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Cuban Americans rally in Miami while protest plans fizzle in Havana

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November 15, 2021

By Brian Ellsworth and Marc Frank

MIAMI/HAVANA (Reuters) -Cuban Americans in Miami held rallies and led prayers to support dissidents on the Communist-run Caribbean island whose planned protests on Sunday largely fizzled under pressure from authorities and government supporters.

Dissidents in Cuba have for months been preparing a “Civic March for Change” in support of civil and human rights following nationwide protests in July, the largest on the island since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. Rights groups say more than 1,000 people were detained following those rallies and hundreds remain in jail.

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The government of President Miguel Diaz-Canel has prohibited Monday’s march in Havana as well as protests planned for other Cuban cities, saying they are part of a destabilization campaign by the United States, which maintains a Cold War-era embargo on Cuba. U.S. officials have denied the allegations.

Demonstrators clad in white to show support for Cuban dissidents gathered in a park on Sunday in eastern Miami shouting protest slogans “Patria y Vida” and “Viva Cuba Libre,” while a small flotilla of boats touting Cuban flags gathered nearby.

“Today’s activity is more than anything else moral support for our people … to show them that they are not alone,” said Niurka Prestamo, a 45-year-old realtor who attended the demonstration.

The rally in Miami took place around the same time as Yunior Garcia, a playwright and dissident leader, was expected to march alone, with a white rose in hand, down a central street in Havana to underscore the non-violent nature of his movement.

But government supporters surrounded Garcia’s apartment complex early in the afternoon, and shortly after draped the building in Cuban flags, obscuring the view of Garcia’s window from the street.

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A bus blocked access to Garcia’s street, and supporters shouting “I am Fidel” – a reference to the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro – gathered around his home, preventing him from leaving.

Later in the evening, dissidents had called on supporters to bang pots from their homes in a show of solidarity for government critics, but several Reuters witnesses in Havana, the country’s largest city, heard no pot-banging in their neighborhoods.

Residents contacted by Reuters in eastern Granma and Santiago de Cuba provinces, as well as San Antonio de los Banos, in Artemisa province where the July protests began, also reported no incidents on Sunday and no pot-banging.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday condemned “intimidation tactics” by the Cuban government ahead of Monday’s planned march in Cuba and vowed the United States would pursue measures seeking “accountability” for the crackdown.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez replied on Twitter shortly after, telling the United States to stay out of Cuban affairs.

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“Antony Blinken should learn once and for all that the Cuban government’s sole duty is to its people and rejects, on its behalf, the U.S. interference,” Rodriguez said.

A Facebook group called Archipielago, led by Garcia, is at the front of Monday’s planned protests – which coincide with Cuba’s reopening of its borders to tourism following restrictions tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Archipielago says it has 31,500 members, more than half of whom are inside Cuba. The group in September sought official permission for the march, which was quickly denied.

Miami has the United States’ largest Cuban-American population, which grew in the years after the 1959 revolution.

About a quarter of Archipielago’s members live in the United States, the group says, including 1,200 in Miami.

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The city was a hotbed of anti-Castro conspiracy efforts during the Cold War, and its Cuban-American residents as a group remain staunchly opposed to the Havana government, although some in the younger generation have sought to re-establish connections in recent years with the island.

“We are here to give a cry of freedom. We want to tell the people that they are not alone,” said Miami demonstrator and journalist Serafin Moran, 43. “Today we send a greeting, a message to the people of Cuba: If you are in the streets, so are we.”

Small rallies in support of the Cuban dissidents took place in other cities across the globe on Sunday, from Canada to Spain.

(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Miami, Marc Frank in Havana and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Dave Sherwood and Peter Cooney)

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Iran plays hardball as nuclear talks with world powers resume

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November 29, 2021

By Francois Murphy, Parisa Hafezi and John Irish

VIENNA (Reuters) -Iran and world powers resumed talks on Monday after a five-month hiatus to try to salvage their 2015 nuclear deal but with Tehran sticking to its tough stance and Western powers warning that will not work, hopes of a breakthrough appeared slim.

Diplomats say time is running out to resurrect the pact, which then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, angering Iran and dismaying the other powers involved – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

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Six rounds of indirect talks were held between April and June. The new round formally began with a meeting of the remaining parties to the deal, without the United States, shortly after 1400 GMT.

The meeting in Vienna ended an extended break triggered by the election of hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi in June as Iran’s president. The talks are effectively indirect negotiations between Tehran and Washington since Iran refuses to meet face to face with U.S. envoys. Other officials shuttle between them.

Tehran’s negotiating team has set out demands that U.S. and European diplomats consider unrealistic, Western diplomats say.

“Our demands are clear. Other parties and especially Americans should decide whether they want this deal to be revived or not. They abandoned the pact, so they should return to it and lift all sanctions,” an Iranian official close to the talks told Reuters.

Iran has adopted an uncompromising position by demanding removal of all U.S. and European Union sanctions imposed since 2017, including those unrelated to its nuclear programme, in a verifiable process.

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“The United States still fails to properly understand the fact that there is no way to return to the deal without a verifiable and effective lifting of all sanctions,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said in a statement shortly after the talks resumed.

“The return of the U.S. to the nuclear deal would be meaningless without guarantees to prevent the recurrence of the bitter experience of the past,” he said. “This opportunity is not a window that can remain open forever.”

TENSIONS

In parallel, Tehran’s conflicts with the U.N. atomic watchdog, which monitors its nuclear programme, have festered.

As Iran has advanced its uranium enrichment, the International Atomic Energy Agency says its inspectors have been treated roughly and refused access to reinstall monitoring cameras at a site it deems essential to reviving the deal.

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“If Iran thinks it can use this time to build more leverage and then come back and say they want something better, it simply won’t work. We and our partners won’t go for it,” U.S. envoy Robert Malley told BBC Sounds on Saturday.

Since Trump took the United States out of the deal, Iran has breached many of its restrictions meant to lengthen the time it would need to generate enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb https://www.reuters.com/news/picture/explainer-what-remains-of-the-iran-nucle-idUSKBN2ID0E4. Iran says it wants to enrich uranium only for civil uses.

Malley warned that Washington would be ready to ramp up pressure on Tehran if the talks collapse.

Diplomats have said Washington has suggested negotiating an open-ended interim accord with Tehran as long as a permanent deal is not achieved. Several Iranian officials told Reuters Iran had no intention of accepting an interim deal.

Iran’s arch-enemy Israel, which opposed the original deal as too limited in scope and duration, has said military options will be on the table if diplomacy fails.

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“They (Iranians) will play for time, earn billions from the removal of sanctions, continue to deceive the world, and covertly advance their nuclear programme,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told reporters in London https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israels-lapid-urges-world-keep-up-pressure-iran-2021-11-29.

“The intelligence is clear. It leaves no doubt.”

(Writing by John Irish and Parisa Hafezi Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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U.N. chief concerned about southern Africa isolation over Omicron

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November 29, 2021

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday he was deeply concerned about the isolation of southern African countries after COVID-19 travel restrictions were imposed by several countries over the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.

“I appeal to all governments to consider repeated testing for travelers, together with other appropriate and truly effective measures, with the objective of avoiding the risk of transmission so as to allow for travel and economic engagement,” Guterres said in a statement.

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The Omicron variant of coronavirus carries a very high global risk of surges https://www.reuters.com/world/spread-omicron-variant-forces-nations-rethink-plans-global-travel-2021-11-29, the World Health Organization warned on Monday, as more countries reported cases.

Omicron was first identified in southern Africa and many countries, including the United States and Britain, have announced travel curbs and other restrictions on the region. Africa has some of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates worldwide due to a lack of access to doses.

Guterres has long warned about the dangers of vaccine inequality around the world and that low immunization rates are “a breeding ground for variants.”

“The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available in Africa – and they should not be penalized for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world,” he said.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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Belarus announces military drills with Russia near Ukraine border

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November 29, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarus on Monday announced joint military drills with close ally Russia on its southern border with Ukraine and accused the NATO military alliance of building up offensive capabilities near its borders.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials say Russia has built up forces near Ukraine, sparking fears of a looming attack. Moscow denies any such plan. Belarus is itself locked in a row with the European Union over migrants camped at its western border.

Casting it as a response to new military deployments in countries to the west and south of Belarus, Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin said Minsk would hold an exercise with Russia in the “medium term”. He gave no specific date.

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“We see troop formations around our state borders… We can only be concerned by the militarisation of our neighouring countries, which is why are forced to plan measures in response,” he said in comments on his ministry’s website.

NATO member Lithuania, which lies to the west of Belarus, said on Sunday the Atlantic alliance needed to adjust its stance towards Belarus, whose military, it said, was becoming more integrated with Russia’s armed forces.

On Monday, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said Minsk would not sit idly on the sidelines if the simmering conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted or a war broke out with the West at Russia’s borders.

“…it is clear whose side Belarus will be on,” he said in a clear nod to Russia, whose financial and political backing helped him weather huge protests against his rule that broke out last autumn.

“They understand this, that’s why they’ve begun strengthening their northern Belarus-Ukraine border,” Lukashenko was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

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The comments appeared to contrast with the more neutral stance taken by Lukashenko after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its backing for separatist forces in Ukraine’s east.

Minsk, like most of the world, still recognises Crimea as Ukrainian territory.

(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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