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Nigeria’s Pre-Olympic Basketball Progress Inspires Amateurs

The success of Nigeria’s national basketball team, D’Tigers, in pre-Olympic games this month is inspiring amateur players back home. The Nigerians beat the top ranked U.S. team at a friendly match and are currently the only African team competing at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Timothy Obiezu reports from Abuja.

 Camera: Emeka Gibson  Produced by: Mary Cieslak
 

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Cameroon Asks People Who Fled Boko Haram to Return

Cameroon’s government has sent ministers to its northern border with Nigeria to convince villagers who fled Boko Haram militants to return. Cameroon invested $10 million on reconstruction efforts after damage caused by the Islamist terrorist group in some villages. But, in northern Cameroon, many villagers are reluctant to go home, and authorities acknowledge the militants are still a threat.

Bulldozers of Cameroon’s Ministry of Public Works fill destroyed portions of the 30-kilometer road linking Cameroon’s northern town of Mora to Banki, a town in northeast Nigeria.

Celestine Ketcha Courtes, Cameroon’s minister of housing and urban development, and Talba Malla Ibrahim, minister of public contracts, traveled to the site this week.

Courtes said they went to find out the effectiveness of reconstruction work on infrastructure damaged during fighting by Cameroonian troops and Boko Haram combatants.

She said Cameroonian President Paul Biya instructed her and the minister of public contracts to visit markets rebuilt to facilitate the purchase and sale of goats, cattle, table birds and food. She said they also saw roads built to ease travel between Cameroon and Nigeria and to facilitate trade between the two neighbors. She said Cameroon’s government is planning to rebuild infrastructure destroyed by the jihadist militant group Boko Haram.

Cameroon said the $10 million was invested this year for reconstruction of schools, hospitals and markets destroyed by Boko Haram. Alamine Ousman Mey is the minister of economy. He said civilians who fled can return and occupy infrastructure that has been reconstructed.

“It started with the reconstruction be it [of] the police as well as custom administrative facilities [buildings]. It has gone further to train those involved in protecting the population and also the community to be part of the stabilization process. It is about bringing back economic life,” he said. 

Mey acknowledged Boko Haram is still a threat. He said civilians should return as the military will protect people to help in the development of their towns and villages.

But this week, Cameroon reported two Boko Haram deadly attacks that claimed the lives of 13 troops and civilians in the border villages of Sagme and Zigi. The latest attack was in Zigi on Tuesday. Authorities say five troops and six civilians were killed. 

Cameroon said several hundred civilians fled the two villages.

There has been no comment from Nigeria, but a Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), established by Lake Chad Basin countries to combat Boko Haram, consists of troops from Nigeria, Cameroon, Benin, Niger and Chad. The troops, which have a base in Mora, are posted along Cameroon’s border with Nigeria.  

Gregory Bonglam is a teacher. He said on Tuesday, he fled Mozogo, a northern administrative unit on the border with Nigeria after yet another Boko Haram attack.

“You never can identify who is Boko Haram and who is not. We were sitting outside and discussing. Little did we know that Boko Haram was around and before we knew it, there were already explosives. Luckily, we were a little far from the incident otherwise we would have been killed. Going back there is really very dangerous,” he said.

Philemon Ndula, conflict resolution specialist with the Cameroon NGO Trauma Center, said Cameroon should ensure there is peace before reconstruction.

“What I will suggest is for the government to talk about recovery. In recovery, there is the physical aspect of building the schools, building the houses, building the hospitals and so on. So that is why I am saying that reconstruction is just a starting point. The psychological aspect is actually the heart of the matter. People can only go out to do their businesses, to go to their farms when they have that minimum security,” said Ndula.

Cameroon says security will improve if civilians collaborate with authorities and report to authorities if they see suspicious activities in towns and villages. The government is also asking for the creation of militias to assist the military fight Boko Haram.

Boko Haram has been fighting for 11 years to create an Islamic caliphate in northeast Nigeria and parts of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin.

The violence has cost the lives of 30,000 people and displaced about 2 million civilians, according to the United Nations. 

 

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Haitians Displaced by Gang Violence Face Bleak Future

Haitians displaced by gang incursions into swaths of the capital now live on the sharpest edge of insecurity in the Caribbean country, which is reeling from the assassination of President Jovenel Moise earlier this month. 

Officials say thousands of people have lost their homes to encroachment by violent gangs into central and southern parts of the city, where urban sprawl envelops more than 2.5 million people.   

“I’ve got no future in this country as a young man. I’m in an unstable situation, I can’t build a home, the situation is really critical,” said one youth, staying at a shelter in the Delmas 5 neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. 

Like others who spoke to Reuters at the center, which gives refuge to about 1,800 people, he declined to give his name for fear of reprisals from gangs. 

Gang violence in Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas, increasingly marred Moise’s rule before he was shot dead in his official residence on July 7. The government says the attack was carried out by a group of largely Colombian mercenaries, though many questions about who was behind his killing remain. 

Ariel Henry was formally appointed as prime minister of Haiti last week, calling for unity, stability, and international support. 

But the gangs are powerful and security institutions are weak. Georges Michel, a Haitian historian, said the gangs can muster a firepower superior to official security forces and are highly mobile, used to deploying guerrillalike tactics to prey on the population and do battle with rival outfits.   

“I hope that (the government) finds a way to destroy them because they create terror in all the neighborhood,” he said. 

Gangs have threatened to occupy the streets to protest the assassination of Moise. One of the most prominent bosses, Jimmy Cherizier, a former cop known as Barbecue, on Monday led hundreds of followers to a commemoration of the dead president.   

“We never knew this situation before,” said another youth at the shelter. “This stems from the political crisis.” 

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US-sanctioned Militia Leader Killed in East Libya, Officials Say

A Libyan militia leader sanctioned by the United States for allegedly killing civilians was shot dead Tuesday in an exchange of fire with forces attempting to arrest him in an eastern city, officials said. 

Libyan officials said security forces raided Mohamed al-Kani’s house in Benghazi to carry out an arrest warrant on charges of killing civilians. Libyan officials and the U.S. allege al-Kani was responsible for the deaths of people found in mass graves last year in the western town of Tarhuna. 

Tarhuna, a strategic town about 65 kilometers (41 miles) southeast of the Libyan capital of Tripoli, was under control of the al-Kaniyat militia, which gained a reputation for its brutal tactics. Led by al-Kani, the militia had initially sworn allegiance to a former government in Tripoli. But it switched sides in the civil war and aligned with the east-based forces of military commander Khalifa Hifter in 2019. 

The officials said al-Kani was killed in an exchange of gunfire along with one of his associates. A third man was arrested, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. 

Mohamed al-Tarhuni, a spokesman for the militia, confirmed al-Kani’s death. 

The mass graves in Tarhuna were found last year after the militia’s withdrawal following the collapse of Hifter’s 14-month campaign to wrest control of Tripoli from an array of militias allied with the former U.N.-recognized government. 

The U.S. Treasury placed al-Kani and his militia under sanctions in November after finding them responsible for killing the civilians. They also alleged the militia had committed acts of torture, forced disappearances and displacement of civilians.  

Fatou Bensouda, former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, told the U.N. Security Council in November that her office was working with the Tripoli government “in relation to these mass graves,” where many bodies were found blindfolded and with hands tied. 

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a NATO-backed uprising toppled long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The country was since split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments. 

Hifter’s 2019 offensive, supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia, collapsed in June 2020 when militias backing the Tripoli government, with support from Turkey and Qatar, gained the upper hand. A U.N.-brokered cease-fire was reached in October that stopped hostilities. 

Oil-rich Libya is now ruled by a transitional government tasked with preparing the nation for elections in December. 

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Olympic Champ Biles Withdraws from All-around Competition

Simone Biles will not defend her Olympic title. The American gymnastics superstar withdrew from Thursday’s all-around competition to focus on her mental well-being. USA Gymnastics said in a statement on Wednesday that the 24-year-old is opting to not compete. The decision comes a day after Biles removed herself from the team final following one rotation because she felt she wasn’t mentally ready. Jade Carey, who finished ninth in qualifying, will take Biles’ place in the all-around. Carey initially did not qualify because she was the third-ranking American behind Biles and Sunisa Lee. International Gymnastics Federation rules limit countries to two athletes per event in the finals. The organization said Biles will be evaluated before deciding if she will participate in next week’s individual events. 

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‘Just Proud’: Ledecky Wins Gold at Tokyo Olympics

 Finally, a gold medal in Tokyo for Katie Ledecky. 

The American star bounced back from the worst finish of her brilliant Olympic career to take the first-ever gold medal in the women’s 1,500-meter freestyle Wednesday. 

It wasn’t quite the breeze that everyone expected in the metric mile. Ledecky built a big lead right from the start, then worked hard to hold off American teammate Erica Sullivan’s blazing finish. 

But it was Ledecky touching first in 15 minutes, 37.39 seconds. Sullivan claimed the silver (15:41.41), while the bronze went to Germany’s Sarah Kohler (15:42.91). 

“I think people maybe feel bad for that I’m not winning everything and whatever, but I want people to be more concerned about other things going on in the world, people that are truly suffering,” Ledecky said. “I’m just proud to bring home a gold medal to Team USA.” 

It was quite a morning at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre for Ledecky, who seemed a bit overcome by the ups and downs she experienced in a little over an hour. 

She tumbled over the lane rope to give Sullivan a hug, let out an uncharacteristic scream toward the American cheering section in the mostly empty arena and seemed to be holding back tears as she pulled her goggles back down over her eyes before exiting the pool. 

In her first final of the day, Ledecky was blown away by her Australian rival, Ariarne Titmus, who made it 2-for-2 over the American with a victory in the 200 free. 

Ledecky didn’t even win a medal — the first time that’s happened to her in an Olympic race. She was far behind all the way, never getting any higher than her fifth-place finish. 

“After the 200, I knew I had to turn the page very quickly,” Ledecky said. “In the warm down pool, I was thinking of my family. Kind of each stroke I was thinking of my grandparents.” 

Her voice choked with emotion. She crunched her eyes trying not to cry. 

“They’re the toughest four people I know,” Ledecky said, “and that’s what helped me get through that.” 

The Australian known as the Terminator gave the Australian women their third individual swimming gold with an Olympic record of 1:53.50 in the 200 freestyle, adding to her thrilling victory in the 400 free.

In the longer race, Titmus conserved her energy over the first half, then rallied to pass Ledecky with the second-fastest performance in history. 

Where was Ledecky in the 200? 

Nowhere to be found. 

The defending Olympic champion made the first flip in seventh place and finished in 1:55.21, nearly 2 seconds behind the winner. 

Siobhan Haughey of Hong Kong led much of the race before hanging on to take the silver in 1:53.92. The bronze went to Canada’s Penny Oleksiak in 1:54.70. 

“Obviously having a great swim in the 400 gives me confidence coming into the 200,” Titmus said. “I thought my back end was definitely my strength in the 400. I knew I could have that on the way home in the 200.” 

Titmus wasn’t all that pleased with her time, but it was good enough for another gold. 

“Honestly, it’s not the time that I thought I could do this morning, but it’s the Olympics and there’s a lot of other stuff going on,” she said. “So it’s just about winning here. I’m very happy.”  

Italy’s Federica Pellegrini of Italy finished seventh in her fifth and final Olympics. She won the gold in 2008 and is still the world-record holder. 

The Americans also picked up a couple of medals in the women’s 200 individual medley — but not the one they wanted. 

Japan’s Yui Ohashi completed her IM sweep by beating Americans Alex Walsh and Kate Douglass, adding to her victory in the 400. 

The winning time was 2:08.52. Walsh claimed the silver in 2:08.65, while the bronze went to Douglass in 2:09.04. 

Defending Olympic champion and world record-holder Katinka Hosszu of Hungary finished seventh. She was the oldest swimmer in the final at age 32. 

There were no surprises in the men’s 200 butterfly, with Kristof Milak of Hungary romping to a dominating — but rather nerve-wracking — victory.  

Milak won the gold by about two body lengths despite having to hastily change suits before the race, which cost him a chance to break his own world record. 

Milak said that he realized about 10 minutes before walking on deck that his suit was damaged. He told Hungarian reporters that he totally lost focus, though it was hard to tell from his performance in the pool.  

He held up the suit in the mixed zone, putting a finger through the tear before tossing it on a table in disgust. 

Milak still touched in an Olympic record of 1:51.25 — more than a half-second off his 2019 world record (1:50.73) but some 2 ½ seconds ahead of the silver medalist. 

Japan’s Tomoru Honda finished in 1:53.73, while the bronze went to Italy’s Federico Burdisso (1:54.45). 

South African star Chad le Clos finished fifth. He won the 200 butterfly at the 2012 London Olympics, upsetting Michael Phelps, but was no match for the Hungarian star. 

Caeleb Dressel breezed through the semifinals of the 100 free, his first of three individual events. The American star posted the second-fastest time (47.23), just behind Russia’s Kliment Kolesnikov (47.11). 

“That’s about what I expected,” Dressel said. “It’s going to be a fast final.” 

He shook off the view that he’s a lock for the gold. 

“I’ve never been a fan of favorites,” Dressel said. “It’s going to be a really fun race. Really looking forward to it. I mean, there’s quite honestly eight guys in contention, so it’s going to be exciting for everyone to watch. You guys (in the media) should be jealous I get to take part in it.” 

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US Gymnast Biles Withdraws From Team Final at Tokyo Games

Simone Biles withdrew Tuesday from the women’s gymnastics team final at the Tokyo Summer Games, saying she needed to concentrate on her mental health.  
 
The 24-year-old U.S. Olympian hoped to win six gold medals that would make her the greatest female Olympic champion of all time after winning 30 world and Olympic medals.
 
But after one uncertain vault Tuesday, Biles said she was not in the right “headspace” to compete and had to drop out from the final competition to protect herself, leaving her future participation in the Games in doubt.
 
Biles had been expected to participate in all six events that included a defense of her all-around crown Thursday, followed by four event finals next week.
 
“I do not trust myself anymore,” Biles said tearfully at a news conference. “I have to focus on my mental health.”
 
“We also have to focus on ourselves, because at the end of the day we’re human, too,” Biles added. “So, we have to protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.”Official statement: “Simone Biles has withdrawn from the team final competition due to a medical issue. She will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions.”Thinking of you, Simone! pic.twitter.com/QA1GYHwWTv— USA Gymnastics (@USAGym) July 27, 2021Biles left open the possibility of competing Thursday, noting, “It’s going to be a quick turnaround” and that “Whatever happens, happens and it’s going to be completely fine.”
 
Without Biles, the team representing the Russia Olympic Committee surged past the U.S., earning a score of 169.258 to win the country’s first Olympic team gold in nearly 30 years.Yet another upset occurred in women’s tennis as Japan’s Naomi Osaka, the world’s second-ranked player, suffered a shocking 6-1, 6-4 defeat to Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic in the third round. Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam winner and a favorite to win gold for her native country, struggled during the match with 32 unforced errors.Earlier at the Tokyo Aquatics Center, the highly anticipated contest in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke between Lilly King of the United States, who won the event in the 2016 Rio Olympics, and Tatjana Schoenmaker of South Africa, ended in an upset when Lydia Jacoby, King’s 17-year-old teammate, edged both women to win the gold. Schoenmaker finished in second place to win the silver medal while King ended in third, taking home the bronze medal.  Gold medalist Lydia Jacoby, center, of the U.S., stands with silver medalist Tatjana Schoenmaker, left, of South Africa, and bronze medalist Lilly King, of the U.S., after the final of the women’s 100-meter breaststroke.Hundreds of people packed into a railroad terminal in Jacoby’s hometown of Seward, Alaska, launched into a wild celebration as they watched her come from behind in the last lap overtake Schoenmaker.STAND UP ALASKA!17-year-old Lydia Jacoby WINS GOLD, and everybody’s celebrating! From left to right, Britain’s Duncan Scott, South Korea’s Hwang Sunwoo and Britain’s Tom Dean swim in a 200-meter freestyle semifinal at the 2020 Summer Olympics, July 26, 2021, in Tokyo.Olympic history was also made Tuesday when Italo Ferreira of Brazil and Carissa Moore of the United States won the first-ever gold medals for men and women’s surfing.   Ferreira, the reigning World Surf League champion, overcame a broken board on his first wave on his way to his historic victory at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach in Ichinomiya town, outpointing Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi and Owen Wright of Australia, who won the silver and bronze medals respectively.   The Hawaii-born Moore, a four-time world champion and current top-ranked surfer, dominated her first two waves in the finals for a combined 14.93, easily outpointing South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag, who scored 8.46 to win the silver medal.  Amuro Tsuzuki of Japan took home the bronze.   In other Olympic events Tuesday, Flora Duffy of Bermuda won the women’s triathlon in 1:55:36 (one hour, 55 minutes, 36 seconds), which included a 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bike ride and 10-kilometer run. Duffy’s gold medal victory is the first for the Caribbean island nation, and the second-ever Olympic medal since boxer Clarence Hill won bronze in the 1976 Montreal Games. Georgia Taylor-Brown won the silver medal, while Katie Zaferes of the United States won bronze.   Another gold medal event is taking place later Tuesday in Tokyo when the U.S. takes on host country Japan in women’s softball in Yokohama Baseball Stadium.The United States leads the overall medal count with 22, with China in second place with 22 and host country Japan in third with 17. The U.S., China and Japan are all tied in the gold medal count with nine, followed by five for the ROC.  Host country Japan took gold  in women’s softball, defeating the U.S. team 2-0.The United States leads the overall medal count with 25, with China in second place with 21 and host country Japan with 18.  Some information for this report came from the Associated Press. 

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Weightlifter Guryeva Wins Turkmenistan’s 1st Olympic medal

Sparsely populated and isolated from most of the outside world, Turkmenistan has finally won its first Olympic medal since independence from the Soviet Union.Weightlifter Polina Guryeva won a silver medal for the Central Asian nation at the Tokyo Games on Tuesday, and then predicted she would go down in the country’s history.”I was in shock because it’s the first Olympic medal in the history of the Turkmen people. It’s the first medal, which I won. No sport in Turkmenistan has had a medal, not one medal,” the 21-year-old Guryeva said. “I think I’ve entered the history of Turkmenistan by winning a medal. I’m so in shock.”Guryeva lifted a total 217 kilograms in the 59-kilogram category, edging Mikiko Andoh of Japan for second place. Kuo Hsing-Chun of Taiwan won gold by lifting 236kg.Guryeva, who calls Kuo her “idol” and copies her training exercises, finished in 28th place at the 2019 world championships while competing one weight category higher. On her coach’s advice, she used the one-year Olympic delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic to reset, dropping down a class.”When the pandemic began, I didn’t have a chance of qualifying,” she said. “In October, I dropped down and started training. And I went to the Asian Championships in Uzbekistan, lifted 211 total, and then I got the chance to go to the Olympics. And then I started training even harder to get this medal.”Guryeva will return home to a country which has often had little contact with the outside world but is trying to make its name in the world of sports. The gas-rich nation sent two medalists to the Soviet Union’s Olympic teams for the 1956 and 1960 Games but success has been rare since.Hosting the 2018 weightlifting world championships at a lavish new sports complex in the capital, Ashgabat, was one step toward raising the country’s profile. Turkmenistan’s authoritarian president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, is a fan of cycling and the country was scheduled to hold the track cycling championships this year, too, but they were moved because of the pandemic.The Turkmenistan government says it has not had any cases of COVID-19 but has made vaccinations mandatory.For Kuo, the victory was about completing a set of major championship medals. The Taiwanese lifter finally added Olympic gold to her four world titles.”I have all the pieces together. Now I am very happy,” she said through a translator.Andoh lifted a total of 214kg for bronze despite what she later revealed was severe pain in her feet. After her last lift, she fell to the ground on stage with a smile and was helped away by her coaches.In the 64-kilogram category, Maude Charron got hear a song at the Olympics that her “idol” never did — the Canadian national anthem.Charron won an unusually open competition with six women in the running for a place on the podium ahead of their last lifts. Charron’s total of 236kg was four more than silver medalist Giorgia Bordignon of Italy and six ahead of Chen Wen-Huei of Taiwan.Christine Girard, the Olympic champion from the 2012 London Games, never got to stand on the top step of the podium while “O Canada” was played because she originally finished in third place. The lifters that finished above her, from Kazakhstan and Russia, both later tested positive for doping.”I asked her how to prepare for the games, how not to be too intimidated by the rings, and she wrote me a message,” Charron said. “Now I just feel like that’s her medal, that’s her moment because she didn’t have it in real time.”Weightlifting has reallocated dozens of past Olympic medals and cut the Tokyo allocation for countries which racked up the most doping offenses.”For sure anti-doping made a great deal in just cleaning the sport,” Charron said. “There is a progression in this clean way.”

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