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Six killed in Libya capital as diplomats debate ceasefire

Abu Salim mayor Abdelrahman al-Hamdi confirmed the death toll and said 35 other people were wounded

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TRIPOLI, LIBYA - APRIL 17: Funeral ceremony is held for those, who died in rocket attacks by East Libya-based forces led by commander Khalifa Haftar at the Abu Salim neighborhood, at Martyrs' Square in Tripoli, Libya on April 17, 2019. Hazem Turkia / Anadolu Agency

The death toll from rocket fire on the Libyan capital Tripoli, that the UN-recognised government blamed on strongman Khalifa Haftar, climbed to six on Wednesday, as diplomats sought to negotiate a ceasefire.

Diplomats have long complained that Libyan peace efforts have been stymied by major powers backing the rival sides, with Haftar ally Russia quibbling over the proposed wording of the ceasefire demand even as the bombardment of Tripoli intensifies.

Three of the six killed in the rocket fire in Abu Salim and Al-Antisar late on Tuesday were women, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA.

Abu Salim mayor Abdelrahman al-Hamdi confirmed the death toll and said 35 other people were wounded.

AFP journalists heard seven loud explosions as rockets also hit the city centre, the first since Haftar’s Libyan National Army militia launched an offensive on April 4 to capture Tripoli from the government and its militia allies.

The LNA blamed the rocket fire on the “terrorist militias” whose grip on the capital it says it is fighting to end.

The bombardment came as diplomats at the UN Security Council began negotiations on a British-drafted resolution that would demand an immediate ceasefire in Libya.

The proposed text seen by AFP warns the Haftar offensive “threatens the stability of Libya and prospects for a United Nations-facilitated political dialogue and a comprehensive political solution to the crisis.”

No Haftar criticism

After Britain circulated the text late Monday, a first round of negotiations was held during which Russia raised objections to references criticising Haftar, diplomats said.

“They were very clear. No reference anywhere,” a council diplomat said.

During a tour of the Tripoli neighbourhoods worst hit by the rocket fire on Tuesday night, unity government head Fayez al-Sarraj said the Security Council must hold Haftar to account for his forces’ “savagery and barbarism”.

“It’s the legal and humanitarian responsibility of the Security Council and the international community to hold this criminal responsible for his actions,” Sarraj said in footage of the tour released by his office.

He said his government would seek Haftar’s prosecution for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

“We are going to hand all the documentation to the ICC tomorrow (Wednesday) for a prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he said.

At least 189 people have been killed, 816 wounded and more than 18,000 displaced since Haftar ordered his forces to march on Tripoli, according to the World Health Organization.

Britain was hoping to bring the ceasefire resolution to a vote at the Security Council before Friday, but diplomats pointed to Russia’s objections as a hurdle.

The proposed measure echoed a call by UN chief Antonio Guterres, who was in Libya to advance prospects for a political solution when Haftar launched his offensive.

As consultations continued in New York on Wednesday, Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyansky told reporters “we need to have a nice document” but declined to give details on the areas of disagreement.

Asked if the draft resolution could be adopted this week, he said: “It depends on them, not us,” without elaborating.

Proxy war

Haftar, seen by other allies Egypt and the United Arab Emirates as a bulwark against Islamists, has declared he wants to seize the capital.

He backs a rival administration based in eastern Libya that is refusing to recognise the authority of the Tripoli government.

The draft resolution calls on all sides in Libya “immediately to recommit” to UN peace efforts and urges all member states “to use their influence over the parties” to see that the resolution is respected.

Resolutions adopted by the council are legally binding.

Diplomats have long complained that foreign powers backing rival sides in Libya threatened to turn the conflict into a proxy war.

Saudi Arabia is also seen as a key Haftar supporter, while Qatar — which has tense relations with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi — has called for stronger enforcement of the UN arms embargo to keep weapons out of Haftar’s hands.

Russia and France, two veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, have praised Haftar’s battlefield successes in defeating militias aligned with the Islamic State group in the south of the country.

Haftar’s offensive forced the UN to postpone a national conference that was to draw up a roadmap to elections, meant to turn the page on years of chaos since the 2011 ouster of Moamer Kadhafi.

Guterres has said serious negotiations on Libya’s future cannot resume without a ceasefire.

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Sudanese ex-President Bashir admits receiving $90 million from Saudi royal

Bashir faces charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide from the International Criminal Court

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Sudanese ex-President Bashir got $90 million from Saudi royals -Investigator
Sudan's deposed military ruler Omar al-Bashir stands in a defendant's cage during the opening of his corruption trial in Khartoum on August 19, 2019. - Bashir has admitted to receiving $90 million in cash from Saudi monarchs, an investigator told a Khartoum court today. (Photo by Ebrahim HAMID / AFP)

Omar al-Bashir received $90 million in cash from Saudi royals, an investigator told a court at the opening Monday of the deposed Sudanese strongman’s corruption trial.

The former President, who was forced from power by months of protests in April after 30 years in power, sat in a metal cage wearing a traditional white gown.

His relatives chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) as proceedings got underway in the Khartoum court where he arrived in a huge military convoy.

Bashir faces a raft of charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide from the International Criminal Court over his role in the Darfur war but Monday’s trial is over graft allegations.

READ: Former president, Omar al-Bashir appears before a prosecutor

Large amounts of cash were found at this residence after he was toppled and the investigator said the case brought forward to the court probed some of that money.

“The accused told us that the money was part of a sum of $25 million sent to him by Prince Mohammed bin Salman to be used outside of the state budget,” investigator Ahmed Ali said.

According to him, Bashir had said he also received two previous payments of $35 million and $30 million from Saudi King Abdullah, who died in 2015.

“This money was not part of the state budget and I was the one who authorised its spending,” the investigator quoted Bashir as saying.

Sudan’s deposed military ruler Omar al-Bashir stands in a defendant’s cage during the opening of his corruption trial in Khartoum on August 19, 2019. (Photo by Ebrahim HAMID / AFP)

Bashir had said the Saudi money was exchanged and spent and that he could not remember how nor did he have documents providing further details, he added.

READ: Sudan to begin trial of former leader Bashir August 17

Bashir looked calm during the nearly three-hour session, which a photographer and correspondent attended. The next hearing was scheduled for August 24.

Darfur crimes –

In May, Sudan’s prosecutor general also said Bashir had been charged over killings during the anti-regime protests which eventually led to his ouster.

London-based rights watchdog, Amnesty International has warned, however, that the corruption trial should not distract from his Darfur indictments.

“While this trial is a positive step towards accountability for some of his alleged crimes, he remains wanted for heinous crimes committed against the Sudanese people,” Amnesty said.

Amnesty urged the country’s new transitional institutions to ratify the ICC’s Rome Statute, a move that would allow for his transfer to the international tribunal.

The Hague-based ICC has for years demanded that Bashir stand trial, and has renewed its call since his fall.

The head of Bashir’s defence team, Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir, said in July that the ousted leader’s trial had no “political background”.

“It is an absolute criminal case with a baseless accusation.”

It was the sudden tripling of bread prices in December that sparked the mushrooming protests which led to the toppling of Bashir by the army in April.

Sovereign Council –

The trial comes as the composition of the joint civilian and military sovereign council that will steer the country of 40 million through a 39-month transition was due to be unveiled on Monday.

The line-up had been expected to be announced on Sunday but it was delayed after one of the five nominees put forward by the opposition alliance representing protest leaders turned down the job.

READ: Sudanese leaders sign historic deal for civilian rule

Sudanese ex-President Bashir admits receiving $90 million from Saudi royal
Sudan’s protest leader Ahmad Rabie (2nd-R), flashes the victory gesture alongside General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (C), the chief of Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC), during a ceremony where they signed a “constitutional declaration” that paves the way for a transition to civilian rule, in the capital Khartoum. (Photo by Ebrahim HAMID / AFP)

The ruling sovereign council will be composed of 11 members including six civilians and five from the military. 

It will be headed by a general for the first 21 months and by a civilian for the remaining 18 months.

The council will oversee the formation of a transitional civilian administration including a cabinet and a legislative body.

The transition’s key documents were signed on Saturday at a ceremony attended by a host of foreign dignitaries, signalling that Sudan could be on its way to shedding the pariah status the Darfur atrocities and Bashir’s international arrest warrant had conferred on it.

Amidst the euphoria celebrating the promise of civilian rule, unease was palpable, however, within the protest camp that brought about one of the most crucial changes in Sudan’s modern history.

One of its main causes is the omnipresence in the transition of General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, a paramilitary commander and one of the signatories of the documents, whose forces are blamed for the deadly repression of the protests.

And it remains unclear how the transitional institutions will tackle the daunting task of pacifying a country plagued by several conflicts, including in the regions of Darfur, Kordofan and Blue Nile.

READ: Sudan’s new sovereign council faces delayed unveiling

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Cojep movement elects acquitted war criminal Ble Goude as President

He was “elected unanimously” by the 1,250 delegates and will serve as its President for four years

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Cojep movement elects acquitted war criminal Ble Goude as President
Charles Ble Goude, former Ivorian minister and President-elect of the Cojep movement. (AFP)

Charles Ble Goude, acquitted this year of alleged crimes against humanity, was on Sunday chosen to head up the Cojep movement in Ivory Coast which he promises to turn into a political party.

Ble Goude was “elected unanimously” by the 1,250 delegates to the group’s congress in Abidjan and will serve as its President for four years, according to a statement released after the decision.

“My priority is peace and reconciliation for the sons and daughters of Ivory Coast,” he told reporters by telephone from The Hague where he has been living since being acquitted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) there earlier this year.

He had been charged with crimes against humanity committed during his country’s violent political crisis 2010-11.

He was once dubbed the “general of the streets” for his ability to mobilise supporters of Ivory Coast’s former President Laurent Gbagbo during the conflict.

In February, Ble Goude and Gbagbo were found not guilty by the ICC on four counts of murder, rape, and other “inhumane acts.” 

Prosecutors had alleged the crimes were part of a wave of violence sparked when Gbagbo refused to concede an election that vote counters and observers said was won by his rival Alassane Ouattara.

Some 3,000 people died in five months of violence before Ouattara prevailed in April 2011. Gbagbo was arrested in Abidjan with the backing of French forces.

On Saturday, Ble Goude, in a video conference, spoke of his wish to “construct a major party” in Ivory Coast out of the Cojep. 

He had created the Congress of Young Patriots (Cojep) in 2001. The group violently backed Gbagbo’s victory claim and clashed with Ouattara supporters.

In 2015, it was renamed “the Pan-African Congress for Justice and Equality” but kept its old initials, vowing to fight for peace while steering clear of extremists.

Ble Goude has said he will not seek election in a 2020 presidential vote.

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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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