At Least Five Dead In Baghdad Suicide Blasts

 

At least five people were killed in twin suicide blasts near a Shiite mosque in southwest Baghdad on Monday, Iraqi security and medical sources said.

Doctors at the capital’s Al-Yarmuk hospital gave a casualty toll of five dead and 14 wounded.

Two suicide bombers blew themselves up near Abu al-Fadhel al-Abbas mosque in the Al-Turath district, a police officer told AFP, on condition of anonymity.

There was no immediate claim of responsiblity.

READ ALSO: Ten Dead After Bangladesh Train Strikes Wedding Party

Eight people were killed in a suicide bombing at a market in eastern Baghdad on May 9, while two others died in a similar attack in late June, both also targeting Shiites.

Iraq in 2017 declared victory over Islamic State group jihadists after a gruelling months-long campaign to dismantle their self-declared “caliphate”.

But sleeper cells of the Sunni extremist group have remained active, attacking civilians and security forces across the Shiite-majority country.

AFP

Gunman Kill Six Villagers In Katsina

 

Gunmen shouting “Allahu Akbar” raided three villages in Katsina state, killing six people, a police spokesman said Monday.

The black-clad group, riding on motorcycles, attacked Makers, Dan Sabau and Pawwa villages in Kankara district late Sunday, firing guns and rocket-propelled grenades, Gambo Isah told newsmen.

“Six people from the attacked villages were killed but we killed many of the bandits in a shootout that lasted for more than an hour,” Isah added.

READ ALSO: 19 Killed, Seven Others Injured As Four Vehicles Collide In Kano

He said police were combing the bushes for the bodies of the assailants.

Allahu Akbar — “God is great” in Arabic — is a slogan typically used by jihadists, although the situation in Nigeria’s northwest region is complex.

Cattle rustling and kidnapping gangs have long operated in this volatile region, but recently there has been a concern that jihadists have infiltrated them.

The gangs maintain camps in the vast Rugu forest which straddles Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna, and Niger states, from where they launch attacks.

On July 3, bandits killed 18 residents in raids on four villages in Katsina state.

At Least 65 Wounded As Powerful Car Bomb Rocks Kabul

 

Dozens of people were wounded with fatalities feared as a powerful car bomb rocked Kabul early Monday and gunmen battled special forces in an area housing military and government buildings, officials said.

The rush-hour explosion sent a plume of smoke into the air above the Puli Mahmood Khan neighbourhood of the Afghan capital and shook buildings up to two kilometres (1.2 miles) away, with an AFP reporter saying he could hear gunshots after the blast.

“At first, a car bomb took place and then several attackers took over a building. The area is cordoned off by the police special forces and (they) are bringing down the attackers,” interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said.

Health ministry spokesman Wahidullah Mayar tweeted that 65 wounded people, including nine children, had been taken to hospital. He warned that casualties could rise.

The area was quickly blocked off by Afghan forces and ambulances, with helicopter gunships seen overhead as firing continued.

The heavily-secured neighbourhood is home to some military and government buildings, including one shared by Afghanistan’s intelligence agency and defence ministry, as well as the Afghan Football Federation and Cricket Board.

“We were sitting inside the office when the world turned upside down on us,” Zaher Usman, an employee at a branch of the culture ministry, which he said stands just 150 metres (yards) from the blast.

He said the blast appeared to have occurred near Gulbahar Tower, which contains a shopping mall and residential units and is next to a government building.

“When I opened my eyes, the office was filled with smoke and dust and everything was broken, my colleagues were screaming,” Usman told AFP by telephone.

Brief lockdown

Police said they do not yet know the target.

Shams Amini, a football federation spokesman, told AFP that the blast occurred near their HQ gates.

“Some of our colleagues are trapped inside, we have reports of some injuries. We don’t know if the attackers have entered the building,” he said.

Nearby Shamshad TV station, which was attacked in 2017, aired images of broken glass and damage to its offices but said it was not the target.

The nearby “Green Zone” diplomatic area was briefly put on lockdown, but later opened again.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but both the Taliban and the so-called Islamic State group are active in Kabul.

The explosion came two days after the Taliban and the US began their seventh round of talks in Qatar as Washington eyes a breakthrough before Afghanistan’s September presidential election.

The negotiations have so far centred on four issues — counter-terrorism, the foreign troop presence, an intra-Afghan dialogue and a permanent ceasefire.

A potential deal would see the US agree to withdraw its troops after more than 17 years in Afghanistan, igniting deep concerns among huge swathes of Afghans who fear the militants will return to some semblance of power.

In return, the Taliban would guarantee the country would never again become a safe haven for violent extremist groups, as happened with Al-Qaeda before the September 11, 2001 attacks.

AFP

Seven Killed As Mass Demos Rock Sudan

 

Seven people were killed Sunday as tens of thousands of Sudanese protesters took to the streets to demand civilian rule in the first mass rally since a bloody crackdown on demonstrators — a show of street power despite heavy troop deployments by the ruling generals.

The “million-man” march had been seen as a test for protest organisers after their push for civilian rule was hit by the June 3 raid on a Khartoum protest camp and a subsequent internet blackout that curbed their ability to mobilise support.

Dozens of demonstrators were killed and hundreds wounded when armed men in military fatigues stormed the sit-in on June 3 outside army headquarters, shooting and beating protesters who had camped there since April 6.

On Sunday, police fired tear gas on protesters approaching the presidential palace after organisers called for a march on the building that houses offices of the ruling transitional military council, an AFP correspondent reported.

“We call on our revolutionary people in the capital to go to the republican palace… to seek justice for the martyrs and for an unconditional transfer of power to civilians,” the Sudanese Professionals Association that first launched protests against now ousted ruler Omar al-Bashir said on Twitter.

Police also fired tear gas at protesters in the northern Khartoum district of Bahri and in Mamura and Arkweit, in the capital’s east, as thousands of protesters chanted “Civilian rule! Civilian rule!”, witnesses said.

“We’re fed up with the military. For decades this country has been ruled by the military. It didn’t work and it will not work,” said protester Nada Adel, 28.

“Despite what they did at the sit-in, despite the people they killed… the revolution will not die in the hearts of the youth.”

‘I’m the next martyr’

Elsewhere, security forces used tear gas to disperse protests in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman and the eastern town of Gadaref.

Late on Sunday the official SUNA news agency quoting a health ministry official said “seven were killed” in the protests, without elaborating how they died or who they were.

It said that another 181 people were wounded, including 27 with bullets.

Separately 10 members of regular forces were also wounded, including three from the feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces shot by “live ammunition,” it said.

Earlier a doctors’ committee linked to the protest movement said that five protesters had been killed during the day, including four in Omdurman.

It also said that several more were seriously wounded by gunshots fired by “the military council militias”.

The deputy chief of the ruling military council said that unknown snipers had shot at least three members of RSF and five or six civilians in Omdurman.

“There are infiltrators, people who want to jeopardise progress,” General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who also commands the RSF said at a rally.

Men and women flashing victory signs and carrying Sudanese flags flooded the streets of Al-Sahafa neighbourhood of Khartoum.

“No one gave a mandate to the military council, all the people are against the council,” said a protester who shouted out “I’m the next martyr.”

Marchers also passed by the homes of those killed on June 3 as onlookers cheered and motorists honked horns.

Thousands also protested in the cities of Port Sudan, Al-Obeid, Madani and Khasma el-Girba, witnesses said.

‘Monumental event’

The SPA described the protest as “monumental and unique”.

“Not only because of the unprecedented huge crowds, but because the masses have committed themselves to peace and chosen the path of non-violence to achieve their revolutionary goals.”

The RSF was deployed in pick-up trucks mounted with machineguns in several Khartoum squares.

Prior to Sunday’s deaths, at least 128 people were killed since the June 3 crackdown, the majority of them on that day, according to doctors close to the protest movement.

The health ministry says 61 people died nationwide on June 3.

The military council insists it did not order the dispersal of the sit-in, but acknowledged “excesses” after orders were given to purge a nearby area allegedly notorious for drug peddling.

The council has warned it would hold the protest movement “entirely responsible if any soul is lost” in Sunday’s protests.

The June 3 raid came after talks collapsed over who should lead a new governing body — a civilian or soldier.

Ethiopia and the AU, who are mediating between the generals and protest leaders, have proposed a blueprint for a civilian-majority body, which the generals say could be a basis for resuming talks.

Protesters had initially gathered at the military headquarters in April to seek the army’s support in ousting Bashir.

They kept up their sit-in to demand civilian rule after the generals deposed the president on April 11, until it was violently dispersed.

AFG

Dozens Wounded As Powerful Blast Rocks Kabul

Afghan men walk on a road as smoke rises from the site of an attack in Kabul on July 1, 2019. Dozens of people were wounded with fatalities feared as a powerful car bomb rocked Kabul early July 1, followed by gunmen battling special forces in an area housing military and government buildings, officials said. STR / AFP

Dozens of people were wounded with fatalities feared as a powerful explosion rocked Kabul early Monday, targeting an area of the Afghan capital housing military and government buildings, officials said.

The rush-hour explosion sent a plume of smoke into the air above the Puli Mahmood Khan neighbourhood of the city, interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said.

An AFP reporter said he could hear gunshots shortly after the blast.

“Dozens of wounded were taken to hospitals from today’s blast in Kabul,” health ministry spokesman Wahidullah Mayar tweeted.

The area was quickly blocked off by Afghan forces and ambulances, while the nearby “Green Zone” diplomatic area was put on lockdown, with no one allowed in or out.

The heavily-secured neighbourhood is home to some military and government buildings, including one shared by Afghanistan’s intelligence agency and defence ministry, as well as the Afghan Football Federation and the Afghan Cricket Board.

Shams Amini, a football federation spokesman, told AFP that the blast occurred near the federation’s gates.

“Some of our colleagues are trapped inside, we have reports of some injuries. We don’t know if the attackers have entered the building,” he said.

READ ALSO: Plane Crash In Texas Kills 10

Nearby Shamshad TV station, which was attacked in 2017, aired images of broken glass and damage to its offices but said it was not the target.

No group immediately claimed responsibility, and police said they did not yet know the target or nature of the blast.

Both the Taliban and the so-called Islamic State group are active in Kabul.

The explosion came two days after the Taliban and the US began their seventh round of talks in the Qatari capital of Doha as Washington eyes a breakthrough before Afghanistan’s September presidential election.

The negotiations have so far centred on four issues — counter-terrorism, the foreign troop presence, an intra-Afghan dialogue, and a permanent ceasefire.

A potential deal would see the US agree to withdraw its troops after more than 17 years in Afghanistan, igniting deep concerns among huge swathes of Afghans who fear the militants will return to some semblance of power.

In return the Taliban would guarantee the country would never again become a safe haven for violent extremist groups, as happened with Al-Qaeda before the September 11, 2001 attacks.

US officials have previously said they are hoping for a deal before the upcoming Afghan presidential elections, which have already been delayed twice and are now set for September.

Sudan Military Council Appeals For Aid To Tackle Economic Crisis

Lieutenant General Omar Zain al-Abdin (R), the head of the new Sudanese military council’s political committee, addresses a press conference on April 12, 2019, in the capital Khartoum.

 

Sudan’s military council appealed on Friday for financial aid from regional peers to tackle a worsening economic crisis, a day after the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir.

“We want your donations as we have some economic issues,” the head of the military council’s political committee, Lieutenant General Omar Zain al-Abdin, told Arab and African diplomats in a televised meeting, citing “a shortage of essential items like flour and fuel”.

The chief of Sudan’s new ruling military council, General Awad Ibn Ouf, delivered a speech to the nation via state television on Friday.

Ibn Ouf was sworn in as de facto ruler late Thursday after leading the ouster of veteran leader Omar al-Bashir following months of protests.

READ ALSO: ICC Arrest Warrant: Sudanese Military Says It ‘Will Not Extradite’ Ousted President

Separately, the military council’s political committee chief, Lieutenant General Omar Zain al-Abdin, told diplomats Bashir’s toppling after 30 years in power was “not a military coup”.

“The role of the military council is to protect the security and stability of the country,” Abdin said.

“This is not a military coup but taking the side of the people.”

“We will open a dialogue with political parties to examine how to manage Sudan,” he added.

“There will be a civilian government and we will not intervene in its composition or business.”

Sudanese protestors have vowed to chase out the country’s new military rulers as the council offered talks on forming a civilian government.

AFP

15 Killed As Bomb Hits Restaurant In Somalia

 

At least 15 people died when a bomb exploded on a busy street and ripped into a nearby restaurant in Somalia’s capital on Thursday, medics said.

Security officials and witnesses reported bodies strewn on the ground as plumes of smoke rose high into the air after the bomb detonated on Mogadishu’s Maka Al-Mukarama road, one of the seaside capital’s main thoroughfares, an area busy with businesses and travellers.

It struck as people were eating lunch.

Abdulkadir Abdirahman Adan, director of the Aamin Ambulance service, said that 15 people had been killed, as well as several more wounded by the ferocious blast.

Witnesses described scenes of devastation.

“The car bomb struck a restaurant along the road,” said Abdulahi Osman, who was nearby to the explosion. “This really was a disaster.”

Vehicles were tossed into the air by the blast, which also damaged surrounding buildings. Witnesses said several cars and three-wheeler motorbikes were destroyed by the force of the explosion.

READ ALSO: Workers Jump To Their Deaths As Dhaka Office Block Fire Kills 19

“I saw 16 people carried from the blast scene — and more than 10 of them were already dead,” Osman added.

Ambulance workers rushed in to help take the wounded to hospital.

“I don’t know whether they were dead or wounded, but I could see several people strewn in the street — some of them were motionless,” said Suado Ahmed, another witness who was at the scene moments after the blast.

Teams of ambulance workers carried away those killed and wounded on stretchers, while volunteers also helped by using plastic sheeting to lift the bodies away.

The bombing is the latest in a recent string of blasts in Mogadishu, which has been hit regularly by Al- Shabaab attacks.

At least four people were killed earlier this week in three blasts, including car bombs and roadside explosions.

There was no immediate claim of responsiblity for Thursday’s bombing.

However, Mogadishu is a target of the Al-Qaeda affiliated Shabaab insurgents, who have been fighting for over a decade to topple the government.

Shabaab fighters fled fixed positions they once held in Mogadishu in 2011, and have since lost many of their strongholds.

But they retain control of large rural swathes of the country, and continue to wage a guerrilla war against the authorities.

On Saturday, Shabaab gunmen attacked a complex housing government ministries in Mogadishu, killing 11 people including the deputy labour minister.

The Shabaab continue to strike at the heart of Somalia’s government, despite years of foreign military support.

AFP

Five Killed, 20 Injured As Vehicle Hits Landmine In Maiduguri

 

 

Five farmers were killed on Wednesday when their vehicle hit a landmine near Maiduguri, militia and residents said.

A truck bringing farmers and their harvest of cucumbers from nearby irrigation fields exploded when it hit a mine outside the town of Addamari, some 20 kilometres from Maiduguri, they said.

The incident which left 20 people injured was blamed on the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) militant group, which last week attacked a military base in the town.

“Five people were killed and 20 injured in the explosion,” Babakura Kolo, an anti-jihadist militia leader in Maiduguri told AFP.

“The truck was returning from the fields outside the town around 12:40 pm (1130GMT) when it hit the mine planted in the middle of the road,” he said.

READ ALSO: At Least 30 Killed By Gunmen In Zamfara: Police, Witnesses

Kolo’s account was confirmed by Musa Ari, another militiaman.

Resident Kassim Butari who gave a similar account said ISWAP fighters were most likely responsible for the explosion.

“We recovered four dead bodies and took 21 injured to hospital where one more died,” he said.

On February 28, ISWAP fighters attacked a military base in the town, leading to a two-hour battle in which two soldiers and a militiaman were killed, according to military and civilian sources.

The attack was repelled with aerial support during which several fighters were killed and many of their vehicles destroyed.

However, on March 2, ISWAP issued a statement claiming to have killed 10 soldiers and seized a military truck in the attack, according to SITE Intelligence which monitors jihadist activities.

Boko Haram militants have repeatedly targeted farmers, loggers, and herders, accusing them of passing information to the military and the pro-government militia fighting them.

Boko Haram’s decade-long uprising to establish a hardline Islamic state in remote northeast Nigeria has killed more than 27,000 people and displaced 1.8 million from their homes.

The conflict has spilled into neighbouring Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, sparking a humanitarian crisis in the region.

Grenade Attack Kills Two At Southern Philippines Mosque

Belongings are seen inside a mosque in Zamboanga city on the southern island of Mindanao on January 30, 2019, after a grenade attack. A grenade attack on a mosque in the troubled southern Philippines killed two people early on January 30, 2019, authorities said, just days after a deadly Catholic cathedral bombing and a vote backing Muslim self-rule. STR / AFP

 

 

A grenade attack on a mosque in the troubled southern Philippines killed two people early Wednesday, authorities said, just days after a deadly Catholic cathedral bombing and a vote backing Muslim self-rule in the region.

The blast tore through the building as the victims were sleeping in the predawn darkness on the insurgency-plagued island of Mindanao, which is home to the Philippines’ Muslim minority.

Blood-streaked prayer mats and shattered glass could be seen on the floor inside the mosque where heavily armed security forces were standing guard, footage from the scene showed.

The blast came as the Catholic-majority nation was on high alert after a cathedral bombing claimed 21 lives at Sunday mass in an assault claimed by the Islamic State.

Two people were killed and four others wounded in the mosque attack in Zamboanga City, authorities said, adding they had no indication so far it was retaliation for the cathedral bombing.

READ ALSO: Five Dead, 130 Missing As Migrant Boats Sink Off Djibouti – IOM

“We’re still looking at it, but we have not found any connection,” Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters. “In the past when churches were bombed… there were no revenge attacks.”

Authorities have not publicly identified any suspects and no one has claimed responsibility for the mosque attack.

‘Pray for peace’

Security forces are also hunting for the bombers behind the cathedral assault on the overwhelmingly Muslim island of Jolo, which security forces initially said was not a suicide bombing.

However, on Tuesday President Rodrigo Duterte contradicted them saying one of the bombers had blown himself up outside the cathedral.

On Wednesday Lorenzana appeared to walk back the president’s comments, saying: “The final conclusion is not there yet. It’s still being investigated.”

The probe was zeroing in a group tied to the notorious Islamist kidnap-for-ransom group Abu Sayyaf, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Police said they tried to arrest one of the suspects on Tuesday, but he got away and an armed man was shot dead by officers in the process.

The attacks have cast a shadow over hopes that voters’ decisive push to give Muslims in the south more control over their own affairs would help quell long-running separatist violence.

Rebels and the government in Manila have expressed hope the new so-called Bangsamoro area will finally draw the investment needed to pull the region out of the brutal poverty that makes it a hotspot for recruiting radicals.

However, hardline factions aligned with IS were not part of the decades-long peace process with the nation’s largest separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, that culminated January 21 with the resounding approval of a new Muslim led-region in the south.

Jolo, which is home to hardline Islamist factions, is the only area in the southern Philippines that voted against the Bangsamoro.

The grenade attack on Wednesday drew immediate condemnation from authorities.

“There is no redeeming such blasphemous murder. It is the highest form of cowardice and obscenity to attack people who at prayer,” said regional leader Mujiv Hataman.

“We call on people of all faiths… to come together to pray for peace.”

Kabila In Talks To Determine Successor In DRC’s Election

President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila, holds a press conference for the first time in five years in Kinshasa.  Thomas NICOLON / AFP

 

DR Congo President Joseph Kabila scheduled talks on Tuesday with allies to discuss hand-picking a candidate to run in upcoming elections on the eve of a key campaign deadline, sources said.

Members of a pro-Kabila alliance known as the Common Front for Congo (FCC) “have been called to an important meeting this evening at Kingakati,” a minister told AFP, referring to the presidential residence on the outskirts of Kinshasa.

Another source, close to Kabila, said, “It’s not a secret anymore — it’s about naming a candidate for our presidential platform.”

Names in the rumour mill include former prime minister Augustin Matata Ponyo; Kabila’s chief of staff, Nehemie Mwilanya Wilondja; and the president of the National Assembly, Aubin Minaku.

Candidates have until 1530 GMT Wednesday to file their bid for the December 23 poll — a twice-delayed ballot seen as crucial for the future of the notoriously unstable country.

Kabila, in power since 2001, should have stepped down at the end of 2016 when his constitutional two-term limit expired.

He has invoked a constitutional clause enabling him to stay on as caretaker.

But he has left everyone guessing whether he will seek to run again, perhaps by arguing that this is permissible because of a revision of the constitution in 2006.

The uncertainty has ratcheted up political tensions, leading to anti-Kabila protests that have been bloodily repressed.

 Volatile 

A country of some 80 million people, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has never known a peaceful transition of power since it gained independence in 1960.

Kabila, 47, took over from his father, Laurent-Desire Kabila, who was assassinated by a bodyguard.

His tenure over the vast mineral-rich country has been marked by a reputation for corruption, inequality and unrest. The watchdog Transparency International ranked it 156 out of 176 countries in its 2016 corruption index.

Many provinces are in the grip of armed conflict and millions have had to flee their homes, many flocking to Uganda, Tanzania, Angola and Zambia.

The United States is ready to impose further sanctions to dissuade Kabila from continuing his hold on power, the Financial Times reported Monday.

“The US is trying to convince Kabila to go between now and August 8,” an unnamed source told the newspaper. “They’re trying to squeeze his family and his finances”.

Candidates 

Candidates who have already filed their bid include Jean-Pierre Bemba, 55, a former warlord and Kabila rival, who returned to Kinshasa last week after being acquitted of war crimes convictions by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Felix Tshisekedi, 55, leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), would file his application Tuesday, his spokesman Peter Kazadi told AFP.

Another candidate, who declared his hand on Tuesday is Tryphon Kin-Kiey Mulumba — once a spokesman to former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and twice a minister under Kabila.

Kin-Kiey — a vocal Kabila supporter — is running as an independent, local media said.

He told AFP he was running “in the name of my party,” called the Action Party.

The authorities last week barred Moise Katumbi, 53, a wealthy businessman and former governor of the province of Katanga, from returning home to file his bid.

Katumbi has been living in self-imposed exile in Belgium since May 2016 after falling out with Kabila.

The pro-Kabila FCC is an election platform combining two groups, the Presidential Majority and the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD).

After Wednesday’s deadline, the definitive list of candidates will be announced on September 19.

AFP

Haiti Prime Minister Resigns After Deadly Unrest

Haitian Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant during his speech to the deputies at the interpellation session in Port au Prince, Haiti, July 14, 2018. Pierre Michel Jean / AFP

 

Embattled Haiti Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant resigned on Saturday following deadly violence and looting sparked by a now-abandoned plan to raise fuel prices, triggering a fraught process to form a new government.

“I submitted my resignation to the president of the republic,” who has “accepted my resignation,” Lafontant said in the lower house of Haiti’s legislature.

Lafontant had faced a potential vote of no confidence had he not resigned — something he had previously insisted he would not do.

Last week, the government in the impoverished Caribbean country announced plans for major fuel price hikes — 38 percent for gasoline, 47 percent for diesel and 51 percent for kerosene.

The announcement sparked mass protests, with streets in the capital Port-au-Prince and other cities blocked with barricades of debris and burning tires.

Dozens of shops were looted and burned and cars were set ablaze. At least four people were killed. The government quickly did an about-face and called off the planned price increases.

Lafontant, a physician who had little political experience before taking office in February 2017, had faced widespread criticism even before the spasm of violence.

Hours after Lafontant announced his resignation, President Jovenel Moise appeared on television to deliver a short speech, saying he wished to “gather all the forces of the nation, without losing any time, to form an inclusive government with the aim of alleviating the people’s misery and develop agriculture, energy and infrastructure.”

The head of state added that while he understood the many were suffering from unemployment and hunger, “violence is not compatible with either development or democracy.”

Moise will now have to appoint a new prime minister — a delicate political exercise in Haiti, where a new government’s general policy plan must be approved by both houses of parliament before it can officially begin working.

 IMF conditions 

Several hundred protesters marched on Saturday in Port-au-Prince demanding the departure not just of Lafontant, but also of Moise.

“It’s not just a question of changing the prime minister, because day by day, the people are still suffering from more misery, unemployment, insecurity, hunger,” said Fleurette Pierre.

Haiti is desperately poor: around 60 percent of its people live on less than two dollars a day, and they are extremely sensitive to even minor increases in prices of just about anything.

In February, Haiti signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund, the Washington-based global crisis lender, in which the country committed to carrying out economic and structural reforms to promote growth.

In return, IMF member countries would provide more financial assistance to Haiti.

One of those conditions was the elimination of petroleum product subsidies, prompting the doomed price hike proposal.

The accord also called on the government to keep inflation under 10 percent.

Since 2015, inflation has been running at 13 to 14 percent annually. The budget blueprint submitted to the legislature in late June still foresaw a rate of 13.6 percent.

‘More gradual approach’ 

On Thursday, the IMF suggested “a more gradual approach” to ending fuel subsidies, paired with “compensatory and mitigating measures to protect the most vulnerable people.”

“We will continue to support Haiti… as they develop a revised reform strategy,” IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said, noting that ending subsidies would free up funds for other programs such as education.

Crafting a revised strategy — and divvying up Haiti’s meager budget resources — will be a delicate task.

The decision to scrap the price hikes means the government will have to find another way to come up with the $300 million the move would have generated.

It is not an insignificant amount — the total is more than 11 percent of the 2018-2019 budget presented to parliament in June for debate.

Now, Moise’s government has to find a way to appease all sides — angry and impatient consumers, politicians with varying interests and IMF economists.

Haiti’s deep levels of inequality are often cited by protesters who want both Lafontant and Moise out of office.

More than 200 years after gaining independence from France, Haiti is still ranked by the World Bank as having one of the planet’s most unjust societies.

AFP

Humanitarian ‘Pause’ Takes Effect In Syria Enclave

Members of the Security Council vote during a United Nations Security Council meeting on a ceasefire in Syria February 24, 2018 in New York.
Don EMMERT / AFP

 

A humanitarian “pause” announced by Russia in Syria’s deadly bombardment of Eastern Ghouta took effect Tuesday, offering a short window for the enclave’s traumatised residents to emerge from their basements.

The daily five-hour respite, which began at 9:00 am (0700 GMT), was announced by Russia under pressure from international powers anxious to stop more than a week of air strikes, artillery fire and rockets that killed more than 500 people.

Moscow said it would allow some of the nearly 400,000 people living in the rebel-held area to leave the battered enclave through safe corridors.

Russia hinted regime forces had not ruled out targeting certain areas or groups. Rocket fire was reported at least once after the start of the truce but no major breaches were immediately recorded.

A spokesman for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva said it was not yet clear when aid could be sent in.

“We cannot send people on a convoy in any area on the promises of whomever. We have to see a ceasefire actually taking place on the ground” before aid trucks can be deployed, Jens Laerke told AFP.

The “pause” falls short of the month-long ceasefire the United Nations had supported in a bid to stop one of the bloodiest assaults in Syria’s seven-year-old conflict.

“Five hours is better than no hours, but we would like to see an end to all hostilities extended by 30 days, as stipulated by the Security Council,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, more than 550 civilians — almost a quarter of them children — were killed in nine days of bombardment.

Air strikes, barrel bombs dropped by regime aircraft and heavy artillery shelling have turned several towns in Eastern Ghouta into fields of ruins.

Rockets and shells fired from the enclave — which lies within mortar range of central Damascus and is controlled by Islamist and jihadist groups — have also claimed around 20 lives in regime-controlled areas in recent days.

‘Truce is a farce’ 

Residents in the enclave were relieved to have some respite from the bombs that have rained on their homes since February 18, but many remained defiant and reluctant to leave the enclave.

Some residents left the basements they had been cowering in for days to check on their property and buy food despite skyrocketing prices in the enclave, besieged since 2013.

“This Russian truce is a farce. Russia is killing us and bombing us every day,” said Samer al-Buaidhani, a 25-year-old resident of Douma, which is the main town in Eastern Ghouta.

“I don’t believe it’s safe for me or my family to leave by this system,” he told AFP, when asked about the Russian pledge to open humanitarian corridors.

A statement by Russia’s Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in Syria said the decision to enforce a “humanitarian pause” was made jointly with Damascus.

“The Syrian government forces will cease combat actions against terrorists during this pause,” it said, adding however that the measure was effective only in certain areas of Eastern Ghouta.

“The required number of buses and ambulance cars has been prepared” at a checkpoint to evacuate the sick and wounded, said the statement by the centre, a Russian body monitoring humanitarian efforts and peace initiatives in Syria.

According to the United Nations, more than 700 people need urgent medical evacuation from Eastern Ghouta.

Syrian state television aired live footage of the checkpoint area but no civilians could be seen boarding the waiting buses.

In Hammuriyeh, another town in the sprawling semi-rural enclave, Mohammed Abdullah said the pause left civilians with a choice between two evils.

“The truce is not in the people’s interest, we have two options: death or displacement,” said the 30-year-old.

“The campaign we were targeted with was an extermination campaign, not a simple bombardment. What we want is a full and permanent ceasefire for all of Ghouta,” he said.

The scenario put in place by the regime and its Russian ally was reminiscent of the deal that saw civilians bused out of the northern city of Aleppo in late 2016.

AFP