News & Current Affairs

September 8, 2008

Upper Egypt prison shaken by riot

Upper Egypt prison shaken by riot

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A prisoner has died and more than 20 people, mostly inmates, have been injured during unrest at a jail in the Upper Egyptian city of Assiut.

Officials said the clashes followed rumors about an inmate’s death. Some prisoners rioted and took officers hostage and seized guns.

The violence continued for several hours. Police used tear gas and live bullets to regain control of the jail.

Earlier unconfirmed reports had said unknown gunmen had attacked the prison.

Four warders and at least 20 prisoners were said to have been injured in the clashes.

An Interior Ministry statement quoted by the Reuters news agency said the riot occurred when fighting broke out between four prisoners who attacked each other with cutlery.

Police intervened and punished the inmates with 48 hours in solitary confinement, the statement said.

Inmate Ali Abdel Salam died during his solitary confinement, after which “a rumor spread among the prisoners he had died because an officer assaulted him”, the statement said.

Conflicting reports

However, there is some confusion about the identity of the dead inmate. Another report named him as Hani Ghandour, who was serving a seven-year sentence for assault.

Another report said Ghandour was killed during armed clashes after a group of 15 gunmen had stormed the building in an attempt to free prisoners.

There is no explanation for the discrepancies in the dead man’s name or the reason which lay behind the violence.

Assiut – about 250 miles (400km) south of Cairo – is the largest city in Upper Egypt, with a population of about 400,000 people. Its jail is reported to hold about 3,000 prisoners.

Correspondents say conditions in Egyptian prisons are often dire and overcrowded, and security personnel have been accused of abusing inmates.

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August 14, 2008

In pictures: Georgia tension

In pictures: Georgia tension

Residents and Russian army in Gori

Residents in the Georgian town of Gori have been trying to go about their normal lives ahead of a planned Russian handover back to Georgian forces.

Queue for bread in Gori

Food shortages have left some residents fighting for loaves of bread at a bakery in the town.

Priests calm man in Gori

As tension continued, one resident was restrained by priests as he started verbally abusing Russian officers.

Man near burned out apartments

Many of the town’s residents have fled; some of those left behind have been made homeless.

A weary Georgian soldier rests by the road between Gori and the capital Tbilisi.

Soldiers as well as residents have been left exhausted by the sudden and brutal conflict.

Casualty lists in Gori

Lists of killed and wounded are being anxiously studied by Georgian citizens worried about loved ones.

Weapons confiscated in Gori

As the fragile ceasefire holds, Russian soldiers display weapons they say they have confiscated from Georgian residents.

Russian general

Plans for joint Russian-Georgian patrols in Gori appear not to have got off the ground, but senior Russians did brief Georgian police officers in Orjosani, 15km (9 miles) from the city of Gori.

Russian troops on outskirts of Gori

Russian soldiers on the streets of Gori provide a poignant reminder that the situation is far from back to normal.

August 13, 2008

German ice cream murders probed

German ice cream murders probed

German police examine the scene of the shooting in Russelsheim

Police could not establish a motive for the attack immediately

A huge manhunt is under way after three people were shot dead at an Italian ice cream parlour in a town near the German city of Frankfurt, police say.

The assailant or assailants fled the scene after the attack in the central pedestrian area of Ruesselsheim, 28km (17 miles) south-west of Frankfurt.

German media said the two men killed were Turkish. The woman appears to have been caught in crossfire.

Police said the motive for the attack was unclear.

Officers are using dogs and a helicopter in an effort to find the killer or killers, and have sealed off the center of Russelsheim.

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The shooting occurred around 2000 (1800 GMT) at the Eis de Rocco cafe, police told the Associated Press.

First reports had suggested that some of the victims might have been stabbed and that four people had been killed in the incident. A third man – also Turkish – was seriously injured in the attack.

“According to our investigations, more than one person committed the crime. They were all thought to be males, who used guns and were armed at the time of the crime. According to eyewitnesses, a knife was also possibly used,” said police spokesperson Marc Wuthe.

Almost exactly one year ago, six people were shot dead in the town of Duisburg, north-west of Frankfurt, in a shooting blamed on an Italian mafia clan.

Seven people were arrested in connection with the Duisburg deaths.

Mr Wuthe said it was unclear whether Tuesday’s shooting had any link to organized crime.

“We have no idea as to the motive behind the crime. We will investigate all avenues,” he said.

August 8, 2008

Bin Laden driver given 66 months

Bin Laden driver given 66 months

Sketch of Salim Hamdan by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin, reviewed by the US Military

This was the first US war crimes trial since World War II

Osama Bin Laden’s former driver has been sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison at the first US military trial in Guantanamo Bay.

Salim Hamdan was convicted on Wednesday of supporting terrorism, but acquitted of conspiracy to murder.

Prosecutors had demanded a sentence of not less than 30 years.

On time served Hamdan could be released in five months but the Pentagon has said he will still be retained as an “enemy combatant”.

The US has always argued it can detain such people indefinitely, as long as its so-called war on terror continues.

The Pentagon said Hamdan would serve his sentence and then be eligible for review.

Regret

The BBC’s Kim Ghattas at the trial says the sentence is a dramatic snub to the Bush administration and came after just one-and-a-half hours of deliberation.

The jury of six US military officers, not the judge, imposed the sentence under the tribunal rules.

“It is my duty as president [of the jury] to inform you that this military commission sentences you to be confined for 66 months,” a juror told Hamdan.

HAMDAN CHARGES
Conspiracy: Not guilty of two counts of conspiring with al-Qaeda to attack civilians, destroy property and commit murder
Providing support for terrorism: Guilty on five counts, including being the driver and bodyguard for Osama Bin Laden, a man he knew to be the leader of a terrorist group. Not guilty on three other counts

Our correspondent says Hamdan looked nervous as he walked in for sentencing but after hearing it, he told jurors: “I would like to apologise one more time to all the members and I would like to thank you for what you have done for me.”

The judge, Navy Capt Keith Allred, told Hamdan: “I hope the day comes when you return to your wife and your daughters and your country.”

Hamdan, who is aged about 40, smiled as he left court and said thank you to those in the room.

After the sentencing, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said: “He will serve out the rest of his sentence. At that time he will still be considered an enemy combatant.

“But he will be eligible for review by an Administrative Review Board.”

The boards decide annually on the threat posed by detainees and the possibility of their transfer or release.

The White House had earlier said the trial was “fair”.

The defence is still likely to go ahead with the appeal it announced on Wednesday.

Rights groups have condemned the tribunal system. Amnesty International said it was “fundamentally flawed” and should be abandoned.

‘Worked for wages’

In his earlier plea for leniency to the jury, Hamdan said in a prepared statement: “It’s true there are work opportunities in Yemen, but not at the level I needed after I got married and not to the level of ambitions that I had in my future.”

He said he regretted the loss of “innocent lives”.

Hamdan had admitted working for Bin Laden in Afghanistan from 1997 to 2001 for $200 (£99) a month, but said he worked for wages, not to wage war on the US.

About 270 suspects remain in detention in Guantanamo Bay.

Among the dozens of other inmates due to be tried there in the coming months are men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Australian police bust drugs ring

Australian police bust drugs ring

A customs agent unpacks tins disguised as canned tomatoes holding thousands of ecstasy tablets in Melbourne, Australia

The ecstasy was hidden in some 3,000 tins disguised as canned tomatoes

Australian police say they have busted an international drugs ring and seized what they describe as the largest single haul of the drug ecstasy.

Sixteen people were arrested across Australia, with further raids expected in Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy.

It follows a year-long investigation after 15 million ecstasy pills were found hidden in a shipping container that arrived in Melbourne from Italy.

The tablets had an estimated street value of about A$450m (US$400m; £200m).

The ecstasy – a banned amphetamine with mild hallucinogenic properties – was found by Australian customs officers hidden in tins of tomatoes in a shipping container in June 2007.

The pills were replaced with a harmless substitute and the delivery was tracked, police say.

‘No soft target’

The breakthrough came when another shipment of 150kg of cocaine arrived in Australia last month, which led to the raids across several countries.

In Canberra, Attorney-General Robert McClelland said Australia had shown it was not a soft target for drug smugglers – that view, he insisted, has been “well and truly” smashed.

The syndicate was believed to be responsible for 60% of illegal drug imports in to southern Australia.

Local newspaper reports have suggested that among those targeted by the police were Australians allegedly linked to the Calabrian mafia in the New South Wales fruit-growing town of Griffith, as well as others associated with an outlawed motorcycle gang.

August 6, 2008

Troops stage coup in Mauritania

Troops stage coup in Mauritania

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The president and prime minister of Mauritania, in north-west Africa, have been taken into custody by soldiers in a military coup.

President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi and Prime Minister Yahia Ould Ahmed El-Ouakef are being held by men loyal to a general sacked by the president.

Mauritania staged elections in June 2007, two years after a military coup.

The country has been gripped by political crisis for a fortnight, after a vote of no confidence in the cabinet.

On Tuesday, 48 MPs walked out of the ruling party.

Unusual troop movements

Earlier on Wednesday, President Abdallahi replaced several senior army officers, including the head of the presidential guard, Gen Ould Abdelaziz.

Shortly afterwards, Gen Abdelaziz led soldiers in a coup against the president.

Officials loyal to the general said that all the officers sacked by the president have been re-instated.

A statement issued by them also said Mr Abdallahi was no longer president of Mauritania.

The first indications of a military coup came as state television was taken off the air amid reports of unusual troop movements in the capital, Nouakchott.

The president’s daughter, Amal Mint Cheikh Abdallahi, told Reuters news agency soldiers seized her father at his house at 0920 local time (0920 GMT).

The streets of the capital are said to be calm with no violence reported.

Political instability

Mauritania is one of the world’s poorest nations as well as its newest oil producer.

The desert nation, a former French colony of more than three million people, has been looking to oil revenues to boost its economy.

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

The elections were deemed to have been free and fair and appeared to herald a new era of democracy.

Earlier this year, however, the president dismissed the government amid protests over soaring food prices.

The cabinet that replaced it has been dogged by instability, lacking the support of a moderate Islamist party and a major opposition group that were in the former government.

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