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Surprise entries create chaos in race to succeed Philippines’ Duterte

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November 13, 2021

By Karen Lema

MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines’ presidential race got more crowded with the last-minute entry of Rodrigo Duterte’s long-time aide, in another twist to an election likely to be dominated by powerful family dynasties rather than reforms.

Duterte loyalist, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, registered to run for president after withdrawing his application to run for the No. 2 post, pitting himself against several rivals, including the son of late Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

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Go admitted he didn’t want to run against Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, who made a surprise move earlier on Saturday by filing her candidacy for the vice presidency, ending months-long speculation about her 2022 election plans.

But with the deadline to switch candidates for the May 2022 polls two days away, political analysts suspect there could be more surprises and even changes in alliances in what is becoming an unpredictable election.

Duterte’s communication secretary, Martin Andanar confirmed media reports that the 76-year old leader, who last month promised to retire from politics, would officially throw his hat in the vice presidential ring on Monday and run against his daughter.

“That is his plan, we don’t know if that is going to change,” Andanar told Reuters.

Duterte is barred by the Constitution from seeking a second six-year term, but nothing is stopping him from vying for another post.

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In the Philippines, the president and the largely ceremonial position of vice president are elected separately.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the only son of the late dictator who ruled the Philippines for almost two decades until his 1986 overthrow, has adopted Duterte-Carpio, eldest daughter of the autocratic and capricious Duterte, to be his running mate.

Duterte-Carpio, 43, who belongs to a political party controlled by former president Gloria Arroyo, another dominant force in Philippine politics, will release a statement soon, her spokesperson, Mayor Christina Garcia-Frasco said.

“The rivalries of the political families have really been dramatised in this case,” said political analyst Temario Rivera. “It looks like they are the only ones deciding on the country’s fate. It is infuriating because they are making a fool of the Filipino people.”

The Southeast Asian nation of 110 million people holds elections in May 2022 for positions from president down to governors, mayors and local officials. The next government faces the uphill task of reviving a pandemic-battered economy.

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Before announcing her vice presidential bid, Duterte-Carpio, in an opinion poll remained the most preferred candidate to succeed Duterte, and placing second was Marcos.

Political analyst Edmund Tayao said a possible team up of Marcos and Duterte-Caprio, two powerful political families in the Philippines, could be a “game changer.”

“Both of them are very popular. It is easy to assume they are the team to beat,” Tayao said.

But the prospect of a Marcos-Duterte-Carpio team taking the reins of government next year has stirred anger in the human rights community.

“What is in the offing are dire threats to democracy and freedoms in the country,” rights group Karapatan said.

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Marcos and Go are up against other presidential aspirants, including former boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, vice president Leni Robredo, Manila mayor Francisco Domagoso, and senator Panfilo Lacson.

Duterte’s former police chief turned senator Ronald dela Rosa quit the presidential race on Saturday to give way for Go.

Analysts said a loyalist successor to Duterte could insulate him from potential legal action at home or by the International Criminal Court, which is investigating thousands of killings since 2016 during his war on drugs.

His government has denied wrongdoing and has said it will not cooperate with the ICC.

(Editing by Jacqueline Wong, Lincoln Feast and Christina Fincher)

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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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