BUEA, Cameroon: There are no students in the playground of the high school in the Bomaka district of Buea — just the odd goat grazing on overgrown grass.
Buea is the capital of Cameroon’s Southwest Region — one of two regions gripped by violence after anglophones launched a campaign to break away from the country’s French-speaking majority.
In Bomaka, almost all the schools have been closed since 2016. It has just one junior school that remains open, but whose rollcall has slumped from around 600 to just 69 today.
“The crisis has killed the schools,” said Isaac Bissong, its headmaster. “Many pupils have left this neighborhood to study elsewhere because they are afraid.”
In one classroom, only eight students were present when AFP visited. The silence in the once-bustling corridors was heavy.
Unlike other schools in the country, the green, red and yellow flag of Cameroon was nowhere to be seen — “that could get us into trouble,” said Bissong.
The school is located less than three kilometers (two miles) from Muea, one of the separatists’ strongholds and the scene of many clashes.
Bissong provides whatever security he can for the school, although he is not armed.
He sits on a chair at the school entrance, on the lookout for potential trouble.
Anglophone separatists in the Southwest and neighboring Northwest Region regularly attack schools that they accuse of teaching in French.
Teachers and other civil servants have been killed after being accused of “collaborating” with the central government in Yaounde.
The predominantly French-speaking country is ruled with an iron fist by President Paul Biya, 88, who has been in power for 39 years.
Years-long grievances among the anglophone minority brewed for years, overflowing into a declaration of independence on October 1, 2017.
Armed separatists launched attacks on the security forces, triggering a violent crackdown.
The spiral of bloodshed has claimed more than 3,500 lives and forced around 700,000 people to flee their homes, according to monitors.
NGOs say that killings of civilians and abuses have been committed by both sides.
According to UNICEF, in 2019, some 850,000 children were not in school in the English-speaking regions.
In October 2020, a dozen men stormed the Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy in Kumba, in the Southwest Region, opening fire on pupils.
They killed seven children aged between nine and 12. A dozen others were shot or macheted.
On November 24 this year, four students and a teacher were killed by gunmen in the Southwest.
“Children are dying, and teachers too, for providing an education that these armed people do not want, believing it is not good for their region,” Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, told AFP during a visit to Buea.
“There’s a generation of children who are on the verge of becoming illiterate because they have not been to school.”
In the streets of downtown Buea, armed soldiers were on patrol.
Blaise Chamango, a parent, said she was constantly worried for the children’s safety.
“Before leaving them at school in the morning, I pray.”
“When we send our children to school, we can receive threats,” said another parent, Manu Dao. “I am sad because their future is at stake.”
Many families have fled.
In the Southwest’s coastal area of Souza, one school is hosting 596 displaced English-speaking children this year, out of a total of 1,087 pupils.
The pupils are sometimes crammed 90 to a class.
“Many of them are in a state of shock,” said school official Joseph Mencheng.
“Many have seen people killed, their parents in some cases. Sometimes, in the middle of a lesson, they bring up some horror they have experienced.”
Stephanie, aged 12, is in a class with children years younger than her.
“I left my village because there was a war and I couldn’t go to school for three years,” she explained.
Nine-year-old Dipanda is talking with three classmates in another crowded classroom.
She comes from a small village in the Northwest Region. She says she is delighted to be back in school after classes were stopped “because of the war.”
LONDON: The decision by the British government to narrow the eligibility criteria for Afghans fleeing Taliban rule will “cost lives,” according to the former British ambassador to Afghanistan.
Changes announced Tuesday mean the scheme will now be limited to those who worked for or with the UK and can prove they are at a certain level of risk in Afghanistan.
Those who can prove they made a “substantive and positive contribution” toward the achievement of the UK’s military or national security objectives in the country will also remain eligible.
But the changes mean that those who worked with Britain to “promote human rights, good governance and democracy” with “no route to safety in the UK” will no longer be eligible for resettlement.
Sir Nick Kay, who served as UK ambassador to Afghanistan from 2017 to 2019, told The Independent: “For these brave people, the ACRS (Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme) needs to open now. Delays cost Afghan lives, cause extreme distress and undermine the UK government’s claim to be offering safe passage and a warm welcome to those we abandoned in August.”
Despite nearly four months passing since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, the ACRS is not yet up and running, leaving only the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy to help Afghans escape.
Victoria Atkins, the UK’s minister for Afghan resettlement, said: “The ACRS will soon open and is one of the most generous schemes in our country’s history. It will give up to 20,000 people at risk a new life in the UK. We will honor commitments made to individuals and groups.”
But rights campaigners have condemned the changes made to the resettlement criteria, particularly in light of previous comments by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in which he promised to provide a “warm welcome” to Afghans in the UK.
Minnie Rahman, interim chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said the UK’s narrowing of the ARAP and its “shameful failure” to open the Afghan resettlement scheme meant that Afghans with links to the UK were now “stuck between a frying pan and a fire.”
She told The Independent: “Four months ago this government promised Afghans a ‘warm welcome’ but again and again we see them slam the doors shut on the Afghan people — even those who risked their lives working alongside us.”
She added that the changes would leave people with the “impossible choice” of staying in Afghanistan and “risking death” or making their own treacherous journeys to Britain.
LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II on Wednesday made a rare public appearance, hosting Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq and his wife, Sayyida Ahad bint Abdullah, at Windsor Castle.
The 95-year-old monarch has cut back on her engagements since an overnight hospital stay in October that raised fears for her health and prompted doctors to advise rest.
Buckingham Palace confirmed in a statement that she met the Sultan, 66, at her historic residence west of London, without giving further details.
The two heads of state, and Sayyida Ahad, 51, were pictured smiling and shaking hands.
The Gulf state ruler, a former culture and heritage minister who studied at Oxford University, came to power after the death of his cousin, Sultan Qaboos, last year.
He had been the Arab world’s longest-serving ruler.
Queen Elizabeth II next year marks her 70th year on the throne — a record in British history.
The monarch moved to Windsor in March last year and effectively self-isolated from the coronavirus pandemic with her husband, Prince Philip, because of their age.
Philip died aged 99 in April after a month-long stay in hospital with a heart condition. The Queen resumed duties after his funeral and the official mourning period.
But since her hospital stay, at which she underwent unspecified tests, she has only been undertaking what palace officials said were light duties, including online meetings.
Britain is facing a new wave of infections from the omicron strain of the virus, prompting the government to impose new restrictions and warnings about social gatherings.
The Queen was last year forced to cancel her traditional pre-Christmas family party last year because of strict rules on social distancing and indoor mixing.
But British media reported she was still considering whether to hold the event this year, bringing together her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
LONDON: The United Kingdom recorded its highest daily coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic on Wednesday as a senior British health chief said there could be a “staggering” rise in cases over the next few days.
A further 78,610 COVID-19 infections were reported, about 10,000 more than the previous high reported in January.
More than 11 million people have now tested positive for the disease in the United Kingdom, which has a total population of around 67 million.
With a new highly transmissible omicron variant of the virus surging across Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned of a “tidal wave” of infections.
However, he suffered a blow to his authority on Tuesday when more than 100 of his lawmakers voted against measure to curb the increasing spread of the disease.
Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, earlier called the omicron variant “probably the most significant threat” since the start of the pandemic.
“The numbers that we see on data over the next few days will be quite staggering compared to the rate of growth that we’ve seen in cases for previous variants,” she told a parliamentary committee.
Harries said the new variant of the virus has a doubling time “which is shortening” and is now under two days in most regions in Britain, with its growth rate was being notable in London and Manchester in particular.
More than 10,000 cases of omicron have been recorded, with at least 10 people hospitalized. One person has died after contracting the variant, which is set to become the dominant strain in London.
ST. PAUL, Minnesota: Former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin has pleaded guilty to federal charges of violating George Floyd’s civil rights.
Chauvin’s plea Wednesday means he will not face a federal trial in January, though he could end up spending more years behind bars when a judge sentences him at a later date.
Chauvin, who is white, was convicted this spring of state murder and manslaughter charges for pinning his knee against Floyd’s neck during a May 25, 2020, arrest as the Black man said he couldn’t breathe Chauvin was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in that case.
The federal charges included two counts alleging that Chauvin deprived Floyd of his rights by kneeling on his neck as he was handcuffed and not resisting, and then failing to provide medical care.
Chauvin appeared in person Wednesday for the change of plea hearing and wore an orange short-sleeved prison shirt.
Three other former officers — Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao — were indicted on federal charges alongside Chauvin earlier this year. They are still on course for trial early next year on those charges, with a state trial still to come.
Floyd’s arrest and death, which a bystander captured on cellphone video, sparked mass protests nationwide calling for an end to racial inequality and police mistreatment of Black people.
In Minnesota, defendants with good behavior serve two-thirds of their sentence in prison, and the remaining one-third on supervised release, also known as parole. Under that formula, he’s expected to serve 15 years in prison on the state charges, and 7 1/2 years on parole.
Under sentencing guidelines, Chauvin could get a federal penalty ranging from 27 years to more than 33 years in prison, with credit for taking responsibility, said Mark Osler, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. But the guidelines are not mandatory, and Osler estimated Chauvin would be sentenced toward the lower end of the range.
As part of the plea deal, Chauvin also pleaded guilty to violating the rights of a then-14-year-old boy during a 2017 arrest in which he held the boy by the throat, hit him in the head with a flashlight and held his knee on the boy’s neck and upper back while he was prone, handcuffed and not resisting.
Floyd’s arrest and death, which a bystander captured on cellphone video, sparked mass protests nationwide that called for an end to racial inequality and police mistreatment of Black people.
To bring federal charges in deaths involving police, prosecutors must believe an officer acted under the “color of law,” or government authority, and willfully deprived someone of their constitutional rights. That’s a high legal standard. An accident, bad judgment or simple negligence on the officer’s part isn’t enough to support federal charges. Prosecutors have to prove the officer knew what he was doing was wrong in that moment but did it anyway.
According to evidence in the state case against Chauvin, Kueng and Lane helped restrain the 46-year-old Floyd as he was on the ground — Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held down Floyd’s legs. Thao held back bystanders and kept them from intervening during the 9 1/2-minute restraint.
All four former officers were charged broadly in federal court with depriving Floyd of his rights while acting under government authority, but the federal indictment broke down the counts even further. The first count against Chauvin alleges he violated Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and unreasonable force by a police officer when he kept his knee on Floyd’s neck, even after Floyd was unresponsive.
The second count alleges Chauvin willfully deprived Floyd of liberty without due process, including the right to be free from “deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.”
In the 2017 case involving the then-14-year-old boy, Chauvin is charged with depriving the boy, who was handcuffed and not resisting, of his right to be free of unreasonable force when he held him by the throat, hit him in the head with a flashlight and held his knee on the boy’s neck and upper back while he was in a prone position.
According to a police report from that 2017 encounter, Chauvin wrote that the teen resisted arrest and after the teen, whom he described as 6-foot-2 and about 240 pounds, was handcuffed, Chauvin “used body weight to pin” him to the floor. The boy was bleeding from the ear and needed two stitches.
That encounter was one of several mentioned in state court filings that prosecutors said showed Chauvin had used neck or head and upper body restraints seven times before dating back to 2014, including four times state prosecutors said he went too far and held the restraints “beyond the point when such force was needed under the circumstances.”
The other three former officers are still expected to go to trial on federal charges in January, and they face state trial on aiding and abetting counts in March.
ROME: Yassine Lafram was confirmed for a second four-year term as president of the Union of Islamic Communities of Italy. He received 80 percent of the votes, collected from local Islamic communities all across Italy to elect him to the highest office of the religious body representing the Muslims of Italy.
Born in Morocco in 1985, Lafram has lived in Italy since he was 6 years old. A graduate in philosophy, he lives with his wife and three children in Bologna, where he has been leading the local Islamic community since 2014.
“My confirmation in office comes thanks to the great work carried out by the outgoing governing council, which has achieved decisive results for the Italian Islamic communities in the past few years on important issues,” Lafram said.
He added that the union has been working assiduously to make effective the integration of Muslims into Italian society, in compliance with their own identities and cultures and with the principles of the Italian Constitution.
He recalled several protocols signed with Italian government ministries to prevent radicalization in prisons and regulate access to mosques and prayer rooms after the first lockdown in 2020.
Lafram confirmed in office most of his previous directors and added younger ones in the union’s governing body.