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Honduras inaugurates first female president, Harris vows closer U.S. ties

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(Last Updated On: January 28, 2022)

Xiomara Castro was sworn in as Honduras’ first woman president on Thursday in front of a cheering crowd including U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, who pledged U.S. government support to stem migration and fight corruption.

Castro’s inauguration ends the eight-year rule of Juan Orlando Hernandez, a one-time U.S. ally who has been accused in U.S. courts of corruption and links to drug traffickers. Even as Hernandez left office a U.S. congresswoman called for him to be indicted, and for requests to be made for his extradition.

Castro, flanked by her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya, was sworn in at a packed soccer stadium where supporters applauded her vows to fix the country’s massive debt burden.

“The economic catastrophe that I’m inheriting is unparalleled in the history of our country,” a somber Castro said in her inaugural address.

Her government also faces tests over a sharply divided Congress, and relations with China due to Honduras maintaining diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

Harris, who was loudly applauded when introduced during the inauguration, congratulated Castro over her “democratic election.”

In a meeting shortly after the ceremony, Harris promised to collaborate on migration issues, economic development and fighting impunity, and said she welcomed Castro’s plans to request United Nations help to establish an anti-corruption commission.

Harris has been tasked with addressing the “root causes” of migration in Central America’s impoverished Northern Triangle of countries, but her trip comes as U.S. President Joe Biden’s popularity at home has waned and his immigration strategy has stalled.

“We do very much want and intend to do what we can to support this new president,” said one administration official.

Castro tweeted that she appreciated Harris’ visit and the Biden administration’s willingness to support the Honduran government.

Harris also pledged to send Honduras several hundred thousand more COVID-19 vaccine doses along with 500,000 syringes and $1.3 million for health and educational facilities.

The two did not discuss China, she told reporters.

U.S. officials want to work with Castro both to curb illegal immigration from Central America and shore up international support for Taiwan as part of its efforts to stem China’s influence.

Honduras is one of the few countries maintaining diplomatic ties with Taipei instead of Beijing, and Castro during her campaign backtracked on comments that she might switch allegiance to China as president.

Taiwanese Vice President William Lai attended the inauguration in a bid to bolster ties with Castro’s government. Harris said the two spoke over their common interest in Central America.

Luis Leon, director of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy in Central America, said Harris’ arrival was a boost for Castro in the dispute over control of Congress and in addressing Honduras’ weak economy.

Castro said it was “practically impossible” to make current debt payments without a restructuring, after debt jumped sevenfold under her two conservative predecessors.

The country’s total debt stands at about $15.5 billion, or nearly 60% of gross domestic product, an economic problem Castro frequently highlighted ahead of her landslide win in November.

“My government will not continue the maelstrom of looting that has condemned generations of young people to pay the debt they incurred behind their back,” she added.

She vowed to immediately give more than 1 million poor Hondurans free electricity, with bigger consumers subsidizing the cost.

Castro, who describes herself as a democratic socialist, has vowed to tackle corruption, poverty and violence, chronic problems that have fueled U.S.-bound migrants.

But her legislative program has been jeopardized by renegade politicians from her leftist Libre party who allied with the opposition National Party to vote for one of its members to head Congress, breaking a pact with a key electoral ally.

Castro also takes office at a time of controversy for her predecessor Hernandez, who had served a maximum two consecutive terms as president and had been a longstanding U.S. ally in immigration and anti-narcotics operations.

U.S. Congresswoman Norma Torres has called for Hernandez’s indictment on drug charges, and for U.S. officials to request his extradition.

But Hernandez may be shielded from extradition for up to four years, as he was sworn in as a member of the Central American parliament shortly after Castro’s inauguration.

He has repeatedly denied accusations of corruption and links to drug traffickers.

Hernandez’s brother last year was sentenced by a U.S. judge to life in prison plus 30 years for drug trafficking.

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Chechin leader and Putin ally says ‘Poland next after Ukraine’

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(Last Updated On: May 28, 2022)

The Kremlin-backed leader of Russia’s southern province of Chechnya has posted a video in which he warns that Poland could be next after Ukraine.

Ramzan Kadyrov, who is famous for his bluster, said in the video he posted to his official Telegram page that Ukraine was “a done deal” and that “if an order is given after Ukraine, we’ll show you (Poland) what you’re made of in six seconds.”

Poland, which borders Ukraine, is a NATO member and has provided its neighbor with weapons and other aid since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. It has also welcomed in millions of Ukrainian refugees.

Kadyrov later urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to “finally come to his senses and accept the conditions offered by our president (Vladimir Putin).”

Kadyrov has repeatedly used social media to boast about Chechen fighters’ alleged performance against Ukrainian troops and to make other unconfirmed statements about the war in Ukraine.

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Ukraine needs to face reality and talk to Putin – Zelenskiy

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(Last Updated On: May 28, 2022)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Friday (May 27) said Ukraine was not eager to talk to Russia’s Vladimir Putin but that it has to face the reality that this will likely be necessary to end the war.
 
“There are things to discuss with the Russian leader. I’m not telling you that to me our people are eager to talk to him, but we have to face the realities of what we are living through,” Zelenskiy said in an address to an Indonesian think tank.
 
“What do we want from this meeting… We want our lives back… We want to reclaim the life of a sovereign country within its own territory,” he said, adding that Russia did not appear to be ready yet for serious peace talks.
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Imran Khan ends long march to ‘avoid bloodshed’

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(Last Updated On: May 28, 2022)
PTI Chairman and Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan on Friday dispelled reports that he had struck a deal in exchange for ending the party’s Azadi March, saying that he did so in order to avoid bloodshed.
 
Speaking at a press conference in Peshawar, he said he would take to the streets again if early elections were not announced. 
 
He regretted how police officials attacked the participants of the march, blaming the government for hand-picking officers to target the PTI.
 
“Our workers asked why we did not stage a sit-in. I am the man who staged a sit-in for 126 days. It was not difficult for me, but by the time I reached I became aware of the extent of the situation […] I knew that day that there would be bloodshed.”
 
Imran said the people were “ready” after seeing the “terrorism” carried out through the police. “Everyone was ready to fight, some of our people were so angered by what they saw,” he said, adding that officials were instructed to brutalise protesters.
 
“The anger at the time, if I had staged a sit-in that day I can guarantee that there would have been bloodshed,” he said, adding that there was a prevailing sense of hatred against police officials.
 
“But the police is also ours, it is not their fault,” the PTI chairman said, blaming the government for issuing the directives. If there was violence then it would only have caused chaos in the country, he said.
 
“Do not think it was our weakness and don’t think that a deal was made. I am hearing strange things that a deal was made with the establishment. I did not make a deal with anyone,” he said, adding that the only motive behind his actions was concern for the country.
 
He also made it clear that the PTI would not negotiate with or accept the “imported government”.
 
“I think of this as a jihad. I will stand up against this as long as I am alive,” he said, reiterating that he only cared about the future of the country.
 
He again stressed his six-day ultimatum to the government for the announcement of early elections. “If they do not clearly announce a date for the elections or for the dissolution of the assemblies, I will take to the streets again. Let me make it clear, this time we will be prepared.”
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