Juba, July 20 (AP/UNB) — With the deadly Ebola outbreak in Congo now an international emergency , neighboring South Sudan and its war-weakened health system is a major concern, especially after one case was confirmed near its border. Health experts say there is an urgent need to increase prevention efforts.
The World Health Organization on Wednesday made the emergency declaration for the year-old outbreak, a rare move that usually leads to more global attention and aid. More than 1,600 people have died in what has become the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history.
Health experts worry about what would happen if Ebola reaches South Sudan as the shattered nation tries to recover from a five-year civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people and displaced millions. Many health facilities were badly damaged or destroyed, and unrest continues in parts of the country despite a fragile peace deal signed in September.
Last month a 41-year-old woman was discovered with Ebola in northeastern Congo, just 70 kilometers (43 miles) from South Sudan. She had traveled 500 kilometers from Beni, the epicenter of the outbreak, despite having been exposed to the virus and warned not to travel.
South Sudan has sent a health team to strengthen surveillance at one of its busiest border posts, Kaya in Central Equatoria state, near where the woman's case was confirmed. Hers was the closest confirmed case to South Sudan since this outbreak was declared.
"The risk of cases of Ebola coming across the border into South Sudan is very high," said Sudhir Bunga, South Sudan country director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "A person who comes into contact with a confirmed case of Ebola in (Congo) could travel to South Sudan, or any neighboring country, undetected during the 21-day incubation period and spread the disease once contagious."
That recently happened in neighboring Uganda, a more stable country with a more developed health system and experience with past Ebola outbreaks, as millions of people flow across borders in the densely populated region. Three people died in Uganda before other family members were taken back to Congo for treatment and Ugandan officials quickly declared the country was again free of the disease.
Ebola's spread into South Sudan would pose more of a challenge.
Even though Ebola preparedness, including vaccinations for some health workers, began several months ago the current phase of the country's $12 million response plan is just 36% funded, according to a report this month by the country's health ministry.
Fighting in places such as Central Equatoria has hampered efforts to prepare for Ebola. The United Nations' migration agency manages 15 screening sites along the border but three others have yet to be established in part because of access challenges.
Many South Sudan communities lack the basic resources to respond to one of the world's most notorious diseases. The phone network in Central Equatoria is limited, meaning most people cannot call the emergency help line. Many hospitals don't have staff trained to deal with the virus or the isolation wards needed to control its spread.
The country is about 60% ready to deal with a potential Ebola outbreak, Richard Lako with South Sudan's national Ebola task force has told The Associated Press.
But he expressed concern about the border: "There are forest areas between communities in South Sudan and the Congo and these people can't be screened from the other side. It's a big worry if those people sneak in and we have a case. It'll take us time to get in and control the issue."
South Sudan's prevention efforts include educating communities to dispel myths about Ebola that have posed a major challenge for disease responders in Congo. Health workers in South Sudan's border towns are going door-to-door trying to inform people, with support from WHO and people who responded to West Africa's devastating outbreak in 2014-2016 that killed more than 11,000 people.
At one animated training session earlier this year in an army barracks outside Yei, a major city in western South Sudan near the Congo border, two U.N. staffers playfully bumped elbows, showing how to greet others without shaking hands. Ebola is spread via close contact with bodily fluids of those infected.
"Don't touch each other, don't play with saliva, yours or someone else's," a WHO staffer from Sierra Leone said.
This month diplomats and other officials made a special visit to Yei, one of the hardest-hit cities during South Sudan's civil war, to observe Ebola preparations.
"It is really the most important place in South Sudan right now," U.S. Ambassador Thomas Hushek said, according to the U.N. mission in South Sudan. "This is where we are most worried about what might happen."
Cairo, Jul 18 (AP/UNB) — Thousands of Sudanese took to the streets Thursday to condemn the deadly crackdown by security forces last month, as tensions remain high despite recent progress toward a power-sharing deal with the ruling military council.
The Sudanese Professionals' Association, which has spearheaded months of protests, tweeted that security forces had fired tear gas to disperse some rallies in the capital, Khartoum. There were no reports of serious injuries.
Protesters marched toward the Green Yard, an open area in the capital, waving Sudanese flags and beating drums. They chanted "Revolution!" and "The martyr's blood shall be avenged!"
The military overthrew long-ruling autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April, but the protesters remained in the streets, calling for a swift transition to civilian rule. On June 3, security forces dispersed their main sit-in, killing at least 128 people, according to protest organizers. Authorities put the death toll at 61, including three security forces.
The pro-democracy movement and the military signed a document Wednesday outlining a power-sharing deal but have yet to agree on the exact division of powers. They agreed on a Sudanese investigation into last month's violence, but have yet to outline its scope or agree on whether military leaders would be immune from prosecution.
Those issues are expected to be taken up in talks scheduled for Friday.
"If signatories agree tomorrow on giving the military council full immunity, we will go back to the street," said Mohamed al-Neel, a 25-year-old protester. "The street won't become quiet until a civilian government is formed and martyrs are avenged."
Pakistan, July 18 (AP/UNB) — Authorities in Pakistan have arrested a former prime minister over alleged irregularities related to the import of natural gas from Qatar.
Shahid Khaqan Abbasi served as prime minister for nearly a year after Nawaz Sharif was removed from office in July 2017 for failing to disclose foreign assets. Sharif is currently serving a seven-year jail term for corruption, and authorities have pursued a number of his allies on corruption allegations.
Lawmaker Ahsan Iqbal says officials from the National Accountability Bureau stopped their vehicle as they were entering Lahore on Thursday and arrested Abbasi.
Authorities are investigating Abbasi's role in awarding a contract to a liquefied natural gas company in which the former prime minister was a shareholder. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Cairo, Jul 17 (AP/UNB) — Sudan's pro-democracy movement and the ruling military council signed a document early Wednesday that outlines a power-sharing deal, but the two sides are still at work on a more contentious constitutional agreement that would specify the division of powers.
The signing ceremony held in the capital, Khartoum, after marathon overnight talks, marks an important step in the transition to civilian rule following the military overthrow of long-ruling autocrat Omar al-Bashir amid mass protests in April.
But the military appears to have the upper hand, following weeks of negotiations and a deadly crackdown last month in which security forces violently dispersed the protesters' main sit-in.
The document signed Wednesday would establish a joint civilian-military sovereign council that would rule Sudan for a little over three years while elections are organized. A military leader will head the 11-member council for the first 21 months, followed by a civilian leader for the next 18.
It marks a significant concession by the protesters, who had demanded an immediate transition to civilian rule. The pro-democracy movement would appoint a Cabinet, and the two sides would agree on a legislative body within three months of the start of the transition.
But the two sides have yet to agree on a division of powers between the sovereign council, the Cabinet and the legislative body, which would be enshrined in the constitutional document. That document would also set the terms of military leaders' potential immunity from prosecution over last month's violence.
"This is the big hurdle. Sudan's future after al-Bashir will be defined by this constitutional declaration," said Rasha Awad, editor of the online Sudanese newspaper Altaghyeer.
Protest organizers say security forces killed at least 128 people during last month's crackdown. Authorities put the death toll at 61, including three members of the security forces. The two sides have agreed on a Sudanese investigation into the violence, but have yet to outline its scope.
The agreement signed Wednesday at a ceremony broadcast by state TV stems from a meeting last month brokered by the U.S. and Britain, which support the protesters, and Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which back the military. The diplomatic push ended weeks of stalemate that had raised fears of further violence or even civil war.
"We are ushering in a new era," said Ibrahim al-Amin, a negotiator for the Forces of the Declaration of Freedom and change, a broad-based coalition including independent professional unions, traditional political parties and other groups.
"The upcoming government will be a government of all Sudanese, for all citizens ... we have suffered enough from the totalitarian dictatorial regime."
The military was represented by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, who has consolidated power since al-Bashir's overthrow and whose paramilitary Rapid Support Forces are accused of leading last month's crackdown. He hailed the agreement as a "historic moment in Sudan."
Envoys from Ethiopia and the African Union, who had spearheaded mediation efforts, also praised the agreement at Wednesday's ceremony.
Al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan for 30 years, has been jailed in Khartoum since his ouster. In May, al-Bashir was charged with involvement in killing protesters and incitement to kill protesters during the popular uprising that started in December, initially over price increases.
He is also wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and genocide linked to the Darfur conflict in the 2000s, but Sudan's military has said it will not extradite him to the Hague. He was the only sitting head of state subject to an international arrest warrant.
Johannesburg, July 15 (AP/UNB) — Former South African president Jacob Zuma has denied corruption allegations against him, saying the charges are part of an international intelligence conspiracy that started more than 25 years ago to assassinate his character.
Zuma is appearing before a state commission that is probing wide-ranging allegations of corruption in government and state-owned companies.
Zuma dismissed the accusations against him saying that they stemmed from efforts by South Africa's previous apartheid regime and other foreign intelligence agencies to have him removed from powerful positions in the African National Congress, now the ruling party.
This, he told the commission, was because these intelligence agencies had infiltrated the ANC and feared that Zuma would either expose their spies.
Zuma's first day on the stand saw him staging a fightback against what he claims that he is corrupt.
He alleged that one of the witnesses who made allegations against him at the commission, former mining minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi, had been recruited by the intelligence agencies as a spy during the apartheid days.
He also questioned the fairness of the state commission, saying it was also part of the alleged conspiracy against him.
Among some of the allegations Zuma faces are that members of the wealthy Indian family, the Guptas, influenced his cabinet appointments when he was president and subsequently swayed the awarding of lucrative state contracts.
In this phenomenon, known here as 'state capture', the Gupta family businesses allegedly took control of a large number of government departments and state-owned enterprises including the struggling power utility, Eskom.
Zuma told the commission that his relationship with the Guptas was nothing unusual or unlawful as they also had relationships with his two predecessors, former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.
"They were friends with Mbeki and with Mandela as well, and others. In fact, they were stronger with Mbeki," said Zuma.
Earlier Monday Zuma was asked about allegations made by a former cabinet spokesman, Themba Maseko, that he had personally called him and tried to influence the award of significant government advertising contracts to the Guptas' now-defunct media businesses.
Zuma denied this, saying he could not remember any such intervention.
Zuma told the commission that he had suggested to the Guptas that they should start a newspaper and a broadcasting channel, which they did establish.
About 300 people gathered outside the commission venue to show their support for Zuma.
Others who came to show their support for the controversial former president included his son, Duduzane, who was last week found not guilty of culpable homicide related to a 2014 car crashed that killed a taxi passenger.
Two former cabinet ministers and two former deputy ministers also attended the commission to show their support for Zuma.
Zuma continues his testimony this week.