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WEST AFRICA: Obasanjo tells ECOWAS to speed up integration
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo urged West African leaders on Thursday to adopt a two track-policy in the implementation of all agreed subregional programmes of integration.
In his speech at the opening of the two-day summit of the Economic Community of West African States in Lome, Togo, he said that when three or more member states were ready to implement a particular programme they should be encouraged to do so. This would, he continued, be regarded as the "fast track" to which the "slower track" countries could join later.
Nigeria, which together with Togo initiated ECOWAS, intended to join the fast-track in a number of programmes: These include the encouragement of free movement of people by eliminating rigid border formalities, supporting the ECOWAS free trade zone to be established at the end of the year, creating a second West African regional currency by ECOWAS members outside the CFA franc zone (which has been backed by the French treasury) with a view to merging them into a single currency.
ECOWAS was set up in 1975. Its members are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d'Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.
All but Cape Verde, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mauritania, Nigeria and Sierra Leone are members of the franc zone.
SIERRA LEONE: MSF volunteers still held by RUF rebels
Two volunteers of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) seized by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels are still being held in eastern Sierra Leone, MSF Country Coordinator Guiseppe Scollo told IRIN on Friday.
The captives, a doctor and a logistician who have been running a health project in Kailahun District, have been held since Tuesday. MSF said it had been able to contact both volunteers, a Belgian and a German and that they were in good health.
[For the full story see IRIN separate entitled: SIERRA LEONE: MSF volunteers still held by RUF rebels]
GUINEA: Health workers' strike continues
Health workers union continue weeklong strike
The Federation syndicale professionelle de la sante (FSPS) is continuing its weeklong strike for better working conditions and career advancement for all health workers, a media source in the capital Conakry told IRIN on Friday.
The union is also demanding retirement at age 65 for senior managers and at 60 for middle managers. The strike is affecting all health services in the capital and hospitals are only dealing with emergency cases, the source said.
Meanwhile, negotiations between the government and the union are continuing, he said.
GUINEA: Government retires 900 civil servants
The government has announced the immediate retirement of some 900 civil servants in a move to meet a demand of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Reuters reported on Thursday.
Employees from various departments including the national police will be affected, the government announced in an official gazette. Guinea has been implementing an IMF structural adjustment programme for years but officials say it has been under pressure to reduce its civil service salary bill, Reuters reported.
GUINEA-BISSAU: CNE confirms opposition victories
Electoral officials in Guinea-Bissau have confirmed the victories of opposition parties in legislative elections and in the first round of presidential voting, LUSA reported on Friday.
The Commissao Nacional de Eleccioes (CNE) announced final results of the 28 November ballot on Thursday giving the Partido da Renovacao Social (PRS) of presidential front runner Kumba Yala 38 seats in the 102-member legislature, followed by 28 for the Resistencia da Guinea-Bissau (RGB).
The traditionally dominant Partido Africano da Independencia da Guinea e Cabo Verde (PAIGC), the group that led Guinea-Bissau to independence from Portugal, came third with 24 seats, according to LUSA.
The interim president Malam Bacai Sanha of the PAIGC came second in the presidential vote with 23.4 percent and will face Yala, who got 38.8 percent, in a second presidential round expected to take place in January, the CNE said.
International election observers and the CNE both declared the elections free and fair.
NIGERIA: Democracy good for human rights, CRP says
The return of democracy to Nigeria represents a "major landmark for human rights" here, with the country witnessing significant improvements in its record, the Constitutional Human Rights Project (CRP) said in its 1999 report.
The report, released on Friday to coincide with the United Nations Human Rights Day, said President Obasanjo's government had made significant efforts to redress human rights abuses of the past. One corrective measure, the CRP said, was Obasanjo's creation of a Human Rights Investigation Commission, headed by a respected retired Supreme Court Justice, Chukwudifu Oputa.
However, the government's record is "tainted" by the recent events in the Choba and Odi communities in Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta, CRP said.
"Soldiers were deployed to quell [the] crisis, but instead perpetrated severe human rights abuses, including killing, raping and assaulting members of these communities, and in the case of Odi, completely destroying the entire village, setting houses on fire and killing young and middle aged men found in the communities," CRP said.
Moreover, the CRP noted an increase in the number of extra-judicial killings perpetrated by the different anti-crime units set up by the states to combat armed robbery and unlawful acts.
"The spate of extrajudicial killings in the country is not helped by the recent directive from President Obasanjo to policemen to shoot on sight," CRP said.
NIGERIA: USAID/OTI opens office in Port Harcourt
US Agency for International Development/Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) opened an office in Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta on Thursday, 'The Guardian' newspaper of Lagos reported.
The newspaper quotes OTI's deputy director, Diana Otilbaum, as saying that the centre's mission is to ensure democratic transformation through "rapid, pivotal and catalytic interventions", with a special focus on detribalising Nigerians.
The newspaper cites other areas including supporting economic growth, fostering better relations, peaceful resolution of conflicts with emphasis on stability in the Niger Delta and addressing major issues in democracy like corruption.
NIGERIA: Judicial tribunal to investigate Lagos riots
Lagos Governor Bola Tinubu set up a judicial tribunal on Thursday to investigate two communal clashes during the past month in which more than 100 people were killed, AFP quoted state-run Nigerian Television Authority as saying.
The tribunal, headed by High Court Judge Victor Famakinwa, will investigate all circumstances surrounding the violence and make recommendations to government, NTA said.
NIGERIA: Three suspects arrested in police killings in Odi
Nigerian police have arrested three men in connection with the killing of 12 policemen sent to keep the peace in the south-eastern town of Odi, the 'Punch' newspaper reported on Thursday.
The newspaper reported that the three men were arrested at a checkpoint near Odi, which has been devastated following the deployment of government troops to track down the killers.
NIGERIA: Kano State to adopt Sharia
Kano State resolved on Thursday to adopt the Islamic legal code, Sharia. The decision was taken at a joint meeting of the governor, assemblymen, judicial heads and the city's emir, Alhaji Ado Bayero, 'The Guardian' reported.
Members of the Council of Ulama, the Islamic body that spearheaded the private bill on Sharia's adoption which entered its second reading on Wednesday, were also present at the four-hour meeting.
Zamfara, another state in the north, formally declared Sharia at the end of October, the first Nigerian state to do so. Sharia, a penal code which has been in existence in the north prior to independence in 1960, was fashioned out of the Pakistani and Sudanese laws, observers say.
Abidjan, 10 December 1999; 20:05 GMT
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