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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U.S. gas bonanza from fracking slow to spread globally


In less than a generation, the United States has soared to world leadership in extracting natural gas from shale formations by hydraulic fracturing. But as the world debates whether “fracking” is an economic boon or a budding environmental disaster, few foreign countries are following the U.S. lead.

GlobalFocusConditions unique to the United States have encouraged investment in the abundant source of low-carbon energy and boosted prospects for reducing dependence on costly and unpredictable supplies of foreign oil. Of the natural gas consumed in the United States last year, 94% came from domestic production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“The availability of large quantities of shale gas should enable the United States to consume a predominantly domestic supply of gas for many years and produce more natural gas than it consumes,” the agency reports, predicting a 29% increase in output by 2035, almost all of it from shale fracking.

The rapid advance toward self-sufficiency has made the U.S. industry both a model and a cautionary tale for other countries pondering all-in development of their shale-gas reserves.

Significant deposits of natural gas trapped in coal and shale seams have been identified in Eastern and Western Europe, Canada, Australia, China, South Africa and the cone of South America. Global energy giants like Shell and Chevron are bankrolling billions in exploration, sizing up the cost-effectiveness of replicating the U.S. boom in more remote locales with little infrastructure.

Technological advances in horizontal drilling have made it feasible to tap small pockets of gas trapped in shale layers a mile or more below the surface. Contractors bore thousands of feet down through soil, rock and water layers, then drill laterally through the shale to create a horizontal well. When sand, water and chemicals are blasted into the bore holes, the force fractures the shale, releasing gas from fissures within the sedimentary rock. The gas is captured and ferried by pipeline to distribution grids or to port facilities where it can be converted to liquefied natural gas for overseas shipment.

But the process leaves behind tons of chemical-contaminated mud. There are also reports of drinking water pollution from the chemicals and methane gas that escapes into underground reservoirs. A study last year published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences documented “systematic evidence for methane contamination of drinking water associated with shale gas extraction” in the aquifers above the Marcellus and Utica shale formations in the U.S. Northeast.  This spring, the U.S. Geological Survey reported “a remarkable increase” in the occurrence of earthquakes of magnitude 3 or larger that it tied to fracking operations.

This month, the U.S. Government Accountability Office acknowledged that the Environmental Protection Agency was finding it “challenging” to inspect and enforce clean air and clean water regulations in the fast-moving fracking industry. For example, the GAO report noted, the EPA is often unable to evaluate alleged water contamination because investigators lack information about the water quality before the fracking occurred.

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$5 million prize for former African leader goes to ... no one


Millions of dollars hung in the balance as a committee huddled in London, trying to decide which former African leader was worthy of their hefty cash prize. Monday, they announced which government head  won.


For the third time in its six years of existence, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation prize committee scanned Africa and decided nobody met the bar for its coveted award, which includes $5 million paid out over a decade and an additional $200,000 annually for life.

The plush prize is supposed to nudge African leaders to serve well -– and serve only so long. It cannot be granted to leaders who illegally cling to power. Only leaders who have left office in the last three years, serving no longer than their constitutionally mandated terms, can get the cash award.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation eyed “a number of eligible candidates,” it said Monday, “but none met the criteria needed to win this award.” Its chairman and namesake, a British billionaire born in Sudan, told the Associated Press the committee wouldn’t “go through the motions to just find anybody.”

The foundation, launched six years ago, aims to promote good governance in Africa, which has made strides toward stronger democracy but is still speckled with countries where power stems from military coups, corruption or brutality. Last year it honored former Cape Verde President Pedro Verona Pires for bolstering democracy; before that, it didn’t honor anyone for two years in a row.

Ibrahim argued the decision was not a disappointment, but a sign of exceedingly high standards. The foundation gave no details about why nobody was chosen. Despite what Ibrahim said, not handing the prize to anyone was widely seen as a dismal mark for the latest round of African leaders to leave power.

“Good governance is a rather hard sell in Africa,” the Daily Nation in Kenya editorialized ruefully, “because some leaders believe their survival is synonymous with that of their countries.”

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In South Africa, roughly 12,000 striking platinum miners fired


The world's biggest producer of platinum has fired roughly 12,000 striking workers in South Africa, the latest salvo in the labor battles gripping the country's mining industry.

Anglo American Platinum says the strike is illegal under a September court order and has now lasted three weeks, costing the company more than $80 million. At four of its operations in the Rustenburg area, less than 20% of workers are on the job. 

The company warned earlier this week that the company had “no alternative but to dismiss” workers who did not show up to disciplinary hearings on the strike.

"Approximately 12,000 striking employees chose not to make representations, nor attend the hearings, and have therefore been dismissed in their absence," Anglo American Platinum said in a statement Friday. Other workers who attended the hearings would be informed of the outcome later Friday, the company said.

The striking miners reportedly are seeking a pay raise to roughly $1,500 a month. Strike leader Gaddafi Mdoda told Associated Press that the fired miners would continue and even step up their strike, even if they were no longer employed by Anglo American Platinum.

The dispute has alarmed local officials, who fear new eruptions of violence. Thirty-four striking miners were killed by police at the Marikana mine owned by another platinum company in August, outraging South Africans who saw echoes of apartheid bloodshed in the killings. In the area near the Rustenburg mines, one mineworker was reportedly killed Thursday night; the incident is under investigation.

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Must Reads: Raccoons, vigilantes and free speech


From raccoons ravaging Germany to the relatives of the last Chinese emperor, here are five stories you shouldn't miss from this past week in global news:

In China, last emperor's kin hold rare reunion

Vigilante justice brings terror to 2 African nations

At U.N., free speech divides West and Muslim nations

In Damascus, Syria, life is disappearing from the streets

Unfortunately for Germany, it's 'a wonderland for raccoons'

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Philippine Muslims shout slogans during a demonstration near the gates of the presidential  palace in Manila on Friday. A group of Filipinos opposed to an anti-Islam video recently filed a petition to order the government to ban it. Credit: Amiel Meneses / European Pressphoto Agency

Sudan and South Sudan sign a deal to resume oil exports

Sudan and South Sudan to resume oil exports
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Oil exports are set to resume from Sudan and South Sudan after their leaders signed trade and security agreements Thursday aimed at ceasing hostilities and setting up a demilitarized buffer zone on their shared border.

The deal averts the threat of sliding back into a war that has lingered since clashes resumed in April between the uneasy neighbors.

But in a sign of the underlying hostility, there was no territorial deal resolving one of their most enduring sources of conflict: the disputed border and the region of Abyei, which both sides claim.

The two countries faced U.N. Security Council sanctions if they failed to reach a peace deal.

Talks between President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir of Sudan and President Salva Kiir of South Sudan, which were mediated by the African Union, had dragged on since Sunday before they finally signed the accords in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

The two sides signed a peace deal in 2005 that ended more than two decades of war and led to South Sudanese independence in July 2011. But many contentious questions, including the border and oil transit issues, were left unresolved. 

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Expelled South African activist Malema in court on corruption case

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Firebrand activist Julius Malema traded his usual revolutionary beret and T-shirt for a crisp business suit Wednesday when he appeared in a South African court to face charges of money laundering.

Malema, tossed out of the ruling African National Congress in April for sowing divisions, is accused of receiving in a family trust about $500,000 tied to fraudulent government tenders. He appeared in a court in Polokwane, capital of Limpopo, his home province.

He denied the charges and was freed on $1,250 bail. Outside the court he claimed the charges against him were pushed by senior government officials and mounted a virulent attack against South African President Jacob Zuma, a man he helped propel to the leadership of the ANC.

Malema called Zuma the illiterate leader of a banana republic and said Zuma had been charged on 700 counts of corruption and fraud, compared with only one count against him. The charges against Zuma were dropped by prosecutors just weeks before the 2008 election, won by the ANC.

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Must Reads: Guerrilla artists, China protests and uneasy Aleppo


From Somali guerrilla artists to Chinese protesters, here are five stories you shouldn't miss from this past week in global news:

Somalia guerrilla artists dare to paint reality

China government's hand seen in anti-Japan protests

Critics in Britain see 'lopsided' U.S. extradition treaty

In South Africa, the poor feel betrayed by ruling ANC party

In Syria, Aleppo residents grapple with hardship, uncertainties

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Chinese demonstrators protest outside the Japanese Embassy in Beijing on Tuesday. Credit: Diego Azubel / European Pressphoto Agency

South African arrest warrant reportedly issued for Julius Malema

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- He's loud, controversial, charismatic and probably the most strident and effective critic of South African President Jacob Zuma. For more than a week, expelled ruling party youth leader Julius Malema has been predicting his own arrest, claiming South African authorities were trying to silence him politically.

Friday, his lawyer said the prediction has come true, confirming to local newspaper City Press that an arrest warrant for Malema had been issued on charges of corruption, fraud and money laundering.

"We have received confirmation from the authorities that there is an arrest warrant issued for Mr. Malema," Nicqui Galaktiou of Brian Kahn Attorneys told the newspaper.

Malema, whose support helped propel Zuma to leadership of the African National Congress in 2007, was thrown out of the party earlier this year after turning on Zuma for "sowing divisions."

He has denied wrongdoing and alleged a conspiracy against him by President Zuma and his allies.

"If we die tomorrow and anytime soon, we would have been killed by Jacob Zuma and his people," Malema told journalists Tuesday. "If we are illegally arrested tomorrow, we would have been arrested by Jacob Zuma."

Malema's power in South Africa stems from his ability to articulate the rage of unemployed youth and others living in dire poverty 18 years after Nelson Mandela's ANC took office. Malema's supporters claim there will be mass youth unrest if he is arrested.

In a sign of how deeply Malema's firebrand rhetoric unsettles South African authorities, Malema was  prevented by police Monday from addressing striking platinum miners and was forced to leave the area -- a move criticized by civil society activists as heavy-handed and possibly unconstitutional.

Malema has long been deeply controversial, having been convicted of hate speech and banned by a court from singing his trademark song, "Shoot the Boer," a reference to shooting white farmers. He was forced by the ANC to take anger management lessons in 2010, after bellowing at a BBC reporter, calling him a spy and evicting him from a press conference.

Malema said at Tuesday's press conference that since he had won popular support, Zuma wanted him dead.

"Now that we continue to enjoy the confidence and trust of ordinary people on the ground, Jacob Zuma is agitating soldiers and the police to block our movements and even eliminate us from the surface of this land. A death warrant has been issued against economic freedom fighters for speaking on behalf of the people," he said.

As ANC youth leader, Malema amassed a personal fortune difficult to explain, given his modest salary. After he became stridently critical of Zuma's leadership last year, multiple investigations were launched into his business affairs.

The investigations also followed newspaper reports that a company associated with Malema was paid kickbacks for facilitating government tenders in Limpopo, his home province, where Malema is alleged to be close to the premier, Cassel Mathale. The three investigations were by the Hawks, a police unit specializing in corruption and organized crime, the tax department and an independent official, the public protector, who examines issues of accountability and corruption and has the power to request the issue of arrest warrants.

Malema has denied corruption.

South African politicians have a history of using law enforcement agencies to undermine rivals. Zuma's supporters, for example, claimed that past charges leveled against him were political. He beat a rape charge in 2006 and fraud and corruption charges against him were withdrawn by prosecutors weeks before South Africa's 2008 elections.

According to Friday's Mail and Guardian newspaper, Malema tried to short-circuit the arrest warrant by writing recently to the national director of public prosecutions and the Hawks commander, claiming a political plot to arrest and charge him.

Malema is at the center of a bid by ANC figures to oust Zuma at a party conference in December. Malema's only hope of being readmitted to the ANC would be if Zuma were voted out.

In some ways, he seems to be emulating Zuma, who used to be known as the comeback kid, after coming back from the political wilderness. Zuma's supporters unseated ANC leader Thabo Mbeki then toppled him from the presidency, leading to Zuma becoming president.


In South Africa, the poor feel betrayed by ruling ANC party

Outcry in South Africa as striking miners charged with murder

South Africans decry police shootings at mine as 'unacceptable'

-- Robyn Dixon

Photo: Expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema at a Sept. 12 meeting where he addressed soldiers from the South Africa National Defense Force (SANDF) in Johannesburg, South Africa. Credit: Kim Ludbrook / EPA

South African platinum miners end strike, accepting pay raise


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

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Platinum miners at Lonmin's Marikana site ended their illegal six-week strike after winning raises of up to 22% in a deal critics warned could ignite a wave of pay demands and wildcat strikes across South Africa's troubled mining industry.

One rival union official warned that the deal signed late Tuesday sent a signal that dumping previous wage agreements and staging illegal strikes paid off.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets Wednesday to disperse protesters at a neighboring platinum mine near Rustenburg owned by Anglo American Platinum, news agencies reported, where workers were calling for wage increases to match the Lonmin deal. A police spokesman said 19 protesters were arrested at the mine.

Miners at Goldfields' KDC West mine are also on an illegal strike.

Strikes are deemed illegal by South Africa's Labor Court if the workers have not submitted their grievance to a conciliation body and given 30 days' notice of a planned strike or if they stop work over an issue covered by a current agreement with employers in order to extract concessions in a future agreement.

In a sign that demands for wage increases are likely to spread, the main trade union body, COSATU, called on other mining companies to match Lonmin's salary increase.

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