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Ivory Coast troops return home after months of captivity in Mali

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Soldiers’ return signals the apparent resolution of a bitter diplomatic standoff between Mali and the Ivory Coast.

Forty-six Ivorian soldiers accused by Mali of being mercenaries have returned home after six months in captivity.

The troops arrived at Ivory Coast’s Abidjan airport late on Saturday, a day after receiving a pardon from Mali’s military ruler.

Their arrest in the Malian capital of Bamako in July of last year had triggered a bitter diplomatic fight between the neighbouring countries.

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Mali accused them of being mercenaries, while Ivory Coast said they were flown in to provide routine backup security for the German contingent of a United Nations peacekeeping mission.

Emerging from their plane home on Saturday, each soldier held a small Ivorian flag and smiled as they shook hands with Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, who was waiting to greet them at the airport.

“Now that this crisis is behind us, we can resume normal relations with the brother country of Mali,” Ouattara said once they were all on Ivorian soil.

A spokesperson for the soldiers thanked Ouattara, and “the Ivorian people for their support and active solidarity”.

“We are happy and relieved to return to the motherland,” he said.

Their release comes days after a court in Bamako sentenced them to 20 years in prison on charges of conspiring against the Malian government and seeking to undermine state security. Three women, who had been among the original 49 arrested at the airport and released earlier, received death sentences in absentia.

The sentences came ahead of a January 1 deadline set by leaders from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for Mali to release the soldiers or face sanctions.

But on Friday, Mali’s military leader Assimi Goita pardoned all 49.

The Malian government cited a memorandum of understanding that the two countries had signed “on the promotion of peace and the strengthening of relations of friendship, brotherhood and good neighbourliness between the Republic of Mali and the Republic of Ivory Coast”.

It also thanked Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe, who had mediated in the dispute.

Relations between Mali and its West African neighbours have been strained since Goita led a coup against elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August 2020. The country’s new rulers initially promised elections by February of last year but then announced a four-year delay, weeks ahead of the vote.

The move prompted stiff ECOWAS sanctions on Mali that crippled the country’s economy.

The punitive measures were lifted in July when Bamako proposed a 24-month transition to democracy and promised a new electoral law.

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Parliamentarians kick off return to House of Commons with debate on child care

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Parliamentarians kick off return

The economy was top of mind for members of Parliament as they returned to the House of Commons Monday, with the Liberal government kicking off the new sitting with a debate on child care.

Families Minister Karina Gould tabled Bill C-35 last December, which seeks to enshrine the Liberals’ national daycare plan into law — and commit Ottawa to maintaining long-term funding.

The federal government has inked deals with provinces and territories in an effort to cut fees down to an average of $10 per day by 2026.

During a debate today, Gould said all parties should support the bill, and the national plan has begun saving families money.

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But Conservative MP Michelle Ferreri said the plan is “subsidizing the wealthy” while failing to reduce wait times for child-care spaces and address labour shortages in the sector.

Ferreri told MPs that the Conservatives would be presenting “strong amendments” to the legislation.

The debate comes amid concerns about a possible recession this year, with both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre saying their focus will be on the cost of living.

But Poilievre’s Tories may have little room to manoeuvre in the legislature.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters upon his return to the House of Commons that he does not believe there is any room to work with the Conservatives during the upcoming sitting.

Instead, the NDP says it plans to push the Liberals to fulfil the terms of the parties’ confidence-and-supply agreement, such as the planned expansion of federal dental care.

Under the deal signed last March, the NDP agreed to support the minority government on key House of Commons votes in exchange for the Liberals moving ahead on New Democrat policy priorities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2023.

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Premier Heather Stefanson announces new cabinet Monday

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Manitoba’s premier is set to shuffle cabinet after her finance minister said Friday that he’s stepping down, following a list of Progressive Conservative caucus members who have announced their intentions to leave provincial politics.

Heather Stefanson will unveil her new cabinet at a swearing-in at 11 a.m. Monday at the legislative building in Winnipeg.

CBC Manitoba is livestreaming the news conference here, on Facebook and on CBC Gem.

Finance Minister Cameron Friesen announced Friday that he is stepping down to run for a seat in the House of Commons.

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Friesen’s decision was the latest in a series of recent similar announcements.

Four other cabinet ministers — deputy premier Cliff Cullen, Municipal Relations Minister Eileen Clarke, Government Services Minister Reg Helwer and Alan Lagimodiere, minister of Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations — have said they will serve out their terms but not run again.

Roughly one-third of the 36 Tory caucus members elected in 2019 have either quit in the last two years or have said they will not run again in the provincial election scheduled for Oct. 3.

A number of those announcements came earlier this month.

The governing Tories have been trailing the Opposition New Democrats in opinion polls for two years, especially in Winnipeg, where most legislature seats are.

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Biden Classified Documents Discovery Has Flummoxed the Political Press – Esquire

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You have to hand it to our elite political press corps, as long as “it” is a scorpion or a nice ball of buffalo dung. When they get together to prove that they’re above partisan politics and the petty concerns of democracy, they do a great job of it, while simultaneously making a dog’s breakfast of the really important stuff. From NBC News:

An equal number of Americans — 67% — say they are as concerned about classified documents found at President Joe Biden’s residence and former office as they are about those found at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, despite clear differences in how the two men responded to these discoveries[…]The poll finds an American public that’s equally concerned about the discovery of classified documents found at Biden’s and Trump’s homes, even though the current president and ex-president handled their situations in different ways. (Biden and his lawyers have argued that they turned over these classified documents — from his time as Barack Obama’s vice president — as soon as they were discovered and have cooperated with investigators, while Trump failed turn over all requested documents and has lashed out at investigators.)

The gates to Wonderland open wide about halfway through that passage, which taken as a whole is a perfect roadmap for a profession that seems completely adrift. For example, the dependent clause “even though the current president and ex-president handled their situations in different ways” is a kind of crossroads. The story can go two ways: The correct one is to explore why this important difference has come to naught in the public mind; the one that leads over a cliff—the one taken by NBC—is to cite the data and then throw up its hands, as though this statistical result is the enigmatic pronouncement of some ancient oracle. This leads us down the hellbound trail to…

…Biden and his lawyers have argued that they turned over these classified documents — from his time as Barack Obama’s vice president — as soon as they were discovered and have cooperated with investigators, while Trump failed turn over all requested documents and has lashed out at investigators….

It seems almost quaint to point this out, but the circumstances under review do not have their basis in anything Biden’s lawyers “have argued.” They derive from the fact that they are the circumstances that actually happened. Nothing recently has demonstrated the complete inadequacy of journalistic norms and customs to deal with the global threat of the former president* as clearly as the alchemical formula that turns undisputed facts into something that lawyers “have argued.” Democracy dies in nuance, as this NBC poll clearly indicates but dares not say outright.

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And how did we get here? Luckily, Peter Baker of The New York Times inadvertently provided a precise diagnosis the other day:

The cases are markedly different in their particulars, as has been noted repeatedly. Mr. Biden has cooperated with the authorities, inviting them to search his home, while Mr. Trump defied efforts to recover documents even after being subpoenaed, prompting a judge to issue a search warrant. But they are similar enough that as a practical matter Democrats can no longer use the issue against Mr. Trump politically, and investigators may have a harder time prosecuting him criminally.

Baker’s assertion about prosecutions is beneath idiotic. Trump would be prosecuted—assuming he ever is—because he actively conspired to keep from doing everything that the Biden people did, as Baker explains prior to running his argument over his own feet.

Then along comes David Axelrod at 10,000 feet to finish the job.

“I feel it’s likely that when the probe is done, the Biden case will wind up being one of unintended mistakes — carelessness but not willful defiance of the rules or law,” said David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama. “The Trump case is much different and more serious. But in the court of public opinion, those lines may now be blurred.”

Lines are blurred. Clouds are gathering. Doubts are raised. And American democracy blunders blindly further off down the road to dangerous irrelevance.

Charles P Pierce is the author of four books, most recently Idiot America, and has been a working journalist since 1976. He lives near Boston and has three children. 

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