Burkina Faso to vote in shadow of extremist threat

Burkina Faso to vote in shadow of extremist threat
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A man rides a bicycle past a campaign poster of presidential candidate Zephirin Diabre in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, November 20, 2020. (Reuters)
Burkina Faso to vote in shadow of extremist threat
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Women and children who fled from militant attacks in Soum province, sit on a pile of rocks that they will turn into powder for sale to construction workers, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Nov. 19, 2020. (Reuters)
Burkina Faso to vote in shadow of extremist threat
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Burkina Faso President Roch Kabore attends a campaign rally in Bobo-Dioulasso, Nov. 5, 2020. (AP Photo)
Burkina Faso to vote in shadow of extremist threat
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Burkina Faso’s opposition leader Eddie Komboigo, head of the Congress for Democracy and Progress party, at his office in Ouagadougou, Nov. 6, 2020. (AP Photo)
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Updated 20 November 2020

Burkina Faso to vote in shadow of extremist threat

Burkina Faso to vote in shadow of extremist threat
  • Fourteen soldiers were killed in an ambush in the north claimed by the Daesh group earlier this month, one of the deadliest attacks on the military in the five-year insurgency
  • Emmanuel Macron — president of Burkina Faso’s former colonial ruler France, which has troops in the country — waded into the debate, ruling out negotiating with extremists

OUAGADOUGOU: Burkina Faso will vote in a general election Sunday in the shadow of a growing extremist insurgency, with President Roch Marc Christian Kabore expected to win re-election.

But no votes in the presidential and parliament polls will be cast in one-fifth of the country’s territory, where large swathes remain outside the state’s control and extremist attacks strike almost daily.

The violence has forced one million people — five percent of the 20 million population — from their homes in the last two years, and at least 1,200 have been killed since 2015.

The security crisis has dominated the campaign and voting will take place under heavy surveillance in the landlocked West African country, one of the world’s poorest.

Most of the 12 opposition candidates running against Kabore have criticized the incumbent’s failure to stem the bloodshed.

But the opposition did not unite behind a single candidate and Kabore is aiming for a first round victory — as he won in 2015 — to stave off a run-off vote.

He faces stiff competition from 2015’s runner-up, veteran opposition leader Zephirin Diabre, and Eddie Komboigo, standing for the party of former president Blaise Compaore.

Compaore, who was ousted by a popular uprising in 2014 after 27 years in power, is now in exile but some voters are nostalgic for his regime.

Komboigo told a rally in the capital Ouagadougou Friday that Compaore would “return with all honors,” praising his “sacrifice for the development of Burkina Faso.”

Fourteen soldiers were killed in an ambush in the north claimed by the Daesh group earlier this month, one of the deadliest attacks on the military in the five-year insurgency.

Days later, the Daesh propaganda arm published a picture of two extremists killing a man wearing an army uniform — but the military denied there had been a new attack.

Extremist violence in the north — as in neighboring Sahel states Mali and Niger — has become intertwined with clashes between ethnic groups.

The Fulani community has in particular been targeted for recruitment by extremists, and attacks regularly spark reprisal attacks, continuing the cycle of violence.

Humanitarian groups have condemned massacres of Fulani civilians by pro-government militias or the army.

Despite regularly claiming successes, the poorly equipped and trained army has slumped from loss to loss.

Security expert Mahamoudou Savadogo told AFP that the initial diagnosis of the threat “was poor and the response was neither adequate nor appropriate.”

Almost all of Kabore’s challengers have called for dialogue with the extremists to be explored — a suggestion Kabore has emphatically rejected.

Diabre said that “military action on its own has never been able to defeat terrorism in any part of the world.”

“Alongside military action, there must be other actions.”

Emmanuel Macron — president of Burkina Faso’s former colonial ruler France, which has troops in the country — waded into the debate on Friday, ruling out negotiating with extremist groups in the Sahel.

“We don’t talk with terrorists. We fight,” he said in an interview.

One of Kabore’s efforts has been the creation earlier this year of volunteer militias supervised by the state, called Volunteers for the Defense of the Nation (VDP).

Their role in Sunday’s election remains unclear, but a Western source in Ouagadougou said the presidential party “could be accused of using its troops” to push for Kabore votes.

A VDP leader in a central region assured that the militia will remain “neutral.”

“We will be there to support the army and protect polling stations,” the VDP leader said.

Political scientist Drissa Traore said that because the opposition “did not manage to unite behind a single candidate,” Kabore hopes to get more than 50 percent of the vote on Sunday to avoid facing only one of them in a in a second round.

Throughout the campaign, Kabore has promised to restore peace.

“Once the election is over, we will take care of serious matters,” he said in a meeting.

Around 6.5 million people will vote in Sunday’s election, with enrolment not taking place in nearly 1,500 of the country’s 8,000 villages, nor in 22 of more than 300 communes, because of the security risks.


6.3-magnitude earthquake hits central Greece

6.3-magnitude earthquake hits central Greece
Updated 19 min 19 sec ago

6.3-magnitude earthquake hits central Greece

6.3-magnitude earthquake hits central Greece

ATHENS: A strong 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit central Greece on Wednesday, the US Geological Survey said, prompting residents in the city of Larissa to rush into the streets according to local media.
The Institute of Geodynamics in Athens said the quake, which could be felt across central and northern Greece, had measured at a magnitude of 6.0.
According to the Athens observatory, the epicentre of the quake was 21 kilometres (13 miles) south of the town of Elassona, near Larissa.


Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca

Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca
Updated 03 March 2021

Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca

Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier opted for an Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine

NEW DELHI: Government ministers and officials were following Prime Minister Narendra Modi lead by opting on Tuesday for an Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine approved without late-stage efficacy data, instead of the AstraZeneca one.
India’s health, foreign and law ministers, and state governors, all flocked to Twitter to express support for the much-criticized Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN vaccine, after it was administered to Modi on Monday.
“Made-in-India vaccines are 100% safe,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said after being inoculated with COVAXIN.
Many state officials and doctors have refused to take COVAXIN before its effectiveness could be proved. Bharat Biotech says it has completed the late-stage trial and results will be out this month.
The company said the endorsement by Modi and other ministers would set an example for other Indians and reduce “vaccine hesitancy.” It is seeking to sell COVAXIN to countries including Brazil and the Philippines.
COVAXIN and the AstraZeneca vaccines were approved by India’s regulator in January. The government has distributed to states a total of 50 million doses of the vaccines but only 12 percent of the 12 million people immunized so far have taken COVAXIN, according to government data.


Explosion hits Dutch COVID-19 testing center, no injuries — police

Explosion hits Dutch COVID-19 testing center, no injuries — police
Updated 03 March 2021

Explosion hits Dutch COVID-19 testing center, no injuries — police

Explosion hits Dutch COVID-19 testing center, no injuries — police

AMSTERDAM: Dutch police on Wednesday said a coronavirus testing location north of Amsterdam appeared to have been intentionally targeted after an explosion went off at the location before the site opened.

The blast in the town of Bovenkarspel, 55 km north of the capital, shattered windows but caused no injuries, police from the province of North Holland said in a statement.

They said they had cordoned off the area to investigate.

The explosive “must have been placed” there, police spokesman Menno Hartenberg told Reuters, adding that “something metal” had caused the explosion.

“We don't know yet exactly what exploded, the explosives experts must first investigate,” Hartenberg said.

“What we're saying is that something like that doesn't just happen by accident, it has to be laid,” he spokesman said.


Pakistan Senate election kicks off as Imran Khan’s ruling party looks for majority

Pakistan Senate election kicks off as Imran Khan’s ruling party looks for majority
Updated 03 March 2021

Pakistan Senate election kicks off as Imran Khan’s ruling party looks for majority

Pakistan Senate election kicks off as Imran Khan’s ruling party looks for majority
  • Imran Khan’s coalition does not have a majority in the Senate, needed to pass key legislation

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: The ruling party of Prime Minister Imran Khan and his political allies will seek to wrest control of Pakistan’s Senate from opposition parties on Wednesday in indirect elections to 37 seats in the 104-member upper house of the country’s parliament.
Though his party won the 2018 general election, Khan’s coalition does not have a majority in the Senate, needed to pass key legislation – including legal reforms sought by global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and money laundering watchdog the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
“They have difficulty in legislating, and many laws are stuck,” Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, head of the independent research organization PILDAT, said.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), which translates into Pakistan Movement for Justice, has 12 seats in the Senate, and the two main opposition parties Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) have 12 and 25 seats each.
PTI is looking to go up to 25 seats after the elections, and, along with other coalition parties and independents, have a slender majority in the Senate.
The electoral college for the Senate elections, which are held every three years on half of the chamber’s strength, comprises Pakistan’s four provincial assemblies and the lower house of parliament.
With opposition parties controlling the Senate, the government has had to pass interim legislation through Presidential Ordinances, which expire in 120 days.
The government’s legislators and allies in the lower house of parliament will vote on making Khan’s finance minister, Abdul Hafiz Sheikh, a senator. The result could show how much confidence there is in the administration.
“It could determine who has a majority in parliament... it will be an embarrassment for the government, and could even lead to seeking a fresh vote of confidence,” Mehboob said.
The lead up to the potentially pivotal election has been marked by the government and opposition charging each other with seeking votes through unfair means.


Daesh claims responsibility for attack on media workers in eastern Afghanistan

Daesh claims responsibility for attack on media workers in eastern Afghanistan
Updated 03 March 2021

Daesh claims responsibility for attack on media workers in eastern Afghanistan

Daesh claims responsibility for attack on media workers in eastern Afghanistan
  • Daesh fighters targeted three female employees of a television station

Daesh claimed responsibility for an attack that killed three female media workers in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday evening.
The militant group, which has a presence in Afghanistan, said its fighters had targeted the three female employees of a television station in the eastern city of Jalalabad, according to SITE Intelligence group.
Three women who worked for Enikas TV aged between 18 and 20 had died and a fourth was critically injured after being shot on their way home from work, Afghan officials had said.