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24 Hours Across Africa

Two elite French soldiers killed in Burkina Faso and hostages freed.

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Source: Reuters

French commandos rescued four foreign hostages including two French citizens from a militant group in Burkina Faso, France’s military said on Friday, adding that two of the elite soldiers were killed in the night-time operation.

French special forces carried out the raid under cover of dark over the night of Thursday-Friday, supported by U.S. intelligence and troops from France’s Barkhane operation deployed in the Sahel region to counter Islamist militants.
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All four hostages were safe, President Emmanuel Macron’s office said, adding that a U.S. woman and a South Korean woman were also freed in the covert operation.

“The precise and determined actions of French soldiers allowed us to take out the kidnappers while protecting the lives of the hostages,” France’s army chief Francois Lecointre told a news conference, describing the militant group as “terrorists” four kidnappers were killed and two escaped, he said.

“Those who attack France and the French know that we will spare no effort to track them and take them out. We will never abandon our citizens,” Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly told reporters.

The French forces had not been aware of the presence of the U.S. and South Korean hostages ahead of the operation and they had been held for 28 days, Lecointre said.

“We were not aware of their presence … the American will be repatriated separately,” Parly said.

“The contacts (with those countries) show that these countries were not necessarily aware of their presence.”

France, the former colonial power in the region, intervened in Mali in 2013 against Islamist militants then occupying Mali’s north and has since kept about 4,500 troops in the Sahel.

The region has seen a spike in violence by militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State in past years, highlighting the difficulty international partners face in restoring stability.

France’s defence ministry identified the fallen soldiers as two elite naval commandos.

Burkina Faso’s President Roch Kabore hailed the hostages’ release and offered condolences to the soldiers’ families.

“The joint military intervention that allowed us to achieve these results shows our common engagement in fighting against the forces of evil,” Kabore said in a Facebook post.

SPREADING INSTABILITY

The two French tourists were kidnapped on May 1 in Benin’s Pendjari National Park, which lies on Benin’s northern frontier with Burkina Faso. Their safari guide was found dead, his body riddled with bullets, and their vehicle burned.

The French government had warned its citizens against travelling to parts of Benin near the Burkina Faso border because of the risk of kidnapping.

Swathes of northern and eastern Burkina Faso have been overrun by militants, leaving the government struggling to assert authority and forcing over 100,000 residents to flee.

In February, Burkina Faso said militants were increasingly active in West Africa and instability in the Sahel was spreading to coastal countries such as Benin and Ivory Coast.

Led by France, Western powers have also provided funding and weapons to a regional force made up of soldiers from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania to combat jihadists.

But the so-called G5 force has been hobbled by delays in disbursing the money and poor coordination between the five countries, while insecurity has escalated in the border region between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.


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24 Hours Across Africa

Barcelona appoints ‘Valdes’ to coach their youth team

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The Spanish giant ‘Barcelona’ has appointed their legendary star victor Valdes to coach U19A team.

The Spaniard picked up UEFA A and B coaching licences after retiring from football last year and has now reunited with the Blaugrana

The 37-year-old racked up 539 appearances for Barca across all competitions over the course of 12 seasons between 2002 and 2014, winning 21 major titles in total.

Valdes picked up three Champions Leagues, six La Liga titles and won the Copa del Rey twice, earning legendary status at the club while also establishing himself as one of the finest shot-stoppers in Europe.

Barcelona released the following statement on their official website: “Victor Valdes is back at FC Barcelona after signing a contract on Friday morning to become the new head coach of the U19A team. The agreement binds him to the club until June 2020, with the option for an extension by one additional season.

The Spanish born has been enjoying with ED Moratalaz role in the fifth tier of Spanish football before Barcelona reach an agreement with him.

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24 Hours Across Africa

BMW and Tencent to team-up in developing self-driving cars

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(Reuters) – German automaker BMW (BMWG.DE) and Chinese online gaming giant Tencent Holdings (0700.HK) are teaming up to launch a computing center in China that will help develop self-driving cars in the world’s biggest auto market, the companies said on Friday.

The computing center, which will start operations by the end of the year, will provide cars with data-crunching capabilities to help them drive semi-autonomously and, eventually, autonomously.

The two companies did not disclose the investment in the center. Sources familiar with the deal said the center will be built in the eastern city of Tianjin.

The establishment of the center “will support BMW’s autonomous driving development and innovation in China,” Jochen Goller, head of BMW’s China operations, said in a statement.

“BMW can, therefore, develop autonomous driving solutions that fit better with the specific driving conditions in China.”

BMW said the new computing center will leverage Tencent’s cloud computing and big data, and provide the automaker with infrastructure needed to develop the autonomous cars.

The Munich-headquartered automaker says it will likely introduce semi-autonomous, or L3 classification, cars in China in 2021 which would need massive computing power to analyze real-time flow of digital information on road and traffic conditions.

Driverless cars need sophisticated data-crunching capabilities as they rely on so-called artificial-intelligence, or neuro-network technology, to help them “learn” from experience and could eventually drive themselves without human intervention.

BMW’s planned Chinese computing center follows the opening earlier this year of a similar computing center in Munich.

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