New fast train arrives in Nairobi


A new commuter train has been launched in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi – the first of its kind since independence in 1963.

The train will run between the city centre and the suburb of Syokimau, where Kenya has built its first railway station in more than 80 years.

The service is intended to ease traffic congestion in Nairobi, one of the fastest-growing African cities with a population of about three million.

President Mwai Kibaki was the first commuter on the new train.

He travelled back to Nairobi along with his officials, while ordinary passengers were banned for security reasons.

The first paying customers are expected to take the return trip to Syokimau.

The BBC’s Wanyama Chebusiri in Nairobi says the new service will be much faster then the existing dilapidated trains and will run on a separate track.

‘New eight-lane highway’

The 16.5-km (10-mile) ride from Syokimau, in the east, to Nairobi is expected to take 15 minutes, while a car journey during rush-hour could take up to two hours, our reporter says.

The new station at Syokimau is modern – it will issue passengers with electronic tickets to swipe at turnstiles and there are also large screens to give train times, he adds.

The journey is the cheapest way of getting to central Nairobi, costing about $2.50 (£1.50).

Mr Kibaki has inaugurated the service, and is expected to be the first passenger to take the ride.

The launch is part of the government’s ambitious Vision 2030 initiative to improve much-neglected infrastructure over the next 18 years, our reporter says.

A Chinese company has just built Kenya’s first eight-lane highway, linking Nairobi to the densely populated industrial town of Thika, about 40 km away.

It was built at a cost of about 28bn shillings ($330m; £200m).

Although the highway has not been officially launched, motorists are already using it.

The government says its next rail project will be to link Nairobi’s city centre to the eastern residential area of Kayole.

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N Korea ‘testing at rocket site’

17 September 2012 satellite image showing a facility in Sohae, North Korea, where analysts believe rocket engines have been tested
Image caption Analysis of satellite imagery showed activity at the rocket launch site

Recent satellite images show that North Korea has been conducting tests at a rocket launch site, says a US academic organisation.

The US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said its analysis of images “indicates that North Korea continues to develop long-range missiles”.

There had been at least two tests of rocket motors since a failed rocket launch in April, it said.

The 30m (100ft) rocket crashed into the sea shortly after take off.

Pyongyang said the launch was aimed at putting a satellite into orbit, but it was widely criticised by the US, South Korea and Japan as a banned test of long-range missile technology.

“Since the failed launch, the North has conducted at least two, and possibly more, tests of large rocket motors at its Sohae Satellite Launching Station, the most recent in mid-September 2012,” a report on the institute’s 38 North blog said.

The tests appear to have involved “liquid-fuelled, first stage engines” for either North Korea’s existing satellite launch vehicle, or a new long-range missile first seen during a military parade this year, the institute said.

There had also been indications of construction activity on the rocket site’s upper gantry platform “required for future launches of long-range rockets”, it said.

The report suggested North Korea could be planning test activities once both the US and South Korean presidential elections are finished. The South Korean poll takes place in December.

“Whether the testing of large rocket motors or construction at the launch pad are in preparation for such activities remains unclear at this point,” it said.

Advances in the country’s missile technology are watched carefully in both Seoul and Washington because of fears that North Korea could one day use long-range missiles to deliver nuclear weapons, says the BBC’s Lucy Williamson in Seoul.

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Kenya police die in bandit attack

Locator map

Four police officers have died during an ambush carried out by bandits in northern Kenya, officials said.

The police were shot as they attempted to recover more than 400 head of cattle stolen by rustlers believed to be from a neighbouring community.

The attack took place on Saturday in Baragoi, in Samburu County.

A police spokesman in Rift Valley Province said the officers were ambushed by a militia from the Turkana ethnic community.

“The officers were in a team pursuing stolen cattle when they were ambushed,” a senior officer, who did not wish to be named, told Agence France-Presse.

A similar attack, in which 12 people were killed, took place nearby two weeks ago, Kenyan media reports.

The two tribes frequently steal cattle from each other and fight over grazing land and watering points.

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Kenyan bid to ban bride payments

Young women from Kenya's Samburu ethnic group which has the tradition of bride prices to seal marriages
Bride prices are paid by most of Kenya’s ethnic groups – usually in cows

Kenya’s government plans to ban bride-price payments, legalise polygamy and consider couples co-habiting for more than six months to be legally married.

The controversial proposals were approved by the cabinet, but will not become law until passed by parliament.

The cabinet said the bill aimed to offer legal protection to all forms of marriages in the country – Christian, Islamic, Hindu, civil and traditional.

It is intended to give women and children protection under the law.

‘Come-we-stay’ relationships

The BBC’s Muliro Telewa in the capital, Nairobi, says the decision to stop the age-old custom of bride price is one of the most contentious of the proposals to harmonise the East African nation’s marriage laws.

Bride prices are commonly paid by most of Kenya’s more than 40 ethnic groups.

Current customary law stipulates that a marriage is not considered legal unless a bride price has been paid, usually in the form of cows.

A woman and her
The proposals are intended to ensure that women with children get maintenance after a break-up

Even couples married in a religious or civil ceremony will often not be considered bound in the traditional sense by their families unless a payment is made.

Under the new proposals, co-habiting couples in what are known in Kenya as “come-we-stay” relationships will be considered married after a six-month period.

Our correspondent says many couples, among them college students, are in such relationships.

In most of these cases, people live together for convenience and can decide to go their separate ways without any future commitment, he says.

However, in some cases men have been known to walk out if children are born.

If the proposals became law, in rural areas chiefs would have to register “come-we-stay” relationships by issuing marriage certificates and ensuring that in the event of a break-up, maintenance is paid to spouses and any children.

‘Against tradition’

The proposals on legalising polygamy are intended to bring civil law – where a man is only allowed one wife – in line with customary law where some cultures allow for multiple partners.

Despite allowing polygamy, the cabinet says men and women should have equal status within all marriages with regards to property and inheritance.

Gay marriages would not be allowed as they are banned under Kenya’s constitution, and the proposals would not affect communities which allow women to marry each other if the older partner is infertile, as these partnerships are usually to do with property inheritance.

Our reporter says the proposals have caused a big stir on social media sites because many people say some of the changes go against traditional and religious values.

As 90% of MPs are men, their past performance on issues of custom and tradition suggests they are likely to oppose sections of the bill, he says.

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Fifa backs Brazil 2013 cup venues

Arena Pernambuco
Image caption The Arena Pernambuco in the city of Recife is still under construction but organisers say it will be tested and ready by next April

Six Brazilian cities will host the 2013 Confederations Cup football tournament, the warm-up event for the World Cup due to take place in the country in 2014.

Venues in Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Fortaleza, Recife, Rio de Janeiro and Salvador should be ready by April next year, world football body Fifa said.

Doubts had been raised about Brazil’s ability to cope with infrastructure and deadline demands.

The event is seen as a big test in preparation for the 2014 World Cup.

The first match in the Confederations Cup is planned for 15 June, and the two-week tournament will involve six continental champions, 2010 World Cup winners Spain and the host nation.

‘Acid test’

Fifa normally requires venues to be ready six months ahead of competitions.

But the governing body has made an exception in Brazil’s case, saying every stadium would be ready and tested by April – two months before the competition starts, the BBC’s Gary Duffy reports from Sao Paulo.

Slow construction progress, particularly in the north-eastern cities of Recife and Salvador, had prompted Fifa to create back-up match schedules for four and five stadiums in case the original six-venue project fell through.

Recife’s Arena Pernambuco was more than 70% complete by the end of October according to the construction firm in charge, our correspondent says.

Once finished, the stadium will boast a capacity for 46,000 people and is expected to host five World Cup matches in 2014.

It is the first time that the Confederations Cup is being held on South American soil, as well as taking place in six cities of the same country.

Fifa General Secretary Jerome Valcke said last week that the tournament was “an acid test for Fifa and the host country stakeholders” as practically every aspect of the preparations would come under close scrutiny.

“From electrics to crowd management, from stewards to public transport and parking management, all processes must be well established to ensure that next June – when Brazil will be in the spotlight of the world – we will not face any major operational obstacles,” he said.

“We must ensure that fans have an unforgettable experience without any logistical nightmares.”

Some 830,000 tickets will be up for grabs for the 16 matches, with sales starting on 3 December.

In total, some 22.4bn reais (£7bn: $11bn) is being invested in World Cup infrastructure projects ranging from airports, roads and public transport to the stadiums themselves, according to the tournament’s local organising committee.

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Georgia arrests ‘abuse’ minister

Georgia's former Interior and Defence Minister Bacho Akhalaia arriving at a prosecutor's office 6/11/2012
Mr Akhalaia protested his innocence as he arrived at the prosecutor’s office

Police in Georgia have arrested a former senior member of the government that was voted out of power in October.

Bacho Akhalaia, the former interior and defence minister, and a close ally of President Mikheil Saakashvili, is being investigated for abuse of power.

Two others were also held, including the military chief of staff.

Mr Akhalaia denied the allegations. Members of his party said the arrests were the start of a witch-hunt by the newly elected government.

Mr Akhalaia is accused of physically and verbally abusing six soldiers when he was defence minister in October 2011, said Georgia’s Chief Prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili.

The military chief of staff, Georgy Kalandadze, and another senior army officer, Zurab Shamatava, have also been arrested.

They have not yet been charged but face up to eight years in jail if convicted, the chief prosecutor said.

‘Absurd detention’

Mr Akhalaia’s critics have long accused him of a heavy-handed approach to fighting crime, says the BBC’s Damien McGuinness in Tbilisi.

He was forced to resign over a prison abuse scandal which erupted shortly before the election in October.

That scandal was widely considered to have contributed to the government’s defeat, and victory for the billionaire tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is now prime minister, and is a bitter rival to President Saakashvili.

The new government has vowed to hold its predecessors responsible for their alleged authoritarianism.

Mr Akhalaia’s lawyer, David Dekanoidze, said: “I’ve never ever heard such an absurd reason for detention… that during his work as a defence minister he allegedly insulted several officers in the presence of others.”

“It’s nothing but political persecution,” said Nugzar Tsiklauri, a member of parliament from Mr Saakashvili’s opposition party.

But Prime Minister Ivanishvili said: “This arrest was not political.”

He added: “I will do my utmost to ensure that the law, not some political party or force, reigns supreme in this country.”

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Move to block Lithuania coalition

Lithuania's Social Democrat party leader Algirdas Butkevicius, left, Order and Justice party leader Rolandas Paksas, centre, and Viktor Uspaskich, right, leader of the Labour Party
Image caption The three party leaders, Butkevicius, Paksas and Uspaskich (l-r) had already shaken on their coalition

Lithuania’s president has threatened to block the new coalition being formed by three parties after a general election.

President Dalia Grybauskaite said she could not accept a government that included the Labour party, which came third in Sunday’s poll but faces allegations of vote buying.

Labour was in advanced coalition talks with the first-placed Social Democrats, and the smaller Order and Justice.

The ruling conservatives looked certain to be ousted until the president spoke.

The president is normally expected to abide by the decisions of parliament, and an implicit threat to veto a coalition is unprecedented since Lithuania gained independence two decades ago, correspondents say.

“A party which is suspected of gross violations in the election, which is suspected of false accounting and non-transparent activities cannot participate in the government’s formation,” Ms Grybauskaite told a news conference.

She said police were investigating 18 counts of vote buying, with the Labour party allegedly involved in most of them.

After the two-round election, which was completed on Sunday, Labour won 29 seats, up from 10 last time.

The Labour leader, Viktor Uspaskich is also on trial for alleged tax fraud by his party, which he denies.

“The principle of the presumption of innocence must be kept to. The will of the people must not be spat upon,” he said.

Deep recession

Image caption Dalia Grybauskaite said Labour was facing numerous allegations

Mr Uspaskich had already reached agreement with the Social Democrats, which won the election with 40 seats and whose leader Algirdas Butkevicius was expected to become prime minister.

Mr Butkevicius said he was not now sure whether the Labour party would be part of his government or not.

Ms Grybauskaite said she would probably still name Mr Butkevicius as prime minister.

That opened the possibility that the conservative Homeland Union party, which came second with 32 seats, would be able to stay in government.

A coalition would need 71 seats for a majority in the 141-seat parliament.

Homeland Union had been thought to be on the way out, after introducing a drastic austerity programme which staved off national bankruptcy but saw economic output drop by 15%.

The opposition parties have promised to ease austerity and delay Lithuania’s adoption of the euro.

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Opposition set for Lithuania win

Social Democrat party leader Algirdas Butkevicius celebrates in Vilnius , Lithuania, 28 October 2012
Image caption Initial results looked set to secure Social Democrat leader Algirdas Butkevicius as PM

An opposition coalition is set to win Lithuania’s election, with budget cuts and joining the euro the key issues.

With three-quarters of votes cast on Sunday counted, PM Andrius Kubilius’s government looked set to be ousted.

The Labour Party and the Social Democrats started talks with the right-wing populist Order and Justice movement after a first round of voting on 14 October.

The three groups were on course to win 78 of 141 seats in parliament.

Incomplete results on Sunday evening gave the Social Democrats 38 seats, Labour 29 and Order and Justice 11.

Mr Kubilius’s Homeland Union conservatives were on course to finish as the second biggest party, with 32 seats, according to unofficial results.

Voter turnout was said to be around 35%.

Labour’s leader, Russian-born millionaire Viktor Uspaskich, said the figures meant Social Democrat leader Algirdas Butkevicius was “certain” to become the Baltic state’s next leader.

Mr Butkevicius has promised to raise the minimum wage, make the rich pay more tax and put back euro entry until 2015, a year later than the government hopes.

Nuclear affordability

Lithuania’s 3.3 million inhabitants face an unemployment rate of 13% and declining living standards, as well as high energy costs since the country closed its Soviet-era nuclear power plant in 2009.

They voted against government plans to build a new nuclear power station – seen as a way of cutting dependence on imported Russian energy – in a referendum held at the same time as the first round of elections, which were for half of parliament’s seats.

Opposition parties had questioned the plant’s affordability. They have promised to improve the ex-Soviet state’s strained relations with Russia, still Lithuania’s biggest trade partner.

But analysts say there will be little room for fiscal manoeuvre. Among the EU’s poorest countries, the Baltic state needs to borrow 7% of its GDP – some 7.6bn litas (£1.75bn) – next year to refinance debt and fund the deficit.

Mr Kubilius came to power in 2008, just as the global financial crisis was bringing a dramatic end to an extended Lithuanian boom fuelled by cheap Scandinavian credit.

He staved off national bankruptcy with a drastic austerity programme as economic output dropped by 15%, unemployment climbed and thousands of young people emigrated in search of work.

The budget deficit has since been tamed and GDP reached growth of 5.8%.

Lithuania’s approach won praise from other governments and the International Monetary Fund, but analysts say the rebound came too late to translate into a political revival for the conservatives.

Delaying euro entry means the country could run a bigger deficit than euro accession rules permit.

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Tycoon confirmed as Georgian PM

Bidzina Ivanishvili in the Georgian parliament in Kutaisi, 25 October
Bidzina Ivanishvili was approved along with his cabinet

Georgian tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili has been confirmed as his country’s new prime minister, three weeks after his bloc’s shock election victory.

Parliament, meeting in the city of Kutaisi, ratified his appointment by 88 votes in favour to 54 against.

He told MPs the new government would “develop democratic institutions and establish the rule of law”.

His victory was a blow to Georgia’s pro-Western President, Mikheil Saakashvili, in power since 2004.

The new prime minister, who made his fortune in Russia, is seen as someone who might mend ties with Moscow.

Georgia severed diplomatic relations with Russia in August 2008, after losing a brief but disastrous war over its breakaway territory of South Ossetia.

‘Fundamental changes’

On 1 October, the Georgian Dream coalition won 85 seats to 65 for Mr Saakashvili’s United National Movement.

Addressing parliament on Thursday, Mr Ivanishvili said his bloc’s win had been a vote by the Georgian people for “fundamental changes”.

He insisted Georgia’s foreign policy would continue to be oriented towards integration with Nato and the EU.

Mr Ivanishvili will have to work together with Mr Saakashvili for the first year of the new government, after which the president is due to step down to allow a successor to be elected.

His cabinet of 19 ministers was also approved by parliament on Thursday. These include:

  • Nodar Khaduri as finance minister
  • Giorgi Kvirikashvili as economy minister
  • Former ambassador to Germany and the Netherlands Maia Panjikidze as foreign minister
  • Former ambassador to the UN Irakli Alasania as defence minister
  • Former AC Milan football star Kakha Kaladze as energy minister

In another development, Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged continuing support for South Ossetia when he received its President, Leonid Tibilov, at his country residence near Moscow.

Russia is one of the few states to recognise South Ossetia, where some 80% of residents are believed to hold Russian citizenship, as an independent state.

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Dissident threat to GB downgraded


The threat level from dissident republicans to Great Britain has been downgraded from “substantial” to “moderate”, the Home Office has said.

The decrease shows the authorities regard an attack on London and other British cities from such groups as possible, but not likely.

Previously it was deemed a strong possibility.

The threat level in Northern Ireland has not changed. It remains “severe” with an attack still highly likely.

Home Secretary Theresa May said that the threat level to the UK from international terrorism remains at substantial, “which means that an attack is a strong possibility”. The highest threat level is critical, two steps above the current warning.

“The threat level to Northern Ireland from Northern Ireland-related terrorism remains at severe, meaning that an attack is highly likely. Neither of these two levels has changed,” she said.

“Despite the change which has been made today, there remains a real and serious threat against the United Kingdom from terrorism and I would ask the public to remain vigilant and to report any suspicious activity to the police.”

In July, three different republican groups came together to try to form a “new IRA” – the Londonderry-based vigilante group Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD), the Real IRA and a group of unaligned dissidents, most of whom are seasoned ex-members of the Provisional IRA.

Between them, the various dissident groups are believed to have, at most, 700 members. They use violence in their opposition to British involvement in Northern Ireland.

Since March 2009, they have killed two soldiers and two police officers and carried out a number of other attacks on the security forces.

So far this year dissident republicans have been behind 19 attacks.

Earlier this month, a horizontal mortar was discovered in north Belfast.

It is understood the device included the military explosive Semtex, and would have been capable of piercing the armour of a police vehicle.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said it was vital to “bear down on terrorism”.

“In both Great Britain and Northern Ireland the government is focused on defeating terrorism and will use all means at our disposal to do that,” she said.

The decision to lower the threat level was made by MI5, the Security Service.

On its website MI5 said: “The threat level for Northern Ireland-related terrorism is separate from that for international terrorism. It is also set separately for Northern Ireland and Great Britain.”

It is understood that the decision was made after considering the balance between the aspiration of terror groups in Northern Ireland to mount an attack in Great Britain with their intent to do so.

Image caption MI5 map of British Isles indicating terror threat
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