Vigilantes: Boko Haram Kill 37 in Borno State

12 06 2015

Members of youth vigilante forces in northern Nigeria say the Boko Haram militant group has burned six villages and killed 37 people in a new attack near the insurgents’ stronghold in Sambisa forest.

Government-aligned vigilantes told reporters Friday that the attacks took place late on Wednesday. The Nigerian newspaper The Nation reported that the villages, all in Borno state, were Koshifa, Matangle, Buraltuma, Darmanti, Almeri and Burmari.

Vigilante Ahmed Ajimi told the Associated Press news agency that the victims were farmers who had recently returned to their villages after Nigerian soldiers had cleared the areas occupied by Boko Haram earlier this year.

On Thursday, officials from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin met in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to discuss a proposed joint force to fight Boko Haram.

In opening remarks, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said his country should command the task force because it will provide the bulk of the troops, and the main battleground is on Nigerian soil.

He said a proposal to rotate the commander post between the countries every six months would make the task force less effective and efficient.

Buhari also promised Nigeria will follow through on a pledge of $100 million to give the force a smooth launch.

Leaders attending the meeting included the presidents of Chad, Niger and Benin, and the defense minister of Cameroon.

Chad, Niger and Cameroon deployed troops to fight Boko Haram earlier this year after the militants launched a series of cross-border attacks from bases in northeastern Nigeria.

The Nigerian government’s failure to stop the insurgency was a major issue in the recent Nigerian presidential election, in which Buhari unseated Goodluck Jonathan.

Thousands of Nigerians have been killed in shooting and bomb attacks by Boko Haram since the group launched its insurgency in 2009. Rights group Amnesty International says Nigerian security forces have killed another 8,000 with a heavy-handed response.





Obama Trade Agenda Suffers Setback

12 06 2015

CAPITOL HILL—President Barack Obama’s ambitious Asia-Pacific free trade agenda was dealt a serious blow Friday when the House of Representatives voted against part of the trade package.

Obama had gone to Capitol Hill Friday morning to make a last minute personal appeal to fellow Democrats, many of whom are concerned the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, trade deal would send more American jobs overseas and hurt the environment.

Even after Mr. Obama met with key members of the party Friday, House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi said she would oppose the legislation.

On the Republican side, House speaker John Boehner had said he would support the measure.  “This is one of those moments when we need to remember America is an idea. The best idea is to vote ‘yes’,” he said.

Republicans generally support such free trade agreements, but many in the party are reluctant to play a role in giving Obama what is seen as a major political achievement, especially ahead of 2016 elections.

The White House has been seeking approval of crucial “fast-track” negotiating authority.

[quote font=”arial” font_size=”10″ bgcolor=”#” color=”#” bcolor=”#” arrow=”no”]Washington is in the midst of an intense political squabble over proposed trade deals with Europe and a number of Pacific nations. The debate has sometimes been hard to follow because of a blizzard of terms like TTIP, TAA and other unfamiliar acronyms like these. So here is a brief guide to what all this means: Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA, was blocked Tuesday on a procedural vote in the U.S. Senate. TPA is supposed to give Congress a chance to give instructions to U.S. negotiators, who then work, often for years, to hammer out the best possible deal with other nations that trade with the United States. Under TPA, Congress retains the responsibility to approve or reject a signed deal, but cannot amend the agreement. Supporters say U.S. trading partners are not going to make their best offer if they think Congress will pick the deal apart. Supporters expect to amend TPA and resubmit it for approval. Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is a proposed deal among 12 Pacific nations, including the United States. Trade officials say this agreement is nearing completion, but some difficult issues remain. Trade deal supporters say having TPA in place would make it easier to get a deal done between the United States and hard-bargaining trading partners. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, is a proposed deal between the United States and the European Union. These talks are said to be at a relatively early stage. Trade Adjustment Assistance, or TAA, is a program intended to help workers displaced by foreign trade get the training they need to find new jobs.[/quote]

‘Fast Track’

The “fast-track” legislation, known as Trade Promotional Authority, or TPA, would allow the White House to negotiate the 12-nation Asian trade pact and others like it without letting Congress make any changes in the deals when they come up for approval or rejection.

Refusal to grant the negotiating authority would make it much more difficult for the administration to secure the TPP deal, which is already years behind schedule. As a result, Obama has spent significant political capital on the TPA issue.

At a closed-door meeting Thursday at the Capitol, senior White House officials urged House Democrats to support the fast-track bill. Later, Obama made a surprise visit to an annual congressional baseball game in Washington, where he further lobbied lawmakers.

Despite the president’s efforts, only 20 of 188 Democratic members of the House had publicly promised to support the bill Friday. T

Democrats oppose bill

Democratic efforts to scuttle the bill were focused on a program, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance, or TAA, a safety net program that would offer to retrain workers who lose their jobs as a result of trade deals.

Such programs are usually supported more by Democrats than Republicans, but many Democrats said rejecting the initiative is the best way to kill the entire trade deal.

The countries negotiating the TPP are the U.S., Vietnam, Singapore, Peru, New Zealand, Mexico, Malaysia, Japan, Chile, Canada, Brunei, and Australia. The U.S.-led pact aims to cover nearly 40 percent of global economic output when completed.

The White House has said the TPP would help further break down global trade barriers, open untapped markets, and grow the economy, while providing an important counterbalance to the growing economic strength of China.





Burundi’s Economy Suffers After Weeks of Political Unrest

11 06 2015

The political crisis in Burundi is affecting an already struggling economy. International aid groups are threatening to pull out, unemployment is on the rise and prices of basic goods are increasing.

At the warehouse of a rice supplier in Bujumbura, all activities abruptly stopped a few weeks ago. Policemen came and accused the manager of selling rice to protesters. The authorities immediately shut down the place, says a worker, who wished to remain anonymous to protect his privacy.

He says he is in charge of loading the rice for clients and that he could usually make about $2 to $5 per day. But these days, he says, it is very tough and he will probably go back home empty-handed. He says this closure affects everybody, workers and traders alike. Everybody’s lives are jeopardized because of it, he says.

Economic impact

Over the past few weeks, Burundi has been facing the most serious political crisis since the end of the civil war a decade ago.

Violent protests have been happening almost daily in the capital city of Bujumbura after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to seek a third term in office — a decision that critics claim violates the constitution.

These weeks of unrest have had a deep impact on the fragile economy of one of the poorest countries in the world.

Some shops and companies had to suspend their activities because of the insecurity. Road barricades have prevented the transportation of staple foods such as rice, says Estelle, a vendor on one of Bujumbura’s market.

She says the price of Tanzanian rice has increased and that it becomes harder to get because suppliers are scared to transport it because of the barricades and the insecurity.

Malnutrition on the rise

More than half the Burundian population suffers from malnutrition. The latest rise in food prices has added another pressure on them, says Michael, who struggles to afford a basket of food at the market.

He says the price of everything has gone up. He used to buy a kilogram of meat for about $2, but now it cost almost $3. He says it is the same for rice and tomatoes, all the prices have gone up, he says, and it is very hard to afford these products now.

Some political analysts say the end of violence may not equal the end of the economical crisis, especially if Nkurunziza is re-elected.

Half of the country’s budget comes from foreign aid and one of its main financial backers, Belgium, has already threatened to pull out if Nkurunziza remains in power.





US House Republicans Plan ‘Fast-Track’ Trade Vote Friday

11 06 2015
Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives are cautiously moving forward with plans to hold a vote Friday to grant “fast-track” trade promotion authority to President Barack Obama.The issue has most Republicans lined up with a president they usually oppose.On the other side of the issue is a broad coalition of tea party Republicans skeptical of giving the president too much power, progressive Democrats, labor unions and other groups. This unlikely group is fighting as hard as it can to stop a vote from happening or to defeat it on the House floor.

House Republicans met Wednesday behind closed doors inside the U.S. Capitol and decided to move forward on legislation this week, knowing that the vote is likely to be extremely close and hard fought.

Speaker John Boehner of Ohio told reporters: “Trade votes are never an easy lift around here, but Republicans are continuing to work, and we are seeing some positive momentum in the right direction.”

Opponents sound off

At the same time outside the Capitol, labor union leaders, environmentalists, retirees, feminists and some Democratic lawmakers held a news conference, vowing to stop the trade legislation.

Democratic Representative Barbara Lee of California acknowledged that Democrats have come under pressure from the president to support the bill, but she said pressure is not what matters to her or to others who are taking a stand.

“This deal is bad for American workers, it is bad for American jobs, so we need to go back to the drawing board,” Lee said.

The White House has said it will “have the back” of any Democratic lawmakers who may face a primary election challenge from within their own ranks if they vote for trade promotion authority.  Off the record, several Democratic House members told VOA that they come under relentless pressure from unions and other activists when they return to their home districts.

Roy Houseman, a legislative representative for the United Steelworkers, told VOA the steel industry has already lost 5,000 jobs, partly because of previous trade agreements, and that thousands of American jobs are at stake.  He said unions would continue to push hard against granting fast-track trade authority, and that it is far from certain there will be a vote this week.

Other votes derailed

He said Republicans had “oftentimes pulled votes in the past” because they lacked sufficient support for a bill’s passage.

“As we are coming to an end game, we feel strongly that it is in the members of Congress’ best interest to vote for their constituents, and that would be opposing fast track,” he said.

The trade bill needs 217 votes to pass, and so far, only 18 Democrats have pledged to support it, forcing Republicans to try to limit the number of “no” votes on their side.  Negotiations on details are still ongoing, and some Democrats say they are holding out for the best possible conditions they can get.

Obama is seeking fast-track authority to negotiate the sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which is also an issue lawmakers passionately disagree on.





Suicide Bomber Targets Ancient Egyptian Temple

10 06 2015

A suicide bomber blew himself up Wednesday outside the ancient Karnak temple in southern Egypt in an attack that left four people, including two police officers, wounded.

Officials said the attack involved two other people who were killed by police, and that none of the wounded were tourists.

​The temple in the city of Luxor is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site on the banks of the Nile river that is a major tourist attraction for both foreign and Egyptian tourists.

The tourism industry has been hard hit since early 2011, when a popular uprising toppled longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak after three decades in power.

Second attack in a week

Wednesday’s attack was the second this month by suspected Islamic militants at or near a major Egyptian attraction. On June 3, gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire outside the famed Giza Pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo, killing two police officers.

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Luxor Governor Mohammed Sayed Badr said the nationalities of the three men have yet to be determined.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Islamist militants have carried out repeated gun and bomb attacks in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in recent years, mainly targeting security forces.

Those attacks have increased since then-army chief and current President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi led the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.

In 1997, 58 tourists and four Egyptians were killed in an attack in Luxor at the 3,400-year-old Hatshepsut Temple honoring a female pharaoh.
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China Expands Global Fishing Fleet

10 06 2015

China’s fishing fleet is rapidly expanding as the country emphasizes policies aimed at shoring up food supplies. But as the fleet ranges all over the globe, it is getting criticized for overfishing and coming into confrontation with other countries’ vessels in contested areas such as the South China Sea.

China is the world’s largest producer and exporter of fish with around half its seafood production being exported to developed countries; it is also the largest consumer of seafood.

Duncan Ledbetter, a director of the fisheries and natural resource consulting company, Fish Matter, said a race for diminishing resources is driving China’s search for fish around the world, with fish habitats near China’s coast having succumbed to pollution and overfishing.

“Well you’ve got two things happening. One is overfishing. The second, which is sort of widespread, is north and south and close in shore to out to the end of the continental shelf, but then you also, particularly inshore have all sorts of pollution problems and habitat loss problems,” he said.

World’s largest 

China’s distant water fishing fleet has grown to be the world’s largest, with more than 2,000 vessels. A study by the European Parliament estimated that between 2000 and 2011 Chinese fishermen extracted 4.6 million tons of fish annually, the vast majority of which came from African waters, followed by Asian waters, and smaller amounts from Central and South America, and Antarctica.

Some observers, like Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and a former senior official in the Australian Department of Defense, say China’s expanded fishing grounds give it a chance to establish a significant presence in regions that are of long term strategic importance.

“I just think it’s the same type of middle approach not just to Antarctica marine resources but also the capacity to position China to the long-term future possibility of resource extraction from the Antarctic continent itself,” said Jennings.

Last month a Chinese company announced it would expand its fishing operations to Antarctica to catch more krill. The announcement followed the opening of a fourth research station by China on the continent and Chinese investment in two icebreakers and ice-capable planes and helicopters on Antarctica.

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Regional tensions

Tensions with other countries over China’s expanded presence on the sea have risen. Last month Indonesia blew up a Chinese boat it said was fishing illegally in Indonesian waters. According to the South Korean government, the number of Chinese fishing vessels in South Korean waters is growing every year. More than 1,000 Chinese fishing ships illegally accessed exclusive South Korean waters in 2014.

Greenpeace said Chinese fishing boats have also been illegally fishing in huge numbers off West Africa. Rashid Kang of the Greenpeace Beijing office said with its outdated, deep trawler ships, China’s expanding fishing operations risk damaging the ecosystems of foreign waters, as Chinese laws barring these outdated ships do not apply to its vessels fishing abroad.

“They have been promulgating this new law to ban bottom trawler fishing in Chinese waters. So I think that kind of thing has not been discussed for Chinese vessels that are fishing in other countries,” stated Kang. “So I think there is a double standard here.”

A team of international scientists recently attempted to estimate the distant water fleet catch by Chinese vessels between 2000 and 2011. The scientists called for greater transparency in an article in the journal Fish and Fisheries, writing that the catch by Chinese fishing vessels is almost completely undocumented and unreported.

According to the study China’s catch of more than 4.6 million tons of fish per year is in stark contrast to the 368,000 tons China officially reported to the United Nations.





Taliban Offensive in Afghanistan Strains Ties with Islamabad

10 06 2015
Afghan and Pakistani leaders have made a push to improve their long-troubled relationship under Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and try to broker peace with the Afghan Taliban. But this week, an open dialogue in Islamabad exposed how their fragile alliance is being strained by the Taliban’s spring offensive.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani made significant moves this year to try to improve relations with Islamabad, which cost him political support at home.

A deal for improving counterterrorism cooperation between spy agencies of the two countries led to close consultations with senior Pakistani army leaders but also angered Afghan lawmakers who distrust Islamabad.

In return, Afghan delegates claim that Ghani was promised that Pakistan would press the Taliban to engage in peace talks with the Afghan government instead of launching a spring offensive.

But Taliban attacks have increased as the weather has warmed, prompting speculation that Islamabad is not holding up its end of the bargain.
Davood Moradian is head of Afghanistan’s Institute for Strategic Studies.

“Therefor the message that the Afghan delegation convey in this round of negotiation is that the next three months are very critical and President Ghani needs to produce result to the Afghan people that his risk, his gamble is going to pay off. Of course no one in Afghanistan expect a sudden change but what is important is that a meaningful peace process and a meaningful reduction of the violence has to be concretized,” said Moradian.

Distrust still exists

Lawmakers and analysts from Afghanistan and Pakistan gathered in Islamabad this week to exchange views and proposals for shoring up commitments to improve peace and stability on both sides of the border.

But the event also showed the distrust that still exists in the relationship, with Afghan participants openly accusing Islamabad of continuing to allow top Taliban leaders to take refuge in Pakistani cities.

Analyst Moradian expressed the widespread belief among Afghans that the Taliban remain under the influence of the Pakistan military.

“We know that even if Pakistan decides to exercise that role, the Taliban would not disappear overnight but it will send a symbolic message to us in Kabul that Pakistan is serious. So, for us the leadership of the Taliban, that as long as they enjoy the hospitality of your establishment, I don’t think any other measures will win the trust of the Afghan people,” said Moradian.

While at the conference, the Pakistani prime minister’s adviser on foreign policy and national security Sartaj Aziz called the Taliban’s spring offensive a “disturbing development” that has nothing to do with Pakistan. But he said it is unrealistic to expect the group would suddenly give up fighting the first summer after the withdrawal of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

He said the current friendly phase of good ties between Islamabad and Kabul is not being given enough time to change the situation on the ground.

Simbal Khan is an adviser with Pakistan’s Planning Commission who acknowledged that although some Taliban leaders may reside in Pakistan, authorities here do not have great influence over them and Islamabad remains committed to policies promoting peace and stability on both sides of their shared border.

“Yes, there is leadership in Pakistan. It has been there but as far as the commanders on the ground carry out the operations they have been doing that from Afghanistan. To assume that the Taliban are going to align policies exactly to what Pakistan is promising I think that’s quite fallacious at this point,” she said.

Khan asserted that since the withdrawal of most NATO-led foreign forces, Taliban fighters have moved back to Afghanistan and their commanders on the ground are operating independently.

Informal talks

Khan pointed to recent unofficial successive meetings Taliban officials held with Afghan politicians, civil society members and even female lawmakers in Qatar, Norway and in Dubai. She said unlike the past practice, the Islamist insurgency has confirmed all these but Khan would not say whether Pakistan played a role in facilitating these informal talks.

“I think what we were promising very clearly and I think what we are trying to work very clearly was to speed up the reconciliation. We have been trying to do that, it has not really snow balled into the process that we wanted to actually happen but the effort is on,” said Khan.

Afghan delegates have welcomed the Taliban talks, although they remain skeptical about their outcome. However, female Afghan lawmaker Nahid Farid said the talks, which have included women participants, are an important milestone for a country where many worry about the future of women’s rights.

“Right now women are sitting with Taliban, it means Taliban are accepting women and they count women as a dynamic and as a part of the solution. This is very important for us,” said Farid.

She said Afghan women will continue to support the peace process as long as they protect the basic rights they have been guaranteed in the constitution, as well as their access to justice and education.








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