G7 urges Eritrea military to quit Tigray

G7 urges Eritrea military to quit Tigray
People mourn the victims of a massacre allegedly perpetrated by Eritrean soldiers in the village of Dengolat, north of Mekele, the capital of Tigray. (File/AFP)
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Updated 03 April 2021

G7 urges Eritrea military to quit Tigray

G7 urges Eritrea military to quit Tigray
  • International Crisis Group warns of a prolonged stalemate

ADDIS ABABA: The G7 group of leading nations on Friday called for the “swift” withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Ethiopia’s conflict-hit northern Tigray region, as the International Crisis Group (ICG) warned of a prolonged stalemate.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced last week that Eritrean forces would leave the region, just three days after finally acknowledging their presence amid mounting reports of massacres and widespread sexual violence.
“We welcome the recent announcement from (Ethiopian) Prime Minister Abiy that Eritrean forces will withdraw from Tigray,” the G7 foreign ministers said in a statement released in Berlin.
“This process must be swift, unconditional and verifiable.”
Abiy, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops into Tigray in November to detain and disarm leaders of the once-dominant regional ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
He said the move came in response to TPLF-orchestrated attacks on federal army camps.
Abiy declared victory within weeks, but combat has continued recently in central and southern Tigray, conflict-prevention group ICG said on Friday in a briefing published nearly five months after the first shots were fired.
Addis Ababa and Asmara long denied Eritreans were active in Tigray at all, contradicting testimony from residents, rights groups, aid workers, diplomats and even some Ethiopian civilian and military officials.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have accused Eritrean troops of massacring hundreds of people in the Tigrayan town of Axum in November.
AFP has separately documented a massacre allegedly carried out by Eritrean troops in the town of Dengolat, also in November.
Tigray’s interim leader, Mulu Nega, told AFP this week that withdrawal was “a process” and would not happen immediately.

BACKGROUND

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops into Tigray in November to detain and disarm leaders of the once-dominant regional ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Residents of several Tigrayan cities and towns told AFP this week that Eritreans appeared to have actually ramped up their presence in some areas.
At least four truckloads of Eritrean soldiers have arrived in the town of Edaga Hamus since last weekend, said one resident who asked not to be named for safety reasons.
“Since the Eritrean soldiers have arrived back in Edaga Hamus I have been unable to leave my house for fear that they would kill me if they find me on the street,” the resident said.
“However, I may soon need to go out of my house in search of food items for me, my wife and my two kids or else all of us will starve to death.”
More Eritrean troops have also recently arrived in the town of Senkata, though it was unclear if they would stay, said a resident who spoke on condition of anonymity as well.
“There is anxiety that the Eritrean soldiers are preparing a large-scale confrontation,” the resident said.
Asked about the status of Eritrea’s withdrawal, Eritrean information minister Yemane Gebremeskel told AFP via email this week that Abiy’s statements were “unequivocal and unambiguous.”
In its briefing Friday, ICG warned that fighting risked dragging on for months and even years, with both sides eyeing a military “knockout blow” that appears unrealistic.
The number of fighters loyal to the TPLF is likely swelling because of rising fury over atrocities, it said.
Most TPLF leaders remain on the run and ICG noted that none were reported captured or killed in February or March.
Pro-TPLF fighters have regrouped under the Tigray Defense Forces, an armed movement “led by the removed Tigrayan leaders and commanded by former high-ranking” military officers, ICG said.
The resistance is “entrenched” and enjoys popular support from Tigrayans angry over mass killings and rapes, including those committed by soldiers from Eritrea, the TPLF’s bitter enemy, ICG said.
Mulu, who was appointed by Abiy, has previously acknowledged that the Tigrayan population has “mixed feelings” about his administration’s presence in the region.
He and other officials, though, have said assumptions that the TPLF enjoys widespread popular support are misguided and have downplayed its potential to mount an effective insurgency.
Access restrictions for humanitarian workers, researchers and journalists have made it difficult to determine a death toll for the fighting so far.
But myriad reports have emerged of massacres, extrajudicial killings and sexual violence.
Abiy’s government has said it is committed to investigating such crimes.
On Thursday, researchers at Ghent University in Belgium published a paper saying they had identified 1,942 civilian casualties, only three percent of whom died in shelling and air strikes.
They also included a list of 151 “massacres” in which at least five unarmed civilians were killed.
The researchers’ findings could not be independently verified.
ICG said in its briefing that peace talks seem unlikely in the immediate term, but called on the US, the EU and the African Union to push for a cessation of hostilities and expanded humanitarian access.


Life sentence sought for ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero

Life sentence sought for ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero
Updated 27 min 4 sec ago

Life sentence sought for ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero

Life sentence sought for ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero
  • Former manager of Kigali’s Hotel des Mille Collines was made famous by the 2004 Hollywood film

KIGALI: Prosecutors in Rwanda on Thursday sought a life sentence for “Hotel Rwanda” hero and government critic Paul Rusesabagina, who is charged with terrorism in a trial denounced as political by his supporters.
“We have showed that every act by Rusesabagina was criminal in nature with the intent to commit terrorism,” said prosecutor Jean Pierre Habarurema, during a seven-hour hearing.
“We therefore request that he is given the maximum sentence provided for by the law, which is life imprisonment.”
The former manager of Kigali’s Hotel des Mille Collines was made famous by the 2004 Hollywood film that told how he saved more than 1,000 people who sheltered in his hotel during the genocide, a decade earlier, in which an estimated 800,000 died, most of them ethnic Tutsis.
Rusesabagina, a Hutu, subsequently became a prominent and outspoken critic of President Paul Kagame and has lived in exile in the US and Belgium since 1996.
Kagame’s government accuses him of supporting the National Liberation Front (FLN) rebel group which is blamed for a series of gun, grenade and arson attacks in 2018 and 2019 that killed nine people.
Rusesabagina has denied any involvement in those attacks, but was a founder of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition group of which the FLN is seen as the armed wing. He faces nine charges, including terrorism.
“As a leader, sponsor and supporter of MRCD/FLN, he encouraged and empowered the fighters to commit those terrorist acts against Rwanda,” said Habarurema.
“Even if he did not actively take part in these attacks, he is considered as one who played a role by simply being a sponsor to these fighters.”


Classic COVID-19 symptoms changing: UK-led study

Classic COVID-19 symptoms changing: UK-led study
Updated 18 June 2021

Classic COVID-19 symptoms changing: UK-led study

Classic COVID-19 symptoms changing: UK-led study
  • Headache now most common symptom
  • Time to update list of classic symptoms: Expert

LONDON: A leading British scientist has said it is time to update the list of “classic” COVID-19 symptoms, after research found that a headache and sneezing are now among the most common signs of the disease.

Prof. Tim Spector is co-founder of the ZOE COVID symptom study, which draws on global contributors to report their symptoms once they test positive for the virus. It is the world’s largest study into the symptoms of COVID-19.

Spector said a headache now tops the list of most common symptoms, with 60 percent of people who test positive experiencing one.

A runny nose and sore throat are also “going up that list,” he added, and sneezing is now fourth, though it is often confused with hay fever.

Of the original “classic” symptoms, only a persistent cough remains in the top five, with fever and loss of smell dropping to ninth and seventh place respectively.

These developments, Spector said, mean governments must update their guidance. “We do need a much broader flexible approach to this as the virus changes and the populations change,” he added.


Philippines raises cap on health professionals going abroad

Philippines raises cap on health professionals going abroad
Updated 18 June 2021

Philippines raises cap on health professionals going abroad

Philippines raises cap on health professionals going abroad
  • The Philippines, one of the world’s biggest sources of nurses, reached its annual cap of 5,000 health worker deployments late last month

MANILA: The Philippines has increased the number of nurses and health care workers allowed to go overseas to 6,500 annually, a senior official said on Friday, amid high demand for its health professionals.
The Philippines, one of the world’s biggest sources of nurses, reached its annual cap of 5,000 health worker deployments late last month.
Those with contracts as of May 31 can take up overseas employment, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement. That means another 1,500 nurses and health care staff can work abroad, according to the labor ministry.
The labor minister on Wednesday said he would seek approval to allow 5,000 more health care workers to be deployed abroad, but a nurses’ group said there were many more than that hoping to find jobs with better pay abroad.
Health workers under government-to-government labor deals, such as that with the United Kingdom, are exempted from the new cap.
Roughly 17,000 Filipino nurses signed overseas work contracts in 2019, but the Philippines put a temporary halt on that in 2020, to shore-up its health sector as coronavirus hospitalizations rose sharply.
Jocelyn Andamo, secretary general of the Filipino Nurses United, said the additional 1,500 was frustrating.
“It is very unrealistic compared with the huge need for nurses,” she said.


India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts

India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts
Updated 18 June 2021

India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts

India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts
  • So far, India has only fully vaccinated about 5 percent of its estimated 950 million eligible population

BENGALURU: A third wave of coronavirus infections is likely to hit India by October, and although it will be better controlled than the latest outbreak the pandemic will remain a public health threat for at least another year, according to a Reuters poll of medical experts.
The June 3-17 snap survey of 40 health care specialists, doctors, scientists, virologists, epidemiologists and professors from around the world showed a significant pickup in vaccinations will likely provide some cover to a fresh outbreak.
Of those who ventured a prediction, over 85 percent of respondents, or 21 of 24, said the next wave will hit by October, including three who forecast it as early as August and 12 in September. The remaining three said between November and February.
But over 70 percent of experts, or 24 of 34, said any new outbreak would be better controlled compared with the current one, which has been far more devastating — with shortage of vaccines, medicines, oxygen and hospital beds — than the smaller first surge in infections last year.
“It will be more controlled, as cases will be much less because more vaccinations would have been rolled out and there would be some degree of natural immunity from the second-wave,” said Dr. Randeep Guleria, director at All India Institute Of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
So far, India has only fully vaccinated about 5 percent of its estimated 950 million eligible population, leaving many millions vulnerable to infections and deaths.
While a majority of health care experts predicted the vaccination drive would pick up significantly this year, they cautioned against an early removal of restrictions, as some states have done.
When asked if children and those under 18 years would be most at risk in a potential third wave, nearly two-thirds of experts, or 26 of 40, said yes.
“The reason being they are a completely virgin population in terms of vaccination because currently there is no vaccine available for them,” said Dr. Pradeep Banandur, head of epidemiology department at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences.
Experts warn the situation could become severe.
“If children get infected in large numbers and we are not prepared, there is nothing you can do at the last minute,” said Dr. Devi Shetty, a cardiologist at Narayana Health and an adviser to the Karnataka state government on pandemic response planning.
“It will be a whole different problem as the country has very, very few pediatric intensive care unit beds, and that is going to be a disaster.”
But 14 experts said children were not at risk.
Earlier this week, a senior health ministry official said children were vulnerable and susceptible to infections but that analysis has shown a less severe health impact.
While 25 of 38 respondents said future coronavirus variants would not make existing vaccines ineffective, in response to a separate question, 30 of 41 experts said the coronavirus will remain a public health threat in India for at least a year.
Eleven experts said the threat would remain for under a year, 15 said for under two years, while 13 said over two years and two said the risks will never go away.
“COVID-19 is a solvable problem, as obviously it was easy to get a solvable vaccine. In two years, India likely will develop herd immunity through vaccine and exposure of the disease,” said Robert Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland and international scientific adviser, Global Virus Network.


UN proposal seeks arms embargo and democracy in Myanmar

UN proposal seeks arms embargo and democracy in Myanmar
Updated 18 June 2021

UN proposal seeks arms embargo and democracy in Myanmar

UN proposal seeks arms embargo and democracy in Myanmar
  • Draft resolution condemns deadly violence by security forces and calls on the junta to unconditionally release those in arbitrary detention

UNITED NATIONS: The UN General Assembly is expected to approve a resolution calling on Myanmar’s junta to restore the country’s democratic transition and for all countries “to prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar,” diplomats said.
The draft resolution also condemns deadly violence by security forces and calls on the junta to unconditionally release the ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint “and all those who have been arbitrarily detained, charged or arrested.”
The 193-member assembly is scheduled to consider the resolution, which has more than 50 co-sponsors, on Friday afternoon and its sponsors are hoping it will be approved by consensus to send a strong message to the military of global opposition to its Feb. 1 takeover and support for a return to Myanmar’s democratic transition, though any nation can call for a vote.
The draft resulted from negotiations by a so-called Core Group including the European Union, many Western nations and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations known as ASEAN, which includes Myanmar.
A UN diplomat said there is an agreement with ASEAN to seek consensus, but what will happen with ASEAN members if there is a vote remains unclear.
The resolution’s approval would mark one of the few times that the UN’s most representative body expressed itself against a military coup and called for an arms embargo.
Canada’s UN Ambassador Bob Rae, a member of the Core Group, said Thursday that everyone has been working hard “to reach a broad consensus” on the text, and discussions were still under way on whether it would be approved by consensus or be put to a vote.
Myanmar for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions.
As the generals loosened their grip, culminating in Suu Kyi’s rise to leadership in 2015 elections, the international community responded by lifting most sanctions and pouring investment into the country. Her party was reelected by a landslide in November elections, but the military contends the vote was fraudulent and took over before the new Parliament was seated.
Widespread opposition to the junta’s rule began with massive nonviolent protests. After soldiers and police used deadly force to crush the peaceful demonstrations, a low-level armed insurrection has emerged in both the cities and countryside.
Last week, the UN human rights office cited credible reports that at least 860 people have been killed by security forces since Feb. 1, mostly during protests, and that more than 4,800 people — including activists, journalists and opponents of the junta — are in arbitrary detention.
Speaking of the draft resolution, Canada’s Rae said: “I think it’s a strong statement by the General Assembly about our strong opposition to what’s been happening in Myanmar, and our strong desire for a shift back to a process of attaining democracy in the country, civil and economic rights for everybody including the Rohingya.”
The draft calls on “the Myanmar armed forces to respect the will of the people as freely expressed by the results of the general election of Nov. 8, 2020. It also said the Parliament should be allowed to convene and the armed forces and other national bodies should be brought into an “inclusive civilian government that is representative of the will of the people.”
Unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, but they do reflect global opinion and supporters of the draft believe it will have an impact.
Rae, a former Canadian special envoy to Myanmar, doesn’t believe the nation can return to its past isolation since people in Myanmar “have developed a taste for openness, for democracy, for participation, and for social and political rights,” he said. “And I don’t think the people are going to lose that taste. And I think that the answer is to do everything we can to sustain democracy.”