1 February 2013

Africa News Round

In Egypt, opponents of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi are expected to hold new protests, after the deadliest week of violence since he came to power the BBC reports.

On Thursday leaders of some of the main political factions signed an agreement condemning the violence.

But youth groups later called for more rallies. They plan to gather in Tahrir Square in Cairo after Friday prayers and march on the presidential palace.

The planned protests coincide with the first anniversary of football riots in Port Said, in which 74 people were killed.

Port Said has seen the worst of the violence over the past week, in clashes sparked by death sentences imposed on 21 local people in connection with the football riots.

The current unrest began on 24 January in Cairo on the eve of the second anniversary of the 2011 revolution and has spread to several cities.

Protesters accuse Mr Morsi of imposing a new form of authoritarianism and betraying the values of their uprising two years ago.

Supporters of Mr Morsi say the opposition is trying to use the power of the street to unseat Egypt's first democratically elected leader.

On Tuesday, Egyptian army chief Gen Abdul Fattah al-Sisi warned that the political crisis could lead to the collapse of the state.

In Kenya, the United Nations has urged politicians vying for seats in the General Election to play by the rules and preach peace during their campaigns, the Daily Nation reports.

Speaking when he met the chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Isaack Hassan, United Nations Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman cautioned politicians that they have an obligation to abide by the law and prevail upon their supporters to shun election-related violence.

"Let me take this opportunity to appeal to all Kenyans to exercise their democratic right and participate actively - but peacefully - in the elections," said Mr Feltman, noting that the world will closely watch the March 4 elections.

"Let me also underscore the responsibility shared by leaders at all levels to abide by legal mechanisms and to send a clear message to supporters that violence of any kind would be unacceptable."

He congratulated the commission for conducting the voter registration exercise in just one month, which he described as "record time".

"He also reiterated the readiness of the United Nations for continuous financial and technical support for the remaining critical phases of the electoral process," a statement from the Department of Political Affairs at the UN stated.

Mr Feltman commended efforts being made to avoid any repeat of the violence that rocked the country following the disputed 2007 presidential election.

In Gambia, the BBC reports that a four-day week for public sector workers has been introduced with Fridays now an extra day off.

President Yahya Jammeh has said the shorter week will give The Gambia's mainly Muslim population more time to pray, socialise and tend to fields.

Mr Jammeh, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1994, is known for his eccentric behaviour.

Critics say his latest decision will promote laziness and disrupt the poor West African state's economy.

Agriculture, especially peanut exports, forms the backbone of The Gambia's economy.

Thursdays and Fridays or Fridays and Saturdays are non-working days in most of the Muslim world but some say this disrupts work with Western countries, who have Saturdays and Sundays off.

In a statement last month, Mr Jammeh's office said that from 1 February, the working times in the public sector would be Mondays to Thursdays from 08:00 to 18:00.

"This new arrangement will allow Gambians to devote more time to prayers, social activities and agriculture - going back to the land and grow what we eat and eat what we grow, for a healthy and wealthy nation."

The statement said state schools would also be closed on Fridays, but were free to open on Saturdays to compensate for the lost day.

Until now, government employees have been working a five-day week, from 08:00 to 16:00.

The change means they would still work a 40-hour week, but critics say it would be disruptive.

In Mali, the president announced plans to hold elections by July as French-led troops battled Islamists in the last major northern town under militant control, CNN reports.

A battle is under way to secure Kidal, the last major town in the sweep to flush out militants in the north.

The French military said it seized the airport in Kidal on Tuesday night, thus gaining control of a major point of access.

French forces are focusing on recapturing airports while Malian forces take over the cities, French army spokesman Col. Thierry Burkhard said.

As troops made gains in the region, the French Defense Ministry hailed President Dioncounda Traore's transition plan as a crucial step forward.

"France welcomes the unanimous adoption by Mali's parliament of the road map for the transition, which makes provision for the holding of elections and the opening of negotiations with the north," the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

French-led troops now control the cities of Timbuktu and Gao, along with the swath in between that was an Islamist stronghold for almost a year, the French Defense Ministry said this week.

"The French troops are being vivacious at Kidal airport, which was taken a little more than a day ago," said Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French defense minister. "The weather conditions are such that the complement of the forces will take a bit more time to arrive, but that's part of the risks of the desert."

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