- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 31, 2009

NIGERIA

New chief justice sparks legal row

ABUJA | Nigeria swore in a new chief justice Wednesday in the absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua, stirring controversy in the judiciary and raising pressure on the country’s leaders to clarify who is in charge.

The row over the appointment of the country’s top judge is the latest sign that Mr. Yar’Adua’s absence is affecting affairs of state in Africa’s most populous nation and increases pressure on him either to return or hand over power formally to his deputy.

The 58-year-old leader was flown to a clinic in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, on Nov. 23 after complaining of chest pains and has been diagnosed with acute pericarditis, an inflammation of the membrane around the heart that can restrict its normal action.

Vice President Goodluck Jonathan has been presiding over Cabinet meetings but executive powers have not officially been transferred, leading opposition members and lawyers to question the legality of government decisions.

Outgoing Chief Justice Idris Kutigi presided over the swearing in of his successor, Aloysius Katsina-Alu, a duty which has in the past always been performed by the head of state.

Justice Kutigi said his actions were backed by the constitution. Not all Nigerian lawyers agree, saying only the president has such authority. The head of the Nigerian Bar Association and other high-ranking lawyers did not attend the ceremony.

“It is not legal,” said Femi Falana, a leading human rights lawyer who has launched legal action to try to force Mr. Yar’Adua to hand executive powers to Mr. Jonathan while he is away.

SUDAN

Parliament adopts referendum law

KHARTOUM | Sudan’s parliament on Wednesday adopted a law that will govern a referendum in the disputed oil-rich region of Abyei.

The referendum, scheduled for Jan. 9, 2011, will let residents of Abyei - on the border between north and south Sudan - decide whether they want to remain part of the north or join the south should it become independent.

Article 24 of the law gives the right to vote to the Ngok Dinka tribe loyal to the south. It also states a commission comprising four members of the ruling National Congress Party and four of the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement will be set up to decide which “other Sudanese residents of the region” can vote.

But the law angered lawmakers from the Messiria tribe, who walked out of parliament just as the vote began because they wanted tribe members, considered partisans of the Khartoum government, to be explicitly included in the text of the law.

On Tuesday, parliament adopted key legislation setting up the planned 2011 referendum on southern independence after northern and southern leaders overcame a dispute that had threatened the country’s peace deal.

Sudanese President Omar Bashir said in July that the entire population of Abyei should take part in the 2011 referendum, but southern leaders insisted that only the Ngok Dinka should be allowed to vote.

Majority Muslim north Sudan and the mainly Christian south fought a devastating 22-year civil war that ended with the 2005 signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which provides for both referendums.

SOUTH AFRICA

31 inmates flee police lockup

JOHANNESBURG | Thirty-one prisoners broke out of a police station in the eastern town of Barberton on Tuesday night by sawing away the roof of their cell, a police spokesman said Wednesday.

Most of those who escaped were illegal miners, Capt. Leonard Hlathi told Agence France-Presse. Five of the men were caught by police, who also arrested an accomplice, he said. Barberton’s police chief and his deputy have been suspended pending investigation.

The jailbreak was rendered easier by the overcrowding of the police post, where 288 people were provisionally detained in cells intended to hold 150 people at most, Capt. Hlathi said.

Recently, there has been a wave of arrests in the gold mines around Barberton, which people regularly infiltrate to extract the precious metal illegally. Between Dec. 15 and 27, police arrested 355 illegal miners, mostly from neighboring Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

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