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Monday, September 10, 2012

U.S. Hands Controversial Bagram Prison Over to Afghanistan

U.S. officials formally handed over control of Afghanistan’s Bagram prison on Monday in a move hailed by the local government as a victory for Afghan sovereignty. Dubbed by critics as the country’s “Guantánamo Bay”, the prison was the country’s only large-scale U.S.-administered prison and holds more than 3,000 detainees. The transfer is among the many handovers to be undertaken before the withdrawal of NATO troops at the end of 2014. The U.S. reportedly fears that the new administrators may free some detainees and appears reluctant to turn over all the suspects it holds. It demonstrated its discomfort by being officially represented at the ceremony by Colonel Robert Taradash, who runs the facility. No higher American officers were present, even if the Afghan government sent its Defence Minister and the army chief of staff. The ceremony, held next to the U.S. air base at Bagram, also included the release of 16 inmates who said they had been held on baseless accusations and had no links to the Taliban.

Car Bomb Kills 30 in Aleppo, U.N. Envoy to Travel to Damascus to Seek Dialogue

A car bomb exploded in the northern city of Aleppo, one of the main battlegrounds in the city’s civil war, killing more than 30 people. Syria’s state-run news agency SANA said that another 64 people were wounded. The blast happened near two hospitals, one of which was identified by an activist as a base for the treatment of government troops after the fighting began in July. Aleppo, a city of 3 million people, is crucial to both sides in the conflict. A government victory could buy more time for the ailing Assad regime while a rebel conquest would give the opposition an important stronghold near the Turkish border. Meanwhile, the new United Nations envoy to Syria, Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, said he will travel to the country this week in order to meet regime officials and society at large. “I answer to no one except the Syrian people”, Brahimi told reporters in Cairo. “Syrians aspire to peace, stability and to realizing their goals of freedom and political progress.” The U.N. envoy had said a week ago that he found peace in Syria “nearly impossible”.

Somalia to Elect New President in Historic Vote

Somalia has begun the process of electing its president as members of the country’s parliament began assembling at a police academy in the capital Mogadishu. The secret ballot is the first election to be held in the country since 1986, with the last presidential election held in neighbouring Djibouti in 2009. The process began five hours late, following a series of lenghty security checks. The politicians had to be accredited at the country’s airport, where the African Union has a large military base, before being taken along a closely guarded road to the city’s police academy. A discussion about the legality of former warlords taking part in the voting process also delayed proceedings, which are being broadcast live on several local TV stations. The country’s current head of state, President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, is regarded as one of the front-runners among the 22 candidates. Among his challengers are the outgoing Prime Minister, Abdiweli Mohammmed Ali, and former Prime Minister Mohammed Abdullah Farmajo. The new speaker of Parliament, Mohammed Osman Jawari, urged politicians to vote with their consciences. “May God help us to elect a good leader in an atmosphere of tranquility. We must give the youth of Somalia a bright future”, he said.

Iraqi Vice-President Sentenced to Death, Triggering Fresh Wave of Sectarian Violence

The Vice-President of Iraq, Tariq al-Hashemi, has been sentenced to death in absentia after being found guilty of running death squads in the country. Hashemi was the most senior Sunni figure in the predominantly Shiite Iraqi government until he escaped the country in April, shortly after being accused of the crimes. He fled to Qatar, travelling onwards to Saudi Arabia and later to Turkey, where he currently resides. Many of his former body guards said during the trial that he ordered as many as 150 assassinations, but Hashemi said the trial had been politically motivated and was a plot by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, to stir up sectarian violence in the country. Shortly after his sentencing on Sunday a series of car bombs exploded in different parts of the country, predominantly in Shiite neighbourhoods, with the largest explosions occurring in Baghdad. At least 73 people were killed and more than 200 were wounded in the aftermath.

Attackers Kill 32 in Clashes Over Access to Land and Water in Kenya

Kenya’s coastal Tana River district suffered another morning of violence as 32 villagers were killed and 150 houses were burned down by attackers in the latest salvo of a long dispute between the Orma and Pokomo communities for access to land and water in the region. Eight children were among those killed in the dawn attack, according to Kenya’s Red Cross Secretary General Abbas Gullet. He also said the government should consider dispatching the military to the area to reinforce police patrols and impose a curfew in order to prevent further deadly counter-attacks. Kenya has been suffering a spate of violent activity in recent months. The country’s main port city of Mombasa erupted in riots after the assassination of a radical Muslim cleric last month.

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