Tuesday, 17 September, 2019
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Frontrunners in third US Democratic debate spar over healthcare, yet stress importance of unity

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Former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders – the frontrunners for the 2020 Democratic nomination – clashed over the best way to expand healthcare coverage for Americans during Thursday’s debate.

The divide among the candidates over the proposal known as Medicare for All, which would cover every American under a government health plan and essentially eliminate private insurance, was again laid bare in the opening moments of the Democratic Party’s third presidential debate in Houston.

But after some sharp exchanges, several of the White House contenders warned that too much acrimony would distract them from the ultimate goal: defeating Republican President Donald Trump next year.

Here are some early highlights from the debate:

‘The damn bill’

The first question of the night went to Biden, asking him whether liberals like Warren and Sanders had gone too far left for mainstream Democrats.

Biden quickly pivoted to healthcare, challenging Sanders of Vermont and Warren of Massachusetts to explain how they plan to pay for what some analysts expect would be a $30 trillion Medicare for All plan.

“Thus far, my distinguished friend, the senator on my left, has not said how she’s going to pay for it,” said Biden, referring to Warren.

Both Warren and Sanders were careful to avoid saying explicitly that middle-class families would see higher taxes, instead emphasizing that they would save money overall by eliminating medical costs.

“Those at the very top, the richest and corporations, are going to pay more,” Warren said. “Middle-class families are going to pay less.”

Sanders acknowledged the cost of his signature plan – but said studies show the status quo will cost Americans $50 trillion over the same time period.

“I wrote the damn bill, if I may say so,” he said, repeating his main applause line from the second debate in July.

Biden emphasised again that his plan would allow people who like their private insurance to keep it, a key point of distinction from Sanders’ and Warren’s approach.

“Let’s be clear – I’ve actually never met anybody who likes their health insurance company,” Warren replied. “I’ve met people who like their doctors.”

When Sanders noted Americans spend far more per capita on healthcare than Canadians, Biden interrupted, saying, “This is America.”

“Americans don’t want to pay twice as much as other countries,” Sanders shot back.

Medicare for all: A bold idea or a bad idea?

Other candidates seeking to make their mark on the stage also took aim at Sanders’ Medicare for All plan.

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who has run as a moderate, said Sanders’ proposal would force millions of people off their insurance plans.

“While he wrote the bill, I read the bill,” she said. “I don’t think that’s a bold idea, I think that’s a bad idea.”

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg sought to contrast his proposal to offer a government plan as an alternative, which he describes as “Medicare for all who want it,” with Sanders’ more sweeping reform.

“The problem is that it doesn’t trust the American people,” he said of the senator’s plan. “I trust you to choose what makes the most sense for you.”

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California, who has released her own Medicare for All plan, redirected the conversation toward Trump, noting that the current administration has sought to strike down the entire Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, in federal court.

“I think this discussion has given the American people a headache,” she said. “What they want to know is that they’re going to have healthcare and the cost.”

‘A house divided’

Although the candidates had a heated discussion about healthcare in the first 40 minutes of the debate, several stressed the importance of standing together as Democrats, saying fighting one another would play into Trump’s hands.

Moments after former U.S. Housing Secretary Julian Castro, 44, of Texas accused Biden, 76, of forgetting what he had just said two minutes ago – a comment seemingly aimed at Biden’s age that many in the audience jeered – Buttigieg called for civility.

“This is why presidential debates are becoming unwatchable,” Buttigieg said. “This reminds everybody of what they cannot stand about Washington. Scoring points against each other, poking at each other.”

Castro was unbowed. “That’s called a Democratic primary election. That’s called an election. This is what we’re here for, it’s an election.”

“Yeah, but a house divided cannot stand,” said Klobuchar, quoting former President Abraham Lincoln.

That sentiment was echoed by U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who said while they had differences on how to pay for and deliver healthcare, every person on stage believed in universal care.

“We cannot sacrifice progress on the altar of purity,” he said.

Death toll from Spain floods rises to three

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The death toll from torrential rains and floods in southeastern Spain rose to three on Friday after a man drowned when his car became trapped in a tunnel, local authorities said.

The latest tragedy occurred in the city of Almeria when the tunnel was “flooded by a huge amount of water in a few minutes,” Almeria city hall said in a tweet.

A policeman managed to rescue two of the three people in the vehicle, but “one occupant remained inside the car”, Almeria mayor Ramon Fernandez-Pacheco told news radio Cadena Ser.

Almeria airport was closed on Friday due to flooding caused by the heavy rain “which was making it difficult for passengers and workers to reach it”, a spokeswoman for Spanish airports operator AENA said.

Just under one million passengers passed through the facility last year.

A 61-year-old man and his 51-year-old sister died on Thursday when their vehicle was swept away as fast-moving waters swamped a road in Caudete, a municipality around 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of the port city of Valencia, the emergency services said.

Elsewhere the rain caused chaos on the roads, cutting public transport and prompting rivers to burst their banks, flooding homes and forcing the evacuation of surrounding areas, officials said.

Footage shared by the local AVAMET weather service showed cars being swept away in fast-flowing water in Moixent, and torrents of water engulfing the nearby town of Ontinyent, which borders the Clariano river and saw its heaviest rainfall since records began in 1917, the agency said.

Schools across the region suspended classes on Friday for the second day, as the heavy rains are set to continue.

Mugabe’s family agree to burial in ‘heroes’ monument

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The family of former Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe have agreed to bury him at a monument for national heroes in Harare, a family spokesman said on Friday though the date for the ceremony was still unclear.

Mugabe died in Singapore last week aged 95, leaving Zimbabweans torn over the legacy of a leader once lauded as an anti-colonial guerrilla hero, but whose 37-year iron-fisted rule ended in a coup in 2017.

His family and President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former Mugabe ally who turned against him, had been at odds over where he would be buried after his body returned home on Wednesday.

“Yes I can confirm,” Leo Mugabe told reporters when asked whether the family had agreed to a burial in National Heroes Acre in Harare.

He said the traditional chiefs in Mugabe’s homestead had made that decision.

“They have now pronounced their position so if they have pronounced that the burial will be at the Heroes Acre that means that we now have to wait for the details… whether it will be a private burial or a public one.”

Tensions erupted after Mnangagwa’s government proposed a burial at the National Heroes Acre in Harare while the family said he would be buried at a private ceremony, possibly in his homestead of Kutama, northwest of the capital.

The former leader had been travelling to Singapore regularly for medical treatment but allies say his health deteriorated rapidly after his ouster. Mugabe’s body arrived from Singapore on Wednesday at Harare airport.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, Cuban former leader Raul Castro and a dozen African presidents, including South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, are among those expected to attend Mugabe’s state funeral on Saturday in Harare.

Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s resistance hero-turned-autocrat, dies aged 95

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“It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabwe,” said Mnangagwa in a Twitter post, referring to the veteran Zimbabwean politician by “comrade” – in tribute to Mugabe’s days in the nationalist resistance.

Mnangagwa described his predecessor as “an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people,” adding, “His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”

 

Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe either as prime minister or president since 1980 when he was first elected into power on a wave of euphoria and hope after leading his liberation army to victory against the country’s white minority rulers.

 

At the time, he was heralded as a revolutionary hero throughout Africa in an era when Zimbabwe’s neighbour South Africa was still living under the divisive apartheid system.

But the optimism that marked those early years was soon forgotten as the revolutionary leader turned tyrant, killing opposition supporters in their hundreds and eventually leading his country to the brink of ruin.

 

Mugabe’s lasting legacy was epitomised by British author Andrew Norman in his book, Robert Mugabe and the Betrayal of Zimbabwe.

“Instead of leading his people to the promised land, Mugabe on the one hand amassed a fortune for himself, his family and his followers and on the other hand presided over the deliberate murder, torture and starvation of those who opposed him. In short Mugabe betrayed his people,” Norman wrote.

From teacher to revolutionary leader

Mugabe was born in 1924 and raised by his devout Catholic mother Bona after his father abandoned his family.

His father gone, Mugabe showed his willingness to take responsibility when he took financial control over his five siblings as well as three other children his father had had with a different woman.

He studied at Jesuit schools where he was a keen student who became known for being a solitary figure. “His only friends were his books,” his brother Donato was once quoted as saying.

He qualified as a teacher and spent time working in schools in Ghana and Zambia before returning to the country of his birth in 1960 when he joined the National Democratic Party (NDP).

He married his first wife Ghanaian Sally Hayfron in 1961. Her death in 1992 from cancer was a big blow to Mugabe and some say deprived him of a moderating influence. His second wife Grace, is 40 years his junior.

In 1963, Mugabe left the NDP to join rival Marxist party ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union), which later became  ZANU–PF (Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front). After violence erupted between the NDP and ZANU, Mugabe was imprisoned. Behind bars he continued to study, gaining two further degrees and his reputation continued to grow.

In 1975, a year after his release from prison, Mugabe took control of the ZANU party and continued waging a guerilla war from bases in Mozambique – against the white majority government, headed by Prime Minister Ian Smith.

A ceasefire agreement was reached in 1979 and elections were held a year later with Mugabe triumphantly voted in as prime minister. A new independent state was declared with the country’s name changing from Southern Rhodesia to Zimbabwe.

From that moment on Mugabe held a grip on power for the next 37 years and time and again proved he was willing to go to any length to maintain his control. Between 1982 and 1985, thousands of dissidents were killed as Mugabe ruthlessly crushed the armed resistance against his leadership. His troops were accused of committing horrendous atrocities.

“Violence breeds violence”, Andrew Meldrum, a former Observer newspaper correspondent in Zimbabwe, told FRANCE 24. “Mugabe had to use violence against the white regime of Rhodesia and from the very beginning he showed he was willing to use it to maintain his position in power. Violence corrupts, just like power does.”

Zimbabwe in ruin

After seizing political power, Mugabe soon focused his attention on taking control of the country’s economy from the white minority.

In 2000, after an electoral defeat in a referendum, he implemented a controversial land reform program targeting large commercial white owned farms, which accounted for around 80 percent of the land in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe had promised to redistribute the land among poor blacks but instead farms were handed over to his cronies who simply helped to cement his stranglehold on power.

As the farms were seized – many of them violently and illegally, the country’s agricultural based economy collapsed. The scheme was, according to Meldrum, Mugabe’s greatest blunder.

“He marred his own legacy. For 20 years, he established something that was a model and then took it apart in order to maintain his position and that of his party,” said Meldrum, who now writes for the US-based Global Post website.

As the crisis deepened, Zimbabwe recorded the world’s highest level of inflation in 2007 at one point hitting 11 million percent. The country was hit by nationwide food shortages and unemployment rose to 80 percent.

In 2009, a report released by the charity Save the Children found that 10 million out of the country’s population of 13 million were living in poverty and according to the UN, 1.5 million Zimbabweans were in need of food aid in 2011.

One of the few achievements Mugabe did manage during his reign was in education. In 2011, Zimbabwe had the highest literacy rate in Africa with 90 percent of the population able to read.

Blame game

But for Mugabe, who was awarded an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in 1994, the blame for the country’s disastrous state lay elsewhere.

Speaking at a UN summit in New York in 2010, Mugabe slammed the “illegal and debilitating” sanctions imposed on the country by the US and the European Union.

“As a result of these punitive measures the government of Zimbabwe has been prevented from making a positive difference to the lives of the poor, the hungry, the sick and the destitute,” Mugabe said.

Zimbabwe’s climate and environment were also at fault for the crisis, he said and when a cholera epidemic broke out Mugabe pointed the finger at the country’s “former colonial masters” for bringing the disease to the country.

Power hungry

The embattled leader proved to be a wily and an astute operator. Time and again he would “run rings round other political figures” Meldrum said.

In most other countries such a catastrophe would have forced the leader out of power but Mugabe clung on. Each time an election came around, he spread fear among opposition groups through intimidation, torture and murder.

The fiercely disputed elections of 2008 against Morgan Tsvangirai provided proof to many in Zimbabwe and beyond that Mugabe would never relinquish power.

Shortly after voting in the first ballot Mugabe said “If you lose an election and are rejected by the people, its time to leave politics.”

But days later as he headed into a run-off vote against Tsvangirai, Mugabe had a change of heart and swore that “only God” could remove him from office. Tsvangirai eventually withdrew citing intimidation and violence.

Split personality

But even Tsvangirai, who was eventually appointed as Prime Minister to appease the opposition, admitted judging Mugabe was not a simple task.

Speaking in 2010 he said: “You must understand this man has got a split personality – from being a hero to being the villain the international community would like to define him as.”

“I cannot defend what he did over the last ten years in terms of violence but there is also a positive contribution to our country that he made. He was a national liberation leader.”

But others have been less sympathetic. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was reported as saying Mugabe became the typical African dictator and something of a “cartoon figure”.

Mugabe’s political end also followed the script of an African despot, when he was ousted from power in November 2017.

On November 6, 2017, Mugabe made a choice that would seal his political downfall when he sacked his vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa. The former vice-president, who had also served as Zimbabwe’s defence minister, seized on the momentum built on Harare’s streets, where protests against the economic situation had broken out.

The army ousted a by now ailing Mugabe, with Mnangagwa taking over as the country’s president.

Mugabe was put under house arrest, but the wily resistance hero refused to go without a fight. In a March 2018 televised interview, Mugabe insisted he was still Zimbabwe’s president and that the previous year’s “coup d’etat” was “illegal”.

But by then, it was already too late for the ageing Zimbabwean politician. The untouchable aura he projected had been pierced and his long-suffering people had moved on.

For many people with ties to Zimbabwe, memories of Mugabe battling for the freedom of his nation and the right for blacks to vote have been long forgotten after years of repression.

“His legacy is horrific”, Rose Benton who runs the opposition group Zimbabwe Vigil in London told FRANCE 24. “The violence and human rights abuses have been horrendous.”

Israel says fires back after anti-tank missiles from Lebanon

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Israel said it was returning fire Sunday after anti-tank missiles were launched at its territory from Lebanon, raising fears of a serious escalation with Hezbollah after a week of rising tensions.

Hezbollah claimed it destroyed an Israeli military vehicle and killed and wounded those inside, but Israel had not commented.

Israel’s army said in a statement that “a number of anti-tank missiles were fired from Lebanon towards an (Israeli military) base and military vehicles.”

“A number of hits have been confirmed,” it said.

It was “responding with fire towards the sources of fire and targets in southern Lebanon.”

Hezbollah said in a statement its fighters “destroyed a military vehicle on the road to the Avivim barracks (in northern Israel), killing and wounding those inside.”

Lebanon’s state-run NNA news agency reported Israeli fire in the area of Maroun al-Ras, near the border.

After the initial reports of fire from Lebanon, an Israeli military spokesman called on Israelis living within four kilometres (2.5 miles) of the Lebanese border to remain at home and prepare shelters.

Tensions have risen in the last week between Israel and its enemy Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement backed by Iran.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Saturday the group’s response to an alleged Israeli drone attack on the group’s Beirut stronghold had been “decided”.

The pre-dawn August 25 attack involved two drones — one exploded and caused damage to a Hezbollah-run media centre and another crashed without detonating due to technical failure.

Israel has not claimed responsibility for the incident.

The attack in Lebanon came just hours after Israel launched strikes in neighbouring Syria to prevent what it said was an impending Iranian drone attack on the Jewish state.

– ‘Calm down’ –

Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria since the civil war began there in 2011 against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah sites.

Iran and Hezbollah, along with Russia, have backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his country’s civil war.

But a drone attack by Israel inside Lebanon would mark a departure — what Nasrallah had called the first such “hostile action” since a 2006 war between them.

On Thursday, Israel accused Iran of collaborating with Hezbollah to build precision-guided missiles in Lebanon.

According to the UK’s Times newspaper, the drones in the August 25 incident fell near installations manufacturing a fuel used by precision missiles.

Sunday’s escalation comes just ahead of Israel’s September 17 election.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen as wanting to avoid a major conflict before then due to the political risk involved, but he has also warned Lebanon and Hezbollah to “be careful.”

Addressing Nasrallah, Netanyahu told a conference in Jerusalem on Tuesday that “he knows very well that the state of Israel knows how to defend itself well, and to repay its enemies”.

He suggested that Nasrallah “calm down”.

But while Nasrallah has issued warnings to Israel, Hezbollah’s number two Naim Qassem in an interview with Russia Today last week played down talk of a “war atmosphere.”

“The atmosphere is an atmosphere of response to an aggression,” he said.

A 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah took the lives of 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Trump sparks confusion before doubling down on China tariffs

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President Donald Trump doubled down Sunday on his hard line against China after sowing confusion with statements that he might be willing to soften a trade war G7 partners fear threatens the world economy.

At the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, Trump announced a major trade deal with Japan and promised more of the same with Britain, once Brexit is done.

But the positives were overshadowed by a mix-up over his apparent expression of regret for the latest escalation in the US-China dispute.

“I have second thoughts about everything,” he conceded to reporters when asked if he regretted his decision on Friday to ramp up tariffs on all Chinese imports, worth some $550 billion, in retaliation for Beijing’s earlier hike of levies on US goods.

Just hours later, top White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham issued a statement insisting that Trump meant completely the opposite.

“The president was asked if he had ‘any second thought on escalating the trade war with China’. His answer has been greatly misinterpreted,” she said.

“President Trump responded in the affirmative — because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher.”

Senior US economy adviser Larry Kudlow offered a different spin: “He didn’t quite hear the question this morning.”

– Pleading for calm –

Others attending the G7 summit of wealthy allies certainly wished for detente between Beijing and Washington.

European leaders pressured Trump to back off what he describes as a historic, all-or-nothing struggle to shift China from decades of rampant intellectual property theft and other unfair trade practices.

Trump is also embroiled in threats of a trade war with France and the European Union.

The latest to voice concern was British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who told Trump at a Sunday breakfast meeting that “we don’t like tariffs on the whole”.

“We are in favour of trade peace,” he said.

On Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron called the trade tensions “bad for everyone”.

“We have to achieve some form of de-escalation, stabilise things, and avoid this trade war that is taking place all over,” he said.

Despite clear signs to the contrary, Trump insisted that there was no friction among his close allies.

“I think they respect the trade war. It has to happen,” Trump told reporters.

– Deals with friends –

Trump is using the G7 to showcase what he says if the flip side of his tariff diplomacy: big trade deals.

He and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced an agreement in principle on what Trump said was “billions and billions of dollars” of trade.

They hope to sign the deal, covering industry, digital and agricultural sectors, in September.

Trump also dangled the prospect of deal that was “bigger than we’ve ever had” with Britain.

– Game of chicken –

But in the game of chicken that is the US-China standoff, a battle between the world’s two largest economies, the White House made clear it won’t blink.

Trump earlier this week called himself the “chosen one” when it comes to dealing with China. The comment, made while looking theatrically up into the sky, caused widespread derision.

Trump subsequently explained that he’d been joking. But the need to win the China dispute is no joke for a president struggling to poll anywhere near 50 percent ahead of next year’s election.

Kudlow said that despite the tit-for-tat tariffs, “negotiations between the two great countries continue,” with a Chinese delegation expected to visit Washington in September.

The talks and negotiations continue and I think that’s very positive,” he said.

At the same time, Trump announced just before coming to the G7 that in addition to ever-higher tariffs, he could invoke an obscure law giving him power to order US companies out of China altogether.

Trump walked this back in Biarritz, saying Sunday that he has “no plan now” to take would amount to a nuclear option, unprecedented in any trade dispute.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin underlined that it remained possible.

“The president has lots of options,” he told Fox News on Sunday.

Seventeen Chinese, Ukrainian seamen kidnapped off Cameroon

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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