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Tuesday, 2nd March 2021
10:35:22pm

West Africa

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Pirates off Nigeria's coast kidnapped 15 sailors from a Turkish container ship on Saturday, in a brazen and violent attack that was farther from shore than usual.

One sailor, an Azerbaijani citizen, was killed in the raid, while those kidnapped are from Turkey, according to the respective governments and a crew list seen by Reuters.
Accounts from crew, family members and security sources described a sophisticated and well-orchestrated attack, in which armed pirates boarded the ship and breached its protective citadel, possibly with explosives.
Three sailors remain on the Mozart ship, which by Sunday evening was receiving assistance in Gabonese waters off central Africa.
"The ship is in our waters and our sailors are assisting a few nautical miles from Port Gentil," said Gabon's presidency spokesman Jessye Ella Ekogha, without providing further detail.
The Liberian-flagged vessel was headed to Cape Town from Lagos when it was attacked in the Gulf of Guinea, 160 kilometers (100 miles) off Sao Tome island on Saturday, maritime reports showed.
The ship's fourth captain, Furkan Yaren, had been "cruising blindly" toward Gabon with damage to the ship's controls and only the radar working, according to state-run news agency Anadolu. The pirates beat crew members, and left him with an injured leg while another still aboard the ship had shrapnel wounds, Yaren said.
Turkish media cited Istanbul-based ship owner Boden company as saying the owners and operators of the vessel were abducted at gunpoint. Boden was not immediately available.
Ambrey, a security company, said four armed men boarded the Mozart and entered the citadel -- where crew are advised to hide in any attack -- from a deck atop the cabin.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's office said on Sunday he was orchestrating officials in the "rescue of kidnapped ship personnel." Erdogan spoke twice by phone with Yaren, who remained aboard after the attack, his office said.
Edward Yeibo, a Nigerian Navy commander, said he was not aware of the attack and was seeking details. The Lagos naval command office and a spokesman for Nigeria's maritime regulator were not immediately available.

Game changer

Pirates in the Gulf, which borders more than a dozen countries, kidnapped 130 sailors in 22 incidents last year, accounting for all but five of those seized worldwide, according to an International Maritime Bureau report.
The attack on the Mozart could raise international pressure on Nigeria to do more to protect shippers, which have called for tougher action in recent weeks, analysts said.
"The fact that someone died, the number of people taken and the apparent use of explosives to breach the ship's citadel means it is a potential game-changer," said David Johnson, CEO of the UK-based EOS Risk Group.
"It's clearly quite sophisticated and if pirates have decided to use munitions it's a big move," he said. There is "no doubt" those kidnapped will be taken back to Nigeria's Delta and Turkey will have little hope stopping it, he added.
Turkey's foreign ministry said the pirates had not made any contact with Ankara.
Seyit Kaya, brother of the ship's kidnapped 42-year-old captain Mustafa Kaya, a father of two, said in an interview he awaited details from the ship's owner on any possible ransom.
"Since that area is where many attacks take place, they take cautions against pirates," said Kaya, who is also a sailor.
-Reuters

The United States on Monday placed Nigeria on a religious freedom blacklist, paving the way for potential sanctions if it does not improve its record. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated the U.S. ally — for the first time — as a "Country of Particular Concern" for religious freedom, alongside nations that include China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. 

Pompeo did not elaborate on the reasons for including Nigeria, which has a delicate balance between Muslims and Christians. 

But U.S. law requires such designations for nations that either engage in or tolerate "systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom." 

Pompeo notably did not include India, which has a growing relationship with Washington, and was infuriated by a recommendation from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to include the secular but Hindu-majority nation over what it called a sharp downward turn under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

Other nations on the blacklist are Eritrea, Myanmar, North Korea, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. 

Areas of concern 

Pompeo removed from a second tier watchlist both Uzbekistan and Sudan, whose relations with the United States have rapidly warmed after the ousting of dictator Omar al-Bashir and its recent agreement to recognize Israel. 

On Nigeria, an annual State Department report published earlier this year took note of concerns both at the federal and state levels. 

It pointed to the mass detention of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, a Shi'ite Muslim group that has been at loggerheads with the government for decades and was banned by a court.  

FILE - Nigerian police officers patrol in the streets of Abuja during clashes with members of the Shi'ite Islamic Movement of Nigeria, July 22, 2019.

The group has taken inspiration from Iran, ordinarily a major target of President Donald Trump's administration.  

However, Nigeria has been widely criticized for its treatment of the movement, including in a 2015 clash in which hundreds were said to have died. 

The State Department report highlighted the arrests of Muslims for eating in public in Kano state during Ramadan, when Muslims are supposed to fast during daylight hours. 

It also took note of the approval of a bill in Kaduna state to regulate religious preaching. 

Improve or face sanctions 

While the designations relate to government actions, the State Department has already listed Nigeria's Boko Haram as a terrorist group. 

The militants began an insurgency in 2009 in northeastern Nigeria that has since spread to neighboring countries, killing more than 36,000 people and forcing 3 million to flee their homes, according to the United Nations. 

Under U.S. law, nations on the blacklist must make improvements or face sanctions, including losses of U.S. government assistance, although the administration can waive actions. 

-VOA

Over 70 new COVID-19 cases have taken Nigeria’s tally past 63,000, authorities said on Tuesday.

A total of 72 more infections were registered across the country over the past 24 hours, raising the overall count to 63,036, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control’s (NCDC) daily update.

One more COVID-19 fatality moved the death toll to 1,147, while 59,328 patients have recovered and been discharged from medical facilities so far, it said.

With over 21,300 infections, commercial capital Lagos remains Nigeria’s worst-hit city.

It is followed by the Federal Capital Territory, which includes the capital Abuja, with more than 6,100 cases, and the southwestern Plateau State, where more than 3,600 cases have been confirmed to date.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is among the five hardest-hit countries on the continent, along with South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, and Ethiopia.

Since last December, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed over 1.2 million lives around the world, according to data compiled by the US’ Johns Hopkins University.

More than 46.8 million infections have been recorded across the globe, with recoveries now over 31.35 million, the latest figures show.

-AA

Six Nigerians are facing prison terms of ten years to life after a federal appeals court in the United Arab Emirates upheld their convictions for funding the terrorist group Boko Haram. 

According to The Daily Trust newspaper, the accused were initially tried and convicted last year following their arrest in 2017. 

The court in Abu Dhabi Monday sentenced Surajo Abubakar Muhammad and Saleh Yusuf Adamu to life in prison. Ibrahim Ali Alhassan, AbdurRahman Ado Musa, Bashir Ali Yusuf and Muhammad Ibrahim Isa were each given a ten-year sentence. 

The newspaper said the court judgement said that between 2015 and 2016, the accused transferred $782,000 from Dubai to Nigeria to benefit Boko Haram even as associates defended their actions, saying there was nothing criminal about the transaction.

-VOA

A total of 21 people have been killed in unrest in Guinea following a disputed presidential election last week, state television reported as international envoys attempted to soothe tensions in the West African nation.

The RTG state news channel said that 21 people had been killed since October 19, including officers of the security forces – six fewer than figures compiled by the opposition which claims 27 have died.

President Alpha Conde, 82, won a hotly contested October 18 election according to official results announced on Saturday, setting the stage for a controversial third term.

But his main opponent Cellou Dalein Diallo, 68, disputes the results. He claimed victory last week, citing data his activists gathered at individual polling stations.

 

Diallo's self-proclaimed victory led to a week of clashes between supporters and security forces across the nation.

The government had previous put the number of dead at 10.

A diplomatic delegation from the United Nations, African Union and the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States landed in Guinea Sunday in the aftermath of the unrest.

The envoys – who include ECOWAS Commission President Jean-Claude Kassi Brou and the UN special representative to West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas – met several ministers and government officials on Monday.

An ECOWAS official in Conakry said they also spoke with representatives of Guinea's electoral commission and foreign diplomats.

Diallo told AFP that the envoys met him too, at his Conakry home which police have blockaded for days.

Anti-Conde protests were due to resume in the city early Monday and many shops stayed shut, but few people ended up hitting the streets in the end.

"In my neighbourhood, people say they are waiting to see the outcome of the joint mission," said a suburban resident who declined to be named.

Scars from the unrest were apparent in the Conakry neighbourhood of Wanindara – an opposition stronghold – with burned-out vehicles lying on the roadside.

Mohamed Saliou Camara, whose house was torched, said Conde and Diallo supporters had clashed in the area.

Much of the turbulence centres on a third term for Alpha Conde, whom opponents accuse of drifting into authoritarianism.

He pushed through a new constitution in March which he argued would modernise the country. But it also allowed him to bypass a two-term limit for presidency.

-TRT World

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