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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

Kenya: Popular author and gay activist dies.

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Kenyans prolific writer Binyavanga Wainaina, who was born in Nakuru in Rift Valley Province has died after a short illness in Kenya.

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He is popularly known for his debut book, a memoir entitled One Day I Will Write About This Place, was published in 2011.

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In January 2014, in response to a wave of anti-gay laws passed in Africa, Wainaina publicly announced that he was gay, first writing a short story that he described as a “lost chapter” of his 2011 memoir entitled “I am a Homosexual, Mum”, and then tweeting: “I am, for anybody confused or in doubt, a homosexual. Gay, and quite happy.

Prize-winning Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina has died in Nairobi after a short illness at the age of 48.

Wainaina was also named among Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2014 for his gay rights activism.

He “demystified and humanized homosexuality” author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote at the time.

Wainaina was one of the first high-profile Kenyans to openly declare he was gay and “he felt an obligation to chip away at the shame” that people felt about being gay, Adichie added.

Wainaina challenged Kenyans to rethink their negative stereotypes about homosexuality, Nyabola added.

“Inasmuch as homosexuality is illegal in Kenya, there are people who are very comfortable with their identity… but the public space for acceptance and respect has always been lacking and even characterised by violence,” Nyabola said.

“What he said is ‘look I’m here and I’m still the same person that you know and love and respect ‘… I think it’s incredibly powerful,” she added.

Homosexual relations are currently illegal in Kenya but the Supreme Court is due to rule on Friday whether to overturn the law banning them.


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24 Hours Across Africa

Algerians army Chief shun claims over political ambition.

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Algeria’s army chief of staff said on Wednesday he had no political ambitions in response to democracy activists who say that he intends to copy the authoritarian model of Egypt.

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The armed forces have been a pivotal power center in Algeria for decades and have been managing a transition after mass protests forced President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign last month after 20 years in office.

Street demonstrations have continued to press demands for a dismantling of the elite of independence veterans, security commanders and business tycoons that have run the major oil and natural gas producer since independence from France in 1962.

“Everybody should know that we have no political ambitions,” Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah told state television.

A presidential election has been scheduled for July 4 but an informed source said on Friday it might be postponed.

Algerian activists say they are concerned the army-steered transition toward democracy will prove illusory as in Egypt.

As Egypt’s army chief in 2013, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi toppled freely elected Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, won election himself in 2014 and then suppressed Mursi’s supporters as well as the liberal opposition in a pervasive crackdown on dissent.

In Algeria, analysts the army fears the crisis will continue at a time of worsening disorder in neighboring Libya, where there is factional fighting for control of the capital Tripoli.

Salah also said a fight against corruption and cronyism, among protesters’ main grievances, would continue and that he disagreed with some officials who said this was not a priority.

Earlier this month a military judge placed Bouteflika’s youngest brother and two ex-intelligence chiefs in custody. They joined a string of businessmen and officials under investigation over corruption ahead of the presidential election.

Said Bouteflika, who served as a top adviser to the presidency, acted as Algeria’s de facto ruler after his brother suffered a stroke in 2013 that left him in a wheelchair.

Several businessmen, including Algeria’s richest man, Issad Rebrab, have also been placed in custody pending completion of investigations into corruption allegations.


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