South African court sentences rhino horn smuggler to 40 years

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- A South African court on Friday sentenced a Thai national to 40 years in prison for his part in a syndicate that smuggled dozens of rhino horns out of the country, the stiffest sentence ever handed down for such a crime in South Africa.

Two government ministers praised the court for sending a strong message that rhino horn smuggling would not be tolerated. But critics questioned why Chumlong Lemtongthai was convicted while charges were dropped against a South African farmer accused of involvement in the crime.

South Africa, home to about 90% of Africa's rhinoceroses, has faced an alarming rise in poaching with 488 of the animals illegally killed this year by Oct. 30, compared with 13 in 2007. According to the Department of Environmental Affairs, 2.4% of South Africa's rhinos were poached last year, with the rate increasing this year, posing a serious threat of extinction to rhinos.

The previous harshest sentence, 29 years, was handed down for poaching in August to two foreigners, Gearson Cosa, 35, and Ali Nkuna, 25, convicted of killing a rhino cow and her calf in the Kruger National Park, where around half the incidences of rhino poaching in South Africa occur.

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Former oil executive named as next archbishop of Canterbury

Justin Welby, a former oil executive, was formally named  as the next archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the world's Anglicans
LONDON -- His first reaction on being given the job was "Oh no."

But Justin Welby said Friday that he now feels a "massive sense of privilege" at being appointed the next archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the world's 80 million Anglicans and a post steeped in centuries of tradition.

Welby, 56, acknowledged the formidable challenges that face the Anglican Communion in general and the Church of England in particular; both have been riven by bitter divisions over sexuality and the role of women. Church attendance is also dwindling perilously in some parts of the Anglican world, including here in Anglicanism's birthplace, Britain.

But the oil executive-turned-priest, who will take up his duties as leader of the flock in March, expressed faith that the church would find a way through.

"I am utterly optimistic about the future of the church," Welby told reporters Friday. "We will certainly get things wrong; I certainly will. But the grace of God is bigger than our biggest failures."

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Malawi minister reportedly denies move to suspend anti-gay law

Malawi minister reportedly denies move to suspend anti-gay law

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Malawi's minister of justice has reportedly denied saying that the country's law banning homosexual acts would be suspended pending a parliamentary vote on whether to decriminalize such acts.

The minister, Atty. Gen. Ralph Kasambara, said this week that despite reports to the contrary, he had not issued any statements about the suspension of the anti-homosexual law. Such a move would run against a strong current of homophobia in much of Africa, driven by traditionalists, churches and religious conservatives.

"There was no such announcement and there was no discussion about same-sex marriages," Kasambara said, according to Malawi's Daily Times newspaper. "Nobody talked about suspension of any provision of the penal code."

Kasambara had been widely praised for allegedly saying at a recent conference that Malawi would suspend the law to allow for public debate and a vote in parliament. The conference, sponsored by two Malawian rights groups, the Centre for Human Rights Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Development of People (Cedep) in Lilongwe was held to discuss ways to get a national consensus on decriminalizing homosexuality.

Human Rights Watch had called Malawi's decision courageous. Amnesty International hailed it as an "historic step in the fight against discrimination."

Kasambara had been quoted as saying there was a moratorium on the laws, meaning police would not prosecute people until parliament made a decision on whether to decriminalize homosexuality. He allegedly said it would be embarrassing to the government if people were charged with homosexuality, then it was decriminalized.

Kasambara's reported statement that people wouldn't be prosecuted was condemned by the Malawi Law Society and by Malawian churches.

In 2010, two gay Malawian men were jailed for 14 years after announcing their engagement. After intense international pressure, they were pardoned and released. Western donors have since pressed Malawi to repeal its law banning homosexuality.


Bashar Assad: To live and die in Syria

Gay marriage victories may signal larger shift

As 'insider attacks' grow, so does U.S.-Afghanistan divide

--Robyn Dixon

Photo: Tiwonge Chimbalanga, foreground, and Steven Monjeza, left background, are led from court in Blantyre, Malawi, after a judge sentenced the couple in May 2010 to the maximum 14 years in prison for unnatural acts and gross indecency under Malawi's anti-gay legislation. The couple were pardoned later that month. Credit: Alex Ntonya / Associated Press


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More takes from foreign media on the U.S. election

APphoto_Spain Obama Reaction

 The Times rounded up some early reactions and reflections from abroad on the U.S. presidential campaign. As foreign media continue to mull over the reelection of President Obama, here’s more of the coverage Wednesday from newspapers and other outlets worldwide:

The Cold War is abolished, Kommersant (Russia): The reelection of Barack Obama as president of the USA allows many in Moscow to breathe easier. ... Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who called Russia Geopolitical Foe #1, has gone off in the distance and will no longer get on the Kremlin's nerves with his "caveman proclamations."

Mandate renewed, El Universal (Mexico): What does this mean for Mexico? ... The domestic difficulties and economic crisis will make it difficult to have a bilateral relationship that is very different than the one that exists now.          

Europe fears a greater interventionism from Obama II, Le Figaro (France): The continuing euro crisis and the risk of recession will be the first test. Before and after his reelection, Barack Obama does not want to see the U.S. economy dragged down due to mismanagement in Europe. ... The second term is likely to be more aggressive.
What Obama’s win means, The Times of India:
And the lessons for India? First up, this is how real democracy works. In over 200 years and 44 U.S. presidents, only three have ever been dynasts. ... The U.S. campaign carries an important message for Indian politicians: privilege, entitlement and dynasty are all living on borrowed time.

New U.S. government needs to craft more constructive China policy, New China News Agency (China): It is natural for the U.S. ... to have difficulty completely disarming its suspicions toward China, which is politically, economically and culturally different. However, the U.S. should know nothing in the world remains forever unchanged, and that China will never abort its development objective simply because of Washington's unwarranted anxiety.

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Dozens trapped in Ghana shopping center collapse

This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Dozens of people were trapped and at least three people died when a multi-story shopping mall in the capital of Ghana collapsed shortly before opening Wednesday, according to Ghanaian authorities.

About 23 people had been rescued, according to news reports. It was unclear how many more remained in the rubble.

[Updated at 11:25 a.m., Nov. 7: Around 40 people had been rescued from the building by late Wednesday, according to news reports.

President John Dramani Mahama suspended campaigning for upcoming elections, visited the scene of the collapse and later spoke to survivors in hospital.]

"My prayers are with the workers, shoppers and others who are trapped in the rubble of the collapsed Achimota Melcom building," he said earlier in a tweet.

The shopping complex in Accra -- rented by Melcom Superstores, Ghana's biggest retail supermarket chain -- was opened earlier this year.

Ghana, a small cocoa and gold exporting nation in West Africa, is known best for its democratic successes in recent years in a region more often known for coups and stolen elections. The country is preparing for elections next month.

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Obama's Kenyan step-grandmother congratulates him on victory


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Congratulations on President Obama’s reelection flooded in from leaders across Africa on Wednesday, but the sweetest words of all came from a 90-year-old Kenyan villager.

Sarah Onyango Obama is the president’s step-grandmother, from the village of Kogelo in western Kenya, where the president’s father grew up. She said the president had won because of his love for the people.

"I knew he was going to win," she told Kenyan media Wednesday. "The reason why he has won is because God has given it to him. We are happy for the victory and are embracing everyone who visits our home. My grandson is loving and down to earth. I ask him to work for the people that voted for him."

She is the third wife of Obama’s paternal grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, while the president is descended from the second wife.

Hundreds of people in the normally sleepy village stayed up all night watching a big-screen TV with U.S. election coverage, erupting in celebration early Wednesday as news of Obama’s victory broke. People danced in the streets, sang songs praising Obama and waved American flags, according to reports from the scene.

Visitors had swarmed the village in the days before the vote. The president’s half-brother, Malik Abongo Obama, organized nightly prayer vigils in the days leading up to the election. As spirits ran high waiting for the results Tuesday night, local comedians ran a mock election and declared Obama the winner.

Kogelo village has changed since a visit from then-Sen. Obama in 2006, with electricity installed, roads paved and a hotel built to deal with the influx of tourists, who flock to meet Sarah Obama (by appointment only) and see the grave of Obama’s father.

Villagers said Wednesday they hoped Obama would come back to his ancestral village during his second term, Kenyan television reported.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said that although the U.S. presidential election race had been tight, Obama’s victory testified to Americans’ faith in his leadership.

"I commend the American people for showing their confidence in your leadership. Kenya, as always, is proud of our association with you. We look forward to the deepening of relations between our two countries during your second term in office," Kibaki said in a statement.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga said Obama’s victory had electrified the world.

"It is a tribute to the people of the United States that they have reelected an African American president amidst an intensely trying economic environment that would have tested any incumbent. It is therefore also an outstanding personal triumph for President Obama," Odinga said.

He said Obama’s victory would "reignite faith worldwide, but especially in Africa, in the restorative capacity of democracy to deliver change and discard entrenched divisions."

South African President Jacob Zuma, who has himself been campaigning in the run-up to a December leadership vote in his party, sent congratulations.

"We value our relations with the United States and look forward to strengthening bilateral cooperation in the years to come," he said in a statement.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan also congratulated Obama and added that he hoped the American election would give millions of people across the globe a better appreciation of democracy, Nigerian media reported.


Obama wins a second term

Violent soccer youths cast chill over Egypt

South Africa activist set to testify against police is arrested

-- Robyn Dixon

Photo: Sarah Obama, step-grandmother to President Obama, revels in the U.S. presidential election results with members of her family Wednesday in the hamlet of Kogelo in western Kenya. Credit: Tony Karumba / AFP/Getty Images

What foreign media are saying about the U.S. election


Voters in the United State handed President Obama a second term in office on Tuesday. As the rest of the world reacted and reflected on the presidential campaign, here’s a sample of the reactions and analysis from newspapers and other media around the globe:

Obama won with pragmatism and realism, Clarin (Argentina, link in Spanish): In effect, after the promised hope and change of 2008, this year Obama recognized that he hadn’t achieved all that he had set out to do. And he honestly asked for four more years to be able to do it. Few leaders, in the campaign to get reelected, have the courage to recognize their limitations.

CountymapObama will disappoint his friends around the world, Gulf News (United Arab Emirates): Drone attacks continue to outrage public opinion in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. And Guantanamo Bay prison which operates outside U.S. law remains open, despite Obama’s specific promise to close this moral outrage during his first year in office. The new Democrat administration would generate a huge amount of goodwill if it chose to do something about any (or all) of these problems.


Mitt Romney lost because hard-line Republicans betrayed him, Guardian (Britain): By all historical precedent, given the figures, Romney should have sewn it up months ago. But his Reagan-esque ideas were out of date. The voters replied: "It's the economy, but we're not stupid."

A new term, an old playbook, Jerusalem Post: Elections usually turn a new page, and the president certainly has an opportunity to try to make a fresh start. But so far, Obama and other figures on the national and international stage have done little to suggest they’ll be using a different playbook.

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U.S., allies marshaling African proxies for fight against terrorism

Ansar Dine militants in Mali
"A quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing."

That was how British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain saw the Nazi threat against the Czech Sudetenland in 1938, a sentiment freshly evoked among war-weary citizens as the United States and its allies ponder moves to oust Islamic extremists from northern Mali, a country most Americans couldn't find on a map.

GlobalFocusU.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and diplomatic counterparts from France have been shopping around a plan to train and equip West African troops to drive out the Al Qaeda-aligned militants who hold sway over a swath of northern Mali the size of Texas. Ultraorthodox Muslims this year hijacked a long-simmering rebellion by ethnic Tuaregs and began imposing an extreme version of Islamic law once in power. In July, they took axes to "idolatrous" cultural treasures in Timbuktu, provoking worldwide horror at the destruction.

Like Afghanistan before 9/11, when Taliban collusion with Al Qaeda made the country a training ground for terrorism, Mali left in the grip of militant Islamists runs the risk of becoming the next launch pad for attacks on the United States and its allies.

U.S. interest in rooting out Ansar Dine and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb from northern Mali has intensified in the seven weeks since a suspected terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The Al Qaeda affiliates in Mali are believed to have played at least a supportive role in the Benghazi attack.

"The Benghazi event, with the murder of Chris Stevens, has really precipitated American intervention. It's turned the tables in the region," said Ghislaine Lydon, a history professor at UCLA and expert on precolonial Northwest Africa.

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As one Somali journalist is buried, a top poet and comedian is slain

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — They buried Somali radio journalist Mohamed Mohamud Turyare on Monday, a week after he was killed by unknown gunmen near a mosque in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. On Monday night, killers struck again, this time shooting dead one of Somalia's famous poets and radio comedians, Warsame Shire Awale, near his Mogadishu home.

Awale, in his 60s, was the 18th Somalia media figure killed this year. Turyare, 22, of the Shabelle Media Network, died days before TV journalist, Ahmed Farah Sakin, 25, was shot dead by unknown assailants in northern Somalia.

Dozens more journalists and media personalities have been injured in the deadliest year on record for Somali journalists. In 2009, the next deadliest year, nine were killed.

“In Mogadishu, the atmosphere is very fearful and people wonder how they can continue doing their jobs. Many have stopped. They're afraid of being killed,” said Rashid Abdullahi Haydar of the National Union of Somali Journalists, in a phone interview. Haydar was among the hundreds of mourners who laid Turyare to rest at the city's Al Jazeera cemetery Monday.

“Families are afraid too. They are saying, 'Please stop this [journalism] because you have no rights and no protection.' It's very precarious working conditions we have right now.”

As Somalia makes a delicate political transition, a new president has been elected and Mogadishu is more peaceful and stable than it has been in decades. Yet the rash of assassinations of Somali journalists continues, evidence of the country's  ongoing security problems and the new government's impotence against targeted killings and suicide bombings.

In September, three journalists were killed and four were injured when suicide bombers attacked a cafe in central Mogadishu that was a popular hangout for news reporters and civil servants.

Al Shabab, the Al Qaeda-linked Islamist group that has been pushed by African Union forces from urban strongholds, is thought to be responsible for a number of the attacks. But many believe that powerful warlords or businessmen may be behind some of the killings.

Awale was well-known for his role on Radio Kulmiye lampooning Al Shabab. He was the second Radio Kulmiye comedian to be shot dead by gunmen. Abdi Jeylani Marshale, who performed on the same program, was killed in August.

“He was well known in Somalia's literature and culture. He was a musician and he was an intellectual,” Haydar said, describing Awale.

Haydar said Awale and others on the show  had received death threats by phone in recent months. He said the journalists' union believed that like Marshale, Awale was assassinated for poking fun of Al Shabab.

“They were calling them all the time, saying, 'Why are you insulting the insurgency?''' Haydar said.

Awale, long famous as a playwright and musician, was a member of the  musical group Onkod that performed in Mogadishu before the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991. Later, he was known for his romantic and patriotic songs and he has since written songs calling on people to reject violence and to join the police force instead of militant groups. The Somali journalists' union has called on the government to carry out a full investigation into the killing of Awale and all other media workers.

Haydar said the government appeared to have no power to protect targeted journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an international press freedom organization, ranks Somalia as Africa's most dangerous country to be a journalist.

Radio Kulmiye's website ran a recent commentary saying that if not for the brave reporting of Somali journalists, the world would not have known about the country's suffering during more than two decades of chaos and violence.

“All Somali journalists and the general public as well as the international media and human rights watchdogs and the world community at large agree that the vast majority of Somali journalists are targeted in attempt to silence the only independent, neutral voice from a country mired by 21 years of chaos and lawlessness,” read the article, published Oct. 22.

It followed a polemic published Oct. 11 in Britain's Guardian newspaper by London-based Somali Jamal Osman, arguing that many journalists were killed because they were corrupt and accepted payments to write good things about certain politicians or businessmen.

“The profession needs to be cleaned up. The media owners should do it to save the lives of their employees,” he wrote. Somali journalists staged protests in Mogadishu condemning the article.


Western diplomats see danger in Mali

Taliban's attack on Pakistan education goes beyond one girl

At Afghanistan university, disputed name turns into fighting word

— Robyn Dixon, reporting from Johannesburg 





At least eight dead in suicide attack on Nigerian church

Suicide attack on Nigerian church
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- At least eight worshipers were killed Sunday in a suicide attack on a Roman Catholic church in northern Nigeria, according to officials. About 100 other people were injured, raising fears the death toll could rise.

Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency confirmed in a statement Sunday that eight people died in the blast in Kaduna. No group claimed responsibility; however, the attack bore the hallmarks of previous terrorist attacks by the Islamist insurgent militia Boko Haram, which models itself on Afghanistan's Taliban and wants to impose Sharia law across the country.

“A number of casualties were evacuated to hospitals. The incident was suspected to be triggered by a suicide bomber in a car which relevant security agencies may soon determined,” NEMA spokesman Yushau Shuaib said in the statement.

The bombing follows a string of deadly terrorist attacks in the north, many targeting churches. Extremists also have launched assaults on police stations, burned schools, bombed automatic teller machines and assassinated politicians.

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