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Yemen peace talks start in Sweden with prisoner exchange deal

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Yemen’s warring sides have agreed to free thousands of prisoners at the start of peace talks to end the country’s devastating conflict.

The meeting is set to last a week in the picturesque town of Rimbo – 35 miles north of Stockholm – with UN sources saying they are hoping for “confidence-building measures” rather than a breakthrough.

The prison exchange, to be overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross, was seen as an encouraging start to the talks. The Red Cross said about 5,000 people would be freed.

At least 10,000 people have been killed in the war – though observers believe the number could be much higher – and Save the Children estimates 85,000 children under five may have starved to death.

Martin Griffiths (L) shook hands with Yemeni delegates as the talks prepared to start
Image:
Martin Griffiths (L) shook hands with Yemeni delegates as the meeting began
The talks are at being held at Johannesberg Castle in Rimbo,  north of Stockholm
Image:
The talks are at being held at Johannesberg Castle in Rimbo, north of Stockholm

The UN has called it the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and that 14 million people are in danger of famine because of an aid blockade.

The UN’s special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said that even just getting the warring sides to the table was an important milestone.

“During the coming days we will have a critical opportunity to give momentum to the peace process,” he said as the rival delegations arrived in Sweden.

However, he cautioned that the talks were “consultations” and “not yet beginning the process of negotiations”.

Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, welcomed the two sides as they sat in the same room at Rimbo’s Johannesberg Castle and urged them to find “compromise and courage”.

“Now it is up to you, the Yemini parties,” she said. “You have the command of your future.”



Martin Griffiths








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Video:
November: Failure in Yemen would be ‘quite appalling’ – Griffiths

Ahead of the talks, a top Houthi official threatened to stop UN planes using the capital’s airport unless the negotiations allowed for its full reopening.

Yemeni government officials hit back by demanding rebels disarm and pull out of the Red Sea port city of Hodeida.

The foreign ministry tweeted a demand that the “coupist militias withdraw fully from the western coast and hand the area over to the legitimate government”.

The Saudi-led coalition – which backs the government – has been laying siege to Hodeida for months, with civilians caught in the crossfire.

The coalition intervened in 2015 to restore a government ousted by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.

Pro-government forces gather on the eastern outskirts of Hodeida
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Pro-government forces have been trying to take control of Hodeida

Pressure to end the war has intensified amid dire humanitarian warnings and the Jamal Khashoggi murder, which has focussed attention on Saudi government actions.

A Yemeni government source told Reuters they wanted maps of where rebels have planted landmines.

Sources on both sides said they would demand a ceasefire and the opening of humanitarian corridors.

Mr Griffiths said he believes the talks can “bring good news for Hodeida and for the people of Yemen”.



Countless children are dying from lack of food and healthcare in Yemen








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Video:
Special report: Yemen’s children are starving

“We have been working to reach a negotiated agreement to spare both the city and port the threat of destruction, and guarantee the full operation of the port,” he wrote in The New York Times.

The coalition also allowed the Houthis to evacuate 50 wounded rebels for treatment in Oman.

Saudi Arabia and the coalition it leads first intervened in Yemen in 2015, with the aim of restoring its internationally-recognised government that had been ousted from the capital of Sana’a the year before.

They are widely seen as having got involved because of the rebels’ ties to regional rival Iran.

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Running battles on Venezuela border as aid trucks from Colombia set alight | World News

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Battles between protesters and Venezuela’s national guard are taking place on the border with Colombia as trucks try to deliver tonnes of emergency aid.

People scrambled to save boxes of food and medicine from burning vehicles, with claims national guardsmen set them alight as they crossed into Venezuela.

Smoke billowed from barricades, built to stop the aid getting in, and demonstrators threw rocks at heavily-armed police.

Tear gas was fired at people trying to clear the blockade to the Francisco de Paula Santander bridge – in the Venezuelan border town of Urena.

Two protesters have also been killed and 18 injured in Santa Elena de Uairen, near the border with Brazil, according to a doctor at the scene.

Smoke billowed from the trucks set alight on the bridge
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Smoke billowed from the trucks set alight on the Francisco de Paula Santander bridge
One of the aid trucks was set alight - reportedly by National Guardsmen
Image:
The trucks were said to have been set alight by National Guardsmen
People rushed to get the aid off the burning truck on the Francisco de Paula Santander bridge
Image:
People rushed to get the aid off the burning trucks

The clashes come after opposition leader Juan Guaido vowed to bring humanitarian aid from Colombia.

Nearly 200 tonnes of aid in a convoy of trucks has been waiting to cross several border bridges.

Mr Guaido says the supplies are vital to help people left in a dire situation by the government of President Nicolas Maduro.



A man faces off against police at the Simon Bolivar bridge in Cucuta, Colombia







‘We’ve got to do it today’ – Sky’s Cordelia Lynch meets protesters in Cucuta

A demonstrator kicks a burning tyre in Urena
Image:
A demonstrator kicks a burning tyre in Urena

Venezuelan officials have closed the border with Colombia, Brazil and the island of Curacao and have been cracking down on those trying to keep them open.

President Maduro said he had cut all diplomatic relations with Colombia’s “fascist government” and was expelling its diplomats in response to its support for Mr Guaido.

“Patience is exhausted, I can’t bare it anymore, we can’t keep putting up with Colombian territory being used for attacks
against Venezuela,” Mr Maduro told supporters in Venezuelan capital Caracas.

Opponents claim he presided over a fraudulent election and has let the economy go to ruins with rampant inflation and people struggling to get food and medicine.

Venezuelan national guards clash with demonstrators in Urena
Image:
Venezuelan national guards clash with demonstrators in Urena
Venezuelans clash with national guards in the border town of Urena
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A protester kicks over one of the barricades

Most of the aid at the Columbia border has been provided by the US which has recognised Mr Guaido as the interim president, despite Mr Maduro refusing to stand down.

Venezuelan authorities regard the plan to bring in aid as a veiled US-backed invasion.

Tensions first flared at dawn, when residents in Urena began removing yellow metal barricades and barbed wire blocking the Francisco de Paula Santander bridge.

A woman throws an object at police in Urena
Image:
A woman throws an object at police in Urena
A protester is hit in the face by barbed wire during battles with guards in Urena
Image:
A protester is hit in the face by barbed wire during battles with guards in Urena

At another border crossing, the Simon Bolivar bridge, about 10 miles (15km) south, Colombian migration authorities said four National Guardsmen had deserted their posts and asked for help.

Pictures showed young men struggling to get through a crowd, holding their assault rifles and pistols above their heads in a sign of surrender.

They were then ordered to lay on the ground as migration officials held back onlookers.

The moment two Venezuelan guards hand themselves to the Colombian authorities
Image:
The moment two Venezuelan guards hand themselves to the Colombian authorities

Juan Guaido, the 35-year-old head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, declared himself interim president under the constitution on 23 January.

He has been backed by dozens of countries, including the UK.

On Friday, he attended a concert staged by Sir Richard Branson, in Cucuta, on the Colombian side of the border, opposite Urena.

A woman lies injured amid tensions at the Simon Bolivar bridge on the border of Colombia and Venezuela
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A woman lies injured amid tensions at the Simon Bolivar bridge

Mr Guaido met Colombian president Ivan Duque at the Live Aid-style event, despite Mr Maduro forbidding him from leaving the country.

Sky’s Cordelia Lynch, who is in Venezuela, said hundreds of people at the concert were planning to join the battle to get the trucks across the border.

She said Mr Guaido had been talking to the authorities to get permission to bring across 14 trucks, each laden with about 20 tonnes of aid in a shipping container.

Juan Guaido at the Venezeula border with Colombia
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Juan Guaido at the Venezeula border with Colombia
Supporters of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro take part in a counter protest in Caracas
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Supporters of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro take part in a counter protest in Caracas

Protests also took place on Saturday in Curacao and in the capital Caracas – where a protest was held by President Maduro’s supporters.

Mr Maduro told the crowds he was ready to defend Venezuela’s independence with his life if necessary.

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Harry and Meghan given guard of honour as they arrive in Morocco | UK News

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The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been greeted by a guard of honour as they arrived in Morocco for a three-day tour.

After a 90-minute delay, Harry and Meghan flew into Casablanca, famous for the romantic Hollywood film.

But this is a business trip for the royal couple, and their second major overseas tour, as they visit Morocco on behalf of the government and the Foreign Office.

With Meghan’s baby due in April or May, the Palace confirmed that medical provisions had been made. It is not unusual for doctors to travel as part of the royal party, although officials did not go into detail.

The couple are staying privately as guests of the king of Morocco in a royal residence.

They will use the visit to highlight their interest in issues around female empowerment, inclusivity, education for women and girls, and encouraging young entrepreneurs.

The duchess is due to give birth in April or May
Image:
The duchess is due to give birth in April or May
A guard of honour welcomed Harry and Meghan at the airport
Image:
A guard of honour welcomed Harry and Meghan at the airport

Morocco is seen as a key focus for UK foreign policy, as a gateway to Africa.

Speaking ahead of the visit, ambassador to Morocco Thomas Reilly said: “It is hugely exciting to have The Duke and Duchess of Sussex here for the next few days, and I am delighted to have this opportunity to showcase the vital roles that girls’ education and youth empowerment are playing in shaping modern Morocco.

“When we began planning for this visit, I had a very clear view in my mind of the story we wanted this visit to tell.

“It is the same story that we have been telling consistently at this embassy about Morocco since my arrival here 20 months ago, and in a fortunate stroke of serendipity, we have found that this story fits with interests close to their hearts.”

THE DUKE AND DUCHESS OF SUSSEX ARRIVE IN MOROCCO
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Harry and Meghan are staying as guests of the king

In the medina in Rabat, Sky News met 18-year-old Loubna Ouraich.

She is from a Berber family that live in a village near the Atlas Mountains. Her father is a teacher and encouraged her and her sisters to study.

She is the first woman in her family to go to university and is studying French literature in Rabat.

She told Sky News she admires what Meghan stands for: “I saw some pictures of her in all the world, doing a lot of things, a lot of beautiful things for humanity, humans, helping poor people and that was so great.

“And when I see her I just remember the Princess Diana, she’s wonderful.”

It comes at the end of a busy few days for the duchess who spent most of last week in New York with her friends, who put on an opulent baby shower.

The Duchess of Sussex is spending five days in New York on a low-key visit
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The baby shower in New York attracted a lot of media attention
American photographers could not believe their luck
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Meghan’s stay in the Big Apple came in for some criticism

However, the private baby shower became a very public event with journalists tipped off about the event.

Her friends reportedly paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to spoil Meghan and cover the cost of penthouse suites and private jets.

The cost and the way it was managed has come in for some criticism.

Arthur Edwards, royal photographer for The Sun, said: “I remember going to New York with Princess Diana, and she used to stay at the Carlisle, very sort of small hotel, but beautifully smart.

“And there used to be about four of us waiting outside for her to come and go, you know completely different, and she’d come out and give us a smile and get into the car – but I mean Meghan it was a massive showbiz event.

“She’s become America’s Diana, she’s so massive now.”

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will fly into the Atlas Mountains on Sunday to carry out engagements in Asni town where they will visit the Education For All boarding house that houses girls aged 12 to 18 to make sure girls in rural communities get access to secondary education.

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Gunfire and explosions at start of Nigeria’s presidential election | World News

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Nigeria’s delayed election began with gunfire and explosions as President Muhammadu Buhari seeks a second term.

Delays at polling stations across the West Africa country have also marred the election which is widely seen as too close to call.

Police say they carried out the blasts in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, just before polls opened in a show of force to deter Islamic extremists who have been a scourge in the north east.

Security sources said a rocket hit a displaced persons’ camp, while an explosion at an army garrison killed one soldier and injured four others.

It was also confirmed by the army that a “futile” attack on a security outpost in Geidam in Yobe state had been carried out.

President Muhammadu Buhari casts his vote
Image:
President Muhammadu Buhari casts his vote

Gunfire was also heard in Port Harcourt in Nigeria’s restive south where the presence of the army was heavier than in previous elections.

:: Your guide to the Nigerian election

A military convoy in Delta state contained more than 25 vehicles full of soldiers on standby.

Soldiers in Rivers state fired on suspected ballot snatchers and arrested four people.

Mr Buhari refused to answer questions on whether he would accept a loss to top challenger Atiku Abubakar, a billionaire former vice president.

Opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar casts his vote at Ajiya's polling station in Yola, Adamawa State
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Opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar pictured voting

As he went out to vote in his northern hometown of Daura, the president jokingly checked the name on his wife’s ballot.

Nigerians “are behaving themselves”, the president said.

After voting in his hometown of Yola in the north east, Mr Abubakar said: “I look forward to a successful transition”.

He previously pledged to accept the results provided they are credible.

The election is widely seen as too close to call
Image:
The election is widely seen as too close to call

Mr Buhari said the voting process had been smooth but a coalition of civic groups said many polling stations had not opened more than four hours after voting was due to officially start.

Delays were reported in Delta, Anambra and Akwa Ibom states as well as in Nigeria’s largest city Lagos.

Observers say preliminary results of the election are expected within two to four days.

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