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Briefly: Africa

- - Wednesday, August 17, 2011

SOUTHERN AFRICA

Leaders open talks amid unrest, crises

LUANDA | Southern African leaders opened a summit in Angola on Wednesday, but were largely silent on growing unrest in the region and ongoing leadership battles in Zimbabwe and Madagascar.

The two-day summit of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) comes on the heels of recent crackdowns on anti-government protests in Malawi and Swaziland, which join the other crises on the list of regional leaders' headaches.

The SADC is under pressure to show its commitment to democracy in the region at the meeting in the Angolan capital, Luanda, but Wednesday's opening ceremony made no direct references to the spreading political turmoil.

MALAWI

Authorities tighten security against protests

BLANTYRE | Malawian police tightened security in main cities in case of anti-government protests on Wednesday, even though a day earlier organizers had postponed the vigils after deadly riots last month.

Several shops and banks also did not open for business in Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu - the three main towns affected by last month's security force crackdown on protesters that killed 19 people, police said.

President Bingu wa Mutharika is facing growing anger over chronic fuel and foreign exchange shortages and also is accused of infringing on democratic freedoms in the impoverished southern African country.

"We have intensified our security. There is a police officer at every corner of the streets," southern police spokesman Davie Chingwalu told AFP.

NIGERIA

6 die as gunmen storm northern police station

KANO | Gunmen attacked two separate police stations across northern Nigeria, killing four police officers and two civilians in one attack while bombing a station in another, authorities said.

Residents in Bauchi and Sokoto states said they feared the two attacks late Monday were the work of a feared Muslim sect that is seemingly able to attack security officials at will.

However, police downplayed the worry - even though the assaults showed how Nigeria's federal police force struggles to protect even itself.

In Sokoto, a typically quiet state bordering Niger, the gunmen targeted the police station in the city of Tambuwal after witnesses said they couldn't break into a nearby bank.

The gunmen sprayed the station with gunfire, killing the four officers and two civilians there to file a police report.

The gunmen freed a suspected armed robber and took all of the police station's weapons, authorities said.

SOMALIA

U.N. to continue aid despite fraud, theft

GENEVA | The U.N.'s World Food Program (WFP) has insisted it won't reduce emergency aid shipments to Somalia despite allegations of fraud, saying that though such complaints are frequent it doesn't believe there have been big losses.

WFP said it is bringing 5,000 tons a month of food into the Somali capital of Mogadishu to help the famine-hit nation. Tens of thousands of people each week are fleeing famine in Somalia to neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya.

An investigation on the ground by the Associated Press found that sacks of grain, peanut butter snacks and other food staples meant for starving Somalis are being stolen and sold in Somali markets, raising concerns that the unscrupulous are stealing from international famine relief efforts.

One official in Mogadishu estimated to the AP that up to half of the recent food shipments may have been stolen.

WFP officials disputed that figure Tuesday. Lauren Landis, the new director of WFP's Geneva office, said it seems "implausible" that a large amount of food is being diverted because it would pose a huge logistical challenge.

"Large losses of food is abnormal, because we know how to do this," Ms. Landis told AP, without elaborating. She said theft worries are common with WFP operations in Somalia and around the world.

IVORY COAST

Government to disarm, demobilize 10,000 fighters

ABIDJAN | The government plans to disarm and demobilize some 10,000 fighters in the wake of postelection violence earlier this year, Defense Paul Koffi Koffi said Tuesday.

He said that the process should be completed by the end of the year and will increase security in the West African country.

People across the Ivory Coast took up arms and fought each other, during the six months of post-election violence sparked by strongman Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to cede power after losing a November election. Mr. Gbagbo was arrested in April by forces loyal to President Alassane Ouattara.