EU, France suspend cooperation and aid to Niger after coup

Update General Abdourahmane Tiani, who was declared as the new head of state of Niger by leaders of a coup, arrives to meet with ministers in Niamey, Niger July 28, 2023. (Reuters)
General Abdourahmane Tiani, who was declared as the new head of state of Niger by leaders of a coup, arrives to meet with ministers in Niamey, Niger July 28, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 July 2023
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EU, France suspend cooperation and aid to Niger after coup

EU, France suspend cooperation and aid to Niger after coup
  • French President Emmanuel Macron, while visiting Papua New Guinea on Friday, strongly condemned the coup

PARIS: The African Union asked Niger’s new junta to return to their bases and restore constitutional order in 15 days as the EU and former colonial ruler France Saturday suspended security cooperation and financial aid to the jihadist-hit country.
General Abdourahamane Tiani, head of the elite Presidential Guard, on Friday declared himself the West African country’s new leader, two days after his forces confined democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum to his official residence.
Tiani said the putsch was a response to “the degradation of the security situation” linked to jihadist bloodshed as well as corruption and economic woes.
Niger’s neighbors Mali and Burkina Faso have both undergone two military coups since 2020, fueled by anger at a failure to quash long-running insurgencies by jihadists linked to the Daesh group and Al-Qaeda.
The African Union’s Peace and Security Council asked “military personnel to immediately and unconditionally return to their barracks and restore constitutional authority, within a maximum period of fifteen (15) days,” after a meeting Friday on the coup.
It condemned the coup in “the strongest terms possible” and expressed deep concern over the “alarming resurgence” of military overthrows in Africa.
France’s foreign ministry said it was suspending development aid and budgetary support to Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, while calling for “an immediate return to constitutional order” and Bazoum’s reinstatement.
The EU’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell meanwhile said the bloc would not recognize the putschists and announced the indefinite suspension of security cooperation with Niger with immediate effect as well as budgetary aid.
Bazoum “remains the only legitimate president of Niger,” the EU statement said, calling for his immediate release and holding the coup leaders to account for the safety of the president and his family.
Borrell said the EU was ready to support future decisions taken by West Africa’s regional bloc, “including the adoption of sanctions.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered Niger’s ousted leader Washington’s steadfast support and warned those detaining him that they were “threatening years of successful cooperation and hundreds of millions of dollars of assistance.”
Leaders from the Economic Community of West African States regional bloc will meet on Sunday in the Nigerian capital Abuja to discuss the coup.
French President Emmanuel Macron was due to chair a meeting of his Defense and National Security Council on the coup on Saturday afternoon, the presidency said.
France has 1,500 soldiers in Niger, while the United States has around 1,000 troops there.
Tiani, 59, has shunned the limelight despite a stellar military career which has seen him lead the 700-member presidential guard since 2011.
Sources close to Bazoum told AFP that he had been considering replacing Tiani as the head of the elite unit and that relations between the two men had deteriorated in the past months.
Landlocked Niger often ranks last in the UN’s Human Development Index, despite vast deposits of uranium.
It has had a turbulent political history since gaining independence in 1960, with four coups as well as numerous other attempts — including two previously against Bazoum.
The 63-year-old has been one of a dwindling group of elected presidents and pro-Western leaders in the Sahel as juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso turn away from traditional allies and toward Russia.


Halt Gaza war now, Trump tells Netanyahu

Halt Gaza war now, Trump tells Netanyahu
Updated 7 sec ago
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Halt Gaza war now, Trump tells Netanyahu

Halt Gaza war now, Trump tells Netanyahu

JEDDAH: Israeli forces killed at least 30 more Palestinians in Gaza on Thursday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks in Washington with the US president and vice president.

In Florida on Friday Netanyahu will meet Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who used a TV interview on Thursday to urge the Israeli leader to halt the war. “You have to end this fast. It can’t continue to go on like this. It’s too long. It’s too much,” Trump said.

Netanyahu took part in separate meetings at the White House with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the overwhelming favorite to be the Democratic nominee in November’s presidential election.

Biden has offered Netanyahu almost unlimited financial and military support in his war on Gaza, but the president has also been increasingly critical of Israel over the Palestinian death toll, and denounced restrictions on the amount of aid getting through to the enclave, much of which has been reduced to rubble.
In Gaza on Thursday at least 30 Palestinians were killed in airstrikes and shelling as Israeli forces pushed deeper into towns on the eastern side of Khan Younis and tanks advanced in central Rafah.

Fighting has centred on the eastern towns of Bani Suaila, Al-Zanna and Al-Karara. Strikes there killed 14 Palestinians, several were wounded by tank and aerial shelling, and an airstrike east of Khan Younis killed four people.
Israeli bombardment intensified in several areas in Rafah near the Egypt border as tanks operated north, west and in the town center. Deir Al-Balah, where tanks have not yet invaded, is currently crowded with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced from other areas of the enclave.


Prosecutors urge judge not to toss out Trump’s hush money conviction, pushing back on immunity claim

Prosecutors urge judge not to toss out Trump’s hush money conviction, pushing back on immunity claim
Updated 3 min 46 sec ago
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Prosecutors urge judge not to toss out Trump’s hush money conviction, pushing back on immunity claim

Prosecutors urge judge not to toss out Trump’s hush money conviction, pushing back on immunity claim
  • the high court’s opinion “has no bearing” on the hush money case: attorney’s office

NEW YORK: Prosecutors are urging a judge to uphold Donald Trump’s historic hush money conviction, arguing in court papers released Thursday that the verdict should stand despite the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on presidential immunity.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office said in a court filing that the high court’s opinion “has no bearing” on the hush money case and does not support vacating the jury’s unanimous verdict or dismissing the case.
Prosecutors said Trump’s lawyers failed to raise the immunity issue in a timely fashion and that, even so, the case involved unofficial acts — many pertaining to events prior to his election — that are not subject to immunity.
Lawyers for the former president and current Republican nominee are trying to get the verdict — and even the indictment — tossed out because of the Supreme Court’s July 1 decision. It gave presidents considerable protection from prosecution.
The ruling came about a month after a Manhattan jury found Trump guilty of falsifying business records to conceal a deal to pay off porn actor Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election. At the time, she was considering going public with a story of a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump, who says no such thing happened. He has denied any wrongdoing.
He was a private citizen when his lawyer paid Daniels. But Trump was president when the attorney was reimbursed. Prosecutors say those repayments were misleadingly logged simply as legal expenses in Trump’s company records.
The attorney, Michael Cohen, testified that he and the then-president discussed the repayment arrangement in the Oval Office.
Trump’s lawyers have argued that prosecutors rushed to trial instead of waiting for the Supreme Court’s view on presidential immunity, and that the trial was “tainted” by evidence that shouldn’t have been allowed under the high court’s ruling.
Judge Juan M. Merchan plans to rule on the Trump attorneys’ request Sept. 6. He has set Trump’s sentencing for Sept. 18, “if such is still necessary” after he reaches his conclusions about immunity.


Thousands flee fast-spreading wildfire in northern California

Thousands flee fast-spreading wildfire in northern California
Updated 11 min 25 sec ago
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Thousands flee fast-spreading wildfire in northern California

Thousands flee fast-spreading wildfire in northern California
  • More than 3,500 people had evacuated the area, Governor Gavin Newsom said

LOS ANGELES: Firefighters were battling a fast-moving wildfire in the US state of California on Thursday, authorities said, with more than 3,500 people forced to flee their homes.
The Park Fire, enveloping more than 71,000 acres, broke out Wednesday evening, on the last day of a heat wave affecting the region.
More than 1,150 personnel were deployed to fight the blaze, which was only three percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).
As of 12:00 p.m. local time (1900 GMT) on Thursday, the fire had enveloped 71,489 acres (290 square kilometers), according to CalFire.
More than 3,500 people had evacuated the area, Governor Gavin Newsom said.
The town of Chico, under threat from the fire, is located just 12 miles (20 kilometers) west of Paradise, a town that was destroyed by a massive wildfire in 2018, resulting in the deaths of 85 people.
The cause of the Park Fire remains under investigation, according to CalFire.
On Thursday, the National Weather Service issued a “red flag” weather warning for “critical fire weather conditions” in the area, including wind gusts and low humidity.
The western United States has experienced several heat waves since the beginning of June, and dozens of fires are currently burning in the region.
Oregon, California’s northern neighbor, is battling a megafire that is the largest in the country, having ravaged more than 268,000 acres of forest and prompting evacuations in a rural region.
The raging flames have created vast columns of smoke, affecting air quality as far away as neighboring Idaho.
Wildfires were also burning in western Canada, where part of the tourist town of Jasper has been destroyed.
Western North America has increasingly been affected by extreme weather events, exacerbated by climate change.
In mid-July, Newsom warned of a fire season that was “shaping up to be very active.”


Argentine President Milei travels to France to meet Macron after outcry over racist soccer chants

Argentine President Milei travels to France to meet Macron after outcry over racist soccer chants
Updated 12 min 19 sec ago
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Argentine President Milei travels to France to meet Macron after outcry over racist soccer chants

Argentine President Milei travels to France to meet Macron after outcry over racist soccer chants
  • The Argentine presidency said that in addition to meeting Macron and other French officials at the Elysee Palace on Friday, Milei would attend the 2024 Olympic opening ceremony
  • Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the IMF, said she held “constructive” talks about Milei’s libertarian reforms with Argentine Economy Minister Luis Caputo

BUENOS AIRES: Argentine President Javier Milei arrived Thursday in Paris, his office said, where he is expected to meet French President Emmanuel Macron after tensions escalated between their countries over the Argentine soccer team’s derogatory post-match chants about French players.
A short clip captured during Argentina’s Copa America victory celebrations in Miami earlier this month shows triumphant Argentine players chanting a song considered racist toward French players of African heritage. “They play for France but their parents are from Angola,” the refrain goes, with some transphobic slurs mixed in.
French officials castigated the Argentina athletes in the Instagram live video posted by midfielder Enzo Fernandez, who publicly apologized. The French soccer federation filed a legal complaint over the “unacceptable racist and discriminatory remarks.” Fernandez’s English club Chelsea started an internal disciplinary procedure.
“Argentina is the enemy in France,” was a headline Thursday in Argentine newspaper Clarín, citing the deafening boos and jeers that greeted the Argentine national anthem in Paris.
Censure from the soccer world snowballed into a political scandal last week when Argentina’s conservative vice president, Victoria Villarruel, defended Fernandez and the team, saying that Argentina would not tolerate criticism from a “colonialist” country.
In a widely shared social media post, she insisted that Argentina was not a racist country because, unlike France, “We never had colonies or second-class citizens. We never imposed our way of life on anyone.”
“Enough with faking indignation, hypocrites,” she added.
French diplomats in Buenos Aires were seething.
President Milei, a right-wing populist, has sought to walk a fine line — nodding to the upswell of nationalism buoying the Argentina team while attempting to curb diplomatic backlash. Already, Milei’s rhetorical attacks on leaders and enthusiasm for the far-right have sparked diplomatic rows with Argentina’s historic allies and major foreign investors, Brazil and Spain.
Last week, Milei removed the undersecretary of sport, Julio Garro, from his post for requesting that team captain Lionel Messi apologize for the chants. “No government can tell the Argentine national team, world champion and two-time champion of Copa America, what to comment, what to think or what to do,” Milei’s office said at the time.
But more recently the presidential spokesperson, Manuel Adorni, has tried to distance Milei from what he called Villarruel’s “personal” and “unfortunate” comments.
He said that Karina Milei, the president’s sister and general secretary, took it upon herself to disavow Villarruel’s remarks in a meeting with the French ambassador last week.
“It’s a comment that does not represent the opinion of the government,” Adorni said of Villarruel’s post. “Relations with France are intact.”
But controversy has only mounted after chaos engulfed the Olympic men’s soccer match between Argentina and Morocco.
Doubling down on her nationalist messaging, Vice President Villarruel posted footage of Wednesday’s incident, showing Morocco fans invade the field and rain bottles and other objects down on Argentine players in an outpouring of anger over Argentina’s late goal.
“Although they insult us and whistle our anthem, Argentina is destined for greatness,” she wrote.
The Argentine presidency said that in addition to meeting Macron and other French officials at the Elysee Palace on Friday, Milei would attend the 2024 Olympic opening ceremony and hold talks with French business leaders.
The investment-focused meetings come as Argentina seeks to lobby for support from major shareholders of the International Monetary Fund, including France and the US, to reach a new deal for extra funds.
Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the IMF, said she held “constructive” talks about Milei’s libertarian reforms with Argentine Economy Minister Luis Caputo on Thursday in Rio de Janeiro, where G20 finance ministers were gathering.
As in previous months, Georgieva praised Argentina’s performance in fighting inflation and slashing the deficit, writing on X, “We are committed to support the govt’s efforts to turn around the economy for the benefit of Argentine people.”
But she said nothing about an imminent new loan for the crisis-stricken country.
Argentina — the IMF’s biggest debtor — needs more cash to pay the fund back for past borrowing under the program, originally worth $57 billion in 2018.
Analysts say that right-wing Milei is pinning his hopes on Donald Trump becoming president of the US, the IMF’s main stakeholder.
“The expectation of the government is that a Trump administration would be more politically favorable to Milei and that by early next year it would exert some pressure on the IMF,” said Marcelo J. García, Americas director at geopolitical risk firm Horizon Engage.


Trump discusses US wiping Iran ‘off the face of the Earth’

Trump discusses US wiping Iran ‘off the face of the Earth’
Updated 55 min 15 sec ago
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Trump discusses US wiping Iran ‘off the face of the Earth’

Trump discusses US wiping Iran ‘off the face of the Earth’
  • US media reported last week that the US Secret Service had increased security for Trump weeks ago after authorities learned of an Iranian plot to kill him

WASHINGTON: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Thursday invoked the annihilation of US adversary Iran in a social media post reminiscent of his most incendiary outbursts while in the White House.
“If they do ‘assassinate President Trump,’ which is always a possibility, I hope that America obliterates Iran, wipes it off the face of the Earth — If that does not happen, American Leaders will be considered ‘gutless’ cowards!” he wrote on his social media platform, Truth Social.
Trump made the remarks alongside a brief video of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu bringing up alleged Iranian plots against Trump in his address to the US Congress on Wednesday.
US media reported last week that the US Secret Service had increased security for Trump weeks ago after authorities learned of an Iranian plot to kill him, although it was not linked to the recent attempt on his life in which a 20-year-old American fired shots during a campaign rally.
CNN reported that US authorities received intelligence from a “human source” on a plan by Tehran targeting the former president, causing protection to be boosted for Trump. Other US outlets also reported the plot.
But it was not connected to the campaign shooting in Butler, Pennsylvania, in which gunman Thomas Matthew Crooks opened fire, lightly wounding Trump and killing a rally attendee, they said.
Relations between Washington and Iran have long been strained and reached a breaking point as Tehran sought revenge for the 2020 killing of Revolutionary Guards commander Qasem Soleimani, ordered by Trump when he was president.
The US National Security Council said it had been “tracking Iranian threats against former Trump administration officials for years.”
Trump’s post recalled a controversial episode in 2019 when, as president, he threatened the “obliteration” of Iran if the country carried out an attack on “anything American.”
That confrontation came after Iranian officials said the path to diplomacy between the two nations was permanently closed after Trump’s new round of sanctions Monday.
As president, he also threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” although he later became friends with the isolated country’s dictator, Kim Jong Un, and often referred to their “love.”