NATO refused to bow to Putin’s demands, M. P. says there’s only one option left

Ezekiel 38 : 1-5 “Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, [a]the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, 3 and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshach, and Tubal. 4 I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out, with all your army, horses, and horsemen, all splendidly clothed, a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords. 5 Persia, [b]Ethiopia, and [c]Libya are with them, all of them with shield and helmet;

Important Takeaways:

  • US boosts military aid to Ukraine as Russia tensions soar
  • As U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Ukraine, the Biden administration said Wednesday it’s providing an additional $200 million in defensive military aid to the country amid soaring fears of a Russian invasion.
  • Blinken’s meetings follow inconclusive diplomatic talks between Moscow and the West in Europe last week that failed to resolve stark disagreements over Ukraine and other security matters
  • Instead, those meetings appear to have increased fears of a Russian invasion, and the Biden administration has accused Russia of preparing a “false flag operation” to use as a pretext for intervention. Russia has angrily denied the charge.
  • The State Department said Blinken “stressed the importance of continuing a diplomatic path to de-escalate tensions” surrounding the Russia-Ukraine situation and “reiterated the unshakable U.S. commitment” to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
  • Putin has warned that Moscow will take unspecified “military-technical measures” if the West stonewalls its demands.

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Possible Russian military deployment to Cuba, Venezuela warns Russia its up to U.S.

Mark 13:8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

Important Takeaways:

  • Russia won’t rule out military deployment to Cuba, Venezuela
  • Russia on Thursday sharply raised the stakes in its dispute with the West over Ukraine, with a top diplomat refusing to rule out a Russian military deployment to Cuba and Venezuela if tensions with the United States mount.
  • NATO-Russia meeting in Vienna failed to narrow the gap on Moscow’s security demands amid a buildup of Russian troops near Ukraine.
  • While voicing concern that NATO could potentially use Ukrainian territory for the deployment of missiles capable of reaching Moscow in just five minutes, Putin noted that Russian warships armed with the latest Zircon hypersonic cruise missile would give Russia a similar capability if deployed in neutral waters.

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Sudan’s Burhan says army ousted government to avoid civil war

By Khalid Abdelaziz

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s armed forces chief defended the military’s seizure of power, saying he had ousted the government to avoid civil war, while protesters returned to the streets on Tuesday to demonstrate against the takeover after a day of deadly clashes.

The military takeover on Monday brought a halt to Sudan’s transition to democracy, two years after a popular uprising toppled long-ruling Islamist autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

Speaking at his first news conference since he announced the takeover, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said the army had no choice but to sideline politicians who were inciting against the armed forces.

“The dangers we witnessed last week could have led the country into civil war,” he said, an apparent reference to demonstrations against the prospect of a coup.

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who was arrested on Monday along with other members of his cabinet, had not been harmed and had been brought to Burhan’s own home, the general said. “The prime minister was in his house. However, we were afraid that he’d be in danger so he has been placed with me in my home.”

Burhan had appeared on TV on Monday to announce the dissolution of the Sovereign Council, a body set up after Bashir’s overthrow to share power between the military and civilians and lead Sudan to free elections.

The Facebook page for the office of the prime minister, apparently still under the control of Hamdok loyalists, called for his release and that of the other civilian leaders.

Hamdok remains “the executive authority recognized by the Sudanese people and the world,” the post said. It added that there was no alternative other than protests, strikes and civil disobedience.

Sudanese ambassadors to 12 countries, including the United States, United Arab Emirates, China, and France, have rejected the military takeover, a diplomatic source said on Tuesday.

Ambassadors to Belgium and the European Union, Geneva and U.N. agencies, China, South Africa, Qatar, Kuwait, Turkey, Sweden and Canada also signed on to the statement, which said the envoys backed popular resistance to the coup.

Western countries have denounced the coup, called for the detained cabinet ministers to be freed and said they will cut off aid if the military does not restore power-sharing with civilians.

SHOPS SHUT, PROTESTS FLARE IN CAPITAL

Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman across the Nile river were partly locked down on Tuesday with shops shut and plumes of smoke rising from where protesters were burning tires. Calls for a general strike were played over mosque loudspeakers. Streets and bridges were blocked by soldiers or protester barricades.

Downtown and commercial areas of Khartoum were empty with shops, markets and offices all shut in the city center.

The only people in the streets apart from protesters were security forces heavily deployed around the presidential palace and ministry of defense.

Some roads were still blocked by barricades erected by protesters made from stones, tree branches and burning tires. There were small groups of protesters but no leadership to coordinate them. Phone networks were patchy.

A group of neighborhood resistance committees in Khartoum issued a statement later on Tuesday announcing a schedule of further barricades and escalating protests leading to what it said would be a “march of millions” on Saturday.

Images on social media showed renewed street protests on Tuesday in the cities of Atbara, Dongola, Elobeid and Port Sudan. People chanted: “Don’t give your back to the army, the army won’t protect you.”

The military appeared to have underestimated civilian opposition on the street, according to Jonas Horner of the International Crisis Group.

“They haven’t learned their lesson,” he said. “As we saw post the revolution and post-Bashir, the streets were determined and civilians were willing to die for this.”

A health ministry official said seven people had been killed in clashes between protesters and the security forces on Monday.

Burhan said the military’s action did not amount to a coup, as it had been trying to rectify the path of the political transition.

“We only wanted to correct the course to a transition. We had promised the people of Sudan and the entire world. We will protect this transition,” said Burhan. He said a new government would be formed that would not contain any typical politicians.

Sudan, for decades a pariah under Bashir, has depended on Western aid to pull through an economic crisis in the two years since he was overthrown.

Banks and cash machines were closed on Tuesday, and mobile phone apps widely used for money transfers could not be accessed.

“We are paying the price for this crisis,” said a man in his 50s looking for medicine at one of the pharmacies where stocks have been running low said angrily. “We can’t work, we can’t find bread, there are no services, no money.”

In the western city of El Geneina, resident Adam Haroun said there was complete civil disobedience, with schools, stores and gas stations shut.

(Reporting by Nadine Awadalla, Nafisa Eltahir and Nayera Abdallah; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Peter Graff and Mark Heinrich)

Trump backs challenger to third House Republican who voted to impeach

By Jason Lange

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday endorsed Michigan state lawmaker Steve Carra’s bid to unseat U.S. Representative Fred Upton, his third endorsement of a challenger to a Republican who voted to impeach him on a charge of sparking the Capitol riot.

It was his second such endorsement in a week after throwing his weight behind a challenger to Republican U.S. Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler in Washington state, as he mixes his efforts to help Republicans win control of Congress in the November 2022 elections with a campaign to replace his Republican critics in Congress.

Upton was among 10 Republican lawmakers who joined House of Representatives Democrats in a January vote to impeach Trump on a charge of inciting insurrection in a fiery speech ahead of the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by his supporters.

Upton was an early critic of Trump’s false claims that he lost the November presidential election due to widespread fraud.

Upton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But he said in January he was supporting impeachment to “send a clear message” that the country will not tolerate a president impeding the peaceful transfer of power.

In February, Trump endorsed a former aide who is challenging Republican Representative Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, who also voted to impeach. Last week, he backed Army veteran Joe Kent against Herrera Beutler.

The former president has also backed a Republican challenging Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who was among the seven Republicans in that chamber who voted with Democrats in a failed attempt to convict Trump.

Trump said in a statement that Upton’s impeachment vote was “on rigged up charges” and that Carra “is strong on Crime, Borders, and loves our Military.”

Upton has represented Michigan in Congress since 1987 and won re-election in 2020 with 56% of the vote. He has easily led the Republican field at campaign fundraising, ending June with over $600,000 in the bank.

Carra, whose campaign website describes him as “pro-Trump” and touts his opposition to COVID-19 business shutdowns, had just over $80,000, second to Upton among Republican candidates.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)

Taliban are rounding up Afghans on blacklist – private intel report

OSLO (Reuters) – The Taliban have begun rounding up Afghans on a blacklist of people they believe have worked in key roles with the previous Afghan administration or with U.S.-led forces that supported it, according to a report by a Norwegian intelligence group.

The report, compiled by the RHIPTO Norwegian Center for Global Analyses and seen by Reuters, said the Taliban were hunting individuals linked to the previous administration, which fell on Sunday when the Islamist militant movement took Kabul.

“Taliban are intensifying the hunt-down of all individuals and collaborators with the former regime, and if unsuccessful, target and arrest the families and punish them according to their own interpretation of Sharia law,” said the report, dated Wednesday.

“Particularly at risk are individuals in central positions in military, police and investigative units.”

The non-profit RHIPTO Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, which makes independent intelligence assessments, said the Afghanistan report was shared with agencies and individuals working within the United Nations.

“This is not a report produced by the United Nations, but rather by the Norwegian Center for Global Analyses,” said a U.N. official, when asked for comment.

A Taliban spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report. Since seizing Kabul, the Taliban have sought to present a more moderate face to the world, saying they wanted peace and would not take revenge against old enemies.

The four-page report reproduced a letter it said had been written to one alleged collaborator who was taken from his Kabul apartment this week and detained for questioning over his role as a counter-terrorism official in the previous government.

Reuters could not independently verify its authenticity.

The letter, dated Monday, from the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s Military Commission, noted that the detainee had travelled to the UK as part of his role “which indicates you have had excellent relations with the American and British”.

“If you do not report to the commission, your family members will be arrested instead, and you are responsible for this. You and your family members will be treated based on Sharia law,” the letter said, according to a translation given in the report.

The detainee’s name was redacted.

Separately, a senior member of the security forces of the ousted administration sent a message to journalists saying that the Taliban had obtained secret national security documents and Taliban were arresting former intelligence and security staff.

(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche; additional reporting by Michelle Nichols and Charlotte Greenfield; Writing by Mark Bendeich; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

Suu Kyi faces new charge under Myanmar’s secrets act; wireless internet suspended

(Reuters) -Myanmar’s deposed leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been charged with breaking a colonial-era official secrets law, her lawyer said on Thursday, the most serious charge against the veteran opponent of military rule.

Myanmar has been rocked by protests since the army overthrew Suu Kyi’s elected government on Feb. 1 citing unsubstantiated claims of fraud in a November election that her party swept.

In a new measure to stifle communication about the turmoil, the junta ordered internet service providers to shut down wireless broadband services until further notice, several telecoms sources said.

Suu Kyi and other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) have been detained since the coup and the junta had earlier accused her of several minor offences including illegally importing six handheld radios and breaching coronavirus protocols.

Her chief lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, told Reuters by telephone that Suu Kyi, three of her deposed cabinet ministers and a detained Australian economic adviser, Sean Turnell, were charged a week ago in a Yangon court under the official secrets law, adding he learned of the new charge two days ago.

A conviction under the law can carry a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

A spokesman for the junta did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.

Suu Kyi, who is 75 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her efforts to bring democracy to Myanmar, appeared via video link for a hearing in connection with the earlier charges on Thursday. Another of her lawyers, Min Min Soe, said she appeared to be in good health.

“Amay Su and President U Win Myint are in good health,” the lawyer said, referring to Suu Kyi by an affectionate term for mother. The president, a Suu Kyi ally, was also deposed and detained in the coup. He too faces various charges.

Their lawyers have said the charges against both of them were trumped up.

At least 538 civilians have been killed in protests against the coup, 141 of them on Saturday, the bloodiest day of the unrest, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group.

Protesters were back out in several places on Thursday and two more people were killed, according to media reports, as activists burned copies of a military-framed constitution and called for unity among all those opposed to army rule.

One person was killed and five wounded when the security forces fired in the central town of Monywa, the Monywa Gazette reported.

Security forces also opened fire in the second largest city of Mandalay killing one person, media reported. Shots rang out and black smoke drifted over Myanmar’s ancient royal capital.

Police and a spokesman for the military did not answer calls seeking comment.

The suspension of wireless internet connections is likely to cripple communications about the protests in a country where very people few have access to fixed line connections.

‘NEW DAY’

The coup has also triggered new clashes in Myanmar’s old wars.

At least 20 soldiers were killed and four military trucks destroyed in clashes with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of Myanmar’s most powerful rebel groups, DVB news reported.

Reuters could not immediately verify the reports and a junta spokesman did not answers calls seeking comment on the clash.

Myanmar military aircraft have started bombing positions of another group, the Karen National Union (KNU), for the first time in more than 20 years and thousands of villagers have fled from their homes, many into Thailand.

The army takeover has led to calls for a united opposition among city-based democracy campaigners and ethnic minority forces battling in frontier regions.

Ousted members of parliament, mostly from Suu Kyi’s party, have vowed to set up a federal democracy in a bid to address a long-standing demand from minority groups for autonomy.

They also announced the scrapping of the 2008 constitution drawn up by the military that enshrines its control over politics. The military has long rejected federalism, seeing itself as the central power holding the fractious country together.

Social media posts showed copies of the constitution, real and symbolic, being burned at rallies and in homes.

“The new day begin here!” Dr Sasa, the international envoy for the ousted parliamentarians said on Twitter, referring to what for now is not a change that proponents can make.

Britain’s Next on Thursday joined a growing list of European clothing retailers suspending new production orders with factories in Myanmar in the wake of the coup.

(Reporting by Reuters StaffWriting by Ed Davies and Robert BirselEditing by Stephen Coates, Simon Cameron-Moore and Frances Kerry)

U.S. Congress in sprint to fund government, approve COVID-19 emergency aid

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress will try this week to end months of indecision and infighting over the federal government’s budget priorities and coronavirus aid, with more than $2 trillion in funding from Washington potentially at stake.

Lawmakers, facing a midnight Friday deadline, will scurry to put the finishing touches on a $1.4 trillion spending bill for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

At stake are funds for federally run programs ranging from healthcare, homeland security and military readiness to foreign aid, national parks and nutrition programs. They have been operating on temporary funding since October.

Without a deal, the government must begin shutting non-emergency programs and furloughing many workers.

Members of the Republican-run Senate and Democratic-led House of Representatives, who fear negotiations could extend through the Christmas holiday, have a second major task: deciding the contours of a coronavirus aid bill that could approach $1 trillion amid a worsening pandemic that has claimed the lives of nearly 300,000 Americans.

Some moderate lawmakers on Sunday dismissed suggestions that a $908 billion bipartisan coronavirus aid proposal was languishing.

“The plan is alive and well and there’s no way, no way that we are going to leave Washington without taking care of the emergency needs of our people,” Democratic Senator Joe Manchin told Fox News, saying the proposal would be introduced formally on Monday.

A person briefed on the matter said the authors now planned to divide the measure into two separate proposals, which could be voted on separately. One would be a $748 billion proposal including small businesses, the jobless and COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

The other would include major sticking points such as coronavirus-related liability protections for business, which are backed by Republicans, and $160 billion for state and local governments, a Democratic priority.

Lawmakers are hoping to attach the aid to the government funding measure.

Local public health agencies worry that without a deal on either of the two bills, they will not have enough money to carry out a massive COVID-19 vaccination program.

The first shipments of Pfizer Inc’s newly approved vaccine were delivered on Sunday.

WHO WINS AND WHO LOSES?

With the twin goals of stimulating the struggling U.S. economy and financing purchases of medical supplies, Democrats and Republicans in Congress are faced with deciding who should receive new help from Washington – beyond over $3 trillion appropriated last spring – and who should not.

Democrats have been pushing hard for aid to state and local governments to insure against laying off more workers, including police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, dismissed that on Friday as a “preposterous” federal handout for Democratic-leaning states that he says do not need it.

But even some of McConnell’s own Republicans disagreed.

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska told reporters her state’s revenues had seen a 33 percent decline during the pandemic in an economy heavily dependent on summertime tourism.

“We’re a state that is really, really hurting right now,” Murkowski said on Friday, adding that many others are in the same situation.

The House’s No. 2 Democrat, Steny Hoyer, offered a glimmer of hope that a breakthrough might be possible, telling CNN on Sunday that Democrats “are not going to get everything we want. We think state and local (aid) is important. And if we can get that, we want to get it. But we want to get aid out to the people who are really, really struggling and are at grave risk.”

Congress also is divided over whether to do a second round of direct payments to Americans to help stimulate the economy.

“We have a history now of going to the 11th hour and 59th minute on all of this and it’s very unfortunate. That’s where we are,” lamented Republican Senator Pat Roberts, who is retiring at year’s end.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and David Shepardson; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Pompeo reassures Netanyahu U.S. will ensure Israel’s military advantage

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The United States will ensure Israel retains a military advantage in the Middle East under any future U.S. arms deals with the United Arab Emirates, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday.

“The United States has a legal requirement with respect to qualitative military edge. We will continue to honor that,” Pompeo told reporters after a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu said he had been reassured on the issue by Pompeo, who began a Middle East visit in Jerusalem that will showcase U.S. support for Israeli-Arab peace efforts and building a front against Iran. It will also include Sudan, the UAE and Bahrain.

A U.S.-brokered deal on normalizing relations between Israel and the UAE was announced on Aug. 13. But there has been some dissent in Israel over the prospect of the Gulf power now obtaining advanced U.S. weaponry such as the F-35 warplane.

Speaking on CNN on Saturday, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner said the UAE had been trying to get the F-35 for a long time.

“This new peace agreement should increase the probability of them getting it. But it’s something we’re reviewing,” he said.

Pompeo said Washington had provided the UAE with military support for more than 20 years, measures he described as needed to stave off shared threats from Iran – also Israel’s arch-foe.

“We’re deeply committed to doing that, to achieving that and we’ll do it in a way that preserves our commitment to Israel and I’m confident that objective will be achieved,” Pompeo said.

Bruised by the U.N. Security Council’s rejection of a U.S. draft resolution for extending an arms embargo on Iran, the Trump administration is seeking a “snapback” of U.N. sanctions that had been eased as part of a 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

“We are determined to use every tool that we have to ensure that they (Iran) can’t get access to high-end weapons systems,” Pompeo said. “We think it’s in the best interest of the whole world.”

The Palestinians warned the Trump administration against trying to sideline them in the Middle East diplomatic push.

“Recruiting Arabs to recognize Israel and open embassies does not make Israel a winner,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said in an interview with Reuters. “You are putting the whole region in a lose-lose situation because you are designing the road for a forever conflict in the region.”

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Maayan Lubell and Angus MacSwan)

Firefighters, military planes, troops arrive in California to fight massive blazes

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Crews from across the U.S. West, military planes and National Guard troops poured into California on Sunday to join the fight against two dozen major wildfires burning across the state, as officials warned of more dry lightning storms approaching.

The worst of the blazes, including the second and third largest wildfires in recorded California history, were burning in and around the San Francisco Bay Area, where more than 200,000 people have been told to flee their homes.

“Extreme fire behavior with short and long range spotting are continuing to challenge firefighting efforts. Fires continue to make runs in multiple directions and impacting multiple communities,” the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said of the largest conflagration, the LNU Lightning Complex.

The fires, which were ignited by lightning from dry thunderstorms across Northern and Central California over the past week, have killed at least six people and destroyed some 700 homes and other structures. All told nearly one million acres have been blackened, according to Cal Fire.

Smoke and ash has blanketed much of the northern part of California for days, drifting for miles and visible from several states away.

The LNU Complex, which began as a string of smaller fires that merged into one massive blaze, has burned across roughly 340,000 acres of Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Yolo and Solano counties, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said at a news briefing on Sunday.

It is now the second-largest wildfire on record in the state and was only 17% contained as of Sunday afternoon. To the south the SCU Lightning Complex was nearly as large, at 339,000 acres, and only 10% contained, Berlant said.

CREWS ARRIVE FROM OTHER STATES

Outside the Bay Area, the flames were threatening forests near the University of California at Santa Cruz and a wide swath of the area between San Francisco and the state capital of Sacramento.

Reinforcement crews and fire engines have arrived from Arizona, Montana, Nevada, Texas and Utah, with more on the way, Berlant said. Some 200 members of the National Guard had been activated and the U.S. military sent planes, he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday declared the fires a major disaster, freeing up federal funds to help residents and businesses harmed by the fires in seven counties pay for temporary housing and repairs.

Berlant said more dry thunderstorms were forecast through Tuesday and so-called red flag warnings had been issued across much of the northern and central parts of California during a record-breaking heat wave that has baked the state for more than a week, caused by a dome of atmospheric high pressure hovering over the American Southwest.

Meteorologists say that same high-pressure ridge has also been siphoning moisture from remnants of a now-dissipated tropical storm off the coast of Mexico and creating conditions rife for thunderstorms across much of California.

Most of the precipitation from the storms evaporates before reaching the ground, leaving dry lightning strikes that have contributed to a volatile wildfire season.

The American Lung Association has warned that the coronavirus pandemic has heightened the health hazards posed by smoky air and extreme heat. Inhaling smoke and ash can worsen the weakened lungs of people with COVID-19, said Afif El-Hassan, a physician spokesman for the lung association.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

U.S. halts military cooperation with Mali as coup supporters celebrate

By Tiemoko Diallo and Aaron Ross

BAMAKO (Reuters) – The United States said on Friday it had suspended cooperation with Mali’s military in response to the overthrow of the president, as thousands gathered in the capital to celebrate the junta’s takeover.

The ousting of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Tuesday has dismayed Mali’s international partners, who fear it could further destabilize the former French colony and West Africa’s entire Sahel region.

“Let me say categorically there is no further training or support of Malian armed forces full-stop. We have halted everything until such time as we can clarify the situation,” the U.S. Sahel envoy J. Peter Pham told journalists.

The United States regularly provides training to soldiers in Mali, including several of the officers who led the coup. It also offers intelligence support to France’s Barkhane forces, who are there to fight affiliates of al Qaeda and Islamic State.

Pham said a decision on whether Washington would designate the actions a coup, which could trigger a cut-off of direct support to the government, had to go through a legal review. A Pentagon spokesperson referred on Friday to the events as an “act of mutiny”.

Supporters of the junta filled Independence Square in the capital, Bamako, which has been largely peaceful since Tuesday’s turmoil. Many of them sang, danced, tooted vuvuzelas and waved banners thanking the mutineers.

“It’s a scene of joy. God delivered us from the hands of evil, we are happy, we are behind our army,” said a 59-year-old farmer who gave his name only as Souleymane.

Some protesters also showed their disapproval of different foreign powers. One sign had the words “Barkhane” and “MINUSMA” crossed out, the latter a reference to the U.N. peacekeeping force in Mali.

Meanwhile a couple of Russian flags could be seen waving in the crowd. Russia’s ambassador to Mali has met representatives of the junta, Russian state news agency RIA reported.

France said on Thursday that Barkhane’s operations would continue despite the coup.

TRANSITION

The junta leaders have said they acted because the country was sinking into chaos and insecurity that they said was largely the fault of poor government. They have promised to oversee a transition to elections within a “reasonable” amount of time.

Junta spokesman Ismael Wague said on Thursday that the officers were holding talks with political leaders that would lead to the appointment of a transitional president.

They have held Keita since detaining him and forcing him to dissolve parliament and resign.

A United Nations human rights team visited Keita and 13 other senior figures held by the junta late on Thursday, spokeswoman Liz Throssell said.

“There are no indications that these people have been ill-treated,” she told a news briefing in Geneva, where she called for their release.

Earlier on Friday, the mutineers freed Finance Minister Abdoulaye Daffe and the president’s private secretary, Sabane Mahalmoudou, the head of Keita’s party, Bocary Treta, said.

A delegation from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is expected to arrive in Bamako on Saturday, after the bloc held an emergency summit aimed at reversing Keita’s ouster.

ECOWAS has already suspended Mali’s membership, shut off borders and halted financial flows to the country.

(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo and Aaron Ross; Additional reporting by Felix Onuah in Abuja, David Lewis in London, Stephanie Nebehey in Geneva, Idrees Ali in Washington and Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Toby Chopra, Angus MacSwan and Frances Kerry)