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Rescuing American in Myanmar, former New Mexico governor scores again in despot diplomacy

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November 16, 2021

By Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson helped free American Danny Fenster from a Myanmar prison on Monday, and the journalist’s release was the latest in Richardson’s long career of dealing with notorious dictators.

The U.S.-diplomat-turned-freelance-fixer, who celebrated this 74th birthday on Monday, posted a photo on Twitter that showed him with his arm around Fenster at the bottom of the steps of a jet that flew them out of the country.

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The release, which brought relief to Fenster’s family in Detroit and was welcomed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, came after Richardson met this month with Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, one of the only foreigners to do so since he seized power in February.

Richardson’s visit earlier drew fire from activists accusing Richardson of giving the junta legitimacy, a familiar line of criticism in his more that a quarter century of dealing with notorious foreign leaders.

‘KNOW WHAT MAKES THEM TICK’

Richardson got his start in hostage negotiations in 1994. Then a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he traveled to North Korea to discuss a nuclear accord struck by President Bill Clinton.

As Richardson was traveling to the country, North Korea shot down a U.S. military helicopter that had entered its territory, killing one pilot and capturing the other, and the congressman ended up staying several weeks to negotiate.

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Soon after, Richardson sat down with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to secure the release of two Americans detained after straying over the border from Kuwait.

“The first rule of negotiating, with me, is you’ve got to relate to your adversary personally. You have to respect them. You’ve gotta know what… makes them tick,” Richardson said on a podcast produced by Foreign Policy magazine in 2018.

“You’ve gotta let the other side save face and find some ways that they get some credit, that they’re getting something out of the negotiation, when in effect the only thing may be praise for a humanitarian gesture.”

Myanmar’s military-run TV channel said on Monday that Fenster was granted an amnesty on “humanitarian grounds.”

Richardson later served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and energy secretary under Clinton, before being elected governor of New Mexico in 2002. He ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2008.

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Richardson and his staff at the Richardson Center for Global Engagement now frequently travel on private missions, without the U.S. government’s imprimatur, at the request of the families of people kidnapped, detained or killed in countries with testy relations with Washington.

In 2014 he returned to North Korea, alongside Google CEO Eric Schmidt, to ask North Korea to release Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae.

He also worked for the release of student Otto Warmbier, who was brought back to the United States in 2017 in dire health and died soon afterwards.

Richardson dealt with Iran’s Islamist leaders to help in the release of Xiyue Wang in 2019 and Michael White in 2020.

HISTORY WITH MYANMAR

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Richardson became involved in Myanmar in the mid-1990s, he recounted to Foreign Policy, first to get the generals to release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from prison and into house arrest.

He later clashed with Nobel laureate Suu Kyi over the arrest of two Reuters journalists detained while reporting on killings of Rohingya Muslims in 2017, after she had risen to de facto leader of a civilian administration. Richardson failed to get the two reporters released.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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Germany’s Free Democrats back coalition agreement

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December 5, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) – Members of Germany’s pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) voted on Sunday by a large majority to back a coalition agreement with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, paving the way for the three-way alliance to form a new government next week.

The coalition, the first at federal level between the environmentalist Greens, the FDP and Olaf Scholz’s centre-left SPD, will end 16 years of conservative governments led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The SPD approved the agreement on Saturday and the Greens are due to announce the outcome of a member survey on the deal on Monday. The three parties hope the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, will vote Scholz in as chancellor on Wednesday.

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The “traffic light” alliance, named after the parties’respective colours, will usher in a new era of relations with Europe, and plans to speed up digitalisation of the continent’sbiggest economy and put a focus on fighting climate change.

(Reporting by Alexander Ratz; Writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Gambian President Barrow on course for resounding election win

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December 5, 2021

By Bate Felix

BANJUL (Reuters) – Gambia’s incumbent president, Adama Barrow, was on course for a resounding election win on Sunday, partial results indicated, that could help to draw a line under recent political turmoil.

Saturday’s vote was the first in 27 years without disgraced former president Yahya Jammeh, who lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea after refusing to accept defeat to Barrow in 2016.

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Jammeh, whose 22-year rule over the tiny nation of 2.5 million people was characterised by killings and torture of political opponents, had tried to persuade supporters to vote for an opposition coalition in telephoned speeches that were relayed to campaign rallies.

But his lingering influence was not enough to dent Barrow’s showing. The president, who only needs to win more votes than the second-placed candidate, won 36 of the first 41 constituencies announced, taking 315,547 votes.

His nearest rival, political veteran Ousainou Darboe, had 133,177 votes, with four other candidates far behind.

Only 12 constituencies remained to be announced.

The election was seen as a test of Gambia’s democratic progress and its ability to leave the Jammeh era behind.

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Barrow’s first term was marked by the coronavirus pandemic, which damaged an economy that relies heavily on tourism, as well as exports of peanuts and fish.

(Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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S.Africans protest against Shell oil exploration in pristine coastal area

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December 5, 2021

By Siyabonga Sishi

PORT EDWARD, South Africa (Reuters) – South Africans took to their beaches on Sunday to protest against plans by Royal Dutch Shell to do seimsic oil exploration they say will threaten marine wildlife such as whales, dolphins, seals and penguins on a pristine coastal stretch.

A South African court on Friday struck down https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/shell-wins-court-case-start-seismic-surveys-offshore-south-africa-2021-12-03 an application brought by environmentalists to stop the oil major exploring in the eastern seaboard’s Wild Coast, rejecting as unproven their argument that it would cause “irreparable harm” to the marine environment, especially migrating hump-back whales.

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The Wild Coast is home of some of the country’s most undisturbed wildlife refuges, and it’s stunning coastal wildernesses are also a major tourist draw.

At least 1,000 demonstrators gathered on a beach near Port Edward, a Reuters TV correspondent saw.

“It’s just absolutely horrendous that they are even considering this. Look around you?” said demonstrator Kas Wilson, indicating an unspoilt stretch of beach. “It’s unacceptable and … we will stop it.”

Shell officials were not immediately available for comment, but the company said on Friday that its planned exploration has regulatory approval, and it will significantly contribute to South Africa’s energy security if resources are found.

But local people fear the seismic blasting conducted over 6,000 square kilometres will kill or scare away the fish they depend on to live.

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“I don’t want them to operate here because if they do we won’t be able to catch fish,” said 62-year-old free dive fisherwoman Toloza Mzobe, after pulling a wild lobster from the ground. “What are we going to eat?”

Environmentalists are urging Shell and other oil companies to stop prospecting for oil, arguing that the world has no chance of reaching net zero carbon by 2050 if existing oil deposits are burned, let alone if new ones are found.

Earlier this year, a Dutch court ordered Shell to reduce its planet warming carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2019 levels, a decision it plans to appeal.

South Africa’s environment ministry referred Reuters to a statement late last month that “the Minister responsible for environmental affairs is … not mandated to consider the application or to make a decision on the authorisation of the seismic survey.”

(Writing by Tim Cocks;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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