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May, 2017

 

Frequent flier Mugabe racks up the air miles – and dollars

* Latest Mugabe trip is disaster conference in Mexico

* Presidential travel bill exceeds parliament budget

* “Diplomacy does not come cheap,” government says

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE, May 26 (Reuters) – Despite his advancing years and increasing frailty, 93-year-old Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe shows few signs of losing his love for foreign travel, a predilection that is costing his cash-strapped country dear.

Having racked up 200,000 air miles since the start of 2016 and outspent the parliamentary budget on trips abroad, Mugabe jetted off to the Mexican resort of Cancun this week for a “Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction” conference with a three dozen-strong delegation in tow.

Back home the trip raised eyebrows, with opposition wags wondering whether Mugabe, who presided over economic collapse and multi-billion percent inflation a decade ago, was there to talk about causing disasters rather than preventing them.

The length of the trip was another bone of contention in a country where banks seldom allow withdrawals of more than $50 a day and the government frequently pays state wages late.

Mugabe left on May 19 on a private charter flight – his normal Air Zimbabwe plane is grounded – with an entourage of at least 35 officials, including cabinet ministers, bodyguards and reporters from state TV and the official newspaper, the Herald.

He is expected back on Friday – a seven-day trip for the three-day U.N. conference, also attended by leaders from the likes of Albania, Dominica, Swaziland and Kiribati.

During that time, Herald staffers will receive a daily allowance of $1,000 and other officials up to $1,500 depending on their rank, according to a government official who helped organise the trip.

By contrast, the average state employee in Zimbabwe is paid $500 a month.

To make the most of their overseas jaunts, many officials have been known to check in to cheap hotels far from conference venues to save up for property, cars or school fees back home.

“We have a bureaucracy that is getting extortionate per diems from the travels. It is a parasitic mindset,” Tendai Biti, a former finance minister and opposition leader, told Reuters.

“When you look at the latest trip it shows a president who makes unstrategic trips to unstrategic countries.”

“GLOBETROTTER”

Last year Mugabe made at least 20 trips abroad, spending $36 million in the first 10 months, up from $33 million the previous year, according to Ministry of Finance figures.

Meanwhile parliament, which has more than 300 members, made do with a budget of $30 million for the entire year.

Despite growing concerns about his health – the government denies he falls asleep in public, saying he is merely resting his eyes – there has been no let-up this year, with eight overseas trips, including two to Singapore for medical checks.

Mugabe spokesman George Charamba could not be reached on Friday but in comments in the Herald on March 5 he said Mugabe’s globetrotting zeal proved he was strong enough to remain in office, and denied any waste of taxpayers’ money.

“Diplomacy does not come cheap,” Charamba said.

In Cancun, Mugabe attended the opening ceremony, a group photo and a closed-door meeting of leaders. He was the first to leave the session.

A security guard said the Zimbabwean delegation was not staying at the five star Moon Palace hotel complex hosting the conference.

Western sanctions imposed in reaction to widespread allegations of security forces using violence to crush political dissent mean Mugabe is barred from visiting the United States and European Union.

However, he has been able to exploit the diplomatic cover granted to the annual United Nations General Assembly to make regular visits to New York.

At the 2013 inauguration of Pope Francis, he flew to Rome but was met on the airport tarmac by an embassy limousine and whisked off to the Vatican, meaning he technically did not set foot on Italian soil.

Additional reporting by Sophie Hares in Cancun; Editing by Ed Cropley and John Stonestreet


S.Africa mining chamber says $215 mln in pensions uncollected by ex-miners

JOHANNESBURG, May 24 (Reuters) – Around 2.8 billion rand ($215 million) in pension funds, some of it going back to the 1970s, has been uncollected by ex-miners and their families who are entitled to the money, South Africa’s Chamber of Mines said on Wednesday.

The mining industry in South Africa is under pressure from the government to deal with “legacy issues” from the apartheid era, when it relied heavily on cheap, migrant labour from rural areas and neighbouring countries.

Unpaid pensions for rural families in such areas, where many households rely on subsistence farming, could be the difference between abject poverty and a more secure lifestyle.

“One of the legacy issues is related to pension funds and the pension fund amounts that are due to ex-mine workers and their families,” chamber Chief Executive Roger Baxter told journalists after the organisation’s annual general meeting.

“This is where a mine worker left the industry, did not collect his or her pension, and went to the rural areas or neighbouring countries. They have not collected on it and don’t know they are entitled to it, or their family if that person has passed on,” he said,

Neighbouring countries that have provided labour historically to South Africa’s mines include Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and until the 1970s, Malawi.

Baxter said there was about 4.5 billion rand in uncollected pensions going back but 1.7 billion had now been paid to former miners or their families who had been tracked down and identified.

“We don’t control the pension funds, but we have trustees who sit on those pension funds and what we are trying to do as the chamber is to help them in the search for people,” he said.

“Workers often worked in multiple operations so you didn’t have just one unique reference number to an employee. They would get different reference numbers so there is a bit of complexity to this issue,” he said.

$1 = 12.9200 rand Editing by Susan Thomas


Panama frees Morocco phosphate shipment held in Western Sahara claim

RABAT, May 22 (Reuters) – Panama authorities have released a Moroccan phosphate shipment from the disputed Western Sahara territory after it was temporarily held by a legal challenge from the Polisario independence movement, officials said on Monday.

The vessel was held on May 18 and is the second tanker carrying phosphate cargo from Moroccan exporter OCP stopped this month by a Polisario challenge. Polisario claims the cargo was transported illegally, a new tactic in its dispute with Morocco.

Western Sahara has been disputed since 1975, when Morocco claimed it as part of the kingdom and the Polisario fought a guerrilla war for the Sahrawi people’s independence. A 1991 ceasefire split the region in two between what Morocco calls its southern provinces and an area controlled by Polisario.

A source in the OCP said the Danish charter vessel Ultra Innovation, carrying 55,000 tonnes of phosphate rock through Panama to the Port of Vancouver for agricultural products supplier Agrium, was released, but did not comment further.

In a statement, Agrium said the shipping company posted a bond for the release of the ship. The phosphate cargo’s estimated value was around $6 million, Polisario had said.

A Panamanian judicial source said the ship was released after the bond was placed.

Morocco’s OCP, or Office Cherifien de Phosphate (OCP), is the world’s leading phosphate exporter and operates in the Moroccan-held areas of the disputed territory.

Earlier in the month, the Marshall Island-flagged NM Cherry Blossom, also carrying phosphate from Laayoune in the Moroccan part of the disputed territory for OCP, was detained in South Africa’s Port Elizabeth under a civil maritime court order.

On Thursday, the South African court reserved a judgment on the case and extended the hold on the vessel to June 9.

In a statement on MAP state news agency, the OCP has called Polisario’s charges in the South African court a “misplaced and inappropriate attempt to circumvent the current international political process actively pursued by the United Nations Security Council.”

The United Nations Security Council has called for fresh negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario, which runs its self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic or SADR.

Talks have failed for years to end the dispute. Morocco wants the region to have autonomy within Moroccan sovereignty. Polisario wants to hold a referendum on self-determination, including on the question of independence. (Editing by Patrick Markey and Mark Potter)


Morocco phosphate ship held in Panama over Western Sahara challenge – officials

ALGIERS, May 18 (Reuters) – Panama authorities have detained a Moroccan phosphate shipment from the disputed territory of Western Sahara after the Polisario independence movement claimed the cargo had been transported illegally, Polisario and officials said on Thursday.

The detention of the vessel carrying phosphate rock cargo from Morocco’s OCP for Canada’s Agrium is the second tanker stopped this month by a Polisario legal challenge, a new tactic the independence movement has been using in its conflict with Morocco.

Western Sahara has been disputed since 1975, when Morocco claimed it as part of the kingdom and the Polisario fought a guerrilla war for the Sahrawi people’s independence. A 1991 ceasefire split the region in two between what Morocco calls its southern provinces and an area controlled by Polisario.

The two sides have been locked in diplomatic battles since the U.N.-backed ceasefire over how to decide on the region’s self-determination, but repeated U.N. negotiations have failed to reach a deal.

The Danish charter vessel Ultra Innovation, carrying 55,000 tonnes of phosphate rock from Morocco’s OCP through Panama to Port of Vancouver for Agrium, was held on Wednesday night under a maritime court order, Polisario said.

By seeking the seizure of the two phosphate vessels, Polisario is putting to the test a European court ruling last year that Western Sahara should not be considered part of the Moroccan kingdom in EU and Moroccan deals.

“We are optimistic this second recourse to applying the law to bring an end to the blatant theft of a resource belonging to a people under occupation will demonstrate our resolve,” Polisario chief negotiator Mohamed Khadad said.

A sparsely populated stretch of desert bordering the Atlantic Ocean, Western Sahara has rich fishing grounds as well as phosphate. A heavily mined earth wall separates Moroccan-controlled territory and Polisario-held areas.

Morocco’s OCP, or Office Cherifien de Phosphate (OCP), is the world’s leading phosphate exporter and operates in the Moroccan-held areas. It did not return several calls and messages seeking comment on the Panama challenge.

Agrium said in a statement that it was aware of the detained phosphate rock shipment in Panama.

“We are currently working with our charter company (Ultrabulk) to work through the situation. At this time we don’t anticipate any production interruptions at our facility in Alberta (Redwater),” the company said.

A Panama maritime authority source confirmed the vessel was being held in port in Panama by a judicial investigation.

Earlier in the month, the Marshall Island-flagged NM Cherry Blossom, also carrying phosphate from Laayoune in the Moroccan part of the disputed territory for OCP, was detained in South Africa’s Port Elizabeth under a civil maritime court order.

On Thursday, the South African court reserved a judgement on the case and extended the hold on the vessel to 9 June.

The United Nations Security Council has called for fresh negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario, which runs its self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic or SADR.

Talks have failed for years to end the dispute. Morocco wants the region to have autonomy within Moroccan sovereignty. Polisario wants to hold a referendum on self-determination, including on the question of independence. (Additional reporting by Wendell Roelf in Cape Town and Elida Moreno in Panama City; Editing by Hugh Lawson)


Frequently asked questions on Ebola virus disease

1. What is Ebola virus disease?

Ebola virus disease (formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever) is a severe, often fatal illness, with a death rate of up to 90% caused by Ebola virus, a member of the filovirus family.

The Ebola virus was first identified in 1976 when 2 simultaneous outbreaks occurred, 1 in Yambuku, a village not far from the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the other in a remote area of Sudan.

The origin of the virus is unknown, but current evidence suggests that fruit bats (Pteropodidae) may be a host.

2. How do people become infected with the Ebola virus?

People become infected with Ebola either through contact with infected animals (usually following butchering, cooking or eating) or through contact with the bodily fluids of infected humans. Most cases are caused by human to human transmission which occurs when blood or other bodily fluids or secretions (stool, urine, saliva, semen) of infected people enters a healthy person’s body through broken skin or mucous membranes.

Infection can also occur if the broken skin or the mucous membranes of a healthy person comes into contact with items or environments contaminated with bodily fluids from an infected person. These may include soiled clothing, bed linen, gloves, protective equipment and medical waste such as used hypodermic syringes.

3. Who is most at risk?

During an outbreak, those at higher risk of infection are:

  • health workers;
  • family members or others in close contact with infected people;
  • mourners who have direct contact with bodies during burial rituals.

4. Why are mourners at burial ceremonies considered at risk of contracting Ebola?

Levels of Ebola virus remain high after death, thus bodies of those who have died from Ebola virus disease must be handled only by people wearing appropriate personal protective equipment and must be buried immediately. WHO advises that bodies of people who may have died from Ebola virus disease should be handled only by trained burial teams, who are equipped to properly bury the dead, safely and with dignity.

5. Why are health-care workers at greater risk of catching Ebola?

Health-care workers are at greater risk of infection if they are not wearing correct personal protective equipment (PPE) or are not applying infection prevention and control (IPC) measures when caring for patients. All health-care providers working at all levels of the health system – hospitals, clinics and health posts – should be fully informed about the disease and its mode of transmission and should follow recommended precautions strictly.

6. Can Ebola be transmitted sexually?

Sexual transmission of the Ebola virus, from males to females, is a strong possibility, but has not yet been proven. Less probable, but theoretically possible, is female to male transmission. More surveillance data and research are needed on the risks of sexual transmission, and particularly on the prevalence of viable and transmissible virus in semen over time. In the interim, and based on present evidence, WHO recommends that:

  • All Ebola survivors and their sexual partners should receive counselling to ensure safe sexual practices until their semen has twice tested negative. Survivors should be provided with condoms.
  • Male Ebola survivors should be offered semen testing at 3 months after onset of disease, and then, for those who test positive, every month thereafter until their semen tests negative for virus twice by RT-PCR, with an interval of one week between tests.
  • Ebola survivors and their sexual partners should either:
    • abstain from all types of sex, or
    • observe safe sex through correct and consistent condom use until their semen has twice tested negative.
  • Having tested negative, survivors can safely resume normal sexual practices without fear of Ebola virus transmission.
  • Based on further analysis of ongoing research and consideration by the WHO Advisory Group on the Ebola Virus Disease Response, WHO recommends that male survivors of Ebola virus disease practice safe sex and hygiene for 12 months from onset of symptoms or until their semen tests negative twice for Ebola virus.
  • Until such time as their semen has twice tested negative for Ebola, survivors should practise good hand and personal hygiene by immediately and thoroughly washing with soap and water after any physical contact with semen, including after masturbation. During this period used condoms should be handled safely, and safely disposed of, so as to prevent contact with seminal fluids.
  • All survivors, their partners and families should be shown respect, dignity and compassion.

7. What are the typical signs and symptoms of Ebola virus infection?

Ebola symptoms vary but sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat are commonly experienced at the beginning of the disease (‘the dry phase’). As the disease progresses, people commonly develop vomiting and diarrhoea (‘the wet phase’), rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.

8. How long does it take for people to develop symptoms after being infected?

The incubation period, or the time interval from infection to onset of symptoms, is from 2 to 21 days. People are not contagious until they develop symptoms. Ebola virus disease infections can only be confirmed through laboratory testing.

9. When should someone seek medical care?

A person with Ebola-like symptoms (fever, headache, muscle aches, headache, vomiting, diarrhoea) who has been in contact with living or dead people suspected to have had Ebola or has travelled to an area known to have cases of Ebola virus disease should seek medical care immediately.

10. Is there any treatment for Ebola?

Supportive care, especially fluid replacement therapy, carefully managed and monitored by trained health workers improves chances of survival. Other treatments being used to help people survive Ebola virus disease include, where available, kidney dialysis, blood transfusions, plasma replacement therapy.

An experimental Ebola vaccine proved highly protective against Ebola virus in a major trial in Guinea. The vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, was studied in a trial involving 11 841 people during 2015.

11. Can people with Ebola be cared for at home?

WHO does not advise families or communities to care for individuals with symptoms of Ebola virus disease at home. People with such symptoms should seek treatment in a hospital or treatment centre staffed by doctors and nurses equipped to treat Ebola virus disease.

If a person dies at home and is suspected of having died from Ebola virus disease, family and community members should refrain from handling or preparing the body for burial. The local health authorities should be contacted immediately and asked to send a dead body management team.

12. Can Ebola be prevented?

People can protect themselves from infection with Ebola virus following specific infection prevention and control measures. These include hand washing, avoiding contact with the bodily fluids of individuals who are suspected of or confirmed to have Ebola, and refraining from handling or preparing bodies of persons who are suspected of or confirmed to have died from Ebola.

13. Is there an Ebola vaccine?

An experimental Ebola vaccine proved highly protective against the deadly virus in a major trial in Guinea. The vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, was studied in a trial involving 11 841 people during 2015. Among the 5837 people who received the vaccine, no Ebola cases were recorded 10 days or more after vaccination. In comparison, there were 23 cases 10 days or more after vaccination among those who did not receive the vaccine.

The trial was led by WHO, together with Guinea’s Ministry of Health, Médecins sans Frontieres and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, in collaboration with other international partners. A ring vaccination protocol was chosen for the trial, where some of the rings are vaccinated shortly after a case is detected, and other rings are vaccinated after a delay of 3 weeks.


Laws to tackle climate change exceed 1,200 worldwide – study

* Number of climate laws up from only about 60 two decades ago

* Most nations have “legal basis” for action – U.N. climate chief

OSLO, May 9 (Reuters) – Nations around the world have adopted more than 1,200 laws to curb climate change, up from about 60 two decades ago, which is a sign of widening efforts to limit rising temperatures, a study showed on Tuesday.

“Most countries have a legal basis on which future action can be built,” Patricia Espinosa, the U.N.’s climate change chief, told a webcast news conference of the findings issued at an international meeting on climate change in Bonn, Germany.

She said the findings were “cause for optimism”, adding that laws were one yardstick for tracking action on global warming alongside others such as investment in renewable energy or backing for a 2015 climate agreement, ratified by 144 nations.

The study, by the London School of Economics (LSE), reviewed laws and executive policies in 164 nations, ranging from national cuts in greenhouse gases to curbs in emissions in sectors such as transport, power generation or industry.

Forty-seven laws had been added since world leaders adopted a Paris Agreement to combat climate change in late 2015, a slowdown from a previous peak of about 100 a year around 2009-13 when many developed nations passed laws.

U.S. President Donald Trump doubts that climate change has a human cause and is considering pulling out of the Paris Agreement but legislation is often complicated to undo.

“If you have that big body of 1,200 laws it is hard to reverse,” Samuel Fankhauser, co-director of the LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, told the news conference.

The study said that developing nations were legislating more but there were many gaps. Nations including Comoros, Sudan and Somalia had no climate laws.

“We don’t want weaklings in the chain,” said Martin Chungong, Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. He urged all countries to adopt laws that help limit downpours, heatwaves and rising sea levels. (Reporting by Alister Doyle; editing by Ken Ferris)


South Africa court to hear Morocco phosphate ship dispute this month – lawyer

CAPE TOWN, May 4 (Reuters) – A South African court will hear a claim on May 18 involving a seized Moroccan ship that the Polisario movement in Western Sahara complained was carrying phosphate taken illegally from the disputed territory.

The hearing, announced by a lawyer for the movement on Thursday, should test Polisario’s use of a European court ruling last year that said Western Sahara should not be considered part of Morocco in European Union and Moroccan deals.

The Marshall Island-flagged NM Cherry Blossom, seized by maritime court order in Port Elizabeth on South Africa’s east coast since Monday, was carrying 50,000 tonnes of phosphate to New Zealand from Laayoune in the Moroccan-controlled part of the disputed territory for Morocco’s OCP phosphate export company.

Western Sahara has been disputed since war broke out in 1975 between Morocco and the Polisario movement fighting for the Sahrawi people’s independence there. A 1991 ceasefire split the region into separate parts controlled by Morocco and Polisario.

“On the 18 May we will be seeking a final order saying that the cargo will remain interdicted from leaving the jurisdiction of the court until such time as my client’s court case for the return of the property is heard,” said Andre Bowley, the Polisario movement’s lawyer, in Cape Town.

The temporary order means the NM Cherry Blossom remains at anchor in the Bay of Algoa under the jurisdiction of Port Elizabeth.

OCP has said it expects a quick resolution once the details of the case are heard. Morocco’s government said on Thursday it did not expect Polisario’s legal challenge would succeed.

“There have been failed attempts to undermine Morocco’s territorial integrity in the past and future attempts will fail again,” government spokesperson Mustapha El Khalfi told reporters in Rabat.

Bowley told Reuters the temporary court order makes provision for OCP and five other respondents, including the ship owners and the New Zealand buyers of the cargo, to put up financial security in lieu of the phosphate shipment.

“If you want to carry on sailing with the phosphate onboard the ship, then fine, put up a bank guarantee securing the amount and value of the phosphate, then the ship can depart,” he said, adding the estimated value of the cargo was around $5 million.

Morocco and Polisario have been locked in diplomatic and legal battles since 1991. U.N. peacekeepers had to step when tension flared in between Moroccan forces and Polisario brigades in the buffer zone near the Mauritania border.

In January, Morocco rejoined the African Union regional body, where Polisario’s self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) is also a member. South Africa along with Algeria have been key supporters of the SADR. (Additional reporting by Samia Errazzouki in Rabat; Editing by Patrick Markey and Tom Heneghan)


Western Sahara: UN welcomes withdrawal of Polisario Front from Guerguerat area

NEW YORK – PRN Africa — The United Nations today welcomed the withdrawal of all Polisario Front elements from the Guerguerat area, between the berm and the border with Mauritania, as confirmed by observers of the UN Mission on Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, on 27-28 April. According to a statement issued by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, António Guterres, together with the earlier withdrawal of Moroccan elements from the area, in response to the urging of the Secretary-General, this action should improve the prospects of creating an environment that will facilitate early implementation of Mr. Guterres’s determination to relaunch the negotiating process.

The process would be relaunched with a new dynamic and a new spirit that reflects the Security Council’s guidance and resolutions, with the aim of reaching a “mutually acceptable political solution which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.” “We continue to call on the parties to adhere to their obligations under the ceasefire agreement and to respect both its letter and spirit, and to cooperate fully with MINURSO,” said the Spokesman, adding that the need to ensure that tensions do not erupt anew in the Guerguerat area remains vital.
To this end, MINURSO intends to maintain the position it has held in the Buffer Strip since August 2016 and further discuss the Mission’s future monitoring of the area and the full range of issues related to the Buffer Strip with the parties, the statement added.

The statement comes as the UN Security Council today unanimously extended MINURSO’s mandate until 30 April 20 18. Through a resolution, the Council reaffirmed the need for full respect of the military agreements reached with MINUSRSO with regard to the ceasefire and called on all the parties to adhere fully to those agreements. Western Sahara is located on the north-west coast of Africa bordered by Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria. The colonial administration of Western Sahara by Spain ended in 1976. Fighting later broke out between Morocco and the Polisario Front. A ceasefire was signed in September 1991. MINURSO was deployed that year to monitor the ceasefire between the Government of Morocco and the Polisario Front and organizing, if the parties agree, a referendum on self-determination in Western Sahara.

A revised settlement plan was proposed by the United Nations after seven years of diplomatic consultations was rejected by one of the parties in 2004. In approving the current phase of direct negotiations in 2007, the UN Security Council called for “a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political settlement which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.”

SOURCE UN News Centre

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Historical ecumenical prayer in Egypt for peace and unity

GENEVA – PRN Africa — Church leaders, led by Pope Tawadros II and Pope Francis, were gathered to pray for the people of Egypt, for unity, for peace and justice in St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church, the chapel next to Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral that was bombed in December 2016, now restored. Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros entered in a short procession to the church where 29 people died and 47 were wounded on 11 December 2016. The World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit took also part in the procession together with church leaders from Egypt and from other parts of the world.

Inside the small church, each of the eight Christian leaders seated before the congregation, with Pope Francis; Pope Tawadros of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria; Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople; Pope and Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria and All Africa; Patriarch Ibrahim of the Coptic Catholic Church of Alexandria; Anglican Archbishop Mouneer Anis, Primate of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East; Patriarch Gregory III Laham, of Antioch and All the East, and Alexandria and Jerusalem; and Rev. Dr Andrea Zaki, president of the Protestant Community of Egypt, and director of the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services.

Each of the church leaders read a verse each from the beatitudes in the Gospel of St. Matthew. Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II then said a few words in prayer, and everyone shared a sign of peace. Pope Francis prayed, “Lord Jesus, I ask you to bless us, to bless my brother Pope Tawadros II, to bless all my brother bishops who are here, to bless all my Christian brothers and to take us on the path of charity and to work together toward the table of the Eucharist. Amen.”

With music and placing flowers, praying and lighting a candle at the site where so many of Coptic Orthodox Christians were killed by a suicide bomber last year, Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II paid homage to those who were killed for their faith. The ecumenical group prayed together in front of the photographs of the victims, and Pope Francis placed a bouquet of white and yellow flowers at the memorial wall in their honor. Tveit commented, “Praying together in the bombed and now restored St Peter’s and St Paul’s church in Cairo, with the marks of the bomb still very visible on the columns, and the images of the martyrs on the wall, we were deeply moved. We felt the tragic loss, the fear, and the hope of the Christians in Egypt.” “To pray together is a significant sign of being together. In prayer we are gathered by God’s grace, sharing the deepest concerns with one another in the prayer of the Church. “ “The ecumenical prayer is a prayer with one another and for one another. It shows sympathy and togetherness as we struggle for justice and peace in the world, as we constantly pray ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.’”

Just before the ecumenical prayer, in a historic and significant move toward greater Christian unity, Pope Tawadros II and Pope Francis signed a common declaration over the sacrament of baptism. The majority of the 82.5 million Egyptians are Sunni Muslims. Between 12-15 percent of the Egyptian population are Christians, most of them Coptic Orthodox, but there are Catholics, Protestants and other various Christian communities in the country as well.

SOURCE World Council of Churches (WCC)

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Commonwealth election observers to go to The Bahamas for first time

A former foreign minister from Ghana, Hanna Tetteh, will lead a team of Commonwealth election observers to The Bahamas for the country’s general election later this month.

This is the first time the Commonwealth will observe elections to The Bahaman parliament. The general election is scheduled for 10 May 2017.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland announced the make up of the observer group after receiving an invitation from the Government of The Bahamas.

“I’m delighted that former foreign minister, Hanna Tetteh, has accepted my invitation to lead the Commonwealth Observer Group. Her experience will be a real asset in this important assignment,” said Secretary-General Scotland. “In offering their assessment on the conduct of the election and the overall credibility of the process, the Group will be contributing to enhancing democracy in The Bahamas.”

The observers will consider all aspects of the electoral process and assess whether the election has been conducted according to the standards for democratic elections to which the Commonwealth of The Bahamas has committed itself.

The Group will be in The Bahamas between 4 and 13 May 2017 inclusive. The last general election was held in May 2012.

Composition of the Group:
Hanna Tetteh (Chairperson)
Former minister of foreign affairs and former minister of industry and trade
The Republic of Ghana

Elvin Bailey
Supervisor of elections
St Kitts and Nevis

Lebrechtta Hesse-Bayne
Gender specialist
Antigua and Barbuda

Enrico Woolford
Chairman of the National Communications Network
Guyana

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