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Religious fighting threatens Nigeria poll

Three charged with plot to topple Guyana govt
Georgetown (AFP) Dec 28, 2010 - A Guyana Defense Force major, his wife and a former officer were arraigned Tuesday on charges of plotting to topple the government, a capital offense punishable only by death by hanging. Prosecutors alleged that Major Bruce Munroe, his wife Carol-Ann Munroe and former reserve Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Wharton, plotted over the past year to force President Bharrat Jagedeo out of office. Chief Magistrate Priya Beharry remanded the trio to custody until January 7, when she will set a date for the preliminary inquiry to determine whether they should face trial. Defense lawyers said the charges were baseless. And Nigel Hughes, a member of the defense team, said Mrs. Munroe, a teacher and school owner, was schizophrenic and asked that she be detained under special conditions at a hospital or elsewhere. Police prosecutor Fazil Karimbaksh told the court that four witnesses would present evidence against the accused but asked for a two-month delay in the proceedings to prepare.

Senegal rebels armed with rocket launchers: army
Dakar (AFP) Dec 28, 2010 - Seperatist rebels in Senegal's Casamance region have acquired new weaponry, including rocket launchers and mortars, a military source said on Tuesday after an attack in which seven soldiers were killed. "It is certain that they (rebels) have new equipment which they did not before, such as rocket launchers, mortars and machine guns," a Senegalese military official told AFP. "These are weapons that are generally held by traditional armies," the source added, without specifying the source of such equipment. Local newspaper Le Quotidien ran a headline Tuesday saying: "Guerrilla's firepower worrying army chief." "The weaponry used by the rebels in Casamance has raised questions within the military hierarchy. It has been discovered that the guerrillas are using heavy artillery and are shelling in the same way as the army," the newspaper said. A cache of Iranian arms recently discovered in Nigeria on their way to Gambia, raised fears in Senegal that they were destined for fighters from the the MFDC (Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance).

The shipment triggered diplomatic tensions between Tehran, Dakar and Banjul and Senegal withdrew its ambassador from Tehran after concerns "these weapons could end up in Senegal, in the hands of fighters who do not want peace." The Senegalese army said Tuesday it was carrying out search operations in the Casamance a day after losing seven soldiers during a battle with presumed seperatist rebels. Sporadic outbreaks of violence persist in Casamance despite a peace accord signed in 2004. Security forces fear the MFDC is preparing to step up its operations in the coming days as it marks the anniversary of the outbreak of the rebellion in December 1982. A rich agricultural region with lush forests and white stretches of beach, development has been stunted in the Casamance area -- a strip of land cut off from the rest of Senegal by Gambia.
by Staff Writers
Jos, Nigeria (UPI) Dec 27, 2010
Bloody clashes between Christians and Muslims during the Christmas holiday threaten to mar Nigeria's presidential primaries set for Jan. 13 and have heightened political and religious tensions between the Christian south and the Muslim north.

"The overall situation needs to be taken seriously," warned E.J. Hogendoorn, acting Africa program director of the International Crisis Group, amid mounting anxiety.

"If it were to deteriorate significantly, especially along Christian-Muslim lines, it could have grave repercussions for national cohesion in the buildup to national elections in 2011."

Religious violence erupts periodically in Nigeria's "middle belt" along the north-south boundary, although the root cause is often disputes over land and political rivalry.

The government of Plateau state in Jos, the capital and long the epicenter of the religious clashes, is controlled by Christians who have blocked Muslims from being legally recognized as citizens, blocking them from government employment.

In the latest spasm of violence, four bombings last Friday around Jos killed 32 people and wounded 74.

Another six people were killed in attacks on three churches in Maiduguri, 320 miles northeast of Jos and capital of Borno state, by suspected members of an Islamist sect known as Boko Haram. That means "Western education is sacrilege" in the regional Hausa language.

Boko Haram has been blamed for a series of attacks over the last few years in which several thousand people have perished. In the last major flare-up in July 2009, more than 700 people were killed on both sides in clashes triggered by a disputed local election. Another 320, mostly Muslims, were killed in January in and around Jos.

Local human rights groups claim about 1,500 people have died in inter-communal bloodshed over the last year in the region.

There are widespread suspicions that politicians have stoked religious and ethnic divisions ahead of the primaries, which will precede presidential elections in April.

Nigeria's population of around 150 million is divided almost evenly between Christians and Muslims. Under a power-sharing pact when a 15-year military dictatorship ended in 1999, north and south alternate holding the presidency for two four-year terms.

The death in May of President Umaru Yar'Adua, a northerner, during his first term triggered a power struggle between the political barons in north and south. For months, while Yar'Adua was treated in a Saudi Arabian hospital, Nigeria was in political limbo because the ailing president hadn't designated a successor and for a time no one appeared to be in control.

Yar'Adua was eventually succeeded by his vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner who is running a controversial campaign ahead of the primaries.

If he succeeds in winning re-election, the north-south political pact could end up in shreds.

Already there are fears that the unrest gripping Nigeria, including an insurgency in the oil-rich south that has slashed oil production by about 40 percent, will be exploited by the rival political groups.

The oil industry, centered largely in the swamplands and creeks of the Niger Delta on the Atlantic coast, provides 90 percent of Nigeria's state revenue. The country is the United States' fifth largest oil supplier.

The instability underlined Nigeria's fragility as the country approaches the elections.

"In the buildup to the 2011 national elections, the worst-case scenario is that local violence (in the north) will polarize the rest of the country," the ICG cautions.

"While some in the West panic at what they see as growing Islamic radicalism in the region, the roots of the problem are more complex and lie in Nigeria's history and contemporary politics," observed the ICG's West Africa specialist Titi Ajayi.

The central government's failure to maintain public order, decades of economic neglect in the Muslim north and the "political manipulation of religion and ethnicity" have all contributed to the current instability, the ICG maintains.

Boko Haram has been reported to have links with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or North Africa, although so far there has been no concrete evidence of that.

But the ICG observes that "while a thread of rejectionist thinking runs through northern Nigerian history, according to which collaboration with secular authorities is illegitimate … calls for an Islamic state in Nigeria should not be taken too seriously, despite media hyperbole."

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Dutch navy supply ship on its way to Ivory Coast
The Hague (AFP) Dec 24, 2010
A Dutch navy supply ship was on its way to the Ivory Coast to provide support to French vessels off the coast of the troubled west African nation, the defence ministry in The Hague said on Friday. The Amsterdam, with its 172 crew, was loading cargo in Malaga, Spain, and would depart for Dakar, Senegal, in the coming days to stock up on further provisions, ministry spokeswoman Marloes Visser ... read more

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