A few thousand opposition protesters have gathered in front of Albania’s parliament building calling for the government’s resignation and an early election.

Thursday’s rally is part of the center-right Democratic Party-led opposition’s protests over the last month accusing the leftist Socialist Party government of Prime Minister Edi Rama of being corrupt and linked to organized crime. The government denies the allegations.

In previous rallies, opposition supporters have tried to enter the parliament or government buildings using smoke bombs and projectiles. Police have responded with tear gas.

The Socialists say the opposition isn’t helping Albania’s progress toward membership in the European Union.

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Documents seen by The Associated Press show that South Sudan’s committee overseeing the fragile transition from civil war has approved almost $185 million in spending on vehicles, food and home renovations while the country’s peace deal suffers from an alleged lack of funds.

As the East African nation emerges from a five-year conflict that killed almost 400,000 people and displaced millions, experts warn the government’s lack of financial transparency will gut the confidence of international donors being encouraged to donate to the peace transition fund.

The internal government documents show that on Nov. 5, two months after warring parties signed the peace deal, the committee that includes government and opposition representatives authorized payments for 1,000 vehicles and food including 50,000 tons of sorghum to be delivered to the capital, Juba.

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Citigroup Inc. plans to sell several tons of Venezuelan gold it received as collateral from the Maduro regime to settle the country’s $1.6 billion loan after the deadline to repurchase the precious metal expired earlier this month, reports said Wednesday.

Venezuela was due to repay $1.1 billion of the loan March 11, according to the terms of the 2015 deal with Citigroup’s Citibank, four sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. The remainder of the loan is due next year.


Citibank now plans to sell the gold, valued at roughly $1.358 billion, to recover the first tranche of the loan, two of the sources told the outlet. The excess $258 million from the sale will be deposited into a U.S. bank account in New York.

The development marks another financial blow to President Nicolas Maduro’s regime. Not only won’t it be able to access the cash in the U.S. account, but it could see it handed over to the transitional government being formed by opposition leader Juan Guaido, Bloomberg reported, citing sources with knowledge of the matter.


The socialist regime previously faced a financial setback in January when the Bank of England denied Maduro’s request to withdraw $1.2 billion of gold stored there.

A week later, Venezuelan officials reportedly planned to ship 20 tons of gold, worth around $850 million, overseas to protect the country’s hard assets amid international pressure mounting against Maduro to cede power.

The plan was reportedly halted before the gold could be loaded in Caracas onto an airliner from Russia, a major financial backer of Maduro’s presidency, along with Turkey and China. The ultimate destination of the bars was unknown.


Maduro depleted more than 40 percent of the country’s gold reserves last year in a desperate bid to pay creditors and fund government programs as the nation deals with a crippling economy, a lack of basic necessities for its people and rising inflation under his socialist rule, Bloomberg reported.

All that remains of the central bank’s dwindling international reserves is $8.7 billion, most of which is held in physical gold, the outlet reported.

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A court in northwestern Pakistan has sentenced to life imprisonment two men convicted of involvement in the killing of Mashal Khan, a university student who was beaten and then fatally shot by a mob in 2017 after being falsely accused of blasphemy.

The two men — Arif Khan, a local leader of Pakistan’s ruling party led by former cricket star Imran Khan, and Asad Khan — were in court in Peshawar for the sentencing.

The death of the 23-year-old Mashal was caught on video that later circulated on social media. Initially 61 people were charged with a variety of offences and 57 people were handed varying sentences in the case. Many are appealing the verdicts.

It wasn’t immediately known if the two men sentenced on Thursday would also appeal.

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Jordan’s King Abdullah II is vowing to keep protecting Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, calling it a "red line" for his country.

Abdullah said Wednesday, during a visit to the Zarqa governorate outside Amman, that he’s under pressure to alter his country’s historic role as custodian of the Jerusalem holy sites but that he wouldn’t. Abdullah says: "I will never change my position toward Jerusalem in my life." He added that "all my people are with me." He did not specify what kind of pressure he was encountering.

A Jordanian-appointed council oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. It claims exclusive authority over the Noble Sanctuary, or Temple Mount, compound and says it is not subject to Israeli jurisdiction. Tensions often escalate at the site.

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The governor of the West Bank city of Bethlehem says Israeli soldiers have shot and killed an unarmed Palestinian man near the city.

Kamil Hamid said on Thursday that Israeli troops in the adjacent village of al-Khader fired at a car and wounded the driver the previous night. He says Ahmad Manasra was driving behind him and got out of his vehicle to help the wounded man. As he was returning to his car, Hamid says the Israeli soldiers shot and killed Manasra.

The Israeli military says a soldier stationed at a military post near Bethlehem identified rocks being thrown at Israeli vehicles. In response, he fired his weapon. The military says it is investigating the incident, which comes amid heightened tensions in the West Bank.

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South Korean police say they’ve arrested four people on suspicion of secretly filming about 1,600 guests in hotel rooms and posting or streaming the footage on the internet.

The Korean National Police Agency said Thursday the four men are accused of installing mini-spy cameras in TV set-top boxes, hair dryers or electrical outlets in 42 rooms in 30 hotels throughout South Korea.

A police statement accused the men of earning about 7 million ($6,210) in total by posting or livestreaming the footage on an internet site they opened late last year.

The illicit distribution of video taken by hidden cameras is a serious social problem in South Korea. Thousands of women rallied in Seoul several times last year, demanding stronger government measures against the spread of such videos.

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Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen is visiting her island’s diplomatic allies in the Pacific on a tour that will end with a stopover in Hawaii.

Taiwan’s official Central News Agency says Tsai will travel Thursday to March 28 to visit Palau, Nauru and the Marshall Islands. She will transit through Hawaii on her way back.

Taiwan’s list of allies has dwindled as countries choose instead to establish relations with Beijing, which considers the self-governing island part of Chinese territory.

Only 17 mainly small, developing countries still recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation. The island split from mainland China amid a civil war in 1949.

Beijing has recently ratcheted up its rhetoric around "re-unifying" Taiwan, which has a democratic government, with the Communist Party-ruled mainland.

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Dozens of migrants are suffering from malnutrition in a detention center in Libya’s capital, an international charity said Thursday.

Doctors Without Borders said its survey showed that over 300 people, including more than 100 children, are being held in the Sabaa detention center in Tripoli. Around 75 detainees are malnourished or underweight, with children significantly more likely to suffer moderate or severe malnutrition, it said. Several people reported receiving only one meal every two to three days, with new arrivals waiting four days before receiving food.

"What we see today in this single detention center is symptomatic of an uncontrolled, unjustified, and reckless system that puts the lives of refugees and migrants at risk," said Karline Kleijer, Doctors Without Borders’ head of emergencies.

She urged Libyan authorities to release those held in Sabaa, almost half of whom have been detained for six months or more.

Libya was plunged into chaos after the 2011 uprising that toppled and later killed longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi, and has since emerged as a major transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East and seeking a better life in Europe.

Rights groups say migrants face exploitation and abuse in Libya at the hands of smugglers and local militias.

In recent years, European countries have provided training and funds to Libyan authorities to reduce hazardous sea crossings, which have claimed thousands of lives. But critics say those efforts leave the migrants trapped in Libya.

Sam Turner, head of the Doctors Without Borders mission in Tunisia, said the EU policies to address migration "are directly resulting in people being held in these conditions in Libya."

"It is an extremely cynical approach … and the cost is human lives," he said.

Last month, Libyan police moved in to end a protest by migrants held at the Trig al-Sikka detention center in Tripoli, setting off clashes in which around 50 people were wounded, according to the U.N.’s migration agency.

Doctors Without Borders says an estimated 670,000 migrants are in Libya, including 5,700 held in detention centers, where they are regularly exposed to human rights abuses including extortion, torture, sexual violence and forced labor.

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hopes to use his first visit to Lebanon this week to step up pressure on Iran and its local ally, Hezbollah. But he could face resistance even from America’s local allies, who fear that pushing too hard could spark a backlash and endanger the tiny country’s fragile peace.

Hezbollah wields more power than ever in parliament and the government. Pompeo will meet Friday with President Michel Aoun and will also hold talks with Lebanon’s parliament speaker and foreign minister — all three of whom are close Hezbollah allies. He will also meet with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a close Western ally who has been reluctant to confront Hezbollah.

"We’ll spend a lot of time talking with the Lebanese government about how we can help them disconnect from the threat that Iran and Hezbollah present to them," Pompeo told reporters earlier this week.

But isolating Hezbollah, whose military power dwarfs that of the Lebanese armed forces, could prove impossible.

The Iran-backed group has an arsenal of tens of thousands of rockets and missiles. Its battle-hardened cadres fought Israel to a stalemate in 2006, and have fought alongside President Bashar Assad’s army since the early days of the Syrian civil war, securing a string of hard-won victories. Over the past year, the group has translated this power into major political gains unseen in the past.

Hezbollah and its allies today control a majority of seats in parliament and the Cabinet, after it managed in 2016 to help Aoun, an allied Christian leader, be elected president. The group has three Cabinet seats, the largest number it has ever taken, including the Health Ministry, which has one of the largest budgets.

That has angered Washington, where U.S. officials have called on Hariri’s national unity government to ensure Hezbollah does not tap into public resources. Last month, U.S. Ambassador Elizabeth Richard expressed concerns over Hezbollah’s growing role in the new Cabinet, saying it does not contribute to stability.

Lebanon has long been a political battleground in the region-wide struggle between Washington and Tehran. But tensions have risen since President Donald Trump withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers and re-imposed sanctions on Tehran.

The United States backs a coalition of groups opposed to Hezbollah led by Hariri’s Sunni-led Future Movement and the right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces, but Washington’s local allies are proceeding with caution. Memories are fresh of the clashes that erupted in May 2008, when the Shiite Hezbollah rapidly defeated a group of Sunni opponents on the streets of Beirut.

"Washington should be careful not to push Lebanon to the brink, as Hezbollah would retaliate if its survival is at stake," said Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington. "In the current status quo, the most effective way to restrain Hezbollah remains within the intricate parameters of the Lebanese political system," he said.

The Trump administration appears to be aware of the difficulties it faces, and while it has talked tough about Hezbollah, it has done little beyond strengthening already tough sanctions on the group, which has long been blacklisted as a terrorist organization by Western countries.

The United States is a strong supporter of Lebanon’s national army, supplying it with arms and more than $1.5 billion in aid over the past decade. But Hezbollah, the only group that did not disarm after the 1975-1990 civil war, takes credit for ending the 18-year Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000 and says it is the only force capable of repelling another Israeli invasion.

During his visit to Lebanon, Pompeo is expected to reiterate Washington’s support to the Lebanese army. In return, he is expected to demand that Lebanon’s Central Bank act to prevent Iran from using the country’s banking sector to evade sanctions.

Asked by journalists on his way to the Middle East about his meetings with Aoun, who helped facilitate Hezbollah’s rise to power, Pompeo responded: "In my business we talk to a lot of people that we’re hoping to change their way."

Aoun is scheduled to visit Russia later this month for talks with President Vladimir Putin. The two are expected to discuss a number of topics, including the return of Syrian refugees and oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean, which has been a source of tension between Lebanon and Israel.

Pompeo will likely offer continued U.S. mediation to try and resolve the maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel. Lebanon plans to begin offshore oil and gas exploration later this year.

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