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SOUTH AFRICA

Industry says Africa is fastest-growing mobile market

JOHANNESBURG | Africa is the world's fastest-growing mobile phone market, an industry group report said Wednesday, citing the continent's innovative uses for cellphones.

Gertrude Kitongo uses hers as a radio, library, cinema, instant messenger and bank teller. She even makes calls on it.

"I use my phone for everything," said the 24-year-old Kenyan-Ugandan who exemplifies Africa's cosmopolitan, on-the-move cellphone user.

Mobile penetration in Africa has reached 649 million connections, second only to Asia, said a report released Wednesday by the industry organization GSMA, or Groupe Speciale Mobile Association.

For each of the past five years, the number of subscribers across Africa has grown by almost 20 percent and is expected to reach 738 million by the end of next year.

Researchers have used cellphone technology to track animals for wildlife studies. Africans use cellphones to make payments across borders.

Peter Lyons, a GSMA policy analyst, said in an interview Wednesday that a lack of access for many Africans to formal banking and financial services has spurred innovation.

In Kenya, a mobile phone banking service is all the rage. It allows people without bank accounts to transfer money instantly between phones.

The system uses the phone's SIM card like a bank card. Users can load money onto their phones at small brokers or from bank accounts and send it to pay bills. The recipients can swap the credit on their phones for cash.

More than 50 countries, including Afghanistan, have such services.

CONGO

U.N. says repression endangers presidential vote

JOHANNESBURG | Repression by Congo's government ahead of this month's critical presidential election could lead to even more violence in the Central African nation struggling after decades of dictatorship and civil war, the United Nations warned Wednesday.

The report from the U.N. Joint Human Rights Office in Geneva said people have been beaten and arrested just for wearing opposition party T-shirts. One man has been jailed since March for selling a newspaper that questioned President Joseph Kabila's nationality.

The U.N. said security is in the hands of "heavily underpaid, and poorly trained and equipped" security forces and police.

"The continued repression of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the pre-electoral period may increase the likelihood of individuals and political parties resorting to violent means, endanger the democratic process and lead to post-electoral violence," the report says.

The Nov. 28 presidential vote will be the country's second democratic election in a half-century.

The first one in 2006 was largely organized and secured by the massive U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo. Even so, it was marred by deadly clashes between soldiers supporting Mr. Kabila and those backing his most powerful rival, Jean-Pierre Bemba.

This time, Mr. Kabila is widely expected to win after he changed the electoral system from two rounds of voting to a first-past-the-post single round.

A large number of opposition candidates say this assures Mr. Kabila of victory unless they unite behind a single a candidate, but they have been unable to overcome their political ambitions to agree on one candidate.

NIGER

Military clashes with group from Libya

NIAMEY | Niger's army intercepted a convoy of cars traveling south from Libya toward Mali, and a cache of arms was seized in the ensuing clash, the Defense Ministry said Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear whether the fighters were part of Moammar Gadhafi's fleeing entourage, but the direction in which the heavily armed convoy was traveling is the same route that was used last month by Gadhafi's intelligence chief, who is thought to be hiding in the remote dunes of Mali.

The statement by Defense Minister Mahamadou Karidio published in local newspapers on Wednesday said that one Nigerien soldier was killed and four wounded during the clash on Sunday.

The army seized two 14.5 mm and four 12.7 mm machine guns, two ML-49 and three M-80 machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and ammunition, the statement said.

The army also found a Thuraya satellite phone and seized six Toyota pickup trucks, as well as several prisoners.

Security analysts have warned that arms traffickers could try to pilfer the armories left behind by Gadhafi's retreating army and transport them across the ungoverned desert separating Libya from Niger and Mali.

The corridor has been used by arms smugglers and drug traffickers for decades, and is also where an al Qaeda-linked cell operates.

Military analysts are especially worried about Gadhafi's stockpile of surface-to-air missiles, many of which have an infrared homing device that would allow a fighter to simply aim it in the general direction of a passing plane to take it down.

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