Top of the Morning: France to Close 20 Embassies over Mohammad Cartoon; Lonmin Miners Strike a Deal; Al Shabaab Routed from Strategic Town

Top stories from DAWNS Digest.

France to Close 20 Embassies after Magazine Prints Mohammad Cartoon

The French anticipate some backlash. “France will temporarily close its embassies and schools in 20 countries on Friday after a French magazine published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, a move it fears will further inflame tensions after the recent release of an anti-Islam video. ‘We have indeed decided as a precautionary measure to close our premises, embassies, consulates, cultural centres and schools,’ a Foreign Ministry spokesman said of the shut-down on Friday. On Wednesday, France stepped up security and appealed for calm after satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo published the cartoons. Laurent Fabius, the foreign minister, said he had ordered special security measures ‘in all the countries where this could pose a problem’. Demonstrations in the Islamic world often follow Friday prayers. Fabius admitted that he was “concerned” by the potential for a backlash to Charlie Hebdo’s printing of the series of cartoons, given the background of violent protests that have taken place in the Muslim world over the release of the anti-Islam video, Innocence of Muslims. Police were deployed outside the Paris offices of the magazine on Wednesday. The left-wing, libertarian publication’s offices were firebombed last year after it published an edition “guest-edited” by the Prophet Muhammad that it called Sharia Hebdo. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault urged ‘responsibility’ and said anyone offended by the caricatures could sue.” (Al Jazeera

South African Miners Strike a Deal: Back to Work

South Africa’s national nightmare (and the ANC’s giant political headache) may be coming to a conclusion. “Striking platinum miners at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in South Africa accepted a hefty pay rise offer on Tuesday, ending six weeks of violent labor unrest that killed 45 people and rattled Africa’s largest economy. The strikers, grouped on a bare soccer pitch near the mine, 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, cheered when they were told that management were offering a 22 percent pay increase, and said they would return to work on Thursday…’It’s a huge achievement. No union has achieved a 22 percent increase before,’ Zolisa Bodlani, a worker representative at Marikana, told Reuters. At least one analyst expressed concern that the Marikana wage increase could trigger a rash of pay demands across a mining sector already being squeezed by low metals prices and rising labor and electricity costs. In another sign that weeks of trouble in South Africa’s platinum belt were ending, the world’s biggest platinum producer, Anglo American Platinum, said it had resumed operations in the strike-hit Rustenburg area.” (Reuters

Somalia: Al Shabaab Begins Retreat from Strategic Town of Kismayo

This is a big tactical victory for African Union forces, but it may not be the decisive blow. “Somali militant group al Shabaab has pulled its commanders out of the port city of Kismayu, leaving foot soldiers to defend its last bastion against advancing African troops, residents and Kenya’s military said on Tuesday. The al Qaeda-linked rebels have lost strongholds across southern and central Somalia in the past year in the face of advances by African Union forces, including Kenyan troops. The Horn of Africa nation, a battleground in the U.S.-led war on militant Islam, is seen as a threat to regional stability. While the capture of Kismayu – the hub of al Shabaab’s southern operations – would likely weaken the rebels’ military capacity and morale, it is unlikely to deliver the knock-out blow hoped for by Mogadishu and its regional allies. Western diplomats expect the insurgents will retreat into the hinterlands and resort to guerrilla-style hit-and-run raids and urban bombings. (Reuters