Eritrean refugees in Tigray ‘desperate’: UN

Eritrean refugees in Tigray ‘desperate’: UN
Displaced children from Western Tigray gather at meal time to receive plates of food in a school where they are sheltered in Tigray’s capital Mekele. (File/AFP)
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Updated 21 January 2022

Eritrean refugees in Tigray ‘desperate’: UN

Eritrean refugees in Tigray ‘desperate’: UN
  • "UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is deeply alarmed at the deteriorating conditions faced by Eritrean refugees in the camps in Tigray," spokesman Boris Cheshirkov told reporters in Geneva
  • "Our team found refugees scared and struggling to get enough to eat, lacking medicine and with little or no access to clean water," said Cheshirkov

GENEVA: Eritrean refugees living in camps in Ethiopia’s war-torn Tigray region are in a “desperate situation,” the United Nations warned Friday as they struggle to access food and clean water.
“UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is deeply alarmed at the deteriorating conditions faced by Eritrean refugees in the camps in Tigray,” spokesman Boris Cheshirkov told reporters in Geneva.
In recent days, UNHCR staff managed to reach the Mai Aini and Adi Harush refugee camps for the first time in three weeks, following air strikes in and near the two sites.
“Our team found refugees scared and struggling to get enough to eat, lacking medicine and with little or no access to clean water,” said Cheshirkov.
The situation was leading to a growing number of preventable deaths, he warned, pointing to accounts from refugees that at least 20 people had died in the past six weeks due to the declining conditions.
He said the clinics in the camps had effectively been closed since early January when they ran out of medicine.
“The lack of fuel means that clean water can neither be pumped nor trucked to the camps, with refugees resorting to collecting water from streams that are rapidly drying up, leading to a severe risk of water-borne diseases,” he said.
The spokesman said extreme hunger was an increasing concern given the inability to move supplies into the region, while refugees reported having to sell their clothes and belongings for food.
“Basic services for Eritrean refugees in the two camps have been severely compromised for many months,” said Cheshirkov.
“The desperate situation in these camps is a stark example of the impact of the lack of access and supplies affecting millions of displaced persons and other civilians throughout the region.
“If food, medicine, fuel and other supplies cannot be immediately brought in, and if we continue to be unable to relocate refugees out of harm’s way to where we can provide them with life-saving assistance, more refugees will die.”
Northern Ethiopia has been beset by conflict since November 2020 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray after accusing the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, of attacks on federal army camps.
UNHCR called for a cease-fire and guarantee of safe passage that would help them voluntarily relocate the more than 25,000 refugees remaining in the camps to a new site in Dabat in the neighboring Amhara region.
“Refugees must not be held hostage to this conflict,” Cheshirkov said.


Kim Jong Un orders North Korean military to stabilize supply of COVID-19 drugs

Kim Jong Un orders North Korean military to stabilize supply of COVID-19 drugs
Updated 1 min 51 sec ago

Kim Jong Un orders North Korean military to stabilize supply of COVID-19 drugs

Kim Jong Un orders North Korean military to stabilize supply of COVID-19 drugs
  • Last week brought Pyongyang’s first acknowledgment of an ‘explosive’ outbreak
  • Kim: Drugs procured by the state were not reaching people in a timely and accurate way
SEOUL: Leader Kim Jong Un has ordered North Korea’s military to stabilize distribution of COVID-19 medicines in the capital, Pyongyang, in the battle on the country’s first confirmed outbreak of the disease, state media said.
Last week brought the North’s first acknowledgment of an “explosive” outbreak, with experts warning it could wreak devastation in a country with limited medical supplies and no vaccine program.
Drugs procured by the state were not reaching people in a timely and accurate way, Kim told an emergency politburo meeting on Sunday, before visiting pharmacies near the capital’s Taedong River, state news agency KCNA said.
Kim ordered immediate deployment of the “powerful forces” of the army’s medical corps to “stabilize the supply of medicines in Pyongyang City,” it added.
Although authorities had ordered distribution of national reserves of medicine, pharmacies were not well-equipped to perform their functions smoothly, Kim added, the agency said.
Among their shortcomings were a lack of adequate drug storage other than showcases, while salespeople were not equipped with the proper sanitary clothing and hygiene in their surroundings fell short of standards, the leader said.
He criticized the “irresponsible” work attitude, organization and execution by the cabinet and the public health sector, it added.
Neighbouring South Korea will spare no effort to help the North fight its outbreak, President Yoon Suk-yeol told parliament on Monday, saying it was ready to provide COVID-19 vaccines and other medical support if Pyongyang agrees.
Seoul’s unification ministry, reponsible for relations between the neighbors, said it would soon propose a plan of support to the North.
North Korea’s tally of the fever-stricken stood at 1,213,550, with 50 deaths by Sunday, after KCNA reported 392,920 more cases of fever, and eight more deaths. It did not say how many suspected infections had tested positive for COVID-19.
The North has blamed a large number of the deaths on people who were “careless in taking drugs” because of a lack of knowledge about the omicron variant of coronavirus and its correct treatment.

US removes Jewish extremist Kahane movement from terror blacklist

US removes Jewish extremist Kahane movement from terror blacklist
Updated 16 May 2022

US removes Jewish extremist Kahane movement from terror blacklist

US removes Jewish extremist Kahane movement from terror blacklist
  • Kahane Chai was designated a terrorist organization in 1997
  • Palestinian jihadist group linked to rocket attacks a decade ago also removed from list

WASHINGTON: The United States will remove a Jewish extremist group linked to late rabbi Meir Kahane as well as a Palestinian militant group from a terror blacklist after years without violence, an official said Sunday.
The State Department designated Kahane Chai as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997, three years after its supporter Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.
The group was founded by Kahane, a US-born rabbi and former Israeli MP who advocated the expulsion of Arabs from Israel and was assassinated in New York in 1990.
The State Department informed Congress it will withdraw the designation, which was contested in court by the group, as Kahane Chai “has not been linked to a terrorist attack since 2005,” an official said.


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The official said the State Department was also delisting the Mujahidin Shoura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, a Palestinian jihadist group linked to rocket attacks a decade ago.
Revoking the designations “ensures our terrorism sanctions remain current and credible and does not reflect any change in policy toward the past activities of any of these the organizations,” the State Department official said on condition of anonymity.
Despite the lack of attacks by Kahane Chai group, the late rabbi remains a hero for some on the extreme right of Israeli politics, including member of parliament Itamar Ben-Gvir who has advocated annexing the West Bank and hung a portrait of Goldstein in his home.
Designation as a foreign terrorist organization severely limits activities in the United States, including criminalizing financial support.
The State Department said it was still keeping the two groups on the less potent Specially Designated Global Terrorist list, which helps support law enforcement activities.
 


In latest US violence, gunman kills 1 worshipper, wounds 5 at California church

In latest US violence, gunman kills 1 worshipper, wounds 5 at California church
Updated 16 May 2022

In latest US violence, gunman kills 1 worshipper, wounds 5 at California church

In latest US violence, gunman kills 1 worshipper, wounds 5 at California church
  • Most of those inside the church were senior citizens of Taiwanese descent, says official
  • The violence came a day after  a gunman killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York

LAGUNA WOODS, California: One person was killed and four others were critically wounded in a shooting Sunday afternoon at a Presbyterian church in a suburban Southern California community where the majority of residents are seniors, officials said. 

Police said churchgoers managed to subdue the gunman and hog-tied his legs with an electrical cord.

Police responded to the incident that unfolded at about 1:30 p.m. local time (2039 GMT) at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods and arrested an unidentified suspect in his 60s, Orange County Undersheriff Jeff Hallock told a news conference.
“That group of churchgoers displayed ... exceptional heroism and bravery in intervening to stop the suspect. They undoubtedly prevented additional injuries and fatalities,” he said.
A fifth injured person suffered minor injuries, officials said. All the victims were adults.
It wasn’t immediately clear where inside the church the shooting happened.
About 30 people witnessed the violence, said Carrie Braun, a sheriff’s spokesperson. The majority of those inside the church are believed to be of Taiwanese descent, Braun said.
Investigators were looking at many factors, including whether the bloodshed could be a hate crime and whether the gunman was known to the church community, she said.
More details were expected from a sheriff’s department news conference scheduled for 5 p.m.
Federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were responding to the scene. The FBI was also sending agents to the scene to assist the sheriff.
Laguna Woods was built as a senior living community and later became a city. More than 80 percent of residents in the city of 18,000 people about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles are at least 65.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said on Twitter that he was closely monitoring the situation.
“No one should have to fear going to their place of worship. Our thoughts are with the victims, community, and all those impacted by this tragic event,” the tweet said.
The incident occurred in an area with a cluster of houses of worship, including Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist churches and a Jewish synagogue.
On its website, Geneva Presbyterian Church describes its mission as “to remember, tell, and live the way of Jesus by being just, kind, and humble.”
“All are welcome here. Really, we mean that! … Geneva aspires to be an inclusive congregation worshipping, learning, connecting, giving and serving together.”
The shooting came a day after an 18-year-old man shot and killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
“This is upsetting and disturbing news, especially less than a day after a mass shooting in Buffalo,” said US Rep Katie Porter, whose district includes Laguna Woods. “This should not be our new normal. I will work hard to support the victims and their families.”

 


Somali lawmakers elect president voted out 5 years ago

Somali lawmakers elect president voted out 5 years ago
Updated 16 May 2022

Somali lawmakers elect president voted out 5 years ago

Somali lawmakers elect president voted out 5 years ago
  • Hassan Sheikh Mohamud served as Somalia’s president between 2012 and 2017,
  • Mohamud succeeds Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, whose mandate expired in February 2021

MOGADISHU, Somalia: A former Somali president voted out of power in 2017 has been returned to the nation’s top office after defeating the incumbent leader in a protracted contest decided by legislators in a third round of voting late Sunday.
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who served as Somalia’s president between 2012 and 2017, won the contest in the capital, Mogadishu, amid a security lockdown imposed by authorities to prevent deadly militant attacks.
The first round of voting was contested by 36 aspirants, four of whom proceeded to the second round. With no candidate winning at least two-thirds of the 328 ballots, voting then went into a third round where a simple majority was enough to pick the winner.
Members of the upper and lower legislative chambers picked the president in secret balloting inside a tent in an airport hangar within the Halane military camp, which is protected by African Union peacekeepers. Mohamud’s election ended a long-delayed electoral process that had raised political tensions — and heightened insecurity concerns — after President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s mandate expired in February 2021 without a successor in place.
Mohamed and Mohamud sat side-by-side Sunday, watching calmly as the ballots were counted. Celebratory gunfire rang out in parts of Mogadishu as it became clear that Mohamud had defeated the man who replaced him.
Mohamed conceded defeat, and Mohamud was immediately sworn in.
The 66-year-old Mohamud is the leader of the Union for Peace and Development party, which commands a majority of seats in both legislative chambers. He also is well-known for his work as a civic leader and education promoter, including for his role as one of the founders of Mogadishu’s SIMAD University.
The Somali government under Mohamed faced a May 17 deadline to hold the vote or risk losing funding from international partners.
Mohamed — who is also known as Farmaajo because of his appetite for Italian cheese — said on Twitter while voting was underway that it was “a great honor to lead” Somalia.
For Mohamed and his supporters, Sunday’s loss will be disappointing after he rose to power in 2017 as a symbol of a Somali diaspora eager to see the country prosper after years of turmoil. Mohamed leaves behind a country even more volatile than he found it, with a reported rift in the security services and the constant drumbeat of Al-Shabab attacks.
Analysts had predicted that Mohamed would face an uphill battle to be reelected. No sitting president has ever been elected to two consecutive terms in this Horn of Africa nation, where rival clans fight intensely for political power. In winning the vote, however, Mohamud overcame the odds as no former president had ever launched a successful return to the office.
A member of the Hawiye clan, one of Somalia’s largest, Mohamud is regarded by some as a statesman with a conciliatory approach. Many Somalis hope Mohamud can unite the country together after years of divisive clan tensions but also take firm charge of a federal government with little control beyond Mogadishu. Mohamud promised during campaigns that his government would be inclusive, acknowledging the mistakes of his previous government that faced multiple corruption allegations and was seen as aloof to the concerns of rival groups.
The new president “will get an opportunity to heal a nation in desperate need of peace and stability,” said Mogadishu resident Khadra Dualeh. “The country doesn’t need celebrations; we did that for Farmaajo. Enough celebration. We need prayer, being sober and planning how to rebuild the country.”
Al-Shabab, which has ties with Al-Qaeda, has made territorial gains against the federal government in recent months, reversing the gains of African Union peacekeepers who once had pushed the militants into remote areas of the country.
But Al-Shabab is threatening Mogadishu with repeated assaults on hotels and other public areas. Despite the lockdown, explosions were heard near the airport area as legislators gathered to elect the president.
To discourage extremist violence from disrupting the elections, Somali police put Mogadishu, the scene of regular attacks by the Islamic rebel group Al-Shabab, under a lockdown that started at 9 p.m. on Saturday. Most residents are staying indoors until the lockdown lifts on Monday morning.
The goal of a direct, one-person-one-vote election in Somalia, a country of about 16 million people, remains elusive largely because of the widespread extremist violence. Authorities had planned a direct election this time but, instead, the federal government and states agreed on another “indirect election,” via lawmakers elected by community leaders — delegates of powerful clans — in each member state.
Despite its persistent insecurity, Somalia has had peaceful changes of leadership every four or so years since 2000, and it has the distinction of having Africa’s first democratically elected president to peacefully step down, Aden Abdulle Osman in 1967.
Mohamed’s four-year term expired in February 2021, but he stayed in office after the lower house of parliament approved a two-year extension of his mandate and that of the federal government, drawing fury from Senate leaders and criticism from the international community.
The poll delay triggered an exchange of gunfire in April 2021 between soldiers loyal to the government and others angry over what they saw as the president’s unlawful extension of his mandate.
Somalia began to fall apart in 1991, when warlords ousted dictator Siad Barre and then turned on each other. Years of conflict and Al-Shabab attacks, along with famine, have shattered the country which has a long, strategic coastline by the Indian Ocean.


Crisis-hit Sri Lanka lifts curfew for Buddhist holiday

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka lifts curfew for Buddhist holiday
Updated 15 May 2022

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka lifts curfew for Buddhist holiday

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka lifts curfew for Buddhist holiday
  • Restrictions were imposed on May 9 after peaceful protests turned violent

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan authorities on Sunday fully lifted a nationwide curfew to mark the Buddhist holiday of Vesak, offering the people a chance to celebrate as the nation weathers its economic and political crisis. 

The curfew was imposed on May 9 after once-peaceful protests turned violent, killing at least nine people and injuring hundreds others. The violence was followed with Mahinda Rajapaksa resigning from his premiership, leaving his brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to rule on as president. 

For over a month, protesters have crowded the streets demanding the president’s resignation, as the country of 22 million suffers from increasing shortages of food, fuel and medicines, along with record inflation and lengthy blackouts.  

Buildings across the Buddhist-majority country were flying the multi-colored Buddhist flags on Sunday, while residents visited temples clad in all white to celebrate the day that commemorates Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death.

The government announced it was lifting the curfew for Vesak without saying when or whether it would be reimposed. Sri Lankans also got to enjoy the day without power cuts. 

“This Vesak, we are able to see the traditional almsgiving centers, pandals (bamboo stages), Vesak lanterns and oil lamps illuminations that will boost the spiritual morale of the people,” the Rev. Udawela Kolitha Thera, deputy chief of the Walukarama Temple in Colombo, told Arab News. 

Sri Lanka has been unable to celebrate Vesak properly in the last couple of years due to the pandemic and, in 2019, the Easter Sunday attacks, which also dampened celebrations.

Though events planned for this year have been scaled down due to political instability and the deepening economic crisis, worshippers still welcomed the chance of a respite. 

“We are really excited to celebrate Vesak this year with added enthusiasm,” Colombo-based Kelum Bandara, who works at a leading publishing house in the capital, told Arab News. 

“We will celebrate in a low-key form because of the current economic crisis and the ongoing protests against the government.”

“Sri Lanka was enveloped in spiritual fervor as the island nation celebrated yet another Vesak,” Colombo-based journalist Chaminda Perera told Arab News. 

Newly appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was premier five times previously and never completed a full term, made his first Cabinet appointments on Saturday — all members of Rajapaksas’ party. 

The new appointments have failed to appease Sri Lankan protesters who want the Rajapaksas, the nation’s most influential political dynasty, removed from the nation’s politics.  

The ruling family faces accusations of corruption and mishandling of the economy, as Sri Lanka faces its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.

Opposition parties have refused to join any new government unless the president steps down first.