- - Wednesday, August 25, 2010

SOUTH AFRICA

Train hits van; 9 children dead

JOHANNESBURG | A driver taking children to school went around a closed railroad crossing gate Wednesday, then was hit by an oncoming train that killed at least nine students and injured five others, police and witnesses said.

Parents sobbed at the scene as grieving families stood near the completely smashed van, which had been transporting 14 children at the time of the collision in the Blackheath area of Cape Town.

Cape Town police spokesman Col. Billy Jones said three girls and six boys were killed.

Col. Jones said police are investigating a case of homicide against the van driver, who is at the hospital in critical condition.

The children were headed to two primary schools and two high schools north of Cape Town in Kuils River and Bellville South, Col. Jones said.

A preliminary investigation at the scene indicated that the crossing gate was down when the van crossed the railway track, police said.

NIGERIA

Power-firm workers go on strike

ABUJA | Nigeria’s worker union for the state-run power company has called a general strike, a day before the nation’s president is to announce his plans to privatize the industry.

The National Union of Electricity Employees called the indefinite strike Wednesday over unpaid allowances promised by the federal government. The strike will cripple the ability of the Power Holding Co. of Nigeria to provide electricity to Africa’s most populous nation.

Even when workers are present, Nigeria remains beset by blackouts and problems with its aging federal power grid, forcing the population to rely on private generators to provide electricity.

President Goodluck Jonathan is to outline a proposed $3.5 billion overhaul and privatization of the industry Thursday during a speech in Lagos.

UGANDA

Court scraps sedition laws

KAMPALA | A Ugandan court on Wednesday declared the country’s sedition laws unconstitutional, effectively quashing several pending criminal cases against journalists.

“The sections [in the penal code] on sedition are inconsistent with the constitution,” court registrar Ruhinda Ntengye stated, reading from a decision penned by five constitutional court justices.

“They are therefore null and void,” the decision said, adding that the sedition laws as written are so broadly defined that they infringe on the free-speech rights enshrined in Uganda’s constitution.

Wednesday’s ruling stems from a petition filed in 2005 by Andrew Mwenda, a prominent Ugandan journalist who faced sedition charges after speculating about Uganda’s potential involvement in the death of former South Sudan leader John Garang.

Garang died in July 2005 when his helicopter crashed shortly after it left Uganda.

“Today is not just a good day for journalists. It is a good day for all Ugandans,” Mr. Mwenda told Agence France-Presse.

Human Rights Watch called the ruling “positive” but said Uganda remains a difficult place for journalists.

MAURITANIA

Attacker attempts to blow up barracks

NOUAKCHOTT | A suicide bomber attempted to drive a truck loaded with explosives into an army barracks but was shot and killed when he refused to stop the car before dawn on Wednesday, an army official said.

The high-ranking officer, who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said the truck exploded just outside the barracks, damaging several buildings in the town of Nema, located 680 miles east of Nouakchott.

The attack came two days after terror group al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, released two Spanish aid workers who had been kidnapped while delivering supplies in Mauritania last November. In a recording sent to the Spanish newspaper El Pais, the al Qaeda offshoot said the Spanish hostages were released because a part of their demands had been met, suggesting that the Spanish government had paid a ransom.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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