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Sudan’s military council, opposition agree on 3-year transition period

A final agreement on the sharing of power will be signed with the protest movement, within a day.

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Sudanese protestors celebrate after an agreement was reached with the military council to form a three-year transition period for transferring power to a full civilian administration, in Khartoum

Sudanese army rulers and protest leaders Wednesday agreed on a three-year transition period for transferring power to a full civilian administration, even as negotiations over a new sovereign ruling body remain unfinished.

The protest movement is demanding a civilian-led transition following 30 years of iron-fisted rule by now deposed president Omar al-Bashir, but the generals who toppled him have been holding onto a leadership role.

Talks between the two sides resumed earlier in the week but were marred by violence when an army major and five protesters were killed by unidentified gunmen at a long-running sit-in outside military headquarters in Khartoum. 

The two sides announced early Wednesday after nearly 12 hours of negotiations that they had reached an agreement on the transition period.

“We agreed on a transitional period of three years,” Lieutenant General Yasser al-Atta, a member of the military council told reporters.

Atta said a final agreement on the sharing of power, including the forming of the next ruling body — the sovereign council —  will be signed with the protest movement, the Alliance for Freedom and Change, within a day.

“We vow to our people that the agreement will be completed fully within 24 hours in a way that it meets the people’s aspirations,” Atta said.

He said of the transition period, the first six months will be allocated to signing peace accords with rebels in the country’s war zones like Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

Protester Mohamed Abdullah told AFP that he was happy the way the negotiations had turned out so far.

“We will wait for tomorrow’s talks, but my only question is ‘Who will guarantee this agreement with the military council?’,” he said as thousands of demonstrators gathered for another sit-in overnight.

US blames army rulers

The army generals had initially insisted on a two-year transition period, while the protest leaders wanted four years.

Key negotiations however remain on the composition of the sovereign council, which will replace the existing ruling body made up solely of generals. 

The generals say this should be military led while protest leaders want it to be majority civilian.

After the forming of the sovereign council, a new transitional civilian government will be formed to run the country’s day-to-day affairs and would work towards having the first post-Bashir elections after the end of the transition period.

Atta said that during the transition period parliament will be composed of 300 members, of which 67 percent will be from the Alliance for Freedom and Change and the rest will be from other political groups.

The Alliance for Freedom and Change meanwhile said the shootings on Monday were an attempt to “disturb the breakthrough” in talks.

On Tuesday, the United States blamed the army itself for the deaths.

They “were clearly the result of the Transitional Military Council trying to impose its will on the protesters by attempting to remove roadblocks”, the US embassy said on its Facebook page.

“The decision for security forces to escalate the use of force, including the unnecessary use of tear gas, led directly to the unacceptable violence later in the day that the TMC was unable to control,” it said.

‘Protect your homeland’

Protest leaders, who on Monday had blamed the remnants of Bashir’s regime and allied militias, changed their stand on Tuesday.

“We put the whole responsibility on the military council for what happened yesterday because it’s their direct responsibility to guard and protect the citizens,” Mohamed Naji al-Assam, a prominent figure in the movement, told reporters.

The latest round of talks which opened on Monday come after a break in negotiations that saw protest leaders threaten “escalatory measures” to secure their central demand of civilian rule.

The issue has kept thousands of protesters camped outside army headquarters around the clock ever since Bashir’s overthrow.

The sit-in has become the focal point for the protest movement, overtaking the near daily protests that had been held across Sudan while the veteran president remained in power.

But on Tuesday protesters in the capital’s twin city Omdurman also vented their anger on the streets. 

Protesters gathered in the Abbassiya and Al-Arbaa districts, just across the Nile from the capital, with many chanting slogans against the military council, witnesses told AFP.

“Protect your homeland or prepare to die!” the protesters chanted. 

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Amnesty International demands ‘unconditional’ release of Mauritanian bloggers

Freedom of expression in Mauritania has come under the spotlight in recent years

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Amnesty International demands 'unconditional' release of Mauritanian bloggers

Amnesty International has called on Mauritania to “immediately and unconditionally” release two well-known bloggers who it says have been held for two months over social media posts about alleged corruption in the country.  

Amnesty said the young bloggers, Cheikh Ould Jiddou and Abderrahmane Weddady, were arrested in late March by the Economic Crimes Unit in Mauritania’s capital, Nouakchott and charged with “malicious accusation” over comments they made on Facebook alleging corruption among Mauritanian officials. 

“Their unlawful detention shows that the Mauritanian government is determined to crush dissent and use charges of ‘malicious news’ against perceived critical voices in the country,” said Amnesty’s West Africa Campaigner, Kine Fatim Diop, in a statement released on Tuesday.

“Two months after their arrest, Weddady and Ould Jiddou are still languishing in detention, and we are calling for their immediate and unconditional release.”

According to a statement from the lawyers for the bloggers, Brahim Ould Ebetty and Henri Thulliez, had highlighted foreign press reports alleging the “potential freezing of a bank account belonging to the head of state by Dubai authorities”.

They said the bloggers had investigated a property Ponzi scheme, which they say was fronted by a religious leader and could have benefitted the relatives of the president.  

Burkina Faso has set June 22 for the first round of elections to succeed President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, a former general who is stepping down after his second and final term in office.

Freedom of expression in Mauritania has come under the spotlight in recent years, with international concern over a death sentence handed to blogger, Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould Mkheitir in 2014 for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a blog post. 

The sentence was later downgraded to a two-year jail term. 

Mauritania fell 17 spots in Reporters Without Borders’ 2018 World Press Freedom Index, the biggest drop of any African nation.

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South Africa extradites former Mozambique finance minister

Mozambique has accused Chang of receiving $17 million in kickbacks in a scam which creamed off hundreds of millions.

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South Africa extradites former Mozambique finance minister
Manuel Chang, former finance minister of Mozambique, appears at the Kempton Park Magistrates court to fight extradition to the United states in Kempton Park, South Africa. - South Africa announced on May 21, 2019 its decision to extradite Manuel Chang to his Mozambique. (Photo by Wikus DE WET / AFP)

South Africa said Tuesday it would send home former Mozambique Finance Minister, Manuel Chang, who has been held since December on a US arrest warrant, to face corruption charges.

“I have decided that the accused, Mr. Manuel Chang, will be extradited to stand trial for his alleged offences in Mozambique,” South African Justice Minister, Michael Masutha said in a statement.

“I am satisfied that the interest of justice will be best served by acceding to the request by the Republic of Mozambique,” Masutha said.

Chang, 63, was arrested at Johannesburg airport in December at the request of US authorities over alleged involvement in fraudulent loans to Mozambique state firms worth $2 billion.

Mozambique has accused Chang of receiving $17 million in kickbacks in a scam which creamed off hundreds of millions.

In the US, Chang faces charges of conspiracy to commit electronic fraud, financial security violations and money laundering, and could be jailed for up to 45 years if found guilty.

The South African minister said he had noted that the US submitted its extradition request weeks before Mozambique’s one.

After weighing the relevant facts and taking into account the criteria contained in both the extradition treaties between the US and South Africa, and the southern African SADC regional bloc agreement on extradition, he said he had decided to send Chang back home.

US Assistant Secretary of State, Tibor Nagy in March said he expected Pretoria to honour an extradition accord it signed in 1999. 

‘Seriousness of alleged offence’ –

South African Foreign Minister Lindiwe Sisulu had indicated in February, however, that Chang would be handed to Maputo because it would be “the easiest thing for everybody”.

In reaching his decision, Masutha said he had taken into consideration that the alleged offence was committed whilst Chang was a cabinet minister in Mozambique and also his preference to face trial in his native country. 

The minister said he also took into account the “seriousness of the alleged offence” and the “onerous debt for Mozambique as a result of the alleged fraud”.

In Mozambique, Chang stands accused of abuse of position and function, violation of budget law, fraud, embezzlement, receiving bribes, money laundering and criminal association.

The charges against Chang relate to loans taken out by the government in Maputo when he was head of treasury between 2005 and 2015.

An independent audit found that a quarter of the loan amount was illicitly diverted.

The US alleges at least $200 million of the loans was spent on bribes and kick-backs.

Mozambique has arrested several other suspects linked to the scandal, including the son of ex-president Armando Guebuza, and senior intelligence officials.

In January, three former Credit Suisse workers were arrested in London and charged with helping to create $2 billion in maritime projects as a front.

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Gabon’s president sacks vice president and forestry minister

The forestry ministry is now placed “under the direct authority” of the Prime Minister.

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Kevazingo gate: Gabon leader sacks vice president and forestry minister
Gabonese President, Ali Bongo Ondimba. (Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP)

Gabon’s leader, Ali Bongo on Tuesday announced the dismissal of his Vice President and the Minister of Forests, in a move that comes amid a scandal over the smuggling of precious timber.

The president did not give a reason for the sackings of Vice President, Pierre Claver Maganga Moussavou and Forestry and Environment Minister Guy Bertrand Mapangou, in his statement late Tuesday.

No new minister was appointed to the forest and environment portfolio, which was placed “under the direct authority” of the Prime Minister.

There have been intensifying calls for Mapangou to resign in recent days in the press and from civil society groups in the aftermath of the theft of hundreds of seized containers of kevazingo, a rare wood considered sacred.

Nearly 5,000 cubic metres (177,000 cubic feet) of kevazingo worth some 7 million euros ($7.8 million) was found in two depots belonging to Chinese companies in the Libreville port of Owendo in February and March.

Several suspects were arrested, but 353 of the containers -which had been confiscated -mysteriously disappeared.

The wood had allegedly been loaded into containers bearing water and forestry ministry labels, falsely describing it as okoume -a kind of timber cleared for export.

Local media have called the scandal “kevazingogate”.

Earlier in May, the government said several top Gabonese officials had been suspended over suspected involvement in smuggling the precious timber.

Kevazingo is a rare central African wood that is prized in Asia, notably for sculpting into temple doorways, tea tables and meeting tables.

Gabon, three quarters of whose land mass is forested, last year banned the exploitation of kevazingo after illegal felling reached alarming proportions.

The industry is hugely important for the West African nation’s economy, supporting some 17,000 jobs, and is second only to the petroleum sector in terms of foreign earnings and accounts for 60 per cent of non-oil related GDP.  

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