16 AFRICA / WORLD Monday, October 02 2017 | NEW ERA Libyan goes on trial over 2012 Benghazi attack that killed US envoy WASHINGTON A Libyan militant accused of leading the September 11, 2012 attack on an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi that left the US ambassador and three others dead goes on trial today. Ahmed Abu Khattala is charged with 18 counts of murder, supporting terrorists and related charges in the trial in the federal district court in Washington, three years after he was captured in a commando raid and sent by ship to the United States. Khattala, about 46, was the commander of an Islamist militia in Benghazi, Ansar al-Sharia, which undertook the deadly raid on the US compound in the eastern port city. According to the indictment, he led a group of about 20 militants storming the compound. They one that contained ambassador Christopher Stevens and foreign service officers, killing them. Shortly afterwards they killed two US security contractors in an attack on a CIA outpost near the mission compound. The attack shocked Americans but in which Republicans sought in a multi-year investigation to pin the blame for the popular diplomat’s death on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ahead of her planned run for the presidency. The trial of Khattala, who has pleaded not guilty, was stalled by a steady stream of motions challenging the way he was brought to the United States and the use of evidence from two interrogations. After his capture he was not spirited quickly back to the United States by jet, but placed on a navy ship for two weeks. There he first underwent five days of interrogation by intelligence agents. Then he was interrogated by a team from the Federal Bureau of Investigation for several days. His lawyers argued that the lengthy 13 day trip by ship back to the United States was part of a scheme to extract information from him without legal protections. But in his August 16 ruling, Judge Christopher Cooper ruled that in fact FBI agents had repeatedly advised Khattala of his “Miranda” rights to have a lawyer present and to remain silent, and had “knowingly and intelligently” waived them. “Abu Khattala was treated humanely and courteously: He was given breaks every hour or two, and offered snacks and refreshments,” the judge said. “The sheer number of times Abu Khattala waived his Miranda rights – once in writing and twice verbally on each typical interview day – is further evidence of the waivers’ voluntariness.” - Nampa/AFP Spectre of Zimbabwe triggers panic-buying HARARE Driving to work last week, Dennis Zhemi found his usually busy neighbourhood garage in the Zimbabwean capital Harare deserted and a forecourt attendant signalling “no fuel”. For Zhemi, it was a worrying sign that Zimbabwe’s chronic economic collapse could be heading for another vicious downwards spiral of basic shortages, Zhemi’s heart sank as he drove on, hoping to refuel at the next station, but at least 40 other cars were queueing on the side of the road towards the petrol pumps. “Immediately, I was reminded of 2008 when we slept in fuel queues and I prayed silently that we don’t return to those days,” the 43-year-old human resources consultant told AFP. He left his car at the garage as he did not have enough fuel to reach Zimbabwe wiped out personal savings, left shops empty and made it all but impossible to buy a tank of petrol or daily groceries. Inflation peaked at 500 billion percent before the national currency was abandoned in a favour of the US dollar, and the economy never recovered. Fears of a repeat of those desperate days have grown in recent weeks in Zimbabwe, and panicbuying has seen prices rocket. The stockpiling has been driven the parallel “bond note” currency that was launched by 93-yearold President Robert Mugabe’s government nearly a year ago. Bond notes dispersed by banks and ATMS are in theory worth the same as the US dollar, but consumers worry the currency could be rendered worthless like the old Zimbabwe dollar that was scrapped in 2009. “We are already witnessing shortages of basic commodities,” Peter Mutasa, president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, told AFP. “The situation has been trig- the bond notes. We are being driven to barter for goods as there is no hard currency in the banks.” Currency traders who gather near the foreign bus terminal in Harare now offer to exchange one US dollar for 1.37 bond notes – an illegal transaction that underlines the bond note’s weakness. For non-cash bank transfers, the traders offer to pay 1.50 in bond notes for each US dollar, AFP reporters witnessed. Like many shops in Zimbabwe, one small supermarket in Harare visited by AFP offers several different prices for goods – an illegal but common practice. A 175-gram bar of Protex soap costs one US dollar, but 1.30 in bond notes or if you pay by swipe card. A two-litre bottle of Pure Drop cooking oil sells for 3.20 US dollars, but its price has jumped sud- dollars – or sometimes even seven dollars – when paying by card. Mugabe, whose land policies are widely blamed for Zimbabwe’s economic collapse since 2000, this week railed against currency “saboteurs” and vowed that the “price hikes would be dealt with”. Further economic breakdown could reignite street protests that shook Mugabe’s regime last year, and the president used a speech on Thursday “There are those eager to manipulate the currency so that they can buying,” he said. “Those are the mischief-makers in our midst.” Harare-based economist Prosper Another crisis… bwe in Harare Photo: Nampa/AFP Chitambara said Zimbabwe’s economic problems were likely to worsen ahead of next year’s election, when Mugabe will again stand despite his weakening health. “There is a lot of uncertainty due to the political situation,” Chitambara told AFP. “That is why we have seen the reemergence of the parallel market and a multi-tier pricing structure. As we approach the elections, the uncertainty will increase.” A brief demonstration on Friday in Harare by anti-Mugabe activists over the economic crisis was dispersed by police using teargas. Unemployment in Zimbabwe is estimated at over 90 percent, and at least 80 percent of government revenue is used to pay state workers’ wages. With cash so scarce, many Zimbabweans have resorted to bartering – exchanging goods directly – to survive. Brenda Mpofu, who runs a second-hand clothes stall in Harare, said she now travels to rural areas to swap clothes for maize and later sells the maize or exchanges it for other goods. “I used to be able to afford to pay rent, buy food and clothes and send my children to school,” she said. “But these days I am barely managing. There is no money and business is just so low.” – Nampa/AFP Crunch time as Catalonia holds independence vote BARCELONA Hundreds of people started gathering at polling stations in Catalonia early Sunday to vote in an independence referendum, saying they would defend their right to take part in a ballot banned by the central government in Madrid. In Barcelona and Girona, the bastion of Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, people turned out despite drizzly weather before dawn to protect polling stations. Spain’s central government is staunchly against the vote, which has been ruled unconstitutional by the courts, and has used all the legal tools at its disposal to stop it from taking place. On orders of judges and prosecutors, police have seized ballot papers, detained key organisers and shut down websites promoting the vote. But on the streets early Sunday, voters were determined to be heard. “In Catalonia, we are at the stage where we think that it’s essential to decide if we want to remain part of the Spanish state,” Pau Valls, an 18-year-old student told AFP. In an interview with AFP on Saturday, Puigdemont insisted that his government had “everything in place” so that the referendum could go ahead in the wealthy region that is home to some 7.5 million people. The planned referendum has sown divisions among Catalans and stoked Opinion polls show the region is deeply divided over independence, but a large majority of Catalans want to be able to settle the matter in a referendum, though most would prefer it to be legal and binding. Whatever happens, Sunday’s referendum result will not be recognised by Madrid, and almost certainly not by the international community. But separatist leaders are banking on a high turnout to give legitimacy to their vote, though it is as yet unclear how people will be able to cast their ballots. Spain’s interior ministry said Saturday police had closed most of the 2,315 polling stations across Catalonia. But at least 160 were occupied by teachers, parents, students and activists determined to let people in anyway. All eyes were on whether police would forcefully evict them. Some schools designated as polling stations imagined innovative ways to stay open, organising leisure activities all over the weekend, from kids’ pyjama parties to volleyball games. A regional government source said voting may also take place in other places like health centres and even retirement homes. pledged to protect polling stations. Berta Clos, an 18-year-old student, was helping to occupy Barcelona’s Menendez y Pelayo Institute. She said Catalan police had already told those inside that they would come and notify them that they had to shut the school down. “But they have also told us that if there are people inside, they won’t be able to do it so we just need to make sure that this remains open.” The Mossos d’Esquadra Catalan police have warned about the risk of “disruption of public order” if efforts are made to prevent people from casting ballots.
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