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In Darfur, civilians pay price in new wave of deadly violence




Khartoum, Sudan – Ibrahim Arbab had no option but to flee.

Having heard of a mass killing in a nearby village, the 34-year-old and his family late last month sought shelter in el-Geneina, the capital of Sudan’s West Darfur state. Thousands of others did the same.

“The Janjaweed will definitely come after you,” Arbab said, referring to the feared militias who have long been accused of committing atrocities in Darfur, in the west of Sudan.

At least 60 people were killed – mostly unarmed civilians from the Black African Masalit tribe – when some 500 armed men attacked Masteri village, according to the United Nations, the latest in a string of attacks that have left several villages burned and markets looted.

Locals blamed the Janjaweed, nomadic Arab militias which were extensively armed by Sudan’s former President Omar al-Bashir after mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in 2003 accusing the central government in the capital, Khartoum, of political and economic marginalisation.

This photo shows aftermath of an attack in the village of Masteri in west Darfur, Sudan Saturday, July 25, 2020. A recent surge of violence in Darfur, the war-scarred region of western Sudan, has depr

The aftermath of the attack in the village of Masteri in West Darfur state [Mustafa Younes/AP Photo]

One of those killed in the July 25 attack was Arbab’s brother-in-law, 44-year-old Yousef Adam, who used to work as a cattle trader after becoming displaced in recent years due to the conflict.

“He was sitting inside his house, when the Janjaweed came in and asked him if he had a gun,” Arbab said in a telephone interview. “They searched his house before shooting him on his chest with two bullets and one on his head – in front of my sister.”

At el-Geneina, the pain is too much for the displaced survivors and relatives of victims.

“The local county is now full of widows and bereaved,” said Arbab. “I just can’t stay with them, it’s heartbreaking seeing them, they refuse to eat or drink.”

Buthaina Ali, who, like Arbab, hails from the village of Nguoro, fled with her mother and grandmother after the attack in Masteri.

“We know when they attack one village nearby, they will come to us as well, so we left everything behind and came here,” said the 25-year-old.

Al-Bashir has been jailed in Khartoum since his military overthrow last year following months-long protests against his 30-year rule. The former president is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in the Darfur conflict, which has killed some 300,000 people and displaced millions. The war has slowed down in recent years but is yet to end despite a ceasefire, with warring factions negotiating a peace deal with Sudan’s transitional government that came to power last year.

The Sudan Sovereign Council, which is tasked with leading Sudan to elections in 2022, has made ending Sudan’s multiple conflicts one of its main priorities. According to the delegation negotiating with the armed groups, al-Bashir could appear before ICC prosecutors, although it is still not clear how this could happen.

In Darfur, al-Bashir’s removal from office in April 2019 raised hopes among civilians that the violence would ease in the region – but these proved short-lived.

Incidents of killing, rape and burning down of villages by militias have continued over the past 15 months, with hundreds of people killed and thousands forced to flee to Chad and other parts of Sudan.

Following last week’s mass killing, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok promised to send troops to the region to “protect citizens and the farming citizens” while officials described the incident as a tribal conflict.

“People of Darfur … you are all relatives and one family … We call you people of Darfur, don’t let the criminals to take the chance,” said Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy head of the sovereign council and head of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary unit that was established by al-Bashir in 2013 from the remnants of the Janjaweed.

Dagalo, widely known as Hemeti, went on to accuse unspecified internal parties, whom he accused of compromising the peace-making efforts with the rebels of Darfur, as well as of South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

Meanwhile, a joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission to Darfur is expected to stop operations by the end of the year and be replaced by a political mission with no peacekeeping powers focused on supporting the transitional government in its efforts to pave the way for civilian rule.

But the prospect has left many Darfuris fearing that they will be left without protection.

The attack on Masteri was the second major violent incident in West Darfur against the Masalit community since December 2019, when thousands were forced to flee an outbreak of violence, including assaults on displacement camps.

However, Abdulrahman Eissa, a lawyer and member of the el-Geneina-based Darfur Bar Association, said: “None of the main criminals have been arrested or held into account in both of the incidents.”

Activists in Darfur have accused high-ranking RSF officers of being behind both attacks. The RSF has not addressed the allegations but promised to hold the perpetrators to account.

Residents gather in mass funeral after an attack in the village of Masteri in west Darfur, Sudan Monday, July 27, 2020. A recent surge of violence in Darfur, the war-scarred region of western Sudan, h

Residents gather for a mass funeral after the attack on Masteri [Mustafa Younes/AP Photo]

Meanwhile, many have expressed frustration at the pattern of promoting tribal reconciliation in the wake of such attacks, arguing that the perpetrators are being protected by such talks instead of facing justice.

“The government’s encouragement of these types of tribal reconciliation is a form of escaping from the punishment,” said el-Sadig Ali Hassan, the acting head of Darfur Bar Association. “The perpetrators are getting protection by these kind of conferences of reconciliation and they can go and commit more crimes,” he added.

In recent weeks, civilians have staged more than 10 sit-ins across Darfur, demanding protection from the militias and to be able to farm the land that was taken from them in the early years of the war.

But some of them have come under attack, including last month in Fata Borno, in North Darfur state, when armed groups killed at least 12 people and wounded 14 others.

Dozens of members of these so-called resistance committees, which were instrumental in last year’s protests against al-Bashir, have also been arbitrarily arrested, according to the Darfur Bar Association, with some reportedly subjected to torture.

Separately, the Al-Khatim Adlan Center for Enlightenment says 72 men, including eight teenagers aged between 15 and 18, have been arrested in Darfur by the RSF in recent months while trying to cross the border to Chad to seek work opportunities.

The NGO promoting human rights says many of them have been transferred to Omdurman, the twin city of Khartoum, without being able to see their families or lawyers.

“Because of the conflict, many of [the people of Darfur] have lost their land and the only way to make a living is by working as traders between Sudan and the neighbouring countries,” said the NGO’s Abu-Hurira Ahmed, who managed to visit some of the detainees. “But even for doing that, they face huge challenges for it.”

The UN has warned the escalating violence and the subsequent declaration of a 24-hour curfew is hampering humanitarian operations in parts of West Darfur, with access to nutrition, water and sanitation, health and other critical services compromised.

Across Sudan, the UN says almost 10 million people are now facing food shortages due to conflict, rising prices and the coronavirus pandemic, with many of these people being in the country’s conflict-hit areas.

Back in el-Geneina, Arbab said the displaced people are left without any assistance.

“I have been displaced four times since the beginning of the war,” said the father of two.

“And we don’t know what’s next.” 

Residents dig a mass grave for victims of an attack that left over 60 dead in the village of Masteri in west Darfur, Sudan Monday, July 27, 2020. A recent surge of violence in Darfur, the war-scarred

Residents dig a mass grave for the victims of the attack [Mustafa Younes/AP Photo]

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The poisoning of Alexey Navalny: Five key things to know




What happened on the day Navalny fell ill?

On August 20, a Thursday, Alexey Navalny, Russia’s leading Kremlin critic, had finished up campaigning for opposition politicians in Siberia for local elections, which were taking place from September 11 to 13. 

He left Xander Hotel and headed for the Tomsk Bogashevo airport. There, he drank a cup of tea. He was on the way to Moscow.

In the first half-hour of the flight, he fell ill and witnesses said he screamed in pain. He was later in a coma.

He was airlifted to Germany’s capital, a six-hour flight, to the Berlin Charite hospital.The plane made an emergency landing at Omsk. He received treatment in the Russian city, where doctors said he was too unwell to be moved, but two days later on August 22, a Saturday, they said his life was not in danger.

Was he poisoned? 

Navalny’s team believes he was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, a claim several European countries support.

A laboratory in Germany said it had confirmation on September 2, followed by laboratories in France and Sweden on September 14.

Samples from Navalny have also been sent to the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague for testing.

Russia says there is no evidence to prove Navalny was poisoned, while its ally Belarus has also doubted the claim. The doctors in Omsk said they had not detected poisonous substances in Navalny’s body. 

US President Donald Trump has been criticised for towing Russia’s line, saying on September 4 – two days after Germany’s claim to have “unequivocal evidence” – that “we have not had any proof yet”.

How is Navalny’s condition now?

On September 7, more than two weeks after falling ill on the plane, Navalny’s doctors in Germany said he was out of a coma and that his condition was improving. His spokeswoman said, “Gradually, he will be switched off from a ventilator.”

On September 15, Navalny posted on Instagram that he was breathing alone. He has said he plans to return to Russia. 

If he was poisoned, who may have poisoned him and where?

Navalny’s team believes he was poisoned at the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin – a claim the Kremlin has strongly denied. 

Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh had initially said she believed Navalny’s tea at the airport was poisoned, but on September 17, his team said the nerve agent was detected on an empty water bottle from his hotel room in the Tomsk, suggesting he was poisoned there and not at the airport. 

What effect has the alleged poisoning had?

The alleged attack has widened a rift between Europe and Russia, with Germany and France leading calls for a full investigation but stopping short of outrightly blaming the Russian government. 

MEPs have called for sanctions against Russia, saying on September 17, “The poison used, belonging to the ‘Novichok group’, can only be developed in state-owned military laboratories and cannot be acquired by private individuals, which strongly implies that Russian authorities were behind the attack.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Germany’s ambassador to Moscow, while the United Kingdom has summoned the Russian envoy over the incident.

For its part, Moscow rejects what it called the politicisation of the issue.

Significantly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is under pressure to halt the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, which transfers Russian gas to Germany. Once again, the Kremlin has warned not to involve the Navalny case in any discussion about the pipeline, with Dmitry Peskov saying on September 16, “It should stop being mentioned in the context of any politicisation.”

A timeline of events surrounding the alleged poisoning attack on Navalny: 

August 20 – Navalny falls ill on flight; plane makes emergency landing in Omsk; his spokeswoman says he was poisoned, perhaps by the tea he drank at the airport

August 22 – Navalny airlifted to Berlin Charite hospital 

September 2 – Germany says it has ‘unequivocal evidence’ Navalny was poisoned, Russia responds by saying the claim is not backed by evidence

September 4 – US President Donald Trump says ‘we do not have any proof yet’

September 6 – Heiko Maas, German foreign minister, threatens action over gas pipeline project, saying, ‘I hope the Russians don’t force us to change our position on Nord Stream 2’

September 7 – German doctors say Navalny is out of an artificial coma

September 11-13 – Russia holds local elections; Navalny’s allies make gains in Siberian cities

September 15 – Navalny posts on Instagram that he is breathing alone

September 16 – Kremlin spokesman warns against politicising Navalny issue in discussions over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project with Germany

September 17 – Navalny’s team now suspects he was poisoned in his hotel room, not the airport, citing traces of nerve agent on an empty water bottle

September 17 – MEPs call for sanctions against Russia 

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Former Canada PM Turner, in office for just 11 weeks, dies




John Turner, Canada’s 17th prime minister who held the office for just 79 days in 1984, died on Saturday aged 91.

Former Canadian Prime Minister John Turner, who was in office for only 11 weeks in the 1980s, has died at age 91, Canadian media outlets reported on Saturday.

Turner served as the country’s 17th prime minister and, despite his short tenure at the helm of a Liberal Party government in 1984, he spent decades in Canadian federal politics.

Turner took over from Pierre Elliott Trudeau – current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father – in late June 1984 at a time of increasing voter fatigue with the Liberals, who had been in power for 20 of the previous 21 years.

At that point, he had already held the posts of finance and justice minister.

But his 79-day tenure as prime minister was the second shortest in Canadian history. He resigned as Liberal leader in 1990 and was replaced by Jean Chretien, who led the party to victory in 1993.

Turner’s time in federal politics was perhaps best remembered for his battles with former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, especially over free trade with the United States, CBC News reported.

‘Distinguished service’

On Saturday, legislators from across the Canadian political spectrum shared their memories of Turner, whom many described as being deeply devoted to the public service, and sent their condolences to his family.

Former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who held the post from 2006 to 2015, said Turner “served his family and country with great dignity”.

“His legacy and commitment to public service will be remembered for generations,” Harper tweeted.

Liberal parliament member Yvan Baker said Turner was one of his early political role models.

“Canada meant everything to him, and he will be remembered for his life-long & distinguished service to this country,” Baker wrote on Twitter, alongside an image of himself with the late former prime minister.

Deeply saddened to learn former PM John Turner has passed away. He was one of my first political role models. Canada meant everything to him, and he will be remembered for his life-long & distinguished service to this country. My sympathies to his family at this difficult time.

— Yvan Baker, MP (@Yvan_Baker) September 19, 2020

Bob Rae, a longtime politician and now Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, said Turner was many things – a lawyer, Rhodes scholar, athlete – but a “believer above all in the public service”.

Canada’s Minister of Indigenous-Crown Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, said she would miss Turner’s “wise counsel”.

“He cared deeply about this country and our democratic institutions. We must now all carry his torch as we build an even better Canada,” she tweeted.



Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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Trump bans TikTok over security concerns




From: Inside Story

More than 100 million Americans will not be able to download two of the world’s most popular apps from Sunday.

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