Shocking Defections, Electoral Act Amendment Saga + Top Political Events In 2021

A combination of photos highlighting some of the major political events in 2021.

 

The 2021 political year has been quite eventful, and there is no way a recap can be done without talking about the crises that hit some political parties, the congresses, the defections, and the frustrations in the bid to redefine the nation’s political space as it relates to the amendment of the Electoral Act, among others.

It all began with the congresses at the ward and state levels in the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) amid the series of crises in various organs of these parties.

A combination of file photos of the PDP logo and Mr Uche Secondus.

 

Before the congresses, Mr Uche Secondus, who served as the PDP National Chairman, was engulfed in a corruption scandal that snowballed into a series of litigations. He was later suspended from his position by a court.

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Secondus remained suspended while the main opposition party conducted its national congress which elected Mr Iyorchia Ayu, a former Senate President, as its new national chairman, as well as 20 other national officers in October to give the party a new set of National Working Committee.

This meant that Secondus did not complete his tenure in office, but the new NWC was inaugurated about a month after the election.

Senator Iyorchia Ayu and other members of the PDP NWC at their inauguration ceremony in Abuja on December 10, 2021.

 

The APC, on its part, was also hit with some crises, including the call for the sack of Yobe State Governor, Mai Mala Buni, as the acting APC National Chairman over allegations that he cannot hold such a position as a sitting governor.

He, however, enjoyed the support of the party’s leaders while APC has fixed February 2022 to conduct its national congress. The All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) also had its fair share of the squabbles, especially in the build-up to the governorship election in Anambra State.

Critics Turned Allies

In the quest to succeed Governor Willie Obiano, a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Professor Charles Soludo, emerged the flagbearer of APGA, but not after a hard-fought battle over the party’s ticket. He went on to win the election and he will be sworn-in in 2022.

Professor Soludo is the governor-elect of Anambra State.

 

In the middle of the crisis, the PDP lost two of its governors who defected to the APC. Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State was the first to join the ruling party while his Zamafara State counterpart, Bello Matawalle, dumped the opposition party about a month later.

On September 16, one of the most vocal critics of President Muhammadu Buhari, Femi Fani-Kayode, announced a shocking defection to the APC. While most people did not see it coming, Fani-Kayode – a former minister of aviation, had said he would rather die than join the ruling party.

Another significant occurrence in 2021 was the passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill by the National Assembly which attracted many commendations. But the feat would be incomplete until President Muhammadu Buhari signs the bill into law.

President Buhari meets with Governor Mai Mala Buni, Governor Bello Matawalle, and Mr Femi Fani-Kayode at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

 

A similar bill was passed in 2018, but the President rejected it thrice. The third time, he cited the closeness to the 2019 general elections as the reason for his refusal to sign the bill.

About three years after the President’s action, the National Assembly made further attempts to improve the nation’s electoral process.

In what could be described as a bow to pressure, the lawmakers amended the Act to allow the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to decide the mode of transmission of election results, and propose the direct primary mode for political parties, among others.

A file photo of the National Assembly complex in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

 

Buhari’s Successor

Thirty days after receiving the bill from the National Assembly, President Buhari informed the lawmakers that he has decided to withhold his assent because of the direct primary clause which he said would cost the country a lot of resources.

In their reaction, the lawmakers resolved to properly address the issue when they resume from their recess. Meanwhile, the National Assembly passed and forwarded the 2022 Appropriation Bill to the President.

President Muhammadu Buhari signs the 2022 Budget at the State House in Abuja on December 31, 2021.

 

The lawmakers raised the total budget figure from the N16.391 trillion proposed by President Buhari to N17.126 trillion. While the Electoral Act Amendment Bill suffered a setback in 2021, the year ended with the signing of the budget into law, to allow Nigeria continue on the part of a January to December budget cycle.

But in assenting to the bill, the President faulted the ‘worrisome changes’ by the National Assembly and promised to revert to the lawmakers with a request for an amendment.

A file photo of a bag containing electoral materials to be deployed for an election.

 

As Nigerians look forward to a promising 2022 political year, political players and parties would be preoccupied with activities to get a successor for President Buhari who completes his second term in 2023.

While key political players in the North and South continue to eye the highest office in the land, there are rumours that the leader of the APC, Bola Tinubu, will join the contest to become the next president, although he has yet to officially declare his interest.

Participate In Political Activities To Move Nigeria Forward, Peterside Tells Youths

 

President and founder of ANAP Foundation, Atedo Peterside has asked Nigerian youths to participate in political activities to move the country forward.

Speaking during an interview on Channels Television’s Newsnight which aired on Monday, Peterside said the young people should develop an interest in the nation’s affairs and be involved in the voting process.

According to him, a situation whereby the young people do not show interest in elections would mean them selling their birthrights to politicians.

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“Many more people have to get involved in that activity. A large volume of educated youths deciding to opt out, saying I have no more interest, I won’t vote and register. When you do that, you have surrendered your birthrights to the politicians who get elected,” he said.

President/Founder of ANAP Foundation, Atedo Peterside speaks during an interview on Channels Television’s Newsnight on December 6, 2021.

 

“On getting into office, he can do whatever he likes because you have told him you are not interested. So, you are not interested in your own future. So why do you expect him to deliver on your own future?

“I think more people will get politically active. It may not necessarily be businesspersons. The people whose destiny is on the line are the youths. They are the ones who must take part in the process right down to register to vote.”

He also reacted to the Federal Government’s plan to remove fuel subsidy by June 2022, noting that it is the job of leaders to present convincing arguments to a large number of people who might otherwise have opposed the removal of the subsidy on the price of petrol.

According to him, such arguments must be compelling enough to make the people accept the choice of a painful but long-term beneficial decision.

This is even as he explained that currently, some of those making the argument and are in leadership positions give confusing signals.

Age Does Not Determine Competence To Rule, Says Osinbajo


 

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo says age should never be a barrier for young Nigerians to get involved in holding strategic positions, especially political offices.

He believes political office holders do not necessarily have to be very old, but such persons only require some experience to get the job done.

“If you are going to get in, in the Nigerian system, in this system of ours, to walk through all that is required, I think you need some experience, a bit of it, you don’t have to be very old,” the Vice President said on Monday in Abuja during a book launch.

“But it helps if you have served in one capacity or the other as a special adviser or special assistant, all of those positions are very central positions. I don’t agree that a special assistant or a P.A. is not a somewhat serious position.

“Every special assistant or special adviser that I have, take very important decisions, and they take those very important decisions on their own. And the truth is that the way governments are set up, everybody there can play a very serious role; it depends on how very serious you are.”

According to him, a majority of the people prefer liberal politics, free enterprise, democracy, and individual freedom.

A file photo of the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo.

 

For the Vice President, this means that there can be no discrimination either on the basis of age, gender, or political persuasion.

He stressed the need to remove the barriers to ensure a level playing field for all, saying he had the opportunity to bring young people on board.

The quality of the contributions, according to Professor Osinbajo, is not necessarily defined by age and the focus should be on what people bring to the table.

“I had been adviser to the Attorney-General of the Federation when I was 31, so I had some experience coming into this,” he said.

“So, there is a place for preparation, a place for getting ready. There is no point saying that I have become Minister of Finance at the age of 25 because I am a smart kid; it takes more than that.”

The launch of the book by Senator Babafemi Ojudu and Alex James titled: ‘Politics That Works – What Schools and Seminars Won’t Teach You About Winning Elections’ held at the NAF conference centre in the nation’s capital.

Politics Hinders Security Agencies From Doing Their Jobs, Says Ex-DSS Director

 

A former Deputy Director, Department of State Services, Dennis Amachree, has identified politics as a factor hindering security agencies from effectively performing their jobs.

Nigeria currently faces myriads of security challenges with banditry activities in the northwest, terrorism in the North-East, militancy in the South-South, IPOB activities in the southeast, calls for secession in the South-West among others.

Although some successes have been recorded in the fight against insecurity across the country, Amachree believes more can be achieved if politics does not hinder security personnel in carrying out their constitutional duties.

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“One thing I know is that the intelligence community is solid in this country but what impedes them in carrying out some of the jobs they want to do is politics, politicians because when you mix with politics security, then it becomes a big problem,” he said.

“If these agencies are independent on their own, they should be able to do a better job but when they are under the direction of leaders that are not forthcoming or who don’t think seriously about the whole country, then we have a problem.”

Arrested But Not Prosecuted?

Amachree, an intelligence officer, said the whole country is under siege.

Citing kidnappings and attacks that regularly occur, he noted that Nigeria needs to solve what he described as some fundamental problems.

One of such, he stated, was divisiveness among the citizens, with another being unpatriotic acts exhibited by Nigerians.

A former Deputy Director, Department of State Services, Dennis Amachree speaks during an interview on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily on August 27, 2021.

 

According to Amachree, a recent survey carried out in the country indicated that only 37 percent of Nigerians are patriotic, a situation he said isn’t good enough.

He lamented that though some arrests have been made by security agencies, some of the suspects are not being prosecuted.

“When we start to have these different kinds of attitudes of where we came from or whether the herdsmen, bandits are from outside the country or they are unknown gunmen, it is something that we have to put a finger on.

“When these kinds of things happen, people are arrested, nobody is prosecuted or if they are prosecuted, nobody is jailed. Then it becomes a problem whereby we keep on calling names or apportioning blames in the country,” he said.

UK PM To Self-Isolate When Not Working, After Minister’s Infection

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives to attend the NATO summit at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on June 14, 2021. The allies meet to agree on a statement stressing common ground on securing their withdrawal from Afghanistan, joint responses to cyber-attacks, and relations with a rising China. KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / POOL / AFP

 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will undertake “only essential government business” in the week ahead after the state health service designated him a close contact of a person infected with Covid, Downing Street said Sunday.

Johnson and finance minister Rishi Sunak were both designated but are taking part in a government pilot scheme that enables them to continue working, a spokesperson said.

The development came just as Johnson’s government prepares to ditch most pandemic restrictions in England on Monday. The pilot mandates daily testing for participants and outside of work, they must self-isolate.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed on Saturday he had tested positive for Covid-19 and was now self-isolating for 10 days.

“The prime minister and chancellor have been contacted by NHS (National Health Service) Test and Trace as contacts of someone who has tested positive for Covid,” the Downing Street spokesperson said.

“They will be participating in the daily contact testing pilot to allow them to continue to work from Downing Street.

“They will be conducting only essential government business during this period.”

Javid had a “lengthy” meeting with Johnson on Friday, according to the Sunday Times. The prime minister nearly died of Covid last year.

Javid also appeared alongside ministers in parliament last week, and one government source told The Telegraph newspaper: “I don’t see how half the cabinet doesn’t end up in isolation by the end of the week.”

Javid has only been in the job since late June, when former health secretary Matt Hancock resigned following revelations he had broken coronavirus restrictions during an affair with a close aide.

Jonathan Ashworth, the main opposition Labour party’s health spokesman, accused the government of double standards after millions of schoolchildren and workers were forced to stay home under Covid tracing rules.

The pilot’s exemption amounts to “an exclusive rule for Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak”, he told Sky News, and the public will see “one rule for them and something else for the rest of us”.

‘Pingdemic’

Javid stressed he has received both doses of a Covid vaccine and his symptoms were “very mild”. He said any member of the public feeling symptoms should get a test too.

“If everyone plays their part, you’re not only protecting yourself and your loved ones, but you’re also safeguarding the NHS and helping to preserve our way of life,” the minister said.

However, with coronavirus cases again surging, many scientists say the government is endangering the NHS with its plan on Monday to scrap most legal pandemic requirements in England.

For the first time since January, Britain’s daily Covid caseload now exceeds 50,000, and Javid has warned the figure could double from that in the coming weeks.

But the government insists that with two-thirds of the adult population now fully vaccinated, the risk can be managed, and Monday has been dubbed “freedom day” by many UK media.

Munira Wilson, health spokeswoman for the opposition Liberal Democrats, said Javid’s test result “shows no one is safe from this deadly virus”.

Urging the government “to rethink its reckless plans for Monday”, she said: “By easing all restrictions with cases surging, they are experimenting with people’s lives.”

The surge in infections sweeping Britain led to more than 530,000 people being instructed to self-isolate by a government-run app in the week to July 7, according to latest data.

Some companies such as carmaker Nissan have been losing staff en masse after they were pinged by the app — in a brewing crisis described by UK newspapers as a “pingdemic”.

Staff shortages caused by the isolation rules disrupted the London Underground network on Saturday, with one line suspended entirely.

AFP

South Africa’s Top Court To Review Zuma Jail Term

In this file photo taken on July 27, 2018, former South African president Jacob Zuma stands in the dock of the High Court of Pietermaritzburg during his hearing over 16 corruption charges. Former South African president Jacob Zuma must pay back state funds and cover his own costs, a court ruled on December 13, 2018, leaving him facing massive legal bills as he fights graft charges.
Phill MAGAKOE / POOL / AFP

 

 

South African ex-president Jacob Zuma will on Monday ask the nation’s top court to let him out of jail by rescinding its 15-month sentence for snubbing anti-graft investigators.

The Constitutional Court on June 29 slapped Zuma with the prison stretch for refusing to appear before a probe into the corruption that mired his nine years in power.

Zuma is seeking to have that ruling set aside on the grounds that it was made in his absence.

Should the bid fail, Zuma’s team will seek to convince the judges that jail time is not the appropriate punishment for this instance of contempt, due to reasons including the implications for Zuma’s health, according to an information handout for media from the court on Saturday.

Zuma, 79, is also asking to be released from the Estcourt prison in eastern KwaZulu-Natal province on the grounds of his age and ailing health, adding that the ongoing pandemic means he is not a flight risk.

The man once dubbed the “Teflon president”, spent his first night in jail on Thursday after handing himself in to authorities following hours of drama and suspense.

His lawyers had also petitioned the Pietermaritzburg High Court in KwaZulu-Natal to stave off imprisonment. But on Friday it rejected the case, saying it lacked jurisdiction over the matter and Zuma’s claims about his health were “not supported by any evidence.”

The former president testified to the commission once in July 2019, but then swiftly withdrew his cooperation, saying he was offended by being treated as an “accused” and not as a witness.

He returned in November 2020, without uttering a word, and missed several subsequent appointments by evading his summonses on various grounds, including medical reasons, lack of funds and his request to have the chairman of the commission, then-deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, recuse himself.

If Zuma is to serve the full term, he could still see himself back home long before year-end as he would be eligible for parole in less than four months.

Meanwhile, sporadic violence has erupted in the country, with dozens arrested after looting in KwaZulu-Natal and in the economic capital Johannesburg.

AFP

Australia Deputy PM Loses Job In Government Climate Split

Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce addresses a press conference in Sydney on July 5, 2016.
Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce addresses a press conference in Sydney on July 5, 2016.

 

A climate change revolt in Australia’s governing coalition on Monday brought in a new deputy prime minister likely to challenge the country’s already hesitant moves to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Barnaby Joyce, best known internationally for threatening to euthanise Johnny Depp’s dogs, defeated incumbent Michael McCormack in a snap internal party vote, elevating him to the role of deputy PM.

The vote for the leadership of junior coalition partner the Nationals came as apparent cracks emerged in the ruling coalition over climate change policy.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told G7 leaders last week that Australia wants to achieve net-zero carbon emissions “as soon as possible”, and preferably by 2050.

McCormack had reportedly been accused by party colleagues of failing to push back against such accelerated climate action, a charged topic among the Nationals’ rural conservative voters.

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On Monday, Joyce dodged questions on whether he would support Australia taking a net-zero by 2050 target to November’s UN Climate Change Summit in Glasgow.

But he echoed conservative talking points that strong climate change action posed a threat to Australia’s commodity-dependent economy.

“If the National Party room believes that the best deal for regional Australia is to make sure that we secure their jobs, is to make sure that we secure their industries… that’s the view that I’ll support,” he told reporters in Canberra.

Joyce previously held the Nationals’ leadership but stepped down in a 2018 scandal when it was revealed the married father-of-four had an affair with a young adviser and she was pregnant.

He was also accused of sexual harassment by a prominent rural woman but an internal investigation failed to reach a conclusive verdict.

Joyce called the allegations “spurious and defamatory”, adding that after three years on the backbench he hoped to “be a better person to do a better job”.

He gained international notoriety after threatening to put down Hollywood star Johnny Depp’s two Yorkshire Terriers over a quarantine violation in 2015.

Morrison congratulated Joyce on his elevated role, saying in a statement that they shared a “passion for ensuring our regions and rural communities thrive”.

Israeli ‘Change’ Bloc Steps Up Effort To Oust Netanyahu

In this file photo taken on February 9, 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP.

 

Israelis waited Sunday to see whether nationalist hardliner Naftali Bennett would agree to join a governing coalition that could end the rule of the country’s longest-serving leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lawmakers opposed to right-wing Netanyahu were in intense talks ahead of a Wednesday deadline, as a ceasefire held following the latest deadly military conflict with Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu, 71, who faces trial on fraud, bribery and breach of trust charges which he denies, has clung to power through a period of political turmoil that has seen four inconclusive elections in under two years.

After a March vote in which Netanyahu’s Likud party gained the most seats but again failed to form a government, former TV anchor Yair Lapid is now trying to build a rival coalition.

Centrist Lapid has until Wednesday 11:59 pm local time (2059 GMT) to build a coalition of at least 61 deputies, a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

The 57-year-old is seeking to forge a diverse alliance the Israeli media has dubbed a bloc for “change”, which would include Bennett as well as Arab-Israeli lawmakers.

In his determination to bring down the hawkish prime minister, Lapid has offered to share power and let Bennett, 49, serve the first term in a rotating premiership.

Bennett was expected to speak Sunday evening after a meeting with his party, a spokeswoman said.

Netanyahu, in office for 12 consecutive years after an earlier three-year term, tried to cling to power Sunday by offering his own, last-ditch power-sharing agreement to several former allies including Bennett.

He warned that Israel would otherwise be ruled by a dangerous “left-wing” alliance.

‘Desperate position’

A Lapid government would also include the centrist Blue and White party of Benny Gantz and the hawkish New Hope party of Netanyahu’s former ally Gideon Saar.

Avigdor Lieberman’s pro-settlement Yisrael Beitenu party as well as historically powerful Labour and the dovish Meretz party would also join.

The shaky arrangement would the backing of some Arab-Israeli lawmakers of Palestinian descent in order to pass a confirmation vote in parliament.

The intense talks follow weeks of escalating tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, including a deadly 11-day exchange of rocket fire from Gaza and devastating Israeli airstrikes.

The war with Hamas that ended with a May 21 truce, as well as tensions in the occupied West Bank and in mixed Jewish-Arab towns in Israel, initially appeared to leave Netanyahu more likely to hold onto power.

But political scientist Gayil Talshir at Hebrew University told AFP on Sunday that Israel was now “closer than ever” to a coalition of change, adding that “Netanyahu is in a desperate position”.

Netanyahu’s Likud party won 30 seats in the March elections but failed to form a governing coalition after his far-right partners refused to sit with Arab factions or receive their support.

Lapid, whose party won 17 seats, was then given four weeks to form a government.

Netanyahu had previously pushed for yet another election, which would be the fifth since April 2019.

“Now that he sees a change coalition may be announced this evening or tomorrow, he has to move forward with a more serious deal,” Talshir told AFP.

More elections?

On Sunday Netanyahu offered a rotation agreement to Bennett and Saar. But Saar on Twitter said he remained committed to “replacing the Netanyahu regime”.

Netanyahu in a video then called on Saar and Bennett to “come now, immediately” to meet him and join a three-way rotation government, warning they were “in crucial moment for the security, character and future of the state of Israel”.

Lapid’s “change” coalition also still faced several obstacles.

Some right-wing lawmakers object to a partnership with politicians from Israel’s Arab minority, around a fifth of the population.

The recent Gaza conflict sparked inter-communal clashes between Jewish and Arab Israelis in mixed cities.

Arab politicians have also been divided about joining a government headed by Bennett, who supports expanding Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinians hope to create a future state.

Even with support from an Arab party, a new coalition in Israel is unlikely to reverse years of Israeli settlement construction or bring peace any time soon with Hamas in Gaza.

If the anti-Netanyahu camp does not manage to form a government on time, a majority of 61 lawmakers could vote to ask the president to name a new premier.

Another scenario would be for the country to gear up for yet another general election — Israel’s fifth in a little more than two years.

Biden Says To Push Putin At Summit To Protect Human Rights

In this file combination of pictures created on March 17, 2021 shows US President Joe Biden(L) during remarks on the implementation of the American Rescue Plan in the State Dining room of the White House in Washington, DC on March 15, 2021, and Russian President Vladimir Putin as he and his Turkish counterpart hold a joint press statement following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 5, 2020.
In this file combination of pictures created on March 17, 2021 shows US President Joe Biden(L) during remarks on the implementation of the American Rescue Plan in the State Dining room of the White House in Washington, DC on March 15, 2021, and Russian President Vladimir Putin as he and his Turkish counterpart hold a joint press statement following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 5, 2020.

 

President Joe Biden pledged Sunday to tell Russian leader Vladimir Putin at their June summit that Washington will not let Moscow “abuse” human rights.

The face-to-face meeting with the Kremlin leader comes amid levels of tension not seen for years, with Washington now dialing back its ambitions to little more than establishing a relationship in which both sides understand each other and can work together in specific areas.

“I’ll be meeting with President Putin in a couple of weeks in Geneva, making it clear that we will not — we will not stand by and let him abuse those rights,” Biden said in a speech on the summit, which is set for June 16.

READ ALSO: UK To Build New ‘National Flagship’ To Promote Post-Brexit Trade

Since taking office, Biden has imposed new sanctions against Moscow over what US authorities say was the Russian role in the massive SolarWinds cyber attack and repeated meddling in the 2020 presidential election.

In addition, Washington has harshly criticized Moscow for the near-death poisoning and subsequent imprisonment of one of the last open opponents to Putin, Alexei Navalny.

Tensions are also high over Ukraine, where Russia already controls swaths of territory and recently massed troops on the border in a new show of force.

Yet another focus is on Russian-dominated Belarus, which caused an uproar this week after authorities forced an airliner passing overhead to land, then arrested an opponent to President Alexander Lukashenko who had been aboard.

Mali Constitutional Court Declares Colonel Goita Transitional President

FILES) In this file photo taken on August 19, 2020 Colonel Assimi Goita speaks to the press at the Malian Ministry of Defence in Bamako, Mali, after confirming his position as the president of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP). MALIK KONATE / AFP

 

Mali’s constitutional court on Friday named Colonel Assimi Goita, leader of the post-coup junta, as the country’s transitional president.

The judgement stipulated that Goita would “exercise the functions of transitional president to lead the transition process to its conclusion”, following his seizure of power this week.

The constitutional court said it had made the decision due to the “vacancy in the presidency” following the resignation of caretaker president Bah Ndaw.

Soldiers detained Ndaw and prime minister Moctar Ouane on Monday, before releasing them Thursday after they resigned.

Ndaw and Ouane had led a transitional government tasked with steering the return to civilian rule after a coup last August that toppled Mali’s elected president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

Keita was forced out by young army officers, led by Goita, following mass protests over perceived corruption and his failure to quell a bloody jihadist insurgency.

Goita had originally been named vice president with other key posts given to fellow army officers.

Earlier Friday, Goita explained that the army had had little choice but to intervene.

“We had to choose between disorder and cohesion within the defence and security forces and we chose cohesion,” he said.

AFP

US Senate Leader Pushes Bill To Boost Industry Against China

 In this file photo taken on May 25, 2021 Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks at a news conference following a policy luncheon meeting with other Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill May 25, 2021 in Washington, DC.MANDEL NGAN / AFP
In this file photo taken on May 25, 2021, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks at a news conference following a policy luncheon meeting with other Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill on May 25, 2021, in Washington, DC. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday said he would push for rapid passage of a bill that would allocate tens of billions of dollars towards boosting American industrial and technological competitiveness, particularly against China.

A key provision of the proposal aims to address a shortage of semiconductors that has put the brakes on auto production this year.

With both American political parties increasingly worried about competition from Beijing, Schumer hopes he can win bipartisan passage of the US Innovation and Competition Act.

The Democratic leader said he aims to get a vote on the bill “by the end of the week.”

The legislation “will supercharge American innovation and preserve our competitive edge not just for the next few years, but for generations to come,” Schumer said in the Senate.

The proposal aims to address a number of technological areas in which the United States has fallen behind its Chinese competitors, including in the production of semiconductors.

An ongoing shortage of the crucial chips has forced US automakers to cut production, and the bill allocates $52 billion in funding for a previously approved plan to increase domestic manufacturing of the components.

Also included is $1.5 billion to pay for a fund to boost American competitiveness in 5G wireless technology.

Another $1.5 billion would go towards a program “to counter the malign influence of the Chinese Communist Party globally,” and require the State Department to appoint a top official dedicated to that goal, according to a summary of the legislation.

Billions of dollars would go towards scholarships and other programs to advance scientific research.

President Joe Biden has pledged to work with opposition Republicans on key issues, and as Democrats control the Senate by a single vote, Schumer would need backing from several Republicans to forestall a potential filibuster that could block passage of the legislation.

The Democratic leader has collaborated with at least one Republican senator on the bill, and said the bipartisan support “reveals that Democrats and Republicans are united in our efforts to preserve and maintain American leadership on the world stage.”

AFP

Over 600 Detained Coup Protesters Freed In Myanmar – Prison Official

This handout photo taken and released by Dawei Watch on March 23, 2021, shows protesters taking part in a demonstration against the military coup in Dawei. Handout / DAWEI WATCH / AFP

 

Myanmar on Wednesday freed more than 600 people detained in anti-junta protests, a senior prison official told AFP.

“We released 360 men and 268 women from Insein prison today,” a senior official from the jail told AFP, on condition of anonymity.

Details shortly.