France, Sahel allies at ‘turning point’ in war on militants: Macron

Soldiers stand guard at sunset as France's President and Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou (unseen) take part in a military ceremony at the Martyr Quarter on December 22, 2019, in Niamey, to pay homage to 71 Nigerien soldiers massacred in an attack on December 10 at the Inates military camp in the Sahel country's western Tillaberi region. (AFP)
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Updated 23 December 2019

France, Sahel allies at ‘turning point’ in war on militants: Macron

  • “The coming weeks will be absolutely decisive..." Macron said

NIAMEY: France and five allied Sahel countries have reached a “turning point” in their fight against militants, President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday, wrapping up a weekend visit to the troubled region.
“The coming weeks will be absolutely decisive in the fight we are waging against terrorism,” Macron said in the Niger capital Niamey, where he paid homage to 71 Nigerien soldiers killed in an militant attack earlier this month.
“We are at a turning point in this war,” he said.
France and the five Sahel countries hosting French troops had to “define the military, political and development goals of the next six, 12 and 18 months much more clearly” at a summit in southwestern France next month, he added.
Macron began his visit to the region in Ivory Coast on Friday, celebrating Christmas with French soldiers stationed there.
The role of former colonial power France in the region has come under the spotlight following a renewed militant insurgency that has raised questions about the effectiveness of French and UN troops there.
“We need the political conditions to accompany the military work we do,” he told the 4,500-strong French contingent in Ivory Coast.
In Niamey, he said: “I see opposition movements, groups, who denounce the French presence as a neo-colonial, imperialist.”
Complaining of a lack of “clear political condemnation of anti-French feelings,” Macron said he was loath to send soldiers to countries where their presence was not “clearly wanted.”
The leaders of the anti-jihadist G5 Sahel alliance grouping Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania and Chad are to meet in Pau, France, on January 13.
There, they would clarify the “political and strategic framework” of their operations, said Macron.
Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou said the summit would “launch an appeal for international solidarity so that the Sahel and France are not alone in this fight.”
Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Saturday told French television the G5 leaders would deliver a message demanding a “respectable and respectful” relationship with France.
On Saturday, in a speech to the French community in Ivory Coast, Macron said 33 “terrorists” had been “neutralized” in neighboring Mali. A source close to the presidency confirmed that this meant they had been killed.
French soldiers also released two Malian gendarmes being held by militants, Macron said.
The operation involved teams of commandos and attack helicopters in the flashpoint city of Mopti in central Mali.
“This considerable success shows the commitment of our forces, the support that we bring to Mali, to the region and to our own security,” Macron said.
The French armed forces ministry in a statement said the Mopti military operation targeted a camp where militants had gathered in a densely wooded area and fighting continued into the morning.
French forces captured a stash of heavy weaponry, four vehicles, including one mounted with an anti-aircraft canon, and motorbikes.
But the successful Mali operation came just weeks after 13 French soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash as they hunted militants in the country’s north.
Last month’s crash was the biggest single-day loss for the French military in nearly four decades.
“We have had losses, we also have victories this morning thanks to the commitment of our soldiers and Operation Barkhane,” he said, referring to France’s military operation against  militants in the Sahel.
Despite a French troop presence and a 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in Mali, the conflict that erupted in 2012 has engulfed the center of the country and spread to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Man suspected of killing wife, three children in Australia fire

Updated 20 February 2020

Man suspected of killing wife, three children in Australia fire

  • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country was ‘shocked, saddened and devastated’ by the tragedy
  • A passer-by who tried to intervene in the situation was also taken to hospital to be treated for facial burns

SYDNEY: An ex-rugby league player is suspected of murdering his three children and estranged wife in Australia by burning them alive inside their car, in what police described as one of the most horrific incidents they have encountered.

Officers said 31-year-old Hannah Clarke died in a Brisbane hospital on Wednesday just hours after her three children aged three, four and six were found dead in the car on a suburban street.

Her husband, Rowan Baxter, who also died, allegedly approached the vehicle and doused it with petrol before setting it alight, The Australian newspaper reported.

The paper said Clarke jumped from the burning car and rolled on the ground, saying “he’s poured petrol on me.”

Officials said she was rushed to hospital with severe burns following the “horrific” incident but later succumbed to her injuries.

Baxter, a 42-year-old former rugby league player for the New Zealand Warriors, was believed to be in the burning vehicle but got out and died on a footpath.

Queensland Police detective inspector Mark Thompson said Thursday that Baxter died as a result of burns and a self-inflicted wound.

“Information that’s to hand has led us to believe that the Baxter children and Hannah Clarke were killed and I don’t believe there’s any suspicious circumstances around the death of Rowan Baxter,” he said.

Clarke’s sister-in-law, Stacey Roberts, set up a fundraiser to pay for funeral costs and support Hannah’s parents, who she said had “exhausted themselves to try and help Hannah escape this monster.”

“All those who knew Hannah or had even just met her once would know how much of a beautiful soul she was. Her children (were) her life,” Roberts posted on Facebook.

The page has so far raised almost Aus$100,000 ($67,000).

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country was “shocked, saddened and devastated” by the tragedy, which has led to an outpouring of grief on social media.

“Hannah and her three children were so senselessly and maddeningly murdered in what has occurred in a terrible act of violence and it just grieves our hearts terribly today,” he said.

Natasha Stott Despoja, a former senator and chair of anti-violence group Our Watch, called for stronger action to address violence against women in Australia, which she described as a “national emergency.”

“I know people want change, people are angry & sad today,” she tweeted. “How long before we stop this slaughter in our suburbs?“

A passer-by who tried to intervene in the situation was also taken to hospital to be treated for facial burns, a Queensland Ambulance Service spokesperson said.

The emergency responders who attended the scene have been stood down from their duties and will receive support, he added.