1 Dead in Mali Protests Demanding President Resign

At least one person is dead as protesters in Mali’s capital attempted to occupy key government buildings and blocked main roads Friday demanding the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.Mali state television went off the air soon after a crowd of protesters gathered outside state broadcaster ORTM.Video taken in the capital, Bamako, by VOA’s Bambara service shows a crowd of demonstrators estimated at tens of thousands assembled outside the national assembly building, demanding that Keita step down.National guardsmen also reportedly fired tear gas at protesters throwing rocks at the parliament building.Protesters were seen building barricades with burning tires to block a main road.Groups of protesters were also seen trying to take over two main bridges in the city, leading to battles with the police.Witnesses reported hearing gunshots near the national assembly and the state broadcaster.This was the third mass protest in Bamako in the past two months.Leaders of the protest are calling on supporters to occupy buildings as part of a civil disobedience campaign to force Keita to resign for failing to enact political reforms.Keita, in power since 2013, has come under harsh criticism for failing to end a long-running jihadist insurgency and improve the African country’s economic woes.Ousmane Diallo, a researcher for Francophone West Africa at Amnesty International, told VOA this week that many Malians also are angry about alleged fraud in recent legislative elections and general poor governance.On Wednesday, Keita promised reforms to the constitutional court in an effort to appease protesters. The court has been at the center of controversy after it overturned the provisional results for March’s parliamentary poll, affecting several dozen seats.A mission from the regional group ECOWAS has called for the government to hold new elections in districts where the results are contested. 

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One Dead in Mali Protests Demanding President Resign

Protesters in Mali’s capital calling for the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita clashed with authorities Friday as they tried to occupy key government buildings and blocked main roads. At least one person was reported killed.Mali state television went off the air soon after the protesters gathered outside state broadcaster ORTM.Video taken in Bamako by VOA’s Bambara service showed a crowd estimated at tens of thousands of demonstrators assembled outside the national assembly building, demanding that Keita step down.   National guardsmen reportedly fired tear gas at protesters throwing rocks at the parliament building. Protesters were seen building barricades with burning tires to block a main road.This was the third mass protest in Bamako in the past two months.Keita, in power since 2013, has come under harsh criticism for failing to end a long-running jihadist insurgency and improve the African country’s economic woes.Ousmane Diallo, a researcher for Francophone West Africa at Amnesty International, told VOA this week that many Malians also are angry about alleged fraud in recent legislative elections and general poor governance.

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Sudan PM Shuffles Cabinet in Response to Protests 

Sudan’s prime minister has replaced his finance, energy and health ministers and four other cabinet-level officials in response to growing public demands for sweeping reforms.  The government said in a statement Thursday that Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok had fired Health Minister Akram Altom and accepted the resignations of six other ministers.  No reasons were given for the removal of any particular minister. Protests precede changes Suleiman Baldo, a senior policy analyst at the Sentry, a Washington-based organization that tries to expose government corruption linked to African wars, told South Sudan in Focus the reshuffle was not unexpected, as it followed nationwide protests in which citizens demanded the transitional government implement economic reforms and hold former officials accountable for crimes.  “There’s a lot of popular frustration with delays in carrying out the agendas of the transition, noticeably in the area of justice and economic reforms to alleviate the very severe economic crisis and the crushing burden that the economic crisis is causing to people’s livelihoods and the dwindling of their incomes due to the crisis,” Baldo said. Hamdok runs a power-sharing government of civilian technocrats and military officials, many of whom were allied with ousted President Omar al-Bashir. The transitional cabinet was appointed in August and September 2019 after Bashir’s ouster in April. Although Sudan’s constitutional document grants broad powers to the prime minister and his Cabinet, economic reforms are needed now, not later, Baldo said. “I believe that the slowness in deploying these extensive executive powers is what frustrated people, including observers and analysts such as myself, in the sense that you could see that the Cabinet is not using the full extent of the constitutional powers that were granted to it, and therefore there was an objective reason to carry out this change,” Baldo told VOA. Surprise firingFew had anticipated the firing of Ibrahim Albadawi, who steered efforts to stabilize Sudan’s struggling economy and worked with foreign donors as finance minister.  Hamdok named Hiba Mohamed Ali as caretaker minister. Baldo said the change would do little to relieve the dire economic straits the country is facing. “Hiba Mohamed Ali was the right arm of former Minister Badawi, in the sense that she was in charge of several policies that the ministry was pursuing and overseeing the implementation of many of these policies and therefore she is no stranger to the policy line,” Baldo said. Even though U.S. sanctions on Sudan were lifted in October 2017, which brightened expectations among many that the economy would improve, Sudan’s economic situation continues to deteriorate. According to the transitional government, the inflation rate has reached 64% this year. Financial experts say it could be closer to 100%. Costs of basics on riseThe prices of basic commodities like fuel and food have more than doubled since last year, and the Sudanese pound has depreciated threefold against the U.S. dollar in the same time period. To achieve meaningful reforms, Hamdok should use his executive power to bring the army and other Sudanese military forces under the Cabinet’s control, Baldo said. “We do have a Cabinet that has full executive powers, but the real powers in terms of physical power, in terms of the control of weapons and the control of money, is in the hands of the security sector institutions of the army, the police and the rapid support forces, in addition to the general intelligence services,” Baldo told VOA.  Hamdok told Sudanese in a televised address on the eve of nationwide rallies June 30 that his government would respond to demonstrators’ demands for peace, faster economic reform, and justice for the hundreds of people killed and injured during protests to topple Bashir. One person was killed and several others were injured during the demonstrations held just over a week ago. Carol Van Dam Falk contributed to this report.

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Spike in COVID-19 Cases Delays Plans to Reopen Schools in Malawi

A spike in COVID-19 cases has forced authorities in Malawi to delay plans to reopen schools on July 13. In addition, the country is running short of testing kits. The co-chair for the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19, John Phuka, said Friday that a critical shortage of test kits has forced the government to stop mass testing. “So what we have done, we have changed our testing to make sure that we are testing only those with symptoms,” he told VOA, via a messaging app.”The logistics around these tests is that we order them from abroad,” he said. “So some of those kits come from Europe, and as we speak because of logistic challenges and flights, we have some test kits stuck elsewhere in Europe.” The kits are expected to arrive in two weeks.  FILE – People queue to wash their hands as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus before they can queue again to vote at a polling station in Lilongwe, June 23, 2020.In the meantime, those who have had contact with confirmed COVID-19 patients are being advised to isolate themselves for 10 to 14 days.  Health rights campaigner George Jobe says he worries that the lack of testing could make the virus spread further and undetected. “The negative effect is that we will stop knowing how many people have coronavirus because the past times we have been reporting cases of those who have tested positive,” Jobe told VOA via a messaging app.COVID surge Malawi is currently facing a surge in cases, partially because of the winter season, which health experts say provides fertile ground for the coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease.  The surge is also attributed to a failure to control crowds during recent election campaign rallies and a return of migrant workers from South Africa. As of Friday, Malawi confirmed close to 1,990 cases including almost 30 deaths. Officials say more than 700 of these cases have come from abroad, while 1,000 others have originated locally. The country with a population of 18 million people has tested about 19,000 people in its 39 testing centers. No schoolThe spike in COVID-19 cases has forced the government to shelve plans to reopen schools next Monday. The schools closed in March as the coronavirus began to spread across southern Africa.  Benedicto Kondowe, executive director for the Civil Society Education Coalition, told VOA via telephone that the government should have allowed classes to reopen for students to take final examinations, but under strict COVID-19 guidelines. “Because currently we are aware that online programs, lessons through the radio as well as television, are leaving out millions of Malawians, especially those who are coming from poor backgrounds,” Kondowe said.However, the ministry of health says the government cannot risk the lives of students, so the right to an education must be suspended as authorities monitor the COVID-19 situation.   

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Cameroon Truck Drivers Stuck at CAR Border After Health Officials Refuse to Accept their COVID Test Results

The trucking of goods and humanitarian aid from Cameroon to the landlocked Central African Republic has slowed to a trickle, raising tensions between the two sides.  Despite an agreement that Cameroon drivers who test negative for COVID-19 would be given access, testing kits are in short supply at the border, forcing some trucks to wait weeks to cross.El Hadj Oumarou, the head of Cameroon’s land freight transportation bureau, says hundreds of trucks at the border town of Garoua Boulay have not been given access to the Central African Republic.He says all attempts to convince C.A.R. transport and health officials that the drivers have tested negative for COVID-19 in Cameroon have failed.Oumarou says this week, Cameroon’s transport minister assured truck drivers that the C.A.R. will accept COVID-19 test results done in Cameroon hospitals. But Oumarou says, the COVID-19 test results done in Cameroon are still rejected by C.A.R. border officials. He says he is scandalized that trucks, goods and humanitarian aid are blocked at the border for several weeks.The C.A.R. and Cameroon sealed their borders in March to stop the spread of the coronavirus, after both countries recorded cases of COVID-19.  The landlocked C.A.R. entered an agreement with Cameroon to allow passage of humanitarian aid and goods from Cameroon’s seaside town of Douala to the C.A.R. capital, Bangui.According to the agreement, only truck drivers who tested negative for COVID-19 were to enter the C.A.R.  But the plan was crippled by a shortage of tests at the border.The drivers, who are mostly Cameroonians, started carrying out the tests in local hospitals. But C.A.R. officials began rejecting the results last month when the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Cameroon increased to more than 13,000.On Monday of this week, delegates from the two countries held a crisis meeting at Garoua Boulay, and the C.A.R. agreed to recognize COVID-19 test results carried out in Cameroon.But C.A.R. Transport Minister Arnaud Djoubaye Abazene says the decisions made at the meeting were not final.Abazene says the mixed commission that the presidents of Cameroon and C.A.R. created to manage land transport will meet to examine threats caused by COVID-19. He says only that the commission can address all the misunderstandings caused at the border as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.Abazene said that once goods and supplies are brought to the border, C.A.R. drivers will transport them to Bangui.  He said his country will also consider COVID-19 test results conducted in the C.A.R. in case the border posts run short of rapid diagnostic tests.CameroonCameroon’s minister of transport, Jean Earnest Ngale Bibehe, says Cameroon wants a solution to the crisis as soon as possible.He says the coronavirus pandemic preoccupies all governments in the world and there is no state that will want to joke over COVID-19. He says it is in the interest of Cameroon and the C.A.R. to work together and rescue their collapsing economies.The Central African Republic depends on the Douala seaport for about 95 percent of its goods and humanitarian aid. 

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Oxygen Already Runs Low as COVID-19 Surges in South Africa

The coronavirus storm has arrived in South Africa, but in the overflowing COVID-19 wards the sound is less of a roar than a rasp.Oxygen is already low in hospitals at the new epicenter of the country’s outbreak, Gauteng province, home to the power centers of Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria.Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, visiting a hospital Friday, said authorities are working with industry to address the strained oxygen supply and divert more to health facilities.  South Africa Takes Part in Human Trial for Potential COVID-19 Vaccine  South Africa takes part in Africa’s first human trial for coronavirus vaccine  Some of the hospital’s patients spilled into heated tents in the parking lot. They lay under thick blankets in the middle of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, with a cold front arriving this weekend and temperatures expected to dip below freezing.South Africa overnight posted another record daily high of confirmed cases, 13,674, as Africa’s most developed country is a new global hot spot with 238,339 cases overall. More than a third are in Gauteng.”The storm that we have consistently warned South Africans about is now arriving,” Mkhize said this week.A nurse at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital — the third largest hospital in the world with more than 3,000 beds — painted a bleak picture, saying new patients with the virus are now being admitted into ordinary wards as the COVID-19 ones are full.”Our hospital is overloaded already. There has been an influx of patients over the last two weeks,” the nurse said, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give interviews.More and more colleagues at the hospital are testing positive daily for the virus, the nurse said, “even people who are not working in COVID wards.”  Africa Seeks Equitable Access to Any COVID-19 Vaccine  African leaders rally calling for investment to manufacture a serum at an affordable price as number of infections on continent surpasses 321,000 casesAlready more than 8,000 health workers across Africa have been infected — half of them in South Africa.Any struggles in how the country manages the pandemic will be amplified in other nations across Africa, which has the world’s lowest levels of health funding and health staffing.  The continent  as of Friday had 541,381 confirmed cases, but shortages in testing materials means the real number is unknown.South Africa’s surge in cases comes as the country loosens what had been one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, with even alcohol sales banned until June 1. Now restaurants have sit-down service and religious gatherings have resumed. The economy was hurting and needed reopening, authorities said.But nervous officials in Gauteng province have called for stricter lockdown measures to return. On Friday, Gauteng Premier David Makhura announced he had tested positive with mild symptoms.”We must double our efforts,” he said in a statement, urging people to wear face masks, wash their hands and distance themselves.Warning signs keep flashing. Hospital beds in all provinces could be full within the month, the health minister said this week. On Friday he said a team is looking at 2,000 additional beds for field hospitals in Gauteng.In addition to the shortage of beds, many hospitals are grappling with limited oxygen supplies to treat patients with the respiratory disease.Guy Richards, director of clinical care at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg, told the AP they are extremely worried about potential shortages.”Even a big hospital like ours has difficulty supplying sufficient amounts of oxygenation for our patients. The same thing is happening at Helen Joseph (Hospital), and this is a major problem,” he said.Tshwane District Hospital, which the health minister visited Friday, has been devoted completely to COVID-19 patients, said Veronica Ueckermann, head of the COVID-19 response team at Steve Biko Academic Hospital, which includes Tshwane District Hospital.”Currently we are stretched but we are still coping in terms of our wards, our sisters and doctors are working extremely hard,” she said. 

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