in Washington.

___

Donati reported from Dakar, Senegal.

10 Years After Chibok, Nigerian Families Cope with the Trauma of More School Kidnappings

BY CHINEDU ASADU

9:08 PM EDT, April 11, 2024

KADUNA, Nigeria (AP) — His weak body stood in the doorway, exhausted and covered in dirt. For two years, the boy had been among Nigeria’s ghosts, one of at least 1,500 schoolchildren and others seized by armed groups and held for ransom.

But paying a ransom didn’t work for 12-year-old Treasure, the only captive held back from the more than 100 schoolchildren kidnapped from their school in July 2021 in the northwestern Kaduna state. Instead, his captors hung on, and he had to escape the forests on his own in November.

Treasure’s ordeal is part of a worrying new development in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country where the mass abduction of 276 Chibok schoolgirls a decade ago marked a new era of fear —with nearly 100 of the girls still in captivity. Since the Chibok abductions, at least 1,500 students have been kidnapped, as armed groups increasingly find in them a lucrative way to fund other crimes and control villages in the nation’s mineral-rich but poorly policed northwestern region.

The Associated Press spoke with five families whose children have been taken hostage in recent years and witnessed a pattern of trauma and struggle with education among the children. Parents are becoming more reluctant to send their children to school in parts of northern Nigeria, worsening the education crisis in a country of over 200 million where at least 10 million children are out of school — one of the world’s highest rates.

The AP could not speak with Treasure, who is undergoing therapy after escaping captivity in November. His relatives, however, were interviewed at their home in Kaduna state, including Jennifer, his cousin, who was also kidnapped when her boarding school was attacked in March 2021.

“I have not recovered, my family has not recovered (and) Treasure barely talks about it,” said Jennifer, 26, as her mother sobbed beside her. “I don’t think life will ever be the same after all the experience,” she added.

Unlike the Islamic extremists that staged the Chibok kidnappings, the deadly criminal gangs terrorizing villages in northwestern Nigeria are mostly former herdsmen who were in conflict with farming host communities, according to authorities. Aided by arms smuggled through Nigeria’s porous borders, they operate with no centralized leadership structure and launch attacks driven mostly by economic motive.

Some analysts see school kidnappings as a symptom of Nigeria’s worsening security crisis.

According to Nigerian research firm SBM Intelligence, nearly 2,000 people have been abducted in exchange for ransoms this year. However, armed gangs find the kidnapping of schoolchildren a “more lucrative way of getting attention and collecting bigger ransoms,” said Rev. John Hayab, a former chairman of the local Christian association in Kaduna who has often helped to secure the release of abducted schoolchildren like Treasure.

The security lapses that resulted in the Chibok kidnappings 10 years ago remain in place in many schools, according to a recent survey by the United Nations children’s agency’s Nigeria office, which found that only 43% of minimum safety standards such as perimeter fencing and guards are met in over 6,000 surveyed schools.

Bola Tinubu, who was elected president in March 2023, had promised to end the kidnappings while on the campaign trail. Nearly a year into his tenure there is still “a lack of will and urgency and a failure to realize the gravity of the situation, or to respond to it,” said Nnamdi Obasi, senior adviser for Nigeria at the International Crisis Group.

“There is no focused attention or commitment of resources on this emergency,” he added.

Treasure was the youngest of more than 100 children seized from the Bethel Baptist High School in the Chikun area of Kaduna in 2021. After receiving ransoms and freeing the other children in batches, his captors vowed to keep him, said Rev. Hayab.

That didn’t stop his family from clinging to hope that he would one day return home alive. His grandmother, Mary Peter, remembers the night he returned home, agitated and hungry.

“He told us he was hungry and wanted to eat,” she said of Treasure’s first words that night after two years and three months in captivity.

“Treasure went through hell,” said Rev. Hayab with the Christian association. “We need to work hard to get him out of ... what he saw, whatever he experienced.”

Nigerian lawmakers in 2022 outlawed ransom payments, but desperate families continue to pay, knowing kidnappers can be ruthless, sometimes killing their victims when their relatives delay ransom payments often delivered in cash at designated locations.

And sometimes, even paying a ransom does not guarantee freedom. Some victims have accused security forces of not doing anything to arrest the kidnappers even after providing information about their calls and where their hostages were held.

Such was the experience of Treasure’s uncle Emmanuel Audu, who was seized and chained to a tree for more than a week after he had gone to deliver the ransom demanded for his nephew to be freed.

Audu and other hostages were held in Kaduna’s notorious Davin Rugu forest. Once a bustling forest reserve that was home to wild animals and tourists, it is now one of the bandit enclaves in the ungoverned and vast woodlands tucked between mountainous terrains and stretching across thousands of kilometers as they connect states in the troubled region.

“The whole forest is occupied by kidnappers and terrorists,” Audu said as he talked about his time in captivity. His account was corroborated by several other kidnap victims and analysts.

Some of his captors in the forest were boys as young as Treasure, a hint of what his nephew could have become, and a sign that a new generation of kidnappers is already emerging.

“They beat us mercilessly. When you faint, they will flog you till you wake up,” he said, raising his hand to show the scars that reminded him of life in captivity.

No one in the Peter family recovered after their experience with kidnapping.

Jennifer says she rarely sleeps well even though it’s been almost three years since she was freed by her captors. Her mother, a food trader, is finding it hard to raise capital again for her business after using most of her savings and assets inherited from her late husband to pay for ransoms.

Therapy is so costly, that the church had to sponsor that of Treasure while other members of the family are left to endure and hope they eventually get over their experiences.

“Sometimes, when I think about what happened, I wish I did not go to school,” said Jennifer with a rueful grin. “I just feel sorry for the children that are still in boarding school because it is not safe. They are the main target.”

In Some Classrooms in Senegal, Deaf and Hard-of-hearing Students Now Study Alongside Everyone Else

BY ANDREI POPOVICIU

2:33 AM EDT, April 10, 2024

PIKINE, Senegal (AP) — Mouhamed Sall stepped to the chalkboard with a glance and quick question in sign language to an assistant. Then he solved the exercise to the silent approval of his classmates, who waved their hands in a display of appreciation.

Sall and three other students are part of a new approach in a small number of schools in Senegal that seat those who are deaf and hard of hearing with the rest of the class.

Some classmates at the sun-washed Apix Guinaw Rails Sud school in a suburb of the capital, Dakar, have embraced the chance to learn sign language in the months since Sall arrived. The class is lively and cheeky: “No teachers allowed in this room,” graffiti scrawled above the chalkboard says.

“I have no problem communicating with some colleagues I went to primary school with,” Sall said as his mother spoke. “The new colleagues don’t know sign language but we still play together.”

“We’ve been friends, so it was easy to learn sign language,” said classmate Salane Senghor, who also knew Sall in primary school. New classmates were curious, looking to the assistant to find out what he was saying.

The United Nations children’s agency says about 60% of children with disabilities in Senegal are not going to school. But the government lacks comprehensive data on the issue and counts only children who are formally registered as having a disability.

“We’re looking for progress from the government to ensure every child, regardless of ability, has the opportunity to learn,” said Sara Poehlman with UNICEF Senegal.

Senegal lacks a national strategy for inclusive education, but it is developing one. Recent political instability in the West African nation has hindered progress.

The challenges are compounded by a stigma that some in Senegal associate with disabilities. Some parents hide their children and prevent them from participating in society.

But attitudes are changing. In 2021, Senegal’s football team for deaf and hard of hearing players won the first African football championship for such teams and played in the world championship, to the congratulations of Senegal’s president. During the recent election, the National Association for the Promotion of the Deaf in Senegal and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems organized a workshop to teach hard-of-hearing voters over 100 election-related terms in sign language.

Now there’s more visibility in classrooms.

The organization Humanity and Inclusion last year began partnering with Senegal’s education ministry for mixed classes in four public secondary schools with inclusive education practices. Apix is one of them. Humanity and Inclusion funds the hiring of assistants who can communicate in sign language.

“We see that all children are on an equal footing, and that’s why we make an inclusive class or school by harmonizing with the hearing pupils,” said Papa Amadou, one assistant.

Sall is receiving education free of charge, a big advantage in a part of the world where school fees can be a constant source of stress for parents.

Until now, Senegal has had mostly specialized schools for children with disabilities, but they are often private and expensive.

Sall’s mother, Khadija Koundio, at first paid about $17 every month for him to attend an activity center for children with learning challenges in their neighborhood. Then he was able to enter primary school with the support of a similar Humanity and Inclusion program created several years ago in a small number of schools for younger students.

Omar Diop, head supervisor at Apix, praised the new secondary school program but said challenges continue.

“It’s their first year for the teachers, so that poses a problem because the children come with a much higher level of sign language,” Diop said.

Mamadou Konte, the Apix school director, emphasized the need for more teacher training. “We’ve seen success at our school, but this model needs to be replicated nationwide,” Konte added.

Mouhamed Sall, who is deaf, communicates using sign language at the Guinaw Rail Sud public high school in Pikine, Senegal, Monday, March 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Sylvain Cherkaoui)

Challenges remain for students and families, too. Koundio, president of the parents’ association for the school’s deaf and hard-of-hearing students, said some of her son’s classmates live farther away and struggle with the cost of commuting.

Poehlman with UNICEF highlighted government initiatives like the Carte de l’Égalité, which provides financial assistance to families so children can access specialized schools, but she stressed the importance of programs implemented in public schools.

Jandira Monteiro with Humanity and Inclusion urged collaboration between Senegal’s ministries of health and education to ensure holistic support for children with disabilities.

Sall said he feels accepted by his peers. The teachers at Apix commend him on his intelligence and his artistic talents in crafting bright models of houses and traditional boats called pirogues.

His mother wants him to pursue his passions, including art.

“One day, when I’m gone, he’ll have enough to support himself,” she said.

___

Ndeye Sene Mbengue in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.

Italian Coast Guard Rescues 22 Shipwrecked People, Recovers 9 Bodies. Some 15 Reported Missing

The Italian Coast Guard on Wednesday rescued 59 people in two separate incidents on Wednesday and recovered nine dead bodies, including that of a young girl, in the rough waters of the central Mediterranean Sea.

BY COLLEEN BARRY

9:06 PM EDT, April 11, 2024

MILAN (AP) — The Italian coast guard rescued 22 people and recovered nine bodies after a smugglers’ boat capsized in a storm about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of the island of Lampedusa, authorities said Thursday.

Survivors indicated that the steel-bottom boat had departed from Sfax, Tunisia, overnight Sunday carrying 46 people from Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali and Ivory Coast. The boat capsized Wednesday morning as waves reached up to 5 meters (16 feet) and “the group became very agitated when the engine broke down and they were left adrift,’’ the U.N. refugee agency said.

The victims were a 6-month-old child and eight men, UNHCR said. Six of the survivors were treated for severe hypothermia and dehydration; two remain hospitalized.

After the rescue in rough seas with waves reaching more than 2 1/2 meters (8 feet), the Coast Guard said it continued air surveillance of the area, which is under Malta’s search-and-rescue area.

Attempts to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Africa to Europe generally increase as summer approaches, raising concerns about more shipwrecks, especially as Italian port rules are restricting operations of charity rescue boats. Italy’s far-right-led government has recently been instructing charity boats to go to northern ports after each rescue, reducing their operations, and has been impounding boats that it says violates its rules.

“With the arrival of the summer season, we can expect more incidents at sea, as more and more people are leaving with completely unseaworthy metal boats, as we are seeing in these weeks,’’ said Federico Fossi, a spokesman for the UNHCR in Italy.

The International Organization for Migration put the number of migrants missing along the deadly central Mediterranean route from northern Africa to Italy at 385 so far this year and 23,109 since they launched the missing migrants project in 2014.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Morocco’s Earthquake Killed Thousands. But Survivors Marking Ramadan Say it Didn’t Shake Their Faith

BY SAM METZ

1:54 PM EDT, April 10, 2024

AMIZMIZ, Morocco (AP) — An earthquake months ago left parts of her home cracked and crumbling, but Fatima Barri felt wrong spending Islam’s holy month of Ramadan in a tent.

Thankful to be spared by the 6.8-magnitude quake that killed thousands around her in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, she stood in her damaged house and cooked the traditional meals to break the daily fasts. It felt safe enough, she said, until a 3.3-magnitude tremor rumbled through two weeks ago.

She was terrified but stayed.

“It’s my house. I have nowhere else to go,” the 57-year-old mother of three said and shrugged.

Like many of her neighbors, she’s tired of waiting for normal life to resume. For months after the quake killed nearly 3,000 Moroccans in September, Barri stayed in a hot and stuffy government-provided tent.

For Ramadan, she and others honored their traditions amid the rubble, cooking tagine in clay pots and making bread and tea on their stoves. On Wednesday, as Eid al-Fitr began, the holiday mood for many Moroccans vacillated between festiveness and despair.

During the month of reflection, Barri appreciated the family and community gatherings as well as small pleasures like the mint and verbena she replanted in buckets near the debris on her roof.

Her community of Amizmiz is one of the larger towns shaken by the earthquake. Many people who had promised to stay and rebuild such communities have since moved to larger cities.

For Morocco, the task of rebuilding is daunting. The government estimates that more than 300,000 people were affected by the earthquake in Marrakech and the five hardest hit mountain provinces, where more than 4.2 million reside. There are plans to rebuild schools, roads and hospitals and help farmers who lost their herds.

The government has said it is committed to returning people to their homes and hopes the reconstruction will bring new development opportunities to a region that has long lacked the infrastructure of Morocco’s tourist hubs and coastal cities.

But on the ground, there is frustration.

Construction crews working to restore multi-story buildings for community associations are angry that they haven’t received more guidance from the government on how to build for future quakes. Untrained, they are stacking cinderblocks and plaster on the ruins of multi-story buildings.

A month after the disaster, protesters angry at local authorities and suspicious of corruption marched through the town demanding the promised government aid.

At the end of January, a government rebuilding commission said nearly 58,000 families had received monthly stipends of 2,500 dirhams — or $250 — and more than 20,000 households had received an initial installment of reconstruction assistance.

The assistance was announced in September, but after reported distribution problems, the Interior Ministry opened a register for residents to request it 2 1/2 months later.

In total, officials have said rebuilding will cost 120 billion dirhams ($12 billion) and take about five years. International aid has been offered, including a $1.3 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.

In Amizmiz, there are signs of resilience, economic activity, and life returning to normal. There are also signs that the road to recovery will be long. Vendors sell honey, flour and sprinkles used to bake Ramadan sweets; men watch Turkish soap operas on televisions; women displaced from their homes wash clothes in community fountains.

In plastic tents — which magnify the sun’s heat — some residents said they were surviving on the monthly stipends and waiting on a larger sum promised for reconstruction. Many told The Associated Press they had received nothing at all.

Last month, the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis published survey data taken from October to December in which only 11% of people directly affected by the earthquake said they had received support from the government.

The most difficult to reach areas have faced more challenges.

In some villages, the government has used sheet metal and concrete to build barracks-style temporary homes. In Amizmiz there are only tents.

The community is proud of coming together to help one another. A community association, Alyatim, hosted nightly dinners serving up to 250 people breaking their Ramadan fasts.

“The help only comes from the associations. No help comes from the government,” said Abdelaziz Smina, a 50-year-old blacksmith.

Smina said local authorities told him that his cracked concrete home — currently held upright by wooden stilts — wasn’t damaged enough to qualify for aid. His neighbors have yet to receive assistance funds to allow them to buy metal doors from him for their own rebuilding.

But Smina and his family have seen Ramadan as a chance to reaffirm their faith in the face of disaster.

“It’s all up to God,” he said.

SAM METZ

Metz covers Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and points beyond for The Associated Press.