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Macron to Reduce French Military Troops in Africa’s Sahel

Brittany Jordan



Macron to Reduce French Military Troops in Africa’s Sahel

PARIS—French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday announced the future reduction of France’s military presence fighting Islamic extremism in Africa’s Sahel region.

In a news conference, Macron spoke about the “profound transformation” of France’s military operation in Mali and neighboring countries—without giving a timeframe.

France’s Operation Barkhane will formally end, he said, and will be replaced by another mission focused on fighting Islamic extremists that relies more on regional partners.

Details will be unveiled at the end of June, he said, including on the number of troops France is keeping in the region. France now has more than 5,000 troops in the Sahel.

“The final goal is to reduce our multiple military deployments” in the region, he said.

French Barkhane force soldiers who wrapped up a four-month tour of duty in the Sahel board a US Air Force C130 transport plane, leave their base in Gao, Mali on June 9, 2021. (Jerome Delay/AP Photo)

“I’m saying it again: France is in Africa only at the request of Africans … to fight against terrorism,” Macron added. “But the shape of our presence, an operation abroad involving 5,000 troops, is not adapted any more to the reality of the combats.”

He said France will focus in the future on deploying special forces, in cooperation with other European countries, as part of the so-called Takuba task force that is meant to play an increasing role in the fight against extremists.

A French top official said it will take several months to implement the changes. Paris will first hold talks with its European and African partners, he said.

Several thousand French troops will remain in the region in total, participating in various operations including the new cooperation mission.

“In the end, the French presence in Sahel will remain significant,” the official said. He was speaking anonymously in accordance with the presidency’s customary practice.

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A British Royal Air Force transport helicopter hoovers over the tarmac of Barkhane Operation base in Gao, Mali, on June 7, 2021. (Jerome Delay/AP Photo)

French troops have been present in Mali since 2013 when they intervened to force Islamic extremist rebels from power in towns across the country’s north. Operation Serval was later replaced by Barkhane and was expanded to include Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania in an effort to help stabilize the broader Sahel region.

Islamic terrorists, though, have continued to launch devastating attacks against the militaries fighting them as well as increasingly against civilians. About a week ago, extremists in Burkina Faso launched the deadliest attack in years, leaving at least 132 people dead.

Hundreds also have died since January in a series of massacres targeting villages on the border of Niger and Mali.

While governments in the Sahel have embraced France’s military help, some critics have likened their presence to a vestige of French colonial rule.

Conflict analysts say the move could be linked to political instability in Mali. France’s announcement comes days after Mali coup leader Col. Assimi Goita was sworn as president of a transitional government, solidifying his grip on power in the West African nation after carrying out his second coup in nine months.

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French Barkhane force soldiers who wrapped up a four-month tour of duty in the Sahel board a US Air Force C130 transport plane, leave their base in Gao, Mali, on June 9, 2021. (Jerome Delay/AP Photo)

Michael Shurkin, director of global programs at 14 North Strategies, a consultancy based in Dakar, Senegal, said: “(The) truth is that France’s strategy can only work if the Malians do their part, which means improving governance. But Goita’s serial coups suggest the Malians aren’t.”

Siaka Coulibaly, an analyst with the Center for Public Policy Monitoring by Citizens, in Burkina Faso, said the decision wasn’t a surprise, but worried about the consequences of the troop reduction.

“The reduction of Barkhane troops will not have an impact on Mali since Russian troops will arrive and replace them. Meanwhile the reduction will have an impact on Burkina Faso, because the terrorists will try to move towards Burkina Faso and they could probably spread to the south,” Coulibaly said.

A 31-year-old Nigerien staffer on Barkhane’s army base in Niger’s capital, Niamey, told the AP it’s “not fair” and “not normal” that the situation in Mali should impact the situation in Niger. The AP is not using his name to protect his identity.

By Sylvie Corbet

World News

National Gallery of Australia Returns Stolen Art to India

Brittany Jordan



National Gallery of Australia Returns Stolen Art to India

The National Gallery of Australia (NGA) will repatriate 14 works of art from its Asian art collection back to the Indian government.

The thirteen works were purchased from New York-based antiquity dealer Subhash Kapoor, who is currently in prison awaiting trial for running an international smuggling racket. One was acquired from art dealer William Wolff.

The repatriated art includes six sculptures, six photographs, a brass processional standard, and a painted scroll.

The dancing child-saint Sambandar, 12th century. (Supplied, National Gallery of Australia)

The decision comes after years of research, due diligence, and a change in approach to the legal principles and ethical considerations behind its collections.

“This is the right thing to do, it’s culturally responsible, and the result of collaboration between Australia and India,” NGA Director Nick Mitzevich said in a statement (pdf). “We are grateful to the Indian Government for their support and are pleased we can now return these culturally significant objects.”

Mitzevich told the AAP that the physical handover would be negotiated over the next few months while considering COVID and the ability to travel.

The gallery introduced a provenance assessment that involves taking steps to remove and return items considered likely stolen, illegally excavated, illegally exported from a foreign country, or unethically acquired. Two independent reviews by former High Court Justice Susan Crennan AC QC helped the process.

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‘Manorath’ portrait of donor and priests before Shri Nathji, Udaipur, Rajasthan. (Supplied, National Gallery of Australia)

Three additional sculptures have been removed from its collection as the gallery determines their place of origin before they are also repatriated.

Mitzevich said their action demonstrated the gallery’s commitment to being a leading figure in the ethical management of art collections.

“With these developments, provenance decision-making at the National Gallery will be determined by an evidence-based approach evaluated on the balance of probabilities, anchored in robust legal and ethical decision-making principles and considerations,” he said.

The Indian High Commissioner to Australia Manpreet Vohra welcomed the decision and said the Indian government was extremely grateful for Australia’s “extraordinary act of goodwill and gesture of friendship.”

“These are outstanding pieces: their return will be extremely well received by the Government and people of India,” Vohra said.

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The divine couple Lakshmi and Vishnu [Lakshmi Narayana], 10th-11th century. (Supplied, National Gallery of Australia)

This is the fourth repatriation by the gallery to the Indian government. Following this move, it will no longer hold any works bought from Subhash Kapoor.

The NGA is still in the process of recovering some of its financial losses due to buying Kapoor’s smuggled works of art.

In 2014, it filed documents to the Supreme Court of New York on the purchase of a stolen bronze sculpture ‘Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja)’ and was later awarded $11 million in compensation.

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Renewables Push Could Blackout Australia Without Total Grid Reform

Brittany Jordan



Renewables Push Could Blackout Australia Without Total Grid Reform

A total reform to Australia’s grid is urgently needed, or else the transition to renewables could spell disaster for energy security, says the government’s Energy Security Board.

The board told state and federal leaders at the National Cabinet on Wednesday that Australia’s accelerated conversion from coal to wind and solar had to be accompanied by a total overhaul to the nation’s energy grid.

“This isn’t just a tweak around the edges,” said Energy Security Board Chair Kerry Schott. “It’s about a whole redesign of the national electricity market.”

This comes as both Victoria and New South Wales released their own plans to reach net-zero earlier this year, with premiers for both states having to face the Energy Security Board as it addressed Australia’s difficult challenge in safely transitioning to solar and wind power.

“It’s something we have to do to confidently embrace Australia’s energy future while reducing the risk of price shocks and blackouts.”

Energy Security Board Chair Kerry Schott speaks during a discussion forum at the Clean Energy Summit at the International Convention Centre in Sydney, Australia, on July 30, 2019. (AAP Image/Peter Rae)

This year alone, Australia experienced the brunt of blackouts and price spikes on numerous separate occasions.

In May, a fire at the Callide coal-fired power station and a lack of backup generation saw lights go out for 400,000 Queenslanders.

Also, in May, Australasia’s largest aluminium smelter was forced to power down five times in two weeks after the smelter couldn’t afford to pay for electricity after planned, and unplanned coal plant outages sent energy prices soaring—on one occasion exploding by 18,000 percent.

Following the outages, which were exacerbated by cold weather, Australians were left wide-eyed in June after their electricity bills showed average energy costs had almost tripled compared to the same month last year.

But signs of instability were starting to show even earlier with the shutdown of Victoria’s Hazelwood coal plant in 2017, and the exit of 1,600 megawatts which had supplied power to meet 25 percent of Victoria’s electricity needs, and around 8 percent of the entire National Electricity Market.

The resulting disruption was felt across Australia’s east coast, with average energy prices shooting up by 85 percent for Victoria, 63 percent for New South Wales, 53 percent for Queensland, and a further 32 percent for South Australia.

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Workers leave Hazelwood Power Station after their final shift in Hazelwood, Australia, on Mar. 31, 2017. Around 750 workers have been left jobless after the plant was closed. (Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Schott recommended Australia’s path to emissions-free energy be bolstered by a series of significant reforms, one of which was to reinforce Australia’s fleet of reliable energy generation and storage.

“We have had a very mild summer, and everyone has got very complacent, but we only need one hot summer in three jurisdictions together, or a major unexpected outage at a big coal plant, and we’ve got a real resource adequacy issue right on top of us,” she said.

A second recommendation was to fast track large-scale renewable energy hubs to support vast renewable power generation at an even lower price point—a direction which has gradually made progress with a recent proposal for the world’s largest, $95 billion renewable energy hub in Western Australia.

A third but equally critical suggestion was to address underlying technical constraints imbued in the nation’s energy infrastructure, namely, maintaining grid inertia and stabilising grid frequency.

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Spanish Judge Seeks Tax Fraud Trial for Pop Singer Shakira

Brittany Jordan



Spanish Judge Seeks Tax Fraud Trial for Pop Singer Shakira

Colombian singer Shakira visits Tannourine Cedars Reserve, in Tannourine, Lebanon on July 13, 2018. (Jamal Saidi/File/Reuters)

MADRID—A Spanish judge has seen “sufficient evidence” for Colombian singer Shakira to face trial for tax fraud, a court document released on Thursday said.

Judge Marco Jesus Juberias has wrapped up a pre-trial investigation of allegations by prosecutors that the singer failed to pay up to 14.5 million euros ($17.2 million) in tax on income earned between 2012 and 2014. It is a preliminary step before a trial is set.

“The documents (…) annexed to the lawsuit are sufficient evidence of wrongdoing to continue with the proceedings,” the judge said in the court document.

While prosecutors say Shakira was living in the region of Catalonia during those years, her representatives argue she did not live in Spain until 2015 and has met all of her tax obligations.

Shakira’s representatives in Spain said in an emailed statement on Thursday that the court document was an “expected step in the process” and that the singer’s legal team “remains confident and fully cooperative with the judiciary and will not comment further.”

The 44-year-old singer and the FC Barcelona defender Gerard Pique have been together since 2011 and they have two children.

By Emma Pinedo

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