West African leaders meet in Ghana's capital Accra on Sunday to review sanctions they have imposed on three military-ruled countries in their volatile region.
The heads of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are meeting to assess efforts to finalize timetables and other guarantees to restore civilian rule in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso.
Mali suffered coups in August 2020 and May 2021, followed by Guinea in September 2021 and Burkina Faso this January.
Fearing contagion in a region notorious for military takeovers, ECOWAS has imposed harsh trade and economic sanctions against Mali, but lesser punishments against Guinea and Burkina Faso.
Dominating the summit will be the review of a month-long attempt to pressure boards to set an early timetable for returning to the barracks.
ECOWAS imposed a trade and financial embargo on Mali in January after its military government revealed a plan to rule for five years.
The measures have severely hit the poor landlocked country, whose economy is already under heavy pressure from a decade-long jihadist insurgency.
After months of bitter talks, Malian authorities on Wednesday approved a plan to hold presidential elections in February 2024.
The vote will be preceded by a referendum on a revised constitution in March 2023 and legislative elections in late 2023.
The ECOWAS mediator in Mali, former Nigerian leader Goodluck Jonathan, visited the country last week. A member of his entourage told AFP that Mali had made "enormous progress".
Mali's top diplomat, Abdoulaye Diop, said on Friday that recent political developments were moving the country towards lifting sanctions.
But a new electoral law, adopted on June 17, could be a stumbling block in the talks as it allows a military figure to run in presidential elections.
– Guinea's transition is 'unthinkable': Burkina Faso, another Sahelian country caught up in jihadist turmoil, and Guinea have so far only been suspended from the 15-nation bloc's bodies, but could face harsher sanctions.
Burkina Faso's junta has proposed a constitutional referendum in December 2024 and legislative and presidential elections in February 2025.
Visiting Ouagadougou for the second time in a month on Saturday, ECOWAS mediator Mahamadou Issoufou praised the junta's leader, Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, and his government for their "openness to dialogue."
The timetable for allowing a return to civilian rule and the status of deposed leader Roch Marc Christian Kabore were also discussed, the former Niger president said.
Political parties allied with Kabore denounced the board's plans on Friday, saying they were not consulted in advance.
The situation appears more complex in Guinea, whose board has rejected an ECOWAS mediator and announced a 36-month transition, a period African Union President and Senegalese President Macky Sall has described as “unthinkable”.
ECOWAS avoided commenting on the sanctions at a June 4 meeting, instead giving itself another month to negotiate.
Guinea has this week led a diplomatic offensive to allay the concerns of regional leaders.
The country's post-coup prime minister, Mohamed Beavogui, met on Saturday with the United Nations special representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Mahamat Saleh Annadif.
The government said it wanted to assure its ECOWAS “brothers” of its commitment to a peaceful and inclusive democratic transition.
Guinea's military regime met on Monday with the main political parties, but they have made their participation in the dialogue conditional on the appointment of an ECOWAS mediator.
Demonstrators held rallies in several Spanish cities and in Rabat on Friday night to protest the death of 23 African migrants who died in a crowd trying to enter the Spanish enclave of Melilla in northern Morocco.
Thousands of demonstrators gathered in Barcelona, Málaga, Vigo and San Sebastián and in Melilla itself to denounce immigration policies and the "militarization of borders".
In the Moroccan capital, a few dozen representatives of the Collective of Sub-Saharan Communities of Morocco and associations that help immigrants demonstrated in front of the parliament asking Rabat to "stop playing the role of police of the EU".
"We demand the end of the migration policy financed by the European Union, the opening of an independent investigation and the return of the bodies to the families," activist Mamadou Diallo told AFP.
“The Europeans colonized us and took everything from us to develop us. Today, if we go to them, it means that we have the right to go out,” he said.
The Moroccan prosecutor's office has initiated proceedings against 65 immigrants, mostly Sudanese, accused of having participated in the massive attempt to enter Melilla from Morocco a week ago.
At least 23 migrants were killed when some 2,000, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, tried to breach the fence into the Spanish enclave, according to Moroccan authorities, while NGOs say at least 37 lost their lives.
The death toll was by far the worst recorded in years of migrant attempts to cross into the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, which have the EU's only land borders with Africa, making them a magnet for those they are desperate to escape extreme poverty and hunger.
Missiles rained down on Ukraine killing scores of civilians and injuring dozens in built-up areas at the start of the weekend, prompting President Volodymyr Zelensky to accuse Russia of state "terror".
Attacks on a southern resort town left 21 dead and dozens injured after missiles slammed into apartments and a recreation center in Sergiyvka, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of the Black Sea port of Odessa.
The rockets hit residential properties in Solviansk, in the heart of the besieged Donbas region, killing a woman in her garden and wounding her husband, a neighbor told AFP on Saturday, describing debris strewn across the neighbourhood.
The witness said Friday's attack was thought to have used cluster munitions that spread over a large area before exploding, hitting buildings and people outdoors.
The attacks came after Moscow abandoned positions on a strategic island in a major setback to the Kremlin invasion.
The victims of the Sergiyvka attacks included a 12-year-old boy, Zelensky said in his daily address to the nation, adding that some 40 people were injured and the death toll could rise.
"I emphasize: this is a deliberate and purposeful act of Russian terror, and not some kind of mistake or an accidental missile attack," Zelensky said.
"Three missiles hit a normal nine-story apartment building, in which no weapons were hidden, no military equipment," he added. "Normal people, civilians, lived there."
'Cruel manner' Germany was quick to condemn the violence.
"The cruel way in which the Russian aggressor is taking the killing of civilians in stride and speaking again of collateral damage is inhumane and cynical," said German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit.
The attacks follow global outrage earlier this week when a Russian strike destroyed a shopping mall in Kremenchuk, central Ukraine, killing at least 18 civilians.
President Vladimir Putin has denied his forces were responsible for that attack, and Moscow had no immediate comment on the Odessa attacks.
On Friday, Zelensky hailed a new chapter in its relationship with the European Union, after Brussels recently granted candidate status to Ukraine in Kyiv's bid to join the 27-member bloc, even if the EU is likely to be years away. membership.
“Our journey to membership should not take decades. We should go down this road quickly," Zelensky told Ukraine's parliament.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, addressing Ukrainian lawmakers by video link, said membership was "within reach" but urged them to work on anti-corruption reforms.
Norway, which is not a member of the EU, announced $1 billion in aid for Kyiv on Friday, including reconstruction and weapons.
And the Pentagon said it was sending a new weapons package worth $820 million, including two air defense systems and more ammunition for Himars precision rocket launchers that the United States began supplying last month.
Soup dispute In a move that further chilled relations between Kyiv and Moscow, the UN cultural agency inscribed Ukraine's tradition of cooking borshch soup on its list of endangered cultural heritage.
Ukraine considers the nutritious soup, usually made with beets, a national dish, although it is also widely consumed in Russia, other countries of the former Soviet Union, and Poland.
UNESCO said the decision was approved after a fast-track process prompted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
"We will win both in the borshch war and in this war," Ukrainian Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said on Telegram.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: “Hummus and pilaf are recognized as national dishes of various nations. Everything is subject to Ukrainization.”
Phosphorous bombs On Thursday, Russian troops abandoned their positions on Snake Island, which had become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance in the early days of the war, and moved away from sea lanes near the port of Odessa.
The Russian Defense Ministry described the withdrawal as "a goodwill gesture" intended to show that Moscow will not interfere with UN efforts to organize protected grain exports from Ukraine.
But on Friday night, Kyiv accused Moscow of carrying out phosphorous incendiary munition attacks on the rocky outcrop, saying the Russians could not “respect even their own statements”.
In peacetime, Ukraine is a major exporter of agricultural products, but Russia's invasion has damaged farmland and Ukraine's ports have been seized, razed or blocked, raising concerns about food shortages, especially in poor countries.
Western powers have accused Putin of using the trapped harvest as a weapon to increase pressure on the international community, and Russia has been accused of stealing grain.
Ukraine on Friday asked Turkey to detain a Russian-flagged cargo ship that Kyiv said had set sail from the Kremlin-occupied port of Berdyansk.
As heavy fighting continued in eastern Ukraine, authorities said schools in the Ukrainian capital would reopen at the start of the school year on September 1 for the first in-person classes since lessons began online after the invasion began. .
Olena Fidanyan, head of Kyiv's education and science department, said the ground around schools will be checked for explosives and bomb shelters in schools will be restocked with essentials.
Dialogue between Myanmar's junta and ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to end the bloody crisis sparked by the ouster of her government last year "is not impossible," a junta spokesman told AFP on Friday.
The Southeast Asian nation has been in chaos since the coup, with renewed fighting with rebellious ethnic groups, dozens of "People's Defense Forces" springing up to fight the junta and the tattered economy.
Suu Kyi, 77, has been held virtually incommunicado by the military and was recently transferred from house arrest to solitary confinement as she faces multiple trials that could see her sentenced to more than 150 years in jail.
"There is nothing impossible in politics," board spokesman Zaw Min Tun told AFP when asked if the board could enter into dialogue with Suu Kyi to resolve the turmoil.
"We cannot say that (negotiations with Suu Kyi) are impossible."
"Several countries" had urged opening dialogue with the Nobel laureate, he said, without giving details.
Diplomatic efforts spearheaded by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member, have so far failed to stem the bloodshed.
Last year, the bloc agreed to a "five-point consensus," calling for a cessation of violence and constructive dialogue, but the junta has largely ignored it.
ASEAN envoy and Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn arrived in Myanmar on Wednesday for his second visit to boost dialogue between the junta and opponents of his government.
He met with junta chief Min Aung Hlaing on Thursday and met with members of various political parties in the army-built capital Naypyidaw on Friday, a spokesman for the junta said.
The board has said that he will not be allowed to visit Suu Kyi.
“We have done everything that she asked for related to her health and living situation,” said Zaw Min Tun regarding Suu Kyi's new living conditions in prison.
Fighting continues across swaths of the country, with local media reporting killings and burnings by junta troops as they struggle to crush opposition to the coup.
Nearly 700,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since the coup, the United Nations said in May.
Thailand on Thursday disabled F-16 fighter jets after a Myanmar plane involved in clashes with anti-coup fighters near its border violated its airspace, officials said.
China's foreign minister was due to land in Myanmar on Friday for a regional meeting, in what will be Beijing's most high-profile visit to Myanmar since the coup.
It was unclear whether a meeting between Wang Yi and board chief Min Aung Hlaing would take place, a board spokesman said.
China is a major arms supplier and ally of the junta and has refused to label the military takeover a "coup."
On Thursday, the US Supreme Court gave the green light to the administration of President Joe Biden to end the so-called Remain in Mexico policy instituted by Donald Trump as part of his hard-line approach to immigration.
Under the policy, some non-Mexicans who entered the United States illegally through the southern border were sent back to Mexico to wait while their immigration cases played out in court, rather than being detained or provisionally released.
Since the beginning of his term, Biden has been trying to scale back politics as part of what he says is a more humane view of immigration.
Immigrant advocates said the policy exposed asylum seekers to dangerous conditions in Mexico as overwhelmed US courts slowly worked through a backlog of cases.
Thursday's ruling in favor of the Biden administration split 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining conservative Brett Kavanaugh and the court's three liberal justices in the majority.
Roberts, author of the majority opinion, argued that federal immigration law allows the executive branch to return asylum seekers to Mexico, but does not require it to do so.
“Congress conferred the authority to return contiguous territories on expressly discretionary terms,” the opinion says.
Biden's attempt to end the policy, instituted by Trump in 2019, was challenged by a group of Republican-led states led by Texas.
These states argued that their movement violated US immigration law by forcing authorities to release immigrants they had detained on US soil. They also said that Biden officials had not followed proper administrative procedure.
In August 2021, a lower court ruled against the Biden administration, and the case ultimately wound up before the highest court in the nation.
At first, the Supreme Court simply refused to freeze the lower court's ruling, forcing the administration to restart the policy, formally called the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), while moving forward with its appeal.
From the policy's inception in January 2019 until its suspension under Biden, nearly 70,000 people were sent back to Mexico, according to the American Immigration Council.
During Biden's tenure as president, more than 200,000 people who tried to enter the country illegally were intercepted at the border each month and sent back, under MPP or a separate Covid-related policy that blocks people at the border.
Illegal border crossings are often dangerous, both because of the physical conditions in the region and because of mistreatment by human traffickers. This week 53 people died after being crammed into an air-conditioned tractor trailer that was later abandoned in San Antonio, Texas.
The American Civil Liberties Union praised the court's ruling Thursday.
"The Supreme Court was right to reject the spurious argument that this cruel policy is mandated by law," said Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project.
In the Mexican town of Ciudad Juárez, which is across the border from Texas, asylum seekers who had been returned from the United States as part of the Remain in Mexico policy applauded Thursday's decision.
Nicaraguan Pedro Antonio Rizo, 41, who was staying at a local migrant shelter, said the ruling gave him hope for his future, adding that only extraordinary circumstances would force him to leave his home and flee.
"You don't leave your house because you want to leave," he told AFP.