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Pro-Biafran group IPOB calls off Nigeria election boycott

Opinion is divided between those who wanted to boycott the election and those keen to vote.

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A member of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) party talks with people about why not to vote in the upcoming general elections in Aba - AFP

A pro-Biafran separatist group said Friday it had lifted its call for a boycott of Nigeria’s presidential and parliamentary elections this weekend.

The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) wants independence for the Igbo people who are the majority in southeast Nigeria, and had urged its supporters not to vote on Saturday.

IPOB’s self-styled “supreme leader” — former London estate agent Nnamdi Kanu — has said the action was part of a wider call for a referendum on sovereignty.

But he tweeted late Thursday that the boycott was lifted as all the group’s “preconditions and terms have been met, signed, sealed and delivered”.

Kanu, who is in his 40s, disappeared after an army raid on his home in the southeastern city of Umuahia in September 2017. He re-emerged in Israel in October and is now in Britain.

The IPOB high command confirmed the decision in a statement on Friday, but neither it nor Kanu gave further details, which it undertook to publish later.

This will likely fuel speculation of a deal between the group and the main opposition People’s Democratic Party, which stood to lose out if Igbo voters — who tend to support the PDP — stayed at home.

The five states in southeast Nigeria have just over 10 million registered voters and have long been a stronghold for the PDP.

The party’s presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar has chosen an Igbo politician, Peter Obi, as his running mate.

Abubakar, a former vice-president, has said he is in favour of restructuring Nigeria’s federal system by devolving more power from the centre.

The southeast has long complained it has been marginalised by successive governments and military regimes since the end of the civil war in 1970.

The conflict, which killed more than a million people, started after a unilateral declaration of an independent republic of Biafra in 1967.

No Igbo politician has held high office since 1983, when Alex Ekwueme was Shehu Shagari’s vice-president.

Shagari and Ekwueme were ousted in a coup led by army general Muhammadu Buhari, who has been a  civilian president since 2015.

On the streets of Umuahia, the capital of Abia state, opinion was divided between those who wanted to boycott the election and those keen to vote.

Emmanuel Odiwonma, a market trader in Aba, said people in the region had been treated as “second-class citizens” and was happy to stay at home.

But pensioner Edmond Okoli, said: “If you boycott the election, you’re encouraging the person you don’t want to win, it is stupid” 

The arrest of Nnamdi Kanu on treason charges in October 2015 sparked a wave of street protests across the southeast, leading to clashes with the security forces.

The region has been largely calm in the run-up to the election, but there has been a noticeable increase in military and police checkpoints, AFP correspondents said.

In recent days, hundreds of young IPOB supporters marched in several towns, calling on local people to stand up against the federal government.

Two electoral commission offices in Abia and neighbouring Anambra state caught fire this month, destroying election materials. But there has been no claim of responsibility.

Security analyst Don Okereke said President Muhammadu Buhari was unpopular in the southeast partly  because it is a mainly Christian area and many Igbos are businesspeople.

Nigeria is emerging slowly from recession caused in part by a slump in global oil prices.

“People want business to pick up again, they attribute the economic slowdown and the high level of unemployment to Buhari’s administration,” he added, predicting a high turnout.

But one trader in Aba, Leonard Munachimso, expressed doubts: “Many of us, as Biafrans, didn’t even get our PVCs (permanent voter cards), so we can’t go out and vote.

“I don’t think many of us will go out to the poll.”

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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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Libyan National Army attack Mitiga airport and Zuwara airfield

Libyan National Army said it targeted a hangar “which houses Turkish drones and their ammunition”.

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(FILES) This file photo taken on April 08, 2019, shows the Mitiga International Airport in Libya's capital Tripoli. - Rocket fire on August 11 hit the Libyan capital's sole functioning airport, violating a temporary truce between the unity government and forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar, airport authorities said. (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

Tripoli’s sole functioning airport Mitiga and Zuwara airfield were targeted for the second time in less than 48 hours – the former hit overnight Thursday and the latter on Friday morning.

The Government of National Accord (GNA) reported that three people were wounded in the raids by forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar against the two airports under its control.

Airport management at Mitiga reported rocket fire against the runway “as planes took off and landed”. 

The UN-recognised GNA said on Facebook that Haftar’s forces “targeted employees of the airport services company” at Mitiga with Grad missiles, causing shrapnel wounds to two workers and damaging a bus.

Flights were temporarily suspended or rerouted to Misrata, 200 kilometres (120 miles) east of Tripoli.

In the attack against Zuwara airfield, Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army said it targeted a hangar “which houses Turkish drones and their ammunition”.

The Tripoli-based GNA said a member of civil protection was wounded in that attack.

Pro-Haftar forces also “targeted other hangars… located 1.5 kilometres to the east of Abu Kamach”, LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mesmari said on Facebook.

The country’s biggest petrochemical complex is located there, near the Tunisian border.

Forces loyal to the GNA and the LNA are embroiled in a stalemate in Tripoli’s southern outskirts after Haftar launched an offensive against the capital in April.

Fighting over the last four months has killed 1,093 people and wounded 5,752, according to the World Health Organization. 

Some 120,000 have been displaced over the same period.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. 

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Mozambique’s Renamo party says members attacked after peace deal

Renamo spokesman, Jose Manteigas said party members have been assaulted by police and members of the ruling Frelimo party

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Mozambique's Renamo party says members attacked after peace deal
(Photo by STEFAN BARBIER / AFP)

Mozambique’s former rebel group-turned-opposition party Renamo on Friday said its members came under attack just days after the signing of a historic peace deal aimed at ending years of conflict. 

Renamo spokesman, Jose Manteigas said dozens of party members have been assaulted by police and members of the ruling Frelimo party across the country, adding that the attacks could threaten the landmark peace agreement.

He said Renamo members have been beaten and their houses and other properties torched in the provinces of Tete, Zambezia, Inhambane and Gaza, mainly in night-time attacks since August 8.

That was just two days after the much-hailed and long-awaited peace deal was signed by President Filipe Nyusi and Renamo leader Ossufo Momade on August 6.

“Unfortunately, contrary to the common desire for peace, national reconciliation, acceptance of different thinking and peaceful political cohabitation, two days after the signing of the Maputo Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, acts of violence and political intolerance were perpetrated by members of the Frelimo party, (and) police… in various parts of the country,” Manteigas said.

“These macabre acts are politically motivated” and bring into “question the effectiveness of the agreement,” he told reporters at the party headquarters in the capital Maputo.

He added that said senior Frelimo officials, particularly in the northwest of the country, have consistently prevented Renamo from carrying out political activities.

The allegations come just two weeks before campaigning begins for general elections on October 15 that Frelimo, the country’s dominant political force for more than four decades, is expected to win.

After the country gained independence from Portugal in 1975, Renamo fought a brutal civil war against the Frelimo government that left one million people dead before fighting stopped in 1992.

Despite the end of the civil war — and the group transforming into a political party — Renamo retained an armed wing.

Fresh clashes then erupted again between government forces and Renamo fighters between 2013 and 2016.

However, Renamo started disarming its armed wing late last month as part of the peace deal.

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