Saturday, March 28, 2015

Card Reader Delays Nigerian Voting in Nasarawa State
By Online Ediitor on March 28, 2015
Nigerian Guardian

The independent national electoral commission INEC went through hurdles today, Saturday, as it battled with it’s card readers in most of the polling units in Nasarawa state to accredit eligible voters.
The card reader technology according to most of the voters who cued up early for accreditation is alien to the masses even as most of the ad -hoc staff of INEC were said not to have received proper training on the use of the card reader machine.

In places like Angwan Mission, Agwan Moyi Buba,Gidan Fulani public square and, Galadima polling units of Agwatashi ward and Kofar Mukunguji polling unit of Obi 1 ward in Obi local government area of the state, a good number of voters were stranded as it took between ten to fifteen minutes to accredit eligible voters.

The situation was not different at Agwan Moyi Buba when the senator representing Nasarawa south senatorial district, Sulaiman Adokwe was yet to be registered alongside other eligible voters at about 10:00 am.

The presiding officer in-charge of the polling unit, Stella Eze, attributed the problem to total failure of the Card Reader Machine.

“As you can see, I went there but the Card Readers is not working. Virtually every polling unit in Agwatashi ward is not working, that was why we kept insisting that this novelty of card reading that has not been properly tested is going to create a lot of problems for the elections” said Adokwe.

The Card Reader Adokwe insisted would undermine the elections but hoped that the INEC headquarters in Abuja would collect
the result nationwide and be able to decide as quickly as possible before Nigerians have a disaster in their hands.

North central zonal chairman of the peoples democractic party,PDP, Alhaji Yusuf Ayitogo, said INEC was not fully prepared with their Card Readers as it took five to ten minutes before a voter is cleared positing that the accreditation exercise would not be completed before the election commences thereby, disenfranchising many eligible voters.

Commissioner for local government and chieftaincy affairs, Mohammed Dan’Azumi, attributed the development to what he described as a deliberate attempt by INEC officials to frustrate the election as voters from his RCM primary school polling unit, Dadare, complained bitterly over the inability of the Card Reader to accredit a single voter as of 10:55 am.

Resident Electoral commissioner in the state Abdulahi Umar Danyaya, assured that all elible voters would vote saying the faulted Card reader Machines were only few and had been rectified.

He appealed to the eligible voters to remain calm as they will all be accredited to cast their votes as the incident form was handy to take care of any situation regarding the card reader.
Large Turnout, Late Arrival of Materials, Card-reader Failure Mars Election
By Online Editor on March 28, 2015
Nigerian Guardian

The General Election held in Anambra State yesterday, suffered set back due to late arrival of materials and card-reader failure although there was large turnout of electorates across the state.

A Guardian survey around the state shows that voters complained of late arrival of materials, characterized by late coming of the INEC officials in various polling centers including Akogoli square 11, Umudioka Ward 111, Amawbia Cenral School ward 1 and 11, Umuokpu ward 7, Nmini Ward 11 Nwafia, Enugu-Ukwu ward 1V and V, and Boys Secondary School, Nri Ward1.

While monitoring the election process in the 21 Local Government Areas of Anambra State, it was discovered that eligible voters gathered at the various polling booths as early as 8a.m on Saturday but could not do the accreditation process due to massive malfunctioning of the card reader.

Even it was also gathered that the machines were locked permanently, battery failure, etc, while INEC officials said they had already contacted headquarters in Awka for further instructions.

In most polling booths accreditation were not completed till 2pm, while actual voting started between 2.30 pm and 3.00 pm.

The Senatorial candidate for the PDP in Anambra Central, Mrs. Uche Ekwunife casted her votes about 3.30 pm at Boys Secondary School, Nri Ward 1 unit 002, while Sir Victor Umeh of APGA also vying for the same position voted at Aguluezigbo ward18 at 4 pm.

In his reaction, the Traditional Ruler of Enugwu-Ukwu, HRM Igwe Sir Ralph O. Ekpe called for total rejection or cancellation of the election, just as he advised INEC to go back to the drawing board and reschedule the election. Igwe Ekpe strongly warned that INEC is courting trouble for Nigeria which may lead to another crisis.

“If INEC continues in this way with the card reader not functioning properly, late arrival of election materials etc, it will not augur well for the country and may lead to a serious set back in our political process.

“I aspect INEC to say let us suspend this election, let us return to the manual system and reschedule the election for the next one week”, Igwe Ekpe who was not happy for not been properly accredited said.

Also in his reaction, HRH Igwe Chijioke Nwankwo of Nawfia, however, praised INEC for introducing the manual system which according to him, worked peacefully in his community.

Igwe Nwakwo, who praised INEC for doing a good job hoped that the election would be credible and also usher peace in the country.

Meanwhile, some groups of youths were seen playing football in school fields and open spaces in Awka, Onitsha, Nnewi, Ekwulobia across the state.

It was also gathered that all markets were shut, there was heavy vehicular and cyclists movements while few pedestrians were seen moving about.
Voting Suspended in Some places in Nigeria: Electoral Commission
By AFP on March 28, 2015

Nigeria’s electoral commission on Saturday said polling in the country’s presidential and parliamentary election had been suspended in some places because of glitches with new voter ID card readers.

The Independent National Electoral Commission said there had been “challenges” with the technology in “many” places, without specifying a number, forcing accreditation to be suspended.

“In polling units where accreditation was suspended to the following day in accordance with the existing guidelines, arrangement will be made for voters to vote tomorrow (Sunday),” information commissioner Chris Yimoga told reporters in Abuja.

Voters have reported long delays with the new handheld devices that “read” biometric data such as fingerprints on the cards to authenticate a voter’s identity and cut electoral fraud.

The most high-profile victim was President Goodluck Jonathan, who was forced to abandon his accreditation in his home town of Otuoke when the device repeatedly failed to recognise his details.

He was then accredited by hand and later voted, he said, for himself in the presidential vote and his ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in parliamentary polls.

Jonathan said people should “sympathise with INEC”, adding: “INEC introduced the card readers to ensure we get credible elections. We should bear with them…

“INEC has to talk about their functions. I took the manual option. I am aware that INEC has directed its resident electoral commissioners to use manual option when card readers fail.

“As head of state, I don’t blame anybody,” he said but admitted: “I think the problem is national.”

Jonathan’s PDP repeatedly expressed concern about the level of distribution of new voter ID cards and the use of the “untested”readers during the election campaign.

The main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) backed the system.

INEC’s Yimoga said although accreditation had “gone well in several places… (it) has been slow in many places and has not commenced in others”.

Election guidelines already provided for accreditation to be postponed to the following day if card readers did not work and could not be replaced.

But he added that a revision was made because of “the scale of the challenge we have observed”, allowing both a 24-hour delay and the use of manual checking.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Thousands to Rally in Detroit for Racial Justice
Detroit Pastor E. L. Branch.
Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press 10:36 p.m. EDT
March 27, 2015

Thousands are expected to march Saturday demanding racial justice in Detroit in a rally organized by more than 100 local churches.

Called the March for Justice, the walk is part of a broader effort to highlight what organizers say is the growing marginalization of African-Americans in Detroit. While the city's residential population is 84% African-American, the community is being ignored in recent development efforts, said members of the planned march.

"With the gentrification of Detroit ... African-Americans do feel shut out," said Tracey Sanders, an organizer who's a member of of New St. Mark Church in Detroit. "We just want to have a seat at the table."

The march and later actions planned — such as voter registration — are to help "eliminate racially-motivated injustice and promote economic parity," Sanders said. About 3,000 to 5,000 are expected to take part in the march, said organizers.

The rally was timed to be around the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s civil rights marches in Selma, Ala. A poster for the rally reads: "From Selma to Detroit: 50 years later, same issues, same fight."

The rally comes the same week that a video was released of an African-American man being beaten, choked, and Tasered by a group of white police officers in Inkster. The issue of police abuse of blacks is a concern of many in the march, said organizers.

"It just keeps on happening," Sanders said. "It just seems like the justice system, and law enforcement doesn't care. That is the reason why you see people with signs that say, 'Black Lives Matter' because many times our lives are not seen as significant as the next person."

Rev. Louis Forsythe II, pastor of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Detroit, plans to attend the march.

Pastor Louis ForsytheBuy Photo
Pastor Louis Forsythe (Photo: Niraj Warikoo Detroit Free Press)
"We want to be able to speak truth to power," Forsythe said.

Other noted Detroit pastors who plan to be at the march include E.L. Branch, Wilma Johnson, Kevin Turman, Patricia Havis and Steven Bland.

Open to all, the march starts at noon at Chene Park and will end at Martin Luther King High School at about 3 pm.

Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or 313-223-4792. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo
Inkster Officials Pursue Damage Control Strategy As Video of Beating Prompts Protest
Holly Fournier, The Detroit News 11:56 a.m. EDT
March 26, 2015

Inkster — Authorities urged patience Thursday as an investigation is underway into the filmed beating of a motorist during an arrest in January.

"The people have a voice, they're using their voice and we've listened to their voice," Inkster City Manager Richard J. Marsh Jr. said during a press conference Thursday morning at city hall. "Action will be taken accordingly, depending on the results of the investigation."

Detroiter Floyd Dent, 57, has said he was beaten and Tasered during a traffic stop Jan. 28 in Inkster.

Police said Dent disregarded stop signs and refused to pull over, then resisted arrest and threatened them. They also said they found a bag of crack cocaine in his car.

Police Chief Vicki Yost attended Thursday's press conference alongside Marsh and members of the police department's citizen advisory board, National Christians in Action, the Inkster Ministerial Alliance and the Western Wayne County branch of the NAACP.

Yost said an investigation is underway by the Michigan State Police.

"It needs to be independent, and it needs to be thorough and it needs to be impartial," Yost said.

Dent and attorneys say he was racially profiled and officers used excessive force in January 28, 2015 arrest. This video was released by his attorney Greg Rohl.

Protesters outside the Inkster police department on Wednesday questioned the investigation due to state police presence at the traffic stop.

"Their officers were not involved in the use of force to my knowledge," Yost said Thursday. "I'm confident in their ability to conduct the investigation."

Yost said Inkster auxiliary officers also were present at the arrest, but she declined to define those officers' duties.

"There is a difference in the powers that they hold, absolutely," she said. "That's part of the investigation, and we're not going to get into any additional details at the time."

Following the press conference, Yost confirmed two officers involved in the incident are on administrative duty.

"They are not on the streets," said Yost, who declined to identify the officers.

Joseph Stephens, president of the Inkster Ministerial Alliance, urged the public to respect the investigation.

"We think that every citizen has a right to be treated fairly, but we also understand that a thorough investigation has to take place before any action is done," Stephens said at the press conference. "In the midst of all of the protests and all of the marches, an investigation still has to take place and be concluded."

Marsh praised the non-violent response of protesters unhappy with the incident.

"We found that some citizens are unhappy with the incident, yet cool heads have prevailed and that's an outstanding statement and example of the kind of citizens we have here in the city of Inkster," Marsh said.

NAACP chapter president Bishop Walter L. Starghill Jr. called the arrest footage shocking and said he would remain dedicated to keeping the public informed about the investigation.

"We have a vested interest in what goes on in the city of Inkster," he said. "We want to let everyone know that we are here working at the table to make sure the people know exactly what's going on."

Yost said Wednesday the department began investigating before Dent complained about his treatment during the arrest.

"We started an investigation before Mr. Dent made a complaint and it was self-initiated," she said. "It was initiated immediately based on the department's policy to conduct an investigation whenever a serious amount of force has been used."

The state police's findings will be presented to the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, which will determine if any charges are filed, she said.

"We're encouraging everyone to wait for the results of the investigation," Yost said. "Once we get the results, we'll act accordingly."

Dent described the arrest through tears Wednesday at a press conference held by his attorney, Greg Rohl.

"They told me get on the ground, then they snatched me, threw me on the ground and started beating me," Dent said outside his attorney's law office in Novi. "(An officer) was beating me upside the head. ... While he was beating me I was trying to protect my face with my right arm. ... The officer nearly choked me to death. I told them I can't breathe. He just kept on choking me."

Dent said he was targeted because he is African-American.

Earlier Wednesday, at least two dozen demonstrators gathered outside the Inkster Police Department and 22nd District Court building to protest the incident.

Under drizzly skies, the crowd marched along the sidewalk shouting, "No justice, no peace," and "RoboCop has got to go!"

The protest was organized by the Michigan chapter of the National Action Network, led by the Rev. Charles Williams II.

"We're here for one reason: These officers need to go. They need to be fired," Williams said. "Not suspended with pay, not allowed to sit at desks and get paid by the people."

The incident has sparked cries of aggressive policing, led to calls for disbanding the department and prompted Williams to call Inkster "the new Ferguson" in reference to a recent scathing Department of Justice report that called Ferguson, Missouri's law enforcement practices racially discriminatory.

Dent originally was charged with resisting and obstructing, fleeing and eluding, and possession of cocaine, Rohl said. All charges have been dropped, except the possession charge. Rohl said the drugs were planted during the chaotic arrest.

Dent said he was offered a plea deal but he declined.

"He told me an innocent man does not plead guilty," Rohl said. "Mr. Dent, to his credit, said, 'I'm not guilty. I'm not pleading guilty. Take it to trial.'"

Dent is expected in court at 9 a.m. April 1 for an arraignment on the drug charge, Rohl said.

HFournier@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4616

@HollyPFournier
Illinois Plugs Deficit as Next Year’s $6 Billion Hole Looms
Challenger for Chicago Mayor Jesus Chuy Garcia.
by Elizabeth Campbell
2:43 PM EDT
March 26, 2015

(Bloomberg) -- Illinois’s legislature plugged a $1.6 billion hole in the state budget, leaving lawmakers to tackle a deficit three times that size in the year ahead.

The Senate Thursday approved a plan that closes the gap for the year ending in June by cutting spending and using $1.3 billion set aside for roads, construction projects and other items. The House of Representatives passed the fix two days ago, about 10 months after lawmakers voted for a budget without enough money to cover it.

“The General Assembly is helping set a new tone for what can be achieved in Springfield,” Republican Governor Bruce Rauner said in an e-mailed statement. “While today’s action is an important start, many more tough votes and challenging decisions must be made in the weeks ahead.”

The legislation, which Rauner’s office said he plans to sign as soon as possible, is only a partial solution to the state’s financial crisis. Beset by about $6.5 billion of unpaid bills and the worst-funded pension system among U.S. states, Illinois must confront a $6.2 billion budget shortfall for the year starting July 1.

With the current year’s budget unbalanced, subsidized day-care programs had already started to run out of funds and prisons may have been unable to meet payroll in April. The Senate’s passage comes just before lawmakers are set to leave for a two-week break on March 30.

This year’s gap followed the Jan. 1 expiration of 2011 income-tax increases, which lawmakers declined to extend. Rauner has rejected higher levies to close next year’s budget hole and proposed spending cuts instead. Leaders of the Democrat-controlled legislature say the state can’t close the shortfall without finding additional revenue.

Both parties contributed to the fiscal challenges, which have been decades in the making as lawmakers delayed retirement-fund payments and used financial gimmicks to address deficits.

Illinois has a $111 billion pension gap and an A- rating from Standard & Poor’s, which is lower than any other state.

Senate President John Cullerton “is glad that we could resolve our issues and come together for this fiscal fix,” Moira Dolehide, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Democrat’s office, said in an e-mail.

“Now it’s time to turn our attention to larger challenges in the next budget.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Campbell in Chicago at ecampbell14@bloomberg.net
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net William Selway, Mark Tannenbaum
Illinois Pension Bout Tests Nation Grappling With Shortfalls
Anti-bankruptcy demonstration in Detroit outside federal court on
Oct. 23, 2013.
by Andrew M Harris
5:01 AM EDT
March 11, 2015

(Bloomberg) -- Illinois’s remedy for the state’s worst-in-the-nation $111 billion pension-funding shortfall was disliked by lawmakers who voted for it, the new governor who inherited it and public employee unions who sued to void it.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Wednesday asked the state’s Supreme Court to resurrect it.

The 2013 measure to cut cost-of-living increases and boost the retirement age was struck down last year by an Illinois judge who found it violated the state constitution’s ban on reducing public worker retirement benefits. The dispute is being watched around the country as state and local governments faced total pension shortfalls of more than $1 trillion in 2013.

Illinois Solicitor General Carolyn Shapiro argued Wednesday that the state should be able to invoke its “police powers” in a time of fiscal crisis.

“Invoking police powers is not something the state could do willy nilly,” Shapiro said responding to a question from Justice Robert Thomas. “Raising taxes cannot always be the answer to a fiscal crisis.”

Few Questions

The state Supreme Court’s seven-judge panel asked few questions during Wednesday’s hearing and gave no timeframe for a ruling. To win a reversal, Madigan must convince at least four of the court’s seven justices that the constitutional provision -- which says a public worker’s pension membership is a contract “the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired” -- is something less than absolute.

Thomas pressed Shapiro on whether the drafters of the provision intended to protect those benefits in difficult economic times. When Shapiro replied she didn’t believe that was the entirety of the intent, Thomas asked if it would be “problematic” if the court believed it was.

The state cannot be forced to surrender its sovereign power to protect the general welfare of the people, Shapiro responded.

Gino DiVito, an attorney for the suing unions, countered that the provision was “explicit, clear and unambiguous” regardless of the state’s argument for recognition of a possible “doomsday scenario.”

Illinois has the lowest credit among the 50 U.S. states. Last month, Governor Bruce Rauner, who defeated Democrat Pat Quinn in November, proposed an array of spending cuts to close a $6.2 billion budget shortfall.

Pension Repair

If the pension fix is upheld, Illinois will save about $1 billion on its $7.5 billion contribution requirement for 2015, which means that money can be spent elsewhere, said Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a Chicago-based independent budget watchdog group.

As a candidate, Rauner criticized the pension-repair bill, under which lawmakers planned to save about $145 billion over 30 years.

Before the legislators voted on it, Rauner said the plan “barely scratches the surface of the problem.” The Republican, a former venture capitalist, has called for shifting some public employees to a defined-contribution plan, similar to a 401(k).

Illinois pension changes were attained in 2013 following years of legislative gridlock and an unsuccessful attempt by Quinn to dock lawmakers’ pay to force a resolution.

Public worker unions, banding together as a coalition called We Are One Illinois, sued to block the measure in January 2014, arguing its members’ benefit plans are inviolable. Springfield Judge John Belz put the plan on hold in May and declared it void in November.

Health Plans

His ruling came just four months after the state Supreme Court rejected Illinois’ attempt to reduce its contributions for government retiree health-insurance plans. The justices, in a 6-1 decision, relied on the same constitutional provision.

“We believe the language of the pension clause is very clear,” said Anders Lindall, a spokesman for the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which has more than 75,000 members.

The provision was added to the state constitution to protect public workers from lawmakers making “irresponsible choices” and then looking to retirees’ life savings for a remedy, Lindall said.

Super-Contracts

Madigan maintains that interpreting the constitution that way would create super-contracts and nullify the state’s power to act for the greater good.

“If the pension clause really bars the state’s exercise of its police powers under every possible circumstance, no matter how dire, then the ‘contractual relationship’ the clause creates is unlike any other contractual relationship recognized in American law,” she said in court papers.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, the attorney general’s father, won’t comment on the issue, his spokesman Steve Brown said. State Senate President John Cullerton believes the law violates the Illinois constitution, spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said.

“He supported last year’s pension reform so that it could advance as a test case,” Phelon in a March 9 e-mail. Both legislative leaders are Democrats.

Nationally, state and local government pension plans in 2013 had about 72 percent of the money needed to meet retirement obligations, according to a study released in June by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

State constitutions have been invoked elsewhere to try to prevent cuts to public pensions. In Rhode Island, unions settled with the state over pension cuts before their constitutional challenge could be put to the test. In municipal bankruptcy cases in Detroit and California, judges ruled that federal law overrode state bans on cutting pensions.

With the Supreme Court arguments looming, two lawsuits involving changes to Chicago employee benefits have been put on hold because their fate might hinge on what the justices decide.

“The governor’s office will take appropriate action depending on how the Illinois Supreme Court rules,” said Rauner’s press secretary, Catherine Kelly. “The current pension system is unaffordable and is choking the state’s budget.”

The case is In re Pension Reform Litigation, 118585, Illinois Supreme Court (Springfield).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in federal court in Chicago at aharris16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net Sophia Pearson, David Glovin
Illinois Panel Weighs Municipal Bankruptcy; Other Options Available, Some Witnesses Say
Detroit workers and retirees demonstrating outside federal court
against emergency management and bankruptcy during 2014.
Thursday, March 26, 2015 2:32 pm

SPRINGFIELD — Do Illinois cities need the option of filing bankruptcy?

It’s something the state has to consider, says state Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downer’s Grove.

Sandack, a former mayor, is sponsoring House Bill 298, which would allow Illinois municipalities to seek reorganization under Chapter 9 of the U.S. bankruptcy code.

Chapter 9, Sandack said, is somewhat similar to the restructuring available to individuals under Chapter 13 and businesses under Chapter 11, but it is by no means a get-out-of-jail-free card.

A state bill would be necessary because federal bankruptcy law requires state authorization for Chapter 9 filings, and Illinois has no such provision.

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey testified Friday before a House committee on behalf of his city and the Illinois Municipal League, although he said Rockford is not considering bankruptcy.

He described the dire situation some cities are facing due to shrinking property tax bases, property tax caps, unfunded mandates and pension costs.

“Local city councils should not be in the position at the end of the day of deciding whether to pay a police officer on the street or pay a bond holder,” Morrissey said.

“Simply put, if cities are put in a position where they can’t pay all of their bills, this provision will provide the best — amongst not a lot of good — but the best way to help cities continue to provide public services to citizens while protecting our ability to access the financial markets and provide fairness to all creditors.”

Laurence Msall, president of The Civic Federation, said he agreed many cities are in a bind.

"Even relatively affluent municipalities have reported that over 100 percent of their property tax levy is now going to pay their pension funds, forcing them to find other revenue sources for basic municipal services,” he told members of the House Judiciary Committee.

Still, the federation could only support allowing Illinois municipalities to seek Chapter 9 if such communities had to go through a strong gatekeeper level, Msall said.

Illinois may not need a municipal bankruptcy option and it certainly does not need it very often, said William Brandt, outgoing chairman of the Illinois Finance Authority.

He advised the Legislature proceed with caution.

“Giving (the access to file) blanket authority will come back to haunt you in terms of municipal bond interest rates,” Brandt told the the committee.

Brandt has been involved in some of the country’s biggest-public entity bankruptcy cases, written bankruptcy law and overseen more-restrained forms of public restructuring.

He said Illinois should not let municipalities seek bankruptcy unless they first proceed through a mandatory gatekeeper.

Only if a short-term period of state-supervised restructuring and recovery fails should a Chapter 9 filing be allowed, he said.

“Chapter 9 can never be a substitute for political will,” he told the lawmakers.
Sandack said he’s open to studying ideas for a gatekeeper function and eventually might consider an amendment to that end.

Groups filing in opposition to the bill included the Fraternal Order of Police, Police Benevolent & Protective Association, Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, and Service Employees International Union.

Firefighters President Pat Devaney said he’s been frustrated with the depiction that state-mandated fire and police pensions are single-handedly breaking cities.

“While it's convenient to blame police and fire for all of the financial woes of our communities, unfortunately it’s not grounded in fact,” he said.

Devaney and Andrew Bodewes, speaking for the F.O.P., said their unions are glad help search for budget solutions if everyone would keep the conversations factual, explore all costs and revenues and try to work together.

Twenty-four states authorize or conditionally authorize municipal bankruptcy, according to the organization State Budget Solutions. Chapter 9 has been available since the mid-1930s, but has been used fewer than 700 times.

Some of the country’s more well-known and recent  municipal bankruptcies include Detroit and the California cities of Stockton and San Bernardino.

Friday’s hearing was for testimony only; the bill remains in committee.
Abayomi Azikiwe, PANW Editor, Featured on RT Worldwide Satellite News: ‘Yemen Crisis--Clearly a Failure of US Foreign Policy’
To watch this interview with Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, on RT worldwide satellite television news service aired on March 25, 2015, just click on the website below:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxZ7LSgQTWE&feature=youtu.be

The US, which not long ago called Yemen an example of successful counter-terror strategy, underestimated the power of the Houthis in the country as they have already gained control over several cities, said Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor, Pan-African News Wire.

A coalition of Gulf nations, led by Saudi Arabia, has launched a military operation in Yemen. It’s aimed at stopping the advance of Shia Houthi militants who control the capital Sana’a, and the coastal city of Aden.

RT:Saudi Arabia and several other Gulf countries are getting involved in the situation in Yemen. Where do you see this heading?

Abayomi Azikiwe: It’s a very dangerous situation. What this represents is the total collapse of US foreign policy in Yemen. They have evacuated their special forces. Approximately 100 of them were stationed in Yemen. At the same time US diplomatic personnel have also been evacuated. The US-backed President Hadi had called for such an intervention.

RT: What reaction do you expect from Iran now?

AA: The Iranians are of course backing the Houthi militia groups because they are part of the Shia alliance that exists throughout the region. Therefore, they will have some political support. But I don’t see them directly intervening militarily in Yemen in response to this escalation by Saudi Arabia. But it is clearly something that has the endorsement of the Obama administration. They have lost their capacity in a sense to intervene directly and are utilizing Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] as a proxy force that will try to bolster Hadi in Yemen.

RT: Just six months ago President Obama was calling Yemen a success story. He said: “This strategy of taking out terrorists, who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” Do you think Washington has been taken by surprise by the latest developments?

AA: Washington has its hands full in Syria, in Iraq, and in other geopolitical regions. This is why they want to rely on the Gulf Cooperation Council. But there was clearly a miscalculation on a part of the Obama administration that they underestimated the power of the Houthi groups inside the country which took control in September of the capital of Sana’a. Just recently they took control of the city of Taiz; they have been moving South over the last several days towards Aden. So it’s clearly a failure of US foreign policy in Yemen.

RT: The city of Aden is home to a major oil refinery and is a major shipping hub. Could we see the Houthi rebels taking control over these supplies as well?

AA: It will be very interesting to see what happens if the Saudis and the GCC utilizes air power. It could perhaps halt their advances. But in the long-term, if the Saudis are not willing to put in massive ground forces then there could be whole struggle developing around the control of Aden. Also, we have to keep in mind that in the South there is a huge separatist movement that is resurfacing: Yemen was divided between the North and the South up until about 25 years ago. The South was a socialist-oriented republic, and the North was more allied with the US and the West. This is another fact that has to be taken into consideration. These separatist movements have been growing over the last several months.

RT: Yemen is seeing a total security collapse. Could it be the next front in the expansion of Islamic State?

AA: We’ll have to see if there is any significant IS intervention. Al-Qaeda has been operating there for a while. This is the raison d'être that the US has utilized for carrying out these drone attacks against the people in Yemen, particularly the so-called al-Qaeda bases there. But it remains to be seen what role the IS may have if they decide to enter in greater numbers in Yemen.
Nigerian Polls: We Are Ready for Troublemakers – Army
Thursday, 26 March 2015 05:01
Written by Ronald Mutum
Nigerian Daily Trust

Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Kenneth Minimah, addressed a news conference in Abuja yesterday.

Minimah has warned that politicians planning violence during the elections would be met by “organized violence.”

The polls begin on Saturday with the Presidential and National Assembly elections to be followed by the governorship and state assembly elections on April 11.

He spoke yesterday when he walked into a press conference being addressed by the Army spokesman, Colonel Sani Usman at the Army Headquarters in Abuja.

Colonel Usman was answering questions on election security when General Minimah joined the session that usually holds monthly.

He said: “Whoever wants to invoke or provoke violence would meet ‘organized violence’ waiting for him.”

He said a few years ago, political support for presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney polarised the American people politically, but that none of them threatened the peace of the United States, or threatened violence.

Minimah also said none of the parties contesting election in the United Kingdom had threatened violence. “Nobody thinks of violence as a process of the elections, why must we in Nigeria consider violence as a process of our own election,” he asked.

“Therefore, every Nigerian should go about the election as a normal day’s job, go and vote and do your normal day’s engagement.

 “Whoever threatens violence will meet violence, the election should come and go peacefully, if you win, rule, if you lose, the remedies are there, go to court,” he said.

General Minimah appealed to politicians, their followers and supporters to keep the peace and ensure a violence free election.

“I will appeal to law abiding Nigerians to come out en mass, vote for candidates of their choice without fear of intimidation, without fear for their safety, it is their right to vote he said”

He added that the armed forces, together with other security organisations, have made adequate arrangements for security during the general elections.

On the court order barring soldiers from election duty, Minimah responded thus: “I can interpret it further, this is not your first elections, you have seen several elections in Nigeria, and you have seen soldiers providing security for the elections.

“Have you seen soldiers at polling booths? Have you seen soldiers counting ballots or carry ballot material, papers, boxes or whatever? So I don’t know what you are asking? I should even ask you,” he said.

Answering earlier questions, the army spokesman said allegations that the Presidency is planning to hand over power to the military is uncharitable.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo said in Abeokuta Tuesday that there are rumours in the country that the government might hand over power to the military.

He warned that if such rumour becomes a reality, it would undermine the integrity of Nigeria among the comity of nations.

Reacting, the Army spokesman said: “For anybody to say such a thing that person is being uncharitable to the Nigerian army.

“I stand to be corrected if there is any institution more than the army that has been in the vanguard of sustenance of democracy in the country.”

On the counter terrorism campaign, Col Usman said the army had been acquiring new equipment which is being deployed in the north-east, and that troops were being trained on how to handle them.

In some cases the training was being conducted in the theatre of war, but added that this had given rise to the false report about mercenaries were engaged in the fighting.

Col Usman announced that the army had begun the payment of scholarship to children and dependants of all deceased personnel who died in active service.

He said the payment, based on approved criteria, would end at the end of the month.
Nigerian Presidential Candidates Jonathan and Buhari Renew Peace Accord 
Pledge to respect outcome of presidential poll
Urge supporters to shun violence

Thursday, 26 March 2015 08:26
Written by Isiaka Wakili
Nigerian Daily Trust

Jonathan and Buhari are the main contenders in Saturday's Presidential election.

President Goodluck Jonathan and the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), General Muhammadu Buhari, met this morning to renew their peace accord.

The meeting, which took place at Sheraton Hotel in Abuja,  was supervised by the National Peace Committee for the 2015 General Elections headed by former Head of State General Abdulsalami Abubakar‎.

In the renewed accord they jointly signed, Jonathan and Buhari reassured the world of their commitment to a violence-free presidential election on Saturday.

In what was titled "Renewal of Our Pledges to Peaceful Elections", they also pledged to respect the outcome of free, fair and credible elections.

They called on all Nigerians and their supporters to refrain from violence and acts capable of jeopardising their collective vision of free, fair and credible polls.

Jonathan and Buhari also called on the INEC and the security agencies to ensure strict adherence to their constitutional roles.

The renewed accord was read by Bishop Hassan Kukah thus: "You may recall that on 14th January 2015, both of us, long with nine other party leaders signed what has now come to be known as the Abuja Accord. The substance of that accord was our commitment to free, fair and credible elections in our dear country. In the accord, we agreed to, among other things, run an issue-based campaign and pledged that our electoral campaigns will not involve any religious incitement, ethnic or tribal profiling, both by ourselves and all agents acting in our names.

"Now that the campaigns have come to an end, we met today to renew our pledge for peaceful elections. We therefore call on all fellow citizens of our dear country, and our part supporters, to refrain from violence or any acts that may in any way jeopardise our collective vision of a free, fair and credible election.

"In addition, we call on INEC and all security agencies to ensure strict adherence to their constitutional roles. We also pledge to respect the outcome of free, fair and credible elections.

"Today, we again renewed our commitment to a united, democratic and prosperous Nigeria. We want all Nigerians to stand together at this critical phase of our nation's history.

"Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria. God bless you all. Signed by Jonathan, Buhari and Abdusalam Abubakar."

In his remarks, Abubakar said the peace committee was set up after the Abuja Accord signed by both Jonathan, Buhari and other presidential candidates on January 14.

He said his committee had been working round the clock to help political parties and Nigerians to ensure peace and harmony before, during and after the elections.

He said "Mr. President was kind enough to see us yesterday (Wednesday), one he is the President of the country and secondly he is a contestant. And this morning Gen. Buhari despite his late arrival last night or early arrival this morning, was kind enough to meet with this committee.

"In essence, all the meetings were held to brief them the current situation of the country and what we expect of them as stakeholders and as presidential candidates. I want to thank both the president and Gen. Buhari for finding time to meet with the committee. And I want to thank both party chairmen for the support received in trying to send this message of peace.

"I'm happy both parties, the contestants, are committed to free and fair elections, free of violence. And this morning a document to reiterate their commitment for this peaceful and for the forthcoming elections".
Deadly Force in Philadelphia
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
New York Times
MARCH 26, 2015

In 1994, three years after the country viewed the infamous video of Los Angeles police officers brutalizing Rodney King, a black motorist, Congress gave the Justice Department the power to restructure police departments engaged in unconstitutional practices.

Federal officials have exercised that power several times since then, but, over the last five years, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has been particularly aggressive. His office has opened 20 investigations into local police department practices — including in Ferguson, Mo., where a federal report earlier this month uncovered proof of unconstitutional, racially biased policing. And Justice Department officials are currently enforcing reform agreements with 15 police departments, some of which were investigated by previous administrations using the same authority.

Mr. Holder has also created a voluntary program under which police departments that want to remedy systemic problems like biased enforcement or excessive use of deadly force can seek assistance from the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, which then pays for a detailed evaluation that includes recommendations for reform.

A report released earlier this week on the historically troubled Philadelphia Police Department shows both the virtues of the reform program and the steep challenge police departments face even when they actually want to correct dangerous practices.

Philadelphia’s department has a vivid history of serious malfeasance, dating to at least 1979, when the Justice Department sued the city over police brutality. Six years later, during a standoff with a radical political group, a State Police helicopter dropped a bomb on a house. The resulting conflagrations killed 11 people and destroyed 61 homes. More recently, police officers have been videotaped beating and punching people, which has further alienated them from an increasingly nervous and even hostile public.

In 2013, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey turned to the Justice Department for guidance — and answers — after the news website philly.com revealed that even though Philadelphia’s crime rates had declined, police officers were firing guns at suspects more frequently.

The evaluation team brought in by the Justice Department reported that, between 2007 and 2014, police officers opened fire at suspects more than 390 times. The team did not make a judgment about whether the police were firing too often. But it found basic design problems with a lethal-force policy that Philadelphia’s police had always assumed was properly protective of public safety. The team ended up making an astonishing 91 different recommendations for improving departmental practices.

One was to greatly improve training to show “students not only when and how to use force, but when and how not to use force and to de-escalate, verbally and tactically, if appropriate.” The report also found that the department’s guidance on the use of deadly force was “fragmented” and confusing, particularly for newer officers who were trying to understand a byzantine system.

In addition, the report asked the department to greatly strengthen its own internal investigative apparatus so as to more quickly discipline officers who act irresponsibly or break departmental rules. The report found that officers involved in shootings are, for the most part, not interviewed until three or more months after the incident. The department’s inability to handle these matters efficiently and transparently has created what the report calls “an undercurrent of significant strife” between the community and its police.

The Philadelphia Police Department will obviously need to rebuild its policies from the ground up. Though its participation in the reform effort is voluntary, failure to take reform seriously could leave it open not only to further complaints from citizens but also legal action by the federal government. What the department has going for it is Washington’s willingness to help with the reforms. That, as much as the pressure the Justice Department brings to bear, is what makes Mr. Holder’s strategy so welcome.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Guinea Govt Urges Dialogue After Opposition Protest Call
By AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
March 26, 2015

CONAKRY, Mar 26 – The government of Ebola-hit Guinea urged a dialogue after the three main opposition leaders called for renewed protests against President Alpha Conde over upcoming elections.

“I would like to repeat the government’s desire to find ways to restore confidence in the electoral process and to respect the constitution. But especially to preserve social peace,” government spokesman Albert Damantang Camara told a press conference.

In a joint statement signed Tuesday in Paris, former prime ministers Cellou Dalein Diallo, Sidya Toure and Lansana Kouyate accused Conde of repeated rights violations and said he had “lost all legitimacy”.

The opposition boycotted parliament earlier this month in protest over the timetable for presidential elections, accusing Conde of using the Ebola epidemic as an excuse to postpone voting and refusing to enter into a dialogue over the timetable.

The former premiers called on demonstrators to support their demands, especially the call to bring forward local elections due in March next year.

“The election schedule has been decided by an independent body. If part of the political class does not agree with the program we can discuss it, to identify the real problems it poses and find real solutions,” the government spokesman said.

“Questioning the legitimacy of the president of the republic… is we think excessive in relation to the issues at stake,” Camara said in a statement.

“We call on the entire political class to enter into a dialogue. We are open to solutions, and we are listening. This dialogue must take place quickly and without conditions.”

In interviews with AFP in Paris, Diallo, president of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea, said discussions with the authorities had been ineffective and appealed for international pressure, while Toure vowed to launch protests on their return to Conakry on Thursday.

More than 10,000 people have died of Ebola, almost all in west Africa, since it emerged in Guinea in December 2013.

The last election in Guinea – September 2013’s parliamentary vote – was delayed by almost three years, stoking deadly ethnic tensions that have dogged the country’s politics since independence.

One of the poorest countries in the region despite vast potential for mineral exploitation, Guinea was run by a succession of autocratic rulers after gaining independence from France in 1958.
U.S. Airstrikes on ISIS in Tikrit Prompt Boycott by Shiite Fighters
By ROD NORDLAND and HELENE COOPER
New York Times
MARCH 26, 2015

AL RASHID AIR BASE, Iraq — By Day 2 of the American airstrike campaign against militants holed up in Tikrit, the mission appeared beleaguered on several fronts on Thursday: Thousands of Shiite militiamen boycotted the fight, others threatened to attack any Americans they found, and Iraqi officials said nine of their fighters had been accidentally killed in an airstrike.

In Washington, American military leaders insisted that things were going according to plan. They said that they were stepping into the Tikrit fight only after the Iranian- and militia-led advance on the city had stalled after three weeks, and that they welcomed working solely with Iraqi government forces.

Gen. Lloyd Austin, the head of the United States Central Command, told a Senate hearing on Thursday that no Shiite militias remained in Tikrit.

While the withdrawal of Iranian-led Shiite militias was one of the preconditions for the Americans to join the fight against the Islamic State in Tikrit, the sudden departure of three of the major groups risked leaving the Iraqi ground forces short-handed, especially if other Shiite militiamen also abandoned the fight.

The three militia groups, some of which had Iranian advisers with them until recently, pulled out of the Tikrit fight to protest the American airstrikes, which began late Wednesday night, insisting that the Americans were not needed to defeat the extremists in Tikrit.

Too great or abrupt a withdrawal by militia forces, analysts said, could complicate the entire Iraqi counteroffensive. Even with the militias involved, officials said the current pro-government force would not be large enough to eventually help take Mosul back from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Top officials at the Pentagon appeared to think that it would not be easy to retake even Tikrit without Iranian help. “It’s going to require the kind of hammer-and-anvil approach of ground forces forcing ISIL to respond in ways that they’re targetable by air power,” one Defense Department official said. “But we’re less than 24 hours into it.”

Another official, asked if he was worried that the United States now owned the Tikrit operation, said, “Yes. This was a calculated risk, but it’s one that had to be taken.” Both officials spoke on grounds of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

Together, the four Shiite groups that objected to the American air role already represent more than a third of the 30,000 fighters on the government side in the offensive against the Islamic State, analysts said.

“We don’t trust the American-led coalition in combating ISIS,” said Naeem al-Uboudi, the spokesman for Asaib Ahl al-Haq, one of the three groups which said it would withdraw from the front line around Tikrit. “In the past, they have targeted our security forces and dropped aid to ISIS by mistake,” he said.

One of the leaders of the biggest militias in the fight, the Badr Organization, also criticized the American role and said his group, too, might pull out.

“We don’t need the American-led coalition to participate in Tikrit. Tikrit is an easy battle, we can win it ourselves,” said Mueen al-Kadhumi, who is one of the Shiite militia group’s top commanders.

“We have not yet decided if we will pull out or not,” he said. The Badr Organization’s leader, Hadi al-Ameri, was shown on Iraqi television leading the ground fight in Tikrit on Thursday.

The office of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Thursday night that he went personally to Tikrit, presumably to persuade Mr. Ameri to keep his fighters in the field.

The Badr Organization fields the largest cohesive ground force in the conflict, and its withdrawal from Tikrit would be potentially catastrophic, according to Wafiq al-Hashimi, the head of the Iraqi Group for Strategic Studies.

“Dr. Abadi rushed into this decision to liberate Tikrit with the Americans without taking time to work out a compromise among all these groups and the Americans, most of whom have a lot of disputes with the Americans,” Mr. Hashimi said.

Another Iranian-aligned Shiite militia group reacted with defiance and threats against the Americans.

“We are staying in Tikrit, we are not leaving and we are going to target the American-led coalition in Tikrit and their creation, ISIS,” said Akram al-Kabi, the leader of the Nujabaa Brigade, a powerful militia that has previously sent fighters to Syria on behalf of the Bashir al-Assad government there.

His remarks raised the possibility that the group would use antiaircraft fire against coalition warplanes, using Iraqi fighting positions.

On Thursday night, an airstrike on the village of Alvu Ajeel, on the edge of Tikrit, killed six Shiite militiamen, as well as three federal policemen, one of them a colonel, according to a spokesman for the Iraqi military’s Salahuddin Operations Command. The strike was thought to have been carried out by the United States.

The spokesman, who would not give his name because of official policy, described it as a “friendly fire” episode.

A Pentagon spokesman said he could not confirm the event. “We review all allegations and investigate those found credible,” said Col. Steve Warren, director of Defense Press Operations.

It was not known if the militiamen who were killed in the friendly fire episode belonged to Al Nujabaa or another group.

The American airstrikes in Tikrit began late on Wednesday night and continued for eight and a half hours, subsiding at dawn on Thursday, when Iraq’s handful of Russian-made fighter jets took over from this base on the outskirts of Baghdad and further bombed Tikrit in a succession of daytime raids, Iraqi officials said.

The other groups that announced they would boycott the Tikrit operation were Qatab Hizbullah, which like Asaib Ahl al-Haq is closely aligned and supported by Iran, and the Peace Brigade, the latest name for a militia made of up followers of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, previously known as the Mahdi Army.

Mr. Sadr, whose troops fought bitter battles against the Americans during much of the Iraq war, said his group was pulling out because, “The participation of the so-called international alliance is to protect ISIS on the one hand, and to confiscate the achievements of the Iraqis on the other hand.”

Since March 2, Islamic State forces in Tikrit have been under attack by the Iraqi militias, collectively known as the Popular Mobilization Committees, and regular Iraqi military forces, accompanied at times by Iranian military advisers.

Still, a much smaller force of Islamic State fighters has been able to hold them off in a few areas of the city for almost four weeks.

In recent days, despite the claims of self-sufficiency made by militia commanders, Iraqi military officials said American airstrikes were needed to break the deadlock.

The militias who were withdrawing did not say they were quitting their positions in the Tikrit area altogether, or in adjoining areas of Salahuddin Province, just returning to their nearby bases and boycotting the front-line advance.

Staff Gen. Anwer Hamid, the commander of the Iraqi Air Force, said that the American airstrikes would continue, with Americans concentrating their attacks during the night for operational reasons.

“Their role in this fighting is very important to us,” he said. “They have a high number of aircraft and they have good capabilities, they can really help us.”

Rod Nordland reported from Al Rashid Air Base, and Helene Cooper from Washington. An Iraqi employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Salahuddin Province, Falih Hassan from Baghdad, and Peter Baker from Washington.
China ‘Deeply Worried’ Over Saudi Attacks on Yemen
Thu Mar 26, 2015 9:17PM
pressstv.ir

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, held a press conference on March 26, 2015.

China’s foreign ministry has expressed profound concerns about the ongoing chaotic conditions in Yemen following Saudi Arabia’s airstrikes on the capital Sana’a.

“The Chinese side has noticed that (Saudi Arabia has launched airstrikes against Yemen) and is deeply worried about the situation in Yemen that is getting worse,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, said at a weekly press briefing on Thursday.

Expressing hope that the crisis could be resolved “through political dialogues”, Hua said, “We hope that all parties will act in accordance with relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council… and restore national stability and order at an early date.”

Hua also said advised Chinese citizens to cancel their planned visits to Yemen until further notice.

Saudi-led attacks: widely condemned

The Saudi invasion of Yemen drew condemnation from Iran, Russia, the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah, Syria, and Iraq.

The Iranian foreign minister called on Saudi Arabia on Thursday to immediately cease its military aggression against Yemen.

Speaking to Press TV on the situation in Yemen, he said, “We believe that the situation in Yemen is a very dangerous situation and we advise against any escalation because we believe that any interference in Yemen will simply lead to further loss of human life as it has since this morning.”

Meanwhile, Russia slammed the Saudi military aggression against Yemen, saying the offensive is not the right way to settle the crisis in the Arab country.

Saudi Arabia announced in the early hours of Thursday that it had begun launching airstrikes against the Houthis in the Yemeni capital city of Sana’a, where the Ansarullah fighters have been making advances.

The blatant violation of Yemen’s sovereignty by Saudi government, which have so far claimed the lives of at least 18 civilians, comes against a backdrop of total silence on the part of international bodies, especially the United Nations. 
US Senators Endorse Iran Sanctions in Budget Vote
Fri Mar 27, 2015 2:43AM

The US Senate has unanimously approved a non-binding amendment that backs imposing new economic sanctions against Iran if President Barack Obama can't verify that the country is following a nuclear accord.

The symbolic measure aimed at building pressure on Iran as nuclear negotiations have entered a sensitive stage was approved on Thursday with 100 votes in favor of the motion and zero against it.

Republican Senator Mark Kirk introduced the amendment, which was part of an ongoing budget debate. The measure is non-binding because budget resolutions do not become law, but it was passed to send a political message.

"If we find out that there's further development in the Iran nuclear program, it will allow me to remind 100 senators that they voted with me today," Kirk told the AFP news agency.

The 100 percent support for the measure came after it was amended. The original document supported restoring removed sanctions as well as imposing new sanctions, if Iran violated an agreement on its nuclear energy program.

The amendment supports imposing sanctions against Iran if Obama "cannot make a determination and certify that Iran is complying" with a nuclear accord.

The Senate vote comes at a time when officials from Iran and the P5+1 –  the US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany – have resumed sensitive negotiations in Switzerland aimed at reaching a comprehensive agreement in order to end the longstanding dispute over the Islamic Republic’s civilian nuclear work as a July 1 deadline approaches.

Representatives of Iran and the P5+1 took part in the talks in the Swiss city of Lausanne on Thursday.

Following the deputy-level talks, Iranian Deputy Foreign Ministers Abbas Araqchi and Majid Takht-e Ravanch also held a separate meeting with their Russian counterpart Sergey Rybakov.

Before the meetings, representatives of Iran, the US and the European Union ended a second round of nuclear talks on Tehran’s nuclear program.
Exceptional Chance for Iran Nuclear Issue: Rouhani
Thu Mar 26, 2015 8:56PM
presstv.ir

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani says an "exceptional opportunity" has emerged for the resolution of Tehran's nuclear issue.

Rouhani made the remarks on Thursday in a phone conversation with British Prime Minister David Cameron as Iran, the United States and the European Union ended a second round of nuclear talks on Tehran’s nuclear program in the Swiss city of Lausanne.

"We should move in the direction of national and international interests and do not let this opportunity... be missed easily," the Iranian president said.

"Special conditions are prevailing over the negotiations because our common positions regarding the peacefulness of [Iran's] nuclear activities and the necessity of removal of all unjust sanctions can lead us to the final solution," he added.

Rouhani emphasized that Iran’s nuclear energy program is peaceful as required under a fatwa by Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.

Iran and P5+1 group of countries - the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany - have been in talks to resolve outstanding issues surrounding the Islamic Republic’s peaceful nuclear program.

Rouhani has also written "to the leaders of the P5+1 group of countries" involved in nuclear talks, his office said Thursday.

France active role urged

In a phone conversation with French President Francois Hollande, Rouhani referred to France’s “positive role” during previous nuclear talks between Iran and three major European states from 2003 to 2005, calling for an “active role” of Paris in ongoing talks in Lausanne.

“Enemies of relations between the two states want a non-constructive role of France in the negotiations, but the French government will undo their objectives by (playing) its constructive role,” he said.

Hollande also called for a "lasting, robust and verifiable" nuclear accord with Iran.

"The president, while insisting on Iran's legitimate right to use peaceful nuclear power, insisted on the need to work towards a lasting, robust and verifiable agreement on Iran's nuclear program," Hollande's office said in a statement.

Hope for progress

In a phone conversation, Rouhani and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, voiced hope for progress at the talks in Switzerland.

"Hope was expressed for success at the new round of talks in Lausanne," the Kremlin said in a statement.

The two leaders "noted with satisfaction the progress" made over previous weeks over Iran’s nuclear drive.

Yemen situation

Rouhani and Putin also discussed the latest developments of Yemen.

Putin said that his country is against any military intervention in Yemen and that Moscow considers the Saudi invasion as a non-constructive move.

Saudi invasion condemned

In his phone talks, Rouhani highlighted the Saudi airstrikes against Yemen that left dozens of people dead, condemning any military intervention in the internal affairs of independent nations.

In talks with Hollande, the Iranian president described the Saudi invasion as a dangerous move.

"Interference by foreign militaries is very dangerous and deepens the crisis," Rouhani said, adding that the "solution to Yemen's problems is not military."

On Thursday, Saudi warplanes carried out several airstrikes against Yemen, hitting the cities of Sana’a, Sa’ada and Ta’izz.

Saudi warplanes started bombing the positions of the Ansarullah fighters and launched attacks against the Sana’a International Airport and the Dulaimi airbase early on Thursday.

Yemeni security forces inspect the damage at the scene of a Saudi airstrike targeting the group which controls Sana’a near the airport in the Yemeni capital on March 26, 2015.

The blatant invasion of Yemen’s sovereignty by the Saudi government comes against a backdrop of total silence on the part of international bodies, especially the United Nations. The world body has so far failed to show any reaction whatsoever to the violation of the sovereignty of one of its members by Riyadh.
US, Iran Resume Talks on Preliminary Nuclear Deal as Deadline Looms
Reuters
March 27, 2015

LAUSANNE--The United States and Iran resumed negotiations on Thursday aimed at clinching a nuclear deal before a March 31 deadline, and officials close to the talks said some kind of preliminary agreement between Tehran and six powers was possible.

As the talks began, Washington and Tehran took opposing stands on Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen against rebels allied to Iran who are fighting to oust the country’s president, but it was unclear whether this would affect the nuclear talks.

The two sides are seeking a political framework accord by the end of this month that would lay the foundations for a full deal by June 30.

Under a final settlement, Tehran would halt sensitive nuclear work for at least a decade and in exchange, international sanctions on Iran would be lifted. This would aim to end the country’s 12-year nuclear standoff with the West and reduce the risk of another war in the Middle East.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz met their Iranian counterparts, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Atomic Energy Organisation chief Ali Akbar Salehi, in the Swiss city of Lausanne.

Earlier, Iranian media quoted Zarif as condemning the Saudi-led military operation against the Shi’ite Muslim Houthi fighters in Yemen, and demanding that it stop.

By contrast, Kerry spoke to the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council members on Thursday and welcomed their decision to take action against the Houthis, a senior US official said.

However, neither Kerry nor Zarif responded when asked by a reporter in Lausanne to comment on the air strikes.

Speaking to reporters traveling with Kerry from Washington on Wednesday, a senior State Department official said the six powers - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China - would not rush to complete a framework agreement with Iran just because there was a March 31 deadline.

But the official said the parties had made progress at last week’s inconclusive round of negotiations in Lausanne.

“We very much believe we can get this done by the 31st,” the official said. “We see a path to do that.” The official added, however, that there was no guarantee of success.

Salehi also said a deal was possible but not certain. “It is difficult to forecast whether we can reach a result at this round of talks but we are moving toward reaching a mutual understanding in all technical issues,” he told Iranian state television.

Israel, Saudi Arabia, France and US Congress have all raised concerns that the administration of President Barack Obama might be willing to conclude a deal that would allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability in the future.

The State Department official said: “Any political understanding needs to address in some way all of the elements of a final agreement.”

“We do not know what form this will take ... We have always said it needs to have specifics. We will need to communicate as many specifics as possible in some form or fashion (to the public and US Congress).”

Those elements include the different ways to a nuclear weapon, ensuring that it would take Iran at least one year to produce enough high enriched uranium for a single bomb, research and development into advanced centrifuges, transparency measures and monitoring, and sanctions relief for Iran.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, opposes the idea of a two-step process. Iranian officials say they fear a written framework accord would curtail Tehran’s negotiating space for the final deal.

Iranian officials have also suggested they could accept some kind of statement or political declaration in Lausanne, as opposed to a formal written agreement.

Officials close to the talks said deep disagreements remained between Tehran and the powers, while divisions had also emerged in recent weeks between the United States and France on what to demand of Tehran. US officials say the six are united.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who last week phoned his negotiation team to tell them to keep a tough line in the talks, will join the talks on Saturday. Other ministers may also arrive at then, officials said.

Iran denies Western allegations it is seeking the capability to procure atomic weapons. But Israel, which is believed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, has previously threatened Iran with military attack.

With the Republican-led US Congress threatening to vote on new sanctions against Iran if there is no agreement this month, the Obama administration is pushing hard to secure a deal. Obama has vowed to veto any new sanctions moves.

Other officials said some kind of memorandum of understanding that would satisfy US needs for Congress and Khamenei’s demands was possible by Sunday.

The main obstacle, Western officials say, remains Iran’s refusal to compromise on sanctions, research and development and other issues. Salehi disagreed, saying it was the Western powers who need to compromise.

“Iran has demonstrated its political will and it is up to the other side to take a step forward and show that it has the political will to allow a resolution of the problem,” he was quoted as saying on Iran’s Press TV website. 
No Emancipation for Women Without Economic Transformation
Next month, the African National Congress Women's League (ANCWL) will hold its National Conference. It comes in the 21st year of South Africa's democracy: and at a time when the ruling African National Congress (ANC) embarks upon the next phase of our revolution - paving the way for radical socio-economic transformation. It is self-evident that that true emancipation of a people cannot happen unless the economic circumstances of that people are changed.

Nowhere is the correlation between improved economic circumstances and emancipation more evident, than in the lives of women. In South Africa, this has particular resonance for black, working class women: who were relegated, through centuries of oppression and patriarchy, to second-class citizenship.

It has been under the ANC that dignity was restored to the lives of the majority of South African women: to a society wherein they fully participate, bolstered by the provisions of the Constitution that guarantees non-racialism, non-sexism and non-discrimination on the grounds of gender.

Whilst there has been some progress made in implementing the ANC's policies intended to accelerate transformation and the economic empowerment of women, economic marginalization continues. Women, and black women specifically, have been generally excluded from meaningful employment and business opportunities; they have been largely confined to low-skilled and menial work and denied equal pay for equal work. Women are also uncompensated and discriminated against for work performed in the home (including as child-minders and carers), or subject to numerous other obstacles against succeeding in the workplace.

In addition, cultural stereotypes and entrenched patriarchy continue to impede the advancement of women in the economy. In short, poverty wears a dress.

When the more than 20 000 brave women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 09 August 1956, weathering the elements and the might of the apartheid security forces: they set in motion a movement that would not be deterred, intimidated or cowed into submission.

It is due to the determination and resilience of these women that we have the non-sexist, egalitarian South Africa today. They were heroes; and we as the women of South Africa owe them an immense, incalculable debt.

It is mindful of the precedent set by the pioneers of the 1956 Women's March, that we as the ANCWL convene our National Conference in April: to take forward the work for which they laid firm foundations. The conference will be attended by 3000 delegates, drawn not just from the ranks of the league, but also from ANC structures, the alliance partners, the progressive women's movement, business, and the media.

In the run-up to the conference, the league has convened regional and provincial general councils: to consolidate the policy positions of the branches - as well as their preferences for the leadership of the organization. Under the theme "Radical Transformation of Women's Socio-Economic Rights”, the conference will deliberate on ways to transform the socio-economic circumstances of women of South Africa.

The ANCWL Policy Conference held last year offered key, tangible recommendations on how to advance the socio-economic liberation of women. In this we have drawn on the successes of others whose political leadership faced similar challenges.

For example, the ANCWL is exploring the possibility of accessing women to finance through the establishment of a Women's Bank: modeled on the successful Grameen microfinance and community development bank, founded by Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh. By removing the need for collateral required by conventional banks - the poorest of the poor have been able to enter the banking orbit through Grameen: "on terms that were both reasonable and appropriate.” According to Grameen, it had 8.349 million borrowers as of October 2011. Ninety seven per cent are women.

This is one of the many policies, plans and programmes the branches of the ANCWL advanced during the National Policy Conference last year. To streamline these initiatives the ANCWL will call for the establishment of a Women's Empowerment Fund to be located in the Ministry of Women: to assist women in accessing finance that could result in the betterment of their lives.

The establishment of a Ministry of Small Business Development is an indication of government's vision of SMME's as a driver of job creation, economic growth, and supporting an inclusive economy for the benefit of women in particular. To further the inclusion of more women in the economy, both formal and informal, we as the ANCWL support the work of the ministry, and encourage women to utilize its resources.

The land question remains an emotive one, and constitutes the core of the struggle for the political, economic and social emancipation of the people of South Africa, and of women, in particular. Involving women in the agricultural sector is a priority: which starts with farm ownership and management. We will call on government to develop and implement programmes that will ensure that women utilize the accessed land for their economic development. Partnerships with the private sector should be facilitated - to create markets for produce and goods manufactured by women cooperatives and companies.

We will advance initiatives that will encourage women to play a more active role in agriculture. This includes facilitating access to government resources around agro-processing, biofuel cultivation and job opportunities in the sector. This will necessitate paving the way for more women to get agricultural training and education.

On a policy level, the Conference will consider a recommendation that the review process of the 1913 Land Act should ensure that women access productive agricultural land; and that adequate mentoring programmes are provided to women given land by government.

We want to assist women in entering the mainstream economy, by making it easier for them to register companies. The ANCWL Conference will consider a recommendation to lobby for a certain percentage of tenders for poverty relief programmes to be ring-fenced for women-headed companies.

The ANCWL affirms that the socio-economic development of the majority of South Africans has been vastly improved in the past twenty-one years: largely due to increased spending to build vast and inclusive social security net. However, there have been instances of social grants and other government poverty relief initiatives being misused by beneficiaries. The Conference will consider the recommendation of proposing that up to 50 per cent of government child support grants should be in the form of non-transferable food vouchers.

We acknowledge that education plays a key role in facilitating the access of more women into the economy. More emphasis must be placed on skills training, strengthening technical vocational education and training, and targeting more women for training in technical subjects t a tertiary level.

The ANCWL is firmly behind our government as it calls on all citizens to Work Together to Move South Africa Forward. And in this, let us never lose sight of the fact that in order to fully emancipate women, their economic conditions must of necessity be remedied. As we look towards our National Conference, we once again call on all stakeholders, and the women of South Africa themselves, to make submissions to us on how we may take their voices with us.
Freedom of Speech is a Human Right
Comrade Jessie Duarte is the Deputy Secretary General of the ANC

Human rights are a birthright and inherent to every single one of us. The post World War 2 period has preoccupied itself with the issue of human rights, recognising the atrocities that had pertained then. We can appreciate, therefore, why even the Vienna Declaration impressed upon the United Nations to uphold human rights as an essential part of democracy and development; and to ensure that it makes concerted effort to ensure they prevail. It is in this regard that we cannot divorce a nation’s democracy and development from its human rights and the exercise thereof. While democracy, on the one hand, is the expression of a people’s choice for a political system of their own; human rights are a means by which that society interfaces with their political, social, cultural and economic environment. It can, therefore, be argued that human rights are a necessary ingredient of democracy and development.

As a country, we have a proud history of the written word dating as far back as the early part of the 20th century. African intellectuals took to writing, whether it was the chronicling of life in South Africa by Sol Plaatjie or the Izwi Labantu by Jabavu and Rubusana. The liberation movements and various non government organisations, throughout this period produced various publications. These were either in protest against the government of the day or as expressions of everyday life in our country. This necessitated that there is a plethora of voices and a plurality of views on our society.

In recognition of national Human Rights Day, to be celebrated on March 21st - this Saturday - the provincial government of the Western Cape has posted a "Know Your Rights" page. On the page it summarises South Africa’s Bill of Rights; among whose rights it lists the "freedom of expression", which it explains as "all people (including the press) can say whatever they want". The irony of it all is that it is the same provincial government that has expressly decided to can funding for the Cape Times. The reason is because the Cape Times has opted to exercise its human right of freedom of expression and, to "say whatever they want".

This act comes on the eve of our country celebrating Human Rights Day and is carried out by a government that has professed, publicly, to be the defenders of our Constitution. We are of course, to wonder which Constitution they uphold or that they do so selectively. Freedom of expression, as asserted to by the provincial government’s homepage, is an integral part of the Bill of Rights, which is Chapter Two of our Constitution.

The attitude of the DA provincial government and its leader reflects what is gradually emerging in some circles in our society, where only a certain privileged and elite class has arrogated to itself the right to determine who can say what in society. Consequently, only those who agree with a particular worldview and propagate certain viewpoints should be allowed space to prevail. Therefore, freedom of expression is tantamount to either mimicking or only singing praises to only a particular race, class or government.

The right to express oneself; including the press, is something we fought for under serious repressive conditions of apartheid. In fact, the very act of withdrawing funding for the newspapers because they write whatever they want is reminiscent of the apartheid era. The apartheid government not only withdrew advertising, which is an important source of revenue for the media, but also censored what they wrote. In recent times even the ANC has come under sharp criticism for what those in the media considered to be attempts to curb freedom of expression and the citizens’ right to information.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) s that, "everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek and receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers". Inherent in the content of the declaration is that it is not only those views or ideas that resonate with us, or in favour of our views, that should be protected and defended.  The right to freedom of expression, as stated in the declaration, is to hold opinions without interference and to seek and receive and impart information and ideas. It is, therefore, the responsibility of every nation and their governments to engender a culture of a plurality of voices and views. Our failure to want to curb or censor such views is an indication that we are not true to this human right. In fact, Professor Noam Chomsky cautions that, "if we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise..."

Our ability to exchange views and information of any kind is an essential component of a democracy. In a democracy, it is through such exchange that the citizenry is able to communicate its thoughts and perspective on how it is governed. As such, it comprises the necessary ingredient to a functioning and developing country. The media, as a public trust, is a means by which the citizens should be kept informed so they are able to make the appropriate and necessary judgements, or assessments, about those in power.

The right of freedom of expression with regard to government is important in a democracy. It is a means by which the government not only hears from the people, but also an opportunity to for it to interact and respond to what the populace articulates. In this regard Mohit Singhvi reminds us that this right of the individual and media, to freely express themselves "is also equally important to governments because when criticisms of a government are freely voiced, the government has an opportunity to respond to the grievances of the citizens. On the other hand, when freedom of speech is restricted, rumours, unfair criticisms, comments and downright falsehoods are circulated through private conversations and surreptitiously circulated writings. In that context, the government is in no position to counter such views, because they are not publicly stated. It is in the government's interest to allow criticisms in the public arena where it can answer its critics and correct its mistakes if any."

We have all been stung by those who tell the truth. This is, however, no cause to inhibit the right of people express themselves. In fact, if anything at all, it is for the cause of good and strengthening of our democracy and the development of our society as a whole. As Mohit Singhvi again reiterates, "free speech is the cornerstone of a free society as it is an inherent, inalienable right of the citizens of a democratic country. It is a basic human right enjoyed by all such citizens,... and is the foundation over which other basic human rights are built. Often regarded as an integral concept in a democratic set up, without free speech no justice is possible and no resistance to injustice and oppression is possible. Thus freedom of speech is significant at all levels in society."

Freedom of speech is a basic human right of every South African, including those whose views we may not like. As we celebrate our national human rights day, we should not only profess to believe in this right but must also uphold it; and remember those who laid their lives to enable us to enjoy it.

Jessie Duarte: Deputy Secretary General of the African National Congress.