- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 8, 2009

ZIMBABWE

7 from opposition charged in bomb plot

HARARE | Seven members of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party were the first of dozens of jailed dissidents to be formally charged Wednesday, and they pleaded not guilty in a bombing plot.

The seven are among rights activists and opposition party members detained in recent weeks in what the opposition calls a crackdown on dissent. They were charged with terrorism, banditry and insurgency, and could face the death penalty if convicted.

They include Gandi Mudzingwa, an adviser to Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai; and Chris Dhlamini, head of security for Mr. Tsvangirai’s party.

The charges stem from two minor blasts in the main Harare police station and a botched bombing of a highway bridge and railroad line west of Harare last year.

In a separate case, another group of detainees has been accused - but so far not formally charged - of attempting to recruit fighters to train in neighboring Botswana to overthrow President Robert Mugabe. Leaders of neighboring countries and international rights groups have said such charges are baseless.

GHANA

New president takes office

ACCRA | Ghana’s new president took office Wednesday following a peaceful but tense election that secured the country’s status as one of the continent’s few stable democracies.

Tens of thousands of people crowded Independence Square for the inauguration of John Atta Mills, the opposition candidate who won the runoff election with 50.23 percent of the vote. It was the closest election in the West African country’s history.

The ruling party candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, had threatened to reject the results but withdrew his court challenges and conceded Saturday.

Mr. Atta Mills, 64, served as vice president under Jerry Rawlings, a former coup leader who stepped down in 2001. He spent much of his career teaching at the University of Ghana. He earned a doctorate from London’s School of Oriental and African Studies before becoming a Fulbright scholar at Stanford University.

GUINEA

Junta arrests officers; U.S. suspends aid

CONAKRY | Washington said Tuesday it was suspending aid to Guinea, hours after the new military junta arrested several generals it had forced into retirement after December’s coup.

The State Department repeated calls for elections and a return to civilian rule.

Earlier Tuesday, the new military junta arrested several of the generals it had forced into retirement after the Dec. 23 coup.

A total of 22 generals were forced into retirement five days after the coup, which was led by Capt. Moussa Camara.

On Wednesday, military sources confirmed the arrest of 16 military officers, including several allies of late President Lansana Conte and three civilians.

Those arrested include former army chief of staff Diarra Camara, former navy chief Ali Daffe and his deputy Adm. Fassiriman Traore.

Immediately after the coup the State Department had warned that Washington would suspend its aid to Guinea, some $15 million this year, if coup leaders did not take steps to return civilian rule.

NIGERIA

Bikers wear fruit instead of helmets

KANO | Police have arrested scores of motorcycle taxi riders with dried fruit shells, paint pots or pieces of rubber tires tied to their heads with string to avoid a new law requiring them to wear helmets.

The regulations have caused chaos around Africa’s most populous nation, with motorcyclists complaining helmets are too expensive and some passengers refusing to wear them, fearing they will catch skin disease or be put under a black magic spell.

The law, which came into force on Jan. 1, pits two factions equally feared by the common motorist against one another: erratic motorcycle taxis known as “Okadas,” whose owners are notorious for road rage, and the bribe-hungry traffic police.

Some bikers have used calabashes - dried shells of pumpkin-sized fruit usually used as a bowl - or pots and pans tied to their heads with string to try to dodge the rules. Construction workers have set up a lucrative trade renting out their safety helmets for around 500 naira ($3.60) a day.

Yusuf Garba, commander of the Federal Road Safety Commission in the northern town of Kano, said six months ago the price of helmets was below 800 naira. Helmet prices have since risen sharply as sellers cash in on demand.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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