Monthly Archives: January 2019

Uganda Seizes Ivory Smuggled in Timbers

KAMPALA, UGANDA Ugandan authorities have confiscated roughly 750 pieces of ivory and thousands of pangolin scales trucked into the East African country from northern neighbor South Sudan.

Authorities announced the seizure Thursday, saying that two Vietnamese nationals had been taken into custody. They allegedly attempted to smuggle the contraband, worth millions of dollars, through Uganda’s border post at Elegu.

Smugglers reportedly had hidden ivory pieces and pangolin scales in melted wax that had been poured into hollowed logs. A scanner revealed the illegal cargo, transported in trucking containers.

“We got intelligence that these people were concealing these items, and we controlled the trucks’ arrival in Kampala,” said Dickson C. Kateshumbwa, customs commissioner for the Uganda Revenue Authority.

The ivory’s origins and destination are still unknown, he said. Investigators were looking into who was behind the contraband operation.

“Obviously, we are investigating the whole racket because trade in these items can aid conflict in the region,” he said, noting “we are talking of millions of dollars involved. That’s why we are trying to investigate the entire chain, so that we have the whole network taken to court.”

Kateshumbwa said the interception should send a warning to prospective smugglers that Uganda’s borders are becoming increasingly impenetrable.

International trade in ivory is banned. Eight species of pangolin are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.

Authorities estimate 20 metric tons of ivory were trafficked through Uganda, mainly to Asia, from 2009 to 2014.

Kateshumbwa estimated that, given the amount of ivory taken in the latest seizure, 300 of the creatures were killed.

Poaching and conflict have reduced the number of African elephants to just over 415,000 as of last year, the World Wildlife Fund reports.

Source: Voice of America

Sudan’s President Says Elections Only Means of Political Change

CAIRO As protesters demonstrated in parts of the Sudanese capital of Khartoum on Thursday, President Omar al-Bashir visited the northeastern state of Kassala, announcing that the border between neighboring Eritrea and Sudan would be reopened, after a year of closure.

Al-Bashir said that he greets the people of Eritrea and its president and he proclaims that the border between the two countries is now open because they are our dear brethren, despite the fact that politics has caused division among us.

Al-Bashir went on to tell supporters that it was the “duty of the government to have a dialogue with young people” and that the government must “educate them and provide for their needs.”

He said that there will be no change of government or of the president via Facebook or WhatsApp, and vows that change will only take place at the ballot box.

Call for more protests

Sudan’s Association of Trade Unions called for another day of protest against the government Thursday, prompting a number of demonstrations in Khartoum and other parts of the country. The group’s spokesman, Mohammed Asbat, told Alhurra TV that the government’s appeal for dialogue with young people and the release of prisoners is not sincere.

Asbat said that the government’s message that it is releasing prisoners and undertaking dialogue is intended for the consumption of outside countries who have been warning it not to arrest peaceful protesters and to release them.

Opposition leader Miriam Sadeq al-Mahdi, who was briefly detained by Sudanese security forces Wednesday, told Alhurra TV that the government’s efforts at dialogue “have failed,” and that in the face of a “growing revolution,” it has resorted to “arresting young people.”

Al-Mahdi said that President Bashir’s round of visits to far-flung provinces does not reflect any desire on the part of the Sudanese people that he remain in power and that it is normal for dictators to draw their supporters around them to make it look like they are popular.

Official meets with young protesters

Sudan’s intelligence chief, General Salah Gosh, has met with a number of young protesters who have been jailed for taking part in demonstrations, but opposition leaders said that he and the government have released “very few prisoners,” out of the several thousand they said are being detained.

Gosh insisted in a speech to military cadets that outside forces are trying to create chaos inside the country.

He said that there are forces trying to create chaos in the country and cause economic hardship for its people, but that (the security forces) will combat them with force and determination and restore order.

Al-Arabiya TV reports that Gosh asserted that “leftist parties are trying to overthrow the government,” and state that a number of armies or militia groups are “waiting for Khartoum to be engulfed in chaos, in order to march on the capital and seize power.”

Source: Voice of America

Death Toll Reaches 11 as US Suffers Record Cold

Officials say as many as 11 people in the United States have died this week due to record-low winter temperatures that have made even quick trips outside dangerous and could cause frostbite within minutes.

Classes were canceled at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where a student was found in distress behind a campus building in extreme weather conditions. The wind chill when the student was found was minus-46 Celsius; the student later died at the hospital.

In Moline, Illinois, the temperature dropped to minus-36 degrees Celsius on Thursday. In Norris Camp, Minnesota, temperatures dropped to minus-44 degrees Celsius Wednesday, making it the coldest location in the United States and one of the coldest spots on Earth at that time.

Below-freezing temperatures put the town of Hell, Michigan, in the news this week, with news stories reporting that Hell had “frozen over,” referencing a popular American joke about an event that is unlikely to happen.

Mail service, as well as planes, trains and buses were suspended in the past two days in deference to the record-setting weather. In Chicago, both the blockbuster musical “Hamilton” and popular ice skating show “Disney on Ice” were canceled due to the weather.

In Detroit, automobile manufacturing plants were shut down mid-week to protect workers and conserve energy.

The high demand for power caused outages in Wisconsin and Iowa, and the governors of Wisconsin and Michigan declared states of emergency and ordered all state governments closed.

Officials said temperatures were below the freezing mark in 85 percent of the country, excluding Alaska and Hawaii.

Downtown Chicago streets were largely deserted after most offices told employees to stay home. Trains and buses operated with few passengers; engineers set fires along tracks to keep commuter trains moving. The hardiest commuters ventured out only after covering nearly every square inch of flesh to protect against the extreme chill, which in minutes froze ice crystals on eyelashes and eyebrows.

The city used transit buses, with nurses on board, as emergency warming centers for the homeless.

Doctors in Minneapolis said they were treating cases of what they called fourth-degree frostbite, in which limbs are frostbitten down to the bone.

Source: Voice of America

US Says Airstrike Kills 24 Al-Shabab Extremists in Somalia

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA The United States military says it has killed 24 al-Shabab extremists with an airstrike in Somalia.

The U.S. Africa Command says the airstrike was carried out on Wednesday near an extremist camp near Shebeeley in the central Hiran region north of the capital, Mogadishu.

The U.S. carried out nearly 50 such airstrikes last year in Somalia against the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab.

The extremist group claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on a hotel complex in Kenya’s capital earlier this month. It often targets high-profile areas of Mogadishu with suicide bombings.

The U.S. statement says the airstrikes are meant to support Somali forces as they increase pressure on al-Shabab and its recruiting efforts in the region, especially in southern and central Somalia.

Source: Voice of America

WHO: Cervical Cancer Preventable, Can Be Eliminated

GENEVA Ahead of World Cancer Day (February 4), the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for accelerated action to eliminate cervical cancer, a preventable disease that kills more than 300,000 women every year.

Cervical cancer ranks among leading causes of death for women worldwide. Nine in 10 deaths occur in poor and middle-income countries. The disease is caused by the human papillomavirus and is transmitted through sexual contact.

The WHO says cervical cancer can be cured if the infection is diagnosed and treated at an early stage. But, as with some ailments in life, prevention is the best cure. And, in the case of cervical cancer, an effective vaccine is available that can prevent the disease when given to girls between the ages of nine and 14.

The WHO’s Immunization Program technical officer, Paul Bloem, says the vaccine is widely administered in rich countries. While countries with the highest burden of cervical cancer in Africa and Asia are lagging behind, he says progress is being made.

In countries, such as Rwanda, a trailblazer in Africa, that reaches over 90 percent since five, six years. Bhutan, that reaches also 90 percent of its girls. Malaysia, that reaches 97 percent of its girls. So, there are some extremely good examples that show that this vaccine is accepted and can be delivered in low-income settings, he said.

Bloem says four countries in Africa – Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Senegal – introduced the vaccine last year. He says 11 more countries in Africa and Asia will start using it next year.

Princess Nothemba Simelela, WHO Assistant Director-General for Family, Women, Children and Adolescents, says a big problem in developing countries is the lack of skilled people to test and diagnose cervical cancer in women.

She says that women in remote, rural areas often have difficulty reaching clinics where they can be tested and treated for the disease. But she told VOA there are strategies governments can employ to overcome that.

We can have mobile outreach clinics. Sometimes, what you have is days on which women can be called or young girls can be brought in, specifically to get this attention, she said.

Simelela says another strategy that governments can employ is to use school health programs. For instance, she says, Rwanda and South Africa bring the vaccine into the schools where access is available to the largest number of girls in the age groups that need to be reached.

Source: Voice of America