Uganda Seizes Ivory Smuggled in Timbers

Ugandan authorities have confiscated roughly 750 pieces of ivory and thousands of pangolin scales trucked into the East African country from northern neighbor South Sudan. 

Authorities announced the seizure Thursday, saying that two Vietnamese nationals had been taken into custody. They allegedly attempted to smuggle the contraband, worth millions of dollars, through Uganda’s border post at Elegu.

Smugglers reportedly had hidden ivory pieces and pangolin scales in melted wax that had been poured into hollowed logs. A scanner revealed the illegal cargo, transported in trucking containers. 

“We got intelligence that these people were concealing these items, and we controlled the trucks’ arrival in Kampala,” said Dickson C. Kateshumbwa, customs commissioner for the Uganda Revenue Authority.

The ivory’s origins and destination are still unknown, he said. Investigators were looking into who was behind the contraband operation.

“Obviously, we are investigating the whole racket because trade in these items can aid conflict in the region,” he said, noting “we are talking of millions of dollars involved. That’s why we are trying to investigate the entire chain, so that we have the whole network taken to court.”  

 

Kateshumbwa said the interception should send a warning to prospective smugglers that Uganda’s borders are becoming increasingly impenetrable.   

International trade in ivory is banned. Eight species of pangolin are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.  

 

Authorities estimate 20 metric tons of ivory were trafficked through Uganda, mainly to Asia, from 2009 to 2014. 

 

Kateshumbwa estimated that, given the amount of ivory taken in the latest seizure, 300 of the creatures were killed. 

 

Poaching and conflict have reduced the number of African elephants to just over 415,000 as of last year, the World Wildlife Fund reports.

 

This report originated in VOA’s English to Africa service. 

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Sudan’s President Says Elections Only Means of Political Change

As protesters demonstrated in parts of the Sudanese capital of Khartoum on Thursday, President Omar al-Bashir visited the northeastern state of Kassala, announcing that the border between neighboring Eritrea and Sudan would be reopened, after a year of closure.

Al-Bashir  said that he greets the people of Eritrea and its president and he proclaims that the border between the two countries is now open because they are our dear brethren, despite the fact that politics has caused division among us.

Al-Bashir  went on to tell supporters that it was the “duty of the government to have a dialogue with young people” and that the government must “educate them and provide for their needs.”

He said that there will be no change of government or of the president via Facebook or WhatsApp, and vows that change will only take place at the ballot box.

Call for more protests

Sudan’s Association of Trade Unions called for another day of protest against the government Thursday, prompting a number of demonstrations in Khartoum and other parts of the country. The group’s spokesman, Mohammed Asbat, told Alhurra TV that the government’s appeal for dialogue with young people and the release of prisoners is not sincere.

Asbat said that the government’s message that it is releasing prisoners and undertaking dialogue is intended for the consumption of outside countries who have been warning it not to arrest peaceful protesters and to release them.

Opposition leader Miriam Sadeq al-Mahdi, who was briefly detained by Sudanese security forces Wednesday, told Alhurra TV that the government’s efforts at dialogue “have failed,” and that in the face of a “growing revolution,” it has resorted to “arresting young people.”

Al-Mahdi  said that President Bashir’s round of visits to far-flung provinces does not reflect any desire on the part of the Sudanese people that he remain in power and that it is normal for dictators to draw their supporters around them to make it look like they are popular.

Official meets with young protesters

Sudan’s intelligence chief, General Salah Gosh, has met with a number of young protesters who have been jailed for taking part in demonstrations, but opposition leaders said that he and the government have released “very few prisoners,” out of the several thousand they said are being detained.

Gosh insisted in a speech to military cadets that outside forces are trying to create chaos inside the country.

He said that there are forces trying to create chaos in the country and cause economic hardship for its people, but that (the security forces) will combat them with force and determination and restore order.

Al-Arabiya TV reports that Gosh asserted that “leftist parties are trying to overthrow the government,” and state that a number of armies or militia groups are “waiting for Khartoum to be engulfed in chaos, in order to march on the capital and seize power.”

 

 

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King Tut Tomb Restored to Prevent Damage From Visitors

The tomb of Egypt’s famed boy pharaoh, King Tutankhamun, has undergone restoration to help minimize damage by tourists.

The work, done by the Getty Conservation Institute after years of research and officially presented Thursday, aims to minimize scratches, dust damage and microbiological growth from breath and humidity brought in by tourists.

The nearly intact tomb of King Tut, who ruled Egypt more than 3,000 years ago, was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings, located on the west bank of the Nile River in Luxor.

For many, King Tut embodies ancient Egypt’s glory, because his tomb was packed with the glittering wealth of the 18th Dynasty, which ruled from 1569 to 1315 B.C.

 

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King Tut Tomb Restored to Prevent Damage From Visitors

The tomb of Egypt’s famed boy pharaoh, King Tutankhamun, has undergone restoration to help minimize damage by tourists.

The work, done by the Getty Conservation Institute after years of research and officially presented Thursday, aims to minimize scratches, dust damage and microbiological growth from breath and humidity brought in by tourists.

The nearly intact tomb of King Tut, who ruled Egypt more than 3,000 years ago, was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings, located on the west bank of the Nile River in Luxor.

For many, King Tut embodies ancient Egypt’s glory, because his tomb was packed with the glittering wealth of the 18th Dynasty, which ruled from 1569 to 1315 B.C.

 

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Iran: US-Sanctions Workaround by EU Soon to Be Announced

Three European nations appeared poised Thursday to announce they have created a way for Iran to continue trade with them and avoid re-imposed U.S. sanctions, two Iranian officials said, setting up a potential collision with President Donald Trump’s maximalist approach against Tehran.

France, Germany and the United Kingdom created a state company, known as a “special purpose vehicle,” to allow Iran to continue to trade vital goods like medicine and food, according to German media reports. That allows companies to be insulated, in theory, from American sanctions by dealing with a third party.

EU foreign ministers were set to meet Thursday in Bucharest, Romania. There was no immediate announcement acknowledging the creation of the trade vehicle, though Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said the EU wanted to continue to support the nuclear deal.

“The most important thing is to show our American colleagues that we are moving in the same direction on a whole series of issues such as ballistic missiles or Iran’s regional influence, but that we do have a difference of opinion on the nuclear agreement,” he said. “I hope we can also find a solution for this vehicle.”

Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, told Iranian state television by telephone on Thursday that he expected the “special purpose vehicle” to be ready for business in one or two months.

“The next issue is how European companies are willing to join SPV with this mechanism,” he said.

Iran’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Hamid Baeidinejad, similarly tweeted he believed the start of the program was imminent.

Trump’s decision to pull America out of the Iran nuclear deal in May pushed the three European nations to create the method. The 2015 atomic accord lifted economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran limiting its enrichment of uranium.

In recent months, Iranian officials have increasingly threatened to resume higher enrichment, putting more pressure on Europeans to come up with a way to get around the sanctions.

How America will respond remains in question.

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Iran: US-Sanctions Workaround by EU Soon to Be Announced

Three European nations appeared poised Thursday to announce they have created a way for Iran to continue trade with them and avoid re-imposed U.S. sanctions, two Iranian officials said, setting up a potential collision with President Donald Trump’s maximalist approach against Tehran.

France, Germany and the United Kingdom created a state company, known as a “special purpose vehicle,” to allow Iran to continue to trade vital goods like medicine and food, according to German media reports. That allows companies to be insulated, in theory, from American sanctions by dealing with a third party.

EU foreign ministers were set to meet Thursday in Bucharest, Romania. There was no immediate announcement acknowledging the creation of the trade vehicle, though Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said the EU wanted to continue to support the nuclear deal.

“The most important thing is to show our American colleagues that we are moving in the same direction on a whole series of issues such as ballistic missiles or Iran’s regional influence, but that we do have a difference of opinion on the nuclear agreement,” he said. “I hope we can also find a solution for this vehicle.”

Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, told Iranian state television by telephone on Thursday that he expected the “special purpose vehicle” to be ready for business in one or two months.

“The next issue is how European companies are willing to join SPV with this mechanism,” he said.

Iran’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Hamid Baeidinejad, similarly tweeted he believed the start of the program was imminent.

Trump’s decision to pull America out of the Iran nuclear deal in May pushed the three European nations to create the method. The 2015 atomic accord lifted economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran limiting its enrichment of uranium.

In recent months, Iranian officials have increasingly threatened to resume higher enrichment, putting more pressure on Europeans to come up with a way to get around the sanctions.

How America will respond remains in question.

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Diverse, International Flock Awaits Pope Francis’ UAE Trip

At St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai, an effort to transcribe the Bible in the native tongue of its flock saw the holy book presented in 52 languages — a sign of the cosmopolitan welcome awaiting Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the United Arab Emirates.

The diversity among its parishioners can be seen in its pews and heard in the sermons of St. Mary’s priests, who celebrate Mass and offer prayers in Arabic, English, French, Tagalog, Tamil, Urdu and other languages.

The church, they say, offers an anchor for the Roman Catholics among the UAE’s vast foreign labor force, many of whom live in this federation of seven sheikhdoms alone while their families stay home.

“The whole world meets here in a way,” said the Rev. Lennie Connully, the parish priest of St. Mary’s. “We have people from all over.”

Pope Francis’ visit from Feb. 3 through Feb. 5 marks the first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam. The pontiff will visit Abu Dhabi, the headquarters of the Catholic Church’s Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, which covers the UAE, Oman and Yemen.

There are nine Catholic churches in this federation of seven sheikhdoms governed by hereditary rulers; four other Catholic churches are in Oman. The Catholic flock’s rapid growth followed the discovery of oil in what was previously known as the Trucial States. Officials consecrated the first Catholic church in Abu Dhabi in 1965.

As Abu Dhabi became a major oil exporter and Dubai grew into the skyscraper-studded city it is today, the Emirates’ rapid economic expansion drew millions of foreigners to everything from white-collar office jobs to hard-hat construction work. Of the over 9 million people now living in the UAE, around 1 million are Emirati while the rest are foreign-born.

In 2010, there were an estimated 940,000 Christians living in the UAE, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center report, including 750,000 Catholics. The report suggests the number of Christians in the UAE would rise to about 1.1 million by 2020, with Catholics making up the lion’s share. The Catholic Church itself believes there are some 1 million Catholics in the UAE today.

The backbone of that population is Filipino and Indian. Life for them and others can be incredibly difficult as many move to the UAE often leaving their families and loved ones back home.

“The church is a base for them. They are far away from their homes,” Connully said. “They don’t have an extended family to support them. That family atmosphere is created here.”

Rulers in the UAE, which has described 2019 as the nation’s “Year of Tolerance,” have supported the Catholic community in the past by donating land for their churches. However, there are limits in this Muslim nation.

Proselytizing by non-Muslims remains illegal. Islam is enshrined as the UAE’s official religion in the country’s constitution, with government websites even offering online applications to convert. Conversion from Islam to another religion, however, is illegal, the U.S. State Department has warned. Blasphemy and apostasy laws also carry a possible death sentence.

At St. Mary’s and other churches, crosses are for the most part carefully concealed behind compound fences. There are no bells that toll to mark the start of services, though loudspeakers on minarets proclaim the call to prayers, like at the mosque across the street from St. Mary’s.

Despite facing restrictions, Christians in the UAE have never faced the violence that has targeted those in Syria and Iraq during the rise of the Islamic State group and other militants. Coptic Christians, a minority in Egypt that has faced extremist attacks in their homeland, also can safely worship.

In recent years, militant attacks have only exacerbated a “long, slow decline” of Christianity in the wider Middle East that began with mass migrations of the 19th Century, said Robin Darling Young, a professor studying church history at the Washington-based Catholic University of America.

The growth of ultraconservative Islamic beliefs, like Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, coupled with the creation of independent states, further fueled that, she said. America’s 2003 war in Iraq and the chaos that followed made it even worse, she said.

“Particularly in areas where Wahhabi Islam is strong, like the Arabian Peninsula, Christians have been subject to more restrictions,” Young said. “The UAE is trying to make itself look better to the West by permitting, under certain restrictions, public Christian worship.”

Catholics in the UAE, however, make a point to thank the UAE’s ruling sheikhs for being able to worship freely. During a recent Mass at St. Mary’s, the Father Andre Francisco Fernandes led worshippers in a prayer asking for God’s blessings upon “the rulers of the UAE,” specifically naming UAE President and Abu Dhabi ruler Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Fernandes’ sermon that day focused on the parable of the loaves and the fishes, the story of Jesus Christ feeding a crowd of 5,000 with just five loaves of bread and two fish. The priest urged those listening to keep their faith and view the world with an open heart.

“Every day, miracles are happening,” he told parishioners. “We need to believe.”

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Diverse, International Flock Awaits Pope Francis’ UAE Trip

At St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai, an effort to transcribe the Bible in the native tongue of its flock saw the holy book presented in 52 languages — a sign of the cosmopolitan welcome awaiting Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the United Arab Emirates.

The diversity among its parishioners can be seen in its pews and heard in the sermons of St. Mary’s priests, who celebrate Mass and offer prayers in Arabic, English, French, Tagalog, Tamil, Urdu and other languages.

The church, they say, offers an anchor for the Roman Catholics among the UAE’s vast foreign labor force, many of whom live in this federation of seven sheikhdoms alone while their families stay home.

“The whole world meets here in a way,” said the Rev. Lennie Connully, the parish priest of St. Mary’s. “We have people from all over.”

Pope Francis’ visit from Feb. 3 through Feb. 5 marks the first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam. The pontiff will visit Abu Dhabi, the headquarters of the Catholic Church’s Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, which covers the UAE, Oman and Yemen.

There are nine Catholic churches in this federation of seven sheikhdoms governed by hereditary rulers; four other Catholic churches are in Oman. The Catholic flock’s rapid growth followed the discovery of oil in what was previously known as the Trucial States. Officials consecrated the first Catholic church in Abu Dhabi in 1965.

As Abu Dhabi became a major oil exporter and Dubai grew into the skyscraper-studded city it is today, the Emirates’ rapid economic expansion drew millions of foreigners to everything from white-collar office jobs to hard-hat construction work. Of the over 9 million people now living in the UAE, around 1 million are Emirati while the rest are foreign-born.

In 2010, there were an estimated 940,000 Christians living in the UAE, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center report, including 750,000 Catholics. The report suggests the number of Christians in the UAE would rise to about 1.1 million by 2020, with Catholics making up the lion’s share. The Catholic Church itself believes there are some 1 million Catholics in the UAE today.

The backbone of that population is Filipino and Indian. Life for them and others can be incredibly difficult as many move to the UAE often leaving their families and loved ones back home.

“The church is a base for them. They are far away from their homes,” Connully said. “They don’t have an extended family to support them. That family atmosphere is created here.”

Rulers in the UAE, which has described 2019 as the nation’s “Year of Tolerance,” have supported the Catholic community in the past by donating land for their churches. However, there are limits in this Muslim nation.

Proselytizing by non-Muslims remains illegal. Islam is enshrined as the UAE’s official religion in the country’s constitution, with government websites even offering online applications to convert. Conversion from Islam to another religion, however, is illegal, the U.S. State Department has warned. Blasphemy and apostasy laws also carry a possible death sentence.

At St. Mary’s and other churches, crosses are for the most part carefully concealed behind compound fences. There are no bells that toll to mark the start of services, though loudspeakers on minarets proclaim the call to prayers, like at the mosque across the street from St. Mary’s.

Despite facing restrictions, Christians in the UAE have never faced the violence that has targeted those in Syria and Iraq during the rise of the Islamic State group and other militants. Coptic Christians, a minority in Egypt that has faced extremist attacks in their homeland, also can safely worship.

In recent years, militant attacks have only exacerbated a “long, slow decline” of Christianity in the wider Middle East that began with mass migrations of the 19th Century, said Robin Darling Young, a professor studying church history at the Washington-based Catholic University of America.

The growth of ultraconservative Islamic beliefs, like Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, coupled with the creation of independent states, further fueled that, she said. America’s 2003 war in Iraq and the chaos that followed made it even worse, she said.

“Particularly in areas where Wahhabi Islam is strong, like the Arabian Peninsula, Christians have been subject to more restrictions,” Young said. “The UAE is trying to make itself look better to the West by permitting, under certain restrictions, public Christian worship.”

Catholics in the UAE, however, make a point to thank the UAE’s ruling sheikhs for being able to worship freely. During a recent Mass at St. Mary’s, the Father Andre Francisco Fernandes led worshippers in a prayer asking for God’s blessings upon “the rulers of the UAE,” specifically naming UAE President and Abu Dhabi ruler Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Fernandes’ sermon that day focused on the parable of the loaves and the fishes, the story of Jesus Christ feeding a crowd of 5,000 with just five loaves of bread and two fish. The priest urged those listening to keep their faith and view the world with an open heart.

“Every day, miracles are happening,” he told parishioners. “We need to believe.”

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