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Lawmaker spends a day working as baggage handler, barista

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24 Hours Across Africa

Libya crisis hikes as Khalifa orders military forces into attacking Tripoli.

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Source: Reuters

Eastern Libya commander Khalifa Haftar has thrown much of his military forces into attacking Tripoli, but the outcome of the offensive could be determined by a separate battle — to keep open the parallel finance system that funds his soldiers.

Mobilizing Libya’s biggest military campaign since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, Haftar has advanced on the U.N.-backed administration in the capital from a bastion in the east, where he has a parallel government and central bank branch.

The general has funded his eastern state with a mix of unofficial bonds, Russia-printed cash and deposits from eastern banks, accumulating debt worth around 35 billion Libyan dinars ($25.18 billion) outside the official banking system.

But diplomats and banking sources say that those sources of support might be closing, as the Tripoli-based central bank, which controls the country’s energy revenues, has taken steps to curtail the operations of banks in the east.

Those banks have in recent months struggled to meet minimum deposit requirements, which could give the Tripoli central bank allied to Tripoli Premier Fayez al-Serraj the excuse to shut off access to hard currency, they said.

“There is a looming banking crisis that could undermine eastern authorities’ ability to fund themselves in the near future,” said Claudia Gazzini, senior Libya analyst at International Crisis Group.

“The crisis was already in the making before the war broke out.”

Haftar has built up his Libyan National Army (LNA) with the help of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt supplying heavy gear such helicopters, according to U.N. reports.

But Gulf countries such as the UAE have preferred not to give cash directly to Haftar, fearing it will end up being used for the wrong purposes, several diplomatic sources told Reuters.

That has forced the septuagenarian leader to use merchants to import vehicles and other gear, using hard currency obtained from the Tripoli central bank and paid out by eastern commercial banks issuing letters of credit, military sources said.

There is no public data on the costs of Haftar’s war, but he has sent more than 1,000 troops west plus support staff like drivers or medics, military sources and residents said.

Fuel is not a problem, costing just 0.15 dinars a liter, with state oil firm NOC serving the whole country.

But in its attempt to capture Tripoli the LNA has used hundreds of vehicles, with convoys going west non-stop from Benghazi, carrying anything from soldiers to ammunition to food.

In addition, every day two flights with Russian-made transport planes go from Benghazi to Jufrah in central Libya, his main base. Seriously wounded soldiers are flown to Tunisia.

The offensive has stalled, and so the LNA has vowed to move in yet more troops.

Haftar’s finances face another potential vulnerability.

In November, the House of Representatives allied to Haftar approved a law to set up a military investment authority which gives the LNA control — like in Egypt — of parts of the economy including civilian activities such as scrap metal.

The investment vehicle’s companies are exempted from taxes and import duties, as part of a welfare state envisaged by Haftar, but they need banks to deal with partners abroad and expand their businesses, analysts say.

“If the banks fail, Haftar’s welfare state will come under pressure,” said a Western diplomat.

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24 Hours Across Africa

US: President Trump instruct his administration team not to attend the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner

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Source: Reuters

President Donald Trump, who bemoaned his treatment by the news media in a flurry of tweets on Tuesday, has barred members of his staff and administration from attending the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on Saturday, officials said.

Trump had already said he would not attend the annual dinner, instead scheduling a political rally in Wisconsin, but he had not decided whether anyone from his staff could attend.

The decision that no one from his team could participate was announced to White House staff and other representatives from the administration by White House Cabinet Secretary Bill McGinley at their morning meeting, officials said.

It set off a scramble as many staffers had accepted invitations thinking Trump would allow them to go.

“The president and members of his administration will not attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner this year. Instead, Saturday evening, President Trump will travel to Green Bay, Wisconsin, where he will hold a campaign rally,” said a White House official.

Trump, who has denounced the mainstream news media as “fake news” and routinely directs his supporters to watch the Fox News Channel, has not attended the dinner since he became president in January 2017. He has stopped his press secretary, Sarah Sanders, from conducting daily briefings.

The criticism has intensified following the release of a report from U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Russia’s role in the 2016 election.

In his report, Mueller did not establish that the Trump campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russians to influence the election. The report provided extensive details on Trump’s efforts to thwart Mueller’s investigation but stopped short of concluding the president had committed a crime.

In a morning tweet, Trump wrote: “In the “old days” if you were President and you had a good economy, you were basically immune from criticism. Remember, “It’s the economy stupid.”

“Today I have, as President, perhaps the greatest economy in history…and to the Mainstream Media, it means NOTHING. But it will!” he said.

The White House Correspondents’ Association dinner has been attended by presidents most years since the organization was founded in 1914. The group raises money for scholarships and honors the U.S. Constitution’s “freedom of the press” First Amendment.

In recent decades, the group has had a comedian as entertainment. But comedian Michelle Wolf’s lampooning last year of White House spokeswoman Sanders, who was seated nearby, drew so much criticism that the association this year is bringing in historian Ron Chernow for remarks.

“We’re looking forward to an enjoyable evening of celebrating the First Amendment and great journalists past, present, and future,” said Olivier Knox, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association.

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