Libyan protesters storm parliament building in Tobruk

TRIPOLI— Protesters stormed Libya’s parliament building in the eastern city of Tobruk, demonstrating against deteriorating living conditions and political deadlock, Libyan media reported.

Several television channels said that protesters had managed to penetrate the building and committed acts of vandalism, while media outlets showed images of thick columns of black smoke coming from its perimeter as angry young demonstrators burned tyres.

Other media reports said part of the building had been burned. The parliament building was empty, as Friday falls on the weekend in Libya.

Libya’s parliament, or House of Representatives, has been based in Tobruk, hundreds of kilometres east of the capital Tripoli, since an east-west schism in 2014 following the revolt that toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi three years earlier.

A rival body, formally known as the High Council of State, is based in Tripoli.

Images Friday showed that a protester driving a bulldozer had managed to smash through part of a gate, allowing other demonstrators to enter more easily, while cars of officials were set on fire. Later, protesters began to break through the building’s walls with construction equipment.

Others, some brandishing the green flags of the Kadhafi regime, threw office documents into the air.

While recognising “the right of citizens to demonstrate peacefully”, parliament condemned “acts of vandalism and the burning” of its headquarters.

The interim prime minister of the Tripoli-based government, Abdulhamid Dbeibah, said on Twitter that he would add his voice to those of the protesters and called for the holding of elections.

Libya has endured several days of power cuts, worsened by the blockade of several oil facilities against the backdrop of political rivalries. “We want the lights to work,” protesters chanted.

Two governments have been vying for power for months: one based in Tripoli, led by Dbeibah, and another headed by former interior minister Fathi Bashagha, appointed by the parliament and supported by eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar.

“I call on my parliamentary colleagues as well as members of the High Council of State to collectively resign to respect the will of the Libyan people and preserve Libya’s stability,” lawmaker Ziad Dgheim, was quoted as saying by Libyan channel Al-Ahrar on Friday.

Lawmaker Balkheir Alshaab said: “We must recognise our failure and immediately withdraw from the political scene.”

Presidential and parliamentary elections, originally set for December last year, were meant to cap a UN-led peace process following the end of the last major round of violence in 2020.

But the vote never took place due to several contentious candidacies and deep disagreements over the polls’ legal basis between rival power centres in the east and west.

The United Nations said Thursday that talks between the rival Libyan institutions aimed at breaking the deadlock had failed to resolve key differences.

Parliament speaker Aguila Saleh and High Council of State president Khaled al-Mishri met at the UN in Geneva for three days of talks to discuss a draft constitutional framework for elections.

While some progress was made, it was not enough to move forward towards elections, with the two sides still at odds over who can stand in presidential elections, said the UN’s top Libya envoy Stephanie Williams, who facilitated the talks.

The prospect of elections appears as distant as ever since the HoR, elected in 2014, appointed Bashagha, arguing that Dbeibah’s mandate had expired.

After Bashagha failed to enter Tripoli in an armed standoff in May, the rival administration has taken up office further east in Sirte, Kadhafi’s hometown.

Recent weeks have seen repeated skirmishes between armed groups in Tripoli, prompting fears of a return to full-scale conflict.

Protests took place in other Libyan cities on Friday including Tripoli, where protesters held images of Dbeibah and Bashagha crossed out.

“Popular protests have erupted across Libya in exasperation at a collapsing quality of life, the entire political class who manufactured it, and the UN who indulged them over delivering promised change,” tweeted analyst Tarek Megerisi of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“Things are escalating quickly and the response will define Libya’s summer,” he added.

Libya’s National Oil Corporation said Monday that a blockade at oil installations in the central coastal region of Sirte meant it may declare force majeur, a measure freeing it of contractual obligations due to circumstances beyond its control.

A blockade of two major oil export terminals and several oilfields began in April.

Eastern-based strongman Haftar’s forces control major oil facilities. A drop in gas production contributed to chronic power cuts, which can last around 12 hours a day.


Sudan protesters rally against coup leaders, day after nine killed

KHARTOUM— Sudanese protesters rallied again and security forces fired tear gas at them, a day after a mass demonstration drawing tens of thousands was met with the deadliest violence so far this year.

Hundreds of activists massed near the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum, after at least nine people were killed during Thursday’s rallies against a military takeover led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan last October.

“The people want to bring down Burhan,” some protesters chanted while others, carrying photos of people killed in months of protest-related violence, yelled: “We call for retribution!”

The death toll from protest-related violence has reached 113 since the coup, with the latest fatality reported Friday after a demonstrator died from wounds sustained at a June 24 rally, according to pro-democracy medics.

The activists demand the restoration of the transition to civilian rule, that was launched shortly after the 2019 ouster of veteran president Omar al-Bashir but which has been derailed since.

The latest crackdown defied calls for calm from the international community.

“Tens of thousands of Sudanese took to the street today to demand democracy. We support their aspirations,” said the US State Department’s Bureau for African Affairs on Twitter.

“We condemn in the strongest terms the use of live fire by security forces against civilians. We offer our condolences to those who lost family members.”

The “violence needs to end,” demanded UN special representative Volker Perthes.

Sudan’s police meanwhile accused protesters of wounding 96 police and 129 military officers, “some critically”, on Thursday, as well as damaging vehicles and starting fires.

Last year’s coup plunged Sudan into deepening political and economic turmoil, which has seen rising consumer prices and life-threatening food shortages.

It has also sparked near-weekly protests, as well as ethnic clashes.

The United Nations, the African Union and regional bloc IGAD have tried to facilitate talks between the generals and civilians, but mediation efforts have been boycotted by the main civilian factions.

On Friday, the three bodies jointly condemned the violence and “the use of excessive force by security forces and lack of accountability for such actions, despite repeated commitments by authorities”.

Norway’s ambassador to Sudan also condemned reports of “torture, sexual violence and inhumane treatment”.

“We request lawyers’ access to detainees and their access to health,” ambassador Therese Loken Gheziel wrote on Twitter. “Protection from torture is indispensable”.

The protests on Thursday came on the anniversary of a 1989 coup that toppled Sudan’s last elected civilian government and ushered in three decades of iron-fisted rule by Islamist-backed Bashir.

It was also the anniversary of 2019 protests demanding that the generals who had ousted Bashir in a palace coup earlier that year cede power to civilians.

Those protests led to the formation of the civilian-military transitional government that was toppled in last year’s coup.


White rhinos return to Mozambique park after 40 years

ZINAVE (Mozambique)— A Mozambican park welcomed its first white rhinos in 40 years after 19 of the threatened animals completed a 1,600-kilometre truck ride from South Africa, conservationists said.

The rhinos were reintroduced to Zinave National Park in southern Mozambique under an initiative to restore wildlife and boost the local economy.

Wildlife in the 4,000-square-kilometre (1,500-square-mile) haven was decimated by Mozambique’s decades-long civil war, which ended in 1992, and by poaching.

“The return of the rhino allows for Zinave to be introduced as a new and exciting tourism destination in Mozambique,” said Werner Myburgh, head of Peace Parks Foundation (PPF), the conservation group that led the project.

Zinave is now the only national park in Mozambique to house all “Big Five” African game animals — elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and buffalo — Myburgh said in a statement.

Since 2015, 2,400 animals from 14 species have been released into the reserve.

The rhinoceroses were hauled to Zinave from neighbouring South Africa over several days in June, in what the PPF said was the longest-ever transfer of rhinos by road.

On Friday, some of the animals were released from their enclosures into a sanctuary featuring extra security to protect them from poachers.

The ceremony was attended by President Filipe Nyusi and Environment Minister Ivete Maibaze.

“The protection of biodiversity is a universal imperative and together we will continue to fight for the preservation of our natural heritage,” said Nyusi.

“Only then will future generations be able to enjoy the benefits of nature and join our mission of preserving our natural resources.”

The white rhinoceros is classified as near-threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) while its cousin, the African black rhino, is listed as critically endangered.

The PPF said it planned to more than double the park’s rhino population over the next three years, adding more from both species.


Germany, Nigeria sign accord for return of looted Benin Bronzes

BERLIN— Germany and Nigeria have signed an agreement that paves the way for the return of hundreds of artefacts known as the Benin Bronzes that were looted and removed from Africa more than 120 years ago – an accord that Nigerian officials hope will prompt other countries to follow suit.

A British colonial expedition looted vast quantities of treasures in 1897 from the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin, in what is now southwestern Nigeria, including numerous bas-reliefs and sculptures.

The artefacts ended up spreading far and wide. Hundreds were sold to collections such as the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, which has one of the world’s largest groups of historical objects from the Kingdom of Benin, estimated to include about 530 items, including 440 bronzes. Many of them date from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

“This is just the beginning of more than 1,000 pieces from the Kingdom of Benin that are still in German museums, and they all belong to the people of Nigeria,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said.

“It was wrong to take the bronzes; it was wrong to keep them for 120 years,” Baerbock said.

The bronzes “are some of Africa’s greatest treasures, but they are also telling the story of colonial violence,” she said.

Two pieces held by the Berlin museum – a commemorative head of a king and a relief slab depicting a king with four attendants – were handed over as German and Nigerian officials signed their “joint political declaration” at the German foreign ministry in Berlin on Friday.

“Germany has taken the lead in correcting the wrongs of the past,” Nigerian Culture Minister Lai Mohammed said.

He added that he expected the move to “become a harbinger of more repatriation of cultural property”.

Governments and museums in Europe and North America have increasingly sought to resolve ownership disputes over objects that were looted during colonial times.

Germany announced last year its intention to return the Benin Bronzes that ended up in the country.

Officials did not give a timeline for the return of the remaining artefacts, but Berlin’s Ethnological Museum said an agreement on the rest of the bronzes it holds will follow later this year.

The authority that oversees the museum said it expected to keep some on long-term loans.

Baerbock said she is looking forward to seeing bronzes “on holidays in Germany”.

Friday’s agreement provides for museum cooperation between Germany and Nigeria. Germany is helping Nigeria set up a new museum in Benin City where bronzes will be displayed in the future, Baerbock said.

“It is my sincere hope that other European countries … will follow in your footsteps,” Nigeria’s state minister for foreign affairs, Zubairu Dada, said of Friday’s accord.

Hundreds of objects from the Kingdom of Benin remain in the British Museum in London, which has resisted calls to return them.

“The British Museum remains committed to thorough and open investigation of Benin collection histories,” the museum said in an emailed statement Friday.

“This includes fully acknowledging and understanding the colonial history which forms the key context for the development of the Museum’s Benin collections.”

The Smithsonian removed 10 Benin Bronze pieces from display at its National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC, and announced a new ethical return policy this year.

Other US museums have also begun discussions about returning such objects, while France declared last year that it would return the so-called “Abomey Treasures” to Benin as part of a wider effort to make amends for colonial wrongs.

In November, France handed back 26 of the treasures, while two were returned by the United Kingdom earlier this year, with talks continuing for more to follow.

Nigeria’s Minister of Culture, Lai Mohammed, thanked Germany for having “taken the lead in correcting the wrongs of the past”, hailing “the dawn of a new era of cooperation”.