Ethiopia forces strike Tigray rebels in ‘massive’ move

Ethiopia forces strike Tigray rebels in ‘massive’ move
(AFP)
Short Url
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.


Hundreds more migrants leave Belarus on Iraq-bound flight

Hundreds more migrants leave Belarus on Iraq-bound flight
Updated 04 December 2021

Hundreds more migrants leave Belarus on Iraq-bound flight

Hundreds more migrants leave Belarus on Iraq-bound flight
  • The EU imposed sanctions on Belarus on Thursday after accusing it of flying in migrants

MOSCOW: More than 400 migrants who had traveled to Belarus seeking to cross the border into the EU flew home on Saturday on an Iraqi Airways plane bound for the city of Irbil in northern Iraq, Minsk’s airport said.
The EU imposed sanctions on Belarus on Thursday after accusing it of flying in migrants, mostly from the Middle East, and pushing them to illegally cross the Polish border to manufacture a crisis, something Minsk denies.
Minsk airport authorities said in a statement a Boeing 747-400 would fly 415 adults and four children on Saturday to Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region. The airport’s website later listed the flight as having departed.
Iraqis who fled seeking economic opportunity and in some cases political asylum began returning to their country last month having failed to get into the EU via a route that people smugglers promised them would work.
Russia, which supported Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s government during mass street protests last year, on Saturday criticized the new EU sanctions as illegal, and said the issue should be settled through dialogue.


Pope Francis hits out at EU migration divisions at start of Greek visit

Pope Francis hits out at EU migration divisions at start of Greek visit
Updated 04 December 2021

Pope Francis hits out at EU migration divisions at start of Greek visit

Pope Francis hits out at EU migration divisions at start of Greek visit
  • Pope Francis said that Europe was “torn by nationalist egoism” on migration
  • He has long championed refugees, calling them "protagonists of a terrible modern Odyssey"

ATHENS: Pope Francis on Saturday blamed the EU’s nationalist divisions for a lack of coordination on migration as he began a landmark trip to Greece, aiming to improve complicated relations with the country’s Orthodox Church.
Francis said that Europe was “torn by nationalist egoism” on migration during a meeting with EU vice president Margaritis Schinas, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, among other officials.
The European community “continues to temporize” and “appears at times blocked and uncoordinated” instead of being an “engine of solidarity” on migration, the pope said.
“Today, and not only in Europe, we are witnessing a retreat from democracy,” he said, warning against populism’s “easy answers.”
Francis has long championed refugees, calling them “protagonists of a terrible modern Odyssey.”
On Sunday, he will return to the island of Lesbos which he visited in 2016 during the early years of the migration crisis.
The 84-year-old’s visit to the Greek capital is the first by a pope since John Paul II in 2001, which in turn was the first papal visit to Athens since the 1054 Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
Flying in after a two-day trip to Cyprus, the pope landed shortly after 0900 GMT in the Greek capital, where security was heightened over expected protests by Orthodox hard-liners among whom anti-papal sentiment remains strong.
Strong wind offered an unexpected challenge, with Francis coming down the stairs of the plane skullcap in hand.
Francis is scheduled to see the head of the Church of Greece Archbishop Ieronymos later Saturday, followed by members of Greece’s small Catholic community, which represent just 1.2 percent of the majority-Orthodox population.
Francis flies back to Rome on Monday.
Up to 2,000 police are deployed in Athens to monitor possible disruptions by Orthodox hard-liners, who blame the Catholics for the Schism and the 1204 sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.
Reciprocal excommunications exchanged between the two churches after the Schism were only lifted in 1965.
Authorities banned protests in the Athens center, and many Greeks have expressed apathy over the visit.
“Perhaps it is important to migrants in Greece who are in need. We the Orthodox expect nothing in particular,” said Periklis, owner of a religious icon shop in Athens.
Relations with the Church of Greece are much better than they were ahead of John Paul’s visit, Pierre Salembier, head of the Jesuit Catholic community in Greece, told AFP.
But he said there were still some “known anti-Catholic fanatics” within the Church’s governing body.
The bishop of Piraeus called the pope’s visit “immoral,” according to the union of Orthodox journalists.
During his visit to Cyprus, Francis condemned “slavery” and “torture” in migrant camps, drawing parallels with World War II.
The Cyprus government said Friday that 50 migrants, including two Cameroonians stuck for months in the divided island’s buffer zone, will be relocated to Italy thanks to Francis.
On Sunday the pope will again visit Greece’s Lesbos, a flashpoint of the 2015 refugee crisis and thereafter, “as a pilgrim to the wellsprings of humanity” to call for the integration of refugees.
The island’s sprawling Moria migrant camp, which the pontiff visited in 2016, burnt down last year and has been replaced by the temporary facility of Mavrovouni.
With EU funds, Greece is building a series of “closed” facilities on Greek islands with barbed wire fencing, surveillance cameras, X-ray scanners and magnetic gates that are closed at night.
Three such camps have opened on the islands of Samos, Leros and Kos, with Lesbos and Chios to follow next year.
NGOs and aid groups have raised concerns about the new camps, arguing that people’s movements should not be restricted.
Thirty-six groups active in Greece this week wrote to Francis raising the plight of people in the camps and requesting his help to halt illegal pushbacks of migrants allegedly by Greek border officers.
Greece vehemently denies the claims, insisting its coast guard saves lives at sea.
Addressing Francis on Saturday, President Sakellaropoulou insisted Athens “is making every possible effort to prevent the illegal traffic of people and their political exploitation.”
The pontiff is expected to visit the camp and will meet two “randomly chosen” families, an official said.
“We await him with open arms,” said Berthe, a Cameroonian asylum seeker at the camp.
She said she hoped the pope “will pray for us to help us overcome the insecurities we have lived, through faith.”
On Wednesday, nearly 30 asylum seekers landed near the camp. On Friday, two migrants died when a speedboat overturned near the Greek island of Kos.


Thousands protest over Dutch coronavirus restrictions

Thousands protest over Dutch coronavirus restrictions
Updated 04 December 2021

Thousands protest over Dutch coronavirus restrictions

Thousands protest over Dutch coronavirus restrictions
  • Protesters walked through the streets of the town carrying banners saying "Medical Freedom Now!"

UTRECHT, Netherlands: Several thousand people gathered in the central Dutch town of Utrecht on Saturday to protest against new coronavirus restrictions that came into force last weekend.
Protesters walked through the streets of the town carrying banners saying “Medical Freedom Now!” and waving Dutch flags. A heavy police presence was visible along the route of the march.
It is the first major demonstration in the Netherlands against the measures, which include a nighttime closure of bars, restaurants and most stores to stem a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 cases that is threatening to overwhelm the country’s health care system.
The Netherlands saw violent protests two weeks ago after the government announced plans to ban most people who have not been vaccinated from public places. Those plans face widespread opposition in parliament, including from parties in the governing coalition and have not been put into place yet.


Merkel: Virus death toll ‘so bitter because it is avoidable’

Merkel: Virus death toll ‘so bitter because it is avoidable’
Updated 04 December 2021

Merkel: Virus death toll ‘so bitter because it is avoidable’

Merkel: Virus death toll ‘so bitter because it is avoidable’
  • Merkel gave what is expected to be her last weekly video message
  • The measures include excluding unvaccinated people across the country from nonessential stores

BERLIN: Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday made what is likely her final appeal before leaving office next week for Germans to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Merkel gave what is expected to be her last weekly video message two days after federal and state leaders decided on a series of measures meant to break a wave of coronavirus infections.
The measures include excluding unvaccinated people across the country from nonessential stores, restaurants and sports and cultural venues. In a longer-term move, parliament will consider a general vaccine mandate.
At least 68.9 percent of Germans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, short of the government’s aim of a minimum 75 percent vaccination rate. The number of unvaccinated residents has been blamed as a key factor in a surge of new virus cases in recent weeks.
Official figures suggest that the infection rate may now be stabilizing, but at too high a level.
The national disease control center on Saturday reported 64,510 new daily cases and a 7-day infection rate of 442.7 new cases per 100,000 residents. Another 378 deaths in 24 hours brought Germany’s total in the pandemic to 102,946.
“Every one of them leaves behind families or friends, stunned, speechless and helpless,” Merkel said in her video message. “This is so bitter because it is avoidable. With the effective and safe vaccines, we have the key to this in our hands.”
She renewed a plea to Germans to take the virus seriously, adding that the new omicron variant “appears to be even more contagious than the previous ones.”
“Get vaccinated, no matter whether it’s a first vaccination or a booster,” Merkel said. “Every vaccination helps.”
Merkel is expected to leave office on Wednesday and be replaced by Olaf Scholz of the center-left Social Democratic Party, who is currently vice chancellor. Scholz said Saturday that his government’s “most important first task” is to “fight the corona pandemic with all the strength that we have.”
“There would be a different situation now if just a few more citizens had also made the decision to get vaccination,” he said at a convention of the Social Democrats. “We must again make a whole new effort, set in motion a whole new campaign” to get more shots in arms, Scholz said.
Senior members of the party denounced a Friday evening protest outside the home of Saxony state’s health minister, Petra Koepping, a Social Democrat. About 30 people gathered with torches and placards outside the home in the eastern town of Grimma.
The demonstrators chanted against coronavirus policies before fleeing in cars when police arrived.


Great Mosque of Córdoba under threat from tourist sweat 

Great Mosque of Córdoba under threat from tourist sweat 
Updated 04 December 2021

Great Mosque of Córdoba under threat from tourist sweat 

Great Mosque of Córdoba under threat from tourist sweat 
  • The danger to the building was exposed in a report which found that condensation has damaged several key areas
  • Report recommended implementation of measures that improve the mosque’s ventilation

LONDON: The Great Mosque of Córdoba is under threat due to the heavy stresses caused by tourists. 

The mosque, one of the world’s most celebrated Islamic monuments, is struggling with the condensation caused by its millions of annual visitors.

The danger to the building was exposed in a report submitted to the government this week, which found that condensation has damaged several of its key areas. 

Condensation has damaged its iconic mihrab, which showed the direction of Makkah and provided a chamber for directing prayers.

The mosque, which receives up to 2 million annual visitors, was built between the eighth and 10th centuries. 

“This is caused by the special architectural configuration of the spaces and their insufficient ventilation,” said the report.

Body heat emitted by tourists is causing the damage, it said, adding: “This evaporation causes the disintegration of these materials and contributes to their rapid deterioration.”

The building already struggles seasonally due to Córdoba’s status as the hottest city on the Iberian Peninsula, reaching temperatures of almost 47 degrees Celsius. 

“When the moment of greatest evaporation converges with the moment of greatest influx of tourists, it has been verified empirically how the absolute humidity indices of the environment rise very noticeably, which poses a risk to the conservation of the materials most sensitive to moisture,” said the report. These include wood, which is a major part of the building’s materials. 

The report recommended that it was “fundamental to implement all measures that improve the ventilation of the building and . . . to control the flows of visitors, avoiding agglomerations and spreading them out during visiting hours.”