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Facebook logo is reflected in glasses in this picture illustration
Facebook shuts dozens of Myanmar social media accounts
22 August 2019, 8:16 AM

Facebook Inc said on Thursday it had shut 216 social media pages, groups and accounts in Myanmar, some tied to the army, to stymie efforts to “manipulate or corrupt public debate”.

The company closed 89 Facebook accounts, 107 pages, 15 groups and five Instagram accounts, some of which had hundreds of thousands of followers, it said in a blogpost.

The social media giant has previously removed hundreds of accounts, including that of Myanmar’s army chief, after criticism it had failed to act on hate speech amid violence against Rohingya Muslims in the country.

The people behind the latest deleted Myanmar accounts re-purposed legitimate news and entertainment content and posted about national and local topics, including crime, ethnic relations, celebrities, and the military, it said.

“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found that some of this activity was linked to individuals associated with the Myanmar military.”

In 2017, the military led a crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents, pushing more than 730,000 Rohingya to neighbouring Bangladesh, according to UN agencies.

Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba giving comment to an SANC News reporter.
Mashaba to know his fate as ANC continues with motion of no confidence
22 August 2019, 8:05 AM

Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba will know today if he will continue to be in charge of the city following the results of a motion of no confidence tabled by the African National Congress (ANC).

The ANC says it is confident that it has secured the 136 votes required to unseat Mashaba.

The party accuses Mashaba of being responsible for the poor financial status of the City of Johannesburg since he took over three years ago.

ANC’s regional secretary in Johannesburg Dada Morero maintains that their motion is intended simply to save the City.

Morero says, “We are now experiencing an amount of more than R2 billion in over expenditure, we are now sitting at R2 billion of overdraft at city power which used to be a cash cow of the city. Most issues relate to how the finances of the city have been handled and we believe have a very negative effect which will lead to the city collapsing.”

WATCH

Keurbooms River area at Plettenberg Bay in the Southern Cape.
W Cape installs 300 early drought, flood warning systems
22 August 2019, 6:09 AM

The Department of Water and Sanitation in the Western Cape unveiled an early warning drought and flood system in the Keurbooms River area in Plettenberg Bay in the Southern Cape.

The weir gauge is one of over 300 water measuring points that have been installed throughout the province to manage water resources.

Hydrology division’s Leon Davids says, “Now that we in a drought, we need to know precisely what is the volume of water in the river because certain municipalities take water from the river. We also need to know the amount of water within the river because if we don’t have that information we cannot manage the water resource, that is especially true when it comes to droughts.”

“This region is in a terrible drought, we are concerned with the amount of water within the region – with dam level extremely low,” added Davids.

Sudan's new Prime Minister in the transitional government Abdalla Hamdok, addresses a news conference in Khartoum, Sudan
Sudan’s Hamdok vows to tackle conflicts and economy
22 August 2019, 5:49 AM

Sudan’s new Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, was sworn in on Wednesday as leader of a transitional government, and he vowed to make achieving peace and solving the country’s economic crisis a priority.

The appointment of the renowned economist came as General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the outgoing head of the military council, was sworn in as leader of the new Sovereign Council that will run the country for three years until an election after decades of autocratic rule.

“The revolution’s deep-rooted slogan, ‘freedom, peace and justice,’ will form the program of the transitional period,” Hamdok told reporters at a news conference in the capital Khartoum.

Burhan and other military officers overthrew veteran leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir in April in response to months of protests over economic hardships and dictatorship.

While Sudanese people celebrated Bashir’s fall, they also pressed for a handover of power to civilians during a turbulent period of protests and violence, including a crackdown on a protest camp outside the Defence Ministry that opposition medics say killed more than 100 people in June.

The United States, Britain and Norway welcomed Hamdok’s appointment, calling it a historic moment for Sudan and urged the military to “engage constructively” with the new government.

“The appointment of a civilian-led government presents an opportunity to rebuild a stable economy and create a government that respects human rights and personal freedoms,” the Troika, as the three countries are known, said in a joint statement.

The composition of the 11-member Sovereign Council that will run the country for the transition period, superseding the military council which has been disbanded, was completed on Tuesday, consisting of six civilian and five military figures.

Nine members of the council were sworn in about two hours after Burhan took the oath on Wednesday. The final member, Mohamed al-Hassan al-Taishi, will be sworn in at a later, unspecified date, state news agency SUNA said.

However, some opposition members and analysts expressed concern that the power-sharing deal may fall short of expectations in a country where the military, backed by Islamists, has dominated for decades.

“With the start of the transition period, we have entered the most complex phase, the phase of building and reform,” said Al-Rashed Saeed, spokesperson for the Sudanese Professionals Association, a key part of the Forces for Freedom and Change coalition that negotiated with the military council.

Among the military men sworn in were General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly known as Hemedti, outgoing deputy head of the military council. Hemedti has become a growing political force in Sudan and some analysts say he hopes to become president.

Hemedti heads the Rapid Support Forces, a widely feared paramilitary group that has a heavy presence in Khartoum and stands accused of atrocities against civilians in the Darfur war. Bashir’s government denied the charges.

PM NOMINATION

Civilian representatives on the council are mostly little-known figures, including Rajaa Nicola Abdel Maseeh, a Christian, who was the civilian member jointly chosen by the military and the opposition coalition.

Burhan, dressed in military uniform, was sworn in before the head of the judiciary at the presidential palace in Khartoum. The other members were sworn in before the judiciary head and Burhan in the afternoon.

The Sovereign Council, which held its first meeting shortly after the members’ swearing in, is now the highest authority in the country but will largely delegate executive powers to a Cabinet of ministers led by the prime minister.

The nomination of Hamdok to the role underlines the daunting task of repairing an economy battered by years of US sanctions and government mismanagement during Bashir’s 30-year rule.

A shortage of foreign currency, resulting in a cash crunch and long lines for fuel and bread, triggered the protests that helped push Bashir out.

The dramatic changes in Sudan have evoked memories of the Arab Spring uprisings that swept across many of the region’s countries in 2011.

Those upheavals raised hopes of political and economic reforms in countries such as Egypt, where the army watched patiently from the sidelines and then capitalized on the turmoil to widen its influence in politics.

Egypt’s current president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, led the overthrow of his country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.

Rights activists say Sisi has presided over the country’s worst crackdown on freedoms in its modern history. He has said tough measures are needed to root out terrorism.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attend a news conference at the Chancellery in Berlin
After Germany hints at compromise, France tells UK: no new Brexit deal
22 August 2019, 5:39 AM

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday challenged Britain to come up with alternatives to the Irish border backstop within 30 days, but French President Emmanuel Macron cautioned there would be no renegotiation of the Brexit deal.

More than three years after the United Kingdom voted to quit the European Union, it is still unclear on what terms – or indeed whether – the bloc’s second largest economy will leave the club it joined in 1973.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a Brexiteer who won the premiership a month ago, is betting that the threat of “no-deal” Brexit turmoil will convince Merkel and Macron that the EU should do a last-minute deal to suit his demands.

Speaking beside Merkel at the German Chancellery, Johnson repeatedly said that the Irish border backstop – which is a protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement struck by his predecessor Theresa May – needed to be removed in full.

“It was said we will probably find a solution in two years. But we could also find one in the next 30 days, why not?” Merkel, Europe’s most powerful leader, said.

Johnson confirmed that she had given him 30 days to come up with alternatives and said there was ample scope for a deal. The two leaders had a constructive dinner of tuna, venison and chocolate tart, a British source said.

But just an hour after Merkel spoke, Macron said the demands made by Johnson for a renegotiation of the divorce deal, including the removal of the Irish backstop, were not workable as they currently stood. Johnson is due to meet Macron in Paris on Thursday.

Asked about the distance between the positions of London and the other 27 members of the EU, Johnson said: “If we approach this with sufficient patience and optimism, we can get this done. It’s in the final furlong generally when the horses change places and the winning deal appears.”

NO-DEAL BREXIT?

But with just over 10 weeks left until the scheduled departure, the EU has repeatedly said it will not renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement and that it will stand behind member state Ireland.

As Johnson arrived, protesters outside the Chancellery gates shouted “Stop Brexit”. Johnson and Merkel smiled and they joked about the British premier’s German language skills.

Merkel has previously promised to discuss “practical solutions” to the Irish border insurance policy or “backstop” that Johnson says is unacceptable – but she has said the Withdrawal Agreement would not be reopened.

The German leader has suggested solving the Irish border riddle as part of the declaration on post-Brexit ties – a possible way to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

But France now believes no-deal Brexit is now the most likely Brexit scenario, said an official in Macron’s office who cautioned that Berlin and Paris were united.

“Have no doubt that the French and German positions — and elsewhere — are the same. There’s not the thickness of a cigarette paper between us,” the French official said.

Once the nightmare scenario on the extreme edge of probability ranges, a ‘no-deal’ Brexit is now seen as a realistic possibility by both governments and investors.

Amid the political turmoil in London, little is clear. The alternatives are a delay, a last-minute deal, an election or even cancelling Brexit.

TRUMP AND MACRON

In Washington, US President Donald Trump, who has been enthusiastic about Brexit but critical of May’s negotiating strategy, offered Britain help while criticizing the EU.

“They have not treated the UK very well,” he said. “That’s a very tough bargain they are driving, the European Union. We are going to see if we can work something out.”

But Macron said a no-deal Brexit would be of Britain’s own making, adding that any trade deal London cut with Washington would not mitigate the cost of crashing out of the bloc.

“Can (the cost of a hard Brexit) be offset by the United States of America? No. And even if it were a strategic choice, it would be at the cost of an historic vassalisation of Britain,” Macron said.

Wrenching Britain out of the EU without a deal means there would be no arrangements to cover everything from post-Brexit pet passports to the trade arteries that pump capital, food and car parts between the two neighbours.

Many investors say a no-deal Brexit would send shock waves through the world economy, hurt the economies of Britain and the EU, roil financial markets and weaken London’s position as the pre-eminent international financial centre.

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