The EU is likely to sanction between 15 and 20 individuals for their role in electoral fraud and a crackdown on protesters in Belarus, a senior official said Tuesday.
The bloc has been preparing asset freezes and travel bans over the crisis that has unfolded in the ex-Soviet republic and after an emergency video summit last week EU Council President Charles Michel said a “substantial number” of people would be targeted.
The European Union is trying to find ways to get strongman President Alexander Lukashenko to listen to the unprecedented protests that followed his hotly disputed August 9 re-election, which the bloc has rejected as not free or fair.
EU foreign ministers meeting for informal talks in Berlin on Thursday and Friday are expected to give political approval to a list of targets, before the list is formally approved soon afterwards.
Asked how many names were on the list, a senior EU official said it would likely be “something between 15 and 20”, but the final total would depend on legal verification carried out by the EU’s lawyers.
Because sanctions listings can be challenged all the way up to the European Court of Justice, the EU subjects each one to rigorous checks to make sure they are legally watertight.
European leaders including Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have all sought to persuade Russia to help bring about a peaceful conclusion to the Belarus crisis.
The senior EU official said the “very interesting tango between Russia and Belarus” in recent years, in which Lukashenko has resisted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to get him to join a political-economic union, had disrupted the Moscow-Minsk dynamic.
After drifting away from Putin, Lukashenko was now suddenly seeking his support, the official said, complicating European efforts to get Putin to encourage the Belarus leader to start talking to the opposition.
“Is Putin usefully prodding Alexander Lukashenko in the way of this dialogue? My answer has to be no — he is in a different business,” the official said.
President Muhammadu Buhari will on Thursday depart for Bamako, the Republic of Mali on a one-day visit.
This is according to a statement by the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the President, Femi Adesina.
Buhari’s planned visit followed the briefing by the ECOWAS Special Envoy to the country, former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The statement adds that President Buhari and the ECOWAS Chairman, President Issoufou Mahamadou of Niger Republic had already agreed to meet in Mali to engage in further consultations towards finding a political solution to the crisis in the country.
The two leaders are expected to be joined by the Host President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Presidents Machy Sall of Senegal, Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana and Alassane Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire respectively.
“We will ask the President of Niger, who is the Chairman of ECOWAS to brief us as a group, and we will then know the way forward,” President Buhari was quoted as saying.
Earlier, Jonathan in the company of President of ECOWAS Commission, Mr Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, on Tuesday briefed President Buhari on the unfolding situation in Mali, necessitating the visit of ECOWAS leaders to consolidate on the agreements reached by various parties.
The former President had filled in President Buhari on his activities as Special Envoy to restore amity to Mali, rocked by protests against President Keita, who has spent two out of the five years, the second term in office.
A resistance group, M5, is insisting that the Constitutional Court must be dissolved and that the President should resign before peace can return to the country.
The crisis had erupted after the court nullified results of 31 parliamentary seats in the polls held recently, awarding victory to some other contenders, which the resistance group said was at the instigation of President Keita.
Riots on July 10 had led to the killing of some protesters by security agents, causing the crisis to spiral out of control, hence the intervention by ECOWAS.
Taiwanese lawmakers threw punches and water balloons inside the legislature on Friday, the third parliamentary brawl in a fortnight, over the nomination of the head of a top government watchdog.
A legislator from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was caught on camera punching an opposition party member during a vote on nominee Chen Chu.
Kuomintang (KMT) lawmakers later threw water balloons at the speakers’ podium, forcing their DPP colleagues to don plastic raincoats and hold up cardboard shields.
The parliament in Taipei was once notorious for mass brawls, and has been the scene of frequent protests.
Scuffles broke out over reform policies and pension cuts when President Tsai Ing-wen first took office four years ago.
Such confrontations had since subsided, but in the last fortnight they have returned with abandon over the decision to nominate Chen, 70, to head the Control Yuan, an investigatory agency that monitors the other branches of government.
The KMT is opposed to her appointment, which requires approval from the DPP-dominated parliament.
The party also claimed that 24 out of 27 people nominated for membership of the Control Yuan have close ties with the DPP in the “worst ever” nomination list for the agency.
“We demand a new review and we demand the nominations be withdrawn,” KMT chairman Johnny Chiang told supporters gathered outside the Control Yuan building, also in the capital.
Chen is a long-time human rights advocate and was jailed for six years when Taiwan was a dictatorship under the KMT.
Despite the morning’s melee, voting went ahead and Chen’s nomination was approved.
She has said she will quit the DPP after her nomination is approved, to maintain the impartiality of the position, and accused the opposition of smearing her with unfounded accusations.
Johnson’s interview with Times Radio comes a week before the full reopening of restaurants, pubs and other parts of the hospitality, tourism and cultural sectors in England for the first time since March 20.
A full lockdown was imposed three days later, and has been one of the longest in Europe.
As restrictions ease nationwide, the UK’s first local lockdown may soon be introduced in the central city of Leicester to deal with a reported spike in virus cases.
“I think the crucial thing is that we are ready to crack down on local flare-ups,” Johnson said.
“That’s why you’re seeing the steps that are being taken in Leicester.”
Johnson admitted that his own near-death experience with COVID-19 — he was treated at an intensive care unit in early April — made him reassess his hands-off approach to Britons’ general fitness.
Some data suggest that people who are overweight have a higher mortality rate from the new virus.
Johnson has admitted he is on a diet and said Monday he “lost some weight” while recovering.
“I have taken a very libertarian stance (on fitness). But when you compare us to other countries, we are significantly fatter,” he said.
The crisis rocking the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) continues to deepen as a factional acting Chairman of the party, Mr Hilliard Eta inaugurated a new Deputy National Secretary.
At a brief ceremony in Abuja, Eta said the swearing-in of Mr Worgu Boms is as a result of the vacancy in the office of the deputy national secretary.
He explained that Victor Giadom who is parading himself as the acting APC National Chairman is no longer a member of the party having resigned to contest the Rivers state governorship election in 2019.
This comes shortly after Giadom asked the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to disregard the governorship primary election in Edo State.
He made the appeal in a letter addressed to the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, and received by the electoral umpire on Monday.
In the letter dated June 18, 2020, Giadom asked INEC not to give support to direct primary election conducted by a committee chaired by the Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodinma.
Meanwhile, one of the APC governorship aspirants in the Edo election, Osagie Iyamu has won the party’s primary election in Edo State.
According to the Chairman of the APC Primary Election Committee and Imo State Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma, Ize-Iyamu emerged winner after defeating two other aspirants – Pius Odubu and Osaro Obaze.
While Ize-Iyamu polled 27, 838, his other rivals garnered 3,776 votes and 2,724 votes respectively.
Years ago Ahlam had escaped poverty in Lebanon for a better life in Europe, but then a family tragedy forced her back home to a country now in the throes of a raging economic crisis.
In the northern port city of Tripoli, a web of electric wires hangs low over a narrow street as men sit around a table drinking coffee in the Bab al-Tabbaneh neighbourhood.
Inside her small flat in a dilapidated building there, 54-year-old Ahlam leans over the kitchen sink and rinses dishes, her hair and slim body draped in black.
“I escaped the poverty and deprivation we lived under in Bab al-Tebbaneh, only to return back to extreme poverty,” she told AFP, fatigue visible on her emaciated face.
Ahlam is one of thousands in Tripoli now struggling to put food on the table, as Lebanon’s worst economic crisis since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war has rapidly deepened in recent weeks.
The downturn has sparked unprecedented protests nationwide against a ruling elite widely deemed incompetent and corrupt, which includes wealthy politicians from Tripoli.
Ahlam and her husband, seeking better chances abroad, had in 2015 sold all their furniture to join the migrant route to Europe.
They paid a trafficker to take them by sea to Europe, her husband leaving first before Ahlam followed two weeks later on a boat packed with migrants from Syria, Sudan and Afghanistan.
She eventually made it to Germany where she reunited in the Cologne area with one of her sons and they lived a “dignified life” for around two years.
But the death of her other son forced the couple to return to Tripoli to help take care of his wife and two children, so three years ago Ahlam arrived back to build up her life again from scratch.
– ‘Borrow to buy bread’ –
Ahlam found work in the villa of a well-off Tripoli family, earning a monthly wage of 500,000 Lebanese pounds.
That would once have been equivalent to around $330 before the start of the downturn late last year, but it would now fetch barely $100 on the black market.
“My income can only buy me vegetables,” Ahlam said. “I sometimes have to borrow money to buy oil and bread.
“Many days, we just eat leftovers,” she said.
Food prices have risen by more than 70 percent since the autumn, according to the non-governmental Consumer Protection Association.
The inflation has been a blow in a country where more than 45 percent of the population now lives below the poverty line and about one third of the workforce is unemployed.
But Lebanese in Tripoli, long a poorer city with a history of sectarian violence, are among the hardest hit.
According to a 2015 study by the United Nations, 57 percent of the city’s population already lived at or below the poverty line and 26 percent suffered extreme poverty.
Ahlam said she would return to Germany in a heartbeat if she could.
“I no longer feel like I’m part of this country… I’d be ready to try again, just to flee this bankrupt country where we live humiliated.”
– ‘State abandoned us’ –
Tripoli emerged as a vibrant protest hub in the nationwide demonstrations from October last year, earning the city the title the “bride of the revolution”.
After the Lebanese currency plunged to record lows last week, angry protests erupted again, with standoffs between security forces and demonstrators leaving dozens wounded in Tripoli.
In recent months, scores of protesters have rallied outside the homes of politicians in Tripoli against what they describe as the government’s neglect of the port city and its residents.
“All officials in Lebanon are thieves… We should be angry,” said Fayad Darwish, a 55-year-old father of seven whose income has evaporated because of the de-facto devaluation.
Tripoli’s economic struggles were long compounded by sectarian violence.
From 2007 to 2014, the city was the scene of frequent clashes between Sunni residents of the Bab al-Tebbaneh district, and Alawite residents of neighbouring Jabal Mohsen.
With a high number of school dropouts or unemployed among the young men of Bab al-Tebbaneh, many were paid to take up arms while others joined jihadist groups in Syria or resorted to taking and dealing drugs.
“This area has paid heavily in blood for battles that have nothing to do with us,” said Abu Mohammad, a 70-year-old resident.
“We are worried about our youth and the possibility they may slide back into violence and take up weapons again because of growing poverty.”
In a former frontline street near Bab al-Tebbaneh, a group of young men passed around a joint.
Taking a drag, one of men, aged in his twenties, said: “We have nothing else to do.”
“We are all unemployed here,” his friend chimed in. “The state has abandoned us.”
Lebanese protesters angered by a spiralling economic crisis clashed with security forces in the country’s north overnight as a months-old anti-government movement gained new momentum despite a coronavirus lockdown.
A 26-year-old protester died on Tuesday from a bullet wound he had sustained during the confrontations between the army and hundreds of demonstrators that rocked Lebanon’s second city of Tripoli.
Sixty people were injured, including some 40 soldiers, during the exchange which saw protesters throw stones at troops who fired live rounds into the air to try to disperse the angry crowds under clouds of tear gas.
The overnight violence was the latest in a string of anti-government protests and social unrest fuelled by unprecedented inflation that this week saw a free-falling Lebanese pound reach record lows against the dollar.
Angered by the financial collapse, demonstrators across Lebanon have rallied, blocked roads and vandalised banks for two days, re-energising a protest movement launched in October against a political class the activists deem inept and corrupt.
“I came down to raise my voice against hunger, poverty and rising prices,” Khaled, a 41-year-old protester, told AFP from Tripoli, adding that he could no longer support his three children since he lost his job selling motorcycle spare parts.
– ‘Social explosion’ –
Lebanon is mired in its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, now compounded by a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus which has killed 24 people and infected almost 700 more.
The Lebanese pound has lost more than half of its value on the black market, where it traded at a record low of around 4,000 pounds to the dollar this week.
Economy Minister Raoul Nehme on Tuesday said that prices have risen by 55 per cent, while the government estimates that 45 per cent of the population now lives below the poverty line.
This has unleashed a public outcry against a government that has yet to deliver a long awaited rescue plan to shore up the country’s finances more than three months since it was nominated to address the crisis.
“No reform measures have been taken,” Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, told AFP.
The only major step taken has been the suspension of Eurobond debt payments, he said, referring to a March announcement by the government that it would default on its sovereign debt for the first time due to dwindling foreign currency reserves.
With no clear government plan to exit the crisis, Nader said, Lebanon is heading “towards an inevitable social explosion”.
– Bank attacks –
Public anger has been increasingly directed at banks which are accused by protesters of helping a corrupt political class drive the country towards bankruptcy.
Lebanese banks, many of which are owned by prominent politicians, have since September imposed restrictions on dollar withdrawals and transfers, forcing the public to deal in the nose-diving Lebanese pound.
Since March, banks have stopped dollar withdrawals altogether, further fuelling public anger.
In Tripoli, the army accused demonstrators overnight of torching three banks, destroying several ATM machines and attacking an army patrol and military vehicle.
It said 40 soldiers were wounded and nine people were arrested.
In a later statement, it expressed “regret” at the death of Fawaz al-Samman who died after being hit in the thigh with a bullet.
His sister Fatima told AFP that she blames the army, which said it would open an investigation into the death.
The Association of Lebanese Banks said that commercial banks would be closed in Tripoli on Tuesday because of “attacks and acts of vandalism”.
In Beirut, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a bank before dawn, according to the official National News Agency.
In the southern city of Sidon, protesters threw stones and fire crackers at the central bank headquarters late Monday, the NNA said.
Late Saturday, assailants lobbed an explosive device at a bank in Sidon.
The attack came a day after Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Lebanese bank deposits had plunged $5.7 billion in the first two months of the year, despite curbs on withdrawals and a ban on transfers abroad.
Oil-price turmoil gripped traders once more Tuesday, a day after US crude futures crashed below zero for the first time as the coronavirus crisis crippled global energy demand and worsened a supply glut.
The commodity rout also sent world equity markets spiralling lower, as investors fretted it could compound an expected deep global economic downturn.
WTI had Monday collapsed to an unprecedented intra-day low of minus $40.32.
Negative prices mean traders must pay to find buyers to take physical possession of the oil — a job made difficult with the world’s storage capacity at bursting point.
Storage is a particularly big problem in the US where WTI oil is delivered at a single, inland point. In Europe, where Brent is the benchmark, there are several such points and their proximity to the sea allows some of it to be stored on tankers.
This week’s massive sell-off came ahead of Tuesday’s expiry of the May contract. Most trading has now moved to the June contract, and May WTI was back in positive territory by the late European afternoon.
– ‘Slice of pizza’ –
“Ever thought that it could be imaginable to see the price of US oil valued at less than a pizza? Or even a slice of pizza? How about for it to actually cost to sell US crude?” said Jameel Ahmad, head of currency strategy and market research at FXTM.
“All of this was previously thought to be unthinkable — but it became very real for traders as the price of US oil turned negative for the first time in history.”
European benchmark Brent North Sea oil for June delivery tumbled to an 18-year low, before coming off worst levels in volatile deals.
“Players are now paying buyers to take oil volumes away as the physical storage limit will be reached. And they are paying top dollar,” said Rystad Energy analyst Louise Dickson.
Oil markets have been ravaged this year after the pandemic was compounded by a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
While the two big oil producing nations have drawn a line under the dispute and agreed with other countries to slash output by almost 10 million barrels a day, that is not enough to offset the lack of demand.
– Stock markets sink –
Equity markets were meanwhile also deep in the red on Tuesday, having enjoyed a healthy couple of weeks thanks to massive stimulus measures and signs of an easing in the rate of new infections globally.
Key eurozone stocks markets closed with declines of up to four percent, while London did a little better thanks to a weaker pound.
On Wall Street, the DJIA was over 600 points down by the late New York morning.
“Continued dysfunction in the crude oil markets” was the main factor behind the decline, analysts at Charles Schwab said, “while the Street continues to assess the timing of when the US economy may be able to reopen”.
Analysts warned the drop in stock markets could be an indication that the recent surge may have been hasty, and that another prolonged sell-off is possible.
– Key figures around 1540 GMT –
West Texas Intermediate (May delivery): UP 42 percent at $4.46 per barrel
West Texas Intermediate (June delivery): DOWN 28.5 percent at $14.60
Brent North Sea crude (May delivery): DOWN 22.1 percent at $19.93
Brent North Sea crude (June delivery): DOWN 23.3 percent at $19.87
London – FTSE 100: DOWN 3.0 percent at 5,641,03 points (close)
Frankfurt – DAX 30: DOWN 4.0 percent at 10,249.85 (close)
Paris – CAC 40: DOWN 3.8 percent at 4,357.46
EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 4.1 percent at 2,791.34
New York – Dow: DOWN 2.6 percent at 23,031.81
Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 2.0 percent at 19,280.78 (close)
Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 2.2 percent at 23,793.55 (close)
Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.9 percent at 2,827.01 (close)
Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0867 from $1.0862 at 2100 GMT
Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasaraw State is suing for peace between the Tiv and Jukun ethnic groups in Benue and Taraba states especially as the country battles to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The governor made this call on Tuesday during a meeting at the Government House in Lafia, the state capital to broker peace between the two warring parties.
“We are the same people, we have TIVs in Benue and Taraba states but let each of them see the two States as their homes. Let them not consider a situation where once we have a problem, we run to where we have the majority of our people.
“If we continue to do that, we would not solve these problems. It will not make any sense especially at a time like this when the whole world is fighting COVID-19 and we have our brothers and sisters who want to live in peace being killed and their assets destroyed in the name of a petty problem that has nothing to do with life.
“I am praying and hoping that this will be the first and the last meeting so that we can have a lasting solution to this and every one of you will write your name in gold that you have finally come here, face each other directly, solve this problem and we have gone back and our people are living finally in peace,” he said.
The meeting which held behind closed doors was chaired by the Deputy Governor, Emmanuel Akabe and had the deputy governors of Taraba, Haruna Manu and his Benue state counterpart, Benson Abounu in attendance.
Also, in attendance were security personnel, traditional rulers, lawmaker and government functionaries from the three states.
This is not the first meeting held between the two groups but the governor hopes that this mediation will ignite a lasting solution to the conflict.
Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State has reacted to the purported removal of the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr Adams Oshiomhole.
Speaking to journalists on Friday in Owerri, the state capital, Uzodinma said those calling for Oshiomhole’s removal will fail.
According to him, patriotic forces within the ruling party will not allow Oshiomhole to be humiliated out of office.
He also accused some members of the party of working with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to create a crisis.
“Many of us, leaders of the party, are aware that those clamouring for the chairman’s removal are working with the PDP to destabilise the party but they will fail.
“We will not allow them to humiliate our National Chairman out of office through illegal means or allow any action that will bring the party to public ridicule,” Uzodinma said.
While insisting that the APC chairman has not done anything to warrant his removal, the governor vowed that every arsenal will be deployed to ensure that the plan of those plotting his removal is foiled.
Speaking further, Uzodinma said the guidelines of the party are clear on how the National Chairman can be removed from office which must be through the National Executive committee (NEC), adding that anything outside that was illegal.
He noted that the plot to remove Oshiomhole is a clear case of witch hunt otherwise those behind it would have come through the proper channel which is the party’s NEC, but they have refused to do so because they know they have no genuine case against him.
The governor also wondered why a genuine APC member will want to remove Oshiomhole who, according to him, has done so well for the party.
Rather than his removal, Uzodinma wants party members to come together, savour their victory at the last elections and plan how to consolidate for the future.
An elder statesman, Professor Banji Akintoye says Nigeria is in a crisis situation, hence calling on the citizens to find a rational solution.
Akintoye stated this on Monday during a gathering of eminent Nigerians including Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka and Professor Pat Utomi at the Muson Centre in Lagos.
“We are already in a crisis. If in our sober difference to reality find that we can no longer hold together as one family, then let us together peacefully find a rational solution and let us never again plunge into any kind of war,” he stated.
The elder statesman noted that peace was a panacea for development in the nearest future.