High Alert as World Leaders are being targeted

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Important Takeaways:

World leaders have been targeted quite frequently this month, and that should deeply alarm all of us.  I think that all of this geopolitical instability is a sign that there is far more going on behind the scenes than we are being told.  The major powers appear to be making moves in anticipation of what they believe is coming next.  Right now, the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is dominating the news cycle, and at this stage we don’t know if that was an accident or not.  But as a Twitter user known as “Cillian” has pointed out, there has been quite a lot of “international intrigue” during the past couple of weeks…

  • Over the past two weeks:
  • May 7th: Assassination attempt against Saudi Crown Prince.
  • May 13th: Turkish President Erdoğan holds emergency meeting following warning of possible military coup.
  • May 15th: Assassination attempt on Slovak PM Robert Fico.
  • May 16th: Citizen arrested for threatening to assassinate Serbian President Vučić.
  • May 19th: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman hospitalized for second time in four weeks.
  • May 19th: Helicopter crash involving Iranian President Raisi and Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian.

What is going on right now?

  • On Sunday, a coup that involved at least three U.S. citizens was foiled in the Democratic Republic of Congo…
    • American citizens were involved in an attempted coup d’état that left at least three people dead on Sunday in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a military spokesperson told CNN Monday.
    • The attempted coup, which targeted the residence of Congolese politician Vital Kamerhe and the country’s presidential palace, was led by opposition leader Christian Malanga, who was killed in a gun battle between the armed putschists and the presidential guards, according to army spokesman General Sylvain Ekenge. Ekenge also claimed Malanga was a US citizen, though the State Department said later it had no records of him.
    • “I confirm the death of Christian Malanga neutralized during the exchange of fire at the Palais de la Nation (presidential palace),” Ekenge told CNN, adding that Malanga’s son Marcel, “was among those arrested.”
    • Ekenge named three other Americans, identified as Benjamin Reuben Zalman-Polun, Patrick Ducey, and Taylor Thomson were involved in the foiled coup.

Read the original article by clicking here.

United States has ordered the partial evacuation of its embassy in Niger

Niger Evacuees

Important Takeaways:

  • The United States has ordered the partial evacuation of its embassy in Niger following last week’s coup.
  • Hundreds of foreign nationals have already been evacuated from the country, and on Sunday the French embassy was attacked by protesters.
  • “The situation has changed and so people are very anxious. They’re anxious about the future, about what’s going to happen.”
  • The US is a major donor of humanitarian and security aid to Niger, and has previously warned that the coup could lead to the suspension of all cooperation.

Read the original article by clicking here.

Exclusive: Sudan cut off from $650 million of international funding after coup

By Aidan Lewis, Khalid Abdelaziz and Nafisa Eltahir

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan was unable to access $650 million in international funding in November when assistance was paused after a coup, the finance minister of the dissolved government said – a freeze that puts in doubt basic import payments and the fate of economic reforms.

The financing included $500 million in budget support from the World Bank and $150 million in special drawing rights from the International Monetary Fund, said Jibril Ibrahim, who was appointed to a civilian transitional government in February.

Foreign funding was seen as crucial in helping Sudan emerge from decades of isolation and supporting a transition towards democracy that began with the 2019 overthrow of Omar al-Bashir.

The Oct. 25 coup upended that transition. The United States has put on hold $700 million in economic assistance since the coup and the World Bank, which had promised $2 billion in grants, has paused disbursements.

After mass protests, the military on Nov. 21 announced a deal to reinstate Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. He is tasked with forming a government of technocrats but faces political opposition to the deal.

“Sudan had tremendous international support. Now donors will be much more cautious,” said one former official from the dissolved government.

The onus will now be on the military and the government to show they are not returning to the very Bashir-era model that was being restructured and reformed, the former official said.

The U.S. Treasury declined to comment. The IMF, which approved a $2.5 billion, 39-month loan program in June that is subject to periodic review, said it continued to “closely monitor developments”.

Before the coup the inflation rate, one of the highest in the world, had begun to fall, and the exchange rate had stabilized following a sharp devaluation in February.

Western diplomats and bankers say those reforms are now at risk and it is unclear how Sudan can fund imports without printing banknotes, a policy that fueled a long-running economic crisis but stopped during the transition.

Around the time of the coup, Sudan had enough reserves to cover just two months of strategic imports, a second former official said.

GOLD REVENUES

Ibrahim, a former rebel leader who secured his ministerial role through a peace deal and expects to retain it, said he hoped international support would return gradually over the next three to six months and that meanwhile bills could be paid and reforms would continue.

“Basically we depend on tax, customs and gold revenues and on different (state) companies working in various fields,” Ibrahim said in an interview at the Finance Ministry in Khartoum. For imported basic goods, such as flour, fuel and medicine, “we cannot cover it completely, but the majority of the strategic commodities we can cover with our exports,” he said.

The government had begun to reduce its trade deficit through tax and customs reforms, but those revenues were interrupted by a blockade by a tribal group at Port Sudan before the coup. A further blockade has been threatened.

Ibrahim said the main impact of the freeze in international support would be on development projects covering areas including water supply, electricity, agriculture, health and transport. An internationally funded basic income program to lessen the impact of subsidy reform has also been frozen.

Sudan’s 2022 budget was being planned with no allowance for international assistance, Ibrahim said, but with a target of sticking to a 1.5% deficit limit defined under an IMF financing program. Projected growth for 2022 could fall from 3% to 1.5-2%, he said.

Ibrahim said Sudan would seek investment rather than grants from wealthy Gulf Arab states that now face their own economic challenges.

“Up till now there have not been any big promises of support from any country, Arab or non-Arab, but contacts with all friendly states continue,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal, Writing by Aidan Lewis, Editing by William Maclean)

Sudanese activists call for escalation after deadliest day since coup

KHARTOUM (Reuters) -Opponents of the coup in Sudan vowed on Thursday to step up protests after 15 civilians were reported killed in the deadliest day yet since last month’s takeover, risking more confrontation as the junta shows no sign of backing down.

More than three weeks since General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan derailed Sudan’s transition towards civilian rule, pro-democracy activists are facing an increasingly dangerous struggle in the streets. The deaths on Wednesday, tallied by medics aligned with the protest movement, bring the toll since the Oct. 25 coup to at least 39.

The latest violence drew condemnation from Western states which have suspended economic assistance since the coup. Despite the economic pressure – Sudan desperately needs aid – efforts to mediate a way out of the crisis have stalled.

A senior U.S. State Department official said it was “a really critical moment,” expressing a “somewhat positive” feeling about recent talks held by Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee in Khartoum, “which I know, seems counterintuitive.”

Protesters described police behavior during Wednesday’s protests as more aggressive than before, the latest sign that the military is looking to entrench its position. The military has said peaceful protests are allowed.

Confrontations continued on Thursday in Khartoum’s twin city Bahri, which had seen the worst of Wednesday’s violence. A witness said security forces fired tear gas and live bullets as they removed barricades erected by protesters, who were dispersing and regrouping as they tried to protect them.

A witness in Omdurman, across the Nile, said forces were removing barricades, using tear gas and arresting protesters.

A group of neighborhood resistance committees coordinating the protest movement in east Khartoum announced in a statement “open escalation” against the coup.

“Now we are making consultations among the resistance committees about upping the escalation against the coup,” a senior member of the committees said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The United Nations condemned the repeated use of excessive force against peaceful demonstrators, calling on the de facto authorities and security forces to exercise restraint, refrain from further rights violations, and release all those detained since the coup, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

STRIDENT

Pictures of people killed in earlier demonstrations were held aloft during Wednesday’s protests.

“I don’t think yesterday’s violence will have done much if anything to tamp down how strident the street has been in pushing back against the coup,” said Jonas Horner of Crisis Group.

“The military misunderstood just how determined people on the street are to see the return of a civilian-led government.”

Police said 89 officers were wounded on Wednesday and that they recorded one civilian death.

“There is increasing despondency, but the resilience of the ongoing protest movement gives hope that the coup could still be reversed. There is still a window of opportunity to do that, but it is narrowing,” said Ahmed Soliman of the Chatham House think tank.

Briefing reporters on a plane from Nairobi to Abuja during a visit to Africa by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the senior U.S. State Department official struck an optimistic note on Sudan: “Everybody, it seems to me, wants to find a way back, which is not the feeling I think you would get from the outside.”

Burhan last week appointed a new ruling council, a move Western powers said complicated efforts to restore the transition towards democracy that began after long-ruling autocrat Omar al-Bashir was toppled in 2019.

But Burhan has yet to name a new cabinet, leaving at least some possibility for a compromise over a new administration, though analysts say it underlines difficulties the general has faced securing civilian backing for a new government.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called for the restoration of ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who is under house arrest, and the release of other detained civilians.

“If the constitutional order is not immediately restored there will be serious consequences for our support, including financial,” he said.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz, Nafisa Eltahir, Aidan Lewis, Sabine Siebold, Humeyra Pamuk, Michelle Nichols; Writing by Aidan Lewis/Tom Perry; Editing by Peter Graff and Richard Chang)

U.S. journalist freed in Myanmar, says he was not beaten or starved

By Andrew Mills

DOHA (Reuters) -American journalist Danny Fenster said he was healthy and happy to be going home after he was freed from prison in Myanmar and flew to Qatar on Monday, following negotiations between former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson and the ruling military junta.

Fenster, 37, the managing editor of independent online magazine Frontier Myanmar, looked frail three days after he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for incitement and violations of laws on immigration and unlawful assembly. He had been detained since May.

He told reporters on the tarmac at Hamad International Airport in Doha that he felt well and had not been beaten or starved while in captivity.

“I feel great and am really happy to be on my way home. I’m incredibly happy for everything Bill has done,” Fenster, wearing a red woolen hat, loose-fitting trousers and a white COVID-19 mask, said after flying to Doha with Richardson by jet.

“You just go a little stir crazy and the longer it drags on the more worried you are that it’s just never going to end. That was the biggest concern, staying sane through that.”

Asked if he was mistreated, he said: “I was arrested and held in captivity for no reason, so I suppose so. But physically, I was healthy. I wasn’t starved or beaten.”

Myanmar’s military-owned Myawaddy TV said Fenster had been granted an amnesty following requests from Richardson and two Japanese representatives “to maintain the friendship between the countries and to emphasize humanitarian grounds”.

Fenster was among dozens of media workers detained in Myanmar since a Feb. 1 coup that led to an outpouring of public anger over the military’s abrupt end to a decade of tentative steps towards democracy. Myanmar’s military has accused many media outlets of incitement and spreading false information.

A source familiar with Richardson’s trip to pick up Fenster said it was arranged without the knowledge of the State Department or the U.S. embassy in Yangon. Officials had initially opposed Richardson’s visit to Myanmar earlier this month and urged him not to raise the case with Myanmar officials, the source said.

Before his release, some State Department officials were concerned that Richardson’s involvement could delay his release by leading the junta to see the American as an asset to try to extract concessions.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Monday that the former governor “was not acting at the direction of the U.S. government” in Myanmar but officials had been in regular contact with Richardson and his team.

U.S. officials including Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens also worked on getting the journalist released, Price said.

CRACKDOWN

The United Nations hailed Fenster’s release as a “positive step” but called for at least 47 other journalists in detention to be freed immediately, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said in New York.

Fenster said efforts to secure other journalists’ release would continue.

“We’re going to keep the focus on them as much as possible and do everything we can to lobby on their behalf. We’re still trying really hard to get them out of there,” he said.

According to rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 10,143 people have been arrested since the coup and 1,260 people killed in violence in Myanmar, most of them in a crackdown by security forces on protests and dissent.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken commended U.S. officials as well as Richardson. Blinken said Washington would “continue to call for the release of others who remain unjustly imprisoned.”

Fenster’s editor-in-chief, Thomas Kean, expressed relief that he had been freed, and said he was one of many journalists “unjustly arrested simply for doing their job” in Myanmar.

Fenster’s brother, Bryan, said the family was overjoyed.

“We cannot wait to hold him in our arms. We are tremendously grateful to all the people who have helped secure his release,” he said.

Fenster was the first Western journalist in years sentenced to prison in Myanmar, where the coup against the elected government of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has left the country in chaos.

Richardson, a former New Mexico governor, U.S. energy secretary and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, visited Myanmar in a humanitarian capacity on Nov. 2, offering COVID-19 assistance.

He is one of only a few foreigners to have met junta leader Min Aung Hlaing in Myanmar since the coup, and said his discussions with the government on humanitarian matters and vaccines had helped secure Fenster’s release.

(Reporting by Andrew Mills in Doha; Additional reporting by Simon Lewis and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington and Michelle Nichols in New York; writing by Martin Petty and Timothy Heritage; editing by Philippa Fletcher, Rosalba O’Brien and Grant McCool)

Myanmar frees political prisoners after ASEAN pressure, then re-arrests some

(Reuters) – Myanmar’s military rulers have freed hundreds of political prisoners in recent days, including Aung San Suu Kyi’s party spokesman and a famous comedian, although several were swiftly re-arrested, local media and a rights group said.

State television announced late on Monday more than 5,600 people arrested or wanted over anti-coup protests would be granted amnesty following a speech from Myanmar’s junta chief saying his government was committed to peace and democracy.

The release was described by some activists as a ploy by the ruling military to try to rebuild its international reputation after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) took the rare step of excluding the junta chief from its summit.

Shortly after local media began late on Monday documenting the release of parliamentarians, journalists and others from Yangon’s Insein prison and facilities in Mandalay, Lashio, Meiktila and Myeik, reports followed of re-arrests.

Reuters could not independently verify the reports and Myanmar’s prison department spokesman and junta spokesman were not immediately available for comment.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a non-profit group which has documented killings and arrests since the coup in February, told Reuters that as of Tuesday evening around 40 people had been detained immediately after their release.

Local media, including Democratic Voice of Burma and Khit Thit Media, also reported several people were re-arrested.

PRESSURE

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup, which ended a decade of tentative democracy and economic reform.

Security forces have killed more than 1,100 people according to activists and the United Nations, and arrested over 9,000 people including Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s most prominent civilian political figure, according to AAPP.

ASEAN decided to invite a non-political representative to its Oct. 26-28 summit in an unprecedented snub to the military leaders behind the coup against Suu Kyi’s elected government.

U.N. Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews welcomed the release but said it was “outrageous” that they were detained in the first place.

“The junta is releasing political prisoners in Myanmar not because of a change of heart, but because of pressure,” he said on Twitter.

The junta has released prisoners several times since the coup, which triggered a wave of protests that were quelled by the security forces.

“They came to me today and said they will take me home, that’s all,” Monywa Aung Shin, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, told Democratic Voice of Burma late on Monday on his way home from prison.

Monywa Aung Shin was arrested on February 1 and had spent eight months in prison.

Burmese comedian Zarganar, a well-known critic of Myanmar’s past military governments, was also released late Monday, according to local media reports and a social media post by a close friend.

Photos and videos on social media showed detainees reunited with weeping family members.

Other images showed a succession of buses leaving the rear entrance of the jail, with passengers leaning from windows and waving at crowds gathered outside.

(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by John Geddie; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Angus MacSwan)

West African leaders meet to decide on Guinea after coup

By Christian Akorlie

ACCRA (Reuters) – West African leaders gathered in Accra on Thursday to determine how the region’s main political and economic bloc can steer Guinea back towards constitutional rule following a coup that ousted President Alpha Conde last week.

The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) condemned the putsch and has suspended Guinea from the bloc’s decision-making bodies.

The leaders were to hear a report from a ministerial mission that went to Guinea’s capital Conakry on Friday to meet the ruling junta.

Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, who is ECOWAS chairman, said in remarks before a closed-door session that he hoped the heads of state will help offer durable solutions to the crisis.

He added that the leaders will also hear a report from the mediator of the crisis in Mali, former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. Mali has also been suspended from the organization following two coups within a year.

Jonathan said last week that the bloc was concerned Mali’s transitional government has not made sufficient progress toward organizing elections in February as agreed after the coup last year.

“We are required to take informed decisions on these matters that will have long-term consequences for the stability and defense of democratic values of our region,” Akufo-Addo said.

The junta in Guinea led by Mamady Doumbouya, a former member of the French Foreign Legion, is holding consultations with various public figures, groups and business leaders in the country to map a framework for a transitional government.

As part of the four-day consultation, the junta will meet with Guinea’s main business lobby and executives of mining firms operating in its bauxite, gold, iron ore and diamond sectors.

The junta has not said how long the transitional government will last, or who will lead it.

(Reporting by Christian Akorlie; Writing by Cooper Inveen and Bate Felix; Editing by David Clarke and Andrew Cawthorne)

Myanmar junta leader aims to solidify grip on power -U.N

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The U.N. special envoy on Myanmar said on Tuesday the country’s military leader appears determined to solidify his grip on power following a February coup and ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party could soon be disbanded.

Christine Schraner Burgener cited military ruler Min Aung Hlaing’s announcement this month that he was now prime minister in a newly formed caretaker government and also a formal annulment of the results of a November election, which was won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

“I fear that we will soon hear also that the NLD party could be disbanded. This is an attempt to promote legitimacy against lack of international action taken,” Schraner Burgener told reporters. “I have to make clear that the U.N. does not recognize governments, so it’s up to the member states.”

She said unless U.N. member states act, Myanmar’s U.N. Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun – an opponent of the junta – remains the country’s legitimate envoy at the world body in New York and Suu Kyi and Myanmar President Win Myint are the country’s leaders.

The junta, which argues that it is not a military government and came about through a constitutional transfer of power, has said it wants to appoint Aung Thurein – a member of Myanmar’s military from 1995 to 2021 – to be the U.N. ambassador.

U.N. credentials are initially considered by a nine-member committee appointed at the beginning of each annual session of the 193-member General Assembly, which starts in September.

Schraner Burgener stressed that it was up to member states to decide who should represent Myanmar, but she described it as a “crucial moment”.

“I’m still convinced that this was a coup, which was not yet successfully completed,” she said. “It was an unlawful act and we have still a legitimate government from the NLD.”

The United Nations has previously had to address competing claims for representation, some culminating with a vote in the General Assembly. The credentials committee is also able to defer a decision and leave a seat empty.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Philippa Fletcher)

Tunisian president says there is ‘no turning back’

TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia’s President Kais Saied said on Thursday there was “no turning back” from his decision to freeze parliament and assume executive power, moves his opponents have branded a coup.

Speaking in a video published by his office, Saied also rejected calls for talks over the crisis, saying “there is no dialogue except with the honest” and that no dialogue was possible with “cancer cells.”

The biggest party in parliament, the moderate Islamist Ennahda, which has been the most vocal opponent of Saied’s moves, had called for dialogue in a statement earlier on Thursday.

Some 11 days after his intervention, Saied has not named a new prime minister, announced any steps to end the emergency or declared his longer-term intentions.

The powerful labor union, as well as both the United States and France, have called on him to quickly appoint a new government. The union is preparing a roadmap to end the crisis that it says it will present to Saied.

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez and ranking member Jim Risch said on Thursday they were deeply concerned by the situation.

“President Saied must recommit to the democratic principles that underpin U.S.-Tunisia relations, and the military must observe its role in a constitutional democracy,” they said in a joint statement.

Ousted Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi appeared in public for the first time on Thursday since he was dismissed. He was shown in pictures published by the anti-corruption watchdog that it said were taken on Thursday at its office.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Isolated Myanmar calls for international help as COVID cases surge

(Reuters) -Myanmar’s military ruler is looking for greater cooperation with the international community to contain the coronavirus, state media reported on Wednesday, as the Southeast Asian country struggles with a surging wave of infections.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing called in a speech for more cooperation on prevention, control and treatment of COVID-19, including with fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and “friendly countries,” the Global New Light of Myanmar reported.

Myanmar has been in chaos since the military ousted an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, with regular protests and fighting between the army and newly formed militias. Various countries including the United States and Britain have imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s military rulers over the coup and the repression of pro-democracy protests in which hundreds have been killed.

The junta leader said vaccinations needed to be increased, through both donated doses and by developing domestic production, aided by Russia, the newspaper said, adding Myanmar would seek the release of funds from an ASEAN COVID-19 fund.

Myanmar recently received two million more Chinese vaccines, but it was believed to have only vaccinated about 3.2% of its population, according to a Reuters tracker. A drive to vaccinate some 40,000 inmates in densely packed prisons, which have seen major virus outbreaks recently, started on Wednesday, state-run MRTV reported.

The military has appeared wary of outside help in past disasters, forcing Myanmar’s people to help each other, though a previous junta did allow in aid via ASEAN after a devastating cyclone in 2008.

There have been desperate efforts by people to find oxygen in many parts of the country. The Myanmar Now news portal, citing witnesses, reported that at least eight people died in a Yangon hospital at the weekend after a piped oxygen system failed.

Reuters could not independently confirm the report and the North Okkalapa General Hospital and a health ministry spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Infections in Myanmar have surged since June, with 4,980 cases and 365 deaths reported on Wednesday, according to health ministry data cited in media. Medics and funeral services put the toll much higher.

Last week, prisoners in Yangon staged a protest over what activists said was a major COVID-19 outbreak in the colonial-era Insein jail, where many pro-democracy protesters are being held.

Vaccinations began at Insein and a prison in the capital Naypyitaw on Wednesday and would be extended to inmates countrywide, MRTV reported, citing the prisons department.

Efforts to tackle the outbreak have been further hampered by some of the worst flooding in years in eastern Myanmar.

Despite Min Aung Hlaing agreeing to an ASEAN peace plan reached in April, the military has shown little sign of following through on it and has instead reiterated its own, entirely different plan to restore order and democracy.

The military justified its coup by accusing Suu Kyi’s party of manipulating votes in a November general election to secure a landslide victory. The electoral commission at the time and outside observers rejected the complaints.

But in a further sign of the junta’s tightening grip on power, the military-appointed election commission this week officially annulled the November results, saying the vote was not in line with the constitution and electoral laws, and was not “free and fair,” MRTV reported.

(Reporting by Reuters StaffWriting by Ed Davies and John Geddie; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)