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Francisco Sagasti sworn in as interim Peruvian leader

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Peruvian lawmaker Francisco Sagasti was sworn in as interim president on Tuesday, voted for by Congress in an effort to return stability to a country that has seen deadly protests and the departure of two presidents over the last week.

Sagasti, a legislator from the centrist Purple Party, is expected to serve out his term until July next year, with a new presidential election scheduled for April 11.

The Andean nation has been shaken since the abrupt ouster in an impeachment trial of popular leader Martin Vizcarra on November 9. The removal of Vizcarra, whose anti-graft agenda had caused tensions with Congress, triggered often violent protests in which two young people died.

Vizcarra’s successor, Manuel Merino, resigned on Sunday after just five days in power.

“It is absolutely necessary to remain calm, but do not confuse this with passivity, conformity or resignation,” Sagasti said in an address to Congress after his swearing-in.

He also paid homage to two young men who died during protests.

“We can’t bring them back to life,” he said. “But we can stop this from happening again.”

Sagasti’s appointment has indeed appeared to calm tensions, though a deep mistrust of the country’s politicians remains. On Monday night, hundreds of people marched in the capital Lima, with calls for a new constitution and “justice for the fallen”.

“I think that Sagasti is someone that gives democratic guarantees, who can get a transition towards a new government that will be okay,” said one protester, Paloma Carpio.

Jose Murguia, also protesting, was less convinced.

“Quite frankly, it’s the same rubbish. The mask has changed but everything is all the same,” he said.

Sagasti, 76, an engineer and former World Bank official, has yet to name his cabinet, but has said he is open to including ministers from Vizcarra’s government, which could open the door to the return of star economy minister, Maria Antonieta Alva.

“If they are people with experience, integrity and the desire to work, I think we would do wrong to leave them aside,” Sagasti told local television station Canal N.

Sagasti’s reputation as a consensus builder makes him an apt choice for the moment, said Michael Shifter, who is head of the Inter-American Dialogue think-tank and knows Sagasti.

“He always had ideas about trying to build bridges in Peru,” Shifter said. “That’s what he really stood for.”

The 76-year-old centrist lawmaker spent the initial hours after being voted in as head of Congress on Monday visiting hospitals where injured protesters were recovering and promising to do everything in his power to restore trust in the government.

“We will do everything possible to return hope,” he said.

Sagasti is Peru’s fourth president in less than three years, after the departures of Vizcarra and Merino, and the resignation of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in 2018 on allegations of corruption.

Peru’s sol currency reacted positively to the news, rising around 1.75 percent on Tuesday, its biggest daily rise in seven months. The country’s sovereign bonds also edged up.

Peru, the world’s second-largest producer of copper, has been hit hard this year with one of the world’s deadliest per capita outbreaks of COVID-19, and is expected to post its worst annual economic contraction in a century.

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Netanyahu Met Saudi Prince on Secret Trip, Israeli Media Say

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Jerusalem: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held secret talks in Saudi Arabia Sunday with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, media said, in the first reported trip by an Israeli premier to the kingdom.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was in Israel last week, was also at the reported talks, a diplomatic correspondent at Israeli public broadcaster Kan said on Monday.

The broadcaster cited unnamed Israeli officials as saying that Netanyahu and the head of the Mossad spy agency Yossi Cohen “flew yesterday to Saudi Arabia, and met Pompeo and MBS in the city of Neom”, referring to Prince Mohammed’s initials.

Multiple other Israeli media outlets reported similar information on Monday morning.

Netanyahu’s office was not immediately available to comment on the reports.

The meeting comes after Israel agreed historic deals to normalise ties with two Saudi allies in the Gulf, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Those accords were brokered by outgoing US President Donald Trump’s administration.

US and Israeli officials have repeatedly indicated that more Arab states were set to forge ties with Israel.

Publicly, Saudi Arabia has said it would stick to the decades-old Arab League position of not having ties with Israel until the Jewish state’s conflict with the Palestinians is resolved.

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Joe Biden appoints Indian-American Mala Adiga as policy director of incoming First Lady

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Washington: US President-elect Joe Biden has appointed Indian-American Mala Adiga as the policy director of his wife Jill, choosing an experienced education policy hand as the incoming First Lady focuses on education and plans to continue teaching community college classes.

Adiga was a senior adviser to Jill and senior policy adviser for Biden’s 2020 campaign. She previously worked for the Biden Foundation as director for higher education and military families.

Before that, during Obama’s administration, she was deputy assistant secretary of state for academic programmes at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and worked in the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues as chief of staff and senior adviser to the ambassador-at-large.

“Future First Lady Jill Biden’s Policy Director will be Mala Adiga, who served as her senior advisor and a senior policy advisor on the Biden-Harris campaign. Adiga will work for a First Lady who has said she intends to prioritise education and military families,”

Biden on Friday announced another round of White House staff positions to be filled by longtime aides to the Bidens.

Louisa Terrell, who served as Executive Director for the Biden Foundation, will become Director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs. She comes to the position with an experience that includes acting as the Special Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs in the Obama-Biden administration, the report said.

Carlos Elizondo, who was social secretary for Jill Biden during the Obama administration, will be White House Social Secretary. Ambassador Cathy Russell will assume the role of Director of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel, it said.

Adiga served as Director for Human Rights in the National Security Staff’s (NSS) Multilateral and Human Rights Directorate. Prior to joining NSS, she was an attorney at the Department of Justice, where she served as Counsel to the Associate Attorney General.

Before entering government service, Adiga volunteered and then worked for the Obama presidential campaign for nearly two years, according to her biography on the US State Department website.

She earned her JD from the University of Chicago Law School and her MPH from the University of Minnesota. She graduated from Grinnell College in Iowa with a B A in Spanish.

The new announcements come just days after Biden revealed his first round of top White House staff, including the appointment of his campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, to serve as deputy chief of staff, and campaign co-chair Cedric Richmond as director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Late week, he announced that his aide Ron Klain will serve as his chief of staff.

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