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Libyan national conference postponed as fighting intensifies in Tripoli

We cannot ask people to take part in the conference during gunfire and air strikes

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Spokesman for the Libyan forces of the Government of National Accord (GNA) Mohamed Gnounou holds a press conference in the capital Tripoli on April 9, 2019. - The United Nations on Tuesday postponed a Libyan national conference aimed at drawing up an election roadmap because of fighting raging near the capital, in another setback to peace efforts. (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

The United Nations on Tuesday postponed a Libyan national conference aimed at drawing up an election roadmap because of fighting raging near the capital, in another setback to peace efforts.

The move came as the North African country’s warring parties faced mounting international pressure to halt violence that has caused thousands to flee and left several dozen people dead.

“We cannot ask people to take part in the conference during gunfire and air strikes,” UN envoy Ghassan Salame said.

He expressed hope that the meeting, which had been scheduled for next week, would take place “as soon as possible”.

UN chief Antonio Guterres called for an “immediate halt” to hostilities, after Tripoli’s only functional airport was hit in an air strike on Monday by the forces of strongman Khalifa Haftar.

After a night-time lull, fighting resumed on Tuesday morning south of the city, a security source said.

The oil-rich country has been rocked by violent power struggles between an array of armed groups since the NATO-backed overthrow of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) controls the capital, but its authority is not recognised by a parallel administration in the east of the country, allied with Haftar.

The strongman’s forces, who launched a surprise offensive on the Libyan capital last week, claimed responsibility for Monday’s air raid on Mitiga airport. It caused no casualties, but left a metre-deep crater on a runway.

Salame said the attack “constitutes a serious violation of international humanitarian law which prohibits attacks against civilian infrastructure”.

Thousands displaced

Flights were suspended on Monday, but the airport was due to be reopened to night-time flights only late Tuesday.

Since launching his lightning offensive on Tripoli last Thursday, Hafter has defied international calls to halt the advance, including from the UN Security Council and the United States.

The unity government’s health ministry on Monday put the death toll in the fighting at 35. Haftar’s forces have said 14 of their fighters have died.

The UN said the clashes have displaced some 3,400 people.

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with GNA leader Fayez al-Sarraj to voice his “total opposition to the offensive against the capital and the endangering of civilian lives”, the unity government said.

The French presidency said in a statement that Macron had also been in contact with Haftar and in his calls expressed his “deep concern about the latest developments”, adding it was “imperative” that the fighting ends immediately.

International efforts to end the Libyan conflict have repeatedly failed.

Rival leaders agreed last year to hold elections before December 10, 2018 under a French plan, but that vote never materialised. 

The national conference, which had been scheduled for April 14-16 in the central city of Ghadames, aimed to fix dates for legislative and presidential elections, and work towards a new constitution.

Global powers divided

Haftar is a former Kadhafi military chief who has emerged as a major player in Libya’s political struggle. 

Having seized control of much of eastern Libya — and buoyed by a series of victories in the desert south — he turned his sights on Tripoli, vowing to “cleanse” it of “terrorists and mercenaries”.

His offensive threatens to plunge the country into a full-blown civil war and has thrown into sharp relief the divisions between world powers over how to end the chaos that has riven Libya since 2011.

On one side of the struggle is Haftar, whose key allies are the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and increasingly Saudi Arabia, while he is strongly opposed by their regional foe Qatar as well as Doha’s chief supporter Turkey.

Russia has said meanwhile it is not taking sides in the fighting in Libya but behind the scenes, experts say, Moscow is firmly backing Haftar.

“Haftar is ideologically close to Russia,” said analyst Alexander Shumilin of the Centre for the Analysis of Middle East Conflicts in Moscow.

“He is supplied with Russian weapons and gladly takes them. He is Moscow’s man,” he said.

On the other side of the fight, Sarraj’s UN-backed government retains substantial support from former colonial power Italy.

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East Africa Politics News

Burundi’s opposition party confirms vandalism of its 18 offices

Inauguration of the new offices on Sunday had been called off upon request of the mayor of Bujumbura

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Burundi's opposition leader Agathon Rwasa says its 18 offices have been vandalised

A Burundian opposition party said Sunday that 18 of its offices had been destroyed in the past two months, condemning acts of “intimidation” by the ruling party. The National Freedom Council (CNL) – a new party formed by main opposition leader Agathon Rwasa – said it was on Sunday meant to inaugurate nine new offices in the capital.

However one “was destroyed during the night by members of the ruling party,” said party spokesman Therence Manirambona. A photo seen by a reporter showed the windows and doors ripped off and walls partially destroyed.

Manirambona said it was the “18th to be vandalised in two months across the country… and each time we are told an investigation is underway to identify those responsible, but nothing has come of it”.

Some have been set ablaze, others partially or totally destroyed, while some have been smeared with human faeces, said the CNL. The ruling Cndd-FDD has repeatedly denied being behind the attacks.

Manirambona said the inauguration of the new offices on Sunday had been called off upon request of the mayor of Bujumbura after clashes erupted between CNL supporters and members of the ruling party.

He said the CNL’s Bujumbura representative Jean-Claude Kwizera had been detained by police for several hours after the incident.

Burundi has been locked in crisis since President Pierre Nkurunziza in April 2015 announced he would seek a controversial third term in office, sparking civil unrest that has left 1,200 dead and over 400,000 displaced.

Constitutional reforms adopted in May after a referendum open the way for Nkurunziza to seek another two terms in office in 2020, however, he has assured he will not do so.

A UN Commission of Inquiry last year said it believed the government was committing crimes against humanity such as summary executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture and sexual violence.  

The CNL has denounced the arrests, torture and disappearances of its members. “Unfortunately we have seen an increase in acts of harassment and political intimidation as 2020 approaches,” said the party spokesman.

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North Africa Politics

President declares state of emergency in 2 provinces due to ethnic violence in Chad

The state of emergency will run for three months in Sila and Ouaddai regions

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Chad President Idriss Deby declared a state of emergency in two eastern provinces

Chad President Idriss Deby declared a state of emergency in two eastern provinces on Sunday after violent intercommunal clashes left dozens dead earlier this month.

The state of emergency will run for three months in Sila and Ouaddai regions bordering Sudan where 50 people have died since August 9 in fighting between cattle herders and settled farmers, the president’s office said.

“From now, we will deploy military forces who are going to ensure the security of the population in the region,” Deby said while on a trip to Sila. “We must disarm all the civilians who have weapons in their hands,” he continued.

Eastern Chad is in the grip of a cycle of violence between nomadic camel herders and sedentary farmers from the Ouaddian community. Herders have for decades moved their livestock through the Ouaddai region in rotations between summer and winter pastures.

Most of the herders’ animals belong to the president’s Zaghawa ethnic group, and the farmers say they often escape censure when unrest breaks out between the two sides. Similar conflicts between herders and farmers erupt in other African countries, notably Nigeria.

Drought and population growth have aggravated the conflict, while an influx of weapons from conflict-stricken neighbours have made it even more deadly. Deby earlier this month blamed the surge in violence partly fon an influx of guns to the former French colony from conflict zones in neighbouring Libya, Central African Republic and Sudan, where a protest movement ousted the president in April.

“The government has created special disarmament units. We take away the weapons, but the next day more arrives,” he said. The president described the violence as a “national concern”, adding: “We are witnessing a terrible phenomenon.”

“Those with guns are not hesitating to shoot the police. We must wage a total war against those who carry weapons and are killing people,” he said at the time. Legislative elections in Chad are scheduled to take place by the end of the year. They have been postponed several times since 2015 as Deby, who got into power in 1990, looks to maintain his rule of the country.

Deby hinted in June that military courts may be reintroduced in a bid to curb unrest, a suggestion denounced by the country’s opposition. Military justice, applied to civilians as well as the armed forces, was abolished in Chad in 1993. In 2016, the country also scrapped the death penalty, except for “terrorism”

Deby said the decades-long conflict over land in Ouaddai had spread since the start of this year to other regions where previously the communities lived side by side in an “exemplary” manner. He cited Sila where he said more than 40 people had been killed since January.

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Central Africa Politics

Ali Bongo joins independence celebration in Libreville

The public outings were the first time Gabonese have seen their leader beyond the presidential palace since he fell ill last October

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Ali Bongo joins independence celebration in Libreville
Gabon's President Ali Bongo (C-L) and his wife Sylvia Bongo (C-R) sit on the tribune as they attend a parade during the country's independence day celebration in Libreville, on August 17, 2019, marking its independence from France in 1960. - Ali Bongo on August 17, 2019 made a rare public appearance to attend the country's independence day celebrations, nearly ten months after suffering a stroke that fueled speculation about his ability to rule. (Photo by Steve JORDAN / AFP)

Gabon’s President Ali Bongo on Saturday made a rare public appearance to attend the country’s independence day celebrations, nearly ten months after suffering a stroke that fueled speculation about his ability to rule. 

Bongo, whose every move is scrutinised for signs of his state of health, on Friday made his first public appearance since his illness, taking part in events on the eve of celebrations to mark Gabon’s independence. 

The public outings were the first time Gabonese have seen their leader beyond the presidential palace since he fell ill last October, except for appearances filmed and edited by Gabonese government or state media.

Standing straight in an army vehicle, in a dark suit and dark glasses, Bongo on Saturday arrived at the military parade on Libreville’s main boulevard along the capital’s seafront. 

President Ali Bongo of Gabon on August 16, 2019 made his first live appearance in public nearly 10 months after suffering a stroke, attending ceremonies in the capital Libreville. (Photo by STEVE JORDAN / AFP)

Early on Saturday morning, many people had flocked to the seafront, trying to make their way through many security barriers to catch a glimpse of their leader.

“There are people who said he was sick, but he was able to greet us,” said Mama Youssouf, a young spectator in the crowd.

Speculation about 60-year-old Bongo’s capacity to rule the country surged after he suffered a stroke while in Saudi Arabia.

He was flown to Morocco for treatment, returning in January. During his extended absence, the army quashed a brief attempted coup.

Ten members of Gabon’s political opposition, civil society and trade union movement have filed a suit requesting Bongo be assessed to see whether he is medically fit to continue in office.

A lower court dismissed the case in May, saying only the two houses of parliament, or the Constitutional Court acting for the government, were empowered to determine whether the president was unfit.

But the Court of Appeal has said it would hear an appeal by the plaintiffs and set a date for it — August 26.

Bongo succeeded his father Omar Bongo, who became head of state in 1967 and died in June 2009, leaving a legacy of corruption allegations.

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