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Mali military junta defies regional bloc, pushes for five-year transition

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Mali’s military-dominated government on Saturday proposed a five-year transition period, defying international pressure to meet a February deadline for a return to civilian rule.

“We’re suggesting a transition period of five years,” Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop told public broadcaster Office de Radio et Television du Mali following a meeting with representatives of the Economic Community of West African States in Ghana’s capital, Accra.

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“This in line with the outcome of the National Refoundation Meeting with regards to the duration of the transition. This will then form the base for further talks and dialog with Ecowas,” Diop said.

Political and civil society actors on Thursday proposed a transition period of up to five years following four days of national consultations in the capital, Bamako.

Mali’s military ruler President Assimi Goita, under pressure from France and Mali’s regional neighbors, had earlier promised to return the country to civilian rule after presidential and parliamentary elections in February 2022. Then in May last year, Goita forced out the interim civilian leadership, disrupting the election timetable.

The West African regional bloc last month threatened Mali with economic sanctions if a timetable for Feb. 27 elections wasn’t met.

Presidential elections will be held in January 2026 and parliamentary polls between May and November 2025, according to a copy of the proposed timetable.

The Ecowas mediator for Mali, Nigeria’s ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, will travel to Bamako on Jan. 5, Ecowas said in a statement Sunday, acknowledging Mali’s proposal.

An Ecowas summit regarding Mali is scheduled for January 9 in Accra.

Read more: West African bloc imposes sanctions on Mali leaders over stalled elections

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At least six killed in blast in western Afghan city of Herat

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A blast ripped through a minivan in the western Afghan city of Herat on Saturday, killing at least six people, according to officials.

Herat commander Mawlawi Ansari told Reuters that nine people had been injured. The cause of the blast was not clear.

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A health official in Herat, who asked not to be named, said an explosion hit a small van used for public transport just after 1800 local time and that three of the injured were in serious condition.

Since the Taliban took over in August, a series of blasts and attacks, some claimed by Islamic State, have taken place across Afghanistan.

The attacks have heightened the new administration’s security challenges as the country spirals into an economic crisis.

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Arab League delays annual summit as COVID-19 bites again

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The Arab League has announced it is delaying its annual summit scheduled for March 22 in Algiers because of COVID-19 after two years of cancellations due to the pandemic.

“Every year, the summit is held in March, but this year, there has been a delay,” the pan-Arab organization’s assistant secretary general, Hossam Zaki, said in televised remarks Friday, a week after returning to Cairo from a visit to Algiers.

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The last Arab League summit was held in Tunis in March 2019. The past two years’ gatherings have been cancelled due to the pandemic.

Zaki added that Algeria “preferred the option” of delaying the summit, noting that the critical mass of Arab leaders and high-ranking officials needed for the summit could not be guaranteed due to the public health situation.

Arab foreign ministers are expected to announce a new date for the summit during their scheduled meeting on March 9, Zaki said.

Zaki said that there were “no political reasons” behind the delay, but the time could be used to “improve political climates” in the region.

The summit is important for Algeria, which has been seeking to expand its political sphere of influence, against the backdrop of heightened tensions with Morocco.

No agenda has been announced for this year’s summit, but the Arab world remains plagued with multiple conflicts and crises.

These extend from the war in Yemen, which has killed nearly 400,000 people since 2015, to the 2021 coup in Sudan that resulted in its suspension from the African Union, as well as protracted crises in Libya, Lebanon and beyond.

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Libyan eastern parliament speaker calls for new government

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Lebanon to start virtual talks with IMF on Jan. 24

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Lebanese officials will start talks with the International Monetary Fund on Monday, an official government source told Reuters.

An IMF spokesperson also told Reuters on Saturday that a team will start virtual talks with Lebanese authorities next week.

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The Lebanese government has said it hopes to reach an initial agreement with the fund for financial support between January and February. Lebanon is in the grip of an unprecedented financial crisis and an IMF deal is widely seen as the only way for it to secure aid.

The fund said in December it was assessing a $69 billion figure announced by Lebanese officials for losses in the country’s financial sector.

Disagreements in Lebanon over the size of the losses and how they should be distributed torpedoed IMF talks in 2020. The central bank, banks and political elite rejected figures set out in a government plan that was endorsed by the IMF at the time.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati said in September that the financial recovery plan to be drawn up by his cabinet will include a fair distribution of losses suffered by the financial system, but the cabinet hasn’t convened since October.

It will convene again on Monday to discuss the 2022 budget, but no clear details have been released about the recovery plan.

The Lebanese financial system collapsed in 2019 because of decades of corruption and waste in the state and the unsustainable way it was financed. The trigger was slowing inflows of hard currency into the banking system, which lent heavily to the government.

Several reforms the IMF would likely seek, including cutting subsidies and unifying the numerous exchange rates in Lebanon’s chaotic cash economy, are already becoming realities as hard currency dries up, political sources say.

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Lebanon’s PM Mikati to meet Kuwait’s foreign minister al-Sabah in Beirut

Lebanon draft budget applies range of FX rates: Official source

Lebanon judges to visit Paris over central bank chief probe

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