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Nigerian president warns vote-riggers of “ruthless” response

The president has called for an inquiry into the postponement of the elections

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Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari said Monday he had ordered the police and military to be “ruthless” with vote-riggers, as preparations were made for rescheduled elections.

Presidential and parliamentary elections were put off just over five hours before polls were due to open on Saturday, causing widespread anger.

New polls have been rescheduled for this Saturday, while governorship and state assembly elections have been pushed back to March 9.

At an emergency meeting of his ruling All Progressives Congress party (APC) in Abuja, Buhari said he intends to make sure the rescheduled ballot proceeds without a hitch.

“I do not expect anybody to make any disturbance,” he told senior party members. “Anybody who decides to snatch (ballot) boxes or use thugs to disturb it (the vote), maybe this will be the last unlawful action he will take.”

Buhari, 76, said he had ordered “the military and the police to be ruthless” to ensure all Nigerians can vote for their chosen candidate.

“I am going to warn anybody who thinks he has enough influence in his locality to lead a body of thugs or snatch (ballot) boxes or to disturb the voting system, he will do it at the expense of his life,” the president added.

Both the APC and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have been accused of wanting to rig the result, notably by buying biometric voter identity cards.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) blamed the last-minute delay on logistical difficulties in the distribution of election materials, as well as sabotage.

Elections have been delayed before in Nigeria: in 2015, there was a six-week postponement on security grounds linked to the Boko Haram conflict in northeast Nigeria.

In 2011, the election was halted after it had already begun due to problems with the non-delivery of ballot papers, results sheets, and other voting materials.

This year’s election is the sixth in the 20 years since Nigeria returned to civilian rule after decades of military government. 

Some 84 million voters are registered.

– Inquiry call -Buhari’s comments came as the APC, PDP and international observers called for calm after the postponement and the PDP said it was a “direct call for jungle justice”.

“It is indeed a licence to kill, which should not come from any leader of any civilized nation,” said party spokesman Kola Ologbondiyan.

Many Nigerians had returned to their home towns and villages to vote, prompting fears they may not return next weekend and turn-out will be low.

Buhari told APC delegates there was no justification for the delay and that questions needed to be answered about “why such incompetence manifested itself”.

INEC chairman Mahmood Yakubu has said the decision to postpone was the commission’s alone and rejected claims of any political interference.

APC chairman Adams Oshiomhole, however, backed a call from his opposite number at the PDP for Yakubu to resign, and accused INEC of “mischief, collusion and double-speak”.

There was a “strong suggestion” the election watchdog had colluded with “anti-democratic forces”, he said, accusing it of warning the PDP in advance about the delay.

PDP challenger Atiku Abubakar’s campaign team has accused the APC of working with INEC and the security services to rig in its favour.

INEC officials across the country meanwhile began reconfiguring the 180,000 electronic machines used to “read” voters cards to account for the new election date.

In the southern city of Port Harcourt, IT personnel were changing the date and other information on about 7,000 machines before Wednesday.

“We are working hard to meet the deadline,” said INEC spokesman Christian Nwokorie. “But the internet connection is a challenge…

“Usually it should take no more than one minute to complete this process but if the network is bad, it can take up to five minutes.”

Batteries on the machines also need to be charged but constant electricity is an issue, he said. INEC has provided generators as back-up, he added.

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Politics

Buthelezi steps down after 44 years as Inkatha Freedom Party leader

He was to some the embodiment of the Zulu spirit and for years was defined by his rivalry with the ruling party.

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Buthelezi steps down after 44 years as Inkatha Freedom Party leader
Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi waves to the crowd. The veteran Zulu nationalist stepped down as Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader on Saturday after 44 years. (Photo by RAJESH JANTILAL / AFP)

Mangosuthu Buthelezi, head of the once-feared Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), on Saturday stepped down as party leader after 44 years.

Buthelezi, 90 led the party from its inception, a reign marked by bloody territorial battles with ANC supporters in black townships during the 1980s and 1990s that left thousands dead.

As prime minister of the “independent” homeland of KwaZulu, a political creation of the apartheid government, Buthelezi was often regarded as an ally of South Africa’s racist apartheid regime.

He was dogged by allegations that he collaborated with the old government to fuel violence to derail the ANC’s liberation struggle – a claim he furiously denied.

“I will not stand for re-election,” he told a congress of his party meeting in the town of Ulundi, north of Durban to elect new leadership.

“My time as president of IFP is finished, I am handing over the baton this afternoon,” he told delegates making reference to a “long” and “difficult” journey he has travelled.

“It was not my own decision to remain as party president for many years, but (we are) democrats, when my party unanimously asked me to lead, I accepted,” he said. 

Buthelezi was a minister in the ANC-led government between 1994 and 2004.

Born of royal blood, he was to some the embodiment of the Zulu spirit and for years was defined by his bitter rivalry with the ruling African National Congress (ANC), a party that was his political home until he broke away to form the IFP in 1975.

Buthelezi, who turns 91 on Tuesday, is the oldest-serving lawmaker in South Africa’s parliament.

He is also listed in the Guinness World Records as having made the longest speech to a legislative assembly with an address in March 1993 over 11 days, with an average of two-and-a-half hours each day.

On Saturday, he spoke for nearly two hours.

The IFP draws its support base from the country’s largest ethnic group, the Zulus, and the party was formed as a cultural organisation.

In the first non-racial elections in 1994, the IFP won 43 seats – but its showing dwindled to just 14 seats in the last vote in May.

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North Africa Politics

Nabil Karoui arrested in Tunisia for money laundering

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Tunisian authorities arrested presidential candidate and media mogul, Nabil Karoui for alleged money laundering, his party said, hours after his channel was banned from covering campaigns.

“About 15 police cars blocked the road and rushed to Nabil Karoui’s car before armed civilian police asked him to come with them, saying they had instructions to arrest him,” said Oussama Khlifi of the mogul’s Qalb Tounes party.

Private radio station Mosaique FM quoted a judicial official Friday confirming that an arrest warrant had been issued against Karoui and his brother Ghazi for money laundering.

Authorities did not immediately confirm his arrest.

Tunisia has been seen as a rare success story among nations that underwent the Arab Spring uprisings, emerging as a nascent democracy.

Karoui was among 26 presidential candidates given preliminary approval this month to run in the election, set for September 15.  

The tycoon was charged with money laundering in early July shortly after stating his intention to stand in the polls, but has remained a leading candidate.

His apparent arrest came the same day as authorities announced a ban on three local outlets — including Karoui’s Nessma TV — from reporting on the election campaign, after they had broadcast “illegally” without licenses. 

Karoui has been accused by regulators and some politicians of using Nessma to bolster his political ambitions. 

The station, launched in 2007, has played up his charity work with footage of him handing out food and clothing. 

He was nearly removed from the race in June when parliament passed an amended electoral code that would bar any candidate who handed out “favours in cash or in kind” in the year before the vote.

But then-president Beji Caid Essebsi neither rejected nor enacted the bill, leaving the door open for Karoui to run.

The polls were brought forward from November, following Essebsi’s death last month.

Karoui had been an active supporter of Essebsi’s election in 2014 and has become the fiercest rival of Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, who is also running for president.

He formally stepped down from Nessma’s management after being criticised by international observers for his channel’s partisan conduct during the 2014 campaign, and officially joined Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party in 2016.

But he subsequently made no secret of continuing to pull the strings at Nessma, while honing his political profile.   

Tunisia’s broadcasting authorities banned Nessma in October 2018, but it did not comply and remains on air.

The regulator accuses the channel of “positioning itself to influence government bodies”, and rebuked it for not having disclosed its shareholders — reportedly including Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi. 

Karoui has said he is being targeted by “attempts to undermine his growing popularity”.

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Politics

Court in South Africa bans display of apartheid-era flag

Judge Phineas Mojapelo said in Johannesburg that any gratuitous display of the old flag was “racist and discriminatory”

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Court in South Africa bans display of apartheid-era flag

In a landmark ruling, a Johannesburg court has barred the unjustified display of South Africa’s apartheid-era national flag, saying such gestures amounted to “hate speech” and “harassment”.

Judge Phineas Mojapelo said in Johannesburg that any gratuitous display of the old flag was “racist and discriminatory”.

“It demonstrates a clear intention to be hurtful, to be harmful and incite harm and it in fact promotes and propagates hatred against black people… it constitutes hate speech”.

The ruling followed a petition to the court by the Nelson Mandela Foundation Trust after the flag was displayed in October 2017 by white South Africans protesting at the murders of white farmers.

The judge said those who publicly displayed the flag “wish to remind black people of the oppression, humiliation, indignity, demonisation that they moved away from and do not wish to relive.”

The former flag was used from 1928 until 1994 by the Union of South Africa, then a British dominion, and by the Republic of South Africa that succeeded it.

It comprised three stripes of orange, white and blue with three small flags at its centre — the emblems of the Orange Free State, Britain and the South African Republic.

Intertwined with the white-minority regime, it was widely known as the “apartheid flag” before being dumped in 1994 with the advent of democracy and its replacement by a multicolour flag.

Mojapelo, a high court judge presiding over what is called an equality court, said the prohibition was not a blanket ban.

The flag could be displayed for academic or artistic purposes in the public interest, he said.

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