29 January 2013

North Africa: Africa News Round Up

Photo: Stephen Jaffe/IMF
International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, right, listens to IMF Africa Director Antoinette Sayeh.

Japan pledged on Tuesday that it would give $120m of new cash to help stabilise the Islamist-infested Sahel region of North Africa, days after 10 Japanese were killed when jihadists stormed an Algerian gas plant, News24 reports.

"The Japanese government plans to give an additional $120m to help stabilise Mali and the Sahel region," Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said. "This is to help the region to strengthen governance and security, including aid for peacekeeping operations."

Japan was hit hard by the four-day siege in the Algerian desert, when heavily-armed militants took hundreds of people hostage.

The stand-off ended in bloodshed when Algerian commandos stormed the plant, with some reports talking of summary executions of hostages in the final fire fight.

Of the at least 37 foreigners known to have died, Japan's toll of 10 was the highest of any country whose nationals were caught up in the siege.

All of the Japanese who died were employed by plant engineering firm JGC, which, along with a number of other similar firms from resource-starved Japan, is active in North Africa.

In Kenya, eight presidential candidates will formally present their nomination papers to the polls agency on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Daily Nation reports.

This will pave the way for official campaigns to succeed President Kibaki.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) on Monday warned all the State House contenders that they should not be accompanied by huge crowds when they go to the Kenya International Conference Centre (KICC) in Nairobi to seek its nod to contest.

However, they are at liberty to address their supporters at the KICC grounds.

Candidates for positions of governor, senator and county women's representative will seek IEBC's clearance to run for the seats at their respective counties, while parliamentary aspirants and county assembly representatives will present their nominations in their constituencies.

The IEBC will clear the candidates on the basis of their political parties and not the coalitions most of them have formed.

The Candidates expected include; Martha Karua: Narc Kenya, Peter Kenneth: KNC, James ole Kiyiapi: RBK, Musalia Mudavadi: UDF, Uhuru Kenyatta: TNA, Mohamed Abduba Dida: Alliance for Real Change, Raila Odinga: ODM and Paul Muite: Safina party.

In Mali, Britain is considering sending about 200 non-combat troops to help the military operation against Islamist militants in Mali, with a decision expected within days, News24 and the Daily Nation report.

This would likely include a small number deployed to Mali itself, as part of an EU training mission. A larger number would help train West African forces in the region to join the battle alongside the French and Malian troops.

Prime Minister David Cameron called President Francois Hollande on Sunday to say Britain was "keen" to provide further help to French forces in Mali.

But his Downing Street office declined to give more details other than to stress that, as more than a decade of conflict in Afghanistan finally approached its end, Britain would not be deploying combat troops to another war zone.

Asked about the latest reports on Tuesday, a Downing Street spokesperson told AFP: "We're not commenting on troops on the ground."

Amid reports that an announcement could come later on Tuesday, or at least within the coming days, she said planning for further assistance "really depends on the discussions with the French".

The Daily Mail said those involved would be drawn from infantry regiments, logistics and signals corps, with 40 going to Mali to join the EU mission.

Nearly 8 000 African troops from Chad and the west African grouping Ecowas are expected to take over from the French troops, which went in 19 days ago.

The 500-strong EU mission will provide instruction to the Malian army on command and control, logistics, civilian protection and humanitarian law. It will have no combat role and be made up of soldiers from 10 EU nations.

Asked about the EU mission in the House of Commons last week, Cameron said that "if there were a British contribution to it, it would be in the tens, not in the hundreds.

"It is a training mission, not a combat mission," he stressed, seeking to avoid any comparisons with Britain's military action in Afghanistan.

"The lead on this will clearly be taken by the French, who have the greatest interest in rapidly training up west African forces to replace the French forces that are currently in action in Mali."

In Egypt, anti-government protesters defied Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy's curfew order in cities along the Suez Canal and clashed with police and troops in restive Port Said, CNN reports.

Twenty minutes after the 9 p.m. curfew began, demonstrators chanted, "With our souls, with our blood, we will sacrifice for you, Port Said," state-run television reported.

Egyptian troops beat back an attempt by a half-dozen armed gunmen to storm a prison in Port Said, where dozens of people were killed in clashes over the weekend, according to the news service EgyNews. Nine people were injured in earlier clashes at a police station, said Abdel Rahman Farah, a supervisor of Port Said Hospitals.

In the port city of Alexandria, west of Port Said, protesters sat on train tracks, disrupting rail travel at the Sidi Gaber station. There were also anti-government demonstrations in Cairo, and protesters took to the streets of Suez and clashed with security forces, state-run Nile TV reported.

Morsy declared a limited state of emergency for hot spots Sunday and announced a 30-day nighttime curfew for the provinces of Port Said, Ismailia and Suez.

The Islamist-dominated Shura Council approved Morsy's declaration of the state of emergency in the three governorates. The legislative body also granted the armed forces judicial powers to "safeguard state institutions against saboteurs and restore security."

In a speech Sunday night, Morsy decried the behavior of "criminals," saying recent violence "does not have anything to do with the Egyptian revolution. ... In fact, it is against the revolution."

But he acknowledged the legitimate dissent in Egypt, saying "dialogue is the only way to bring about stability and security."

To this end, he invited representatives from 11 political parties to a meeting Monday.

But a key opposition leader issued conditions before accepting Morsy's call for dialogue.

"Without accepting his responsibility as a president for the latest bloody events, promising to form a government of national salvation and commissioning a balanced committee to amend the constitution, any dialogue will be a waste of time," said Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the Constitution Party and a member of the opposition National Salvation Front.

On Sunday, the National Salvation Front called for "peaceful protests" and held the president responsible "for the excessive violence used by security forces against protesters," according to a statement posted on the state-run Al-Ahram news website.

The group made several demands before it would urge people to stop protesting, including the formation of a new government and making changes to what it called the "distorted constitution" that voters passed, in a referendum, last month.

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