Kenya’s Ice Hockey Team Determined to Qualify for 2022 Winter Olympics

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Kenya’s only ice hockey team is still trying to earn a bid for the 2022 winter Olympics, being held in Beijing. In a two-day friendly event held in Nairobi last weekend, the team qualified for the finals but fell to team USA in a nail biter.

 In eastern Africa’s only ice rink – Kenya’s only ice hockey team, the Ice Lions, took on their first opponents in a home tournament. Team member Hassan Ali Shah says the Ice Lions got off to a great start even though the matches didn’t count.

“It’s a great feeling, especially for Team Kenya, since this is our first game we are hosting here in Kenya,” Shah said.

The team has come of age since the beginning of last year when it was created. Eric Landberg, who represented the European diplomats’ team has this assessment of its growth.

“It’s a young team but it’s already playing an excellent game and I must say that I have been very impressed by the development lately.  I had a chance to play them before and I think they are developing all the time and they are already now a very good team, I like their team spirit it’s really good,” Landberg said.

There is no ice hockey league in the country so Team Kenya plays challengers made up of Western diplomats. It is these friendly tournaments with foreign teams the Ice Lions use to prepare for the 2022 Winter Olympics, which they hope to qualify for. Kenya sees the game as a way to market itself as an ice hockey destination. 

South Africa is ranked number one on the continent among the six African countries that play hockey. On the last day of the tournament, Team Kenya fell 10 to nine to Team USA. 

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Death of Father, Daughter at US Border Bring Attention to Migrant Frustration

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A father and daughter from El Salvador were found dead Monday after they tried to cross the Rio Grande River from Mexico into the United States.

A photo of their bodies published first by the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, has become widely circulated by news organizations and on social media, boosting attention on the circumstances of migrants who face long wait times for adjudication of asylum cases at the border.

It also sparked debate about whether it is appropriate to share such sensitive images.

According to reports from La Jornada and the Associated Press, Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez was frustrated and tired of waiting for an opportunity to request U.S. asylum and made the decision Sunday night to try to cross the river with his wife and daughter.

Ramirez was able to get the 23-month-old girl to the other side of the river, but when he went back across to help his wife, the girl went into the water. He tried to save her but both were swept away by the river’s strong currents.

El Salvador’s Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill said the government was working to help the family, and she cautioned other migrants to not risk their lives as they travel.

U.S. authorities reported 283 migrant deaths last year.

U.S. Border Patrol said Tuesday its agents had rescued a father and small child from Honduras who were struggling in the same river farther to the west.

Guatemala’s government also confirmed Tuesday that a mother and three children found dead in southern Texas from dehydration and exposure to high temperatures after also crossing the Rio Grand are Guatemalan nationals.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is trying to reduce the number of migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border, many of them from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, including discussing with Guatemala an agreement that would require migrants to apply for asylum there instead of traveling on to the United States.

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Brazil President Backtracks on Looser Gun Restrictions as Lawmakers Resist

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday reversed a move to loosen gun control laws by presidential decree, in a strategic retreat after lawmakers pushed back on one of the far-right leader’s key campaign promises.

In May, Bolsonaro signed decrees easing restrictions on importing and carrying guns and buying ammunition, which needed congressional approval to become permanent law. After the Senate rejected a decree last week, Bolsonaro decided on Tuesday to revoke it and reconsider his strategy.

The former army captain vowed last year to crack down on crime and ease access to guns, rolling back decades of arms control efforts as many Brazilians clamored for a dramatic response to rising violent crime.

Bolsonaro’s reversal on Tuesday, published in a late edition of the government’s official gazette, contradicted comments made just hours earlier by his spokesman Otávio Rêgo Barros that the
president would not revoke the guns decree.

Bolsonaro also sent a new bill to Congress on Tuesday that aims to loosen restrictions on the possession of arms in rural areas, Senate President Davi Alcolumbre wrote on his Twitter
account.

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Trump to Hold at Least 8 Bilateral Side Meetings at G-20

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Just a month after a state visit to Japan, U.S. President Donald Trump this week heads to the East Asian country again.
 
In Osaka, Trump will attend the Group of 20 leaders’ summit, during which he is scheduled to meet one-on-one on the sidelines with such fellow world leaders as Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
 
“The president is quite comfortable his position going into the meeting” with Xi following the breakdown of U.S.-China trade talks and increased tariffs on Beijing by Washington, a senior administration official told reporters on Monday.  
 
U.S. officials say there is no fixed agenda for Trump’s meeting with Putin although they acknowledge issues involving Iran, Ukraine, the Middle East and Venezuela are almost certain to be discussed.
 
US-Iran

Casting a pall over the G-20 discussions will be nervousness about the deteriorating situation between Washington and Tehran. Leaders in both capitals have been reiterating they want to avoid war but have also repeatedly stated they will not hesitate to defend their interests if provoked.

Trump is to reiterate to his fellow leaders at the G-20 that the United States intends to continue to increase economic pressure on Iran, which finds itself under escalating U.S. sanctions, and eliminate all of the country’s petroleum exports.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga (C) inspects the G-20 leaders summit meeting venue, INTEX Osaka, in Osaka, Japan, June 22, 2019.

“I don’t think Iran is a distraction,” according to James Jay Carafano, vice president of the Heritage Foundation’s national security and foreign policy institute. “I think that’s under control. Trump should strive for a no drama G-20.”  

The G-20 itself no longer has the significance it did after the group’s first several summits late in the previous decade when it cooperated to avert a meltdown of the global economy.
 
Trump prefers bilateral discussions and agreements over multinational events. Administration officials, however, are attempting to counter the notion that they no longer see these types of meetings as vital, pointing to U.S. leadership on advancing 21st century economic issues
 
“We believe that G-20 economies need to work together to advance open, fair and market-based digital policies, including the free flow of data,” a senior administration told reporters Monday on a conference call, also stressing promotion of women’s economic empowerment.
 
Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and a White House adviser, is to give a keynote address on the latter topic at a G-20 side event in Osaka.
 
G-20 host Shinzo Abe, as prime minister of Japan, and many European participants are trying to maintain the international system and its principles.
 
“This is where the absence of the U.S. is really harming it,” says Heather Conley, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and director of its Europe program. “We’re seeing the slow death of multilateralism in many respects. It’s a death by a thousand cuts.”
 
While the U.S. pulls back from such groups, the world is witnessing “the Chinese using international organizations so effectively to shape agendas,” Conley, a former deputy assistant secretary of state, said.  
 
Trump-Xi meetings

Some analysts expect the Trump-Xi meeting in Osaka to be a repeat of their previous dinner last year in Buenos Aires, when the two leaders agreed to trade talks and tasked their trade ministers with reaching a deal within 90 days.

FILE – U.S. President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping meet business leaders at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Nov. 9, 2017.

 “I think that that is the most likely outcome, that they’re going to reach some sort of accommodation, a truce like that and push this forward,” predicts Matthew Goodman, a CSIS senior vice president and senior adviser for Asian economics.  
 
“It’s not going to solve the immediate problems,” contends Goodman, who previously served as director for international economics on the National Security Council staff, helping then-President Barack Obama prepare for G-20 and G-8 summits. “Even if we get a deal, it’s unlikely to solve some of the deep structural differences between us in the role of the state in the economy, the governance of technology and data.”
 
Much attention will also be on the Trump-Putin encounter.
 
“Whenever President Trump and President Putin meet there is a very strong (U.S.) domestic backlash after that meeting,” notes Conley. “In part, it’s because there’s a total lack of transparency about the topics of discussion and what the agenda is, and I think the president would have a better policy approach domestically if, again, there was clarity of what the agenda would be, that there would be people participating in that meeting – secretary of state, national security adviser and others.”  
 
Trump is also scheduled to hold talks in Osaka with leaders from Australia, Germany, India, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
 
From Japan, Trump flies to Seoul, where he will be hosted by South Korean President Moon Jae-in to discuss how to further ease tensions with North Korea.
 
White House officials brush off speculation Trump could meet on the Korean peninsula with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which would be their third encounter after summits in Singapore and Hanoi. And U.S. officials are not commenting on a possible presidential visit to the Demilitarized Zone, which separates the two Koreas.

There is little pressure on Trump to make any breakthroughs during his visit to Japan and South Korea, according to Carafano.

“I think the U.S. in the driver’s seat with regards to both North Korea and China negotiations,” Carafano tells VOA. “If they come to the table now, fine. If not, fine. Trump can wait until after the 2020 election.”

 

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US Convenes Economic Peace Conference in Bahrain

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The United States is convening an economic workshop in the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain Tuesday aimed at jumpstarting the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. America’s Middle East allies are attending but the key players are not there.   

The “Peace to Prosperity” conference was initiated by U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and Mideast envoy, Jared Kushner. The aim is to revive the peace process with economic incentives, while putting aside the thorny political issues until later.

The plan offers $27 billion in aid to the Palestinians, most of which would be financed by wealthy Arab states led by Saudi Arabia. Some $23 billion would be earmarked for poorer Arab states bordering Israel, namely, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

The Palestinian Authority is boycotting the workshop, declaring that the plan is a whitewash and dead on arrival.

“I have not seen in the document any reference to [Jewish] settlements,” said  Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. “We have not seen in the document any reference to ending [the Israeli] occupation. This workshop is simply a political laundry for settlements and a legitimization of occupation.”

Israel is not attending the conference either, because of Arab opposition to normalizing relations before the Palestinian problem is resolved. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is prepared to give the peace plan a chance.

“We’ll hear the American proposition, hear it fairly and with openness; and I cannot understand how the Palestinians, before they even heard the plan, reject it outright. That’s not the way to proceed,” said Netanyahu.

Kushner decided on a new approach after previous U.S. administrations tried and failed to resolve the thorniest issues of the conflict: borders, Palestinian refugees, Jewish settlements and the status of Jerusalem. The Trump administration believes economic prosperity will benefit the entire region and curb extremism, but the Palestinians say they cannot be bought and that their homeland is not for sale.

 

 

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Britain Sharpens Tone Towards Iran

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Britain appears to be moving closer to U.S. President Donald Trump’s position on Iran and hardening its attitude towards Tehran — the result, diplomats say, partly of talks during the American leader’s recent visit to London, but also because of aggressive Iranian actions.

U.S. officials say they’ve been cheered by the stiffening of Britain’s public rhetoric in support of Trump in the precarious standoff with Tehran.

They contrast that with British criticism of Trump’s decision last year to pull out of a 2015 deal, co-signed by his predecessor Barack Obama, in which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.  President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement, citing concerns that Tehran had done nothing to curb expansionist behavior in the region and was still determined to eventually build nuclear weapons.

British officials had also bristled at Trump’s reimposition of sanctions on Iran and had been searching with other European powers ways to circumvent the U.S. sanctions so they wouldn’t impact European businesses.

Britain is still calling for a “de-escalation” in the Persian Gulf, but has been more forthright than France or Germany in condemning Iran for aggression in the Strait of Hormuz, including mining tankers and downing a U.S. drone — as well as for Tehran’s threats to step up nuclear activities and to breach the cap on uranium stockpile limits set by the 2015 accord.

Britain’s foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said Monday he was worried an accidental war could be triggered, adding, “we are doing everything we can to ratchet things down.”

Hunt said Britain is closely in touch with the United States over the “very dangerous situation in the Gulf” and is “doing everything we can to de-escalate.”

But he did not rule out the possibility Britain would consider a request for military support from its “strongest ally,” and would consider backing the U.S. in the Gulf “on a case-by-case basis.” That might include greater British support in protecting shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.

FILE – An oil tanker is seen burning in the sea of Oman, June 13, 2019. Two oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz were recently attacked, with the U.S. blaming Iran.

Britain blames Iran for strains

And Hunt put the onus on Iran for the dramatic rise in tension.

“We do strongly believe that the solution is for Iran to stop its destabilizing activity throughout the Middle East and we are very concerned about the sabotaging of tankers that has happened recently, which is almost certainly Iran,” he said.

Concern about a potential armed confrontation between the U.S. and Iran has mounted since Washington blamed Tehran for mine attacks on a pair of oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic sea passage between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

Tehran denies it mined any ships.

Last week, Trump said he had canceled a retaliatory airstrike against several Iranian targets, including anti-aircraft missile batteries, for the downing of a U.S. drone, on the grounds that it would have been disproportionate because of the loss of life it would entail.

But according to U.S. news accounts, Trump approved cyber-warfare disruption of Iranian intelligence computer systems used to control missile and rocket launches.

The U.S. president has been criticized in Washington by some in his own party as well as Democratic Party foes for ordering a retaliatory airstrike and then calling it off. Hawks in his own party fear the about-turn makes him look like a “paper tiger;” Democrats says it demonstrates confusion and “strategic incoherence.”

But Trump’s restraint appears to have calmed British fears of the president being reckless, with some officials saying it demonstrates his determination to calibrate his responses. Trump has said he wants to force the Iranians to return to negotiations in order to hammer out a better and more sustainable nuclear deal, in which the Iranians agree to curtail expansionist activity in the region.

“We certainly don’t want to give the Iranians any encouragement or make them think that their threats or aggression will drive a wedge between us and Washington,” a senior British diplomat told VOA.

“Tehran is calculating that it can use brinkmanship to isolate Trump and to get the Europeans en masse on side against Washington, hoping to weaken the American sanctions regime. We need to set them straight. One can dispute whether the U.S. should have withdrawn from the nuclear treaty in the first place, but we are where are,” he added.

The change in Britain’s tone appears to have been noted in Tehran. On Sunday, officials there said they were disappointed in the talks they held with a junior British foreign minister, Andrew Murrison, describing the discussions as “disappointing and repetitive.”

Speaking in the Iranian capital, Murrison said Iran “almost certainly bears responsibility for” the mining, but added, “I was clear that the UK will continue to play its full part alongside international partners to find diplomatic solutions to reduce the current tensions.”

Britain also signed on to a joint statement Monday with the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates expressing “their concern over escalating tensions in the region and the dangers posed by Iranian destabilizing activity to peace and security both in Yemen and the broader region.”

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Trump Says He Sent North Korean Leader ‘Very Friendly Letter’

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U.S. President Donald Trump says the letter he sent North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was a “very friendly” response to a letter he received from Kim earlier this month wishing him a happy birthday.

Trump told reporters at the White House Monday that Kim “actually sent me birthday wishes and it was a friendly letter.” Trump turned 73 on June 14.

The comments come a day after North Korean state media quoted Kim as saying he had received a letter of “excellent content” from Trump.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement overnight that “correspondence between the two leaders has been ongoing.”

The exchange of letters comes as talks between the United States and North Korea remain stalled over North Korea’s nuclear program. The two countries ended their second summit in February without an agreement on what the North would be willing to give up in exchange for sanctions relief.

Despite the stalemate, Trump has continued to maintain that he has a good relationship with Kim.

Trump leaves on Wednesday for a trip to Asia that will include a stop in South Korea.

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New US Sanctions Target Iran’s Supreme Leader

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U.S. President Donald Trump imposed what he described as “hard-hitting” new financial sanctions on Iran on Monday, specifically targeting the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Trump signed an executive order he said would curb access that Khamenei and the country have to world financial markets. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the action would “literally” lock up “tens and tens of billions of dollars” of Iranian assets.

The U.S. leader called his order a “strong and proportionate” American response to Tehran’s shoot-down last week of an unmanned U.S. drone, which Washington says occurred in international airspace near the Strait of Hormuz and Iran claims occurred over its airspace.

Drone incident

Trump at the last minute last Thursday rejected a military response to the downing of the drone upon learning that about 150 Iranians would be killed in a U.S. attack. In announcing the new sanctions, he said “I think a lot of restraint has been shown by us, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to show it in the future. But we’ll give it a chance.”

Trump said he imposed the sanctions because of a series of “belligerent acts” carried out by Iran, which U.S. officials say include Iran’s targeting of Norwegian and Japanese ships traversing the Strait of Hormuz with mine explosions days before the attack on the drone.

The executive order is aimed at pushing Tehran back to one-on-one talks with the U.S. over its nuclear weapons program after Trump last year withdrew from the 2015 international pact restraining Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Trump called the international deal negotiated by his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, “a disaster.”

“We’d love to be able to negotiate a deal,” Trump said.

But he declared, “Never can Iran have a nuclear weapon,” adding, “They sponsor terrorism like no one’s seen before.”

He said, “I look forward to the day when sanctions can be lifted and Iran can be a peace-loving nation. The people of Iran are great people.”

‘Highly effective’

Mnuchin said earlier sanctions imposed when Trump pulled out of the international agreement have been “highly effective in locking up the Iranian economy. We follow the money and it’s highly effective.”

“Locking up the money worked last time and they’ll work this time,” Mnuchin said. The Treasury chief said the U.S. could target Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, one of Tehran’s best known figures on the world stage, with sanctions in the coming days.

He said some of the sanctions Trump imposed Monday had been “in the works” before the drone was shot down, and some were being imposed because of the attack on the drone.

The Treasury Department headed by Mnuchin said that in addition to Khamenei, the U.S. sanctions also targeted eight senior commanders in the Iranian military and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. It said that any foreign financial institution that engages in a “significant financial transaction” with the Iranians targeted by the sanctions could be cut off from U.S. financial deals.

Coalition to counter Iran

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the new sanctions as “significant” as he left Washington on Sunday for a trip to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to continue the Trump administration’s effort to build a coalition of allies to counter Iran.  Pompeo met Monday with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“The world should know,” Pompeo said, “that we will continue to make sure it’s understood that this effort that we’ve engaged in to deny Iran the resources to foment terror, to build out their nuclear weapon system, to build out their missile program, we are going to deny them the resources they need to do that thereby keeping American interests and American people safe all around the world.”

Iran has defended its missile work as legal and necessary for its defense. Tehran has sought support from the remaining signatories to the 2015 agreement to provide the economic relief it wants, especially with its key oil exports as the U.S. has tightened sanctions in an attempt to cut off Iranian oil shipments.

Trump said in a series of tweets Saturday about the sanctions that he looks forward to the day when “sanctions come off Iran, and they become a productive and prosperous national again — The sooner the better!”

Iran cannot have Nuclear Weapons! Under the terrible Obama plan, they would have been on their way to Nuclear in a short number of years, and existing verification is not acceptable. We are putting major additional Sanctions on Iran on Monday. I look forward to the day that…..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2019

….Sanctions come off Iran, and they become a productive and prosperous nation again – The sooner the better!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2019

He also said in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press that he is “not looking for war” with Iran and is willing to negotiate with its leaders without preconditions.

 

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Sudan’s Protesters Accept Roadmap for Civilian Rule

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Sudan’s protest movement accepted an Ethiopian roadmap for a civilian-led transitional government, a spokesman said on Sunday, after a months-long standoff with the country’s military rulers — who did not immediately commit to the plan.

Ethiopia has led diplomatic efforts to bring the protest and military leaders back to the negotiating table, after a crackdown against the pro-democracy movement led to a collapse in talks. According to protest organizers, security forces killed at least 128 people across the country, after they violently dispersed the sit-in demonstration outside the military’s headquarters in the capital, Khartoum, earlier this month. Authorities have offered a lower death toll of 61, including three from the security forces.

Yet it appeared that protest leaders, represented by the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, were open to the Ethiopian initiative as a way out of the political impasse.

Ahmed Rabie, a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals’ Association which is part of the FDFC, told The Associated Press that the proposal included a leadership council with eight civilian and seven military members, with a rotating chairmanship. All the civilians would come from the FDFC, except for one independent and “neutral” appointee, he said.

According to a copy of the proposal obtained by the AP, the military would chair the council in the first 18 months, and the FDFC the second half of the transition.

Rabie said that the roadmap would build on previous agreements with the military. These include a three-year transition period, a protester-appointed Cabinet and a FDFC-majority legislative body.

Rabie added that protest leaders would also discuss with the Ethiopian envoy, Mahmoud Dirir, the possibility of establishing an “independent” Sudanese investigation. Previously, the FDFC had said it would only resume talks with the military if it agreed to the formation of an international commission to investigate the killings of protesters.

The ruling military council has so far rejected the idea of an international probe, and says it has started its own investigation, in parallel with that of the state prosecutor.

The FDCF said Saturday said their approval of the Ethiopian plan “pushes all the parties to bear their responsibilities” to find a peaceful solution.

It urged the military council to accept the plan “in order to move the situation in Sudan” forward.

At a press conference at the Ethiopian embassy, the FDFC said it was demanding trust-building measures from the military. These included concerns about the investigation into violence, restoring severed internet connectivity, and ordering the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces — widely blamed for attacks against protesters — back to their barracks.

The spokesman for the military council, Gen. Shams Eddin Kabashi, confirmed at a news conference that the council had received a proposal from the Ethiopian envoy, and another one from the African Union envoy to Sudan, Mohamed El Hacen Lebatt.

“The council asked for a combined initiative to study and discuss the details,” Kabashi said. This joint proposal should be received by Monday, he said.

Kabashi also defended Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, saying that both countries, along with Egypt, “have provided unconditional support” to the Sudanese people.

Egypt has voiced its support for the military council, pressing the African Union not to suspend Sudan’s activities in the regional block. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have pledged $3 billion in aid to shore up its economy.

Sudanese activists fear that the three countries are pushing the military to cling to power rather than help with democratic change, given that the three Arab states are ruled by autocrats who have clamped down political freedoms in their own countries.

A member of the military council, Yasser al-Atta, suggested that it had doubts about the protest leaders ability to govern.

He addressed protest leaders saying that “you should include other political forces” or it would be difficult to rule.

“We want them to rule and lead the transitional period, but can this be done?” He added.

Meanwhile, the head of the military council, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, said on Sunday he canceled a decree demanding that the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur hand over its premises as part of its withdrawal.

Burhan also issued a new decree that says the U.N. facilities when handed over are to be used for civilian purposes in Darfur.

The target for ending the U.N. mission is June 30, 2020.

 

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