- Created on 08 January 2013
(AP) — John Dramani Mahama became president of Ghana on Monday, sworn in as the opposition continues to dispute election results in one of West African's most stable democracies.
Speaking immediately after completing the oath of office, Mahama promised to work toward making Ghana "less polarized" even as the New Patriotic Party has started a court challenge claiming Nana Akufo-Addo won the Dec. 7 poll. Mahama gave few specifics but he said there are challenges ahead for a nation that has just become an oil producer.
"There's no denying the fact that even after 55 years is Ghana is still a young country," Mahama said at Accra's Independence Square, reading his speech from a tablet computer, surrounded by giant flags of red, yellow and green. "Every young country goes through its share of instabilities and difficulties," he said.
Mahama, the former vice president who took the helm in July following the unexpected death of President John Atta Mills, was elected with an absolute majority of 50.7 percent in the December poll. Akufo-Addo, his main challenger, won 47.7 percent, according to the nation's electoral commission.
Ghana, a nation of 25 million on Africa's western seaboard, is one of the few established and stable democracies in the region. It has held six peaceful multiparty elections in a row. The country is also one of the world's largest cocoa producers and just recently began producing crude oil at offshore fields.
But even Ghana is not immune to suspicions of electoral fraud and distrust of the country's relatively new democratic institutions. The opposition said widespread technical glitches that occurred with the biometric machines used to identify voters through their fingerprints created an opportunity for the ruling National Democratic Congress political party to rig the vote. Officials were forced to extend voting into a second day in scores of polling stations due to the malfunctioning equipment.
On Dec. 28, the opposition filed a court challenge to the election results.
The opposition New Patriotic Party, which held power from 2000 to 2008 under John Kufour, alleges 12 percent of the votes counted were invalid due to irregularities. The party claims when the invalid votes are eliminated, Akufo-Addo is the actual winner.
Ghana's Supreme Court has the power to overturn the electoral body's results according to the country's constitution. A decision from the court is not expected for at least several weeks, but the party says neither the delay nor Mahama's inauguration will hamper their court case.
"The inauguration has absolutely no impact either on the Supreme Court's proceedings, or its decisions. The Supreme Court has every authority to declare election results invalid, and if it says so, John Mahama will no longer be President," a statement from the National Patriotic Party said.
Yet international observers said Ghana's election was free and fair, and many wonder how massive fraud could have occurred when members of both parties signed off on results at each polling station and at collation centers.
Some local newspapers have mocked Akufo-Addo for refusing to concede and charged the ruling with trying to disturb the peace.
But the opposition says the constitution allows for election disputes and they have not incited violence.
In his speech, watched by his countrymen and a variety of African leaders and diplomats, Mahama did not bring up the court case or the boycott, rather focusing on the future and promising to make Ghana's economic achievements available to all.
"A tremendous amount of work has been done. Nevertheless, there is still a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done," Mahama said. "Change does not happen overnight. It will appear to darkest before the dawn of a new day makes that progress visible."
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Lagos, Nigeria, contributed to this report.
- Created on 04 January 2013
(AP) — A group of Capuchin friars in Poland is using the order's historical link to cappuccino to raise money to help Africans.
Coffee shops in six Polish cities have joined in the three-day action "Cappuccino for Africa" for missions that the Krakow-based friars are running in the Central African Republic and Chad.
Capuchin monks have been often credited with inspiring the name for the frothy coffee drink because of their coffee-colored habits.
A project coordinator, Piotr Gajda, said a friar got the idea for the charity last year while drinking a coffee, and wondering how the order's association with the pleasurable drink could be used to help the missions.
The group says proceeds from selling one cappuccino in Poland can provide 10 hot meals for children in the Central African Republic.
- Created on 02 January 2013
(Originally Published: 1/2/2013 7:41 AM)
The number killed in a New Year's stampede in Angola climbs to 16
Three children were among those killed, state-run newspaper reports
Ivory Coast begins three days of national mourning for 60 people killed in a stampede
Most of those killed in Ivory Coast were women and children
Death toll from stampede at Angola stadium vigil rises
By CNN Staff
(CNN) -- The death toll from a New Year's stampede during a church vigil at an Angolan stadium rose to 16 Wednesday, state media said, as details emerged of how the tragedy unfolded.
The deadly crush at the gates of the Cidadela Desportiva stadium, in Angola's capital, Luanda, came Monday evening as tens of thousands of people flocked to an event staged by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.
Three children, aged three and four, were among the 16 people killed, according to state-run newspaper Jornal de Angola.
Angolan state news agency Angola Press reported 10 deaths in the stampede as of Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Ivory Coast is beginning three days of national mourning for at least 60 people crushed to death after they left a New Year's Eve fireworks display in the West African country's biggest city, Abidjan.
President Alassane Ouattara has ordered a speedy investigation into the circumstances and cause of the tragedy, his office said in a statement Tuesday night.
Ouattara went to the scene of the stampede, in Plateau, the city's central business district, Tuesday and has ordered the government to take care of the injured, his office said.
The dead in Abidjan included 26 children, 28 women and six men, Youth Minister Alain Lobognon said via Twitter. Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko said 49 people were injured, two of them seriously.
In both incidents, many of the victims died as a result of being trampled or suffocated by the surging crowds.
In Luanda, the crisis came when many more people turned up for the vigil than the 70,000 who were expected by the organizers, according to Angola Press.
People had been arriving at the stadium since the morning, the Jornal de Angola reported Wednesday, leaving no space for those who arrived later in the day.
Witnesses said all the gates were open and that people could also watch the service on big screens placed outside, the newspaper reported.
However, anxiety led people to push through a set of the gates into the stadium, causing a stampede, it said.
Witnesses told the newspaper the situation was aggravated when bags of holy water by the gates burst in the confusion and created a dangerously slippery surface on the entrance slope.
The deaths occurred as a result of crushing and asphyxiation, Angola Press reported, quoting Angola's national firefighters' department spokesman Faustino Sebastiao. Another 120 people were injured, the news agency said.
The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God was founded in Brazil in 1977 and has since expanded to more than 100 countries around the globe, according to its website. Its first church in Africa opened in Angola in 1992.
CNN's Laura Smith-Spark and Laura Perez Maestro contributed to this report.
- Created on 03 January 2013
(CNN) -- The men accused in the gang-rape and killing of a 23-year-old Indian woman are expected to face murder, rape and kidnapping charges in a New Delhi court on Thursday.
The brutal attack on the woman, who died from severe injuries last week, has appalled and enraged many Indians, prompting widespread debate over the way the country handles sexual assaults and the treatment of women in Indian society.
Numerous protests have taken place, new laws have been proposed and senior lawyers in the court district where the accused men are likely to face the charges say they will not represent them.
Police will submit charges against at least five of the accused before a new fast-track court in Saket, a southern district of New Delhi, CNN affiliate IBN reported. It was unclear if the men would appear during the closed court session on Thursday.
A sixth male alleged to have participated in the attack is believed to be a minor and may appear before a juvenile court, but police were carrying out a bone marrow test to try to determine his exact age, IBN reported, citing police.
The victim, whose name has not been released, died Saturday in a Singapore hospital, where she received treatment after being airlifted from New Delhi.
The men are accused of assaulting the woman and her male companion on a bus in the Indian capital on December 16, robbing them of their belongings before dumping them at the side of a road, police said.
The male companion was eventually discharged from a local hospital.
Authorities plan to seek the death penalty for the accused, IBN reported, with many calls for the men to be hanged, including from the victim's family.
If the sixth accused is confirmed to be a minor, he could be sent to a children's home for a maximum of three years, according to IBN.
The 11 lawyers who make up the executive board of the Saket Bar Association on Wednesday vowed not to represent any of the accused assailants because of the nature of the crime.
In addition, the bar association has appealed to its 7,000 members to also refrain from representing the accused, said the association's president, Rajpal Kasana.
"We are not taking this case on the grounds of humanity," he said.
The boycott by the bar association does not mean the accused will not have lawyers. Attorneys from other districts or ones appointed by the court will likely fill that role.
The call for local lawyers to avoid defending the accused is unprecedented, but justified because "everyone is emotionally attached to this case," Kasana said.
Lawmakers are weighing a proposal to toughen the country's anti-rape law. Some have suggested a new law should be named after the woman, while others have said it's illegal to reveal her identity.
The victim's father told IBN that he supported naming a new law after his daughter.
"All I ask is that the law is the toughest it can be," he said. "The death penalty is compulsory for a crime so grave the assailants must be hanged. The courts must give these men the death penalty."
India's Supreme Court on Thursday will hear a petition asking it to suspend all lawmakers who face charges for crimes against women. The petition was filed in the aftermath of the brutal gang-rape, which sent thousands of outraged protesters to the streets for days.
"This unfortunate episode has galvanized the nation," said Jagdeep S. Chhokar, an official with the Association for Democratic Reforms, which tracks political candidate's criminal records.
Chhokar said six Indian state lawmakers are facing rape charges in unrelated cases, and two people in the federal parliament are also facing charges of crimes against women that fall short of charges of rape.
The group says that in the past five years, political parties across India have nominated 260 candidates facing charges of crimes against women such as assault and outraging the modesty of a woman.
- Created on 31 December 2012
(AP) — The leader of the African Union, Benin's President Thomas Boni Yayi, has proposed a government of national unity to resolve the rebel conflict in Central African Republic.
Boni Yayi arrived here Sunday to try to find a negotiated resolution to the country's crisis. The president of the African Union met with President Francois Bozize and then made an appeal to the rebels.
"I beg my rebellious brothers, I ask them to cease hostilities, to make peace with President (Francois) Bozize and the Central African people," said Boni Yayi at a press conference in Bangui, the capital. "If you stop fighting, you are helping to consolidate peace in Africa. African people do not deserve all this suffering. The African continent needs peace and not war."
Boni Yayi said that Bozize had pledged to have an open dialogue with the rebels with the goal of establishing a government of national unity, which would include representation from the rebels and the Bozize government.
Bozize also addressed the conference and said, although he plans to stay in power until his term ends in 2016, he is not against having the rebels enter a coalition government with him.
"We'll probably be able to set up a national unity government. I apologize to the suffering Central African people," said Bozize. "It is a message of peace to my brothers of Central African Republic, "said Bozize.
The African Union's leader arrived in Bangui when many feared there would be a fight over the capital, Bangui, a city of 600,000.
According to several families in Bangui, members of the Presidential Guard have kidnapped people suspected of supporting the rebels who have seized 10 cities in the country's north over the past three weeks.
A rebel spokesman, Col. Juma Narkoyo, warned Bozize: "We warn the head of state and his family to stop abducting our parents. They have nothing to do with it. If he wants to solve its problems, he comes to meet us on the ground. We expect firm feet. " H0e said that a dozen people have already been arrested in Bangui.
On his arrival in Bangui, Yayi Boni had a private meeting for more than two hours with Bozize in the VIP lounge of Mpoko airport, which is secured by French troops.
So far Boni Yayi has no meetings scheduled with rebels or with the democratic opposition.
Boni Yayi's diplomatic effort comes as France has deployed an additional 180 troops to protect its interests.
The French reinforcements arrived Sunday from nearby Gabon, bringing the total French military force in the capital, Bangui, to nearly 600, Col. Thierry Burkhard told The Associated Press Sunday. The troops are to protect French residents in the capital, which many fear will be attacked by the rebels.
As fears mounted that the rebels would attack Bangui, Bozize imposed a curfew from 7 p.m. until 5 a.m.
Bozize earlier appealed to France for help against the rebels, but French President Francois Hollande's government said it would only protect French interests and would not prop up the Bangui government.
As the rebels have made a rapid advance across the country's north, residents in the capital now fear the insurgents could attack at any time, despite assurances by rebel leaders that they are willing to engage in dialogue instead of attacking Bangui.
On Saturday the rebels seized the city of Sibut, 185 kilometers (114 miles) from Bangui.
Sibut, a key transportation hub, fell without a shot being fired because the Central African Republic army and forces from neighboring Chad had pulled back to Damara, 75 kilometers (46 miles) from Bangui on Friday, said Minister of Territorial Administration Josie Binoua.
Neighboring African countries have agreed to send more forces to support the Bozize government.
Representatives from the 10-nation Economic Community of Central African States, or ECCAS, agreed at a meeting in Gabon Friday to send forces to CAR, but did not did not specify how many troops would be sent or how quickly the military assistance would arrive.
The ECCAS states, with more than 500 soldiers via their regional peacekeeping force in Central Africa, over the weekend warned the rebels to halt their advances.
"ECCAS forces are on high alert, and the city of Damara is the limit not to cross," said Antonio Di Garcia, the ECCAS representative in Bangui. He urged the government forces and the rebels to hold to their current positions and to begin dialogue.
The ongoing instability prompted the United States to evacuate about 40 people, including the U.S. ambassador, from Bangui on an U.S. Air Force plane bound for Kenya, said U.S. officials who insisted on anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the operation.
The United States has special forces troops in the country who are assisting in the hunt for Joseph Kony, the fugitive rebel leader of another rebel group known as the Lord's Resistance Army. The U.S. special forces remain in the country, the U.S. military's Africa Command said from its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.
The evacuation of the U.S. diplomats came after criticism of how the U.S. handled diplomatic security before and during the attack on its consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11. The ambassador and three other Americans were killed in that attack.
French diplomats have remained in Bangui despite a violent demonstration outside its embassy last week. Dozens of protesters, angry at France's lack of help against rebel forces, threw rocks at the French Embassy in Bangui and stole a French flag.
This landlocked nation of 4.4 million people has suffered decades of army revolts, coups and rebellions since gaining independence in 1960 and remains one of the poorest countries in the world. The current president himself came to power nearly a decade ago in the wake of a rebellion in this resource-rich yet deeply poor country.
Bozize's government earlier reached out to longtime ally Chad, which pledged to send 2,000 troops to bolster Central African Republic's own forces.
The rebels behind the most recent instability signed a 2007 peace accord allowing them to join the regular army, but insurgent leaders say the deal wasn't fully implemented.
The rebels say they are fighting because of their "thirst for justice, for peace, for security and for economic development of the people of Central African Republic." The rebels also are demanding that the government make payments to ex-combatants.
Despite Central African Republic's wealth of gold, diamonds, timber and uranium, the government remains perpetually cash-strapped.
The United Nations Security Council condemned the violence and reiterated its demand that the armed groups "immediately cease hostilities, withdraw from captured cities and cease any further advance towards the city of Bangui."
Associated Press Writer Greg Keller contributed to this piece from Paris.