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As Africa Warms, Mosquito Carrying Zika, Dengue More Likely to Thrive

DAKAR, SENEGAL — 

From deadly droughts and destroyed crops to shrinking water sources, communities across sub-Saharan Africa are struggling to withstand the onslaught of global record-breaking temperatures.

But the dangers do not end there. Rising heat poses another threat, one that is far less known and studied but could spark disease epidemics across the continent, scientists say.

Mosquitoes are the menace, and the risk goes beyond malaria.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads debilitating and potentially deadly viruses, from Zika and dengue to chikungunya, thrives in warmer climates than its malaria-carrying cousin, known as Anopheles, say researchers at Stanford University.

In sub-Saharan Africa, this means malaria rates could rise in cooler areas as they heat up, but fall in hotter places that now battle the disease. In those areas, malaria, one of the continent’s biggest killers, may be rivaled by other vector-borne diseases as major health crises.

“As temperatures go past 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit), you move away from the peak transmission window for malaria, and towards that of diseases such as dengue,” said Erin Mordecai, an assistant professor at Stanford.

“We have this intriguing prospect of the threat of malaria declining in Africa, while Zika, dengue and chikungunya become more of a danger,” she said.

Besides a warming planet, scientists fear growing urbanization across Africa could also fuel the transmission of diseases carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which flourishes in cities and slums, the opposite of the country-loving Anopheles.

Half of Africans are expected to live in cities by 2030, up from 36 percent in 2010, according to World Bank data.

A soaring number may become prey to vector-borne viruses like dengue, which have struck Africa at a record pace in recent years, fuelled by urbanization, population growth, poor sanitation and global warming, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

“We see poorly planned development in Africa, not just with megacities but smaller settlements … which often lack proper water and sanitation,” said Marianne Comparet, director of the International Society for Neglected Tropical Diseases.

“Climate change, disease and the interaction between man and habitat — it is a crisis going under the radar … a time bomb for public health problems,” she added.

Neglected diseases

Last year was the hottest on record, for the third year in a row, with global temperature rise edging nearer a ceiling set by some 200 nations for limiting global warming, according to the European Union’s climate change service.

Parts of Africa were among the regions suffering from unusual heat.

As temperatures keep rising, mosquitoes in low-latitude regions in East African countries are finding new habitats in higher altitude areas, yet malaria rates are falling in warmer regions, such as northern Senegal in the Sahel, studies show.

So as cooler parts of sub-Saharan Africa gear up for the spread of malaria, hotter areas should prepare for future epidemics like chikungunya and dengue, experts say.

While not as lethal as malaria, chikungunya lasts longer and can lead to people developing long-term joint pain. Dengue causes flulike symptoms and can develop into a deadly hemorrhagic fever.

There is a danger that the global drive to end malaria, which absorbed $2.9 billion in international investment in 2015, has left African countries ill-prepared to deal with other vector-borne diseases, said Larry Slutsker of the international health organization PATH.

“Diseases such as dengue and chikungunya have been neglected and under-funded,” said Slutsker, the leader of PATH’s malaria and neglected tropical diseases programs. “There needs to be much better surveillance and understanding.”

Malaria kills around 430,000 people a year, about 90 percent of them young African children.

Dengue, the world’s fastest-spreading tropical disease, infects about 390 million annually but is often badly recorded and misdiagnosed, health experts say.

Some experts believe the global alarm triggered by Zika, which can cause birth defects such as small brain size, may see more money pumped into fighting neglected tropical diseases in sub-Saharan Africa, especially after outbreaks in Angola, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau in the last year.

Although 26 African nations, almost half of the continent, have strategies in place to fight vector-borne diseases, most of them only target malaria, according to data from the WHO.

Malaria rates have been slashed in recent decades through the use of bed nets, indoor spraying and drugs. But there are no dedicated treatments or vaccines for chikungunya and dengue.

“The most important preventive and control intervention is vector management, particularly through community engagement,” said Magaran Bagayoko, a team leader for the WHO in Africa.

Disentangling data

However, efforts to beat back mosquitoes are hampered by a lack of quality and affordable climate data that could help predict outbreaks and indicate risks, said Madeleine Thomson of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society.

“What countries really want to know is what they can do to improve their programs, as well as the capacity of their health workers,” said the scientist at the Columbia University-based institute.

But to do that, “climate information must be put into practice,” Thomson added.

African nations also must improve coordination between their health ministries and meteorological agencies, said the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), a new continentwide public health agency launched this year by the African Union.

“They are not linked, or talking to each other,” said Sheila Shawa, a project officer at the Africa CDC headquarters in Ethiopia. “There needs to be better communication in order to model neglected diseases, such as chikungunya, across Africa.”

Yet climate scientists and health experts warn of the difficulty of analyzing the impact of rising temperature on mosquito-borne diseases without looking at other factors.

“We have a major challenge of isolating effects of rising temperatures — which are really variable — from all the other aspects like rainfall patterns, humidity, mobility and migration, as well as socioeconomic factors,” said Stanford’s Mordecai.

“They are all changing at the same time, making individual drivers very difficult to isolate and disentangle for analysis.”

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Facing Crime Wave, Residents in South Sudan Capital Pay Police for Protection

JUBA — 

Residents of South Sudan’s capital say they are collecting cash to pay police unofficially to patrol their neighborhoods, amid a crime wave and a cash crunch that means authorities often cannot pay their wages.

Robbers killed more than 60 people last month in Juba, twice as many as in July, according to the Community Empowerment of Progress Organization, a civil society organization in Juba that tallies violent incidents.

In one incident this month, around 50 gunmen in army uniforms attacked homes. Armed residents repulsed them and there were no known casualties, the organization said. It was unclear whether the attackers were members of the security forces.

Edmund Yakani, head of the Progress Organization, said security was improving in some areas since communities began collecting cash to pay for police patrols.

South Sudan’s nearly four-year-old civil war has slashed oil production and the cash-strapped government struggles to pay security forces. It has asked foreign donors for help, but the request is unlikely to be granted since rights groups accuse security forces of torturing, raping and killing civilians.

The war has displaced a third of the East African nation’s 12 million people and spilt into neighboring states.

At a community meeting last week in the Juba neighborhood of Kator East, dozens of residents each agreed to give 100 South Sudanese pounds (just under $1) to hire police to join youth volunteers in patrolling, said Lucy Ramada, 38.

“Every household was asked to contribute … for the payment of extra police personnel that will assist our youth at night,” she said. Since the patrols began with the paid police, she added, “there is no sound of gunfire and no robberies.”

Police spokesman Daniel Boulogne said he was unaware of residents offering police extra pay. A South Sudanese police officer is paid about 1,500 South Sudanese pounds on average, about $83 at the current exchange rate.

“We have not asked for any [extra] incentives because it is our duty to do our best to give them security,” he said. He did not comment on police wages.

Monthly inflation has reached triple digits, and the scramble for food forces many people into crime, said James Okuk, a lecturer at Juba University.

“The situation is forcing people to become robbers,” he said. “The situation has been made worse by the government not paying salaries to its employees, including those carrying guns, for some months.”

Defense Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk told Reuters that some members of the army and police were under investigation for robbery but the number was small.

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Top Cocoa Producers to Create Buffer Stock to Influence World Prices

ABIDJAN — 

Ivory Coast and Ghana, the world’s top cocoa producers, plan to create a buffer stock of beans with the aim of exerting more influence over world prices, a senior Ivorian government official told Reuters on Thursday.

The two West African neighbors produce over 60 percent of the global supply of the chocolate ingredient but have been hit hard by a sharp drop in world prices caused mainly by a glut resulting from bumper crops this season.

The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) forecasts a global surplus of 371,000 tons this season.

“The countries agreed that we needed specialized warehouses to allow us to conserve cocoa so that we can regulate supply and push up prices,” Narcisse Sepy Yessoh, chief of staff to Ivory Coast Trade Minister Souleymane Diarrassouba, told Reuters.

He said the two governments submitted a request in May to the Abidjan-based African Development Bank for a $1.2 billion loan to pay for the infrastructure. They hope the financing will be approved before the end of this year to allow for stocking in the 2018/19 season, he added.

Under the plan, Ivory Coast will build six warehouses with total capacity of 250,000 tons near to the main growing areas. Yessoh declined to comment on the infrastructure planned for Ghana.

Ivory Coast is on track to produce a record 2 million tons of cocoa this year, but Yessoh said the government planned to limit output going forward and focus its efforts on improving quality.

“Must we continue on this path, flooding the market with beans in abundance and driving down prices to the detriment of our economies and people? We don’t think so,” he said on the sidelines of an ICCO meeting.

The two nations, along with Africa’s third-largest producer Cameroon, said on Thursday they would seek to modify the International Cocoa Agreement, the founding document of the ICCO — the world body of producer and consumer countries.

The ICCO’s Executive Director Jean-Marc Anga said the body would open talks between the producers and the European Union in partnership with the cocoa and chocolate industry to reach a deal on a revised agreement.

The declaration made by the three nations at the ICCO meeting did not offer details. But Yessoh said the countries would seek to reinstate a clause creating a buffer stock that was included in the original agreement signed in 1973 but later removed.

“How much are we going to stock? These are quotas to be defined between producer countries. These questions are still with the politicians. We’re waiting for them to decide,” he said.

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Somalia Rebukes Its States for Breaking With Qatar

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA — 

Somalia’s government rebuked its three semiautonomous regions Thursday for cutting ties with Qatar, saying it was determined to stay neutral in the Gulf nation’s dispute with other Arab states.

The region of Galmudug issued a statement Wednesday saying it stood with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in the regional row, following similar declarations last month by the regions of Puntland and Hirshabelle.

Somalia’s federal government responded by saying only it had the authority to speak on foreign affairs.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut political and trade ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of supporting terrorism and their foe Iran — charges that Doha denies.

The spat about it in volatile but strategically located Somalia illustrated how far the political ripples from Qatar’s dispute have spread.

Somalia’s open stance is important for Qatar — Somalia’s airspace remains open for Qatar Airways, a critical lifeline amid the blockade.

Gulf Arab states have meanwhile been pouring resources into the semiautonomous regions.

Unsurprising choice

“[The Arab states] are trying to give more energy and emphasize more their relations with these regional governments, trying to pressure them to go against the federal government,” said Nairobi-based Somalia expert Ahmed Roble.

The choice by those regions to break from the federal governrment and reject Qatar is unsurprising, Roble added.

Somalia’s position also underlines its delicate position — dependent on trade from Saudi Arabia, but increasingly close to Turkey, which is backing Qatar in the dispute.

Saudi Arabia is Somalia’s top export partner, and the United Arab Emirates supplies the Horn of Africa country with key imports, from electronics to building materials.

Turkey has poured in more than $1 billion in aid since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Somalia in 2011 and is expected to open a military base in Mogadishu this month.

“The cabinet reaffirms the federal government’s decision in June … that Somalia is neutral about the conflict of Gulf countries,” read a statement issued by the office of Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire.

The statement called on “the conflict be solved brotherly, peacefully and diplomatically.”

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Anti-Zuma MP Quits South Africa's 'Corrupt' ANC

JOHANNESBURG — 

African National Congress (ANC) MP Makhosi Khoza, a strident critic of scandal-plagued President Jacob Zuma, quit South Africa’s ruling party on Thursday, labelling Nelson Mandela’s 105-year-old liberation movement “alien and corrupt.”

The 47-year-old Zulu linguistics expert, an ANC supporter since the age of 12, denounced Zuma in July as a “dishonorable and disgraceful leader” due to the litany of scandals he has attracted during his eight years in power.

Her comments earned her death threats and a provincial party disciplinary hearing, but Khoza said she was not prepared to sit around and wait for the verdict from a party she said was willfully blind to the failings of its leader.

“Why haven’t we charged Zuma? Why are we charging Makhosi Khoza? We are making a mockery of the rule of law. We are making a mockery of the ANC constitution,” she said in an interview on
the SABC, the state broadcaster.

“Charge Zuma. Fire Zuma from the ANC, then I will know that you are serious about self-correcting.”

Khoza is believed to have been one of around 30 ANC members of parliament who voted against Zuma in an ultimately unsuccessful Aug. 8 parliamentary no-confidence vote conducted by secret ballot.

ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa did not answer calls to his mobile phone.

The most serious allegations against Zuma relate to his friendship with the Guptas, a family of Indian-born businessmen accused of using political influence to secure lucrative contracts with state-run companies and remain above the law.

Zuma and the Guptas, who employ Zuma’s son, Duduzane, as a director of at least one of their companies, have denied any wrongdoing and say they are the victims of a politically motivated witch-hunt.

Rule of law suspended?

Zuma’s time at the helm of the ANC comes to an end in December when the party chooses a new leader, although he will remain head of state until 2019 unless the ANC removes him early, as it did with President Thabo Mbeki in 2008.

As Khoza fulminated on air, Zuma’s former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was sworn in behind closed doors as a member of parliament, cementing the belief she is his preferred successor against challengers led by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The parliamentary seat gives Dlamini-Zuma, ex-chairwoman of the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, a platform from which to raise her profile ahead of December’s party leadership conference.

Separately, the Pretoria High Court delivered a blow to the Gupta’s media-to-mining commercial empire, throwing out its attempt to block India’s Bank of Baroda, the last bank in South Africa prepared to handle its money, from pulling the plug.

Judge Hans Fabricius dedicated eight pages of his verdict to the allegations against the Guptas, questioning why police and prosecutors had failed to act despite years of stunning media revelations and numerous formal criminal complaints.

“I could not help wonder whether, unbeknown to me, democracy and the rule of law had somehow been suspended,” he said, lamenting the decline from the optimism and idealism of the self-styled “Rainbow Nation” immediately after apartheid ended.

“Could it be possible that the future, so bright in 1994, was now only history?” he continued. “Do the various investigating bodies of the police service … still remember their constitutional duty to combat and investigate crime?”

Gary Naidoo, editor of the Gupta-owned New Age newspaper and the family’s de facto spokesman, was not available for comment.

Reporting by Ed Cropley and Nqobile Dludla; editing by Andrew Roche

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Rival Tuaregs Sign Deal to End Years of Fighting in Mali

BAMAKO — 

Rival Tuareg groups said on Thursday they had signed a peace deal in northern Mali, raising hopes of an end to years of fighting and broken ceasefires.

Senior members of the separatist CMA and their pro-government opponents known as the Platform said they had settled their differences in the arid region, which is still reeling from a 2012 Islamist insurgency.

Past deals have fizzled as goodwill faded – though observers said they were optimistic, as the pact had been signed in Bamako on Wednesday night under the watch of the United Nations,government officials and international mediators.

“We assure that in future we will respect all thecommitments we have made before you and before the international community,” senior Platform official Fahad Ag Almahamoud said on state radio.

CMA official Bilal Ag Cherif echoed the message, saying: “all parties must respect this document in their behavior and their everyday actions.”

Rival Tuareg groups have fought over territory and politics for years. More recent clashes have complicated efforts to counter al Qaeda-linked militants who took the north in 2012 before a French-led intervention pushed them back.

The peace deal followed a temporary ceasefire agreed last month which allowed the regional governor to return to the city of Kidal.

“This seems like a more permanent agreement [following the ceasefire] and could hold for now,” said Andrew Lebovich, of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “It depends on the internal calculations of each group and if people are simply using the agreement to rebuild their forces.”

Reporting By Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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Nations Join Forces to Stop One in Three Women Facing Violence

UNITED NATIONS — 

World leaders meeting at the United Nations on Wednesday launched a half-billion dollar effort to end violence against women and girls, a crime suffered by one in three in their lifetimes.

The effort will fund anti-violence programs that promote prevention, bolster government policies and provide women and girls with improved access to services, organizers said.

It will take particular aim at human trafficking, femicide and family violence, they said.

A third of all women experience violence at some point in their lives, and that figure is twice as high in some countries, according to the United Nations.

“Gender-based violence is the most dehumanizing form of gender oppression. It exists in every society, in every country rich and poor, in every religion and in every culture,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, head of U.N. Women, said as the United Nations held its annual General Assembly.

“If there was anything that was ever universal, it is gender inequality and the violence that it breeds against women,” she said.

In other forms of violence, more than 700 million women worldwide were married before they were 18, and at least 200 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries, according to U.N. figures.

The initiative of 500 million Euros (US$595 million) was launched by the U.N. and the European Union, which is its main contributor, organizers said.

“The initiative has great power,” said Ashley Judd, a Hollywood actress and goodwill ambassador for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) who participated in Wednesday’s announcement.

“There are already so many effective, research-based, data-driven programs,” Judd told the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of the announcement. “Financing for existing programs is a beautiful thing.

“It also makes an incredibly powerful statement to show that the world is increasingly cohesive around stopping gender-based violence,” she said.

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Unveiling New Libya Plan, UN Sees Opportunity for Peace

UNITED NATIONS — 

The United Nations launched a road map on Wednesday for a renewed international effort to break a political stalemate in Libya and end the turmoil that followed the country’s 2011 uprising.

The world body’s Libya envoy, Ghassan Salame, set out an “action plan” on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York that proposes amending a 2015 peace deal that quickly stalled.

The U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) established under the December 2015 deal never fully materialized in Tripoli, leaving Libya with three competing governments aligned with rival armed alliances.

“I am also convinced that today there is an opportunity to end a protracted crisis that has caused immense suffering and contributed to the instability beyond Libya’s borders. We must all seize this moment,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in an address to key stakeholders.

Hamstrung by internal splits in its nine-member leadership, or Presidency Council, the GNA has been unable to tackle Libya’s acute liquidity crisis, save collapsing public services or bring powerful militias to heel.

Though oil production has partly recovered and local forces ousted Islamic State from its North African stronghold of Sirte last year, security vacuums in central and southern Libya persist and armed groups control the informal economy.

Eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar has gradually strengthened his position on the ground, with support from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Lauded by allies for his anti-Islamist stance, Haftar is accused by foes of seeking to reimpose military rule that they fought to overthrow when they toppled veteran ruler Moammar Gadhafi six years ago.

GNA Prime Minister Fayez Seraj said he wanted Salame to send a clear message to message to those who could try to subvert the process and make it clear that the GNA was the only party that should be dealt with.

Action plan

Salame, who took up his post in August, proposed reducing the unwieldy GNA Presidency Council to three members and having it then nominate a new transitional government.

“The action plan was not designed by me, but by the Libyans. They want an inclusive process, a way forward which clearly defines stages and objectives,” he said.

Salame said the drafting of the plan would begin next week before the convening of a national conference for all key Libyan actors to join the political process.

Securing changes to the 2015 deal would need the approval of a barely functional eastern-based parliament.

The European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions on the head of that parliament, Agila Saleh, accusing him of stalling Libya’s political process.

A delegation from the eastern parliament is expected to start negotiating with members of its Tripoli-based rival assembly. They are under pressure to reach an agreement before December 17, when opponents of the 2015 deal say it expires.

Salame, who appeared to suggest a new calendar of a year for the process, must also balance calls for new elections with the need to prepare a legal framework in which they can take place.

Elections would require an electoral law, and possibly a referendum, to endorse a new constitution. In 2014, elections were challenged, leading to a major escalation of conflict and the division of Libya’s key institutions.

France, Britain and Italy, who have all at some point tried to assert their influence in recent weeks, said they were fully on board with Salame’s plans.

“We must be united behind the road map. Our collective credibility is at stake in Libya,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said.

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Survey: Many Leaders Clueless on Issues Facing Girls, Women

NEW YORK — 

Policymakers in developing nations may not know enough facts and figures about problems facing women and girls to help reach gender equality, research showed Wednesday.

Only a handful of policymakers could estimate the maternal death rate in their countries, and only a quarter came close to estimating child marriage rates, according to a study conducted for Equal Measures 2030, a group promoting gender equality.

The research cast doubt on how well nations might reach gender equality by 2030, a goal included in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations two years ago, the report said.

The report was released during this week’s meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, where the SDGs were approved unanimously in 2015.

Two-thirds of the policymakers polled said they believe there is more gender quality in their country today than there was five years ago.

Gender split

However, that finding was split dramatically between men and women. Nearly eight in ten men saw more equality today, but only about half of women thought so, it found.

More than twice as many women than men feel the situation between the sexes either had not changed or had worsened.

“Policymakers are flying blind when it comes to gender equality. Two-thirds of policymakers believe progress has been made, but they aren’t confident in their knowledge of the facts and figures,” said Alison Holder, director of Equal Measures 2030.

“We need the full picture if we’re to have any chance of meeting the ambitious promises set out in the SDGs,” she said in a statement accompanying the report.

The survey questioned 109 policymakers in Colombia, India, Indonesia, Kenya and Senegal about maternal mortality rates, child marriage rates, the percentage of women in the labor force and the percentage of women in parliament.

Those surveyed included members of central and local governments, members of parliament, senior civil servants and people with influence on policy such as heads of business institutions, commissions or trade unions.

Wide-ranging answers

Only 6 percent came within 20 percent of the right figure in estimating their country’s maternal death rate, and only a quarter could do so on the issue of child marriage, it said.

Fewer than a third could make a close estimate of the share of women in the labor force, and just half could come close to estimating the number of women in parliament, it found.

For example, Colombian decision makers’ estimates of the nation’s child marriage ranged from 4 percent to 80 percent, while the actual figure of girls married before age 18 is 23 percent, it said.

In Kenya, policymakers estimated the share of parliamentary seats held by women at 6 percent to 90 percent, when the figure is 21 percent, it said.

“The wide variation in responses raises questions about whether policymakers are aware, have access to or are sufficiently guided by the relevant, current data needed to assess progress for girls and women toward the SDGs,” the report said.

The survey was conducted in person and by telephone by the research firm Ipsos between July 21 and September 6.

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Nigerian Air Force Deploys Aircraft to Restive Southeast

LAGOS — 

Nigeria’s air force on Tuesday said it was deploying aircraft to the southeast of the country where unrest related to a campaign for secession has escalated in an area formerly known as Biafra.

The military presence in the southeast has increased in the last few weeks as part of an operation that the military said was part of efforts to crack down on crime, kidnapping and secessionist agitation. The air force deployment marks a further escalation of the operation, which began this month

“The essence of the deployment is to provide the necessary air cover to the ground troops to enhance overall operational cohesion and efficiency,” said Olatokunbo Adesanya, a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) spokesman.

“The request by the Nigerian Army for close air support made the involvement of the NAF inevitable,” he added.

The military deployment has led to tension between troops and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) secessionist group which last week accused soldiers of laying siege to their leader’s home. The army denied the accusation.

A curfew was subsequently imposed in Abia state, where the residence is located, and the army on Friday categorized IPOB as a “terrorist organization”. Secessionist sentiment has simmered in the southeast since the Biafra separatist rebellion plunged Africa’s most populous country into a civil war from 1967 to 1970 that killed around one million people.

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