British PM to try to break Brexit deadlock with EU concessions

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May will try to break the Brexit deadlock on Monday by setting out proposals in parliament that are expected to focus on winning more concessions from the European Union.

With just over two months until the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union on March 29 there is no agreement in London on how and even whether it should leave the world’s biggest trading bloc.

After her Brexit divorce deal was rejected by lawmakers last week, May has been searching for a way to get a deal through parliament, so far in vain.

The EU, which has an economy more than six times the size of the United Kingdom, says it wants an orderly exit but senior officials have expressed frustration and sorrow at London’s deepening crisis over Brexit.

“I have often said Shakespeare could not have written any better the tragedy we are now witnessing in Britain,” German Europe Minister Michael Roth told broadcaster ARD.

Attempts to forge a consensus with the opposition Labour Party failed so May is expected to focus on winning over 118 rebels in her own party and the small Northern Irish party which props up her government with concessions from the EU.

May will make a statement in parliament at 1530 GMT and put forward a motion on her proposed next steps on Brexit, though some lawmakers are planning to wrest control of Britain’s exit from the government.

IRELAND

May will focus on changing the Northern Irish backstop, an insurance policy to ensure no return to a hard border between the British province and Ireland.

In a sign of just how grave the political crisis in London has become, the Daily Telegraph reported that May was considering amending the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which ended 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland.

May told her ministers she would focus on securing changes from Brussels designed to win over rebel Conservatives and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, The Times said.

Ireland will not engage in bilateral talks on Brexit and will only negotiate as part of the 27 remaining members of the EU, Ireland’s European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee said.

After May’s motion is published, lawmakers will be able to propose amendments to it, setting out alternatives to her deal.

The 650-seat parliament is deeply divided over Brexit, with different factions of lawmakers supporting a wide range of options including leaving without a deal, holding a second referendum and seeking a customs union with the EU.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group of anti-EU lawmakers in May’s Conservative Party, said Britain is likely to leave the European Union without a deal, with a revised Brexit deal as the next likely outcome.

He said if the backstop was removed then most of the opposition to the deal from eurosceptics in her party would be removed.

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Sterling was steady at $1.2836. Buying sterling is not advisable because of Brexit uncertainty, UBS Wealth Management said on Monday.

Ever since Britain voted by 52-48 percent to leave the EU in a referendum in June 2016, London’s political class has been debating how to leave the European project forged by France and Germany after the devastation of World War Two.

While the country is divided over EU membership, most agree the world’s fifth largest economy is at a crossroads and its choices over Brexit will shape the prosperity of future generations for years to come.

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EU ready to work again on declaration on post-Brexit ties – Barnier

DUBLIN (Reuters) – The European Union is ready to work again on the political declaration on future EU-UK ties but the Brexit withdrawal deal already agreed is the best one possible, the bloc’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said on Monday.

“The withdrawal agreement with all its dimensions, including the backstop, is the best deal possible. This debate is much more now on the future relationship. As I said last week at the EU parliament, if the UK want to be more ambitious, we are ready to be,” Barnier told Ireland’s RTE in an interview.

“It is now for the UK leaders to build a stable and positive majority for a deal. We are waiting for the next steps from the UK government but we are ready to work again on the political declaration.”

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Congo political crisis deepens as top court rejects vote challenge

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Congo’s political standoff deepened on Sunday after the top court backed the contested presidential election victory of Felix Tshisekedi, then his main rival rejected the ruling, called for protests and declared himself leader.

As Tshisekedi’s supporters celebrated the ruling in the streets of Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, runner-up Martin Fayulu said the decision had opened the way to a “constitutional coup d’etat”, raising fears of more violence.

Following the court decision, the African Union postponed a visit by a high-level delegation to Kinshasa that had been scheduled for Monday to discuss the crisis. It has previously expressed “serious concerns” about the vote and called for the results to be delayed.

Last month’s election was meant to mark the first democratic transfer of power in the vast central African country, where conflicts have regularly destabilized the region.

But monitors pointed to major flaws in the poll. Unrest over the vote has already killed 34 people, wounded 59 and led to 241 “arbitrary arrests” in the past week, according to the U.N. human rights office.

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In the early hours of Sunday, the Constitutional Court ruled that a legal challenge to the result filed by Fayulu was inadmissible. “Felix Tshisekedi will become the fifth president of the republic,” government spokesman Lambert Mende said as he welcomed the judgment.

Fayulu issued statements dismissing the ruling. “The constitutional court has just confirmed that it serves a dictatorial regime … by validating false results, (and enabling) a constitutional coup d’etat,” he said in one.

“I am now considering myself as the sole legitimate President of the Democratic Republic of Congo,” he added in another statement. He called for people to mount peaceful demonstrations – though the streets of the capital were calm on Sunday afternoon.

“SERIOUS CONCERNS”

Fayulu says Tshisekedi and outgoing President Joseph Kabila made a deal to cheat him out of a more than 60-percent win – an accusation they both dismiss.

The provisional results, announced on Jan. 10, showed Tshisekedi winning with a slim margin over Fayulu.

In a speech, Tshisekedi welcomed the victory and said he would seek to mend divisions in the country.

“This is the end of one fight and the start of another in which I will enlist all the Congolese people: a fight for well-being, for a Congo that wins,” he said.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC), a bloc which includes South Africa and Angola, congratulated Tshisekedi and called for a peaceful transfer of power.

“SADC calls upon all Congolese to accept the outcome, and consolidate democracy and maintain a peaceful and stable environment following the landmark elections,” it said.

On Thursday, SADC backing off from earlier calls for a recount.

Independent monitors flagged major problems with the election, including faulty voting machines and polling stations where many were unable to vote. The Catholic Church, which had a 40,000-strong team of observers, denounced the provisional result.

A tally from the church reviewed by Reuters from about 70 percent of polling stations suggested a victory of 62 percent for Fayulu, a former Exxon Mobil country manager. Tshisekedi and Ramazani were virtually neck-and-neck in second place with 16.93 percent and 16.88 percent, respectively.

Congo – which was ruled by dictator Mobutu Sese Seko for 32 years before tumbling into chaos and war in the late 1990s – is a vital source of copper and other metals, including cobalt.

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Search on for Brexit consensus after May's crushing defeat

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May was trying to forge consensus in parliament on a Brexit divorce agreement on Wednesday after the crushing defeat of her own deal left Britain’s exit from the European Union in disarray 10 weeks before it is due to leave.

May was widely expected to see off an attempt by the opposition Labour Party to bring down her government, having secured the backing of her own party’s rebels and the small Northern Irish party which props up her minority administration.

The confidence motion, called on Tuesday after lawmakers rejected May’s Brexit deal by 432-202 – the worst defeat for a British government in modern times – will be held at 1900 GMT.

With the clock ticking down to March 29, the date set in law for Brexit, the United Kingdom is now in the deepest political crisis in half a century as it grapples with how, or even whether, to exit the European project it joined in 1973.

May pledged to work with senior politicians to find a compromise that would avoid a disorderly no-deal Brexit or another referendum on membership but critics said she was not budging from a deal that had alienated all sides of the debate.

“The exercise … (is) about listening to the views of the house, about wanting to understand the views of parliamentarians so that we can identify what could command the support of this house and deliver on the referendum,” May told parliament.

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Labour’s finance spokesman, John McDonnell, said May could eventually get a deal through parliament if she negotiated a compromise with his party which wants a permanent customs union with the EU, a close relationship with its single market and greater protections for workers and consumers.

But her spokesman said it was still government policy to be outside an EU customs union while May, an initial opponent of Brexit who won the top job in the turmoil following the 2016 referendum vote, insisted Britain would leave the bloc on March 29, leaving little time for a solution to be found.

Her crushing defeat, though, appears to have killed off her two-year strategy of forging an amicable divorce with close ties to the EU after the March 29 exit.

Labour leader Corbyn said she was now leading a zombie government. Labour says its aim is to win power and negotiate Brexit on better terms. However, many Labour members want to see another referendum with an option to cancel Brexit, and the party says it is ruling out nothing if it fails to bring May down.

NEW DEAL?

Sterling jumped by more than a cent against the U.S. dollar on news of May’s defeat on Tuesday and was holding close to that level on Wednesday. Many investors see the prospect of a no-deal exit receding as parliament hardens its stance against it.

May has said cancelling Brexit is likelier than leaving with no deal, but has repeatedly described any failure to carry out the mandate of the 2016 referendum as “catastrophic” for democracy.

“Should the next step be a general election? I believe that is the worst thing we could do, it would deepen division when we need unity,” she told parliament.

Ever since Britain voted by 52-48 percent to leave the EU in a referendum in June 2016, the political class has been debating how to leave the European project forged by France and Germany after the devastation of World War Two.

Companies warned of catastrophic job losses and chaos at ports if there was a no-deal Brexit that would see trade with the EU switch to World Trade Organization rules which many argue could disrupt supply chains relying on friction-free trade. Britain’s top share index ended down 0.5 percent at 6,862 points.

“We would now urge ruling out a no-deal immediately as the only option with majority support in parliament,” Britain’s biggest carmaker Jaguar Land Rover said in a statement.

“TIME FOR PLAYING GAMES IS OVER”

Other members of the EU, which combined has about six times the economic might of the United Kingdom, called for discussion but indicated there was little chance of fundamental change to the deal May had negotiated. Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said there was not much time left to find a Brexit solution and “the time for playing games is now over”.

For the EU, already reeling from successive crises over debt and refugees, Brexit is possibly the biggest blow in its 60-year history, though its 27 other members have shown remarkable unity over Britain’s exit.

While some EU leaders and many British lawmakers have suggested that Britain might want to change its mind, Britain’s leaders are concerned that to stop Brexit could alienate the 17.4 million people who voted to leave.

Brexit supporters anticipate some short-term economic pain but say Britain will then thrive if cut loose from what they cast as a doomed experiment in German-dominated unity. Opponents of Brexit say it is folly that will weaken the West, make Britain poorer and torpedo what remains of its post-imperial clout.

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Search on for Brexit consensus after May's crushing defeat

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May was trying to forge consensus in parliament on a Brexit divorce agreement on Wednesday after the crushing defeat of her own deal left Britain’s exit from the European Union in disarray 10 weeks before it is due to leave.

May was widely expected to see off an attempt by the opposition Labour Party to bring down her government, having secured the backing of her own party’s rebels and the small Northern Irish party which props up her minority administration.

The confidence motion, called on Tuesday after lawmakers rejected May’s Brexit deal by 432-202 – the worst defeat for a British government in modern times – will be held at 1900 GMT.

With the clock ticking down to March 29, the date set in law for Brexit, the United Kingdom is now in the deepest political crisis in half a century as it grapples with how, or even whether, to exit the European project it joined in 1973.

May pledged to work with senior politicians to find a compromise that would avoid a disorderly no-deal Brexit or another referendum on membership but critics said she was not budging from a deal that had alienated all sides of the debate.

“The exercise … (is) about listening to the views of the house, about wanting to understand the views of parliamentarians so that we can identify what could command the support of this house and deliver on the referendum,” May told parliament.

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Labour’s finance spokesman, John McDonnell, said May could eventually get a deal through parliament if she negotiated a compromise with his party which wants a permanent customs union with the EU, a close relationship with its single market and greater protections for workers and consumers.

But her spokesman said it was still government policy to be outside an EU customs union while May, an initial opponent of Brexit who won the top job in the turmoil following the 2016 referendum vote, insisted Britain would leave the bloc on March 29, leaving little time for a solution to be found.

Her crushing defeat, though, appears to have killed off her two-year strategy of forging an amicable divorce with close ties to the EU after the March 29 exit.

Labour leader Corbyn said she was now leading a zombie government. Labour says its aim is to win power and negotiate Brexit on better terms. However, many Labour members want to see another referendum with an option to cancel Brexit, and the party says it is ruling out nothing if it fails to bring May down.

NEW DEAL?

Sterling jumped by more than a cent against the U.S. dollar on news of May’s defeat on Tuesday and was holding close to that level on Wednesday. Many investors see the prospect of a no-deal exit receding as parliament hardens its stance against it.

May has said cancelling Brexit is likelier than leaving with no deal, but has repeatedly described any failure to carry out the mandate of the 2016 referendum as “catastrophic” for democracy.

“Should the next step be a general election? I believe that is the worst thing we could do, it would deepen division when we need unity,” she told parliament.

Ever since Britain voted by 52-48 percent to leave the EU in a referendum in June 2016, the political class has been debating how to leave the European project forged by France and Germany after the devastation of World War Two.

Companies are bracing for the possible chaos of a no-deal Brexit that would see trade with the EU switch to World Trade Organization rules which many argue could disrupt supply chains relying on friction-free trade. UBS Wealth Management told investors to limit their exposure to UK assets.

“We would now urge ruling out a no-deal immediately as the only option with unanimous support in parliament,” Britain’s biggest carmaker Jaguar Land Rover said in a statement.

“TIME FOR PLAYING GAMES IS OVER”

Other members of the EU, which combined has about six times the economic might of the United Kingdom, called for discussion but indicated there was little chance of fundamental change to the deal May had negotiated. Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said there was not much time left to find a Brexit solution and “the time for playing games is now over”.

For the EU, already reeling from successive crises over debt and refugees, Brexit is possibly the biggest blow in its 60-year history, though its 27 other members have shown remarkable unity over Britain’s exit.

While some EU leaders and many British lawmakers have suggested that Britain might want to change its mind, Britain’s leaders are concerned that to stop Brexit could alienate the 17.4 million people who voted to leave.

Brexit supporters anticipate some short-term economic pain but say Britain will then thrive if cut loose from what they cast as a doomed experiment in German-dominated unity. Opponents of Brexit say it is folly that will weaken the West, make Britain poorer and torpedo what remains of its post-imperial clout.

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New election may be best Brexit move

The historic defeat of British Prime Minister Theresa May's proposal for Brexit is a classic case of what happens when a parliament is too divided to resolve a big problem. The answer is to go back to the people.

Mrs May’s plan was shot down by 432 votes to 202, which means about 100 MPs in her own Conservative Party rejected it. They are demanding a complete break with the European Union rather than the Brexit deal Mrs May made with Brussels that maintains close trade and legal ties.

Sacking Theresa May would be unlikely to make much difference. Credit:AP

She is now in a similar position to former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who failed to win the support of his party for the National Energy Guarantee, which was one of his signature policies.
Mr Turnbull lasted only a few days after he was forced to abandon the NEG and it is hard to see Mrs May lasting much longer.

It is too late now to list all her failures. She must regret taking over the prime ministership to implement the ‘‘leave’’ verdict of the 2016 EU referendum, even though she campaigned for the ‘‘remain’’ side. She could have let the hardline Brexiteers carry the can for pulling Britain out of its biggest market.

Mrs May added to that mistake by triggering the two-year process for leaving the EU that will take effect on March 29 before her party had even decided internally what sort of Brexit it wanted. She erred again by calling a general election in which her majority was slashed, putting herself at the mercy of the extremists in her party.
She then pretended she could bully the much bigger EU into granting Britain favourable exemptions from basic EU rules, such as the right to block free movement of EU citizens on to British territory.

Illustration: Matt GoldingCredit:

Yet sacking Mrs May is unlikely to make much difference. No leader can resolve the deadlock within Britain, which is split between hard Brexiteers, remainers and soft Brexiteers. The approach of the fatal hour may concentrate minds but, if it does not, the best answer would be to call a general election.

Mrs May will be able to argue that her plan is the best way to avoid the traffic jams at the new border and the threat to the Northern Ireland peace deal if Britain leaves the EU.

If she wins strongly, she could claim a mandate for her version of Brexit. Alternatively, she could reach out to the opposition Labour Party to build a consensus against the hardliners in her own party.
If that fails, the options are limited. It is hard to see a resolution before March 29, when Britain is by EU law due to leave.

A recent decision by the European Court of Justice, the EU’s version of our High Court, has made it possible, however, for Britain to withdraw the Brexit notification or stop the clock if there is a fundamental change in policy.

Until Britain’s Parliament can agree on what its approach is, the EU will have little patience for delay. Mrs May could, as a last resort, offer to run a second referendum but that would be her ultimate failure. This is a problem that politicians started and it is up to them to resolve.

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Congo poll leaves uncertainty for miners at heart of EV revolution

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – The surprise outcome of Congo’s election – a vote meant to bring closure to years of turmoil under President Joseph Kabila – has done little to ease uncertainty for miners and investors in a country crucial to the electric vehicle revolution.

Democratic Republic of Congo is the world’s leading miner of cobalt, a mineral used in electric car batteries which has seen a surge in demand in recent years, with mines run by firms including Glencore (GLEN.L) and China Molybdenum (603993.SS).

Opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi, an unknown quantity for mining executives, was declared the winner of last month’s chaotic vote on Thursday, defeating Kabila’s chosen successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

The stakes for mining firms are high. In a study last year, McKinsey forecast a 60 percent increase in demand for cobalt by 2025, and cited uncertainty in Congolese government policy as one of the major risks to supply.

“It could be that, as a mining sector, we’re worse off than when we were under Kabila,” said one mining operator, who asked not to be identified. “There may be some improvements, but we’re not counting on it.”

Tshisekedi’s supporters hailed the election result as the end of nearly two decades of corrupt rule under Kabila. But the outcome has quickly come under question, and the extent to which Kabila will continue to wield influence over the economy through sprawling patronage networks remains unclear.

“It’s going to be an extremely volatile period,” said Jason Stearns, director of New York University’s Congo Research Group. “If I were a savvy investor, I’d look at Congo and just step back for six months.”

Tshisekedi has little political track record for investors to judge.

Few companies had expected him to win, one industry source said, and had focused attention on Martin Fayulu, another opposition leader and ally of the former governor of Congo’s mining region, Moise Katumbi. They fear that strategy could now hurt relations with the new president, the source said.

Tshisekedi’s party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, has historically favored an important state role in mining and opposed the privatization of state assets. But in what appeared an olive branch to mining firms, Tshisekedi said on the campaign trail that he would take a second look at a new mining code introduced last year.

Relations between miners and the government hit a nadir over the code, signed into law in March, which raised royalty rates across the board. But even under Tshisekedi, the prospect of a rethink is slim, said Elisabeth Caesens, director of Resource Matters, which advocates for better natural resource governance.

“Increasing taxes on multinationals was way too popular a move to easily turn back,” she said.

TURF WARS?

Five mining executives contacted by Reuters said they were not yet operating on the assumption that Tshisekedi’s win would be validated by the Kabila-appointed Constitutional Court and expected the outgoing president to fight to keep his stranglehold on the sector. None wanted to speak on the record.

Companies could find themselves caught in the crossfire of turf wars over ministry jobs and positions in the bureaucracy, not knowing who is really in charge.

“There are always people you have to sway if you want a contract or a mining permit,” Stearns said. “At the top, these are Kabila’s people. That’s now going to be in a state of flux that, I think, is going to last months.”

Even if Tshisekedi’s win is validated, Kabila’s influence is unlikely to disappear.

Supporters of Fayulu, who was declared runner-up, allege Tshisekedi’s victory grew from a backroom power-sharing deal struck with Kabila and are challenging the result in court. Tshisekedi and Kabila’s camps deny any such deal.

A Catholic Church observer mission concluded Fayulu was the clear victor, diplomats briefed on its findings said. Belgium and France also questioned the result.

Kabila’s allies retain a parliamentary majority, and with it the right to name the prime minister, according to results announced on Saturday, making it unclear who will control key posts. While the president formally appoints ministers, those names are proposed by the prime minister.

“You wield power in Congo via the power of appointment, and what I’ll be looking at is who gets put where,” said Gregory Mthembu-Salter, a former U.N. sanctions monitor in Congo who now heads Phuzumoya Consulting, which advises on due diligence and supply chains.

PATRONAGE NETWORKS

Despite the political uncertainty, Congo’s mineral wealth remains a draw for mining firms. As well as its cobalt reserves, it is Africa’s biggest copper producer and also mines gold and diamonds.

A day after the election results were announced, companies announced two mining transactions which could help bring concessions into production.

Australia’s Vector Resources (VEC.AX) acquired a 60 percent stake in the Adidi-Kanga Gold project in Ituri province. And AIM-listed Armadale Capital (ACPA.L) sold its Mpokoto gold project to Arrow Mining and African Royalty.

A source involved in the Adidi-Kanga transaction said that government approvals for the deal were secured long before the election. Communications consultants for Armadale said work on the Mpokoto deal began in 2016.

Tshisekedi will need a functioning mining sector to raise revenues and, importantly, ensure the army is paid. Clawing revenue streams back from Kabila’s patronage networks would help consolidate his position, as would improving governance to help attract new investors.

Under Kabila, Congo lost at least $1.36 billion in potential revenues from 2010-2012 alone due to cut-price asset sales to offshore companies, according to a panel led by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. Campaigners say the trend has continued.

A review of the most controversial deals of the past decades could also help Tshisekedi prove to the Congolese people that he’s his own man, analysts said.

“Maybe Tshisekedi will set out and try to clean things up,” said Ryan Cummings, director of business intelligence firm Signal Risk. “But I’m not sure I’d put any money on it.”

(Graphic: Provisional election results – tmsnrt.rs/2SNYy3S)

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Congo should recount presidential election vote: Southern African bloc

KINSHASA (Reuters) – An influential African bloc urged Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday to recount the votes of its chaotic presidential election, raising pressure on Kinshasa to ensure the legitimacy of the next government and avert widespread violent unrest.

The Dec. 30 vote was supposed to mark Congo’s first uncontested democratic transfer of power in 59 years of restive independence, and the beginning of a new era after 18 years of chaotic rule by President Joseph Kabila.

But irregularities including faulty voting machines, poorly run polling stations and a halt in the vote for over a million people due to insecurity and an Ebola outbreak in the east, have overshadowed talk of democratic progress.

Sunday’s intervention by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which contains regional allies of Kinshasa like South Africa and Angola, could push Kabila to tackle the presidential runner-up’s accusations that the vote was rigged.

Second-place finisher Martin Fayulu said that he in fact won by a landslide and that the official winner, opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi, struck a deal with Kabila to be declared the victor. Tshisekedi and Kabila deny this.

Isolated post-election violence across the mineral-rich country of 80 million people that sprawls across central Africa has many fearing a return to the kind of civil war upheaval that has killed millions since the 1990s.

International pressure on Kabila has been building since the vote, in part because Congo’s influential Catholic Church said that tallies compiled by its 40,000-strong monitoring team show a different winner to those announced by the electoral commission, without saying who.

France, Belgium, the United States and Britain have all expressed concern about the vote.

But the SADC will hold greater sway in Congo. Its approval of the election’s results are critical for the legitimacy of president-elect Tshisekedi’s new government.

SADC previously said the election went “relatively well” despite some problems. But on Sunday it said it had taken note of the “strong doubts” cast on the poll by the Church.

“A recount would provide the necessary reassurance to both winners and losers,” an SADC statement said.

The Church’s bishops conference, known as CENCO, was not immediately available for comment on Sunday, nor were spokespeople for Kabila, Tshisekedi and Fayulu.

The 16-nation SADC also recommended a government of national unity including parties representing Kabila, Fayulu and Tshisekedi that could promote internal peace.

“SADC draws the attention of Congolese politicians to similar arrangements that were very successful in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya (that created the) necessary stability for durable peace,” the statement said.

The chances of this kind of unity in Congo appear slim for now. Fayulu, who is backed by bitter political rivals of Kabila, on Saturday filed an election complaint with the Constitutional Court to have the result overturned. He has called for a hand recount of the votes.

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India slaps cases against critics of plan to grant citizenship to non-Muslims

GUWAHATI, India (Reuters) – Indian police on Friday said they are investigating an academic, a journalist and a peasant leader for possible sedition for publicly opposing a proposal to grant citizenship to non-Muslims from neighboring Muslim-majority countries.

Critics have called the proposal blatantly anti-Muslim and an attempt by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to boost its Hindu voter base ahead of a general election due by May.

The cases have been filed amid a wave of protests in the BJP-governed northeastern state of Assam. A small regional party in India quit the ruling coalition on Monday in protest against the plan.

The Modi government is facing growing criticism for stifling criticism, including in the media. A television journalist in the region was jailed last month for criticizing the government on social media.

“We have registered a case against a few people based on certain statements that they made at a public rally in Guwahati,” Deepak Kumar, a police official from Guwahati in Assam, told Reuters.

The three have not been charged.

Many people fear such a move could change the demographic profile of Assam, where residents have for years complained that immigrants from Bangladesh have put a big strain on resources.

Hiren Gohain, an 80-year-old academic, peasant leader Akhil Gogoi and journalist Manjit Mahanta have been accused of criminal conspiracy and attempting to wage a war against the government, Kumar said.

The bill, which seeks to give citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, has been passed by the lower house of the parliament.

The bill will be tabled for approval in the upper house in the next session, where it is expected to face resistance from the opposition Congress party. The BJP does not have a majority in the upper house of the parliament.

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Congo's president-elect steps out of father's shadow but doubts persist

KINSHASA (Reuters) – For most of his life, Felix Tshisekedi lived in the long shadow of his father Etienne, a firebrand veteran opposition leader in and out of prison and government over the course of a near 60-year career until his death in 2017.

After being declared the winner of Democratic Republic of Congo’s presidential election in the wee hours of Thursday morning, the younger Tshisekedi looks set to achieve the lifetime goal that eluded his father.

“I will be the president of all Congolese,” Tshisekedi told thousands of delirious supporters, many of whom had scaled the walls of his party headquarters and the trees outside to catch a glimpse of him on stage.

But his declared win comes riddled with questions about his authority. Supporters of the other main opposition candidate say the vote was rigged after Tshisekedi reached a backroom deal to share power with outgoing President Joseph Kabila.

Congo’s venerated Catholic Church, which deployed 40,000 election monitors for the Dec. 30 poll, concluded that the runner-up, Martin Fayulu, was the true clear winner, according to three diplomats briefed on the bishops’ findings.

Tshisekedi’s camp denies having made a deal with Kabila, and says talks since the election with Kabila’s representatives were aimed only at ensuring a peaceful handover of power.

The election will mark Congo’s first transfer of power at the ballot box since independence from Belgium in 1960, after decades of coups, dictatorship, assassinations and civil wars.

But suspicions surrounding Tshisekedi’s win raise doubt about whether he can fend off new unrest — at least four people were reported killed in demonstrations by Fayulu supporters in the west on Thursday — and whether he will have the authority to make good on campaign pledges to fight corruption.

“If Tshiekedi’s made a deal, that will likely mean that the army and intelligence agency are still controlled by Kabila,” said Stephanie Wolters, head of the Peace and Security Research Programme at Pretoria’s Institute for Security Studies.

“It would narrow Tshisekedi’s margin for maneuver on all the important governance issues, and there’s no question it would immediately diminish his credibility.”

PARTY DIVISIONS

The electoral commission’s announcement capped a swift rise for someone who, until recently, was a peripheral figure in Congolese politics. One of five children, Tshisekedi, 55, grew up in the capital Kinshasa in the early years of Mobutu Sese Seko’s rule over the country he rechristened Zaire.

Tshisekedi’s father served in Mobutu’s government before breaking ranks and founding the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), Zaire’s first organized opposition, in 1982.

The UDPS endured harsh repression, and the elder Tshisekedi was repeatedly jailed. Felix moved with his mother and siblings to Belgium in 1985, where he worked a number of odd jobs.

He was a member of the UDPS but toiled in relative obscurity until 2011, when he won a seat in the national parliament in an election which saw his father finish as runner-up to Kabila. The party said the result was rigged.

As the elder Tshisekedi’s health declined in the years that followed and he spent long periods in Europe for treatment, Felix boosted his profile, touring Congo’s interior in 2014.

He met resistance inside the party, whose members had criticized Kabila for having inherited the presidency from his assassinated father, Laurent Kabila, in 2001. Some accused Felix and his mother of treating the party like a family heirloom.

Some leading party members were particularly alarmed in 2015 when Felix accepted talks with Kabila’s representatives aimed at negotiating a transition period for Kabila to stay in power once his official mandate expired at the end of 2016.

SUCCESSION

Etienne’s death in Feb. 2017, just after the party agreed to let Kabila stay in office an extra year following deadly protests, catapulted Felix to the forefront of the opposition.

His genial manner and striking likeness to Etienne – from his portly physique to the trademark flat cap he tended to wear – helped win over many of the UDPS rank and file.

Still, some longtime party figures privately grumble that Felix does not measure up to Etienne, whose body has lain in a Brussels morgue for two years because the government feared its repatriation to Congo would kick off demonstrations.

“Felix is not his father,” said one UDPS insider who declined to be identified. “Etienne Tshisekedi never took power because he never wanted to compromise on truth and justice.”

In November, he agreed to back Fayulu in the presidential poll so as to give the opposition the best chance to defeat Kabila’s hand-picked candidate. But 24 hours later, he withdrew from the pact, saying his base demanded he stand.

Having led one opinion poll in October, he slipped in two other polls just before the election to more than 20 points behind Fayulu, who was supported by several other influential opposition leaders.

If his victory is confirmed and he is sworn into office later this month, he will face enormous challenges, ranging from the 13 million Congolese in need of food aid to concern that doubts about his legitimacy could embolden militias in the east.

His supporters say they are confident he can turn the tide.

“I like Felix Tshisekedi because he incarnates change,” said one party member named Tresor. “Felix Tshisekedi is going to make us forget all the years of suffering under Kabila.”

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