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‘A testimony that we existed’: Benin receives looted art from France

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November 10, 2021

COTONOU (Reuters) – Twenty-six works of art seized by French colonial soldiers in 1892 returned to Benin on Wednesday, a landmark in the long fight by African countries to recover looted artefacts.

The works, which include the doors of the Palace of Abomey, royal thrones and warrior dance staffs, were formally welcomed back to Benin at a ceremony presided over by President Patrice Talon.

Talon received the works from the French government in Paris on Tuesday.

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“This return is a testimony to what we have been, a testimony that we existed before, a testimony to what we have known,” Talon said before an audience that included representatives of Benin’s royal families.

The artefacts will initially be housed in a museum in the city of Ouidah before being transferred to a new museum being built in Abomey, site of the royal palaces of the Kingdom of Dahomey.

The restitution is the largest France has made to a former colony, but it represents only a fraction of the 5,000 works whose return Benin is seeking and the tens of thousands of seized African works held in France.

About 90% of Africa’s cultural heritage is now believed to be in Europe. The Quai Branly museum alone holds some 70,000 African objects. A 2018 report commissioned by the French government said around 46,000 of them should qualify for repatriation.

That report, by Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr and French art historian Benedicte Savoy, recommended the full restitution of all objects taken by force or presumed to be acquired through inequitable conditions.

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France has returned several other objects to former colonies in Africa and says it plans to continue to do so. But advocates for restitution, including Talon, have said the process has been too slow and limited in scope.

Several other European museums and governments have also moved to return works of art to Africa at a time when its institutions are grappling with the cultural legacies of colonialism.

The German government announced in April that it aimed to start returning Benin Bronzes, copper alloy relief sculptures from the Kingdom of Benin, to Nigeria next year.

(Reporting by Allegresse Sasse and Aaron Ross; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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Russian court remands mine director, inspectors in custody after deadly accident

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Siberia on Saturday remanded five people in custody for two months to face charges related to a mining accident that killed more than 50 people this week.

Three managers of the Listvyazhnaya mine, including its director, were ordered to remain in custody until late January for flouting industrial safety standards, a spokesperson for the regional prosecutor’s office said.

The court also ordered two safety inspectors, who had issued a certificate for the mine this month but had not actually checked the facility, to remain in custody until late January.

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The accident, which regional authorities say was likely caused by a methane explosion, claimed the lives of 51 people, including five rescuers who were sent to bring out dozens of men stuck deep underground.

The health ministry said on Saturday that 60 people were being treated in hospital for injuries sustained at the mine, TASS news agency reported.

The accident at the mine, located some 3,500 km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region, was Russia’s worst since 2010 when explosions killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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Russia spy chief says Ukraine invasion plan ‘malicious’ U.S. propaganda

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine and suggestions to the contrary are malicious U.S. propaganda, Moscow’s foreign intelligence chief said on Saturday.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch an attack.

Russia has repeatedly said it is free to move its troops on its own territory and that such movements should not be a cause for concern.

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“I need to reassure everyone. Nothing like this is going to happen,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, said in an interview broadcast on state television, referring to comments on Russia’s alleged invasion plans.

“Everything that is happening around this topic right now is of course malicious propaganda by the U.S. State Department.”

Naryshkin spoke a day after the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said all options were on the table in how to respond to Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine’s border and that NATO would decide on the next move after consultations next week.

While U.S. officials have voiced concerns about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, Moscow has accused Washington, Kyiv and NATO of provocative and irresponsible behaviour near its borders.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Spanish police march in Madrid to protest against ‘Gag Law’ reform

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November 27, 2021

By Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo

MADRID (Reuters) – Thousands of Spanish police officers marched through Madrid on Saturday to protest against a proposed reform of a security law which they say will hamper their ability to do their work.

Politicians from Spain’s three main conservative parties joined police officers in the protest against proposed changes to the 2015 Citizens Security Law, which critics say violates the right to protest and limits free expression.

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Dubbed the “Gag Law” by those who oppose it, the legislation allows authorities to fine media organisations for distributing unauthorised images of police, strictly limits demonstrations and imposes heavy fines for offenders.

Spain’s leftist government has proposed reforms including no longer classifying the taking of photographs or making of recordings of police at demonstrations as a serious offence.

Under the changes, police will also have to use less harmful materials at protests after a number of people were seriously injured by rubber bullets fired by officers.

The time that suspects who are arrested at protests can be held in custody will be cut from six hours to two and fines will be proportional to how much offenders earn.

“They should either leave the current law as it is or make it better for the police and for the citizens,” Civil Guard officer Vanessa Gonzalez told Reuters.

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Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, of the far-right Vox party, said: “There is strong opposition against (the reform) of this law. It is against our police and we will not let it happen.”

However, Isa Serra, spokeswoman for the far-left Unidas Podemos party, said at a rally in Cantabria in northern Spain that the law had done a “lot of damage to Spanish democracy”.

Organisers said 150,000 people took part in the Madrid demonstration but the government put the figure at 20,000.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley, Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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