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When a Bomb Goes Off in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan — The first thing is always the boom. Then the rattling of window frames. Then I look up from my computer for someone to make eye contact with. My Afghan colleague does the same. “Was that?” “Did you feel?” We both rush for the stairs, running up to the roof to look for smoke. As I go, I flip through other options in my head: Earthquake? No. Gas tank explosion? Unlikely. The military blowing up a weapons cache? Maybe.


Afghan pass shows struggle of handover
GULRUDDIN OUTPOST, Afghanistan—U.S. forces scored a strategic victory against the Taliban four months ago when they seized a mountain pass that had enabled suicide bombers to make their way from Pakistan to the Afghan capital, Kabul.
But as American troops draw down in the war, it will fall on Afghan soldiers and police to hold this dirt road in eastern Afghanistan's Taba Kakar mountains. So far, the signs are not encouraging.

EU suppresses its own film on Afghan women prisons
KABUL, Afghanistan—One woman is doing 12 years in prison for being the victim of a rape. The second is in jail for running from an abusive husband. Both say they want to tell their stories, and yet a film about their plight has been scrapped, sparking controversy about how committed the international community is to fighting for women's rights in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan obstructs graft probes
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A major investigation into an influential Afghan governor accused of taking bribes has been shut down and its top prosecutor transferred to a unit that doesn't handle corruption cases, Afghan and U.S. officials said.

Afghan lawmaker's hunger strike extends dispute
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — It was the eighth day of ousted Afghan parliamentarian Simeen Barakzai's hunger strike. Through chapped lips and in a rough voice, she said Sunday she would not drink or eat anything until President Hamid Karzai opened an investigation into vote fraud by the woman who has taken over her seat.
Her protest is the latest turn in a seemingly interminable dispute over who belongs in the Afghan parliament — still going on, more than a year after elections that were marred by fraud.

US ambassador urged restraint on Afghan visas
KABUL, Afghanistan — Ahmad Taki is desperate to get out of Afghanistan, fearing for his life after receiving death threats in midnight phone calls because he works for the Americans. Nine months after applying for a visa to the U.S. designed for cases like his, he's heard nothing and feels abandoned by the people for whom he's risked his life.
Taki is one of about 2,300 Afghans who have applied to a special program that awards U.S. visas to Afghans who have worked for the U.S. government for at least a year and are in danger because of this work.
But since the Afghan Allies program began in 2009, not a single visa has been handed out.
A document obtained by The Associated Press suggests the delays may not be a matter of bureaucracy, but reflect a worry among U.S. officials over holding on to hard-to-replace employees.

Afghans face tough challenges after NATO transfer
MEHTERLAM, Afghanistan — In this city of 100,000, people are scared to wander out at night, the chief judge was recently fired for allegedly collaborating with insurgents, officials accuse each other of corruption and the police force is barely large enough to patrol the streets.
As of this week, Afghan forces are in charge of security, replacing the Americans who still keep insurgents from swarming into town through raids in the surrounding valleys of Laghman province.

Story of a raid: US night operations anger Afghans
PUL-I-ALAM, Afghanistan (AP) - The American soldiers stormed into the Afghan family's compound in the middle of the night, kicking in doors and shouting. They ordered everyone into the yard, bound their hands, covered their heads and interrogated them for hours before taking away three men who had done nothing wrong.
At least that's the way the Afghans tell it.
NATO has a different account.

Penny-wise and pragmatic, one Afghan woman has become a driving force in educating her country
KABUL - Sakena Yacoobi is a builder of schools and clinics who says she hopes that educating women will help bring peace to Afghanistan. But she is no idealist.

Afghan Army Salary Theft Shows Difficulty of Fighting Fraud
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan -- The theft took just a few keystrokes - a couple of numbers changed on a spreadsheet and suddenly one soldier's salary was dumped into another's bank account.
For a long time, no one noticed. The three Afghan army officers didn't divert the salaries of active duty soldiers. Instead they kept deserters on the books and directed their pay into their own accounts. Sometimes they diverted bonuses.
When 14 soldiers at a northern Afghan army base were eventually charged in the theft, about $22,000 had been stolen.

Afghan Government Struggles to Spend Donated Funds
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — For Afghanistan's government, getting foreign money to build desperately needed roads, schools, wells and clinics isn't the hard part. Spending it is.
Hundreds of millions in donor funds have not been paid out for things like jobs programs, health clinics and drinking water systems in the past five years. Afghan officials say much of the money comes with too many strings attached, or arrives later than promised, but they are also working within a bureaucracy that is both inefficient and rife with corruption.

480 Taliban Escape Via Tunnel
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — During the long Afghan winter, Taliban insurgents were apparently busy underground.
The militants say they spent more than five months building a 1,050-foot tunnel to the main prison in southern Afghanistan, bypassing government checkpoints, watch towers and concrete barriers topped with razor wire.

AP Interview: Petraeus on Bin Laden - Taliban Link
The killing of Osama bin Laden may weaken al-Qaida's influence on the Afghan Taliban, the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said.

Afghans See Warlord Footprints in New Police Force
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The village-level fighting forces the U.S. is fostering in hopes of countering the Taliban insurgency — the concept that turned the tide of the Iraq war — are having a rocky start, with complaints that recruits are not consistently vetted for ties to criminals and warlords.

U.S.-donated Medical Supplies Disappear in Afghanistan
Kabul, Afghanistan— U.S.-donated medicines and pharmaceutical supplies meant to keep the new Afghan army and police healthy have been disappearing before reaching Afghan military hospitals and clinics, and the government said it is removing the army's top medical officer from his post as part of an investigation into alleged corruption.

Chinese mine in Afghanistan threatens ancient find
MES AYNAK, AFGHANISTAN - It was another day on the rocky hillside, as archaeologists and laborers dug out statues of Buddha and excavated a sprawling 2,600-year-old Buddhist monastery. A Chinese woman in slacks, carrying an umbrella against the Afghan sun, politely inquired about their progress.

"Serious Concern" over Fraud in Afghan Elections
KABUL, Afghanistan -- The main Afghan election observer group said Sunday it had serious concerns about the legitimacy of this weekend's parliamentary vote because of reported fraud, even as President Hamid Karzai commended the balloting as a solid success.

Afghans Vote Despite Rocket Attacks; Turnout Appears Low
KABUL, Afghanistan – Despite Taliban rocket strikes and bombings, Afghans voted for a new parliament Saturday, the first election since a fraud-marred presidential ballot last year cast doubt on the legitimacy of the embattled government.

Military Keeps Distressed Soldiers at Combat Site
FORWARD OPERATING BASE BOSTICK, Afghanistan — Sgt. Thomas Riordan didn't want to return to Afghanistan after home leave. He had just fought through a battle that killed eight soldiers, and when he arrived home his wife said she was leaving. He almost killed himself that night.
When his psychologist asked what he thought he should do, Riordan said: Stay in Colorado.
Instead, the military brought Riordan back to this base in the eastern Afghan mountains, where mortar rounds sound regularly and soldiers have to wear flack jackets if they step outside their barracks before 8 a.m., even to go to the bathroom. (PDF)

Dying Faces, Body Bags: How Trauma Hits a U.S. Unit
FORWARD OPERATING BASE BOSTICK, Afghanistan — More than half a year after one of the deadliest battles ever waged by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the men of Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry are still fighting in — and with — their memories. (PDF)

Afghan Army Struggles with Ethnic Divisions
The Afghan soldiers look like they belong. They wear beards, carry Soviet-era rifles and stride confidently through fields of wheat, melons and okra. In one village, a young girl brings them a jug of milk to drink under the shade of a tree.
Officers in the U.S. Army routinely praise their Afghan partners: They know the culture, can relate to the villagers and understand regional politics.
But in southern Afghanistan, the focus of the U.S. war effort, nearly all the Afghan soldiers are foreigners too. Most don't even speak the local language. They have to communicate through interpreters hired for the Americans.

Taliban Stymie NATO Push to Bolster Government
-- This strategic valley on the outskirts of Kandahar is on its third government boss in eight months. The first quit out of fear and frustration. The Taliban assassinated the second.
Now the militants send threatening letters to district chief Shah Mohammad Ahmadi and his team: Quit your job or else.

Soldiers Take Over Where Afghan Gov't Fears To Go — The American soldiers climb over walls, jump ditches and scan the dirt for trip wires in an hourlong hike, all to meet with one man: the new head of a mosque in a tiny village in a southern Afghan river valley. They hope to persuade him to support the Afghan government.
They have a tough sell. The mullah, Bas Mohammad, says residents in Charbagh never see government representatives - not doctors, teachers or agriculture workers - even though the village sits on the edge of the south's largest city, Kandahar.

In Complex Afghan Battle, Hidden Bombs Stoke Fears
ARGHANDAB VALLEY, Afghanistan - The U.S. forces' enemy is almost invisible in parts of this lush valley in southern Afghanistan. It comes not as gunmen but as bombs planted on footpaths, wedged into walls, nestled in trees and hidden under bridges.

Afghan Field of Bombs Yields Help for U.S. Troops
ARGHANDAB VALLEY, Afghanistan (AP) -- In the end, the American soldiers didn't get to burn down the wheat field. And that was a victory, much as some had anticipated the fiery show.

Afghan Opiate Use Has Doubled In 5 Years, UN Says
KABUL, Afghanistan — Drug addicts as young as a month old. Mothers who calm their children by blowing opium smoke in their faces. Whole communities hooked on heroin with few opportunities for treatment.
Use of opiates such as heroin and opium has doubled in Afghanistan in the last five years, the U.N. said Monday, as hundreds of thousands of Afghans turn to drugs to escape the misery of poverty and war.

Afghan Officials: Insurgency Growing in Southwest
KABUL, Afghanistan — The governing council of a once peaceful province in southwestern Afghanistan has fled to Kabul after the Taliban killed one of their members and threatened the others with death. They fear U.S.-led offensives to the east may simply be pushing insurgents into new areas.

Push for Afghan Role Slows Military Building
KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — An effort to give construction projects to Afghan firms is leading to delays at a time when NATO is rushing to accommodate tens of thousands more international troops, U.S. officials say.

Curbing Taliban Opium Crop Risks Losing Support
MARJAH, Afghanistan -- Curbing the Taliban's multimillion dollar opium poppy business was a major goal of a military operation to seize this former insurgent stronghold. With the town in NATO hands, the Marines face a conundrum: If they destroy the crops and curb the trade, they lose the support of the population — a problem for which they have no easy solution.

Taliban Adjust Bomb Attacks for U.S. Tactics in Afghan Town
MARJAH, Afghanistan -- Explosions rumble through this former Taliban stronghold three or four times a day — an ominous sign that the insurgents have not given up despite losing control of this town to U.S. and Afghan forces about two weeks ago.

Snipers still taking shots at Marines in Marjah
The first shots came from the north, sending Marines ducking into the nearest ditch -- some filled with putrid water. More shots rang out from the southwest: a possible ambush from two sides.

Marines Walk Tightrope to Win Support in Marjah
MARJAH, Afghanistan — Crouched on packed earth at a barricaded Marine encampment, the village elders issued their complaint: U.S. troops had killed an innocent 14-year-old boy. Secretly, the Marines didn't believe them. No matter. They apologized, called the death a tragedy and promised to offer a condolence payment to the boy's family.

Taliban Fight in Afghan Town with Fear Campaign
MARJAH, Afghanistan - A month after losing control of their southern base in Marjah, the Taliban have begun to fight back, launching a campaign of assassination and intimidation to frighten people from supporting the U.S. and its Afghan allies. (PDF)

Afghan Leader Berated by Elders in Former Taliban Stronghold
MARJAH, Afghanistan — Elders in a former Taliban stronghold berated and challenged Afghanistan's president Sunday, delivering a litany of complaints about government corruption and NATO's military operations on the Afghan leader's first visit to Marjah.
President Hamid Karzai said that's exactly what he had come to hear.

Afghan Tribe Takes First Step in Anti-Taliban Pact
FORWARD OPERATING BASE HUGHIE, Afghanistan (AP) - The man accused of running drugs and abetting the Taliban sat on a bench in a room full of Afghan elders, glancing warily at the American diplomat and the Afghan police commander on either side of him.
The Americans had been planning to arrest 28-year-old Qari Rahmat, but held off in the hope that the leaders of his Shinwari tribe would persuade him to mend his ways.
The turnaround came this week, around a table laden with fruit and soft drinks, when Rahmat stood up and pledged fealty to the law and the Afghan constitution. He also denied having collaborated with the Taliban, but everyone seemed content to ignore the past so long as he was sincere about the future.

Afghan Tribe Signs Pact to Keep Taliban Out
JALALABAD, Afghanistan—An eastern Afghan tribe has signed a pact to keep the Taliban out of their lands, pledging to burn down the houses of those who shelter insurgents and force them to pay fines high as $20,000.

Battle to Electrify Kandahar Shows Afghan Dilemma
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- About 90 factories sit vacant in the economic capital of southern Afghanistan. They could fight militants in a way no army could, employing thousands of people and giving them a reason to shun the Taliban.
A lack of reliable electricity is what's keeping the factories silent and useless in the fight against the insurgency. And it's the insurgency, in large part, that's keeping them that way. (PDF)

NATO Forces in Race to Secure Kandahar
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — U.S. and Canadian forces are rushing to train a police force capable of blunting a Taliban comeback in Kandahar, the major city in Afghanistan's volatile south, the militants' spiritual birthplace and the key to turning back the insurgency.

U.S. Soldier Born in Haiti Asks to Leave Afghanistan to Help
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan—Haitian-American Lt. Ramses Brunache was supposed to be the one in danger in Afghanistan. Now his sister is dead, his homeland is devastated, and he's trying to return to help save Haiti.

Afghan Police Work to Overcome Barriers to Women The young Afghan woman leaves home every morning with her face and figure hidden by a burqa. At her office, she dons a police uniform, grabs a pistol and starts knocking in doors, looking for drug dealers and Taliban sympathizers.
Gulbesha, 22, is one of about 500 active duty policewomen in Afghanistan, compared with about 92,500 policemen. She is also one of just a few dozen who serve in the volatile south, where Taliban influence is strongest. (PDF)

Fraud Surrounds Women Voters in Afghan Election
KABUL — One man cast 35 votes for female relatives. Others lugged in sacks full of voting cards they said were from women. And in a village of just 250 people, 200 women supposedly voted in three hours.
In Afghanistan's recent presidential election in August, one of the ripest areas for fraud was women's voting. And the same is likely to be true again in the Nov. 7 runoff between President Hamid Karzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

Afghan Legislation Nudges Women's Rights Forward
KABUL -- The young Afghan woman got her first inkling of a life beyond her abusive husband when friends mentioned a government ministry dedicated to defending women. Then she saw a TV show about women's rights. Finally, after four years of marriage, she grabbed some car fare and fled.

Sept. 11 Galvanizes U.S. Troops in Afghanistan
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — Many of the troops at this sprawling U.S. air base were in their mid-teens when they watched the planes hit the World Trade Center's twin towers on television and vowed to join the military.
Eight years later, many of those who enlisted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are now part of a massive military effort in Afghanistan that some are saying has no clear exit.

Fraud Charges Undermine Trust in Afghan Election
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (AP) -- School principal Karima Monib has become an unwilling celebrity in her hometown as a symbol of the fraud allegations plaguing Afghanistan's recent presidential election.
TV stations in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif have repeatedly aired footage of Monib defending herself against accusations that she tried to stuff ballot boxes as head of the polling station at her school.
"This was all a conspiracy against me," the 47-year-old Monib told The Associated Press, unknotting and reknotting a flowered silk scarf around her face in her office at Khurasan girls school.

Young Afghan freed from Guantanamo to sue US government
KABUL -- The family of one of the youngest prisoners ever held at Guantanamo plans to sue the U.S. government to compensate him for mistreatment and an adolescence lost to nearly seven years in a cell, his lawyers said Thursday.

Young Guantanamo detainee back in Afghanistan
KABUL -- One of the youngest people ever held at Guantanamo was welcomed home Monday by Afghanistan's president and joyful relatives after almost seven years in prison — freed by a military judge who ruled he was coerced into confessing to wounding U.S. soldiers with a grenade.

Afghans turn to Twitterverse for election
KABUL (AP) - Afghans turned to the Twitterverse to share news of Taliban intimidation at the polls and voter turnout in the presidential election, even as the country was just trying to keep electricity running and attacks at bay.

Defiant Afghans trickle to polling centers, express hope, fear and pride
— Some Afghans voted eagerly Thursday in the presidential election, even though threats of violence kept many from the polls.
Those who defied the militants' threats and went to the polls displayed a range of emotions: pride, fear and hope that maybe with their votes, life would improve in the war-wracked country.

Afghan media refuse to censor election reporting
KABUL — Afghan journalists on Wednesday rejected a Foreign Ministry demand that they suspend the broadcasting of news about attacks or violence on election day, accusing the government of unconstitutional censorship.

Afghan warfare gets wired in quest to spare lives
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan -- Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Henson goes out on patrol with a computer on his back and a joystick in his holster. He also carries a rifle, but the military is hoping he'll soon have less need for it.

US, Afghans seek to protect voters from Taliban
LOY KAREZ, Afghanistan -- The notes appear at night, border police say, dropped off around town, always with the same ominous message: Don't vote or we'll slit your throat.

US Army brigade retools for new Afghan mission
KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan -- More than 100 soldiers in the brigade studied Arabic for 10 months. Their officers boned up on Iraq by reading dozens of books.
Then, five months ago, the 5,000 troops of the U.S. Army's 5th Stryker Brigade were told they were headed to Afghanistan instead.

Two women vie for Afghan presidency
KABUL — In a country where most women leave home only under the cover of a burqa, Shahla Atta wears bright pink nail polish, highlights her eyes with glitter and wants to be Afghanistan's next president.

U.S. forces fade into background for Afghan election
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- An Afghan going to the polls in the Aug. 20 presidential election will not see an American or NATO soldier - if all goes according to plan.

Looking for a vacation? Try Afghanistan
BAMIYAN, Afghanistan—
There's a new building in town, and it isn't a military barracks or a hospital. It's a Tourist Information Center.

Afghan mine clearers rescue artifacts
BAMIYAN, Afghanistan -- On a rocky hillside in central Afghanistan, men in visored helmets and protective blue smocks gently scratch the earth for land mines - or shards of pottery from the sixth century.

U.S. Troops remember comrades in Afghanistan
KABUL — Army Sgt. Juan Hendricks lost two men in a bomb blast four months ago. Col. David Everett lost a friend in March who was hit by a suicide attacker. And last week, Master Sgt. Chantell Smith lost the woman she called "Rock Star Roz" to a roadside bomb on the edge of Afghanistan's capital.

Afghan "war rugs" turn profit on violence
KABUL -- Amid piles of flowery and geometric carpets in an Afghan shop sits a pink rug of a Kalashnikov rifle framed by hand grenades. Another shows planes hitting a World Trade Center overlaid by Afghan and American flags.

A volatile corner of Afghanistan gets policing
TAGAB VALLEY, Afghanistan — As a teenager is released to village elders, a U.S. commander warns him to stay away from the Taliban fighters with whom he was arrested. Then the American orders him to thank the district police chief for his freedom.
"Listen to me: he's your hero, not Taliban," the commander tells the bearded young man.
Police Col. Zelawar Zahed wasn't involved in the arrest and didn't have the power to release the youth on his own. But the nod to his authority indicates one key way in which NATO and the U.S. are seeking to rescue their faltering efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

A key to women's rights in Afghanistan: men
There are a handful of them at every women's rights gathering in Afghanistan: men.
Even though crowds of men threw stones and shouted insults at women protesting a law that critics say legalizes marital rape, a few men marched and chanted alongside the women this week.
These are the men — many of them politicians and intellectuals — who are taking up the battle for women's rights and calling for change in this patriarchal society. Activists say men's support for women's rights is vital in a country where men hold sway in government and in families.

Millions for texbooks bogged down in Afghanistan
Day laborer Sayed Sekander spent more than half a day's pay on textbooks for his third-grade son, stuffing them into a dirty rice sack to take home. He will wait before buying any for his two daughters. Only a handful of students in Sekander's son's class received books this year, so everyone else is buying copies, sometimes illegal, from market stalls in Afghanistan's capital, even when they can hardly afford them.
"My son told me, 'I have to have books so that I can pass the tests,'" Sekander said.
Like so much else lost to corruption and bureaucracy in this tumultuous country, millions of new books promised and paid for by donors were never delivered to schools, The Associated Press has found. Other books were so poorly made that they may not last a second year. (PDF)

Two Afghans face death over translation of Quran
KABUL — No one knows who brought the book to the mosque, or at least no one dares say. The pocket-size translation of the Quran has already landed six men in prison in Afghanistan and left two of them begging judges to spare their lives. They're accused of modifying the Quran and their fate could be decided Sunday in court.

Grim struggle continues for women in Afghanistan
KABUL — On the same day an Afghan female lawmaker announced her candidacy for Afghanistan's presidency, an impoverished widow seeking to escape a life of despair set herself on fire.

Afghan held for forced abortion of his sister
— The 14-year-old Afghan rape victim told the doctor that her brother took her to a cowshed, where he and her mother held her down as he cut out her 5-month fetus with a razor blade, then stitched up the wound with string.

Afghan TV stations find censorship line is blurry
KABUL — The young Afghan woman in a headscarf spends all day staring at other women's bodies and Hindu idols on her computer screen, then covering them up.

Winter of hunger looms in Afghanistan
DAY KUNDI, Afghanistan -- The farmer squats barefoot on packed earth in front of his two-room mud house. He has looked at his bags of wheat, he says, and counted the days.

Afghanistan markets its brand of pomegranates
— This ancient land is telling the world that it has a trendy, new replacement for its dreaded poppy crop: sweet, juicy pomegranates.

Afghan returnees huddle in tent camps
CHAMTALA SETTLEMENT, Afghanistan -- Ajab Khan's five children were born in a refugee camp in Pakistan. Now the 48-year-old has brought his family home to Afghanistan— to a tent pitched on a rocky plain just steps away from land mines.

Afghan school empty after acid attack on girls
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — No students showed up at Mirwais Mena girls' school in the Taliban's spiritual birthplace the morning after it happened.
A day earlier, men on motorcycles attacked 15 girls and teachers with acid.


Lead poisoning kills children in Senegalese town
THIAROYE-SUR-MER, Senegal—First, it took the animals. Goats fell silent and refused to stand up. Chickens died in handfuls, then en masse. Street dogs disappeared.
Then it took the children. Toddlers stopped talking and their legs gave out. Women birthed stillborns. Infants withered and died. Some said the houses were cursed. Others said the families were cursed.
The mysterious illness killed 18 children in this town on the fringes of Dakar, Senegal's capital, before anyone in the outside world noticed. (PDF)

Kenya's severed families work to reunite
NAIROBI, Kenya — Among the children laughing and shouting on the swing set at a Nairobi orphanage is a boy who was pulled from his bed by men with machetes and an 11-year-old girl who assumes her mother was burned alive.
They play as they wait for aid workers to bring news of their parents, to tell them if they're orphans or not.

Kenya's rose industry soldiers on amid chaos
NAIVASHA, Kenya -- In a country strangled by anger and fear, it is taking armed escorts and emergency airlifts to make sure that Kenya's most warmhearted export -- the rose -- arrives in time for Valentine's Day.

Chinese mark on Africa means commerce
DAKAR, Senegal — Selling shoes in the sweaty afternoon air of a West African market, Ousman Ka owes his job to China -- or, more precisely, to Lu Hui, the wrinkle-faced Chinese man in the blue sweater vest sitting behind him.

West Africa a "breeding ground" for terrorists
DAKAR, Senegal - National borders are hard to see in the Sahara Desert. Algeria bleeds into Mauritania and Mali and Chad along sand dunes interrupted by occasional oases. Nomads cross easily between countries - as do smugglers and terrorists.

Oil fire symbolizes woes in Nigeria's destitute villages
KEGBERE DERE, Nigeria -- The fire burned strong for 45 days and 45 nights, blanketing the village with ash and torching the young cassava plants in Ada Baniba’s field. As she weeded, the flames flared out of the leaking oil pipeline behind her.
It wasn’t that no one could put the fire out. It was that no one would – not the oil company that owned the pipeline, not the government and not the villagers breathing the fumes. (PDF)

Pfizer facing 4 court cases over vaccine use in Nigeria
KANO, Nigeria -- A security guard in this dusty Nigerian city is living with tragedy -- a 14-year-old son whose dazed eyes, slow speech and uneven gait signal brain damage. Mustapha Mohammed says he knows who to blame -- Pfizer Inc., the world's largest drug maker.

Liberians Leave U.S. to Build Businesses Back Home

MONROVIA, Liberia - Ciata Victor gave up a high-paying tech job, a spacious condo and a first-world life in Maryland to return home to an African capital that barely has electricity or running water.
After 26 years of watching from afar as her native Liberia was ravaged by coups and war, Victor says she's home to stay. And she's started a business -- running a seven-computer Internet cafe using a generator and a borrowed satellite hookup. (PDF)

Taylor haunts a Liberia in transition
MONROVIA, Liberia -- The face of the man whose army burned and raped its way across Liberia smiles down on the capital from a white billboard with a bold proclamation: Charles Taylor is innocent.

Johnson-Sirleaf's Liberia: One year on
MONROVIA, Liberia -- One year after Liberia swore in Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as Africa's first elected female head of state, three young women braid each other's hair under a street light that didn't exist six months ago.
"Before we would have been using candles," said Latifa Fofana.
In the war-destroyed capital, many still do.

Rubber a resource and a challenge as Liberia rebuilds
MONROVIA, Liberia -- Little that's worth anything makes it out of Liberia's war-wrecked ports these days _ except rubber.

Mothers fight migration in Senegal
THIAROYE, Senegal -- At a funeral in this Senegalese fishing town, mothers wept for their sons _ dozens of whom drowned when the wooden craft they hoped to take to Europe was caught in a storm. Then the mothers decided to stop it from happening again.

Spain returns illegal migrants to Senegal
ST LOUIS, Senegal - Tired-looking men in track suits and parkas file off a plane from Spain back into the dense heat of their native Senegal, returning to both the poverty they risked death to escape and a government many of them are quick to accuse of letting Europe send them home.

Few trust in Congo's currency
KINSHASA, Congo — Patrons heading to an outdoor bar in Congo's capital often stop first at a nearby money-changer, where they fork over just enough U.S. dollars for a beer. Then they sit down to enjoy their bottle, confident the value of what's in their wallets will not depreciate - at least not while they drink.

Africa remembers a poet-president
DAKAR, Senegal - There are African leaders - many - who have left legacies of corruption or brutal despotism. And then there's Senegal's Leopold Sedar Senghor, who helped redefine the continent with sensual, modernist verse.

African migrants struggle with split lives
KEBEMER, Senegal — Maimouna Niang lives pretty well for a young mother in a dusty corner of West Africa. Although her house sits on a dirt road and a sheep pen occupies half her yard, she also has a DVD player, a phone line in her house and an elegant wooden crib for her 1-year-old son.
What's missing, she says, is her husband, Cheikh Dia, who has just returned to Italy and won't be back for a year.

Searching for their Western dream, Indians stranded in the Sahara
ZOUERAT, Mauritania -- There are no roads to this Sahara desert town, just tracks that 4x4s and iron ore trucks follow through the sand. Yet all over Mauritania people know that Zouerat is the place to find those who have traveled farthest to sneak into Europe through Africa—Indians and Bangladeshis and Pakistanis, all stranded after being abandoned by human smugglers in the desert with little water, no food and no passports. (PDF)

African migrants risk lives in small boats to reach Europe
NOUADHIBOU, Mauritania -- Facime Diarra journeyed hundreds of miles from his native Guinea to this West African port and boarded a wooden fishing boat bound for Spain, dreaming of making enough money to buy a tractor for his family back home.
He lost everything except his life when the boat sank and about 30 of its 45 passengers drowned. Yet now he's looking for another boat, and is odd-jobbing around town to earn the fare.
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