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Shiite leader Zakzaky and wife leave Nigeria for medical treatment

Zakzaky has been in custody along with his wife Zeenah Ibrahim since their arrest in December 2015

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Shiite leader Zakzaky and wife leave Nigeria for medical treatment
(File photo)

Nigerian Shi’ite leader Ibrahim Zakzaky and his wife, detained by the authorities since 2015, on Monday flew out of the country to receive medical treatment in India, his supporters and lawyers said.

“The leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky and his wife have at last just left Nigeria for India alongside some family members and security operatives,” his supporters said in a statement.

Two of his lawyers confirmed the cleric’s departure from the capital Abuja on an Emirates flight. 

Zakzaky has been in custody along with his wife Zeenah Ibrahim since their arrest in December 2015 after violence that saw the army kill some 350 of his followers. 

Fears over the couple’s health had fuelled a wave of recent protests in Abuja that descended into bloodshed after a brutal crackdown from security forces.

A court last week granted permission for them to receive medical care in India under Nigerian government supervision.

The authorities insist they must return to Nigeria to stand trial once their treatment is completed.

Gunned down –

Zakzaky, in his mid-sixties, was arrested in 2015 after the violence in the northern city of Zaria that saw hundreds of his supporters gunned down by security forces and buried in mass graves.

The cleric’s lawyers say he has lost his sight in one eye, is on the verge of going blind in the other and still has bullet fragments lodged in his body from the violence. His supporters say he has suffered a series of minor strokes. 

A court in 2016 ordered the release of Zakzaky and his wife — but the authorities refused and filed charges against him including homicide.

Supporters held almost daily protests in Abuja in recent months pushing for his release as fears mounted about his health condition.

At least eight people, including six protesters, a senior police officer and a trainee journalist, were killed during clashes on July 22. The IMN said 20 of its members were shot dead.

The Nigerian government officially outlawed the group late last month in a move that sparked fears of a harsher clampdown.

After the ban, the country’s police chief labelled anyone associated with the group an “enemy of the state” and called on the public to help track down its members.

The cleric and his group, which emerged from a student movement in the 1970s, have been at loggerheads with the authorities for years because of calls for an Iranian-style Islamic revolution in Nigeria.

Shi’ites make up a small minority in predominantly Sunni Muslim northern Nigeria. Estimates put their numbers at around four million in a national population of about 190 million.

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Liberian opposition MP accuses President Weah’s supporters of assassination plot

President Weah said the violence was perpetrated by members of both the ruling CDC and the opposition CPP parties

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Liberian opposition MP accuses of President Weah's supporters of attack on her
Liberian president George Weah. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP)

An opposition lawmaker in Liberia on Monday accused supporters of President George Weah’s party of trying to assassinate her while she was campaigning for an election re-run.

Tellia Urey, the candidate for an opposition bloc for an upcoming election re-run in the capital Monrovia, told journalists her vehicle was also badly damaged by members of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) party.

“I was in a meeting with my partisans on Saturday when supporters of the CDC started to throw stones at the building, breaking glasses. I was sent to a room without window for my security. 

“We called the police, they came 20 minutes later but to stand and look… We were indoors for one and a half hours. People were getting injured. There was no other option but to try and get me out,” she said.

When they emerged, they found Urey’s car badly damaged and her driver injured. One man “came in with a knife trying to get me,” she added.

“Our campaign for the re-run in District 15 will not be possible this time because we cannot put our partisans at risk. I want to beg the international community to help us save the lives of our people,” Urey said.

By-elections were held on July 29 to fill two seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The National Election Commission announced a re-run of voting at six polling stations in the district after a dispute hearing in which Urey claimed electoral fraud.

The Collaborating Political Parties coalition to which Urey belongs slammed the attack as “another bloody day in our country’s history.”

“Unfortunately, our government under the leadership of George Weah is the promoter of violence against our citizens whose only crime is to exercise their political franchise, the same process from which George Weah and his political followers have benefited.”

Weah said the violence was perpetrated by both the CDC and the CPP and launched an investigation.

“Electoral violence in all its forms will not be tolerated, and individuals who disrupt the peace will face the full weight of the law,” a statement from the presidential office said.

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Burkina Faso soldiers killed in “major terrorist attack”

Security sources say death toll could rise to 20 as more soldiers are still missing

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Burkina Faso soldiers killed in "major terrorist attack"
(File photo)

More than a dozen soldiers died on Monday during a “major attack” by “terrorist armed groups” in northern Burkina Faso, the army said, adding that it could be the deadliest ever against the armed forces.

With other soldiers still missing, the death toll could pass 20, several security sources said.

“In the early morning, the military detachment of the Koutougou department in Soum province was the target of a major attack by armed terrorist groups,” said a statement from the general staff.

“A provisional report states that more than a dozen soldiers were killed, and several were wounded.”

The assailants used heavy weapons and burnt a large portion of the camp and material, a security source told reporters. 

“In response to this barbaric attack, a large air and ground operation led to the neutralisation of several assailants,” the general staff said without elaborating. 

Burkina Faso has been battling a rising wave of jihadist violence over the last four years which began in the north but has since spread to the east, near the border with Togo and Benin.

The heaviest Islamist attack against Burkina’s army to date left 12 soldiers dead at Nassoumbou, also in Soum province, in December 2016.

More than 40 jihadists aboard pickup trucks and on motorcycles laid assault to a military post close to the Mali border.

Overnight Thursday to Friday armed men described as jihadists raided a village in the north, killing 15 people, plundering and burning shops, a regional governor said.

Most attacks are attributed to the Ansarul Islam group, which emerged near the Mali border in December 2016, and to the JNIM (Group to Support Islam and Muslims), which has sworn allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Those groups are believed to be responsible for around 500 deaths since 2015. Burkina’s capital Ouagadougou has been attacked three times.

France has deployed 4,500 troops in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad in a mission codenamed Barkhane to help local forces flush out jihadists.

Burkina Faso has also joined four other Sahel nations (Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) in an initiative aimed at creating a joint 5,000-troop anti-terror force, also backed by France.

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Kenyan authorities arrest foreigners with ivory bracelets at airport

Spaniard Maria Pich-Aguilera, 50, was arrested on Sunday evening and pleaded guilty, paying a fine of Ksh 1 million for illegal possession of ivory

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Kenyan authorities arrest foreigners with ivory bracelets at airport
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, Kenya. (File photo)

A Spanish woman has become the second foreigner in a week to be arrested at Kenya’s international airport for wearing an ivory bangle, the wildlife service said Monday.

Spaniard Maria Pich-Aguilera, 50, was arrested on Sunday evening and pleaded guilty, paying a fine of Ksh 1 million for illegal possession of ivory.

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said in a statement she was “arrested at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport with an ivory bangle,” while travelling from Nairobi to Tanzania’s financial capital Dar es Salaam. She was allowed to leave for Tanzania after paying her fine.

Last week, a Frenchwoman was arrested at the airport on her way from France to Mayotte for possession of an ivory bracelet. She pleaded guilty and also paid the Ksh 1 million fine — the alternative is 12 months in prison.

“We noticed this new trend where ivory is smuggled through worked or processed bangles and we have increased surveillance,” said an investigator speaking on condition of anonymity. 

A KWS official, also asking not to be named, said that trafficking included “ornamentals made out of ivory”.

“It may be legal in other countries but here it is not. That is why you always hear a call to stop ivory trade all over the world because any small or big demand anywhere pushes poachers to meet the demands.”

Global trade in elephant ivory has largely been outlawed since 1989 after the animal’s numbers plunged from millions in the mid-20th century.

The African Elephant Database estimates that by 2015, fewer than 415,000 of the giant mammals remained on the continent.

Thousands of conservationists and policymakers from more than 180 countries are currently meeting in Geneva to tighten rules on trade in elephant ivory and products from other endangered animal and plants.

The plight of African elephants is expected to dominate the debate.

Some states are calling for the strongest possible level of protection for all African elephants, while countries in southern Africa, where populations have traditionally been better protected and healthier, are requesting the resumption of ivory stockpile sales.

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