Gunmen kill dozens in Nigeria’s troubled north

Gunmen kill dozens in Nigeria’s troubled north
Gunmen from a suspected criminal gang attacked a village market in northwest Nigeria's Sokoto's state killing dozens of people, the state government said Monday. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 18 October 2021

Gunmen kill dozens in Nigeria’s troubled north

Gunmen kill dozens in Nigeria’s troubled north
  • Heavily armed gangs known locally as bandits have terrorised northwest and central Nigeria for years, raiding and looting villages
  • "We're not sure of the (death toll) figure. But it is 30 something," Sokoto's government spokesman Muhammad Bello said

ABUJA: Gunmen from a suspected criminal gang attacked a village market in northwest Nigeria’s Sokoto’s state killing dozens of people, the state government said Monday.
Heavily armed gangs known locally as bandits have terrorized northwest and central Nigeria for years, raiding and looting villages, but attacks have become even more violent in recent months.
“We’re not sure of the (death toll) figure. But it is 30 something,” Sokoto’s government spokesman Muhammad Bello said in a statement, adding that the attack occurred on Sunday evening in Goronyo district.
“It was a market day and there were many traders,” Bello told AFP by phone.
Police spokesman Sanusi Abubakar also confirmed that bandits attacked Goronyo late on Sunday.
“Our sercurity operatives are there to conduct investigations,” Abubakar added, without giving details.
Phone networks in the area have been suspended for weeks to disrupt the gangs’ operations, making information-gathering tricky.
A gang raided another village market on October 8, in Sabon Birni district near the border with Niger, killing 19 people.
Since last month, Nigerian troops have been conducting air and ground operations on bandit camps in neighboring Zamfara state.
Telecom services were also shut down in Zamfara, and parts of Kaduna and Katsina states.
Officials in Sokoto are worried that bandits are relocating to the state as a result of operations in Zamfara.
“We’re faced and bedevilled by many security challenges in our own area here, particularly banditry, kidnapping and other associated crimes,” wrote Bello, on behalf of the state governor.
Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, he said, had requested “the presence of more forces in the state and the deployment of more resources.”
Last month 17 Nigerian security personnel were killed when gunmen attacked their base in Sabon Birni, an assault the military blamed on Islamic State-aligned jihadists.
Bandits have no known ideological agenda, but concerns have grown of jihadist inroads in the region.
Violence has spiralled in recent months across the northwest, forcing thousands of already vulnerable people to flee their homes in a situation that aid agencies fear risks becoming a humanitarian crisis.
Since January 2020, about 50,000 people fled from their homes in the northwest alone, according to the International Organization for Migration.
And more than 80,000 additional people have fled to neighboring Niger over the past two years.
Increasingly, bandits have turned to mass kidnapping and have kidnapped hundreds of schoolchildren since December. Most have been freed or released after ransom but dozens are still being held.
The violence is just one challenge facing Nigeria’s security forces, who are also battling a 12-year jihadist insurgency in the northeast that has killed more than 40,000 people.


Hundreds more migrants leave Belarus on Iraq-bound flight

Hundreds more migrants leave Belarus on Iraq-bound flight
Updated 04 December 2021

Hundreds more migrants leave Belarus on Iraq-bound flight

Hundreds more migrants leave Belarus on Iraq-bound flight
  • The EU imposed sanctions on Belarus on Thursday after accusing it of flying in migrants

MOSCOW: More than 400 migrants who had traveled to Belarus seeking to cross the border into the EU flew home on Saturday on an Iraqi Airways plane bound for the city of Irbil in northern Iraq, Minsk’s airport said.
The EU imposed sanctions on Belarus on Thursday after accusing it of flying in migrants, mostly from the Middle East, and pushing them to illegally cross the Polish border to manufacture a crisis, something Minsk denies.
Minsk airport authorities said in a statement a Boeing 747-400 would fly 415 adults and four children on Saturday to Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region. The airport’s website later listed the flight as having departed.
Iraqis who fled seeking economic opportunity and in some cases political asylum began returning to their country last month having failed to get into the EU via a route that people smugglers promised them would work.
Russia, which supported Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s government during mass street protests last year, on Saturday criticized the new EU sanctions as illegal, and said the issue should be settled through dialogue.


Pope Francis hits out at EU migration divisions at start of Greek visit

Pope Francis hits out at EU migration divisions at start of Greek visit
Updated 04 December 2021

Pope Francis hits out at EU migration divisions at start of Greek visit

Pope Francis hits out at EU migration divisions at start of Greek visit
  • Pope Francis said that Europe was “torn by nationalist egoism” on migration
  • He has long championed refugees, calling them "protagonists of a terrible modern Odyssey"

ATHENS: Pope Francis on Saturday blamed the EU’s nationalist divisions for a lack of coordination on migration as he began a landmark trip to Greece, aiming to improve complicated relations with the country’s Orthodox Church.
Francis said that Europe was “torn by nationalist egoism” on migration during a meeting with EU vice president Margaritis Schinas, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, among other officials.
The European community “continues to temporize” and “appears at times blocked and uncoordinated” instead of being an “engine of solidarity” on migration, the pope said.
“Today, and not only in Europe, we are witnessing a retreat from democracy,” he said, warning against populism’s “easy answers.”
Francis has long championed refugees, calling them “protagonists of a terrible modern Odyssey.”
On Sunday, he will return to the island of Lesbos which he visited in 2016 during the early years of the migration crisis.
The 84-year-old’s visit to the Greek capital is the first by a pope since John Paul II in 2001, which in turn was the first papal visit to Athens since the 1054 Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
Flying in after a two-day trip to Cyprus, the pope landed shortly after 0900 GMT in the Greek capital, where security was heightened over expected protests by Orthodox hard-liners among whom anti-papal sentiment remains strong.
Strong wind offered an unexpected challenge, with Francis coming down the stairs of the plane skullcap in hand.
Francis is scheduled to see the head of the Church of Greece Archbishop Ieronymos later Saturday, followed by members of Greece’s small Catholic community, which represent just 1.2 percent of the majority-Orthodox population.
Francis flies back to Rome on Monday.
Up to 2,000 police are deployed in Athens to monitor possible disruptions by Orthodox hard-liners, who blame the Catholics for the Schism and the 1204 sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.
Reciprocal excommunications exchanged between the two churches after the Schism were only lifted in 1965.
Authorities banned protests in the Athens center, and many Greeks have expressed apathy over the visit.
“Perhaps it is important to migrants in Greece who are in need. We the Orthodox expect nothing in particular,” said Periklis, owner of a religious icon shop in Athens.
Relations with the Church of Greece are much better than they were ahead of John Paul’s visit, Pierre Salembier, head of the Jesuit Catholic community in Greece, told AFP.
But he said there were still some “known anti-Catholic fanatics” within the Church’s governing body.
The bishop of Piraeus called the pope’s visit “immoral,” according to the union of Orthodox journalists.
During his visit to Cyprus, Francis condemned “slavery” and “torture” in migrant camps, drawing parallels with World War II.
The Cyprus government said Friday that 50 migrants, including two Cameroonians stuck for months in the divided island’s buffer zone, will be relocated to Italy thanks to Francis.
On Sunday the pope will again visit Greece’s Lesbos, a flashpoint of the 2015 refugee crisis and thereafter, “as a pilgrim to the wellsprings of humanity” to call for the integration of refugees.
The island’s sprawling Moria migrant camp, which the pontiff visited in 2016, burnt down last year and has been replaced by the temporary facility of Mavrovouni.
With EU funds, Greece is building a series of “closed” facilities on Greek islands with barbed wire fencing, surveillance cameras, X-ray scanners and magnetic gates that are closed at night.
Three such camps have opened on the islands of Samos, Leros and Kos, with Lesbos and Chios to follow next year.
NGOs and aid groups have raised concerns about the new camps, arguing that people’s movements should not be restricted.
Thirty-six groups active in Greece this week wrote to Francis raising the plight of people in the camps and requesting his help to halt illegal pushbacks of migrants allegedly by Greek border officers.
Greece vehemently denies the claims, insisting its coast guard saves lives at sea.
Addressing Francis on Saturday, President Sakellaropoulou insisted Athens “is making every possible effort to prevent the illegal traffic of people and their political exploitation.”
The pontiff is expected to visit the camp and will meet two “randomly chosen” families, an official said.
“We await him with open arms,” said Berthe, a Cameroonian asylum seeker at the camp.
She said she hoped the pope “will pray for us to help us overcome the insecurities we have lived, through faith.”
On Wednesday, nearly 30 asylum seekers landed near the camp. On Friday, two migrants died when a speedboat overturned near the Greek island of Kos.


Thousands protest over Dutch coronavirus restrictions

Thousands protest over Dutch coronavirus restrictions
Updated 04 December 2021

Thousands protest over Dutch coronavirus restrictions

Thousands protest over Dutch coronavirus restrictions
  • Protesters walked through the streets of the town carrying banners saying "Medical Freedom Now!"

UTRECHT, Netherlands: Several thousand people gathered in the central Dutch town of Utrecht on Saturday to protest against new coronavirus restrictions that came into force last weekend.
Protesters walked through the streets of the town carrying banners saying “Medical Freedom Now!” and waving Dutch flags. A heavy police presence was visible along the route of the march.
It is the first major demonstration in the Netherlands against the measures, which include a nighttime closure of bars, restaurants and most stores to stem a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 cases that is threatening to overwhelm the country’s health care system.
The Netherlands saw violent protests two weeks ago after the government announced plans to ban most people who have not been vaccinated from public places. Those plans face widespread opposition in parliament, including from parties in the governing coalition and have not been put into place yet.


Merkel: Virus death toll ‘so bitter because it is avoidable’

Merkel: Virus death toll ‘so bitter because it is avoidable’
Updated 04 December 2021

Merkel: Virus death toll ‘so bitter because it is avoidable’

Merkel: Virus death toll ‘so bitter because it is avoidable’
  • Merkel gave what is expected to be her last weekly video message
  • The measures include excluding unvaccinated people across the country from nonessential stores

BERLIN: Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday made what is likely her final appeal before leaving office next week for Germans to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Merkel gave what is expected to be her last weekly video message two days after federal and state leaders decided on a series of measures meant to break a wave of coronavirus infections.
The measures include excluding unvaccinated people across the country from nonessential stores, restaurants and sports and cultural venues. In a longer-term move, parliament will consider a general vaccine mandate.
At least 68.9 percent of Germans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, short of the government’s aim of a minimum 75 percent vaccination rate. The number of unvaccinated residents has been blamed as a key factor in a surge of new virus cases in recent weeks.
Official figures suggest that the infection rate may now be stabilizing, but at too high a level.
The national disease control center on Saturday reported 64,510 new daily cases and a 7-day infection rate of 442.7 new cases per 100,000 residents. Another 378 deaths in 24 hours brought Germany’s total in the pandemic to 102,946.
“Every one of them leaves behind families or friends, stunned, speechless and helpless,” Merkel said in her video message. “This is so bitter because it is avoidable. With the effective and safe vaccines, we have the key to this in our hands.”
She renewed a plea to Germans to take the virus seriously, adding that the new omicron variant “appears to be even more contagious than the previous ones.”
“Get vaccinated, no matter whether it’s a first vaccination or a booster,” Merkel said. “Every vaccination helps.”
Merkel is expected to leave office on Wednesday and be replaced by Olaf Scholz of the center-left Social Democratic Party, who is currently vice chancellor. Scholz said Saturday that his government’s “most important first task” is to “fight the corona pandemic with all the strength that we have.”
“There would be a different situation now if just a few more citizens had also made the decision to get vaccination,” he said at a convention of the Social Democrats. “We must again make a whole new effort, set in motion a whole new campaign” to get more shots in arms, Scholz said.
Senior members of the party denounced a Friday evening protest outside the home of Saxony state’s health minister, Petra Koepping, a Social Democrat. About 30 people gathered with torches and placards outside the home in the eastern town of Grimma.
The demonstrators chanted against coronavirus policies before fleeing in cars when police arrived.


Great Mosque of Córdoba under threat from tourist sweat 

Great Mosque of Córdoba under threat from tourist sweat 
Updated 04 December 2021

Great Mosque of Córdoba under threat from tourist sweat 

Great Mosque of Córdoba under threat from tourist sweat 
  • The danger to the building was exposed in a report which found that condensation has damaged several key areas
  • Report recommended implementation of measures that improve the mosque’s ventilation

LONDON: The Great Mosque of Córdoba is under threat due to the heavy stresses caused by tourists. 

The mosque, one of the world’s most celebrated Islamic monuments, is struggling with the condensation caused by its millions of annual visitors.

The danger to the building was exposed in a report submitted to the government this week, which found that condensation has damaged several of its key areas. 

Condensation has damaged its iconic mihrab, which showed the direction of Makkah and provided a chamber for directing prayers.

The mosque, which receives up to 2 million annual visitors, was built between the eighth and 10th centuries. 

“This is caused by the special architectural configuration of the spaces and their insufficient ventilation,” said the report.

Body heat emitted by tourists is causing the damage, it said, adding: “This evaporation causes the disintegration of these materials and contributes to their rapid deterioration.”

The building already struggles seasonally due to Córdoba’s status as the hottest city on the Iberian Peninsula, reaching temperatures of almost 47 degrees Celsius. 

“When the moment of greatest evaporation converges with the moment of greatest influx of tourists, it has been verified empirically how the absolute humidity indices of the environment rise very noticeably, which poses a risk to the conservation of the materials most sensitive to moisture,” said the report. These include wood, which is a major part of the building’s materials. 

The report recommended that it was “fundamental to implement all measures that improve the ventilation of the building and . . . to control the flows of visitors, avoiding agglomerations and spreading them out during visiting hours.”