NEWS

US elections: Trump wins easily in Nevada

Republican frontrunner wins third straight victory in presidential contest, as Rubio comes in second, US media reports.

Donald Trump has won a third straight victory, the state Republican Party confirmed, with victory in the Nevada caucuses, cementing a lead that could soon be insurmountable in the Republican presidential race.

Early results on Wednesday showed Trump, who had been expected to win by a large margin, leading the pack of candidates with about 44 percent of the vote.

“If you listen to the pundits, we weren’t expected to win too much, and now we’re winning, winning, winning the country,” Trump said at a victory rally in Las Vegas.

Marco Rubio was projected by Fox News to come in second with about 30 percent, edging out Ted Cruz who received 16 percent in the Nevada caucuses, according to early results.

Both men, however, were far ahead of John Kasich and Ben Carson, Fox News projected.

The Nevada win is the third in a row for Trump in the state-by-state nominating contest for the November presidential election.

A billionaire businessman and political outsider, Trump’s brash, anti-government talk appealed to Nevada residents, political strategists said before the Tuesday evening caucus.

“If you listen to the pundits, we weren’t expected to win too much, and now we’re winning, winning, winning the country,” Trump said at a victory rally in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

Basking in his victory, Trump vowed he would keep open the military detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, if elected.

“We’re going to load it up with a lot of bad dudes out there,” he said, a day after President Barack Obama presented his latest plan to close the facility.

Trump also drew loud cheers for his vow to build a wall along the southern border and his instance that Mexico will pay for it.

Trump offered shout-outs from the stage to several of his billionaire friends, including Phil Ruffin, who owns the Treasure Island, and casino developer Steve Wynn.

“Now we’re going to get greedy for the United States,” he said.

Cruz and Rubio had both set their sights on a strong second-place finish there in the hopes that a win over the other would provide important momentum before the 12 nominating contests on March 1, known as Super Tuesday.

Polls suggest that Trump will do well in many of those Super Tuesday states, placing further pressure on Cruz, Rubio, and Ohio Governor John Kasich, another presidential candidate who was not a factor in Nevada, to come up with counter-measures quickly.

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NEWS

Uganda elections: Besigye held again as march planned

Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye has been bundled into a van outside his home by police as his supporters planned a march to protest against the results of a presidential election.

The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party leader had been under heavy police guard since he was placed under house arrest on Saturday, shortly before the election results were announced.

President Yoweri Museveni, who seized power as the leader of a rebellion in 1986, was returned to power with 60.8 percent of the vote. Besigye secured 35.4 percent, according to the electorial commission.

Besigye was also arrested on election day last week as he tried to show journalists what he said was a vote-rigging operation in a suburban house. He was arrested on a separate occasion during election week when he tried to hold a rally in the centre of the capital, Kampala.

Besigye had been expected to be released from house arrest on Monday, and had planned what his party said would be a peaceful march to the electoral commission to demand a transcript of last week’s results, which he has dismissed as fraudulent.

Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, who followed the van, said Besigye had been taken to a police station.

“We’ve seen a couple of vehicles leave since he was taken here but as far as we know he wasn’t inside any of them so he looks to be still in the police station at the moment,” Webb said.

“Preventative measures have been taken against Dr Besigye and he is in safe hands,” Siraje Bakaleke, a police commander, told journalists outside the police station.

“We got intelligence that Besigye and some people were mobilising others to come and cause havoc in Kampala and that is unacceptable. We cannot have business at a standstill and we are trying to prevent that.”

Earlier on Monday, Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change party tweeted: “We are leaving Kasangati now to walk peacefully to @Uganda EC HQ. Join us on this peaceful walk to the UgandaEc.”

Following the opposition leader’s arrest, police issued a statement saying that he had planned to form a procession from his house to the electoral commission, but he needed prior permission to stage such an event.

The FDC has called on its supporters to reject the election result.

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HEALTH

Malnutrition blights infants’ lives in Pakistan’s Sindh

BY:   Ali Haji

The views during the nine-hour drive to Tharparkar, a remote district in southern Pakistan, are stunning but deceptive.

The long road, the sunflower fields, the camel herders and the desert landscape can make one easily forget the real story of the people who inhabit the region.

The spell is broken when you enter the poor, dusty town of Mithi, the capital of Tharparkar. And there’s a reality check as soon as you cross the gate of the only civil hospital there.

We found some people inside the unfurnished waiting rooms but the stench and unsanitary conditions within the hospital make it almost unbearable just to stand there.

Inside the children’s ward, there are multiple cases of malnutrition

The number of infants and toddlers brought to the nutrition stabilisation centre in January is the highest in the last two years.

Dozens of people – mostly from low-income backgrounds – use the parking area to wait near their loved ones in the hospital.

The hospital seems equipped with incubators and doctors. But that’s not the case in other towns like Diplo, Islamkot, Chachro and Nagarparkar.

People from those areas say there are smaller hospitals but they operate with limited facilities and medics. We heard heart-breaking stories of how parents watched their shivering babies.

They did not know whether it was disease or malnutrition until children stopped food intake completely, became weak and died within a few days.

Having no means of transport and no money for the journey adds to the number of dead babies.

Where time stands still

Many people of Tharparkar still live the way they did hundreds of year ago.

We travelled to Diplo where for centuries mud huts are surrounded by just enough cattle and crop to survive.

The simplicity makes these people vulnerable to any change in environment.

Thar – the local name of Tharparkar – has seen drought-like conditions for the last few years but because there has been some rain, technically there isn’t a drought.

However, for the people here the less-than-normal rainfall means disaster.

Less water for people and cattle means less food and increased vulnerability to diseases.

Pregnant women and infants are the worst affected. Then there’s the pressure from local traditions.

Women get married at an early age and most have babies every year.

Many of these babies are delivered by untrained nurses and there are a lot of cases of infections – which, when left untreated, become fatal.

The number of deaths has become a contentious issue and there is great discrepancy between the official death toll and that of health workers and non-government organisations.

Provincial leaders have declared a health emergency and issued instructions for round-the-clock monitoring of the situation.

Lack of health staff

Local government officials offered us tea but wouldn’t talk to us on camera until we tracked down the district health officer, who was in the field despite it being his day off.

He admits there are problems but says the government has invested in building hospitals and purchasing equipment.

He also pointed to the fact that the infant mortality rate of his district isn’t the worst in Sindh province.

Everyone admits there is a lack of medical staff.

Doctors working on contracts see cronyism, complacency, mismanagement and corruption standing in the way of their hiring by the government as permanent staff.

The government says it’s announced full-time vacancies and its hands are tied due to bureaucratic delays and court orders.

Some officials also say it’s hard to fill all the vacancies as many doctors don’t want to work in remote places and prefer to work in the cities where living standards and incomes are better.

I’ve heard them before – the claims and counterclaims.

The one thing that has remained constant in the last 10 years of covering the interior parts of Sindh province is seeing sick, starving and dying babies.

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NEWS

Rwanda recruiting refugees to oust Burundi president – UN

Rwanda recruited and trained refugees from Burundi, among them children, whose ultimate goal was to remove President Pierre Nkurunziza from power, UN experts told the Security Council.

The panel said in a confidential report obtained by AFP on Thursday that they had spoken to 18 Burundian refugees who provided details of their military training last summer in a Rwandan forest camp.

“They reported that their ultimate goal was to remove Burundian President Nkurunziza from power,” said the report by the panel of experts for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Burundi has repeatedly accused Rwanda of backing rebels intent on overthrowing the government in Bujumbura, allegations Rwanda denies.

The refugees, who had crossed into the DR Congo, told the experts that they had been recruited in the Mahama refugee camp in eastern Rwanda in May and June 2015.

The group was given two months of military training in Rwanda by instructors, some of whom were Rwandan military personnel, the report said.

“Their training included military tactics and the maintenance and use of assault rifles and machine guns, as well as ideological and morale-building sessions,” it added.

Some were also trained in the use of grenades, anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

Six of the 18 trained combatants were minors.

 

FAKE IDs

 

The refugees told the experts that at least four companies of 100 recruits were being trained at the camp and that they were transported around Rwanda in military trucks, often with Rwandan military escorts.

The Burundian combatants showed the experts fake identification cards from the DR Congo that were produced in Rwanda.

The US-based advocacy group Refugees International said last month that Burundian men and boys were being recruited from Mahama camp and facing threats if they refused.

“I haven’t even seen the tiniest evidence of that so it becomes a lot of politicking,” Rwandan President Paul Kagame said in December, calling the accusations “childish.”

UN experts also interviewed six Rwandan and Congolese nationals arrested on suspicion of arms smuggling at the Congolese-Rwandan border in October and November last year.

Some of the suspected arms smugglers told the UN experts that the “weapons were to be used in support of an armed group in Burundi,” said the report.

Burundi has been in turmoil since Nkurunziza announced plans in April to run for a third term, which he went on to win.

More than 400 people have died since then and at least 230,000 have fled the country.

During a visit to Burundi last month, UN Security Council ambassadors met Nkurunziza, who again accused Rwanda of backing rebels.

The African Union has proposed sending military observers on the Rwanda-Burundi border.

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opinion

Inside Aleppo’s fight for water and electricity

One local government in rebel-held Aleppo is trying – and struggling – to provide its people with basic services.

Russia has intensified its air strikes in an attempt to back up the Syrian government’s offensive in Syria’s Aleppo, killing scores of people, Al Jazeera has learnt.

The reports of deaths come amid another breakdown of peace talks in Geneva and a donor conference in London where world leaders have pledged $10bn to help Syrians.

At least 37 people have been killed, including three children, in suspected Russian air strikes on several neighbourhoods in Aleppo city, a local activist speaking on condition of anonymity told Al Jazeera on Thursday.

“Syrian and Russian air strikes have targeted al-Bab, Hmeimeh, Soran and several other neighbourhoods in Aleppo province. We can confirm that 37 people have been killed but we are expecting the death toll to rise,” he said.

he UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 21.

Russia launched its military operation in Syria in September 2015, and it says the campaign is against armed groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has seized territory in Iraq and Syria, and al-Nusra Front.

Against this backdrop of escalating political tensions, Saudi Arabia said on Thursday it was ready to participate in any ground operations in Syria if the US-led coalition decided to start such operations.

“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia announces its readiness to participate with ground troops within the US-led coalition against ISIL,” Brigadier-General Ahmed Asseri, who is also the spokesman for the Arab coalition in Yemen, told Al Jazeera.

The Syrian government launched a major offensive from the north of Aleppo and captured several strategically important towns on Monday.

Syrian forces and their allies broke a three-year rebel siege of the two Shia towns of Nubul and Zahraa in Aleppo province, Syria’s official news agency SANA reported on Wednesday, cutting off a main supply route to nearby Turkey.

The breakthrough comes after days of rapid military gains north of the major city of Aleppo, with Russian air strikes playing a key role in the advance.


Inside Aleppo’s fight for water and electricity


Nubul and Zahraa, with an estimated 60,000 population, are connected to the border by areas under the control of Kurdish armed groups that provided access.

The towns have been besieged by rebels since 2012, and reaching them had long been a goal of President Bashar al-Assad’s government, which has also sought to sever vital rebel supply routes into Aleppo from Turkey.

In a separate development, two women have died due to malnutrition and the cold in the besieged town of Madaya, activists say.

Syrians wait for the arrival of an aid convoy on January 11 [AFP]

Abou Ammar, an aid worker in Madaya located west of Damascus, told Al Jazeera that the situation is becoming worse as supplies have began to run out.

“A 16-year old boy died before yesterday because of malnutrition. We told the MSF [Doctors Without Borders] charity that we have at least 64 new cases of people suffering from malnutrition. What was distributed last month is expected to last 30-35 days,” Abou Ammar said.

At least 19 people have died of malnutrition since three aid convoys entered the town on January 11.

“We were told to expect further humanitarian aid this week. The previous batch of aid did not include enough medical supplies or medication for diseases such as diabetes.

“Some people are in desperate need of urgent hospitalisation.

“The temperature drops to below zero at night and people are burning anything they can find to stay warm.

“In Syria, we are either bombed or starved to death.”

Madaya, which in controlled by opposition fighters, has been under siege by government forces and Hezbollah fighters since July.


Letter from Madaya: ‘Why doesn’t anyone care?’


Images of malnourished Madaya residents shocked the world in early January, showing wide-eyed babies without access to milk and elderly men with cavernous rib cages.

On Jan 31, MSF said that an estimated 320 people in Madaya were suffering from malnutrition, 33 of whom were “in danger of death if they do not receive prompt and effective treatment”. 

More than half of Syria’s displaced are children, UN says [Bassam Khabieh/Reuters]

Up to two million Syrians are trapped in sieges by the government or by opposition groups, MSF said last month.

Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict suffered a setback on Wednesday when Staffan de Mistura, the UN Syria special envoy, announced a temporary suspension of talks in Geneva between the opposition and the government.

Following a meeting with the opposition’s Higher Negotiations Committee (HNC) in the Swiss city, de Mistura fixed February 25 as the date for resuming talks.

Earlier on Wednesday, quoting information from the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), the opposition accused the Syrian government and Russia of killing at least 300 civilians since the launch of the so-called Geneva III conference on January 29.

The Geneva negotiations are meant to develop a “road map” to end the nearly five-year conflict that has resulted in more than 250,000 Syrians being killed.

The conflict has also displaced millions more and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing as refugees to Europe.

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NEWS

Somali central bank chief seeks new currency to rebuild nation

Few central bank chiefs have been jailed by a dictator or hide a loaded pistol in their desk draw, should Islamist militants decide to call. Bashir Issa Ali has done all that, and now he wants to recreate Somalia’s currency from scratch.

Serving his third term in a long career interrupted by exile, disputes with the government, and the spell in prison, Ali wants Somalia to print its first banknotes since the 1980s to help rebuild an economy emerging from decades of chaos at the hands of Islamist and clan militias.

The tattered shilling notes still in circulation – worth about 4 U.S. cents – are emblematic of Somalia’s descent since 1991, when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled by warlords who carved up the country into personal fiefdoms.

“We absolutely need a new currency,” said Ali, who this time became central bank governor in 2013, adding that the existing notes “are old, they’re torn, they’re dirty and they’re fake”.

Ali needs to do more than just print new banknotes. Most urban Somalis have given up on the shilling and do their daily business using a mobile phone payment system, with transactions denominated in dollars.

Therefore he must create a new currency that can be used by Somalis who have no mobile phone, while winning back those who no longer use shillings by choice. The currency will also need a new system to fix its foreign exchange rate if it is to become credible.

Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu is changing fast. Hotels and restaurants have sprouted from the rubble since African Union troops wrested control of the city from al Shabaab Islamist militants in 2011. The government, however, has struggled to build a financial system and pull the country’s 12 million people out of poverty.

Shoring up the economy is vital to securing the military gains and stopping Somalia being a haven for the likes of al Qaeda, which is aligned to al Shabaab. Both groups have staged bomb attacks in the region and threatened Western targets at home and abroad.

Ali, 73, has led efforts to rebuild the financial sector over the past decade. In 2005, he returned to East Africa from exile in Sweden to re-establish the central bank, whose headquarters lay in the bombed out ruins of Mogadishu. In the early months, he paid the first few employees out of his own pocket.

PRESSURE TO PRINT

Ali said some Western diplomats, whose nations help pay salaries of soldiers and civil servants, fear the government may push the central bank to print money to plug budget deficits.

“But that’s not the case. We will never give them a penny,” said Ali, whose predecessor at the bank quit after seven weeks at the job citing corruption at the heart of government.

A Western diplomat said Ali – at a stage in his career when he need no longer worry about political patronage – had resisted government pressure in the past, which was a good sign. “He doesn’t have much to lose. He can say ‘no’ to people who ask for money,” said the diplomat.

The spruced up headquarters for the bank’s 110 employees points to progress made over the past decade but the pace of change has been frustratingly slow, with funding shortages and dearth of qualified financial experts hurting Somalia.

The same problems dog Ali in his efforts to print the new currency. “We don’t have the financing,” he told Reuters on a visit to the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

The 1,000 shilling banknote is the only Somali bill in use, and so small is its value that money changers in the Mogadishu bazaar need wheelbarrows to move about any meaningful amounts.

The Central Bank of Somalia estimates about 1.3 trillion shillings ($56 million) are in circulation, but this includes counterfeit currency printed by warlords who used the fake notes to prop up their militias.

Ali said Somalis accept the forged notes due to chronic shortages of the authentic pre-war currency. “People use it even though they know it’s fake,” he said.

Since the central bank last printed notes, the economy has become virtually dollarised. In bustling bazaars and restaurants most Somalis use the electronic mobile phone payment system, known as EVC. Dollar bills also circulate, with shillings used only as small change.

Yet Ali said the poor, elderly and those who do not own phones need a new currency that is credible and practical. He estimates printing costs at $20-$22 million for banknotes of 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 20,000 shillings.

Seeking help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Ali has proposed Somalia adopts a “currency board” to peg the shilling to the dollar, a system used by Hong Kong since 1983.

LOADED PISTOL

Ali left the central bank for the first time in 1982 when he fell out with the then finance minister, who was Barre’s brother. In 1988, the dictator imprisoned Ali for six months along with dozens of intellectuals and businessmen.

His second stint ended in 2010, when he resisted a government plan for Sudan to print a new Somali currency. Boxes of those banknotes remain stacked in a warehouse in Khartoum, he said.

Since 2013, Ali has tried to build a financial system, inviting foreign banks to open offices in Mogadishu, joining remittance companies who form the cornerstone of Somalia’s banking system and act as a lifeline for millions.

None has taken up the offer. “They are highly interested but there is always the concern of security,” Ali said.

Ali has himself been threatened, and two of his employees have been killed in al Shabaab attacks in Mogadishu. That’s why Ali keeps the pistol in his desk, with a bullet loaded in the chamber.

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NEWS

Kenya seizes UN trucks for allegedly ferrying food to Al-Shabaab

Kenyan authorities are holding three UN World Food Programmed (WFP) trucks in Mandera County near the Somali border for allegedly ferrying food supplies to Islamist militants Al-Shabaab in the Horn of Africa nation.

Mandera County Commissioner Fredrick Shisia said Tuesday the security agents seized the trucks stashed with food items destined for Dolo in the Horn of Africa nation.

Shisia said WFP workers have started supplying food rations to the Al-Shabaab militants following a meeting at Bulla Hawa by Somali authorities.

“Following a meeting between Somalia National Army, Transitional Federal government officials and the Bulla Hawa community they agreed the Al-Shabaab also be given food rations from WFP, the government cannot allow this to happen as criminals who continue killing our people cannot be fed,” said Shisia.

He said the government which has been fighting the insurgents in southern Somalia will not allow food to be supplied to the same militants whom its troops have been fighting.

Shisia said the lorries which were held on Sunday will continue being under police custody until WFP clarifies its position.

The government administrator said the government is yet to receive WFP position on the issue and that the trucks will continue being detained.

“We will need to get an explanation from the WFP as to who are to who sole beneficiary of the food programme before we allow it to get into Somalia,” Shisia said.

The county boss disclosed that a truck that was in the same convoy and carrying a land cruiser was allowed to proceed to Dolo.

“We allowed the truck to proceed as this was not food, what we are doing is to deny our enemy benefit from the humanitarian assistance,” Shisia said.

There was no comment from the UN WFP officials in Nairobi.

Kenya’s security forces have intensified patrols along its porous border with Somalia after the Somali militants attacked its base in Gedo region, killing several soldiers.

The Kenyan military has confirmed the deaths, but did not give the number of those killed in the Jan. 15 attack, saying efforts to “consolidate” returns from the battlefield were still ongoing.

However, Al-Shabaab forces said that more than 100 Kenyan soldiers were killed and several others injured a statement that has been disputed by AMISOM.

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