- - Wednesday, December 29, 2010

SOMALIA

Al-Shabaab’s threat seen as empty

MOGADISHU | Somalia’s Islamist al Shabaab rebels are seen as lacking the numbers and unity of purpose to carry out a threat by one of their leaders to attack the United States on its own territory.

Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, No. 3 in the group, said on Monday the al Qaeda-linked Islamists would carry out attacks in the U.S. if President Obama and American citizens did not convert to Islam.

While al Shabaab managed to carry out a major bomb attack in Uganda earlier this year, Somalia analysts based in the country and outside this week dismissed the threat against Washington as propaganda.

“I do not believe al Shabaab can implement its threat to the U.S. It is more propaganda,” Rage Farah, a history lecturer at a Mogadishu University, told Reuters news agency.

“Al-Shabaab itself admits that it failed to overcome [African Union] forces. They may threaten Uganda, countries that are within their reach,” he said.

Together with soldiers loyal to the Somali government, the African Union peacekeeping force has been making gains over al-Shabaab fighters in Mogadishu in recent weeks, suggesting the insurgents are falling back in their campaign to overthrow the government.

MOZAMBIQUE

Somali pirates attempt hijacking

NAIROBI, Kenya | The spokesman for the European Union’s anti-piracy force said Wednesday that Somali pirates have unsuccessfully targeted two ships, going farther south than ever before to attack vessels.

EU spokesman Paddy O’Kennedy said the pirates attempted to capture the NS Africa and Majestic in separate attacks in the Mozambique Channel over the Christmas weekend.

Mr. O’Kennedy said the attacks took place about 950 nautical miles south of Tanzania’s main port, Dar es Salaam.

“These are the farthest south attacks we’ve got on record,” Mr. O’Kennedy said. No other details were available.

Before the Christmas weekend attacks, the farthest south Somali pirates had reached was about 80 nautical miles east of the Tanzania-Mozambique border.

SUDAN

Southern artists sing for independence

JUBA | “Let us go, we can make it,” Mary Boyoi sings softly in a flutelike voice as she sways to the rhythm, sharing a dream that south Sudan will choose independence in next month’s referendum.

Ms. Boyoi, a rising pop artist, is one of several singers who literally are using their voices to get out the independence vote in the oil-rich but poverty-ridden region in a poll that looks set to divide Africa’s largest country.

As rapper and producer Lam Tungwar puts it, “Artists are an advantage because a lot of people are listening to them more than to the politicians.”

More than 3 million people are registered to vote in the Jan. 9 referendum, a key element in the 2005 peace accord that ended two decades of civil war between the largely Christian south and Muslim north.

That war left more than 2 million people dead and millions more displaced.

TUNISIA

Cabinet minister fired after unrest

TUNIS | Tunisia’s president fired the country’s communications minister Wednesday after protests over unemployment that spread to several towns and led to at least two deaths.

President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali replaced Oussama Romdhani in a government reshuffle but retained the interior minister despite opposition calls to oust him, according to a government statement.

The president, who runs this tiny Muslim country in North Africa with an iron fist, said the night before that the recent protest violence was manipulated by foreign media and hurt the country’s image.

Tunisia is a popular destination for European tourists and one that rarely sees unrest or public dissent. Mr. Ben Ali’s government was clearly caught off-guard by days of spreading discontent.

The protests began in the central town of Sidi Bouzid after a young man tried to set himself on fire earlier this month in despair after police seized fruits and vegetables he had been selling illegally.

The incident touched off demonstrations in neighboring towns and later in other regions over unemployment.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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