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Analysis-Sudan’s military leaders could face isolation after coup

By Aidan Lewis

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Analysis-Sudan's military leaders could face isolation after coup
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan attends a news conference during the International Conference in support of Sudan at the Temporary Grand Palais in Paris, France, May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier/Pool//File Photo

By Aidan Lewis

CAIRO (Reuters) – Sudan’s military leadership could face isolation at home and abroad if it tries to tighten its grip after seizing power in the face of opposition from a sophisticated protest movement and from Western states that had invested in a democratic transition, analysts and diplomats say.

Lacking a political base inside Sudan and with uncertain prospects of support from Gulf states and Egypt, the military has begun to draw on loyalists from the regime of former leader Omar al-Bashir, toppled in 2019 after a popular uprising.

The coup on Oct. 25 drew swift condemnation from Western countries including the United States, which had been working closely with the dissolved transitional government to stabilise Sudan after decades of isolation under Bashir.

The general who led the takeover, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, promised to name a government but has yet to do so as mediation efforts involving Sudanese political figures and the United Nations continue against a backdrop of strikes and protests.

Mediation has focused on finding a way for ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to form a new cabinet of technocrats. Hamdok, an economist, is respected by pro-democracy protesters and was permitted to return home under guard a day after the coup.

But Hamdok resisted pressure to dissolve his government before the coup, and since the takeover has indicated he will not negotiate on a future government unless the army commits to fully restoring the military-civilian power sharing system put in place after Bashir fell.

“Burhan doesn’t have a clean path to form a government in the way that he wanted,” said one diplomatic source.

Meanwhile, the military has been appointing figures associated with the Bashir era to positions in the state media and foreign ministry, and moving to take control of key institutions including the judiciary, said activists, analysts and diplomats.

‘ALTERNATIVE FACTS’

If the military rejects compromise, it could run the country on cash flows from gold sales and try create “alternative facts” through its control of state media and through social media campaigns, said Suliman Baldo of The Sentry, an investigative and policy group based in Washington DC.

But it will have to contend with a savvy and resilient pro-democracy street movement that has mobilized repeatedly since start of the uprising against Bashir nearly three years ago.

The protest movement has the stamina to wear down the military through scheduled rounds of disobedience and more mass marches, said Mohamed Alasbat, a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the main activist coalition.

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets on Oct. 21, four days before the coup, to protest against the prospect of a military takeover, and similar numbers returned on Saturday.

A campaign of civil disobedience by a wide range of civilian groups as well as protests and security measures to counter them have brought Khartoum to a near standstill over the past week.

Neighbourhood committees organised Saturday’s demonstrations in greater Khartoum despite an almost total blackout on mobile phone and internet coverage and the closure of strategic sites, bridges and roads by security forces. Activists handed out printed fliers and went door to door to drum up support.

The protest movement “will end up by eroding whatever system he (Burhan) is trying to put in place. This is the real risk for him and that’s why I think he will try to target it very aggressively,” said Baldo.

Foreign states may balk at the unrest this could trigger, and Washington will want to prevent any cross-border spillover, including to conflict-torn Ethiopia, he added. The military takeover has created uncertainty around a partial peace deal that transitional authorities had signed with Sudanese rebel groups last year, with two major armed groups in Darfur and the south rejecting the coup.

AID WITHHELD

The United States has tried to exert pressure by saying it will withhold $700 million in economic assistance and that Sudan will be unable to secure tens of billions of dollars in debt relief as long as the military pursues unilateral control. The World Bank, a key source of development financing whose president visited Khartoum one month ago, has also suspended disbursements.

Internal splits within Sudan’s sprawling military apparatus, which developed its commercial interests under Bashir and includes the powerful, paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, are another risk for the army leadership.

In an indication of possible confusion over its strategy, the former head of Bashir’s ruling party was freed from jail on Sunday only to be rearrested on Monday.

Burhan and his backers “don’t have the capacity or the cohesion among themselves to be able to mount the sort of intensive crackdown that could make it work,” said Alex de Waal, a Sudan expert and head of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University.

Regional powers such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt were no friends of Bashir’s Islamist government. They would appear to have little to gain by backing military rule in Sudan, de Waal said.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE “don’t have deep enough pockets to bail Sudan out of the hole that it’s in, so the real leverage lies with the U.S. and the World bank and others. And the U.S. and Western governments having taken a strong stand, Burhan doesn’t have much to play with.”

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U.S. Capitol riot panel promises new evidence at surprise Tuesday hearing

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A video of former U.S President Donald Trump speaking is shown on a screen during the fifth public hearing of the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S.

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By Richard Cowan and Moira Warburton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A U.S. congressional committee plans to reveal new evidence about the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump’s supporters at a public hearing on Tuesday it hastily announced a mere 24 hours earlier.

The House of Representatives committee, investigating the first attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power in U.S. history, declined to answer questions about who might testify or what evidence would be presented.

Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to then-President Donald Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, is expected to testify, several media outlets reported. Representatives of the panel did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the reports.

The meeting, announced on Monday, is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET (1700 GMT) on Tuesday.

Testimony at five prior hearings has shown how Trump, a Republican, riled thousands of supporters with false claims that he lost the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden because of massive voter fraud.

British filmmaker Alex Holder, who spent time filming Trump and his family in the weeks after the election, has in recent days testified before the committee behind closed doors and shared video of his interviews with Trump and his family, according to media reports.

The committee has said it intends to interview Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, following reports she may have been involved in efforts to stop Biden’s victory certification at the Capitol on Jan. 6. She has said she intended to speak to the panel.

U.S. law enforcement last week raided the home of Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official, who was an enthusiastic supporter of Trump’s false fraud claims.

This month’s hearings featured videotaped testimony from figures including Trump’s oldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his former attorney general, Bill Barr. They and other witnesses testified that they did not believe Trump’s false claims of widespread fraud and tried to dissuade him of them.

Dozens of courts, state election officials and reviews by Trump’s own administration rejected his claims of fraud, some of which included outlandish stories about an Italian security firm or the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez tampering with U.S. ballots.

Trump, who is publicly flirting with another White House run in 2024, has denied wrongdoing and accused the committee of engaging in a political witch hunt. He has leveled harsh criticism particularly at Representative Liz Cheney, one of just two Republicans on the nine-member committee.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll early this month found that about two-thirds of U.S. Republicans believe Trump’s false election fraud claims.

The committee, sometime next month, is expected to hold one or two hearings on possible coordination of the Jan. 6 attack by right-wing extremist groups.

During the assault on the Capitol, thousands of Trump supporters smashed windows, fought with police and sent lawmakers, including Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, fleeing for their lives.

Four people died the day of the attack, one fatally shot by police and the others of natural causes. More than 100 police officers were injured, and one died the next day. Four officers later died by suicide.

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Rescuers dig for survivors after Russian missiles demolish Ukrainian shopping mall

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© Reuters. Rescuers work at a site of a shopping mall hit by a Russian missile strike, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kremenchuk, in Poltava region, Ukraine June 27, 2022. Picture taken June 27, 2022. REUTERS/Anna Voitenko

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By Simon Lewis

KREMENCHUK, Ukraine (Reuters) -Firefighters and soldiers searched on Tuesday for survivors in the rubble of a shopping mall in central Ukraine after a Russian missile strike killed at least 18 people in an attack condemned by the United Nations and the West.

More than 1,000 people were inside when two Russian missiles slammed into the mall in Kremenchuk, about 300 km (200 miles) southeast of the capital Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.

At least 18 people were killed and 25 hospitalised, while about 36 were missing, Poltava region governor Dmytro Lunin said.

Zelenskiy, in an overnight video address, called the attack deliberate, saying it was “a calculated Russian strike exactly onto this shopping centre”.

Russia said the incident was caused by a strike on a legitimate military target. Its defence ministry, quoted by the RIA state news agency, said it had fired missiles at a storage depot for Western weapons in Kremenchuk, and the detonation of stored ammunition there had caused the fire at the nearby mall.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova told Reuters a missile had also struck a nearby factory, but it was closed and not a military target.

“It’s a question about crimes against humanity,” she said. “I think it’s like systematical shelling of civilian infrastructure – with what aim? To scare people, to kill people to make terror in our cities and villages.”

Relatives of the missing lined up at a hotel across the street where rescue workers set up a base after Monday’s strike.

A survivor receiving treatment at Kremenchuk’s public hospital, Ludmyla Mykhailets, 43, said she was shopping with her husband when the blast threw her into the air.

“I flew head first and splinters hit my body. The whole place was collapsing,” she said.

“It was hell,” said her husband, Mykola, 45, blood seeping through a bandage around his head.

At the scene of the blaze on Tuesday morning, exhausted-looking firefighters sat on a kerb. Oleksandr, wetting his face from a water bottle on a bench, said his team had worked all night picking through the rubble.

“We pulled out five bodies. We didn’t find anybody alive,” he said.

Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) major democracies, at a summit in Germany, said the attack was “abominable”.

“Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held to account,” they said in a joint statement.

BATTLE FOR LYSYCHANSK

Russia denies intentionally targetting civilians in its “special military operation” which has destroyed cities, killed thousands of people and driven millions from their homes.

The U.N. Security Council, where Moscow wields a veto, will meet on Tuesday at Ukraine’s request following the attack. U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the missile strike was deplorable.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, Ukraine endured another difficult day following the loss of the now-ruined city of Sievierodonetsk.

Russian artillery pounded Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk’s twin city across the Siverskyi Donets River. Ukraine said the Russians attempted to storm it.

Lysychansk is the last big city held by Ukraine in eastern Luhansk province, a main target for the Kremlin after Russian troops failed to take Kyiv early in the war.

Eight residents including a child were killed and 21 wounded by shelling when they gathered to get drinking water in Lysychansk on Monday, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said.

Ukrainian forces controlled the city but its loss was possible as Russia poured resources into the fight, he added.

“They really want this and a lot of reserves are being thrown just for this…We do not need to lose an army for the sake of one city,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Rodion Miroshnik, the ambassador to Moscow of the separatist Luhansk People’s Republic, said Russian troops and their Luhansk Republic allies were advancing westward into Lysychansk and street battles had erupted around the city stadium.

Fighting was going on in several surrounding villages, and Russian and allied troops had entered the Lysychansk oil refinery where Ukrainian troops were concentrated, Miroshnik said on Telegram.

Russia also shelled the city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine on Monday, hitting apartment buildings and a primary school, the regional governor said.

The shelling killed five people and wounded 22. There were children among the wounded, the governor said.

During their summit in Germany, G7 leaders vowed to stand with Ukraine “for as long as it takes” and tighten the squeeze on Russia’s finances with new sanctions that include a proposal to cap the price of Russian oil.

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Russia expands U.S. sanctions list to include Biden’s wife and daughter

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden disembark from Marine One as they return from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 5, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Tuesday expanded its U.S. ‘stop-list’, including in it the wife and daughter of President Joe Biden as well as other prominent figures.

The step was taken “as a response to the ever-expanding U.S. sanctions against Russian political and public figures,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

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