Eritrea blames US support for Tigray’s leaders for the war

Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh blamed US administrations that supported the Tigray People’s Liberation Movement for the last 20 years for the current war in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region. (File/AP)
Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh blamed US administrations that supported the Tigray People’s Liberation Movement for the last 20 years for the current war in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region. (File/AP)
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Updated 08 June 2021

Eritrea blames US support for Tigray’s leaders for the war

Eritrea blames US support for Tigray’s leaders for the war
  • The TPLF led the coalition that ruled Ethiopia for nearly three decades
  • Thousands are estimated to have been killed in the war that has sent a third of the region’s 6 million people fleeing

UNITED NATIONS: Eritrea’s foreign minister blamed US administrations that supported the Tigray People’s Liberation Movement for the last 20 years for the current war in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region, saying that blaming Eritrea for the fighting was unfounded.

Osman Saleh, in a letter to the UN Security Council circulated Monday, accused President Joe Biden’s administration of “stoking further conflict and destabilization” through interference and intimidation in the region. “The apparent objective of these acts is to resuscitate the remnants of the TPLF regime,” he said.

The TPLF led the coalition that ruled Ethiopia for nearly three decades until Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed rose to power in 2018. Abiy alienated the TPLF in part by trying to make peace with its archenemy, Eritrea, then sent Ethiopian government troops into the region in November.

Thousands are estimated to have been killed in the war that has sent a third of the region’s 6 million people fleeing. The government forces are now allied with soldiers from neighboring Eritrea, who are blamed for many atrocities.

Saleh’s letter makes no mention of Eritrean troops in Tigray, despite international calls for them to withdraw.

Multiple witnesses, survivors of rape, officials and aid workers said Eritrean soldiers have been spotted far from the border, sometimes clad in faded Ethiopian army fatigues, and controlling key roads and access to some communities.

The Ethiopian government considers TPLF fighters to be terrorists who have defied Abiy’s authority. But recent atrocities appear to have increased support for the TPLF.

The Eritrean foreign minister accused the TPLF of conducting a disinformation campaign to camouflage its illicit schemes to arm itself and topple Abiy’s government and he urged the Security Council “to take appropriate measures to redress the injustice.”

Saleh also criticized the US State Department’s recent announcement on visa restrictions for current or former Eritrean and Ethiopian government and military officials, saying it was only the latest in a string of “unilateral acts of intimidation and interference.”


‘Brutal’ third COVID-19 wave hits Africa as vaccination slow

‘Brutal’ third COVID-19 wave hits Africa as vaccination slow
Updated 25 June 2021

‘Brutal’ third COVID-19 wave hits Africa as vaccination slow

‘Brutal’ third COVID-19 wave hits Africa as vaccination slow
  • Africa is still the world’s least-affected continent after Oceania
  • Compounding Africa’s third wave are immunization hitches, the spread of more transmissible virus variants and winter temperatures

JOHANNESBURG: Africa is facing a vicious coronavirus resurgence, with unprecedented hospital admissions and fatalities pushing health facilities to the brink as the continent falls far behind in the global vaccination drive.
With just under 5.3 million reported cases and around 139,000 deaths among its nearly 1.3 billion people, Africa is still the world’s least-affected continent after Oceania, according to an AFP tally.
So far African nations have been spared disasters comparable to Brazil or India.
But the pandemic is resurging at an alarming rate in at least 12 countries, with continental cases expected to hit a record peak in around three weeks.
“The third wave is picking up speed, spreading faster, hitting harder,” World Health Organization Africa director Matshidiso Moeti warned Thursday. “The latest surge threatens to be Africa’s worst yet.”
Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) director John Nkengasong on Thursday described the third wave as “extremely brutal” and “very devastating.”
And Liberia’s President George Weah has warned the wave is “far more alarming than a year ago” as hospitals overflow in his country.
Compounding Africa’s third wave are immunization hitches, the spread of more transmissible virus variants and winter temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Delta variant, first detected in India, has so far been reported in 14 African countries, making up the bulk of new cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, according to the WHO.
Doctors in South Africa, which accounts for more than 35 percent of all cases recorded on the continent, are struggling with an unprecedented influx of patients.
Unlike past waves, this time “the hospital system is not coping,” said doctors’ association chief Angelique Coetzee.
South Africa’s average new daily infections have increased 15-fold since early April, with hospital admissions rising around 60 percent.
Namibia and Zambia are also seeing steep infection curves.
Zambia’s health ministry has reported an “unprecedented” number of Covid-19 deaths piling pressure on mortuaries while Africa CDC said the country was “overwhelmed.”
With similar trends in Uganda, Health Minister Jane Ruth Acheng blamed highly infectious variants for the new spread, “different from the second wave” with a large number of young people hospitalized.
Uganda is one of the countries facing reported oxygen shortages, although Acheng denied civil society groups’ claim that the shortfall amounts to 24.5 million liters per day.
Governments are again tightening restrictions, including a new nationwide lockdown in Uganda and a tougher curfew in 13 Kenyan counties.
At the same time the pace of vaccinations is struggling to get off the ground.
According to the WHO, about one percent of the continent’s population is fully vaccinated — the lowest ratio globally — and 90 percent of African nations will miss a target to inoculate a tenth of their populations by September.
“We are running a race behind time, the pandemic is ahead of us. We are not winning in Africa this battle against the virus,” said Africa CDC’s Nkengasong.
“It’s frightening what is going on on the continent,” he added.
A recent pledge by Western leaders to donate one billion vaccine doses to poorer countries has been widely criticized for being too slow.
Cases are “outpacing vaccinations,” Moeti said. “Africa urgently needs a million more vaccines. We need a sprint.”
Several countries have failed to administer jabs from the UN-backed Covax scheme before their use-by date because of logistical failures and vaccine hesitancy.
Malawi destroyed almost 20,000 expired AstraZeneca doses in May, while the DRC and South Sudan have returned more than two million shots to the UN to avoid a similar scenario.
Authorities in Congo-Brazzaville are concerned over the slow take-up of almost 100,000 Chinese-made vaccines expiring in July.
A surge in coronavirus cases in India, the world’s main AstraZeneca supplier, has delayed Covax deliveries to Africa.
Malawi exhausted its stocks last week, just as thousands were due for their second shot.
And hundreds of frustrated Zimbabweans protested last month after Harare’s main vaccination center ran out of jabs.
South Africa says it has secured enough Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines to immunize 67 percent of its 59 million inhabitants.
But the rollout has been hit by setbacks and only 2.2 million people — health care workers and over 60s — have received a jab so far.
“The lack of vaccines in a region with high levels of poverty and inequality means many people feel they are just waiting to die,” said Amnesty International’s regional director Deprose Muchena.


Philippines rescues daughter of suicide bombers from militant group

Philippines rescues daughter of suicide bombers from militant group
Updated 25 June 2021

Philippines rescues daughter of suicide bombers from militant group

Philippines rescues daughter of suicide bombers from militant group
  • Girl, aged between 10 and 13, had been indoctrinated

MANILA: Philippine security forces have rescued the daughter of suicide bombers from the militant Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). 

The girl’s parents were Indonesian nationals 35-year-old Rullie Rian Zeke and his 32-year-old wife Ulfah Handayani Saleh. They were  behind the Jan. 2019 attack on a cathedral in the southern island of Jolo that killed 23 people and wounded more than 100 others.

The girl, identified as Siti Aisyah Rullie, alias Maryam Israni, was recovered in a joint operation by military and police teams in Barangay Bangkal, Patikul, Sulu, shortly before midnight on Wednesday.

“She is estimated to be between 10 and 13 years of age,” Col. Alaric Delos Santos, Western Mindanao Command spokesperson, told Arab News. “There is ongoing coordination with the Department and Social Services, and even with Indonesian authorities, to determine what to do with her.”

Aisyah’s parents were members of the Indonesian Daesh-linked group Jamaah Ansharut Daulah and affiliates of the ASG.

The cathedral bombing was the first suicide attack in the Philippines to involve a woman.

Aisyah was reportedly married to ASG member Rudymar Habib Jihiiran, alias Gulam, and had been indoctrinated to become a suicide bomber like her parents.

According to the military, Jihiiran is a close aide of ASG leader Radullan Sahiron.

Army 11th Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. William Gonzales said law enforcers were trying to arrest him on multiple charges of murder, but that he had managed to flee with two other militants.

Troops found Aisyah at the house serving as the group’s hideout.

Lt. Jerrica Manongdo, JTF-Sulu spokesperson, said she might have been married off to Jihiiran to have a “guardian.”

“It is a practice among the Abu Sayyaf that when a female member of the family is left behind, regardless if she is still a minor, she will be wed to another ASG member for (the) purposes of having a guardian,” he told Arab News, adding that Aisyah’s elder brother, while also a minor, was already an armed member of the Daesh-inspired Daulah Islamiyah.

Her older sister Rezky Fantasya Rullie, alias Cici, has been imprisoned in the southern Philippines. She had reportedly planned to carry out a suicide attack to avenge the death of her husband Andi Baso, an Indonesian militant who was reportedly killed in a gunfight with Philippine forces in Sulu last year.

Another brother is believed to be either in jail or was killed while fighting for Daesh in Syria. He was the only member of the family believed to have crossed into Syria as they went to Turkey in 2016 with hopes of joining the group.

They were arrested by Turkish authorities in Jan. 2017 and sent back to Indonesia. 

A year later, however, they made it to the southern Philippines and joined ASG commander Hajan Sawadjaan, who had reportedly taken over as the Daesh Philippine leader in 2017. Sawadjaan is believed to have been lethally wounded in an encounter with Philippine troops last year.


Suicides rise at alarming rate in impoverished Pakistani desert region

Suicides rise at alarming rate in impoverished Pakistani desert region
Updated 25 June 2021

Suicides rise at alarming rate in impoverished Pakistani desert region

Suicides rise at alarming rate in impoverished Pakistani desert region
  • From 2016-20, 79 of 767 suicide cases in Sindh province occurred in Tharparkar district

MITHI, Sindh: Pakistan’s southern region in the Thar Desert has seen an alarming rise in suicide cases, especially among women, with authorities linking the emerging health crisis to chronic mental illness in the impoverished district.

Between 2016 to 2020, the Sindh Mental Health Authority (SMHA), an arm of the provincial government, recorded 767 suicides in the southern province, of which 79 cases occurred in Tharparkar.  

Police data shows that at least 48 people — 31 of them women — have taken their lives in the district since January this year. Between June 11-16 alone, eight suicide cases were registered in the region.

This month, the SMHA carried out what it called a “psychiatric autopsy” of the district to determine the “reasons behind suicides, including why more women were committing suicide,” the authority’s chairman, Dr. Karim Khawaja, said.

“The results of the psychiatric autopsy will be available in the next few weeks,” he added. “It will reveal the real reasons for suicide cases and help in preventing suicides in Tharparkar.”

Baadal Saand, who heads the anti-suicide cell of the Tharparkar police, attributed a majority of the cases to “mental illness and depression.”

Dr. Bharat Kumar, the district’s only psychiatrist, said poverty “may be a vital reason” but the “mother reason” was psychiatric illness.

The UN Development Program’s Multidimensional Poverty Index for Pakistan reports that 87 percent of the population in the Thar Desert region lives in poverty.

“Besides psychiatric illness and depression, other reasons are lack of family support or social support, or economic issues,” Kumar said.

Khatau Jani, a senior journalist from the region, concurred that rising mental illness issues were being caused by extreme poverty.

“These are extreme poverty-hit communities,” Jani said. “What Thar needs is increased funding from both federal and provincial government poverty reduction programs.”

Climate change is also driving locals into more deprivation, as their livelihoods depend on rainfall in a drought-battered region.

A report published by the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) in early June indicated that droughts persisting since October last year had resulted in increased food insecurity in a number of Sindh districts, including Tharparkar.

“Due to consistent deficiency of rainfall since October 2020, the moderate drought has been further intensified into severe drought, especially in the southwestern Balochistan and southeastern Sindh,” the PDM said. “Drought conditions may further affect agriculture and livestock.”

Experts say modern agriculture could relieve the poverty-stricken area.

Dr. Amanullah Mahar, assistant professor at the Center for Environmental Science at the University of Sindh, recommended planting moringa trees, which flourish in arid and semi-arid environments, and whose fruit pods can be consumed as food.

“Locals would not have to wait for rains for the production of moringa,” he said.

Another option was biosaline agriculture, Mahar said, which is a means of producing plants in saline-rich soil in arid, water-scarce locations. The method has already been tested in the district.

“Recently there was a successful experiment with biosaline agriculture in Tharparkar,” he said. “It is important to expand this agriculture pattern throughout the desert.”

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Kashmiri leaders urge Indian PM to restore region's autonomy

Kashmiri leaders urge Indian PM to restore region's autonomy
Updated 25 June 2021

Kashmiri leaders urge Indian PM to restore region's autonomy

Kashmiri leaders urge Indian PM to restore region's autonomy
  • Government removed protection on land, jobs in 2019

NEW DELHI: Kashmiri leaders from pro-India parties on Thursday urged the prime minister to restore the region's special autonomy and engage in dialogue with Pakistan during their first meeting with him since the region lost its autonomy and saw many of its leaders jailed in a crackdown.

Muslim-majority Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, with both claiming it in its entirety. 

It became a flashpoint between the neighbors at the end of British colonial rule in 1947, when the Indian subcontinent was divided into predominantly Hindu India and mainly Muslim Pakistan. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over control of Kashmir.

In Aug. 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government abolished Article 370 of the constitution ending Kashmir's autonomy. It split it into two federal territories — Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir — and placed its entire population under lockdown and a communication blackout. 

In a series of administrative changes that followed, India removed protections on land and jobs for the local population, which many likened to attempts at demographically altering the region. 

Leaders of 14 pro-India political parties were invited for Thursday's meeting in New Delhi. Many of them, including Kashmir's former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, had been under house arrest for months.

“People of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) feel very humiliated after what happened on Aug. 5, 2019,” Mufti told reporters. “The way Article 370 was removed from the constitution — unconstitutionally, illegally and immorally — this is not acceptable to the people of Kashmir, and we will struggle for the restoration of Article 370 because this is the question of our identity.” 

Home Minister Amit Shah, while not commenting on the restoration of Kashmir's autonomy, confirmed that the restoration of its statehood — with a state being of higher administrative importance than federal territory — was discussed.

“The future of Jammu and Kashmir was discussed and the delimitation exercise and peaceful elections are important milestones in restoring statehood as promised in parliament,” he tweeted after the meeting. 

India’s main opposition Congress party demanded that the restoration of the territory's statehood be carried out soon. 

“Statehood should be restored at the earliest,” Congress leader and former Kashmir chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad told the media. “The prime minister and home minister had made a promise that the government would restore statehood.” 

The meeting took place against the backdrop of reaffirming a 2003 ceasefire accord between India and Pakistan in February. The Kashmiri leaders said India should engage in talks with Pakistan for the sake of the region’s economic condition.

“I complimented the PM on (the) ceasefire with Pakistan and told him to hold talks with Pakistan for peace in Kashmir,” Mufti added. “New Delhi should talk with Islamabad for the resumption of the stalled trade between both parts of Kashmir because many people’s lives are involved in this.” 

Omar Abdullah, another former chief minister of Kashmir and leader of the region's oldest political party the National Conference, also supported talks with Pakistan. “We can change friends but not neighbors,” he said. “Pakistan is our close neighbor and we should use the back channel to address the existing tensions between the two nations.” 

But, among observers and Kashmiris themselves, there was little hope about the meeting.

“Modi needed a photograph to convey to his international audience that he is engaged with the Kashmiri leadership, that is what (he) has got on Thursday,” Srinagar-based political analyst Prof. Sheikh Showkat Hussain, who teaches at the Central University of Kashmir, told Arab News. “It was not meant for something serious, and this is the common impression in Kashmir.”


WHO estimates COVID-19 boosters needed yearly for most vulnerable

WHO estimates COVID-19 boosters needed yearly for most vulnerable
Updated 24 June 2021

WHO estimates COVID-19 boosters needed yearly for most vulnerable

WHO estimates COVID-19 boosters needed yearly for most vulnerable
  • WHO considers annual boosters for high-risk individuals as its "indicative" baseline scenario
  • Spokesperson for Gavi said COVAX was planning to take a wide range of scenarios into consideration

BRUSSELS: The World Health Organization (WHO) forecasts that people most vulnerable to COVID-19, such as the elderly, will need to get an annual vaccine booster to be protected against variants, an internal document seen by Reuters shows.
The estimate is included in a report, which is to be discussed on Thursday at a board meeting of Gavi, a vaccine alliance that co-leads the WHO’s COVID-19 vaccine program COVAX. The forecast is subject to changes and is also paired with two other less likely scenarios.
Vaccine makers Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc, with its German partner BioNTech, have been vocal in their view that the world will soon need booster shots to maintain high levels of immunity, but the evidence for this is still unclear.
The document shows that the WHO considers annual boosters for high-risk individuals as its “indicative” baseline scenario, and boosters every two years for the general population.
It does not say how these conclusions were reached, but shows that under the base scenario new variants would continue to emerge and vaccines would be regularly updated to meet these threats.
The UN agency declined to comment on the content of the internal document.
A spokesperson for Gavi said COVAX was planning to take a wide range of scenarios into consideration.
The document, which is dated June 8 and is still a “work in progress,” also predicts under the base case that 12 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses will be produced globally next year.
That would be slightly higher than the forecast of 11 billion doses for this year cited by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA), signalling that the UN agency does not expect a significant ramp-up of vaccine production in 2022.
The document predicts manufacturing problems, regulatory approval issues and “transition away from some technology platforms” as potential drags on supplies next year.
It does not signal which technologies could be phased out, but the European Union, which has reserved the world’s largest volume of COVID-19 vaccines, has bet heavily on shots using messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, such as those by Pfizer and Moderna, and has forgone some purchases of viral vector vaccines from AstraZeneca Plc and Johnson & Johnson.
The scenarios will be used to define the WHO’s global vaccination strategy and the forecasts may change as new data emerges on the role of boosters and the duration of vaccine protection, Gavi says in another document, also seen by Reuters.
So far about 2.5 billion doses have been administered worldwide, mostly in rich countries where over half of the population has received at least one dose, whereas in many poorer countries less than 1 percent has been vaccinated, according to Gavi’s estimates.
See graphic: COVID-19 global vaccination tracker: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/vaccination-rollout-and-access/
This gap could widen next year under the WHO’s most pessimistic forecast, as the need for annual boosters could once again push poorer nations to the back of the queue.
In its worst-case scenario, the UN agency says production would be 6 billion doses next year, due to stringent regulation for new shots and manufacturing issues with existing ones.
That could be compounded by the need for annual boosters for the entire world, and not just the most vulnerable, to combat variants and limited duration of protection.
In the more optimistic situation, all vaccines in the pipeline would get authorized and production capacity would ramp up to about 16 billion doses to meet demand. Vaccines would also be shared equitably across the world.
There would be no need for boosters as vaccines would show strong efficacy against variants and long protection.