Briefly: Islamists push secular Tuaregs into Mali desert

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MALI

BAMAKO — Islamists who control northern Mali say they pushed the secular Tuareg rebels out of the town of Lere, in the northwest of the country near Mauritania.

A spokesman of the extremist group Ansar Dine, Sanda Abu Mohammed, said Wednesday that the group now controls Lere, which is 37 miles from the border with Mauritania.

Tuareg spokesman Mohamed Ag Attaye confirmed that the rebels had retreated to a base north of Lere.

The Islamists have pushed the Tuaregs out of all of northern Mali’s main towns.

By taking Lere, the Islamists now control the main towns bordering Mauritania and Niger.

However, the Tuaregs said it is not important if they lose the towns because they can operate effectively in the desert.

ZIMBABWE

Report: Zimbabwe targets human rights activists

JOHANNESBURG — Zimbabwe uses laws and beatings by security forces to suppress human rights activists in the southern African nation ahead of elections planned for next year, according to a report released this week.

The report by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders was released as President Robert Mugabe pushes for constitutional amendments that would allow for elections to end the uneasy coalition government of his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the nation’s main opposition party.

That has some worried that Zimbabwe could experience the same repression and violence of its 2008 election, in which at least 163 people were killed and some 5,000 were tortured or beaten.

“These stories paint a very, very gloomy picture about the situation of human rights defenders in Zimbabwe,” said Thomas Sibusiso Masuku, a former high court judge in Swaziland who contributed to the report.

The report highlights the struggles of several activists in Zimbabwe, targeted mostly by security forces and allegedly arrested for flimsy causes.

One activist was detained for weeks and questioned about her work after police took her into custody and said her car was near the scene of a killing, according to the report.

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