Ethiopia forces strike Tigray rebels in ‘massive’ move

Ethiopia forces strike Tigray rebels in ‘massive’ move
(AFP)
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Updated 09 October 2021

Ethiopia forces strike Tigray rebels in ‘massive’ move

Ethiopia forces strike Tigray rebels in ‘massive’ move
  • The war erupted in November when Abiy sent troops into Tigray to topple the regional ruling party and former national rulers

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopian troops and their allies are launching air and ground strikes against Tigray rebels in the northern region of Amhara, humanitarian and rebel sources told AFP, amid growing speculation of a major offensive.
A spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has been locked in a brutal conflict with pro-government forces in northern Ethiopia for 11 months, said Saturday there was a “massive move” against the rebels.
The reports come just days after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was sworn in for a new term, vowing to defend “Ethiopia’s honor” despite mounting international criticism of the war and alarm about the desperate humanitarian crisis it has triggered.
TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said there had been “mostly air, drone and artillery bombardment” of rebels, and reported a major troop build-up, saying “tens of thousands are amassed” in northern Amhara including the North Gondar and North Wollo zones.
“We are confident we will thwart the offensive in all fronts and more,” he said. “We will stand our ground until the siege is lifted.”
Humanitarian sources had told AFP that federal soldiers and Amhara regional troops conducted air and ground offensives in the North Wollo area and other locations on Thursday and Friday.
Representatives from Amhara, as well as federal and military officials, did not respond to requests for comment and the reported military operations could not be independently confirmed by AFP.
The war erupted in November when Abiy sent troops into Tigray to topple the TPLF, the regional ruling party and former national rulers, a move he said came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.
Although government forces quickly took control of Tigray’s cities and towns, the TPLF recaptured most of the region including the capital Mekele by late June and Abiy later declared a unilateral cease-fire.
But fighting, which has since spread to neighboring Amhara and Afar, has created what the UN calls an “immense humanitarian crisis” with hundreds of thousands of people driven into famine-like conditions.
An untold number of civilians have been killed, nearly two million have been displaced, and there have been many reports of atrocities including massacres and mass rape.
The US has threatened sanctions against the warring parties if they fail to commit to a negotiated settlement to end a conflict that threatens to destabilize Africa’s second most populous nation.

The former chief of staff in the Abiy-appointed Tigray interim adminstration told AFP Saturday that federal officials had long resisted their entreaties to pursue talks, after TPLF forces had initially been driven out of Tigray.
“They rejected that. They said ‘Already the TPLF army is completely destroyed,’ and they said, ‘With whom we are going to negotiate?’” said Gebremeskel Kassa, an outspoken critic of Eritrean forces fighting alongside Ethiopian soldiers in the region.
Gebremeskel, who fled Tigray in June, said he had now left the country fearing for his safety and was seeking asylum abroad.
There has been speculation the fighting could pick up now the rainy season is ending, and with mass mobilization throughout the country and in Amhara in particular.
On Thursday, the Amhara region’s spokesman said on Twitter: “Since an operation to free our people who are in trouble because of the terrorist TPLF could be conducted at any time, in all fronts, we all have to be vigilant 24 hours a day.”
Awet Weldemichael, a Horn of Africa security expert at Queen’s University in Canada, said earlier this week that Abiy’s new government would have to grapple with “a trifecta of crises” — the war itself and its humanitarian and economic fallout.
“The upcoming wave of fighting and worsening humanitarian conditions are a further hit on his international standing and a test to his new government from day one.”
Abiy’s government sparked global outrage last week when it expelled senior UN officials from Ethiopia for “meddling” in its affairs, exacerbating concerns about the humanitarian crisis.
UN chief Antonio Guterres, who has said more than five million people were in need of assistance, on Wednesday urged the Ethiopian authorities to allow the UN to deliver aid “without hindrance.”
Tigray is under a de facto blockade that is preventing most aid from getting in. Ethiopian officials blame the TPLF for obstructing deliveries, but the US has said access to essential supplies and services was being denied by the Ethiopian government.
The UN’s humanitarian agency OCHA in recent days warned that a lack of medical supplies was also having fatal consequences in Tigray and reported alarming levels of malnutrition among children and pregnant women.


Putin visit to India balances strained ties: Experts

Putin visit to India balances strained ties: Experts
Updated 19 sec ago

Putin visit to India balances strained ties: Experts

Putin visit to India balances strained ties: Experts
  • India to receive S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia this month
  • Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting on Monday after a two-year freeze on relations

NEW DELHI: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s day-long visit to New Delhi on Monday has been labeled by foreign policy experts as “symbolic” and “substantive,” and an attempt to restore strong Russia-India relations.

Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting on Monday after a two-year freeze on relations. They signed 28 agreements covering bilateral defense and an Indian purchase of 600,000 Russian assault rifles.

Both countries also held their first first 2+2 ministerial talks involving defense and foreign ministers, and held a strategic dialogue to discuss reinforcing ties.

New Delhi and Moscow have a long history of friendship, but the relationship between the two has suffered in recent years following India’s growing relationship with the US, which the South Asian republic considers critical to countering its northern neighbor, China.

In his opening remarks at the summit, Modi underlined the long-standing relationship between India and Russia.

“A lot of geopolitical equations have emerged. But the India-Russia friendship has been a constant among all these variables,” he said.

“It is truly a unique and reliable model of inter-state friendship.”

In his own comments, Putin called India a “time-tested friend.”

He said: “Our colleagues, foreign and defense ministers are here; this is the first meeting in this format. It means that we continue to develop our relations on the international scene and in the military sphere.

“We perceive India as a great power, a friendly nation and a time-tested friend.”

Foreign policy experts have said that the visit was an attempt to arrest the drift in the Russia-India relationship. “Putin’s visit to an extent arrested the drift in the relationship between the two nations,” Prof. Harsh V. Pant, head of the strategic studies program at New Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation, told Arab News.

“The visit went well given that there has been this perception that that the two nations are drifting apart because of China, the Indo-Pacific and the Quad. Russia was vocal in its disagreement of all those things, and I think this visit seems to be a recognition from the top of the two countries that despite the divergences, they do see great value in keeping each other a priority country,” said Pant.

Russia has reservations over the formation of the Quad, a quadrilateral grouping involving the US, India, Japan and Australia initiated in response to China’s growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region.

Harsh Vardhan Shringla, India’s foreign secretary, said in a press briefing on Monday that “concern over the Indo-Pacific strategy was raised with Russia.”

Putin’s visit also comes at a time when New Delhi’s relationship with Beijing — a close ally of Moscow — is strained. A tense military stand-off between the two large Asian neighbors at the Himalayan borders in Ladakh has lasted for more than a year. In a border clash between the two nations in June 2020, at least 20 Indian soldiers died.

“It’s going to be a sticky point going forward, there is no doubt about that. This is a challenge in the relationship,” said Pant.

“India has to convey to Russia how strongly it feels on the China question.”

Pant added that “if the relationship between India and Russia is broad and not one-dimensional, then both nations would be able to tide over these differences on China.”

India has also begun to receive S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia this month.

“The supply of S-400 air-defense missile systems had “begun this month and will continue to happen,” said the Indian foreign secretary.

Political analyst and the former Indian ambassador to Jordan and Libya Anil Trigunayat said that the S-400 sale is a matter of India’s “strategic autonomy.”

Trigunayat told Arab News: “India has to secure her national interests, which are an integral part of her strategic autonomy.

“India hopes that the global comprehensive strategic partnership that New Delhi and Washington share will enable the US to appreciate India’s genuine quest and concerns.”


Duterte pledges ‘better days’ as Filipinos prepare to celebrate Christmas

Duterte pledges ‘better days’ as Filipinos prepare to celebrate Christmas
Updated 6 min 40 sec ago

Duterte pledges ‘better days’ as Filipinos prepare to celebrate Christmas

Duterte pledges ‘better days’ as Filipinos prepare to celebrate Christmas
  • Nikkei Asia’s COVID-19 Recovery Index showed that the Philippines jumped 46 spots to 57th in November from 103rd in October this year
  • Makati Medical Center, which has been dealing with hundreds of COVID-19 infections for nearly two years, reported zero in-patient cases on Monday

MANILA: President Rodrigo Duterte said that better days are ahead for the country during a televised Cabinet meeting on Monday night as the downward trend in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases continues.

The Philippines on Tuesday reported only 356 new COVID-19 infections, the lowest single-day figure since July 2020. The new figure pushed the country’s total tally to 2,835,345,  of which 97.8 percent or 2,772,728 have recovered.

Nikkei Asia’s COVID-19 Recovery Index also showed that the Philippines jumped 46 spots to 57th in November from 103rd in October this year.

During his address, Duterte expressed optimism that the Philippines has a good chance of overcoming the pandemic with the government’s aggressive immunization campaign, saying that “better days” lay ahead.

He noted that since Dec. 1, the daily average case number has remained between 500 and 600, while the “number of active cases continues to go down.”

“Very impressive,” Duterte said, as he also pointed out that the positivity rate is “now only less than 2 percent,” which means that for every 100 persons tested for COVID-19, only a maximum of two turned out to be positive.

“It’s Christmas. I hope that everything will be for the good of everybody, and I am very happy that it is really going down. It’s on a nosedive,” he added.

Duterte further said this development is a “miracle,” noting how “other countries are still reeling from the pandemic,” especially with the emergence of the omicron variant.

“We are not hoping for the best, but we pray to God that it will not come to our shores. But if (it) ever arrives, we can cope with it just as we did (in the past),” Duterte said.

Independent group OCTA Research fellow Rev. Nicanor Austriaco, a Catholic priest and molecular biologist, said the Philippines has attained substantial population immunity from natural infections and vaccinations in the urban areas based on current data.

Austriaco, who virtually joined the Cabinet meeting, made a presentation where he noted that the country had the highest mobility levels in the past 20 months and experienced the lowest levels of cases and hospitalizations during the same period, even with the presence of the COVID-19 delta variant.

“It suggests that we have attained substantial population immunity from natural infections and vaccinations in the urban areas of the Philippines because the pandemic has raged and spread primarily in our cities and in our first-class municipalities,” he said, adding: “The fact that the virus is struggling to find new Filipinos to infect, suggests that we have attained substantial population immunity.”

Austriaco compared the Philippines with its neighbors in Southeast Asia, Thailand and Malaysia, which he said still have not seen a dip in cases despite having much earlier surges. The two nations are still experiencing 5,000 cases per day.

Vietnam, he said, also had a delta peak and is still experiencing significant numbers of COVID-19 infections at 15,000 or so every day.

“The difference is that the Philippines, unlike these three other countries, had substantial waves of previous variants, especially the alpha and beta, which struck the country in March and April of this year,” Austriaco said.

“Combining the vaccinations and the natural immunity, what you are seeing here is that many of our cities where the pandemic tends to focus are now stable enough to prevent transmission,” he added.

The expert also advised Filipinos not to panic amid the threat posed by the omicron variant and instead move with caution and prepare for Christmas.

“Let us celebrate Christmas. This is the best time in 20 months for the entire country,” Austriaco said, adding: “This is not the time to panic. It is time to be careful. We have to prepare.”

Austriaco suggested that the country prepare its hospital infrastructure and increase healthcare workers’ staffing capacity, considering during the alpha and delta surges, the country had nursing shortages, especially in Metro Manila. He also recommended that the government continue vaccinating and boosting the immunity of its population, especially senior citizens.

“It must also strengthen population immunity around international gateways,” he said, predicting that the omicron variant will likely enter the country through an airport. “We have to build a wall of vaccinated Filipinos around these airports.”

On Monday, the Makati Medical Center, which has been dealing with hundreds of COVID-19 infections for nearly two years, reported zero in-patient cases as confirmed by its Medical Director Dr. Saturnino Javier. The medical center is located in the financial district of Metro Manila, which had become the epicenter of COVID-19 infections during the past months.

Last Friday, the Philippine General Hospital, the country’s biggest COVID-19 referral facility, also reported it had zero COVID-19 patient admission for two consecutive days.


Norway tightens measures as Covid cases surge

Norway tightens measures as Covid cases surge
Updated 35 min 16 sec ago

Norway tightens measures as Covid cases surge

Norway tightens measures as Covid cases surge
  • From four weeks starting at midnight on Thursday, authorities will limit the number of guests in a home to 10
  • The number may be raised to 20 over the Christmas period

OSLO: Norway will tighten health measures to combat a surge in Covid-19 cases, including a limit on the number of people at parties, the government said on Tuesday.
From four weeks starting at midnight on Thursday, authorities will limit the number of guests in a home to 10 — in addition to the people in the household.
Last week, a suspected outbreak of the newly discovered omicron variant among dozens of partygoers who had all been vaccinated led the government to introduce new restrictions to deal with Covid in and around the capital Oslo.
“The situation is now so serious that we have to take new measures to keep the pandemic under control,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store told a press conference.
However, the number may be raised to 20 over the Christmas period, so long as at least a meter (three feet) is kept between guests, it said.
Masks will also be compulsory — but again, only if social distancing cannot be maintained at one meter, while table-only service will be mandatory at restaurants and bars.
“The risk of overloading health services and the spread of the more contagious omicron variant now requires new strict measures in our country,” Store said.
Norway has recorded 29 omicron cases so far.


Putin demands security guarantees from Biden to curb NATO expansion

During two hours of talks with Biden on a video call, Putin said NATO was bolstering its military potential near Russia’s borders. (Reuters/File Photos)
During two hours of talks with Biden on a video call, Putin said NATO was bolstering its military potential near Russia’s borders. (Reuters/File Photos)
Updated 07 December 2021

Putin demands security guarantees from Biden to curb NATO expansion

During two hours of talks with Biden on a video call, Putin said NATO was bolstering its military potential near Russia’s borders. (Reuters/File Photos)
  • The talks were held as the West voiced concerns that Russia will invade Ukraine

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin presented US President Joe Biden with a demand for legally binding security guarantees that would rule out the expansion of NATO, the Kremlin said on Tuesday after virtual talks between the two leaders.

During two hours of talks with Biden on a video call, Putin said NATO was bolstering its military potential near Russia’s borders and “making dangerous attempts to conquer Ukrainian territory,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

“Therefore, Russia is seriously interested in obtaining reliable, legally fixed guarantees that rule out NATO expansion eastward and the deployment of offensive strike weapons systems in states adjacent to Russia,” the Kremlin said.

Russian authorities have said that NATO's growing ties with Ukraine and the possibility of the alliance deploying missiles targeted against Russia there was a “red line” it would not allow to be crossed.

Putin also told his US counterpart he wanted guarantees that offensive strike systems would not be deployed in countries close to Russia, the Kremlin said.

The talks were held as the West voiced concerns that Russia will invade Ukraine and warned of “strong economic and other measures” as punishment should Moscow start a military conflict.

The Kremlin, which said before Tuesday's meeting that it did not expect any breakthroughs, has denied harbouring any intention to attack Ukraine and said that its troop posture is defensive. 


HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO

HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO
Updated 07 December 2021

HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO

HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO
  • “We must tackle Covid-19 and HIV in parallel," WHO Africa chief Matshidiso Moeti said
  • Covid has also slowed HIV screening rates because of restrictions of movements

JOHANNESBURG: HIV infection rates in Africa have decreased markedly, but the continent is still behind set targets, with efforts slowed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.
“Africa has made significant progress against HIV over the past decade, reducing new infections by 43 percent and nearly halving AIDS-related deaths,” the WHO Africa office said in a statement.
But it warned that Africa was not likely to meet a target to end AIDS as a public health threat by the turn of the decade as Covid has undermined the fight in many countries.
“Covid-19 has made the fight against HIV all the more challenging, but one virus must not win out over another. We must tackle Covid-19 and HIV in parallel,” WHO Africa chief Matshidiso Moeti said.
Covid has also slowed HIV screening rates because of restrictions of movements.
UNAIDS last week warned that HIV infection rates were not decreasing fast enough to reach the goal of eradicating AIDS by 2030.
According to data released at the annual International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (ICASA) currently being held in South Africa’s port city of Durban, only nine African countries are on track to meet the target in the next four years.
The countries are Botswana, Cape Verde, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
“This scorecard is a wake-up call for African governments to stay focused on ending AIDS,” Moeti said.
South Africa, the country with the world’s highest HIV prevalence at 20.4 percent, is hosting the week-long annual meeting bringing together scientists, politicians and activists.

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