Ezekwesili Withdraws From Presidential Race

A file photo of Dr Oby Ezekwesili.

 

Candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili, has withdrawn from the 2019 presidential race.

The spokesperson of her campaign organisation, Mr Ozioma Ubabukoh, disclosed this in a statement on Thursday.

He explained that the former Minister of Education stepped down from the race to help build a coalition to prevent the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from winning the election.

According to the statement, the decision followed extensive consultations with leaders from various walks of life across the country over the past few days.

“I deem it necessary for me to focus on helping to build a veritable coalition to ensure a viable alternative to the #APCPDP in the forthcoming elections,” Dr Ezekwesili was quoted as saying.

“It is my ardent belief that this broad coalition for a viable alternative has now become more than ever before, an urgent mission for and on behalf of Nigerian citizens. I have therefore chosen to lead the way in demonstrating the much needed patriotic sacrifice for our national revival and redirection.

“I wish to state that over the past three months, I have been in private, but extended talks with other candidates to birth a coalition that would allow Nigerians to exercise their choice without feeling helplessly encumbered by the evil twins of #APCPDP.

“While the deliberations continued, I never hesitated for a moment in my willingness and determination to sacrifice my candidacy in order to facilitate the emergence of the envisaged strong and viable alternative that Nigerians could identify within our collective search for a new beginning.

“My commitment to this promising political recalibration has been consistent and in consonance with my agreement, at the request of candidates under the Presidential Aspirants Coming Together (PACT) arrangement in 2018, when I consented to supervise the internal selection process as an outside observer passionate about building an alternative force.”

Strike Call, Protests In DR Congo After New Election Delay

 

A DR Congo opposition bloc called on Thursday for a nationwide stoppage and police clashed with demonstrators in two eastern cities after upcoming elections were placed on hold in their region. 

Lamuka, a coalition of parties supporting opposition candidate Martin Fayulu, called for cities to be brought to a standstill on Friday, two days before polling day.

On Wednesday, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s national election panel announced the thrice-delayed vote would be postponed in several troubled areas until March.

But it said the vote would continue to take place in the rest of the country as scheduled on December 30, and the next president will be sworn in on January 18.

Sunday’s election will be the DRC’s first presidential ballot in seven years. Legislative and municipal elections are being held at the same time.

In the province of North Kivu, the region most affected by the delay, several hundred demonstrators gathered on Thursday in the administrative district of the city of Beni.

Gunshots were heard over a roughly hour-long period, apparently fired by police to disperse protestors.

In Goma, the provincial capital, demonstrators set up barricades in the districts of Majengo and Katimbo and at the entrance to the university.

Police fired tear gas and made at least half a dozen arrests, said an AFP reporter at the scene.

The vote should have been held in 2016 when President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, reached a two-term limit set under the constitution.

But he remained in office, invoking a caretaker clause under the constitution.

Opposition anger

The election postponement applies to the cities of Beni and Butembo in North Kivu, as well as to the territory of Yumbi in the southwestern province of Mai-Ndombe.

Around three percent of some 40 million registered voters will be affected by the delay.

But opposition parties described the delay as a ploy to gag a stronghold of support.

At a press conference, Lamuka called for cities around the DRC to be brought to a standstill on Friday but said it would still contest the poll.

The election commission “has crossed a red line,” said Lamuka, which is backed by two of the DRC’s powerbrokers — former warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba and the ex-governor of Katanga, Moise Katumbi.

The other main opposition party, the veteran Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) also said it “condemned” the new delay but confirmed on Wednesday it would not boycott the elections.

The announcement by the Independent National Election Commission (CENI) blamed militia violence and an outbreak of Ebola in North Kivu, and inter-communal clashes in Yumbi.

But a specialist in DRC law said the decision was flawed.

“It’s unconstitutional,” the expert said. “It deprives part of the electorate of its constitutional right to elect the leaders of their choice.”

 Presidential challenge 

Three men are heading a field of 21 candidates in Sunday’s presidential race.

They are Kabila’s hand-picked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a hardline former interior minister; Fayulu, a little-known legislator and former oil executive; and UPDS chief Felix Tshisekedi.

The elections were twice postponed until a new date was set for December 23 — and were then delayed by another week. CENI blamed a warehouse fire that destroyed election equipment.

The mineral-rich giant of central Africa has an entrenched reputation for political turmoil, corruption, and poverty.

It has not had a peaceful transfer of power since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960.

In 1996-1997 and 1998-2003, the DRC became the theatre of two wars that left millions of dead and homeless and sucked in countries from around central and southern Africa.

The UN and western powers have repeatedly urged the DRC to have peaceful, transparent and free elections — a call echoed on Wednesday by the presidents of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and the neighboring Republic of Congo.

The five leaders said they would send envoys to Kinshasa on Thursday.

Despite the problems, the head of the UN’s mission to Congo, Leila Zerrougui, said this year’s elections compared favorably with the 2011 ballot, marked by bloodshed and allegations of vote-rigging.

“I think this campaign has proceeded somewhat more smoothly,” she said in an interview with Jeune Afrique (Young Africa) magazine.

AFP

Modric Adds Croatian Sportsman Of The Year To His 2018 Collection

File photo of Croatia’s midfielder Luka Modric

 

Luka Modric added to his collection of awards after a successful 2018 when he was named Croatian sportsman of the year on Wednesday.

Sandra Perkovic, five times European champion in the discus, won the women’s award. The football squad, runners-up in the World Cup, were named Croatian team of the year after a vote by 322 journalists.

Modric led his country to the final in Russia in July and played a key role as Real Madrid won a third straight Champions League title in May.

The midfielder was rewarded with the Golden Ball for best player at the World Cup, the Best Men’s Player award by FIFA in September, and the Ballon d’Or as the world’s best player at the start of December.

He ended a decade of domination by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the world player of the year awards.

AFP

London’s Gatwick Airport Sold To French Conglomerate, Vinci

File photo of Gatwick Airport

 

French building conglomerate Vinci said Thursday it was adding Gatwick airport, Britain’s second-busiest, to the dozens of hubs it already owns, booking a majority stake for nearly three billion pounds.

The purchase of Gatwick, which is Europe’s eight-biggest airport and runs the busiest single runway in the world, comes only months before Britain is to leave the European Union.

The proximity of Brexit “probably helped us close the deal”, Nicolas Notebaert, Vinci Airports chief, told a telephone conference.

The absence of a Brexit deal with the EU could cause major air travel problems as both sides would no longer recognize each other’s aviation safety standards.

Vinci said it will own a 50.01-percent stake in Gatwick thanks to the deal worth £2.9 billion ($3.7 billion, 3.2 billion euros) by the end of June.

Gatwick made headlines last week when it closed its runway repeatedly due to reports of mystery drone sightings nearby, impacting nearly 140,000 passengers.

Best known for motorways 

Vinci is best-known for being one of the world’s biggest construction companies, employing close to 200,000 people across the globe, and for running motorways in France.

But the company has also been buying up airports — most recently in Brazil, Japan, and Serbia — making it “a top 5 global player in the international airport sector”, according to a statement by Gatwick. One of its best-known airports is the hub of Portugal’s capital Lisbon.

With the latest acquisition, Vinci Airports will control 46 airports in 12 countries with total traffic of 228 million passengers a year.

Gatwick, which in Britain is second only to Heathrow, will become the biggest airport in Vinci’s portfolio, making the purchase “a major strategic move”, the French company said.

“The transaction represents a rare opportunity to acquire an airport of such size and quality and fits extremely well with Vinci Concessions’ long-term investment horizon,” it said.

Gatwick’s CEO Stewart Wingate said there would be no management or operational changes to the “immediate” running of the airport.

He said the deal would mean “continuity but also a further investment for passengers”.

Global Infrastructure Partners, the current owners of Gatwick, will hold on to 49.99 percent in the airport.

Gatwick’s only runway hit a world record of 950 flights in a day in 2017, Vinci said.

“The airport constantly innovates in all areas of operations (for example passenger self-baggage drop, aircraft queuing systems, parking products) and reaches a very high level of operational efficiency,” it said.

“The whole Vinci Airports network will benefit from Gatwick Airport’s world-class management and operational excellence, which has allowed it to deliver strong and steady growth in a very constrained environment,” Notebaert said in a statement.

Vinci’s share price stood 0.3 percent higher at 70.70 euros in midday Paris trading, slightly outperforming the overall bourse index.

AFP

UAE To Resume Diplomatic Service In Damascus After Seven Years

File photo of damaged buildings in Damascus

 

The United Arab Emirates to resume diplomatic service in Damascus embassy on Thursday, an official said, seven years after it severed ties with Syria over the violent repression that triggered the war.

An official at the information ministry invited journalists “to cover the reopening of the Emirati embassy in Damascus today”.

The move is seen as another step in efforts to bring the regime of President Bashar al-Assad back into the Arab fold after years of diplomatic isolation.

A visit to Damascus by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir earlier this month had been interpreted by some observers as a sign of that trend.

Rumors of the Emirati embassy reopening have circulated in recent days as renovation work was spotted getting underway at the building.

The UAE broke ties with Syria in February 2012, as the repression of nationwide protests demanding regime change was escalating into a war which has now killed more than 360,000 people.

AFP

Gatwick Airport Suspends Flight Over Drone Intrusion

Passenger aircraft are pictured standing on the tarmac at departure gates at London Gatwick Airport, south of London, on December 20, 2018 after all flights were grounded due to drones flying over the airfield.  Glyn KIRK / AFP

 

London Gatwick Airport was forced to suspend all flights on Thursday due to drones flying over the airfield, causing misery for tens of thousands of stuck passengers just days before Christmas.

Flights into Gatwick, south of the British capital, were diverted to other airports while passengers waiting to take off faced gruelling delays.

Gatwick is the eighth-busiest airport in Europe and sits behind Mumbai as the world’s busiest single runway air hub.

A cat-and-mouse manhunt is under way to catch the drone operator.

Two drones were first spotted flying over the airport at around 9:00 pm (2100 GMT) on Wednesday. The airfield briefly reopened at 3:00 am on Thursday, but had to be closed again following further sightings.

“All flights to and from Gatwick are suspended due to ongoing drone activity around the airport. Unfortunately, there are significant delays and cancellations to all flights,” the airport said.

“We apologise to everyone affected, but the safety of all our passengers and staff is our number one priority.”

Some 10,000 passengers were affected on Wednesday night, and a further 110,000 were due to either take off or land at the airport on 760 flights on Thursday.

More than 20 police units from two forces were searching for those responsible.

“We believe this to be a deliberate act to disrupt the airport. However, there are absolutely no indications to suggest this is terror-related,” said Superintendent Justin Burtenshaw of the local Sussex Police force.

“Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears; when we look to reopen the airfield, the drone reappears.”

 ‘Everyone’s trying to get home’ 

Chris Woodroofe, Gatwick’s chief operating officer, told BBC radio that it would be dangerous to shoot at the drone due to the danger of stray bullets.

Inside the airport, weary passengers faced a grim wait to reach their destinations, with many returning home for the holidays.

Gisele Fenech, 43, who was travelling to Malta, was among those stranded.

“We’re meeting family and it’s my daughter’s birthday today so it’s gone all wrong. We’ve been looking forward to this for so long,” she told AFP.

“Everyone’s trying to get home for Christmas.”

Musab Rashid, 22, who was going to Copenhagen, said: “It’s wrong, it’s childish of them to do this, because it’s affected more than 100,000 people.”

Karin Sjostrom-Nandris, 49, was was heading to Stockholm, said: “We can’t really leave this queue because this seems to be the only place we could possibly find out any information. The queue looks like it’s several hours long, so we could be here for some time.”

Under British law, drones cannot be flown near aircraft or within a kilometre of an airport, or at an altitude of over 400 feet (122 metres). Those breaking the law could face up to five years in prison.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman slammed the perpetrator.

“This behaviour is irresponsible and completely unacceptable,” he told reporters.

“We feel for all the passengers who are facing so much disruption.”

In parliament, members of the upper House of Lords raised the likelihood of a new wave of people getting hold of drones as presents this Christmas.

Gatwick serves more than 228 destinations in 74 countries for 45 million passengers a year.

AFP

Pope Accepts US Bishop’s Resignation Over ‘Misconduct’ With Minor

Pope Francis Photo:  VINCENZO PINTO / AFP

 

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Los Angeles auxiliary bishop Alexander Salazar over his “misconduct” with a minor, the Vatican said on Wednesday.

The case is the latest in a litany of child sexual abuse scandals to have rocked the Roman Catholic Church of 1.3 billion followers around the world.

The Vatican said an investigation by the Archbishop of Los Angeles had found suspicions about Salazar’s behaviour to be “credible”.

A letter from the archbishop, Jose H. Gomez, said that in 2005 he had been “made aware of an allegation against Bishop Salazar of misconduct with a minor” during the 1990s when he was serving as a parish priest.

The allegations were investigated by the police but not prosecuted, Gomez said.

He said that since Salazar was a bishop when the allegations were made, he had passed the issue to the Vatican “which conducted an investigation and imposed certain precautionary measures”.

Salazar “consistently denied any wrongdoing,” Gomez said, and after obtaining permission from Rome, he had put the matter in the hands of the archdiocese’s “independent Clergy Misconduct Oversight Board.”

“The Board found the allegation to be credible and I submitted its findings and recommendations along with my own votum to the Holy See to make its final determination as to Bishop Salazar’s status,” he said.

“These decisions have been made out of deep concern for the healing and reconciliation of abuse victims and for the good of the Church’s mission.

“Let us continue to stay close to the victim-survivors of abuse, through our prayer and our actions.”

AFP

‘The Last Jedi’ Rakes In $450.8mn Worldwide In Opening

Members of the cast of Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” at its world premiere at The Shrine Auditorium on December 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Jesse Grant / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” — the latest episode in the blockbuster space saga — has raked in more than $450 million worldwide since hitting theaters, Disney said Monday.

The film — which features the late Carrie Fisher’s final performance as Princess Leia — took in $220 million in North America, and another $230.8 million overseas, a Disney spokesman said.

It was the fifth biggest global box office debut in history, the company said.

Star Wars characters arrive on the red carpet during the closing ceremony of the Dubai International Film Festival, in Dubai on December 13, 2017.
(Photo credit should read “PATRICK BAZ/DIFF/AFP-Services”)

Worst US Train Accidents

This image from State Trooper Brooke Bova via the official Twitter media page of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department obtained 18 December, 2017, shows the scene of an Amtrak high-speed train after it derailed from an overpass on Interstate I-5 highway earlier in the day near the city of Takoma, Washington state. Brooke BOVA / Pierce County Sheriff’s Department / AFP

Here is a look at the worst train disasters in the United States, after Monday’s deadly accident in Washington state. 

– 1972, Chicago: 45 dead –

The worst rail accident over the past 40 years or so goes back to October 1972 when two suburban trains collided in Chicago, leaving 45 dead and more than 330 injured.

– 1993, Alabama, 44 dead –

In September 1993, 44 people died near Saraland in the southern state of Alabama when a train derailed as it crossed a bridge over the Mobile River.

– 2008, Chatsworth: 25 dead –

The worst accident over the past decade took place on September 12, 2008, when a commuter train with 222 passengers on board crashed into a freight train at Chatsworth, 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Los Angeles, killing 25.

– More recent accidents –

More recently the United States has seen a string of deadly train accidents.

– One person died and 114 were injured on September 29, 2016, when a morning rush hour commuter train ploughed into a station in Hoboken, New Jersey, a major transport hub for Manhattan.

– Ten people died on January 14, 2015, when a bus carrying 15 prison inmates and staff plunged off a Texas highway overpass and onto railway tracks below, where it was hit by a train.

– Eight died on May 12, 2015 when an Amtrak train linking Washington and New York with 243 people on board derailed in Philadelphia, killing eight and injuring more than 200. The accident took place when the train entered a curve as it travelled at 170 kilometers (106 miles) an hour, twice the permitted speed.

– Six died on February 3, 2015 outside New York City when a packed commuter train and a car which was crossing the track collided, leaving six dead and 15 injured.

– Four died on December 1, 2013, when a suburban train travelling too fast missed a bend as it arrived in the Bronx in New York, killing four and injuring 67.

AFP

US Slams Defeated UN Resolution On Jerusalem As ‘an insult’

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley speaks during the UN Security Council meeting over the situation in the Middle East on December 18, 2017, at UN Headquarters in New York. 
KENA BETANCUR / AFP

United States Ambassador Nikki Haley on Monday slammed as “an insult” a UN draft resolution rejecting the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital after blocking it with a veto.

“What we witnessed here today in the Security Council is an insult. It won’t be forgotten,” said Haley, describing the measure as “one more example of the United Nations doing more harm than good in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Members of the UN Security Council raise their hands as they vote on a draft resolution that would reject US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel during a meeting on the situation in the Middle East including Palestine on December 18, 2017, at UN Headquarters in New York. KENA BETANCUR / AFP

‘Multiple’ Deaths As Train Derails Over Washington State Highway

 

This image from State Trooper Brooke Bova via the official Twitter media page of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department obtained 18 December, 2017, shows the scene of an Amtrak high-speed train after it derailed from an overpass on Interstate I-5 highway earlier in the day near the city of Takoma, Washington state. Brooke BOVA / Pierce County Sheriff’s Department / AFP

An Amtrak passenger train traveling on a new route for the first time derailed Monday in Washington state, killing “multiple” people as cars flew off a bridge onto a busy highway at the height of rush hour, officials said.

Pictures from the scene near the city of Tacoma showed one Amtrak train car overturned and crashed on the interstate highway and others dangling from the overpass.

The incident occurred over Interstate 5, a busy highway that connects the busy Seattle metro area to the state’s capital city Olympia to the southwest.

The train, which was carrying 78 passengers and five crew, was part of a newly expanded rail service along the route linking Seattle and Portland, Oregon — featuring new locomotives and a new bypass to make the trip quicker.

The train derailed about halfway between Tacoma and Olympia on a curve that passes over the highway during the morning rush hour at about 7:40 am (1540 GMT).

“There’s multiple fatalities,” said Ed Troyer, spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.

“It’s pretty horrific,” he said.

Troyer put no number on the fatalities, but local media said at least three people were killed. None of the people in vehicles traveling on the highway below the train were killed, according to Troyer.

Local officials had expressed safety concerns in recent months ahead of the start of the new, faster service. The National Transportation Safety Board has sent a team of experts to investigate the incident.

Dozens of people were reportedly taken to area hospitals for treatment, with several said to be in serious condition.

“When we got to the scene, it was obvious there were fatalities and injuries, and some people were able to get off the train,” Troyer said.

“No fatalities on the roadway. As you can see by the large response, we have taken them out and people that were able to walk are under the tents being cared for by multiple groups,” he said.

‘People were screaming’

The accident snarled morning rush hour traffic and officials warned that that section of Interstate 5, would be blocked for at least the rest of the day.

“We had just passed the city of DuPont and it seemed like we were going around a curve,” passenger Chris Karnes — the chair of the Pierce Transit Community Transportation Advisory Group (CTAG) — told local CBS News affiliate KIRO-TV.

“All of a sudden, we felt this rocking and creaking noise, and it felt like we were heading down a hill,” said Karnes, adding that several cars had gone off the tracks and passengers kicked out the windows to escape.

“The next thing we know, we’re being slammed into the front of our seats, windows are breaking, we stop, and there’s water gushing out of the train. People were screaming.”

Karnes said the tracks were supposed to have been upgraded to accommodate higher speeds.

“I’m not sure what happened,” he said.

Safety concerns

A passenger identified as Alex told the local KOMO News TV channel that the train had attracted rail buffs excited over the new service.

“There were a bunch of people who wanted to be a part of this historic moment and they were on board the train this morning headed for Portland,” he said.

The new service came after tens of millions of dollars were invested to modify a part of the tracks on the line, improve signalling and add newer locomotives.

Local officials had worried about trains going at higher speeds through the curves in the area. The trains were expected to reach speeds of 79 miles (127 kilometers) per hour through the densely populated area with the improved systems and track.

In early December, Don Anderson — the mayor of Lakewood, Washington, a Tacoma suburb just a few miles from the accident site — had warned that more needed to be done to ensure safety on the route.

“Come back when there is that accident, and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements,” he said, according to KOMO News.

US President Donald Trump said the accident underscored the need to invest in infrastructure.

“The train accident that just occurred in DuPont, WA shows more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly,” he wrote.

“Seven trillion dollars spent in the Middle East while our roads, bridges, tunnels, railways (and more) crumble! Not for long!”

The new train cars were to be pulled by new Siemens Charger locomotives that include an “on-board positive train controls system,” designed to automatically stop the train in dangerous situations and mandated for trains around the country.

But on the Washington train, the technology was only expected to be used next year when it is activated on the entire rail corridor, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

In 2015, an Amtrak train going far over the designated speed for a stretch of curves in the track in Philadelphia derailed, killing eight.

At the time, analysts said positive train control technology could have prevented the accident.

AFP

UPDATED: Two Village Heads Killed In Fresh Adamawa Attack

Three Policemen Feared Dead After Clash With Suspected Herdsmen

After suspected herdsmen went on a rampage in an early morning attack on Lawaru and Dong Communities in Demsa Local Government Area of Adamawa state, two village heads have been reported dead.

At least two people have been reported killed following the early Monday morning attacks on communities in Adamawa State.

READ ALSO: Herdsmen Attacks: Security Expert Blames NOA 

Local residents confirmed to Channels Television that the Village Heads of Lawaru and Dong communities in Demsa Local Government area lost their lives in the Monday early morning attack.

The attack is suspected to have been carried out by herdsmen.

The chairman of neighbouring Numan Local government Area also confirmed the attack explains that the attackers set people’s homes ablaze.

Numan itself is just recovering from an attack on Friday, December 1, which left at least four policemen dead where the Police Public Relations Officer in Adamawa State, Othman Abubakar on Saturday confirmed the killing of four police officers while repelling an attack by armed and suspected herdsmen in Bolong village of Numan Local Government Area of Adamawa State.