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South Africa’s de Klerk brokered end to white rule

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November 11, 2021

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s last white president F.W. de Klerk, who died on Thursday aged 85, stunned the world when he scrapped apartheid and negotiated a peaceful transfer of power to a Black-led government under Nelson Mandela.

But while he was feted globally and shared the Nobel Peace prize with the revered Mandela, de Klerk earned only scorn from many Blacks outraged by his failure to curb political violence in the turbulent years leading up to all-race elections in 1994.

And many right-wing white Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch and French settlers who had long ruled the country under de Klerk’s National Party, viewed him as a traitor to their causes of nationalism and white supremacy.

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Frederik Willem de Klerk died at his home in Cape Town on Thursday, his foundation said, after a battle with mesothelioma cancer, which affects the tissue lining the lungs.

De Klerk’s metamorphosis from servant of apartheid into its wrecking ball mirrored that of the former Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev. Both were good party men who rose to the pinnacle of power before moving to reform or dismantle the systems that had nourished them for decades.

The collapse of Gorbachev’s Soviet Union and communism in Eastern Europe helped pave the way for de Klerk to launch his own bold initiatives, as it removed the spectre of the “Red Menace” that had haunted a generation of white South Africans.

“The first few months of my presidency coincided with the disintegration of communism in Eastern Europe,” de Klerk wrote in his autobiography, “The Last Trek: A New Beginning”.

“Within the scope of a few months, one of our main strategic concerns for decades was gone,” he wrote. “A window had suddenly opened which created an opportunity for a much more adventurous approach than had been previously conceivable.”

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Less than three months after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, he opened the way for an end to more than four decades of apartheid with a bombshell speech to parliament on Feb. 2, 1990, that “unbanned” the African National Congress (ANC) and announced the release of its leader after 27 years behind bars.

Fearing a leak and a backlash from right-wing whites, de Klerk had kept the momentous decision secret from all but a handful of cabinet ministers. Even his wife was in the dark until she and de Klerk were heading to parliament.

At de Klerk’s 70th birthday celebrations in 2006, Mandela heaped praise on his predecessor for taking that leap into the political unknown.

“You have shown courage that few have done in similar circumstances,” said Mandela, who died in December 2013 at the age of 95, less than six months before the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s first all-race elections.

WHITE DOYEN TURNED RADICAL

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A lawyer from a prominent Afrikaner political dynasty, the urbane de Klerk was cut from the cloth of white apartheid rule and was a member of the Broederbond, a secret Afrikaner society dedicated to white supremacy.

De Klerk launched his parliamentary career in 1972 as member for the right-wing mining town of Vereeniging and was for several years minister in charge of a schooling system that spent 10 times more on white children than on Blacks.

He challenged then-finance minister Barend du Plessis in the 1989 party election of a successor to ailing apartheid hardliner P.W. Botha and then ousted Botha from the presidency in a cabinet coup a few months later.

Botha showed no remorse for apartheid until his death in 2006 aged 90.

De Klerk’s rise was viewed as a consolidation of white rule and threatened to escalate the vicious racial conflict that already had killed more than 20,000 Blacks.

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“When he became head of the National Party, he seemed to be the quintessential party man, nothing more and nothing less. Nothing in his past seemed to hint at a spirit of reform,” Mandela wrote in his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom”.

The negotiations on a peaceful transition to non-racial democracy that followed Mandela’s release were held against the backdrop of mounting political violence and often looked as though they would be derailed, a scenario that would almost certainly have plunged the nation into a bloody race war.

Black and white analysts said de Klerk was too cautious in moving against security force right-wingers suspected of fomenting violence and of being out of touch and ill-informed about the horrific gun and spear attacks in Black communities.

But peace prevailed in what many commentators refer to as a “political miracle”.

NOBEL PEACE PRIZE

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In 1993 de Klerk shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela, who would win the presidency the following year in the first multi-racial elections in Africa’s biggest economy.

After the vote, the National Party shared power in a “Government of National Unity” in which he served as a deputy president.

But the relationship between de Klerk, a chain-smoking whisky drinker, and the austere Mandela was often strained, and De Klerk pulled out of the government in 1996, saying the ANC no longer prized his advice or guidance.

He retired from active politics in 1997 and later apologised for the miseries of apartheid before Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“History has shown that as far as the policy of apartheid was concerned, our former leaders were deeply mistaken in the course upon which they embarked,” he said.

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In retirement, he headed the F.W. de Klerk Foundation, devoted to working for peace in multi-cultural societies.

He divorced his wife of 39 years, Marike, in 1998, and married Elita Georgiadis, the wife of a Greek shipping tycoon.

In December 2001, Marike was murdered in her luxury beachfront home in Cape Town, an incident that underscored South Africa’s rampant rates of violent crime.

In an interview with Reuters in 1999, de Klerk said South Africa faced an array of threats ranging from crime to rising unemployment and discontent among potential voters.

“There is growing disillusionment among all sectors of the population in South Africa. All South Africans, all investors, all people with an interest in South Africa are deeply concerned about the crime rate. We need a breakthrough,” he said.

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However, 10 years later he sought to strike a more balanced tone, saying shortly after President Jacob Zuma’s accession to power in 2009 that the polygamous Zulu traditionalist would “confound the prophets of doom”.

He also appeared genuinely moved by Mandela’s death.

“Tata, we will miss you,” he said in a statement, using the affectionate South African term for grandfather by which Mandela was known.

As he walked away from Mandela’s body lying in state at Pretoria’s Union Buildings, where two decades earlier he handed over power, de Klerk wiped a tear from his eye.

(Reporting by Johannesburg bureau; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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Calm returns as clean-up begins in Solomon Islands -media

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November 28, 2021

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Soldiers and police from Australia and Papua New Guinea were helping to restore calm in the Solomon Islands as clean-up operations started, after several days of rioting left three dead and led to dozens of arrests, local media reported.

The Solomon Star newspaper said Australian soldiers and police and troops from Papua New Guinea had helped to restore normalcy in the country’s capital Honiara, halting the looting, rioting and burning of buildings and shops.

Overnight, clean up operations began in earnest in areas that were particularly hard hit, including the city’s Chinatown, the newspaper said. Footage obtained by Reuters showed heavy machinery moving rubble from burned out shops.

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Three charred bodies were discovered in a store on Friday in the Chinatown district, an area targeted by protesters still resentful the government in 2019 ended diplomatic ties with Taiwan to establish formal links with China.

More Australian Federal Police would arrive in the South Pacific nation on Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a televised news conference.

“Although things are very unstable at this point … plans, we know, are being made, to ensure there can be calm,” he said.

Some 50 officers from the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary arrived in Honiara on Friday, a day after Australia sent its own forces to the capital, both in response to requests from the Solomon Islands government for help.

(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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Australia to introduce new laws to force media platforms to unmask online trolls

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November 28, 2021

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia will introduce legislation to make social media giants provide details of users who post defamatory comments, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday.

The government has been looking at the extent of the responsibility of platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, for defamatory material published on their sites and comes after the country’s highest court ruled that publishers can be held liable for public comments on online forums.

The ruling caused some news companies like CNN to deny Australians access to their Facebook pages.

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“The online world should not be a wild west where bots and bigots and trolls and others are anonymously going around and can harm people,” Morrison said at a televised press briefing.

“That is not what can happen in the real world, and there is no case for it to be able to be happening in the digital world.”

The new legislation will introduce a complaints mechanism, so that if somebody thinks they are being defamed, bullied or attacked on social media, they will be able to require the platform to take the material down.

If the content is not withdrawn, a court process could force a social media platform to provide details of the commenter.

“Digital platforms – these online companies – must have proper processes to enable the takedown of this content,” Morrison said.

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“They have created the space and they need to make it safe, and if they won’t, we will make them (through) laws such as this.”

(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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In Honduras, parties flag fears of fraud ahead of pivotal vote

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November 28, 2021

By Gustavo Palencia and David Alire Garcia

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – Warnings of potential foul play are flying from all sides ahead of Sunday’s presidential election in Honduras, raising fears of possible disputes and unrest if leading challenger Xiomara Castro does not win by a clear margin.

The charged political atmosphere reflects memories of the disputed 2017 election, which the ruling National Party won after a delayed count and that the Organization of American States said was riddled with irregularities before calling for a fresh vote.

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The opposition said the result was fraudulent and both sides claimed victory. More than two dozen people were killed in the ensuing riots and repression.

The current election cycle has already claimed more political violence than four years ago, with more than 30 killed so far, according to researchers at Honduras’ national university.

Salvador Nasralla, the 2017 runner-up, is the current candidate for vice president for the leading opposition slate led by self-declared democratic socialist Castro. He accuses the National Party of planning a repeat of what he said was voter suppression in 2017.

“I don’t have any confidence in our electoral process,” he told Reuters.

The conservative National Party routinely uses its full control of government institutions and funds to reward supporters, punish opponents and influence elections, politicians from both sides say.

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This week, the party itself issued a statement blasting the electoral authority for already committing errors including a lack of transparency that could lead to a “national crisis” with delayed and suspect results.

“It creates a situation of high risk to the election,” it said.

Sunday’s vote will mark the latest fraught political showdown in Central America, after Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega cruised to re-election this month after detaining all leading rivals.

In a sign of concerns in the final week before the election, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden took the unusual step of sending a high-level delegation to meet with the main candidates, government officials and election organizers.

After the visit, a senior U.S. State Department official said the main objective of the delegation was to encourage a fair, free and peaceful election, given what it describes as democratic backsliding in the region.

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If poll leader Castro wins, she would bring the Honduran left to power for the first time since her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya, was ousted in a 2009 coup.

If ruling party candidate Nasry Asfura prevails, he will have overcome the unpopularity of outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who is fighting accusations of corruption and links to drug smugglers.

Hernandez denies wrongdoing.

A LOOK AT THE CANDIDATE’S PHONE

During an interview, Nasralla showed Reuters a video on his phone he said was captured by his home-security cameras a few days ago. It showed someone painting slurs on a wall of his house. In the video, the person can be seen removing an outer layer of clothing to reveal a shirt bearing the logo of Castro’s Libre party underneath.

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Nasralla said the video was evidence that National Party agitators were disguising themselves as Libre supporters, and worried they will provoke violence or property destruction to erode opposition votes.

“They’re the ones that cause violence,” he said.

The National Party did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Friday, a handful of businesses in the capital Tegucigalpa covered glass store entrances with wood and metal panels, in a sign some were taking the possibility of unrest seriously.

Rixi Moncada, the Libre Party’s representative on the electoral council, said the government and the National Party have caused “a lot of obstruction” in its efforts to organize a fair vote.

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She specifically accused the finance ministry of interfering with the council’s budget and causing delayed deliveries of polling station equipment, like printers and finger-print readers.

Moncada, a lawyer, expressed concern that any post-election dispute might reach the courts, widely seen as loyal to the ruling party.

“This country has very little faith in our system of justice,” she said.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia and David Alire Garcia; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Daniel Flynn and Nick Zieminski)

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