Sudan, South Sudan renew talks after tilt toward war

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Sudan and South Sudan held high-level talks Monday seeking to resolve disputes over oil revenues and their shared border, the first negotiations since a dangerous slide toward war in April.

The talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, came after the United Nations threatened sanctions unless the two sides returned to the negotiating table and reached a peace deal. The move came after each side withdrew from disputed oil-producing areas near the border that they had occupied — South Sudan from Heglig and Sudan from Abyei.

The dispute saw South Sudan turn off oil production earlier this year. The move was meant to stop alleged Sudanese theft of oil, but it cost the south 98% of its oil revenue and plunged it into an economic crisis. Sudan's economy was hit when 75% of the country's oil went to South Sudan when it seceded last July.

With South Sudan's economy in tatters, food and fuel shortages and inflation reaching 80%, President Salva Kiir made the shocking admission that some $4 billion of his country's public funds had been stolen by government officials since a 2005 peace deal which saw the two countries agree to share oil revenue.

He offered an amnesty and anonymity to government officials who returned the money to the government.

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Nigerian plane reported engine trouble before crashing Sunday

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The toll in Sunday's plane crash in Nigeria, which killed all 153 on board, may be scores higher once fatalities on the ground are established, according to Nigerian media reports.

PHOTOS: Nigerian plane crash kills all 153 aboard

Officials of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority said the pilot reported engine trouble shortly before  Flight NJ992 went down as it was nearing the airport in Lagos, the country's commercial capital, according to local media reports.

The number of people on the ground killed when the Dana Air Boeing MD-83 crashed in a crowded residential neighborhood is not clear. President Goodluck Jonathan visited the scene Monday after declaring three days of mourning and ordering an investigation. Nigerian flags flew at half staff Monday.

The aircraft lost altitude rapidly and plowed into a residential building and a printing works before bursting into flames.

"The fear is that since it happened in a residential area, there may have been many people killed,"  Yushau Shuaib, a spokesman for Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency, told the Associated Press.

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At least 140 believed dead as plane crashes in Lagos, Nigeria

Plane crashes in Lagos, NigeriaJOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- A plane crashed after takeoff on Sunday and ran into buildings in Lagos, Nigeria's biggest city, with at least 140 people on board, news agencies reported.

The head of the Civil Aviation Authority, Harold Demuren, said there were no survivors, Nigerian newspapers reported.

The Dana Airlines plane was traveling from Lagos, the country's commercial hub, to Abuja, the capital, one of the country's most important air routes.

The plane did not to appear to have nose-dived into the ground, but seemed to have landed on its belly, the Associated Press reported. It first crashed through a furniture shop and then into residential buildings in a densely packed neighborhood.

The nose of the plane was embedded in a three-story apartment building, damaging only one part of the structure, the news service reported. Fire still smoldered as a group of men stood atop the landing gear and took pictures with their mobile phones.

Some news reports indicated that 140 to 150 people were aboard the flight. The local newspaper Vanguard put the number at 153.

Vanguard reported the plane struck a power line before hitting the first building. It said three buildings had been burned in the ensuing fire. Another local newspaper, This Day, ran an image of clouds of thick black smoke billowing from the crash site.

There is no information on casualties among people inside the buildings.

The crash came a day after a Nigerian cargo plane overshot a runway in Accra, the Ghana capital, and hit a commuter minibus, killing 10 people.


Egypt's Hosni Mubarak gets life sentence

Remembering a young Syrian filmmaker killed in Homs

Syrian President Assad: Not even 'monsters' kill so wantonly

--Robyn Dixon

Photo: A picture taken with a cellphone camera shows residents of the Iju district of Lagos gathering at the site where a Dana Airlines aircraft crashed. Credit: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images





Rights groups slam death-by-stoning sentence for Sudanese woman

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Human rights groups have called for Sudan to abolish death by stoning as prescribed legal punishment after a young woman convicted of adultery was ordered executed by a Sudanese court.

The woman, Intisar Sharif Abdallah, who is married, give birth five months ago and is currently being held, with her baby, outside Khartoum, according to Human Rights Watch.

"No one should be stoned to death, and imposing this punishment on someone who may be a child is especially shocking," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director for Human Rights Watch.

Abdallah's age has not been verified, although Sudanese rights groups suggest she may be under the age of 18. Under Sudanese law, a minor cannot be sentenced to death, and a defendant is entitled to a lawyer in court.

A statement by Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA), a women’s rights group following the case, said Abdallah admitted guilt after she was beaten and tortured by her brother, who instigated the case against her. The conviction is based solely on her admission under duress, according to rights groups.

The organization quoted Abdallah's lawyer as saying that she initially pleaded innocent, but changed her plea. Although Sudanese legal authorities have given her age as 20, SIHA said she is between 15 and 17.

SIHA said after she initially denied the charge the case was thrown out of court. She was then repeatedly beaten and tortured by her brother, confessed to adultery and was returned to court where she was convicted.

"She is understood to be deeply traumatized and is without access to suitable psycho-social support. Her newborn child is also with her in prison whilst she is shackled at the ankles, struggling to nurse him. Her co-accused, having maintained his denial of adultery, has therefore not been charged and now walks free," the SIHA statement said, adding that her lawyer was only allowed to see her after she had been convicted and sentenced to death.

"Abdallah did not even receive the benefit of protections in Sudan’s own laws," said Bekele, of Human Rights Watch. “Authorities should drop the charges and free her immediately."

Amnesty International issued an urgent request for people to send letters to Sudanese authorities before July 6, calling for the execution to be halted.

"It is clear that the punishment of stoning is designed to cause the victim grievous pain before leading to death. Such methods of execution specifically designed to increase the suffering of victims are of particular concern to Amnesty International, as an extreme and cruel form of torture," the Amnesty International statement said.

Bekele said the case underscored the need for Sudan to reform its legal system in accordance with human rights standards.

"The court relied solely on her coerced confession to convict and sentence her in a single court session, while the man alleged to have committed adultery with her denied the charges and was released," a lawyer working with SIHA told Human Rights Watch, Bekele said.

He said pro bono lawyers in Sudan had launched an appeal.

Sudanese courts have sentenced several women to death by stoning in recent years, but the sentences have been overturned on appeal. Other countries where sharia law is practiced and allow the sentence of death by stoning include Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, parts of Nigeria, Iraq, Indonesia and Somalia.


Nigeria Islamic group Boko Haram spreads fear far and wide

South African President Zuma, gallery settle case over painting

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor gets 50 years for war crimes

-- Robyn Dixon

South African President Zuma, gallery settle case over painting

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- After weeks of confrontation over a controversial painting depicting President Jacob Zuma with genitals exposed, the South African leader and the gallery that had shown the work have settled their legal fight out of court, they announced Wednesday.

The ruling African National Congress and the artist, Brett Murray, were parties to the deal to defuse the deep anger nationwide over "The Spear," a work of art that made South Africa’s consensus look frighteningly fragile.

But the controversy left lingering questions about the nature of artistic freedom in a society traumatized by apartheid, where the constitution accords equal weight to artistic freedom and human dignity.

As Goodman Gallery director Liza Essers and ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu spoke at a joint news conference Wednesday, the differences between them became more and more apparent.

Essers stood by artistic freedom, saying the gallery would encourage artists to do controversial and courageous work. Mthembu said artists should think before acting and take care not to offend or insult.

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Former Liberian President Charles Taylor gets 50 years for war crimes

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Former Liberian President Charles Taylor will likely spend the rest of his life in jail after a U.N.-backed court sentenced him to 50 years in prison for aiding and abetting war crimes.

Taylor , 64, is the first former head of state to be convicted by an international court for war crimes since World War II.

He was convicted of helping plan war crimes with Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone, trading arms with them in return for so-called blood diamonds. During their 1991-2002 reign of terror, the rebels were known for amputating limbs, raping women and girls, recruiting and using child soldiers and forcing girls and women to become sex slaves.

Taylor was convicted last month on 11 counts, including terrorism, murder, rape, sexual slavery, outrages on personal dignity, conscripting child soldiers, enslavement and pillage. He will serve his  sentence in Britain.

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Kenyan police say Nairobi blast was a bomb attack

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Kenyan police said Tuesday that a blast that injured more than 30 people in a Nairobi shopping center the day before was caused by a homemade bomb, following reports that a suspicious bag was left at the scene just before the attack.

Police had initially blamed faulty electrical wiring for the blast about 1:15 p.m. But on Monday, Prime Minister Raila Odinga had already voiced the fears of many Kenyans when he called the blast a terrorist attack.

One witness told local media that she saw a man come into a shop several times in the area where the attack occurred. She saw him leave a bag and quickly depart, minutes before the blast.

"He came into the shop twice, looking at T-shirts," Irene Wachira, the witness, told Reuters news service. "He said he didn't have money so he left. Then he came back. He left a bag and a few moments later we had an explosion. The roof caved in and debris started falling on us."

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South African president's lawyer weeps in court case over painting

Gcina Malindi, a lawyer for South African President Jacob Zuma, broke down and wept after tough questioning from a white High Court judge, in a hearing on Zuma's efforts to have a portrait depicting him with genitals exposed banned from all public displayJOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- A white man's painting of a black president, genitals exposed, slashed open an ugly racial divide in South Africa this week, leading to death threats against the artist, calls for the boycott of a newspaper, vandalism of the artwork and the temporary closure of a gallery.

The issue grew more heated Thursday when President Jacob Zuma's lawyer broke down and wept after tough questioning from a white High Court judge during a hearing on Zuma's efforts to have the painting permanently banned from public display.

Attorney Gcina Malindi cried when questioned by Judge Neels Claasen about why the painting should be seen as racist and offensive to black South Africans. The court immediately adjourned and later ordered the media not to broadcast images of the lawyer weeping.

Malindi was an activist in the struggle against apartheid and was jailed for treason in the 1980s. He later told journalists he broke down because the trial brought back bitter memories.

"I was just overcome by emotions, and there is a history to it as a former activist," he said, according to the newspaper City Press. "As an advocate, we are supposed to be trained not to be emotional when we appear in court."

Brett Murray's painting, "The Spear," was part of an exhibition called "Hail to the Thief II," a blunt critique charging that the ruling African National Congress was corrupt and had abandoned its socialist ideals. Zuma has called the artwork personally offensive, and ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe, who was in court for Thursday's hearing, has termed it racist.

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South African gallery closes after controversial work is defaced


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- A South African art gallery that displayed a controversial painting showing the country's president with his genitals exposed announced Tuesday it was closing its doors temporarily because of threats.

The decision came after vandals defaced the artwork earlier in the day.

Lara Koseff, spokeswoman for the Goodman Gallery, said there had been numerous threats made against the gallery after its display of "The Spear," by Cape Town artist Brett Murray. The painting has divided South Africa and ignited a debate on artistic freedom.

Koseff said the gallery closed its doors because visitors and staff were at risk of violence. The gallery moved the artwork to a safe location.

Two men smeared paint on the artwork, which depicted President Jacob Zuma posed like Soviet leader V.I. Lenin with his pants unzipped and genitals exposed. The men were arrested and charged with malicious damage.

A third man was arrested later Tuesday trying to spray-paint writing at the gallery entrance.

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Farmworker convicted of killing South African white supremacist

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- A 29-year-old farm worker was convicted Tuesday in the 2010 killing of South African white supremacist Eugene TerreBlanche, but his teenage companion was acquitted in the murder that sparked fears of racial violence.

Chris Mahlangu was convicted of killing TerreBlanche, his employer and a longtime advocate of a separate state for white Afrikaners.

Patrick Ndlovu, 18, who was 15 and present when the crime was committed, was found guilty of housebreaking with intent to steal. The main evidence against him in the murder was ruled inadmissible by the court because police failed to deal with him correctly as a minor.

The killing, coming months before South Africa hosted soccer's World Cup, so raised fears of racial conflict that President Jacob Zuma took the unusual step of issuing a statement in the middle of the night calling for calm.

But while race divisions remain entrenched in South Africa, the TerreBlanche murder case did not become a catalyst for white right-wing violence, as some feared.

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