‘Friends of Syria’ meet in Paris, Pakistan’s president returns from exile, and Angola’s president announces he’ll step down
CHANGING OF THE GUARD IN ANGOLA
On Saturday, Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos is expected to formally announce that he won’t seek re-election in 2017. The 74-year-old has ruled the oil-rich African nation for 37 years, having come to power after Angola’s bloody civil war.
Santos is a controversial figure who’s been accused of mismanaging Angola’s vast oil wealth and enriching a small circle of elites while much of the country lives in relative poverty. Recently, the country’s economy has been hit by the sustained low in oil prices, with growth and investment stagnating.
Defence Minister Joao Lourenco is expected to succeed dos Santos as party leader on Saturday and will likely become president after elections are held in August 2017. While Lourenco – a former general and current vice president of the ruling MPLA – has no ties to the powerful families that run Angola, he is expected to continue to defend the country’s establishment.
SYRIAN OPPOSITION BACKERS MEET IN PARIS
On Saturday, Western and Arab supporters of the ‘moderate’ Syrian opposition will convene in Paris. Talks come days after regime forces made major gains in the strategic northern city of Aleppo.
Aleppo is the last main Syrian city controlled by rebels, who have held it since 2012. However, its eventual fall may not prove decisive in ending the war. Issues that initially contributed to the outbreak of conflict – such as anti-Assad resentment and religious tensions – remain unresolved, and in fact have been exacerbated by the war.
Russia has insisted that rebels agree to withdraw from Aleppo before a ceasefire comes into place; major rebel groups have rejected this. Despite meeting on Wednesday and Thursday, Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry have been unable to agree on a way forward. Indeed, it makes little sense for the Russians or their Syrian allies to let up when they are so close to victory in Aleppo.
Saturday’s meeting in Paris will be sombre and is unlikely to yield anything substantial.
PAKISTAN’S FORMER PRESIDENT RETURNS
Former Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is expected to return from self-imposed exile in Dubai this weekend.
Mr Zardari is a controversial figure. He was jailed for corruption in 1996, elected to the Senate while behind bars in 1997, and has lived in Dubai since 2005. His return will be unpopular with the military, which he accused of torturing him during his imprisonment.
The timing of Mr Zardari’s return to Pakistan – just two weeks after Army Chief Raheel Sharif retired – is no coincidence. The relationship between the two was bitter, with the former president levelling accusations of corruption at the Army Chief on numerous occasions.
For his part, Zardari has denied the claim that his imminent return coincides with Sharif’s retirement.