Egyptians start voting in presidential run-off
CAIRO, (Xinhua): Egyptians started their historic voting in the presidential run-off between Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi and former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq.

Polling stations across the country opened at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) , with the deployment of troops and police for security and order. Long queue-ups of voters were waiting outside many booths.

The total number of eligible voters is about 50 million. The voting of Egyptians abroad had completed but results have not been announced.

The Egyptian government has urged citizens to participate in the voting and accept the results, which will be officially announced on Thursday.

"We are at a real crossroad, so we should do our duty to decide on our state's future. Egypt is to be a civil state or a religious one," said 34-year-old Mohamed Atteia, waiting outside the Rawda school polling station.

"I will vote for Shafiq, not because he is the best, but I vote for a civil state," he said.

Fatma Mohamed, 54 , walked in a difficult way and could not stand on her legs for more than ten minutes. " I'm very afraid of the future of Egypt, that's why I'm keen to cast my vote despite the pains of my legs," she told Xinhua.

The woman said she was not persuaded by the Muslim Brotherhood as they could not bring the stability of the state. She would vote for Shafiq.

Bosy Kahled didn't cast his vote in the first round. "But I am keen on voting now after I really felt that the state is in a hard time, between the revolution and the former regime."

"The state needs stability and development. The Islamists- dominated parliament was dissolved and now we are restarting. The MB group can't be trusted in the political life, so I'm willing to vote for Shafiq although I voted for leftist Sabahi in the first round," said 33-year-old Hanaa Ali.

There ware also voters who felt no hope at all.

"In fact , after dissolving the parliament, we got back to the zero point. This is because of the ill management of the transitional period, and I'm coming now to void my vote, as I'm not persuaded by both candidates," said Moneer Zkareya, a 29-year- old girl.

In the first round vote, the turnout was 46 percent. Morsi won 24.4 percent of the votes and Shafiq 23.3 percent.

The run-off came just two days after the Supreme Constitutional Court voided the Islamists-dominated People's Assembly (lower house of parliament) as the parliament election law was unconstitutional. The same court also ruled the political isolation law targeting former regime officials unconstitutional, ending the debate over Shafiq's qualification.

The new president will assume office without a new constitution and parliament. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) reportedly will issue a supplementary constitutional declaration to make arrangements for the coming period.

The ruling military council took over power in February 2011, after Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign under pressure of 18 days of mass protests against his 29-year rule. The constitution was suspended and parliament dissolved shortly after Mubarak's fall.

From November last year to February this year, Egyptians elected the two houses of parliament. Islamist parties occupied more than 70 percent of the seats in both chambers.

Egypt court ruling a "military coup"
A leading Egyptian politician on Thursday declared the country's military to be carrying out a "coup," after the constitutional court ruled parliament should be dissolved and backed a former military officer's bid for presidency.

Egypt's top court ruled that one third of parliamentary seats elected on a first-past-the-post system were invalid, with sources later confirming that the decision meant the entire lower house of parliament would be dissolved.

In a separate ruling the same court gave ex-military officer Ahmed Shafik the green light to run for president as it ruled against a law that would have thrown him out of the race.

The decisions, just two days before the landmark presidential election to choose a successor for former dictator Hosni Mubarak, could lead to further political turmoil in the country and strengthen the position of the ruling Security Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

Leading opposition figure Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh said the decisions were part of a "coup" by SCAF.

"Keeping the SCAF candidate (Shafik) and removing the elected people's parliament after giving SCAF the judicial green light is nothing less than a coup," he said.

"I don't believe that millions of young people will accept it."

A senior Muslim Brotherhood politician said the country would enter "a dark tunnel" if the parliament was dissolved.

"If parliament is dissolved, the country will enter a dark tunnel - the coming president will face neither a parliament nor a constitution," Essam el-Erian, vice chairman of the Brotherhood's political wing, said. "There is a state of confusion and many questions."

The ruling military decided on a complex electoral system in which voters cast ballots for party lists which made up two thirds of parliament and also for individual candidates for the remaining seats in the lower house.

The individual candidates were meant to be "independents" but members of political parties were subsequently allowed to run, giving the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party an advantage.

That decision was challenged in court.

Parliament speaker Saad al-Katatni, an Islamist, said before the ruling that the house would have to consider how to implement the decision.

In the absence of a constitution, suspended after last year's overthrow of president Mubarak, no authority has the right to dissolve parliament, Katatni said.

Shafik confirmed

The decision to allow Shafik to run was less of a surprise than the dissolution of parliament, despite a law which bars senior officials of the Mubarak regime and top members of his now-dissolved National Democratic Party from running for public office for 10 years.

The law applies to those who served in the 10 years prior to Mubarak's ouster on 11 February 2011 after a popular uprising.

Shafik will now face Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi in a presidential runoff on Saturday.

The former Mubarak-era prime minister welcomed the decision as "historic."

"The message of this historic verdict is that the era of political score settling has ended," Shafik told cheering supporters in Cairo.

"The constitutional court has confirmed my right to participate in the election and reinforced the legitimacy of this election."

Shafik was initially disqualified from standing in the election in accordance with the law passed by the parliament in April.

But in late April the electoral commission accepted an appeal from Shafik against his disqualification and the case was referred to the court.

In the first round of voting on May 23 and 24 – which saw 13 candidates compete for the top job – Mursi won 24.7 percent of the vote, slightly ahead of Shafik's 23.6 percent.

The next president will inherit a struggling economy, deteriorating security and the challenge of uniting a nation divided by the uprising and its sometimes deadly aftermath, but his powers are yet to be defined by a new constitution.

(Al-Akhbar, AFP, Reuters)

Egypt grants army power to arrest civilians
In a move likely to infuriate protesters, Egypt's justice minister on Wednesday granted the army the right to arrest civilians, after such powers expired with the lifting of the decades-old state of emergency last month.

Adel Abdel Hamid issued a decision granting army personnel – including military intelligence and military police – the right to detain civilians, effectively reinstating a crucial component of the former emergency laws.

The measure will take effect on Thursday and remain in place at least until a new constitution is written.

On Tuesday, parliament elected a commission tasked with drafting the country's new charter but the process could take months.

The army assumed the job of policing during the uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak last year, when police largely disappeared from the streets following days deadly clashes with protesters.

But their right to arrest civilians ended on May 31 when the controversial state of emergency was lifted.

"The decision fills a legal vacuum, as the army is still on the streets even after the state of emergency was lifted," Adel al-Mursi, the head of military justice, told reporters.

The decision is likely to outrage activists and protesters, who have campaigned for years for an end to the state of emergency, which granted police wide powers of arrest and was often used to curb dissent.

The measure comes just days before a presidential election runoff between ex-premier Ahmed Shafiq and Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi.

Activists fear the military is seeking to consolidate its power over the country, and is jostling to ensure it retains a powerful role in the future of Egyptian politics.

Many Egyptians want an end to military rule, and have been demanding a full transition to complete civilian rule.

(Al-Akhbar, AFP)

Tunisian authorities impose curfew amid riots
Tunis has been the scene of rioting in response to an art exhibition that has been described as insulting to Islam. The unrest led to a curfew being imposed. It also fuelled fears of a rise in radicalism.

The curfew was imposed on Tuesday night in eight regions around the country, including parts of the Tunisian capital, Tunis, after protests blamed on thousands of Salafist Islamists turned violent.

The demonstrators, angered by an art exhibition they claimed insults Islam, threw rocks and petrol bombs at police stations, a court house and secular party offices.

The curfew was imposed on an interim basis between 9 p.m. and 5 p.m.. It was unclear if it would be repeated on Wednesday night.

Justice Ministry official Mohamed Fadhel Saihi was reported by the AFP news agency as telling reporters that 100 people had been injured - including 65 policemen - and 165 arrests made.

Speaking to Shems FM radio on Tuesday, Justice Minister Nourredine Bhiri condemned the "terrorist act" and said those found guilty would "pay a heavy price."

"These are terrorist groups which have lost control, they are isolated in society," Bhiri said.

The violence appeared to be a reaction to the Spring of Arts exhibition in the capital's La Marsa suburb, which has provoked an angry response from some Tunisians.

Among the exhibits deemed to have caused most offense is a work that spells the name of God using insects.

In an apparent concession to the Salafists, the dominant Islamist Ennahda party said it was putting forward a constitutional provision against blasphemy.

The violence has raised fears among moderate Tunisians that radicalism could be on the rise since President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali was toppled from power last year.

rc/ccp (AP, Reuters),,16017982,00.html

Nigeria: 27 killed, 8 wounded by gunmen in the north
ABUJA, (Xinhua): At least 27 people were killed and eight others wounded by gunmen in villages of Nigeria's northern Zamfara State, local police and witnesses reported on Monday.

Police blamed the deadly attacks on armed robbers following a crackdown, in which their members were either killed or arrested.

The gunmen suspected villagers to tip off authorities about them, according to a statement by local police.

An eyewitness to the incident, Lawalli Dangulbi, who is also a local government chairmanship aspirant in the area, said at least 27 people including a policeman lost their lives to the gruesome killing.

He said there was pandemonium in the village when the robbers struck.

"The assailants shot sporadically, killing 18 persons instantly, " he added.

He said the other dead bodies were discovered in neighboring villages of Biya, Guru and Sabuwar Kasuwa in the area.

"I managed to carry eight wounded persons from the scene of the attack which was over 100 km from the state capital, Gusau for treatment," Dangulbi said.

Editor: yan

Mali: US in Mali: Disintegration of a State
Dakar/Bamako, (Al-Akhbar): At the Bamako bus station, tales of trepidation from besieged northern towns like Gao and Timbuktu, where Tuareg and Islamist rebels have taken power following a coup d’état in Bamako in late March, are commonplace. “There is no more life [in the north],” said one man arriving in Bamako from Timbuktu in recent weeks, who declined to give his name for security reasons. “There’s no life there because there is no law. When you step out of your house, you see guns everywhere you look.”

Today, Mali is suffering from multiple crises in almost every part of the country. Its northern two-thirds are under control of Tuareg rebels and Islamist groups allied with the local al-Qaeda franchise, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Its southern third is split between a military junta that seized power in a coup in March and a shaky, as of yet ineffective transitional government whose president was recently beaten up by thuggish protesters.

The messy situation in Mali has been simmering for over a decade and was partly triggered by Western military intervention in Libya. But American-backed militarization efforts in the Sahel region since 9/11 have also played a large role, and as a growing chorus of voices – including Mauritanian and Nigerien ministers, well-connected American analysts, and a press contingent led by Le Monde’seditorial board – calls for a military intervention backed by Western military and financial might, the real security threat is that efforts to address the Malian catastrophe will follow the path of Western military intervention.

NATO Connection

Ethnic Tuaregs and the Malian state have fought over Mali’s north, including its ancient cities of Timbuktu and Gao, since Mali’s beginnings as a French colony at the start of the 20th century. The Tuaregs have fought wars of independence with the Malian state three times since Mali’s independence in 1960, but have never been able to garner much territory. When NATO’s intervention in Libya toppled Muammar Gaddafi, it also upset a fragile power balance in the region that eventually dislodged the Malian state.

Gaddafi employed hundreds of Tuareg fighters from Mali and Niger – reputed for their combat ability in the harsh Saharan climate – during his decade-long border war against southern neighbor Chad. After the fall of Gaddafi, Malian Tuaregs who had fought for the Green Legion were faced with a state hostile to them. Ibrahim Bahanga, a longtime Tuareg rebel leader who was exiled in Libya from 2009 until Gaddafi’s fall, returned to northern Mali in March 2011. He then contacted his cousin Mohamed Ag Najim, a Malian Tuareg who was a colonel in the Libyan army in charge of an elite unit in Sabha, a desert outpost in Libya’s southwest, and according to French magazine Jeune Afrique, Bahanga told Najim to come home with as many men and arms as possible.

In July, Najim left Libya for northern Mali, cleaning out lightly guarded arms depots along the way. By the time he and other Tuareg fighters arrived in Mali, Bahanga and other veterans of Tuareg rebellions saw an opportunity for military victory against the Malian state. Although Bahanga died in mysterious conditions labeled a “car crash” in late August, Malian Tuaregs held a meeting in October and decided on an insurgency campaign for an independent Tuareg homeland in Mali’s north called Azawad. They named themselves the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, known by its French acronym MNLA. The arms, fighters and expertise amassed from Libya had put them in a strong position to fight the Malian army.

After several MNLA military victories in the first few months of 2012, a distraught group of Malian soldiers led by American-trained Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo led a mutiny that quickly derailed into a full-scale coup d’état on March 22nd, deposing the democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Touré.

The chaos in Bamako led the northern rebels, fighting with Islamist group Ansar Eddine (Defenders of the Faith), to take the north’s three main cities, Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal, in three successive days from March 30 to April 1. Since then, Ansar Eddine has split from its alliances with the MNLA and taken control of much of Timbuktu Gao and Kidal, and have allied themselves with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a group whose roots lie in the Algerian Islamist movement.

Fraught by the loss of the north and chaos in the south as the junta leaders spar with the shaky transitional government for power, Mali is facing an existential crisis of proportions it has never before experienced. AQIM has controlled swathes of territory in the Sahara for years, but now the group seems to have unfettered access to major Saharan cities like Timbuktu.

Despite their limited size of a few hundred fighters, no other al-Qaeda branch has a safe-haven as large as theirs; Mali’s north is the size of France. Recent reports of sharia law established in Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu suggest that al-Qaeda now plays a major role in the administration of cities and is moving away from its ‘traditional’ role of roving bands of Kalashnikov-wielding fighters traversing the desert sands in Toyota Hilux convoys.

Regional leaders have rung the alarm bells in the past few weeks. Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz recently drew comparisons to Afghanistan on French radio RFI, remarking that “all the ingredients are there to make Mali an Afghanistan.” The security threat constituted by AQIM is “France’s number one issue in Africa,” according to a leaked 2010 diplomatic cable, while Algerian defense minister Abdelmalek Guenaizia remarked to Africom commander Gen. Ham in 2009 that “these are not simple warlords we are facing…no country is safe. We need to remain vigilant.”

American Military Engagement

American counter-terrorism strategy in the Sahel took shape after the September 11th attacks, when in 2002, the Pentagon launched the “Pan-Sahel Initiative”, a training-based program that transformed into the “Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership” (part of the US’ larger war on terror in the region, “Operation Enduring Freedom: Trans-Sahara”), a multi-lateral program focusing on “capacity-building” to “fight terrorism” in nine Sahelian countries.

Since 2005, the US has spent more than $500 million on the operation, and in January 2007 George W. Bush inaugurated Africa Command, or Africom, a new Pentagon command focusing exclusively on Africa. Less than a month later, the Algerian group known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) rebranded itself as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Much of the engagement with Sahelian states, whether diplomatic or military, is done in conjunction with France, the most influential external power in the region.

American military strategy in the Sahel reflects American foreign policy in Africa on the whole: it is not a very high priority on the global scale, and it is focused on the consolidation of “democracy,” which roughly translates to semi-transparent elections, privatization of key industries, a president, a parliament and rhetoric from the executive branch extolling liberal democratic freedoms. When the US has special interests in the country, however, like in Equatorial Guinea, Uganda or Algeria, the bar for these requirements lowers dramatically.

Driven by the fear of African perceptions of American military intervention in Africa as imperialist, Africom has been keen to “adopt a low profile,” said Abdou Abdelkader, editor-in-chief of the Mauritanian news website Al Akhbar. Africom commanders repeatedly stress on overseas trips that they are not seeking to open any new military bases in Africa. In the Sahel, the US also wants to avoid being seen as butting in on “a region viewed as a French sphere of influence” and risk alienating a strong ally, according to Abdelkader.

Thus it comes as no surprise that America is extremely hesitant to put boots on the ground to fight al-Qaeda in the Sahel and has (for the most part) limited its activities to training and material support. A leaked 2009 diplomatic cablemulls the dangers of an Iraq-like unilateral war in the fight against AQIM: “If we act without international partners, the countries of the region will be highly suspicious of our motives and will refuse to cooperate or will work against us. In addition, if other donors are left out, they may be suspicious of our motives and presence and advise regional countries to resist U.S. initiatives.”

When Africom wanted to have a larger say in the region, the State Department, wary of the extremely negative diplomatic effects, has intervened against the military command. In a leaked diplomatic cablefrom the US embassy in Mali in 2009, for example, the ambassador argued against Africom’s idea of sending “advisers” to aid the Malian army against AQIM on the northern battlefield, saying that “U.S. advisers would likely serve as lightening rods, exposing themselves and the Malian contingents to specific risk.” The Mauritanian journalist Abdelkader also argued that “any direct intervention by a foreign force would end up serving the goals of the terrorist groups.”

Yet despite the Americans’ stated desire to walk softly in Africa, recent remarks point to a more active future for the US military on the continent as African leaders seek security for their regimes. “We keep getting asked to do more and more and more, and go to more places…I don’t recall anybody saying, ‘We don’t want you to come here anymore,” Africom’s chief-of-staff Gen. Carter F Ham recently said.”

Wikileaks cables from the Sahel region back up Gen. Ham’s comments. A cursory overview of cables leaked from the embassy in Bamako shows that President Touré and Malian army generals repeatedly requested more training and materials like aircraft and weapons from the US during their tenure. In a 2009 cablefrom the embassy in Nouakchott, Mauritania, then-Prime Minister Moulaye Ould Mohame Laghdaf told embassy officials that “the role of the U.S. is essential, and no one but the U.S. can help Mauritania as much as the U.S.”

Breakdown of Security in Sahel

An instructive example of future American military engagement in the Sahel region is in Mali itself, which during the Touré years was perhaps America’s strongest ally in the region. In a 2007 diplomatic cablehighlighting this close relationship, President Touré told the American ambassador “he had recently heard a report on Radio France that described Mali as the ‘favorite child’ of the U.S. President Touré said he was extremely happy to hear Mali described as such and that he agreed with the description,” and added "you can count on us”.

But when the results of America’s partnership with its “favorite child” are measured against its principles of action, the relationship starts to tear at the seams. Major Kelly Cahalan, a public affairs officer at Africom described in an email interview that Africom’s activities “strengthen counter-terrorism and border security, promote democratic governance, reinforce bilateral military ties, and enhance development and institution building. This increases their capacity and capability to deny safe haven to terrorists and ultimately defeat violent extremist organizations in the region.”

In regards to Mali, Cahalan’s description could not be further from reality. After a decade of training and other military-to-military engagements with the Malian army, the country has completely imploded. In the past five years, AQIM has grown to its strongest-ever point, dominating a territory the size of France that is the largest al-Qaeda safe-haven in the world today.

Malian soldiers have suffered humiliating defeats in the north, and in the face of advancing rebel groups in March, they completely abandoned their positions. The army has not gotten more democratic, in fact just the opposite. Amadou Haya Sanogo, the junior officer who led the March 22 coup that deposed the country’s democratically-elected president, received years of training in the US.

The ‘model of democracy’ that Mali was known to be before the coup crumbled under the weakest of attacks, leading many to question how strong its base was in Malian society. A group of left-leaning Malian politicians and intellectuals released a statement after the coup that basically amounted to a ‘good riddance’ letter to the corrupt Malian political class, while one of the Malian establishment’s most vocal critics, Aminata Traoré, argued that “democracy was a smokescreen for business interests.”

Although the influx of fighters and weapons from Libya sparked the final destruction of the Malian state, “both democracy and the state in Mali were always extremely fragile,” University of Witswatersrand professor and renowned African politics philosopher Achille Mbembe said in an interview.

Gregory Mann, a Mali expert at Columbia University, explained that while “Malian democracy has some kind of grassroots depth… if you want to talk about democracy as elections that are more or less transparent, the strength of institutions and presumably the presence of political parties of some kind, then that kind of democracy I think people in Mali are largely fed up with.”

Mann adds, “it seems like there are a lot of questions that people ought to be asking, not about philandering Secret Service agents in Cartagena, but about what the hell was going on in the Sahel over the last twenty years.”

Flawed Strategy

In Mali, one of the reasons America’s partnership with Touré’s regime ultimately failed to produce positive results in the country is that the aid strategy in general is shortsighted. West African armies, many of which owe their legitimacy to the colonial struggle, are ultimately patronage networks that consider securing the country a task secondary to making money.

There have been very few African wars between states for African armies to fight, and thus armies themselves – rent-collecting groups that thrive because they have consolidated the means of violence in the country – often play major roles in underdevelopment and stagnation. Efforts to keep the military out of politics in Mali, for example, led to its “embourgeoisement” and the neglect of its real purpose, said African politics expert Mbembe. To compound the problem, Western officials tend to overlook corruption and human rights abuses if the governments in question are happy to cooperate with them and say the right things in public.

In Mali’s western neighbor Mauritania, the current President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz seized power from a democratically elected president in a 2008 coup d’état and used the terrorist threat as a justification. A year later, Aziz took off the military uniform, held elections and won them. Since then, “Aziz has presented himself to the West as the Rambo of the Sahara,” according to Mauritanian journalist Abdelkader. “He tries to make the terrorism question a bogeyman to unite Mauritanians around him in the face of growing calls for his military regime to step down,” he added.

Despite Aziz’s lack of democratic credentials, the French and Americans view his regime as the “spearhead” in the fight against AQIM, State Department officials said in a 2010 Wikileaks cable. In Algeria, critics have accused the political and military class that has clung to power since the independence struggle of taking advantage of insecurity in the Sahel to oppress domestic opposition, which mostly comes from moderate Islamist groups.

Most Sahelian armies – including those of key state actors Algeria, Mauritania and Mali, as well as AQIM – are thought to contain elements that profit from the increasingly lucrative drug smuggling business through the Sahara desert, yet the most basic facts about the drug trade are missing. Mali expert Gregory Mann calls the trafficking issue “no pun intended, the million-dollar question.”

Another element that clouds Western diplomatic judgement in the Sahel is the tendency to view things in black and white, while the reality on the ground is much more muddled. “We hold the [junta] directly responsible for the increasing suffering of the Malian people,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on May 11. But this view neglects the foreign nature of the conflict in the north, which provided the spark for the coup: the arms come from Libya, the jihadists from Algeria and Mauritania, and the militarization of the region is led by the US and France.

Regional politics and rivalries between states like Morocco and Algeria and Algeria and Mali are often put on the back burner, despite their central role to the conflict.

The Future of Sahel

The West African regional body ECOWAS, under the tutelage of Alassane Ouattara – the Ivorian president whose ascension to power was made possible by French air strikes – has championed a Western-approved response to the problem in Mali in order to ensure a cosmetic democracy through sanctions and militarization. A president and a prime minister have been set up and they’ve made promises to hold elections, despite the fact that their mandate was only for forty days and that real power still lies with the military junta.

ECOWAS has also decided to send troops to aid the Malian army in its eventual fight against the northern rebels. But this is contingent on two things: a Malian government inviting them, and American and French logistical support, both of which are beyond ECOWAS’ control.

Even if the ECOWAS forces were to eventually make its way to Mali, the general outlook for success in any mission in the unforgiving desert terrain against the Tuareg and Salafi rebels is quite low. “If you can imagine these 3,000 wonderful ECOWAS soldiers being marched up from wherever they’re going to be marched up from and simply going to attack the Tuaregs, it would simply be a disaster,” said British anthropologist Jeremy Keenan. “It would be ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ without any glory in it at all, they’d just get butchered,” he said.

The void of ECOWAS and African Union solutions has led some African leaders to pine for more Western aid. Benin’s President Thomas Yayi Boni, who currently chairs the African Union, recently target="_blank">told French radio RFIthat “we do not want to have an African Afghanistan, which is why we think that, as a permanent member of the Security Council, France can play a leadership role. My wish is that President Hollande can play a leadership role to ensure that problems in Africa can be examined carefully.” Niger’s foreign minister also said on RFIthat “the military option is the only option” and implied that the West could support a possible intervention with air strikes.

But if African leaders don’t have the answers, a glance into recent history reveals that neither do the French nor the Americans, and looking to them brings more problems than it solves.

Kenya: Four buried alive in collapsed Nairobi building
The Standard:

At least four people have been confirmed dead in the tragedy of the collapsed house which caved in burying construction workers inside it.

The four-storey building collapsed in the sprawling Mlolongo area on the outskirts of Nairobi and trapped several manual workers inside. Police and rescue workers are still camped at the scene.

Eight of the workers who sustained injuries are admitted at Kenyatta National Hospital with various injuries. Some suffered multiple fractures and others sustained tissue injuries.

The building, which was still under construction, caved-in at about 6pm on Saturday leaving several occupants, including customers in a restaurant on the ground floor trapped in the debris.

“Eight rescued in Mlolongo collapsed building, others trapped, one feared dead. Kenya Red Cross in rescue efforts,” the Kenya Red Cross tweeted a few minutes after 8pm on Saturday. Those rescued were rushed to Kenyatta National Hospital.

Witnesses at the scene said voices could be heard from the debris of the four-storey collapsed building.

Witness Saturday said that the owner of the building was seen in the second floor inspecting his property moments before it collapsed.

A resident told The Standard Digital the building appeared to have been constructed on a swampy area and its foundation could not hold the other three-storeys.

The Kenya Red Cross and Nairobi City Council fire brigade personnel and other rescuers burned the overnighht oil in a bid to save more lives.

Nairobi PPO Anthony Kibuchi and his team were on was on site with his officers and confirmed the death toll stood at four and rescue efforts are still going on.

Libya: Army clashes with armed group in southeast Libya
TRIPOLI, (Xinhua): Clashes erupted between Libyan army forces and an armed group Friday night and lasted into Saturday morning in the southeastern city of Kufra, leaving four soldiers injured, a security official of the city said.

Masha Alah Abdul Hamid, head of the Kufra security committee, told local media on the phone that an armed group opened fire on the army forces in Dakhiliya Street of the city, and the army forces responded to the attacks.

He said the army forces have surrounded the armed group, while the latter are firing random mortar shells on the civilian population in the city and have deployed snipers on building roofs in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Cote d'Ivoire: UN hits out at killings of Ivory Coast peacekeepers

The United Nations has condemned an ambush that killed seven peacekeepers in Ivory Coast. The soldiers were killed in an area prone to attacks by forces loyal to the country’s former president.

UN envoy to Ivory Coast, Bert Koenders, said late on Friday that the peacekeepers were part of a patrol in an area where their presence had been boosted after threats of attacks against civilians.

Koenders said the mission would "take all necessary measures following this grave violation of international law."

He condemned the attack, in the remote southwest of the country, "in the strongest possible terms."

Spokesman for the UN's peacekeeping operations, Kieran Dwyer, said reinforcements would be moved into the area by daylight.

Some 40 peacekeepers were reported to have been staying the area overnight to protect villagers against an attack.

The group Human Rights Watch said in a report published on Wednesday that at least 40 people have been killed since April last year, in raids by fighters based in neighboring Liberia loyal to former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo.

Gbagbo has been in custody in The Hague since November, charged with crimes against humanity.

Violence broke out after a presidential vote in 2010, which was won by present head of state Alassane Ouattara. Gbagbo refused to surrender until he was defeated by French and UN-backed local forces in April last year. The UN has had a peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast since 2004.

rc/ch (AFP, AP, Reuters),,16010774,00.html
Congo: 200 mutineers killed by gov't forces in eastern DR Congo
KINSHASA, (Xinhua): At least 200 mutinous soldiers have been killed, 250 others wounded and another 374 detained in the month-long fight with the government forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo)'s eastern province of North Kivu.

In an official statement released on Wednesday, the Congolese minister in charge of relations with parliament, Lambert Mende, made the disclosure, while admitting the DR Congo Armed Forces (FARDC) had 40 officers slain and 93 others wounded in the clash.

The government congratulated FARDC for its determination and discipline demonstrated in the mutiny-induced crisis.

The minister pledged continued logistical support and human resources for the government army.

"The objective being pursued by the government is not to crush everything and anyone, but to restore peace for all the Congolese people irrespective of their community," Mende said.

He said the ongoing war is a matter of all Congolese, especially those in the east who have decided on peaceful means instead of the culture of violence in the settlement of their differences.

Editor: Yang Lina

Libya: Tripoli airport crisis resolved after Libyan militia surrenders
Tripoli's international airport is to resume full operation in 24 hours after a militia blocking the airport tarmac agreed to surrender following the intervention of government-aligned militias.

Clashes broke out between Libyan militias at the airport after gunmen from the al-Awfea Brigade drove armed pickup trucks onto the tarmac and surrounded planes, forcing the airport to cancel flights.

The al-Awfea Brigade occupied the airport for several hours demanding the release of their leader whom they said was being held by Tripoli's security forces.

Leaders of militias which became part of the government's official security forces after the war which ousted Muammar Gaddafi said they had intervened to stop the fighting, in which they said 10 people were injured, without government leadership.

Government spokespeople were not available for comment much of the day but later said the situation had been resolved.

"The airport will resume operation within 24 hours. I heard there were some injured," government spokesman Nasser al-Manee told a late night press conference, without giving a number of those wounded in the clashes.

Weeks before a planned election, Libya's new rulers are struggling to assert control over an array of former fighters who still refuse to lay down their arms after last year's war.

Western military intervention in Libya last year brought with it an influx of weapons, with Gulf Arab states also supplying arms to rebels who continue to undermine the country's stability.

A member of the Awfea militia, which came from the city of Tarhouna, 80km southeast of Tripoli, said the militia believed their leader, Colonel Abu Oegeila al-Hebshi, had been detained by the Tripoli Security Committee on Sunday night.

"We are protesting his kidnapping by coming to this airport," Anas Amara said. "We have one tank outside the airport and our cars are surrounding the airplanes so they don't fly."

Violence later broke out when militia groups from Tripoli and the mountain town of Zintan arrived to try to get the Awfea militia to leave the airport.

Hakim Buhagir, leader of a Tripoli brigade, said they persuaded the Awfea fighters to hand over their weapons.

"We negotiated with them and promised them we would help find their leader within three days and they were convinced," he said.

"We let them go after confiscating their heavy weapons and drafting a list of their names."

By nightfall former fighter brigades had helped to restore calm, but the airport remained non-operational.

Eleven planes including Austrian Airlines and Alitalia aircraft stood vacant on the tarmac, and more than 30 pickup trucks fitted with anti-aircraft weapons stood idle nearby, securing the location.

"The revolutionaries of Libya freed the airport today, not the government," Essam al-Gatous, leader of one brigade, said.

Monday's violence is the latest in a series of incidents as the North African country prepares for its first free polls for a national assembly since last year's war.

Disgruntled former fighters have held regular protests that at times have turned violent. Last month, one person was killed and several were wounded when militiamen protesting outside the prime minister's office started shooting.

In November, about 100 Libyans surrounded a Tunisian passenger aircraft at Tripoli's Mitiga airport, delaying its takeoff in an anti-government protest.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

Nigeria: Plane crash in Lagos kills 153
Daily Times:

All 153 people on board the aircraft have been confirmed dead. The Government has declared three days of mourning.

The police have found the voice recorder of the Dana Airlines aeroplane that crashed in Ariya area in Iju local government area of Ogun State.

The aircraft was bringing passengers to Lagos from Abuja, said Harold Denuren, head of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, and was carrying 153 passengers. It is the second Nigerian plane to crash in the last 24 hours.

Mr. Demuren confirmed that all 153 people on board died in the crash.

A resident of the area said the aircraft exploded as soon as it crashed, affecting three houses in the area.

Officials of the Lagos Fire Service and other rescue workers arrived promptly at the scene and began evacuating victims.

Other witnesses say the plane crashed into two buildings at Agbado Crossing which are now on fire. So far there has been no word concerning the occupants of the buildings.

Plane was not airworthy

Meanwhile, a senior official of Dana Airlines, who did not want his name published, has just confirmed to Daily Times that the plane which crashed on Sunday had been undergoing repairs for several weeks.

"The station manager protested its use but the Indian management insisted it should fly," he said.

High profile casualties

Sources at Dana Airline have confirmed that Ehime Aikhomu, son of former Vice President, Late Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, and his wife, Rebecca Aikhomu, were among the passengers of the ill-fated flight.

Also, Levi Ajuonuma, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation’s (NNPC) Group General Manager, Corporate Affairs, was onboard the aircraft.

In a statement, the NNPC said that that Ajuonuma was travelling to Lagos for an official assignment.

All 153 passengers and crew are believed to have been killed in the plane, which left Abuja for Lagos on Sunday afternoon.

Authorities at the airline say standard procedure is that the families of the victims would be notified before their names are made public.

Rescue effors continue

The number of residents lost to the crash is yet to be ascertained, but a boy of about 11 years was said to have been rescued. An eye witness said he saw three dead persons being brought out from the wreckage, two dead children and an adult.

Mr Fadipe, Acting Director of the Lagos State Fire Service, told us that no one had been rescued alive (7:30p.m), but that people likely to still be trapped in the one of the affected buildings.

Two buildings were affected: a two-storey residential building and a printing press.

The poor access road and crowd control have been the major challenge, even affecting fire fighters from gaining access to the fire.

"Our job is crucial to the rescue efforts; without us doing our job, other rescue teams cannot gain access to even rescue any survivors that may be trapped in the building," Fadipe said, adding that he had sent a message to the police to help with crowd control.

As of this moment (11:30pm) they have not brought out any of the victims from the plane as rescue team have not yet succeeded in opening the cabin.

List of the dead

Onyeka Anyene; Hurria Lawal; Maimuna Anyene; Bakisumiadi Yindadi; Ebuka Enuma; Oluchi Onyeyiri; Sunday Enuma; George Moses; Ogechi Njoku; Noah Anyene; Kamsiyona Anyene; Stanford Obrutse; Kaiyenotochi Anyene; Okeke Hope; Rev. Ayodeji Cole; Ngozi Cole; Noah Anyene; Ailende Ehi; Oluwasegun Funmi Abiodun; and Shehu Sahad Usman.

Others were Alade Martins; Onita Jennifer (Mrs); Onita Josephine; Ike Ochonogo; Joy Alison; John Ahmadu; Akowe Fatokun Anjola; Fatokun Olaoluwa; Fatokun Ibukun; Buhari Maikudi; Amina Idris Bugaje; Ajani Adenle; IkeAbugu; Adijolola Abraham; Obot Emmanuel; Otegbeye Hadiza; Ehioghae Sunny; Onwuriri Celestine; Abikalio Otatoru; Noris Kim; Eyo Bassey; Njoku Charles; Anibaba Tosin; Okocha Christopher; Sobowale Femi; and Phillip Chukwu Ebuka.

Others were Sparagano Lawrence; Somolu Oluwakemi; Ariyibi Temitope; Meche Eke; Ojugbana Amaka; Ojugbana Christopher; Buna Walter; Coker Olumide; Lilian Lass; Mutittir Itsifanus; Yusuf Alli; Lt. Col. Jumbo Ochigbo; Eribake Wale; Zhai Shuta;

Also on the list were Wang Yu; P. Awani; O. Awani; N. Chidiac; Rijoel Dhose; Li Hizha; Apochi Godwin; Lang Yi; Yinusa Ahmed; Faysal Inusa; Mojekwu Adaobi; Ibrahim D; Bamaiyi Adamu; Ifekowa Jones; Peter Nosike; Anthony Nwaokocha; Mahmud Aliyu; Nnadi John; Akweze Elizabeth; Dorothy Adedunni; Echeidu Ibe; Maria Okulehi; Jennifer Ibe; Okoko junjip; Sarah Mshelia; Ahmed Mbana; Okonji Patrick; Oyosoro Rajuli; Oyosoro Ugbabio; Kaikai Farida; David Kolawole Fortune; Eyinoluwa David Kolawole; Kaltum Abubakar; and Dakawa Mahmud.

Others were Patience Sunday Udoh; Asuquo Iniebong; Onemonelese Aimeihi; Onyeagocha Chidinma; Onyeagocha Ogechi; Ike Okoye; Amaka Raphael; Ijeoma Onyinjuke; Garba Abdul; Aisha Abdul; Benson Oluwayomi; Anthony7 Opara; Taiwo Lamidi; Awodogan Olusanmi; Obi Chinwe; Shaibu Memuna; Major I.G Mohammed; Nagidi Ibrahim; Attah Anthonia; Shaibu Sam; Ifeanyi Orakwe; Obinna Akubueze; Li Rui; Xie Zhenfeng; Oko Eseoghene; Chukwuemeka Okere; Adetunbi Adebiyi; Ibrahim Mantakari; Was Ruth; Wasa Awiyetu; Ojukwu Alvana; Lawal Anakobe; Nabil Garba; Mohammed Falmata; Ibrahim Jangana; Okikiolu Olukayode; Komolafe Olugbenga; Dike Chinwe; Dike Chike Ezugo; Olusola Arokoyo; Adetola Ayoola; Akinola Olumodeji; Olukoya Banji Saka Otaru; Adeleke Oluwadamilare; Yusuf Ibrahim; Ikpohi Obiola; Aikhomu Ehimen; Levi Ajuonuma; Mbong Eventus.

Nigeria: 12 killed in Nigeria suicide bombers attack
BAUCHI, (Xinhua): At least 12 people were killed and several others injured when a suicide bomber attacked a church in Nigeria's northern city of Bauchi on Sunday, witnesses said.

The suspected suicide bomber detonated his explosives at the premises of Harvest Field Church in Yeruwa area of the state.

A Xinhua reporter in the city said he counted 12 dead bodies at the scene of the attack, noting that the church was badly damaged as a result of the attack.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) spokesperson Yushau Shuaib told Xinhua that the agency had mobilized response agencies on a rescue mission to the scene of the explosion.

Soldiers cordoned off the site of the explosion barring civilians from entering the area.

No organization has claimed responsibility for the blast yet.

Editor: Deng Shasha

Kenyan police confirm blast caused by bomb
NAIROBI, (Xinhua): The Kenyan police said initial investigations into Monday's blast which left at least 33 persons injured was caused by a bomb.

Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere, who had earlier attributed the huge explosion in Nairobi to an electrical fault, said investigators point the possibility to criminals using an improvised explosive device.

"Initial examination of the scene indicates that the possibility of a conventional bomb is remote," Iteere said in a statement issued in Nairobi on Monday evening.

"A police team comprising of the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit, the Criminal Investigations Department and Nairobi Area command are on the ground carrying out investigations," Iteere added.

Witnesses said a bag was abandoned next to the shop moments before the powerful explosion, which chattered the Assanands building and surrounding ones.

Kenyatta National Hospital (KHN)'s deputy director of clinical services, Thomas Mutie, said four of the victims were in critical condition, while the rest suffered minor soft tissue injuries and would be discharged as soon as possible.

The Assanands building housing an exhibition was extensively damaged and property of unknown value was destroyed. Neighboring buildings were slightly damaged.

Most owners of stalls, especially on key roads near the building which hosts dozens of small shops, shut them for some hours. There was panic as traders shut the shops and conducted searches to find out if there were any explosives.

Richard Kamau who operates a shop in the shattered building does not remember what happened to his clients after the blast destroyed everything in his shop.

"I am feeling a lot of pain. I felt like I have been hit to my head because I fell down and then glasses followed. Before I could stand up, there was loud explosion and that is how the hell broke. I found my self here," Kamau said at her hospital bed at KNH.

"We were trying to ensure our businesses are safe. This is because the shop that was hit by a blast was a stall. Terrorists my have tried to set up simultaneous attacks," said Beatrice Kiarie, who was called by her employee and told her to shut the stall located on Tom Mboya Street.

She added that they suspected looters could have taken advantage of the confusion and attacked them.

The authorities said security in key installations in Kenya had been put on a high alert since Kenya sent its soldiers to Somalia in October 2011, which sparked threats from the Al-Shabaab group that it will retaliate deep in Kenya.

"The Commissioner of Police would wish to assure the public that this incident will be thoroughly investigated and measures stepped up to ensure that such an explosion does not recur in future," the statement said.

The Somalia-based Al-Shabaab group has not claimed responsibility for the incident and the motive of the attack is yet to be known, although Iteere said it was early to ascertain whether Al-Shabaab is behind the attack.

"The Commissioner of Police is also appealing to the public to avoid speculation on the motive behind it. Any person with information which can assist in the investigations of this case is requested to provide the same to nearest police officer," it said.

Editor: yan

Egypt: Protesters set fire at presidential candidate Shafiq's campaign HQ
CAIRO, (Xinhua): Dozens of angry protesters who didn't want to see a new Egyptian president from the former leadership set fire Monday night at the headquarters of Ahmed Shafiq's campaign Dokki district in the Egyptian capital of Cairo.

Shafiq, who used to be the prime minister of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, ranked second in the first round of Egypt's historical presidential poll.

Thousands of activists flocked to Cairo's Tahrir square to show their anger over the final results of the elections which took place last week, demanding the authority to disqualify Shafiq's candidacy.

Some protestors smashed the content of the headquarter building and set it ablaze, official news agency MENA reported.

Around 11:30 p.m. (2130 GMT), firefighters managed to put out the fire. No casualties were reported. A number of suspects were arrested, MENA reported.

Chairman of the Higher Presidential Election Commission (HPEC), Farouk Sultan, told a press conference here on Monday that among the 12 candidates, Muslim Brotherhood's candidate Mohamed Morsi and Shafiq led the contest, garnering 5.765 million and 5.505 million votes respectively.
Mali rebels merge to create independent Islamic state
Two rebels groups who seized control of northern Mali have agreed to turn their territory into an independent Islamist state. Both groups have grown in power in recent months, capitalizing on political instablity.

Mali's Tuareg rebel National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the al Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine Islamist militants agreed to join forces on Saturday, signing a deal to create an independent Islamist state in the north of the country.

"The agreement reached this evening will see the merging of the two movements - the MNLA and Ansar Dine - to create an independent Islamic state," MNLA spokesman Mohamed Ag Attaher told news agency Reuters.

"It will also see the merging of our two forces and the appointment of an executive authority for the Azawad state," Attaher said from the northern town of Gao, where the accord was signed.

Local residents said the deal was greeted by celebratory gunfire across the city, where the two groups had held talks for several days.

Mali stability threatened

The rebel groups seized control of the north, an area larger than France, two months ago when the country was plunged into chaos in the wake of a military coup. The MNLA had previously said they wanted to create an independent secular state in the north, while Ansar Dine want to impose Sharia law across the west African nation.

Saturday's declaration is likely to further disrupt efforts to return the country to civilian rule.

Former President Amadou Toumani Toure was unseated in the March 22 coup by military officers. Led by Captain Amadou Sanogo the military had objected to the government's handling of a Tuareg rebellion in the north, which began several months earlier.

Despite the appointment of interim president Dioncounda Traore, the military has been reluctant to relinquish its grip on power, hampering efforts to stabilize the country.

ccp/ncy (AFP, Reuters),,15979829,00.html

UN chief welcomes Sudan, S. Sudan's readiness to resume talks
UNITED NATIONS, (Xinhua): UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Thursday welcomed the announcement of the governments of Sudan and South Sudan to resume talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, next week.

"The secretary-general welcomes the announcement of the governments of Sudan and South Sudan to resume talks in Addis Ababa next week under the auspices of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel," said a statement issued here by Ban's spokesman.

"The secretary-general encourages the parties to reconvene in an atmosphere of goodwill and calls on them to demonstrate the flexibility necessary to reach agreement on outstanding issues in accordance with the guidance and deadlines set by the African Union Peace and Security Council and the UN Security Council," said the statement.

South Sudan became independent from Sudan in July 2011, six years after the signing of a peace agreement that ended decades of war between the north and south.

However, the peace between the two countries has been threatened recently by clashes along their common border and outstanding post-independence issues that have yet to be resolved.

Tensions increased over recent weeks after South Sudanese forces moved into the oil-producing region of Heglig in Sudan's South Kordofan state before eventually departing, and Sudanese forces bombed the South Sudanese territory.

The statement said the secretary-general reiterated that the United Nations is ready to help the parties implement their agreements and support the mechanisms established by them.

"He stresses the necessity of commencing the work of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism for peace and security along the border and confirms UNIFSA's readiness to immediately support its operations," said the statement.

The UN Security Council established the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNIFSA) in June last year following an outbreak of violence after Sudanese troops took control of Abyei, a border area disputed between South Sudan and Sudan. This led to the displacement of tens of thousands of people in the weeks before South Sudan became an independent state.

Last week, the 15-nation Security Council extended UNIFSA's mandate for another six months, and demanded the two countries finalize the establishment of an administration for the area in line with an agreement signed last year.

In a unanimously adopted resolution in early May, the Security Council determined that the prevailing situation along the border between Sudan and South Sudan constituted "a serious threat to international peace and security."

It called on the two countries to immediately end hostilities and resume negotiations, and voiced its intention to take "appropriate measures" if the parties did not comply.

Earlier this week, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan Ali Al-Za'tari said that only 5,000 people have returned to Abyei while more than 100,000 people remain displaced. He noted that it was "high time" for humanitarian staff to have access to Abyei from Sudan.

At present, international humanitarian staff are not able to reach Abyei unless they travel via South Sudan.

Editor: An

Egypt wraps up historic election
Egypt prepared to wrap up landmark presidential polls on Thursday after an orderly two-day vote in which candidates pitted stability against the ideals of the uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak's rule.

Polling stations were to close at 9.00 PM, after voting was extended by one hour, with only minor violations reported by the interior ministry.

"Before the revolution, I never voted, because it was not useful. Since then, I have voted in every election because it's my right and my duty," said Ahmed Badreddine, 37, at a polling station in Cairo's Giza neighborhood.

Queues formed outside the voting centers after they opened at 8.00 am with authorities declaring Thursday a holiday to allow public sector employees to cast their ballots.

"We used to consider the president a knight who could solve all our problems, but we have to look at what kind of system we want, not just the person we want," said Ayman Saad, 26, his finger stained purple with indelible ink to show he had voted.

Turnout appeared to vary across the country, with long queues outside some polling stations, and scant participation in others.

The official body supervising the election estimated that around 50 percent of eligible voters cast their ballot, lower than the 62 percent in the parliamentary elections.

Around 50 million voters were choosing among 12 candidates, with the front runners divided between Islamists who say they will champion the uprising's goals and Mubarak-era ministers.

Among the contenders was former foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Moussaseen as an experienced politician and diplomat. But like Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak's last prime minister, he is accused of ties with the old regime.

The powerful Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohammed Mursi, faces competition fromAbdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh, a former member of the Islamist movement who portrays himself as a consensus choice with a wide range of support.

Two of the candidates are expected to go into June run-offs after the May 23 and 24 vote, with pollsters saying the number of undecided voters made the result of the first round extremely difficult to predict.

At a school in the upmarket Cairo neighborhood of Heliopolis, with the dome of Mubarak's former presidential palace visible a few hundred meters away, hundreds of women braved the heat to stand in line to vote.

Noha Hamdy, 27, said it was a pleasant novelty to be voting in an election where the outcome is not predetermined.

"We go to an election not knowing who will win. I never voted before because the winner was always known in advance," she said.

"This time I feel who I vote for, even if he doesn't win, will make a difference."

The next president will inherit a struggling economy, deteriorating security and the challenge of uniting a nation divided by the uprising and its sometimes deadly aftermath, but his powers are yet to be defined by a new constitution.

"The big challenge for the president will be to attract foreign investors and boost tourism," to "restore the balance of payments" and "restore the reserve" currency in the central bank, which has dropped by half in the past year, Mahmoud Abdel Fadil, a Cairo University economics professor, said.

To do that, the new president will have to "reestablish political stability and assure a level of total security. Confidence must be restored," he added.

The election seals a tumultuous military-led transition from autocratic rule marked by political upheaval and bloodshed, but which also witnessed democratic parliamentary elections that saw Islamist groups score a crushing victory.

Ballot boxes from Wednesday were kept overnight in the stations after being sealed with wax by election commission officials and left under military and police protection.

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, in power since Mubarak's ouster, has vowed to restore civilian rule by the end of June, after a president is elected, but many fear its withdrawal from politics will be just an illusion.

The army, with its vast and opaque economic power, wants to keep its budget a secret by remaining exempt from parliamentary scrutiny, maintain control of military-related legislation and secure immunity from prosecution.

Mubarak, 84 and ailing, is being held in a military hospital on the outskirts of Cairo where he awaits the verdict of his murder trial on June 2.

The former dictator is accused of involvement in the killing of some 850 protesters during the uprising and of corruption.

(Al-Akhbar, AFP)

Mali's interim president Traore goes to France for medical checks
BAMAKO, (Xinhua): Mali's Interim President Dioncounda Traore has left Bamako for Paris on Wednesday to have cardiac testing after he was attacked by demonstrators, according to government sources.

Traore was attacked and injured Monday in Bamako by demonstrators supporting the coup d'etat of March 22.

The transitional Prime Minister, Cheick Modibo Diarra, has replaced Traore to chair the regular session of the Board of Ministers on Wednesday, the sources said.

On Monday, a group of pro-coup demonstrators burst into the presidential palace and beat the president, resulting in the injury of the head of the interim head of the state.

The demonstrators were reportedly oppose the extension of the mandate of the interim presidency brokered by the Economic Community of the West Africa States (ECOWAS).

The ECOWAS mediators had worked hard to get the military junta to agree to step aside and allow Traore, the former head of the national assembly, to lead a one-year transition before new elections are held.

On Wednesday, The National Committee for Redressment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDRE) in a statement signed by its president Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, strongly condemned the acts of aggression that can not justify any expression of opinion.

Editor: Mu Xuequan

Somalia: Somali troops, AU peacekeepers advance on key Al-Shabaab stronghold
MOGADISHU, (Xinhua): Somali government forces backed by African Union peacekeeping troops on Tuesday moved on positions of the anti-government group Al-Shabaab on the outskirts of the capital Mogadishu, officials said.

The allied forces launched the operation on the town of Afgooye, 30 km northwest of Mogadishu which is one of the key towns that remains under the control of the Al-Shabaab fighters.

The town is close to the camp of Elasha Biyaha which houses hundreds of thousands of displaced people who fled from the Mogadishu during the height of the violence back in 2007 and 2008.

The AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia said in a statement the operation was aimed at bringing peace and security to the "largest concentration of displaced people in the world."

The AU said they were trying to avoid built-up areas and that the African peacekeepers and Somali national army were making progress against Al-Shabaab.

"The Afgoye corridor holds one of the biggest concentrations of internally displaced people in the world. We are helping them by building security so that they can share in the economic revival of the capital. They will now be able to access humanitarian services and eventually return to their original homes in Mogadishu," Wafula Wamunyinyi, the Deputy Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, said in a statement.

The radical group of Al-Shabaab which is allied to al Qaida said it has repulsed the offensive by AU and Somali government forces.

Witnesses say that the rebels were forced to flee key positions on the outskirts of the capital Mogadishu including a key airstrip in the suburban district of Deynile. Residents have started to flee from their homes as fighting closed in Afgooye.

Reports said the Al-Shabaab commanders in Afgooye were using loudspeakers mounted on vehicles to call on people to join the fight against Somali government troops and AU peacekeepers.

Somali government military commanders said that the allied forces were closing to the main town of Afgoye on two fronts while a strategic supply route linking southern and central provinces controlled by Al-Shabaab was taken by government forces and AU peacekeepers.

The Al-Shabaab has lately been losing ground to Somali government forces and AU troops. Its fighters fled Mogadishu last year after intense offensive by Somali troops and AU peacekeepers.

Editor: Mu Xuequ

Egypt's presidential vote begins
CAIRO, (Xinhua): Egyptians went to polls on Wednesday morning to elect a new president after the fall of ex-President Hosni Mubarak last year.

The polling stations opened at 8:00 a.m. (0600 GMT) across the country under tight security of police and troops. There were long queues in front of many polling stations in Cairo. The vote is expected to be the most free and fair of its kind in the past 60 years in Egypt.

There are about 50 million eligible voters, who will select one from 12 presidential candidates. Top hopefuls include former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, Islamist Aboul Fotouh, Freedom and Justice Party chairman Mohamed Morsi and former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq and left-wing Nasserist Hamdeen Sabahy.

Government employees have one day off for the voting. School classes were halted. Polling stations close at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) for the two-day voting.

To ensure the transparency and fairness of the elections, 14, 500 judges and 65,000 public servants were deployed nationwide to monitor the process. Three foreign civil society organizations and 49 local ones were allowed to observe the event. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is also in Egypt to monitor the election with his Carter Center.

The one-week voting for overseas Egyptians ended on May 17, with the results yet to be announced.

The ruling military council has vowed to ensure free and fair elections and urged citizens to participate.

Citizens' participation would send a message to the world that the polls are conducted in free will, said Major General Mohamed el-Assar, member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) on Tuesday.

The general told reporters that people would accept the results and that the new president would meet their demands.

Analysts say it is unlikely to have a clear winner in the first round as votes will much divided among popular candidates. The run- off will be held in June. To win the election requires a candidate to win over 50 percent of the votes.

The results of the presidential polls will be announced on June 21. The SCAF, who took over power from Mubarak, is expected to transfer power to the new president by June 30, which marks the end of the transitional period.

As the standoff about the constituent assembly remains, the new president's power is not clear.

Early this year, Egyptians elected a new parliament. The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and Salafist Nour Party occupy more than 70 percent of its seats.

The competition for the presidency is mainly between Islamists and secular politicians.

Algeria: 14 Algerian opposition parties boycott new parliament
ALGIERS, (Xinhua): As many as 14 opposition parties in Algeria decided on Monday to boycott the works of the alleged " illegitimate" newly-elected parliament, claiming that they will neither recognize the parliament nor the future government.

According to a joint statement, the boycott group named their bloc as the Political Front for the Protection of Democracy.

The statement which was obtained by Xinhua said that "after the regime rigged the parliamentary elections of May 10, 2012 ... and after the regime displayed its will to monopolize power by using the state's institutions and means, the Political Front for the Protection of Democracy decided to reject the results of the May 10 elections and to neither recognize the parliament, nor the government that comes out of it."

The bloc also called upon "the political parties which believe in democracy and reject fraud to join this initiative to refuse dealing with the regime process, and to install a constituent assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution in order to form a national unity government."

Among the 14 opposition parties, seven didn't win any seat in the new parliament, while the other seven got all together 28 seats.

Two prominent opposition parties, the Workers' Party (17 seats) and the Front of Socialist Forces (21 seats) have not taken part in the meeting.

The May 10 elections witnessed that the ruling party National Liberation Front and its ally, the National Democratic Rally grabbed 291 out of the 462 seats.

Editor: Mu Xuequan

South Africa wants "Made in Palestine" labels
CAPE TOWN, (Xinhua): South African Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said here on Monday that his country wants products made in the Palestinian territories to be labelled "Made in Palestine."

Products manufactured in the occupied Palestinian territories, and sold in South Africa, should be labelled to indicate their place of origin, Davies said, adding that the move should not be seen as an attempt to boycott Israeli goods.

It is a common practice in other parts of the world, including the European Union, to demand that consumers be informed of a product's origin, the minister said.

"A number of products are entering South Africa as products of Israel, even though they were actually products of the occupied territories," he told reporters.

"Our recognition is the 1967 borders of Israel. There is a distinction between products from within borders and products from territories outside, notably the West Bank."

But he said the government would like to listen to the public opinion before making a final decision.

South African consumers had the right to make buying decisions based on accurate labelling, the minister said.

The government's decision won support from the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU).

COSATU "warmly welcomes and fully supports the decision of the department of trade and industry that certain goods originating from Israel must be re-labelled," spokesperson Patrick Craven said in a statement.

"The federation reaffirms its support for the Palestinian solidarity campaign for boycotts, sanctions, and divestments of Israel."

But Davies' remarks drew criticism from the Jewish community in South Africa. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies said the government's move "has unfortunately politicized a technical trade issue."

"South Africa should not adopt a policy that is discriminatory and inconsistent with how it deals with similar questions relating to products imported from other parts of the world," the group said in a statement.

The South Africa Zionist Federation said Davies relied on the views of groups whose aims were to enforce a regime of boycotts and sanctions against Israel.

"At the same time the minister has refused to meet and consult with interest groups opposed to his position on this matter," it said in a statement.

Editor: Mo Hong'e

Libya: Libyan convicted over Lockerbie bombing dead
The alleged former Libyan intelligence officer convicted in the 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing has died, his family have said.

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the bombing of the Pan Am Flight 103 that killed 270 people, died at home over the weekend after a long battle with cancer, his brother Abdulhakim told Reuters.

Al-Megrahi's family warned last month that he was likely to die in the coming weeks, with his son saying he was on "his last breath."

Al-Megrahi was sentenced to life in prison in Scotland in 2001, but campaigners including families of the victims have long argued he suffered from a miscarriage of justice.

He was released on compassionate leave in 2009 as his health deteriorated, with doctors predicting that he would die of prostate cancer within three months.

Critics charged that his release was politically motivated, coming shortly after relations between Britain and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime improved.

However the families of some of the victims have questioned his original sentence, suggesting the evidence was not strong enough and that he could have been framed.

Jim Swire, whose 23-year-old daughter Flora died in the killings, said the death was a "sad day" as al-Megrahi was innocent.

"This man was nothing to do with the murder of my daughter and I clench my teeth every time I hear newscasters say the Lockerbie bomber has died. He is (just) the man found guilty of the Lockerbie bombing," he told the BBC.

He added that he hoped the death would lead to fresh impetus in the campaign to uncover the real killers.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

Kenya: Swede held in Kenya over suspected terror links
The Local:

Kenyan police arrested a Swedish national suspected to have links with the Somali Islamist militia al-Shabbab, a senior police officer told AFP on Monday.

"He is being interrogated on his mission in the country. We have reason to believe he has terrorism links (with al-Shabaab)," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe confirmed the arrest but declined to provide any further details.

The senior officer said police were seeking to determine if the suspect had links with a wanted German national who is believed to have entered Kenya illegally and could have information "on planned al-Shabaab criminal activities".

The Swedish embassy in Nairobi could not be immediately reached for comment and a spokesperson at the foreign ministry in Stockholm declined to comment on the report..

"I've seen the media reports, but the foreign ministry hasn't received any official information on the case," Catarina Axelsson, a spokesperson with the Swedish foreign ministry, told the Expressen newspaper.

According to Kenyan news website, the man is believed to have overstayed his visa and neglected to renew it.

“He has been charged with being illegally in the country and we intend to ask the courts to fine him before he is deported,” Kiraithe told the Kenyan news site.

The Swede is suspected of having ties to a German national wanted by police in Kenya who reportedly also planned to join al-Shabaab.

“He cannot account some of his time here and there are fears he may have gone to Somalia and came back to recruit more foreigners,” a senior police official who asked not to be named told

Al-Shabaab is an al-Qaeda-linked militia has waged a years-long insurgency against Somalia's weak, western-backed transitional government and controls much of the south and centre of the Horn of Africa country.

AFP/The Local

Nigeria: Gunmen kill three persons in Nigeria's Kano State
KANO, (Xinhua): Three persons were shot dead when unknown gunmen riding on a motorcycle attacked them in northwest Nigeria's Kano State metropolitan on Sunday evening.

Security sources told Xinhua that the gunmen parked their motorcycle and began sporadic shooting and injured five other peoples, while passers-by ran to avoid had been caught-up in crossfire.

"Among those killed by the gunmen include a taxi driver and a prison warder at the joint chatting with their friends," the sources said.

An eyewitness told Xinhua that the gunmen brought out gun when a passer-by alerted the people at the joint that some people are carrying gun and positioned at them, and they quickly began running away when the gunmen opened fire at them.

The gunmen fled the scene of the attack, while the traders and passers-by in the area shut off their activities and rushed to their various houses.

State police spokesperson Magaji Musa Majiya confirmed the attack to Xinhua, but decline to comment on it.

A Xinhua reporter in the state said minutes after the incidence, joint military task force (JTF) arrived the scene and condoned the area with a view to make arrest, while those injured people were taken to undisclosed hospital in the state for treatment.

Editor: yan

Algeria ruling party wins parliamentary election
Algeria's ruling party, the National Liberation Front, has been declared the winner of Thursday parliamentary election. A moderate Islamist alliance suffered losses, despite predictions that it would score well.

The National Liberation Front - known by its French acronym FLN - has been declared the winner of Algeria's parliamentary election, defeating the moderate Islamist "Green Alliance."

According to official results released on Friday the FLN, which has ruled Algeria for the past 50 years, increased its share of seats in the national assembly from 136 to 220. Its sister party in the previous government, the National Democratic Rally, took 68 seats. The two parties now form a majority in the 462-seat parliament.

Turnout was low as had been expected. Some estimates said that more than half of voters did not cast a ballot.

Meanwhile the Islamist Green Alliance came in a distant third, winning just 48 seats. It was a disappointment for the grouping of three moderate Islamist parties after predictions that they would score well in Thursday's election.

Fraud allegations

The Islamist alliance has denounced Friday's result, calling it fraudulent and dangerous for the country.

"There has been large-scale manipulation of the real results announced in the regions, an irrational exaggeration of these results to favor the administration parties," the Green Alliance said in a release.

"It exposes the people to dangers for which we do not want to take responsibility," the alliance added. It warned that Algeria's president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, would be held responsible.

'Vote for safety'

Interior Minister Dahu Ould Kablia rejected the accusations of electoral fraud, calling on the Islamist parties to substantiate their claims.

"There was no fraud," Kablia told a press conference. "If anyone has proof, they have 10 days to present it."

There is a long history of tension between Islamist parties and the ruling FLN in Algeria. In 1991, Islamist parties won parliamentary elections, which the government then annulled leading to a decade-long civil war in which some 200,000 people died.

"The 1991 elections was a vote to punish the FLN, in 2012 it was a vote for safety," said Kablia, adding that Algerians had seen the upheaval in neighboring Tunisia and Libya and opted for stability.

ccp,slk/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters),,15945132,00.html

Mali: Tuaregs' ties with Libya linked to Mali's crisis
Tuareg soldiers from Mali fought for Moammar Gadhafi in Libya until his regime ended in 2011. They returned to Mali and rejoined a long-standing rebellion against the government. Malians blame the crisis on Libya.

Damba Koné pointed to the only valuable thing he managed to bring from Libya last Spring. A massive refrigerator was standing in the alley near his home in Mali's capital Bamako.

For 11 years, Koné was a butcher in Gatrun, a village in southern Libya. According to him, there were only 4 butchers in town. All of them came from Mali.

As the Libyan conflict escalated in early April 2011, Koné sent his wife and four children to Mali by way of Tunisia. Koné stayed behind to pack up their possessions.

Then one night, he lost all of his life savings. Seven armed men broke into his house. They stuck a knife into his arm and made him give up the $15,000 (11,500 euros) he had hidden under his roof.

He crossed over to Niger on a pickup truck a few days later.

When Koné finally arrived in Bamako, he had nothing left but his seven-foot long industrial fridge.

Armed men broke into Damba's house in southern Libya and left behind only his fridge

One year later, Koné is still empty-handed. He hasn't found a job because, according to him, Bamako already has too many butchers. He can't even afford to buy meat for his own children

Officials say about 12,000 Malian migrant workers fled Libya last year, but the numbers are likely much higher.

People like Koné, who left Libya without help from embassies or international organizations, were not registered as returnees.

Malian anger

Oumar Sidibé works with a migrants' advocacy group in Bamako. His statistics show that as many as 30,000 Malians returned from Libya in 2011.

Sidibé attributes the number of Malians in Libya to higher paying jobs. Every region, every ethnic group had sent some of their own to work there, according to Sidibé.

Haruna Traoré worked for a number of Western families in Tripoli. For 10 years, he cleaned their houses, looked after their children, tended their gardens - and rarely lost his smile.

He proudly shows off a certificate from past employers praising his "honesty and cheerfulness."

Now back in Bamako, Traoré struggles to rent an apartment for his family, let alone pay his nine-month-old heart condition.

Like many other migrants who came back from Libya, he's angry at the Malian government for doing nothing to help the returnees.

Haruna Traoré standing next to the few things he brought with him from Libya

His last job came with a guest house for his family of five and paid $700 a month.

Traoré wired his relatives as much as $300, or about five times the average monthly wage in Mali.

The very relatives that Traoré assisted with his income in Libya must now support him and his family. His uncle and grandmother only earn a combined $60 a month from their retirement pensions.

Needing so much help embarrasses him. "I never imagine one day I can be in this situation," he told DW.

Traoré's situation makes him angry. But he's even more furious at Mali's authorities for giving a warmer welcome to those who fought for Moammar Gadhafi's regime, a small, distinctive group of returnees.

Cash for Tuaregs

General Mohamed Ali introduces himself as a "true general." He served under Colonel Moammar Gadhafi for over four decades, earning him the highest military rank and a Libyan passport.

Ali is a Tuareg from Timbuktu who left Mali for Libya in the 1960's. He fought in all of Gadhafi's African wars in Chad, Sudan, and Angola, each time receiving a seven figure bonus for his military skills.

Over the following decades, thousands of Malian Tuaregs found refuge, and a warm welcome in Libya where Moammar Gadhafi portrayed himself as a champion of the Tuaregs' cause.

Ali fought for Gadhafi during all the key battles in last year's uprising. When the regime finally collapsed in the fall, Ali and his Tuareg battalion returned to Mali.

Speaking from Timbuktu through a translator over the phone, General Ali said Malian authorities sent four ministers to greet him and his group with cash. "The people of Kidal who brought weapons received more [cash than I did]," he told DW.

An estimated 2,000 Tuaregs came back to Mali after Gadhafi's fall. Some of them carried light and heavy artillery with them.

Tuareg fighters moving through northern Mali

Malian authorities feared the returning Tuareg fighters would revive a long-standing on-and-off rebellion in North Mali. The first major Tuareg rebellion broke out shortly after Mali gained independence in 1960.

The government lavished tens of thousands of dollars on them to prevent them from rebelling again.

Amadou Waigalo works on migrants' affairs at the Ministry of Malians Abroad. "Everyone knew about it," he said. "The Malian workers who were in Libya for economic reasons protested because they got nothing and they thought that was unfair. But the financial help the Tuaregs received was political."

Tuaregs target government

The money didn't prevent the Tuaregs from fighting. Many of them joined the Azawad National Liberation Movement - known by its French acronym MNLA - and Islamist groups in the fight against the Malian government.

Tuaregs attacked a military base in North Mali mid-January 2012 and then gradually began taking control of towns, including Timbuktu.

The breakaway prompted a humanitarian crisis with over 200,000 people forced to flee, and a coup d'état on March 22.

Mali's junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo led the coup d'etat in late March

By early April, they had taken control of all of Northern Mali's main towns and declared the independence of the Azawad State.

General Ali, who's part of the Azawad Liberation Movement, thinks the declaration of independence was long overdue.

"Don't they have the right to independence? What did South Sudan get? They are the ones who died since 1957, they're fighting and they are people who died for freedom, for independence," he said through a translator.

Libyan links

Most people in Mali agree that the regime change in Libya directly led to the current turmoil in Mali. The influx of armed Tuareg fighters from Libya helped the long-standing simmering rebellion finally achieved its goal.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has also pointed out the link between Mali's crisis and the conflict in Libya last year.

Some call it collateral damage. Others blame NATO for failing to anticipate how disruptive the collapse of Gadhafi's four-decade rule would be for the Sahel region.

Oumar Sidibé, the advocate for Malian migrants, thinks the international community wanted Gadhafi out at all costs, even if his fall brought chaos to the whole region.

He points out that many Africans, including the African Union, raised concerns about NATO's intervention in Libya.

Power struggle

Mali is currently split into two entities with no diplomatic or military solution in sight. A military coup ousted the government in Bamako in March. The newly appointed Interim President is struggling to transfer power back to civilian rule.

Interim President Dioncounda Traoré was sworn in on April 12.

Last week in Bamako, a group of soldiers who've remained loyal to the deposed president staged a "counter-coup." The attempt failed, but killed at least 14 people and plunged the country into even greater uncertainty.

Traoré, the family father in Bamako, fled the conflict in Libya last year only to find his own country sliding toward war.

"And where will I go again? Which place I can go again? I don't know where I'll want to hide myself and with my family," he said.

Author: Marine Olivesi, Bamako, Mali
Editor: Rod Mudge,,15937336,00.html

Egypt’s Presidential vote: US picks its favorite

The upcoming presidential elections could determine Egypt’s future political positioning in a volatile region. Major world powers including the US are monitoring developments with great interest.

It has become clear that the intensification of the presidential election contest in Egypt is not only due to rivalries between the domestic political forces competing over the top job in the country.

Many issues are also at stake at the strategic level, including Egypt’s future regional role and its policy on key issues. These are deemed vital by various players both inside and outside the country, notably the US and Israel, whose policies in the region have been inextricably linked for decades.

Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt, which raised the banner of anti-imperialist national liberation struggle and resistance to Zionism, turned Cairo into a regional superpower that wielded formidable influence throughout the Arab world.

Anwar al-Sadat’s Egypt, which aligned itself with the US and made peace with Israel, was isolated and ostracized by the Arab and Islamic world.

Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, which so aligned itself with Israel that its president became Zionism’s “strategic treasure”, turned in on itself. Its aspirations were confined to sustaining the regime, which the masses brought down in Tahrir Square.

What will tomorrow’s Egypt be like? Which of these models will it adopt? The behaviour of the military establishment will doubtless be important in this regard. Egypt’s economic needs are also a factor that cannot be ignored. But the decisive say will be with the political authority that finally emerges from the belly of the active popular forces that brought down the previous regime.

The forthcoming presidential elections have become the principal arena in which this battle is being fought. Virtually every regional and international power with a stake in the outcome has been exerting whatever influence it can in a bid to secure victory for the candidate it thinks most attuned to its interests.

The major player in this regard may be the US, given its long-established relations in Egypt - with the former regime, the military, and civil society alike - and the enormous influence it wields over the regional actors who are involved in this game.

Regarding this issue, Arab diplomatic sources point to a report that was prepared by US intelligence agencies for the Obama administration, and passed on by the State Department to a number of regional governments. The document both assesses the Egyptian presidential election campaign and makes recommendations for US policy and actions.

The report acknowledges that there is widespread public feeling that Egypt has hitherto been prevented from playing its natural role in the Arab and Islamic world, and that it should take a stronger stand against the US and Israel. It sees the spate of bombings of the pipeline supplying Egyptian natural gas to Israel as a manifestation of this, and warns that it might eventually result in the abrogation of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.

Accordingly, the report argues that the Muslim Brotherhood should be prevented from winning the presidential elections by all means – including by aggravating rivalries with other Islamist groups, including the Salafis and al-Qaeda sympathizers. The diplomatic sources suggested that the recent violent clashes at the defense ministry headquarters may have been an early manifestation of this.

The report recommends that the US support the candidacy either of Amr Moussa, the former foreign minister and Arab League secretary-general, or ex-premier Ahmad Shafiq. The diplomatic sources, however, said that the Americans are aware that Shafiq lacks the charisma, popularity and legitimacy needed to stand any chance of winning, and are in practice backing Moussa. They said a team of British intelligence operatives had been formed to covertly support his candidacy.

The sources stressed that this does not mean this team is working with Moussa, or that he approves or is even aware of it. Yet he remains Washington’s preferred choice because it believes that while he may talk tough on Egypt’s role, Arab solidarity and Palestine, he will not have the power to carry out any promises he makes.

According to the sources , the report adds that if victory cannot be secured for Moussa or Shafiq, the preferred alternative candidate would be independent Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh. It reasons that as he broke off from the Brotherhood, he lacks the mass social base he would need to restore Egypt’s leading regional role, and his victory would also undermine the Brotherhood’s public standing generally. The sources suggest that the disqualification of the Brotherhood’s original candidate, Khayrat el-Shater, may have been the first step towards realizing this scenario.

Although the Brotherhood has kept a low public profile concerning Israel and the peace treaty, the Americans still worry about it, on the grounds that it is the only political force with enough of a mass base and sufficient historical and religious legitimacy to lead Egypt on to a new course in foreign policy. Its traditionally anti-imperialist approach and record of support for the Palestinian cause give it much in common with the Iran’s Khomeinist Islamists in this regard.

“The American priority is, therefore, firstly to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from reaching the presidency, because they carry these characteristics and these ideological genes, and secondly to undermine the appeal of the broader Islamic project, assisted by the weakness of the Brotherhood’s own stands,” the sources said.

These sources also said there were signs that movements were afoot within Egypt to encourage the three Islamist presidential candidates to join forces with Nasserist hopeful Hamdeen Sabahi and rally their supporters behind a single agreed nominee. The aim would be to ensure that a supporter of the Islamist/ Arab nationalist project made it through the first round, thus enabling the country’s two largest popular forces to make their influence felt in determining Egypt’s future place on the region’s geostrategic map.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Algerians are skeptical elections will result in change
Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is counting on elections as a response to his people's discontent. But even if Islamic forces win the polls, far-reaching changes are unlikely.

The parliamentary elections in Algeria on May 10 lie under a particular omen. They are the first elections in the North African country since the wave of Arab revolutions began and the first polls to take place since the state of emergency was lifted in February 2011 after 19 years.

The state of emergency had been imposed in 1992 following elections the previous year in which the radical Islamist party Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won the first round. An army-backed council proceeded to take over power, cancelled the second round of elections and imposed the state of emergency.

What followed was an extremely brutal civil war lasting some 10 years which left over 200,000 people dead. In view of the revolutionary upheaval in Tunisia and Egypt, President Bouteflika was forced last year to lift the state of emergency in order to keep the Algerian regime from experiencing the same turmoil.

A good chance for Islamists

Many experts believe that Islamist powers could win - as they have already in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco. It is however unlikely that a victory of the newly formed Islamist Green Alliance could once again lead to a state of emergency or even to a new civil war. The radical FIS, which long ago officially disbanded, is boycotting the polls on Thursday.

Protests in February 2011 did not escalate further in Algeria

Bouteflika apparently wants to use these elections to blow some steam out of the population's dissatisfaction about poverty and corruption. And a victory by moderate Islamist forces such as the Green Alliance could be to his benefit.

"These elections are clearly being organized to prevent an Arab spring in Algeria," said Rachid Ouaissa, director of the Center for Near and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Marburg. "In order to implement true democratic change, fundamental changes in the role of the army and a complete judicial reform would have to take place."

But Algeria was "still relatively far removed" from this, the German-Algerian political scientist said.

Reminders of civil war

One reason for this is the ossified power structures in the country. No president can govern without the full backing of the powerful military apparatus. Observers assume, though, that the traumatic memories many Algerians have of the bloody years of civil war after 1992 are also stopping the urge for change.

Despite rampant dissatisfaction about corruption, the lack of political freedom and youth unemployment of 45 percent, there was currently "little interest in a broadly based revolutionary movement," said North Africa expert Isabel Schäfer from the Center for Social and Political Research at Berlin's Humboldt University.

President Bouteflika responded to the simmerings of revolt with reforms
"The wounds and trauma of more than 10 years of civil war are too deep," Schäfer said in a guest piece for DW's Arab department.

In fact, Algeria took a different route than its neighbors Tunisia and Libya in the revolutionary year 2011. Although there were serious protests in the capital Algiers in January 2011, this dissent soon ebbed away and left the regime untouched. Economic concessions such as price cuts ensured that the protests in Algiers and other cities did not escalate further.

Elections as a calculated risk

It's rumored that the 75-year-old Bouteflika does not want to end his final term completely without reforms. He is praising the elections as part of an extensive reform package in which the constitution is supposed to be overhauled as well as permitting further political parties and private media.

Observers note that there are indications that the elections will proceed relatively transparent, at least for Algerian standards. Local and international election observers are being permitted this time, including 120 people named by the European Union who have already been accused of espionage in an Algerian media campaign.

In view of the parliament's limited authority, many analysts believe that the regime is taking a well calculated risk with the elections. Algeria is thus following the Moroccan model, Ouaissa said. A victory by moderate Islamist powers is knowingly permitted - while the actual rulers are for the time able to operate without any form of meaningful democratic control.

It is uncertain whether this could initiate far-reaching change for the long term, though. But the majority of Algerians disapprove of violent change like the Libyan model, Ouaissa said.

Calls for boycott

It would however be risky to interpret this stance as approval of the political system. Thousands of young Algerians have already announced on Facebook that they will boycott the elections. Ouaissa sees this movement indicative of the "deep rift" between the ruling elite, whose protagonists are often over 70 years old, and the youth, which make up the vast majority of the population. Many young Algerians don't trust a system that doesn't offer them any eligible employment and opportunities for development. They complain that the citizens are systematically excluded from Algeria's gas and oil wealth.

Several political parties are demonstratively not participating in the elections, for example the Rally for Culture and Democracy, which is deeply rooted in parts of the country's Berber population. In this respect, voter participation will be a significant indication of acceptance for the political system. It was never particularly high. During the last parliamentary elections, official figures said voter participation was a mere 35 percent.

Many experts already now doubt that these elections will even change anything in the population's dissatisfaction. Cosmetic reform steps have in the long term just as little prospect of success as gifts of money, said Schäfer.

"Whenever there is social unrest, state food subsidies were slightly raised in order to pacify the population," Schäfer said. "This strategy will not be able to be maintained for much longer."

Author: Moncef Slimi / sac
Egypt: Candidates suspend campaigns after Cairo killings
Two leading Islamist candidates in Egypt's presidential race suspended campaign events on Wednesday in protest at the way the authorities handled an anti-army protest in Cairo.

"Anything related to campaigning today including voluntary activities on the ground is being suspended," Ali al-Bahnasawy, media adviser to Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh who suspended campaigning indefinitely, told Reuters.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party said the violence signaled an attempt to "obstruct the handover of power" and its presidential candidate, Mohamed Mursi, said he would not campaign for two days to mourn the dead.

Eleven people were killed and more than 160 wounded near Egypt's Defence Ministry on Wednesday after armed men assaulted protesters demanding an end to army rule.

The state news agency MENA said thugs, some of them with guns, had assaulted hundreds of mainly Salafi protesters, many of whom have been camped near the ministry for six days.

Security and medical sources gave a toll of 11 dead and over 160 wounded in the clashes outside the Defense Ministry in central Cairo's Abbasiya district. The fighting raged on unabated through the morning, but subsided in the afternoon.

"Where is the army? Why are they not stopping these people?" cried a bystander as the violence persisted. Shots rang out as young men dashed back and forth across debris-scattered streets, hurling rocks, glass and petrol bombs.

"Down, down with military rule," yelled protesters.

Wounded men were hauled away as others filled bottles with petrol while shots rang out. A Reuters witness saw some combatants carrying guns and one with a sword.

The army sent in extra vehicles and troops, but pledged in a statement not to disperse peaceful demonstrators.

Troops had earlier blocked a road to the ministry with army vehicles, barbed wire and troops in riot gear. Graffiti hostile to the ruling generals plastered walls on a main road nearby.

Days of street violence also preceded the start of a staggered parliamentary election in November.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which topped that poll, said it would boycott a meeting the army had called for Wednesday with political party leaders to defuse a crisis between the Islamist-dominated parliament and the army-backed interim government.

The violence casts a shadow over the presidential election due to begin on May 23 and 24, with a run-off in June, and highlights the fragility of Egypt's transition to democracy which has been punctuated by violence and political bickering.

Many of the demonstrators were supporters of Salafi sheikh Hazem Salah Abu Ismail who was disqualified from the presidential election, drawing accusations that the ruling military council was trying to dictate the result in advance.

There had been some scuffles near the Defense Ministry in recent days but protests had been broadly peaceful.

Residents gathered around a police station in the vicinity after the clashes, demanding that police disperse the protesters, whom they also accused of being thugs.

Protesters often accuse state security of paying or encouraging thugs to quash peaceful demonstrations.

The army, which has pledged to hand over to civilian rule after the presidential election, has faced mounting criticism of its handling of the political transition a popular uprising overthrew US-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

Nevertheless, many Egyptians suspect the generals will seek a strong influence even after the new president assumes power.

Liberal pro-democracy groups, which were also involved in the protests demanding that the army return immediately to the barracks, condemned the attack at the Defense Ministry.

The April 6 Youth Movement decried the "massacres" and demanded the army be held to account for its "crimes committed against the revolution and revolutionaries."

"These practices are a continuation of the cleansing and killing methods which the army council uses to suppress the revolution," April 6 said in a statement.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)
Somalia: Two govt officials dead in central Somalia suicide blast
MOGADISHU, (Xinhua): At least two Somali government officials were killed and dozens of others injured after a suicide explosion hit a cafe in the central Somali town of Dhusamareb, police and witnesses said on Tuesday.

"The suicide attacker detonated his explosives at the cafe and two lawmakers were killed and dozens mostly civilians were injured. All the wounded were taken to the hospital," Omar Aalin, a police officer told Xinhua on phone from Dhusamareb.

Witnesses also reported that a number of key local officials were injured in the blast targeting the cafe, where officials were attending a meeting.

Somali government officials and local leaders are in the region to discuss the formation of an inclusive administration.

Witnesses said the blast that rocked the town of Dhusamareb, capital of the central Galgaduud region, was huge and deafening, causing extensive damage to the cafe.

The town, 550 km north of the Somali capital Mogadishu, is under the control of pro-government moderate militia.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. The Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab has carried out a series of similar attacks in Somalia this year.

The radical group has been driven out of a number of key towns in central and southern regions under military pressure from the government forces, the African Union (AU) peacekeepers, and Kenyan and Ethiopian troops.

Al-Shabaab, which has joined forces with Al-Qaida, vowed to launch guerrilla attacks against Somali government targets and AU peacekeepers based in the capital Mogadishu.

Editor: yan
Tunisian president: Salafis threaten our democracy

The President of Tunisia has said that Salafis in his country pose a “threat to democracy,” but called on his security forces to not resort to the torture and suppression that plagued the country until last year.

In a wide-ranging interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, to be broadcast later on Tuesday but seen exclusively by Al-Akhbar, Moncef Marzouki also said he was opposed to arming the Syrian opposition but said Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was "finished."

Speaking on Assange’s Russia Today chat show Marzouki said the extremist Islamists, who have seen an increase in their influence since the fall of dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali last year, seek to undermine democracy.

“We’re going to face some hard issues, like the Salafist movement, you know – that it's extremely pro-right wing movement here in Tunisia and they are really...they can be a danger to democracy and we have to tackle the problem from the political point of view, we have to discuss with them and so forth,” the interim president said.

“Some of them are not accepting to have any kind of political discussion and some of them are going to present a kind of threat against democracy,” he added.

In recent months Tunisian Salafis have called for the death the owner of an independent TV channel after he broadcast the French film "Persepolis," based on an account of a woman growing up in Iran under religious rule following the 1979 Islamic revolution, while other protests have called for the introducing of non-democratic Islamic rule.

Analysts have said the actions of the Salafis have forced the moderate Islamists Ennahda, the largest party in the parliament, to take more extreme positions.

However Marzouki stressed that Tunisian security forces must not use the repressionary tactics common under former dictator Ben Ali, who was deposed from power last year in a people’ uprising that began a series of revolutions across the Arab world.

“When I talk with the police and the army leaders I say 'Look, we have to take this problem very cautiously but please no more torture and no more unfair trial like we have had under the dictatorships'. We have to take this problem very seriously but to stick on the human right values,” he said.

The Tunisian leader also called for peace in Syria, and distanced himself from calls for foreign intervention.

In February Tunisia hosted the inaugural “Friends of Syria” event, with countries opposed to the regime of Bashar Assad meeting to discuss an action plan for unseating the dictator.

During the same event the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Prince Saud al-Faisal said it was an “excellent idea” to provide weapons to the military opposition in Syria, sparking criticism that the event was pushing for foreign intervention.

Speaking to Assange, Marzouki distanced himself from backing the insurgents and called for a negotiated settlement.

“We are not supporting any kind of foreign intervention in Syria. I do believe that giving weapons to Syrians would lead to civil war. I think it's not a good choice. I still believe that the only solution must be political, and that we have to find common... common ground between opposition and the regime. I still believe that the only solution is the Yemeni scenario,” he said.

Asked about the leader of the Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah, which has backed President Assad’s claims that he is fighting a foreign-backed uprising, Marzouki said he had lost friends in the Arab world with his stance.

“Nasrallah and people like him, you know, think that Syria is... because he's, you know, against Israel they can forgive to this dictatorship everything, but here in Tunisia we don’t have this problem. We are not interested in the fight between Israel and Syria,” said.

“I really... I can’t understand the position of Nasrallah. I can say and tell you that Nasrallah was very, very popular after the... (war) in 2006 because of the battle against Israel, but now, you know, his popularity is completely finished, you know, here in Tunisia and in the whole Arab world.”
Mali: Loyalists to former Malian president fight back
Troops loyal to the ousted government of Mali have begun fighting with forces supporting the military junta in an apparent attempt to speed up the country's transition back to civilian rule.

Soldiers supportive of Mali's ousted president launched a countercoup attempt in Bamako on Monday, battling junta forces that took control of the capital six week ago, witnesses and a junta spokesman said.

"These are elements of the presidential guard from the old regime and they're trying to turn things around," Bacary Mariko, spokesman for the military junta, told the Reuters news agency. "We have the situation under control."

Mariko said the anti-junta soldiers were trying to take control of the airport so they could fly in troops with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has sharply condemned the March 21 coup.

Witnesses said pro- and anti-junta exchanged gunfire in Bamako. Yaya Konate, head of the state broadcaster, which has been under control of the junta since the coup, said soldiers arrived at the building Monday evening. He said the troops belonged to a group known as the Red Berets loyal to ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure.

ECOWAS backs up on deal

Six week ago, Malian military leaders seized power from Toure, criticizing him for his handling of an ethnic Tuareg rebellion in the country's north. ECOWAS signed a deal with coup leader Captain Amadou Sanago to return Mali to constitutional order, allowing the junta to maintain a supervisory role during the transition.

The agreement had the junta handing over power for 40 days to a civilian government before elections by the end of May. Former parliamentary speaker Dioncounda Traore was sworn in as interim president in April.

Leaders at an ECOWAS summit in Ivory Coast on Thursday reneged on part of that agreement, announcing plans to send ECOWAS troops to Mali to protect the offices of the president and prime minister. They also said the interim government should have up to 12 months to prepare for the elections.

Sanago on Sunday condemned the ECOWAS statements and said the earlier agreement should be respected.

acb/ccp (AP, Reuters),,15919520,00.html
Sudan "bombs south" as clashes rage
Sudanese warplanes bombed South Sudanese front-line positions four times over the weekend, while militia forces were attacking South Sudanese troops in border areas, the South Sudanese army said on Monday.

"There is still bombardment in Panakuach," with four bombs dropped near the South Sudanese forward army base, army spokesman Philip Aguer told AFP, the latest violence in weeks of border fighting.

"There has been fighting in Wedakona, Upper Nile state, with Khartoum supported militias" that was still raging early on Monday, he said.

Both sides accuse the other of funding rebel militias in their territory, as part of a proxy war until outstanding issues over contested territory, oil revenues, and borders are resolved.

However, Sudanese army spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad denied they carried out the bombings.

"We didn't bomb any area," Saad said. "We don't have any link with any militia in South Sudan and we don't support any militia there."

Sudanese bomber planes have launched waves of air strikes on South Sudanese military positions, as well as on towns and villages, in the most serious unrest since the South Sudan's independence and which has raised fears of a wider war.

After almost one month of fighting, the African Union last week urged the two sides to cease hostilities within 48 hours, but the violence has continued.

South Sudan seceded peacefully from Sudan in July after 50 years of intermittent civil war. About one million people died in the last round of sustained fighting between 1983 and 2005.

On Sunday, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir issued a resolution declaring a state of emergency in the border states of South Kordofan, White Nile, and Sennar.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)
Nigeria: Eight killed in university explosion
KANO, (Xinhua): Nigeria's police in northwest Kano State on Sunday said eight persons have been confirmed dead following explosions which rocked a worship center at the Bayero University Kano.

State commissioner of police Ibrahim Idris disclosed this to Xinhua on phone from his base in Kano, adding that undisclosed number of people are feared injured.

A Xinhua reporter in the state said the attack is believed to have been carried out by suspected Boko Haram sect members.

Spokesperson for the joint Military task force (JTF) Lieutenant Ikedichi Iweha told Xinhua that the blasts occurred at the twin Theater Hall of the university where Christian students are worshiping.

He said soldiers have been drafted to the area to cordoned off the site of the explosion barring people from entering the area.

Sunday's attack came at a time when serial killings by suspected members of the sect group Boko Haram continued in Nigeria.

Powerful coordinated explosions hit a leading national newspaper in Nigeria, Thisday Newspaper's offices in central north Abuja and Kaduna state on Thursday.

On Wednesday, a bomb allegedly placed inside a gutter adjacent to the Army Barracks in the Bukavu area of Kano state exploded without injuring anybody.

Editor: Yang Lina

Sudan: President issues state of emergency at border areas with South Sudan
KHARTOUM, (Xinhua): Sudanese President Omar al- Bashir on Sunday issued a republican decree declaring state of emergency at a number of localities in states bordering South Sudan, Sudanese Media Center (SMC) reported.

The SMC said al-Bashir decreed the state of emergency at a number of localities in South Kordofan, White Nile and Sinnar states.

Sudan earlier said it was intending to declare the state of emergency on the borderline with South Sudan.

On April 10, South Sudan army controlled Heglig area, which heightened the tension between Khartoum and Juba.

However, the Sudanese army has recently managed to restore Heglig, which includes Sudan's biggest oil fields, after bloody confrontations with South Sudan army.

Egypt: Presidential candidates discover Sinai

Pledges to put an end to years of marginalization under Mubarak have fallen on skeptical ears in an area of Egypt that is used to hearing scores of unfulfilled promises.

Abd al-Halim Hafez’s song “Good Morning Sinai,” adapted from the poem by Abd al-Rahman al-Abnoudi, is always sung on the anniversary of the liberation of the Sinai Peninsula from Israeli occupation. Egyptians celebrated the 30th anniversary on Thursday.

For the past 28 years, the celebration was accompanied only by images splashed over TV screens and newspapers of deposed president Hosni Mubarak laying a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and another on the grave of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat.

This year was different. Field Marshal Muhammad Tantawi assumed Mubarak’s wreath-laying role. Meanwhile, Sinai was treated to an unprecedented series of campaign visits from candidates in the forthcoming presidential elections, led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Muhammad Mursi and the revolutionary forces’ nominee, Hamdeen Sabahi. All hopefuls voiced their commitment to developing the region and addressing its people’s numerous grievances, making promises that sounded familiar to those frequently made but never delivered during the Mubarak years.

The “Country of Turquoise,” for which thousands of Egyptians gave their lives, was never a development priority under Mubarak. He always appointed trusted retired generals as its governors. Sinai’s economic resources – whether real estate, oil, or the gas that supplied 40 percent of Israel’s needs – were meanwhile placed at the disposal of Mubarak’s friend, Hussein Salem, now a fugitive.

Mubarak and Salem viewed Sinai purely as the territory of the Camp David agreement with Israel. Everything they did there was related to bolstering that accord, under which Sinai was divided into three zones, each demilitarized to different degrees to ensure that Israel faced no threat from the Egyptian army. The official media scarcely mentioned Sinai other than in the context of “security campaigns,” illegal weapons, smuggling, the tunnels to Gaza, or Israel – whose citizens filled the region’s hotels.

The January 25 revolution brought little more to Sinai than a visit from former Prime Minister Essam Sharaf last April. This initially raised hopes that the peninsula might finally be freed from the siege and exclusion imposed on it by Mubarak’s regime and his close ties with Israel. But only empty promises followed. Although Sharaf pledged that those living in Sinai would be accorded land ownership rights, nothing has been done.

There were abundant promises, too, from the presidential hopefuls who flocked to Sinai ahead of the second liberation anniversary after the revolution.

They were preceded by their published election programs, in which most acknowledged the need to address Sinai’s problems, though rarely devoting more than a couple of lines to the matter.

Sabahi’s program sufficed with saying that he would be committed to the development of Sinai if elected president, without specifying how his vision of the region’s development differs from the one which Mubarak always claimed to have.

Independent Islamist candidate Abd al-Moneim Abul-Futouh’s program included Sinai as one of several border areas in which he promised to increase state investment, along with outlying regions in the west and south of the country.

Mubarak’s former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa echoed his ex-boss’ approach to solving Sinai’s problems by affirming in his election manifesto that he would give top priority to restoring security in Sinai. It also said that he would enable local people to acquire ownership rights over their lands, overcome discrimination against them in obtaining public sector jobs and joining the army, police and judiciary, and bring an end to the decades of marginalization, exclusion, and injustice they have suffered.

Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, outdid all the others by not just visiting Sinai and discussing its problems with local people, but also devoting a special section in his election program to it. Titled “Sinai Development Plan,” it envisaged dividing Sinai into five economic zones, and focusing development efforts on specific sectors in each (agriculture, commerce, manufacturing, and livestock herding in the northern zone around the provincial capital at al-Arish; mining and small industry in the central zone; agriculture, commerce, and livestock in the west; tourism in the southeast; and tourism along with mining and petroleum extraction in the southwest). Railways would also be built linking Sinai to Suez and Ismailia under the plan, which Mursi estimated would cost Egyptian Pounds (LE) 20 billion (US$3,300,000,000) over a period of five years.

Nevertheless, local observers saw the presidential candidates’ visits as little more than electioneering, pointing out that their proposals for aiding the region’s development and addressing its grievances were vague and not properly thought out – reminiscent of the Mubarak-era promises.

According to writer Masaad Abu-Fajr, what the people of Sinai want from Egypt’s forthcoming president is something altogether different. Numbering over half a million, they only have one representative in parliament. Mubarak treated them as traitors or agents, and did not even acknowledge many of them as Egyptian. In all his years in power, all Mubarak did for Sinai was divide it administratively from one governorate into two. The next president, says Abu Fajr, must firmly re-establish the sense of Egyptian identity for those living in Sinai.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
Nigeria: Bomb explosion near army barracks in northern Nigeria's Kano
KANO, (Xinhua): The military in northwestern Kano State of Nigeria said Wednesday night a bomb allegedly placed inside a gutter adjacent to the Army Barracks in the Bukavu area of the state has exploded.

The site of the explosion was also near a shopping complex, but the explosion didn't cause any injuries as the bomb was a small improvised explosive device and there was no anybody around when the explosion happened, according to the Spokesman of the joint Military task force (JTF) Lieutenant Ikedichi Iweha.

Soldiers cordoned off the site of the explosion barring civilians from entering the area.

Editor: Mu Xuequan

Sudan: South Sudan loses 1,200 troops in oilfield battle
At least 1,200 South Sudanese troops died during the battle for Sudan's main oilfield of Heglig, the Sudanese armed forces commander said on Monday, as the stench of death filled the air.

"The numbers of killed from SPLM are 1,200," Kamal Marouf said during an address to thousands of troops in the area, from which southern forces said they had withdrawn at the weekend.

The toll is impossible to verify but an AFP correspondent who accompanied Marouf said the putrid bodies of dead South Sudanese soldiers lay beneath trees which are scattered about the area.

He said the number of bodies was so large they were "uncountable." Corpses bore the South Sudanese flag on their uniforms.

From the main road, destroyed oil company vehicles could be seen. There were no civilians visible, only Sudanese soldiers on patrol.

The correspondent also reported that the main oil processing facility in Heglig was heavily damaged.

He said a storage tank was destroyed by fire, eight generators which provided power to the facility were also burned, and some oil was leaking onto the ground at the plant operated by Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company.

Sudan has not said how many of its own soldiers died in the operation.

During its 10-day occupation of Heglig, South Sudan's army said 19 of its soldiers had been killed while 240 Sudanese soldiers lost their lives.

Early in the occupation one South Sudanese soldier in Bentiu, the capital of the South's Unity State, said: "There are so many bodies at the front line, so many dead" that it is impossible to bury them or bring them back.

Nafie Ali Nafie, a top aide to Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, said on Sunday that the Southern death toll in the Heglig battle "amounted to 400," according to the Sudanese Media Center, which is close to the security apparatus.

An AFP photographer earlier saw almost 100 Sudanese wounded being treated at a Khartoum military hospital.

Sudan did not allow journalists or other observers into the Heglig area during the standoff with South Sudan, which on Sunday said it had completed its pullout from the region.

The move followed intense international diplomacy to pull the two sides back from the brink of a wider war.

Khartoum claimed to have defeated South Sudan and forced it out.

South Sudan invaded and occupied the oil field on April 10, in a move that prompted waves of airstrikes against its territory.

Sudanese warplanes launched a fresh bombing raid on Bentiu on Monday, in an attack witnessed by AFP that left a small boy dead.

Each side has accused the other of damaging the oil infrastructure at Heglig, which accounted for about half of the north's production.

"What South Sudan did in destroying infrastructure cannot go without accountability," Marouf said.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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