Senegal clashes kill one after opposition leader arrest

Members of a police special brigade conduct an operation to move out university students, who support arrested opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, from the "Centre des œuvres universitaires" (COUD) during in Dakar on March 4, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 05 March 2021

Senegal clashes kill one after opposition leader arrest

  • Sonko is considered a key potential challenger to President Macky Sall in elections in three years
  • Students threw concrete blocks at police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades

DAKAR: Senegalese police clashed with supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko on Thursday, leaving one person dead, a police official said — the first death in protests sparked by Sonko’s arrest the previous day.
Sonko, leader of the opposition Pastef party and former presidential candidate, is considered a key potential challenger to President Macky Sall in elections in three years.
He was detained on Wednesday for disturbing public order as demonstrations broke out ahead of his court appearance on a rape charge, triggering the worst unrest seen in years in a country generally known for its stability.
Angry protesters attacked the headquarters of media deemed close to the government Thursday evening, while authorities suspended two private television stations, accusing them of “stirring up hatred and violence.”
The death happened after clashes on Thursday in Bignona town in the southern Casamance region, the police official said.
“We still don’t know the cause, it is under investigation,” said the official who asked not to be identified.
Four police were also injured in the fighting.
Dozens of students holed themselves up in Dakar’s Cheikh Anta Diop University on Thursday afternoon, where they threw concrete blocks at police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades, an AFP reporter at the scene said.
The managing editor of state-owned Le Soleil newspaper told AFP that its headquarters had been targeted in the evening.
“We were attacked with Molotov cocktails and huge rocks, by many assailants. They smashed windows and vehicles,” Daouda Mane said.
A journalist from radio station RFM, part of a private press group owned by singer and former minister Youssou Ndour, reported “significant damage,” including “at least one burnt out car” near its premises.
Senegalese regulatory authorities on Thursday suspended the signal of two local television channels, Sen TV and Walf TV, for 72 hours from 5 p.m. on Thursday, accusing them of broadcasting “in loop” images of the unrest after Sonko’s arrest.

Sonko was to have been transferred Thursday evening to a Dakar courthouse where his case will be heard by a judge, but his lawyers said the hearing had been postponed to Friday.
“Ousmane Sonko is now the subject of a warrant. He will be taken to the investigating magistrate tomorrow, willingly or by force,” Abdoulaye Tall, one of his attorneys, told AFP.
Hundreds of people followed his motorcade on Wednesday, as he traveled to a court to deny rape charges filed against him last month by an employee at a salon where he received massages.
Supporters sounded horns and sang before clashes erupted, and Sonko was arrested before even reaching the court.
Interior Minister Antoine Felix Abdoulaye Diome said Sonko had been arrested over a ban on gatherings because of the coronavirus and violating a traffic plan put in place.
“Everyone has to comply. Others have done the same. I wonder why there would be an exception,” he told RFM radio.
A 46-year-old devout Muslim, Sonko is frequently critical of Senegal’s ruling elite and is popular with young people.
He accuses Sall of conspiring to sideline him ahead of the 2024 elections.
Violence also broke out Wednesday in other areas including in Casamance, where Sonko’s father is from and where he has a strong following.
Sonko ran against the president in the 2019 vote, but finished third in a race that delivered the incumbent a second term.
Presidents in the former French colony are limited to two consecutive terms, but Sall launched a constitutional review in 2016, raising suspicions he intends to run again.


NATO forces will leave together from Afghanistan, Blinken says

Updated 14 April 2021

NATO forces will leave together from Afghanistan, Blinken says

  • NATO foreign and defense ministers will discuss their plans later on Wednesday via video conference

BRUSSELS: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that it was time for NATO allies to withdraw from Afghanistan and that the alliance would work on an adaptation phase, after Washington announced plans to end America’s longest war after two decades.
“I am here to work closely with our allies, with the (NATO) secretary-general, on the principle that we have established from the start: In together, adapt together and out together,” Blinken said in a televised statement at NATO headquarters.
NATO foreign and defense ministers will discuss their plans later on Wednesday via video conference.


Queen returns to royal duties after death of Prince Philip

Updated 14 April 2021

Queen returns to royal duties after death of Prince Philip

  • Prince Philip died at the age of 99
  • The royal family is observing two weeks of mourning

LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II has returned to royal duties, four days after the death of her husband, Prince Philip.

The 94-year-old British monarch attended a retirement ceremony for a senior royal official on Tuesday, according to the Court Circular, the official record of royal engagements.

The royal family is observing two weeks of mourning for Philip, who died Friday at the age of 99. The palace has said members of the royal family will “undertake engagements appropriate to the circumstances” during the mourning period.

The queen attended a ceremony at Windsor Castle for Lord Chamberlain Earl Peel, who has retired as the royal household’s most senior official. He oversaw arrangements for the funeral of Prince Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, until handing over to his successor days before the duke’s death.

Philip’s funeral will take place Saturday at Windsor Castle, with attendance limited to 30 because of coronavirus restrictions.

Servicemen and women from the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and Royal Air Force will take part in the funeral procession, and Philip’s coffin will be borne to St. George’s Chapel at the castle on a specially adapted Land Rover, which he designed himself.


Russia seeking to ‘provoke’ in Ukraine conflict: Germany

Updated 14 April 2021

Russia seeking to ‘provoke’ in Ukraine conflict: Germany

  • The growing Russian presence at the Ukrainian border has caused concern in the West in recent days

BERLIN: Germany on Wednesday accused Russia of seeking provocation with its troop build-up along the border with Ukraine.
“My impression is that the Russian side is trying everything to provoke a reaction,” German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told ARD public television.
“Together with Ukraine, we won’t be drawn into this game,” she added.
The growing Russian presence at the Ukrainian border has caused concern in the West in recent days, with the United States saying that troop levels are at their highest since 2014, when war first broke out with Moscow-backed separatists.
Moscow has said it sent troops to its western borders for combat drills because of “threats” from transatlantic alliance NATO.
But Kramp-Karrenbauer voiced doubt at Moscow’s claim.
“If it is a maneuver like the Russian side says, there are international procedures through which one can create transparency and trust,” she said, adding that Germany was monitoring developments very closely.
Ukraine has so far reacted in a “sober” manner, said the minister, stressing that NATO stands by Kiev’s side.
“We are committed to Ukraine, that is very clear,” she said.
At the same time, she said, it is also clear that Moscow “is just waiting for a move, so to speak, from NATO, to have a pretext to continue its actions.”


Somali president signs law extending mandate for two years

Updated 14 April 2021

Somali president signs law extending mandate for two years

  • Somalia’s lower house of parliament on Monday voted to extend the president’s mandate — which expired in February
  • The new law paves the way for a one-person, one-vote election in 2023

MOGADISHU: Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has signed a controversial law extending his mandate for another two years, despite threats of sanctions from the international community.
State broadcaster Radio Mogadishu said the president, better known by his nickname Farmajo, had “signed into law the special resolution guiding the elections of the country after it was unanimously passed by parliament.”
Somalia’s lower house of parliament on Monday voted to extend the president’s mandate — which expired in February — after months of deadlock over the holding of elections in the fragile nation.
However the speaker of the Senate slammed the move as unconstitutional, and the resolution was not put before the upper house, which would normally be required, before being signed into law.
Speaker Abdi Hashi Abdullahi said it would “lead the country into political instability, risks of insecurity and other unpredictable situations.”
Farmajo and the leaders of Somalia’s five semi-autonomous federal states had reached an agreement in September that paved the way for indirect parliamentary and presidential elections in late 2020 and early 2021.
But it fell apart as squabbles erupted over how to conduct the vote, and multiple rounds of talks have failed to break the impasse.
The new law paves the way for a one-person, one-vote election in 2023 — the first such direct poll since 1969 — which Somalis have been promised for years and no government has managed to deliver.
A presidential election was due to have been held in February. It was to follow a complex indirect system used in the past in which special delegates chosen by Somalia’s myriad clan elders pick lawmakers, who in turn choose the president.

The international community has repeatedly called for elections to go ahead.
The United States, which has been Somalia’s main ally in recovering from decades of civil war and fighting Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists, said Tuesday it was “deeply disappointed” in the move to extend Farmajo’s mandate.
“Such actions would be deeply divisive, undermine the federalism process and political reforms that have been at the heart of the country’s progress and partnership with the international community, and divert attention away from countering Al-Shabab,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement.
He said the implementation of the bill would compel the US to “re-evaluate our bilateral relations... and to consider all available tools, including sanctions and visa restrictions, to respond to efforts to undermine peace and stability.”
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also threatened “concrete measures” if there was not an immediate return to talks on the holding of elections.
A coalition of opposition presidential candidates said in a joint statement that the decision was “a threat to the stability, peace and unity” of the country.
In February some opposition leaders attempted to hold a protest march, which led to an exchange of gunfire in the capital.
Somalia has not had an effective central government since the collapse of Siad Barre’s military regime in 1991, which led to decades of civil war and lawlessness fueled by clan conflicts.
The country also still battles the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab Islamist militant group which controlled the capital until 2011 when it was pushed out by African Union troops.
Al-Shabab retains parts of the countryside and carries out attacks against government, military and civilian targets in Mogadishu and regional towns.
Somalia still operates under an interim constitution and its institutions, such as the army, remain rudimentary, backed up with international support.
The 59-year-old Farmajo — whose nickname means cheese — was wildly popular when he came to power in 2017.
The veteran diplomat and former prime minister who lived off and on for years in the United States had vowed to rebuild a country that was once the world’s most notorious failed state, and fight corruption.
However observers say he became mired in feuds with federal states in a bid for greater political control, hampering the fight against Al-Shabab, which retains the ability to conduct deadly strikes both at home and in the region.


LEGO’s heart-warming Ramadan greeting goes wrong as toymaker mistakes holy month for Eid

Updated 14 April 2021

LEGO’s heart-warming Ramadan greeting goes wrong as toymaker mistakes holy month for Eid

  • Despite the fact that Ramadan has been observed each year for more than 14 centuries, a few companies are still mistaking the holy month of Ramadan for Eid Al-Fitr
  • The picture attached with the LEGO congratulatory Ramadan tweet displayed a text showing “Eid Mubarak” instead of Ramadan Kareem

LONDON: Every year just before Ramadan begins, congratulations and greetings are widely circulated to family, friends, employees and the general public to celebrate the commencement of the holy month.

Some businesses make use of this celebratory period by sending out Ramadan greetings while simultaneously marketing their products. Yet, despite the fact that Ramadan has been observed each year for more than 14 centuries, a few companies are still mistaking the holy month of Ramadan for Eid Al-Fitr, the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan.

Indeed, on the first day of Ramadan this year, the toy company, LEGO, tweeted what is likely intended to be a Ramadan greeting that reads: “Make it a celebration to remember with a LEGO set and open the door to quality family time spent together.”

So far so good, right? Well not necessarily, because the picture attached with the tweet displayed a text showing “Eid Mubarak” instead of Ramadan Kareem, or any other traditional Ramadan greeting.

Although people were not hugely disturbed by the mistake, most comments on the greeting acknowledged the effort from the part of LEGO, but highlighted that Eid is not due for another 30 days.