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‘Deadliest’ Boko Haram attack on Rann claims 60

Rann, northeast of the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, has now been hit four times since March last year.

Kathleen Ndongmo

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Photo - AFP

Amnesty International says Boko Haram has killed at least 60 civilians in an attack on the remote town of Rann in northeast Nigeria earlier this week.

The human rights group’s Nigeria director Osai Ojigho said “at least 60 people” were killed while satellite imagery showed “mass burning” of structures used by displaced people.

“Eleven bodies were found within Rann town, and 49 were found outside,” the group said in an emailed statement, adding that some 50 people were still missing.

It quoted one of 10 civilian militia members who travelled to Rann to bury the dead as saying the bodies found outside the town all had gunshot wounds.

“This attack on civilians who have already been displaced by the bloody conflict may amount to possible war crime, and those responsible must be brought to justice,” said Ojigho.

The death toll made it the “deadliest” by Boko Haram on Rann, she added.

In January 2017, a botched Nigerian air strike intended to hit jihadists killed at least 112 people as aid workers distributed food.

Rann, which is some 175 kilometres (110 miles) northeast of the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, has now been hit four times since March last year.

The first attack killed three aid workers and saw three others kidnapped. Two of the three were later executed. The second attack happened in early December.

On January 14, fighters loyal to the Boko Haram faction led by Abubakar Shekau attacked a military position.

Some 9,000 people fled across the border into Cameroon but were sent back, as troops from Nigeria’s eastern neighbour were deployed to Rann as reinforcements.

Cameroonian forces were withdrawn last Sunday, which the United Nations said forced more than 30,000 people to flee in fear of another attack.

AFP has been told the remaining Nigerian soldiers also withdrew because there were not enough of them to fight off Boko Haram if they came in greater numbers.

Amnesty’s Ojigho said “environmental sensors detected fires” in and around Rann on Monday and Tuesday, indicating the jihadists returned after the troops pulled out. 

Analysis of satellite images indicated the two attacks had left most of the town “heavily damaged or destroyed”, and “well over 100” structures had been burned down.

Many of the structures destroyed date back to 2017, indicating they had been constructed for those who had fled to Rann in search of refuge from the fighting.

Rann had been home to some 35,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), according to the International Organization for Migration.

Amnesty International said it wanted Nigeria to investigate the withdrawal of troops, as it “may have left tens of thousands of civilians exposed” to attack.

On Wednesday, the Norwegian Refugee Council called on Cameroon to keep open its borders to those fleeing Boko Haram attacks.

More than 27,000 people have been killed in nearly 10 years of fighting, while some 1.8 million others remain homeless and reliant on aid for food, shelter, healthcare and water.

The UN this week said it needed $848 million (741 million euros) to fund projects for affected civilians in Borno state and two other northeast states over the next three years.

An additional $135 million was required to help the 228,500 Nigerian refugees who have fled to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, it added.

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North Africa

2 candidates claim first round wins in Tunisia elections

Turnout was reported by the elections commission (ISIE) to be 45 percent, down from 64 percent recorded in the 2014 polls

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Tunisia elections: 2 candidates claim wins

Two anti-establishment candidates in Tunisia’s election claimed Sunday to have won through to a runoff, hours after polling closed in the country’s second free presidential poll since the 2011 Arab Spring.

In a sign of voter apathy, especially among the young, turnout was reported by the elections commission (ISIE) to be 45 percent, down from 64 percent recorded in the 2014 polls. Kais Saied, a 61-year-old law professor and expert on constitutional affairs who ran as an independent, claimed to be in pole position.

He finished “first in the first round,” he said, citing exit polls ahead of preliminary results expected to be announced on Tuesday. There was also an upbeat atmosphere at the party headquarters of jailed media mogul Nabil Karoui, behind bars due to a money laundering probe, as hundreds of supporters celebrated after he also claimed to have reached the second round.

Other prominent candidates in the first round included Abdelfattah Mourou, heading a first-time bid for Islamist-inspired party Ennahdha, and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed. Ennahdha insisted it would wait for the official results. 

“Only the elections board gives the results,” said Ennahdha MP and Mourou’s campaign director, Samir Dilou. “I do not doubt the work of the polling institutes, (but) it is not their role to impose a certain truth on the public,” he told reporters.

Chahed’s popularity has been tarnished by a sluggish economy and the rising cost of living. The prime minister has also found himself having to vehemently deny accusations that Karoui’s detention since late August was politically inspired.

Tunisia Elections: citizens cast their votes
Tunisian voter queue to cast their ballots at a polling station in Marsa city, northeast of Tunis, Tunisia, to elect the Tunisia’s president in a first-round vote of the presidential elections, on September 15, 2019. (Photo by Chedly Ben Ibrahim/NurPhoto)

Read: Detained but undeterred; Nabil Karoui’s campaign continues in Tunisia

‘Where are the young?’

“Young people of Tunisia, you still have an hour to vote!” ISIE head Nabil Baffoun had urged before the close of Sunday’s vote. “We must leave our homes and vote – it’s a right that we gained from the 2011 revolution which cost lives,” Baffoun added, visibly disappointed by the turnout.

However, he later said that the turnout of 45 percent was “an acceptable level”. At polling stations visited by journalists, there was a high proportion of older voters, but few young people. The election followed an intense campaign characterised more by personality clashes than political differences. 

It had been brought forward by the death of 92-year-old president Beji Caid Essebsi, who died in July and whose widow also passed away on Sunday morning. Essebsi had been elected in the wake of the 2011 revolt that overthrew former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Publication of opinion polls has officially been banned since July. Some of the 24 hopefuls who contested the polls tried to burnish anti-establishment credentials to distance themselves from a political elite discredited by personal quarrels. Another independent candidate was Defence Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi, a technocrat running for the first time, although with backing from Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party.

The long list of active runners was trimmed by the last-minute withdrawal of two candidates in favour of Zbidi, although their names remained on the ballot paper. But Karoui’s detention, just 10 days ahead of the start of campaigning, has been the top story of the election. Studies suggested his arrest boosted his popularity.

A controversial businessman, Karoui built his appeal by using his Nessma television channel to launch charity campaigns, handing out food aid to some of the country’s poorest. But his detractors portray him as a would-be Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian premier who they allege partly owns his channel.

On Friday, an appeal for the Tunisian mogul’s release from prison ahead of the election was rejected, his party and lawyers said. The polarisation risks derailing the electoral process, according to Michael Ayari, an analyst for the International Crisis Group.

Tunisian voter queue to cast their ballots at a polling station in Marsa city
Tunisian voters queue to cast their ballots at a polling station in Marsa city, northeast of Tunis, Tunisia, to elect the Tunisia’s president in a first-round vote of the presidential elections, on September 15, 2019. (Photo by Chedly Ben Ibrahim/NurPhoto)

Read: Tunisia decides: Voters head to polls in test on democracy

‘Divisive’ candidates

Isabelle Werenfels, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, called the vote a democratic “test” because “it may require accepting the victory of a polarising candidate” such as Karoui. Distrust of the political elite has been deepened by an unemployment rate of 15 percent and a rise in the cost of living by close to a third since 2016.

Jihadist attacks have exacted a heavy toll on the key tourism sector. Around 70,000 security forces were mobilised for the polls. The date of a second and final round between the top two candidates has not been announced, but it must be held by October 23 at the latest and may even take place on the same day as legislative polls, October 6.

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North Africa

Algeria’s interim President announces elections on December 12

Demonstrators are demanding key regime figures step down and an overhaul of political institutions before any polls

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Abdelkader Bensalah announces Algeria Elections December 12

Algeria is to hold a presidential election on December 12, five months into a political vacuum since longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned in the face of mass protests, his interim successor announced Sunday.

“I have decided… that the date of the presidential election will be Thursday, December 12,” said Abdelkader Bensalah, who is precluded from standing himself, in a televised address to the nation.

The announcement comes after army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah, seen as Algeria’s strongman since the fall of the ailing Bouteflika, insisted that polls be held by the end of 2019, despite ongoing protests demanding the creation of new institutions ahead of any elections.

On Friday, Algerian protesters returned to the streets after parliament passed bills paving the way for the announcement of elections.

Demonstrators are demanding key regime figures step down and an overhaul of political institutions before any polls, arguing an election under the current framework would only reinforce the status quo.

Gaid Salah earlier this month called for an electoral college to be summoned on September 15 so as to conduct an election within 90 days, in mid-December. Last week, parliament passed two bills that would facilitate the announcement of the vote. 

Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati presented the bills on Wednesday, with both legislative chambers passing them within two days. Opposition parties in the People’s National Assembly boycotted the session in which the bills were passed.

The first bill proposed the creation of an “independent” election authority, while the second text was a revision of Algeria’s electoral law. Presidential polls originally planned for July 4 were postponed due to a lack of viable candidates, plunging the country into a constitutional crisis as the 90-day mandate for Bensalah expired in early July. 

The army’s high command has rejected any solution to the crisis other than presidential elections “in the shortest possible time”.

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Politics

Boko Haram kills 6 soldiers in Cameroon – Authorities

Five soldiers died during the attack and a sixth succumbed to his injuries on Sunday

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Cameroonian Rapid Intervention Force patrol on the outskirt of Mosogo

Six Cameroonian soldiers were killed Friday in an attack by Boko Haram jihadists in the far north of the country, authorities said on Sunday.

Nine other soldiers were injured in the attack carried out on a military post at Soueram near Fotokol in the Lake Chad region by armed men, an army officer and two high-ranking officials in the local administration told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity. 

Five soldiers died during the attack and a sixth succumbed to his injuries on Sunday, one of the officials told journalists. The toll was confirmed by the other official, as well as an army officer, who also said the killers were members of Boko Haram. 

Soueram is very close to the border with Nigeria in the restive Lake Chad region. On June 10, 17 Cameroonian soldiers were killed in an attack in the same region. The jihadist uprising which started in 2009 has killed more than 27,000 people, displaced some two million, and spilled over into neighbouring countries, sparking a dire humanitarian crisis.

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