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  • One of Yahya Jammeh’s ex-strongmen is being investigated for crimes against humanity

    Swiss authorities have detained Gambia’s former interior minister, who served under exiled ex-president Yahya Jammeh for 10 years, and are investigating him for crimes against humanity. Bern prosecutor Christof Scheurer told AFP Thursday that Ousman Sonko, who was Jammeh’s interior minister from 2006 until he was sacked in September 2016, had been detained after a complaint was lodged by Swiss rights group TRIAL International. Sign up to our daily newsletter for your chance to win. Scheurer said that Sonko was being investigated under article 264a of Switzerland’s criminal code. The article covers crimes against humanity, including torture and other human rights abuses. Human rights organizations ...

     

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  • Trump may find kindred spirit in India's Modi, another tough-talking nationalist

    NEW DELHI — One man came from privileged beginnings and went to all the right schools, the other was the son of a tea-seller.

    Yet both India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Donald J. Trump rose to power as populist outsiders willing to disrupt entrenched power systems in their respective capitals.

    The two men men spoke Tuesday, their first interaction since a brief congratulatory phone call after Trump’s election in November. In a summary of the call, the White House said Trump called India a “true friend and partner” and the two had discussed the economy, defense and the fight against global terror. Trump said he looked forward to hosting Modi in a visit later this year, and Modi returned the favor after the “warm conversation” in a tweet Wednesday morning.

    The change of power in Washington comes at a time when the relationship between the world’s two largest democracies has gained momentum in recent years, with growing investment and military ties.

    “We believe they mean well by us and we mean well by them,” said Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s foreign secretary. “We are quite confident we’ll get off to a good relationship, so there is no anxiety here at all.”

    Yet some Indian leaders have expressed concerns privately about Trump’s unpredictability and tendency to lash out.

    On the campaign trail, Trump occasionally praised India in speeches — “I am a big fan of Hindu, and I am a big fan of India,” he said at a fundraiser in October and said India was a “natural ally.”

    But he also mimicked the accent of India’s call center workers, vowed to keep American jobs in the United States and criticized the H-1B high-skilled worker visa program, worrying the Indian tech industry. The Trump Organization is also involved in at least four real estate projects here, valued at an estimated $1.5 billion.

    “There’s a lot of uncertainty in the air,” said Milan Vaishnav, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the author of a recent book on politics in India. “Nobody really knows beyond some vague outlines what Trump foreign policy looks like. He hasn’t said a lot about India and what he has said is very vague. So India’s objective is to figure out where he stands.”

    The two men are likely to find common ground going forward on terror and security, particularly in regard to the terror threat from neighboring Pakistan, experts said. Judging from Tuesday's telephone call, “clearly terrorism was front and center,” Vaishnav said.

    In his inaugural address, Trump pledged to stamp out Islamic terrorism around the world. But he earlier engaged in a chummy telephone call with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — calling him a “terrific guy” who does “amazing work” — which also troubled Indian officials.

    Modi, 66, has long been associated with the Hindu nationalist movement, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and for a time was denied a U.S. visa for failing to stop anti-Muslim riots while serving as a state chief minister.

    Hewent only after his party’s victory in 2014. He and President Obama developed a rapport, and the next year he asked Obama to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade. By the end of that visit, he was calling the president “Barack.”

    Like Trump, Modi has a brash side and communicates largely on Twitter, with an innate distrust for the mainstream media. One of his first acts as prime minister was to do away with a traveling press pool on foreign trips.

    His supporters in the Hindu right have stoked nationalistic fervor in the country — at times with violent results — and last year India became immersed in a debate over patriotism and free speech after protests on college campuses. Most recently, the Supreme Court mandated that movie-goers must stand as the national anthem plays before films.

    Modi remains a popular figure, however, despite a recent move to ban large-denomination currency notes to combat tax cheats that left the economy reeling. Indians have suffered job losses and waits in long bank lines throughout the more than two-month crisis, but Modi has repeatedly played on nationalist sentiment, exhorting Indians to have patience for the long-term good of the country.

     

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  • Leekens urges Algeria to avoid Zimbabwe trap

    Algeria's Riyad Mahrez (centre) is expected to be one of the star players in Gabon along with Senegal's Sadio Mané (right) and Gabon skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.Reuters/Montage/RFI

    Georges Leekens tapped into more than 30 years in the dugout to warn his players about the dangers of taking on so-called "underdogs". Leekens, 67, leads Algeria into the 2017 Cup of Nations seeking their second title. They face Zimbabwe in their opening game in Group B on Sunday in Franceville.

    Algeria, according to the Fifa rankings, should beat Zimbabwe. There are more than 60 places between the countries.

    But Leekens, who started his coaching career in 1984 with Cercle Brugge in Belgium, said he ignored such prognostics.

    CAN 2017 - WHAT MATCHES ARE WHERE?
    Click on the crosses to find CAN matches

     

    "I view our game against Zimbabwe as a tough challenge. We need to apply our minds 100 percent to how we are going to conquer Zimbabwe.

    “The first match of a tournament is always important. Zimbabwe are a good side but we’ve worked hard and are in a good state of mind.”

    Group B has been reduced to a three way fight between Senegal – the current top ranked African team - Tunisia and Algeria, who are rated fourth and fifth respectively.

    Zimbabwe, who are 30th in the lists, had an unsettled prelude to the event in Gabon. The players and the Zimbabwe Football Association rowed over fees and bonuses for appearing at the tournament for the first time in 11 years.

    "I know they had some pre-tournament problems,” said Leekens who coached Algeria in 2003. “But the Cup of Nations history is littered with teams who have defied off-field problems to succeed. Zimbabwe travelled to Cameroon and drew 1-1 in a warm-up match. That was an impressive result.”

    Thinking about Zimbabwe

    Algeria enter the tournament with their own set of formidable weapons. Riyad Mahrez was anointed African footballer of the year just before the Cup of Nations for his stellar performances with Leicester City as they defied the odds to win the English Premier League title in 2016.

    Mahrez, 25, was born in France but opted for the land of his father and he will be one of the keys to Algerian success along with his Leicester City teammate Islam Slimani.

    "All the Algerian media and public are talking about is Senegal and Tunisia," added Leekens, who coached Tunisia for a year just before rejoining Algeria. "But I am thinking only of Zimbabwe.”

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  • Nigerian army 'crushes' Boko Haram in key stronghold

    Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Saturday claimed the military had routed Boko Haram in a key northeastern stronghold, a year after saying the Islamist militants had been "technically" defeated.

    A campaign lasting for months in the 1,300 square-kilometre (500 square-mile) forest in northeastern Borno state led to the "final crushing of Boko Haram terrorists in their last enclave in Sambisa Forest" on Thursday, Buhari said in a statement.

    The government in Abuja and the military have frequently claimed victories against the Islamic State group affiliate but access to the epicentre of the conflict in Borno state is strictly controlled.

    That has made independent verification of official statements about victories virtually impossible. Attacks have meanwhile continued, making claims of defeating Boko Haram questionable despite undoubted progress in pushing back the group.

    "The terrorists are on the run, and no longer have a place to hide. I urge you to maintain the tempo by pursuing them and bringing them to justice," Buhari said.

    The announcement came after Nigeria launched a barrage of land and air assaults in Borno state at the heart of the insurgency that has spread to three neighbouring countries -- Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

    While the counter-insurgency has clawed back some territory, Boko Haram has responded by stepping up guerrilla tactics, ambushing troops when it can and terrorising civilians when it cannot.

    Buhari's statement made no mention of the whereabouts of Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Boko Haram faction based in the forest.

    AFP/File /The Sambisa forest, covering an area of about 1,300 square kilometres (500 square miles), was a stronghold of the Boko Haram islamists

    Boko Haram, which last year pledged allegiance to IS, has been in the grips of a power struggle since late last year.

    Shekau led Boko Haram for several years, until the IS command said in August that he had been replaced as leader by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the 22-year-old son of the group's founder Mohammed Yusuf.

    Shekau says he is still in charge, however, as rival factions vie for control.

    - Chibok girls still missing -

    On Wednesday, a military commander said Nigerian troops had rescued 1,880 civilians from a Boko Haram redoubt in the restive northeast over the past week and arrested hundreds of insurgents.

    Buhari also said Saturday that "further efforts should be intensified to locate and free our remaining Chibok girls still in captivity", referring to more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped in April 2014. To date only a few of them have been freed.

    Boko Haram seeks to create a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria.

    The army's claim of recapturing Sambisa Forest brought a rare glimmer of hope for millions of people caught up in the devastating conflict.

    But Buhari has been keen to announce any positive news, with his government increasingly under fire for its handling of the economy, which is officially in recession.

    The humanitarian fallout from the conflict is also huge and aid agencies say it is too big for the country to handle on its own, heaping pressure on already overstretched resources.

    Buhari has previously claimed that Boko Haram had already been "technically defeated".

    His government has however struggled to stop attacks on soft targets such as markets, including the use of women and child suicide bombers.

    At least 20,000 people have been killed since the insurgency erupted in 2009. The fighting has also displaced some 2.6 million people, sparking a humanitarian crisis in the region.

    - 'Africa's largest crisis' -

    The United Nations said earlier this month a billion dollars are needed to help victims of Boko Haram and called the conflict "the largest crisis in Africa."

    It estimates that 14 million people will need outside help in 2017, particularly in Borno state, where villagers under siege have typically been forced to abandon their crops.

    "A projected 5.1 million people will face serious food shortages as the conflict and risk of unexploded improvised devices prevented farmers planting for a third year in a row, causing a major food crisis," the UN said on December 2.

    People freed from Boko Haram's grip by the army have generally been taken to camps where basic supplies are also scarce.

    The Nigerian presidency has since accused aid groups of exaggerating the food crisis.

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  • Gambia's parliament extends defeated president's office by 3 months

     

    BANJUL (Reuters) - Gambia's National Assembly has passed a resolution to allow President Yahya Jammeh, who lost an election in December, to stay in office for three months from Wednesday when he was due to leave power.

    The decision announced on state television will raise tension with leaders of the West African bloc ECOWAS who have threatened sanctions or military force to make Jammeh hand over to opposition leader Adama Barrow who won the election.

    Jammeh on Tuesday declared a state of emergency, saying it was to prevent a power vacuum while the supreme court rules on his petition challenging the election result. The National Assembly resolution almost certainly gives the government authority to prevent Barrow's inauguration.

    Barrow, who is in Senegal, was examining the implications of the assembly's resolution and the state of emergency, given the constitutional requirement for a handover and the need to maintain peace, his spokesman Halifa Sallah told Reuters.

    Barrow could, in theory, be sworn in as president at the Gambian embassy in Senegal, which is technically on Gambian soil.

    Gambia is one of Africa's smallest countries and has had just two rulers since independence in 1965. Jammeh seized power in a coup in 1994 and his government has gained a reputation among ordinary Gambians and human rights activists for torturing and killing opponents.

    Few people expected him to lose the election and the result was greeted with joy by many in the country and by democracy advocates across the continent, particularly when Jammeh initially said he would accept the result and step down.

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