Exclusive: Sudan cut off from $650 million of international funding after coup

By Aidan Lewis, Khalid Abdelaziz and Nafisa Eltahir

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan was unable to access $650 million in international funding in November when assistance was paused after a coup, the finance minister of the dissolved government said – a freeze that puts in doubt basic import payments and the fate of economic reforms.

The financing included $500 million in budget support from the World Bank and $150 million in special drawing rights from the International Monetary Fund, said Jibril Ibrahim, who was appointed to a civilian transitional government in February.

Foreign funding was seen as crucial in helping Sudan emerge from decades of isolation and supporting a transition towards democracy that began with the 2019 overthrow of Omar al-Bashir.

The Oct. 25 coup upended that transition. The United States has put on hold $700 million in economic assistance since the coup and the World Bank, which had promised $2 billion in grants, has paused disbursements.

After mass protests, the military on Nov. 21 announced a deal to reinstate Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. He is tasked with forming a government of technocrats but faces political opposition to the deal.

“Sudan had tremendous international support. Now donors will be much more cautious,” said one former official from the dissolved government.

The onus will now be on the military and the government to show they are not returning to the very Bashir-era model that was being restructured and reformed, the former official said.

The U.S. Treasury declined to comment. The IMF, which approved a $2.5 billion, 39-month loan program in June that is subject to periodic review, said it continued to “closely monitor developments”.

Before the coup the inflation rate, one of the highest in the world, had begun to fall, and the exchange rate had stabilized following a sharp devaluation in February.

Western diplomats and bankers say those reforms are now at risk and it is unclear how Sudan can fund imports without printing banknotes, a policy that fueled a long-running economic crisis but stopped during the transition.

Around the time of the coup, Sudan had enough reserves to cover just two months of strategic imports, a second former official said.

GOLD REVENUES

Ibrahim, a former rebel leader who secured his ministerial role through a peace deal and expects to retain it, said he hoped international support would return gradually over the next three to six months and that meanwhile bills could be paid and reforms would continue.

“Basically we depend on tax, customs and gold revenues and on different (state) companies working in various fields,” Ibrahim said in an interview at the Finance Ministry in Khartoum. For imported basic goods, such as flour, fuel and medicine, “we cannot cover it completely, but the majority of the strategic commodities we can cover with our exports,” he said.

The government had begun to reduce its trade deficit through tax and customs reforms, but those revenues were interrupted by a blockade by a tribal group at Port Sudan before the coup. A further blockade has been threatened.

Ibrahim said the main impact of the freeze in international support would be on development projects covering areas including water supply, electricity, agriculture, health and transport. An internationally funded basic income program to lessen the impact of subsidy reform has also been frozen.

Sudan’s 2022 budget was being planned with no allowance for international assistance, Ibrahim said, but with a target of sticking to a 1.5% deficit limit defined under an IMF financing program. Projected growth for 2022 could fall from 3% to 1.5-2%, he said.

Ibrahim said Sudan would seek investment rather than grants from wealthy Gulf Arab states that now face their own economic challenges.

“Up till now there have not been any big promises of support from any country, Arab or non-Arab, but contacts with all friendly states continue,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal, Writing by Aidan Lewis, Editing by William Maclean)

Sudanese activists call for escalation after deadliest day since coup

KHARTOUM (Reuters) -Opponents of the coup in Sudan vowed on Thursday to step up protests after 15 civilians were reported killed in the deadliest day yet since last month’s takeover, risking more confrontation as the junta shows no sign of backing down.

More than three weeks since General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan derailed Sudan’s transition towards civilian rule, pro-democracy activists are facing an increasingly dangerous struggle in the streets. The deaths on Wednesday, tallied by medics aligned with the protest movement, bring the toll since the Oct. 25 coup to at least 39.

The latest violence drew condemnation from Western states which have suspended economic assistance since the coup. Despite the economic pressure – Sudan desperately needs aid – efforts to mediate a way out of the crisis have stalled.

A senior U.S. State Department official said it was “a really critical moment,” expressing a “somewhat positive” feeling about recent talks held by Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee in Khartoum, “which I know, seems counterintuitive.”

Protesters described police behavior during Wednesday’s protests as more aggressive than before, the latest sign that the military is looking to entrench its position. The military has said peaceful protests are allowed.

Confrontations continued on Thursday in Khartoum’s twin city Bahri, which had seen the worst of Wednesday’s violence. A witness said security forces fired tear gas and live bullets as they removed barricades erected by protesters, who were dispersing and regrouping as they tried to protect them.

A witness in Omdurman, across the Nile, said forces were removing barricades, using tear gas and arresting protesters.

A group of neighborhood resistance committees coordinating the protest movement in east Khartoum announced in a statement “open escalation” against the coup.

“Now we are making consultations among the resistance committees about upping the escalation against the coup,” a senior member of the committees said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The United Nations condemned the repeated use of excessive force against peaceful demonstrators, calling on the de facto authorities and security forces to exercise restraint, refrain from further rights violations, and release all those detained since the coup, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

STRIDENT

Pictures of people killed in earlier demonstrations were held aloft during Wednesday’s protests.

“I don’t think yesterday’s violence will have done much if anything to tamp down how strident the street has been in pushing back against the coup,” said Jonas Horner of Crisis Group.

“The military misunderstood just how determined people on the street are to see the return of a civilian-led government.”

Police said 89 officers were wounded on Wednesday and that they recorded one civilian death.

“There is increasing despondency, but the resilience of the ongoing protest movement gives hope that the coup could still be reversed. There is still a window of opportunity to do that, but it is narrowing,” said Ahmed Soliman of the Chatham House think tank.

Briefing reporters on a plane from Nairobi to Abuja during a visit to Africa by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the senior U.S. State Department official struck an optimistic note on Sudan: “Everybody, it seems to me, wants to find a way back, which is not the feeling I think you would get from the outside.”

Burhan last week appointed a new ruling council, a move Western powers said complicated efforts to restore the transition towards democracy that began after long-ruling autocrat Omar al-Bashir was toppled in 2019.

But Burhan has yet to name a new cabinet, leaving at least some possibility for a compromise over a new administration, though analysts say it underlines difficulties the general has faced securing civilian backing for a new government.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called for the restoration of ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who is under house arrest, and the release of other detained civilians.

“If the constitutional order is not immediately restored there will be serious consequences for our support, including financial,” he said.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz, Nafisa Eltahir, Aidan Lewis, Sabine Siebold, Humeyra Pamuk, Michelle Nichols; Writing by Aidan Lewis/Tom Perry; Editing by Peter Graff and Richard Chang)

Sudan’s army chief appoints new ruling council, led by himself

By Khalid Abdelaziz

CAIRO (Reuters) -Sudan’s army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on Thursday named a new transitional council, headed by himself, to lead the country following the military takeover late last month, shrugging off domestic and international pressure to reverse the coup.

The new 14-member Sovereign Council, for which one member is yet to be confirmed, includes civilians representing Sudan’s regions but none from the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) political coalition that had been sharing power with the military in a democratic transition since 2019.

Burhan’s deputy will remain Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commander of the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), with both men keeping roles they held before the coup.

The move is likely to harden opposition among civilian groups who have pledged to resist the takeover through a campaign of civil disobedience, strikes and mass rallies, the next of which is planned for Saturday.

Sudan’s ousted Information Minister, Hamza Balloul, called the announcement an extension of the coup. He said in a statement that he was “confident that the Sudanese people can defeat the coup and continue the transition.”

The Sudanese Congress Party, part of the FFC, vowed to oppose and resist the coup “at all costs.”

The council also includes representatives of rebel groups that reached a peace deal with the government last year but had rejected the takeover in a statement this week.

The Oct. 25 takeover ended a power-sharing arrangement between the military and civilians set up after the overthrow of former president Omar al-Bashir in 2019 that was meant to lead to elections in late 2023.

Some senior civilians have been detained and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been under house arrest.

The previous council had served as Sudan’s collective head of state, alongside Hamdok’s government which ran Sudan’s day-to-day affairs. Burhan and Dagalo had been due to hand over its leadership to a civilian in the coming months.

Mediation aimed at securing the release of detainees and a return to power sharing has stalled since the coup as the military moved to consolidate control. Political sources told Reuters on Thursday that there had been no progress in indirect contacts between Hamdok and the army.

Aboulkassem Mohamed Burtum, the newly appointed council member for north Sudan, told Sky News it would apply the constitutional declaration that underlay the democratic transition. “We are civilians, the civilians are not only Hamdok,” he said.

Prior to Thursday’s announcement, Burhan told Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni that he was committed to dialogue with all political forces and the quick formation of a technocratic government, Burhan’s office said. Burhan has denied carrying out a coup and promised elections in 2023.

MEDIC ARRESTED

Earlier on Thursday Sudanese medic Mohamed Nagi Al-Assam, who rose to prominence in the uprising against Bashir and became a vocal critic of the coup, was arrested and taken to an unknown location, a doctors union said.

In a statement on Assam’s arrest, the union said resistance would continue “until the coup is brought down and its leaders are put on trial.”

The union has joined other labor organizations and the FFC in calling for Saturday’s mass rallies.

Much of the international community has called for Burhan to reverse the takeover, with Western powers and the World Bank suspending economic assistance and calling into question a deal to forgive tens of billions of dollars of foreign debt.

The United Nations called Thursday’s developments “very concerning.”

Earlier on Thursday, the European Union expressed “great concern that arbitrary arrests in Khartoum and in the rest of the country are still ongoing and even increasing,” according to a statement from foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

The civil disobedience movement has been hampered by a blackout of mobile internet access across Sudan since Oct. 25.

A judge on Thursday issued a second instruction to telecoms firms Zain and MTN and local providers Sudatel and Canar to restore connections, pending the announcement of any damages to be paid to subscribers.

In a statement to Reuters, Zain said the original order only applied to some accounts and that the company had reconnected them immediately. It said it was working on Thursday’s order to restore all lines. The other companies could not be reached or did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In addition to Burhan and Dagalo, three other military members of the previous ruling council were retained in the new council announced on Thursday, along with one civilian representative who had been jointly selected by the military and the FFC.

Four new members representing different regions of the country were also appointed, though the representative for eastern Sudan was still to be confirmed, state media reported.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz, Nafisa Eltahir, Ahmen Hagagy and Mahmoud Mourad; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Peter Graff, Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman)

U.S. urges Sudan military to refrain from violence against planned protests -official

By Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Friday urged Sudan’s military coup leaders to refrain from violence against peaceful protesters ahead of planned demonstrations on Saturday opposing the takeover, saying how the army reacts will be a litmus test.

“Tomorrow is going to be a real indication of what the military intentions are,” said a senior State Department official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

“We call on the security forces to refrain from any and all violence against protesters and to fully respect the citizens’ right to demonstrate peacefully,” the official said.

Washington was relieved to see that ousted Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok had been allowed to return home, the official said, adding that it was not good enough because Hamdok was still under house arrest and unable to resume his work.

Sudanese General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan dissolved Hamdok’s Cabinet, and soldiers rounded up government ministers on Monday, prompting Western countries to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in desperately needed aid to the North African country.

Opponents of the coup have called for mass protests on Saturday under the slogan “Leave!” At least 11 protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces this week, and residents say they fear a full-blown crackdown.

The coup has derailed a transition meant to steer Sudan to democracy, with elections in 2023, after long-serving ruler Omar al-Bashir was toppled two years ago.

‘FACE OF BETRAYAL’

The U.S. official called Burhan “the face of turning the clock back in Sudan” and said Washington understood the skepticism of Sudan’s civilian leaders to work with him and the military but added that a full exclusion of the army was not realistic.

“He’s the face of the betrayal of the aspirations of the Sudanese people, a face of the high-jacking of the civilian institutions,” the U.S. official said, adding that the civilian leaders would be looking for assurances before bringing themselves to work with him — something he said they should do nevertheless.

“Our civilian partners won’t like to hear me say this — but it’s not realistic to think that you’re going to be able to succeed in the transition if you’ve completely excluded the military from the process,” the official said.

Burhan on Friday said a technocratic prime minister could be announced in a week and left the door open for Hamdok to return and form the new government.

The U.S. official said Washington knew that there were problems with the transition but Sudanese military leaders never hinted at a takeover in their dealings last weekend with the U.S. delegation.

Jeffrey Feltman, President Joe Biden’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, flew into Khartoum two days before Monday’s coup, as concerns mounted that the transition was running into trouble due to tension between the generals and civilians.

Reuters reported that Feltman warned Burhan not to take any steps against the civilian administration that was overseeing a democratic transition but the army ignored his advice.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Aurora Ellis)

Sudanese army faces widening opposition to coup as nightly protests pick up

KHARTOUM (Reuters) -The Sudanese army faces widening opposition to this week’s coup with the U.N. Security Council on Thursday urging the restoration of the civilian-led transitional government and activists in Sudan mobilizing for protests this weekend.

The takeover, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on Monday against a civilian government, has brought thousands of people on to the streets to reject a return of military rule and demand a transition towards civilian rule be put back on track.

Witnesses told Reuters they saw security forces use live and rubber bullets against protesters in Bahri, across the river from the capital, Khartoum, as nightly protests began to pick up.

The Security Council expressed serious concern about the takeover and urged all parties to exercise maximum restraint and engage in dialogue without pre-conditions.

In a statement, agreed by consensus, the 15-member body also called for the immediate release of all those who have been detained by the military.

The coup brought an end to a shaky transitional set-up intended to lead to elections in 2023 by sharing power between civilians and the military following the fall of Omar al-Bashir, whom the army deposed after a popular uprising two years ago.

It has been met with broad condemnation from Western governments including the United States which threw diplomatic and financial weight behind the transition and has frozen aid since the coup.

In a statement posted on Facebook overnight, ministries and agencies of Sudan’s most populous state, Khartoum, which includes the capital and twin city Omdurman, said they would not step aside or hand over their duties.

They declared a general strike, joining unions in sectors such as healthcare and aviation, although they said they would continue to supply flour, cooking gas and emergency medical care.

The main market, banks and filling stations in Khartoum were still closed on Thursday. Hospitals were providing only emergency services. Smaller shops were open, but there were long queues for bread.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted overnight that he had spoken by phone to Foreign Minister Mariam Sadiq al-Mahdi.

Blinken said he condemned the arrest of civilian leaders in Sudan and discussed with Mahdi “how the U.S. can best support the Sudanese people’s call for a return to civilian-led transition to democracy”.

A U.N. official urged Burhan to start a dialogue with ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and offered to facilitate a political settlement.

A statement issued by the office of U.N. special representative to Sudan Volker Perthes did not say how Burhan had responded to the offer made at a meeting on Wednesday.

Perthes urged Burhan to deescalate the situation.

Hamdok, initially held at Burhan’s residence, was allowed to return home under guard on Tuesday. A source close to him said he remains committed to a civilian democratic transition and the goals of the revolt that toppled Bashir.

BURHAN IGNORED WARNINGS

The toll of people killed in clashes with security forces since Monday climbed to eight, with a 22-year-old man dying of gunshot wounds, a medical source said. Opponents fear the army-led authorities could deploy more force.

The source close to Hamdok said the prime minister had called for the military to avoid violence against protesters.

Opponents of the coup have been handing out fliers calling for a “march of millions” on Saturday against military rule, falling back on old methods of mobilization with the authorities restricting the use of internet and phones.

The protest is being called under the slogan “Leave!” used in the protests that brought down Bashir.

Since the anti-Bashir uprising, protests have been organized through neighborhood committees that can mobilize locally without access to the internet or to major roads closed by security forces.

Sudan has been in the midst of a deep economic crisis with record inflation and shortages of basic goods, which only recently showed signs of possible improvement helped by aid that major Western donors say will end unless the coup is reversed.

More than half the population is living in poverty and child malnutrition stands at 38%, according to the United Nations.

Burhan’s move reasserted the army’s dominant role in Sudan since independence in 1956, after weeks of mounting tension between the military and civilians in the transitional government over issues including whether to hand Bashir and others over to The Hague where they are wanted for war crimes.

Burhan has said he acted to stop the country slipping into civil war and has promised elections in July 2023.

Western envoys had warned Burhan that assistance, including a now frozen $700 million in U.S. aid and $2 billion from the World Bank, would cease if he took power. Sources said he ignored those warnings under pressure from inside the military and with a “green light” from Russia.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum and Nafisa Eltahir in Cairo; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Peter Graff and Nick Macfie)

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)

‘An epidemic’ of coups, U.N. chief laments, urging Security Council to act

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.N. chief Antonio Guterres assailed what he called “an epidemic of coup d’états” on Tuesday and urged the Security Council to act to effectively deter them as the 15-member body prepared to discuss the military takeover in Sudan.

“The Sudanese people has shown very clearly their intense desire for reform and democracy,” the secretary-general told reporters as he again condemned the Sudanese army’s seizure of power on Monday and urged all parties to exercise “maximum restraint.”

Sudan’s top general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on Tuesday defended the military takeover, saying he had ousted the government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to avoid civil war.

It is the latest in a series of military takeovers in Myanmar, Mali and Guinea and attempted coups in several other countries.

The Security Council – which has the ability to impose sanctions or authorize military action – has been split on how to approach various conflicts, with the United States and other western council members pitted against Russia and China. It was due to meet behind closed doors on Sudan on Tuesday.

Guterres pointed to strong geopolitical divides, Security Council “difficulties in taking strong measures” and the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as creating “an environment in which some military leaders feel that they have total impunity, they can do whatever they want because nothing will happen to them.”

“My appeal, obviously, is for – especially the big powers – to come together for the unity of the Security Council in order to make sure that there is effective deterrence in relation to this epidemic of coup d’états,” Guterres said. “We have seen that effective deterrence today is not in place.”

The council has issued statements expressing concern about the situation in Myanmar and condemning the military takeover in Mali. It is discussing a possible statement on Sudan, diplomats said.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Howard Goller)

Sudan’s prime minister warns of risk of chaos, civil war

By Khalid Abdelaziz

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s prime minister warned on Tuesday of the risk of chaos and civil war fomented by loyalists of the previous regime as he sought to defend reforms meant to pull the country out of a deep economic crisis and stabilize a political transition.

Abdalla Hamdok made the comments in a televised address days after young men carrying clubs and sticks blocked roads in the capital Khartoum following the removal of fuel subsidies.

Hamdok’s government serves under a fragile military-civilian power-sharing deal struck after a popular uprising spurred the army to overthrow veteran leader Omar al-Bashir in April 2019.

The transition is meant to last until the end of 2023, leading to elections.

“The deterioration of the security situation is mainly linked to fragmentation between components of the revolution, which left a vacuum exploited by its enemies and elements of the former regime,” Hamdok said.

He said that without reform of Sudan’s sprawling security sector, which expanded under Bashir as he fought multiple internal conflicts, Sudan will continue to face internal and external threats.

“These fragmentations can lead us to a situation of chaos and control by gangs and criminal groups, just as it can lead to the spread of conflict among all civilian groups and might lead to civil war.”

Though Sudan has won international praise for economic reforms since Bashir’s fall and has made progress towards debt relief, many Sudanese face food shortages or have struggled to make ends meet as prices have soared over the past year.

Inflation hit 379% in May and electricity or water outages occur daily.

While roadblocks have often been used in protests triggered by economic or political grievances since 2018, a Reuters witness saw more aggression around the barriers set up in recent days.

The state government said police and prosecutors would deal with what it called the gangs involved in blocking the roads, but there appeared to be little police presence on the streets.

(Additional reporting by Alaa Swilam; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Kushner launches group to promote Arab states’ new ties with Israel

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Jared Kushner is forming a group to promote relations between four Arab states and Israel, normalized under agreements he helped broker as a top adviser to his father-in-law former President Donald Trump, the group said on Wednesday.

Kushner is founding the “Abraham Accords Institute for Peace,” to work on deepening agreements Israel reached last year with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, is writing a book about his experience in helping broker the deals. He will be joined in the new group by former U.S. envoy Avi Berkowitz and ambassadors to the United States from Bahrain, the UAE and Israel.

Israeli-American businessman Haim Saban, a contributor to Democratic causes, was also listed as part of the effort in a statement by the group, which described itself as non-partisan. The founders “intend to add additional Democrats to the group as well as international advisers from the region”, it said.

The Arab countries’ agreements with Israel were opposed by the Palestinians, who say they violate pledges from Arabs not to make peace until Israel withdraws from occupied lands.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat who defeated the Republican Trump in an election in November, has said he aims to strengthen and expand the agreements, a position he repeated on Tuesday in a phone call with the UAE’s powerful crown prince of Abu Dhabi.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Peter Graff)

Morocco hosts Israeli envoys, Kushner to hammer out new ties

By Ahmed Eljechtimi

RABAT (Reuters) – Israeli envoys arrived in Morocco on Tuesday to meet its king and hammer out an upgrade of ties that was forged by the White House in a foreign policy push by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Led by National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, the Israeli delegation was accompanied by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and architect of pan-Arab rapprochement with Israel.

They took El Al Israel Airlines in the first direct flight by a commercial plane from Tel Aviv to Rabat. Both countries anticipate a surge in tourism aboard such connections, mainly among the hundreds of thousands of Israelis of Moroccan descent.

Morocco followed the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in moving toward normal relations with Israel. Palestinians have censured the U.S.-brokered deals, seeing a betrayal of a long-standing demand that Israel first meet their statehood goals.

As the Trump administration has sought to isolate Iran, the deals have been sweetened with promises of business opportunities or economic aid. Israel’s new partners have also enjoyed bilateral benefits from Washington – in Rabat’s case, U.S. recognition of its sovereignty over the Western Sahara.

“This type of agreement (with Israel) will help have a better interaction between communities and people,” Moroccan Tourism Minister Nadia Fettah Alaoui told I24 television.

During the visit, Ben-Shabbat and Kushner will see Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, Israeli officials said. Moroccan and Israeli officials are also scheduled to sign accords on linking up aviation and financial systems, on visas and water management.

The delegates’ plane, painted with the Hebrew, Arabic and English words for “peace” and a Maghreb good-luck talisman, had a low-key reception at Rabat airport. Moroccan officials describe their deal with Israel as a restoration of mid-level ties that Rabat cooled in 2000 in solidarity with Palestinians.

Israel and Morocco now plan to reopen mutual “liaison offices.” Israel hopes these will be upgraded to embassies.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Mark Heinrich)