Monday, 19 August, 2019
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Seventeen Chinese, Ukrainian seamen kidnapped off Cameroon


Nine Chinese and eight Ukrainian seamen were abducted in attacks on two merchant ships off Cameroon, in the latest act of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, sources said Friday.

The attacks took place on Thursday in Cameroonian waters off the port of Douala, located at the apex of a gulf that has become a hotspot of seaborne crime.

A Douala official told AFP on Friday that a total of 17 people had been abducted, including “nine Chinese civilian sailors” from one of the ships.

A Cameroonian security official, likewise speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the account.

The Cameroonian navy and the country’s port service had reported the kidnappings on Thursday but had been unable to give the number or nationality of those taken.

A navy source said the kidnappers “are probably Nigerian pirates,” adding that Cameroon’s security forces had launched a search for them.

The Gulf of Guinea, whose coastline stretches in a huge arc from Liberia to Gabon, is notorious for piracy as well as oil theft, illegal fishing and human and drugs trafficking.

In Malaysia, Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a watchdog agency, said the 17 seamen were seized from two ships that were attacked within hours of each other while they were anchored off Douala.

Choong said one of the ships was a multipurpose German-owned ship that flew the flag of Antigua and Barbuda.

“Eight crew were kidnapped from the ship, consisting of a total of 12 Asian and European sailors,” he said.

The other vessel was a Liberian-flagged bulk carrier managed in Greece with a Greek owner.

“There were 21 crew on board. All were Asians. Nine crew were taken,” Choong told AFP.

“(The) IMB has issued a warning to all ships at Douala. We ask all ships to take additional precaution.”

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement quoted by news agencies that three of the kidnapped sailors were Russian nationals. Many Ukrainians also hold Russian citizenship.

– Piracy epicentre –

In recent years, the seas off West Africa have become “the world’s worst for pirate attacks,” according to the IMB.

Attacks doubled in the Gulf of Guinea in 2018 compared to the previous year — the bulk of them due to piracy, it said.

Of the 75 seafarers taken hostage in the first half of this year, 62 were abducted in the gulf, IMB figures showed.

The Gulf of Guinea now accounts for 73 percent of kidnappings and 92 percent of hostage-takings at sea worldwide, particularly off the coast of Nigeria, Guinea, Togo, Benin and Cameroon.

The 17 countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea and adjacent coastline have limited surveillance and maritime defence capabilities.

They have been trying for several years to bolster their means of intervention and to put in place closer collaboration.

Ten Turkish sailors were freed last week after being kidnapped by “pirates” off Nigeria last month. Pirates normally seize sailors hoping to be paid ransom.

Neymar out of PSG opener, exit talks ‘ore advanced than before’ – club


Paris Saint-Germain revealed on Saturday that Neymar transfer talks are “more advanced than before” after the Brazilian was dropped for the French champions’ opening Ligue 1 match with Nimes.

Sporting director Leonardo confirmed to reporters that the Brazilian was near the exit door but that PSG were “not yet ready to give its approval (to the transfer)” ahead of Sunday’s match at the Parc des Princes.

Real Madrid or a return to Barcelona are the most likely destinations for the world’s most expensive footballer, with Spanish media on Friday saying that Zinedine Zidane’s side will battle Barca for the 27-year-old’s signature.

Sports newspaper AS claimed Neymar has been offered to Madrid by PSG, who are open to selling if they can either recoup the 222 million euros ($249 million) they spent on him in 2017 or receive half that amount, with players included in the deal.

Barcelona-based Mundo Deportivo says that he would prefer a move back to Catalonia to play alongside former teammates Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

Neymar, whose time in France has been marked by injuries and controversies, has made a series of remarks that strained his relationship further with the club and sparked outrage on social media.

Asked by an online sports channel about his best memory in football, the troubled superstar cited Barcelona’s incredible 2017 Champions League victory over PSG when he was part of the team that overturned a 4-0 first-leg deficit by winning 6-1 in the second leg of their last-16 tie.

Nigeria’s Buhari faces flak over cabinet picks


Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has come under fire for stacking his new cabinet with ageing party loyalists despite hopes he might opt for more technocrats in his final term.

The senate this week approved the list of 43 ministers after the former military ruler finally settled on their names some two months after his inauguration in May.

Buhari, 76, is yet to hand out their portfolios but already his choice of stalwarts from his All Progressives Congress (APC) party has caused dismay.

“One would have expected that the president would shop for more people with more expertise” to assuage worries about the future, said Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, head of Abuja-based Transition Monitoring Group organisation.

She said she doubted the ability of those chosen “to push the agenda for development for Nigeria”.

Buhari faces a raft of challenges in his second term at the helm of Africa’s most populous nation — from tackling a grinding Islamist insurgency and spreading insecurity to trying to bolster a fragile economic recovery.

During his first four years he earned the nickname “Baba go-slow” after he took six months to name a cabinet and was seen to proceed with decisions at a glacial pace.

Far from cutting lose for his second, and final stint in power, he now appears to have fallen back on familiar faces.

In a country with more than half the population under 30, not one of the ministers is less than 40 years old.

Only seven of those chosen are women.

“16.3 percent representation is abysmal,” Ndi Kato, a 28-year-old female politician told local media.

“We have an abundance of qualified women and we have been advocating throughout the process of selecting ministers. The disrespect of tossing out the requests of women like it doesn’t matter is traumatic.”

– ‘More patronage’ –

Analysts said the decision to reward loyalists and keep key players in place means there are unlikely to be major reforms in the years ahead.

Fourteen of the ministers in the new cabinet served Buhari during his first term from 2015 to 2019.

Among those coming back are heavyweights like Babatunde Fashola, a former Lagos governor, transport minister Rotimi Amaechi, who ran oil-rich Rivers state, finance minister Zanaib Ahmed, foreign minister Geoffrey Onyema and education minister Adamu Adamu.

“Rewarding APC powerbrokers will improve party cohesion in the second term but also risks eroding first-term gains in curbing patronage,” said the Eurasia consultancy group in a note.

The president appeared to be prioritising APC unity and making up for 2015 when some leading backers in the party complained they had been overlooked, the group said.

“It also signals to party officials that Buhari will condone more patronage and possible leakages from government coffers than during his first term,” it said.

The opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which is still challenging Buhari’s election victory, has been quick to criticise the government selection as uninspiring and unable to tackle the challenges ahead.

“In recycling failed yesterday’s men for today’s assignment, President Buhari and the APC have left no one in doubt that they have no vision to move our nation out of the economic and security predicaments into which they have plunged us in the last four years,” the party said in statement.

– Rooting out graft –

Anti-graft crusaders also worried that the appointments did not look promising for attempts to seriously tackle Nigeria’s endemic corruption.

Rooting out graft was one of Buhari’s big pledges in 2015 and he has promised to step it up this time round.

But critics have accused him of using the corruption crackdown to target his political opponents.

Debo Adeniran of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) pressure group, pointed to new ministers with major questions hanging over them.

Although Adeniran did not give their names, Fashola has been asked by CACOL to step down over fraud allegations while at the helm in Lagos.

Goodwill Akpabio, a former opposition leader, senator and governor of southern oil-rich Akwa Ibom state who defected to Buhari’s ruling party ahead of the 2019 elections has also faced accusations of looting his state treasury.

Another name is former information minister Lai Mohammed, who has been summoned by a court to clear his name over a phony contract awarded in his department.

“I don’t think there was due diligence on the nominees. Otherwise, the president would not have considered many of them,” Adeniran said.

“For Buhari’s integrity and fight against corruption to be taken serious, he has to do away with many of his appointees.”

Sudan generals, protest leaders, to meet rebel chief in S.Sudan


Sudanese generals and protest leaders, who signed a power-sharing agreement, arrived in neighbouring South Sudan Saturday for talks with at least one rebel group, a Sudanese official said.

Arriving at the airport in the South Sudanese capital Juba, General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, the deputy chief of Sudan’s ruling military council, told reporters he would be holding talks with Abdelaziz al-Hilu, a South Kordofan state rebel leader, among others.

“We are coming to Juba to meet President Salva Kiir to update him on the progress of the implementation of the peace talks and to have talks with Sudan opposition groups including meeting Abdelaziz al-Hilu, so that we see on how we can implement the recent peace agreement we signed in Khartoum,” he said.

An AFP journalist at the presidential palace in Juba saw Malik Agar, a Blue Nile state rebel leader, enter a room earmarked for the talks.

Protest leaders and their rebel partners on Thursday agreed to end their differences over the power-sharing deal signed with Sudan’s military rulers earlier this month, vowing to work jointly for peace.

The umbrella protest movement on July 17 signed the power-sharing accord with Sudan’s generals, which provides for a transitional civilian administration following the ouster of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir.

– ‘Restore peace in Sudan’ –

“It’s our hope that they (opposition groups) will return to Khartoum after our meeting so that we restore peace (in Sudan),” the general added.

Daglo was accompanied by two other generals and two senior officials of the Sudanese protest movement, military council and protest movement sources told AFP.

The rebel groups spent years fighting government forces in the Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions of Sudan.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the three conflicts and millions displaced, with hundreds of thousands still living in sprawling camps.

The protest leaders and generals are still to sign a “Constitutional Declaration” dealing with outstanding issues — including justice for demonstrators killed during months of protests.

The rebel groups had demanded that the document call on the new government to make peace negotiations a top priority.

Once a peace deal is finalised, sources said the rebel groups want their representatives to be part of the transitional government.

Israeli minister boasts his country has been ‘killing Iranians’


An Israeli minister boasted Sunday that his country was the only one that “has been killing Iranians”, after tensions between Britain and Iran rose in the Gulf.

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi’s comments to public radio were a reference to Israeli strikes in neighbouring Syria against Iranian and Hezbollah military targets.

But they came after Iran seized a British-flagged tanker on Friday, adding to tensions between Washington and Tehran linked to a 2015 nuclear deal.

Hanegbi accused Iran, Israel’s main enemy, of seeking to create “chaos” and “harm freedom of navigation.”

Asked if he feared that Israel would not receive the backing of the United States in the case of a conflict with Iran, Hanegbi suggested that Tehran would avoid such a scenario.

“Israel is the only country in the world that has been killing Iranians for two years,” he said.

“We strike the Iranians hundreds of times in Syria. Sometimes we acknowledge it and sometimes foreign reports reveal it.”

He added that the Iranians “understand that Israel means business.”

Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah military targets.

It has vowed to keep Iran from entrenching itself militarily there.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke in a similar vein last week with cadets at the national security college.

“At the moment, the only army in the world to fight Iran is the Israeli army,” he said.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu warned that Israeli fighter jets “can reach anywhere in the Middle East, including Iran”.

Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz for breaking “international maritime rules” came some two weeks after Britain seized an Iranian tanker at the mouth of the Mediterranean on allegations of breaching UN sanctions against Syria.

Senegal reach Cup of Nations final as own goal sinks Tunisia


Senegal reached the Africa Cup of Nations final for the second time with a Dylan Bronn own goal giving them a 1-0 win over Tunisia on Sunday in a tense last-four clash in Cairo.

With 11 minutes gone in extra time, goalkeeper Mouez Hassen pushed a free-kick against the head of Bronn and the ball went backwards into the net.

Tunisia thought they would have a chance to equalise when Idrissa Gueye handled in the box, but the Ethiopian referee rejected their penalty appeals after checking the incident on the VAR monitor.

Both teams missed penalties in regular time with Ferjani Sassi the Tunisian culprit before Henri Saivet failed for the Senegalese.

Senegal will miss star defender Kalidou Koulibaly for the final against Algeria or Nigeria, who meet in Cairo later Sunday, after he was yellow-carded.

It was the second caution of the knockout phase for the Napoli centre-back and triggered an automatic one-match suspension.

Senegal last reached the title decider 17 years ago, when current coach Aliou Cisse captained a team beaten on penalties by Cameroon in Mali.

Cisse made one change to the team that defeated Benin in the quarter-finals with 20-year-old forward Krepin Diatta replacing Keita Balde.

Tunisia coach Alain Giresse changed two of the side that eliminated Madagascar, promoting Mohamed Drager and Ayman Ben Mohamed and benching Wajdi Kechrida and Ghaylen Chaaleli.

The countries were meeting for the sixth time in the Cup of Nations with each winning one match and the other three drawn.

– Clearcut chance –

Tunisia had the first clearcut chance at the 30 June Stadium in the Egyptian capital, but unmarked captain Youssef Msakni headed a corner well over.

Senegal then took control and had three opportunities before half-time to end the deadlock and edge closer to the July 19 final.

Youssouf Sabaly unleashed a curling shot from the edge of the box that beat Mouez but cannoned back into play off the woodwork on 26 minutes.

Then, in a 60-second purple patch, Mbaye Niang and Liverpool star Sadio Mane were unable to convert chances before a small crowd.

Niang swivelled inside the box only to fire well wide and Mane rounded Hassen but his shot from an acute angle finished well off target.

Giresse took off Msakni at half-time and introduced Naim Sliti, scorer of the stoppage-time goal that sealed a convincing last-eight win over giantkillers Madagascar.

Senegal goalkeeper Alfred Gomis, a virtual spectator in the opening half, reacted quickly early in the second half to push away a Sassi snap shot.

Attackers Niang and Diatta were having little success and came off with Mbaye Diagne and Ismaila Sarr replacing them as an intriguing semi-final entered the final quarter.

The Sassi penalty was weak, allowing Gomis to save comfortably, while Hassen made a brilliant one-hand block to foil a powerfully struck spot-kick by Saivet.



French envoy visits Iran to try salvage nuclear deal


A French envoy was due in Tehran on Tuesday to boost European efforts to save the 2015 nuclear deal, after Iran warned Europe against retaliatory measures for breaching a uranium enrichment cap.

The accord between Tehran and world powers promised sanctions relief, economic benefits and an end to international isolation of the Islamic republic in return for stringent curbs on its nuclear programme.

But Tehran says it has lost patience with perceived inaction by European countries more than a year after President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the landmark agreement.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), tasked with inspections, while Iran consistently lived up to its commitments under the deal until recently it is now in breach of two of them.

French President Emmanuel Macron sent his top diplomatic advisor to Tehran after Iran announced on Monday it had passed 4.5 percent uranium enrichment — above the 3.7 percent limit under the agreement.

Emmanuel Bonne is due to visit until Wednesday but details of his schedule were unclear.

Bonne is “to piece together a deescalation” strategy, the French presidency’s office said.

The 2015 deal had been described as a triumph of diplomacy against unilateralism and a major step to counter proliferation.

But after the US withdrew in May 2018 and reimposed stinging sanctions on Iran, especially on its banking and oil sectors, the future of the accord became uncertain.

As the Iranian economy went into free-fall, Tehran demanded that the other parties to the deal, especially France, Germany and Britain, deliver the promised economic benefits and help it bypass US sanctions.

– Rising tensions –

However, it gradually became clear that this was no simple task, and Iran — whose economy is heavily dependant on oil sales — changed tack and said it would reshape its policy of “strategic patience”.

In May, a year after Trump’s withdrawal, President Hassan Rouhani said that Iran would roll back its commitments under the deal in stages every 60 days in an effort to force the other parties to deliver on their side of the bargain.

As tensions rose the United States dispatched a naval carrier, bombers and extra troops to the region to counter perceived threats from Iran.

Last month Trump said he had called off a retaliatory military strike against the Islamic republic at the last minute after Tehran shot down a US drone that it said had crossed into its airspace, a claim denied by Washington.

The IAEA confirmed on Monday that Iran had enriched uranium to a level above the deal’s cap of 3.67 percent, though the 4.5-percent level reported by Tehran is still far below the 90 percent necessary for military purposes.

The UN nuclear watchdog confirmed this month that Iran has exceeded a 300-kilogramme limit on enriched uranium reserves, another cap that was imposed by the deal.

– ‘US, Europe deceiving us’ –

Macron on Saturday held an hour-long conversation with Rouhani in which he said he wanted to “explore the conditions for a resumption of dialogue between all parties”.

He suggested that be done by July 15.

On Monday the White House confirmed that Macron and Trump had talked about the standoff.

The two leaders “discussed ongoing efforts to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon and to end Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the Middle East,” the White House said in a statement.

While immensely popular to begin with, the nuclear deal has now lost some of its appeal among supporters in Iran.

“The US and the European countries are deceiving us… We wasted six years investing in our relationship with Europe,” Majidi, a salesman in Tehran, adding that the best option now is to pull out of the deal immediately.

New Zealand slams Google over murder case gaffe


Google was accused of “giving the middle finger” by New Zealand’s Justice Minister Thursday, after the US tech giant refused to tighten publication standards after breaching court suppression orders in a high-profile murder case.

A Google news email that went out to the general public named the accused killer of Briton Grace Millane in December, despite a court order suppressing his identity while he was on trial.

The tech firm initially appeared contrite, holding meetings with Justice Minister Andrew Little and assuring Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier this year that the issue was being looked at.

Little said a follow-up inquiry in March yielded no results, before he finally received a one-paragraph email from Google this week indicating the company saw no need to change its policy as the case had been “extensively reported by overseas media”.

A furious Little described the response, which included a link to Google’s legal support page, as “contemptible” and “extraordinarily disrespectful”.

“It’s giving the middle finger to New Zealand justice and the family of Grace Millane,” he told AFP.

Little said suppression orders were put in place to ensure the court system gave the accused a fair trial and Google’s actions potentially undermined that right.

“I can’t let that happen,” he said.

“If Google aren’t going to change then I have to find a way to put pressure on them through the legal system or through international agreements.”

He said he would raise the issue at meetings with his international counterparts in coming months.

Millane, 22, was killed in December last year shortly after arriving in Auckland on holiday in a crime that shocked New Zealand.

A 27-year-old man has pleaded not guilty to her murder.

The row is the second time the New Zealand government has taken social media giants to task in recent months.

Ardern led global efforts to force them to curb hate speech in the wake of the Christchurch mosques massacre in March, when a gunman killed 51 Muslim worshippers as they gathered for Friday prayers.

Little said Google had shown a willingness to take responsible action in the wake of the attack and he hoped it would do so again in the Millane case.

OPEC to ink new charter with Russia and other allies


The OPEC bloc of oil producers is expected Tuesday to sign off a new charter of cooperation with other major producers — including Russia — a day after thrashing out the document at a marathon meeting.

The new agreement between OPEC and its so-called OPEC+ partners is being seen as a sign of the cartel’s efforts to stay relevant in a market which has been transformed by booming US shale oil output.

The growing influence of Russia on the bloc was already in evidence on Monday when Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak declared that all of OPEC’s ministers had agreed to prolong its daily production cuts.

The cuts had previously been agreed by Russia and OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia at the G20 summit in Osaka last weekend, prompting Iran to warn that OPEC could “die” if it were reduced to a rubber-stamp for decisions made in advance.

However, Iran did support the extension of production cuts which will run until March 2020.

Tuesday’s meeting of OPEC+ — a grouping that comprises 24 crude producers including Russia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Mexico — is also expected to approve the collective production limits.

Monday’s gathering of OPEC ministers ran almost five hours late into the evening as ministers discussed the details of the new charter.

Iran was more sceptical of the idea and its Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said on leaving the meeting that the charter would have “no impact on OPEC and its mechanism or decision taking”.

Also speaking late Monday, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the charter would allow OPEC and non-OPEC countries to establish “a structure for technical meetings, ministry meetings, regular summits” with the OPEC secretariat in Vienna acting as “the main coordinator”.

While Monday’s agreement in Vienna had intially sent oil prices surging, on Tuesday they were more subdued amid fresh worries over the global economic outlook.



Seventeen Chinese, Ukrainian seamen kidnapped off Cameroon

Nine Chinese and eight Ukrainian seamen were abducted in attacks on two merchant ships off Cameroon, in the latest act of piracy in the...