- - Wednesday, February 15, 2012

SOMALIA

President asks for lifting of arms embargo

MOGADISHU — Somalia’s president asked the U.N. Wednesday to lift the arms embargo against his country, saying the recent merger between al Qaeda and al-Shabab has made the dropping of the arms ban necessary.

Thousands of Somalis marched through the capital during an anti-militant protest attended by President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. Many of the demonstrators were shouting and angry as they protested the al Qaeda merger.

One protester’s poster read: “Let us be united to fight our enemy al Qaeda.”

The Somali militant group al-Shabab has long had close links with al Qaeda, but the two announced an official merger last week.

“To say the arms embargo cannot be lifted now is unfair,” Mr. Ahmed said. “Our army is working under difficult conditions because of economic problems and a lack of arms.”

The U.N. imposed an arms embargo on Somalia in 1992, one year after warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. The warlords then turned on each other, sinking the poverty-stricken nation of 7 million people into chaos.

Ahmed’s call for the lifting of the arms embargo comes one week before a high-level meeting on Somalia to be attended by world leaders in London.

The Somali army currently is armed by international donors.

SENEGAL

Police fire tear gas at opposition protest

DAKAR — Protesters defied a government ban Wednesday and made their way to a square just blocks from the presidential palace, the closest the opposition movement has come to the seat of power in two weeks of demonstrations ahead of next week’s election.

Senegalese police wearing helmets and fiberglass shields fired volleys of tear gas. The demonstrators dispersed, running into shops and across the dry lawn of the Place de l’Independance.

The country’s opposition had vowed to march on the palace in protest over 85-year-old President Abdoulaye Wade’s bid for a third term in the Feb. 26 ballot.

Besides his age, many are angered by what they see as a violation of the constitution because the electoral code was revised after Mr. Wade came to office to impose a two-term maximum.

Thirteen opposition candidates are running against Mr. Wade.

In his 12 years in office, Mr. Wade’s government undertook the biggest building boom in the country’s history, erecting bridges, roads, freeways and a $27 million monument that was supposed to be taller than the Statue of Liberty.

His administration’s many achievements, however, have been overshadowed by mounting corruption.

NIGERIA

Ex-soldier wanted in church bombing

ABUJA — Nigeria’s secret police said they are searching for an ex-soldier in connection with a Christmas Day bombing of a Catholic church that killed at least 44 people.

The State Security Service declared Habibu Bama wanted in connection with the Dec. 25 bombing of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, a city just outside the capital Abuja.

Authorities said Wednesday they suspect Mr. Bama planted the bomb, which detonated as worshippers left an early-morning Mass.

The radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram, which is waging an increasingly bloody sectarian fight with Nigeria’s weak central government, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Authorities just rearrested a man named Kabiru Sokoto in connection with the church attack after he previously escaped police custody.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Two airlines suspended after plane crash

KINSHASA — Congo’s government has suspended the licenses of two aviation companies operating in the Central African nation after one of their planes crashed over the weekend, killing a top adviser to President Joseph Kabila and four others.

Transport Minister Joseph Martin Kitumba said in a statement released late Tuesday that the licenses of Air Katanga Express and Katanga Wings had been suspended as Congolese and American experts investigate the crash of the Gulfstream 3 jet.

The Katanga Express plane went down Sunday as it attempted to land at Bukavu airport in eastern Congo.

Among the five bodies pulled out of the wreck was that of Augustin Katumba Mwanke, described in U.S. diplomatic cables as “the power behind the throne” in Mr. Kabila’s administration, according to WikiLeaks.

The plane’s two pilots also were killed. There were 10 passengers on board.

The minister announced that a special commission will investigate the causes of the crash.

Congo has one of the worst safety records in the world. Just two weeks ago, an Antonov plane crashed after it left the same airport in eastern Congo. Officials found the debris from the destroyed plane around six miles from the town of Namoya, where it was supposed to land an hour later.

KENYA

Urgent tweet in village: Help, sheep missing

LANET UMOJA — When the chief in a western Kenyan village received an urgent call that thugs were invading a schoolteacher’s home, he sent a message on Twitter.

Within minutes, residents in this village of stone houses gathered outside the home, and the thugs fled.

The tweet from Chief Francis Kariuki was only his latest attempt to improve village life by using the microblogging site Twitter.

Mr. Kariuki regularly sends out tweets about missing children and farm animals, showing that the power of social media has reached even into a dusty African village.

He says he recently tweeted about a lost brown-and-white sheep, and the animal was soon recovered.

A recent report said that Twitter is enjoying big growth across Africa. It said South Africans use Twitter the most, but Kenya is second.

From wire dispatches and staff reports