World News

Coronavirus North Korea crisis: Kim puts hermit state on lockdown with bizarre measures

The secretive state claims it is the only neighbour of China not to have reported a single case and citizens are now being ordered to follow with “absolute obedience” advice from health officials. Some of North Korea’s measures include month-long quarantines door-to-door health check-ups since the start of this month.

New arrivals into the country are also subject to 30 days in isolation, while citizens have been warned “sitting down and talking with each other” can spread the fatal virus. 

The official mouthpiece of the Workers’ Party urged residents to show “absolute obedience” to orders from the state and health authorities.

It said: “We should bear in mind that any moment of complacency could result in irreversible catastrophic consequences and should maintain a high state of alert.”

North Korean citizens have also been instructed on hygiene practices from loudspeaker vans being driven around the city.

Everyday activities and hobbies like going to the skating rink, painting classes, swimming pool, the city’s Orthodox church and taekwondo gym have also been placed on lockdown.

And earlier this week North Korean citizens were urged to avoid gathering in public places – and even restaurants – over fears of the “devastating consequences” if the country is hit by the coronavirus.

The party’s mouthpiece warned: “Sitting down and dining together and talking with each other can itself become the main spreading ground of the infectious disease.”

It comes as the Russian ambassador spoke of a “morally crushing” situation in Kim Jong-un’s nation where foreign diplomats have even been banned from walking around the city of Pyongyang.

Alexander Matsegora told Russia’s TASS news agency the embassy had been “left without diplomatic mail”, adding: “We did not manage to get medicines and supplies for our first-aid post.”

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Staff are only permitted to leave the premises to drop rubbish at a landfill where “Korean specialists immediately disinfect our truck at the gates of the embassy”.

Meanwhile, diplomatic work has been shut down with North Korean officials are unable to carry out work or communications with embassies of other nations. Contact has been limited to a special mailbox and telephone calls.

Mr Matsegora added: “It is very important to understand that the issues of state security, the ideology and dignity of the country – in its North Korean understanding, of course – always and definitely prevail over economic considerations.”

Coronavirus – known as COVID-19 – has killed more than 2,700 people across the world after it originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Meanwhile, South Korea reported 284 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday.

The new cases pushed the total tally to 1,261, with the numbers expected to rise as the government widens its testing.

It comes after the US military reported its first case of the coronavirus in a 23-year-old soldier based in Camp Carroll, about 12 miles from the South Korean city of Daegu.

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Kahnawake protesters defy injunction as railway blockade continues

A railway blockade in the Mohawk community of Kahnawake is continuing on Wednesday morning as protesters refuse to obey a court injunction to take down their barricade.

The demonstration is one of many nationwide blockades in a show of support with hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in British Columbia who oppose the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their territory.

In Quebec, protests quickly intensified earlier this week after Ontario Provincial Police moved in to enforce an injunction to dismantle the blockade and arrested several people in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

Canadian Pacific Railway was granted its injunction to end blockades in Kahnawake, south of Montreal, and other parts of Quebec on Tuesday. The move was seen by members of the Mohawk community as a provocation.

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake has said it is considering its next steps, including challenging the court ruling.

“We must make it clear to our own people that this injunction will not be executed on this Territory,” Grand Chief Joseph Tokwiro Norton said in a statement.

The railway blockade has halted a commuter passenger train line since Feb. 10 on Montreal’s south shore. Exo, the regional transit authority for trains, is providing shuttle buses in the meantime.

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Factbox: What the EU can do to tackle coronavirus outbreak in Europe

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – An outbreak of coronavirus in northern Italy last week has raised the alarm in the European Union over the epidemic, which until then had been mostly confined to China.

Measures to tackle the disease remain largely decided at the national level.

The EU coordinates the actions of its 27 member states but has little power to counter epidemics as states maintain exclusive competences on health measures, travel restrictions and surveillance.

Below is what the EU can and cannot do.


Most EU countries are members of the open-border Schengen area, which allows travelers and goods to cross frontiers without checks.

Governments can introduce temporary controls in the event of emergencies, such as during the 2015 migration crisis. These measures effectively limit cross-border travel and must be notified to the EU executive, the Commission. So far, no EU state has done so during the coronavirus emergency.

Many EU countries have issued travel advisories to warn against non-essential trips to affected areas, including to northern Italy.

France is currently the only EU state that has ordered a two-week quarantine for people returning from outbreak-hit areas in Italy.

There is no EU-wide advice on travel, as it remains a national competence, but the Commission said it would develop an information template for travelers to and from high-risk zones.


The EU can only urge member states to share information about the epidemic on their territory, but has no power to impose common monitoring measures.

States decide on how many tests are necessary to check the spread of the disease. Italy has conducted many more tests than other EU states, which might partly explain the higher number of cases there.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), an EU agency, provides guidance on risk assessment and infection prevention.

The Commission could propose joint procurement for face masks and other protective gear to reduce risks of possible shortages.


The EU has used its budget to help prevent and contain the spread of the coronavirus epidemic.

This week the Commission announced 232 million euros ($252 million) to fight the disease at global level. Half of it will go to the World Health Organization (WHO) and 100 million will be spent on medical research for vaccines, treatments and diagnostics tools.

EU money has also been spent to repatriate EU citizens from outbreak-hit areas in China and Japan.

The Commission is likely to allow EU countries affected by the epidemic to spend more to face the emergency, exempting this spending from EU fiscal rules.

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World News

Archaeology breakthrough: Secret code of French rock broken after 200 years

The mysterious boulder, located on the coast of Brittany, France, had baffled experts for years, who failed to reach an agreement on what the 20 lines of text translates to. Visible during a low-tide, the rock shows some French letters reversed, or upside down, and there are also some Scandinavian-style characters. The years 1786 and 1787 are visible, dating the inscription to around the time of the French Revolution and there is also the image of a ship and a heart surmounted by a cross.

In May 2019, the village of Plougastel launched a competition to decipher the message, offering €2,000 (£1,679) for the winning submission.

Mayor Dominique Cap revealed yesterday there had been two winners, who split the prize, after their translations showed “similar” stories.

He said: “We have two totally different paths but have arrived at a similar historical background, that of a sailor who died at sea, and a friend who engraved this stone in homage to him.

“There is still a way to go to solve the mystery completely, but up until now, the writing has been totally mysterious.”

There is still a way to go to solve the mystery completely

Mayor Dominique Cap

Both winners agreed that the inscription was made in remembrance of a man who died.

Noel Rene Toudic, an English teacher and Celtic language expert, said he worked on the basis that the writer was a semi-literate man speaking 18th-Century Breton.

The key part of his translation reads: “Serge died when with no skill at rowing, his boat was tipped over by the wind.”

The other winning entry was by historian Roger Faligot and artist Alain Robet.

They also say the text is written in Breton, but believe some of the words are Welsh.

Their translation reads: “He was the incarnation of courage and joie de vivre. 

“Somewhere on the island he was struck and he is dead.”

Local officials said 61 complete translations were submitted in the competition. 

Most came from France, but entries were also submitted from countries including the US and Thailand.

A panel made up of historians judged the entries, finding that the two winning theories were the most plausible interpretations.

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Earlier this week, archaeologists also made a “significant” discovery at Auckland Cathedral in County Durham.

Bek’s Chapel was a two-storey addition to the castle, originally built for one of the UK’s richest bishops Anthony Bek. 

Constructed in the 14th century, it was lost for 370 years after being destroyed in the First English Civil War of 1642, but has been uncovered once again by workers at The Auckland Project. 

The team of archaeologists, students and volunteers spent five months carefully unearthing the foundations of the chapel, including part of the floor, the buttresses along the sides of the chapel and walls that measured.

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World News

Rail blockades expected to continue across Canada despite orders to leave

Widespread travel disruptions are expected to continue today after new blockades emerged in Ontario as part of ongoing protests in support of a British Columbia First Nation.

Commuter train trips west of Toronto could be delayed after protesters targeted a rail line in the city’s west end Tuesday evening.

The company that operates GO Transit warns a detour to get around demonstrations affecting a rail line to Milton, Ont., could add 30 to 45 minutes to travel times.

Toronto police say they were called to the demonstration Tuesday to keep the peace and limit disruption to “critical infrastructure.”

A number of people were arrested at the site overnight. Police tweeted that an exact number of arrests and the charges laid will be released “later this morning.”

Nationwide rail and road blockades have been popping up for weeks as a show of support for the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in northwestern B.C. who oppose a natural gas pipeline project cutting across their traditional territory.

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World News

Coronavirus: China confirms transmission possible WITHOUT symptoms in world first

More than 81,000 coronavirus cases have now been reported globally as the death toll passes 2,700, with a spike in cases confirmed in South Korea, Italy, Japan and Iran this week, as well as a hotel in Tenerife being put on lockdown. As the World Health Organisation (WHO) warns countries should be “in a phase of preparedness” for a pandemic, scientists in China have made a worrying breakthrough. Researchers confirmed a 20-year-old woman in Wuhan – the epicentre of the disease – passed the virus to five of her family members, but never got sick herself.

The case study is the first concrete evidence that a person showing no symptoms can pass the coronavirus to others – a fact that could make curbing the outbreak even more challenging as those infected become near-impossible to identify.

Researchers said the woman was isolated and closely observed at the Fifth People’s Hospital of Anyang, where she never become physically ill, even after her family members developed fevers, two of them got severe pneumonia.

For now, the woman’s asymptomatic transmission appears to be an anomaly, but health experts have documented other instances in which people tested positive for the virus without showing symptoms.

A report from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention analysed records of all of China’s reported cases of the virus from December 8 to February 11 and found that 1.2 percent of patients were found to have no symptoms.

It’s very clear that the people who are getting caught in that umbrella of reporting are the people that present themselves to a hospital

Anthony Fauci

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said: “It’s very clear that the people who are getting caught in that umbrella of reporting are the people that present themselves to a hospital.

“There’s another whole cohort that is either asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic.”

A case of asymptomatic transmission similar to the one described in the new case study was previously identified in Germany, but that research turned out to be flawed.

According to a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a woman from Shanghai transmitted the virus to a 33-year-old German businessman in January. 

Three days later, he felt better and went back to work, then infected at least two of his colleagues. 

But the researchers had not spoken to the woman, who had in fact experienced mild symptoms at the time of transmission.

Today, the WHO’s Dr David Nabarro urged Britons in the UK to get into a mindset ready to combat a potentially big outbreak in the country.

He also added that it could be vital to distance yourself from others.

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Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, he warned: “The most important thing that we are realising is that it is very infectious but it is infectious if you’re close up with people.

“So, social distancing and learning how to not be very close to each other is really important.

“Secondly, if people are isolated and getting treatment, then it’s possible to slow the spread of the virus and actually to reduce the size of the outbreak when it does get established, so reacting quickly and effectively is extremely important.

“What the WHO is encouraging is a mindset to get ready for the arrival of this illness and to be prepared for the steps that have to be taken to do it effectively and together.”

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World shares slump for fifth day, bets grow on rate cuts to counter damage

LONDON (Reuters) – World stocks tumbled for the fifth straight day on Wednesday, while safe-haven gold rose back towards seven-year highs after health authorities warned of a possible coronavirus pandemic and markets stepped up bets on interest rate cuts.

U.S. Treasury yields nevertheless rose off record lows hit the previous day as equity futures turned around to signal a firmer Wall Street open following Tuesday’s 3%-plus slide on news the coronavirus had spread to dozens of countries.

Adding to alarm, the World Health Organization said the epidemic had peaked in China, but urged other countries to prepare for virus outbreaks.

In a change of tone, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also advised Americans to be ready for community spread of the virus.

(Graphic: Coronavirus spreads outside of China – here)

Drastic travel restrictions in China, where coronavirus has claimed almost 3,000 lives, have slammed the brakes on mainland manufacturing and consumer spending, and there are worries other countries will face similar disruptions.

“China’s template to contain the virus was to restrict economic activity and that’s hitting home,” Lombard Odier’s chief strategist Salman Ahmed said.

“Markets are fearing there will be sequential shutdowns of economic systems to stop the spread.”

Those fears of severe economic damage, even a recession, have sent MSCI’s All-Country equity index to 2-1/2-month lows, wiping almost $3 trillion off its value this week alone.

(GRAPHIC – Global stocks’ performance vs. reported coronavirus cases: here)

Asian shares excluding Japan fell 1%. Tokyo lost 0.8% on concerns the virus could force the cancellation of the Olympics scheduled for July. That weighed on shares in firms such as Dentsu that are involved in the Games.

A pan-European equity index lost 1%, shrugging off slight gains on futures for the S&P 500, Dow Jones and Nasdaq.

Economic growth worries are reflected in steep drop in bond yields — 10-year U.S. yields are down 60 basis points since the start of 2020. Moreover, U.S. three-month T-bill yields remained some 18 basis points above 10-year rates — the curve inversion that’s considered a classic signal of recession.

Ten- and 30-year U.S. Treasury yields teetered just off record lows and another safe-haven, German bonds, also saw 10-year yields tumble to four-month lows below -0.5%.

(Graphic: U.S. 3-month, 10-year yield curve – here)

Analysts note growing market bets on interest rate cuts — expectations that monetary policy will be deployed yet again to head off any downturn.

Money markets are now pricing in roughly two 25-basis-point rate cuts by the U.S. Federal Reserve and expect a 10 bps cut by the European Central Bank by December. A Bank of England rate cut is also fully priced for September.

“Part of this selloff is a cry for help,” Ahmed said, adding that Fed cuts were unlikely in the early part of the year unless “we get an Italy-like situation in the United States”.

An outbreak of coronavirus in northern Italy has raised additional fears for its perpetually sluggish economy.

The rate cut expectations weighed on the dollar which is now well off three-year highs reached against the euro on Feb. 20. Against the yen too, it has retreated from recent 10-month highs of 112.23 yen. and stood around 110 yen.

It traded just off 12-day lows against a basket of currencies.

Some reckon the greenback slump may not last, given the Fed’s wariness of rushing into rate cuts.

“The significant dovish tilt being priced in by markets from the Fed may not materialize and that might cause the next leg of the dollar rally,” said Peter Chatwell, head of multi-asset strategy at Mizuho.

The dash for safety also boosted gold XAU=> 0.5% to around $1,640 per ounce, heading back towards seven-year highs of 1,688.66 hit on Monday.

Oil prices fell, with U.S. futures at the lowest since January 2019, below $50 per barrel.

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Don’t do it! Panicked Tory MPs urge new Chancellor not to commit major own goal

The group of 18 MPs, largely from the newly-conquered ‘Red Wall’ in northern England, issued the warning to the Chancellor ahead of the Budget on March 11. It follows reports Mr Sunak, who took over from Sajid Javid earlier this month, was looking at ending the freeze on fuel duty rates which has been in place since 2010.

The MPs from the Blue Collar Conservatism group insisted a rise in fuel duty would “send the wrong message” to Tory voters, including those who backed the party for the first time in December.

The MPs told Mr Sunak: “If the decision was taken to raise taxes on fuel, hard-working people and businesses in blue collar communities – many of which lent us their support at the General Election for the first time in generations – will suffer.

“We appreciate that levelling up local transport in blue collar communities across the country is firmly at the top of the Prime Minister’s agenda.

“As a Yorkshire MP, we know you will, too.

“But clobbering these communities with a tax rise in our first Budget would send the wrong message about this Government’s priorities.”

The group of signatories includes more than a dozen Tory MPs who won seats in 2019.

They added: “Any decision to scrap the fuel duty freeze must be seen for what it is: a tax rise which would hit our blue collar communities hardest.

“Increasing fuel duty would show these communities that this people’s Government does not actually have, at its heart, the priorities of the people.”

Meanwhile, the Chancellor is also under pressure from consumer campaigners to protect access to cash.

Which? has written to Mr Sunak calling for legislation that protects cash for as long as it is needed.

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The letter says: “The UK’s ATM network is on the verge of collapse.

“In the past two years, 9,000 free cash machines and 1,200 bank branches have vanished.

“We’re even being charged a fee to access our own money at 25 percent of the cash machines that remain.

“Understandably, millions of people are unhappy about this.

“They rely on cash. For many of them, cash is the only option.

“If things carry on as they are, cash as we know it will cease to exist in just two years.

“Yes, digital payments are good, but right now the UK isn’t ready to go cashless.

“If you don’t act now, free access to our own cash will soon be gone forever.”

Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, added that the Budget will “decide the future of cash”.

He said: “Many people have been left struggling from the double blow of cashpoint and bank branch closures – and suffered at the hands of industry mismanagement that has left Britain’s cash landscape on the verge of collapse.

“This Budget will decide the future of cash.

“The Chancellor has a huge opportunity here to protect cash for the millions of people who rely on it.”

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Ukraine president signals possible government reshuffle as trust declines

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signaled a potential reshuffle of his government on Wednesday that local media said could include axing Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk in favor of businessman and veteran politician Serhiy Tihipko.

Confidence in Zelenskiy’s government has slid since the actor and comedian scored a surprise landslide election victory last year promising to root out corruption and end the war with Russian-backed rebels in the eastern Donbass region.

But progress on either front has been patchy, and while the 42-year-old Zelenskiy remains Ukraine’s most electable politician, his public trust score has fallen from a high watermark of 79% in September to 51% in February, according to a survey by the Kiev-based Razumkov Centre think-tank.

Honcharuk’s position had already come into the spotlight in January after the leak of an embarrassing audio recording that suggested he had criticized the president in a closed meeting with the finance minister and central bank.

Any reshuffle would come just as Ukraine is trying to secure the release of billions of dollars in loans from the International Monetary Fund, a move contingent on Kiev’s progress in passing reforms and tackling graft.

“I am conducting interviews with many people now,” Zelenskiy said in a response to a question from reporters on whether he had met Tihipko about giving him a government post. “And I also met with Mr. Tihipko. It’s true.”

Tihipko has not commented on media reports that he had been offered the prime minister’s job. The president’s office referred back to Zelenskiy’s comments when asked whether Tihipko had been interviewed for the post of premier.

A source familiar with the situation said work in the prime minister’s office was carrying on as normal, adding that over the last three months there had been constant efforts to remove Honcharuk.

Tihipko, 60, has been deputy prime minister twice, first under President Leonid Kuchma in a short-lived 1997 government, and then again in 2010 under President Viktor Yanukovich, who eventually fled to Russia after the 2014 Maidan street protests.

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He has also been central bank governor and co-founded PrivatBank, the former Soviet republic’s largest lender.

Zelenskiy has prioritized ending the war in Donbass but while he has implemented some confidence-building measures with Russia, including prisoner swaps, the conflict simmers on.

In October, 48.2% of Ukrainians rated those in power as better than their predecessors, but that figure declined to 29.5% in February, according to the same Razumkov survey.

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Sudan stumbles through transition without fresh donor help

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan has made a surprise opening to Israel, announced compensation over the bombing of a U.S. warship 20 years ago, and said it will fully cooperate with the International Criminal Court on cases about Darfur.

All are measures that could help rebuild ties with the West after decades of international isolation and help unlock urgently needed financial support for a reeling economy.

But the steps — all in the past month — may not be enough.

International donors are holding back, demanding more transparency on public and military spending, an economic reform plan, and the lifting of fuel subsidies estimated to cost about $3.5 billion a year.

The risk, say some Sudanese, is that the economy could collapse without sufficient support, in turn fuelling political strife that could endanger prospects for a new era of democracy.

It is unclear when substantial support could materialize.

Potential donors from the West and the Gulf have met several times, but they have postponed from April to June a “Friends of Sudan” economic conference where pledges could be made.

The United States has signaled that Sudan could be removed from a list of countries seen as state sponsors of terrorism, but has given no timeframe.

Being on the list complicates efforts to negotiate a deal for Sudan’s foreign debt, unblock funding from international lenders and connect Sudan to international banking systems.


A government of technocrats, appointed under a power-sharing deal between civilians and the military due to last until late 2022, is lurching through an economic crisis that has only deepened since the overthrow of long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir last April.

“We have economic ideas about how to overcome this. But all these theories depend on some type of help or assistance from the outside world,” Information Minister Faisal Salih told Reuters. “We need real, massive assistance.”

The finance minister said in November that the government needed up to $5 billion to avert economic collapse. Since then, officials have been struggling to contain worsening fuel and bread shortages linked to a scarcity of dollars and smuggling of subsidized goods, despite some aid from the Gulf.

Inflation running at more than 60% — one of the highest rates in the world — has crippled spending power, more than nine million out of a rapidly growing population of 43 million need humanitarian relief and child malnutrition is rising.

Ministers say they have made progress in a peace process aimed at healing long-running internal conflicts, but that economic challenges are bigger than expected, imperiling a transition designed to usher in a new era of democracy.

Though the government still enjoys support on the street, diplomats and analysts say it is overwhelmed and worry that the public could lose patience.

“I don’t think there is a strategic awareness that this moment in history is very decisive for Sudan,” said Suliman Baldo, a senior policy advisor at the Enough Project, a Washington-based research and advocacy group.

“You either have a transition to civilian rule and democracy, or you will be heading down toward a situation of a failed economy and a failed state.”

The government faces internal opposition over economic reforms. Ministers have retreated from any major steps on subsidies until after an economic conference in late March with the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), a fractured grouping of political movements that backed the uprising and negotiated the power-sharing deal.


That is a problem for donors. “If they don’t do something about the fuel subsidies, they’re not going to get any money, simple as that,” said one Western diplomat. An announcement of a two-tier pricing system at some fuel stations from mid-February was insufficient, he added.

Influential left-wing currents with the FCC say outside aid is not needed, preferring to focus on retrieving funds lost through corruption and trying to reverse the accumulation of wealth by Sudan’s security apparatus under Bashir.

Steps have been taken to neutralize Bashir’s Islamist networks in ministries and the intelligence services, but the military’s high command and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) are leading Sudan’s top body, the sovereign council, for the first 21 months of the transition, so their interests are harder to challenge.

Investigations are going on into the violent dispersal of a protest last week, and the lethal crackdown on a sit-in in June in which civilian groups said more than 100 people were killed by RSF-led forces — accusations the RSF has sought to deflect.

The results will be “disruptive” whatever the findings, but top members of the military would have immunity unless it is lifted by the constitutional court or a legislative committee that is yet to be appointed, said Nabil Adib, a 77-year-old lawyer leading the probe.

Military factions were using the transitional period to expand their power, said Sadiq Farouk, an FFC leader from the Sudanese Communist Party.

“The financial crisis is not the subsidies, it’s the resource allocation within the transitional authority,” he said. “More aid will not resolve Sudan’s issues.”

For this year’s budget, officials announced a contribution of $2 billion from the military, but diplomats saw the offer as proof of unaccountable economic power.

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the charismatic leader of the RSF who has interests in Sudan’s gold trade, has been working to polish his image, using a peace process to engage with rebel groups he once fought in the troubled western region of Darfur.

Salih acknowledged “some resistance” to attempts to limit military expenditure and bring economic resources under civilian control, but said there were no alternatives to sharing power. “It’s a very difficult partnership but we have to work together,” he said.

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