- - Wednesday, May 30, 2012

FREETOWN — Amputees still struggling to lead normal lives years after being mutilated by rebels in Sierra Leone hailed Wednesday’s decision by judges at The Hague to sentence the man who backed those rebels, ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor, to 50 years in prison.

In a landmark ruling by the Special Court on Sierra Leone last month, Taylor became the first former head of state since the aftermath of World War II to be convicted.

The 64-year-old Taylor was found guilty on 11 counts of aiding and abetting the Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone, who murdered and mutilated tens of thousands of people during the nation’s brutal 11-year civil war, which ended in 2002.

People maimed in the war gathered in the Sierra Leonean capital Wednesday to watch the proceedings of the Taylor trial via a live feed from The Hague and rejoiced when the judges announced the 50-year sentence.

“That makes me the happiest person on earth,” said Alimami Kanu, whose right hand was hacked off by the rebels when he was 11 years old.

Siah Lebby, whose left leg was butchered by the rebels, said the tough sentence sends a strong signal. “After they have seen, they have seen what happened, all the people who want to do bad things again will be afraid.”

Taylor is an ex-warlord whose rebel forces invaded Liberia in 1989, marking the start of that country’s vicious civil war. He eventually ran for and was elected to the presidency before being forced out by another rebel group.

In Liberia, which shares a border with Sierra Leone, the curiosity always has been that Taylor was being tried for crimes he aided and abetted rather than the ones that he is accused of directly carrying out in his own country.

NIGERIA

Student protest closes major Lagos bridge

LAGOS — Nigerian students protesting a name change at their university blocked a major bridge in the country’s largest city, Lagos, on Wednesday, causing heavy traffic backups.

About 1,000 students took to the Third Mainland Bridge, which connects the mainland of the city of about 15 million people to its islands, where many businesses are located.

Protesters set up about halfway over the 7-mile-long bridge, forcing commuters to get off buses and walk in the rain. Long lines of cars were stalled on and near the bridge, which sees heavy traffic on normal days.

President Goodluck Jonathan announced Tuesday that the University of Lagos, also known as UniLag, would be renamed Moshood Abiola University.

The name change intends to honor Abiola, a businessman and politician widely believed to have won the 1993 presidential elections, whose results were annulled by military ruler Ibrahim Babangida. Abiola was jailed after declaring himself president, and he died in custody in 1998.

Students said the name change would harm the university, which is known across Africa’s most populous nation and has a strong academic reputation.

“Abiola is a leader, but why doesn’t Jonathan choose any of the other nine [new] universities to honor him?” said one of the protesters, Abudu Akinyemi, a 22-year-old political science student. “Why UniLag, which has been existing for 50 years?”

SOUTH AFRICA

Mandela celebrates party’s 100th anniversary

JOHANNESBURG — Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress has brought its centenary celebrations to his home village in eastern South Africa.

A delegation led by the governing party’s national chairwoman, Baleka Mbete, came to the anti-apartheid icon’s Qunu home Wednesday with a barrel-sized replica of the torch lit during the party’s 100th anniversary celebrations earlier this year.

Mr. Mandela, 93, spoke briefly as he sat in an armchair, telling Ms. Mbete he was happy to see her.

Mr. Mandela, who makes few public appearances, arrived in Qunu on Tuesday from Johannesburg. Next month is his birthday, which he often celebrates in the village where he grew up.

The Nobel peace laureate spent 27 years in prison for fighting racist rule. He became South Africa’s first black president in 1994 and served one five-year term.

MALI

African Union chief calls for U.N.-backed force

PARIS — African Union chief Thomas Boni Yayi on Wednesday called for the creation of a U.N.-backed force to intervene in Mali, where Islamist militants and Tuareg rebels have declared independence in the north.

“We are proposing that the AU strengthen its position so that its Peace and Security Council can refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council,” the Beninese president said in Paris, calling for a U.N.-backed African force.

“We can take the example of Somalia, where an African force is operating with the support of the United Nations. We can move in this direction,” said Mr. Boni Yayi, who on Tuesday met with French President Francois Hollande.

“This [military] solution must come after dialogue, but this dialogue must not last too long,” he said. “We do not want a West African Afghanistan. The question of stability is nonnegotiable for us.”

Tuareg rebels - many of whom were mercenaries for Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi and returned heavily armed to their homeland - rekindled their decades-old struggle for autonomy with a massive offensive in mid-January.

A coup by a group of low-ranking officers ousted the government in Bamako on March 22, accusing it of incompetence in handling the Tuareg rebellion.

However, the coup only opened the way for Tuareg rebels, criminal groups and the Islamist group Ansar Dine - believed to have ties with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb - to occupy Mali’s vast north, an area larger than France.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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