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Russia imposes visa restrictions on citizens of 'unfriendly countries' - REUTERS

APRIL 04, 2022

April 4 (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Monday introducing visa restrictions for citizens of countries that Moscow deems "unfriendly" in response to sanctions over Ukraine.

The decree, which comes into force on Monday, suspends Russia's simplified visa issuance regime with some European Union countries as well as Norway, Switzerland, Denmark and Iceland.

It also ordered the Russian foreign ministry and other bodies to decide on introducing personal entry restrictions on "foreign citizens and stateless people who commit unfriendly actions against Russia, its citizens or its legal entities."

Last month the Russian government approved a list of unfriendly countries including United States, Canada, Britain, EU states and Ukraine, among others.

Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what it called a special operation to degrade its southern neighbour's military capabilities and root out people it called dangerous nationalists.

Ukrainian forces have mounted stiff resistance and the West has imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia in an effort to force it to withdraw its forces.

Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Conor Humphries

Nigerian rail company says 168 missing after attack on train - REUTERS

APRIL 04, 2022

LAGOS, April 4 (Reuters) - The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) cannot account for 168 people following an attack on a train last week in which eight people were killed and several wounded, the company has said.

Suspected bandits blew up the track on the Abuja-Kaduna route in the northwest of the country and then opened fire on the night train in the late March 28 attack. read more

NRC managing director Fidet Okhiria said in a statement late on Sunday that 168 people were unaccounted for. He did not say if all were passengers or if some NRC staff were among them.

The company had not previously said how many were missing.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but gunmen have roamed northwestern Nigeria and abducted hundreds of school children and villagers for ransom over the past five years, killing dozens of people.

Some relatives of the missing have said suspected bandits had contacted them to say they were holding their loved ones. read more

Okhiria said the mobile phones of 146 of the missing people had been either switched off or ringing without a response since early in the morning after the attack. He did not say why he believed those people were not answering their phones.

The governor of Kaduna state governor accused the Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram of being in cahoots with the kidnapping gang in the train attack, though he cited no evidence, the BBC reported at the weekend.

The militants have not issued any claim for the attack and they are more active in northeastern Nigeria than the northwest.

Okhiria said 186 people from the train had reached home safely, while only 22 people had been reported missing by their families.

Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Robert Birsel

Peru Orders Curfew in Capital Over Violent Inflation Protests - BLOOMBERG

APRIL 05, 2022

BY  María CervantesBloomberg News

(Bloomberg) -- Peru’s leader declared a curfew in the capital Lima on Tuesday to stem violent protests against inflation that have intensified in recent days, leading to clashes with police, temporary food shortages and supply-chain disruptions. 

President Pedro Castillo announced the curfew in an address to the nation while declaring a state of emergency in Lima and the nearby port city of Callao. The curfew will run from 2 a.m. local time to 11:59 p.m., he said.

Castillo, who just survived a second impeachment attempt by congress last week, lowered fuel taxes and increased the minimum wage by 10% over the weekend to help Peruvians struggling with the fastest inflation in 24 years. Yet the measures did little to appease bus drivers, most of them working informal jobs without fixed salaries.  

The government had deployed the army on Monday after bus drivers blocked highways as part of a strike, extending a crisis that started last week when protesting truckers and farmers interrupted the supply of food to the capital. The country’s agricultural exports, including blueberries, avocados and grapes, are now suffering disruptions, according to an association of exporters.

Housewives angry with rising food costs also joined the protests on Monday and local media showed mini-markets being looted in the southern region of Ica. School classes were suspended until Tuesday amid the chaos. 

Consumer prices in Lima rose 6.82% in March from a year earlier, the most since Aug. 1998, the national statistics bureau said last week. Prices climbed 1.48% from February, above the median forecast for a 0.92% increase in a Bloomberg survey of economists.

Terrorists Kill 15 Soldiers, Three Civilians in Attack on Military Camp in Kaduna - THISDAY

APRIL 05, 2022

BY  John Shiklam in Kaduna

No fewer than 15 soldiers and three civilians were reportedly killed by terrorists in an attack on a military camp at Poll Wire, Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State.  The terrorists, who were said to be travelling from Niger State to Zamfara State in large numbers via Birnin Gwari, reportedly launched a deadly attack on the military camp.  

A source in Birnin Gwari, who confirmed the incident in a telephone interview on Tuesday, said the attack occurred at about 5pm on Monday.  The source said the terrorists, who were carrying sophisticated weapons, engaged the soldiers in a fierce gun battle at the camp.  He said the terrorists may have overpowered the soldiers due to their large numbers.  

The criminals were also said to have burnt a military armoured tank at the camp.  According to the source, “The attack took place at a military camp at Poll Wire at about 5pm on Monday. “They were in large numbers. They took more than an hour passing through the Kaduna highway.

They were on their way from Niger State to Zamfara State.  “They overpowered the soldiers after a fierce gun battle probably because of their large numbers and the kind of weapons they carried. One of the military armoured tanks was burnt.  “I am not in a position to confirm how many soldiers were killed, but information available to me said that 15 soldiers and three civilians were killed.  “Two of the civilians are members of a vigilante group while one was a traveller.  “You can contact the military authorities to confirm the figures. 

The attack lasted for hours. “These people were many and they have very sophisticated weapons. How do you expect maybe about 40 or 60 or even less soldiers manning a camp to face terrorists numbering about 100 or 200 and carrying deadly weapons?” The spokesman of the Kaduna State Police Command, Mohammed Jalige, did not respond to telephone calls when contacted.

Kaduna residents flee as bandits kill 17 soldiers, three others - PUNCH

APRIL 06, 2022

BY  Godwin Isenyo

Terrorists killed 17 soldiers in an attack at a military base in Polwire, Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State, The PUNCH learnt.

A source told our correspondent that 40 wounded soldiers were taken to the 44 Army Reference Hospital facility, including 17 of them (soldiers) confirmed to have been killed by the terrorists.

The source said, “17 soldiers were actually killed in the attack carried out by the suspected terrorists.

“40 fatally wounded soldiers were brought in to the 44 Army Reference Hospital from where 17 of them were confirmed dead.”

According to the source, during the attack where the bloodthirsty terrorists in large number on motorcycles stormed and engaged the soldiers at the military base at Polwire village, more than 20 other soldiers were injured.

He said the AK-47 rifle-wielding bandits, riding on motorcycles, engaged the soldiers and battled them for more than two hours before the terrorists eventually subdued them (soldiers).

The terrorists, it was learnt, razed an Armoured Personnel Carrier after they had overwhelmed the troops.

They were said to have made away with weapons belonging to the soldiers.

Another source also told our correspondent that the casualty figure on the side of the military might be more while adding that three civilians were killed.

“Two of the civilians were members of a vigilante group while one was a traveller,” he added.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Birnin Gwari Emirate Progressive Union, Ishaq Kasai, who also confirmed the death of three members of a vigilante group, added that the attack took place on Sunday around 3pm.

He added that the terrorists, suspected to be members of the Ansaru, were believed to be coming from Niger State when they attacked the military base.

Kasai, however, noted that normalcy has gradually returned to Birnin Gwari that had since been under intense attack.

“When we heard, we had to run and seek refuge elsewhere. Most of the residents slept outside Birnin Gwari town,” he added.

He noted that the security situation in Birnin Gwari was getting out of hand, calling on the government to take urgent steps to address the situation.

He added, “The security situation is becoming increasingly alarming whereby a large portion of Birnin-Gwari Local Government Area is now at the mercy of marauding bandits who usually roll into towns and villages in convoys of motorcycles mostly riding three on each, brandishing AK-47, killing and abducting people, including women and children.

“BEPU noted that the bandits usually spend hours operating with impunity and unleashing terror especially in rural communities.

“The bandits also placed taxes on various communities and keep coming back repeatedly to attack them because of the absence of law enforcement agents.

“It is not only tragic but also shameful that these ragtag bandits on motorcycles wielding AK-47 can roam most communities in the area with impunity, killing and abducting peaceful, helpless innocent citizens in a nation that seems to have standing Armed Forces and the Police.”

As of the time of filing the report, there was no confirmation from the police, Army and the state government.

Nigeria lifts COVID-19 restrictions on party, gatherings, curfew - THE GUARDIAN

APRIL 06, 2022

Nigeria has removed the limit on attendance for social gatherings and the curfew on midnight movements it announced two years ago to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19 set up by the government in early 2020 announced a review of the country’s response to the pandemic in a statement.

Consequently, there are no more formal restrictions on movement within the country as the nationwide curfew imposed from 12 midnight to 4 am has been lifted.

PSC said the social restriction recommendations were revised in line with the three established thematic areas – movement, industry and labour, as well as community activities.

The government explained that the decision followed the reduced risk of importation of new variants and the availability of vaccines and the increasing number of people vaccinated in Nigeria and globally.

READ ALSO: Nigeria announce restriction on religious gathering over COVID-19 spread

It stated that the safety protocols provide a baseline from which state governments could further build to strengthen their responses based on their local circumstances.

The PSC, however, advised states to “continue to consider them as the minimum guidelines required to ensure an acceptable level of epidemic control nationwide.”

It added that the advisory limiting Nigerians to essential travels only has been lifted, although citizens need to refrain from non-essential movement and comply with non-pharmaceutical interventions guidelines such as the mandatory use of face mask or facial coverings in public, given the risks involved.

The government noted that the use of “face mask to be mandatory for indoor activities but at individual’s discretion during outdoor activities; those aged 60 and above or with co-morbidities such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

Patients of the underlying ailments “are advised to uphold the use of universal precaution which includes the use of face mask, avoid crowd, and frequent use of hand sanitisers.”

Also, the PSC said there are “no limitation on air travels – both domestic and international flights; both international and domestiec travellers must abide by all existing protocols, including the use of face mask while onboard and taking personal precaution measures; and all arriving international passengers must register with the Nigeria International Travel Portal (https://nitp.ncdc.gov.ng) and abide by the travel guidelines.

“No limitations on inter or intra-state travel; all vendors and service providers must abide by stated stipulations from the Federal Ministry of Transportation; all passengers and commuters must wear face masks once on board, as well as continue to observe personal precautionary measures.”

Hong Kong Bans Six Air Routes for a Week for Bringing in Covid - BLOOMBERG

APRIL 06, 2022

(Bloomberg) -- Less than a week after Hong Kong rolled back some of the world’s strictest inbound travel curbs, at least six airlines have had routes banned, creating havoc for travelers and further undermining the city’s role as a financial hub.

Singapore Airlines Ltd., Emirates, Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., Qatar Airways QCSC, Korean Air Lines Co. and Malaysia Airlines were slapped with week-long bans this month after breaching Hong Kong’s so-called circuit-breaker mechanism. A stoppage can be meted out if three or more Covid cases are found on the same flight, or if there’s one confirmed infection and another non-compliant passenger. 

The bans come after Hong Kong eased a raft of travel measures on April 1 in response to mounting frustration over the city’s effective closure for most of the past two years due to pandemic restrictions. Authorities had lifted an outright ban on inbound flights from nine countries, including the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, and reduced quarantine for inbound travelers to one week.

Read more: Hong Kong’s Quarantine Shift Fails to Satisfy Many Businesses

The business community had warned that the circuit-breaker mechanism was a major risk for anyone seeking to fly to Hong Kong, given travelers can’t be certain their flight will go ahead. The measure also contrasts with the majority of the rest of the world, which is opening up and resuming international travel. Hong Kong requires every passenger to have a negative PCR test result before boarding their flight and currently only allows residents to return to the city.

Suspending airlines for carrying passengers who test positive on arrival even though they were negative before “is a case of shooting the messenger as testing is done by health experts,” said Subhas Menon, the director general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines which counts Cathay Pacific as a member. “Quarantine of any form and repeat PCR tests are obsolete for fully vaccinated travelers nowadays as well as travel deterrents.”

The six airlines’ bans occurred within four days, the most rapid flurry since 11 suspensions were levied over four days in January. The current tally accounts for 11% of all airline route suspensions issued so far this year.

Read more: Hong Kong Considering Easing Covid Rules for Foreign Air Crew

Emirates appears to have been hit hardest. Its Dubai-Bangkok-Hong Kong route has been suspended six times this year, for a total of 77 days. 

Of the 76 departing passenger flights planned for Tuesday, just 15 went ahead, and 74% of inbound flights were canceled, according to Webb-Site.com, founded by investor David Webb. The website scrapes and compiles figures from Airport Authority Hong Kong. Already 56% of inbound flights for Thursday have been scrapped.

“Despite the shortening of flight bans in general we are still looking at bans,” said Frederik Gollob, chairman of the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. “This continues to cause uncertainty for passengers as well as significant operational risks for airlines.”

And traveler numbers are set to surge as more Hong Kong residents seek to return. In the first five days of April, 6,161 people entered Hong Kong through the airport, compared with 8,923 arriving in the whole of March. A spokesperson for the Airport Authority referred to the arrival and departures page on their website.

Read more: Quarantine Eased for Hong Kong Flight Crew in Boost for Cathay

A coalition of 11 foreign airlines last month lobbied Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam to scrap pre-flight and on-arrival Covid-19 tests for aircrew. Lam last week told consulates and foreign chambers that the city is considering a significant change to ease rules as expressed for in the letter.

While business groups are frustrated with the uncertainty caused by the flight suspensions, changing the policy will depend on what happens after the planned easing of social-distancing restrictions later this month, according to Ivan Hung, the head of the infectious diseases division at the University of Hong Kong’s medical school.

“I believe this is a temporary measure,” he said. “Despite the number of new Covid-19 cases dropping significantly to 3,000 cases a day, it is still a relatively large number. The situation after the infection-control measures relaxation” will decide the flight restriction policy, he said.

Nigerian atheist jailed 24 years for blasphemy - REUTERS

APRIL 06, 2022

By Hamza Ibrahim

KANO, Nigeria, April 5 (Reuters) - A Nigerian atheist and outspoken critic of religion was sentenced to 24 years in jail on Tuesday after pleading guilty to blasphemy charges in the largely Muslim northern state of Kano, in a ruling that puts a spotlight on religious freedoms in the country.

Charges against Mubarak Bala are linked to comments he posted on Facebook in April 2020 that were critical of Islam and which authorities in Kano considered blasphemous and an insult to the religion, his lawyer said.

When asked by Kano High Court Judge Farouk Lawan whether he had been coerced to enter a guilty plea to the 18 charges, Bala said he did so of his own free will.

Bala's lawyer, James Ibor, said Tuesday's sentencing was "very outrageous" and could be challenged.

"The sentence infringes his right as an atheist," Ibor told Reuters.

Bala, who heads the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was arrested at his home in the northern Kaduna state two years ago and was then moved to neighbouring Kano, a majority Muslim and conservative state.

Writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Sandra Maler

Hunger in Africa surges due to conflict, climate and food prices - REUTERS

APRIL 06, 2022

NAIROBI, April 5 (Reuters) - Conflict, climate change and rising food and fuel prices are pushing about a quarter of Africans towards hunger, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Tuesday.

About 346 million people in Africa are facing severe food insecurity, meaning they have likely experienced hunger, in the worst crisis since 2017. Last year, the figure was about 286 million.

"The acute food insecurity situation in many of the countries where we are working - and people are already affected by armed conflict - is tipping into famine-like conditions," said Dominik Stillhart, ICRC's global operations director.

Two years of conflict in northern Ethiopia's Tigray region has left millions facing famine-like conditions and created a hunger crisis in neighbouring regions.

Insurgencies in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria have also deepened food insecurity in West Africa, which now faces its worst food crisis on record.

Many of countries dealing with conflict are also among the most severely affected by climate change, including South Sudan and Somalia, said Stillhart.

About 90% of Somalia is currently affected by drought, said Stillhart. If this year's rains do not materialise, 1.4 million children under five will be acutely malnourished, the United Nations World Food Programme has said.

In February alone, drought killed 650,000 livestock, devastating the scores of Somalis for whom the animals represented income, safety nets and savings.

Meanwhile, global food and fuel prices are sky-rocketing, in part because of the war in Ukraine, Stillhart said.

Prices for wheat, of which Russia and Ukraine are both leading producers, have retreated from all-time highs hit last month but remain 70% higher than April 2021. Corn and oil prices have also surged.

"Our call today really is that the attention on the plight of the people of the people in Ukraine - which is of course terrible - should not prevent the world from looking at other crises," said Stillhart.

Reporting by Ayenat Mersie; Editing by Aaron Ross and Chizu Nomiyama

Nigeria Wants Landlocked West African Countries Linked To Railway - DAILY TRUST

APRIL 06, 2022

By Chris Agabi

The federal government is to champion the extension of rail lines from land-locked countries to coastal states of Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana and other African countries as part of efforts to sufficiently benefit from the opportunities presented by the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The Minister of State for Transportation, Sen. Gbemisola Ruqayyah Saraki, stated this today at a Stakeholders Engagement/Sensitisation Workshop on: “Implementation Plan of African Continental Free Trade Area for the Transportation Sector in Nigeria”.

She said the strategy would facilitate movement of cargoes, enhance import and export of goods to promote trade and create employment opportunities.

The minister who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Transportation, Dr Magdalene Ajani, noted that proper galvanisation of the transportation sector through ensuring connectivity, safety, regulation of the road subsector, port reforms (electronic call-up), and deployment of the Deep Blue Project are pivotal for the realisation of AfCFTA, as these would leverage the transportation sector and country to immensely benefit from AFCFTA

“Charting out strategies to implement the low hanging fruits that will propel the sector to achieve the various deliverables in the AfCFTA implementation plan is key”, she said.

In her remarks, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Transportation, Dr Magdalene Ajani, said there was the need for stakeholders to vigorously pursue the buy-in for African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, more so at a time the ministry is saddled with the responsibility of providing seamless transportation system that will facilitate both domestic and regional trade, thereby diversifying the economy and increasing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the nation.        

On her part, the Secretary, National Office for Trade Negotiation (NOTN), Winnifred Ofili, while decrying Nigeria’s share of trade which remains low at 3%, said AfCFTA agreement aims to create a single market for goods and services in order to deepen the economic integration of Africa.        

In his presentation, the Executive Secretary, National Action Committee on AfCFTA, Francis Anatogu, recognised and appreciated the preparedness for the trade agreement as the Transportation Ministry already has a master plan and was among the first to set up a Technical Working Group, although he was quick to point out that the ministry needs to prioritise aspects of its interventions to be impactful.

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