- - Wednesday, February 29, 2012

ZIMBABWE

Government set to take over mine

HARARE | Zimbabwe’s black-empowerment minister said Wednesday he will proceed with a takeover of the country’s biggest platinum mine if the South African owners don’t comply with orders to hand over more stakes in the company to blacks.

Minister Saviour Kasukuwere said there is “no compromise” over the eventual handover of 51 percent of the company’s stock as required by “indigenization” laws.

Last year, Zimplats became the first foreign-owned company to cede 10 percent of its holdings to a local community trust. Zimbabwe has ordered the company to hand over another 30 percent by mid-March.

South African-based Implats owns 87 percent of existing shares in Zimplats.

Zimbabwe and South Africa are the world’s largest suppliers of platinum, a corrosion-resistant metal with a wide range of industrial uses that is priced higher than gold.

Mr. Kasukuwere told the Associated Press Wednesday that a proposed visit by Implats‘ chief executive to discuss the matter would not change the government’s decision.

He said he has no plans to meet with Implats CEO David Brown.

SOUTH AFRICA

Ranger among 4 poaching arrests

JOHANNESBURG | South African wildlife officials say a ranger is among four Kruger National Park workers arrested on rhinoceros-poaching charges.

In a statement Wednesday, the national parks department said the four were arrested Tuesday by officers investigating the killing of two rhinos whose corpses were found earlier that day.

The animals had been shot and stripped of their horns, which are prized among some who believe they have medicinal powers.

The parks department says the ranger arrested is among scores who have been striking for higher pay since early February.

Across the country, 80 rhinos have been poached since the beginning of 2012, more than half in Kruger, the country’s flagship park.

Last year, a record 448 rhinos were poached in South Africa.

NIGERIA

Pirates rob cargo ship, kidnap 2 from crew

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA | Armed pirates robbed a cargo ship at anchor in a Nigerian port and kidnapped at least two crew members in the latest of several attacks off Africa’s west coast, an international maritime watchdog said Wednesday.

The International Maritime Bureau echoed a warning this week by the U.N. that pirate attacks off West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea are becoming more rampant and violent.

In the latest attack Tuesday, eight Nigerian pirates armed with machine guns fired at a Curacao-flagged vessel anchored at Port Harcourt before boarding the ship, said Noel Choong, who heads the bureau’s piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur.

He said the pirates robbed the crew before fleeing in a small speedboat with the ship’s captain and chief engineer. One crew member was injured, and another was reported missing, Mr. Choong said.

He added that it was unclear whether the missing crew member also had been kidnapped.

The Dutch-owned vessel, laden with refrigerated cargo, has 14 crew members from Russia, Ukraine and the Philippines, he said. He did not say which country or countries the kidnapped crew members are from. Nigerian authorities are investigating, he added.

Over the last year, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea - which follows Africa’s southward curve from Liberia to Gabon - has escalated from low-level armed robberies to hijackings and cargo thefts.

There already have been seven attacks this year off the coast of Nigeria alone, and there are believed to be many other cases that have gone unreported, Mr. Choong said.

GABON

New prime minister reshuffles government

LIBREVILLE | Gabon’s new prime minister on Tuesday unveiled a drastically revamped government lineup, dropping several stalwarts, including late strongman Omar Bongo’s foreign minister and son-in-law.

According to presidency Secretary-General Laure-Olga Gondjout, the new government consists of 29 ministers, including Prime Minister Raymond Ndong Sima, who was named by President Ali Bongo Ondimba on Monday.

The presidency announced the appointment of the 56-year-old outgoing agriculture minister two months after Gabon’s ruling party swept to a landslide victory in December polls marred by fraud accusations and low turnout.

One of the most notable changes in the new lineup is the ouster of Paul Toungui as foreign minister. He had served in the government since 1990 and is the son-in-law of the president’s late father, Omar Bongo, who ruled the oil-rich West African former French colony from 1967 to 2009.

ZIMBABWE

Carpenter arrested over balloon comment

HARARE | A lawyers group said police arrested a carpenter who questioned whether Zimbabwe’s president still has the strength to blow up balloons at his 88th birthday celebrations.

The independent Lawyers for Human Rights said Wednesday the carpenter was arrested after watching Saturday’s celebrations on television in a bar.

The group says the man has been charged under laws making it an offense to insult President Robert Mugabe and is to reappear in court March 12 to face a fine.

Such arrests for remarks seen as undermining Mr. Mugabe’s authority are frequent.

Loyalists of Mr. Mugabe said they overheard the carpenter referring to Mr. Mugabe’s ailing health and doubting he could inflate a balloon.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports