The Commonwealth Update

An authoritative, nation-by-nation review of events across the Commonwealth, with an update now published six times a year in an issue of The Round Table.

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From 2008, the review is being written by Oren Gruenbaum, the Commonwealth Update editor, and currently Senior Sub-Editor at The Guardian in the UK

In 2007, the review was written by Judith Soal, a journalist who has worked extensively in South Africa and is currently deputy night editor at The Guardian in the UK.

Until 2007 the review was written by Derek Ingram, who was the Founding Editor of Gemini News Service until 1993, and is the author of a number of books about the Commonwealth and is active in the CJA, CPU, CHRI and the RCS, as well as a member of the Moot.

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Commonwealth Update - Issue 419

Oren Gruenbaum

There were clashes between protesters and the police after Mohamed Nasheed was replaced as president of the Maldives by his deputy, Mohammed Waheed Hassan, in what Nasheed said was a coup. A film aimed at raising awareness of the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony, leader of the notorious Lord's Resistance Army militia in Uganda, became an internet phenomenon, being seen by close to 100 million people in a month, but also drew fierce criticism. The Boko Haram Islamist uprising in Nigeria claimed hundreds more lives with the rebels rejecting offers to negotiate. Australia's prime minister, Julia Gillard, defeated a challenge to her leadership by her foreign minister, Kevin Rudd. Fears grew for the nascent democracy in Malawi as a prominent human rights lawyer and critic of President Bingu wa Mutharika was jailed. The king of Tonga, who introduced democracy to the south Pacific nation, died.


Police used tear gas against opposition demonstrators trying to disrupt the opening of parliament by the new president, Mohammed Waheed Hassan. Hundreds of protesters blocked roads and shouted slogans calling for the resignation of Waheed, who took office in February after what his predecessor, Mohamed Nasheed, claimed was a coup. Waheed, Nasheed's former deputy, was eventually sworn in but only after 40 protesters and eight policemen were injured. Amnesty International accused Maldivian police of torturing and sexually harassing women detained during anti-government protests. The London-based rights group urged the authorities to pursue criminal charges after women reported being beaten and forced to strip naked.

India sent its foreign minister, Ranjan Mathai, to the Maldives in an effort to defuse the growing crisis, which began in February when Nasheed resigned on national TV following weeks of conflict over his order to arrest the chief judge of the criminal court, Abdulla Mohamed. At the time, the former interior minister, Hassan Afeef, accused the judge of "deliberately" holding up cases involving opposition figures, barring media from corruption trials, ordering the release of suspects detained for serious crimes "without a single hearing", and maintaining "suspicious ties" with family members of convicts sentenced for dangerous crimes. Waheed, then vice-president, opposed the move against the judge.

Nasheed said he was forced to resign at gunpoint and his Maldivian Democratic Party said the ousting of the country's first democratically elected president was a coup and demanded early presidential elections be announced before it would talk to the new administration. The UN assistant secretary-general, Oscar Fernández-Taranco, met both leaders and urged them to form a government of national unity. Meanwhile, Nasheed said he was bitterly disappointed by a US decision to recognise the new government just days after the transfer of power. The new president's brother, Naushad Waheed, who is based in London, told the BBC that he had withdrawn support for his brother in protest over his "immoral and illegal seizure of power".

Rahul Gandhi, heir apparent of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, accepted responsibility for the ruling Congress party's string of defeats in state elections. It won only the small state of Manipur and lost four, including Punjab and Goa. Meanwhile, Mayawati, known as the Dalit ("untouchable") queen as leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party, suffered a humiliating defeat in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, after a series of corruption scandals. Congress came fourth. The state elections are seen as a test of public opinion ahead of a general election, expected in 2014.

The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was widely derided for blaming delays in the development of the country's civilian nuclear power programme on a conspiracy of US and Scandinavian non-governmental organisations. Critics noted that delays to commissioning nuclear power stations had largely been due to local opposition.

India is now the world's biggest arms importer, accounting for 10% of the global total, research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found. Two other Commonwealth countries were major importers: Pakistan was third with China on 5%, followed by Singapore on 4%.

India was officially removed from the list of polio endemic countries. The country needs to go another two years without an outbreak before the World Health Organisation formally declares it polio-free but there were reports only weeks later of a case in West Bengal. Only Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are now classified as polio endemic, with the virus circulating freely.

Nearly 700 rebels laid down their arms in a formal ceremony at a stadium in India's north-eastern state of Assam. The rebels belong to nine separatist groups (out of nearly two dozen) that have agreed to a ceasefire. They received roses from India's home minister in exchange for their guns. A bomb hit an Israeli diplomatic vehicle in Delhi, injuring four people. Israel accused Iran of being behind the attack, which it denied.

The supreme court annulled 122 mobile telephony licences issued in 2008 under a former telecoms minister, Andimuthu Raja, who is in prison and on trial for corruption. India's economy grew by 6.1% in the last quarter of 2011. It was the slowest rate of growth in three years and put more pressure on the central bank to reduce interest rates, after more than a dozen rate rises over the past two years. Starbucks said it would open its first outlets in India in a joint venture with the giant conglomerate Tata, the Economist reported. Meanwhile, in other signs of the country's complicated opening up to the global economy, India's patent office invoked rarely-used WTO rules allowing compulsory licensing and ordered the German pharmaceutical company Bayer to license a cheaper version of an anti-cancer treatment to an Indian generic-drugs company, which will sell its version at a 97% discount to Bayer's and hand over a share of revenues as royalties. And there was confusion over India's second ban on cotton exports in two years when officials appeared to reverse the decision, imposed to increase domestic supplies to textile companies battling high cotton prices.

Malaysia deported Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year-old journalist, back to Saudi Arabia, despite having no extradition agreement. Kashgari was detained in Kuala Lumpur for posting a tweet containing what was perceived to be an insult to the prophet Muhammad. He is expected to be charged with blasphemy, which carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.

Thousands protested outside a refinery for rare-earth elements being built by the Australian firm Lynas over fears of radioactive contamination from the ore.

Asad Durrani, a former head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) military spy agency, admitted to the supreme court that he spent millions of dollars to influence an election and help defeat the Pakistan People's Party government of Benazir Bhutto in 1990. The admission came during a supreme court hearing that marked a display of power by the judiciary. A humiliated Durrani said that he had been ordered by the then army chief Mirza Aslam Beg to distribute millions of dollars to politicians and parties. Nawaz Sharif, a conservative rival to Bhutto, went on to win the election.

Yousaf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, appealed against a charge of contempt brought by the supreme court, in a case that could plunge the country into a political crisis. Gilani, who could be stripped of office and imprisoned if convicted, is accused of failing to reopen a corruption investigation against the president, Asif Ali Zardari. Gilani claimed Zardari enjoyed executive immunity.

Rehman Malik, the interior minister, said the government was seeking the arrest of former president Pervez Musharraf because he allegedly failed to provide adequate security for the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in a gun and suicide bomb attack in 2007.

The ISI was continuing to help the Taliban and was plotting to help reinstall them once Nato-led forces depart Afghanistan, according to a leaked Nato report. Based on interviews with 4,000 captured Taliban fighters, the document said the ISI knew where senior Taliban leaders were hiding. The government dismissed the report. Meanwhile, Lieut-Gen Zaheerul Islam was appointed as the ISI's new chief. A parliamentary commission set up to examine US-Pakistani relations called on Washington to end all drone strikes in the country and apologise for the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.

The Electronic Media Regulatory Authority drew up rules to restrict or ban TV programmes deemed against the national interest. The regulations were denounced as censorship by journalists, who said it was aimed at curbing coverage of the suppression of a secession movement in Baluchistan, where security forces are accused of extrajudicial killings of separatists.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in its annual report that at least 943 women were killed in "honour killings" in 2011. The HRCP said the probably under-reported number of women murdered for supposedly damaging their family name had increased by more than 100 in a year. Meanwhile, hijras (eunuchs) celebrated winning constitutional rights through the supreme court including registering as transgender for ID cards and affirmative action in public-service jobs.

Fighting between soldiers and militants over a strategic peak in the north-western Kurram tribal area killed more than 60 people. At least 10 people were killed in separate attacks in Karachi. They included two granddaughters of Akbar Bugti, a nationalist leader in Baluchistan, whose death in a military operation in 2006 sparked the current insurgency in the province. A suicide bomber killed 14 people and wounded 30 at a funeral in Peshawar. The bomber was targeting a local anti-Taliban politician, Khushdil Khan, who escaped unhurt. Also in Peshawar, gunmen attacked a police station, killing at least four officers. At least five people were killed in a suicide bomb in Khyber district. The government banned the largest Islamic extremist group, Ahle Sunnah Wal Jamaat, formerly known as Sipah-e-Sahaba. It has been blamed for killing hundreds of Shia Muslims.

Sri Lanka
State-controlled media condemned journalists as "traitors ... betraying the motherland" for voicing their concerns to the UN Human Rights Council, which called for an investigation into alleged abuses during its war against Tamil separatists, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists reported. An Amnesty International report, meanwhile, said human rights violations remained routine almost three years since the war ended. It said hundreds of people were detained without trial, held incommunicado and tortured. The British broadcaster Channel 4 alleged in a television documentary that at the end of the war, Balachandran Prabhakaran, 12-year-old son of the Tamil Tiger rebel leader Prabhakaran, was executed at close range. The Department of Census and Statistics released a report putting the death toll in the north of the country during the last stage of the war in 2009 at 9,000, the BBC reported. A UN report put the figure at up to 40,000.

Up to 100,000 opposition supporters marched in Dhaka calling for the government to step down and hold new elections in the biggest protest since the Bangladesh Nationalist Party was defeated in elections in 2008.

Hong Kong (Left Commonwealth, 1997)
CY Leung, 57, was declared Hong Kong's new chief executive after an unusually turbulent campaign. Beijing switched its support to Leung after its initial candidate, Henry Tang, became engulfed in scandal. Albert Ho, who backed direct elections by Kong Kong citizens, came a distant third.

The Hong Kong government won an appeal against a ruling that could have allowed more than 100,000 foreign domestic staff to seek residency in the city. The case became a highly contested issue with thousands marching to protest against the strain granting residency to maids could place on public services and the job market, while supporters of the maids-some of whom have lived in Hong Kong for 20 years-said it legalised discrimination against migrant workers.

Maids finally won the right to a guaranteed day off once a week. Tan Chuan-Jin, manpower minister, said it would give the 206,000 domestic workers a "much-needed emotional and mental break from their employers".

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The African Union announced it would form a 5,000-strong force from central African countries to hunt down the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The brigade, to "stop Kony with military hardware", will be led by Uganda, with troops from the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo-countries where the rebels have been active. Originally based in Uganda, the LRA has killed and mutilated tens of thousands of people over the past two decades and is notorious for kidnapping children to use as soldiers and sex slaves. Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The announcement followed the extraordinary success of a US video about the child soldiers, which generated nearly 100 million viewings during March after it went viral on YouTube. Kony2012, made by film-makers from the US campaign group Invisible Children, was praised for raising awareness of the murder, rape and mutilation practised by the LRA but the BBC noted that "critics have questioned the methods of the non-profit group, accusing it of spending most of its raised funds on salaries, travel expenses and film-making". Analysts criticised Kony2012 for its "content, tactics, strategy, ethics and politics". Public screenings in Lira, northern Uganda, had to be abandoned after viewers, many of whom were victims of the LRA, became outraged and threw stones. The African Youth Initiative Network, which organised the screenings, said locals asked: "How come it's dominated by non-Ugandans? This is an insult ... they were saying whoever did this movie was celebrating their suffering."

Uganda's main opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, was arrested after the death of a policeman during clashes in Kampala. Sixteen other people, including the city's mayor, were also arrested. Besigye was later charged with "unlawful assembly" and is now under house arrest.

Two cabinet ministers resigned after a parliamentary inquiry found they had illegally paid out $60m to a city businessman. The ministers said it had been sanctioned by President Yoweri Museveni, which he denied. Syda Bumba, who was finance minister at the time, and Khiddu Makubuya, former attorney-general, join four other ministers forced to quit after an anti-corruption purge.

Notorious homophobic legislation that proposes life in prison for homosexual acts and was shelved following an international outcry is now back before parliament, although the MP behind it, David Bahati, said a clause proposing the death penalty will be dropped. The return of the anti-homosexuality bill is widely regarded as an attempt to distract attention from high-level corruption scandals and street protests against Museveni. Many gay and lesbian Ugandans are reported to be leaving the country ahead of the law being introduced.

At least 186 people died in multiple bomb attacks over a single day in the northern city of Kano. The attacks were blamed on the Islamist militants Boko Haram, who have been responsible for the deaths of nearly 1,000 people since an uprising in 2009. Police arrested scores of suspects and found many unexploded bombs. Suspected Boko Haram gunmen killed a top customs official, Adamu Ahmadu, in Yobe state. At least 11 people died in Jos after a car bomb exploded outside a Catholic church, and several soldiers were believed to be killed in a series of blasts-including a suicide bomb-in Kaduna. A primary school was set alight in Maiduguri.

Kidnappers killed two hostages, an Italian and a Briton, held in the northern city of Sokoto during an attempted rescue mission. A previously unknown group, al-Qaida in the Land Beyond the Sahel, claimed responsibility. Police described it as a splinter group of Boko Haram but the rebels denied any involvement and analysts said it was more likely a local group seeking ransom payments. Police said the group's leader, Abu Mohammed, died in custody from gunshot wounds. Meanwhile, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a raid freeing 119 prisoners from the Koton-Karifi federal prison near the capital, Abuja. One guard was killed.

In Boko Haram's first interview with a western newspaper, the group rejected peace talks with Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan, and said it would only end its campaign of violence when the country was under sharia law. Police later said they had arrested the spokesman, known by his nom de guerre Abu Qaqa, in Maiduguri.

James Ibori, former governor of the oil-producing Delta state, pleaded guilty in a UK court to money-laundering and conspiracy to defraud. British police accused him of stealing $250m over eight years. His wife, sister, mistress and London solicitor were also convicted of money-laundering. He had two previous UK convictions for theft and fraud. Meanwhile, the supreme court ordered five state governors to step down immediately. The five had all won re-run elections a year after their initial victories in 2007 were annulled because of irregularities.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria's finance minister, was nominated by South Africa, Angola and Nigeria to succeed Robert Zoellick as head of the president of the World Bank. She was at the World Bank for 21 years, rising to managing director before joining the Nigerian government. She has an economics doctorate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a degree from Harvard.

Mend, a militant group from the Delta region that signed an amnesty in 2009, destroyed an oil pipeline in their first attack in more than a year. The Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta said the attack was a reminder of their presence in the area.

Ralph Kasambara, a human rights lawyer, former attorney-general and fierce critic of President Bingu wa Mutharika, was jailed after calling on Mutharika to resign. Kasambara claims that "thugs" were hired by the government to attack him and petrol bomb his office but his supporters intervened and held three of the men. Police, however, arrested Kasambara and five supporters, accusing them of kidnapping and torture.

Meanwhile, Mutharika told foreign donors to "go to hell", accusing them of plotting to overthrow his government. The president said he was "tired of being insulted" and urged the youth wing of his ruling Democratic Progressive Party to "do everything possible to rise up and make sure demonstrations are thwarted". Malawi's Council for Non-Governmental Organisations denied any demonstrations were planned and condemned Mutharika for inciting supporters. Last year 19 people were shot dead by police at protests.

Hundreds of people protested in Blantyre over attacks on women for wearing trousers. Street traders beat and stripped women on the streets of the capital, Lilongwe, and Blantyre for not wearing traditional dress.

South Africa
Julius Malema, former firebrand leader of the ruling ANC's Youth League, lost his appeal against being thrown out of the party he was once tipped to lead. Clashes broke out between Malema's supporters and opponents at the news in his home town of Polokwane. He had been suspended in November but the party increased this to expulsion, calling him a "repeat offender". He was found guilty of disrupting a national ANC meeting and bringing the party into disrepute by calling for regime change in democratic Botswana. He also called for the South African and ANC president, Jacob Zuma, to be replaced. The expulsion means Zuma, who became president in 2009, is now almost assured of another term. The ANC deputy president, Kgalema Motlanthe, ruled out the nationalisation of mines, one controversial but popular cause espoused by Malema.

Malema subsequently came under investigation for corruption and tender fraud. Lesiba Gwangwa, Malema's business partner, and senior Limpopo official James Masete were due to be charged with fraud, corruption and money laundering, City Press reported, with similar charges looming over Malema.

The world's largest carmaker, General Motors, settled a class-action lawsuit brought by victims of apartheid-era security services against US firms accused of complicity in human rights abuses.

Nelson Mandela, 93, was discharged from hospital after undergoing abdominal surgery.

Four men were sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment for stabbing and stoning to death a lesbian in 2006. The court ruled that the men killed Zoliswa Nkonyana because she lived openly as a lesbian. Gay activists hailed the ruling as the first recognition by a court that such attacks were hate crimes. More than 30 lesbians have been killed in the past decade because of their sexuality and so-called "corrective" rape is also increasing. Meanwhile, hundreds marched in Johannesburg to protest at assaults on two women at a taxi rank for wearing mini-skirts. Several cabinet ministers and the governor of Gauteng province took part in the demonstration.

Two presidential hopefuls will face trial accused of orchestrating violence that left at least 1,133 people dead after the 2007 elections, the International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled. Uhuru Kenyatta, deputy prime minister, is alleged to have directed a militia to murder and rape after the disputed polls. The son of Kenya's founding president is the country's richest citizen with a fortune of $500m. The former higher education minister William Ruto, another prospective presidential candidate, plus the head of the civil service, Francis Muthaura, and a radio presenter, Joshua arap Sang, will also face trial. All deny the charges.

President Mwai Kibaki announced the country's first discovery of oil. It was found in the remote north-western Turkana region where the Anglo-Irish firm Tullow Oil is now checking on the commercial viability of the find. Kiraitu Murungi, energy minister, said, referring to other countries mired in poverty despite oil finds: "We will make sure that the oil in Kenya is a blessing for the people of Kenya and not a curse."

A grenade attack at a bus station in central Nairobi killed six people and wounded 69. The internal security minister, George Saitoti, said sympathisers with Somalia's al-Shabaab Islamist militia were suspected to be behind the attack.

IPaidaBribe, based on a similar website in India that invites people who have faced demands for money from public officials to name and shame their extortionists, was launched. The government fired 25,000 health workers striking over pay and benefits. Unions had agreed to return to work but the deal was rejected by nurses and health workers.

The Gambia
A former information minister, Amadou Scatred Janneh, was sentenced to life in prison for plotting to overthrow President Yahya Jammeh and distributing seditious T-shirts. Three others were sentenced to six years with hard labour.

Poachers from Chad and Sudan killed more than 200 elephants-about half of the total population-in a six-week massacre at the Bouba Ndjida national park. The bodies of infant elephants too young to even have tusks were also found. Two soldiers were killed. The WWF conservation group criticised the Cameroon government for devoting too few troops to fighting the poachers.

Three women were charged with practising homosexuality, in what is believed to be the first such case in Cameroon. Homosexual acts are punishable by up to five years in prison. Last year three men were convicted on such charges.

Pakalitha Mosisili, the prime minister, resigned from his own political party after leading it for 15 years. He joined a new movement, the Democratic Congress, which has a slim parliamentary majority as 45 MPs went with him. "For the past two years I have tried every effort to save the LCD [Lesotho Congress for Democracy] from falling apart, but all in vain," Mosisili said.

A bodyguard of the former Renamo rebel leader, Afonso Dhlakama, and a policeman were killed during a raid on a camp of opposition supporters in Nampula, police said. Renamo said they killed seven people after coming under attack but police said they were attacked first. It is the first armed clash with the former rebels since the civil war ended in 1992. Police said guns were seized. About 300 Renamo members were living for some weeks in makeshift shelters outside their party headquarters.

Rwanda (Joined November 2009)
The court trying Rwandan genocide suspects appealed for countries to give refuge for those acquitted. The UN tribunal said five of the 10 people cleared of involvement in the 1994 killings believe they cannot return to Rwanda. The men, who are all Hutus and include a former brigadier-general, ex-ministers and a businessman, remain in the Tanzanian town of Arusha, where the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is based, guarded by police.

Four top military officers have been suspended and put under house arrest over alleged business dealings in the mineral-rich Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Meanwhile, 22 people were convicted of grenade attacks around Rwanda since 2008, including former soldiers accused of having links with FDLR Rwandan rebels in the DRC.

Zimbabwe (Left Commonwealth, 2003)
President Robert Mugabe, 88, said there would definitely be elections this year and said politicians who insisted polls could only happen after constitutional reforms were "cowards". However, Morgan Tsvangirai, prime minister and leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (formerly the opposition party but now part of the government of national unity), said conditions were not yet in place for fair and free elections.

Six activists are to appeal against what they called "silly" convictions for inciting public violence by discussing the Arab spring. They were each fined $500 and given 420 hours' community service instead of custodial sentences. They were among 45 people arrested in 2011 at a public lecture showing footage of mass protests in Egypt. Charges of treason that carried the death penalty were dropped.

The family of the former military chief Solomon Mujuru said they wanted to exhume his body after saying the official inquiry into his death in a mysterious fire had achieved nothing. After hearing from 38 witnesses, the inquest said it had no evidence about how the fire started, their lawyer said. Mujuru was a highly influential figure after leading Zanu-PF's forces during the war of independence and then heading the army. The BBC said he was the only person to have had the authority to challenge Mugabe during party meetings and, at the time of his death, was believed to have been pushing for leadership renewal within the party.

The government could "close" without projected diamond revenues, the finance minister, Tendai Biti, warned. "Diamonds will have to deliver-otherwise the only thing we have to do will be to pay wages and government will have to close," he said. The finance minister said 70% of government revenue was spent on wages but the mines ministry had informed him that no diamond auctions had been held this year.

The European Union said it was lifting sanctions against 20 entities and 51 officials - including the justice and foreign ministers - but restrictions on Mugabe would continue. The EU lifted 35 sanctions last year, noting "significant progress" in addressing the economic crisis. However, the US-based group Human Rights Watch urged the EU not to lift sanctions, saying arrests of anti-government activists were continuing and lifting sanctions sent the wrong message.

The justice minister, Mgwagwa Gamedze, said the government was finalising a law that would ban Facebook and Twitter users from criticising the autocratic King Mswati III. Weeks before, Musa Ndlangamandla, the sacked editor of the Swazi Observer, reportedly fled the country fearing for his life. Under his 12-year editorship, many controversial stories about the king were censored but Ndlangamandla recently gave space in the paper to several pro-democracy advocates, writing: "I knew that this would get me in trouble with the king, the PM and other powerfuls. But we had to do it because that was the right thing to do."

The British arms and aerospace manufacturer BAE Systems agreed to pay nearly $50m towards educational projects in Tanzania as part of an agreement with the UK's Serious Fraud Office following a corruption case surrounding BAE's $40m deal to sell radar to Tanzania in 2002.

The former ruling party, the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD), was stripped of its legal status for not paying $75,000 in statutory fees for 20 years. The MMD, which is the main opposition party, claimed it owed nothing and would appeal against what it called "an assault on democracy". If the decision is upheld, the MMD will lose its 53 parliamentary seats. Meanwhile, police issued an international arrest warrant for Henry Banda, son of former MMD president Rupiah Banda, after he failed to come forward for questioning over "allegations of corruption".

The World Bank fined two subsidiaries of Alstom, a French engineering company, for allegedly offering bribes to secure a contract in Zambia, and barred the subsidiaries from future projects.

Zambians celebrated their national football team's victory on penalties against Ivory Coast to win the Africa Cup of Nations.

Sierra Leone
The first online mining database in the region was launched to increase transparency and accountability in the natural resource sector. The system will have all revenue data for the country's extractive industry-payments for licences, royalties and to local chiefs-recorded and made public. It also shows whether mining companies are operating legally. Meanwhile, oil was found off the coast of Sierra Leone, African Petroleum and Anadarko announced.

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United Kingdom
A contentious bill that will bring in the biggest reorganisation of Britain's National Health Service since its founding in 1948 survived its final vote in parliament. More than 1,000 amendments have been added to the bill amid widespread criticism that it promotes private-sector competition over patient care. The opposition Labour Party promised to repeal it.

The most senior cleric in the Church of England, Rowan Williams, announced he was stepping down after 10 years as the Archbishop of Canterbury. His term of office was marked by a widening global schism within the 77-million-strong Anglican church between the liberal wing that supports the ordination of women, gay clergy and marriage, and conservative and evangelical elements.

The chancellor, George Osborne, presented his budget to parliament and controversially, amid squeezed public finances, cut taxes for the richest individuals and reduced corporation tax. Britain's economy shrank in the final quarter of 2011, while total public-sector debt rose above $1.6tn for the first time. More than 270,000 public-sector jobs, or 7% of the total, were lost in Britain as the government pushed through its stringent austerity measures. Unemployment reached its highest level in seven years, rising to 2.7 million. The Guardian reported that the rate of unemployment for young black men had risen at twice the rate of white 16 to 24-year-olds, with 56% out of work by late 2011. Meanwhile, several large employers quit a government work experience scheme after it emerged that jobseekers had been forced to clean private homes and offices without pay.

James Murdoch resigned as chairman of the scandal-hit News International newspapers amid allegations of his complicity in a cover-up of illegal phone-hacking by the world's most powerful media group. In another development, Sue Akers, a senior London police officer, told the Leveson inquiry into the press that the leading Murdoch tabloid, the Sun, had created a "culture of illegal payments" and a "network of corrupted officials". Akers said one person received $130,000. Last year Rupert Murdoch shut down the Sun's sister paper, the News of the World, amid a furore over phone-hacking. Meanwhile, a judge said Murdoch's newspaper group had made "an admission of sorts" over phone-hacking as it paid millions to settle claims from 37 public figures, including the actor Jude Law and the former deputy prime minister John Prescott.

The torture and murder in London of Eric Bikubi, a Congolese boy accused of being a "witch" by his sister and her boyfriend, highlighted what police called the hidden crime of African children in Britain abused and killed by relatives accusing them of "possession" by "evil spirits".

Jersey, a centre of offshore banking, was urged to close a legal loophole that lets "vulture funds" use island courts to claim millions of pounds from the world's poorest countries. Legislation has been proposed to stop the US firm FG Hemisphere using the British dependency to pursue Democratic Republic of the Congo for $100m as repayment for a $3m debt.

Chris Huhne resigned as energy minister after prosecutors said they would charge him with perverting the course of justice over a speeding incident. Huhne, a Liberal Democrat, was a constant critic of Conservative policies at the coalition government's cabinet meetings. David Cameron, the prime minister, said he had "made the right decision" to resign.

The largely state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland, which was bailed out by British taxpayers in 2008, announced a loss of $1.2bn for 2011, almost double that of 2010. Meanwhile, the government stripped Fred "the Shred" Goodwin, RBS's former boss, of his knighthood.

The trial of an anti-racism activist, Doros Polycarpou, founder of the non-governmental organisation Kisa, on charges of "rioting and organising an illegal assembly" focused attention on the rise of far-right groups in Cyprus. The case stemmed from an incident in which ultra-nationalists were able to attack a multicultural music festival in Larnaca in 2010. Critics said the trial revealed the authorities' unwillingness to tackle, or even sympathy for, neo-Nazis on the island amid an influx of foreign workers into Cyprus and said they "may be using the judicial process to shut down protest".

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The prime minister, Julia Gillard, appointed a new cabinet after strongly defeating a challenge for the Labor Party leadership from her predecessor as prime minister, Kevin Rudd. However, opinion polls suggested Rudd, who dramatically resigned as foreign minister in the US before flying back to mount his challenge, was twice as popular as Gillard. She replaced Rudd as foreign minister with Bob Carr, a former New South Wales premier.

Stephen Conroy, communications minister, said allegations that the News Corporation-owned software company NDS engaged in a "dirty tricks" campaign to undermine its rivals were serious and should be referred to the police. A four-year investigation by the Australian Financial Review claimed that a secret unit within Rupert Murdoch's News Corp promoted a wave of hi-tech piracy and corporate dirty tricks in Australia run by a secretive group of former policemen and intelligence officers that damaged Austar, Optus and Foxtel and helped News Corp take over the Australian pay-TV industry.

The government passed a mining tax on companies that operate in the country. Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth halted dredging in Gladstone harbour as protests grew over plans to expand the Queensland port to accommodate booming coal and gas exports. The protests came as Unesco environmental experts carried out a 10-day assessment of the Great Barrier Reef amid allegations of industry poisoning water and dead fish being found. Depending on the UN findings, the reef may be classified as a World Heritage Site in Danger. Meanwhile, the conservation group WWF said the government's lifting of three-month moratorium on the pesticide diuron could spell disaster for the reef. The government is pushing through a bill that will create Australia's first nuclear waste dump, despite fierce opposition from environmental and Aboriginal groups. The highly controversial plan involves moving nuclear waste from the medical and mining industries currently stored in more than 100 "temporary" sites in universities, hospitals, offices and laboratories to Muckaty Station, a remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory. A Green senator, Scott Ludlam, said: "The site is in an earthquake zone, it floods regularly, there are very long transport corridors, there are no jobs being applied and it's opposed from people on the ground."

Julian Assange, founder of the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, said he planned to run for a seat in the senate in 2013 despite being under virtual house arrest in the UK and facing sex crime allegations in Sweden.

The king of Tonga, George Tupou V, died aged 63. He was credited with introducing democracy after riots broke out following his ascension to the throne in 2006. He was succeeded by his brother, Crown Prince Tupouto'a Lavaka, who took the name Tupou VI. Thousands of mourners lined the streets as 150 pallbearers in grass skirts bore his catafalque at the funeral in Nuku'alofa.

Papua New Guinea
Government forces regained control of the defence headquarters after soldiers loyal to the former prime minister Sir Michael Somare had stormed the army barracks and demanded his reinstatement. The rebel soldiers laid down their arms after they were promised pardons over the failed mutiny. Meanwhile, the chief justice, Sir Salamo Injia, was charged with obstructing a police investigation into his management of the court after the judges intervened in the power struggle for the prime minister's job between Peter O'Neill and Somare, and ordered the latter reinstated.

Nearly 250 passengers were rescued from a ferry that sank in a storm off the east coast, killing about 100 people trapped inside.

Fiji (Fully Suspended, 2009)
The military regime of Commodore Frank Bainimarama lifted emergency rule after three years but press freedom has not been restored, the Guardian reported. According to the Pacific Freedom Forum, a 2010 media decree remains in force and Bainimarama has introduced a decree that exempts him and ministers from defamation suits.

A state of emergency was declared in Fiji's largest island of Viti Levu after heavy floods and landslides killed at least six and left nearly 3,500 people homeless.

Kiribati's President Anote Tong is in talks to buy 23 sq km on Fiji's Vanua Levu island as part of his efforts to secure a future for islanders threatened by rising sea levels. The land is wanted for crops, to settle a few hundred Kiribati farmers and to extract earth for sea defences. Some of Kiribati's 32 coral atolls are already disappearing beneath rising sea levels.

New Zealand
Bishop Victoria Matthews said Christchurch's cathedral would be demolished after a series of earthquakes had made restoring the building unviable. Since 2010, there have been more than 10,000 tremblors, including a 7.1 magnitude earthquake in February 2011, in which 185 people died.

Kim Dotcom was refused bail following his arrest at the request of the FBI for allegedly engaging in online piracy through Megaupload, the internet's biggest file-sharing website, which he founded, the Economist reported. Copyright lawyers claim such "cyberlockers" allow illegal sharing of films and music. After Dotcom's arrest, similar sites blocked users sharing content.

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Antigua and Barbuda
A Texas jury found Allen Stanford guilty of operating a $7bn Ponzi scheme, one of the biggest frauds in history. Stanford, a former banker who based part of his business in Antigua and used his riches to sponsor his own cricket tournament in the West Indies, was arrested in 2009. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

The prime minister, Dean Barrow, and his United Democratic Party secured a narrow victory in the general election to win a second term. The UDP won 17 seats to the opposition People's United Party's 14. The turnout was 61%. Foreign debt and the terms of a $550m bond, whether to permit offshore oil drilling, and violent crime (Belize has the world's sixth-highest murder rate per head) were the main issues. Observers from the Organisation of American States said the elections were largely fair and free but recommended campaign finance reform, more female participation and enforcement of a ban on campaigning at the gates of polling stations, as well as noting the apparent convergence of state and ruling party before the elections.

A dispute with the European Union over tar-sands oil threatened to escalate into a trade war. Brussels had been set to label the fuel as highly polluting because of the energy and water needed to extract it but intense lobbying from Ottawa and the secret threat of trade sanctions led to deadlock at the vote and the issue will now be referred back to ministers and the European parliament.

A study in the Institute of Physics' Environmental Research Letters warned that the national sport, ice hockey, could disappear as an outdoor game within decades as climate change had shortened the ice season by 20%-30% over the past 50 years.

The Niagara Parks Commission said it would grant an exemption from a 128-year-old law to allow a professional daredevil, Nik Wallenda, to be the first person to walk on a tightrope wire across the Horseshoe Falls.

St Vincent and the Grenadines
The Commonwealth countries of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua-Barbuda and Dominica joined Cuba and Nicaragua in backing Argentina's move to block any ships flying the Falklands flag from docking in their ports. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's diplomatic campaign comes amid heightened tensions with Britain over sovereignty of the Falklands, which Argentina says Britain has illegally occupied since 1833.

Trinidad and Tobago
Armed police raided the daily newspaper Newsday and searched the home of one of its journalists, Andre Bagoo, confiscating his telephone, computers and flash drive in a search for information they claim was acquired illegally. It concerns a report published by the paper in December about an alleged conflict within the country's integrity commission, which oversees ethical practices of public officials. The newspaper and Bagoo have refused to hand over the material and argue the story is of major public interest. The International Press Institute, National Association of Black Journalists and Unity Journalists of Color wrote an open letter to the police commissioner condemning the raid.

Portia Simpson Miller, the prime minister, reiterated her intention to make Jamaica a republic-as Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, was on an official visit to the island.

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Commonwealth News
The secretary-general, Kamalesh Sharma, criticised the change of government in the Maldives. He said: "The Commonwealth finds it unacceptable that the state opening of the Majlis [parliament] of Maldives has been disrupted, and the offices of the president and speaker have been seriously disrespected."

An extraordinary session of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) met in London to consider the situation in the Maldives. It concluded: "CMAG agreed that it was not possible, in the allotted time, to determine conclusively the constitutionality of the resignation of President Nasheed" and called for an "independent and impartial investigation".

It also "noted the assurance by the new government that former president Nasheed would continue to receive the protection and privileges provided for under the constitution."

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