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« Reply #18195 on: Today at 08:22 AM »

Refugees from Boko Haram Pose Headache for Authorities on Lake Chad

by Naharnet Newsdesk 31 January 2015, 07:19

Thousands of Nigerian civilians who fled the armed Islamists of Boko Haram have become a headache for Chadian authorities after seeking safety on a multitude of scattered islands in Lake Chad.

"We waded through the water for several days and suffered so much," recalled former taxi driver Adamou Bouba, who snatched up his toddlers, aged two and three, when Boko Haram fighters raided his village, Kiguili, and killed his wife.

After the deadly raid six months ago, Bouba, his children and their companions trekked north in fear of the jihadists to the dusty, windswept Lake Chad basin in the far northeast of Nigeria and bordering on western Chad.

Here, after miles of negotiating the waterways, they settled on Chad's Ngouboua peninsula, a strip of dry land three hours from the nearest town by a bad road.

"There were 77 of us, but several people died on the way," he said.

With Boko Haram trying to establish an Islamic caliphate across northeast Nigeria and even abroad, thousands of people steered clear of the road and took to the water any way they could in search of safety.

The luckier ones managed to grab places on overloaded canoes, but their only option was to reach the arid islands in Chadian territory, a few kilometres (miles) across the lake.

Bouba said that "we took five days to get here" without food and with no drinking water. When his family made dry land, Chadian soldiers "came to meet us".

- Aid 'extremely difficult' -

The waters extend into Cameroon and Niger in this remote frontier territory, but the lake has shrunk drastically since the 1960s, because of factors including overuse of resources and drought induced by global warming.

Scattered over tiny isles, families who frequently lost loved ones during the arduous trip now fend for themselves. Of some 17,000 Nigerians estimated to have fled to Chad, only 7,000 have been taken in to an established refugee camp, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Working out what to do with the bulk of the recent arrivals is a big puzzle for authorities in Chad's capital N'Djamena, after an unsuccessful initial bid to gather the refugees together at Ngouboua.

"Providing humanitarian assistance is extremely difficult in these conditions. How can we load food for several thousand people on small canoes?" asked Ahamat Asselek of the Chadian Red Cross.

In the shade of a tree, refugee Aminata was picking up driftwood. "Nobody gives us food, nor is there soap to wash our clothes," she said, grateful for help from local people in a region where increasingly scarce resources can spark communal conflicts.

"Since we arrived, villagers have taken care of us. We women went to beg and they took pity on us, giving us rice, maize meal and oil," added the young woman with silver eyeshadow beneath her black veil.

Some early Nigerian arrivals have integrated themselves into the community, sometimes sharing the language of the locals, and they get by with fishing and agriculture.

But plans are afoot to move everybody. Since January 23, relief workers have been transferring refugees to Baga Sola, where a new camp has been erected. It already houses almost 2,500 people.

The Chadian government decided on the move for "security reasons", said Mamadou Dian Balde, deputy representative of the UNHCR in Chad.

"Ngouboua is only 18 kilometres (11 miles) from the border" and people who remain there face renewed Boko Haram threats, he added.

- 'Many rumours' -

Some residents fear that the armed extremists will launch attacks inside Chad. Monitoring comings and goings on hundreds of islands and countless channels in the lake is a virtually impossible task.

"There are many rumors. People say that they have already attacked some lake villages close to Nigeria. In any event, they surely want revenge," Balde said.

Chad's army has started to deploy troops along the border to repel potential attacks by Boko Haram, whose insurgency has claimed more than 13,000 lives since 2009.

"It's true that we can't monitor everything, but the positions (of patrols and forward posts) at the frontier won't let Boko Haram fighters through," said the local representative of Chad's national commission to help refugees, Mahamat Ali Tchari.

"The only risk of infiltration arises if they come disguised as refugees," he added.

Several sources in humanitarian circles stated that a number of arrests have already been made at the Ngouboua, after suspects were denounced by refugees.

"Is it really a matter of Boko Haram members and accomplices, or just former neighbours settling old scores?" one of the sources asked. "It's hard to say."

Source: Agence France Presse

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« Reply #18196 on: Today at 08:24 AM »

3 Chad Soldiers, 123 Boko Haram Militants Killed in Cameroon

by Naharnet Newsdesk 31 January 2015, 07:08

Three soldiers and 123 Boko Haram militants were killed when the Islamist group attacked a Chadian army contingent in northern Cameroon, the Chadian military said Friday.

Twelve soldiers were wounded in the attacks staged by the Islamists on Thursday and Friday near the border town of Fotokol, according to a military statement read out on national television.

Chad sent a convoy of troops and military vehicles into neighbouring Cameroon on January 17 to deal with the growing threat Boko Haram poses in the region.

"The enemy was repelled by our defensive forces," the general staff's statement said, adding that the troops had "routed" the Islamists in the second attack.

The soldiers were killed by improvised explosive devices, the statement said.

A senior Cameroonian security source said the Chadian troops were deployed to the town, which sits opposite a Nigerian town under Boko Haram control and is also close to the border with Chad, on Wednesday.

Boko Haram frequently stages attacks on Fotokol from their base in the Nigerian town of Gamboru, which is just 500 metres (yards) away.

Chad has called on countries in the region to form a broad coalition in the fight against the Islamist group. The country has already deployed its army along its borders as well as sending the additional contingent to Cameroon.

Chad's president Idriss Deby has also expressed intentions of taking back the strategic Nigerian town of Baga from Boko Haram, situated on Lake Chad.

The African Union called on Friday for a regional five-nation force of 7,500 troops to defeat the "horrendous" rise of Boko Haram.

"Terrorism, in particular the brutality of Boko Haram against our people, (is) a threat to our collective safety, security and development. This has now spread to the region beyond Nigeria and requires a collective, effective and decisive response," AU commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said in a speech opening the summit.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told African leaders that Boko Haram was "a clear danger to national, regional and international peace and security".

The group's uprising has become a regional crisis, with the four directly affected countries -- Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria -- agreeing along with Benin to boost cooperation to contain the threat and to form a Multinational Joint Task Force.

More than 13,000 people have been killed and more than one million made homeless by Boko Haram violence since 2009.

Source: Agence France Presse

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« Reply #18197 on: Today at 08:32 AM »

Argentinian prosecutor feared pro-government fanatics, says employee

Exclusive: Lawyers for Diego Lagomarsino, the last person to speak to Alberto Nisman before he died, say he’s being made a scapegoat

Jonathan Watts and Uki Goñi in Buenos Aires
Saturday 31 January 2015 11.00 GMT   

The Argentinian prosecutor who was found dead after accusing the country’s president of conspiring to cover up the country’s deadliest terror attack was more afraid of fanatical government sympathisers than foreign terrorists, according to the last person known to have spoken to him before his death.

Alberto Nisman was found lying in a pool of blood in his bathroom on 18 January – the day before he was due to formally present to Congress his allegation that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had plotted to cover up Iran’s involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre that killed 85 people.

Diego Lagomarsino, who lent Nisman the gun which killed him, said the lawyer confided his fears in an emotional encounter in which he also expressed his suspicions of his own security detail and fears for the safety of his two daughters.

“He wasn’t afraid of terrorists. He was afraid of fanatics who might attack his car with sticks while he was driving his daughters,” the 38-year-old told The Guardian.

In his first media interview since he handed himself in to the courts for questioning, Lagomarsino – an IT specialist at Nisman’s office – gave a detailed account of his relationship with the late prosecutor and their last meeting.

Forensic experts have determined that the .22-calibre bullet which killed Nisman came from Lagomarsino’s gun, although investigators have yet to rule whether the death was a suicide or murder.

Spies, cover-ups and the mysterious death of an Argentinian prosecutor

The incident has unleashed a political storm, and a flood of speculation: government loyalists, disgruntled intelligence officials, Hezbollah, Iranian spies and Mossad have all been suggested as potential culprits.

President Fernández has publicly preempted the official investigation by claiming Nisman was murdered and pointing the finger at rogue spies – and Lagomarsino.

“He’s the last person who saw him alive, who talked to him and who furthermore had his intimate trust, his intimate friendship, and who, we’ve been able to learn, went assiduously to his apartment,” Fernández said in a TV address to the nation on Monday.

Lagomarsino’s lawyers say their client is being made a scapegoat, and have advised him to speak out despite a request from investigators to keep quiet.

“I’m all they had, and they took advantage of my silence,” Lagomarsino said over a conference table in his lawyer’s office on Thursday. “It has reached a point where I have started to feel scared. People are saying things about me that aren’t true.”

Argentinian newspapers have claimed he is a spy in league with the former general director of operations at the Intelligence Secretariat Antonio Stiuso, whom the president fired last December for working with Nisman to build a case against her. Furthering these allegations, presidential spokesman Anibal Fernandez has said that Lagomarsino was seen filming protesters at a demonstration several years ago. Former airport police chief Marcelo Sain – who is now a legislator for a pro-government party – told The Guardian earlier this week that he met Lagomarsino some time ago and was convinced he was a spy.

But Lagomarsino – who spoke at some length in the presence of his lawyer – denied these allegations, saying he never knew Stiuso, never attended or filmed the demonstration and never met Sain. “I am not a spy,” he said.

In response to the president’s suspicions against Lagomarsino, the chief investigator said this week that he is not suspected of a major crime. But he has been accused of firearm violations and clearly feels under pressure. Guarded by at least four police, Lagomarsino said he has cried a great deal and tried to shut himself off.

“I decided not to watch TV, read newspapers or access the internet. It was a form of self-protection. I felt bad. I felt overwhelmed.”

Maximiliano Rusconi, his lawyer, said the president’s intervention was very damaging.

“She sent all government officials and sympathetic journalists to make Lagomarsino out to be a very shady character. They are trying to generate suspicion around the figure of Lagomarsino and to suggest that he was a long-time agent of the intelligence services. This is totally false. It is very strange for such lies to come out of the president’s mouth,” said Rusconi. “I think that we will soon see the Lagomarsino thesis as another attempt to cover up the death of Nisman.”

The IT specialist, who learned his trade at Salta Catholic University in Buenos Aires, says he started working at the Nisman family home in 2004 and then got a job at his office in 2007.

It was a well-paid position. Lagomarsino earned 40,000 pesos (£3,000 or $4,500) each month, though he rarely had to be in the office. “I went once a week or once a month or when he called.”

He was one of three IT specialists in Nisman’s office, but said he was the most trusted because he had known the prosecutor longer and was the quickest to respond to his requests.

His role, he said, was network security and backing up data. He declined to divulge the nature of the information, but it is reasonable to assume much of it was highly sensitive because Nisman’s case was built on wiretaps.

He said his boss was never suicidal but was subject to mood swings. “He was either calm or angry. For example, when I was fixing something in his house, he would sometimes get furious and then call me later to apologise,” he recalled.

On 17 January, Nisman called him to his apartment, where, Lagomarsino says, he asked to borrow a gun. The IT specialist said he was dumbfounded and asked his boss why he wanted a firearm – particularly as he already had a ten-man security detail.

“He said, ‘I don’t trust my security anymore.’

“Then he broke down and became very emotional. ‘Do you know what it’s like for my own daughters to be scared of being with me because they’re scared something could happen to them?,’” Lagomarsino recounted.

Largomarsino drove back to his apartment, packed some ammunition and a Bersa handgun – which he said had not been fired for more than ten years – and then returned to Nisman’s compound, where he was taken up to the 13th floor apartment by one of the security guards.

Over coffee, he showed his boss how to use the gun. “He tested it. He loaded it. Then he emptied it and wrapped it back up in green microfibre cloth and left it on the arm of the chair. He told me, ‘I’ll keep it in the safe tonight, and tomorrow I’ll put it in the glove compartment of my car.’”

Largomarsino says he left the apartment by the main door at around 8pm on that Saturday night and they exchanged a last few words. “I asked ‘When will I see you?’ He replied, ‘After Monday.’”

The following night, Nisman’s body was found.

Argentina prosecutor laid to rest as protesters demand 'Justice for Nisman'

At Nisman’s funeral on Thursday at the Jewish cemetery of La Tablada, his former wife Sandra Arroyo Salgado – who is a judge – insisted her ex-husband was the victim of a plot. “Those of us who know you know this was not your decision. None of us believe that you were the maker of this end. We are certain this was the work of someone else. We don’t know who,” she said.

Lagomarsino has not talked to her since the death and said he feared she may blame him.

“Perhaps I should have said no to his request for a gun,” he says. “I don’t know the word for what I feel. I don’t know if it is guilt or a sense of moral responsibility.

“I had to watch the funeral on television. I looked up at the sky and said, ‘I’m sorry I’m not there,’” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. “I would like the truth to be known. I hope he rests in peace.”


Argentine Leader Pleads For Unity During Inquiry

JAN. 30, 2015

BUENOS AIRES — In a veiled reference to the fallout from the mysterious death of a federal prosecutor this month, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina blamed unspecified forces on Friday for provoking upheaval, pleading with Argentines to remain united and to “not let them bring conflicts here that are causing desolation, death and strain on other countries.”

Mrs. Kirchner’s comments came after she moved this week to overhaul Argentina’s top intelligence agency, saying she believed that rogue spies had a hand in the death of the prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, whose body was found in his luxury Buenos Aires apartment on Jan. 18, a pistol on the floor next to him. It is unclear if his death was suicide or murder.

In a statement Friday, Viviana Fein, the prosecutor leading the investigation into Mr. Nisman’s death, said that only his DNA had been found on items taken from his apartment for laboratory tests, including the pistol.   

Right before his death, Mr. Nisman had filed accusations against Mrs. Kirchner, claiming that in exchange for Iranian oil, she ordered secret negotiations to shield Iranian officials from charges that they planned the fatal bombing of a Jewish center here in 1994. The government has rejected the accusations, claiming that Iran could not have provided Argentina with the refined oil it required and pointing to a statement from Interpol’s former secretary general that said Argentina had never requested the lifting of arrest warrants for the Iranians, as Mr. Nisman had claimed. He had taken over the case in 2005 after years of inquiry marred by delays and corruption charges.

Mrs. Kirchner has suggested that rogue spies, in a plot to destabilize the government, manipulated Mr. Nisman and had a hand in his death.

In her second public appearance since Mr. Nisman’s death, Mrs. Kirchner gave a televised speech in which she mostly spoke about her government’s achievements and discussed policy developments.

But she also spoke out against unspecified influences that she claimed had sought to wreak havoc. “Here I am,” she said, comparing her plight to that of a naval ship in battle. “A little damaged, but never sunken.”

She also seemed to cast new suspicion on Diego Lagomarsino, an aide to Mr. Nisman who lent him the .22-caliber Bersa pistol used in the shooting. Mrs. Kirchner has called him a “ferocious opponent” of the government, and her chief of staff has suggested that Mr. Lagomarsino is linked to the intelligence services.

Mr. Nisman was buried on Thursday. In an address at the funeral, Waldo Wolff, the vice president of a Jewish umbrella organization, pointed to the failure of Argentina’s institutions to solve the 1994 case. He said Mr. Nisman’s death had “lifted the rubble” left by the attack to reveal the “dark labyrinths of power.”

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« Reply #18198 on: Today at 08:35 AM »

With Oil Revenue Dropping, Mexico Announces Budget Cuts

JAN. 30, 2015

MEXICO CITY — Faced with declining prices for its oil exports, Mexico’s government announced $8.3 billion in budget cuts, slashing the budget of the state oil company. It also effectively canceled a bullet train project at the center of a conflict-of-interest scandal that has weakened Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidency.

Finance Minister Luis Videgaray said the cuts were aimed at strengthening confidence in public finances at a time when flows to emerging markets are declining. “We must act preventively today,” Mr. Videgaray said. Concern over falling oil prices has been putting pressure on the peso, which has dipped sharply over the past month.

Taxes on the oil company Pemex are the biggest single source of revenue for the government, accounting for about a third of federal spending. The 2015 budget was based on the price of oil at $79 a barrel, and the price of Mexican crude has fallen to just over $40 a barrel now.

But at the same time, the biggest share of the cuts announced on Friday, almost half, will fall on Pemex.

Among the other savings that Mr. Videgaray announced was the indefinite suspension of a high-speed train that Mr. Peña Nieto had hoped to build between Mexico City and the growing industrial hub of Querétaro.

The $3.7 billion train was intended to be an emblem of Mr. Peña Nieto’s vigorous economic leadership. But instead it has brought him only embarrassment.

The train contract was initially awarded in November to a consortium led by the China Railway Construction Corporation, which was the only bidder after other companies complained that they had not been given enough time to prepare.

The contract was quickly canceled, and the government began to prepare a new tender.

Days later, a Mexican investigative team reported that one of the minority bidders in the consortium, a company called Grupo Higa, had built a luxury home for Mr. Peña Nieto’s wife in Mexico City’s most expensive neighborhood. The first lady, Angélica Rivera, a former television actress, said that she was buying the house with a mortgage from Grupo Higa, but agreed to sell it.

Grupo Higa also built a weekend home on an exclusive golf course that it sold to Mr. Videgaray on credit in 2012, shortly before he became finance minister. He paid off the mortgage last year, he told reporters after The Wall Street Journal first reported on the deal.

Analysts welcomed the budget cuts, which were larger than many expected. “On the positive side, this means that the government has a buffer against weaker prices, or a weaker economy,” said Rodrigo Aguilera, Mexico economist for the Economist Intelligence Unit, a company in London that analyzes risk.
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« Reply #18199 on: Today at 08:38 AM »

Low-mass particle could lead to dark matter detection

January 30, 2015
Chuck Bednar for – Your Universe Online

Even though dark matter is believed to make up 85 percent of the universe’s mass, no one has managed to detect the elusive material, but a new fundamental particle proposed by scientists at the University of Southampton could finally change that.

Dark matter is believed to exist because of the gravitation effect it has on stars and galaxies, the gravitational lensing (or bending of light rays) that occurs around these objects, and its imprint on the afterglow of the Big Bang (also known as the Cosmic Microwave Background).

Despite what the researchers call “compelling” indirect evidence to support its existence, and an immense amount of effort from astronomers, no one has been able to directly detect dark matter yet. Clues as to what it could be can be found through particle physics, however.

The standard view, the study authors explain, is that dark matter particles have a very large mass for fundamental particles, similar to those of heavy atoms. Lighter dark matter is unlikely due to several astrophysical regions, though some exceptions have been identified, they added.

The new study published earlier this week in the journal Scientific Reports presents the possibility low-mass dark matter particles exist and could be directly detected. These lighter particles would have been missed by all experiments conducted to date, the researchers claim, and neither constraints from particle physics nor cosmological observations can rule out their existence.

“Our candidate particle sounds crazy, but currently there seem to be no experiments or observations which could rule it out,” he added. “Dark Matter is one of the most important unsolved problems in modern physics, and we hope that our suggestion will inspire others to develop detailed particle theory and even experimental tests.”

The proposed lighter dark matter particle has a mass of just 100eV/c^2, or approximately 0.02 percent that of an electron, according to their research. Unlike heavier forms of dark matter, it would not interact with light, though it would surprisingly interact with normal matter.

Also, unlike other candidates, this low-mass dark matter may not even be able to penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere, rending detection from the ground unlikely. As a result, Dr. Bateman and his colleagues plan to incorporate the search for these particles into a space experiment planned by the Macroscopic quantum resonators (MAQRO) consortium.

By suspending a nanoparticle in space and exposing it directly to the flow of dark matter, the study authors believe that they may be able to observe it being pushed downstream. Monitoring the nanoparticle’s position could then shed new light on the existence of low-mass dark matter.

“At the moment, experiments on Dark Matter do not point into a clear direction and, given that also the Large Hadron Collider at CERN has not found any signs of new physics yet, it may be time that we shift our paradigm towards alternative candidates for Dark Matter,” said co-author Dr. Alexander Merle from the Max Planck Institute in Munich, Germany.

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