- - Wednesday, November 30, 2011

IVORY COAST

Ex-president taken into custody at ICC

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Wednesday charged former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo with murder, rape, persecution and inhuman acts, crimes allegedly committed as his backers fought brutal battles to keep him in power after last year’s elections.

Mr. Gbagbo, 66, is the first former head of state taken into custody by the court since it was established in 2002, although prosecutors also have charged Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir with genocide and Libya’s former leader, the late Moammar Gadhafi, with crimes against humanity.

“Mr. Gbagbo is brought to account for his individual responsibility in the attacks against civilians committed by forces acting on his behalf,” prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said.

Mr. Moreno-Ocampo stressed that both sides of the political divide in Ivory Coast committed crimes in the post-election chaos and that his investigation is continuing.

That statement appeared aimed at countering fears that Mr. Gbagbo’s arrest could further stoke tension in Ivory Coast, also known by its French name Cote d’Ivoire, because it gives the appearance of victor’s justice.

Grave abuses also were committed by forces loyal to the country’s democratically elected leader, Alassane Ouattara, who enlisted the help of a former rebel group to force Mr. Gbagbo from office.

Mr. Gbagbo is the sixth suspect taken into custody by the ICC, which has launched seven investigations, all of them in Africa. An additional 11 suspects remain at large, and the court has no police force to arrest them.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Opposition candidates call for vote annulment

KINSHASA — For the past two days, Chantal Pande has set her alarm for 4:30 a.m., putting on her makeup and arriving before dawn at the polling station where she has been assigned to vote in Congo’s momentous election.

Each day she has waited from first light until nightfall, queuing at one of the 485 vote centers that as of Wednesday still had not received ballots in this giant nation attempting to organize its first election since the end of its civil war.

The government failed to print enough ballots, and even those that were printed were not delivered in time, causing millions of voters to be turned away.

“I want to vote. I made my choice, and I want to express it. It’s my right,” said the unemployed mother of four, who sat inside a deserted polling station clasping a yellow purse in which she had carefully folded her voting card. “I’ve been here every day since 5. I’m discouraged. I’m losing hope. Do you think they’ll bring the ballots?”

Already four of the 11 presidential candidates have called for the vote to be annulled.

In numerous rural areas, poll workers have been attacked and voting centers have been set on fire. Riot police have fought back angry mobs with tear gas, including outside the cinder-block school where Ms. Pande is registered.

NIGERIA

Senate approves anti-gay-marriage bill

LAGOS — Nigeria’s Senate voted Tuesday to criminalize gay marriage, gay advocacy groups and same-sex public displays of affection, the latest legislation targeting a minority already facing discrimination in Africa’s most populous nation.

The bill, much more wide-ranging than its initial draft, must be passed by Nigeria’s House of Representatives and signed by President Goodluck Jonathan before becoming law.

However, public opinion and lawmakers’ calls Tuesday for even harsher penalties show widespread support for the measure in the deeply religious nation.

Gay sex has been banned in Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million people, since colonial rule by the British. Gays and lesbians face open discrimination and abuse in a country divided by Christians and Muslims who almost uniformly oppose homosexuality.

In the areas in Nigeria’s north where Islamic Shariah law has been enforced for about a decade, gays and lesbians can face death by stoning.

Under the proposed law, same-sex couples who marry could face up to 14 years each in prison. Witnesses or anyone who helps such couples marry could be sentenced to 10 years behind bars.

That’s an increase over the bill’s initial penalties, which lawmakers proposed during a debate televised live Tuesday from the National Assembly in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.

Other additions to the bill include making it illegal to register gay clubs or organizations and criminalizing the “public show of same-sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly.” Those who violate those laws would face 10-year imprisonment.

KENYA

Kenya to challenge Bashir warrant

NAIROBI — Kenya’s Foreign Ministry said the government will contest an arrest warrant issued by a domestic court for Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir after failing to detain him on a visit last year.

A Kenyan judge issued a warrant for the Sudanese leader Monday after the government failed to execute an International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant when Gen. Bashir visited Nairobi in August.

Gen. Bashir is wanted by the ICC for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in Sudan’s Darfur region, where the U.N. says at least 300,000 people have been killed in the eight-year conflict.

Kenya has ratified the ICC’s founding Rome statute, which theoretically obliges it to execute the court’s warrants.

Judge Nicholas Ombija said the court ruling means that Gen. Bashir’s arrest “should be effected by the attorney general and the minister for internal security should he ever set foot in Kenya.”

But Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula said in a statement on Tuesday: “Since our judicial system provides for right of appeal, we shall carefully look at the judgment with a view to requesting the attorney general to expeditiously prefer an appeal in the matter.”

“It is settled law, both treaty and custom, as well as established and uncontested state practice that serving heads of state are immune from criminal prosecution by any state,” he said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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