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Read our pick of African stories from the news agencies Jan. 2-3

ANTANANARIVO – Former Finance Minister wins presidential vote
Madagascar’s former finance minister Hery Rajaonarimampianina has won the country’s first presidential election since a coup in 2009 but his closest rival said the vote was rigged. The electoral commission said on Friday that Rajaonarimampianina, the candidate backed by outgoing President Andry Rajoelina who spearheaded the coup nearly five years ago, won 53.5 percent of the Dec. 20 vote. He beat Jean Louis Robinson, who ended up with 46.5 percent and has demanded a recount. Robinson's camp has filed almost 300 complaints to the electoral court, which has to rule on the commission's provisional result by 19 Jan. The dispute over the results has raised concerns the island nation could remain mired in political turmoil. (Jan 3 (Reuters).
Photo: Hery Rajaonarimampianina

TUNIS – Parliament votes on the new constitution
Tunisia's parliament began voting on Friday on a new constitution that will help put its turbulent progress to democracy back on track. The vote comes three years after the revolution that sparked uprisings across the Arab world. Finishing the charter is a key step before a caretaker government takes office on the 14th January to end a crisis between Islamists and secular parties. An earlier disagreement over the formation of the caretaker government had threatened Tunisia's transition after the fall of long-serving ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. About 192 of the National Assembly's 217 members attended the opening debate and approval of all 146 articles is likely to take at least a week. The Islamist party Ennahda, which came to power two years ago, and the mostly secular opposition parties have agreed to finish the handover to the caretaker government on the third anniversary of Ben Ali's fall. (Jan 3, Reuters).

ROME - Hundreds of migrants rescued by the Italian Navy
The Italian navy rescued more than 1,000 migrants on Thursday and Friday from boats trying to reach Europe, authorities said. Over 800 men, women and children aboard four vessels were rescued south of Sicily on Thursday. They came from countries including Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq and Tunisia. The navy rescued 233 migrants from Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Zambia, Mali and Pakistan in a separate operation and took them to a port near Syracuse on Sicily's eastern coast. In October, Italy launched a special operation combining ships, helicopters and drones to monitor the Mediterranean Sea following a shipwreck in which 366 Eritrean migrants drowned off the Italian island of Lampedusa. Italy is a major gateway into Europe for many migrants seeking a better life, and sea arrivals to the country from Northern Africa more than tripled in 2013, fuelled by refugees in Syria's civil war and strife in the Horn of Africa. (Jan. 3, Reuters).

ADDIS ABABA – Preliminary talks for an end to the fighting in South Sudan open in Ethiopia
South Sudan's warring factions held preliminary meetings Friday ahead of the official start of negotiations in neighboring Ethiopia, mediators said. A spokesman for Ethiopia's Foreign Ministry, said the introductory meetings were necessary to bridge the differences between the two groups ahead of direct talks expected to start Saturday. The meetings are being held at Addis Ababa's Sheraton Hotel. (AP).
Meanwhile, the United States evacuated more embassy staff on Friday from South Sudan's capital Juba due to the worsening security in the country, where clashes between rebels and the army risk turning into full-blown civil war. The fighting, which began on 15th Dec., has split the world's newest state along ethnic lines. The fighting is mostly between President Salva Kiir's Dinkas and former vice president Riek Machar's Nuer ethnic group, and raised fears of regional instability. (Jan 3 (Reuters).

HARARE – Food imports to ease shortage
Zimbabwe plans to import 150,000 tonnes of maize from its neighbour South Africa as it faces its worst food shortages in four years due to drought and a poor harvest last year, state media reported on Friday. Since October, the U.N. World Food Programme has been working with the government and international aid organisations to provide food assistance to about a fifth of Zimbabwe's 13 million people until the next crop harvest due in three months’ time. The South African imports will add to another 150,000 tonnes ordered from Zambia, deputy agriculture minister David Marapira told the government-controlled Herald newspaper. The country requires about 2 million tonnes annually. (Jan 3, Reuters).

HARARE – Retailers not helping the troubled economy
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's black empowerment agency says at least 90 percent of foreign shop owners don't have bank accounts and are hiding away money or smuggling it out of the country, worsening cash shortages in the troubled economy. The head of the agency created to help black Zimbabweans, Wilson Gwatiringa, said many of the foreign retailers lack proper identification documents required to open a bank account, leading to hundreds of million dollars staying out of the formal economy, state media reported Friday. He said that ``raises eyebrows'' after government recently allowed foreign shop owners, mostly Chinese and Nigerian nationals, to continue in retail trade, a sector reserved for local blacks. (AP).


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