Air strikes hit capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray: sources

Air strikes hit capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray: sources
Above, a damaged tank stands on a road north of Mekele, the capital of Tigray. (AFP)
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Updated 18 October 2021

Air strikes hit capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray: sources

Air strikes hit capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray: sources
  • First reported air raids in Mekele since the conflict erupted in November last year

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopian forces hit the Tigrayan capital of Mekele with air strikes on Monday, humanitarian officials and diplomats said, in a new phase of the nearly year-long war in the country’s north.
They are the first reported air raids in Mekele since the conflict erupted in November last year, although there have been others in the Tigray region.
“Air strike now in Mekele,” one humanitarian official in the city said via SMS to AFP on condition of anonymity, describing attacks also confirmed by a second humanitarian source, two diplomats and a rebel spokesman.
The first air raid occurred in the morning on the outskirts of Mekele near a cement factory, the sources said.
The second took place around midday in the city center near the Planet Hotel, often used by top officials from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the region’s former ruling party and the target of a government military operation since November 2020.
The TPLF said the aerial assaults were designed to inflict civilian casualties.
“Monday is market day in Mekelle & the intention is all too palpable,” TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said on Twitter.
The reports could not be independently verified and government officials could not be reached for comment.
Medical officials in Mekele could not immediately be reached to provide information on casualties.
The strikes come as the government appeared to be pursuing a new offensive in the war against the TPLF, which dominated national politics before Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018.
There were reports last week of fresh clashes between government and rebel forces in Afar, a region bordering Tigray, where fighting has also spread.


Philippines activists push new petition seeking Marcos election ban

Philippines activists push new petition seeking Marcos election ban
Updated 9 sec ago

Philippines activists push new petition seeking Marcos election ban

Philippines activists push new petition seeking Marcos election ban
MANILA: Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the early frontrunner for the Philippines presidency, was hit by another formal complaint on Thursday, as longtime opponents of his powerful family pile pressure on authorities to disqualify him from elections next year.
The activists’ petition is part of a flurry of complaints designed to sideline Marcos, a career politician and son and namesake of the notorious dictator who was driven from power by a 1986 people’s uprising.
It was among at least six lodged with election authorities and is centered on his 1995 conviction for failing to pay income tax or file tax returns while in public office from 1982 to 1985, which carries a lifetime election ban.
“He was the son of the ruling dictator, the same dictator who imposed the penalty of perpetual disqualification,” the 13-page petition said.
The group was referring to a 1985 amendment to the internal revenue code permanently barring a public officer convicted of a tax crime from voting and running in any election.
“Perhaps he thought he was an exception to his father’s decrees,” the petition said.
The Marcos family is arguably the most famous and divisive in the Philippines.
Despite its fall from grace, it has retained vast wealth and far-reaching and powerful connections, but its prominence has been a cause of anger to thousands who suffered during the harsh 1970s martial law under the elder Marcos.
Outside the poll body, more than a dozen people chanted “Disqualify, BBM! Disqualify! Disqualify!” while carrying posters bearing the same message.
BBM refers to “Bongbong” Marcos, his nickname. His media group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Since his conviction, Marcos, 64, has been elected governor, congressman and senator and ran unsuccessfully for the vice presidency.
“He may have been allowed to run in 2016 but we will not allow him to run again,” said petitioner and Akbayan youth chairperson Rj Naguit.

UN fears sectarian violence that could ‘fracture’ Ethiopia

UN fears sectarian violence that could ‘fracture’ Ethiopia
Updated 2 min 15 sec ago

UN fears sectarian violence that could ‘fracture’ Ethiopia

UN fears sectarian violence that could ‘fracture’ Ethiopia
  • In an interview with AFP, Martin Griffiths expressed deep concern for the stability of a nation of 115 million people
  • Griffiths, the UN undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, said the conflict in Ethiopia has sparked perhaps the world’s most worrying humanitarian crisis
GENEVA: Ethiopia risks descending into sectarian violence and experiencing a chaotic Kabul-style exodus if the year-long conflict spreads to the capital Addis Ababa, the UN aid chief warned.
In an interview with AFP, Martin Griffiths expressed deep concern for the stability of a nation of 115 million people composed of more than 80 ethnic groups.
Griffiths, the UN undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, said the conflict in Ethiopia has sparked perhaps the world’s most worrying humanitarian crisis.
He warned that a battle in the capital Addis Ababa and increasing communal violence could worsen the situation “exponentially.”
Humanitarian organizations have been scrambling to respond to soaring needs in Ethiopia, and laying contingency plans in case the crisis deepens.
“The worst I think from a humanitarian perspective (would be) if there is a battle for Addis or turmoil around there, leading to increased communal violence across the country,” Griffiths said.
“If that were to happen, we’re facing something I don’t think we have faced before for many, many years: We’re facing a fracture ... of the fabric of Ethiopia.”
The chaos flowing from such a situation would be far worse than what has happened in the last 13 months.
Thousands of people have been killed, two million displaced and hundreds of thousands driven into famine-like conditions since the conflict erupted in November 2020, according to UN estimates.

The conflict began when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into the northernmost Tigray region to topple the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) — a move he said came in response to rebel attacks on army camps.
The rebels mounted a comeback, recapturing most of Tigray by June before expanding into the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar.
The conflict took a sharp turn around a month ago, when the TPLF claimed to have captured strategic towns on a key highway to the capital.
But last week Abiy himself deployed to the conflict zone, and the government has since claimed it is back in control of several towns including the UNESCO World Heritage site Lalibela.
Griffiths called for an end to the violence.
Even if fighting approaches the Ethiopian capital, he insisted “major targets should be avoided,” including the airport and the city itself, with a population of over five million, “where it is unimaginable to think of a battle like that.”
He said: “The real, elemental worry is if the conflict mutates into communal violence across different parts of the country, as opposed to conflict between the government and specific groups... That would make everything exponentially worse.”

While the UN was intent on staying to provide aid regardless, he said fears abound among expatriates like diplomats and others in Addis that the country could witness scenes reminiscent of the chaotic airport evacuation after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August.
They worry “the same thing might happen that happened in Kabul,” he said.
Asked if he believed that really might happen, he said: “I think it could, but I hope it won’t.”
Speaking to AFP ahead of the launch of the international humanitarian communities annual global appeal, Griffiths pointed out that the nearly $3 billion requested to address aid needs in Ethiopia next year was dramatically higher than in previous appeals “because of the likelihood that these needs will grow.”
The UN’s World Food Programme said last week that the number of people requiring food aid in Ethiopia’s war-torn north had surged to more than nine million, while drought has also deepened food insecurity in other regions.
The UN has warned that 400,000 people in the north of the country were at risk of famine, but Griffiths said a lack of fuel and access to assess the situation on the ground meant a full-blown famine had yet to be confirmed.
With improved access and more available fuel, UN agencies are now aiming to make the assessment within weeks.
Asked if there was a risk of a repeat of the devastating famine conditions that killed more than a million people in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s, Griffiths said he hoped not.
“I just hope to God that we’re not going to see that kind of misery.”

Omicron could become dominant in France by end of January -government advisor

Omicron could become dominant in France by end of January -government advisor
Updated 9 min 12 sec ago

Omicron could become dominant in France by end of January -government advisor

Omicron could become dominant in France by end of January -government advisor
  • The local health body for the Ile de France region said in a statement that a case of omicron variant had been found in a person who returned from Nigeria

PARIS: The omicron coronavirus variant could become the dominant strain in France by the end of January, but meanwhile it should be possible to have a good Christmas if steps are taken to curb the delta strain, France’s top scientific adviser said on Thursday.
Jean-Francois Delfraissy told BFM television the “true enemy” for now was still delta, spreading in a fifth wave.
“We should see a progressive rise of the omicron variant, which will take over from delta,” possibly by the end of January, he said.
“Christmas is not at risk if the population and decision-makers are all very cautious,” he said, reiterating that social distancing and a third, booster shot of vaccines were key weapons in the fight against COVID-19.
France recorded nearly 50,000 new conformed COVID-19 cases over 24 hours, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.
There were 1,886 people in intensive care units with COVID-19 on Wednesday, a level Delfraissy said was not yet a peak, particularly when compared to 6,000-7000 at the height of the second wave in France last autumn.
The local health body for the Ile de France region of greater Paris said in a statement on Thursday that a case of omicron variant had been found in a person who returned from Nigeria, the first confirmed case in Metropolitan France.


Myanmar condemns UN move to deny its envoy a seat

Myanmar condemns UN move to deny its envoy a seat
Updated 02 December 2021

Myanmar condemns UN move to deny its envoy a seat

Myanmar condemns UN move to deny its envoy a seat
  • Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy government
  • Suu Kyi has been detained since the coup, and faces a catalogue of charges that could see her jailed for decades

YANGON: Myanmar’s junta on Thursday slammed a UN decision to deny its chosen representative a seat at the world body and keep in place an envoy appointed by Aung San Suu Kyi’s ousted government.
The committee responsible for approving nominations of ambassadors to the New York body met Wednesday but deferred a decision over the rival claims to Myanmar and Afghanistan’s seats, diplomats said.
The deferral keeps in place envoys appointed to the body by both governments before they were toppled — by a coup in Myanmar in February and the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan in August.
“This decision does not reflect the reality on the ground and existence of our country,” Myanmar junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun told AFP.
“We will continue submitting (to the UN) as usual according to diplomatic procedure and the right to representation in accordance with international and local laws,” he added.
The deferral leaves Kyaw Moe Tun, appointed by Suu Kyi’s government, in place as Myanmar’s envoy.
He made headlines shortly after the putsch by flashing the three-finger salute of democracy protesters from his UN chair, brazenly defying the junta’s insistence that he no longer represents the country.
In August US prosecutors said they had charged two Myanmar citizens in a plot to attack him.
The junta has denied any involvement and chosen former soldier Aung Thurein as its envoy to the body.
The Taliban in September asked the UN to accept its former Doha-based spokesperson Suhail Shaheen to succeed Ghulam Isaczai, a cabinet member of ousted President Ashraf Ghani.
Isaczai continues to occupy Afghanistan’s offices at the UN headquarters and even participated in a recent Security Council meeting in which he openly criticized the Taliban.
There was “consensus” within the credentials committee to delay the decision, two diplomats told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“China, Russia and the United States were in the same position,” one of them said.
The nine-member committee is due to submit its report next week to the General Assembly, which will be left to decide via a possible vote if its 200 members fail to reach a consensus, diplomats said.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy government, sparking huge democracy protests which have triggered a bloody crackdown from the junta.
NLD lawmakers make up the majority of a shadow “National Unity Government” which is working to overturn the military regime, which the junta has branded “terrorists.”
Suu Kyi has been detained since the coup, and faces a catalogue of charges that could see her jailed for decades.


US defense chief slams China’s drive for hypersonic weapons

US defense chief slams China’s drive for hypersonic weapons
Updated 02 December 2021

US defense chief slams China’s drive for hypersonic weapons

US defense chief slams China’s drive for hypersonic weapons
  • China’s growing military muscle and its drive to end American predominance in Asia triggers unease in Washington

SEOUL: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday that China’s pursuit of hypersonic weapons “increases tensions in the region” and vowed the US would maintain its capability to deter potential threats posed by China.
Austin made the remarks in Seoul following annual security talks with his South Korean counterpart that focused on challenges from China and North Korea and other issues facing the allies.
“We have concerns about the military capabilities that the PRC continues to pursue. Again, the pursuit of those capabilities increases tensions in the region,” Austin said referring to China’s latest hypersonic weapons test in July and using the abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China, the country’s official name.
“It just underscores why we consider the PRC to be our pacing challenge,” Austin said. “We’ll continue to maintain the capabilities to defend and deter against a range of potential threats from the PRC to ourselves and to our allies.”
China’s growing military muscle and its drive to end American predominance in Asia has triggered unease in Washington. China’s efforts to accelerate its military capabilities were highlighted by its July test of a hypersonic weapon capable of partially orbiting the Earth before reentering the atmosphere and gliding on a maneuverable path to its target.
Experts say the weapons system is clearly designed with a purpose of evading US missile defenses, although China insisted it was testing a reusable space vehicle, not a missile.
On North Korea, Austin said he and South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook discussed a wide range of topics including bilateral unity in the face of the threat from the North. The two agreed that North Korea’s advancement of its missile and other weapons programs “is increasingly destabilizing for regional security,” Austin said.
The US and South Korea remain committed to a diplomatic approach to North Korea, he added.
Suh said the allies share an understanding that “diplomacy and dialogue based on previous commitments between South and North Korea and between North Korea and the United States is essential for achieving permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
Despite severe pandemic-related economic hardships, North Korea has continuously rebuffed US offers to resume talks, saying Washington must first abandon its hostility toward the North. The Biden administration maintains that international sanctions on North Korea will stay in place unless the country takes concrete steps toward denuclearization.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon released the results of a global posture review that directs additional cooperation with allies and partners to deter “potential Chinese military aggression and threats from North Korea.” The review also informed Austin’s approval of the permanent stationing of a previously rotational attack helicopter squadron and artillery division headquarters in South Korea.