Ethiopia rivals urged to seize moment for peace

Ethiopia rivals urged to seize moment for peace
The Ethiopian government has not formally commented on the Tigrayan stance but has previously said it was ready for unconditional talks brokered by the African Union ‘anytime, anywhere.’ (AP)
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Updated 12 September 2022

Ethiopia rivals urged to seize moment for peace

Ethiopia rivals urged to seize moment for peace

NAIROBI: The international community on Monday urged warring sides in Ethiopia to seize the moment for peace after Tigrayan rebels said they were ready for talks led by the African Union to end almost two years of brutal warfare.

There has been a flurry of diplomatic efforts to push for negotiations after fighting flared in northern Ethiopia in late August for the first time in several months, torpedoing a humanitarian truce and cutting off aid deliveries to war-stricken Tigray.

Tigrayan authorities said Sunday they were “prepared to participate in a robust peace process under the auspices of the African Union,” after previously rejecting AU mediation and saying they wanted Kenya to lead any talks.

“We are ready to abide by an immediate and mutually agreed cessation of hostilities,” Tigray’s regional government said in a statement coinciding with Ethiopia’s new year.

The government has not formally commented on the Tigrayan stance but has previously said it was ready for unconditional talks “anytime, anywhere,” brokered by the AU, which is headquartered in Addis Ababa.

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front had until now vehemently opposed the role of the AU’s Horn of Africa envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, protesting his “proximity” to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Untold numbers of civilians have been killed since the war erupted in Africa’s second most populous country in November 2020, and the fighting has left millions of people across northern Ethiopia in need of emergency aid.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged “the parties to seize this opportunity for peace and to take steps to end the violence definitively and opt for dialogue.”

AU Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat also welcomed the development as a “unique opportunity toward the restoration of peace” and urged “both parties to urgently work toward an immediate ceasefire, engage in direct talks.”

Similar messages were issued by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

“We call on the country’s leaders to put Ethiopia on a path that ends the suffering and achieves a lasting peace,” Blinken said in a statement.

Ethiopia’s international partners were ready to support the peace process, he said, but added: “Eritrea and others should cease fueling the conflict.”

Fighting has raged on several fronts in northern Ethiopia since hostilities resumed on August 24, with both sides accusing the other of firing first and breaking a March truce.

The TPLF also accused Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea — whose forces were involved in the early phase of the war — of having launched a massive joint offensive on Tigray on September 1.

Access to northern Ethiopia is severely restricted and it is not possible to verify what is happening on the ground.

The Tigray statement made no mention of preconditions for talks, although it said the Tigrayans expected a “credible” peace process with “mutually acceptable” mediators as well as international observers.

TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael last week proposed a conditional truce calling for “unfettered humanitarian access” and the restoration of essential services in Tigray, whose six million people are suffering food shortages and a lack of electricity, communications and banking services.

In a letter to Guterres, he also called for the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from across Ethiopia, and for troops to pull out of western Tigray, a disputed region claimed by both Tigrayans and Amharas, the country’s second-largest ethnic group.

Debretsion had disclosed last month that two rounds of confidential face-to-face meetings had taken place between top civilian and military officials, the first acknowledgement by either side of direct contacts.

Sunday’s statement said a negotiating team including TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda and General Tsadkan Gebretensae, a former Ethiopian army chief now in Tigray’s central military command, was “ready to be deployed without delay.”

The March truce had allowed humanitarian convoys to travel to Tigray’s capital Mekele for the first time since mid-December.

But the United Nations said last week that the renewed fighting had forced a halt to aid deliveries to Tigray, both by road and air.

Abiy, a Nobel Peace laureate, sent troops into Tigray in November 2020 to topple the TPLF in response to what he said were attacks by the group on federal army camps.

But the TPLF recaptured most of Tigray in a surprise comeback in June 2021.

It then expanded into the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara before the fighting reached a stalemate.

Putin ally proposing banning ICC in Russia

Putin ally proposing banning ICC in Russia
Updated 25 March 2023

Putin ally proposing banning ICC in Russia

Putin ally proposing banning ICC in Russia
  • The ICC earlier issued arrest warrant against Russia's Vladimir Putin
  • Russian officials have cautioned against any attempt to arrest Putin

MOSCOW: Russia’s parliament speaker on Saturday proposed banning the activities of the International Criminal Court (ICC) after the court issued an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of the war crimes.
Vyacheslav Volodin, an ally of Putin’s, said that Russian legislation should be amended to prohibit any activity of the ICC in Russia and to punish any who gave “assistance and support” to the ICC.
“It is necessary to work out amendments to legislation prohibiting any activity of the ICC on the territory of our country,” Volodin said in a Telegram post.
Volodin said that the United States had legislated to prevent its citizens ever being tried by the Hague court and that Russia should continue that work.
Any assistance or support for the ICC inside Russia, he said, should be punishable under law.
The ICC issued an arrest warrant earlier this month accusing Putin of the war crime of illegally deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine. It said there are reasonable grounds to believe that Putin bears individual criminal responsibility.
Russian officials have cautioned that any attempt to arrest Putin, Russia’s paramount leader since the last day of 1999, would amount to a declaration of war against the world’s largest nuclear power.
In its first warrant for Ukraine, the ICC called for Putin’s arrest on suspicion of unlawful deportation of children and unlawful transfer of people from the territory of Ukraine to the Russian Federation since Feb. 24, 2022.
The Kremlin says the ICC arrest warrant is an outrageously partisan decision, but meaningless with respect to Russia. Russian officials deny war crimes in Ukraine and say the West has ignored what it says are Ukrainian war crimes.
Big powers such as Russia, the United States and China are not members of the ICC though 123 countries are state parties to the Rome Statute, including Britain, France, Germany and some former Soviet republics such as Tajikistan.
Ukraine is not a member of the ICC, although Kyiv granted it jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed on its territory. 

Trump rallying supporters in Waco ahead of possible charges

Trump rallying supporters in Waco ahead of possible charges
Updated 25 March 2023

Trump rallying supporters in Waco ahead of possible charges

Trump rallying supporters in Waco ahead of possible charges

WACO, Texas: Staring down a possible indictment, a defiant Donald Trump is hoping to put on a show of force Saturday as he holds the first rally of his 2024 presidential campaign in a city made famous by deadly resistance against law enforcement.
The former president will gather with supporters at an airport in Waco, which will mark the 30th anniversary of the Waco massacre next month. In 1993, an attempted raid by law enforcement of a compound belonging to the Branch Davidians, a religious cult, resulted in a shootout that led to a 51-day siege, ending in a blaze that left dozens dead.
The rally comes as Trump has berated prosecutors, encouraged protests and raised the prospect of possible violence should he become the first former president in US history to face criminal charges. Some of his recent rhetoric has echoed language he used before the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol by a mob of his supporters seeking to stop the transfer of power.
“What kind of person can charge another person, in this case a former President of the United States ... and leading candidate (by far!) for the Republican Party nomination, with a Crime, when it is known by all that NO Crime has been committed, & also known that potential death & destruction in such a false charge could be catastrophic for our Country?” Trump wrote on his social media site early Friday.
Trump’s campaign insisted the location and timing of the event had nothing to do with the Waco siege or anniversary. Instead, a spokesperson said the site was chosen because it was conveniently situated near four of the state’s biggest metropolitan areas — Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio — and has the infrastructure to handle a sizable crowd.
“This is the ideal location to have as many supporters from across the state and in neighboring states attend this historic rally,” said Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung.
The city is part of McLennan County, which Trump won in 2020 by more than 23 points. The airport where the rally is being held is 17 miles from the Branch Davidian compound.
The rally had already been in the works before it became clear that a grand jury in New York was drawing closer to a possible indictment as it investigates hush money payments made to women who alleged sexual encounters with Trump during the height of his 2016 campaign. Trump has denied the women’s claims.
But the timing will give Trump an opportunity to demonstrate his continued popularity with the GOP base and to portray himself as the victim of a politically motivated “witch hunt” as he campaigns for a second term in the White House.
The grand jury investigating the hush money payment is expected to meet again Monday in New York.
Trump has spent weeks now railing against the investigation. In a move that seemed designed to preempt a formal announcement and to galvanize his loyal base, he claimed last Saturday that he would be arrested the following Tuesday. While that did not happen, Trump has used the days since to try to shape public perception, claiming, for instance, that the Manhattan district attorney’s office had plunged into “Total disarray,” though there was no evidence to suggest prosecutors were backing away from the case.
His efforts echoed a strategy the former president has used before, including during special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Trump has also launched a series of increasingly personal attacks against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, calling him “a danger to our Country” who “should be removed immediately,” and using increasingly racist and dehumanizing rhetoric.
On Thursday, he sought to tie Bragg, Manhattan’s first Black district attorney, to George Soros, a liberal billionaire donor who doesn’t know Bragg and hasn’t donated directly to him. “A SOROS BACKED ANIMAL,” Trump wrote of Bragg, adding, “THIS IS NO LEGAL SYSTEM, THIS IS THE GESTAPO.” He also shared an article that juxtaposed a picture of Bragg with a photo of Trump swinging a baseball bat in Bragg’s direction.
The former president has also repeatedly involved violence. Last Saturday, he called on his supporters to “PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!” And on Thursday, he bemoaned, “OUR COUNTRY IS BEING DESTROYED, AS THEY TELL US TO BE PEACEFUL!”
On Friday, a powdery substance was found with a threatening letter in a mailroom at Bragg’s offices, authorities said. Officials later determined the substance wasn’t dangerous.
Bragg’s office sent an internal email to staff last Saturday saying, “We do not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threaten the rule of law in New York.” After the powder was discovered, Bragg sent another email to staffers telling them their safety was the top priority.
“We will continue to apply the law evenly and fairly, which is what each of you does every single day,” he wrote Friday.
Even before the threatening letter was sent to Bragg’s office, Democrats warned that Trump’s remarks had the potential to incite violence.
“The twice-impeached former president’s rhetoric is reckless, reprehensible and irresponsible. It’s dangerous, and if he keeps it up he’s going to get someone killed,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said earlier Friday.
The Manhattan case focuses on a $130,000 payment that Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, made to porn actor Stormy Daniels as Trump was in the throes of the 2016 campaign. Trump later reimbursed Cohen and his company logged the reimbursements as a legal expense. Cohen has already served time in prison after pleading guilty to campaign finance charges and lying to Congress, among other crimes.
Trump is also facing an investigation in Georgia over his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election as well as federal probes into his handling of classified documents and possible obstruction, as well as his efforts on Jan. 6.

US, Canada end loophole that let asylum-seekers cross border

US, Canada end loophole that let asylum-seekers cross border
Updated 25 March 2023

US, Canada end loophole that let asylum-seekers cross border

US, Canada end loophole that let asylum-seekers cross border
  • The new policy says that asylum seekers without US or Canadian citizenship who are caught within 14 days of crossing anywhere along the 5,061-kilometer border will be sent back
  • Migrants have taken advantage of a quirk in a 2002 agreement between the US and Canada that says asylum seekers must apply in the first country they arrive in

ST. JOHNSBURY, Vermont: US President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday announced a plan to close a loophole to an immigration agreement that has allowed thousands of asylum-seeking immigrants to move between the two countries along a back road linking New York state to the Canadian province of Quebec.
So many migrants since early 2017 have walked into Canada on Roxham Road outside Champlain, New York, that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police staffed a reception center to process them, less than five miles (8 kilometers) from the official border crossing.
Mounties have warned the migrants at the end of the narrow two-lane road bordered by forests and farm fields that they would be arrested if they crossed the border. But once on Canadian soil, they have been allowed to stay and pursue asylum cases that can take years to resolve.
The new policy says that asylum seekers without US or Canadian citizenship who are caught within 14 days of crossing anywhere along the 3,145-mile (5,061-kilometer) border will be sent back. That includes people walking on Roxham Road.
The deal was set to take effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday — a quick implementation aimed at avoiding a surge of refugee claimants trying to cross, according to Canadian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the deal in advance.
Some of the last migrants to make it through before the Biden-Trudeau announcement were about eight people in two families — one from Haiti, the other from Afghanistan — who arrived at the US end of Roxham Road just after dawn on Friday. Both said they took circuitous routes to get there.
Gerson Solay, 28, carried his daughter Bianca up to the border. He said he didn’t have the proper documents to remain in the United States. “That is why Canada is my last destination,” he said before he was taken into custody for processing.
It’s unclear how Roxham Road became a favorite route, but it’s just a taxi ride from where Interstate 87 approaches the Canadian border, and for southbound migrants, it’s a relatively short distance to New York City.

These migrants have taken advantage of a quirk in a 2002 agreement between the US and Canada that says asylum seekers must apply in the first country they arrive in. Migrants who go to an official Canadian crossing are returned to the US and told to apply there. But those who reach Canadian soil somewhere other than a port of entry — like the center near Roxham Road — are allowed to stay and request protection.
The agreement was immediately criticized by some who feel it could endanger the safety of asylum seekers by preventing them from getting needed support from both governments.
“We urge President Biden to strongly reconsider this deal and to work with Congress to restore access to asylum and support policies that recognize the dignity of all those arriving at our borders,” said Danilo Zak, associate director for policy and advocacy for the humanitarian group CWS, also known as Church World Services. The organization advocates for people across the world who have been forced from their homes.
The agreement comes as the US Border Patrol responds to a steep increase in illegal southbound crossings along the wide-open Canadian border. Nearly all happen in northern New York and Vermont along the stretch of border nearest Canada’s two largest cities, Toronto and Montreal.
While the numbers are still tiny compared to the US-Mexico border, it’s happening so frequently now that the Border Patrol increased its staffing in the region and has begun releasing some migrants into Vermont with a future date to appear before immigration authorities.
As part of the deal, Canada also agreed to allow 15,000 migrants from the Western Hemisphere to seek asylum on a humanitarian basis over the course of the year.
Meanwhile, southbound migrants are straining US border officials.
US Border Patrol agents stopped migrants entering illegally from Canada 628 times in February, more than five times the same period a year earlier. Those numbers pale compared to migrants entering from Mexico – where they were stopped more than 220,000 times in December alone — but it is still a massive change in percentage terms.
In the Border Patrol’s Swanton Sector, which stretches across New Hampshire, Vermont and a portion of upstate New York, agents stopped migrants 418 times in February, up more than 10 times from a year earlier. About half entering from Canada have been Mexicans, who can fly visa-free to Canada from Mexico.
About an hour south of the border, the police chief in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, population 6,000, alerted state officials that the Border Patrol had dropped off a vanload of immigrants with just a few minutes notice at the community’s welcome center. The same thing happened several times before within the last few weeks.
In a statement, US Customs and Border Protection said the migrants dropped off in St. Johnsbury had been apprehended along the border after entering the US without authorization, and were given a notice to appear for later immigration proceedings.
They were dropped off in St. Johnsbury because it has a station where migrants can take a bus to a larger city.
“In such circumstances, USBP works in tandem with local communities to ensure the safety of all parties— both community members and migrants— and to ensure stability in the community’s resources,” the statement said.
But local officials said they weren’t given time to prepare. State officials are now working to set up a system to provide migrants services they might require.
On Thursday, a Haitian couple and their children, boys aged 17 and 9 and a 15-year-old girl, were dropped off at the welcome center. The family, who did not want to give their names, wanted to take a bus to Miami.
They said they’d been in Canada for two months, but wouldn’t talk about what prompted them to keep moving.
They missed the Thursday bus that would allow them to connect to a bus to Boston, where they could catch another bus to Miami. A team of local volunteers spent the day getting them something to eat, finding them a place to stay the night and arranging for them to take the bus on Friday.
Police chief Tim Page said St. Johnsbury wants to help these migrants, but not on the fly.
“We need to get something down so we know what we are going to do when these families arrive,” he said. “We don’t have a system set yet, so when we do I am sure this will all go a little smoother.”

UN accuses Russia, Ukraine forces of ‘summary executions’ of prisoners

UN accuses Russia, Ukraine forces of ‘summary executions’ of prisoners
Updated 25 March 2023

UN accuses Russia, Ukraine forces of ‘summary executions’ of prisoners

UN accuses Russia, Ukraine forces of ‘summary executions’ of prisoners
  • Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of mistreating prisoners of war since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded a year ago

KYIV: The United Nations said Friday it was “deeply concerned” by what it said were summary executions of prisoners of war by both Russian and Ukrainian forces on the battlefield.
The allegations come shortly after Kyiv accused Russian forces of killing a captured Ukrainian serviceman who was filmed saying “Glory to Ukraine” before being shot dead.
The head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, Matilda Bogner, said at a press conference in Kyiv on Friday that her organization had recently recorded killings by both sides.
“We are deeply concerned about (the) summary execution of up to 25 Russian prisoners of war and persons hors de combat by the Ukrainian armed forces, which we have documented,” Bogner said.
“This was often perpetrated immediately upon capture on the battlefield,” she said.
“While we are aware of ongoing investigations by Ukraine authorities into five cases involving 22 victims, we are not aware of any prosecution of the perpetrators,” she added.
Bogner also expressed “deep” concern over the alleged executions of 15 Ukrainian prisoners by Russian armed forces after their capture.
She said the Wagner mercenary group, which claims to be leading Russia’s assault for Bakhmut — the longest and bloodiest battle of the war — was responsible for 11 of those killings.
Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of mistreating prisoners of war since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded a year ago.
One UN report issued Friday claimed Ukrainian military personnel had subjected prisoners of war to death threats, mock executions or threats of sexual violence. Some beatings were “purely retaliatory,” it said.
“In some cases, officers beat POWs saying: ‘This is for Bucha,’” the mission reported detainees as saying, referring to a town near Kyiv where Russian forces were accused of widespread atrocities.
“Before questioning, they showed me an axe handle covered in blood as a warning,” the report quoted a Russian POW as saying.
“The questioning lasted for about an hour and they used electricity six times, whenever they thought I was lying,” the detainee said, according to the report.
Ukrainian POWs quoted said they were subjected to torture, sexual violence, a lack of food and water and denied medical attention that sometimes led to death.
They said they were tortured and ill-treated to extract information or as a form of punishment, the mission said.
Ukrainian prisoners reported being beaten with shovels, stabbed, subjected to electric shocks and strangled.
“Some of them lost their teeth or fingers, had their ribs, fingers or noses broken,” the report said.
“They did not just beat us, they broke us. They used their fists, legs, batons, tasers. There were POWs who had their arms or legs broken,” one man was quoted as saying.
The Ukrainian parliament’s human rights commissioner Dmytro Lubinets said on Friday that he was “surprised” by the allegations against Ukrainian troops and said he had not been informed of them in advance.
He said on Telegram that he wanted to “know the facts and the indisputable arguments on which the conclusions” of the UN report are based.

UK-based runners complete Palestine Marathon to raise thousands for charity

UK-based runners complete Palestine Marathon to raise thousands for charity
Updated 25 March 2023

UK-based runners complete Palestine Marathon to raise thousands for charity

UK-based runners complete Palestine Marathon to raise thousands for charity
  • They were running on behalf of international humanitarian charity Penny Appeal
  • The cash raised will support its projects to help Palestinians

LONDON: A group of 90 runners from the UK raised thousands of pounds for charity by competing in the Palestine Marathon this month.

They were running on behalf of UK-based international humanitarian charity Penny Appeal, and the cash they raised, which has reached over £200,000 ($245,000) so far, will be used to support its projects that provide food, medical supplies, olive trees and emergency relief to people in need in Palestine.

“The Run for Palestine is a popular event that brings together runners of all levels and backgrounds to support a good cause,” Penny Appeal said.

“The marathon took runners through different views of Palestinian everyday life. The route itself is a technical course, with a few steep hills coupled with some fast sections, in scenery like no other marathon.

“The runners were delighted to have completed the race and to have raised money for a good cause.”

The main race begins at the Church of Nativity in the center of Bethlehem’s Old City, taking the runners through the city and two refugee camps, Al-Aida and Ad-Dheisheh, it added. In addition to the full marathon, this year’s Penny Appeal participants had the alternative options of taking part in a 5K,10K or half marathon.

“I’m thrilled to see our charity runners complete the Run for Palestine and to have raised funds for such an important cause,” said one volunteer.

“We couldn’t have done it without the support of our friends, family, and the amazing volunteers who made this event possible. We’re proud to have made a difference in the lives of those who need it most.”

Ridwana Wallace Laher, Penny Appeal’s CEO, said: “We’re incredibly grateful to everyone who participated in the Run for Palestine and helped us raise funds for this important cause.

“The money raised will go a long way in helping us make a difference in the lives of people in need around the world.

“We couldn’t have done it without the support of our runners, volunteers and sponsors, and we’re already looking forward to next year’s event.”