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President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar agree peace deal

The two men, whose enmity plunged the country into war in 2013 have agreed to hold further meetings soon

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President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar pledge to power-sharing deal
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir Mayardit (R) shake hands with ex-vice president and former rebel leader Riek Machar before their meeting in Juba, South Sudan, on September 11, 2019. (Photo by AKUOT CHOL / AFP)

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar on Wednesday vowed to stick to a November deadline for creating a long-delayed power-sharing government, during a rare meeting in the capital Juba.

During their second round of talks upon Machar’s first visit in a year from exile in Khartoum, the two men tried to salvage a peace agreement that has stalled on several key fronts.

“The parties agreed to establish the government in time. When I said in time it means on the 12th of November,” government spokesman Michael Makuei told journalists after the meeting.

A statement from the presidency described the meeting as “fruitful and open-hearted”.

Observers say a political deal between the historical rivals is the only way to move forward with the 2018 peace deal that has become stuck on key issues of security, and internal state boundaries.

The two men, whose enmity plunged the country into war in 2013 only two years after a hard-won independence that has been marked by ethnic brutality and humanitarian suffering, agreed to hold further meetings soon.

“I told you earlier on that talks between us are going well. And we will reach a deal soon,” Kiir said after the meeting, exchanging handshakes with Machar.

‘Important progress’ –

Machar is seeking assurances about his personal security before permanently returning to Juba, which he fled under a hail of gunfire when a previous peace deal collapsed in July 2016.

He returned in October 2018 for less than a day to celebrate the signing of the peace deal.

“Juba is home and I have come back to Juba, even if I go away (again) for some time… we have made an important progress” in our discussions, Machar said.

Officials from Machar’s party said he has further meetings in the capital, and it is not clear when he is to leave.

His deputy Henry Odwar told journalists the men had also discussed efforts to mediate with rebel groups not party to the peace agreement, who have continued fighting in pockets of the country.

A ceasefire is generally considered to have held — outside of the Central Equatoria region where these holdouts have been fighting — however, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Wednesday violence remained pervasive.

The organisation said in a statement that they “continue to treat a large number of patients with gunshot wounds”, with the number of patients even increasing since the peace deal.

The fighting in South Sudan has left about 380,000 people dead and forced more than four million South Sudanese — almost a third of the population — to flee their homes.

The World Food Programme said Wednesday there was a slight improvement in food security as a result of the peace deal, however “more than half the population of South Sudan – some 6.35 million people – do not know where their next meal will come from.”

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North Africa Politics

Former Tunisian President Ben Ali dies in exile aged 83

Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia from 1987 until 2011, was viewed by some as a bulwark against Islamist extremist

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Former Tunisian President Ben Ali dies in exile
(Photo by Fethi Belaid / AFP)

Former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the first leader to be toppled by the Arab Spring revolts, died Thursday in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia’s foreign ministry told reporters. He was 83.

“We had confirmation of his death 30 minutes ago,” the ministry said, without giving further details. 

His lawyer, Mounir Ben Salha, confirmed the news, citing family members and Ben Ali’s doctor.

Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia from 1987 until 2011, was viewed by some as a bulwark against Islamist extremism, but faced criticism for muzzling the opposition and his reluctance to embrace democracy.

Eventually, growing frustration over unemployment and high prices snapped. 

In late 2010, the self-immolation of a young trader sparked major protests that rocked the country and sparked a deadly clampdown.

Ben Ali fled Tunisia for Saudi Arabia on January 14, 2011.

His rapid departure sparked a string of similar uprisings across the region, toppling Egyptian and Libyan strongmen Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi.

Pyjamas in exile –

In mid-2012, Ben Ali was sentenced in absentia to life in jail for his role in the deaths of protesters during the uprising that ousted him.

Little information has emerged on his life in exile.

Photos posted on Instagram in 2013 showed the former strongman smiling in striped pyjamas. 

Rumours of his death had circulated several times in recent years. 

A week ago, Ben Salha said the former President was in a “critical condition”, before denying reports that he had died. 

Former Tunisian President Ben Ali dies in exile
A partial view of the King Faisal hospital in Jeddah where former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali died on September 19, 2019. – Ben Ali, the first leader to be toppled by the Arab Spring revolts, died today in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia’s foreign ministry told AFP. (Photo by – / AFP)

“He is not dead, but his state of health is bad. He has left hospital and is currently being cared for at his home — his condition is stabilising”, the lawyer said at the time.

Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said last week that on humanitarian grounds Ben Ali could return to die in his own country — “like every Tunisian” — should he wish to do so.   

Ben Ali is survived by six children; three daughters by a first marriage and two daughters and a son by Leila Trabelsi.

A career soldier, Ben Ali took power on November 7, 1987, when he toppled Habib Bourguiba, the ailing father of Tunisian independence who was by then reported to be senile.

Tunisians, including Islamists, hailed his bloodless, non-violent takeover.

He went on to make Tunisia a moderate voice in the Arab world while Western governments viewed him as an effective bulwark against extremism despite criticism of his slow move toward democracy.

Ben Ali was also sentenced in absentia to misappropriating public funds and ordering the torture of army officers who allegedly led a coup attempt against him.

Tunisia on Sunday held a presidential election, in which two outsiders — law professor Kais Saied and detained media mogul Nabil Karoui — made it through to a second-round run-off. 

The country’s first post Arab Spring democratically elected president, Beji Caid Essebsi, died in July aged 92, bringing the first round of the presidential polls forward by several months.

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North Africa

Kais Saied and Nabil Karoui to face off in Tunisia’s runoff election

Kais Saied advances to the next round with 18.85 of votes, while Nabil Kaorui advances second with 15.7% of votes cast

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Kais Saied and Nabil Karoui to face off in Tunisia's runoff election
A screen displays Kais Saied and Nabil Karoui as Nabil Bafon (not seen), the chairman of the Independent High Elections Commission of Tunisia, holds a press conference at the Conference Palace in the Tunisian capital Tunis on September 17, 2019. Kais Saied and Nabil Karoui will face off in the second round of Tunisia's presidential election, state election authorities said on Tuesday. According to official results released by the Independent High Electoral Commission, Saied led with 18.4% of the vote while Nabil Karoui had 15.6%. Yassine Gaidi / AFP

Tunisia’s electoral commission confirmed on Tuesday that a presidential runoff vote will pit law professor Kais Saied against detained media mogul Nabil Karoui.

The result from Sunday’s vote, thrusting two political outsiders to the fore, was a shock to a political establishment in place since the 2011 fall of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Saied led the first round of polling on Sunday with 18.4 per cent of the vote against Karoui’s 15.6 per cent, taking both through to an October runoff, said the electoral commission, ISIE.

It said turnout reached 49 per cent in Sunday’s election, markedly down from the 64 per cent at the country’s first free presidential poll in 2014.

The two candidates — though very different — have drawn on the same “anti-system” sentiment among the electorate, spurred by exasperation with the status quo.

Unemployment plagues about 15 per cent of the population, especially young graduates, while inflation eats away at already low incomes.

Tunisian voters on Sunday “preferred to venture into the unknown rather than extend a hand again to those who betrayed their hopes”, Le Quotidien newspaper said.

Karoui’s arrest in the runup to the election cemented his status as an outsider, despite being a longtime key supporter of President Beji Caid Essebsi, whose death on July 25 brought forward the polls.

Saied, a fiercely independent academic, advocates a radical decentralisation of power, with local democracy and the ability to remove elected officials from office during their mandates.

ISIE also said it is to investigate alleged electoral violations, including campaigning on behalf of Karoui by Nessma TV, founded by the media mogul.

Karoui himself is under investigation for alleged money laundering and has been in pre-trial detention since August 23. 

Appeals to have him freed before the polls were rejected but his lawyers plan to refile for his release after the results are confirmed.

Karoui remains eligible to run despite his imprisonment, as long as any conviction does not also specifically deprive him of his civil rights, according to ISIE.

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France pledges to “influence” removal of Sudan from US terror blacklist

Le Drian was in Khartoum for a one-day visit, the first such trip to Sudan by France’s top diplomat in more than a decade.

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France pledges to "influence" removal of Sudan from US terror blacklist
France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sudan, Asma Mohamed Abdalla hold a press conference after their meeting in Khartoum, Sudan on September 16, 2019. Mahmoud Hjaj / Anadolu Agency

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Monday that France will press to drop Sudan from the US blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism and to support efforts to reintegrate the country into the international community.

Le Drian was in Khartoum for a one-day visit, the first such trip to Sudan by France’s top diplomat in more than a decade.

His visit comes as the country transitions to civilian rule after decades of authoritarianism.

“We will use our influence to ensure that Sudan is removed from this list,” Le Drian said at a joint press conference with his Sudanese counterpart Asma Mohamed Abdalla after the two held talks.

“It is the way to ensure that we can consider a new relationship (for Sudan) with financial institutions, everything is obviously linked,” he said, asked by reporters if France would back efforts to remove Sudan from Washington’s blacklist.

Decades of US blacklisting along with a trade embargo imposed on Sudan in 1997 has kept overseas investors away from the country, in turn isolating it from the global economy.

Sudan’s worsening economic situation was the key trigger for nationwide protests that finally led to the ouster of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in April.

Washington lifted the sanctions in October 2017, but kept Sudan in the terrorism list along with North Korea, Iran and Syria.

Washington’s measures were imposed for Khartoum’s alleged support for Islamist militant groups.

Al-Qaeda founder, Osama bin Laden resided in Sudan between 1992 and 1996.

France pledges to "influence" removal of Sudan from US terror blacklist
France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian meets Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in Khartoum, Sudan on September 16, 2019. Mahmoud Hjaj / Anadolu Agency

Le Drian said the pivotal role played by Sudan’s army in the uprising against Bashir would help in removing Sudan from the US blacklist.

“The way the army perceived its role during this period, (that) goes in the direction of removing Sudan from this list,” he said.

The army overthrew Bashir in a palace coup on April 11 on the back of months of nationwide protests.

But a military council seized power after ousting him and for months resisted calls from protesters to transfer it to a civilian administration.

Only last month after sustained agitation, a joint civilian-military sovereign council was sworn in to oversee Sudan’s transition to civilian rule, the key demand of protesters.

On September 8, Sudan’s first cabinet led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was sworn in to run the daily affairs of the country.

During his short visit to Khartoum, Le Drian also met Hamdok and General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the civilian-military ruling council.

Le Drian also reiterated French support for Sudan’s priorities such as rebuilding the economy and striking peace agreements with rebel groups in conflict zones of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

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