- Created on 15 April 2013
LAGOS, Nigeria — Train horns now sound again across Nigeria's lush south and the encroaching desert of its north, but the history of the nation's 100-year-old railroad still sits rusting away.
Old steam locomotives and railway cars that hold special places in the story of Nigeria sit in large storage barns at the Nigerian Railway Corp. headquarters, a huge compound inside the megacity of Lagos.
One car once carried Queen Elizabeth II during her 1956 visit to Nigeria when it was still a British colony, historian John Godwin said. Another nearby transported Nigeria's first and only prime minister, the assassinated leader Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, through the country's northeast, Godwin said.
Today, though, much of the legacy of the railroad continues to rot away, including large locomotives bearing the names of Nigeria's military rulers, including the feared dictator Sani Abacha, whose death while in power ushered in a return to democracy for the nation in 1999.
Some, like Godwin and the historical preservation society Legacy1995, have made preserving the railroad's past a priority. Working with the state-run railway company, they have remodeled a colonial-era building to house a museum. Talks continue about how to save the other memorabilia and huge train cars and locomotives hidden in the tall grasses and barns at the railway's headquarters.
- Created on 09 April 2013
JOHANNESBURG — Some South Africans have given thanks in Sunday prayers for the improvement in the health of Nelson Mandela, the former president who was discharged from a hospital after treatment for pneumonia.
Members of an outdoor congregation in Johannesburg say 94-year-old Mandela was in their thoughts often during his most recent hospitalization. The anti-apartheid leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate was admitted to a hospital in the South African capital of Pretoria on the night of March 27 and was discharged on Saturday.
Knowledge Modisa, a South African advertising manager, says she and other worshippers have been putting Mandela "first" in their prayers.
Mandela spent 27 years in prison during the period of white racist rule that ended with his election to the presidency in a democratic vote in 1994.
- Created on 01 April 2013
JOHANNESBURG — Former South African President Nelson Mandela had a restful day in a hospital Sunday and is improving following treatment for a recurrence of pneumonia, the government said.
The office of President Jacob Zuma thanked South Africans who prayed for 94-year-old Mandela at Easter church services this weekend, as well as people at home and around the world who showed their "love and support in various ways" for the anti-apartheid leader and his family.
"We also thank foreign governments for their messages of support," Zuma's office said in a statement.
The government "is satisfied that the doctors are providing the former president with the best medical care possible to enable his recovery and comfort. They have reported a further improvement in his condition," the statement said.
Mandela was admitted to a Pretoria hospital near midnight Wednesday. It was his third trip to a hospital since December, when he was treated for a lung infection and also had a procedure to remove gallstones. Earlier in March, he spent a night in a hospital for what officials said was a scheduled medical test.
"The whole world must come together and pray for him," Zacheus Phakathi, a security guard, said Sunday at an outdoor service on a hill overlooking Johannesburg.
In Pretoria, the capital, Henry Hyar, a restaurant waiter, standing by a hospital where Mandela is believed to be, said it was unfortunate that Mandela could not be with his family at home during Easter.
"I'm not happy about it," Hyar said. "We're praying for him to get better as soon as possible."
On Saturday, Zuma's office reported that Mandela was breathing without difficulty after having a procedure to clear fluid in his lung area.
Mandela became South Africa's first black president in 1994 after elections were held, bringing an end to the system of white racist rule known as apartheid. After his release from prison in 1990, Mandela was widely credited with averting even greater bloodshed by helping the country in the transition to democratic rule.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been particularly vulnerable to respiratory problems since contracting tuberculosis during his 27-year imprisonment for fighting white racist rule in his country.
The elderly are especially vulnerable to pneumonia, which can be fatal. Its symptoms include fever, chills, a cough, chest pain and shortness of breath. Many germs cause pneumonia.
The office of President Jacob Zuma has said doctors were acting with extreme caution because of the Mandela's advanced age.
Associated Press television cameraman Bram Janssen contributed to this report from Pretoria.
- Created on 08 April 2013
BAGRAM, Afghanistan — The top U.S. military officer said Sunday the Pentagon had bolstered its missile defenses and taken other steps because he "can't take the chance" that North Korea won't soon engage in some military action.
Heightened tensions with North Korea led the United States to postpone congressional testimony by the chief U.S. commander in South Korea and delay an intercontinental ballistic missile test from a West Coast base.
North Korea, after weeks of war threats and other efforts to punish South Korea and the U.S. for joint military drills, has told other nations that it will be unable to guarantee diplomats' safety in the North's capital beginning Wednesday.
U.S. Gen Martin Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman who just wrapped up a visit to Afghanistan, was asked in an Associated Press interview whether he foresees North Korea taking military action soon.
"No, but I can't take the chance that it won't," he said, explaining why the Pentagon has strengthened missile defenses and made other decisions to combat the potential threat.
Dempsey said the U.S. has been preparing for further provocations or action, "considering the risk that they may choose to do something" on one of two nationally important anniversaries in April — the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung and the creation of the North Korean army.
U.S. Gen. James Thurman, the commander of the 28,000 American troops in South Korea, will stay in Seoul as "a prudent measure" rather than travel to Washington to appear this coming week before congressional committees, Army Col. Amy Hannah said in an email Sunday to the AP.
Thurman has asked the Senate Armed Services Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, and the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense to excuse his absence until he can testify at a later date.
Dempsey said he had consulted with Thurman about the rising tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Dempsey said both Thurman and South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Gen. Jung Seung-jo, decided it would be best for them to remain in Seoul rather than come to Washington. The Korean general had planned to meet with Dempsey, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, in mid-April for regular talks.
Dempsey said that instead of meeting in person with Thurman and Jung in Washington, they will consult together by video-teleconference.
The Pentagon has postponed an intercontinental ballistic missile test that was set for the coming week at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, a senior defense official told the AP on Saturday.
The official said U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel decided to put off the long-planned Minuteman 3 test until April because of concerns the launch could be misinterpreted and exacerbate the Korean crisis. Hagel made the decision Friday, the official said.
North Korea's military said this past week that it was authorized to attack the U.S. using "smaller, lighter and diversified" nuclear weapons. North Korea also conducted a nuclear test in February and in December launched a long-range rocket that could potentially hit the continental U.S.
The U.S. has moved two of the Navy's missile-defense ships closer to the Korean peninsula, and a land-based system is being deployed to the Pacific territory of Guam later this month. The Pentagon last month announced longer-term plans to strengthen its U.S.-based missile defenses.
The defense official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the Minuteman 3 test delay and requested anonymity, said U.S. policy continues to support the building and testing of its nuclear deterrent capabilities. The official said the launch was not put off because of any technical problems.
- Created on 28 March 2013
JOHANNESBURG — Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader who became South Africa's first black president, has been admitted to a hospital with a recurring lung infection, the presidential spokesman said Thursday.
Mandela, 94, has become increasingly frail in recent years and has been hospitalized several times since last year, most recently earlier this month when he underwent what authorities said was a scheduled medical test. The Nobel laureate is a revered figure in South Africa, which has honored his legacy of reconciliation by naming buildings and other places after him and printing his image on national banknotes.
"I'm so sorry. I'm sad," said Obed Mokwana, a Johannesburg resident. "I just try to pray all the time. He must come very strong again."
The Nobel laureate was admitted to a hospital just before midnight Wednesday "due to the recurrence of his lung infection," the office of President Jacob Zuma said in a statement.
"Doctors are attending to him, ensuring that he has the best possible expert medical treatment and comfort," the statement said. It appealed "for understanding and privacy in order to allow space to the doctors to do their work."
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said Mandela was in a hospital in the South African capital of Pretoria, but he did not specify which one.
In December, Mandela spent three weeks in a hospital in Pretoria, where he was treated for a lung infection and had a procedure to remove gallstones.
Maharaj acknowledged there was cause for worry, but said the medical specialists treating Mandela were very competent.
"The health has been OK given his age, but the downturn last night — obviously when the lung infection recurs, the doctors will want to do everything possible and make sure that they don't allow the infection to spread, that they arrest it as quickly as possible," Maharaj said in an interview with eNCA, a South African news channel.
He said there had been a global outpouring of messages expressing concern for Mandela's health.
Zuma wished Mandela a speedy recovery, referring to him affectionately by his clan name, "Madiba."
"We appeal to the people of South Africa and the world to pray for our beloved Madiba and his family and to keep them in their thoughts. We have full confidence in the medical team and know that they will do everything possible to ensure recovery," the presidential statement quoted Zuma as saying.
Mandela spent a night in a hospital and was released on March 10 following a medical test. At that time, spokesman Maharaj said Mandela was "well."
In February 2012, Mandela spent a night in a hospital for minor diagnostic surgery to determine the cause of an abdominal complaint. In January 2011, he was admitted to a Johannesburg hospital for what officials initially described as tests but what turned out to be an acute respiratory infection. He was discharged days later.
He also had surgery for an enlarged prostate gland in 1985.
Under South Africa's white-minority apartheid regime, Mandela served 27 years in prison, where he contracted tuberculosis, before being released in 1990. He later became the nation's first democratically elected president in 1994 under the banner of the African National Congress, helping to negotiate a relatively peaceful end to apartheid despite fears of much greater bloodshed. He served one five-year term as president before retiring.
Perceived successes during Mandela's tenure include the introduction of a constitution with robust protections for individual rights and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a panel that heard testimony about apartheid-era violations of human rights as a kind of national therapy session. South Africa still struggles with crime, economic inequality and other social ills.
Mandela last made a public appearance on a major stage when South Africa hosted the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament.
He had spent more time in the rural village of Qunu in Eastern Cape province, where he grew up. He was visited there in August by Hillary Clinton, who was U.S. secretary of state at the time.
Doctors said in December that he should remain at his home in the Johannesburg neighborhood of Houghton for the time being to be close to medical facilities that can provide the care he needs.
During Mandela's previous hospitalizations, the South African government had criticized some media outlets for what it described as rumor-mongering and a failure to respect the privacy of the former leader and his family. The media, in turn, expressed concern about an alleged lack of transparency and occasionally conflicting reports from officials.
Maharaj, the presidential spokesman, told eNCA on Thursday that authorities were mindful of public interest in Mandela's health, but would allow the medical team to focus on treating the former president.
"Our updates will be dependent always on what the doctors tell us and we are not pressurizing them to give us updates every few hours," he said. "We think that they should attend to their work. We are confident that they know that if there is an upturn for the good, or for the bad, they will always keep us informed."