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Madagascar polls open amidst tough political rivalry

President Andry Rajoelina and his rival, Marc Ravalomanana have dominated politics since the early 2000s

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Madagascar polls open amidst tough political rivalry
Members of Madagascar's electoral commission, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) / (AFP)

Madagascar holds parliamentary elections Monday in what is being seen as the latest round of a bitter feud between President Andry Rajoelina and his longstanding rival Marc Ravalomanana.

Beaten to the top job in December, Ravalomanana has been everywhere to support the candidates of his TIM (“I Love Madagascar) party, determined to win what he says is “the third round” of his feud with President Rajoelina.

The two men have dominated politics since the early 2000s, sometimes cooperating but mostly fighting for advantage and high office.

“We were a bit disappointed by the result of the presidential election but we have to pick ourselves back up now,” Ravalomanana told supporters at the start of the parliamentary campaign earlier this month.

“We are winners and we are not going to let ourselves be beaten.”

Rajoelina has not been slow to respond, visiting and inaugurating projects around the country to get his message across.

“We are dedicated to working to change the lives of Madagascans and to develop our country,” he said in a tweeted message after a trip to Diego Suarez in the north last week.

The stand-off between Rajoelina and Ravalomanana runs everywhere, including the third district of the capital of the Indian Ocean island nation.

Two months of street protests –

Antananarivo’s walls are plastered with election posters, while loudspeaker trucks pass by in convoys and supporters hand out T-shirts for their candidates, bringing the capital’s streets to life.

The polls take place after another bout of instability in Madagascar which saw Rajoelina and Ravalomanana put aside their differences last year to oppose new electoral laws introduced by then president Hery Rajaonarimampianina.

After two months of street protests, the government fell and Rajaonarimampianina trailed in a distant third in the presidential election.

“I was disappointed that the leader of our party did not win the presidential election but that defeat has motivated us to win a majority in the assembly,” said TIM candidate, businessman Feno Ralambomanana.

“We need a majority to ensure stability and avoid a political war over the next five years,” says Rajoelina candidate Aina Rafenomanantsoa, a singer popularly known as Anyah.

“Madagascans have no need to go through all that again,” she says.

However, it is far from certain that Monday’s vote will produce the stability all say they want -of the 800 candidates fighting for the 151 assembly seats, nearly 500 are standing as independents.

“Independent candidates could win many seats…because a lot of voters want to break the hold of the Rajoelina and Ravalomanana camps,” political analyst Tohavina Ralambomahay told AFP.

“If there are too many independents in the assembly, that will create changeable majorities which will, in turn, generate corruption and political instability,” Ralambomahay added.

Corruption allegations –

The campaign has been overshadowed in its last days by corruption allegations against more than half the outgoing deputies.

The anti-corruption bureau handed over to prosecutors a list of 79 deputies alleged to have each accepted bribes worth 12,500 euros ($14,000) to vote in favour of Rajaonarimampianina’s electoral laws.

Both Rajoelina and Ravalomanana have promised voters they will put an end to such practices.

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Suspected Boko Haram jihadists raid military base, town in Nigeria

Assailants, arriving on nine armoured trucks, stormed into the military base outside the town of Gajiram.

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A Nigerian army vehicle patrols in the town of Banki in northeastern Nigeria

Suspected Boko Haram jihadists have overrun a military base and looted a nearby town in Borno, Nigeria, security sources and residents said Tuesday. The raids came a day after 30 people were killed on Sunday in a triple suicide bombing in the region that also bore the hallmarks of Boko Haram.

Boko Haram’s decade-long campaign of violence has killed 27,000 people and displaced about two million in Nigeria. Late on Monday assailants, arriving on nine armoured trucks, stormed into the military base outside the town of Gajiram, 80 kilometres, north of the Borno state capital Maiduguri.

They were suspected to be from IS-affiliated Boko Haram faction known as the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). “They dislodged troops from the base after a fight,” a security source said.

“We don’t know the extent of damage and looting in the base. An assessment is being carried out”. It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties. Residents said the Islamists drove into the town after sacking the base and looted shops, shooting into the air.

Residents flee as Boko Haram raids town

Their presence forced residents to flee into the bush while others shut themselves in their homes. “The gunmen drove into the town around 6pm local time after overpowering soldiers in the base,” Gajiram resident Mele Butari said.

“They stayed for almost five hours. They broke into the shops and looted food supplies and provisions,” he said. “They didn’t hurt anyone and they made no attempt to attack people who fled into the bush and hid indoors”.

Soldiers were seen returning to the town from the bush Tuesday morning. Traffic on the main road through Gajiram was suspended as soldiers assessed the damage in the base, said residents who returned to the town.

Gajiram lies on the highway linking Maiduguri and the garrison town of Monguno, 55 kilometres away. Gajiram and the nearby base have been repeatedly attacked by the insurgents. In June last year, ISWAP raided the same base, killing nine soldiers.

ISWAP has targeted dozens of military bases since last year, killing scores of soldiers. Last week, several troops were killed in an ISWAP attack on a remote base in Kareto village, near the border with Niger, according to military sources.

Sunday’s suicide bombings occurred in the town of Konduga, 38 kilometres from Maiduguri. The attacks appeared to be the work of a Boko Haram faction loyal to longtime leader Abubakar Shekau.

Boko Haram violence has spilled over into neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting formation of a regional military coalition to defeat the jihadist group.

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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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Semenya cleared by court to run 800m in Rabat

Organisers of the Diamond League had initially refused to allow Semenya to take part but on Friday they “confirmed her invitation”

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Semenya cleared by court to run 800m in Rabat

Caster Semenya will run her specialist 800m distance at Rabat on Sunday, organisers said, after the South African two-time Olympic champion won the latest round of a bitter court battle over gender rules.

Semenya was cleared to take part in the Diamond League meeting after Switzerland’s top court rejected an IAAF request to re-impose rules obliging her to lower her testosterone before competing in certain events.

Organisers of the Morocco event had initially refused to allow the South African to take part but on Friday they “confirmed her invitation”.

“After checking the situation of Caster Semenya in the light of the decisions of the Swiss Federal Court, and the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the head of the international athletics meeting in Rabat, Alain Blondel, is happy to confirm the invitation,” said a statement on the event’s official site.

The Swiss federal court issued their order on Wednesday, explaining “this means that Caster remains permitted to compete without restriction in the female category at this time.”

The IAAF had earlier this month opposed a ruling by the court temporarily suspending the federation’s rules following an appeal by Semenya who won the women’s 800 metres at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

The athlete was contesting a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport which previously found the rules were “discriminatory” but “necessary” to ensure fairness in women’s athletics.

The rules require women with higher than normal male hormone levels, a condition known as hyperandrogenism, to artificially lower the amount of testosterone in their bodies if they are to compete in races over distances of 400m to the mile.

“No woman should be subjected to these rules,” Semenya said in a statement, adding she had “thought hard about not running the 800m in solidarity unless all women can run free. But I will run now to show the IAAF that they cannot drug us.”

The athlete also dismissed the IAAF’s claim that it is committed to the full participation of women in sport.

“I am a woman, but the IAAF has again tried to stop me from running the way I was born,” she said in the statement, pointing out the hormonal drugs she had been required to take to compete had made her feel “constantly sick and unable to focus for many years.”

“No other woman should be forced to go through this,” she said.

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