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South Africa’s de Klerk brokered end to white rule

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November 11, 2021

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s last white president F.W. de Klerk, who died on Thursday aged 85, stunned the world when he scrapped apartheid and negotiated a peaceful transfer of power to a Black-led government under Nelson Mandela.

But while he was feted globally and shared the Nobel Peace prize with the revered Mandela, de Klerk earned only scorn from many Blacks outraged by his failure to curb political violence in the turbulent years leading up to all-race elections in 1994.

And many right-wing white Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch and French settlers who had long ruled the country under de Klerk’s National Party, viewed him as a traitor to their causes of nationalism and white supremacy.

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Frederik Willem de Klerk died at his home in Cape Town on Thursday, his foundation said, after a battle with mesothelioma cancer, which affects the tissue lining the lungs.

De Klerk’s metamorphosis from servant of apartheid into its wrecking ball mirrored that of the former Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev. Both were good party men who rose to the pinnacle of power before moving to reform or dismantle the systems that had nourished them for decades.

The collapse of Gorbachev’s Soviet Union and communism in Eastern Europe helped pave the way for de Klerk to launch his own bold initiatives, as it removed the spectre of the “Red Menace” that had haunted a generation of white South Africans.

“The first few months of my presidency coincided with the disintegration of communism in Eastern Europe,” de Klerk wrote in his autobiography, “The Last Trek: A New Beginning”.

“Within the scope of a few months, one of our main strategic concerns for decades was gone,” he wrote. “A window had suddenly opened which created an opportunity for a much more adventurous approach than had been previously conceivable.”

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Less than three months after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, he opened the way for an end to more than four decades of apartheid with a bombshell speech to parliament on Feb. 2, 1990, that “unbanned” the African National Congress (ANC) and announced the release of its leader after 27 years behind bars.

Fearing a leak and a backlash from right-wing whites, de Klerk had kept the momentous decision secret from all but a handful of cabinet ministers. Even his wife was in the dark until she and de Klerk were heading to parliament.

At de Klerk’s 70th birthday celebrations in 2006, Mandela heaped praise on his predecessor for taking that leap into the political unknown.

“You have shown courage that few have done in similar circumstances,” said Mandela, who died in December 2013 at the age of 95, less than six months before the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s first all-race elections.

WHITE DOYEN TURNED RADICAL

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A lawyer from a prominent Afrikaner political dynasty, the urbane de Klerk was cut from the cloth of white apartheid rule and was a member of the Broederbond, a secret Afrikaner society dedicated to white supremacy.

De Klerk launched his parliamentary career in 1972 as member for the right-wing mining town of Vereeniging and was for several years minister in charge of a schooling system that spent 10 times more on white children than on Blacks.

He challenged then-finance minister Barend du Plessis in the 1989 party election of a successor to ailing apartheid hardliner P.W. Botha and then ousted Botha from the presidency in a cabinet coup a few months later.

Botha showed no remorse for apartheid until his death in 2006 aged 90.

De Klerk’s rise was viewed as a consolidation of white rule and threatened to escalate the vicious racial conflict that already had killed more than 20,000 Blacks.

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“When he became head of the National Party, he seemed to be the quintessential party man, nothing more and nothing less. Nothing in his past seemed to hint at a spirit of reform,” Mandela wrote in his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom”.

The negotiations on a peaceful transition to non-racial democracy that followed Mandela’s release were held against the backdrop of mounting political violence and often looked as though they would be derailed, a scenario that would almost certainly have plunged the nation into a bloody race war.

Black and white analysts said de Klerk was too cautious in moving against security force right-wingers suspected of fomenting violence and of being out of touch and ill-informed about the horrific gun and spear attacks in Black communities.

But peace prevailed in what many commentators refer to as a “political miracle”.

NOBEL PEACE PRIZE

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In 1993 de Klerk shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela, who would win the presidency the following year in the first multi-racial elections in Africa’s biggest economy.

After the vote, the National Party shared power in a “Government of National Unity” in which he served as a deputy president.

But the relationship between de Klerk, a chain-smoking whisky drinker, and the austere Mandela was often strained, and De Klerk pulled out of the government in 1996, saying the ANC no longer prized his advice or guidance.

He retired from active politics in 1997 and later apologised for the miseries of apartheid before Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“History has shown that as far as the policy of apartheid was concerned, our former leaders were deeply mistaken in the course upon which they embarked,” he said.

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In retirement, he headed the F.W. de Klerk Foundation, devoted to working for peace in multi-cultural societies.

He divorced his wife of 39 years, Marike, in 1998, and married Elita Georgiadis, the wife of a Greek shipping tycoon.

In December 2001, Marike was murdered in her luxury beachfront home in Cape Town, an incident that underscored South Africa’s rampant rates of violent crime.

In an interview with Reuters in 1999, de Klerk said South Africa faced an array of threats ranging from crime to rising unemployment and discontent among potential voters.

“There is growing disillusionment among all sectors of the population in South Africa. All South Africans, all investors, all people with an interest in South Africa are deeply concerned about the crime rate. We need a breakthrough,” he said.

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However, 10 years later he sought to strike a more balanced tone, saying shortly after President Jacob Zuma’s accession to power in 2009 that the polygamous Zulu traditionalist would “confound the prophets of doom”.

He also appeared genuinely moved by Mandela’s death.

“Tata, we will miss you,” he said in a statement, using the affectionate South African term for grandfather by which Mandela was known.

As he walked away from Mandela’s body lying in state at Pretoria’s Union Buildings, where two decades earlier he handed over power, de Klerk wiped a tear from his eye.

(Reporting by Johannesburg bureau; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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Pope says willing to go to Moscow to meet Orthodox Patriarch

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December 6, 2021

By Philip Pullella

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Monday he was willing to go to Moscow for to meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill “brother to brother” in what would be the first trip by a pope to Russia.

The pair’s meeting in Cuba in 2016 was the first by a pope and a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since the great schism that split Christianity into Eastern and Western branches in 1054.

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Both sides have declared a willingness to work towards unity but they are still far apart theologically and over what role the pope would play in an eventually reunited Church.

“We are brothers and we talk straight to each other. We do not dance the minuet,” Francis told reporters aboard his plane returning from a trip to Cyprus and Greece.

“We have to move forward, walking and working towards unity.”

He said he was willing to go Moscow and that a top Russian Orthodox official was expected in Rome next week to decide the time and location of the meeting.

Francis said working out the protocols would be less important than meeting “brother to brother” with Kirill.

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The Pope normally travels to countries with a joint invitation from its religious authorities as well as one from the government, meaning that Francis would most likely need an invitation from President Vladimir Putin to visit Russia.

The Russian Orthodox Church, the largest in Christian Orthodoxy, with about 100 million members, is closely aligned with the Kremlin.

Francis said the meeting with Kirill was “on the not too distant horizon”.

He said Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, who is responsible for the Russian Orthodox Church’s external relations, would be coming to the Vatican to meet him to discuss where and when the next meeting can take place.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alison Williams)

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Yemen Houthis bury their dead as Marib fighting rages

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December 6, 2021

By Adel Al-Khader

SANAA (Reuters) – Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis held military funerals on Monday for 25 fighters killed in battles with a Saudi-led coalition, as fighting shows no sign of abating despite intense international diplomacy to end the seven-year-old conflict.

The funerals took place as fighting has raged in the gas-rich Marib region, while warplanes from the coalition have intensified their bombing of Sanaa, Marib and other areas.

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The Houthis have also stepped up cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia using armed drones and missiles.

An honour guard carried the coffins – draped with flags, flowers and photographs of the dead – with military music through the capital Sanaa. Relatives gathered to mourn their loved ones.

“We are in these days inspired by these martyrs’ pride and dignity and say to them: ‘congratulations! You have preceded us to a paradise as wide as the heavens and earth’,” said Ali Muhyaddin, a relative of one of the dead.

The war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands and caused what the United Nations describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

U.N.-led efforts to agree a ceasefire have stalled in the conflict, which is seen largely as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign invasion.

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Houthi media showed fighters exchanging heavy artillery fire with coalition forces in Marib on Sunday as warplanes flew overhead. All the 25 fighters buried in Sanaa were killed in Marib, Houthi officials said.

The Houthis have launched a year-long offensive to take Marib, which hosts Yemen’s biggest gas fields. The city is the last stronghold of the internationally recognised government.

Marib is home to 3 million people, including nearly 1 million who fled other parts of Yemen after the Houthis ousted the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to intervene.

The number of displaced people in camps in the province has risen nearly 10-fold since September, with more than 45,000 people fleeing their homes as Houthi forces press the offensive, the U.N. migration agency IOM said last month.

(Writing by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Putin and Modi discuss trade, humanitarian situation in Afghanistan

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December 6, 2021

By Alasdair Pal and Neha Arora

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Russian President Vladimir Putin in New Delhi on Monday, with trade and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan both on the agenda.

Afghanistan’s takeover by the Taliban earlier this year has led to a humanitarian crisis in the country, which New Delhi and Moscow have both previously said risks destabilising the region.

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“The fight against terrorism is also a fight against drug trafficking and organised crime,” Putin said in introductory remarks broadcast by Indian media. “In that regard, we are concerned about developments of the situation in Afghanistan.”

The visit by Putin and several top Russian officials comes amid increasingly strained relations between Russia and the United States, also a key Indian ally.

Earlier on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a deal to supply India with S-400 air defence missile systems was being implemented despite what he said were U.S. efforts to undermine the accord.

India and Russia are expected to cement several trade and defence pacts at the summit.

“The relation between India and Russia is truly a unique and reliable model,” Modi said.

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(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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