- - Wednesday, March 7, 2012

REPUBLIC OF CONGO

No rescue effort 3 days after blast

BRAZZAVILLE | More than three days have passed since a catastrophic explosion laid waste to a section of the Republic of Congo’s capital. Officials confirmed that, as of Wednesday, no coordinated rescue effort had been launched, making it increasingly unlikely that any more people will be pulled alive from the flattened houses.

The roads leading to the site of the blast have been cordoned off by officers in bulletproof vests. The Red Cross has not received authorization to go inside, said spokesman Delphin Kibakidi.

The columns of soldiers and firefighters who are allowed in are concentrating on extinguishing the flames still burning after the country’s military depot caught fire Sunday, setting off a series of detonations so strong that they caused ceilings to cave in more than a mile away.

At least 246 people were killed after the fire in the armory catapulted shells, mortars, rockets and other munitions into a densely populated neighborhood in the capital of Brazzaville, according to national radio.

SUDAN

Former U.N. official warns of Nuba Mountains crisis

NAIROBI, Kenya | The former top U.N. humanitarian official in Sudan warned Tuesday that Khartoum’s military is carrying out crimes against humanity in the country’s southern Nuba Mountains in acts that remind him of Darfur.

Following a visit to the southern part of Sudan, Mukesh Kapila said he saw military planes striking villagers, the destruction of food stocks and “literally a scorched-earth policy.”

Mr. Kapila said the attacks reminded him of what he witnessed in Sudan’s Darfur region in 2003 and 2004, when the Arab government targeted black tribes.

Mr. Kapila served as the U.N.’s top humanitarian official in Sudan at the time. He said world governments must act to prevent another Darfur-type situation in the Nuba Mountains.

SOUTH AFRICA

Tens of thousands protest in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG | Tens of thousands of South Africans marched peacefully through their main cities Wednesday in a protest organized by the country’s biggest trade-union federation against economic decisions made by the governing African National Congress (ANC).

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is a close ally of the ANC, but is often among its sharpest critics. COSATU cited two reasons for the marches in Johannesburg, Cape Town and other towns and cities.

Support from across the political, racial and economic spectrum has emerged for one of the goals, getting the government to scrap planned tolls to pay for road upgrades in the Johannesburg area.

COSATU says tolls will make life more expensive for the working class. Middle-class drivers also have complained, and businesses don’t want the cost of moving goods to rise. The main opposition Democratic Alliance party has vowed to challenge the toll plan in court.

NIGERIA

Deportation row grows in Nigeria, South Africa

ABUJA | A series of airport deportations by South African and Nigerian authorities has sparked a growing diplomatic row between the two African nations.

Last week, South Africa deported 125 Nigerians arriving at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport on an Arik Air Ltd. flight from Nigeria. Health authorities there said those passengers carried fraudulent yellow-fever cards, Nigeria’s government has said.

Since those deportations, authorities at Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Nigeria have deported at least 84 South Africans over similar claims about their vaccination cards, two government officials who requested anonymity said Wednesday.

Yellow-fever vaccination cards, though required throughout much of Africa, often serve as a means for officials to extort bribes from travelers who forget their cards.

In Nigeria, health authorities often target foreigners coming in for work at foreign oil firms in the nation’s crude-rich southern delta.

Yellow-fever cards also remain easy to purchase, with hawkers selling properly stamped cards outside Lagos’ international airport for the equivalent of $5.

SOMALIA

Insurgency moves north as pressure grows

MOGADISHU | The fight against Somalia’s al Qaeda-linked insurgency may be moving north to an area previously considered safer than the war-ravaged south, analysts and officials told the Associated Press.

The move could mean that the al-Shabab militia is seeking to regroup in the semiautonomous region of Puntland, where international companies are exploring for oil, after coming under heavy pressure from three foreign armies in southern Somalia.

Last week, a Puntland militia led by former soldier Mohamed Said - nicknamed “Atom” for his bomb-making abilities - announced a merger with al-Shabab. An al-Shabab spokesman then used Twitter to warn international oil companies operating in Puntland to cease operations, saying, “Somali oil carries death.”

ZIMBABWE

President’s party pushes elections this year

HARARE | The party of Zimbabwe’s president said Tuesday that elections can be held this year even if political reforms requested by meditators aren’t ready in time.

Rugare Gumbo, a spokesman for President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, said a new constitution can be ready within weeks to satisfy mediators. But he said Mr. Mugabe still can call elections without it.

South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told his country’s parliament Monday that constitutional and democratic reforms required under Zimbabwe’s three-year power-sharing deal must be finalized before a new poll can be held.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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