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Abiy Ahmed calls for democratic transition in Sudan

The political forces have to act with courage by taking quick steps towards a democratic and consensual transitional period

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Ethiopia’s prime minister Friday called for a “quick” democratic transition in Sudan as he met the country’s ruling generals and protest leaders, days after a deadly crackdown killed dozens of demonstrators in the capital.

Abiy Ahmed, who has emerged as a key regional leader, arrived in Khartoum to revive talks between the Sudanese generals and protest leaders after the African Union suspended Sudan on Thursday until the military makes way for a civilian-led transitional authority.

The move by the African bloc was backed by the European Union amid a chorus of condemnation of Sudan’s military rulers over Monday’s deadly crackdown on a weeks-long sit-in outside army headquarters demanding civilian rule.

“The army, the people and political forces have to act with courage and responsibility by taking quick steps towards a democratic and consensual transitional period,” Abiy said in a signed statement issued to reporters after he held separate meetings with the generals and protest leaders.

“The army has to protect the security of the country and its people and political forces have to think about the future of the country,” he said. 

Ethiopia and Sudan share a long frontier and experts say instability in one sparks concern in the other.

Protest leaders welcomed Abiy’s mediation but insisted that any fresh talks with the generals could happen only if certain conditions were met.

“The Transitional Military Council has to admit the crime it committed,” Omar al-Digeir, a prominent leader from the protest movement, the Alliance for Freedom and Change, told reporters.

He said all “military elements should also be removed from the streets across the country” and called for an international probe into “the massacre at the sit-in”.

The generals are ready to sit for “negotiations and reach a solution at any time”, foreign ministry official Hassan Ahmed told reporters.

‘State of terror’

Digeir said the military council should also restore access to the internet and allow public and media freedoms.

Since the deadly assault, fearful Khartoum residents have remained largely indoors, leaving the streets virtually deserted at a time when Muslims are normally out celebrating the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

Paramilitaries of the feared Rapid Support Forces, who have their origins in the notorious Janjaweed militia unleashed in the conflict in the western region of Darfur in 2003 and 2004, have remained stationed in a number of the capital’s main squares.

Others have been seen out on patrol in their trademark pickup trucks mounted with heavy machine guns or rocket launchers.

“We’re living in a state of terror because of sporadic gunfire,” a resident of south Khartoum told AFP.

He said he was “afraid for (his) children to go out in the street,” as the paramilitaries patrolled parts of the capital.

In north Khartoum, riot police fired tear gas on Thursday evening after protesters put up makeshift roadblocks made from rocks, bricks and tree trunks.

RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who is deputy head of the ruling military council, has warned he will not “allow chaos” and has vowed to tear down all barricades.

The protesters and the military authorities have given sharply divergent death tolls for the crackdown.

Doctors close to the demonstrators say 113 people were killed in Khartoum, including 40 whose bodies were pulled out of the Nile.

The health ministry says 61 people died nationwide, 52 of them by “live ammunition” in Khartoum.

The World Health Organization says 784 people were wounded according to a survey of hospitals, adding that the actual number could be higher.

Pressure on generals

The crackdown was launched after talks broke down between protest leaders and the generals on a new transitional ruling body to replace the military council that took power after the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir on April 11.

Despite several initial breakthroughs, the talks hit a deadlock over the demonstrators’ demand — backed by Western and most African governments — for it to have a civilian majority and a civilian leader.

The African Union, which has its headquarters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, said it was suspending Sudan, “until the effective establishment of a civilian-led Transitional Authority, as the only way to allow the Sudan to exit from the current crisis”.

The European Union said it joined the AU in calling for “an immediate end to violence and a credible enquiry into the criminal events of the last days”.

The generals have so far been shielded from condemnation at the United Nations by China, which has made significant investments in Sudan.

Beijing, backed by Moscow, blocked a bid at the UN Security Council on Tuesday to condemn the killing of civilians in Sudan and issue a pressing call from world powers for an immediate halt to the violence, diplomats said.

“Sudan is extremely strategic for China,” said Marc Lavergne of France’s National Centre for Scientific Research.

“It has huge potential resources which are not being exploited.”

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Malawi’s parliament elects opposition MP as first-ever female speaker

Catherine Gotani Hara from the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) gathered 97 votes to defeat her opponent from the ruling party

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Malawi's parliament elects opposition MP as first-ever female speaker
Newly elected speaker of Malawi parliament, Catherine Gotani Hara.

History has been made in Malawi as lawmakers on Wednesday elected a female member of parliament as speaker for the first time in the country’s history.

Catherine Gotani Hara from the opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) gathered 97 votes against 93 of Esther Mcheka Chilenje of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The Malawian parliament which has 193 seats, was dissolved in March this year, ahead of the fresh elections held on 21st May.

After announcement of the voting results, Eisenhower Mkaka, MCP lawmaker and party spokesperson said; “the victory of Hara as first-ever female speaker of parliament is what every Malawian hoped for. Her election should encourage women that if you invest in girls, they can also become leaders.”  

Viwemi Chavula, who is the team leader of the 50-50 campaign, a consortium of civil rights group which campaigns for 50% representation of women in public offices, has described Hara’s election into office as a milestone for Malawi.

“It has been our aim to increase women’s representation in leadership and decision making positions. The election of the first female speaker of parliament is a huge achievement for Malawi,” Chavula said.

Hara has previously held several ministerial positions including that of health and gender under Joyce Banda, Malawi’s first women president.

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Morsi: Egyptian authorities accuse UN of trying to “politicise a case of natural death”

The spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had called for an independent investigation into Morsi’s death

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Morsi: Egyptian authorities accuse UN of trying to "politicise a case of natural death"
A man hangs a poster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. (Photo by - / AFP)

Egypt accused the United Nations on Wednesday of seeking to “politicise” the death of the country’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi by calling for an “independent inquiry”.

Foreign ministry spokesman, Ahmed Hafez said he condemned “in the strongest terms” the call by the spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, for an independent investigation into Morsi’s death during a court hearing on Monday. 

Related: Jailed Egyptian ex-president Morsi dies after collapsing in court

Hafez said it was a “deliberate attempt to politicise a case of natural death.”

Colville called Tuesday for a probe into whether the conditions Morsi faced during his nearly six years in custody had contributed to his death.

“Any sudden death in custody must be followed by a prompt, impartial, thorough and transparent investigation carried out by an independent body to clarify the cause of death,” he said.

“Concerns have been raised regarding the conditions of Mr. Morsi’s detention, including access to adequate medical care, as well as sufficient access to his lawyers and family,” Colville added.  

People hold picture of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi during a symbolic funeral ceremony on June 18, 2019 at Fatih mosque in Istanbul. (Photo by – / AFP)

Related: Mohammed Morsi, former Egypt’s president laid to rest in Cairo

He said the investigation must “encompass all aspects of the authorities’ treatment of Mr. Morsi to examine whether the conditions of his detention had an impact on his death.”

Morsi was toppled by then army chief, now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 2013 after a single divisive year in power. He was later charged with an array of offences including espionage.

Related: Morsi’s death: Timeline of events in Egypt since 2011 post-Mubarak era

Since his ouster, authorities have waged an ongoing crackdown on dissent of all kinds that has seen thousands of Brotherhood supporters jailed and hundreds facing death sentences.

A group of British parliamentarians in March 2018 warned Morsi’s detention conditions, particularly inadequate treatment for his diabetes and liver disease, could trigger “premature death”. 

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Tunisia fishermen are the lifesavers of the Mediterranean

Fishermen from Zarzis have saved the lives of hundreds of migrants in recent years,

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Tunisian fishermen are finding themselves more and more involved in rescuing illegal boats leaving Libya for Italy,

The Tunisian trawler radioed in for help as it passed the migrant boat in distress out at sea. But with the packed craft still adrift two days later, captain Chamseddine Bourassine took direct action. Fishermen from Tunisia are spending more and more time pulling in stranded migrants after a sharp decline in humanitarian and European naval patrols along the stretch of water between war-wracked Libya and Italy.

Bourassine, his crew and three other fishing boats ferried the 69 migrants back to shore on May 11, five days after their boat pushed off from Zuwara on the western Libyan coast. “The area where we fish is a crossing point” between Zuwara and the Italian island of Lampedusa, said Badreddine Mecherek, a Tunisian fisherman from Zarzis near the border with Libya.

Fishermen from Zarzis have saved the lives of hundreds of migrants in recent years, and as the number of boats leaving western Libya for Europe spikes with the return of calmer summer seas, they will probably have to save even more. “First we warn the authorities, but in the end, we end up saving them ourselves,” Mecherek grumbled as he tinkered with his rusting sardine boat.

European countries in the northern Mediterranean are trying to stem the number of migrants landing on their shores, and the Tunisian navy with its limited resources only rescues boats inside the country’s territorial waters.

Since May 31, Tunisia itself has barred 75 migrants from coming ashore after they were saved in international waters by a Tunisian-Egyptian tug boat. Contacted multiple times by journalists, Tunisian authorities have refused to comment.

Angel

“Everyone has disengaged” from the issue, said Mecherek, adding it was hampering his work. Fishermen who run across migrants on their second day out at sea are at least able to have done a day’s work, he added, “but if we find them on the first night, we have to go back”.

“It’s very complicated to finish the job with people on board.” The complexity of the rescues grows when fishermen find migrants adrift closer to Italy.

When Bourassine and his crew last year tugged a boat towards Lampedusa which was adrift without a motor, they were jailed in Sicily for four weeks for helping the migrants. It took months to recover their boat.

Humanitarian boats and those of the European Union’s “Operation Sophia” anti-piracy force had scooped up most stranded migrants in recent years, but rescue operations dropped in 2019. “Now most often we are the first to arrive… if we aren’t there, the migrants die,” Mecherek said.

On May 10, a Tunisian trawler just barely saved the lives of 16 migrants after they had spent eight hours in the water. Sixty others drowned before the ship arrived.

Survivor Ahmed Sijur said the boat’s appearance at dawn was like that of “an angel”. “I was losing hope myself, but God sent the fishermen to save us,” the 30-year-old from Bangladesh said.

Police of the sea

Mecherek is more worried than proud. “We don’t want to see all these corpses anymore. We want to catch fish, not people,” he said, adding his crew was growing uneasy. “I have 20 seamen on board asking, ‘Who will feed our families?'” he added.

“But local fishermen will never let people die at sea.” For Tunisian Red Crescent official Mongi Slim, the fishermen “are practically the police of the sea”, adding that many migrants say large ships won’t stop to help.

Under pressure to catch their quota during a short annual season, big tuna boats out of Zarzis often call the coast guard instead of stopping themselves to help. “We report the migrants, but we can’t bring them back to shore… We only have a few weeks to fish,” said one crew member. For Chamseddine, the summer months look difficult.

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