News & Current Affairs

February 21, 2010

Portugal rushes aid to Madeira after deadly floods

Portugal rushes aid to Madeira after deadly floods

Portugal’s armed forces are sending two ships with helicopters and medical supplies to Madeira island, where floods have killed at least 32 people.

Extra search and rescue teams were expected to arrive on Sunday to help clean up after mudslides and raging floods tore through towns on Saturday.

Officials fear the death toll could rise. Water, power and phones were cut in some areas.

PM Jose Socrates, who is in Madeira, said he would “do everything to help”.

The storms were the worst there since October 1993, when eight people died.

“So far we have confirmed 32 deaths but eventually the number may increase,” regional official Francisco Ramos was quoted as saying by Portuguese newspaper Publico.

Madeira is located about 900km (560miles) from the Portuguese mainland and is popular with foreign tourists.

Debris left behind in Funchal by the flash floods

Officials say the extra emergency teams being sent include 56 military rescuers with search dogs and 36 firefighters.

Portuguese Interior Minister Rui Pereira, who has also flown to the island, said forensic experts would conduct post-mortem examinations to allow funerals to take place soon.

He added: “We are studying the possibility of declaring a state of emergency and then seeking help from the European Union.”

The regional capital, Funchal, among the worst affected areas by Saturday’s floods and mudslides.

Television pictures showed muddy torrents coursing down narrow channels and spilling over the sides, roads awash with water and streets littered with debris.

‘Ghost town’

Trees have been brought down and cars swept away, blocking roads and hampering relief teams. Some bridges and roads have been washed away.

MADEIRA FACTS
map
Autonomous region of Portugal with population of around 250,000
Lies just over 480km (300 miles) from West African coast
The European continent is more than 900km away

British holidaymaker Cathy Sayers told the news Funchal was like a ghost town. She said the infrastructure had been wrecked.

“The drains just cannot cope with the water that’s coming down from the mountains – they are just overfilled with sludge.”

There had not really been any warning that it would be quite so bad, she said.

“I think everyone is extremely shocked that this has happened at this time of year,” she said.

The president of the regional government, Joao Jardim, said outdoor markets would be encouraged to reopen.

“We don’t know how much it will affect the tourism, but there is no point in dramatising the situation too much,” he said.

Local media say the authorities’ main concern now is for residents of Nuns valley – an isolated mountainous region that rescue workers have been unable to reach.

The Weather Center says the severe weather was due a low pressure system, and that while Madeira can expect further rain with heavy downpours on Sunday, there is no danger of a repeat of the flash floods.


Do you live in the area? Have you been affected by the floods and mudslides? Are you visiting the island?

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July 2, 2009

Americans seek their African roots

Americans seek their African roots

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey originally thought her ancestors were Zulu

First it was Oprah Winfrey’s wistful reach for the continent, now other prominent African Americans are finding their roots.

In 2005 Oprah Winfrey underwent DNA testing in an effort to determine the genetic make-up of her body’s cells.

The popular American talk show host wanted to know where her ancestors, taken as slaves to the United States, had come from.

Famous genes

Since then thousands of other African Americans have followed suit, many of them household names in the US.

Comedian Chris Rock discovered that he was descended from the Udeme people of northern Cameroon.

Chris Rock

Chris Rock is descended from the Udeme people of northern Cameroon

LeVar Burton, an actor who played the slave Kunta Kinte in the TV drama Roots, linked himself up genetically with the Hausa in Nigeria.

Civil rights leader Andrew Young traced his lineage to the Mende people of Sierra Leone and is also believed to be a distant relative of one of the leaders of the 1839 Amistad slave ship mutiny.

DNA testing has also resulted in some African Americans being bestowed with honorary African titles.

The Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker, who portrayed the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, was made an honorary chief of Igboland in south-eastern Nigeria.

He was given the title of Nwannedinambar of Nkwerre which means “brother in a foreign land”, during a visit to Nigeria in April.

Getting results

There are more than two dozen genealogy organisations in the US selling genetic ancestry tests but African Ancestry is the only black-owned firm.

It is also the first to cater specifically to African Americans. Of the half a million Americans who have purchased DNA tests, around 35,000 of them are African American.

African Ancestry charges $349 to test either a person’s maternal or paternal lineage.

Once the fee is paid, swabs used to collect a DNA sample from the inside of the cheek are sent to the customer and then back to African Ancestry’s laboratory.

We did not talk about where we came from when I was growing up
Lyndra Marshall

The DNA’s genetic sequence is extracted and compared to others in the firm’s database.

The company claims this contains 25,000 samples from 30 countries and 200 ethnic groups, and is the largest collection of African lineages in the world.

African Ancestry say that they are very precise in tracing where a person’s ancestors originate from.

Once this is known, a “results package” is sent out, including a print-out of a person’s DNA sequence, a certificate of ancestry and a map of Africa.

“It’s a kind of welcome to Africa package,” said Ghanaian-born Ofori Anor, editor of the African expatriate magazine, Asante.

Transformation

Gina Paige, a founder of African Ancestry, wants to transform the way people view themselves and the way they view Africa.

When many African Americans visited Africa in the past, they were interested mostly in kente cloths and masks, nowadays they want to know more about the country they are visiting.

A poster for African Ancestry

The company has been accused by critics of being inaccurate

Although they still visit the slave castles, they are now also interested in the price of property.

Purchasing a townhouse in the Ghanaian capital Accra or a commercial property in Sierra Leone’s Freetown feels less implausible.

“What we need now is for people to get deeply involved in one particular country or region or culture,” said Andrew Young, the civil rights leader whose consulting firm acts as a liaison for American companies wanting to do business in Africa.

There has been a change too in the way Africans see African Americans and claims of kinship that were once viewed with amusement are now embraced.

This is partly due to the emergence of President Barack Obama and because of the role played by African Americans in his historic election.

As a result, African politicians and businessmen want African Americans to lobby in the US on the continent’s behalf.

Traditional African rulers have also been busy handing out honorary chieftaincies to African Americans in the hope it will lead to an increase in investment and a boost in tourism.

With Obama being both African and American, and our president, this has made many of us interested in where we came from
Lyndra Marshall

Guinea-Bissau’s Tourism Ministry encouraged comedian Whoopi Goldberg to visit when in 2007, DNA tests showed she was descended from the Papel and Bayote people of the country.

Unfortunately, Goldberg has not taken up the offer as she has a fear of flying and has not been in an aeroplane for 20 years.

Unlike the Hollywood actress, as soon as Lyndra Marshall, a 56-year-old retiree from Maryland near Washington DC discovered her African heritage, she immediately boarded a plane for Ghana’s Ashanti region.

“We did not talk about where we came from when I was growing up,” said Ms Marshall.

Since she found out she was of Ashanti descent, she has been trying to get other people to visit and invest in the country.

Along with DNA technology, Ms Marshall credits President Obama with kindling an interest in Africa.

“With Obama being both African and American, and our president, this has made many of us interested in where we came from, too.”

Getting it right

Although many people are excited about the prospect of tracing their ancestry, critics say the work of America’s genealogy companies is far from accurate.

African Americans just want to be able to say they were once kings and once ruled the world
Ofori Anor
Editor, Asante magazine

On a visit to South Africa in 2005, Oprah Winfrey said that DNA testing had conclusively revealed where she is from. She thought she was Zulu but subsequent DNA testing showed she was a descendent of the Kpelle people of Liberia.

Professor Deborah Bolnick of the University of Texas is particularly critical of African Ancestry.

She says its database is too small to fulfil its marketing promise that it is “the only company whose tests will place your African ancestry in a present day country or region in Africa”.

“Consumers should know the limitations and complexities before they spend hundreds of dollars thinking they’re going to find an answer to who they really are,” said Professor Bolnick.

“It’s really much more uncertain than the testing companies make out.”

Despite these limitations, African Ancestry customers like Ms Marshall are convinced her results are correct.

“I have lots of family that look very Ghanaian, they are short like them, dark like them and I have a cousin that looks just like the Ashanti king.”

However, comments like this offend the Editor of Asante magazine.

“African Americans just want to be able to say they were once kings and once ruled the world,” said Mr Anor.

He feels that African governments and traditional rulers should stop the practice of granting citizenship and chieftaincies to African Americans.

“Just because your genetics show you came from a place, should that mean you can lay claim to that group of people or place now?”

June 24, 2009

Somalia MPs flee assassinations

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:01 pm

Somalia MPs flee assassinations

Hardline Islamic fighters in Mogadishu on 23 June 2009

Hardline Islamists have been battling pro-government forces since 7 May

Scores of Somali politicians have fled the war-torn Horn of Africa nation in the last month amid escalating clashes.

As few as 280 MPs remain, with 250 needed to make a quorum in the 550-seat assembly, based in the capital.

One MP quit on Wednesday warning the chamber was doomed and 20 others have gone to Kenya in the last week after several high-profile assassinations.

Meanwhile, casualties of recent unrest have had to be flown to Kenya because hospitals in Mogadishu cannot cope.

About 56 patients, mainly government forces, wounded in fighting over the last week have been flown to Nairobi for treatment.

Since 7 May, an alliance of militant Islamist hardliners, which controls parts of the capital and much of southern Somalia, has been locked in ferocious battles with pro-government forces in Mogadishu.

New radio station
It also emerged on Wednesday that the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, Amisom, is to set up a radio station in Mogadishu.

map

The station will support embattled President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s fragile transitional government.

Somalia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists and many reporters faced with death threats have either fled or will not risk working in the country.

Since the latest bout of fighting began last month, 130 lawmakers, including several ministers, have fled to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
About 20 legislators have made their way there in the last week alone, during which time a fellow MP was gunned down, a security minister was killed in a suicide blast, and Mogadishu’s police chief was died in battle.

On Wednesday, Abdullah Haji Ali, an MP for Somaliland, resigned, predicting the parliament was doomed to fail amid the deteriorating security situation and that nine of his colleagues were also ready to go.

Dozens of other Somali MPs are abroad – some in neighbouring Djibouti and others in Europe and the US – with only about 50 on official visits, according to Reuters news agency.

Refugee crisis

The BBC Somali Service says one cannot rule out the possibility of the parliament losing so many MPs it will lack a quorum – threatening the UN-backed government’s ability to function formally.

People rush a wounded civilian to hospital in Mogadishu, on 20 June 2009

Civilians have borne the brunt of the recent violence and many are fleeing

But analysts reckon the president’s position will probably remain safe, as long as the African Union’s 4,300 troops stay in Mogadishu.

At the weekend, Somalia’s interim government urged neighbouring countries to send troops to help.

The Kenyan government says it has not yet decided whether to intervene.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has said if Mogadishu falls to the radical Islamists, the consequences would be very grave.

Kenya has a 1,200-km (745-mile) border with Somalia and every day hundreds of refugees try to cross into Kenya.

BBC world affairs correspondent Adam Mynott says Kenya already has more than 300,000 displaced people in camps close to the border.

Ethiopia, another neighbour, which pulled its troops out of Somalia in January after two years, has said it will not intervene again unless it has a “firm international mandate”.

President Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, took office in January but even his introduction of Sharia law to the strongly Muslim country has not appeased the guerrillas.

Somalia has been without an effective government since 1991.

January 31, 2009

Steele wins Republican chair vote

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 8:05 am

Steele wins Republican chair vote

Michael Steele

Mr Steele wants to rebrand the Republican party

Michael Steele has won the election to be chairman of the Republican National Committee, becoming the first African-American to lead the party.

Mr Steele won in the sixth ballot, with 91 votes out of a possible 168. His nearest rival, Katon Dawson, received the remaining 77 votes.

Correspondents say Mr Steele was the most moderate of the five candidates who stood for the position.

The favourite, incumbent chairman Mike Duncan, pulled out after two rounds.

“We’re going to say to friend and foe alike, we want you to be a part of us, we want you to with be with us, and for those who wish to obstruct, get ready to get knocked over,” said Mr Steele in his acceptance speech.

Rebranding

He rose to prominence in 2006 when he stood for a senate seat in Maryland. He had previously served as the state’s Lieutenant Governor.

After his senate defeat, he served as the chairman of GOPAC, a conservative political action committee.

As chairman of the Republican National Committee, Mr Steele will be in charge of overseeing the party’s campaigning efforts nationwide.

He fought for the position on a platform of rebranding the party and finding ways to use new technology to connect with the conservative grassroots.

Mr Duncan had been the favourite to win the election, but dropped out after receiving fewer votes than expected in the first two rounds of voting.

September 18, 2008

UN admits Darfur troop shortfall

UN admits Darfur troop shortfall

A Unamid peacekeeper talks to civilians in Darfur (UN image from 2006)

Unamid had hoped to deploy 80% of 26,000 mandated troops by 2009

Only half the troops intended for a joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force for the Sudanese region of Darfur will be deployed by 2009, the UN says.

Alain Le Roy, the new head of UN peacekeeping, said only 13,000 of the 26,000 troops authorized for the Unamid force would arrive by the end of 2008.

Unamid took over peacekeeping duties in the war-ravaged Darfur province last January from a 7,000-strong AU force.

It had planned to have more than 20,000 staff deployed by the start of 2009.

But by last month it had only 8,100 troops and fewer than 2,000 police on the ground.

In July, Unamid’s commander, Nigerian Gen Martin Agwai, expressed optimism that 80% of the force could be deployed by year’s end. That optimism was echoed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

But Mr Le Roy said: “I think 80% sadly has been, as far as I know so far, a bit optimistic.”

He said the arrival of Thai and Nepalese units in Darfur had been delayed, adding that he expected an additional 3,000 troops and police to be on the ground by the end of November, primarily from Ethiopia and Egypt.

In July, seven Unamid peacekeepers were killed and 22 injured when they were attacked by heavily armed militia in northern Darfur, prompting the UN to move its non-essential staff to locations outside the country.

Some 300,000 people have died as a result of the conflict in Darfur since 2003, while more than two million people have fled their homes, the UN estimates.

Sudan’s government denies mobilising Arab Janjaweed militias to attack black African civilians in Darfur since rebels took up arms in 2003.

September 10, 2008

The white priestess of ‘black magic’

The white priestess of ‘black magic’

Bent double by age, the high-priestess of Nigeria’s Yoruba spirit-world shuffles forward from under the trees, reaching out a white, blotchy hand in welcome.

Susanne Wenger and her adopted daughter Doyin Faniyi

Mrs Wenger resurrected the traditions of the river-god Osun

Half a lifetime ago, Susanne Wenger dedicated herself to reviving the traditions of the pre-Christian Yoruba gods, “the orishas”, and left Austria to make Nigeria her home.

The frail 94-year-old artist, with one seeing eye, has been a driving force in Osogbo town, where she is in charge of the sacred grove, a place where spirits of the river and trees are said to live.

In an upstairs room of her house, surrounded by carved wooden figures of the gods, she receives well-wishers and devotees, who she blesses in fluent Yoruba.

When she arrived here, she found traditional culture in abeyance, all but destroyed by missionaries who branded it “black magic” or “juju”, a word Mrs Wenger reviles.

Friends paint a picture of a dedicated, tough and far-sighted leader who has helped revive a culture thought destroyed by Christian and Muslim evangelists, and secured protection for one of the Yoruba tradition’s most sacred sites.

But she is very humble about her achievements.

Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove Festival

“Osogbo is a creative place, it is that by itself, it didn’t need me,” she says.

Followers say she has channeled the river-god Osun into her body, learning the knowledge of pre-Christian deities like no other European has ever done.

Orisha worship is a controversial belief. In the past it involved human sacrifice and there are rumours that still happens at secret shrines elsewhere in the country.

Devotees of the orishas can worship either good or evil gods in order to get what they want.

But thanks to Mrs Wenger, the town’s annual festival of Osun has grown in size and popularity and thousands of Yorubas come every August to renew their dedication to the river-god.

Sacrifice

Mrs Wenger arrived in Nigeria in 1950 with her then husband, the linguist Ulli Beier and traveled widely in south-western Nigeria.

Sangodare Gbadegesin Ajala
Maybe you can call Susanne our saviour
Sangodare Gbadegesin Ajala

In 1957, she fell ill with tuberculosis in an epidemic in which many thousands died.

Friend Ajani Adigun Davies says Mrs Wenger believes the illness was a kind of sacrifice, in return for the knowledge she was receiving about the gods.

“The Yoruba beliefs all depend on sacrifice, that you must give something of value to get something of value, you must suffer pain to gain knowledge,” he says.

In her early years in Nigeria she met Adjagemo, a high-priest of creator-god Obatala.

“He took me by the hand and led me into the spirit world,” Mrs Wenger told a French documentary maker in 2005.

“I did not speak Yoruba, and he did not speak English, our only intercourse was the language of the trees.”

She divorced her husband and moved in with Adjagemo in Osogbo, where she resolved to live for the rest of her life.

Mrs Wenger believes that the spirit world has long been neglected by Western culture, and spirits can appear to anyone as long as they are willing to accept them.

“You need special eyes to see them,” she says.

Traditions

Enemies in churches and mosques have tried to smash her sculptures of deities and burn down the forest that shelters them.

But artist Sangodare Gbadegesin Ajala, Mrs Wenger’s adopted son, says many local people accepted her eagerly.

Ajani Adigun Davies
Susanne’s knowledge of the behaviour and character of all the deities means she has actually become Yoruba now
Former curator Ajani Adigun Davies

“Maybe you can call Susanne our saviour,” says Mr Ajala, now the high-priest of Sango, the lightning-god.

“Was Christ an African? Muhammad was an Arabian. Why can’t our saviour be European?”

The first time he met her was the day of his initiation into the cult of Sango, when he was 11.

His father was an unapologetic devotee of the old gods, and refused to let his child be baptised or go to schools run by Christians or Muslims.

But Mr Ajala wanted to learn to read, and he thought a white woman would let him.

“I saw some children reading books, and I wanted to be able to go to school to read these stories.”

But six months after he moved in with Mrs Wenger, he asked her if he could go to school.

“She shouted: ‘No! you cannot go to school, they will turn you into a Christian and your life will be over!'” he remembers.

Mr Ajala is still illiterate, but has a deep knowledge about the traditions of Yoruba spirit gods and says his adopted mother has made him see how important it is that Yoruba traditions have been preserved.

Yet he is now working to build a school where children can go and receive an education and also learn about the traditions of the orishas.

‘Tug of war’

Mrs Wenger’s ideas about the preservation of the forest have become central to the survival of the traditional beliefs.

Mr Adigun Davies, a former curator with the government museums directorate who first met Mrs Wenger in 1989, says the battle to save the grove was a “tug of war”.

He recalls her lying down in the path of a bulldozer brought by a man who bought the grove from a relative of a traditional leader and wanted to build a house on the land.

“It’s a disgrace to the Yoruba that the person who came to save our culture was a European,” he says.

“But Susanne’s knowledge of the behaviour and character of all the deities means she has actually become Yoruba now.”

August 28, 2008

Democrats await key Obama speech

Democrats await key Obama speech

Barack Obama looks around the Denver stadium where he is due to accept the Democratic nomination for president, 27 August, 2008

Mr Obama has been preparing for the historic nomination acceptance speech

Barack Obama is set to address US Democrats at the party’s national convention, a day after being chosen as their candidate for the White House.

Mr Obama, the first African-American to be nominated for president by a major US party, will formally accept his historic candidacy in Denver, Colorado.

On Wednesday, he was resoundingly endorsed by ex-President Bill Clinton.

Mr Obama’s speech comes on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s historic “I have a dream” address.

The Illinois senator has won over many critics, analysts say, and is aiming to consolidate his standing within his party.

Hours before her husband publicly gave Mr Obama his unequivocal backing at the convention, in a moment of high drama his defeated rival Hillary Clinton cut short a roll-call vote to endorse Mr Obama’s candidacy by acclamation.

Coronation grandeur

Former Vice-President Al Gore is also due to speak on Thursday, along with Democratic National Committee Chairman Governor Howard Dean, but the focus will be on Mr Obama.

His much-anticipated speech, scheduled for 2015 (0215 GMT), will be the highlight of the party’s carefully choreographed four-day convention.

It is likely to have all the pomp and grandeur of a coronation.

It is only four years since the would-be president gave a headline-making speech at the previous Democratic Convention.

Questions remain as to whether Mr Obama can cement his standing within his own party, and reach out to those parts of the electorate that are yet to be convinced by him, our correspondent notes.

‘New approach’

Mr Obama made a surprise appearance on stage on Wednesday after his running mate, Senator Joe Biden, accepted his own nomination for vice-president in a speech that was sharply critical of the Republican candidate, John McCain.

Barack Obama is ready to be president of the United States
Former President Bill Clinton

“We want to open up this convention to make sure that everybody who wants to come can join in the party, and join in the effort to take America back,” he said.

Mr Biden stressed the need for a new approach to help Americans struggling to make ends meet and to change US foreign policy in the rest of the world.

The 65-year-old foreign policy expert was chosen as vice-presidential candidate by 47-year-old Mr Obama partly on account of his experience.

Clinton factor

In an address that was bound to be closely scrutinized for signs of discord, Bill Clinton, the last Democratic president, struck a firmly conciliatory note and stressed that he believed Mr Obama was ready to be president.

He said he was proud of his wife, Hillary – who had battled Mr Obama for the Democratic nomination – but that her supporters should now back Mr Obama.

Justin Webb
It was stunning – a moment of brilliantly produced political theatre and a moment to cherish forever
BBC North America editor Justin Webb, on the Obama nomination

“Barack Obama is ready to honour the oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution,” said Mr Clinton. “Barack Obama is ready to be president of the United States.”

In American political parlance Mr Clinton “delivered”, and may now find himself playing a higher-profile role in the campaign to come.

Earlier, Mrs Clinton had halted a roll call vote – in which each state, in alphabetical order, declares how many votes were cast for each candidate in the primaries – to call for Mr Obama’s nomination by acclamation.

In a powerful show of unity, she said: “Let’s declare together in one voice, right here, right now, that Barack Obama is our candidate.”

The presidential election on 4 November will pit Mr Obama against Mr McCain, who will be nominated next week at his party’s convention in Minneapolis-St Paul.

The Republican senator has said he has chosen his vice-presidential candidate, and US media reports the running partners will appear together at a 10,000-strong rally in the swing state of Ohio on Friday.

August 27, 2008

Clinton urges party to back Obama

Clinton urges party to back Obama

Hillary Clinton urges her supporters to get behind Barack Obama

Hillary Clinton has called on Democrats to unite behind Barack Obama as the party’s presidential candidate, saying she was his “proud supporter”.

Speaking at the party’s nominating convention, Mrs Clinton said they could not afford to lose to the Republicans.

“Whether you voted for me or voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose.”

Mr Obama, who beat Mrs Clinton in the primary race, will formally accept the party’s nomination on Thursday night.

He will stand against Republican John McCain in the presidential election on 4 November.

Mrs Clinton, who was given a standing ovation as she took the stage, thanked those who supported her through her campaign but said Mr Obama was now “my candidate”.

The party could not afford “to see another Republican in the White House squander the promise of our country and the hopes of our people”, she said.

“We are on the same team and none of us can sit on the sidelines,” she said.

She described Mr McCain as “my colleague and my friend” but went on to attack his record and links with President George W Bush.

“We don’t need four more years of the last eight years,” she said.

‘Deep faith’

Giving the convention’s keynote speech beforehand, ex-Virginia Governor Mark Warner said Mr Obama was the leader the US needed in the “race for the future”.

“We need a president who understands the world today, the future we seek, and the change we need,” he said.

We need a President who understands the world today, the future we seek, and the change we need
Mark Warner
Former Governor of Virginia

Key excerpts: Mark Warner

“We need Barack Obama as the next president of the United States.”

He also attacked Republican presidential contender John McCain as promising “more of the same” as the Bush administration.

Mr Warner is running for a Senate seat in Virginia, targeted as an important swing state by the Democrats in the November elections.

He commented on the daunting prospect of speaking after the last convention keynote speaker – Mr Obama in 2004 – and before Mrs Clinton in 2008, but said Americans should let hope replace fear.

“Tonight, looking out at all of you, and with a deep faith in the character and resolve of the American people, I am more confident than ever that we will win that race and make the future ours,” he concluded.

Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean sought earlier to dampen criticism that the convention so far had been too soft on Mr McCain, saying there was still “plenty of time” for tough-talking.

He also played down suggestions of a rift between supporters of Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton, saying there was “not a unity problem”.

Personal tensions

Mrs Clinton had already thrown her political weight behind Mr Obama and dismissed suggestions that the party is divided.
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But opinion polls had indicated that despite her repeated statements of support for Mr Obama, many of her supporters said they would rather vote for Mr McCain than for her former rival.

The BBC’s Jamie Coomarasamy, in Denver, says her many supporters seem divided between those who are, however reluctantly, supporting Mr Obama and those who say they may vote for Senator McCain.

Terry McAuliffe, who was the chairman of Mrs Clinton’s campaign, told the BBC: “Every single night we need to be laying out why John McCain’s bad for America.
John McCain speaks to veterans in Phoenix, Arizona, 26 Aug 2008
Some Democrats feel the party needs to focus its attack on Mr McCain

“Bush is the worst president in our nation’s history. We need to remind people every single day, and John McCain is nothing but Bush’s third term.”

A poll from CNN/Opinion Research Corp suggests that American voters are evenly divided between Mr Obama and Mr McCain, at 47% each.

Mr McCain is due to be nominated next week at the Republican Party’s convention in Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota.

He campaigned in Arizona on Tuesday, telling veterans that Mr Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war and preference for multilateral diplomacy could undermine US leadership in the world.

On the attack

While the first night of the convention was devoted to fleshing out the life story of Barack Obama, Tuesday was billed as “Renewing America’s Promise” and featured political heavyweights, including state governors and prominent House and Senate leaders.

Iowa Governor Chet Culver used his time on the convention floor to suggest big oil firms were backing Mr McCain, “bankrolling his campaign and gambling with our future”.

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a Clinton supporter, also attacked Mr McCain’s energy policy, suggesting he was more interested in giving tax cuts to oil firms than in safeguarding the environment.

CONVENTION AGENDA
Tuesday: Hillary Clinton speech; keynote speech by former Virginia governor Mark Warner
Wednesday: Speeches by Bill Clinton and Joe Biden; vote to confirm Barack Obama as party’s candidate
Thursday: Barack Obama to accept nomination with speech in stadium

Convention programme
Voters’ views on the convention
Convention diary

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy said: “John McCain offers four more years of the same Bush-Cheney policies that have failed us.”

Mrs Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, takes the stage on Wednesday night, when Mr Obama is to be formally nominated.

Democratic officials are said to have brokered a deal between the Obama and Clinton camps for the nomination that is meant to appease die-hard Clinton supporters.

Some states would be allowed to cast votes for both Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton on Wednesday before the roll call is ended with the unanimous nomination of Barack Obama.

The first African-American to be nominated as a US presidential candidate, he makes his appearance on the closing night of the conference, when he is to address a crowd of an expected 80,000 people at a sports stadium.

After being attacked as a “celebrity” by the McCain campaign, the Democrats used the opening night of the convention to try to show the Illinois senator as a family man with normal concerns.

August 8, 2008

US halt aid over Mauritania coup

US halt aid over Mauritania coup

General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz (r) with unidentified junta members in Mauritania

Gen Abdelaziz has promised to hold fresh elections

The United States has suspended more than $20m (£10m) in  non-humanitarian aid to Mauritania after a coup.

The US state department said it condemned in the strongest possible terms the overthrow of the country’s first democratically-elected president.

But General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, who led the military coup, said the army would safeguard democracy.

Meanwhile, the Arab League and the African Union have demanded the ousted president’s be released immediately.

Diplomats from both organisations are due in Mauritania on Friday to discuss the situation with the coup leaders.

President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was detained by renegade soldiers on Wednesday after he tried to dismiss four senior army officers – including Mr Abdelaziz, the head of the presidential guard.

I’m very worried about his health and his security
Amal Cheikh Abdallahi
President’s daughter

Prime Minister Yahia Ould Ahmed El-Ouakef – who the coup leaders had also detained – was reported to have been taken to a barracks near the presidency.

The whereabouts of the president are still unclear, and his daughter, Amal Cheikh Abdallahi, said she did not know where her father was.

“I’m very worried about his health and his security,” she told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

“He doesn’t have the right to move or to call. He doesn’t have a phone. He doesn’t have liberty,” she said.

Joking

The US aid suspended includes $15m (£7.5m) in military-to-military co-operation, more than $4m (£2m) in peacekeeping training, and more than $3m (£1.5m) in development assistance.

A demonstration in support of the coup leaders

Some MPs and parties have expressed support for the military intervention

Gen Abdelaziz said the new military council, which has promised to hold elections, would “solve the country’s problems”.

“The armed forces and the security forces will always stay with the people to deepen the democracy,” he said in the capital, Nouakchott.

“It’s them who brought the democracy here and it’s them who have always protected this democracy and they will always preserve it.”

On Thursday, there were demonstrations for and against the coup in Nouakchott.

But the BBC’s James Copnall, who arrived in the city on Thursday evening, the day after the takeover, says it is remarkably calm and relaxed.

He said some people at the airport were joking about the situation – possibly as it is not regarded as that out of the ordinary given the country’s history of coups.

The military has been involved in nearly every government since Mauritania’s independence from France in 1960.

The president transformed everything into a family business
Morsen Ould Al Haj
Senate vice-president

Presidential elections held in 2007 ended a two-year period of military rule – the product of a military coup in 2005.

Despite the widespread international condemnation of the takeover, many MPs and political parties have expressed their support for it.

Senate Vice-President Morsen Ould al-Haj said that the president had abused his powers and was particularly angered by the influence his daughter and wife wielded.

“He failed completely – he transformed everything into a family business. He became very stubborn; he started by installing his children all parts of the government,” he told the BBC.

“Each of his children consider themselves himself a prince ready to inherit the country. They are a real royal family.”

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