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Doubts raised over al Qaeda-killing claim by Yemen

Yemen's defense ministry today claimed its forces killed a senior al Qaeda leader, Ayedh al Shabwani, in southern Yemen on Tuesday. In a statement on its website, the ministry said the man was killed during intense fighting in the largely lawless southern part of the country. Al Shabwani was on Yemen's most wanted list and has evaded previous attempts on his life -- including an air strike in January, 2010 on a location where he was thought to be hiding.

The government has been battling al Qaeda militants in the south without much to show for it, so far. In the past two days, 10 soldiers were killed. 90,000 people are thought to have fled the fighting. (Yemeni officials say the United States is providing logistical support and also carrying out strikes from the air and sea.) For the past several months, al Qaeda has been taking full advantage of the power vacuum playing out in the country -- especially since President Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to leave for Saudi Arabia to recuperate from injuries suffered in an attack on his palace in June. Since then, there have been questions about who is actually calling the shots.

Given the flood of bad news, an announcement that a major al Qaeda figure is dead would surely be seen as a major achievement for the government. There's only one problem -- there are serious doubts being raised about whether al Shabwani was really killed. After all, this wouldn't be the first time the Yemen government has claimed they got him. Some opposition groups and analysts have said the announcement was just an attempt by the government to show it had the upper hand in the fighting -- when in reality it didn't. They say the timing of the announcement -- so soon after the air raid -- was suspicious.

"The government is looking for victories right now even if they are lies," a Yemeni al Qaeda analyst, Said Obeid, told Reuters.

Some Yemeni officials conceded there was reason to be skeptical. "They have a right to some doubts because there has been a lack of precision in some past information given, but our media announces the news as we receive it from the area," one official told Reuters.

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New threat for Ghana's gay community

While gay Americans have a lot to celebrate lately -- the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and New York becoming the sixth state to legalize gay marriage, among them -- 76 countries still consider being gay a crime. Homosexuality has long been a heated issue in Ghana, and now its LGBT community may face jail time. "All efforts are being made to get rid of these people in the society," said Paul Evans Aidoo, an MP from the western region. Ghana's Bureau of National Investigations has been directed to track down and arrest anyone suspected of being gay.

Aidoo is not the first high profile person to go on the attack publicly. Reverend Stephen Wengam, a prominent religious figure in Ghana, recently wrote an op-ed for the Ghana Broadcasting Company where he stated:

"If homosexuality is tolerated, very soon the human race will be extinct."

Aidoo's efforts could lead to a witch-hunt as he has asked landlords to keep an eye out for "people they suspect of being homosexuals". The police are to be informed of any suspicious activity.

Ghana News Agency, a media outlet based in Accra, is claiming that homosexuality can lead to HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. While Ghana has recently cut its AIDS rate in half, the disease remains a constant fear of the small West African nation. The homosexual community has now fallen victim to the AIDS blame game.

Apart from South Africa, where gay marriage is formally recognized, homosexuality is shunned by most African leaders. Along with Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran, Africa is also home to several countries where being gay is quite literally, a death sentence. In Nigeria, those convicted face death by stoning. LGBT individuals in Ghana may soon join this disturbing trend. One member of parliament, David Tetteh Assuming, recently hinted that more permanent punishments will be instituted for those found guilty of homosexuality:

"I believe that they are treading on dangerous grounds and they could face lynching in future."

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