Binyavanga Wainaina, Kenyan author and gay rights activist, dies aged 48

One of Africa’s best-known authors and gay rights activists died on Tuesday after an illness

One of Africa’s best-known authors and gay rights activists, Binyavanga Wainaina, has died at the age of 48.

The Kenyan author died on Tuesday night in Nairobi after a short illness, the BBC reported. His death was confirmed by Tom Maliti, the chairman of the Kwani Trust, which Wainaina founded.

Related: Binyavanga Wainaina: coming out in Kenya

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Africa | The Guardian

Congo violence sparks fears over UK Ebola response

Attacks on health clinics provoke concern that disclosing details of funding might ‘put a target on the head’ of medical workers

The UK has agreed not to publicly disclose how much funding has been allocated to the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, following warnings this might put those responding to the outbreak at risk.

Harriett Baldwin, minister of state for Africa, said the Congolese government had asked for these details not to be made public over fears this will put “a target on the head of some of the responders”.

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Africa | The Guardian

UN Envoy: Islamic State Revival in Iraq Must Be Prevented

The U.N. envoy for Iraq is calling for “wide-based international support” to prevent Islamic State extremists from regaining a foothold in the country.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert also told the Security Council on Tuesday that if the issue of thousands of returning Islamic State fighters and their families from Syria to Iraq isn’t managed properly, “we risk creating a new breeding ground for the next generation of terrorists.”

She stressed that this “is not just an Iraqi problem” because there are non-Iraqi fighters as well. She implicitly criticized some unnamed countries that are maintaining a “strategic distance” from their own nationals.

More broadly, Hennis-Plasschaert also criticized Iraqi political infighting that has blocked key ministerial appointments a year after national elections and corruption that she said is “pervasive at all levels in Iraq.”

 

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Voice of America

Trump to Democrats: Pass Trade Deal, Then Infrastructure

President Donald Trump is telling Democratic leaders that he believes Congress should first pass a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico before taking up a bill to boost the nation’s infrastructure.

The president made his request in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer before a White House meeting Wednesday.

The Democratic leaders and Trump are aiming for a $2 trillion bill to address roads, bridges and other priorities.

Trump says he remains committed to passing a bill, but he wants Pelosi and Schumer to spell out their priorities and how much money they would provide to each. He says Democrats have “expressed a wide-range of priorities, and it is unclear which ones have your support.”

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Voice of America

Avenatti Expects Imminent Indictment in Nike Extortion Case

Attorney Michael Avenatti said Tuesday he expects to be indicted in the coming days in New York, following his March arrest on charges he tried to extort millions of dollars from Nike.

Avenatti posted a Twitter message saying he intends to fight the “legally baseless allegations” and vowed to clear his name. He said he expects the indictment to be handed up within the next 48 hours.

 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan declined to comment. 

 

Avenatti, 48, was arrested in March after federal prosecutors said he threatened to expose that Nike improperly paid high school basketball players unless the company paid him up to $25 million. 

 

He has denied those allegations and separate charges of tax, wire and bank fraud in California. Prosecutors there say Avenatti embezzled settlement funds and proceeds from other matters he handled for several clients.

Avenatti described the New York indictment as “the formal charging document that usually follows a criminal complaint, which is what was issued in connection with my arrest.” 

 

He said he intends to plead not guilty to the charges. 

 

“I look forward to the trial where I can begin to clear my name,” he wrote on Twitter.

 

Avenatti rose to fame representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in her legal battles against President Donald Trump.

Prosecutors haven’t said whether they believe Avenatti’s information about Nike was accurate, but they say he crossed a line by trying to enrich himself with threats. 

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Voice of America

US: Syria May Be Using Chemical Weapons Again

The United States says there are signs the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria may be using chemical weapons again and it is warning the Syrians to stop it.

The U.S. State Department said Tuesday it believes Syrian forces were behind an alleged chlorine gas attack Sunday in northwestern Syria.

A spokeswoman says officials are still gathering information about the suspected attack but said, “if the Assad regime uses chemical weapons, the United States and our allies will respond quickly and appropriately.”

She says the attack would be part of a violent campaign that violates a cease-fire protecting millions of civilians in the Idlib area, destroying health facilities, schools, homes, and refugee camps.

The United States says Syria and its Russian allies have a history of blaming chemical attacks against the rebels.

“The facts are clear: the Assad regime itself has conducted almost all verified chemical weapons attacks that have taken place in Syria … the Assad regime’s culpability in horrific chemical weapons attacks in undeniable.”

There has been no comment from Syria on the U.S. accusation.

The U.S. has bombed Syria twice in reaction to using poisonous gas on civilians.

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Voice of America

Islamic State in Afghanistan Growing Bigger, More Dangerous

The collapse of the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq is doing little to slow down the terror group’s branch in Afghanistan.

Newly unclassified intelligence suggests IS-Khorasan, as the group is known, is growing both in numbers and ambition, now boasting as many as 5,000 fighters — nearly five times as many as estimates from last year — while turning its focus to bigger and more spectacular attacks.

Military officials say the numbers, shared by U.S. Forces-Afghanistan for the latest quarterly report by the Lead Inspector General for Operation Freedom Sentinel, issued Tuesday, are “low confidence” estimates but that IS-Khorasan has fighters in Kabul, as well as in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces and in other parts of northeastern Afghanistan.

More worrisome, according to defense intelligence officials, is that the terror group has been gaining ground, both against the Afghan government and the Taliban, expanding the amount of territory under its control in Kunar province since the start of the year.

It also appears IS-Khorasan has managed to gain a toe-hold in other areas. The assessment finds it is “highly likely” IS has smaller cells operating in parts of Afghanistan under either government or Taliban control.

“We’re very concerned about their capability and trajectory,” Col. Dave Butler, the spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, told VOA. “IS-K has made it clear that they aspire to attack the United States and our allies.”

​The current state of IS in Afghanistan would appear to represent a remarkable turnaround from the terror group’s fortunes in April 2017, when the U.S. dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal, a GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast, on an IS cave and tunnel system in Nangarhar province.

A series of subsequent U.S. strikes killed the then IS-Khorasan emir and his replacement, and cut the estimated number of fighters from 3,000 to 600.

As recently as late last year, top U.S. military officials insisted IS-Khorasan was being kept in check.

“ISIS-K is not growing,” Gen. John Nicholson, the outgoing commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said in September before handing over the command to Gen. Scott Miller.

Yet despite losing key leaders and suffering constant setbacks on the battlefield, IS-Khorasan found a way to maintain its numbers, successfully recruiting disgruntled Taliban fighters as well as jihadis from further afield.

Afghan officials have likewise warned that IS-Khorasan has benefited from surges of thousands of foreign fighters from Pakistan and Uzbekistan, plus the inflow of hundreds of IS fighters fleeing from Syria.

But increasingly, many of IS-Khorasan’s recruits are local, with fewer coming from the ranks of disgruntled Taliban fighters. And the group has even taken a page out of IS core’s playbook, targeting young men seeking economic opportunity.

“IS does a lot of recruiting in Afghanistan and the region attempting to enlist disaffected youth and even tech-savvy young people looking for an alternative,” Butler said.

The U.S. and Afghanistan are not the only countries voicing concern about the growing IS-Khorasan presence.

Russia’s top intelligence official, FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov, on Tuesday warned that 5,000 IS foreign fighters, many of whom have fought in Syria, were massing along Afghanistan’s northern border, potentially threatening former Soviet states in the region.

Bortnikov made the comments while visiting Tajikistan, which has blamed a deadly May 19 riot at one of its high-security prisons on IS followers who were being held there.

Many Western intelligence officials and analysts have long been skeptical of Russia’s claims when it comes to IS in Afghanistan, noting Moscow is prone to inflate numbers to serve its own interests in the region.

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Voice of America

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