Ghana + 5 more

IRIN Update 660 of events in West Africa

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UNITED NATIONS
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
for West Africa
Tel: +225 20 21 73 54
Fax: +225 20 21 63 35
e-mail: irin-wa@irin.ci

NIGERIA: Tension high in Kaduna

Soldiers and police are patrolling the streets of Kaduna to try to restore order following clashes between Muslims and Christians during a demonstration over the implementation of Islamic Sharia law in the northern city.

"The situation is still quite desperate," Fabian Okoye, the director of research and publications at Human Rights Monitor in Kaduna, told IRIN on Tuesday. "The violence degenerated over night and this morning and soldiers have been deployed in volatile areas to bring calm to the area," he said. News reports said that some 20 people were killed during the clashes while according to Okoye a conservative estimate put the death toll at about 30 and it was "probably more".

According to news reports, in the last 24 hours, houses, cars, mosques and churches have been burned, shops looted, and roadblocks mounted by Christian and Muslim groups. "It's a cat and mouse situation," Okoye said. "The army dismantle a roadblock put up by Christians or Muslims and then shortly afterwards the individuals regroup and put it back up again."

(See separate IRIN-WA item headlined: "Tension still high in Kaduna after religious clashes")

In a related development, Nigeria's northern Niger State passed a bill on Monday introducing Sharia and becoming the second to adopt the Islamic code, news reports said. Since the declaration of Sharia in Zamfara last year, several other states in the predominantly Muslim north have considered introducing Islamic law, causing alarm among Christian minorities. In Kwara State, which like Kaduna has many adherents of both faiths, Muslim militants vandalised Christian churches last December.

SENEGAL: Election monitors arrive

Monitors from La Francophonie, the umbrella grouping for French-speaking countries around the world, have arrived in Dakar for Senegal's presidential elections, according to a member of the elections supervisory body (ONEL).

The ONEL member, El Hadj Mbodj, told IRIN the group was led by former Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Secretary-General Idi Oumarou. He has already met the eight presidential candidates and is due to consult NGOs.

Other than la Francophonie, some 13 other international bodies have been invited to monitor the polls. They include the OAU, ECOWAS, the EU and the G-8 countries.

Electoral list accepted

The controversial voters' list that threatened to derail the elections has now been accepted by the vast majority of opposition parties after an independent committee audited the document and declared it valid, a member of the Observatoire national des elections (ONEL), told IRIN on Monday.

The committee was comprised of members of ONEL, civil society, the Interior Ministry, and the Front pour la regularite et la transparence des elections (FRTE). The body was called to audit the list after opposition parties accused the government of altering the document from which it printed voters' cards in Israel.

LIBERIA: Government denies independent radio shortwave frequency

The ministry of information said that independent Star radio, set up in July 1997 to promote democracy in post-war Liberia, will not be permitted to operate a short-wave radio frequency, pro-government Radio Liberia International (RLI) reported last Friday.

The information ministry's pronouncement comes after several appeals to the government to allow Star to operate on a shortwave frequency, which it has not used since October 1998.

The only non-Liberian organisations permitted to operate short-wave stations are religious institutions, RLI cites the ministry as saying. Star radio does not fall into this category, the ministry statement said, because although it is managed and staffed by Liberians and controlled by a Liberian board of directors it is still owned by the Hirondelle Foundation, a Swiss-based NGO.

Star's broadcasts are currently available in and around Monrovia and some see the refusal to reinstate Star radio's shortwave frequency as a ploy to keep rural dwellers deliberately uninformed about what is happening in the country, news organisations reported.

In an appeal for support dated 16 February Star Radio said that it faced an "immediate funding gap" and that it would be forced to shut down at the end of the month if assistance was not received.

"The goal for Star radio is to become a sustainable Liberian institution that will continue to contribute to the growth of democracy, peace, and development in Liberia," according to the Star radio appeal. "The station may never get the chance to achieve that goal if it cannot get through the next few months."

MALI: Konare announces new government

President Alpha Konare announced on Monday the formation of a new national government spearheaded by Prime Minister Mande Sidibe, news organisations reported.

Sidibe's main task will be to relaunch the economy, news organisations said. He replaces Keita who resigned last week in what many observers believe was a move to prepare his candidature for presidential elections in 2002 when Konare will stand down.

There are 15 newcomers in the ministerial line-up, including seven women. Six former ministers remain in government, including Foreign Minister Modibo Sidibe.

GUINEA-BISSAU: New coalition government without ex-ruling party

A new government has been formed by Prime Minister Caetano Ntchama which includes members of former opposition parties but not of the former ruling party, news organisations reported at the weekend.

Ntchama on Saturday gave cabinet places to members of President Kumba Yala's Partido da Renovacao Social, and the second-placed Resistencia Guine Bissau of Helder Vaz, as well as other parties which had been in opposition, news organisations reported. The new government, formed after the country's multi-party presidential and legislative elections, is the first to exclude the long-dominant party of independence from Portugal, Partido Africano da Independencia da Guinea e Cabo Verde, Lusa reported.

Yala, in a speech during the government's swearing in on Saturday, has challenged the new government to make the fight against corruption its top priority.

GHANA: Vice-president announces candidature

Ghanaian Vice-President John Atta Mills has said he will seek nomination as the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) party's candidate for presidential elections to be held later this year, AFP reported on Monday.

Mills made the announcement on Sunday in the city of Tamale, some 450 km north of Accra, where he was addressing a party rally. Mills said he would seek the NDC's nomination at the party's national congress to be held in April in the southern city of Ho, AFP reported.

President Gerry Rawlings, who is coming to the end of his second and final mandate this year, declared at a party rally in June 1998 that he would support Mills if he decided to seek nomination, according to AFP.

AFRICA: Public investment in agriculture should increase, FAO says

African governments should allocate at least 25 percent of their budgets to agricultural and rural development, according to an FAO report released at the 21st Regional Conference for Africa that opened on Monday in Yaounde, Cameroon.

The report argues that increased public spending could reduce the problems for Africa's small-scale farmers and trigger a greater flow of private investment to the rural sector.

Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of total employment in sub-Saharan Africa, FAO said, but received less than 10 percent of the national budget in most countries between 1961 and 1997.

Even in countries where significant investments were made to develop public agricultural capital goods government often failed to maintain roads and irrigation systems, according to FAO. In addition, public resources were often allocated to a single cereal crop, such as rice, maize and wheat, and not enough to traditional crops like roots, tubers, pulses or oil seeds.

WEST AFRICA: Stepping up the fight against child trafficking

Working out strategies to fight a practice that dooms thousands of West and Central African children to exploitation, hardship and abuse is the aim of a three-day conference that began on Tuesday in the Gabonese capital, Libreville.

Some 150 delegates from about 20 West and Central African nations and international organisations are attending the 'Subregional Consultation on Developing Strategies on the Trafficking of Children for Exploitative Labour Purposes in West and Central Africa', organised by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The main objectives of the conference include "adopting a common platform of action which should guide programmes of action and coordinated interventions of the various partners at all levels," UNICEF's Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Rima Salah, told Tuesday's opening session.

(See separate IRIN-WA item headlined: "WEST AFRICA: Stepping up the fight against child trafficking")

Abidjan, 22 February 2000 18:00 gmt

[ENDS]

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