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Zidane admits Real’s vulnerability before ‘Clasico’
29 February 2020, 4:47 PM

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has said his side are in a delicate situation as they prepare to host arch-rivals Barcelona in a La Liga title showdown on Sunday amid a downward spiral of results which has left their season in limbo.

Zidane’s side held a three-point lead over Barca at the top of the table two weeks ago but defeat by the Catalans would leave them five points behind them with 12 games remaining.

What looked to be a highly promising campaign has unravelled with a run of only one win in their last five games, in which Real have dropped points against Levante and Celta Vigo and been knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Real Sociedad.

Their hopes of remaining in the Champions League are hanging by a thread after Wednesday’s last-16 first leg against Manchester City in which they conceded two late goals to lose 2-1 at home.

“This is a delicate time for us because we have not won the last three games in our stadium, but we know things like this can happen and we have to keep a positive mindset,” Zidane told a news conference ahead of Sunday’s ‘Clasico’.

“We will only come out of this situation by staying strong and by not listening to what people say about us.

“We will need our fans on our side from the first to last minute. I can understand why our fans are upset but we need them and they need us and at the very least we will give everything on the pitch.”

Real are without injured forwards Marco Asensio and Eden Hazard plus the suspended Rodrygo but French defender Ferland Mendy will return after he was rested in last week’s loss to Levante to ensure he would not be suspended against Barca.

This is the second moment of reckoning for Zidane this season after a heavy defeat by Paris St Germain in September and a loss to Mallorca in October left him fighting for his job.

The team responded by tightening up their defence and going on an unbeaten run of 21 matches, although Zidane warned last month that it would only take a couple of bad results for him to be back in the firing line.

“I said if we lost two games I would get criticised and that is what is happening. All I can do is keep fighting with my players,” he added.

“My players are the best around and we’re going to try and turn things around. It’s a delicate situation but we’re going to try and win something.”

Explainer: Through the Brexit looking glass – What changes and what stays the same?
31 January 2020, 5:00 AM

Brexit is the United Kingdom’s biggest geopolitical move in decades. What will change and what will stay the same when Britain officially leaves the European Union on Friday at 2300 GMT?



While the United Kingdom remains a member in all but name, it loses its vote in the meetings in Brussels that ultimately decide EU policy on matters ranging from financial services to the definition of a European-made car.

The United Kingdom accounts for about 15% of the EU’s economy and is its biggest military spender, and the City of London is the world’s international financial capital. But the United Kingdom’s economy is worth about $2.7 trillion economy, so is much smaller than the EU’s current $18.3 trillion economy.

Brussels will try to discern exactly how Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to overhaul the United Kingdom: will he try to build a competitor just outside the EU by turbo-charging the economy and the City of London?



British and EU citizens will continue to have the right to live and work in each other’s countries until the end of the year because both sides agreed a transition period which preserves membership in all but name until 2021.

The British government has told the estimated 3.5 million EU citizens living in Britain that they have until at least the end of the December to register to retain their rights.

Johnson has said he will introduce an Australian points-based immigration system after Brexit, which he says would allow talented people into the country while barring entry to low-skilled workers.

Companies and customs


The regulatory environment for companies won’t change following Brexit because of the transition period.

After the end of the transition deal, UK customs will apply for goods coming from third countries to Northern Ireland only. For goods deemed to be headed for the EU market, UK authorities will collect EU tariffs.

There will be no customs checks on the island of Ireland — they will be done in ports. UK authorities will be in charge of applying the EU customs rules in Northern Ireland.



As soon as the United Kingdom formally leaves the EU on January 31, it can start negotiating trade deals with other countries.

The European Union, which accounts for about half of the United Kingdom’s trade, and the United States are the government’s top targets for securing new trade deals.

A sticking point in US talks will be a British proposal for a unilateral digital services tax, despite a US threat to levy retaliatory tariffs on British-made autos.



There will in effect be no change for Britain’s vast financial services industry dealing with customers in the EU for the next 11 months because of the transition period.

All EU financial rules will still be applicable in Britain until the end of December. Banks, asset managers and insurers in Britain will continue to have full, unfettered access to investors in the bloc during that period.

Algerian protests blunted without a shot fired in anger
30 January 2020, 5:02 PM

While uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East have been quelled by deadly force, Algerian authorities are on the way to becalming a powerful protest movement without a shot fired – at least for now.

Thousands still march, but protests are smaller than those that toppled the veteran president last year. Some prominent figures say the opposition should accept an offer of dialogue from the government.

These changes suggest the secretive authorities, known to Algerians as le pouvoir – “the powers that be” – may have outmaneuvered the biggest threat to their rule in decades.

Their strategy has been to place new faces at the top of government, while playing for time and proposing talks. The approach seems to be wearing down the opposition.

“I did not go to the protests on the past two Fridays,” said Hamdadou, 51, a telecoms worker who had attended most previous marches and asked to keep his family name unpublished.

“I think we have done the maximum to push toward change. Let’s cross our fingers and see what happens.”

Protesters say the marches have diminished since last month’s election of a new president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, seen by the leaderless opposition as an establishment stalwart.

The protests began nearly a year ago, flooding cities with national flags and placards, demanding a removal of the ruling elite, an end to graft and the army’s withdrawal from politics.

Le pouvoir jettisoned President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, threw some top officials into prison on corruption charges and let the protests continue, publicly hailing them as a patriotic renewal while detaining dozens of marchers and prominent dissidents.

Their strategy – pushed by the powerful army chief Ahmed Gaed Salah – was to use December’s election to restore legitimacy to a system that would remain essentially unchanged.

Tebboune was elected on an official turnout of 40%, though many protesters believe even that figure was inflated, and immediately freed many prisoners and offered dialogue with the protesters and reform of the constitution.

Gaed Salah then died suddenly of a heart attack in late December, meaning Algeria now has a new president, government and army chief and that all the most prominent figures associated with le pouvoir have been replaced.

Some politicians who embraced the protest movement, known as “hirak”, say their struggle should now move from the street to the negotiating table, arguing that further reforms can only be achieved through dialogue.

“It is the time for politics now. Hirak would continue to be a means of pressure, but only politicians can talk with the regime to push forward demands including a change of the system,” said Soufiane Djilali, an opposition leader.

For the remaining protesters that viewpoint is anathema.

Maasum, a student at the Algiers Bab Ezouar university of technology, who gave only his first name, acknowledged during last Friday’s protest that there were fewer demonstrators, but said he remained committed to bigger change.

“How can you talk with a president we do not recognize?” he said. “We said they must all go. So no dialogue until they all go.”

Djilali was one of several opposition figures including Mouloud Hamrouche, Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi, Abdelaziz Rahabi and Ahmed Benbitour to meet Tebboune, a former prime minister under Bouteflika, drawing ire from Maasum and other street protesters.

No set leadership

Few would deny the scope of the hirak’s achievements so far. In a region where leaders have often used extreme violence to suppress public dissent, it has brought down a president, Bouteflika, who was entrenched for 20 years, without a gunshot.

Bouteflika’s brother and de facto regent during his illness, as well as the once all-powerful intelligence chief Mohamed “Toufik” Mediene, have been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

“Many believe that the hirak fulfilled its mission by sacking Bouteflika and cleaning the country of its corrupt leaders,” said Algerian political analyst Farid Ferrahi.

Even in the Kabyle region outside Algiers, a stronghold of the hirak, “life is almost back to normal,” said Said Mezouane, a resident of the village of Haizer.

But the thousands – down from hundreds of thousands last spring and tens of thousands before December’s election – who still protest believe there has been only cosmetic change.

Since the hirak has no leadership, official organization or commonly agreed plans for effecting change, however, there is no clear mechanism by which it can agree on a way forward.

Novelist Kamel Daoud, a fierce critic of the authorities, wrote: “Has the regime won? Yes, temporarily. It is also true to conclude that the protest has temporarily been lost”.

However, Algeria faces a hard economic year with falling energy revenue eating deep into its budget and a planned public spending cut of 9% this year – meaning the government may find it hard to win enduring public support.

Protesters in central Algiers seem unwilling to compromise.

“Morale is high. We will continue our struggle… we want the opposition to unite and push the regime to the exit,” said Dahmani, 25, a student at Dely Brahim university.

SAA flights operating normally, despite bailout delays
20 January 2020, 2:21 PM

South African Airways (SAA) says its flights to all destinations are operating normally, after talks on a bailout plan for the state carrier ended without a solution at the weekend.

Government officials are scrambling to work out how they can provide R2 billion of funds it has promised SAA when the airline was placed under voluntary business rescue last month.

The airline’s business rescue practitioners held talks with government at the weekend to try to find a solution to SAA’s funding gap.

Last week, unions said SAA might suspend some flights and delay salary payments if government didn’t come up with a plan to provide the money soon.

Meanwhile on Sunday, the Public Enterprises Department said it was talking to the National Treasury to raise funds for SAA.

The airline is one of several South African state entities, including power company Eskom, that is mired in a financial crisis after nearly a decade of mismanagement.

State companies’ financial problems are seen as the single greatest threat to South Africa’s economy and have been largely responsible for pushing the country’s credit rating down to the brink of junk status.

Palace held by 10-man Arsenal as Aubameyang sees red
11 January 2020, 6:18 PM

Crystal Palace were held to a 1-1 draw by 10-man Arsenal in the Premier League on Saturday as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fired the visitors ahead and was sent off after Jordan Ayew scored a fortuitous equaliser for the home side.

Aubameyang struck in the 12th minute, steering a low shot past goalkeeper Vicente Guaita after he was put through by Alexandre Lacazette, with Arsenal dominating an uneventful first half at Selhurst Park.

Ayew levelled in the 54th minute with a heavily deflected shot which left keeper Bernd Leno stranded after it came off defender David Luiz, as the visitors failed to clear a tame-looking low cross from the right.

Aubameyang was shown a straight red card midway through the second half after a VAR check, following a rash tackle on Max Meyer which forced the Palace forward to limp off injured.

Palace, who gained the upper hand in the closing stages with their numerical advantage, missed their best chance to grab a winner when Sokratis Papastathopoulos cleared a James Tomkins header off the line in the 78th minute.

They were let of the hook three minutes later at the other end as Guaita tipped Nicolas Pepe’s fierce low shot on to the post and then smothered Lacazette’s close-range follow up.



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