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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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  • Biafra separatists checked as Buhari gets top title on visit to Igboland

    Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday started his tour of the country’s southeast – known to be the heartland of the Igbo people.

    It is Buhari’s first visit to the region since taking office in 2015. It also came amidst tensions over deadly clashes between the Nigerian army and separatist group, the Indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB).

    Buhari arrived in Ebonyi State where he was received by the governor and other top brass of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

    He was also conferred with a top chieftaincy title in Igboland. The two titles were “Enyioma 1 of Ebonyi and Ochioha Ndi Igbo 1.” “Enyioma 1” means My Number 1 Good Friend, and “Ochioha Ndi Igbo 1” means Overall Leader Number 1 of the Igbo people.

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  • Mugabe under house arrest as military takes control

    Zimbabwe's military was in control of the country on Wednesday as President Robert Mugabe said he was under house arrest and his generals denied staging a coup.

    Mugabe's decades-long grip on power appeared to be slipping as armoured military vehicles blockaded parliament, soldiers took up positions at strategic points across Harare and senior soldiers commandeered state television to broadcast a late-night address.

    "The president... and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed," Major General Sibusiso Moyo said late Tuesday.

    "We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes... As soon as we have accomplished our mission we expect that the situation will return to normalcy."

    AFP/File / Jekesai NJIKIZANAThe ruling ZANU-PF party accused army chief General Constantino Chiwenga of "treasonable conduct" after he criticised President Robert Mugabe for sacking vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa. 

    Moyo added: "This is not a military takeover of government".

    Their shock announcement was later followed by heavy gunfire close to the 93-year-old president's private residence, and prompted angry responses from around the world.

    Mugabe later told South African President Jacob Zuma that he was effectively under house arrest -- though unharmed. Several supporters of Mugabe and his wife Grace are reportedly in military custody.

    Pretoria said it would deploy a military and intelligence delegation to Harare to help broker a resolution to the crisis on behalf of southern Africa's regional bloc.

    The Southern African Development Community said it would hold an emergency meeting in Botswana on Thursday to discuss the situation.

    South Africa, the European Union, the United Nations and Britain, Zimbabwe's former colonial master, all called for restraint.

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  • Mugabe: Liberation hero turned despot

    Zimbabwe's veteran leader Robert Mugabe once quipped that he'd rule his country until he turned 100.

    But, aged 93, his grip on power seems to be ebbing as tensions erupt between his loyal ZANU-PF party and the military that has helped keep him in office.

    First heralded as a liberator who rid the former British colony Rhodesia of white minority rule, Robert Gabriel Mugabe was soon cast in the role of a despot who crushed political dissent and ruined the national economy.

    The former political prisoner turned guerrilla leader swept to power in 1980 elections after a violent insurgency and economic sanctions forced the Rhodesian government to the negotiating table.

    In office he initially won international plaudits for his declared policy of racial reconciliation and for extending improved education and health services to the black majority.

    But his lustre faded quickly.

    Mugabe took control of one wing in the guerrilla war for independence -- the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and its armed forces -- after his release from prison in 1974.

    His partner in the armed struggle -- the leader of the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), Joshua Nkomo -- was one of the early casualties of Mugabe's crackdown on dissent.

    Nkomo was dismissed from government, where he held the home affairs portfolio, after the discovery of an arms cache in his Matabeleland province stronghold in 1982.

    Mugabe, whose party drew most of its support from the ethnic Shona majority, then unleashed his North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade on Nkomo's Ndebele people in a campaign known as Gukurahundi that killed an estimated 20,000 suspected dissidents.

    It was the seizure of white-owned farms nearly two decades later that would complete Mugabe's transformation from darling of the West into international pariah -- though his status as a liberation hero still resonates in many parts of Africa.

    Aimed largely at placating angry war veterans who threatened to destabilise his rule, the land reform policy wrecked the crucial agricultural sector, caused foreign investors to flee and helped plunge the country into economic misery.

    At the same time, critics say, Mugabe clung to power through increased repression of human rights and by rigging elections.

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