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  • Libya and Italy to set up joint operations to tackle migrant smuggling

    Libya’s UN-backed government has entered into an agreement with Italy to establish a joint operations room for tackling migrant smugglers and traffickers.

    The agreement was announced after a meeting in Tripoli between the head of the Government of National Accord (GNA), Fayez Seraj, Libyan Interior Minister Aref Khodja, and his Italian counterpart Marco Minniti.

    While no details were given as to where the center would be located and how it would work, Seraj’s office said the center would consist of representatives from the coastguard, the illegal migration department, the Libyan attorney general, and the intelligence services, along with their Italian counterparts.

    Libya is the main gateway for migrants trying to cross to Europe by sea, though numbers have dropped sharply since July as Libyan factions and authorities have begun to block departures under Italian pressure. More than 600,000 migrants have made the journey over the past four years.

    More pressure mounted on the Libyan authorities when CNN released footage that appeared to show African migrants being sold as slaves in Libya. Protests in Europe and Africa caused the UN backed Libyan government to promise action including investigating reports of slavery and bringing the perpetrators to justice.

    The United Nations migration agency IOM is currently repatriating migrants back to their home countries, helping up to 13,000 to return voluntarily to Nigeria, Guinea and other countries from Libya this year. It provides them with transport and pocket money and documents their often harrowing testimonies.

    The agency recently blasted social media giants Facebook for not doing enough to prevent use of their platforms by the people smugglers.

    The Italian navy already has a presence in Tripoli port, providing “technical” assistance to Libya’s coastguard, according to Italian and Libyan officials.

    The coastguard, which is receiving funding and training from the European Union, has become more assertive in recent months in intercepting migrants and bringing them back to Libya.

    According to Saturday’s statement, Seraj told Minniti that “despite the successes achieved in the migration file, the number of illegal immigrants outside shelters remains large and we need more cooperation, especially in securing the borders of southern Libya through which these migrants flow”.

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  • Zimbabwe president names new head of state intelligence outfit

    Zimbabwe has named a former diplomat as the head of its intelligence agency, state-owned newspaper The Herald said on Saturday.

    Isaac Moyo, who was serving as an ambassador to neighbouring South Africa and Lesotho, replaces retired army general Happyton Bonyongwe, the paper quoted chief secretary to the president, Misheck Sibanda, as saying.

    No one was immediately available to comment in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office. The Herald is a mouthpiece for the government.

    Moyo takes over a domestic spy network, the Central Intelligence Organisation, that permeates every institution and section of society and has been used by former President Robert Mugabe to stay in power.

    He has served as a member of the African Union’s Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA), intelligence provider to the union’s 55 states.

    Mnangagwa, who was sworn in two weeks ago in the wake of the de facto military coup that ended Mugabe’s 37-year rule, has been ringing in changes in his administration including appointing leading military officials to top posts in his cabinet.

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  • Togo frees detained Imams critical of government

    Authorities in Togo have released two religious leaders detained for their critical views on the regime of President Faure Gnassingbe.

    One of the two Imams, Alpha Alhassane, a revered spiritual leader in the second largest city of Sokode is also a known adviser of a leading opposition Pan-African National Party leader Tikpi Atchadam.

    His arrest in October this year led to violent protests in Sokode with public buildings reportedly torched by angry protesters. The gendarmerie, post office, parts of the Togo Telecoms building among others were targeted by the protesters who clashed with the security forces, reports said.

    Even though the reason for his arrest at the time was unknown, it was reported to be linked to the series of anti-government protests organised by the opposition.

    A video making the rounds on social media, showed the Imam with well wishers supposedly after his release from detention.

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  • Trump defends Asia trip, vows 'maximum pressure' on N.Korea

    US President Donald Trump hit back at critics of his recent Asia trip and vowed a global campaign of "maximum pressure" on North Korea Wednesday, warning Pyongyang will not subject the world to "nuclear blackmail."

    Defending an almost two week trip to Asia that was long on pomp but -- critics say -- short on achievements, Trump said he had successfully galvanized opposition to North Korean proliferation.

    "I made clear that we will not allow this twisted dictatorship to hold the world hostage to nuclear blackmail," Trump said in a televised statement a day after returning from the marathon trip.

    During a 25 minute address, Trump repeatedly reached for a bottle of water and appeared worn by the long journey that took in Hawaii, South Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

    Always keen to garner praise and lift up examples of others showing him respect, Trump said the red carpet rolled out for him in Asia showed that "America is back."

    "Everywhere we went, our foreign hosts greeted the American delegation and myself included with incredible warmth and hospitality and most importantly respect," he said.

    Trump and his supporters are fighting a rearguard action against suggestions that the trip was a failure.

    They are pointing to a series of Asian investments in the United States and the release of three US basketball players on Chinese shoplifting charges, after presidential intervention, as evidence it was a success.

    Adding to that, Trump himself said that he had won a commitment from Chinese leader Xi Jinping to use Beijing's economic leverage to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

    It was not clear if that went beyond Chinese implementation of existing UN Security Council resolutions against Pyongyang.

    Trump also suggested that Xi -- who will send a special envoy to Pyongyang later this week -- had ditched a proposal to freeze US military maneuvers in exchange for a freeze in North Korean proliferation.

    "President Xi recognizes that a nuclear North Korea is a grave threat to China," Trump said. "And we agreed that we would not accept a so-called 'freeze for freeze' agreement like those that have consistently failed in the past."

    There was no immediate confirmation of what would be a significant shift in Chinese policy from Beijing's embassy in Washington.

    - Welcome home -

    Democratic Senator Edward Markey summed up the sentiment of many in his camp in saying that Trump failed to "make meaningful progress" on "critical economic and security issues during his trip to East Asia."

    "Rather than building on the messages in Japan and South Korea on the importance of trilateral unity in the face of the North Korean threat, President Trump tweeted about how hard he has tried to be North Korea's friend and called Kim Jong Un 'short and fat,'" he said.

    Aside the furor over Trump tweets, his visit also saw 11 Asia-Pacific allies announce they would press ahead with a free trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

    That was seen as a diplomatic slap in the face and evidence that the world was looking beyond America's mercurial and nationalistic current leadership.

    "The US is out of the game," said Nate Olson of the Stimson Center. "While the US posture alternates between defensive and scorched-earth, other countries are actively fighting to reshape the trade landscape in their favor."

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  • Stunned Zimbabweans face uncertain future without Mugabe

    Zimbabweans were weighing an uncertain future without President Robert Mugabe Thursday after the army took power and placed the 93-year-old veteran, once seen as a liberation hero, under house arrest.

    Most people in the country have not known a time without Mugabe, who has been at the epicentre of public life since coming to power in 1980 on the country's independence from Britain.

    The nation was left stunned after the ailing leader was confined to his residence late Tuesday as soldiers took up positions at strategic points across Harare and senior officers commandeered state television.

    AFP/File / Jekesai NJIKIZANARobert Mugabe took power in Zimbabwe after its independence from Britain in 1980

    The Southern African Development Community bloc, currently chaired by Zimbabwe's powerhouse neighbour South Africa, was to meet in Botswana later Thursday to discuss the dramatic situation.

    And though nothing has been heard from Mugabe or his wife Grace directly since the start of the army operation, many Zimbabweans are hopeful that the crisis will mark the beginning of a more prosperous future.

    AFP / Jean Michel CORNU, Vincent LEFAIZimbabwe's Robert Mugabe

    "Our economic situation has deteriorated every day -- no employment, no jobs," Tafadzwa Masango, a 35-year-old unemployed man, told AFP.

    "We hope for a better Zimbabwe after the Mugabe era. We feel very happy. It is now his time to go."

    Harare's residents have largely ignored the military presence on the streets and continued commuting, socialising and working much as normal, while analysts speculated that Mugabe and the army could be negotiating a transition.

    - 'The demise of Robert' -

    Derek Matyszak, an analyst at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, said he expects Mugabe and the military are thrashing out a handover to a new head of state.

    "I think Mugabe can still stay in the country. I think they would like to present him as a liberation icon and accord him due respect.

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