Algeria’s Minister Resigns After Deadly Stampede

 

Algeria’s Culture Minister Meriem Merdaci resigned Saturday, following the deaths of five young music fans in a stampede at a packed concert by rapper Soolking in the capital, the president’s office announced.

It said Merdaci handed her resignation to interim president Abdelkader Bensalah “who accepted it”.

On Friday, prime minister Noureddine Bedoui fired the head of ONDA (the National Office of Copyright and Neighbouring Rights), the public authority in charge of organising concerts. An investigation has been opened.

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Thursday night’s stampede that killed five people aged between 13 and 22 came as fans thronged an entrance of the August-20 Stadium in Algiers where France-based Soolking was performing.

The 29-year-old is a major star in the North African country, his song “La Liberte” (Freedom) becoming a mainstay of anti-government protests that entered their seventh month on Friday.

AFP

French Minister Resigns In Luxury Dinners Scandal

In this file photo taken on July 11, 2019 French Environment Minister Francois de Rugy visits a farm operation as part of his trip to Niort on the theme of water management. GEORGES GOBET / AFP

 

A senior French cabinet minister resigned Tuesday after reports accused him of extravagant spending, including on luxury dinners, but lashed out at what he termed a “media lynching.”

Environment Minister Francois de Rugy has been under unrelenting pressure for a week after the Mediapart website accused him of hosting friends to opulent meals, complete with lobster and vintage wines, while he was speaker of parliament.

“The attacks and media lynching targeting my family force me to take the necessary step back,” said de Rugy, who also held the post of minister of state which made him the number two in government after Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

“The effort required to defend my name means that I am not able to serenely and efficiently carry out my mission. I presented my resignation to the prime minister this morning,” he added.

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Rugy lashed out at Mediapart, which has repeatedly published stories that have rattled the French elite since it was established in 2008.

He said he had filed a legal complaint against the left-wing publication for “defamation”, accusing it of a desire “to harm, smear and destroy.”

President Emmanuel Macron, in his first reaction to the revelations, said Monday he had asked Philippe for “full clarity” as he took decisions not “based on revelations but facts”.

Macron, who is keen to promote his green credentials, has struggled to find a long-term occupant for the environment ministry.

De Rugy last year succeeded Macron’s first appointment to the job, Nicolas Hulot, a celebrity environmentalist who quit after saying that his cabinet colleagues were doing too little to tackle climate change.

AFP

Palestinian Minister Released After Claims Of Violating Israeli Laws

 

Israeli police Sunday released from custody the Palestinian minister for Jerusalem affairs after questioning him over claims he organised activities in the city in violation of Israeli rules, his lawyer said.

Palestinian minister for Jerusalem affairs Fadi al-Hadami had been arrested in his east Jerusalem home early Sunday and taken for questioning, with a police spokesman saying he had been involved in unspecified “activities in Jerusalem”.

His lawyer Mohannad Jbara said the arrest was due to recent activities that have included accompanying Chile’s president during a visit to Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque complex.

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Jbara said Hadami was released Sunday afternoon.

On Tuesday, Hadami was seen alongside Chilean President Sebastian Pinera on a tour of the holy site.

This infuriated Israel, which said the tour constituted a violation of regulations and a breach of understandings reached with Santiago for the head of the state’s visit.

The status of Al-Aqsa, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and located above the Western Wall, is one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest for Muslims after Mecca and Medina, administered by the Muslim Waqf but secured by Israeli police.

Chile later said Pinera’s visit was private, with Hadami’s presence not part of official protocol.

Hadami’s arrest also comes after days of violent unrest in Jerusalem.

Overnight Saturday, Israeli police “continued dealing with riots and disturbances in a number of neighbourhoods when stones were thrown at officers and fireworks fired at them,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said in a statement.

Two officers were wounded and six suspects arrested, Rosenfeld said.

The continued unrest follows the shooting of a 20-year-old Palestinian in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Issawiya by Israeli police after he had allegedly thrown fireworks at them.

The young man, identified as Mohammed Obeid, died of his wounds, the  Palestinian health ministry said.

Israel occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War. It later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognised by the international community.

Israel sees all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

AFP

Turkey Ready For US Sanctions Over Russian Missile Deal – Minister

 

Turkey insisted it would go ahead with its controversial decision to buy the S-400 missile defence system from Russia, saying it was preparing for any possible sanctions from the US.

Turkey’s push to buy the S-400 system has strained relations with the United States, a NATO ally, which worries about integrating Russian technology with Turkey’s Western equipment.

Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told reporters late Tuesday that Ankara was “preparing” for US penalties under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which prohibits business with Russia’s state and private defence and intelligence sectors.

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He added that Turkey was “fed up” with being just being a buyer of military equipment, and wanted to be involved in joint production and technology transfers.

“The idea that we always buy, you always produce, is finished,” he told reporters in Ankara.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday said Turkey and Russia would jointly produce S-500 defence systems after the purchase of the S-400 system.

Turkey has already sent personnel to Russia for training, Akar said, and the system could be delivered as early as June or July.

Last month, he said the S-400 would likely be used to protect the capital Ankara and Istanbul.

In a bid to force Turkey to cancel its S-400 deal, the US offered a renewed proposal in March for Patriots, its own anti-missile and anti-aircraft weapon system.

The US has said buying the S-400 could jeopardise Turkey’s involvement in the F-35 fighter jet programme, for which it provides some parts.

Akar said Turkey was still considering the offer but that there had been “general easing” in negotiations with the US on the F-35s and Patriots.

Relations have been tense over multiple issues, including US support to a Syrian Kurdish militia viewed by Ankara as terrorists, and the refusal to extradite a Pennsylvania-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen accused of ordering a failed coup in Turkey in 2016.

AFP

Vice President, Minister Sacked In Gabon

Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba/ AFP

 

Gabon’s leader Ali Bongo on Tuesday announced the dismissal of his vice president and the minister of forests, in a move that comes amid a scandal over the smuggling of precious timber.

The president did not give a reason for the sackings of Vice President Pierre Claver Maganga Moussavou and Forestry and Environment Minister Guy Bertrand Mapangou, in his statement late Tuesday.

No new minister was appointed to the forest and environment portfolio, which was placed “under the direct authority” of the prime minister.

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There have been intensifying calls for Mapangou to resign in recent days in the press and from civil society groups in the aftermath of the theft of hundreds of seized containers of kevazingo, a rare wood considered sacred.

Nearly 5,000 cubic metres (177,000 cubic feet) of kevazingo worth some 7 million euros ($7.8 million) was found in two depots belonging to Chinese companies in the Libreville port of Owendo in February and March.

Several suspects were arrested, but 353 of the containers — which had been confiscated — mysteriously disappeared.

The wood had allegedly been loaded into containers bearing water and forestry ministry labels, falsely describing it as okoume — a kind of timber cleared for export.

Local media have called the scandal “kevazingogate”.

Earlier in May, the government said several top Gabonese officials had been suspended over suspected involvement in smuggling the precious timber.

Kevazingo is a rare central African wood that is prized in Asia, notably for sculpting into temple doorways, tea tables and meeting tables.

Gabon, three quarters of whose land mass is forested, last year banned the exploitation of kevazingo after illegal felling reached alarming proportions.

The industry is hugely important for the West African nation’s economy, supporting some 17,000 jobs, and is second only to the petroleum sector in terms of foreign earnings and accounts for 60 per cent of non-oil related GDP.

AFP

Minister Resigns In Japan After Controversial Comments

Japanese minister in charge of Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games Yoshitaka Sakurada speaks during a press conference at the premier’s official residence in Tokyo.  Toshifumi KITAMURA / AFP

 

Japan’s minister in charge of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics stepped down on Wednesday after comments seen as hurtful to survivors of the 2011 tsunami, the latest in a series of gaffes.

Yoshitaka Sakurada’s resignation comes less than 500 days before Tokyo hosts the Summer Games, and follows a decision by the head of Japan’s Olympic Committee to step down as French authorities investigate him.

Sakurada “requested to resign after he hurt the feelings of victims” of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters. “And I accepted it.”

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“I deeply apologise for his remark to the people in the disaster-hit areas,” the prime minister added, saying he accepted responsibility for having appointed Sakurada as minister.

The resignation comes after Sakurada made comments at a political gathering to the effect that a lawmaker from the disaster-hit region was more important than the recovery of the area, according to the public broadcaster NHK.

The March 2011 tsunami, triggered by a massive undersea quake, killed around 18,000 people and swamped the Fukushima nuclear plant, sending its reactors into meltdown and leading to the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

More than 50,000 people have not returned to their home towns and Japan has dubbed the 2020 Games the “Reconstruction Olympics” in a bid to showcase recovery in affected regions.

NHK reported that Abe had decided to reappoint a previous Olympics minister, Shunichi Suzuki, to replace Sakurada.

The resignation comes after a string of gaffes that had already raised questions about Sakurada’s suitability for the post of Olympics minister, which he held in addition to a portfolio for cybersecurity.

 ‘Lacked consideration’ 

In February, he was forced to apologise after suggesting that the leukaemia diagnosis of star Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee could dampen enthusiasm for the 2020 Games.

The shock announcement of 18-year-old Ikee’s diagnosis had prompted an outpouring of support in Japan, but Sakurada came under fire after responding to the news by saying: “She is a potential gold medallist… I’m really disappointed.”

“When one person leads, she can boost the whole team. I am slightly worried that this type of excitement could wane,” he said.

After a backlash, he sought to clarify his stance and admitted his comments had “lacked consideration.”

But they were hardly the first time he had become a lightning rod.

Despite serving as minister for cybersecurity, he has admitted that he “does not use computers,” sparking widespread ridicule.

And in 2016, he sparked anger when he described the women forced to work in military brothels for Japan’s wartime troops as “professional prostitutes.”

Sakurada’s resignation comes only a month after the head of Japan’s Olympic Committee Tsunekazu Takeda announced he would step down from his position in June.

That decision came after it was revealed that Takeda was the subject of French investigations involving payments made before Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Summer Games.

Takeda also stepped down from the International Olympic Committee, after French authorities said they believed they had evidence of corruption in the awarding of the 2020 Games.

Takeda has denied any wrongdoing and said his decision to step down was related to a desire to pass the role on to a younger generation.

AFP

President Bolsonaro Fires Brazil’s Controversial Education Minister

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro delivers a speech at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, on April 5, 2019. EVARISTO SA / AFP

 

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Monday sacked his education minister, an ultra-conservative who had drawn public ire over a range of controversial proposals including a revision of school textbooks to deny the 1964 military coup.

Bolsonaro tweeted that Abraham Weintraub would replace Ricardo Velez Rodriguez, who became the second minister to be forced out of the trouble-plagued government in less than four months.

Weintraub, who Bolsonaro praised as a “doctor and university professor,” has worked closely with the president’s chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni.

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Bolsonaro, who is preparing to mark 100 days in office on Wednesday, has seen his approval rating plunge since taking office on January 1 following a series of political scandals and a public row with Congressional leaders over his signature pension reform policy.

The former paratrooper had flagged last week that Rodriguez was on his way out after a tumultuous period marked by the resignations of some 20 senior education ministry officials.

Rodriguez has been widely criticized over proposed changes to school textbooks, saying they no longer needed to highlight the country’s ethnic diversity, and for asking schools to film students singing the national anthem.

He was forced to back down on both ideas.

In the latest controversy, Rodriguez told a Brazilian newspaper last week that school textbooks would be revised to give children the “true idea” of the country’s military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985.

Rodriguez described the 21 years of army rule that resulted in the death and disappearance of hundreds of people as a “democratic regime of force because it was necessary at that moment.”

His comments came after Bolsonaro ordered the defence forces to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the coup on March 31, triggering street protests across the country.

Rodriguez had previously promised to stamp out “cultural Marxism” and gender-identity “ideology,” and to create a special department handling just military schools.

The sacking comes after the February firing of Gustavo Bebianno, who was a minister of the general secretariat of the presidency, over suspected improper campaign financing.

Since assuming the presidency, Bolsonaro has been on an ideological campaign to promote his ultraconservative ideas and values and to erase any trace of the 2003-2016 leftwing government Brazil had.

AFP

Minister Resigns In Portugal Over Nepotism Scandal

 

A junior Portuguese cabinet minister resigned on Thursday, becoming the first head to roll in a growing scandal over perceived nepotism within the Socialist ruling circle.

Deputy environment minister Carlos Martins stepped down the day after the cousin he hired as the deputy head of his cabinet, Armindo dos Santos Alves, himself resigned.

“I have always acted in good faith… but I think this affair could hurt the government,” Martins said.

Dubbed “|Familygate” in the Portuguese press, the scandal has arisen ahead of general elections in October, putting pressure on Prime Minister Antonio Costa.

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During a parliamentary debate on Thursday, Costa called on deputies to “hold a serious debate to define the criteria of links considered admissable or not, which would apply to this and future governments”.

The current Portuguese government includes a couple and a father and daughter.

But the nepotism row blew up last month after media reports uncovered several more family ties in ministerial offices.

Minister Resigns In Slovenia Over Corruption

 

Slovenia’s government on Wednesday suffered its third high-profile departure in a little over five months with the resignation of Environment Minister Jure Leben over a scandal concerning the construction of a new railway.

“Although I have a clear conscience, as a minister it would be irresponsible for me to jeopardise the credibility of the ministry I’ve been heading,” Leben said in a statement announcing his resignation.

He’s the third minister to have to resign since Prime Minister Marjan Sarec’s government was sworn in last September, with the other two forced out by separate allegations of bullying and abuse of office.

In his previous role as state secretary at the infrastructure ministry, Leben was in charge of the 1.2-billion-euro ($1.4 billion) project to build a new railway serving Koper, Slovenia’s main port.

In 2018 Slovenian media revealed that the infrastructure ministry had chosen a railway model twice as expensive as its nearest competitor for no obvious reason.

The ministry claimed at the time that the decision had been down to an “administrative mistake” and Leben denied any involvement, blaming subordinates at the ministry.

However, emails recently leaked to Slovenian media showed he had been involved in the process that led to the signing of the contract.

Sarec’s five-party minority government had promised to bring high ethical standards to politics and promised that “crime and corruption will not be profitable”.

However, despite the string of ministerial departures, polls show that the government remains broadly popular with Slovenian voters.

Earlier this month, a member of Sarec’s LMS party resigned for stealing a sandwich from a supermarket because he was annoyed about being ignored by staff.

AFP

Minister Dies As Helicopter Crashes In Nepal

 

A helicopter carrying Nepal’s tourism minister has crashed in Nepal’s hilly east, officials said Wednesday, with no word yet on the fate of those aboard.

The minister, Rabindra Adhikari, was travelling with five other passengers from the eastern district of Taplejung to Terathum when the Air Dynasty chopper went down.

“A helicopter carrying Nepal’s tourism minister has crashed, but we do not have any more information right now,” Home Secretary Prem Kumar Rai told reporters.

It is just the latest aviation accident to plague Nepal, an impoverished Himalayan nation with a poor air safety record.

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Nepal has some of the world’s most remote and tricky runways, flanked by snow-capped peaks with approaches that pose a challenge for even accomplished pilots.

In April last year, a Malaysian jet with 139 people on board aborted its takeoff and skidded off a runway.

A month earlier a US-Bangla Airways plane crashed near an airport, killing 51 people.

Nepal-based airlines are banned from flying in European Union airspace.

Its poor air safety record is largely blamed on inadequate maintenance and sub-standard management.

AFP

South Africa Court Considers Extraditing Mozambique’s Ex-Minister

SA Minister Assures Foreign Nationals Of Halted Attacks

 

A South African court started hearing arguments on Tuesday on whether Mozambique’s ex-finance minister, held since December on a US warrant, can be extradited and if so, to where.

Manuel Chang, 63, was arrested at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport on December 29 over alleged involvement in $2 billion (1.76 billion euros) of fraudulent loans to Mozambican state firms.

Both the US and Mozambique have issued their own extradition requests over the allegations.

The court did not rule on Tuesday on which request it would consider first and adjourned the case to next month.

Charges against Chang relate to loans taken by Maputo when he was head of treasury between 2005 and 2015.

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The money was allegedly used to secretly buy a tuna-fishing fleet and surveillance ships.

An independent audit found that a quarter of the loan amount was illicitly diverted.

The United States alleges at least $200 million of the loans was spent on bribes and kickbacks, including $12 million that went to Chang, who allegedly signed off on debt guarantees.

Mozambique has arrested several suspects linked to the debt scandal, including the son of ex-president Armando Guebuza, as well as intelligence officials.

South African Foreign Minister Lindiwe Sisulu indicated last week that Chang will be handed over to Maputo.

“We’re sending him to Mozambique to be tried,” Sisulu told South Africa’s Daily Maverick news site. “We believe that is the easiest thing for everybody.”

Chang’s lawyer Willie Vermeulen told the court on Tuesday that he will not oppose extradition to Mozambique.

“So it makes no sense to first discuss extradition to the US where he does not want be extradited,” he said.

It is thought to be the first time that a South African court has considered two concurrent requests for extradition in the same case.

AFP

Minister Denies Charges Amid Corruption Trial In Zambia

 

Zambia’s Infrastructure Minister Ronald Chitotela denied corruption charges in court on Tuesday following his arrest a fortnight ago in a rare case of a government official being pursued by investigators.

Chitotela, who was arrested by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) along with three others, faces two corruption charges for allegedly concealing ownership of two properties “reasonably suspected of being proceeds of crime”.

“I understand the charge and plead not guilty,” Chitotela, 47, told magistrate David Simusamba who ordered he stand trial from March 20.

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His co-accused also pleaded not guilty to the charges, which potentially carry a prison term of up to five years on conviction.

The properties in question are in  Lusaka’s upmarket suburbs of Makeni and Ibex Hill areas.

Hundreds of Chitotela’s supporters chanted outside the court.

AFP