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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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Explainer-What remains of the Iran nuclear deal as talks resume?

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November 28, 2021

By Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) – Talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are to resume in Vienna on Monday, with Iran’s atomic advances raising doubt https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/low-expectations-nuclear-talks-iran-creates-facts-grounds-2021-11-28 as to whether a breakthrough can be made to bring Tehran and the United States back into full compliance with the accord.

Since the United States under then-President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, Iran has breached many of its deal’s restrictions designed to lengthen the time it would need to generate enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb to at least a year from 2-3 months – the so-called “breakout time”.

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Iran says it only wants to enrich uranium for civil uses. But many suspect it is at least seeking to gain leverage in the indirect talks with the United States by getting closer to being able to produce a nuclear weapon.

How close is Iran to being able to do so, and what remains of the deal’s restrictions?

BREAKOUT TIME

Experts generally put breakout time at around three to six weeks but say weaponisation would take longer – often roughly two years. Israel’s finance minister recently said https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israeli-minister-says-iran-could-have-nuclear-arms-within-5-years-2021-11-23 Iran could have nuclear weapons within five years.

ENRICHMENT

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The deal restricts the purity to which Iran can enrich uranium to 3.67%, far below the roughly 90% that is weapons-grade or the 20% Iran reached before the deal. Iran is now enriching to various levels, the highest being around 60%.

The deal also says Iran can only produce, or accumulate, enriched uranium with just over 5,000 of its least efficient, first-generation centrifuges at one facility: the underground Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz.

The deal lets Iran enrich for research, without accumulating enriched uranium, with small numbers of advanced centrifuges, which are often at least twice as efficient as the IR-1.

Iran is now refining uranium with hundreds of advanced centrifuges both at the FEP and the above-ground Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) at Natanz.

It is also enriching with more than 1,000 IR-1s at Fordow, a plant buried inside a mountain, and plans to do the same with more than 100 advanced centrifuges already installed there.

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URANIUM STOCKPILE

The International Atomic Energy Agency, policing Iranian nuclear activities, estimated this month https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/21/11/gov2021-51.pdf that Tehran’s stock of enriched uranium is just under 2.5 tonnes, more than 12 times the 202.8-kg (446-pound) limit imposed by the deal, but less than the more than five tonnes it had before the deal.

That said, it is now enriching to a higher level and has around 17.7 kg of uranium enriched to up to 60%. It takes around 25 kg of weapons-grade uranium to make one nuclear bomb.

INSPECTIONS AND MONITORING

The deal made Iran implement the IAEA’s so-called Additional Protocol, which allows for snap inspections of undeclared sites. It also expanded IAEA monitoring by cameras and other devices beyond the core activities and inspections covered by Iran’s long-standing Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA.

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Iran has stopped implementing the Additional Protocol and is allowing the extra monitoring to continue only in a black-box-type arrangement https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-nuclear-iaea-deal-idUSKBN2AN1UU, whereby the data from cameras and other devices is collected and stored but the IAEA does not have access to it, at least for the time being.

The one exception https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/iaea-chief-says-negotiations-iran-proved-inconclusive-2021-11-24 to the continued monitoring is a centrifuge-parts workshop at the TESA Karaj complex, which was hit by apparent sabotage in June that destroyed one of four IAEA cameras there, after which Iran removed all of them. Iran has not let the IAEA re-install the cameras since.

POTENTIAL WEAPONISATION

Iran has produced uranium metal, both enriched to 20% and not enriched. This alarms Western powers because making uranium metal is a pivotal step towards producing bombs and no country has done it without eventually developing nuclear weapons.

Iran says it is working on reactor fuel.

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(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Former Cambodian premier Prince Norodom Ranariddh dies at 77

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November 28, 2021

By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) -Cambodian former prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the current king’s half-brother, who spent his later years in the political shadow of his one-time rival Prime Minister Hun Sen, has died in France. He was 77.

The prince, whose royalist political party won elections in 1993, was ousted in a 1997 coup by coalition partner Hun Sen, who remains Cambodia’s authoritarian leader.

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Hun Sen said in a statement on Sunday that he and his wife were “heartbroken” at the news, calling Ranariddh “a dignitary, (a) member of the royal family who was patriotic to the nation, religion, the king”.

Ranariddh was the most political member of Cambodia’s royal family in recent decades, leading his Funcinpec party in elections for years after he was ousted.

But in 2017, he dismayed https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cambodia-politics-prince-idUSKBN1CK020 Cambodia’s weakened opposition by backing the dissolution of another party whose leader was jailed on treason charges. Hun Sen has since effectively sidelined all opposition and now presides over a one-party parliament.

Explaining his position, Ranariddh told Reuters that year: “… Hun Sen, you want or you don’t want, you like him or you don’t like him, he brings about this national unity.”

His younger half-brother, King Norodom Sihamoni, has occupied the Cambodian throne since the abdication of their father, King Norodom Sihanouk https://www.reuters.com/article/oukwd-uk-cambodia-sihanouk-idAFBRE89D0K120121015, in 2004. Sihanouk died aged 89 in 2012 in Beijing.

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Lao Mong Hay, a veteran Cambodian analyst, said Ranariddh had lacked the political savvy of his father.

“He was soon outwitted and overthrown by his far more talented rival,” Lao Mong Hay said, citing a Cambodian proverb that 10 learned persons are less than one talented person. “So Norodom Ranariddh happened to be one of those 10.”

Ranariddh’s career reflected the way Hun Sen has neutralized rivals since defecting from the Khmer Rouge “killing fields” regime in the late 1970s to help drive it from power.

Hun Sen led the Vietnam-backed Communist government in Phnom Penh for more than a decade while the Khmer Rouge waged a guerrilla insurgency.

The royal family lived in exile during this time, headed by former absolute ruler Sihanouk, who had led Cambodia to independence from France and abdicated a first time to enter democratic politics and become prime minister before the Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975.

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Ranariddh was working as a French law lecturer when his father called him to contest the 1993 elections organised by the United Nations as part of a peace process.

With royalist sentiment strong, Ranariddh won the elections. But when Hun Sen threatened a return to war, a political deal resulted in a coalition government making Ranariddh “first prime minister”, Hun Sen “second prime minister” and returning King Sihanouk to the throne as constitutional monarch.

The uneasy coalition lasted four years before Ranariddh was overthrown by forces loyal to Hun Sen and driven into exile.

After international pressure, Ranariddh was allowed to return and contest elections a year later, but he never again came close to winning and entered into on-and-off alliances with Hun Sen.

(Writing by Kay JohnsonEditing by Frances Kerry, Mark Heinrich and Catherine Evans)

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Thousands protest against Czech COVID measures as hospitals fill

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November 28, 2021

PRAGUE (Reuters) – Several thousand people protested in Prague against anti-coronavirus restrictions on Sunday as many Czech hospitals halted non-urgent procedures in the face of one of the world’s fastest rates of new infections.

Gathered in a park overlooking the Czech capital’s centre, protesters waved national flags and carried signs with slogans such as: “Get vaccinated? Over your dead bodies”.

The outgoing government toughened measures on Thursday, including a ban on Christmas markets, which was one of the main themes at Sunday’s rally.

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“I am here to fight for freedom. I am here because I don’t agree with what is happening today,” Jiri Hulec told Reuters.

Czech hospitals, including the largest one, Prague’s Motol, have ceased planned operations and limited other care in the past days as the number of patients with COVID-19 has doubled to around 6,000 over the past three weeks.

Newly-appointed Prime Minister Petr Fiala earlier called on people to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others from serious conditions if infected.

Only 58.5% of Czechs are vaccinated against coronavirus, compared to a European Union average of 65.8%, data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control shows.

(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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