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Briefly: Mandela released from hospital after treatment

- - Wednesday, December 26, 2012

South Africa

JOHANNESBURG — Former South African President Nelson Mandela was released Wednesday from a hospital after being treated for a lung infection and having gallstones removed, a government spokesman said. But the 94-year-old anti-apartheid icon will continue to receive medical care at home.

Mr. Mandela had been in the hospital since Dec. 8. In recent days, officials have said he was improving and in good spirits, but doctors have taken extraordinary care with his health because of his age.

Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said Mr. Mandela will receive more medical care at his Johannesburg home until he fully recovers.

Mr. Mandela is revered around the world as a symbol of sacrifice and reconciliation, his legacy forged in the fight against apartheid, the system of white minority rule that imprisoned him for 27 years.

NIGERIA

4 foreign sailors kidnapped off coast

LAGOS — Gunmen this week attacked a supply tugboat off the coast of Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta, kidnapping foreign sailors, including Italians, in the latest attack in the West African region that increasingly is dangerous for shippers and oil companies, officials said this week.

The attack happened 40 nautical miles off the coast of Bayelsa state in the Niger Delta on Sunday night, as the gunmen stormed the moving vessel, the International Maritime Bureau said Monday in a warning to other shippers.

The gunmen seized four workers and later fled, the bureau said. Those remaining onboard safely guided the ship to a nearby harbor, the bureau said.

The bureau did not identify the shipper, nor the sailors.

A separate notice to private security contractors working in Nigeria and seen by The Associated Press, however, identified the four hostages as foreigners.

In Rome, the Foreign Ministry confirmed the kidnapping, saying the four hostages were members of the crew.

A Foreign Ministry official said three of the four were Italian. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information publicly, said he didn't know the nationality of the fourth hostage.

Pirate attacks are on the rise in West Africa's Gulf of Guinea, which follows the continent's southward curve from Liberia to Gabon.

SUDAN

Four jailed for life for killing Chinese worker

KHARTOUM — Four Sudanese have been sentenced to life in prison for killing a Chinese worker in oil-producing South Kordofan, state-linked media reported this week.

The Sudanese Media Center, which is close to the security apparatus, did not say when the incident occurred and did not identify the victim.

But it reported that an antiterrorism court in Khartoum North convicted the four of attacking a camp and killing the worker in Baleela, an oil field in the western part of South Kordofan state.

Insurgents are active in the state but primarily in the eastern half. The Sudanese Media Center said the thieves exchanged fire with camp security men, leading to the death of the Chinese man.

One other accused was freed for lack of evidence, media center said.

China is a major investor in Sudan's oil industry and is also a key military supplier to the cash-strapped African nation.

ZIMBABWE

Zimbabweans brace for bleak holidays

HARARE — Zimbabweans are facing bleak holidays this year amid rising poverty, food and cash shortages and political uncertainty, with some describing it as the worst since the formation of the coalition government in the southern African nation.

President Robert Mugabe, in a 4-year-old coalition with former opposition leader Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, announced an extra public holiday Monday that created chaos for holiday shoppers and travelers.

Banks have closed, ATMs have run out of cash, and transport services have been paralyzed.

This caps a year of political uncertainty, a deadlock in constitutional reforms and calls for elections in coming months, seen as critical for Mr. Mugabe, 88, who has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980.

In 2008, Mr. Mugabe's party was accused of vote-rigging and blamed for the worst election violence since independence.

As the election tempo quickens, political intimidation has resurfaced, according to independent human rights groups.

Zimbabwe's unemployment is pegged at around 80 percent, with many people in Harare, the capital, eking out a living by selling vegetables and fruits on street corners.

Christmas in Zimbabwe is also the hunger season -- the time between harvests from September to March -- for most of the nation's impoverished rural population who depend on food handouts.

One million Zimbabweans in drought-prone areas have received food handouts for Christmas this year from the United Nations.

Food shortages are "worse" this year compared to the past three years because of drought and constrained access to cash to buy seed and fertilizer for rural farmers, said World Food Program Zimbabwe country director Felix Bamezon.

Mr. Bamezon said the Zimbabwe government for the first time has assisted by providing grain to give to starving communities in rural areas.

SUDAN

Darfur battle leaves rebels in rare control over town

KHARTOUM — Rebels in Sudan's troubled Darfur region Monday reported the rare seizure of a town from government control after fighting that resulted in arrests and casualties.

The Sudan Liberation Army's Abdelwahid Nur faction took control of Golo, a major town in the Jebel Marra area, at about midday Monday after fighting when government militia tried to attack a rebel position, the group's spokesman Ibrahim Al-Hillu said.

Mr. Hillu said the rebels seized heavy machine guns, mortars, vehicles and other military equipment in the town and had taken prisoners. There were also casualties but he had no details.

Sudan's army spokesman could not be reached for comment.

The fertile and mountainous Jebel Marra area is home to the non-Arab Fur people who gave their name to Darfur (Land of the Fur), and who are represented by Mr. Nur's faction.

The group has several hundred combatants and a "sphere of influence" limited to the Jebel Marra region, which has been regularly targeted by government military operations and air attacks, according to the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based independent research project.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports