EU puts top Syrian officials under sanctions

France Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (L) and France's Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian attend a European Union foreign and defence ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium on Monday. (Reuters)
Updated 15 November 2016
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EU puts top Syrian officials under sanctions

BRUSSELS: The European Union extended its sanctions on Syria on Monday, banning the country’s central bank chief and its finance minister from traveling in Europe and freezing their assets in a further step to isolate President Bashar Assad.
The decision to target Central Bank Gov. Duraid Durgham and Finance Minister Maamoun Hamdan, along with 16 other government ministers, made good on the EU’s threat last month to increase sanctions on Syria over the bombing of Aleppo.
Diplomats said targeting the country’s finance chiefs was aimed at pressuring Assad and limiting the central bank’s ability to obtain financing. The bloc already has a ban on dealings with the central bank, as well as an oil embargo and arms embargo.
The European Union singled out the central bank governor Durgham as “responsible for providing economic and financial support to the Syrian regime.”
Hamdan, among those picked in a government reshuffle in July, was put under sanctions along with Syria’s ministers responsible for areas such as electricity, water, industry and information.
The decision now puts a total of 234 people and 69 companies and institutions under sanctions for what the bloc said was “repression against the civilian population in Syria.”
In northern Syria, meanwhile, opposition commanders said that Syrian fighters backed by Turkey were poised to begin an assault to try to drive Daesh from Al-Bab.
Al-Bab is fast becoming a major faultline in the war in northern Syria, bringing Free Syrian Army fighters backed by Turkish armor closer than ever to frontlines held by the Syrian government and its Iranian and Russian allies in nearby Aleppo.
“There is nothing between us and Al-Bab,” said one of the rebels, a commander in one of the groups fighting under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner taking part in the Turkey-backed Euphrates Shield operation in north Syria that began in August.
“If not in hours then in a very few days we will be inside Al-Bab,” said the commander.
Also Monday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said a fighter jet crashed while attempting to land on the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean off Syria, but the pilot survived.
In a statement to Russian news agencies, the Defense Ministry said the MiG-29K fighter crashed due to a “technical fault” a few kilometers from the carrier.
The pilot ejected and was recovered and taken aboard the ship.
“The pilot’s health is in no danger. The pilot is ready to carry out missions,” the ministry said, quoted by Interfax news agency.
The defense ministry said the plane was taking part in training flights.
It stressed that flights were still going ahead from the aircraft carrier despite the accident.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry discussed Syria by phone on Monday and agreed to continue experts’ consultations to try to resolve the crisis.
It said Lavrov told Kerry that Washington had failed to stick to its pledge to encourage Syrian opposition to separate themselves from “terrorist” groups in Aleppo.
Lavrov also expressed “indignation” at the US decision not to issue an entry visa to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), who will miss the World Chess Championship in New York as a result.
The US-led coalition began strikes in Syria in September 2014, and has worked closely with Syrian Kurdish-led forces to push Daesh from large swathes of territory.
Such cooperation has angered Turkey, which considers the main Syrian Kurdish YPG militia a “terrorist” group, and is currently waging its own offensive inside Syria, targeting both Daesh and the Kurds.

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Sudan protesters plan march on parliament, more demos

Updated 19 January 2019
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Sudan protesters plan march on parliament, more demos

KHARTOUM: A group that is spearheading anti-government protests across Sudan on Saturday said it plans to launch more nationwide rallies over the next few days, including a march on parliament.
Protests have rocked Sudan since December 19, when the government raised the price of bread, and since then have escalated into rallies against President Omar Al-Bashir’s three-decade rule.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella group of trade unions, in a statement called for a march on parliament Sunday to submit to lawmakers a memorandum calling for Bashir to step aside.
“We are calling for a march to parliament in Omdurman on Sunday,” it said referring to Khartoum’s twin city where parliament is located.
“The protesters will submit to parliament a memorandum calling on President Bashir to step down,” added the association, which represents the unions of doctors, teachers and engineers.
Over the past month, protesters have staged several demonstrations in Omdurman, on the west bank of the Nile.
Officials say at least 26 people, including two security personnel, have died during a month of protests, while rights group Amnesty International last week put the death toll at more than 40.
The group spearheading the protests said there will also be rallies in Khartoum on Sunday, to be followed by night-time demonstrations on Tuesday in the capital and in Omdurman.
“And on Thursday there will be rallies across all towns and cities of Sudan,” the statement added.
On Friday, hundreds of mourners leaving the funeral of a protester had staged a spontaneous demonstration in the capital’s Burri district, while crowds of Muslim worshippers had launched another rally in a mosque in Omdurman, witnesses said.
Protesters chanting “freedom, peace, justice” have been confronted by riot police with tear gas at several rallies since the first protest erupted in the eastern town of Atbara on December 19 after the rise of bread price.
The government’s tough response has sparked international criticism, while Bashir has blamed the violence on unidentified “conspirators.”
Analysts say the protests have emerged as the biggest challenge to the veteran leader’s rule who swept to power in 1989 in an Islamist-backed coup.
The protests come as Sudan suffers from an economic crisis driven by an acute shortage of foreign currency and soaring inflation that has more than doubled the price of food and medicines.