- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 14, 2009

NIGERIA

Militants warn oil firms

PORT HARCOURT | Nigeria’s main militant group warned oil companies in the Niger Delta to evacuate their staff within 24 hours following heavy clashes with security forces in the southern Delta state Wednesday.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said two of its camps had come under “unprovoked attack” and that it had sunk two gunboats in retaliation and inflicted several casualties on the military side.

MEND has issued such threats several times in the past, most recently in late January when it warned of a “sweeping assault” on the oil and gas industry, which never materialized. However, the clashes could trigger the first major escalation in violence in the Niger Delta since a six-day “oil war” last September, in which the militants attacked oil sites and forced Royal Dutch Shell to warn on its export obligations.



Attacks by MEND have cut Nigeria’s oil output by about a fifth since early 2006, forced foreign oil giants to remove all but essential staff and eaten into the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries member’s foreign earnings, exacerbating the impact of the global downturn.

SOMALIA

Government troops battle Islamists

MOGADISHU | Militiamen loyal to the government battled Islamist al Shabaab fighters in Somalia on Wednesday despite calls from around the world for a halt to the country’s worst fighting in months.

Since the weekend, the capital Mogadishu has been rocked by mortar and machine gun fire as Islamist rebels try to topple President Sheik Sharif Ahmed’s government. The violence has killed at least 113 civilians, and thousands have fled the city.

Fierce clashes between al Shabaab and a more moderate Islamist militia, Ahlu Sunna, in the central region killed at least five people on Tuesday in the town of Mahas, witnesses said.

Thousands of civilians have fled parts of northern Mogadishu in recent days. On Wednesday, heavy clashes shook the same streets again.

ZIMBABWE

Unity government marks 100 days

HARARE | Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, in a speech Wednesday to mark the first 100 days of a unity government, said hard-liners left over from the old regime are endangering the country’s future, but added that he remained committed to working with President Robert Mugabe’s party.

Mr. Tsvangirai, the former opposition leader, blamed “residual elements from the old government” for violating the rule of law and the agreement that created the unity government. The situation is making foreign donors reluctant to grant development aid, he said.

The coalition was formed to end years of sometimes violent political rivalry and allow leaders to concentrate on solving the country’s economic crisis.

MADAGASCAR

President seeks ban on ex-leaders

ANTANANARIVO | Madagascar’s army-backed President Andry Rajoelina said Wednesday he was negotiating a pact with political groups to ban former leaders from running in the island nation’s next presidential election.

Regional blocs and foreign powers have denounced Mr. Rajoelina’s rise to power as a coup d’etat, and several donors suspended aid after the youthful former DJ seized power from Marc Ravalomanana in March with the support of the military.

Mr. Rajoelina said four political groups, which he did not name, were thrashing out the deal. Several diplomats in Antananarivo said Mr. Rajoelina told foreign envoys Tuesday that he would not stand. But a senior aide later denied that.

Earlier on Wednesday, former colonial ruler France said it expected Mr. Rajoelina to publicly confirm he would not stand in the next election.

Mr. Rajoelina has pledged to hold elections in October 2010, but the international community has said that is too late.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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