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Venezuelan opposition calls for change as campaign wraps up

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November 19, 2021

By Mariela Nava and Keren Torres

MARACAIBO / BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela (Reuters) – Campaigning closed on Thursday for Venezuela’s regional election with opposition parties – returning to the polls https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/with-catchy-jingles-cautious-optimism-venezuela-opposition-returns-ballot-2021-11-17 for the first time in four years – appealing to voters to punish the ruling Socialists for hyper-inflation and a deep recession.

Sunday’s election for state governors, mayors and city councils is a major test for the fragmented opposition, which boycotted the presidential polls in 2018 and congressional elections two years later accusing Maduro’s government of fraud.

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The vote will be overseen by observers from the European Union at around 1,000 of the 14,400 voting centers, the first such European mission since 2006. The 100-strong team deployed across Venezuela on Thursday.

With turnout expected to be low among the 21 million registered voters, the divided opposition risks losing terrain to the Socialist party’s well-funded electoral machine.

Should the opposition lose the 4 state governorships it won in 2017 – out of 23 states – it would lack a powerbase to launch a campaign for presidential elections, due in 2024.

Opposition leaders have tried to galvanize the electorate, campaigning on high poverty levels and a collapse in public services, particularly outside the capital Caracas.

“There is no water here. There is no electricity. There is no food. We have nothing but hope,” said Eva Prieto, a 52-year-old lawyer, alongside hundreds of opposition supporters at a campaign closing event for Manuel Rosales, candidate for the governorship of western Zulia state.

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Rosales, a 68-year-old lawyer who served as governor of Zulia between 2000 and 2008, is seen by pollsters as one of the opposition candidates most likely to win a governorship. Polls predict the opposition could also win in the border state of Tachira, to the south.

Zulia, a center for Venezuela’s oil industry, has been badly hit by blackouts, and shortages of drinking water and gas, due to years of poor infrastructure investment.

“We are going to stop the destruction and Zulia will enter another stage in its history,” Rosales told Reuters in Maracaibo, the state capital.

The vote is a test of the impartiality of Venezuela’s electoral commission, which in May included two opponents among its top five directors, making it the most balanced board in 17 years, its members have said.

The opposition’s showing may be hurt by doubts over some candidates’ independence from Maduro’s government. Critics accuse some opposition figures of running to split the vote and help the ruling party.

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In Lara state, Henri Falcón, a 60-year-old former governor, has been ostracized by many members of the opposition since he broke ranks in 2018 to contest the presidential election, providing an opponent for Maduro.

In the state capital, Barquisimeto, posters with Falcon’s face and the logo of the ruling Socialist party have sprung up. Urging voters not to go to the polls, the posters say: “Lara: don’t let the regime fool you.”

Falcon denies any links to the government and has vowed he will defeat the Socialist party candidate Adolfo Pereira on Sunday.

(Reporting by Mariela Nava in Maracaibo, Keren Torres in Barquisimeto and Anggy Polanco in San Cristobal; Additional reporting by Johnny Carvajal; Written by Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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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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