News Brief: Fourth Of July Recap, Sudan, Canada-Saudi Arms Deal

Jul 5, 2019
Originally published on July 5, 2019 8:38 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

By President Trump standards, the speech he delivered at the National Mall last night was not especially political.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

What was political was the president reshaping Independence Day festivities to center on him. And he also had one line, quote, "our nation is stronger today than it ever was before," which suggested his view of the past few years. But the president mostly recited American history, praising heroes of war, science and civil rights.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It is the spirit, daring and defiance, excellence and adventure, courage and confidence, loyalty and love that built this country into the most exceptional nation in the history of the world.

KING: The speech went ahead despite heavy rain. You could see streaks on the bulletproof glass in front of the president. So how did this all play to the crowds who were there and put up with the weather? Elly Yu of member station WAMU was on the ground.

Hi, Elly.

ELLY YU, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.

KING: So what was it like there last night?

YU: Oh, so it was - I mean, the National Mall was just full of groups of different types of people. You had tourists from around the world just happening to be visiting D.C. You had a bunch of president's supporters in with - wearing red Make America Great T-shirts, hats.

And then you had protesters who were there, as well. There was a group called Code Pink. It's an anti-war group. They inflated a 20-foot Baby Trump balloon. And I ran into other volunteers and protesters passing out mini versions of that, as well. And then you had just the regular folks who wanted to come and watch the fireworks, as they do every year on the National Mall.

KING: I mean, there were concerns that some of the president's supporters and some of the protesters might scuffle, might get into fights. Did any of that happen? Did you see any of that?

YU: During the afternoon before the speech, there were some scuffles. There were a couple of people arrested outside of the White House after a flag-burning protest. But for the most part, it remained pretty calm. There were a lot of people there with their young kids, with their families. So it was a pretty, like, festival-type sort of event.

KING: And then the president's speech was really interesting. As Steve pointed out, it started with these tributes to American ingenuity. The president talked about advances in science, in the art; jazz came up, Western movies, the Super Bowl. It was really pretty rambly but sort of inspiring, I suppose, in a lot of ways. What was the mood like while he was talking?

YU: So there - closer to the Lincoln Memorial where the president was speaking, there were - you know, people were cheering. That was where there was a ticketed VIP section. And people who were supporters of the president were closer to the memorial itself.

But further in the back, where I was, I mean, there were just people who weren't necessarily paying a whole lot of attention to the speech, per se. They were watching the flyovers. I mean, some people were saluting as the military aircraft flew over. Some people - I mean, but most people had their cellphones up in the air, just documenting the whole thing.

KING: So the mood, it sounds like, was fairly chill. I know you spoke to a lot of people. Did anyone in particular stand out?

YU: I spoke to one gentleman who was flying in from Seattle. He was there with his family and not necessarily for the president's speech. But he said he was surprised that the president didn't dive into partisan politics. He himself would have liked a Fourth of July that didn't celebrate the military, per se, but that he was relieved that the president didn't dive into partisan politics.

KING: I think a lot of people were surprised by that, yeah. Elly Yu of NPR member station WAMU. Elly, thanks so much.

YU: Thank you.

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KING: All right. In Sudan, the military and civilian leaders are agreeing to share power until the country can hold elections.

INSKEEP: Sudan has faced a crisis since April, when protests led to the ouster of the longtime president. He was a military-backed ruler. And while the military agreed to remove him, they kept control of the government. And that was not enough for pro-democracy protesters. Clashes left more than 100 people dead, according to human rights groups, before this temporary agreement.

KING: Reporter Halima Gikandi has been following this story, and she's on the line from Nairobi via Skype. Hi, Halima.

HALIMA GIKANDI, BYLINE: Hi. Thanks for having me.

KING: So a deal has been struck. What are the terms of the deal?

GIKANDI: Sure. So the deal is a power-sharing agreement between a coalition of opposition groups and the transitionary military council, which has been leading the country since the ousting of President Bashir in April. It essentially agrees for both sides to lead through a sovereign council that consists of six civilians - one actually with a military background and then five members of the military - and agrees to establish a rotational presidency, beginning with the military - a military-appointed president for 21 months, followed by one appointed by the civilian side of this agreement.

And it also will allow a prime minister to be appointed by the opposition coalition, which I spoke with one of those leaders today. And he says that we can expect that by the end of next week. And that prime minister will be in charge of selecting a Cabinet of ministers to start getting the country back to a functioning state.

KING: But what's notable here is that the military will get the presidency first and then the civilians later on. Do people trust this, given that they spent 30 years living under an autocratic dictator, Omar al-Bashir, who came from the military?

GIKANDI: Well, of course, there has been a lack of trust for - especially in the past few months since the ousting of the former president. These negotiations have been going on and off. And last month, mid-negotiations, the military completely dispersed protests in a very violent way. So no, there's no trust. But according to the opposition, it's one of the only ways to begin putting Sudan on a path of a functioning transitional government. And of course, all eyes will be watching to make sure that the terms of this early agreement will be implemented.

KING: Do you imagine this means an end to the protests? I guess the protest movement would have to be united enough for one person to say - OK, guys, now we quit; we've got this agreement. Do you think we'll see any more protests?

GIKANDI: I think we could expect to see more protests and - because if - let's say if the military backs out and - at any point of the implementation of this agreement, I'm sure people will be back. And we saw that with the ousting and the fall of the former president. People continued to protest at every stage when there was a sense that the military was trying to deny them what they want and what they've been demanding, which is civilian government. So I don't think - as one opposition leader told me today, he said the power is in (inaudible) people.

KING: Civilian government's still the goal then. Is there any sense, Halima, of when Sudan is going to go ahead and hold elections?

GIKANDI: So elections wouldn't be happening for a couple of years...

KING: Wow.

GIKANDI: ...Maybe - yeah, maybe three at the earliest.

KING: And what has been the reaction from Sudanese people? Do ordinary people - are they happy about this?

GIKANDI: A lot of people are happy. There was jubilation out in the streets of Khartoum early this morning with the announcement of the agreement - people out in the streets cheering. That said, the Sudanese protesters are focused on their ultimate goal. And yes, this is a first step that everyone's happy about. But at the moment that change, protests will resume.

KING: Reporter Halima Gikandi in Nairobi. Thanks so much, Halima.

GIKANDI: Thank you so much.

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KING: The United States Congress has debated whether to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, and now Canadians are facing that same question.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Saudi Arabia is in the middle of a multinational war in Yemen. Civilian casualties and civilian suffering are high, and Saudi Arabia has a poor human rights record. But Saudi money is fueling Canadian jobs.

KING: NPR's Jackie Northam went to the city of London, Ontario, where these questions have become especially important.

Good morning, Jackie.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: OK. So why has London, Ontario, of all places, become so central to this debate over whether Canada should sell arms to Saudi Arabia?

NORTHAM: Well, first of all, London is a nice city of about a half a million people. And it's about a half - two-hour drive west of Toronto. Now, there's a company there, General Dynamics Land Systems - Canada, which makes light armored vehicles. And these are 25-ton amphibious vehicles - eight wheels, turrets on top - that kind of thing. Now, in 2014, the Canadian government signed a deal with Saudi Arabia to sell the kingdom more than 700 of these armored vehicles. And the deal is worth a lot - more than 11 billion U.S. dollars.

KING: Wow.

NORTHAM: Yeah. And the contract went to General Dynamics Land Systems in London.

KING: OK. So there is a lot of money on the line here. In the United States, this debate has developed as more and more has been revealed about Saudi human rights abuses. Is the same thing happening there? Are people's thoughts on this evolving?

NORTHAM: Yes, absolutely. In fact, there was opposition to this deal for the armored vehicles right from the get-go, primarily because of Saudi Arabia's poor human rights record. But then came the Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen. And Canadians were very concerned about the high number of civilian casualties and that these armored vehicles might end up being used in the conflict in Yemen.

I spoke with Kevin George, the rector at St. Aidan's Anglican Church in London, and he's been very outspoken about the deal. Let's have a listen.

KEVIN GEORGE: We know what's happening in Yemen. And I think that we're selling arms to a regime which is doing what it's doing in Yemen, which is really paramount to war crimes. And what they're doing to violate human rights and everything there is just beyond the pale.

NORTHAM: Now, Noel, the debate in Canada became much more heated after Saudi columnist and government critic Jamal Khashoggi was killed, apparently by a Saudi hit team in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. And there were widespread calls for Canada to get out of the arms deal. And at one point, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested he might do that. But then General Dynamics warned it would cost Canada billions of dollars if it canceled the agreement.

KING: And the thing is, it wouldn't just cost Canada billions of dollars. Right? It would also cost something else.

NORTHAM: Oh, it sure would - jobs...

KING: Yeah.

NORTHAM: ...Primarily - yeah - you know, at this London plant. You know, business people that I spoke with in London used words like devastating, if the deal was canceled. Noel, London has watched a lot of manufacturing jobs leave the area over the past decade or so. And General Dynamics says it directly employs 1,700 highly skilled people and that there are thousands more jobs in the supply chain.

I spoke with the owner of a local machine and tool company, and he said he'd lose a third of his workforce if the deal for the armored vehicles went away. And he said, you know, if Canada doesn't build them, there are plenty of other countries that are willing to supply them to Saudi Arabia. So it's really a moral dilemma for Canada. And you know, this is a country that prides itself on sticking up for human rights.

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KING: NPR's Jackie Northam reporting on London, Ontario. Thanks so much, Jackie.

NORTHAM: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "YESTERDAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.