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French Forces Face Violent Protests After Crossing Into Niger From Burkina Faso

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A French military convoy heading to Mali on Saturday ran into more trouble in a town in Niger after being delayed for more than a week by protests in Burkina Faso, with the local mayor reporting three deaths and 18 wounded.

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The supply convoy, which arrived in Africa in Ivory Coast last week, has crossed Burkina Faso and on Friday entered Niger on its way to central Mali.

Its destination is a base at Gao — a hub of France‘s Barkhane operation, which is shoring up allies in the Sahel against a jihadist insurgency that began in northern Mali nearly a decade ago.

But clashes reportedly broke out at Tera in western Niger on Saturday which the mayor said left “three people dead and 18 wounded,” including four who had to be evacuated for treatment in the capital Niamey, 200 kilometres (120 miles) away.

The French army said it was in contact with the Nigerien authorities, but was “not in a position to confirm this toll at this stage”.

“No French soldier was wounded,” French army spokesman Pascal Ianni told AFP. But “two civilian drivers in the convoy were hurt by stones and some civilian trucks were damaged.”

“The convoy halted last night at Tera. This morning, when they wanted to continue the road to Niamey, they were stopped by 1,000 demonstrators and a violent group among them tried to take over the trucks,” he said.

Niger gendarmes fired teargas to disperse the protesters, he added.

Later, mid-morning, “tensions soared again” and the gendarmes and French soldiers “fired warning shots”, Ianni said before the more than 100-vehicle convoy was able to move off.

He denied “false information” posted on social networks that the French army had killed dozens of civilians at Tera.

After entering Burkina Faso last week, the convoy was slowed by protesters at Bobo-Dioulasso, the country’s second largest city, and then in Ouagadougou, the capital.

On November 19, several thousand demonstrators blocked the convoy at Kaya, about 100 km north of Ouagadougou.

The following day, local sources said four people had suffered gunshot wounds in Kaya, in circumstances that remain unclear — French and Burkinabe soldiers fired warning shots and tear gas to disperse demonstrators.

Protest organisers said they wanted to expose flaws in Burkina Faso’s security accords with former colonial ruler France.

But rumours have also spread on social media — which were recounted by protesters in Kaya — claiming the convoy was in fact carrying weapons for the jihadists.

Burkinabe Foreign Minister Alpha Barry dismissed the rumours on Wednesday and pointed to what he said was France’s long history of help at times of crisis.

On Friday Niger President Mohamed Bazoum had expressed his “gratitude” to France and applauded its “sacrifices” in the Sahel.

(AFP)

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Original Article: france24.com

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World at ‘inflection Point’ Warns Biden, Raising Alarm at Democracy Summit

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Democracy faces “sustained and alarming challenges” worldwide, US President Joe Biden said Thursday at the opening of a virtual summit on democracy with representatives from some 100 countries.

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Biden said trends were “largely pointing in the wrong direction” and that democracy needed “champions.”

“We stand at an inflection point,” he said. “Will we allow the backward slide of rights and democracy to continue unchecked?”

The two-day event, held by video link due to the coronavirus pandemic, was billed by the White House as US leadership in an existential struggle between democracies and powerful autocracies or dictatorships.

“Make no mistake, we’re at a moment of democratic reckoning,” said Uzra Zeya, the US under secretary of state for civilian security, democracy, and human rights. “Countries in virtually every region of the world have experienced degrees of democratic backsliding.”

The summit featured opening remarks from Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, with representatives from some 100 governments, as well as NGOs, private businesses, philanthropical organisations and legislatures attending.

China, Russia not invited

The conference is a test of Biden’s assertion, made in his first foreign policy address in February, that he would return the US to global leadership to face down authoritarian forces led by China and Russia.

Both countries were not invited to this week’s event, which coincides with questions about the strength of America’s democracy. Biden is struggling to pass his agenda through a polarised Congress following the turbulent and disruptive Trump presidency.

Amid rising US-China tensions, the Biden administration’s decision to invite Taiwan has irked Beijing.

China considers Taiwan, a democratically ruled island, part of its territory.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said the invitation of Taiwan showed the US was only using democracy as “cover and a tool for it to advance its geopolitical objectives, oppress other countries, divide the world and serve its own interests.”

‘Lip service’

Washington used the run-up to the summit to announce sanctions against officials in Iran, Syria and Uganda it accuses of oppressing their populations, and against people it accuses of being tied to corruption and criminal gangs in Kosovo and Central America.

US officials hope to win support during the meetings for global initiatives, such as use of technology to enhance privacy or circumvent censorship, and for countries to make specific public commitments to improve their democracies before an in-person summit planned for late 2022.

Annie Boyajian, director of advocacy at non-profit Freedom House, said the event had the potential to push struggling democracies to do better and to spur coordination between democratic governments.

“But, a full assessment won’t be possible until we know what commitments there are and how they are implemented in the year ahead,” Boyajian said.

Zeya at the State Department said civil society would help hold the countries, including the United States, accountable. Zeya declined to say whether Washington would disinvite leaders who did not fulfill their pledges.

Human Rights Watch’s Washington director Sarah Holewinski said making the invitation to the 2022 summit dependent on delivering on commitments was the only way to get nations to step up.

Otherwise, Holewinski said, some “will only pay lip service to human rights and make commitments they never intend to keep.”

“They shouldn’t get invited back,” she said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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Original Source: france24.com

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Top US Scientist Fauci: Omicron ‘almost Certainly Not More Severe’ Than Delta Variant

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Top US scientist Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that while it would take weeks to judge the severity of the new Covid-19 variant Omicron, early indications suggested it was not worse than prior strains, and possibly milder.Read More

Source: france24.com

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Suspected Member of Khashoggi Hit Squad Arrested at Paris Airport

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French police Tuesday arrested at Paris’s main airport a suspected member of the team that murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, sources said.Read More

Source Here: france24.com

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