Belarus Opposition Leader Meets EU to urge sanctions

Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya addresses members of parliament at the EU headquarters in Brussels on September 21, 2020. – European foreign ministers welcomed Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya to Brussels as they prepare EU sanctions to support her battle against the Minsk regime. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)


Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Monday urged the EU to show courage and step up its support for her movement, as the bloc’s internal squabbles about sanctions rolled on.

The former Soviet republic has been convulsed by unprecedented demonstrations against President Alexander Lukashenko since he was returned to power in a disputed August 9 election and launched a brutal crackdown.

Tikhanovskaya met EU foreign ministers in Brussels and urged them to sanction Lukashenko but, despite repeated statements condemning the veteran strongman and warning of measures, after 44 days the bloc has yet to act.

“Sanctions are very important in our fight, because sanctions is part of pressure that will force the so-called authorities to start dialogue with us,” she told reporters.

“I think leaders have reasons not to push for these sanctions but at this meeting I asked just to be more brave in their decisions.”

Cyprus, which has good relations with Lukashenko’s key supporter Russia, has blocked EU agreement on measures against Belarus, insisting that sanctions against Turkey over a maritime gas drilling dispute must be agreed at the same time.

Nicosia’s position has support from some EU countries but the patience of others is wearing thin, with one diplomat on Friday saying Cyprus was effectively “shielding” Lukashenko.

As he arrived, Cypriot foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides said the EU must maintain a coherent response to violations of sovereignty and human rights.

“Our reaction to any kind of violation of our core basic values and principles, cannot be a la carte. It needs to be consistent,” he said.

– ‘Sanction Lukashenko’ –

After the meeting, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters the ministers had been “really impressed by the courage and perseverance of the Belarusian people, especially Belarusian women who show a real sense of leadership”.

He said the EU would support an inclusive national dialogue in Belarus and reiterated that Brussels does not recognise Lukashenko as the legitimate president.

The EU and other Western powers have rejected the result of the election, saying the poll was not free and fair, and Brussels has drawn up a list of around 40 members of Lukashenko’s regime to hit with asset freezes and travel bans.

But with ministers still deadlocked, the matter will be taken up by EU leaders at a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, with diplomats hoping they will find a way to agree both sets of sanctions.

“We have to conclude that nothing has improved in the last weeks. The violence Lukashenko has used against peaceful demonstrators is totally unacceptable,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

“We must also address the question of whether Mr Lukashenko, who is the main responsible, should not also be sanctioned by the European Union,” he said.

The strongman, who has ruled Belarus for more than a quarter of a century, has responded to the protests with a security clampdown and turned to his longstanding ally Russia for help.

Tikhanovskaya, who fled to Lithuania for her own safety after the election, backed sanctions on Lukashenko himself, saying “of course I think it is necessary”.

And she urged the EU to make a formal call for new elections — something it has so far held off from, despite rejecting the August 9 poll as illegitimate.

The ministers are also considering what finance could be given to civil society in Belarus, after Poland called for a billion-euro stabilisation fund to help the country.

But Tikhanovskaya warned care must be taken to ensure the money does not end up in Lukashenko’s coffers, effectively funding him to carry out further repression.

Tikhanovskaya’s meeting with EU ministers, followed by an appearance at the European Parliament, is part of her effort to maintain international pressure on Lukashenko as he clings to power.

On Friday she urged the international community to respond to abuses in Belarus “in the strongest terms” in a video appearance at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that was repeatedly interrupted by the Belarusian ambassador.


Navalny Out Of Medically Induced Coma – Berlin Hospital

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attends a hearing at a court in Moscow on June 24, 2019/ AFP.


Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who Germany says was poisoned by a weapons-grade Novichok nerve agent, is now out of a medically induced coma and is being weaned off mechanical ventilation, the Berlin hospital treating him said Monday.

“He is responding to verbal stimuli,” Charite hospital said in a statement, reporting that the 44-year-old’s condition “has improved”.

However, the hospital said it was too early to determine the long-term impact of the poisoning.

Navalny fell ill after boarding a plane in Siberia last month. He was initially treated in a local hospital before being flown to Berlin for treatment.

The German government said last week that toxicology tests have found “unequivocal evidence” that Novichok was used on Navalny, prompting Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Western counterparts to demand answers from Russia.

Earlier Monday, Merkel’s spokesman underlined that she would not rule out consequences on the multi-billion-euro Nord Stream 2 pipeline project if Moscow failed to thoroughly investigate the case.

The Kremlin has however denounced attempts to blame the poisoning on Russia as “absurd”.

Novichok is a military-grade poison that was developed by the Soviet government towards the end of the Cold War and can be deployed in an ultra-fine powder, liquid or vapour.

It was used against ex-double agent Sergei Skripal in Britain in 2018, a poisoning that the West believes was ordered by the Kremlin.


Rahul Gandhi Resigns As India’s Opposition Leader

Indian National Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi looks on during a press conference in New Delhi.  SAJJAD HUSSAIN / AFP


India’s Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday resigned as president of the main opposition Congress, taking responsibility for the party’s second-straight landslide defeat to right-wing Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi in national elections.

“Accountability is critical for the future growth of our party. It is for this reason that I have resigned as Congress president,” he said in a statement posted on his official Twitter account.

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Gandhi, who was seeking to become the fourth member of his family dynasty to become prime minister, had been Congress president since December 2017.

Congress has dominated Indian politics since independence in 1948, but it has seen a spectacular collapse in support in the past decade.

Gandhi said immediately after his party’s defeat in the April-May national elections that he would not continue as leader, but party barons had hoped to change his mind and Wednesday’s official announcement still came as a surprise.

Congress won only 52 of the 543 seats in the lower house of parliament in the election. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took 303 seats, increasing its majority as it won a second consecutive five-year term.

“Rebuilding the party requires hard decisions and numerous people will have to be made accountable for the failure of 2019,” Gandhi said.

“It would be unjust to hold others accountable but ignore my own responsibility,” he added.

Gandhi accused the BJP, however, of seeking to “destroy the fabric of our nation” and vowed to “protect” the country until his “last breath”.

“I have no hatred or anger towards the BJP but every living cell in my body instinctively resists their idea of India,” he said.

Critics accuse the BJP of stoking religious tensions and trying to undermine the country’s secular credentials.

Around 80 per cent of India’s 1.3 billion population is Hindu, but it is also home to large numbers of Muslims, Christians and Buddhists.

The great-grandson, grandson and son of three past premiers of the world’s biggest democracy, Gandhi had set out to rejuvenate the party after it lost to BJP in the 2014 election.

But he struggled to shed his image as a privileged, dynastic scion.


Israel Recognises Opposition Leader As Venezuela President

Venezuela’s National Assembly head Juan Guaido declares himself the country’s “acting president” during a mass opposition rally against leader Nicolas Maduro.  AFP


Israel on Sunday officially recognised Venezuela’s National Assembly chief Juan Guaido as president, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, following close ally Washington in endorsing the opposition leader.

Netanyahu announced in an online video that Israel was joining the United States, Canada and a host of South American countries “in recognising the new leadership in Venezuela”.

Guaido proclaimed himself acting president of Venezuela on Wednesday during a mass opposition rally against leader Nicolas Maduro.

Since then, the United States, Canada and many South American countries including Brazil and Colombia have backed his self-proclamation.

Maduro rejected demands by European countries to call elections within eight days in an interview broadcast on Sunday.

Nations including France, Britain, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany warned they would recognise Guaido as president unless there are snap polls.

The US has pressed all countries to “stand with the forces of freedom” in Venezuela, but key backers such as Russia have stuck with the embattled leader.

Desperate protesters have taken to the streets in Venezuela over a crisis that has seen two million flee shortages of basic food and medicine.

Some 26 people have been killed and more than 350 people have been detained in clashes this week between anti-Maduro activists and security forces, the UN said.


Opposition Leader Disagrees Over Death Of Bread Protesters In Sudan


Protests this week in Sudan over the rising cost of bread have claimed 22 lives, Sudanese opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi said on Saturday, although officials gave a lower death toll.

A government decision to raise the price of a loaf of bread from one Sudanese pound to three (from about two to six US cents) sparked demonstrations across the country on Wednesday.

The protests first erupted in the eastern city of Atbara before spreading to Al-Qadarif, also in eastern Sudan, and then to the capital Khartoum and twin city Omdurman and other areas.

Two demonstrators were killed in Atbara and six others in Al-Qadarif, officials said on Thursday, as protesters torched offices of the ruling National Congress Party of President Omar al-Bashir.

But according to Mahdi “22 people were martyred and several others wounded”.

Speaking to reporters in Omdurman, on the west bank of the Nile, Mahdi said the protest movement “is legal and was launched because of the deteriorating situation in Sudan”.

He said that demonstrations will continue to rock Sudan.

Government spokesman Bashar Jumaa on Friday warned that authorities “will not be lenient” with those who set state buildings on fire or cause other damage to public property.

It was Mahdi’s first news conference since he returned to Sudan on Wednesday after almost a year in exile.

A fixture of Sudanese politics since the 1960s, Mahdi was prime minister from 1966 to 1967 and again from 1986 to 1989.

His government was the last one to be democratically elected in Sudan before it was toppled by a 1989 coup launched by Bashir.

Since then Mahdi’s Umma Party has acted as Sudan’s main opposition group and has regularly campaigned against the policies of Bashir’s government.

Sudan has been facing a mounting economic crisis over the past year.

The cost of some commodities has more than doubled, inflation is running at close to 70 percent and the pound has plunged in value.

Shortages have been reported for the past three weeks across several cities, including Khartoum.

Protests broke out in January over the rising cost of food, but they were soon brought under control with the arrest of opposition leaders and activists.

Also on Saturday, Sudan’s national news agency SUNA reported that Bashir appointed a senior officer from the powerful National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) as governor of Al-Qadarif.

Mubarak Mohammed Shamat will replace Mirghani Saleh who was killed in a helicopter crash on December 9, SUNA said.


British Opposition Leader In Trouble Over Theresa May’s Comments

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons in London on July 18, 2018. HO / PRU / AFP


British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn got himself into trouble on Wednesday for apparently muttering “stupid woman” at Prime Minister Theresa May during a heated exchange in parliament over her delaying tactics on Brexit.

The Labour Party leader could be seen appearing to mouth the words in response to May making a joke about his failure to demand a no-confidence vote against her government after he had accused her of leading the country “into a national crisis”.

Conservative MPs shouted “disgraceful” when the allegations were first raised after the angry exchanges, and May herself was asked what she thought of the supposed comment.

“I think that everybody in this House, particularly in this 100th year of women getting the vote, should be encouraging women to come into this chamber and to stand in this chamber and should therefore use appropriate language in this chamber when they are referring to female members,” she said.

Several Conservative MPs said the alleged comment was a reflection of abusive language faced by many female politicians and a culture of bullying in parliament that has become a focus for concern in recent months.

Parliament speaker John Bercow said he did not see the incident himself but, if true, the allegation meant that Corbyn would have to apologise in front of parliament.

“It is incumbent upon all members of this House to operate in accordance with its best conversion… If a member has failed to do so that member has a duty to apologise,” he said.

Bercow, who has himself been accusing of bullying and using abusive language, said he would also look at video evidence and seek professional advice on the alleged incident.


Defiant Zimbabwe Opposition Chief Maintains Election Victory Claim

Zimbabwean opposition leader Nelson Chamisa (C) takes part in a demonstration outside the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), in Harare. Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP


Zimbabwean opposition leader Nelson Chamisa on Thursday ratcheted up pressure over the country’s election count, saying he had won the presidential vote and that the result was being rigged.

“We have won this election,” he told reporters. “What they have been trying to do of late is to play around… that is rigging, that is manipulation, trying to bastardise the result, and that we will not allow.”


Kenya’s Opposition Leader Calls For Mass Protest On Election Day

FILE PHOTO: Protestors stand on a car by a fire as they take part in a demonstration, on October in Kisumu, to demand the removal of officials from the national election oversight body Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), allegedly implicated in the manipulation of the votes tally during the last August 8, presidential elections. YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga called Wednesday for mass protests on the day of the October 26 presidential election, which he has refused to take part in.

“​Protests will go on, on the 26th (it) will be the biggest demonstrations in the whole country,” he told a rally of thousands of supporters in a suburb of Nairobi.


Ghana’s Opposition Candidate Akufo-Addo Wins Presidential Election

nana-akufo-addoOpposition leader, Nana Akufo-Addo, has won Ghana’s national election, becoming president-elect at the third attempt and cementing the country’s reputation as a standard bearer of democracy in the West African region.

Akufo-Addo defeated President John Mahama by 53.8 per cent to 44.4 per cent, electoral commissioner Charlotte Osei said late on Friday, sparking scenes of celebration in the capital Accra.

Supporters of his New Patriotic Party (NPP) cheered, danced and set off fireworks following an anxious day in which his victory had been broadly accepted but there were no official results.

“I make this solemn pledge to you tonight: I will not let you down. I will do all in my power to live up to your hopes and expectations,” Akufo-Addo told a jubilant crowd in the garden of his residence.

Akufo-Addo, 72, served as foreign minister and attorney general in the NPP government that ruled between 2001 and 2009 and twice previously lost close battles for the presidency.

Reuters reports that President Mahama called him to offer congratulations just before Osei’s statement and later he addressed his supporters.