Solutions to poverty, population growth, global warming [Google+ Hangout]

As experts from three continents convene this week at UC Berkeley to discuss rapid population growth, climate change and other intractable problems, The Times will hold a live online video discussion -- via Google+ Hangout -- Thursday on potential solutions.

The newspaper explored such issues around the world in its recent five-part series on population growth in the developing world. Among other topics, the "Beyond 7 Billion" series examined chronic hunger and mass migration in East Africa -- trends that Dr. Malcolm Potts believes will soon extend across the Sahel, an arid region of Africa just below the Sahara desert.

LIVE VIDEO DISCUSSION: Join us at 3:30 p.m. Thursday

"What you've been seeing from Somalia is going to happen in all those countries, all the way across from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean," said Potts, a UC Berkeley professor of public health. "You've just seen a fraction of what's going to happen in the next 10 or 20 years."

Potts, who co-organized the conference focused on the Sahel region, will join The Times at 3:30 p.m. Pacific time Thursday to discuss solutions to the problems facing this part of Africa and other impoverished nations with soaring populations. He will be joined by Dr. Ndola Prata of UC Berkeley, William Ryerson of the Population Media Center and Fatima Adamu from Usmanu Danfodiyo University in Sokoto, Nigeria.

We invite you to join the conversation by posting comments or questions below, on The Times’ Facebook and Google Plus pages, or on Twitter using the #asklatimes hashtag.

-- Kenneth R. Weiss

Photo: Somalia refugees, driven from their land by sectarian violence and drought, gather outside the United Nations' camps in eastern Kenya. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

West African troops in Guinea-Bissau to restore order after coup

A West African bloc is sending hundreds of troops to Guinea-Bissau, part of a regional attempt to restore order after the latest military coup in the small nation's tumultuous history.

More than 600 soldiers from the Economic Community of West African States will arrive in Guinea-Bissau "to relieve the Angolan military personnel [and] support the restoration of constitutional rule," the group said in a widely reported statement. Seventy troops reportedly arrived Thursday.

Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr. was ousted last month just weeks before an election he was expected to win, accused of plotting with Angola to crush the national military. The prime minister had sought to reduce military power in the former Portuguese colony, which has a history pocked with coups.

Guinea-Bissau named former Finance Minister Rui Duarte Barros as its interim prime minister this week as part of a plan to shift power away from the military, but Gomes told reporters in Portugal that he plans to return to his country to combat drug trafficking, saying he was lawfully elected and had legitimacy to lead.

Portugal has indications that trafficking was at the root of the coup, Portuguese Foreign Affairs Minister Paulo Portas told Bloomberg News at the same news conference.

"All the problems in Guinea-Bissau are because of drug trafficking," Lucinda Gomes Barbosa, the former head of the country's anti-narcotics police, told McClatchy recently. "There are people in high positions in government who are benefiting from this. They only think about money."

The unrest in Guinea-Bissau parallels that in nearby Mali, where the military overthrew the government in March. Mali now faces the worst challenges it has confronted since independence, Amnesty International said in a report released Wednesday. The West African bloc has readied thousands of troops to go to Mali, but is awaiting a formal request from the government, it said in a statement this week.


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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Guinea Bissau's overthrown prime minister, Carlos Gomes Jr., center, leaves the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Lisbon after a meeting Thursday with Portuguese officials. Credit: Jose Sena Goulao / European Pressphoto Agency.

The unrest in Guinea-Bissau parallels that in Mali, where the military overthrew the government in March. Mali now faces the worst challenges it has confronted since its independence, Amnesty International said in a report released Wednesday. The West African bloc may also send thousands of troops to Mali, but has said it is awaiting a formal request from the government before it deploys the force.


-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles


Guinea-Bissau military arrests Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr.

A military spokesman in Guinea-Bissau
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Last month Mali, this month Guinea-Bissau.

Military officials in the tiny West African coastal nation known for its illegal drug trade said Friday that Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr. had been arrested on accusations of plotting with Angola to crush his country’s military.

Gomes, who was pushing to reduce the size and power of Guinea-Bissau’s military as part of an attempt to fight corruption and drug trafficking, was expected to win a presidential runoff election April 29, especially after opposition parties vowed to boycott the poll.

Gomes was reportedly taken away in a pickup truck after soldiers attacked his home Thursday night. Soldiers also arrested other politicians and took over the state-run radio station. The whereabouts of interim President Raimundo Pereira was not immediately known.

“The military command has no ambition for power,” military officials said in a statement. “It was forced to act this way to defend itself against the diplomatic maneuvers of the Guinea-Bissau government aimed at eliminating the army with a foreign military force.”

The military's action, widely condemned by the international community, served as another illustration of Africa's one-step-forward-two-steps-back road to democracy.

In Mali, interim President Dioncounda Traore took over Thursday from a military junta, which agreed to step down after a coup three weeks ago that resulted in the resignation this week of ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure. And Malawi, in Southern Africa, narrowly escaped an unconstitutional seizure of power by allies of President Bingu wa Mutharika, who died in office. It was averted when several key government figures opposed the power grab and Vice President Joyce Banda was sworn in last week as president.

Among those condemning the military action in Guinea-Bissau were the United Nations Security Council, regional bloc ECOWAS and the African Union.

AU commission chief Jean Ping called on the military officers to “honor their commitment to serve under the authority of the constitutionally established institutions of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau.”


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-- Robyn Dixon

Photo: Dabana Na Walna, a military spokesman , talks to journalists in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau, on Friday. Credit: Fernando Peixeiro / European Pressphoto Agency

Military unrest mars hopes for Guinea-Bissau election

In Guinea-Bissau, soldiers reportedly sealed off the parts of the capital on Thursday and ringed the home of the prime minister, lobbing grenades. The unrest comes weeks before an election once seen as a chance for one of the most troubled states in West Africa to overcome its tumultuous past.

“I am prevented from leaving,” an unnamed diplomat told the Associated Press on Thursday from his office in Bissau. “The downtown area has been sealed off by the military … I can also tell you that all Guinea-Bissau radio has been taken off the air since 8 p.m. local time and the whereabouts of the prime minister and interim president are unknown.”

The impoverished country has a history pocked with military coups and revolts since it won its independence from Portugal. Its first president was overthrown by his army chief, who in turn was ousted after he dismissed his own army chief, starting a civil war. Two more coups followed.

Guinea-Bissau has been readying for a runoff election between the prime minister and a former president later this month, trying to replace its late leader Malam Bacai Sanha.

The election has been viewed as a test of unity and stability for the country. Late last month, the United Nations Security Council called on political leaders "to exercise restraint and to refrain from any action that could hamper the electoral process," saying that smooth elections would allow the country to move on to tackling drug trafficking and other problems. But the election has been plagued with accusations and unrest.

Former president and candidate Kumba Yala had threatened to boycott the runoff after Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr. took nearly half the vote. Yala and other opposition candidates claimed the first round of voting was marred by fraud, even though election observers say the polls were clean.

The military surrounded Gomes Jr.'s home on Thursday and began attacking it with grenades, according to a military official who spoke with the Associated Press. The prime minister's relationship with the military had been rocky since a military mutiny ousted one of his allies two years ago, Reuters reported.

Rumors were already spreading last month that the military was dismayed and might stage a coup. Tensions only rose after a former military intelligence chief was shot to death the same day that polls closed.

"There is the impression that the army is not happy," resident Fadimata Alainchair told the Guardian last month after the first vote. "They are seen as one of the problems here and no one knows what is going to happen -- things may just blow up in the middle of the night."


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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles


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