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Sudan coup leader says technocrat will lead new government, ousted PM could return

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October 29, 2021

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s military coup leader, facing pressure at home and abroad to restore power to civilians, said a technocratic prime minister could be announced in a week, and left the door open for the man he ousted to return and form the new government.

Western countries have cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in desperately needed aid to Sudan since General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan dissolved Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s cabinet and soldiers rounded up government ministers on Monday.

Opponents of the coup have called for mass protests on Saturday under the slogan “Leave!”. At least 11 protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces so far this week, and residents say they fear a full-blown crackdown.

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“I am scared that this country will catch fire. We’re scared these people will kill our children. There’s been enough death,” said a Khartoum woman in her 70s on condition of anonymity.

The coup has derailed a transition meant to steer Sudan to democracy, with elections in 2023, after long-serving ruler Omar al-Bashir was toppled two years ago.

While there has been no evidence of concrete progress towards restoring civilian rule, several mediation efforts have been announced. An Egyptian source said Egyptian officials had spoken to Burhan in a bid to foster a new government.

In Khartoum, a committee of national figures has been formed to mediate and has met with both the army and civilians, a member told Reuters. A U.N. special representative has also offered to facilitate an agreement.

In a speech on Thursday night, Burhan said Hamdok had been offered a chance to return as prime minister.

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“Until this night, we were sending him people and telling (Hamdok) … complete the path with us,” Burhan said in the speech, which was broadcast on Al-Jazeera TV. “We told him that we cleaned the stage for you … he is free to form the government, we will not intervene in the government formation.”

There was no immediate public response from Hamdok to the suggestion that he might return, but his allies have previously said he wants the civilian role in government restored and all detained ministers freed.

One minister in Hamdok’s ousted government, speaking on condition of anonymity, said cabinet members were not opposed to standing aside for a new government, provided it is led and chosen by Hamdok, and the transitional agreement is restored in full.

TECHNOCRAT

Burhan has said he removed to cabinet to avert civil war after civilian politicians stoked hostility to the armed forces. He says he is still committed to a democratic transition, including elections by 2023, but favours a government that would exclude partisan politicians.

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The new government would be led by a technocrat “agreed upon by different sections of the Sudanese people”, who could be chosen within a week and permitted to select a cabinet, he said in comments reported on Friday by Russia’s Sputnik news agency.

“We will not interfere in the choice of the ministers,” he said. New members would also be appointed to the Sovereign Council, a civilian-military body which he dissolved along with the cabinet.

The U.N. Security Council has called for the restoration of civilian rule, while U.S. President Joe Biden says Washington stands with peaceful demonstrators.

Hamdok, an economist, was initially held at Burhan’s residence when soldiers rounded up the government on Monday, but was allowed to return home under guard on Tuesday.

A source close to Hamdok said on Wednesday that Hamdok rejected any retreat from the democratic path as a threat to stability. On the eve of the coup, Hamdok had resisted pressure to dissolve his cabinet and warned the army against using violence against protesters, the source said.

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Magdi El Gizouli, a political analyst, said Burhan’s calculation is that he can suppress the opposition by force if needed, while counting on the backing of people who crave stability.

While it was important the army avoid violence on Saturday, Burhan’s opponents must make realistic demands, he added. “Otherwise you’re driving your car beyond its motor.”

Egyptian officials including intelligence chief Abbas Kamel have been spoken with Burhan and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, another top Sudanese commander, in the last two days in a bid to restore calm and mediate over the formation of a new government, a security source at Egyptian intelligence said.

The coup has led donors to freeze assistance badly needed in a country where more than half the population is in poverty and hardship has fuelled instability and civil wars. After decades of pariah status under Bashir, Sudan had finally won Western aid, which has only recently begun to stabilise its economy.

Since becoming de facto head of state in 2019, Burhan has developed good ties with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, U.S.-allied Arab states all happy to see the downfall of Bashir, whose Islamism they opposed.

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(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum, Nafisa Eltahir and Aidan Lewis in Cairo; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Peter Graff)

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Calm returns as clean-up begins in Solomon Islands -media

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November 28, 2021

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Soldiers and police from Australia and Papua New Guinea were helping to restore calm in the Solomon Islands as clean-up operations started, after several days of rioting left three dead and led to dozens of arrests, local media reported.

The Solomon Star newspaper said Australian soldiers and police and troops from Papua New Guinea had helped to restore normalcy in the country’s capital Honiara, halting the looting, rioting and burning of buildings and shops.

Overnight, clean up operations began in earnest in areas that were particularly hard hit, including the city’s Chinatown, the newspaper said. Footage obtained by Reuters showed heavy machinery moving rubble from burned out shops.

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Three charred bodies were discovered in a store on Friday in the Chinatown district, an area targeted by protesters still resentful the government in 2019 ended diplomatic ties with Taiwan to establish formal links with China.

More Australian Federal Police would arrive in the South Pacific nation on Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a televised news conference.

“Although things are very unstable at this point … plans, we know, are being made, to ensure there can be calm,” he said.

Some 50 officers from the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary arrived in Honiara on Friday, a day after Australia sent its own forces to the capital, both in response to requests from the Solomon Islands government for help.

(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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Australia to introduce new laws to force media platforms to unmask online trolls

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November 28, 2021

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia will introduce legislation to make social media giants provide details of users who post defamatory comments, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday.

The government has been looking at the extent of the responsibility of platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, for defamatory material published on their sites and comes after the country’s highest court ruled that publishers can be held liable for public comments on online forums.

The ruling caused some news companies like CNN to deny Australians access to their Facebook pages.

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“The online world should not be a wild west where bots and bigots and trolls and others are anonymously going around and can harm people,” Morrison said at a televised press briefing.

“That is not what can happen in the real world, and there is no case for it to be able to be happening in the digital world.”

The new legislation will introduce a complaints mechanism, so that if somebody thinks they are being defamed, bullied or attacked on social media, they will be able to require the platform to take the material down.

If the content is not withdrawn, a court process could force a social media platform to provide details of the commenter.

“Digital platforms – these online companies – must have proper processes to enable the takedown of this content,” Morrison said.

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“They have created the space and they need to make it safe, and if they won’t, we will make them (through) laws such as this.”

(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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In Honduras, parties flag fears of fraud ahead of pivotal vote

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November 28, 2021

By Gustavo Palencia and David Alire Garcia

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – Warnings of potential foul play are flying from all sides ahead of Sunday’s presidential election in Honduras, raising fears of possible disputes and unrest if leading challenger Xiomara Castro does not win by a clear margin.

The charged political atmosphere reflects memories of the disputed 2017 election, which the ruling National Party won after a delayed count and that the Organization of American States said was riddled with irregularities before calling for a fresh vote.

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The opposition said the result was fraudulent and both sides claimed victory. More than two dozen people were killed in the ensuing riots and repression.

The current election cycle has already claimed more political violence than four years ago, with more than 30 killed so far, according to researchers at Honduras’ national university.

Salvador Nasralla, the 2017 runner-up, is the current candidate for vice president for the leading opposition slate led by self-declared democratic socialist Castro. He accuses the National Party of planning a repeat of what he said was voter suppression in 2017.

“I don’t have any confidence in our electoral process,” he told Reuters.

The conservative National Party routinely uses its full control of government institutions and funds to reward supporters, punish opponents and influence elections, politicians from both sides say.

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This week, the party itself issued a statement blasting the electoral authority for already committing errors including a lack of transparency that could lead to a “national crisis” with delayed and suspect results.

“It creates a situation of high risk to the election,” it said.

Sunday’s vote will mark the latest fraught political showdown in Central America, after Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega cruised to re-election this month after detaining all leading rivals.

In a sign of concerns in the final week before the election, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden took the unusual step of sending a high-level delegation to meet with the main candidates, government officials and election organizers.

After the visit, a senior U.S. State Department official said the main objective of the delegation was to encourage a fair, free and peaceful election, given what it describes as democratic backsliding in the region.

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If poll leader Castro wins, she would bring the Honduran left to power for the first time since her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya, was ousted in a 2009 coup.

If ruling party candidate Nasry Asfura prevails, he will have overcome the unpopularity of outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who is fighting accusations of corruption and links to drug smugglers.

Hernandez denies wrongdoing.

A LOOK AT THE CANDIDATE’S PHONE

During an interview, Nasralla showed Reuters a video on his phone he said was captured by his home-security cameras a few days ago. It showed someone painting slurs on a wall of his house. In the video, the person can be seen removing an outer layer of clothing to reveal a shirt bearing the logo of Castro’s Libre party underneath.

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Nasralla said the video was evidence that National Party agitators were disguising themselves as Libre supporters, and worried they will provoke violence or property destruction to erode opposition votes.

“They’re the ones that cause violence,” he said.

The National Party did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Friday, a handful of businesses in the capital Tegucigalpa covered glass store entrances with wood and metal panels, in a sign some were taking the possibility of unrest seriously.

Rixi Moncada, the Libre Party’s representative on the electoral council, said the government and the National Party have caused “a lot of obstruction” in its efforts to organize a fair vote.

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She specifically accused the finance ministry of interfering with the council’s budget and causing delayed deliveries of polling station equipment, like printers and finger-print readers.

Moncada, a lawyer, expressed concern that any post-election dispute might reach the courts, widely seen as loyal to the ruling party.

“This country has very little faith in our system of justice,” she said.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia and David Alire Garcia; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Daniel Flynn and Nick Zieminski)

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