France says welcomes Bouteflika decision not to seek fifth term in Algeria

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday he welcomed Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s announcement that he would not seek a fifth term, after week of mass demonstrations against his rule.

Tens of thousands of people have been demonstrating almost daily against Bouteflika’s decision to stand in the election, rejecting a political system dominated by veterans of an independence war against France that ended in 1962.

Le Drian said in a statement he also welcomed Bouteflika’s decision to “take measures to renew Algeria’s political system”.

“Following large demonstrations, that took place peacefully and in a dignified manner across Algeria, France expresses its hope that a new dynamic that responds to the aspirations of the Algerian people can get under way quickly,” he said.

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Spanish PM to announce snap election soon after budget vote: sources

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s minority Socialist government expects to lose a key budget vote on Wednesday and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez plans to announce an early general election soon after, government sources told Reuters on Tuesday.

The sources said the snap election date had not been set, but added that April 14 was most likely followed by April 28, because Sanchez wants a ballot as soon as possible to mobilize left-leaning voters against the threat of the right coming to power.

The budget vote depends largely on pro-independence Catalan parties, who have so far said they would oppose it.

They have called for, among other things, Catalonia’s right to self-determination, prohibited by the Spanish constitution, in exchange for their support for the draft budget.

But parties can theoretically change their mind until the last minute.

“The idea is to announce we’re calling elections as soon as possible once the (vote on) the state’s general budget is lost,” one source told Reuters, as lawmakers were debating the budget proposal ahead of Wednesday’s preliminary vote.

Another senior government source confirmed this, saying: “It is likely, as soon as the voting (on the budget) ends.”

The source did not say when Sanchez would announce the snap election.

His Socialists hold less than a quarter of the seats in the lower house, and speculation about whether it will serve a full term has been rife since it took office last year when the conservative People’s Party lost a confidence vote.

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U.S. security aid to Palestinians to end Thursday, envoys seek workaround

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – U.S. security aid for the Palestinian Authority was set to dry up on Thursday after it declined the money over concerns it could increase its exposure to U.S. anti-terrorism lawsuits.

The loss of the some $60 million in annual funding would marks another tear in ties between the Trump administration and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and potentially undermines his security cooperation with Israel in the occupied West Bank.

Diplomatic sources said Palestinian, U.S. and Israeli officials were seeking a way to keep the money flowing despite Abbas’s decision to turn it down as of a Jan. 31 deadline set by Congress’ Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA) of 2018.

The ATCA empowers Americans to sue foreign aid recipients in U.S. courts over alleged complicity in “acts of war”.

Abbas’s administration, long accused by Israel of stoking Palestinian militant attacks, worries about such legal exposure. It denies encouraging any such acts.

“We do not want to receive financial aid, including aid provided to the security forces, so as not to be subject to the anti-terrorism law approved by Congress,” one Palestinian official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

“The U.S. administration was surprised by the Palestinian decision, and said it wanted to find a solution in order to continue aid to the Palestinian security services.”

Such a solution may include finding alternative funds within the CIA budget or amending U.S. legislation, he said.

The U.S. Embassy in Israel had no immediate comment. Israeli officials declined to confirm or deny there were workaround talks, but sought to offer reassurance that Israel could manage security in the West Bank, which it captured in the 1967 Middle East War, even without Palestinian help.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may also be disinclined to signal worries about the West Bank ahead of his bid to stay in office in an election in April as the Palestinians’ goal of an independent state is rejected by many of his fellow Israeli rightists.

“Israel cannot save the failing leadership of the Palestinian Authority,” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Reshet Channel 13 TV when asked about the cut in U.S. funding.

“The most we can do is say to them, ‘since this is our land, if you cannot govern, then we can.”

The Palestinian Authority is an interim self-government body set up following the 1993 Oslo peace accords. The peace process, aimed at finding a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has been stalled for several years.

The Palestinians have also been boycotting the United States since it recognized disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.

The Trump administration has cut hundreds of millions of dollars to humanitarian organizations and U.N. agencies which aid the Palestinians as it seeks to pressure Abbas to come back to the negotiating table.

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No-deal Brexit not good for Britain: UK minister Rudd

LONDON (Reuters) – A no-deal Brexit would not be good for Britain but the government is right to make preparations in case of such an outcome, Britain’s work and pensions minister Amber Rudd said on Friday.

“I do not think that no deal will be good for this country,” Rudd told BBC radio. “I’m committed to making sure we find an alternative.”

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Libyan election commission says needs budget for February constitution vote

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Libya’s electoral commission has asked the government for $28.7 million, saying the funding is needed to boost its “zero” budget to organize a vote on a new constitution as early as February.

Western powers and the United Nations hope Libya will hold a national election by June after a referendum on a constitutional framework to chart a way out of a conflict stemming from the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

A French plan, backed by the United Nations, had initially called for a presidential and parliamentary vote on Dec. 10.

But weeks of fighting in the capital Tripoli between competing groups and almost no progress between the North African country’s two rival parliaments made that impossible.

Now Emad al-Sayah, chairman of the High National Elections Commission (HNEC), said on Thursday his group needed funding to plan for the constitutional vote.

“The budget of the commission is zero, it’s red,” he told reporters. “We have financial commitments of half a million (dinars).”

He said the commission had asked the Tripoli-based government to get 40 million dinars ($28.7 million) to start the process for a constitutional vote.

It was not immediately possible to reach the internationally backed government.

Sayah said such a constitutional referendum could be held as early as February, if a budget had been allocated to import technical equipment and ballot materials.

“HNEC will announce the process at the end of January and the process will be finished at the end of February,” he said, describing a February date as an estimate.

A draft constitution has been drawn up to be put to a referendum, but it is not clear how that will work.

The United Nations also wants to stage a national conference for Libyans in early 2019 to overcome divisions and decide what type of elections they want, presidential or parliamentary.

Sayah said the date for the constitutional vote needed to be agreed with the internationally recognized parliament, the House of Representatives (HOR), which took last week the first legislative steps toward it.

Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya analyst, said lawmakers might agree on final election legislation, despite the resistance of some figures to the U.N. plan, but he remained skeptical.

“When it comes to the physical implementation of the actual suffrage, there is no reason to think Libya, taken as a whole, is logistically ready to make it happen in a satisfactory, sage way for all constituents in most territories,” he said.

Libya has two governments, the Tripoli one and a rival version in the east allied to commander Khalifa Haftar, whose forces control the east.

Sayah also said better security was needed.

In May, Islamic state suicide attackers stormed the commission’s Tripoli headquarters, killing at least 12 of its staff.

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