More than a million hungry Somalis living in southern and central areas hit hard by war and drought will start seeing much needed food distributed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the agency said Wednesday.
The first round of distributions of beans, oil and rice is expected to reach 72,000 people in the pastoral Gedo region.
The Red Cross is also hoping to deliver seed and fertilizer to 240,000 farmers ahead of the planting season and ready to harvest by the start of 2012.
"The people are waiting for the rain to come in one or two weeks," said Yves van Loo, the Geneva-based agency's spokesman in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
The distributions will take place deep in territory controlled by Al-Shabaab, an Islamist group with ties to al Qaeda that has waged war in order to establish a stricter form of Sharia, or Islamic law. The United States designates Al-Shabaab as foreign terrorist organization.
Van Loo said the aid is going out after negotiations with the militants.
"Not everybody can talk to them," he said. "Our neutrality has been respected."
A truck filled with explosives barreled into a government complex in the heart of Somalia's restive capital on Tuesday, a brazen strike killing students registering for an education program.
More than 30 people were killed, said Lt. Col. Paddy Nkunda, an African Union forces spokesman. Along with the students and parents, the casualties included several federal government soldiers, the AU forces said.
"This is a carnage," said Col. Abdullahi Barise, the spokesman of the Somali police. Barise blamed Al-Shabaab, the Islamist movement with links to al Qaeda. But there has been no immediate claim of responsibility.
[Update 7:01 a.m. ET] More than 30 people were killed in Somalia's capital in a truck bombing on Tuesday, an African Union official said.
[Posted 6;24 a.m. ET] Many were killed Tuesday after a bomb attack outside the Ministry of Education in Mogadishu in Somalia's capital, Lt. Col. Paddy Nkunda, an African Union forces spokesman said.
The United States is assembling a network of secret drone bases in Africa and around the Indian Ocean to fight terror groups in the region, the Washington Post reports.
The bases are in Ethiopia, the Seychelles islands, Djibouti on the Horn of Africa and in an unnamed location on the Arabian Peninsula, the Post reported, citing unnamed U.S. officials.
The base network is being set up to fight al Qaeda-affiliated terror groups in Somalia and Yemen, according to the report, and the locations “are based on potential target sets,” the Post quotes a senior U.S. military official as saying.
“If you look at it geographically, it makes sense — you get out a ruler and draw the distances (drones) can fly and where they take off from,” the official told the Post.
The report says the U.S. has used drones in attacks in six countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.
Three Somali teenagers who won a Quran recitation contest have been rewarded with weapons and cash by the Islamist group Al-Shabaab, according to reports from Somalia.
The first-place winner was awarded an AK-47 rifle and $700, a report from RBC Radio said. Second place was worth an AK-47 and $500, and third place got two grenades and $400, RBC reported. Winners also received religious books.
The contest was organized by Al-Shabaab-controlled Radio Andalus, the report said.
At an awards ceremony in the Mogadishu neighborhood of Elasha, Al-Shabaab leaders urged the teenage winners to use their weapons.
“We want the children to fight for defending of their country and their religion ... just take these guns,” Sheikh Moktar Robow abu Mansur, a senior Al-Shabaab leader, is quoted as saying. That means battling the Somali government and African Union peacekeeping troops in the country, according to the RBC report.
Pictures of the event have been posted on the RBC website and on an Al-Shabaab-affiliated website.
Al-Shabaab is a radical al Qaeda-linked group challenging Somalia's central government, fighting an endless civil war, and forcing a strict form of Sharia law on local residents.
An English tourist kidnapped from a remote Kenyan resort is being held by Somali pirates in a remote corner of the lawless country, according to experts and security analysts in Nairobi.
"Gangs from Southern Somalia took her up the coast and then moved her several times," said Andrew Mwangura, a piracy expert and maritime editor of Somalia Report, an independent online publication.
Judith Tebbutt was abducted by armed men from a remote safari lodge near to the Somali border earlier this month. Her husband, David Tebbutt, was killed in the attack when he resisted, according to Kenyan police.
Somalia now has the world's highest mortality rate for children under the age of five, according to new data released by the UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation.
"Somalia's child mortality rate in 2010, stood at 180 deaths per 1,000 live births which now ranks worst in the world," the United Nations Children's Fund said in a media statement.
Jill Biden, Vice President Joe Biden's wife, is in Kenya with former Republican Sen. Bill Frist and other dignitaries to emphasize the U.S. government's commitment to tackling the famine that has left more than 12 million East Africans in need of food.
During her trip, Biden will visit the Dadaab refugee complex, a camp that receives more than 1,000 Somalis a day and is home to more than 400,000 displaced people. The camp is designed to accommodate about 90,000 refugees.
The region is facing its worst drought in six decades, and the United Nations has declared a state of famine in five regions of Somalia with warnings that the situation is deteriorating and could easily spread. Though food insecurity is also affecting Kenya, Djibouti, Uganda and Ethiopia, the greatest concerns emanate from war-torn Somalia, which has known no central government since 1991.
The United Nations is working to round up $2.5 billion to address the situation, which the organization says could be ongoing for six months or more.
Biden's trip to Dadaab aims to draw attention to the plight of the Horn of Africa and highlight the Feed the Future program, a U.S. government effort aimed at "helping countries transform their own agricultural sectors to grow enough food sustainably to feed their people." She also will visit Nairobi's Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and meet with President Mwai Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Agriculture Minister Sally Kosgei.
Extreme weather – The heat wave is taking a deadly toll across the nation, particularly on athletes, as two football players and a coach died during summer football practices this week. The heat wave, now in its second month, is responsible for record-setting electricity use in Texas and dozens of deaths across the U.S. heartland.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Emily is bringing heavy rains to Haiti on Thursday, heading directly over Port-au-Prince, where many quake victims live under precarious conditions. Nearly 12,000 U.N. peacekeepers are on emergency standby.
And Typhoon Kabayan, forecast to be a category 4 storm, could hit or pass Okinawa, Japan, late Thursday. The typhoon has boosted monsoon rains over the northern Philippines.
Turkey recall – Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. announced an immediate recall of 36 million pounds of ground turkey meat because it may be contaminated with salmonella bacteria. Cargill's plant in Springdale, Arkansas, processed the fresh and frozen ground turkey products between February 20 and August 2, the company said. At least one person has died and 76 have been sickened in 26 states.
Debt ceiling crisis – House Speaker John Boehner's plan that would raise the nation's debt ceiling and enact sweeping cuts in government spending could come up for a vote Friday after House Republicans called off a vote late Thursday. The delay revealed a deep rift within the GOP that could undermine the party's latest attempt to avoid an unprecedented national default and stave off potential economic catastrophe.
Economic data – The government will report Friday how much the economy expanded in the second quarter – but don't expect much good news. A CNNMoney survey of economists forecasts the economy grew only 1.8% in the second quarter, which would be a slight slowdown from the first quarter when it grew a lethargic 1.9%. The University of Michigan's consumer confidence report for July also is due Friday.
The worst drought in 60 years has hit the Horn of Africa region, an area in east Africa that includes Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.
A recent satellite-derived animation from the European Space Agency illustrates the crisis as it worsened over the summer. The images above show soil moisture in the region from April to mid-July of this year. Green and blue depict higher levels of soil moisture while the increasing spread of orange and yellow illustrates areas with little to no moisture.
The drought has led to starvation and the loss of crops and livestock. Food prices have nearly tripled in some areas since last year, worsening the crisis.
The United Nations officially declared famine in parts of Somalia last week, and thousands of people have fled their homes and crossed borders in search of water, food or aid.
Three things you need to know today.
Amy Winehouse: An autopsy to determine what killed singer Amy Winehouse has been scheduled for Monday afternoon, Scotland Yard says.
"Inquiries continue into the circumstances of the death," police said Sunday. At this stage, the 27-year-old's death "is being treated as unexplained and there have been no arrests in connection with the incident," police said.
The singer, beloved for her talent but infamous for erratic public behavior, arrests and drug problems, was found dead at her apartment in London on Saturday, police and her publicist confirmed.
Winehouse's family said in a statement Sunday it "has been left bereft by the loss of Amy, a wonderful daughter, sister, niece. She leaves a gaping hole in our lives. We are coming together to remember her and we would appreciate some privacy and space at this terrible time."
Somalia famine: The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations convenes an emergency meeting in Rome on Monday to address the famine on the Horn of Africa.
Last week, a unit of the U.N. agency declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia and warned that famine conditions are expected to spread in the coming months.
Monday's meeting was organized by the French government. Representatives from governments and non-governmental organizations are expected to attend.
The goal of the meeting is to look at ways to combat famine and drought in several countries and not to solicit pledges of aid, according to the FAO's website.
Arlington cemetery spruce-up: Five hundred landscapers and lawn care professionals from around the country head to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Monday for a day of service at the cemetery.
The landscapers from the PLANET Professional Lawncare Network will prune, mulch, aerate and plant over the cemetery's 200 acres, according to an announcement on the group's website.
This is the 15th year for the Renewal and Remembrance event at the cemetery. The work to be performed is estimated at $250,000 in value, which will bring the total 15-year contribution to more than $2 million, according to the organizers.
If you thought the outrage over the phone-hacking scandal was starting to die down, The Times of London, one of Rupert Murdoch's own papers, may have brought it straight back into the spotlight.
An editorial cartoon published Thursday morning in the paper with the title "Priorities" shows starving people in Somalia saying "We've had a bellyful of phone-hacking ... " It's causing quite a firestorm on Twitter. You can access the newspaper's site here, but you won't be able to get past the pay wall without a subscription. The paper has not yet returned calls for comment.
The Guardian's Deputy Editor Katharine Viner (@KathViner) tweeted a link to a photo of the cartoon this morning and asked what people thought of it.
And boy, did she get a response. From regular citizens in the U.S. and UK, to politicians, media specialists and PR folks, the responses are rolling in at a mile a minute.
The responses generally fall in one of two directions: utter disgust or the notion that while the cartoon makes a point, having it come from a Murdoch-owned newspaper makes it just straight ridiculous. For some, it's being seen as an attempt to try to get readers to move away from the story and focus on something else.
The cartoon does come a day after the questioning of British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has also become a part of the phone-hacking story, during which several UK lawmakers argued that perhaps it was time to move on to more pressing issues.
Heat warnings: The dangerous heat wave baking the central United States is expected to extend to the East Coast by the end of this week, the National Weather Service says.
The weather service on Tuesday declared "excessive-heat" warnings in 13 states - Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin - through Friday.
Parts of six other states - Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas - are under heat advisories through at least Wednesday, the weather service said.
Cities already are under heat watches for the rest of the week include Grand Rapids, Michigan; Memphis, Tennessee; Taunton, Massachusetts; Wilmington, Ohio; Detroit and Pontiac, Michigan; State College, Pennsylvania; New York City; Baltimore and Washington.
"Heat-index values" - how hot it feels outside - have been running more than 125 degrees in the worst-hit areas. The scale designed to describe how intense the heat feels takes relative humidity into account along with temperature.
Israeli deportations: Fifteen foreigners aboard the Gaza-bound boat Dignite were being deported out of Israel on Wednesday, Israeli officials said.
"Some of them have already left this morning and the rest will fly out during the day," said Sabin Hadad, spokeswoman for the Israeli Interior Ministry.
The Dignite - carrying 10 activists, three crew members and three journalists - is affiliated with the Free Gaza Movement.
Israeli naval forces Tuesday successfully took over the boat, which was intent on breaking what the activists call the "siege of Gaza," without violent resistance.
Somalia famine: The United Nations on Wednesday declared a famine in parts of southern Somalia amid the worst drought in 60 years, which has sent thousands walking for days to neighboring countries in search of food.
About 5,000 Somalis have been fleeing weekly in scorching temperatures to refugee camps in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.
"Nearly half of the Somali population - 3.7 million people - are now in crisis, of whom an estimated 2.8 million people are in the south," said Mark Bowden, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia.
The United Nations declared a famine in southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle.
A top al Qaeda operative in East Africa, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, was killed at a Somali checkpoint, a senior Kenyan official said Saturday. Mohammed was long sought in Somalia for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
"There's reason to believe this senior terrorist is dead," a U.S. official who was not authorized to speak on the record said Saturday. "He was killed, it appears, at a Somali police checkpoint in or around Mogadishu."
The commander of Somalia's government forces confirmed that two men driving through a checkpoint southwest of Mogadishu late Wednesday were killed when both opened fire on soldiers there.
One of the men was a foreigner and his identity is under investigation, Gen. Abdikarin Dhega Badans said.
Somalia's interior minister was killed Friday in a suicide bomb attack carried out in his own home by a female bomber, Somali government officials said.
The death of Abdishakur Sheikh Hassan was announced on state run radio by Somalia's deputy information minister.
Hassan was briefly treated for wounds to the head and one leg at Mogadishu's Benedir Hospital before dying, according to a government security official who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
The official confirmed that the suicide bomber had been staying at Hassan's house.
A Danish family, including three children ages 13, 15 and 17, was hijacked by Somali pirates last week, according to a report in the Copenhagen Post.
The teens, along with their parents and two deckhands, were sailing from the Maldives in the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea as part of an around-the-world voyage when they were abducted, the post reported, citing Denmark's Foreign Ministry.
The family managed to get off an emergency call as their 43-foot yacht, the ING, was attacked, the Post report said, and a Danish warship was headed to the area where the yacht was hijacked, about 300 kilometers (186 miles) off the coast of Somalia.
[Updated at 9:24 a.m.] Negotiations were under way to free the hostages when gunfire erupted aboard the pirated vessel, a statement from U.S. Central Command said.
"As they responded to the gunfire, reaching and boarding the Quest, the forces discovered all four hostages had been shot by their captors. Despite immediate steps to provide life-saving care, all four hostages ultimately died of their wounds," the statement said.
A reaction force boarding the S/V Quest "was engaged by pirates," two of whom died during the confrontation. Thirteen other pirates were captured, along with two who were already in the custody of U.S. forces, according to central command.
Two other pirates were already dead when U.S. forces boarded the S/V Quest, the statement said. In all, 19 pirates are believed to have been involved in the hijacking.
A federal court on Wednesday sentenced a Somali man to nearly 34 years
in prison for acts related to high-seas piracy.
Prosecutors say Abduwali Muse acted as the ringleader when he and three other men seized the U.S-flagged Maersk Alabama by force about 350 miles off the coast of Somalia on April 8, 2009.
Once on board, the armed men demanded the ship be stopped, then took a lifeboat and held the captain of the ship, Richard Phillips, hostage on it.
Muse, who entered a guilty plea last May, apologized in the New York courtroom on Wednesday.
"I'm sorry very much for what happened to victims on ship. I am very sorry about what I caused," he said. "I was recruited by people more powerful than me. I got my hands into something more powerful than me and I am sorry.
"I ask forgiveness for all the people I harmed and the U.S. government."
It was code named "Dawn of Gulf of Aden" and when South Korea gave it a green light Friday, its daring execution led to five hours of chilling drama on the high seas.
A South Korean navy destroyer and Lynx helicopters fired warning shots as elite forces, in pre-dawn darkness, silently approached the deck of the freighter Samho Jewelry, hijacked by Somali pirates Saturday, according to the Yonhap news agency.
The pirates fired with their AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades. The South Koreans shot back.
When it was all over, the South Koreans rescued 21 sailors, killed eight pirates and captured five others, said Lt. Gen. Lee Sung-ho, a spokesman for South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff.
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