Friday, 27 April 2018

Iniesta to leave Barcelona at the end of the season

AFP / Pau Barrena A tearful Andres Iniesta has announced he is leaving Barcelona after 22 years associated with the club
Andres Iniesta confirmed on Friday he will leave Barcelona at the end of the season, bringing the curtain down on a phenomenally successful career at the club, but said a move to China is yet to be finalised.

In a press conference attended by members of the first team and the club's board, Iniesta said he wanted to finish at Barca "feeling useful, feeling important and still winning titles".

Iniesta is expected to continue his career at a club in the Chinese Super League but remained tight-lipped on his next destination. The 33-year-old revealed only that it will be outside Europe, reiterating he would never play against Barcelona.

After joining Barca's academy, La Masia, aged 12, Iniesta blossomed into one of the Catalans' greatest ever players, winning four Champions League and eight La Liga titles, and lifting the World Cup with Spain. 

Struggling to hold back the tears, Iniesta said: "I understand that in the near future I will not be able to give the best of myself in all senses, both physically and mentally.

"If I had imagined finishing my career here, it would have been like this, feeling useful, feeling important and still winning titles. 

"It's a very difficult day for me because I've been here all my life and to say goodbye to my home and my life here is very hard."

Iniesta's short speech was greeted by applause and the congratulations are likely to continue on Sunday, when he can collect his ninth La Liga title. Barcelona need only a point against Deportivo La Coruna to be crowned champions. 

- Will leave Europe -
It would secure a domestic double in Iniesta's farewell campaign, after a thumping win over Sevilla clinched the Copa del Rey last weekend. 

Iniesta capped a typically elegant performance at the Wanda Metropolitano with a wonderful finish, shimmying past goalkeeper David Soria and tapping in his 57th club goal, on his 669th appearance.
He would not be short of suitors this summer among the world's elite clubs but Iniesta, who already has an offer from China, will not be staying in Europe.
"There are things to talk about, things to finalise," Iniesta said. 

"The only thing I have always said is I would never compete against my club so all scenarios that are not in Europe are possible."

Among those likely to be disappointed is Iniesta's former coach Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, who has reportedly tried to push the merits of a move to England.

Guardiola's Barca team, which won La Liga three times in a row between 2009 and 2011, as well as the Champions League twice, enjoyed Iniesta at his mesmorising best. 

During that period, Iniesta became the poster-boy for fluid, possession-based football, for which this decade of Spanish dominance will be forever remembered. He would have won the Ballon d´Or in 2010 but finished second to Lionel Messi. 

"To play with Messi has been and still is an honour and a privilege," Iniesta said. "To share with him so many magical moments is a privilege because I understand there is no other player like him. As a team-mate and a footballer, being so close to him has been unique and magical."

A glorious farewell with the Spanish national team is also possible at the World Cup this summer, after which Iniesta is expected to call time on an international career that has included winning the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, between consecutive successes at the European Championships in 2008 and 2012. 

Iniesta's succession will not be easy, particularly for Barcelona, whose original 'tika-takas' are now down to Messi, 30, Sergio Busquets, 29, and Gerard Pique, 31. It is hoped Philippe Coutinho, bought from Liverpool for 160 million euros in January, can help fill the void. 

Asked how he would like to be remembered, Iniesta said: "It's easy, I want to be remembered as a great football player and a great person. I've wanted to represent this club in the best possible way and I hope I have achieved it."


Wednesday, 25 April 2018

African migrants to US ‘more educated’ than US-born nationals and migrants in UK

Sub-Saharan African immigrants in the US are often more educated than those in the UK, the respected US-based Pew Research Center has found.

According to the research, they are also more educated than US-born nationals.

A total of 69% of immigrants in the US, aged 25 or older, have some college education, compared with 49% in the UK. The percentage is lower in France (30), Portugal (27) and Italy (10), the other three top Western destinations for sub-Saharan African immigrants.

Many sub-Saharan African immigrants entered the US through its diversity visa programme, which requires applicants to have at least a high school education.

Its other findings include:
– 63% of US-born nationals in the US had some college education, lower than the 69% among sub-Saharan African immigrants

– 30% of UK-born nationals had some college education, again lower than the 49% among immigrants in the UK

– Sub-Saharan African immigrants in the US were younger, with a median age of 38 years versus 42 in the UK.

BBC/Photo credit: Atlanta Black Star

House summon President Buhari, ask him to declare herdsmen terrorists

The House of Representatives during plenary, Wednesday resolved to summon President Muhammadu Buhari over the spate of killings in Benue State and other parts of the country.

The decision was unanimously adopted by overwhelming majority of members after a Kano lawmaker, Baballe Bashir (APC, Kano) moved for the amendment of a motion moved by Mark Gbilah (APC, Benue).

The House, while adopting a motion by Mr Gbilah on the attack by army personnel on residents of Naka in Gwer-West LGA of Benue State and the inability of the army and other security agencies to quell the crises, the lawmakers also passed a vote of no confidence on the service chiefs and called for their immediate removal.

The House also resolved to suspend its plenary for three days (one week) in solidarity with victims of attacks across the country.

Contributing to the debate, another APC lawmaker from Benue, Dickson Takhigir, alleged that the killers connived with security agencies to perpetrate the act.

“Benue is under siege and if we don’t take the necessary actions, it will amount to abdicating the responsibility of government to protect lives and property of its citizens,” he said.

“It appears there is no moral will to tackle the matter because continuous complaints about the killings seem to fall on deaf ears.”

He said the provision of the law allows self-defence and called on Nigerians ”to do the needful”.
PREMIUM TIMES on Tuesday reported how suspected herdsmen killed about 19 persons including two priests in a church in Ukpor-Mbalom, a community in Gwer West Local Government Area.

Terver Akase, a spokesperson to Governor Samuel Ortom, said the attackers also burnt 50 houses and sacked the entire community.

The Catholic Diocese of Makurdi later confirmed two of its priests, Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha, both reverend fathers, were killed in the attack.

The attack came barely a week after the murder of 10 persons by herdsmen in the same area, which has been one of the major scenes of carnage by suspects herdsmen since January 1.

It also comes barely a few days after Nigerian soldiers stormed Naka town in Gwer West Local Government Area of the state and set dozens of houses on fire.

The soldiers said hoodlums in the community killed one of their colleagues. At least one man was burnt to death in the reprisal attack.

In addition to the resolution to summon the president, the House also called on the Federal Government to declare killer herdsmen terrorists, while cattle rearers should be registered.

The invitation of the president is an unprecedented move by the lower chamber of the National Assembly. However the lawmakers have constitutional powers to summon all government appointees.

The House had recently invited the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo who doubles as the board chairman of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to explain his role in the suspension of six officials as well as other scandals rocking the agency.

The Vice President however sent a representative instead of appearing.
Lawyers recently told PREMIUM TIMES that neither the president nor the vice president is constitutionally exempted from summons.

A lawyer, Simon Ameh, told PREMIUM TIMES that an occupier of the office of the President or Vice President is not exempted from summons by the parliament.

He added that the Constitution gives the legislature power to oversight the Executive, hence the National Assembly has powers to invite ”any occupier of an executive position”.

Another lawyer, Ola Adeosun said the National Assembly is empowered under Section 88 of the Constitution to summon any government official, including the president.


Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Suspected herdsmen kill 18 in Benue church, burn over 60 houses

Two priests were among at least 18 people killed in a dawn attack on a church in central Nigeria, police said Tuesday, in violence condemned by President Muhammadu Buhari as “satanic”.

Around 30 suspected herdsmen attacked Mbalom community in the volatile region killing the worshippers and the two priests, said Benue state police commissioner Fatai Owoseni in the state capital of Makurdi.

“They attacked the venue of a burial ceremony and also attacked the church where the two reverend fathers were holding mass,” said Owoseni.

“We were able to recover 16 bodies from the scene of the attack and those of the two priests.”
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari described the violence as “satanic” in a statement.
“This latest assault on innocent persons is particularly despicable,” said Buhari.

“Violating a place of worship, killing priests and worshippers is not only vile, evil and satanic, it is clearly calculated to stoke up religious conflict and plunge our communities into endless bloodletting.”

Worshippers were gathered for the daily 5:30 am (0430GMT) service at St. Ignatius Catholic church when they heard gunshots, said Mbalom resident Terhemen Angor to AFP.
“People started scampering and wailing,” said Angor, saying that scores were “gunned down in cold blood while many sustained injuries including bullet wounds.”

“After attacking the church, the invaders descended on the community and razed over 60 houses,” he said.

“The community is on fire and deserted, people are fleeing to neighbouring villages hoping to find a safe haven for their families.”
The Catholic Diocese of Makurdi confirmed the death of priests Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha in a statement denouncing the violence.

– ‘Under siege’ –
Riots over the killings erupted in Makurdi, the epicentre of the violence that has thrown the state into chaos.
Police fired teargas to disperse a rampaging mob that took over a busy intersection and lit massive fires in protest of the latest attack.

“We are under siege,” said acting governor of Benue state Benson Abounu.
“We have been attacked from all corners and this is unacceptable.”
Central Nigeria is in the grip of a security crisis as nomadic herders and sedentary farmers fight over land in an increasingly bloody battle for resources.

The conflict is now more deadly than the Boko Haram jihadist insurgency that has ravaged Nigeria’s northeast and is becoming a key issue in the upcoming 2019 presidential polls.
Benue state lies in Nigeria’s so-called Middle Belt that separates the predominantly Muslim north from the largely Christian south.

The area has long been a hotbed of ethnic, sectarian and religious tensions between indigenous farming communities, who are mainly Christian and the nomadic cattle herders, who are Muslim.
The clashes over land have escalated into a rift that has deepened along nominally religious lines.
Buhari, who is seeking a second term, has been under pressure to end the violence and ordered in military reinforcements, but the killings continue in the absence of a strong police force and efficient judicial system.

“People are being killed regularly and nothing is being done in terms of bringing perpetrators to book,” Idayat Hassan, director of the Centre for Democracy and Development West Africa, told AFP.
“There is this belief that there is a conspiracy against the people,” Hassan said, speaking from Abuja.
“It is getting worse and it’s getting messier,” Hassan said, warning “we must quickly address this, before we get into a free-for-all war.”


Saturday, 21 April 2018

Security challenges loom over Buhari’s re-election bid

Muhammadu Buhari’s pledge to end Boko Haram’s Islamist insurgency in northeast Nigeria played a large part in his 2015 presidential election victory.

With elections approaching next year and Buhari, 75, having declared his intention to seek a second, four-year term, the extent to which he has done that is coming under increasing scrutiny.

But as Africa’s most populous nation gears up for months of hard campaigning before the vote in February 2019, the former military ruler is not just facing questions about Boko Haram.

In recent months there has been a resurgence of clashes between farmers and nomadic herders — and a heavily politicised reaction — which could have an impact on polling.

Ryan Cummings, Africa analyst at the Signal Risk consultancy in South Africa, noted the violence “now accounts for more civilian casualties than the Boko Haram insurgency and may continue to do so in the foreseeable future”.

Elsewhere, criminal violence and kidnappings for ransom in some northern states have increased, while tensions persist from pro-Biafran separatists in the southeast.

Boko Haram weakened
In the 12 months before the last election, Boko Haram fighters ran riot across northeast Nigeria, capturing swathes of territory with the military seemingly unable to respond.

Buhari, who headed a military government in the 1980s, was seen as a better bet to end the violence, which has killed at least 20,000 since 2009.

He has achieved that to an extent but persistent attacks have undermined his repeated assertion that the militants have been virtually defeated.

“It is fair to say that President Buhari has failed in delivering on his promise to defeat Boko Haram within his first term,” said Cummings.

The group recently gave a clear indication of the threat it still poses by abducting 112 schoolgirls from Dapchi in Yobe state in almost a carbon copy of the Chibok kidnapping in 2014.

Buhari secured massive support across the mainly Muslim north in 2015. That looks unlikely to change significantly in 2019.

In the north’s biggest city and most populous state, Kano — a key election prize because of its size — people said Buhari had their vote for weakening Boko Haram.

But they warned he needed to take action against security threats elsewhere.
“That is where he is going to face his toughest challenge,” said Abdulhadi Ahmad, a garment trader.

Herder-farmer violence
Violence in the decades-old dispute between herders and nomadic farmers in the central states of Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, Plateau and Kogi has flared again in the past two years.
Buhari has been criticised for failing to stop the violence, which according to some estimates has killed more than 2,000 since the start of this year.

It will be a key issue in central states, where the Muslim north meets the mainly Christian south, that typically swing between parties.

In Benue, the head of the state’s tribal leaders, Chief Edward Ujege, said Buhari “does not deserve a single vote… because he has failed to give us security”.

The conflict, which is driven by land and resources, has been seen largely through the prism of Nigeria’s ethnic and religious identity politics.

The president of the ethnic Tiv Youths Organisation, Timothy Hembaor, indicated patronage will play a part: people in Benue will back Benue’s APC governor, even if he moves party, he said.
Buhari “shouldn’t even come here to campaign”, he added.

No political will
Amaechi Nwokolo, from the Roman Institute of International Studies in Abuja, said Buhari, whose candidacy still needs to be endorsed by his party, had already “most likely lost the vote in Benue”, an APC state.

“He may not win in many of the states that have gone up in flames and many people are going to use that against him around the country,” added the security analyst.

Ndi Kato, a campaigner for indigenous people in the central states, said the attacks put a way of life under threat and the government’s lack of action had caused outrage.

“We feel we cannot have four more years of this,” she said, adding there was “zero political will” to end the violence, which has made tens of thousands people homeless.

“All things being equal the Middle Belt won’t be voting for this government. However, we don’t know who they will be voting for — and that is another problem.”

Friday, 20 April 2018

'Untouchable' Wenger to end 22-year Arsenal stay

Arsenal great Thierry Henry hailed Arsene Wenger's legacy as "untouchable" despite struggles in recent years as the manager announced Friday he was stepping down after 22 years at the helm of the Premier League club.

The 68-year-old arrived at Arsenal in 1996 a relative unknown but leaves widely hailed as the greatest manager in the club's history following three Premier League titles and a record-breaking seven FA Cup triumphs.

Wenger, who completed the Premier League and FA Cup double in his first full season in England, was hailed as an innovator in his early years and his spiky clashes with former Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson became the stuff of legend.

Yet despite cup success in recent years, fans have become increasingly frustrated by the north London club's inability to challenge the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea for the Premier League title and a failure to reach the sharp end of the Champions League.

"After careful consideration and following discussions with the club, I feel it is the right time for me to step down at the end of the season," Wenger said in a statement posted on the club's website.
"I am grateful for having had the privilege to serve the club for so many memorable years."
AFP/File / Martin HAYHOW Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira (left) and manager Arsene Wenger celebrate the 2004 Premier League title
Wenger arrived at the Emirates with Ferguson's United at the peak of their powers but immediately threw down the gauntlet, winning the Premier League and FA Cup double in 1998, before repeating the feat four years later.

But perhaps the most remarkable achievement of his long reign was going through a full league season unbeaten in 2003-04, with his "Invincibles" playing a captivating brand of flowing football.

- Champions League -
After an incredible 19 successive years in the Champions League, Arsenal, in sixth place in the Premier League, could miss out for the second consecutive year after a disappointing league campaign.

Their only realistic chance of qualifying for next season is by winning the second-tier Europa League -- the Gunners face Spanish giants Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals -- and Wenger has urged the fans to get behind the club.

Arsenal's all-time record goalscorer Henry said Wenger's recent lack of success in the Premier League should not tarnish his legacy.

"Recently, people were always confusing what he is doing at the minute and his legacy," Henry told Sky Sports. "Once you announce you are leaving people are going to talk about your legacy and his legacy is untouchable."

"Let's not get lost in celebrating the end of his era," he added. "The team has to win the Europa League, it would be an amazing achievement and Arsene never won in Europe before so it would be a great way to give him a good exit."

Ferguson, who retired in 2013, had warm words for his former adversary, saying he was "proud to have been a rival, colleague and friend" and hailing him as one of the greatest Premier League managers.

Current United manager and former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, with whom Wenger has had repeated run-ins, said he hoped the Frenchman he once labelled a "specialist in failure" would stay in football.
Arsenal's majority shareholder Stan Kroenke paid tribute to a man of "unparallelled class", with the club saying a successor would be found "as soon as possible".

- 'No replacement' -
Nevertheless, Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis said Friday: "We are not going to find a replacement for Arsene Wenger for a variety of reasons.

"The football club is in a very different place than it was 22 years ago and it's unthinkable to me we will have another manager in the Premier League, let alone Arsenal, who will be 22 years in tenure and have the kind of run of consistent success Arsene had over those years." 

Wenger took charge with Arsenal in the doldrums in October 1996, but quickly set about a revolution in English football by overhauling players' diets and bringing an end to the drinking culture that had dogged the club.

Results soon arrived on the pitch as Wenger's men beat an all-conquering Manchester United side to the title in 1997-98 and won the league again four years later.

Despite their constant presence in the Champions League Wenger was never able to end Arsenal's quest to win the competition for a first time. They closest they came was in 2006 when a young side was edged out 2-1 in the final by Barcelona.
That season was also Arsenal's final campaign at Highbury but the promise that moving to the 60,000-capacity Emirates would allow the club to compete financially with the biggest spenders in England and the continent failed to materialise.

Instead, Wenger was much criticised for his unwillingness to spend the money needed to keep up as booming TV revenues saw Premier League rivals splash the cash.

Arsenal even sold a host of star players such as Henry, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie.
And the fans' frustration continued to grow as, even after loosening the purse strings to buy Mesut Ozil in 2013 and Alexis Sanchez a year later, Arsenal still failed to compete for the title or the Champions League.

Democrats sue Trump campaign, Russia for alleged conspiracy

AFP/File / Olivier Douliery The Democratic Party lawsuit notably targets Donald Trump's son Donald Trump Jr, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and numerous campaign officials
The Democratic Party filed a lawsuit Friday alleging that Russia, WikiLeaks and top officials from Donald Trump's campaign conspired to tilt the 2016 US presidential election in the Republican's favor.

The civil complaint filed in federal district court in Manhattan by the Democratic National Committee alleges that Russia informed Trump's campaign that it had conducted a cyber-attack on the DNC, leading to the release of information damaging to Trump's rival Hillary Clinton.

It says a close Trump advisor, Roger Stone, appeared to have "advance knowledge" of plans by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks to disseminate some of the harmful information -- as part of what the suits alleges was a wide-ranging illegal conspiracy to influence the election. 

"The Trump campaign and its agents gleefully welcomed Russia's help," according to the 66-page complaint.

The lawsuit targets Trump's campaign, his son Donald Trump Jr, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and numerous campaign officials including Paul Manafort, as well as the Russian government including its foreign military intelligence agency known as GRU, and WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.

"During the 2016 presidential campaign, Russia launched an all-out assault on our democracy, and it found a willing and active partner in Donald Trump's campaign," DNC chairman Tom Perez said in a statement.

"This constituted an act of unprecedented treachery: the campaign of a nominee for president of the United States in league with a hostile foreign power to bolster its own chance to win the presidency."
The Democratic move comes at a time of legal turmoil for the president, marked by a raid on the offices of his personal lawyer, and the release of a tell-all book by James Comey which alleges Trump was obsessed with the Russia meddling probe when he sacked the former FBI chief.

Special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional investigators are probing possible Trump associate links to what US intelligence has concluded was a sweeping effort to tilt the 2016 vote in Trump's favor.

Trump has consistently rejected charges that he or his campaign colluded in any way with Russia -- tweeting earlier this week about "the phony Russia investigation where, by the way, there was NO COLLUSION (except by the Dems)."


Imo State Governor impose levy on all Imo Adults

Imo state governor, Rochas Okorocha, has instructed traditional rulers in the state to tax at least 2,000 'leviable adults' in their communities the sum of N3,000 as payment of Autonomous Community Adult Development levy.

In the letter dated, April 3, 2018, the governor directed all recognised Autonomous Communities in Imo state to pay the Minimum Adult Development Levy of N6 million.

According to the letter, any traditional ruler who fails to achieve such a return into the government's purse will have their salaries and allowances suspended while their communities will be merged with 'sister communities' that meet their targets.

The letter was signed by Hon Louis O. Duru, the state's Commissioner of Community Government, Culture and Traditional Affairs.

The letter read, "His Excellency, Owelle (Dr.) Rochas Okorocha OON, Executive Governor of Imo State has at several meetings with the Royal fathers reiterated his administration's resolve on the issue of payment of Autonomous Community Adult Development levy of N3,000 per adult.

"To facilitate the payment, the State Government through the Ministry of CGC, since September 2016 had provided Community Adults Register for Autonomous Communities in the State where the Communities will enlist the names of at least 2,000 leviable adults.

"Consequently, His Excellency, Owelle Anayo Rochas Okorocha has directed that all recognised Autonomous Communities in Imo State should pay the Minimum Adult Development Levy of N6,000,000 (six million naira only) without further delay.

"Any recognised Autonomous Community that fails to pay the development levy will be merged with sister Autonomous Community that had paid and the salaries/allowances of the traditional ruler of the erring community will be suspended."

Hon. Duru also noted that the state government has concluded arrangement to embark on sensitisation meetings with traditional rulers at the local government areas to further emphasise Okorocha's directive and monitor compliance.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Super Eagles offered $24 million for World Cup win

The president of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, has said that the Super Eagles players stand the chance of pocketing 24 million dollars if they play in the final of the 2018 World Cup.

The World Cup will hold from June 14 to July 15 in Russia.
Mr Pinnick told journalists in Abuja on Wednesday that the money was part of the agreement reached with the players to share 50-50, whatever would accrues to the country if they get to the final and lift the trophy.

“I don’t put players under pressure. Pressure can be put on them unconsciously because we are creating enabling environment for them. If for example we don’t have money to prepare them, they can now relax but now, we have given them everything upfront and they should deliver. If today they get to the final, the World Cup money will be shared 50-50 between the team and the NFF.

“Winning the final is 48 million dollars, it means the team will get 24 million dollars and the football house will take the remaining 24 million dollars,” Mr Pinnick said.

He also said the adequate preparation including grade A friendly matches have been secured with England and Czech Republic to ensure the team do well at the World Cup.

The NFF boss further said that the glass house had already secured 2.8 million dollars to pay the players allowances and bonuses during the mundial.

“We are ready to play against England on June 2 in London in an international friendly. We had a conclusive meeting with the England FA.

“After the England match, we will play Czech Republic and from there we move to Russia. As it is everything is going on very well.

“For the world cup, I don’t think we have any problem, I am in touch with the technical committee. It is the desire of every Nigerian to see the Super Eagles do well at the World Cup.”

He commended President Muhammadu Buhari for his support for the NFF and the Super Eagles, and assured that they would not let him down in Russia.


Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Syria Probe Mission on Hold Amid Security Fears

AFP / STRINGER The former rebel Syrian town of Douma on the outskirts of Damascus is seen on April 17, 2018 after the Syrian army declared that all anti-regime forces have left Eastern Ghouta
The world's chemical arms watchdog froze its probe into an alleged chemical attack near Damascus Wednesday, demanding "unhindered access" after a United Nations reconnaissance mission came under fire.

Four days after reaching the Syrian capital, international inspectors had yet to begin their field work in Douma, where dozens were killed in a suspected gas attack widely blamed on President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said its fact-finding mission (FFM) would be forced to stay put in Damascus if its safety was not guaranteed.

Officers from the UN security agency (UNDSS) went on a reconnaissance mission Tuesday to Douma, a town that was controlled by rebels until Russian-backed regime forces fully retook it last week.

At one of two visited sites, "the team came under small arms fire and an explosive was detonated," Ahmet Uzumcu, the chief of the Netherlands-based OPCW, said in a statement.

He did not specify who might have opened fire on the UN reconnaissance mission on Tuesday, nor did any other official. The team was also forced to withdraw from another visited site due to security concerns.

Uzumcu said he would only consider deploying the team to Douma with UNDSS approval and if the inspectors had "unhindered access to the sites".

"This incident again highlights the highly volatile environment in which the FFM is having to work and the security risks our staff are facing," he said.

Uzumcu had earlier said Syrian authorities had offered the OPCW interviews with "22 witnesses who could be brought to Damascus" while security issues were worked out.

Syria's UN ambassador Bashar Jaafari told the Security Council on Tuesday that the OPCW experts would begin their investigation once they received the all-clear from the UN team.

"If this United Nations security team decides that the situation is sound in Douma, then the fact-finding mission will begin its work in Douma tomorrow," Jaafari said.

- Mission in limbo -
Holdout fighters from the Islamist group Jaish al-Islam said an April 7 attack by the regime was carried out with chemical munitions and forced them to accept a transfer deal.
AFP / LOUAI BESHARA A United Nations vehicle is seen outside the hotel where the international experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are staying in Damascus on April 18, 2018
That agreement was the death knell for a six-year opposition presence in Eastern Ghouta, a semi-rural area within mortar range of central Damascus.

The alleged chemical attack, grisly footage of which shocked the world, prompted a coordinated wave of unprecedented missile strikes by the United States, France and Britain against regime targets.
Syria's ally Russia was given prior notice and the missiles struck mostly empty buildings, in what many analysts saw as a hollow move that allowed all sides to save face.

The strikes were conducted just hours before OPCW inspectors arrived in the country with a mandate to determine the circumstances of the alleged chemical attack, but not to say who is responsible. 

Damascus has consistently denied using chemical arms on April 7 and invited the OPCW to investigate. Its ally Moscow has accused the West and medics in Douma of staging the attack.

Now the future of the mission launched by the OPCW, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 for its efforts to destroy Syria's chemical stockpile, looked more uncertain than ever.

"At present, we do not know when the FFM team can be deployed to Douma," the OPCW chief said.
Western ambassadors to the organisation accused the Syrian regime of obstructing the mission.

Several experts have said it was likely Russian and Syrian forces that now control Douma have tried to remove or tampered with incriminating evidence.

- Burial site -
The "White Helmets", a Syrian rescue force that works in opposition-held areas, said it was working closely with the inspectors.

"We provided information on the burial place of those killed in the chemical attack," its chief Raed Saleh told AFP.

The White Helmets and local medics were the main source of information in the wake of the supposed chemical attack, but also during the broader two-month assault on Ghouta.

Another member of the force said he was worried proof that toxic substances had been used was being tampered with, particularly the burial site.
AFP/File / STRINGER Civilians walk in the former rebel Syrian town of Douma on the outskirts of Damascus on April 17, 2018 following a blistering two month offensive on the rebel enclave At the start of the year Eastern Ghouta was a sprawling semi-rural area just east of Damascus, home to almost 400,000 inhabitants, which had already endured several years under a government siege that slashed access to food, medicine and other goods. The Syrian government and allied forces launched a massive assault on February 18 to retake the enclave, which had been out of regime control since 2012.

"The regime is hiding all the evidence," said the member, speaking on condition of anonymity.
He said the victims were buried in the city's east. On Tuesday, Syrian state news agency SANA said a "mass grave" had been found there, but did not specify what had been done with the bodies.

"It is essential they (the inspectors) visit the site of the attack -- all the evidence is there. Everything else is secondary," the White Helmets member said. 

Top Jaish al-Islam official Mohammad Alloush accused the regime on Wednesday of "erasing proof of the chemical (attack) in Douma." 

He specifically accused them of "storming cemeteries in search of the victims of chemical substances". 


Britain urges Nigeria, others to legalise same-sex marriage

British Prime Minister Theresa May has called for same-sex marriage in Nigeria and all other countries within the Commonwealth.

Speaking at the first joint forum of Commonwealth Head of Government Meetings in Westminster on Tuesday, the prime minister said there should be no laws criminalising same-sex relationships across the Commonwealth.

May said: “Across the world, discriminatory laws made many years ago, continue to affect the lives of many people tens of millions of young people. Criminalising same-sex relations and failing to protect women and girls.”

“I am all too aware that these laws were put in place by my own country; they were wrong then and they are wrong now.

“As the UK’s prime minister, I deeply regret that those laws were introduce…as a family, we must respect one another’s cultures and traditions, but we must do so in a manner consistent with equality, as it is clearly stated in the Commonwealth charter.

“Nobody should face discrimination or persecution because of who they are or who they love and the UK stands ready to help any Commonwealth member wanting to reform outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible.”

China to offer visa-free travel to its own ‘Hawaii’

China unveiled plans Wednesday to permit visa-free travel to its southern island of Hainan, as Beijing pushes international tourism to the tropical destination in another step to open up the region.

The new policy will start in May and allow travellers from 59 countries to visit Hainan for 30 days visa free, said Qu Yunhai, deputy director of the State Immigration Administration at a press conference in Beijing.

Among the countries to be included in the programme are Russia, United States, France, Britain and Germany, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The new rule will give Hainan less stringent visa requirements than in the rest of China, where travellers have to apply for visas through Chinese consulates abroad.

The policy “embodies our resolve and approach to move one step further to opening to the outside world”, Qu said.

The liberalisation comes as part of a package of reforms to remake the island as a free trade zone and a beacon of openness for China.

On Monday, China announced it would allow Hainan to develop horse racing and explore opening new types of lotteries connected to sports and international competitions.

Beijing also said it wants to position Hainan as a “centre of international tourism consumption”, a goal which has faced slow progress despite sandy beaches and massive spending on plush resorts.

The province attracted fewer than a million foreign visitors in 2016 — compared with over seven million in Thailand’s Phuket, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.

The new policy is being implemented by China’s State Immigration Administration, a new agency formed during a government shuffle announced in March.

Previously, some international visitors to the island could avoid China’s visa requirements if they were on a shorter trip and travelling as part of a tour group.


Tuesday, 17 April 2018

“Right thinking Nigerians” confirm they now enjoy better electricity than in the past – Fashola

The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, says electricity supply in Nigeria has improved tremendously.

He disclosed this at the April 2018 edition of the monthly power sector operators meeting in Umuahia, Abia State.

He added that ‘right thinking’ Nigerians have revealed to him that they now spend less amount of money to power their alternative source of electricity.

Fashola said: “We are on a journey to a destination of promise and eventual prosperity and I use this occasion to salute the efforts and contributions of all those who have brought us this far. 

“Even if those who were most vocal in condemnation when the situation appeared very dire are now uttering some muted acknowledgment that it has improved, we must continue to draw inspiration from well-meaning and right thinking Nigerians who were gracious enough to publicly acknowledge that they are saving some money from diesel and the money they used to spend for generators; they are running their generators for fewer hours; and they are getting comparably more power than before.

“It is because of those gracious and well-meaning and right thinking Nigerians that we must dig deeper, work harder and be more determined to improve service delivery” he said.

U.S. Journalists say found no evidence of chemical attack during visit to Syria’s Duma

Reporters from the One America News Network have visited the Syrian town of Duma, located in Damascus’ suburbs, where, according to the U.S. and its allies, a chemical attack took place on April 7, and found no evidence that could prove these claims.

The situation around Syria escalated in recent months as several media outlets, citing Syrian militants, accused Damascus of using chemical weapons in Duma.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry rejected the allegations, adding that the use of chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb may have been planned by terrorist groups.

“We got to speak to the residents in the area. We’ve been even able to visit the hospital, where the White Helmets showed video of people being hosed down.

“We were brought to one of the neighborhoods close to where the attack allegedly happened. I spoke to a number of residents there, probably around 10 residents and this is about block and half away from where the attack supposedly happened.

“Not one of the people that I spoke to in that neighbourhood said that they had seen or heard anything about the chemical attack on that day.

“They said that they were going about the normal business,” Pearson Sharp, a One America News Network reporter, said.

The reporters then went to other areas in Duma in order to speak to more people and managed to interview about 30 to 40 random civilians about the alleged chemical attack.
“Consistently, not one person in the entire town that we talked to said that they had seen or heard anything about a chemical attack.

“They said that they’ve lived there from seven to 15 years, some of them, so they are long-time residents of the area, many of them were very close to the site that was the allegedly attacked on that day,” Mr Sharp underlined.

Asked about what the “chemical attack was,” all of the Duma residents who were surveyed replied that it was staged by the rebels who had occupied the town at that time.

These same people called the incident “a fabrication and hoax” staged by the rebels in order to distract the Syrian army so that they could escape from the town, according to the broadcaster.
According to Aol, a British journalist who interviewed a doctor in the Syrian town of Douma claims he told him there was no evidence of a chemical attack.

Dr Assim Rahaibani, 58, said the video showing children gasping for breath – which triggered the weekend bombing campaign by the UK, US and France – is genuine.

But he explained to Robert Fisk, writing for the Independent, that patients were overcome not by gas but by oxygen starvation in the rubbish-filled tunnels and basements in which they lived, on a night of wind and heavy shelling that stirred up a dust storm.

The U. S., the UK, and France hit a number of targets in Syria early on Saturday in response to the alleged chemical attack in Duma.

The move has already been criticised by a number of countries, including Russia, Iran, Belarus, and Cuba among others.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Saturday that the strikes came just as Syria had got a chance to achieve peace.


Monday, 16 April 2018

Trump alleges ex-FBI chief Comey committed 'many crimes'

Donald Trump says that fired FBI director James Comey, whose new memoir portrays the US president as morally unfit for the office, is guilty of 'major crimes'
Donald Trump fired back Monday at James Comey, saying he is guilty of "many crimes," as the former FBI director opened a book tour with an interview in which he labelled the US president "morally unfit" for office.

Trump accused Comey of lying to Congress and exonerating Hillary Clinton in a 2016 investigation because of her strong poll numbers in the presidential race.

"Comey drafted the Crooked Hillary exoneration long before he talked to her (lied in Congress to Senator G)," Trump fired in an early morning tweet.

"Then based his decisions on her poll numbers. Disgruntled, he, [former FBI deputy director Andrew] McCabe, and the others, committed many crimes!"

Late Sunday, Comey launched a publicity tour for his new memoir, "A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership," with an ABC television interview in which he branded Trump a serial liar who will "stain everyone around him."

Comey's book, which leaked out last week ahead of its official release Tuesday, takes on the president who fired him in May 2017 over the troubling Russia election meddling investigation, a probe that poses a deep threat to Trump's 15-month-old presidency.

- Trump 'morally unfit' -
Comey is schedule to give interviews on the book to major television networks this week and travel to a dozen cities to promote the book in person.

"I think he's morally unfit to be president," Comey told ABC.
Trump "talks about and treats women like they're pieces of meat" and "lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it."

Comey also said that serving in Trump's administration poses a serious ethical dilemma.
"The challenge of this president is that he will stain everyone around him," he told ABC.
"And the question is, how much stain is too much stain and how much stain eventually makes you unable to accomplish your goal of protecting the country and serving the country?"

- Republicans: 'Lyin' Comey' -
Trump and the Republicans have sought to stifle the impact of his book by accusing Comey of leaking classified materials and of corruptly handling the 2016 investigation into Clinton.
The Republican Party set up a website to attack the book, branding him "Lyin' Comey."

Trump called Comey an "untruthful slime ball" and said it was his "great honor" to fire the veteran Justice Department prosecutor.

"Slippery James Comey, a man who always ends up badly and out of whack (he is not smart!), will go down as the WORST FBI Director in history, by far!" Trump said Sunday.

In a separate ABC interview, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders reiterated the charges of lying and divulging classified materials.

"Look, it's been very clear that James Comey is a self-admitted leaker. He lied to Congress," she said.
- Trump's legal troubles -
In a new book, former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey says Donald Trump is immoral and unfit to be US president
In his book, Comey likens Trump to a dishonest, ego-driven mob boss and says he demanded the then FBI chief's personal pledge of loyalty.

That damning account has infuriated the president at a moment of intensifying legal pressure on other fronts.

The probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians during the 2016 presidential race, now led by independent special prosecutor Robert Mueller, increasingly menaces Trump's inner circle.

And last week federal agents in New York raided the office and hotel room of Trump's longtime personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, possibly in connection with secret hush payments he made to women claiming they had affairs with Trump.

In his interview Sunday, Comey said Trump could be guilty of obstruction of justice in the way he tried to get the FBI to drop a probe of one of his staff in early 2017.

But Comey said he could not confirm suspicions that Moscow possesses compromising material -- an alleged lurid video of the president with prostitutes -- or evidence of collusion during the election that could be used to blackmail the US president
"I think it's possible. I don't know," Comey said.


Aguero relieved to avoid last day title drama

Aguero has scored 30 goals in all competitions this season
Manchester City's latest Premier League triumph lacked the drama of Sergio Aguero's winner with virtually the last kick of the season in 2012, but the Argentine is relieved to have won the title with five games to spare.
City also claimed the title on the final day of the 2013/14 season, but Aguero believes his third league winner's medal in England is just reward for the best football he has been involved in since joining from Atletico Madrid in 2011.

"This is my third title with City and it's just a relief not to have to wait (until) the final day this time," Aguero told City's Twitter account.

City are well on course to break the record for most points and goals, earning comparisons with the greatest ever teams in the Premier League era.

"This season has been incredible and the football we've played has been the best I've been involved with while at the club.

"It's been a pleasure to play with this team and be part of everything we've achieved this season.
"For players like David Silva, Vincent Kompany and Yaya (Toure) who have been here a long time, it's even more special because it's another title we've won together."


Buffon should watch his mouth, says Italian ref chief

Italian referees' chief Marcello Nicchi said Monday that Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon should think before lashing out at officials as he did during last week's Champions League defeat by Real Madrid.

Buffon was sent off for dissent by English referee Michael Oliver after he awarded Real Madrid a stoppage-time penalty which sent the Spaniards into the semi-finals.

The 40-year-old Italian icon later called Oliver "a murderer" with "a rubbish bin" in place of a heart.
"Buffon is a great champion who I hope will go on to have a great managerial career," Nicchi told Italian radio. 

"But at certain levels you have to be careful about what you say. There are always kids listening.
"If it happened in Italy? I would have defended the referee. They can't be threatened either before, during, or after the game.

"After that, there are the appropriate bodies which must judge the conduct of all players on the pitch."
Meanwhile, Nicchi warned of a repeat of the 2006 Calciopoli match-fixing scandal if referees lose their right to vote at the top of the game in Italy.

The Italian Referees' Association (AIA) could lose its two percent voting allocation in the Italian Football Federation's Federal Council.

And AIA president Nicchi believes this could open the door to behind-the-scenes meddling like during the Calciopoli scandal that rocked Serie A and Serie B in 2006.

"To undermine the independence and impartiality of our referees could mean the start of a new Calciopoli," said Nicchi.

"I'm doing everything to calm the referees, but if one day someone goes out on the pitch and doesn't find the referee, I wouldn't be surprised," he added of possible strike action.


Israel frees 207 African migrants from prison

Israel on Sunday freed 207 African migrants from prison following a supreme court ruling after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu controversially reversed a deal with the UN refugee agency on the detainees’ fate.

After an operation lasting several hours a spokeswoman for the immigration authority told AFP late on Sunday that all detainees had been released.

There are around 42,000 African migrants in Israel. Authorities transferred 207 of them from a nearby open detention facility in February after they refused to leave the country.

Israel’s supreme court on April 10 gave the government until Sunday to finalise a deal it said it was working on to deport some of the migrants to another country.

Without a deal, the court said authorities must release those held at Saharonim prison.
“In light of the fact that the negotiations between Israel and a third country are still ongoing and due to a supreme court ruling, the migrants held in Saharonim prison will be freed today,” the immigration authority said in a statement earlier Sunday.

Uganda said on Friday it was “positively considering” a proposal from Israel to accept 500 of the mostly Eritrean and Sudanese migrants.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu cancelled an agreement with the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, aimed at avoiding forced deportations of thousands of migrants.

The reversal, just hours after he announced the deal himself in a televised address, followed pressure from his right-wing base.

That left the government with its initial plan, announced in January, under which migrants who entered Israel illegally would face a choice between leaving voluntarily or facing indefinite imprisonment with eventual forced expulsion.

As the migrants could face danger or imprisonment if returned to their homelands, Israel had offered to relocate them to an unnamed African country — either Rwanda or Uganda, according to deportees and aid workers.

Rwanda has since said it could not be part of the arrangement.
The UN refugee agency has strongly criticised the deportation plan and urged Israel to return to the deal, which would have allowed thousands of migrants to remain in the country in return for an equal number being relocated to Western nations.

Some Israelis, including Holocaust survivors who say the country has a special duty to protect migrants, have also opposed the deportation plan.

Of the 42,000 African migrants in Israel, half are children, women or men with families who are not facing immediate deportation, according to interior ministry figures.

Migrants began entering Israel through what was then a porous Egyptian border in 2007. The border has since been strengthened, all but ending illegal crossings.


Sunday, 15 April 2018

Soldiers unleash violence on anti-Gnassingbe protesters as ECOWAS leaders meet to resolve Togo crisis

Togo’s opposition on Saturday said security forces fired teargas to prevent anti-government protests, as West African heads of state met to try to revive stalled talks to end the months-long political crisis.
“Some members of the security forces positioned themselves just at the entrance to the place where we were meeting,” said opposition politician Nathaniel Olympio.

“Very menacingly, they started to throw teargas everywhere. We had to leave the premises after 45 minutes,” he told AFP.

Videos of indiscriminate beatings of protesters by security forces emerged on social media on Saturday.

The 14-party opposition coalition, which has staged anti-government protests since last August, this week decided to resume demonstrations, despite an official ban.

But since Wednesday, security forces have closed off all opposition meeting points in the capital. The teargas on Saturday was fired near the opposition headquarters.

There was also unrest in Kpalime, some 120 kilometres (75 miles) north of Lome, where strong action had been taken to prevent demonstrators taking to the streets.

The opposition is calling for a return to the 1992 constitution, which imposes a two-term limit on presidents, and also the introduction of two-round voting in elections.

Gnassingbe has been president since 2005, taking over after the death of his father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled Togo for 37 years.

His son won elections in 2005, 2010 and 2015. The opposition wants the application of the two-term limit to be retroactive to prevent him standing again.

A sticking point to agreement has been the government’s refusal to apply the retrospective element, raising the possibility Gnassingbe could remain president until 2030.

Talks brokered by Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo and his Guinean counterpart Alpha Conde stalled earlier this year after just three sessions.

On Saturday, regional heads of state gathered in Lome for a meeting chaired by Gnassingbe, who holds the rotating presidency of the West African bloc ECOWAS.

In a statement issued after closed-door talks, the grouping called on Akufo-Addo and Conde to “intensify their efforts to help Togo’s government and political actors” towards reform.
It also called for an end to violence during the process.


Saturday, 14 April 2018

South Africans mourn Winnie Mandela in a massive funeral laced with tension

Family and officials gather at Soweto's Orlando stadium for the funeral service of anti-apartheid icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in Soweto, South Africa, on Saturday.
Soweto, South Africa (CNN)South Africans gathered Saturday to bid farewell to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, an anti-apartheid icon hailed as the mother of a nation and a political force. 

Crowds packed Orlando Stadium in Johannesburg's Soweto township for the funeral following a private service at the home of Madikizela-Mandela, the former wife of the late Nelson Mandela, who served as South Africa's President after fighting for decades to deliver the nation from apartheid. Mourners followed her coffin in procession into the stadium, where the funeral began with the singing of the national anthem. 
Her daughter, Zenani Mandela-Dlamini, was among the speakers at the funeral. Dignitaries also included Presidents of the Republic of Congo and Namibia, as well as civil rights leaders from around the world, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
"She made a choice to raise two families, hers and the beloved country," Mandela-Dlamini said. "She cherished freedom as much as she treasured family. She protected both from constant assault from apartheid state."
The flag-draped casket carrying Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's remains arrives Saturday, April 14, 2018, at Orlando Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Madikizela-Mandela died this month in a Johannesburg hospital after a long illness. She was 81.
As one of the country's most prominent and polarizing figures, she retained political clout long after her divorce from Mandela. Since apartheid ended in the 1990s, she served in several government roles, including as a member of parliament and leader of the ruling party's women's league.

Syrian army declares Ghouta rebel enclave fully retaken

SANA/AFP / STRINGER A handout picture released by Syria's official news agency SANA shows people walking down a street in Eastern Ghouta's main town of Douma after Syrian government forces entered the last area of the rebel bastion
The Syrian army on Saturday declared that all anti-regime forces had left Eastern Ghouta, nearly two months into a blistering offensive on the rebel enclave on the outskirts of the capital.

"All terrorists have left Douma, the last of their holdouts in Eastern Ghouta," state news agency SANA quoted an army spokesman as saying, using the regime's usual term for rebels.

"Areas of Eastern Ghouta in rural Damascus have been fully cleansed of terrorism," an army spokesman also said in a statement delivered on state television.

The announcement comes after a massive assault launched by Syrian government and allied forces on February 18 to retake the enclave, which had been out of regime control since 2012.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, at least 1,700 civilians have been killed in bombardment on the enclave in eight weeks.

Douma is the main town in what at the start of the year was a sprawling semi-rural area just east of Damascus, home to almost 400,000 inhabitants.

The regime has been accused of carrying out a chemical weapons attack last week on the town of Douma, the final part of the enclave where rebels were balking at a Russian-brokered deal to evacuate them to northern Syria.

The United States, France and Britain responded Saturday with pre-dawn strikes on alleged regime chemical weapons sites.
- Mine clearing -
AFP / Nazeer al-Khatib Buses carrying Syrian rebel fighters and their families from their former opposition bastion of Eastern Ghouta arrive at a checkpoint controlled by Turkish-backed rebels in northern Syria on April 13, 2018

A team of experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is currently in Damascus and expected to investigate the site of the alleged chemical attack.
President Bashar al-Assad had made the reconquest of Eastern Ghouta a strategic goal.

Dozens of civilians in government-controlled central Damascus have also been killed by rockets and mortar rounds fired from Eastern Ghouta by the rebel groups that held it.

The aerial blitz the regime and Russia launched in mid-February has caused extensive destruction in the region's towns.

"Engineering units are starting to clear the mines and explosives sewn by the terrorists in the town to allow the rest of the units to secure the liberated areas and prepare them for the return of civilians to their homes," the army spokesman said.

The last convoy of buses transporting members of the Islamist group Jaish al-Islam and their relatives left Douma on Saturday.

Thousands of civilians who fled the offensive have already returned to areas previously retaken by the army and allied forces.

The two-month assault on Eastern Ghouta sparked an international outcry, with the head of the United Nations describing the conditions endured by civilians there as "hell on Earth".

Few convoys of humanitarian aid were allowed in while rights groups and aid organisations also condemned the targeting of medical facilities across the besieged territory.

A large number of Eastern Ghouta residents were bussed to the northern province of Idlib, which almost entirely escapes government control and hosts several jihadist and other rebel groups.