African Leaders Almost Demanded Apology From Trump for Crude Remarks

African leaders were very close to officially demanding President Donald Trump publicly apologize for reportedly crude remarks about the continent and immigration, but backed off, reports say.

The African Union drafted its response to the president at a summit this week.

The draft warned that Trump’s “racist and xenophobic behavior” puts the strategic partnership between the United States and Africa at risk.

It says African heads of state are “appalled” by the presidents’ apparent remarks and “dismayed and shocked by the increasingly consistent trend from the Trump administration to denigrate people of African descent and other people of color.” 

But the African Union decided not to release the draft. It pointed to a Jan. 25th letter from Trump in which he pledged his “deep respect” for Africa and announced that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will make an “extended visit” to Africa in March.

Trump also met with Rwandan President Paul Kagame on the sidelines of the Davos economic forum last week.

Kagame is the current chair of the African Union. He says the AU will have to find a way to get along with Trump.

“When the United States decided to give us Trump as their president, we will deal with that president,” Kagame said.

Trump reportedly called Africa, Haiti, and El Salvador “s—hole countries” during a White House meeting on immigration earlier this month, and wanted to exclude Haiti from any immigration reform deal.

He denied using such crude language.

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Diaspora Voices Missing in South Sudan Dialogue, Activists Say

Activists are criticizing a South Sudan peace initiative for leaving a major group out of the discussions.

The initiative, known as the High Level Revitalization Forum, is aimed at reviving South Sudan’s stalled 2015 peace agreement, and it is supposed to draw together a wide range of voices, experiences and positions. 

Reuben Garang, a Canadian-South Sudanese and president of the Coalition of Advocates for South Sudan (CASS), said the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional trade group that endorsed creation of the forum, should include a representative from the South Sudanese diaspora in the next phase of the discussions in Addis Ababa.

“We need to be at the table. We have never been represented since the negotiations started,” said Garang.

The diaspora is the “sixth region” of the African Union, and its significance is written in the framework of the AU, which also endorsed the forum. The AU describes the diaspora as “peoples of African descent who live outside the African continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality, and who are willing to contribute to the development.”

That’s the idea that William Pay, a South Sudanese-American living in Minnesota, wants to foster at the forum on South Sudan. He said the diaspora’s contributions matter and its members’ pain is real.

“About 90 percent of my family are still in South Sudan or are pushed out of South Sudan because of this current conflict,” said Pay. “So directly I am affected. So there is no way that someone will say [to the diaspora] that your voice will not matter.”

Pay added that including members of the diaspora in talks could also help close the gap and foster dialogue among South Sudanese around the world who have often been criticized for furthering hate speech.

CASS, an umbrella group of South Sudan-focused nonprofits in the U.S. and Canada, sent letters to Workneh Gebeyehu, chairman of the IGAD Council of Ministers, and Ismail Wais, IGAD’s special envoy for South Sudan, seeking to make the case that the diaspora has a large influence and can positively influence the peace process.

Garang said he had received no reply to those letters.

The next round of the forum will be dominated by security concerns, Garang said. It is scheduled to begin February 5.

“That is going to be very contentious,” Garang said. Representatives of the diaspora will be “fighting to get positions.”

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US Officials: No Specific Threats to Pyeongchang Winter Olympics

The United States says it is not aware of any specific threats to the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month, despite nuclear tensions with neighboring North Korea.  

Senior State Department officials in charge of security for the U.S. Olympic team told reporters Wednesday they have been working closely with South Korea for two years to prepare for the 2018 Winter Games that begin with an opening ceremony February 9 in the town of Pyeongchang. 

Assistant secretary for diplomatic security Michael Evanoff says his team is well aware of the nuclear tensions with North Korea and has prepared for all contingencies.

“I mean, we’re only less than a hundred miles (160 kilometers) from North Korea, so we’ve planned for all contingencies.”

Steve Goldstein, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, had high praise for the South Korean government.

“Authorities of the Republic of Korea are responsible for the overall security of the games, and we’re confident in their ability to host a safe and successful event this year,” Goldstein said.

Diplomatic security chief Evanoff agreed, saying the U.S. working relationship with South Korea has been “exceptional.”

Senior State Department officials said about 100 diplomatic security agents will be deployed to Seoul and to Pyeongchang for the Winter Games and the Paralympics, roughly the same number that have been sent to previous Olympic games. 

The U.S. Olympic delegation will number about 275, and some 60,000 Americans are expected to attend the games, including Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence.  

North Korea is also sending athletes to the games. The North Korean government is planning a major parade or rally the day before the opening ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of its military. Goldstein said he hopes North Korea will embrace the Olympic spirit.

“While we would prefer that this parade not occur on Feb. 8, it is our hope, and I know the hope of South Korea, that the North Koreans who agreed to send people to the games to participate will join with all the nations of the world in celebrating the athletes.  

Goldstein said fundamentally, the Olympic Games are about the athletes.  

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‘Bikini Flight’ Scandal Mars Triumph of Vietnam Soccer Team

Ten years after the Vietnam Football Federation cut a deal with the British powerhouse Arsenal FC and opened the Hoang Anh Gia Lai Academy, Vietnam’s team emerged from training and underdog status to take second place with a heartbreaking overtime loss at the Under-23 Asian Cup.

Two days after that Jan. 27 game in a snowy Changzhou, China, Vietnam’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAC) fined VietJet 44 million VND, or about $2,000, because the Vietnamese soccer team’s special flight home included a show by bikini-clad women.

The women appeared on social media, as did the young players. Vietnam, traditionally a modest society, was not amused. Most people saw the players, who wore the country’s red and yellow colors as they competed, as national representatives on an international playing field.

Before the match, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc told the team: “More than 90 million Vietnamese people are behind you, cheering and following your every step.” The words were matched in patriotic fervor after the game by football commentator Dang Gia Man who told AFP, “We are proud of the team. … They did a good job in uniting our countrymen.”

That unity was apparent Saturday night, as crowds waving the Vietnamese flag flooded into the streets throughout the nation to celebrate the hard-fought 2-1 loss to Uzbekistan. The game remained deadlocked 1-1 until the 119th minute and instantly gave Vietnam, not usually an international sports force, football credibility.

And by taking the long view, Vietnam’s national obsession with football, coupled with the Arsenal training deal, had turned a somewhat obscure event into a mini-World Cup as the Under-23 Asian Cup became a big deal.

The games

Vietnam, in a four-team group, placed second in the tournament’s initial phase, above higher-ranked Australia. Then, Vietnam defeated Iraq in the quarterfinals and Qatar in the semifinals — a Jan. 23 game so anticipated that many Vietnamese companies sent workers home to watch it, according to the Nikkei Asian Review.

“When we won the semifinal, my blood was boiling. I couldn’t believe that it really happened,” Nguyen Tung Duong, a small-business owner in Hanoi told Reuters. “In that moment, I felt undying love for our motherland.”

By Saturday, hundreds of Vietnamese had traveled to China to support the team in the final game against Uzbekistan, thanks to special fast-track visa processing. Many movie theaters decided to show the final match free for fans at home.

“Playing and defeating regional states enhances Vietnam’s self-perception of itself,” Carl Thayer, an expert on Vietnam at the Australian Defense Force Academy and former national secretary of the Australian Soccer Referee’s Federation, told Reuters.

“Winning at soccer is self-validating. Vietnam has broken out of its Cold War isolation as a member of the socialist camp and joined the Asian Confederation of soccer playing nations,” Thayer said.

The scandal

And with that came scandal.

In issuing the bikini show fines, the CAC noted that although the bikini show had not caused a safety hazard on the VietJet flight, it had “potentially threatened safety.”

“I found that reason completely unconvincing,” Vo Van Tao, a high-profile Vietnamese reporter, told VOA Vietnamese. “Safety had nothing to do with the show and bikini models.”

VietJet is so well known for its ad campaign featuring bikini models and “bikini flights” that many Vietnamese boycott the budget airline nicknamed “Vietsex.”

After the loss that was a victory, the Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) canceled the team’s 44 tickets on the state-owned Vietnam Airlines and booked a special VietJet flight as part of what state-owned media described as a last-minute “reward plan.”

Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, CEO of VietJet and the first Vietnamese female billionaire, apologized, saying the onboard performance was spontaneous and not included in the reward plan.

Unmoved, the CAC fined a VietJet executive and a flight attendant 4 million VND ($176) for “neglecting to inform the captain” of the incident.

Vo Van Tao suggested CAC’s decision to issue fines stemmed from pressure from the government, which lost revenue from the canceled seats, and social media. This forced authorities to do something about the in-flight antics that Tao described as “normal in other countries, but not normal in Vietnam.”

In the context of Vietnamese laws and practices, Tao added, “this case should be under the Ministry of Culture because [the bikini flight] is inappropriate by Vietnamese culture and not related to any aviation standards.”

Khanh An contributed to this report which originated on VOA Vietnamese. 

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Protests Subside in Senegal Following Shooting of Fisherman

Calm has returned to the city of Saint-Louis in northern Senegal, following violent protests and the looting of shops belonging to Mauritanian nationals on Monday.

The violence erupted after the death of a Senegalese fisherman, shot by members of the Mauritanian coast guard. The Senegalese government condemned the killing but called on protesters to stay calm, promising to address the issue with Mauritanian officials.

Since the non-renewal of a fishing agreement between the two West African countries in 2016, incidents involving Senegalese fishermen and the Mauritanian coast guard have been frequent. Moustapha Dieng, the secretary-general of the Senegalese union of artisanal fishermen, said this is not an isolated incident.

“This is the fourth incident in which fishermen have been shot dead. And there are others who have been injured and will never be able to fish again.”

In a written statement, the Mauritanian military said that “the unfortunate event” occurred because of “the provocative behavior of the fishermen who ignored the orders of the coast guard.” They said the coast guard members shot at the engine in an attempt to disable the canoe, but one of the nine fishermen was hit by a bullet. The statement added that coast guard vessels conducted 62 similar operations last year without incident.

In Mauritania, the issue is being discussed widely in both traditional and social media. Mohamed Diop, editor of the Alakhbar newspaper, said the issue is attracting a lot of attention.

“The Mauritanian media are very interested in the issue because the two heads of state have been informed and discussed it on the sidelines of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa,” he said. “The Senegalese interior minister has said the two presidents decided to address the issue at the highest level to avoid a rift.”

Moustapha Dieng said his union members feel that the Senegal government is not taking the issue seriously.

“When [authorities] board a canoe involved in unlawful fishing, they are allowed by law to confiscate the material, but you have to let the fishermen go. We also want our government to send patrols to the border, just like Mauritania is doing.”

In Mauritania, many residents have denounced the destruction and looting of shops belonging to Mauritanians in Saint-Louis, but most seem to strike a conciliatory tone.

“There is a real attempt to appease the tension, and we can see it because today there was no looting reported in Senegal. And here, the media have been very conciliatory, except a few that are favoring the Mauritanian position in their coverage,” Diop said.

The fishermen’s union in Senegal is hoping discussions between the two governments will resume soon on a new fishing agreement. That would allow its members to conduct their activities in both countries’ territorial waters without fear, in exchange for an annual fee.

The two nations are seeking to avoid an escalation in tensions as they discuss another hot-button issue. Dakar and Nouakchott are hoping to partner to exploit an underwater natural gas field recently discovered at their common maritime border. The two countries severed ties in 1989 following violent incidents and mass repatriation of each other’s citizens. Diplomatic relations have since been restored.

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Eritrean Leader Criticizes Israel’s Migrant Deportation Plan

In a rare interview, Eritrea’s president has expressed his displeasure with Israel’s plan to deport tens of thousands of African migrants, saying they deserve far more than the $3,500 they were offered to leave.

President Isaias Afwerki’s interview on a government website Wednesday said the migrants from his country and Sudan paid a “high price” to human traffickers to reach Israel and deserve more like $50,000.

“They need fair compensation to start a new life in their home country,” Afwerki said in the interview with local reporters. He said all those who wish to return home “have every right to do so,” and that Eritrea has offered to register all of its roughly 20,000 migrants but Israeli authorities had refused.

Many Eritreans leaving the east African nation claim they fled a restrictive regime under Afwerki, where men are often forced into a military service with slavery-like conditions. They say they cannot return.

In the interview, Afwerki claimed instead that the Eritrean migrants were enticed abroad to organize an armed opposition but that the “subversive schemes” failed and the migrants now have become a burden.

Israel’s deportation plan has sparked protests by liberal Israelis who say the country should never turn away those in need. They note that of 15,000 African refugee status requests, only 11 have been approved.

On April 1, Israel plans to start expelling the African migrants, some of whom have been in the country for years. About 60,000 migrants crossed Israel’s previously porous desert border with Egypt before a barrier was completed in 2012 along the 130-mile (220-kilometer) frontier.

Since then about 20,000 migrants have left either voluntarily, via a U.N. program, or with the encouragement of the Israeli government, which offers each about $3,500 and a plane ticket to leave. Others have been locked up in a massive detention center in the remote southern desert.

Israel’s Cabinet recently voted to begin shipping out the remaining 40,000 migrants, even against their will, to an unnamed third African country with which it has reached a secret agreement. 

Israeli authorities said the migrants would be deported to Rwanda and Uganda, Afwerki said. 

“We are told they will be deported to any country that can accept them,” he said. “These are human beings, not livestock. No country can claim legal responsibility to receive our citizens.”

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