Tigrayans accused of massacre in Ethiopia war, both sides claim advances

Tigrayans accused of massacre in Ethiopia war, both sides claim advances
In this file photo a member of the Amhara Special Forces watches on at the border crossing with Eritrea where an Imperial Ethiopian flag waves, in Humera, Ethiopia, on November 22, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 24 November 2020

Tigrayans accused of massacre in Ethiopia war, both sides claim advances

Tigrayans accused of massacre in Ethiopia war, both sides claim advances
  • PM Abiy’s troops fighting Tigrayan forces since Nov. 4
  • UN Security Council to hold informal talks on Ethiopia

ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI: Ethiopia’s state-appointed rights watchdog accused a Tigrayan youth group on Tuesday of killing hundreds of civilians as federal and local forces both claimed advances in a three-week war in the country’s mountainous north.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government said enemy soldiers were surrendering as it advanced toward the regional capital, but the Tigrayans reported they were resisting and had destroyed a prestigious army division.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission published findings into a Nov. 9 attack in Mai Kadra in southwest Tigray — first reported by Amnesty International — where it said a youth group called Samri killed an estimated 600 civilians, mainly of Amharic descent.
They were beaten to death, stabbed, set on fire and strangled with ropes, the report said, though some residents protected neighbors by hiding them in homes. The commission accused local forces of colluding in the “massacre.”
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was not immediately available but has previously denied involvement.
Reuters has been unable to verify statements made by either side since phone and Internet connections to Tigray are down and access to the area is strictly controlled.
Since fighting began on Nov. 4, hundreds have been killed, more than 41,000 refugees have fled to Sudan, and there has been widespread destruction and uprooting of people from homes.
The war has spread to Eritrea, where the Tigrayans have fired rockets, and also affected Somalia where Ethiopia has disarmed several hundred Tigrayans in a peacekeeping force fighting Al-Qaeda-linked militants.
The government said the peacekeepers were being investigated for links to the TPLF.
Abiy’s government said many Tigrayan combatants had responded to a 72-hour ultimatum to lay down arms before a threatened offensive against Mekelle city, with half a million inhabitants. The deadline expires on Wednesday.

’TRAGIC CONFLICT’
The battle-hardened TPLF, which had ruled the region of more than 5 million people, gave a different version, saying their troops were keeping federal forces at bay and scoring victories.
Their spokesman Getachew Reda said an important army unit — which he named as the 21st mechanized division — was destroyed in an assault at Raya-Wajirat led by a former commander of that unit now fighting for the TPLF.
The prime minister’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum denied that.
TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael has disputed the government version that Mekelle is encircled at a roughly 50km (30 mile) distance, telling Reuters the ultimatum was a cover for government forces to regroup after defeats.
The United States — which regards Ethiopia as a powerful ally in a turbulent region — France and Britain were the latest foreign powers to call for peace. Washington backed African Union (AU) mediation efforts “to end this tragic conflict now,” while Paris and London warned against ethnic discrimination.
The situation in Ethiopia was raised behind closed-doors in the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday by Britain and other European countries on the 15-member body, diplomats said.
Members of the council expressed concern, diplomats said, but South Africa, Niger and Tunisia appealed for more time for regional efforts to address the situation before the Security Council considers any action.
“The UN Security Council should do everything in its power to avert a human rights and humanitarian disaster in Ethiopia,” Louis Charbonneau, UN Director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

OFFENSIVE
Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for ending a standoff with Eritrea, has said he will not negotiate with the TPLF though he does plan to receive AU envoys who are expected to visit.
His predecessor, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, criticized mediation efforts by “well-intentioned outsiders” that he said obscured crimes by the TPLF and overestimated their importance in Ethiopian society.
“The key problem in the international community’s approach to Ethiopia is the assumption of moral equivalence, which leads foreign governments to adopt an attitude of false balance and bothsidesism” between the federal and Tigrayan sides, he wrote in Foreign Policy magazine.
Abiy, whose parents are from the larger Oromo and Amhara groups, denies any ethnic overtones to his offensive, saying he is pursuing criminals who ambushed federal forces.
The TPLF says he wants to subdue Tigray to amass power.
Since taking office in 2018, the prime minister has removed many Tigrayans from government and security posts and arrested some on rights abuse and corruption charges, even though he was their former military comrade and coalition partner.
The conflict threatens to destabilize the vast nation of 115 million people from myriad ethnic groups whose struggles for greater resources and power intensified when Abiy took office.
In Geneva, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet voiced alarm over reports of tank and artillery build-ups outside Mekelle and “extremely worrying” rhetoric that “may provoke or may lead to serious violations of international humanitarian law.”


Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests

Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests
Updated 23 January 2021

Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests

Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests
  • The first protests took place in the Far East and Siberia
  • Authorities vowed a tough crackdown with police saying unsanctioned public events would be “immediately suppressed”

MOSCOW: Russian police detained dozens of protesters on Saturday as supporters of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny took to the streets following his call to protest against President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Putin’s most vocal domestic critic called for mass rallies after surviving a near-fatal poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent and returning to Moscow last weekend following months of treatment in Germany. He was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport and jailed.
The rallies — planned for dozens of cities across Russia — are expected to be a major test of the opposition’s ability to mobilize despite the increasing Kremlin pressure on critics and the coronavirus pandemic.
The first protests took place in the Far East and Siberia including Vladivostok, Khabarovsk and Chita where several thousand took to the streets, Navalny supporters said.
OVD Info, which monitors detentions at opposition rallies, said around 50 people were detained in 10 cities.
Authorities vowed a tough crackdown with police saying unsanctioned public events would be “immediately suppressed.”
In Moscow, which usually mobilizes the largest rallies, protesters plan to meet in the central Pushkin Square at 2:00 p.m. (1100 GMT) and then march toward the Kremlin.

On the eve of the rallies, Navalny, who is being held in Moscow’s high-security Matrosskaya Tishina jail, thanked his supporters.
“I know perfectly well that there are lots of good people outside of my prison’s walls and help will come,” he said on Friday.
Navalny’s wife Yulia said she would join the protest in Moscow. “For myself, for him, for our children, for the values and the ideals that we share,” she said on Instagram.
Ahead of the demonstrations several key Navalny aides were taken into police custody for violating protest laws and handed short jail sentences to keep them away from the rallies.
The Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, said Friday it launched a criminal probe into the calls for unauthorized protests.
A hastily organized court on Monday jailed Navalny for 30 days, and his supporters fear that authorities are preparing to sentence him to a long prison term to silence him.
Navalny’s team this week released an investigation into an opulent Black Sea property allegedly owned by Putin.
The “Putin’s palace” report alleges the Russian leader owns a 17,691 square meter mansion that sits on a property 39 times the size of Monaco and features a casino along with a theater and a hookah lounge complete with a pole-dancing stage.
The two-hour video report had been viewed more than 65 million times since Tuesday, becoming the Kremlin critic’s most-watched YouTube investigation.
The Kremlin has denied the property belongs to Putin.
Many Russians took to social media — including video sharing app TikTok hugely popular with teens — to voice support and urge a large turnout on Saturday.
A hashtag demanding freedom for Navalny was trending on TikTok as Russians flooded the Chinese app with thousands of videos.
Russia’s media watchdog warned online platforms against encouraging minors to participate in the rallies or risk hefty fines.
The watchdog said on Friday that media platforms, including TikTok, YouTube and Instagram, removed content at its request.
Russia’s most popular social network VKontakte blocked groups created to coordinate the protests in different cities.
But a number of public figures — including those who usually steer clear of politics — have spoken out in Navalny’s support.
Navalny, 44, rose to prominence a decade ago and has become the central figure of Russia’s opposition movement, leading large-scale street protests against corruption and electoral fraud.
His arrest drew widespread Western condemnation, with the United States, the European Union, France and Canada all calling for his release.