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Africa : Ivory Coast ex-first lady given 20-year jail term “

Ivory Coast’s former first lady, Simone Gbagbo, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for instigating the deadly violence that rocked the West African country after presidential elections in 2010.

The 65-year-old wife of Ivory Coast’s former president, Laurent Gbagbo, was sentenced in court on Tuesday on charges of having a hand in the unrest which led to the deaths of some 3,000 people following the presidential poll in late 2010 and 2011.

“The jury members retained all the charges against her, including disturbing the peace, forming and organizing armed gangs and undermining state security,” Rodrigue Dadje, the ex-first lady’s lawyer said.

She was sentenced for twice as long as the prosecutors had initially asked for. Simone’s lawyer said they will appeal.

Simone also said she was humiliated, adding that the prosecution had failed to prove her guilty.

The former president’s wife was tried along with 82 other supporters of her husband. General Bruno Dogbo Ble, who headed the elite republican guard as well as former navy chief Admiral Vagba Faussignaux, were also sentenced to 20 years in prison.

This is while the former Ivorian president is also facing four charges, including crimes against humanity, at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over his alleged role in orchestrating the post-election violence.

Simone was arrested along with her husband in 2011 after troops stormed a bunker following a military assault on their residence in Abidjan.

Ivory Coast was engulfed in chaos after the former president refused to concede defeat in the November 2010 presidential election and remained in power until being driven out in April 2011 by the supporters of Alassane Ouattara, the country’s current president !!

Royal : Prince William travels to tsunami-hit northeast Japan “

Britain’s Prince William on Sunday made a pilgrimage to port communities devastated by a huge tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, receiving origami paper cranes from survivors before the fourth anniversary of the disaster.

Winding up his first trip to the country, the second-in-line to the British throne visited the northeastern city of Ishinomaki, one of the areas hardest hit by the gigantic waves which killed around 19,000 people.

William, 32, placed a bouquet at a hilltop shrine and quietly bowed his head in the direction of a now-vacant area where hundreds of people lived before their houses were swept away on March 11, 2011.

Following the prayer, local children presented him with red paper cranes — a symbol of good luck in Japan — which had been made by tsunami survivors still living in temporary .

A beaming William, in a navy-blue blazer, offered an “arigato gozaimasu” (“thank you very much”) in response — the latest of a number of Japanese phrases he has attempted during his four-day stay.

“When we handed him the cranes, he told us that he thinks his son (George) will be pleased if he takes them back as souvenir,” a young girl told national broadcaster NHK.

“I will remember this day forever,” she added.

William also visited a tsunami museum in central Ishinomaki, which has on display handwritten editions of the Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun, a newspaper whose printing presses were destroyed by the waves, and whose staff battled the odds to deliver the news.

The then-chief editor guided William around the museum, which was also engulfed by the tsunami, and explained the difficulties the paper faced in gathering news and distributing copies after the catastrophe.

Later in the day, the prince saw a temporary shopping venue in Onagawa east of Ishinomaki, the final stop on his four-day tour.

Against the backdrop of the prefabricated shops, he was welcomed with a lion dance, a traditional performance in which actors wear a lacquered wooden head and cloth dyed green with white decorations.

A smiling William proved he was game by pretending to put his head in the lion’s mouth.

“Thanks to the prince’s visit, we can let the world know that our region is still affected by the tsunami,” said Hikaru Sato, a local high school student.

Radiation levels normal

William’s visit to the disaster-afflicted area was important to Japan, with many locals keen to remind the outside world of the difficulties they still face four years after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and the tsunami that it caused.

Others pointed to the tour as proof that the region is open for business and safe for tourism, despite the ongoing problems at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, where three reactors went into meltdown after their cooling systems were swamped.

Tens of thousands of people are still unable to return to their homes in the area around the plant because of elevated levels of radiation, with scientists warning that some settlements may have to be abandoned.

However, officials insist, the affected region is relatively small, and radiation levels in most of northeastern Japan are normal.

On Saturday William, whose pregnant wife Kate has stayed at home, dined in a ryokan — a traditional Japanese inn — with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The prince and the prime minister posed awkwardly for pictures wearing green yukatas — light cotton dressing gowns — before sitting down to a feast on low chairs, still wearing the robes.

William had earlier Saturday donned a samurai helmet and coat during a tour of the set of a period drama.

The young prince is immensely popular in Japan, where people speak of his warmth and his easy manner with the public, in marked contrast to the country’s own staid imperial family.

The media here has closely followed his travels, with many broadcasters showing library footage of William’s mother, the late Diana, during her trips to Tokyo.

Visits by the Princess of Wales set off so-called “Diana Fever” as tens of thousands flocked to meet her, and women styled their hair to be like her.

William was due to leave Japan Sunday afternoon on his way to Beijing, another first for the young prince !

In Sports : Ronda Rousey needs 14 seconds to stop Cat Zingano at UFC 184 “

Ronda Rousey has stopped every opponent she has faced in her meteoric mixed martial arts career, so a first-round victory is no shock for the UFC’s bantamweight champion.

Except nobody had ever finished a UFC title fight this quickly, and hardly anyone had done it with this much flair.

Rousey stopped Cat Zingano with an acrobatic armbar 14 seconds into the first round, dramatically defending her 135-pound title at UFC 184 on Saturday night.

Rousey (11-0) earned the most impressive victory of her career with jaw-dropping speed, taking out the previously unbeaten Zingano with her signature armlock from an unlikely position.

Rousey landed on her head after Zingano (9-1) charged her at the opening bell, but the champion gracefully flipped Zingano onto her back, got up and scampered into position to wrench Zingano’s arm grotesquely.

Just like that, Rousey forced the challenger to tap out, ending her fifth title defense before the sellout Staples Center crowd could process what it just witnessed.

Rousey’s last three fights have lasted a total of 96 seconds, including two bouts against previously unbeaten opponents. Her 14-second finish was a record for any UFC title bout, but she thought it only went to plan.

“We were expecting that she might come out and do something flying at me right away,” Rousey said. “That’s not usually how you land an armbar at that angle, but it works. … It was a lot like judo transitions, where you scramble the second you hit the ground.”

Champion boxer Holly Holm made her much-hyped UFC debut with a split-decision victory over Raquel Pennington in UFC 184’s penultimate bout. Jake Ellenberger also earned a second-round submission of Josh Koscheck as the world’s dominant mixed martial arts promotion ended a two-year absence from Southern California, the home base of Rousey and numerous fighters.

But the hometown crowd got what it wanted from Rousey, the Olympic medal-winning judoka who has become one of the UFC’s most prominent fighters just two years after the promotion added women’s bouts. Zingano was considered the most daunting active threat to Rousey’s reign, but proved to be no match for the best female fighter on the planet.

Immediately after the finish, Zingano was as stunned as the fans. Zingano chose the dubious strategy of charging and grabbing onto Rousey, whose judo skills make her practically unbeatable in a clinch.

“I want to do it again,” Zingano said. “I just … (The armbar) was in, but it wasn’t in. She did it. She won. She did good.”

For the first time in UFC history, two women’s fights headlined a pay-per-view event. Middleweight champion Chris Weidman originally was slated to fight Vitor Belfort on the Los Angeles card, but when Weidman’s injury forced a postponement, the UFC promoted Rousey and Zingano to the main event without adding a major men’s bout.

Although partly created by necessity, that spotlight is the latest affirmation of Rousey and women’s MMA. Just two years after Rousey’s debut, the UFC has two busy women’s weight classes featuring more than 50 fighters — and Rousey is a movie star, a model and a celebrity who can sell out a large arena in her hometown.

Zingano earned this title shot two years ago with an upset victory over Miesha Tate, but personal upheaval delayed it. After a serious knee injury knocked her out of the matchup and a high-profile coaching spot opposite Rousey on the UFC’s long-running reality television show, Zingano was rocked last year by her estranged husband’s suicide.

The 33-year-old Holm (8-0) ended an 11-year pro boxing career in 2013 to concentrate on MMA. The Albuquerque native and former kickboxer went unbeaten through minor promotions before joining the UFC last year.

Holm did enough to win her UFC debut, but didn’t blow away the scrappy, undersized Pennington (5-6). Both fighters landed big shots during a standup fight, and while Holm finished with a bloody nose, she left Pennington with a swollen left eye.

Holm won the fight 30-27 and 29-28 on two cards, and Pennington won 29-28 on the third.

Holm could be the next contender in line for Rousey’s belt later this year, and Rousey has said Holm’s boxing credentials outweigh her lack of MMA experience. But UFC President Dana White has suggested veteran Jessica Eye will get the next title shot, and Eye demanded her turn in interviews before Saturday’s show.

Southern California fighters Tony Ferguson and Alan Jouban kicked off the pay-per-view card with dynamic first-round stoppage victories. Ferguson has won five straight bouts, while Jouban bounced back from a debatable loss with an impressive striking performance.

Although Los Angeles is the largest U.S. city that allows MMA competition, the UFC hadn’t staged a card in the area since Rousey’s debut with the promotion in Anaheim in February 2013. A mediocre card scheduled for Staples Center last summer was canceled when champion Jose Aldo was injured !

Nigeria : Missing $20bn: Reps gives Okonjo-Iweala one-week ultimatum to submit forensic audit

The House of Representatives has yesterday issued a one week ultimatum to the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the economy Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to submit the report of the forensic audit on the alleged missing $20bn

The mandate followed a resolution, passed last week by the House at plenary which directed its Committee on Public Accounts, to investigate the matter.

Chairman of the committee, Hon. Solomon Adeola Olamilekan (APC, Lagos) while briefing Journalists on the matter stated that the report “must include the Initial Draft Report, the Executive Summary and Management/Internal Control Letters.”

Olamilekan noted that the “condensed version” of the report released to the public through a press conference addressed by the Auditor-General of the Federation with the highlight that Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) should remit a minimum of $1.48 billion to the Federation Account had rather prompted the demand for complete report.

He said: “Given the weighty allegation of possible loss of $20 billion to the Federation Account arising from alleged non-remittance by NNPC through the ministry of finance, it is curious that the forensic audit was commissioned and appointment of auditors was made by the minister of finance, an indictable official, if allegation is proven, without the involvement or at least input of the Auditor-General, whose office is eminently and exclusively empowered for the duty by the 1999 Constitution.”

He noted that “the report has been unduly delayed and its submission also side-stepped the Auditor-General. It is a professional best practice that such reports first come in draft, discussed, fine-tuned before the release of the final report, usually accompanied by the more detailed Management Letter !!!

ENT : Lady GaGa Celebrates Her Engagement With Taylor Kinney’s ‘Chicago Fire’ and ‘Chicago P.D Family “

The ‘Bad Romance’ hitmaker and her fiance have celebrated their Valentine’s Day engagement with ‘Chicago Fire’ and ‘Chicago P.D.’ co-stars including Sophia Bush.

Lady GaGa celebrated her engagement to Taylor Kinney with his co-stars on “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago P.D.”. Sophia Bush took to Instagram on Wednesday, February 25 to share a photo of her and the “Poker Face” hitmaker at the celebration.

In the black-and-white photo, Bush is seen holding GaGa’s hand while the “Born This Way” songstress wraps her other hand on Bush’s shoulder. She captioned it, “#wcw @LadyGaga, naturally. She SLAYED the #Oscars and now she’s snuggled up with the #ChicagoFam celebrating love. ‘The Oscars were amazing, but this!? This is everything.’ Oh #TaylorKinney you’re a lucky man!! #love #congrats.”

#wcw @LadyGaga, naturally. She SLAYED the #Oscars and now she’s snuggled up with the #ChicagoFam celebrating love. “The Oscars were amazing, but this!? This is everything.” Oh #TaylorKinney you’re a lucky man!! #love #congrats ?�¢ï¿½?�¤?�¯?�¸ï¿½
A photo posted by Sophia Bush (@sophiabush) on Feb 25, 2015 at 10:44am PST

In related news, GaGa allegedly will tie the knot with Kinney at her $23m Malibu mansion and will have Tony Bennett there to sing “Cheek to Cheek”. A source told Life & Style, “The estate is set in the hills above Malibu and is surrounded by undeveloped mountains. She calls it the ‘closest thing to heaven.’ ”

According to the source, flowers for the ceremony will be ordered from Sea Lily Malibu and cases of champagne will be brought in. Besides Bennett, other celebrity friends who are also invited to the nuptials are Donatella Versace and Kelly Osbourne !!!

Ent : Selena Gomez Reaches Out to Suicidal Fan With Touching Message “

The former ‘Wizards of Waverly Place’ star tells a fan who considers to kill themselves, ‘Before you think of taking your life, think of all the [lives] you could save.
Selena Gomez follows one of her online devotees who is apparently struggling with suicidal thoughts. She sends the fan a touching note about perseverance and love, and shares a screenshot of it to others to further spread the message.

By me following you is not me saying it’s ok to think these thoughts. It’s not me saying ‘hey you said sad things, so I’m going to follow you to make you feel better.’ God puts us in situations that are so unexplainably difficult for a reason,” she wrote.

There is someone in the world feeling so much, just like you,” she added. “People everyday feel so many emotions they wish they could turn it off. But that’s not why we are here. We are here for relationships, for people just like us who feel worthless.”

Your purpose is to share, help, encourage. Remember that. Please. Before you think of taking your life, think of all the [lives] you could save. I love you. More importantly there is a God that will love more than I ever could.”

I know I meant lives. I don’t care about grammar. I’m sorry I had to share. Every life is worth it !!!

Nigeria : Softly, Softly – Humanitarian Schemes to Counter Boko Haram”

Northeast Nigeria faces a double curse – Boko Haram and deep poverty. Now the government and some private philanthropists are deliberately linking the two by rolling out schemes to provide economic opportunities and humanitarian support as antidotes to militancy.

IRIN takes a look at some of these initiatives:

The Presidential Initiative for Northeast Nigeria (PINE)

PINE is basically a US$25 million* Marshall Plan for the region. It links security to social and economic interventions in a classic hearts-and-minds “soft power” strategy. It promises “immediate relief to affected states in the northeast while putting the region on a strong footing for economic resurgence and long-term sustainable viability”, says an overview document.

According to PINE, an estimated 5.9 million people are affected by the crisis: 4 million are food insecure; 1.5 million are displaced (a higher figure than the government’s disaster agency, MENA, uses); health facilities are closed; IDP host communities are stretched; and humanitarian access is severely limited. The violence has halted infrastructure projects, created massive unemployment and triggered the flight of skilled workers and traders south.

The short-term programme is aimed at humanitarian interventions through existing agencies – facilitating cash transfers, and fast tracking the completion of stalled federal projects.

Medium-term projects seek to revitalize agriculture, infrastructure, health and education. There are commitments to entrepreneurship and skills acquisition for youth and women. The PINE initiative is being implemented by the federal and state governments and driven by a committee with representatives from 20 ministries.

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE)

This is an equally ambitious umbrella programme run out of the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA). The strategy has three streams:

· Counter radicalisation – focused on community engagement, economic and education-based projects to stem the flow of recruits to Boko Haram

· De-radicalisation – largely prison-based, to reintegrate extremists and their families back into society

· Strategic communication – producing a counter-narrative based on moderate Islamic views.

Forty convicted Boko Haram detainees and a much larger number still awaiting trial will be held in two purpose-built prisons with specially trained warders to oversee rehabilitation. The first facility is due to open in March.

To tackle the impact of violence, the CVE programme has built from scratch a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) capacity within the national health system. The first PTSD centre opened in the northern city of Kano in June 2014; a second is planned for Maiduguri in the northeast. The CVE is also pioneering education reforms to inject “critical thinking and logical reasoning” into the school curriculum. Twelve model schools have opened, and the programme will be expanded next year.

“The solutions are as complex as the reasons for radicalism,” Fatima Akilu, director of behavioral analysis at ONSA told IRIN. “We have to remake society to deal with terrorism – this is a lifetime’s work.”

Almajiri Education Programme (AEP)

Out of choice, millions of Muslim children in the north are schooled under the Almajiri system, where they are attached to a Koranic teacher (with maybe only a shaky understanding of the text) to learn by rote for years. The children support themselves and their mentor by begging, a mendicant tradition prone to abuse. It has also left the north educationally disadvantaged and the children susceptible to radicalisation.

At the beginning of 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan announced a programme to build 400 schools for Almajiri in Nigeria’s 19 northern states – getting children off the streets and into a formal education system.

The first model school was opened in the ancient Islamic city of Sokoto in April, providing both Islamic tuition and the regular Nigerian curriculum. By 2013 over 100 schools had been built under the AEP and handed to state education boards. But there has been controversy over the use of public money to fund essentially religious education.

Safe Schools Initiative (SSI)

In the wake of the abduction by Boko Haram of 200 school girls from the town of Chibok, the SSI was launched by the Nigerian government and international aid agencies. UN Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown worked with Nigerian and international business leaders to provide a starting donation of US$10 million, which was then matched by the Nigerian government.

SSI aims to rehabilitate and reconstruct schools, and create safe learning environments in the northeast. Improvements are as basic as providing fencing, sanitation, potable water, decent classrooms and teacher accommodation.

In his 2015 budget speech, Jonathan suggested that 2,400 children could be transferred from high-risk areas of the northeast to other parts of the country.

Civil society groups have questioned that proposal, and expressed concerns about the effort to provide better security for students and staff potentially leading to the militarisation of schools.

Terrorism Victims’ Support Fund

A fund-raising dinner in August 2014 secured US$400 million in pledges to support a presidential appeal to help those affected by Boko Haram. President Goodluck Jonathan kicked off proceedings by donating US$50 million in federal money.

The titans of Nigerian industry then stepped forward; Chairman of Zenith Bank, Jim Ovia, set the tone by announcing only those donating a US$5 million or more would earn a presidential handshake. The Fund is chaired by billionaire shipping magnate Theophilus Danjuma.

Questions have been raised over what the fund has actually achieved. News reports suggest that despite the pledges made at the gala dinner, only US$70 million has actually been received.

The Fund’s website does not reveal any details of disbursements. The only vague reference to spending is a single sentence: “In the past year, kindness supported programmes that served over 700,000 people [in] 23 states.”

*Currency conversion based on the current Naira to dollar parallel rate. The Naira has depreciated by 25 percent since mid-2014 !!

Ent : Bill Cosby Cancels Boston Shows Over Weather Concerns, Vows To Return “

Bill Cosby has canceled his two Sunday night performances in Boston because of the weather, but he plans to return soon. In a statement, the comedian said, “I have decided to cancel for your travel safety. No need to worry, I will be back soon to raise the roof with laughter.

The two Boston shows were expected to be met with 200 to 300 protesters outside The Wilbur Theatre, which is nothing new for Cosby. The 77-year-old, who has been accused of sexual assault by over two dozen women, has encountered protests throughout his recent comedy tour. On a January stop in Canada, Cosby was heckled by the audience and met by protesters outside the show. Before canceling the Boston shows, the comedian released a statement saying he still plans to share his “gift” with audiences .

“Dear Fans: GOD has Blessed me with a wonderful gift to share with all of you. For 53 years I have continued to master this gift, which heals the soul and warms hearts. Laughter! I thank you, the theatre staff (Wilbur Theatre), the event organizers and the Boston Community for your continued support and coming to experience family, fun entertainment. Hey, Hey, Hey — I’m Far From Finished.”

Cosby released a similar statement last month before his two Denver shows, saying then that he was “far from finished.” He has also said before that he will continue to share his “gift” of comedy with “the world.”

The theater owner and promoter behind the Boston dates, Bill Blumenreich, said he had tried to cancel Cosby’s shows, but the comedian would only let him cancel seven of the nine that were planned.

“I tried to cancel all the shows,” Blumenreich told the Boston but I had a contract with the guy and, for these two shows, he’s holding me to the contract.” Thanks to the snow, the show has been canceled regardless, at least for now. It’s unknown whether the Boston dates will be rescheduled.

Multiple dates have been canceled on Cosby’s North American tour, but his official website still displays shows scheduled through the end of June!!!

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