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BAMAKO, June 8, 2018 (News Wires) - Thousands of people marched peacefully through Mali's capital on Friday to call for clean presidential elections next month.

The West African country's opposition, which organised the rally in the capital Bamako, said it had attracted up to 300,000 people, but local reports put the figure at 10,000 to 20,000, all of whom dispersed without incident afterwards.

Earlier this week the European Union urged the government to respect "freedom of expression" and "show restraint" after dozens of people were hurt in banned opposition protests.

The United Nations similarly called for calm. "We turned up to call for transparent elections and equal access to state media, and also to denounce current government policy," opposition leader Soumaila Cisse said.

Cisse, 68, who lost in 2013, is one of some 15 candidates running against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, 73, who is seeking a second term in the July 29 election.

After the recent violence, the UN and the African Union brokered a deal with the government to allow Friday's march.

"No to fraud" and "Equal access to national radio and TV" read two banners at the rally.

"The march is not only to demand clean elections and equal media access. It is also to denounce the regime, the cost of living and corruption," one demonstrator, Mahamane Toure, 51, said.

Mali has been badly hit by an Islamist insurgency in the north which has spread south and into neighbouring countries Burkina Faso and Niger despite peace efforts.

France, the former colonial overseer, intervened militarily in Mali in 2013 to help government forces combat al-Qaeda-linked jihadists.

The election campaign is due to begin July 7.

 

AMMAN, June 5, 2018 (News Wires) - Jordan's King Abdullah II has warned that the country is "at a crossroads", after a week of anti-austerity protests that continued overnight despite the prime minister's resignation.

Around 2,000 protesters gathered close to the prime minister's office in central Amman, hours after premier Hani Mulki stepped down on Monday.

The king blamed the country's economic woes on regional instability, the burden of hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and a lack of international support.

"Jordan today stands at a crossroads: either it can come out of the crisis and provide a dignified life to our citizens, or, God forbid, it can go into the unknown -- but we have to know where we are going," he told a group of journalists late Monday, according to the official Petra agency.

Protesters gathered overnight under a heavy police presence near the premier's office shouting slogans against the government and the International Monetary Fund, which has demanded economic reforms.

Some brought along children and others presented trays of sweets to security forces.

Last month, the government proposed a new income tax law, yet to be approved by parliament, aimed at raising taxes on employees by at least five percent and on companies by between 20 and 40 percent.

They are the latest in a series of measures since Amman secured a $723-million three-year credit line from the International Monetary Fund in 2016.

THESSALONIKI, Greece, May 24, 2018 (News Wires) — Some 250 asylum-seekers have blocked a busy northern Greek highway, in a second day of protests against overcrowding and poor conditions in the nearby camp they are housed in.

The peaceful protest by mostly Kurdish migrants at Diavata, on Thessaloniki’s western outskirts, lasted an hour and caused major traffic jams.

The Diavata camp’s prefabricated homes can house 750 people, but its population has grown to 1,850 amid increased immigration flows from Turkey. New arrivals sleep in tents or on the ground.

Greek officials are reopening camps built after the immigration crisis of 2015, in which more than a million people arrived on their way to Europe’s affluent heartland.

Most of these camps were later closed and their occupants moved to flats in Greek cities or relocated to other European countries.

CANNES, May 13, 2018 (News Wires) — A day after joining more than 80 women protest at the Cannes Film Festival, Salma Hayek said Sunday that change for women in Hollywood already is happening.

In a conversation that was part of the “Women in Motion” talk series at Cannes, Hayek said her production company is having trouble keeping up with the demand for female writers and directors. The actress-producer said she has sold four TV shows about women this year.

“I can’t find enough female writers and directors,” Hayek said. “They’re all busy. The change already happened.”

Hayek said much work still needs to be done, particularly on the issue of equal pay. The 51-year-old actress said she hasn’t been insisting on equal pay yet because male stars and producers still need to adjust.

But she repeatedly spoke positively about progress behind the camera.

“Maybe you don’t see the difference in the numbers, but it just happened this year,” Hayek said. “It worked. And I think we should enjoy it.”

Hayek also remarked on her allegation of sexual harassment against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein in an op-ed in December . Weinstein at the time issued a lengthy statement of denial. Hayek said Weinstein specifically contested her claim and that of Lupita Nyong’o because they’re women of color.

CANNES, May 13, 2018 (News Wires) — Eighty-two women climbed the steps of the Palais des Festivals at the Cannes Film Festival in an unprecedented red carpet protest to press for improved gender equality in the film industry.

The number of stars, filmmakers and film industry professionals ascending the steps represented the number of female filmmakers who have been selected to compete at Cannes during the festival’s seven-decade history.

In contrast to their 82, 1,866 films directed by men have been picked for the prestigious festival lineup.

Organizers said the event was orchestrated by the Time’s Up movement and the French movement known as 5020x2020 to show “how hard it is still to climb the social and professional ladder” for women.

It brought an array of film industry professionals to the Cannes red carpet, including actresses Salma Hayek and Jane Fonda, “Wonder Woman” filmmaker Patty Jenkins and French director Agnes Varda, a recipient of an honorary Palme d’Or at Cannes.

Also joining were the five female members of this year’s Cannes jury: Cate Blanchett, Kristen Stewart, Ava DuVernay, Lea Seydoux and Burundian singer Khadja Nin. Blanchett read a statement atop the Palais steps in English; Varda read it in French.

Managua, May 13, 2018 (News Wires) - Nicaragua's army on Saturday called for an end to violence in the country and distanced itself from President Daniel Ortega, saying it was not repressing anyone for taking part in anti-government protests.

Unrest against the president exploded in mid-April and has been fueled by a brutal response from police.

The death toll is now at least 51.

"We are the same uniformed people, working for their own benefit and, as a consequence, we call for stopping the violence and actions that destabilise us," an army statement said, expressing solidarity with the families of those who have died in the protests.

"We have no reason to repress anyone" for anti-government demonstrations, army spokesman Manuel Guevara said earlier.

"We think that dialogue is the answer," he stressed, adding that the military rejects what he sees as an effort to misconstrue military actions as repression on behalf of the Ortega government.

Troops are required to protect strategic locations, national assets and national parks, for example.

Initially triggered by reforms to cut spending on Nicaragua's deficit-laden social security system -- later abandoned by Ortega -- the protests swelled to include other grudges against the president who is widely seen as autocratic and distant.

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