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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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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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