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Sudan talks cancelled as al-Burhan condemns students' killing

Students protest in Khartoum a day after five teenagers were shot [Ebrahim Hamid/AFP]

Sudan‘s ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) has condemned the killing of five schoolchildren at a rally as protest leaders called off planned talks with the generals and thousands of students took to the streets to denounce the latest bout of violence.

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of TMC, told reporters on Tuesday the killings in the North Kordofan city of El-Obeid was “unacceptable”.

“What happened in El-Obeid is a regrettable and upsetting matter and the killing of peaceful citizens is unacceptable and rejected and a crime that requires immediate and deterrent accountability,” he was quoted as saying by the official SUNA news agency. 

Protesters accuse the feared Rapid Support Forces (RSF), headed by al-Burhan’s deputy – General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, of shooting dead the five teenagers at Monday’s rally against shortages of bread and fuel. 

The UN children’s agency UNICEF, in a statement on Tuesday, called on Sudanese authorities “to investigate and hold all perpetrators of violence against children accountable”.

“No child should be buried in their school uniform,” the agency said, adding the students killed were aged between 15 and 17 years. 

The killings came before planned talks between the TMC and protest leaders on the remaining aspects of installing civilian rule following the toppling of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in April. 

The two sides signed a power-sharing agreement on July 17, and were to sit down on Tuesday to discuss the powers of the proposed joint civilian-military ruling council and immunity for generals over previous deadly violence against protesters.

Talks cancelled

But negotiators for the Forces of Freedom and Change alliance, the umbrella group that represents protest and opposition groups, told AFP news agency that Tuesday’s talks would not take place because they were visiting El-Obeid. 

“There will be no negotiation today with the Transitional Military Council as our negotiating team is still in El-Obeid and will return only tonight,” said Satea al-Haj, a member of the alliance. 

Meanwhile, thousands of students – heeding a call for nationwide protests against the El-Obeid “massacre” by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) – rallied in Khartoum and other cities to condemn the violence against their fellow students. 

The SPA, which spearheaded the protests against al-Bashir, also called on all schools in North Kordofan state to suspend classes. 

Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from Addis Ababa in neighbouring Ethiopia, said there was a lot of anger and condemnation on the streets of the capital, Khartoum, because of the renewed violence in El-Obeid.

“But [the protesters] are also condemning the silence of the opposition coalition Forces of Freedom and Change… The protesters are saying these talks have not yielded any results and they’ve been going on for three months. 

“People are saying at the moment negotiations are not the way and that what the opposition should focus on is demanding justice and accountability.”

Protester killings

Earlier on Tuesday, a prominent protest leader called for the talks to be suspended.

“We cannot sit at the negotiating table with those allowing the killing of revolutionaries,” Siddig Youssef said in a statement.

Doctors linked to the protest movement say more than 250 people have been killed in protest-related violence since December, when demonstrations first erupted against al-Bashir. More than 100 were killed during and after an RSF raid on a sit-in outside the military headquarters on June 3, they said. 

But a joint investigation by prosecutors and the TMC concluded just 17 people were killed on June 3, with a total of 87 deaths between that day and June 10.

Protest leaders rejected the findings, saying the inquiry exonerated the TMC and gave a far lower death toll than their own.

Source: Aljazeera

UK: Boris Johnson's visit to Wales seeks to reassure on Brexit

No new negotiations are planned between Britain and the EU over Brexit [Jeff J Mitchell via Reuters]

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Wales as part of a national tour intended to reassure Britons that his hard-Brexit push will not hurt the economy and rip apart the United Kingdom.

The pound has fallen sharply in recent days as businesses warn no amount of preparation can eliminate the economic damage if Britain crashes out of the European Union without agreement on the terms. The currency fell early Tuesday to $1.2120, its lowest since March 2017.

Johnson faced a tough reception from farmers – a group central to the Welsh economy – who fear economic havoc if Britain leaves the EU without a divorce deal.

They say millions of sheep might have to be slaughtered if tariffs are slapped on lamb exports to the EU.

Johnson’s office argues that leaving the 28-nation bloc and its rules-bound Common Agricultural Policy will be “a historic opportunity to introduce new schemes to support farming” and will open up new markets for UK agricultural exports.

The trip follows a visit on Monday to Scotland, where Johnson was booed by protesters and warned by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that his vow to take Britain out of the EU on October 31, with or without a deal, was “dangerous”.

Johnson, who took office last week, also plans to visit Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK to share a land border with the EU.

The status of that currently invisible frontier with the Republic of Ireland has become the main stumbling block to a Brexit deal.

Johnson became prime minister last week after winning a Conservative Party leadership contest by promising the strongly pro-Brexit party membership the UK will leave the EU on the scheduled date of October 31, with or without a divorce deal.

The EU struck a withdrawal agreement with Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, but it was rejected three times by Britain’s parliament.

Johnson is insisting the bloc make major changes to May’s deal, including scrapping an insurance policy for the Irish border that has been rejected by UK legislators.

The EU insists it will not reopen the 585-page withdrawal agreement it spent two years negotiating with May’s government.

Johnson’s government has been accused of sending mixed messages on Brexit that have unsettled markets.

Michael Gove, who heads a new Brexit delivery committee in Cabinet, has said the government is “operating on the assumption” the UK will leave without a deal.

But Johnson – who just weeks ago put the odds of leaving without a divorce agreement at a million to one – said on Monday he was “very confident” of getting a new deal.

Source: Aljazeera

Iraq plans to build new oil pipeline via Jordan

Iraq is planning to build a new oil pipeline to Jordan which it is banking on to revive revenue sources, after years of war and instability.

In addition to expanding refineries and oil fields, Iraq is also planning to rehabilitate a pipeline via Turkey.

But it is not the first time Iraqis have heard plans like these and many say they will believe it when they see some change in their lives.

Source: Aljazeera

Philippines 'deadliest' country for environmental, land activists

Indigenous children denounce the Duterte administration for carrying out alleged rights abuses in Mindanao [Bullit Marquez/AP]

The Philippines was the deadliest country in the world for environmental and land activists in 2018 with at least 30 recorded deaths, according to a watchdog group.

In a report published on Tuesday, Global Witness said 18 percent of the 164 environment-related deaths recorded last year took place in the Philippines.

It is the first time the Philippines has topped the list since the organisation began documenting killings linked to the environment and land protection.

In an average week last year, three people were killed while defending their land and the environment from industries such as mining, logging and agribusiness, the report said.

Among those killed in the Philippines last year were nine farmers working at a colonial-era sugarcane plantation in the central island of Negros.

The fatalities in the October 2018 incident included four women and two minors.

The labour group National Federation of Sugar Workers accused well-connected landlords of ordering the attack.

A month later, the farmers’ lawyer, Benjamin Ramos, was also killed after receiving numerous death threats. He was the 34th lawyer killed since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in 2016.

The death toll has continued to mount with 14 more farmers from Negros island killed in March 2019.

Duterte’s spokesman has called the incident a “legitimate” police operation, although human rights groups described it as a “massacre”.

Death threats and lawsuits

Countless more people have been silenced through other tactics designed to crush the protest, including arrests, death threats, lawsuits and smear campaigns, Global Witness said.

“Vicious attacks against land and environmental defenders are still happening, despite growing momentum behind environmental movements the world over,” Alice Harrison, senior campaigner at Global Witness, said in a statement.

“It is a brutal irony that while judicial systems routinely allow the killers of defenders to walk free, they are also being used to brand the activists themselves as terrorists, spies or dangerous criminals.”

Because of her work defending indigenous people in the Philippines, UN Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz was also declared a “terrorist” by the administration of Duterte.

“This was in retaliation for me speaking out against indigenous rights violations in my home country. For months, I lived under threat, and could not safely return home,” she said.

In September 2018 in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, a 23-year-old indigenous man was allegedly killed by soldiers, after he was accused of being a supporter of a communist rebel group.

The military has also accused communist rebels of carrying out attacks on indigenous people.

Rights groups say Duterte’s deadly war on drugs, which claimed thousands of lives, has created a culture of impunity in the country. 

The Global Witness report said much of the persecution of land and environmental defenders is being driven by demand for the land and raw materials needed for products that consumers utilise every day, from food to mobile phones and jewellery.

Also recording a high number of environment and land-related fatalities were Colombia with 24 deaths, India with 23, and Brazil at 20.

Meanwhile, in Guatemala, a boom in private and foreign investment has seen large swaths of land handed out to plantation, mining and hydropower companies, ushering in a wave of forced and violent evictions, particularly in indigenous areas, the report said.

This has stirred fears of a return to the large-scale violence the country suffered 30 years ago.

Source: Aljazeera

Mexico auctions property once owned by criminals for good cause

Lamborghinis, Piaget watches and private jets are all going under the hammer.

But this time, it is for the benefit of Mexico’s poorest communities.

Goods previously owned by Mexico’s most dangerous criminals are being auctioned off by the federal government.

But critics of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador have called the auctions a populist measure and are concerned about the transparency and the fairness of the distribution process.

Source: Aljazeera