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Bolivian opposition leader held on ‘terrorism’ charges

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Prosecutors in Bolivia are seeking six months of pre-trial detention in the case of Luis Fernando Camacho, the governor of Santa Cruz and prominent right-wing leader whose sudden arrest on Wednesday sparked allegations of kidnapping.

Camacho is being held in the political capital of La Paz on charges of “terrorism”, prosecutor Omar Mejillones confirmed in a statement on Thursday.

The Santa Cruz governor also faces ongoing investigations into his role during Bolivia’s 2019 political crisis, which led to the departure of then-President Evo Morales. Among the charges being considered are breach of duty, misuse of influence and attacking the president and high-ranking officials.

Camacho – a former presidential candidate who heads the powerful Christian conservative coalition Creemos – had been a leader during the 2019 protests that helped to remove Morales, the country’s first Indigenous president, from office.

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In a statement, Camacho rejected the accusations, saying they lacked credibility.

The 2019 political crisis saw Morales seeking a fourth consecutive term as president, a move his critics denounced as unconstitutional. Morales had successfully appealed to the Supreme Court to abolish term limits after voters refused to do so in a 2016 referendum.

Morales successfully won his fourth term in October 2019 but the election was mired in allegations of fraud and protests erupted contesting Morales’s leadership. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights estimates 36 people lost their lives in the crisis. With an international audit under way and violence in the streets, Bolivia’s military called on Morales to resign.

He did, leaving office in November 2019, but condemned the conflict as a “coup”. On Thursday, Morales applauded Camacho’s arrest with a post on Twitter.

“Finally, after three years, Luis Fernando Camacho will answer for the coup d’etat that led to robberies, persecutions, arrests and massacres of the de facto government. We trust that this decision will be upheld with the firmness demanded by the people’s clamour for justice,” Morales wrote.

Camacho’s allies, meanwhile, have called the arrest a “kidnapping”, organised by Morales’s Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) political party.

In a statement posted on Camacho’s social media on Thursday, his legal team said Bolivia’s judiciary had “practically closed the doors” against their legal actions to free the governor and was continuing to “violate [his] constitutional rights”.

Camacho’s arrest and subsequent jailing have heightened existing tensions between Bolivia’s left-wing government and conservative-led Santa Cruz, the largest of the country’s nine departments.

Following the prosecutor’s announcement on Thursday, the right-wing Pro-Santa Cruz Committee – a civic group of which Camacho was once president – announced it would lead a general strike on Friday as well as blockades on the department’s highways.

Already, protesters have taken to the streets in Santa Cruz to block roads. The local prosecutor’s office was reportedly set on fire. And on Wednesday, amid reports Camacho was being flown to La Paz to face charges, protesters entered two Santa Cruz airports in an apparent attempt to stop his transport.

Bolivia’s public works minister Edgar Montano took to Twitter on Thursday to say his house in Santa Cruz had been targeted and burned, “violating the integrity and safety of my family”. He blamed Camacho and the Pro-Santa Cruz Committee for the attack.

“They are not going to intimidate us with criminal acts such as burning my home and calls on social networks to loot institutions and homes belonging to other officials”, he tweeted, adding: “#SantaCruz is not an independent country.”

A protester outside the state attorney’s office in La Paz, Bolivia, cries out for the release of Santa Cruz governor Luis Fernando Camacho [Claudia Morales/Reuters]

Earlier this year, the Pro-Santa Cruz Committee led widespread protests after current President Luis Arce, a member of Morales’s Movement Towards Socialism party, announced plans to postpone Bolivia’s census.

The census, originally scheduled for this year, was expected to show population growth in Santa Cruz, a soy-growing department rich in agriculture that also houses the country’s largest city. That, in turn, would have resulted in more government funding allocated to the department, as well as greater representation in Congress.

Prosecutors have promised to seek the “harshest punishment” for any violence stemming from this week’s protests. Meanwhile, Bolivian politicians representing Camacho’s Creemos party have called on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to protect Camacho’s “safety and integrity”.

A spokesperson for the United States State Department told Reuters: “We encourage observance of international norms and reliance on democratic institutions. We urge all parties to resolve this issue peacefully and democratically.”

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Petr Pavel: Polyglot, war hero, and the new Czech president – Euronews

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Ex-general Petr Pavel has won another gritty campaign — this time at the ballot box.

The bearded 61-year-old, a decorated veteran who took part in a high-stakes peacekeeping mission in the Balkans and represented his country as a top-tier NATO general, was voted Czech president on Saturday, beating billionaire ex-prime minister Andrej Babiš.

With the ballots from 97% of almost 15,000 polling stations counted by the Czech Statistics Office, Pavel had 57.8% of the vote compared with 42.2% for Babiš.

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Though Czech presidents wield little day-to-day power, Pavel will have influence over foreign policy and government opinion, as well as the power to appoint prime ministers, constitutional judges and central bankers.

True to his military past, he has vowed to bring “order” to the Czech Republic, a 10 million-strong EU and NATO member, hammered by record inflation and economic turmoil due to the Ukraine war.

“I can’t ignore the fact that people here increasingly feel chaos, disorder and uncertainty. That the state has somehow ceased to function,” Pavel said on his campaign website.

“We need to change this,” he added. “We need to play by the rules, which will be valid for everyone alike. We need a general sweep.”

From Communist to war hero

Following in his father’s footsteps, Pavel underwent a military education in former Czechoslovakia, which was then ruled by Moscow-backed communists.

He joined the Communist Party, like his billionaire rival Babiš, and soon rose through the army ranks, studying to become an intelligence agent for the oppressive regime.

Critics fault him for his communist past, though Pavel has defended himself by saying party membership was “normal” in his family and called it a “mistake”.

When the Iron Curtain crumbled in 1989, Pavel chucked out his party ID but went ahead with the intelligence course.

Amid the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, Pavel — trained as an elite paratrooper and holding the rank of Lieutenant Colonel at the time — helped evacuate French troops stuck in the midst of combat between Croats and ethnic Serb paramilitaries in Croatia, earning him the French Military Cross for bravery.

“We got into several tense situations and he always managed them with deliberation and calm,” said retired Czech general Aleš Opata, who served with Pavel.

He later studied at military training schools in Britain, gaining a master’s from King’s College London.

After his country joined NATO in 1999, Pavel soon climbed through the alliance’s ranks, becoming its top military official in 2015. 

With a chest full of decorations, he retired in 2018.

What are his political views?

Pavel ran as an independent and was the strongest of the three candidates backed by the liberal-conservative coalition SPOLU of now-former President Miloš Zeman.

He has argued for better redistribution of wealth and greater taxation of the rich while also supporting progressive policies on issues such as same-sex marriage and euthanasia.

Positioning himself as a counterweight to populism, Pavel anchors the Czech Republic in NATO and wants to align his country with the European Union.

“The main issue at stake is whether chaos and populism will continue to rein or we return to observing rules… and we will be a reliable country for our allies,” he said after narrowly winning the first election round.

A staunch supporter of Ukraine, Pavel’s political rivals have alleged he would drag the country into a war with Russia.

“I know what war is about and I certainly don’t wish it on anyone,” said Pavel. “The first thing I would do is try to keep the country as far away from war as possible.”

Often sporting jeans and a leather jacket, Pavel is a polyglot, speaking Czech, English, French and Russian, and loves motorcycling.

He holds a concealed weapon licence, allowing him to carry a firearm, and he is married to a fellow soldier, Eva Pavlová.

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Canadian and American Politics

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THIS SURVEY EXPLORES CANADIANS’ AND AMERICANS’ PERSPECTIVES ON CANADIAN AND AMERICAN POLITICS.

Our latest North American Tracker explores Canadians’ and Americans’ perspectives on Canadian and American politics.

It examines Canadians’ federal voting intentions and Americans’ approval of President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris.

Download the report for the full results.

This survey was conducted in collaboration with the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS) and published in the Canadian Press. This series of surveys is available on Leger’s website.

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CANADIAN POLITICS

  • The Conservatives and Liberals are tied: if a federal election were held today, 34% of Canadian decided voters would vote for Pierre Poilievre’s CPC and the same proportion would vote for Justin Trudeau’s LPC.

AMERICAN POLITICS

  • 42% of Americans approve of the way Joe Biden is handling his job as president.
  • 40% of Americans approve of the way Kamala Harris is handling her job as vice-president.

METHODOLOGY

This web survey was conducted from January 20 to 22, 2023, with 1,554 Canadians and 1,005 Americans, 18 years of age or older, randomly recruited from LEO’s online panel.

A margin of error cannot be associated with a non-probability sample in a panel survey. For comparison, a probability sample of 1,554 respondents would have a margin of error of ±2.49%, 19 times out of 20, while a probability sample of 1,005 respondents would have a margin of error of ±3.09%, 19 times out of 20.

THIS REPORT CONTAINS THE RESULTS FOR THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS AND MORE!

  • If federal elections were held today, for which political party would you be most likely to vote?  Would it be for…?
  • Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the way Joe Biden is handling his job as president?
  • Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the way Kamala Harris is handling her job as vice president?​
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Legault won’t celebrate 25 years in politics

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Premier François Legault does not intend to celebrate his 25-year political career this year.

He became Minister of Industry in Lucien Bouchard’s PQ government on Sept. 23, 1998, but was elected on Nov. 30 of the same year as the representative for L’Assomption, the riding in which he is still a member.

In a news conference on Friday at the end of a caucus meeting of his party’s elected officials in a Laval hotel, the CAQ leader said that neither he nor his party had any intention of celebrating this anniversary.

“I don’t like these things,” he said.

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He pointed out that he is still younger than the former dean of the National Assembly, François Gendron. And smiling, he alluded to the U.S. President.

“I’m quite a bit younger than Mr. Biden, apart from that!” he said.

Legault is 65 years old, while the President is 80.

However, Legault is now the dean of the House. According to recent data, he has served as an elected official for 20 years, 6 months, and 27 days so far.

The premier was quick to add, however, that he has taken a break from politics.

He resigned on June 24, 2009 as a member of the Parti Québécois (PQ), then in opposition. But he was elected as an MNA and leader of the then-new Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) on Sept. 4, 2012.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Jan. 27, 2023.

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