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Former Angolan President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos Dies At 79

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LISBON, Portugal — José Eduardo dos Santos, once one of Africa’s longest-serving rulers who during almost four decades as president of Angola fought the continent’s longest civil war and turned his country into a major oil producer as well as one of the world’s poorest and most corrupt nations, died Friday. He was 79.

Dos Santos died at a clinic in Barcelona, Spain following a long illness, the Angolan government said in an announcement on its Facebook page.

The announcement said dos Santos was “a statesman of great historical scale who governed … the Angolan nation through very difficult times.”

Dos Santos had mostly lived in Barcelona since stepping down in 2017 and had been undergoing treatment there for health problems.

Angola’s current head of state, João Lourenço, announced five days of national mourning starting Saturday, when the country’s flag will fly at half-staff and public events are canceled.

Dos Santos came to power four years after Angola gained independence from Portugal and became enmeshed in the Cold War as a proxy battlefield.

Read More: Prince Harry Is Honoring His Mother’s Work in Angola. Here’s What to Know About Princess Diana’s Landmines Walk

His political journey spanned single-party Marxist rule in post-colonial years and a democratic system of government adopted in 2008. He voluntarily stepped down when his health began failing.

In public, dos Santos was unassuming and even appeared shy at times. But he was a shrewd operator behind the scenes.

He kept a tight grip on the 17th-century presidential palace in Luanda, the southern African country’s Atlantic capital, by distributing Angola’s wealth between his army generals and political rivals to ensure their loyalty. He demoted anyone he perceived to be gaining a level of popularity that could threaten his command.

Dos Santos’ greatest foe for more than two decades was Jonas Savimbi, leader of the UNITA rebels whose post-independence guerrilla insurgency fought in the bush aimed to oust dos Santos’ Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA.

The MPLA had financial support from the Soviet Union and military support from Cuba in its war against UNITA. Savimbi was backed by the United States and South Africa.

The war would last, with brief periods of U.N.-brokered peace, until 2002 when the army finally tracked down Savimbi in eastern Angola and killed him.

Dos Santos abruptly shed his Marxist policies after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. He moved closer to Western countries, whose oil companies invested billions of dollars in mostly offshore exploration.

His supporters praised his ability to adapt to changing circumstances. His critics called him unscrupulous.

Dos Santos was invited to the White House in 2004 by then-president George W. Bush as the United States has looked to reduce its dependence on oil from the Middle East.

Angola became sub-Saharan Africa’s second-largest oil producer after Nigeria, producing close to 2 million barrels per day. It also unearthed more than $1 billion worth of diamonds each year.

However, the wealth never reached the Angolan people, who during and after the civil war were at risk from large areas of unmapped minefields and had little access to basic amenities, such as running water or roads. Education and health care were — and remain — sparse.

More than $4 billion in oil revenue vanished from Angolan state coffers between 1997 and 2002, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a 2004 report, based on an analysis of figures from the International Monetary Fund.

The U.S. State Department said that wealth in Angola is “concentrated in the hands of a small elite, who often used government positions for massive personal enrichment.”

Dos Santos was believed to own valuable real estate in Brazil, France, and Portugal, as well as foreign bank accounts.

Under his rule, and despite the general poverty, street protests were rare and quickly broken up by the heavily armed riot police known popularly as “Ninjas.” A well-paid and well-equipped presidential guard was garrisoned inside dos Santos’s palace and lined the city’s grimy, potholed streets whenever he emerged.

A bricklayer’s son from Luanda, Angola’s coastal capital, dos Santos began his political life with boots and a rifle in 1961 as an 18-year-old guerrilla for the MLPA in the fight for independence from Portugal.

MPLA bosses pulled him from combat in 1963 and sent him to the Soviet Union for training as a petroleum engineer and military communications specialist.

When he returned to Angola in 1970, he skillfully negotiated compromises to keep the MPLA from breaking up into splinter groups and as a reward was appointed to the party’s central committee.

When independence arrived in 1975, dos Santos became foreign minister and later planning minister and deputy prime minister in the single-party Marxist state.

In a surprise choice, the MPLA elected dos Santos at 37 as president upon the death of Agostinho Neto, Angola’s first leader, in 1979. Dos Santos was seen as a consensus figure between squabbling party veterans, but few anticipated his political longevity.

Dos Santos never sought to establish a personality cult and remained a mysterious figure. He reportedly once said in private he felt his true vocation was that of a monk.

Nor was he known for political sensitivity: He built a multimillion-dollar mansion on the fringe of a Luanda shantytown while millions of Angolans were fighting starvation during the civil war.

He was considered a sure loser against Savimbi in the country’s first democratic elections in 1992, following a peace treaty signed the previous year.

Margaret Anstee, a former U.N. special representative to Angola, described dos Santos as being almost the opposite of Savimbi.

“His demeanor was grave and reserved, to the point that I traced a sense of shyness or timidity, absurd as this seemed. The contrast with Dr. Savimbi’s flamboyant personality could not have been more vivid,” she wrote in her 1996 book on Angola entitled “Orphan of the Cold War.”

But in further evidence of his staying power dos Santos held on again, narrowly outpolling Savimbi for president while leading the MPLA to a parliamentary majority in the simultaneous legislative election.

When Savimbi rejected his defeat at the ballot box and returned to his armed struggle, Western support gradually swung behind dos Santos.

The foes signed another peace deal, brokered by the United Nations, in 1994, but that also unraveled four years later.

Meanwhile, dos Santos—with an army of around 100,000 troops, many with years of jungle combat experience—essayed a role as a regional power broker, starting with neighboring countries.

He sent 2,500 troops to Republic of Congo in 1997 to help President Denis Sassou-Nguesso seize power and the following year sent a contingent to Congo to help President Laurent Kabila’s government fight rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda.

The end of Angola’s civil war in 2002 brought an opportunity for broader economic development in the southern African country, which is more than three times the size of California.

But public infrastructure was devastated; 4 million people—about one-third of the population at the time—had fled their homes because of the fighting; and oil and diamond wealth continued in the hands of the political and military elite.

Berlin-based Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2005 named Angola as one of the world’s 10 most corrupt countries.

“As land mine-maimed children begged in the streets, politicians’ wives flew to New York on the government health budget for nip-and-tuck cosmetic surgery,” wrote John McMillan, a Stanford University economics professor, in a 2005 study on Angolan corruption.

Under pressure to finally hold a ballot, dos Santos announced legislative elections in 2008 and a presidential election the following year.

Dos Santos’s MPLA won the most votes for parliamentary seats. But then the head of state changed tack, first postponing the presidential ballot and then scrapping it.

He altered the constitution so that the president is chosen by the party which wins the parliamentary elections. That kept him in power for another eight years.

However, with his health reportedly worsening, Dos Santos announced in 2016 he would retire.

He was replaced by Lourenço, an MPLA stalwart, who has made an anti-corruption drive his flagship policy. He has targeted dos Santos’ grown children, who possess fabulous personal wealth, but not his predecessor.

That change in fortune for dos Santos’s family has prompted one of his daughters to suspect that a conspiracy was behind her father’s illness and death. Spanish prosecutors and police are looking into allegations by Tchizé dos Santos that people close to the ex-president have tried to kill him, failed to care for him properly and acted negligently.

Dos Santos, who was married four times, was survived by his current wife, Ana Paula, by whom he had three children. He is known to have at least three other children and various grandchildren.

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1,100 New York Times Employees Walk Out After Contract Talks Miss Deadline

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By Helen Coster

(Reuters)—More than 1,100 union employees at the New York Times Co began a one-day work stoppage on Thursday, the union said, citing the company’s “failure to bargain in good faith,” after setting a deadline for a contract last week.

The union, part of the NewsGuild of New York, had set a deadline for a contract for midnight Dec. 8.

The 24-hour walkout marked the first time New York Times employees have participated in a work stoppage since the early 1980s and comes amid a growing labor movement across the United States in which employees from companies such as Amazon, Starbucks Corp and Apple Inc have organized in an effort to push back against what they say are unfair labor practices.

“Today we were ready to work for as long as it took to reach a fair deal, but management walked away from the table with five hours to go,” the New York Times union tweeted on Wednesday.

The New York Times issued a statement confirming the strike. “It is disappointing that they are taking such an extreme action when we are not at an impasse,” the company said.

In the media industry, journalists at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, owned by Block Communications Inc, and the McClatchy-owned Fort Worth Star-Telegram are currently on open-ended strikes.

On Nov. 4 over 200 union journalists across 14 Gannett-owned news outlets – including the Desert Sun in California and New Jersey’s Asbury Park Press – participated in a one-day strike.

In August, nearly 300 Thomson Reuters Corp journalists in the United States, also represented by the NewsGuild of New York, staged a 24-hour strike as the union negotiates with the company for a new three-year contract.

The Times Guild represents journalists as well as ad sales workers, comment moderators, news assistants, security guards and staffers at The Times Center, the company’s events venue and virtual production studio.

Tech employees of the Times voted last March to unionize and have been trying separately to negotiate their first contract.

(Reporting by Helen Coster in New York, Dawn Chmielewski in Los Angeles and Akriti Sharma and Bharat Govind Gautam in Bengaluru; Editing by Anna Driver, Sandra Maler and Leslie Adler)




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Who Is Viktor Bout, the ‘Merchant of Death’ Arms Dealer Biden Traded to Russia For Brittney Griner?

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President Joe Biden on Thursday traded Viktor Bout, the notorious international arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death,” to Russia for U.S. basketball player Brittney Griner, who was arrested at a Moscow airport earlier this year with cannabis oil in her luggage.

But how exactly did Bout earn his nickname?

A former Soviet military translator, Bout supplied arms for deadly conflicts around the world by using his air cargo companies to smuggle weapons from Eastern Europe to Africa and the Middle East in the 1990s and early 2000s. Bout allegedly delivered surface-to-air missiles to Kenya for an attack on an Israeli airliner in 2002. And four years later, Bout reportedly met with Islamic terrorist organization Hezbollah prior to the Lebanon War. The “Merchant of Death” also had a “considerable commercial presence in Libya” during former leader Muammar Gaddafi’s reign, according to intelligence records found in the country in 2011.

U.S. officials under the Bush administration captured Bout during a 2008 sting operation in Bangkok, where the arms dealer believed he was meeting with Colombian narco-terrorist group FARC to secure the sale of 100 surface-to-air missiles and rocket launchers. Bout was extradited from Thailand to the United States in 2010 on terrorism charges including conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, and conspiracy to kill U.S. officials. A U.S. jury sentenced Bout to 25 years in prison in Manhattan in 2011.

While Biden agreed to swap Griner for Bout in a deal announced Thursday morning, the Democrat did not secure the release of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine whom Russia convicted in June 2020 on espionage charges that American officials have called manufactured. Russia did not agree to include Whelan in the deal, according to the New York Times, leaving Biden to agree to a “one-for-one swap.”




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Mongolian protesters try to storm State Palace alleging corrupt officials sold coal to China

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Protesters in Mongolia tried to force their way into the State Palace over the weekend in response to allegations of corruption with officials involved in the country’s coal trade.

The U.S. Embassy in Mongolia’s capital city of Ulaanbaatar issued an alert Monday saying that several hundred protesters had gathered in the freezing cold at the city’s Sukhbaatar Square during the weekend and marched to the presidential residence with some people attempting to force their way inside the building.

The demonstrators chanted and sang while stamping their feet to stay warm. They were demanding that the government hold officials accountable for the alleged theft of 385,000 tons of coal from stockpiles on Mongolia’s border with China.

The allegations center on coal from the Tavan Tolgoi region in the south Gobi Desert that is being mined by state-owned Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi (ETT) and two other companies. Local media reports said ETT, which is listed on Mongolia’s stock exchange, has been placed under state supervision as the government’s Independent Authority Against Corruption investigates.

Police officers standing guard outside the Government Palace in Mongolia.
Protesters in Mongolia tried to force their way into the State Palace in response to allegations of corruption with officials involved in coal trade.
REUTERS

“Help us our country is collapsing,” one protester’s sign read, according to Barron’s.

Police attempted to break up the crowd around 9 p.m. local time as scuffles began to break out between law enforcement and the protesters. 

Public outrage has continued to grow in Mongolia after a whistleblower claimed that lawmakers with ties to the coal industry are responsible for stealing billions of dollars worth of coal. 

A picture of a A protester waves a Mongolian national flag.
Protesters were seen marching to the presidential residence, while some people attempted to force their way inside the building.

A picture of Protesters gather on Sukhbaatar Square in Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia.
The demonstrators chanted and sang while stomping their feet to stay warm.

A picture of Protesters gather on Sukhbaatar Square in Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia.
An alert was issued saying that several hundred protesters gathered in the cold at the city’s Sukhbaatar Square.

A picture of security personnel reacting to a protestor.
People were demanding that the government hold officials accountable for the alleged theft of 385,000 tons of coal from stockpiles.

China is the destination of most of the landlocked Mongolia’s exports of coal, cashmere, livestock, and other resources.

In Beijing, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson who was asked about allegations that coal was stolen for sale inside China said she was unaware of that “specific situation.”

“China is a friendly neighbor of Mongolia, and we believe the Mongolian government will properly handle and investigate the matter. The competent Chinese authority will provide necessary assistance as requested by the Mongolian side in accordance with laws and regulations,” said Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning.

A protestor holds a police shield during a demonstration.
A whistleblower claimed that lawmakers with ties to the coal industry are responsible for stealing billions of dollars worth of coal.

A picture of a damaged government vehicle.
Police attempted to break up the crowd as scuffles began to break out between law enforcement and protesters.

Economic conditions have deteriorated in the country of roughly 3.3 million as inflation has soared to 15.2% which has been exacerbated due in part to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Associated Press contributed to this report


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