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Inside Somalia’s impasse: election talks collapse amid mistrust and blame | Global development



For nearly a month, men from the militias of at least two of Somalia’s five federal member states have been stationed inside Mogadishu’s high-security international airport compound as their leaders attend a circuit of meetings to end the electoral impasse.

The huge complex bristles with barbed wire and armed men in and out of uniforms. In the car park of one of the compound’s hotels, a four-wheel pickup truck mounted with a large gun idles. A handful of young men have built a makeshift camp around the car.

While a Somali national army exists, presidents from some of the federal member states (FMS) do not trust it will protect them, nor do they entirely trust the African Union troops who have secured the airport complex for over a decade.

Last weekend, for the first time in more than a month, all five state presidents, the president of the federal government, and the governor of Benadir, the capital metropolis, agreed to meet.

The aim was to set an agenda for talks about the national election. The politicians were talking about what they would talk about later.

Even after a venue was agreed, the meeting was fraught. Various international actors are said to back different factions, so no one feels safe in the same place. Some politicians think they are at risk of having their food poisoned.

On Wednesday, talks collapsed.

Somali information minister, Osman Dubbe, has blamed the leaders of Puntland and Jubaland.

“The federal government of Somalia is making clear to Somali people that the leaders of Somalia’s regional states Puntland and Jubaland are not willing to hold elections in this country based on the 17 September agreement and the 16 February agreement,” Dubbe said.

Contentious issues include the formation of the electoral commission, the selection of members for the breakaway region of Somaliland, and the troubled Somalia-Kenya border region of Gedo.

Somalia president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed speaks in parliament in Mogadishu, Somalia, 6 February 2021.
Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s presidential term has ended before an agreement about how to proceed with an election. Photograph: Said Yusuf Warsame/EPA

The government, headed by Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (known as Farmaajo), is no longer recognised by two of the five states and there is no clear contingency plan. Critics accuse Farmaajo, who is seeking a second term, of dragging his feet.

A Somali president has never held a second term in office. Every election cycle is contentious, but anger and mistrust between political players have reached new depths and the government is at a perilous point. This is the first time a presidential term has ended before an agreement about how to proceed with an election has been reached.

Even if this crisis is resolved, the wounds could take years to heal. “Maybe after four years we will have the same discussion again,” said a political insider. They joked: “I will remind you if I stay alive.”

After electing Farmaajo in indirect elections in 2017, the Somali government, with enthusiastic support from the international community, pledged to arrange one-person-one-vote elections for the next cycle.

But four years on, there has not been enough progress to set this up. Attempts were made to organise an indirect vote which would be at least more inclusive, but leaders failed to agree on a model.

“This comes down to unresolved internal political tensions, but also a lack of preparation and political will,” said Omar Mahmood, senior Somalia analyst for the International Crisis Group.

The deadline for parliamentary elections expired in December 2020, but the vote for a president did not happen. On 19 February 2021, a skirmish broke out at a hotel where two former presidents and some current candidates, who have created a coalition opposing Farmaajo’s administration, were staying ahead of planned demonstrations.

Earlier that week, Farmaajo’s administration banned public gatherings, citing a rise in coronavirus cases. The march went ahead, but security forces fired on the protesters, pushing Somalia to its most fragile point in years. Within weeks, the five FMS presidents arrived in Mogadishu to find a way for elections to go ahead and a functioning, fully recognised government to be put in place.

Former prime minister Hassan Ali Khaire, centre, joins members of opposition parties as they protest against the political impasse in Mogadishu, 19 February 2021.
Former prime minister Hassan Ali Khaire, centre, joins members of opposition parties as they protest against the political impasse in Mogadishu, 19 February 2021. Photograph: Said Yusuf Warsame/EPA

After weeks of negotiations and public blame-trading, a meeting was finally arranged.

“Failure is not an option,” said Abdifatah Mahat Abdi, deputy chief of staff for South West state, before the talks.

Mahad Wasuge, executive director of Somali Public Agenda, said any alternative to negotiations continuing could allow Farmaajo to maintain power – something neither the opposition nor the international community would accept and which could lead to violent confrontations in an already fragile country.

The UN security council may now take a more active mediation role. Analysts and activists have said that the UN secretary general’s special representative for Somalia and the US ambassador should have been publicly involved months or even years ago. Many believe the international community has ignored signs that tension was rising and indulged the Farmaajo administration.

“The top line solution is resolving the tension that has inhibited progress on a range of fronts,” said Mahmood. “Namely coming to a common settlement on power and resource sharing within the federal system. Once you have that, it will unlock all sorts of other avenues for progress.”

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MEPs join EU citizens on farm-animal cage ban



The European Parliament has lent political weight to an EU citizens’ petition to end farming of caged animals and force-feeding of ducks and geese to make fois gras pâté, putting pressure on the European Commission to table legislation. Forced-feeding was “cruel and unnecessary” and cages so small animals cannot stand or turn around were of “grave concern” MEPs said Thursday. Over 90 percent of EU-farmed rabbits are kept in cages.

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Speculations Run Amok as Johnson Crashes ‘Awkward One-on-One’ Meeting Between Biden and Morrison




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The Australian prime minister held a meeting with the US president on the sidelines of the G7 summit in England, where the two agreed to work closely on “challenges” in the Indo-Pacific region, among other things.

Scott Morrison was hoping for a one-on-one meeting with US President Joe Biden at the G7 summit in the UK, however, event host, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson frustrated his plans by crashing their tête-à-tête.

The Australian prime minister was invited to this year’s G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall and was set to meet Biden in a bilateral setting.

When Morrison was asked why the supposed private meeting suddenly included a third party, the prime minister said “it was an opportunity that presented because we’re all here and so it was mutual”.

“We were particularly keen to have the discussion with both parties”, he added.

The incident has prompted great speculation as to why Morrison was unable to secure a bilateral meeting with the US president.

“This seemed to me like it was Boris Johnson stepping in what seemed like it might be a little awkward meeting, given Morrison’s full-on support for [former US President Donald] Trump”, Nikki Sava, a former adviser to ex-Australian Prime Minister John Howard, told ABC’s Insiders.

Many others ventured that Johnson’s decision to make the meeting trilateral was motivated by a willingness to make discussions about climate change productive.

Labour’s Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Penny Wong called the prime minister’s inability to secure a face-to-face meeting with Biden “disappointing”, and suggested Morrison’s “stubborn refusal” to commit to net zero emissions by 2050 was damaging the country’s reputation on the world stage.

“Mr Morrison’s stubborn refusal to sign up to net zero emissions has left him isolated and left Australia isolated”, she said on Sunday.

Ex-Liberal opposition leader John Hewson, in turn, alleged Biden might “not be prepared to extend Morrison the privilege [of a one-on-one] given his indefensible irresponsibility and stubbornness on climate”.

Greens leader Adam Bandt, for his part, thinks the only reason why Morrison was invited to the G7 summit is so the heads of states and governments can rebuke him over Australia’s perceived inaction on climate change.

“Climate is a critical issue at this G7. It is the only game in town. When they sit down to discuss climate, Scott Morrison will be sitting at the kids’ table and I think part of the reason he’s been invited to this summit is so the rest of the world can give Australia a dressing down on climate”, Bandt told ABC’s Insiders on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Morrison has since rejected those claims, arguing that climate change was not a point of discussion for the meeting and would instead be a topic of conversation at Monday’s G7 Plus sessions. 

Following the trilateral meeting, Biden, Morrison, and Johnson issued in a joint statement, revealing they had “discussed a number of issues of mutual concern, including the Indo-Pacific region”.

Morrison later downplayed any suggestion of a diplomatic snub, describing it as “a meeting of great friends and allies who share a view on the world”.

“Australia has no greater friends than the United States and the United Kingdom. It was a great opportunity for my first meeting with the president. I’ve known Boris for many years, and there was a very easy understanding amongst the three of us”.

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EU relations: Berlin, Paris hoping Spain will stay close to EU’s French-German bloc | International



France and Germany, considered the traditional axis of the European Union, are hoping that the Spanish government will remain a firm ally despite statements by Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya about seeking to diversify ties within the 27-country bloc.

In the space of just a few months, Spain has gone from embracing a G-3 of sorts with France and Germany to considering new alliances. These could include cooperation with Poland and Hungary in the battle to preserve European cohesion funds.

It makes sense to complement alliances with other states, but there is no substantial reason to justify walking away from the Franco-German axis

Ignacio Molina, senior analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute

Toward the end of former Foreign Minister Josep Borrell’s term in office, there were attempts at opening up to alternative alliances as Europe moved to a post-Brexit scenario. But it is González Laya’s first steps at the helm of the Foreign Ministry that have most clearly set the new tone.

Sources consulted by this newspaper played down this difference and instead highlighted Spain’s pro-European sentiment as a key to EU collaboration.

“It is normal for each country to seek out partners based on its own interests regarding a specific issue,” said a German diplomat. “This is not a big surprise, and you could also see it happening with Borrell. “The main thing, and there is no question about this, is that everyone should row in the same direction: for a Europe that is strong and shows solidarity.”

A French diplomatic source said that Spain remains a key player in the new European landscape that opened up when Britain left the club on January 31. “We cannot build a sovereign Europe without great involvement by Spain,” said this source. “France and Germany expect a lot from their main partners, particularly from Spain, in order to address Europe’s challenges.”

Everyone should row in the same direction: for a Europe that is strong and shows solidarity

Anonymous German diplomat

Since 1986, the year it joined the European club, Spain has stuck close to the French-German axis. “The only time we went our own way was in 2001, under [former Prime Minister] José María Aznar, and that was a strategic move prompted by the Iraq war,” notes Ignacio Molina, a senior analyst at Elcano Royal Institute. “It is not possible to distance yourself from the axis: [Hungarian PM Viktor] Orban can do it, the way that Aznar did, but everything in the EU goes through that core group.”

In early February, González Laya told this newspaper that she wished to cooperate with France and Germany on some policies, but not on all. “On other issues, the geometry will be a little bit different,” she said, citing a few countries from Eastern Europe that follow opposite policies from Spain on issues such as immigration or the rule of law. In spite of this, Spain could consider these countries allies on matters such as EU cohesion policy.

In her initial days in office, the new minister received Mediterranean colleagues first, notably Italy’s Luigi di Maio and Greece’s Nikos Dendias. But two sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said there is no particular state strategy behind the move. Instead, it is González Laya’s own take on the role that Spain should play within a bloc that has just lost its second-biggest economy, triggering a political reshuffle on the continent.

The minister will appear before Congress for the first time this coming Thursday, when she will discuss the main lines of her work as head of Spanish diplomacy.

González Laya was asked to come Berlin by Germany’s foreign minister, the social-democrat Heiko Maas, in the welcome letter he sent her following her appointment. While these letters are part of the protocol, they do not always include an invitation. No date has been set yet for the meeting.

This week, a lower-level bilateral meeting between Spain and France is taking place in Madrid, where the Spanish Secretary of State for European Affairs, Juan González-Barba, will meet with his French counterpart, Amélie de Montchalin. These two officials will also meet with a Portuguese representative to discuss electricity connections between their countries.

The Elcano analyst trusts that González Laya’s early remarks will not result in a more distant relationship between Spain, France and Germany. “It makes sense to complement alliances with other states, but there is no substantial reason to justify walking away from the Franco-German axis,” said Ignacio Molina.

English version by Susana Urra.

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