Benghazi, Apr 9 (AP/UNB) — Clashes between rival Libyan forces for control of Tripoli escalated on Monday as the death toll from days of fighting rose to at least 51, including both combatants and civilians, and the city's only functioning airport said it was hit by an airstrike.
The self-styled Libyan National Army, led by Khalifa Hifter who last week launched the push on Tripoli, acknowledged striking the Mitiga airport, barely 8 kilometers (5 miles) east of the city center.
Hifter's forces have clashed with rival militias which support the U.N.-backed government that controls Tripoli and the western part of the country. The escalation has threatened to plunge the fractured North African nation deeper into chaos and ignite civil war on the scale of the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
The U.N. said the latest fighting has displaced some 3,400 people and blocked emergency services from reaching casualties and civilians.
The World Health Organization said two doctors were killed trying to "evacuate wounded patients from conflict areas."
Ibrahim Fadel, an official at Mitiga, said no casualties were reported in the airport attack. Flights were suspended for several hours but the airport reopened later Monday and said it would resume operations going forward from 7 a.m. till 7 p.m.
The official Facebook page of Mitiga, run by the U.N.-backed government, said a fighter jet attacked the facility but gave no other details. A video circulated online shows a fighter jet firing and apparently targeting the airport, formerly a military base.
Maj. Gen. Mohamed al-Manfour of Hifter's Libyan National Army, told the Libyan Address newspaper they bombed targets at Mitiga after receiving information that the U.N.-backed government forces were preparing to target them.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York on Monday that "unfortunately" the United Nations received "no positive news" in response to its urgent appeal for a truce in Tripoli. A cease-fire is imperative to ensure that civilians trapped in fighting around the Libyan capital can escape to safer areas and that the wounded can be evacuated, he said.
The U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Libya, Maria do Valle Ribeiro, said the clashes have also worsened the situation for migrants held in detention centers in Tripoli, she warned.
Meanwhile, fighting was underway Monday at Tripoli's former international airport, some 24 kilometers (15 miles) south of the city. That airport was closed in 2014 after fighting destroyed much of it.
Ahmed Musbah, a resident who lives near the area, said he could hear shooting coming from the direction of the town of Bin Ghashir, to the south. "The sound of fighting seems to be closing in," he said.
Hifter's forces said Saturday they had seized the old airport. However, militias supporting the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli claimed Monday they recaptured the facility.
The Health Ministry of the Tripoli-based government said at least 27 people, including civilians, were killed and at least 27 wounded since the start of Hifter's offensive against the capital. The media office of Hifter's army said 22 of their troops had been killed since Thursday.
It was not immediately clear when the two doctors whose deaths were reported by the WHO were killed in Tripoli.
Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO's director for the eastern Mediterranean, said that targeting of medical staff was "unacceptable" and "worsens the situation for civilians caught up in conflict."
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, called on the warring sides to stop fighting and start talking.
Speaking at the EU's foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg, Mogherini said all sides in the recent surge in fighting should "go back to the negotiating table under the auspices of the U.N."
Also Monday, U.N. envoy Ghassan Salame said he met with Fayez Sarraj, head of the government in Tripoli, to discuss how the U.N. mission "can assist at this critical and difficult juncture."
Salame later Monday condemned the attack on Mitiga, saying it was "a serious violation of international humanitarian law."
He has asked for "an immediate halt to any further air operations" in order to bring the country back from the brink of what he called "the effective start of a civil war."
Salame has said he is still planning for the April 14-16 National Conference aimed at bringing all Libyan factions together to chart a course to elections.
"We need all the parties involved in this conflict to attend," Dujarric said.
Since Gahdafi's ouster, Libya has been governed by rival authorities in the east and in Tripoli, in the west, each backed by various militias and armed groups fighting over resources and territory.
In Cairo, Agila Saleh, head of Libya's east-based parliament, backed Hifter's offensive and the Libya National Army, saying that militias have been "hijacking" the capital.
"The Libyan army moved towards Tripoli with one goal, to free Tripoli from armed militias," he said after meeting with the Arab League's secretary-general, Ahmed Aboul Gheit.
On Sunday, Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the head of U.S. Africa Command said the United States has temporarily withdrawn some of its forces from Libya due to "security conditions on the ground."
A small contingent of American troops has been in Libya in recent years, helping local forces combat the Islamic State group and al-Qaida militants, as well as protecting diplomatic facilities.
Cairo, Apr 9 (AP/UNB) — Sudanese security forces attempted to break up an anti-government sit-in outside the military headquarters in the country's capital Monday, setting off clashes in which a soldier was killed while trying to protect protesters, activists said.
Thousands had rallied in front of the compound in Khartoum since the weekend, in one of the biggest demonstrations since protests erupted in December calling for President Omar al-Bashir to step down.
The protesters set up tents on Saturday, in what appeared to be an effort to replicate the mass sit-ins of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.
On Monday, security forces used tear gas, rubber bullets and live fire to try to disperse the protesters, according to the Sudanese Professionals Association, which is spearheading the demonstrations.
The Sudan Doctors Committee, an affiliate of the SPA, said a soldier was fatally wounded while trying to protect the protesters. It said at least 90 people were wounded in the attempt to disperse the sit-in. Later in the day, the committee said security forces killed a 20-year-old man in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman.
Footage posted online by activists showed soldiers moving peacefully among the protesters, raising the possibility that some troops were trying to halt the violence without force. Another clip showed a truck carrying a group of soldiers, including one who was wounded.
The union leading the protests called on the military to back the "people's choice" to end al-Bashir's rule and said they are seeking "direct communications" with its leadership to "facilitate a peaceful transfer of power to a transitional government."
During the 2011 uprising in neighboring Egypt, the army stepped in to prevent clashes between protesters and police, and ultimately forced President Hosni Mubarak from power.
It was unclear whether such a scenario was underway in Sudan, where media access to the demonstrations has been heavily restricted. There was no immediate comment from the military.
The county's interior minister, Bishara Gomaa, told the parliament on Monday that at least seven people were killed in the protests since Saturday — six in Khartoum and the seventh in the Darfur region. He said 2,496 people were arrested in Khartoum.
Protesters said security forces in pickups, mostly from the feared National Intelligence and Security Service, attacked the sit-in early Monday, firing tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.
Activist Amal el-Zein said soldiers guarding the compound stood by at first, but then moved in to chase the security forces away, firing into the air.
Another activist said security forces later repeated their attempt to break up the sit-in, forcing protesters to seek shelter in a nearby navy facility. He said the military has deployed troops around its headquarters and blocked several roads leading to the complex. The activist spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing retaliation.
The protests were initially sparked by price hikes and shortages, but quickly escalated into calls for the resignation of al-Bashir, who seized power in 1989 in an Islamist-backed military coup.
Al-Bashir has refused to step down and has also declared a state of emergency. Dozens of people have been killed in the crackdown so far.
The protests gained momentum last week after Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in power for 20 years, resigned in response to weeks of similar protests.
Also Monday, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric urged authorities to release all detained protesters. He said the United Nations is following the demonstrations closely and is ready to support any efforts agreed on by the Sudanese to peacefully resolve the crisis.
Johannesburg. Apr 9 (AP/UNB) - A rhinoceros poacher was stomped to death by an elephant and eaten by lions in a South Africa wildlife preserve, and rangers found just his skull and trousers, authorities said.
The man and two others were hunting illegally at Kruger National Park last week when the elephant surprised them, park spokesman Isaac Phaahla said. The hunter's companions dragged his body to a spot near a road and told the man's family what happened. It took two days for rangers to find his remains.
South Africans weighed in on social media, with many celebrating the poacher's death, calling it justice or applauding the animals for "restoring law and order in the jungle." But others blamed the economic desperation that leads people to become poachers, and the international criminal syndicates they work for.
Julian Rademeyer, a project leader for TRAFFIC, which monitors the international trade in wildlife, said effective measures are needed to attack the global rings that deal in rhino horn and elephant ivory.
"The rage and anger of many people at the rampant poaching that is endangering rhinos and elephants is understandable. But the joy and gloating over the death of a poacher is crass and misguided," Rademeyer said. "Killing poachers will not stop poaching. Poachers are just the foot soldiers of international criminal syndicates."
The world's rhinos are in danger of being hunted to extinction. They are prized for their horns, which are ground up and used in traditional Chinese medicine as a supposed cure for a variety of ailments.
South Africa, which has about 80% of the world's remaining rhinos, has seen aggressive poaching of the animals in recent years. Last year 769 rhinos were killed illegally , down from more than 1,000 annually since 2013, according to Save the Rhino.
"Poaching is a serious, ongoing problem in the park," Phaahla said of Kruger, which covers 7,500 square miles in southeastern South Africa, making it about the size of the U.S. state of New Jersey.
After the death of the poacher, whose name and nationality were not released, relatives asked park officials to help recover the body. Rangers searched on the ground and by air but did not find the remains before it got dark, Phaahla said. The two surviving hunters gave officials a more precise description of where they left the dead man. Police arrested them on suspicion of poaching.
"The next day, our field rangers searched in the bush and made the gruesome discovery," Phaahla said. "There was a pride of lion nearby which apparently had devoured his body."
Police said they seized guns and ammunition from the surviving men. They were charged with illegal possession of firearms, trespassing and conspiracy to poach.
"On most days, we have close to 15 poaching groups of three individuals each who are hunting illegally for rhinos," Phaahla said. "Our rangers are well-trained and making progress in controlling the poaching."
Rademeyer, the author of "Killing for Profit," a book about the illegal trade in rhino horn, blamed "the appalling socio-economic conditions in South Africa that drive young men to take risks to hunt rhinos and elephants."
In addition to fighting international criminal syndicates, "what is also needed is to win support in rural communities for conservation. People living around parks must see the value of wildlife," Rademeyer said. "They must see the economic benefits of wildlife. We need a national pride, of all South Africans, in our wildlife."
Kigali, Apr 7 (AP/UNB) — Rwanda on Sunday somberly commemorated the start, 25 years ago, of its genocide in which some 800,000 people were killed, as the country continues to grapple with the lasting consequences of the mass killings.
President Paul Kagame and first lady Jeannette Kagame laid wreaths and lit a flame at the mass burial ground of 250,000 victims at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center in the capital, Kigali.
Those attending the ceremonies included the leaders of Chad, Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Niger, Belgium, Canada, Ethiopia, as well as the African Union and the European Union.
"I am moved beyond words at this memorial to tragedy," said Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission.
There will be a procession through the capital to Kigali's National Stadium where are many as 30,000 are expected to participate in an evening candlelight ceremony.
"Twenty-five years ago, Rwanda fell into a deep ditch due to bad leadership, today, we are a country of hope and a nation elevated," Agnes Mutamba, 25, a teacher who was born during the genocide told The Associated Press in Kigali.
"Today, the government has united all Rwandans as one people with the same culture and history and is speeding up economic transformation," said Oliver Nduhungihere, Rwanda's state foreign affairs minister.
The mass killing of Rwanda's Tutsi minority was ignited on April 6, 1994, when a plane carrying President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down and crashed in Kigali, killing the leader who, like the majority of Rwandans, was an ethnic Hutu.
The Tutsi minority was blamed for downing the plane and the bands of Hutu extremists began slaughtering the Tutsi, with support from the army, police, and militias.
Kagame's government has previously accused Hutu-led government of 1994 of being responsible for shooting down the plane and has blamed the French government for turning a blind eye to the genocide.
On Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron ordered a government study into the country's role in Rwanda before and during its 1994 genocide. Macron ordered a commission of researchers and historians to investigate the "role and involvement of France" in Rwanda from 1990-1994. It is to make conclusions within two years.
Kagame has won praise ending that violence and making advances in economic development and health care, although he is criticized for authoritarian control.
Ethnic reconciliation is a cornerstone of the rule of Kagame, Rwanda's de facto leader since the genocide ended in 1994 and the country's president since 2000. He is credited with bringing Rwanda stability, economic growth, and improved health and education.
However, Kagame's critics charge that he is intolerant of criticism and his government is repressive, jailing opposition leaders. Some opponents say that Rwanda's reconciliation is forced.
A quarter-century after the genocide, bodies of victims are still being found. Last year, authorities in Rwanda found discovered mass graves they say contain 5,400 bodies of genocide victims.
"Twenty-five years on, the victims and survivors should remain the center of everyone's thoughts, but we should also take stock of progress and the need to ensure accountability for all those who directed these horrific acts," Human Rights Watch said.
Algiers, Apr 3 (AP/UNB) — Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down on Tuesday after 20 years in office, and six weeks of massive nationwide protests aimed at pushing him and his much-criticized inner circle from power to create a real democracy in the gas-rich nation.
The announcement followed soon after a sternly-worded call from the powerful army chief for Bouteflika, 82 and ailing, to "immediately" bow out.
Crowds celebrated peacefully in the capital Algiers soon after his announcement. Honking car horns, singing songs and waving Algerian flags, hundreds gathered Tuesday night at the central post office — a plaza that has become a symbol of the protest movement. Police watched from the sidelines.
The Constitutional Council was expected to convene Wednesday to formalize his departure. Under the constitution, the president of the upper house, the Council of Nations, steps in as interim leader for a maximum of 90 days so that elections can be organized.
The current upper house president is Abdelkader Bensalah, a Bouteflika ally — and it's unclear whether protesters will abandon their fight for an overhaul of the entire power structure.
An official in the president's office told The Associated Press that Bouteflika had resigned, and the official APS news agency said in a full-page headline that Bouteflika had notified the Constitutional Council of his decision.
The move came a day after Bouteflika's office said he would leave by April 28, the official end of his fourth mandate — but only after "important" changes were made to ensure institutional continuity. That gave rise to fears that his entourage would do all to preserve the interests of those who profited from his time in office.
There was no word about what would happen to the presidential entourage, including younger brother Said Bouteflika, a top counselor blamed by protesters for widespread corruption in the North African country with a high unemployment rate and drastic gap between the rich and poor.
Earlier Tuesday, military chief of staff Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah convened a meeting of the top military hierarchy. That made clear that the army chief's call for Bouteflika to desist had the backing of the military — among the most important on the African continent.
In a communique, the Defense Ministry referred to Bouteflika's entourage as a "gang" and said it had made "fraud, embezzlement and duplicity its vocation."
Bouteflika has rarely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke.
His resignation caps six weeks of peaceful marches by protesters who wanted not just Bouteflika but the entire system to make an exit.
As the protests escalated, Bouteflika announced two new governments and army chief Gaid Salah urged Bouteflika to submit to Article 102 of the Constitution, which would declare him unfit for office. Gaid Salah also called for the application of two more articles championed by protesters, notably Article 7, which stipulates that "the people are the source of power."
Tensions had been mounting in recent days between the army chief and the president's entourage — along with suspicions of a potential military coup.
The Defense Ministry statement Tuesday appeared to be a final warning, and the catalyst for Bouteflika's resignation.
Bouteflika was an independence fighter during Algeria's war against colonizer France in the 1950s and 1960s, and then went on to defend Third World interests at the height of the Cold War as Algeria's foreign minister.
Bouteflika came to the presidency after Algeria's darkest period, the 1990s Islamic insurgency that left around 200,000 people dead. After taking power in 1999, Bouteflika managed to bring back stability to a country devastated by killings and distrust.
The insurgency then linked up with al-Qaida and metastasized into a Sahara-wide extremist movement.
As president, however, age and illness took its toll, and corruption scandals dogged Bouteflika and associates.
Bouteflika also failed to create an economy that could offer enough jobs for Algeria's growing youth population despite the nation's vast oil and gas wealth.
In a country where secrecy surrounds the leadership, it has never been clear whether Bouteflika was fully in charge or whether the powerful army was pulling the strings.