|A nation is born
|JUBA (AFP) – Celebrations erupted across Juba at
midnight as crowds marked South Sudan’s long-awaited
independence day on Saturday, when the chronically
underdeveloped region became the world’s newest nation.
“The people of south Sudan have achieved their dream. The UN
and the international community will continue to stand by
South Sudan. I am very happy to be here,” UN chief Ban Ki-moon
told reporters on arrival at the city’s UN airport on
Last-minute preparations have been taking place throughout
Juba in anticipation of a historic ceremony due to be
attended by 30 African leaders and top-ranking foreign
It will be the largest international gathering ever seen in
Juba, a war-damaged former garrison town on the White Nile
that lacks even basic infrastructure, including reliable
power, water and sewage systems.
On the eve of independence, which comes exactly six months
after a referendum saw southerners vote almost unanimously
to split with their former civil war enemies in north Sudan,
Khartoum announced its official recognition of the new
For decades, until a peace agreement was signed in 2005,
southern rebels fought two wars with successive northern
governments for greater autonomy and recognition, leaving
the region in ruins, millions of people dead and a legacy of
Saturday’s main ceremony is to be held at the mausoleum of
the late rebel leader John Garang, who died just months
after signing the peace accord that ended Africa’s
longest-running conflict and opened the door to eventual
Military parades, prayers and a performance of the new
national anthem are to take place from 0815 GMT, followed by
the declaration of independence, the raising of the Republic
of South Sudan’s flag and the new country’s first president,
Salva Kiir, taking the oath of office.
Southern officials have said the chief guest of honour at
the celebrations will be Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir,
who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for
alleged crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has already said he will
try to avoid an encounter with Bashir.
But the fledgling nation needs all the help it can get to
overcome the vast challenges of building a stable and
For this, it must strike a cooperative relationship with the
Sudanese leader, given the strong ties that continue to bind
the two countries, and despite the strain on bilateral
relations caused by the deadly conflict in the border state
of South Kordofan. North-south negotiations in Addis Ababa,
aimed at disentangling the key unresolved issues between the
two sides prior to partition, such as the future status of
Abyei, how to manage the country’s oil sector and
citizenship, have so far failed to do so.
|More Syria deaths as
half a million flood Hama
DAMASCUS (AFP) –
Syrian security forces killed at least 15 people, activists
said, as President Bashar al-Assad’s regime accused the US
envoy of inciting violence in Hama, where nearly half a
million people protested.
Opposition activists on Friday reported five deaths in the
central city of Homs, two in the capital’s commercial
neighbourhood Medan and six in the Dmeir area east of
Security forces machine-gunned protesters at Maaret al-Numan
in the northwest, killing one and wounding five, an activist
Soldiers also fired at a family car on the Hama-Aleppo road
near Maaret al-Numan, killing a man and wounding his wife
and two daughters, the activist added.
In Homs, “at least five people were killed in the Al-Khalidya
neighbourhood by security forces who opened fire against
demonstrators,” said Abdel Karim Rihawi, president of the
Syrian League for Human Rights.
“Security forces shot dead two demonstrators in the
neighbourhood of Medan in Damascus.”
London-based Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights, said six people were killed in
Dmeir and that at least 24 people had been injured in Homs,
Abdel Rahman said a record 450,000 Syrians rallied after
Friday prayers in Hama, an opposition bastion, under the
banner “No to dialogue” with Assad’s regime and called for
Both US envoy Robert Ford and French Ambassador Eric
Chevallier visited the city on Thursday.
“The US ambassador met with saboteurs in Hama... who erected
checkpoints, cut traffic and prevented citizens from going
to work,” an interior ministry statement said.
The foreign ministry called Ford’s presence in Hama “obvious
proof of the implication of the United States in the ongoing
events, and of their attempts to increase (tensions), which
damage Syria’s security and stability.”
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said she was
“dismayed” by such criticism and stressed that Syrian
authorities knew of the visit in advance.
The ambassador met “average Syrian citizens” and “certainly
did not incite anyone to anything,” US embassy press attache
JJ Harder told AFP.
|EU defence ambitions
stuck in no-man’s land
BRUSSELS (AFP) –
Europe’s grand defence project, already wounded by divisions
over Libya, is stuck in a political no-man’s land as Polish
ambitions to revive it face indifference among allies.
Poland had signalled for months that breathing new life into
European Union defence would be a centrepiece of its
six-month presidency of the 27-nation EU before it took over
from Hungary on July 1.
But in the face of little enthusiasm among partners, most
surprisingly France, usually the most ardent backer of EU
defence, Warsaw agreed to scale down its programme for more
modest goals, a European diplomat said.
Poland had hoped to seize on provisions in the nearly
two-year-old Lisbon Treaty that foresee the deepening of
military cooperation between EU states, with the ultimate
goal of building a common security and defence policy.
Instead, EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on July 18
will merely review a report presented by EU foreign policy
chief Catherine Ashton on possible ways for states to pool
and share military capacities.
Cracks emerged when France and Britain spearheaded an air
war in Libya to stop Moamer Kadhafi from crushing a
rebellion, while Germany and Poland refused to join the
battle despite their prominent roles within the EU and NATO.
While the 28-nation NATO alliance has led air strikes since
March 31, the EU as an organisation has been left on the
“What revival of European defence policy are you talking
about,” said a senior German official. “European defence
does not exist today and this has little chance of evolving
(in the short-term).”
A Polish official lamented that France and Britain chose the
bilateral track when they struck a major military
cooperation treaty between the two nations in November 2010.
“They chose to go it alone,” the official said on condition
of anonymity. “The signal is clear to us. If you do not have
the two biggest military powers in the EU on your side, it
is difficult to do European defence.”
While Britain is seen as a roadblock to deeper EU military
integration, France has until now been as its biggest
“We are having a hard time following the French line on
European defence at the moment,” said a European military
official who fears that “the passion is no longer there at
the highest level in Paris.”
Backers within the French military of greater cooperation
with the United States, NATO’s superpower, appear to be
winning the argument over those who favour a European
For supporters of a trans-Atlantic approach, the official
said, France’s return to NATO’s military structure in 2009
has paid off, whil the Libyan war shows that Europeans can
take a leading role in a NATO operation.
The dwindling defence budgets among European nations,
strongly criticised by former US defence secretary Robert
Gates, has also fueled this euroscepticism.
Britain and France are among a handful of nations that meet
NATO’s desire for member states to spend two percent of
their gross domestic product on defence.
“One can wonder if we won’t just go back to promoting a
European defence pillar within NATO,” a senior alliance
military official told AFP, referring to an idea that dates
back to the 1980s and 1990s.
|Malaysia arrests hundreds ahead of
KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Malaysian
police arrested more than 400 people on Saturday and used
tear gas as a massive lockdown was imposed on the capital to
thwart an opposition-backed rally demanding electoral
Police spokesman Ramli Mohamed Yoosuf told AFP the arrests
were made from midnight around Kuala Lumpur. Police have
declared the protest illegal, warning of chaos in the
“They were arrested mainly for illegal assemblies around
various points in the capital,” Ramli said, insisting that
no violence used in the 441 arrests.
Despite the detentions, about 1,500 people, many of them
shouting “Reformasi” (Reforms) and “God is Great” marched
towards a mosque near the downtown Merdeka Square, an AFP
About 300 others who gathered at a railway station were
dispersed by police who shouted and ordered them to leave,
resulting in scuffles and shouting as some who resisted were
put into police vans, an AFP photographer said.
Downtown Kuala Lumpur, normally a hive of activity on
weekends, was deserted as major roads into the commercial
and tourist district were sealed off.
Hundreds of policemen, many armed with batons and anti-riot
gear and backed by water cannon, have been deployed in
strategic locations around the capital.
Several shops in the main shopping and commercial district
surrounding the landmark 88-storey Petronas Twin Towers were
Public transport plying city routes was diverted, while
long-distance buses were halted at terminals outside Kuala
Fears of violence have been highlighted because of plans by
pro-government groups to hold a counter-rally.
The police barricades created huge traffic jams overnight as
officers checked every vehicle for protesters attempting to
sneak in ahead of the rally, which comes ahead of polls due
by early next year.
“The police will take whatever action within their power to
guarantee that safety and public security is maintained in
this country,” federal police chief Ismail Omar warned late
But rally organisers said they will not back down and would
gather outside the iconic Merdeka Stadium in downtown Kuala
Lumpur at around 0600 GMT in the hope police would allow
them to enter the stadium to preserve safety.
The protest is spearheaded by Bersih, a broad but loose
coalition of groups, including non-governmental
organisations and opposition political parties.
|Death toll hits 91 in Karachi
KARACHI (AFP) – At least 91 people have died in political
violence sweeping Karachi, which has led to Pakistani troops
being given the power to shoot-to-kill those involved in the
unrest, officials said Saturday.
“The death toll in the violence has risen to 91,” home
ministry spokesman Sharafuddin Memon told AFP.
“More than 100 suspects, many of them with weapons, have
been arrested,” he said, noting that paramilitary troops
were in control and patrolling streets in troubled parts of
the southern port city, Pakistan’s largest.
Many people who were stranded due to unrest for four days
were now going out safely, Memon said.
Police and hospital officials confirmed the toll and
The unrest has been blamed on loyalists of the Muttahida
Qaumi Movement (MQM), the dominant local party that
represents Pakistanis who migrated from India, and the Awami
National Party (ANP) of Pashtuns from the northwest.
In the worst incident, gunmen opened fire on two buses on
Thursday, killing 12 people, including a six-year-old girl
overnight, a security official said.
The latest bout of violence comes just days after the MQM
walked out of the federal government led by the Pakistan
People’s Party (PPP), a move which some analysts said made
it harder for the government to intervene.
The worst affected areas are impoverished, heavily populated
neighbourhoods in western Karachi, dotted with construction
sites where armed men of different ethnicities have
|High levels of caesium
found in Fukushima beef
TOKYO (AFP) – More than
six times the legal limit of radioactive caesium has been
found in beef from Fukushima prefecture, home to Japan’s
crippled nuclear plant, an official statement said Saturday.
The meat was taken from one of 11 cows shipped to Tokyo from
a farmer in Minamisoma city, according to the statement by
the Tokyo metropolitan government.
The 11 cows all showed high levels of radioactive caesium,
ranging from 1,530 to 3,200 becquerels per kilogram,
compared with the legal limit of 500 becquerels, the Tokyo
It was the first time excessive levels of radioactive
caesium have been found in meat, according to a Tokyo
“All the meat from the cows is kept in the laboratory and
has not entered the market,” a separate statement said.
The city of Minamisoma lies on the outskirts of the
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which has leaked
radioactive substances into the environment after the March
11 tsunami and earthquake crippled its cooling systems.
The 11 cows were raised and shipped by a single farmer in
the city’s district just outside of the 20-kilometre no-go
zone around the plant, the statement said.