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Sahel: Macron announces end of Operation Barkhane as it exists | Emmanuel Macron News

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French president says continuation of military commitment in the Sahel ‘will not be in the same way’, with details to be announced by end of June.

President Emmanuel Macron has said France’s military operation in the violence-hit Sahel region of West Africa will no longer exist in its current form, adding that it will be replaced by another mission of French troops that will further rely on other partners.

“The time has come; the continuation of our commitment in the Sahel will not be in the same way,” Macron told a wide-ranging news conference on Thursday, describing a “profound transformation” of his country’s military presence in the region.

France currently has about 5,100 troops deployed across the semi-arid strip on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert as part of its Operation Barkhane, whose headquarters are in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena.

“We will make a drawdown in an organised way,” Macron said, adding that details, including on the number of troops France is keeping in the region, will be finalised by the end of June.

“We will have to hold a dialogue with our African and European partners. We will keep a counter-terrorism pillar with special forces with several hundred forces … and there will be a second pillar that will be cooperation, and which we will reinforce.”

The announcement came after Macron in February – during a virtual summit with the leaders of the so-called G5 Sahel countries: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – had expressed his intention to reduce within months French troop numbers.

 

The conflict in the western portion of the Sahel largely between state forces and armed groups linked to ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda has ravaged for much of the region over the past decade, sparking a significant humanitarian crisis.

Almost 7,000 people died due to the worsening fighting last year, according to data by the Armed Conflict and Location Event Data Project. In late January, the United Nations warned the “unrelenting violence” had internally displaced more than two million people, up from 490,000 at the start of 2019.

Last year, the French government had boosted its Barkhane troop numbers by 600.

Reports citing military and diplomatic sources had indicated that an “adjustment” in the French presence would depend on the involvement of other European countries in the Takuba Task Force fighting armed groups in the Sahel alongside the Malian and Nigerien armies. Those forces have ramped up in recent months.

At the February summit, the leaders of the G5 countries had warned Macron against the dangers of a rapid pullout. Since then, the veteran leader of Chad and close French ally, Idriss Deby Itno, has been killed, while Mali has suffered a second coup that has badly strained relations with Paris.

Last week, France suspended its joint military operations with Malian forces and stopped providing defence advice because Mali’s new military government failed to give guarantees to hold free elections.

 

Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Paris, said the timing of the announcement was significant, pointing to the recent coup in Mali and a meeting next week of NATO allies in Brussels, as well as the upcoming French election.

“Operation Barkhane and its presence in the Sahel has become increasingly unpopular in France,” she said. “More than 50 [French] soldiers have died since 2013 and therefore there’s no doubt that Emmanuel Macron is very aware that the French public opinion is turning against it.”



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Apple Daily could shut ‘in days’ after Hong Kong asset freeze | Freedom of the Press News

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Company adviser says action under security law means it cannot access some $50 million in funds to pay staff and vendors.

Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily will be forced to shut “in a matter of days” after authorities used the national security law imposed by China to freeze the company’s assets as it arrested the paper’s editor and four other directors, an adviser to jailed tycoon Jimmy Lai told Reuters on Monday.

Mark Simon, speaking by phone from the United States, said the company was no longer able to access its funds and would be holding a board meeting on Monday to discuss how to move forward.

“We thought we’d be able to make it to the end of the month,” Simon told the news agency. “It’s just getting harder and harder. It’s essentially a matter of days.”

His comments signal closure is imminent even after Apple Daily said on Sunday the freezing of its assets had left the newspaper with cash for “a few weeks” for normal operations.”

The news comes two days after editor Ryan Law, 47, and chief executive Cheung Kim-hung, 59, were denied bail after being charged under the security law with collusion with foreign forces.

Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief Ryan Law arrives back at the detention centre after he was remanded in custody on Saturday [Lam Yik/Reuters]

Three other senior executives were also arrested last Thursday when 500 police officers raided the newspaper’s offices in a case that has drawn condemnation from Western nations, human rights groups and the chief United Nations spokesperson for human rights.

The three have been released on bail.

Simon told Reuters it had become impossible to conduct banking operations.

“Vendors tried to put money into our accounts and were rejected. We can’t bank. Some vendors tried to do that as a favour. We just wanted to find out and it was rejected,” he said.

Speaking earlier to US news channel CNN, Simon said the company had about $50 million available, but was unable to access the funds.

The publisher has come under increasing pressure since its owner Jimmy Lai was arrested under the national security law last August, which marked the first time the company’s headquarters was raided. Lai, 73, is now jailed and facing trial under the national security law. In May, the authorities also froze some assets belonging to the longtime critic of Beijing has also had some of his assets frozen.

Three companies related to Apple Daily are also being prosecuted for collusion with a foreign country and authorities have frozen HK$18 million ($2.3 million) of their assets.

China imposed the national security law on Hong Kong last June saying it was necessary to restore “stability” to a territory that had been rocked by mass protests in 2019, some of which turned violent.

The broadly-worded law criminalises acts such as subversion, sedition, collusion with foreign forces and secession with possible life imprisonment, but critics have said it is being used to suppress legitimate political debate with dozens of pro-democracy politicians and activists among the more than 100 arrested since it was brought into force.





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Birmingham Classic: Ons Jabeur beats Daria Kasatkina to win first title

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Tunisian second seed Ons Jabeur defeated Russia’s Daria Kasatkina in straight sets to win her first singles title at the Birmingham Classic.

World number 24 Jabeur triumphed 7-5 6-4 against the fourth seed to become the first Arab woman to win a WTA title.

In Berlin, Russian qualifier Liudmila Samsonova stunned Swiss fifth seed Belinda Bencic to win her first title.

The 22-year-old world number 106 battled back from a set down to win 1-6 6-1 6-3 in her first final.

Victories for Jabeur and Samsonova mean there have now been 10 first-time singles winners on the women’s Tour this year.

Jabeur broke Kasatkina’s serve three times to prevail in the first set, before successive breaks at the start of the second put the 26-year-old in control at 4-0.

Two-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Kasatkina recovered to 4-3, but Jabeur held on to win a singles final at the third attempt.

It was a breakthrough week for Samsonova in Germany, during which she also defeated seventh seed Victoria Azarenka of Belaurus in the semi-final.

World number 12 Bencic won the first five games as she dominated the opening set, but Samsonova matched that feat in the second before completing her comeback with breaks in the first and ninth games in the deciding set.



Source – www.bbc.co.uk

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Birtukan Mideksa: Ethiopia’s electoral board chairperson

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Restless for change, Ms Birtukan moved back into politics, playing a key role in the formation of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) to present a united front against the EPRDF in the 2005 parliamentary election, which was widely seen as the most fiercely contested poll in Ethiopia’s history, with the opposition claiming that it had been robbed of victory.



Source – www.bbc.co.uk

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