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S. Africa wades into Lesotho crisis urges military to return to barracks

The South African government on Sunday urged the Lesotho Defence Force to return to their barracks and allow the democratically elected government of the Kingdom to carry on with its business.

"The South African Government has verified that the Lesotho Defence Force did take over the radio and TV stations, resulting in a total black out in broadcasts. The Army has also taken over several police stations including the Police Headquarters," the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) said in a statement.

The statement said the South African government "notes with great concern the unfolding security situation in the Kingdom of Lesotho".

Early Saturday morning, the Lesotho military raided the house of Prime Minister Tom Thabane and seized the police headquarters and the Mabote police station in the capital of Maseru in a possible coup attempt.

"The activities of the Lesotho Defence Force have forced the constitutionally elected Prime Minister Tom Thabane and one of the leaders in the Coalition Government, Hon Thesile Maseribane to go in hiding in South Africa," the DIRCO statement said.

The Lesotho military refused to acknowledge that it was a coup, claiming that it took the action after receiving intelligence that police officers intended to pass arms and ammunitions to Thabane's All Basotho convention called "Under the Tree".

The army said it is empowered to prevent terrorism, internal disorder and threats to essential services.

The military said its soldiers had returned to barracks, with peace and calm resumed in Maseru.

"Although no one has claimed to have taken over government through the use of force, by all accounts the activities of the Lesotho Defence Force thus far bear the hallmarks of a coup d'état, " the DIRCO statement said.

"In this regard, the South African Government, consistent with the African Union position on unconstitutional change of government, wishes to reaffirm the AU position and warn that such unconstitutional change of government shall not be tolerated."

The statement said the South African government encourages the leaders of the Lesotho coalition government to work together and implement the Namibia Declaration which was presented at the recent summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

"In this regard, South Africa in her capacity as the Chair of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security remain committed to assisting the leaders of the Coalition Government to find a lasting political solution to their current challenges," the statement said.

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Lesotho PM flees to South Africa, says army staged coup

Lesotho's prime minister, Thomas Thabane, on Saturday accused his country's army of staging a coup against him and fled to neighbouring South Africa, which condemned the military's action and called for a peaceful settlement.

Early morning gunfire was heard in Maseru, capital of the small southern African kingdom encircled by South Africa. Army units occupied police headquarters and surrounded the prime minister's residence, residents and diplomats said.

Hours after the army's move, the capital was reported to be quiet, but it was not immediately clear who was running the government of the mountainous state of 2 million people.

Thabane, who in June dissolved parliament to avoid a no-confidence vote against him amid feuding in his two-year-old coalition government, said he had crossed over to South Africa because he feared for his safety.

"There was clearly an effort to launch a coup," Thabane told Reuters, saying he was at his daughter's home in South Africa.

"We are taking concrete steps to nip it in the bud," he added, saying the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) was addressing the situation.

South Africa, speaking on behalf of SADC, condemned the actions of the Lesotho military, which it said "bear the hallmarks of a coup d'etat". It called on Lesotho's army commander to order his units back to their barracks.

"Any unconstitutional change of government shall not be tolerated," South African Foreign Ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela told a news briefing in Pretoria.

Earlier, the Lesotho Defence Force denied attempting a coup against Thabane, saying it had moved against police elements suspected of planning to arm a political faction, an army spokesman said.

"There is nothing like that (a coup), the situation has returned to normalcy ... the military has returned to their barracks," Major Ntlele Ntoi told Reuters. He added the military "supports the democratically elected government of the day".

Ntoi said one soldier and four police had been injured during the army action. At least one witness reported police officers being detained by soldiers.

COMMONWEALTH CONDEMNS

Diplomats in Maseru said the Lesotho army was mostly loyal to Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, who had vowed to form a new coalition that would oust Thabane. The police force largely supported the prime minister, the sources said.

South Africa's Monyela said no individual or body had claimed to have taken over the government. "The situation is still unfolding," he said, adding that South Africa urged the coalition leaders to settle their differences peacefully.

The Commonwealth, most of whose member states are former British colonies, also condemned the reported coup.

"There is zero tolerance in the Commonwealth of any unconstitutional overthrow of an elected government," Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said in a statement sent to Reuters.

In Washington, the State Department issued a brief statement that condemned the violence but stopped short of calling it a coup or government overthrow.

"The United States is deeply concerned by clashes between security forces today in Lesotho, and calls upon government officials and all parties to remain committed to peaceful political dialogue and to follow democratic processes in line with the Lesotho Constitution and principles of the rule of law," it said.

Thabane said he had fired the Lesotho Defence Force commander, Lieutenant-General Kennedy Tlali Kamoli, replacing him with Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao. But the army spokesman told Reuters Kamoli was still in charge of the military.

Thabane said: "Commanders of armies are appointed by government, it is not up to them to say who is in control."

He said he intended to return home, but did not specify when. "That is something I will have to weigh," he said.

Since independence from Britain in 1966, Lesotho has undergone a number of military coups. In 1998 at least 58 locals and eight South African soldiers died and parts of Maseru were damaged during a political stand-off and subsequent fighting.

Besides textile exports and a slice of regional customs receipts, Lesotho's other big earner is hydropower exported to South Africa from the massive mountain ranges that have made it a favourite of trivia fans as "the world's highest country" - its lowest point is 1,380 metres (4,528 feet) above sea level.

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Gunfire heard in Lesotho, diplomats report apparent coup attempt

Military units in Lesotho surrounded government and police buildings and gunfire was heard in the small mountainous southern African kingdom on Saturday, in what diplomats said appeared to be an attempted coup.

"Military police have surrounded State House and there are reports of gunfire," said one diplomat from the capital Maseru, who asked not to be named.

South African radio stations also reported that private radio stations were off the air in the nation, which is surrounded by South Africa.

Political tensions have been running high in Lesotho since June when Prime Minister Thomas Thabane suspended the country's parliament to avoid a no-confidence vote amid feuding in the two-year-old coalition government.

Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing had vowed to form a new coalition that would oust Thabane.

Neighboring South Africa and the regional Southern African Development Community of which Lesotho is a member have warned the political rivals in the country that any unconstitutional change of government would not be tolerated.

Since independence in 1966, Lesotho has undergone a number of military coups. In 1998 at least 58 locals and eight South African soldiers died and large parts of Maseru were damaged during a political stand-off and subsequent fighting.

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Death of opposition leader creates political tension in Botswana

The July 30 death of 44-year-old Gomolemo Motswaledi in what the police say was a road accident highlighted brewing tension in Botswana, reputed to be one of the most stable and cleanly governed nations on the continent and known to foreign tourists for its well-protected wildlife. The opposition opened a parallel investigation, saying Motswaledi may have been assassinated by pro-government agents, although evidence is lacking.

The conspiracy theories sharpened an election campaign likely to deliver another victory for the ruling Botswana Democratic Party, whose electoral dominance since independence from Britain in 1966 has increasingly frustrated opponents who say the party is shedding old-style consensus politics and tightening its grip on state machinery. Zimbabwe and South Africa, while following different paths after shaking off white rule, are among Botswana's neighbors in southern Africa where parties with liberation-era credentials have also stayed in power for decades.

Tall and dynamic, Motswaledi was once an ally of President Ian Khama but fell out with him and formed the Botswana Movement for Democracy in 2010 to challenge what he described as a concentration of power among presidential loyalists. In July, he was elected deputy president of the Umbrella for Democratic Change, an opposition coalition gearing up for an Oct. 24 vote expected to be closer than past contests.

In 2009, the ruling party won 45 of 57 directly elected parliamentary seats but won the popular vote by a smaller margin with 53.3 percent, leading fractious opposition groups to complain they were inadequately represented.

Motswaledi's death shocked Botswana, a sparsely populated country of 2 million people that is described by its own government as one of the world's most peaceful societies. Black-clad mourners filed past Motswaledi's casket, and the KTM Choir, which he once led, sang in his honor. Newspapers and social media buzzed with rumor that Motswaledi was the victim of a sinister plot, but police said last week that his death "was the result of a road accident uninduced by any foul play" near the border with South Africa.

"It is not common practice for the Botswana's Police Service to publicize the findings of police investigations of this nature, but for speculations and innuendos made by some commentators in the mainstream media and social media regarding this accident, we have found it necessary to make public the result of this particular investigation," Keabetswe Makgophe, the police commissioner, said in a statement. Police have said Motswaledi, who was traveling alone, apparently lost control of the vehicle.

However, forensic and other experts investigating the case on behalf of the opposition have not ruled out foul play, said Duma Boko, head of the Umbrella for Democratic Change.

"There can be no doubt that this was no normal death in a car," media in Botswana quoted Boko as saying.

The opposition has noted that damage to the car was not severe and the air bags did not activate, according to reports. Motswaledi was heading from Johannesburg to a political meeting in Gaborone, Botswana's capital, his supporters said.

Suspicions about alleged state skullduggery have grown under Khama, a former military commander and son of independence leader Seretse Khama who became president in 2008. The formation of an intelligence agency, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security, was met with negative publicity because of oversight concerns.

"Owing to an overly secretive culture under the guise of national security at times, the agency has allowed its image to be defined by sensationalist reporting in the media based on the dearth of factual information at the reporters' disposal," defense expert Lesego Tsholofelo wrote in a research paper this year.

In 2012, Khama pardoned several members of the security forces who had been sentenced to prison for the 2009 murder of criminal suspect John Kalafatis, fueling opposition allegations that the government condoned extrajudicial killings.

Festus Mogae, a former president, recently expressed concern about the rule of law in Botswana. That prompted a robust response from government spokesman Jeff Ramsay, who said international ratings confirm Botswana's "continued status as an open society with an open economy" and some of the most disciplined civil servants in Africa.

Many singers who worked with Motswaledi described him as a strict but gentle director. They recalled his dance moves and how he encouraged colleagues to sing in the local Setswana language rather than only English. Mmegi Online, a news outlet, quoted popular singer Nnunu Ramogotsi as saying she was devastated by her mentor's death.

"I was still expecting to learn a lot from him," she said.

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Mozambican government signs truce deal with opposition Renamo

Mozambique's former rebel group Renamo and the Frelimo-led government have signed a ceasefire deal, ending two years of armed conflict, ahead of a presidential election scheduled for October 15.

Chief negotiators from the government and Renamo signed the declaration late on Sunday night in the capital Maputo, ending a nearly year-long negotiation process.

"A ceasefire has been signed," Renamo's chief negotiator at the peace talks with the government, Saimon Macuiane, told the AFP news agency, adding that the "definitive agreement" was effective as of 20:00 GMT on Sunday.

Renamo forces have waged a low-level armed struggle since party leader Afonso Dhlakama returned to the bush in 2012, two decades after he signed a peace accord with the ruling Frelimo party.

Men thought to be members of the former rebel movement have been attacking buses, trucks and cars on the main north-south highway since April last year.

Government forces overran the Renamo base camp in the central Gorongosa district a few months later in August.

The late night declaration came after the two sides reached a general peace agreement a week ago, including consensus over the integration of Renamo's remaining armed forces into state security forces.

Rebel leader in hiding

Dhlakama, who has been hiding in the remote Gorongosa mountains in central Sofala province for close to a year, did not travel to the capital to sign the ceasefire himself, despite previously promising he would do so once his party reached a final agreement with the government.

"He mandated me to declare it," Macuiane said but suggested Dhlakama would meet Mozambique's President Armando Guebuza at a later date.

"It is obvious that there will be a high level, symbolic meeting later on," he said.

Under terms agreed with the government, Dhlakama expects to keep his personal "security guards" [numbering several hundred] until they can be integrated into state forces, a process that will be overseen by an international force.

Similarly, Renamo only expects to hand over its remaining weapons after the integration process has begun.

"We have begun a new era for the country," Macuiane said, calling the ceasefire an "important step towards national reconciliation ... and a durable peace".

Parliament is expected to begin working to create conditions as set out in the peace agreement in the coming week.

Despite the ceasefire, Renamo and the government will continue negotiations as not all points have been settled including "economic questions" and the status of Renamo appointees into security structures, Macuiane said.

The date set for presidential and national polls, October 15, remains unchanged, Macuiane indicated.

The ceasefire will also allow Dhlakama to leave his bush base and campaign for the elections.

The constitution bars Guebuza from running for a third term and former Defence Minister Filipe Nyusi will run as the Frelimo candidate.

Whoever wins the vote will face the challenging task of bringing to fruition major coal and offshore natural gas investment projects that have the potential to bring billions of dollars to a nation that was in ruins two decades ago.

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Media muzzled in Africa's only absolute monarchy Swaziland

Reports monitored from Voice of America indicates that media freedom is under attack in the African kingdom of Swaziland, citing intimidation and imprisonment.

According to the report journalists said that they face constant harassment, they said the king has throttled the media to advance his own interests and protect his wealth in a nation with some of the world’s highest rates of poverty, unemployment and AIDS.

From the outside, the tiny, landlocked nation of Swaziland looks like it has a disproportionate share of problems.

According to a scathing report from U.S.-based think tank Freedom House, 43 percent of Swazis live in chronic poverty, a quarter of adults have HIV, and life expectancy is a mere 48 years.

But journalists and activists from Africa’s last absolute monarchy say they are all but forbidden from publishing any stories that paint their country in a negative light.

Censorship, prison

The nation’s leadership underscored that point last month, when a prominent journalist and a human rights lawyer were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for an article that criticized the judicial system.

Journalist Nqobile Hlatswhayo heads the Media Workers Union of Swaziland, and he said journalists face strong pressure to censor their own work.

“Journalists are expected to toe the line and only report positive messages about the country and about cultural activities, what is government doing for the people, and all that," said Hlatswhayo. "But they are expected to bury bad stories that can, like they say, paint the country badly outside.”

Swazi Observer managing editor Mbongeni Mbingo, said he nearly lost his job over a 2009 article that he did not even write. His piece, he said, was a mere accounting of the king’s fleet of luxury cars. But when media in neighboring South Africa got hold of the details, he said they spun it into a tale of an insensitive monarch who spends profligately on luxuries while his people starve.

“It did get me into a lot of water. Hot, hot water. I could have lost my job over it, and I am grateful I did not, and it is one era of my career that I look at and say, ‘I survived that bullet,’” he said.

Respect vs. freedoms

Like many people living in Swaziland, Mbingo walks a tightrope between reverence for his king and his demand for basic freedoms.

“I think our perspective when we published those stories was partly to say, the king drives in such a car befitting his status. So it is something that we, you know, we hold the king in very high esteem in our country, and we also want to see that he gets what befits his status as a king," said Mbingo. "So if he gets a new car, the Swazi public must know that, okay, the king has these type of wheels because because, maybe one could say, he deserves to have that type of car.”

Biut activist Mandla Hlatshwayo said that while he respects the institution of the monarchy, he has no love for the current king. He said unshackling the media is the first step toward turning things around in Swaziland.

“It will improve everyone’s life. It will even improve the outlook of those in power, because they cannot wish away the voice of the ordinary people," he said. "It will also inform the world in terms of its engagement with Swaziland not to actually avoid the real issues. So if the media was free, I think many people in Swaziland who are in power will have nowhere to hide. But right now they are able to ensure that nobody has information.”

Nqobile Hlatshwayo, who also writes for the Observer, said that despite the constraints upon her, however, there is no place she would rather be.

“I want to be there when my country changes for the better. I want to be there when dissenting voices will not be suppressed. And I want to make sure that activism is allowed in Swaziland. And if I do not get that bullet - who will?” she asked.

Until that day, she said, she waits and hopes.

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9 killed in a building collapse in Johannesburg, South Africa

A building under renovation in Alberton an area southeast of Johannesburg collapsed on Monday, killing at least nine people, officials said.

The death toll could rise as some people were still trapped in debris after the building fell at the Meyersdal Eco Estate, and rescue workers were working against time to search for survivors, Ekurhuleni Emergency Services spokesperson William Ntladi said.

Builders were among the casualties, according to South African media. Several men were also injured.

Sniffer dogs were brought in to help locate bodies in the rubble.

The Department of Labour has sent a delegation to the scene to help the investigation and said tough measures will be taken if negligence is found.

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Southern African leaders want UN to help relocate Rwandan Hutu rebels

Leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) want the United Nations to assist in removing members of a Rwandan rebel group from eastern Congo.

The 15-member bloc made the appeal at the end of a two-day summit in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

The leaders of southern African countries also resolved to speed up the industrialization of their countries to fight poverty.

They said the region was “generally peaceful and stable,” but appealed to the United Nations to help address the situation in the Great Lakes region.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, a Southern African Development Community member, is hoping to rid its eastern provinces of rebel groups that have kept the region in the grips of chaos and violence for years.

"On the Democratic Republic of Congo, [the] summit also called upon the United Nations in co-operation with the African Union, to play its role in repatriating the FDLR elements that have voluntarily surrendered and disarmed or provide them with temporary resettlement in third countries outside the Great Lakes Region," said Stergomena Lawrence-Tax, SADC executive secretary.

FDLR refers to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, a Rwandan Hutu rebel group, comprised in part of men who took part in Rwanda's genocide in 1994.

The region’s leaders noted “humanitarian assistance and malnutrition still remain a challenge” and they endorsed a 10-year regional food and nutrition security strategy to improve food security.

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Mugabe call on Southern Africa to end reliance on foreign aid

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe on Sunday urged southern Africa to move away from “over-reliance” on foreign aid at a two-day summit being held in Zimbabwe.

The 90-year-old leader spoke Sunday after taking the chairmanship of the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) from Malawi President Joyce Banda.

Mugabe, who will lead SADC for the next 12 months, said southern Africa must use its natural resources such as minerals and land. The region has the world’s largest platinum deposits and supplies of other valuable commodities such as diamonds and gold.

"Our continued over-reliance on the generosity and goodwill of our cooperating partners tends to compromise our ownership and sustainability of our SADC programs. How can we proudly claim SADC to be own organization when close to 60 percent of the programs are externally funded?" he asked.

Finished vs raw goods

Mugabe also called on countries to drive growth by exporting more finished goods instead of raw materials.

Southern Africa must "wean itself from exporting raw materials and create value chains that will lead to the exportation of finished products," he said.

"Our region has abundant resources, which instead of being sold in raw form at very low prices must be exploited and beneficiated to add value to the products which we export," Mugabe said.

The summit, which ends Monday, is being held under a theme of "economic transformation," which leaders say can be achieved by using the region's vast natural resources.

On Friday, rights groups called on SADC leaders to include issues of human rights abuses in the region on their meeting’s agenda.

Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, but a series of economic crises, flawed elections and brutal crackdowns have brought U.N. sanctions and turned the former revolutionary into a Western pariah.

He was the only leader from southern Africa not invited to attend a major U.S.-African summit in Washington earlier this month, which included about 45 of the continent's heads of state.

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South African deputy president heckled in court over police killings

Hecklers on Tuesday accused South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa of being a murderer for the police killings of several dozen people during labor unrest at platinum mine operations in 2012.
 
Ramaphosa, a former union leader and businessman who became deputy president this year, expressed regret for the killings near a Lonmin mine, but denied any wrongdoing. At the time of the 2012 violence, Ramaphosa had a prominent role in the ruling African National Congress party and was a director and shareholder of the Lonmin mining company. He testified Tuesday before a judicial panel that is investigating the 2012 killings.
 
Ramaphosa, a union leader during apartheid, became deputy president in May after the ANC was returned to power in elections. Ramaphosa is widely viewed as the favored candidate to succeed South African President Jacob Zuma, who was re-elected this year.
 
Ramaphosa should be charged with murder because of allegations that he appealed to police to crack down on striking miners, said Dali Mpofu, a lawyer for some of the miners involved in the protests, while questioning the politician before the panel.
 
"I deeply regret the deaths of all the people who died at Marikana," Ramaphosa said. Responding to the murder allegation, he said: "I do not agree with the proposition that the learned advocate has put forward."
 
During Ramaphosa's remarks, several protesters shouted that he was a murderer and a capitalist pawn before they were ushered out of the chamber.

 

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