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World Bank halts Sudan operations in blow to coup leaders, strike calls gain more support

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October 27, 2021

By Khalid Abdelaziz

KHARTOUM (Reuters) -The World Bank halted disbursements for operations in Sudan on Wednesday in response to the military’s seizure of power from a transitional government, while state oil company workers, doctors and pilots joined civilian groups opposing the takeover.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets since Monday’s coup led by armed forces chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and several have been killed in clashes with security forces.

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Burhan has dismissed the joint civilian-military council that was set up to steer the country to democratic elections following the overthrow of autocrat Omar al-Bashir in a popular uprising in April 2019.

He claimed he acted to stop the country slipping into civil war, but the World Bank decision to pause payments and stop processing new operations is a setback to his plans for one of Africa’s poorest countries.

After isolation from the international financing system across three decades of Bashir’s rule, Sudan achieved full re-engagement with the bank in March and gained access to $2 billion in financing.

“I am greatly concerned by recent events in Sudan, and I fear the dramatic impact this can have on the country’s social and economic recovery and development,” World Bank President David Malpass said in a statement from Washington.

“We hope that peace and the integrity of the transition process will be restored, so that Sudan can restart its path of economic development and can take its rightful place in the international financial community,” he said.

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Abdalla Hamdok, prime minister in the deposed transitional government, had touted World Bank re-engagement as a major accomplishment and was depending on the funding for several large development projects.

The government had instituted harsh economic reforms that succeeded in achieving rapid arrears clearance and debt relief and renewed financing from the World Bank and IMF.

MARCH OF MILLIONS

Scattered protests took place in Khartoum on Wednesday although no new bloodshed was reported.

In one Khartoum neighbourhood, a Reuters journalist saw soldiers and armed people in civilian clothes removing barricades erected by protesters. A few hundred metres away, youths build barricades again minutes later.

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“We want civilian rule. We won’t get tired,” one said.

In the northeastern city of Atbara, protesters marched and chanted “Down with the military regime”.

Neighbourhood committees announced plans for further protests leading to what they said would be a “march of millions” on Saturday.

Workers at state oil company Sudapet said they were joining the civil disobedience campaign to back the stalled democratic transition.

Pilots from national carrier Sudan Airways have gone on strike, their union said, as have pilots from local carriers Badr and Tarco Airlines. Central Bank employees have also stopped work in a further setback for the functioning of the economy.

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Doctors belonging to the Unified Doctors’ Office group of unions also said they were striking. The doctors were one of the driving forces behind the 2019 uprising that brought down Bashir.

Power-sharing between the military and civilians had been increasingly strained over issues including whether to send Bashir and others to the International Criminal Court, where they are wanted for alleged atrocities in Darfur. Military commanders now leading Sudan also served in Darfur.

Speaking on Tuesday at his first news conference since announcing the takeover, Burhan said the army had no choice but to sideline politicians who he said were inciting people against the armed forces.

Hamdok was detained on Monday but has since been released.

SERIOUS RISK

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Events in Sudan – Africa’s third largest country – mirror those in several other Arab states where the military tightened its grip following uprisings.

Willow Berridge, a Sudan expert at Newcastle University, said it would be difficult for Burhan and the army to suppress street mobilisation against the takeover because of the presence of resistance committees in many neighbourhoods.

“My greatest fear is that he will fall back even further on the only legitimacy he can depend on – violence. It is a very serious risk,” Berridge said.

Burhan has close ties to states that worked to roll back Islamist influence and contain the impact of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

While Western countries have denounced the takeover in Sudan – which has a history of military coups – those Arab countries have mainly called for all parties to show restraint.

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Burhan has also been at the forefront of Sudan’s steps to normalise relations with Israel.

Sharon Bar-Li, deputy director-general for Africa at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said on Tuesday it was still too early to know if developments in Sudan will have consequences for the normalisation.

The African Union said it has suspended Sudan’s participation in all activities until the restoration of the civilian-led authority.

“Right now, because the military now has power, they have halted the path and taken us back to square one, but that doesn’t work for us,” said Sudanese citizen Mohamed Ali.

(Reporting by Alaa Swilam; additional reporting by El Tayeb Siddiq in Khartoum, Ebaid Ahmed in Atbara, Nafisa Eltahir in Cairo, Dawit Endeshaw in Addis Ababa and Tom Perry in Beirut, writing by Nadine Awadalla and Michael Georgy; editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Russian court remands mine director, inspectors in custody after deadly accident

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Siberia on Saturday remanded five people in custody for two months to face charges related to a mining accident that killed more than 50 people this week.

Three managers of the Listvyazhnaya mine, including its director, were ordered to remain in custody until late January for flouting industrial safety standards, a spokesperson for the regional prosecutor’s office said.

The court also ordered two safety inspectors, who had issued a certificate for the mine this month but had not actually checked the facility, to remain in custody until late January.

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The accident, which regional authorities say was likely caused by a methane explosion, claimed the lives of 51 people, including five rescuers who were sent to bring out dozens of men stuck deep underground.

The health ministry said on Saturday that 60 people were being treated in hospital for injuries sustained at the mine, TASS news agency reported.

The accident at the mine, located some 3,500 km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region, was Russia’s worst since 2010 when explosions killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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Russia spy chief says Ukraine invasion plan ‘malicious’ U.S. propaganda

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine and suggestions to the contrary are malicious U.S. propaganda, Moscow’s foreign intelligence chief said on Saturday.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch an attack.

Russia has repeatedly said it is free to move its troops on its own territory and that such movements should not be a cause for concern.

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“I need to reassure everyone. Nothing like this is going to happen,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, said in an interview broadcast on state television, referring to comments on Russia’s alleged invasion plans.

“Everything that is happening around this topic right now is of course malicious propaganda by the U.S. State Department.”

Naryshkin spoke a day after the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said all options were on the table in how to respond to Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine’s border and that NATO would decide on the next move after consultations next week.

While U.S. officials have voiced concerns about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, Moscow has accused Washington, Kyiv and NATO of provocative and irresponsible behaviour near its borders.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Spanish police march in Madrid to protest against ‘Gag Law’ reform

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November 27, 2021

By Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo

MADRID (Reuters) – Thousands of Spanish police officers marched through Madrid on Saturday to protest against a proposed reform of a security law which they say will hamper their ability to do their work.

Politicians from Spain’s three main conservative parties joined police officers in the protest against proposed changes to the 2015 Citizens Security Law, which critics say violates the right to protest and limits free expression.

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Dubbed the “Gag Law” by those who oppose it, the legislation allows authorities to fine media organisations for distributing unauthorised images of police, strictly limits demonstrations and imposes heavy fines for offenders.

Spain’s leftist government has proposed reforms including no longer classifying the taking of photographs or making of recordings of police at demonstrations as a serious offence.

Under the changes, police will also have to use less harmful materials at protests after a number of people were seriously injured by rubber bullets fired by officers.

The time that suspects who are arrested at protests can be held in custody will be cut from six hours to two and fines will be proportional to how much offenders earn.

“They should either leave the current law as it is or make it better for the police and for the citizens,” Civil Guard officer Vanessa Gonzalez told Reuters.

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Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, of the far-right Vox party, said: “There is strong opposition against (the reform) of this law. It is against our police and we will not let it happen.”

However, Isa Serra, spokeswoman for the far-left Unidas Podemos party, said at a rally in Cantabria in northern Spain that the law had done a “lot of damage to Spanish democracy”.

Organisers said 150,000 people took part in the Madrid demonstration but the government put the figure at 20,000.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley, Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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