Sahel region junta chiefs mark divorce from West African bloc

Burkina Faso's Captain Ibrahim Traore (L) sit next to Niger's General Abdourahamane Tiani (R) upon his arrival in Niamey on July 5, 2024. (AFP)
Burkina Faso's Captain Ibrahim Traore (L) sit next to Niger's General Abdourahamane Tiani (R) upon his arrival in Niamey on July 5, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 06 July 2024
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Sahel region junta chiefs mark divorce from West African bloc

Sahel region junta chiefs mark divorce from West African bloc
  • The exit came as the trio shifted away from former colonial ruler France, with Tiani calling for the new bloc to become a “community far removed from the stranglehold of foreign powers”

NIAMEY, Niger: The military regimes of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso marked their divorce from the rest of West Africa Saturday, with Niger’s ruling general saying the junta-led countries have “turned their backs on” the regional bloc.
The three country’s leaders are taking part in the first summit of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), set up after pulling out of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) earlier this year.
“Our people have irrevocably turned their backs on ECOWAS,” Niger’s ruling General Abdourahamane Tiani told his fellow Sahel strongmen at the gathering’s opening in the Nigerien capital Niamey.
Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger set up the mutual defense pact in September, leaving the wider Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc in January.
Their ECOWAS exit was fueled in part by their accusation that Paris was manipulating the bloc, and not providing enough support for anti-jihadist efforts.

BACKGROUND

The Economic Community of West African States is due to hold a summit of its heads of state in Abuja on Sunday where the issue of relations with the AES will be on the agenda.

“The AES is the only effective sub-regional grouping in the fight against terrorism,” Tiani declared on Saturday, calling ECOWAS “conspicuous by its lack of involvement in this fight.”
The exit came as the trio shifted away from former colonial ruler France, with Tiani calling for the new bloc to become a “community far removed from the stranglehold of foreign powers.”
All three have expelled anti-jihadist French troops and turned instead toward what they call their “sincere partners” — Russia, Turkiye and Iran.
Given the deadly jihadist violence the three countries face, “the fight against terrorism” and the “consolidation of cooperation” will be on Saturday’s agenda, according to the Burkinabe presidency.
ECOWAS is due to hold a summit of its heads of state in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Sunday, where the issue of relations with the AES will be on the agenda.

After several bilateral meetings, the three Sahelian strongmen are gathering for the first time since coming to power through coups between 2020 and 2023.
In mid-May, the foreign ministers of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger agreed in Niamey on a draft text creating the confederation, which the heads of states are expected to adopt at Saturday’s summit.
Niger’s General Abdourahamane Tiani first welcomed his Burkinabe counterpart Ibrahim Traore in the capital on Friday, followed by Malian Col. Assimi Goita who arrived Saturday.
“Don’t expect many announcements, this is primarily a political event,” said Gilles Yabi, founder of the West African think tank Wathi.
“The aim is to show that this is a serious project with three committed heads of state showing their solidarity.”
In early March, AES announced joint anti-jihadist efforts, though they did not specify details.
Insurgents have carried out attacks for years in the vast “three borders” region between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, despite the massive deployment of anti-jihadist forces.
The trio have made sovereignty a guiding principle of their governance and aim to create a common currency.

Sunday’s summit comes as several West African presidents have called in recent weeks for a solution to resume dialogue between the two camps.
Notably, Senegal’s new President Bassirou Diomaye Faye said in late May that reconciliation between ECOWAS and the three Sahel countries was possible.
In June, his newly re-elected Mauritanian counterpart, President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani, called on West African countries to unite again against the expansion of jihadism.
But successive summits on the same weekend raises fears of a stiffening of positions between AES and ECOWAS.
“I do not see the AES countries seeking to return to ECOWAS. I think it’s ECOWAS will have to tone it down (the situation),” Nigerien lawyer Djibril Abarchi told AFP.
While AES is currently an economic and defense cooperation body, its three member countries have repeatedly expressed their desire to go further.
At the end of June, Col. Goita assured that cooperation within the AES had taken “a path of no return” during a visit to Ouagadougou, Burkina’s capital.
The potential creation of a new common currency would also mean leaving behind the CFA franc they currently share with neighboring countries.
“Leaving a currency zone is not easy,” warned Yabi. “Any country can change its currency, but it takes a lot of time and requires a clear political choice as well as a technical and financial preparation process.”
Issoufou Kado, a Nigerien financial expert and political analyst, agreed: “They have to be very careful, because the mechanism takes time.”
 

 


After protests, Bangladesh government to formally accept ruling on job quotas

After protests, Bangladesh government to formally accept ruling on job quotas
Updated 7 sec ago
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After protests, Bangladesh government to formally accept ruling on job quotas

After protests, Bangladesh government to formally accept ruling on job quotas
  • Protests that erupted last week turned violent, resulting in the killing of almost 150 people
  • Protesters want overturned a high court decision that reinstated quota system for government jobs 

DHAKA: The Bangladesh government is expected to formally accept on Tuesday a court ruling to lower quotas for state jobs, media reported, meeting a key demand of the students who had been protesting for days.

Calm prevailed in Dhaka and most major cities in Bangladesh for a second day amid a curfew and an Internet and telecoms shutdown that the government imposed after the protests that erupted last week turned into one of the worst outbreaks of violence in recent years, killing almost 150 people.

The protesters wanted the government to overturn a high court decision last month that reinstated a quota system putting aside nearly 60 percent of government jobs for certain people, including families of those who fought in Bangladesh’s war of independence.

The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had scrapped the quotas in 2018.

On Sunday, the Supreme Court agreed to scrap most of the quotas and Hasina approved the verdict late on Monday.

The government’s acceptance of the court ruling is expected to be published in its formal record on Tuesday, media reports said, in line with one of the demands of the protesters.

Hasina on Monday blamed her political opponents for violence and said the curfew, imposed since Friday, would be lifted “whenever the situation gets better.”

The protesters have given the government 48 hours to meet 8 demands, which include a public apology from Hasina and the reopening of the university campuses that were shut when the violence began.

Malaysia on Tuesday joined the list of countries trying to evacuate its citizens from Bangladesh because of the violence, with the foreign ministry saying the flight was expected to arrive in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday afternoon.

India also said at least 4,500 Indian students had returned home over the last few days from Bangladesh. 


Joe Biden continues to recover from COVID-19, stays out of public view after ending his 2024 campaign

Joe Biden continues to recover from COVID-19, stays out of public view after ending his 2024 campaign
Updated 50 min 52 sec ago
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Joe Biden continues to recover from COVID-19, stays out of public view after ending his 2024 campaign

Joe Biden continues to recover from COVID-19, stays out of public view after ending his 2024 campaign
  • The president was last seen in public late Wednesday after arriving at a US air base in Dover, Delaware
  • Joe Biden had completed his 10th dose of the COVID-fighting medication Paxlovid on Monday morning

REHOBOTH BEACH, Delaware: President Joe Biden’s “symptoms have almost resolved completely” from COVID-19, according to his physician, as the president on Monday remained out of public view for the fifth straight day.
Biden called into the Wilmington, Delaware, headquarters of his former campaign during a visit by Vice President Kamala Harris, whose bid for the White House has been endorsed by Biden. The president sought to pep up the staff, urging them to give “every bit” of their “heart and soul” to Harris. Biden also vowed to be “out on the road” campaigning for his vice president.
“If I didn’t have Covid, I’d be standing there with you,” said Biden, whose voice sounded a touch gravely.
The president was last seen in public late Wednesday after arriving at a US air base in Dover, Delaware, after testing positive for COVID-19 while campaigning in Las Vegas earlier in the day. He then motorcaded to his vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. The White House says Biden plans to return to the White House on Tuesday afternoon.
Biden’s physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, said that the president had completed his 10th dose of the COVID-fighting medication Paxlovid on Monday morning and continued to perform all of his presidential duties.
“His symptoms have almost resolved completely. His pulse, blood pressure, respiratory rate and temperature remain absolutely normal,” O’Connor wrote. “His oxygen saturation continues to be excellent on room air. His lungs remain clear.”
The White House said Biden received separate briefings on Monday from homeland security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall and national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Both briefings were conducted virtually.
Biden’s public schedule for the week has remained clear as he recovers from the virus, but he said in his letter on Sunday that he planned to deliver an address to the nation this week to discuss his decision to end his candidacy.
Biden plans to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House Thursday, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the White House announcement.
Biden also plans to meet at the White House later this week with the families of Americans who are still being held hostage in Gaza, according to a statement from the group of families who met privately with Sullivan earlier Monday.
It would be the second time that Biden has met with the families. The families again publicly urged Israel and Hamas to come to an agreement on a ceasefire deal that would release their loved ones. Biden in late May proposed a three-phased deal aimed at returning remaining hostages taken by Hamas in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel and could potentially lead to a permanent truce to end the nine-month war in Gaza.
“We’re going to keep working to an end to the war in Gaza,” Biden said during his call-in to the campaign headquarters. “I’ll be working really closely with the Israelis and with the Palestinians to try to work out how we can get the Gaza war to end, and Middle East peace, and get all those hostages home. I think we’re on the verge of being able to do that.”


Bangladesh arrest total approaches 1,200: tally

Bangladesh arrest total approaches 1,200: tally
Updated 23 July 2024
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Bangladesh arrest total approaches 1,200: tally

Bangladesh arrest total approaches 1,200: tally
  • At least 173 people have died, including several police officers, according to a separate count
  • A curfew has been imposed and soldiers deployed across the South Asian country

DHAKA: The number of arrests in days of violence in Bangladesh approached the 1,200 mark in an AFP tally on Tuesday, after protests over employment quotas sparked widespread unrest.
At least 173 people have died, including several police officers, according to a separate AFP count of victims reported by police and hospitals.
What began as demonstrations against politicized admission quotas for sought-after government jobs snowballed last week into some of the worst unrest of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s tenure.
The student group leading the demonstrations suspended its protests Monday for 48 hours, with its leader saying they had not wanted reform “at the expense of so much blood.”
A curfew has been imposed and soldiers deployed across the South Asian country, while a nationwide Internet blackout since Thursday has drastically restricted the flow of information.
On Sunday, the Supreme Court pared back the number of reserved jobs for specific groups, including the descendants of “freedom fighters” from Bangladesh’s 1971 liberation war against Pakistan.
The restrictions remained in place Tuesday after the army chief said the law and order situation had been brought “under control.”
At least 200 people had been arrested in the central districts of Narayanganj and Narsingdi, their police chiefs said, while at least 80 had been held in Bogra.
At least 168 had been arrested in the industrial city of Gazipur, 75 in the northern city of Rangpur, and 60 in Barisal in the south, senior police officials said.
In the rural and industrial part of Dhaka 80 people were arrested, on top of an earlier figure of at least 532 for the capital itself, giving a total of 1,195.
There was a heavy military presence in Dhaka on Tuesday, with bunkers set up at some intersections and key roads blocked with barbed wire.
But more people were on the streets, as were hundreds of rickshaws.
“I did not drive rickshaws the first few days of curfew, But today I didn’t have any choice,” rickshaw driver Hanif said. “If I don’t do it, my family will go hungry.”


UN says nearly 40 million people had HIV in 2023 – and every minute someone died

UN says nearly 40 million people had HIV in 2023 – and every minute someone died
Updated 23 July 2024
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UN says nearly 40 million people had HIV in 2023 – and every minute someone died

UN says nearly 40 million people had HIV in 2023 – and every minute someone died
  • New infections rising in three regions: the MENA, Eastern Europe and Central Asia and Latin America
  • Gender inequality is exacerbating the risks for girls and women, new UN report says

UNITED NATIONS: Nearly 40 million people were living with the HIV virus that causes AIDS last year, over 9 million weren’t getting any treatment, and the result was that every minute someone died of AIDS-related causes, the UN said in a new report launched Monday.
While advances are being made to end the global AIDS pandemic, the report said progress has slowed, funding is shrinking, and new infections are rising in three regions: the Middle East and North Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and Latin America.
In 2023, around 630,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses, a significant decline from the 2.1 million deaths in 2004. But the latest figure is more than double the target for 2025 of fewer than 250,000 deaths, according to the report by UNAIDS, the UN agency leading the global effort to end the pandemic.
Gender inequality is exacerbating the risks for girls and women, the report said, citing the extraordinarily high incidence of HIV among adolescents and young women in parts of Africa.
The proportion of new infections globally among marginalized communities that face stigma and discrimination – sex workers, men who have sex with men, and people who inject drugs also increased to 55 percent in 2023 from 45 percent in 2010, it said.
UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said: “World leaders pledged to end the AIDS pandemic as a public health threat by 2030, and they can uphold their promise, but only if they ensure that the HIV response has the resources it needs, and that the human rights of everyone are protected.”
As part of that pledge, leaders vowed to reduce annual new HIV infections to below 370,000 by 2025, but the report said in 2023 new infections were more than three times higher at 1.3 million.
Last year, among the 39.9 million people globally living with HIV, 86 percent knew they were infected, 77 percent were accessing treatment, and for 72 percent the virus was suppressed, the report said
Cesar Nunez, director of the UNAIDS New York office, told a news conference there has been progress in HIV treatments — injections that can stay in the body for six months, but the two doses cost $40,000 yearly, out of reach for all but the richest people with the virus.
He said UNAIDS has been asking the manufacturer to make it available at lower cost to low and middle-income countries.
Nunez said there have also been seven cases where people with HIV who were treated for leukemia emerged with no sign of the HIV virus in their system.
He said injections and the seven cases will be discussed at the 25th International AIDS Conference which began Monday in Munich.
At present, he said, daily treatment with pills costs about $75 per person per year. It has allowed many countries to increase the number of people with HIV to receive treatment.
Nunez said UNAIDS will continue advocating for a vaccine to prevent AIDS.


Crashed Japan navy choppers found on seabed

Crashed Japan navy choppers found on seabed
Updated 23 July 2024
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Crashed Japan navy choppers found on seabed

Crashed Japan navy choppers found on seabed

TOKYO:  Japan’s navy has located on the seabed the wreckage of two helicopters that crashed more than three months ago, killing eight crew members.

The SH-60K helicopters, each crewed by four people, were conducting submarine location drills off the Izu Islands in the Pacific Ocean in April when they collided.

To date, only one body has been found while the other seven were declared dead in June by the Maritime Self-Defense Forces after a fruitless search operation.

A deep-sea probe by a national research institute that began this month led to the discovery of the two aircraft “on the seabed near the site of the crash,” according to a navy statement released Monday.

“The seabed investigation is continuing, and we are assessing whether pulling up the bodies of the aircraft will be possible,” it said.

While cognizant of the proximity to each other, the two helicopters “never attempted to avoid each other until the moment of the collision,” suggesting lapses in standard lookout practices, a defense ministry report said earlier this month.

The report also concluded altitude control of the aircraft was “insufficient.”

In April 2023, a Japanese army UH-60JA helicopter with 10 people on board crashed off Miyako island in southern Okinawa. There were no survivors.