Ethiopia protests US ambassador’s speech after he calls for release of political prisoners

Ethiopia protests US ambassador’s speech after he calls for release of political prisoners
In his speech widely shared on social media, US Ambassador Ervin Massinga said that detaining critics would not resolve Ethiopia’s outstanding issues. (X:@gemechu3)
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Updated 17 May 2024
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Ethiopia protests US ambassador’s speech after he calls for release of political prisoners

Ethiopia protests US ambassador’s speech after he calls for release of political prisoners
  • Ethiopia's federal forces are engaging in fighting with several rebel groups in its regions as well as ethnic-related insurgencies, which have led to deaths and the displacement of people

NAIROBI, Kenya: Ethiopia lodged a complaint Thursday over statements by the US ambassador after he said the release of political prisoners could help the country engage in a productive dialogue and that detaining critics won’t resolve the country’s issues.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement that Ambassador Ervin Massinga’s speech on policy and human rights contained “allegations” and “unsolicited advice,” and that it would work with the Embassy to correct the “errors and inconsistencies” in his statement.
“The statement is ill advised and contains uniformed assertions. It is contrary to the historic and friendly relations between Ethiopia and the United States,” the ministry wrote.
Massinga had said in his speech that detaining critics would not resolve Ethiopia’s outstanding issues and that “the political dialogue the Ethiopians need could be helped by releasing key political figures.”
He urged the government and rebel groups to agree to dialogue and that “the country has far more to gain through peace than on the battlefield.”
Federal forces in Ethiopia are engaging in fighting with several rebel groups in its regions as well as ethnic-related insurgencies, which have led to deaths and the displacement of people. Human rights groups have accused federal soldiers of rights abuses in regions like Amhara, where rebel groups are based.
A prominent opposition figure was gunned down last month after his release from prison, and a state-appointed rights group has called for an investigation into his death.


Biden goes straight from G7 to Hollywood fundraiser, balancing geopolitics with his reelection bid

Biden goes straight from G7 to Hollywood fundraiser, balancing geopolitics with his reelection bid
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Biden goes straight from G7 to Hollywood fundraiser, balancing geopolitics with his reelection bid

Biden goes straight from G7 to Hollywood fundraiser, balancing geopolitics with his reelection bid
  • A Biden fundraiser in March at Radio City Music Hall in New York featured late-night host Stephen Colbert interviewing the president, Obama and former President Bill Clinton

LOS ANGELES: After flying through the night across nine time zones, from southern Italy to Southern California, President Joe Biden shifted his focus from Russia’s challenge of Western unity to raking in big money for his reelection campaign at a Hollywood fundraiser featuring George Clooney and Julia Roberts.
Biden went straight from the Group of Seven summit of wealthy democracies, where Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine took center stage, to Los Angeles and the glitzy gathering unfolding Saturday night at the 7,100-seat Peacock Theater. The journey was only broken up by a layover to refuel outside Washington.
Former President Barack Obama is joining headliners Clooney and Roberts, and late-night host Jimmy Kimmel will interview all of them onstage. In a text message to donors, Roberts called it “a crucial time in the election.” Kimmel wrote in his own text that presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump “will hate this, so let’s do it.”
Luminaries from the entertainment world have increasingly lined up to help Biden’s campaign, hoping to provide a fundraising jolt and to energize would-be supporters to turn out ahead of Election Day against Trump. This event also drew top Democrats, with more than a dozen House Democrats, most from California, and the state’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, participating in a pre-show photo line with Biden and Obama.
“We are going to see an unprecedented and record-setting turnout from the media and entertainment world,” Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Hollywood mogul, major Democratic donor and co-chair of Biden’s campaign, said in a statement.
Still, hobnobbing with stars and top members of his party meant Biden skipped a summit in Switzerland about ways to end the fighting in Ukraine. Vice President Kamala Harris made a whirlwind trip of her own to represent the United States there.
It’s a stark reminder that his responsibilities as president and his reelection effort can sometimes conflict.
A Biden fundraiser in March at Radio City Music Hall in New York featured late-night host Stephen Colbert interviewing the president, Obama and former President Bill Clinton. It raised a then-record $26 million, but the California event will bring in at least $28 million, according to the Biden campaign.
Trump has hauled in even bigger numbers, though.
He outpaced Biden’s New York event in April, raking in $50.5 million at a gathering of major donors at the Florida home of billionaire investor John Paulson. The former president’s campaign and the Republican National Committee announced they had raised a whopping $141 million in May, padded by tens of millions of dollars in contributions that flowed in after Trump’s guilty verdict in his criminal hush money trial.
That post-conviction bump came after Trump and the Republican Party announced collecting $76 million in April, far exceeding Biden and the Democrats’ $51 million for the month and narrowing a fundraising advantage Biden built earlier in the race.
With Biden absent at the gathering on Ukraine, Harris is making the trip to Switzerland and back in a little more than 24 hours.
At a joint appearance with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the G7 summit, Biden said Harris would be a strong representative of his administration at the meeting. But Zelensky previously suggested that it was “not a strong decision” for Biden to miss the event.
“I would want President Biden to be personally present,” he said late last month, predicting that Putin would “stand and applaud” Biden not coming. Putin and Russian representatives also aren’t going to the summit.
Biden’s fundraiser featured police in riot gear outside, ready for protests from pro-Palestinian activists angry about his administration’s handling of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza. Such demonstrations have become common wherever Biden goes in recent months, including outside his Radio City Music Hall fundraiser.


Ukraine conference draft communique calls out Russia’s war on Ukraine

Ukraine conference draft communique calls out Russia’s war on Ukraine
Updated 16 June 2024
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Ukraine conference draft communique calls out Russia’s war on Ukraine

Ukraine conference draft communique calls out Russia’s war on Ukraine
  • Absence of China, Russia seen limiting potential impact
  • Putin outlines conditions to end war on eve of gathering

BUERGENSTOCK, Switzerland: A draft communique for a summit of world leaders convened to pursue a pathway for peace in Ukraine makes reference to Russia’s “war” against Kyiv and urges that Ukraine’s territorial integrity be respected, according to a copy of the document seen by Reuters.
The final communique is due to be issued on Sunday at the conclusion of the two-day conference at the Buergenstock resort in central Switzerland. The draft was dated June 13.
The Swiss government has said it hopes the final summit declaration will be supported unanimously by participants. The document tracked certain changes made to the draft.
The document also calls for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to be restored to Ukrainian control and for Kyiv’s access to its Azov sea ports to be safeguarded.

More than 90 countries are taking part in the conference, but China’s absence in particular dimmed hopes the summit would show Russia as globally isolated, while recent military reverses have put Kyiv on the back foot.

China has shunned the summit and it was dismissed as a waste of time by Russia, which pushed its own rival ceasefire plans from afar.

The war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas has also diverted the world’s attention from Ukraine.
The talks focused on broader concerns triggered by the war, such as food and nuclear security. But Turkiye and Saudi Arabia, both mooted hosts for another such event, said meaningful progress required Russia’s participation.
A draft of a final summit declaration, seen by Reuters, blames Russia’s “war” in Ukraine for causing “large-scale human suffering and destruction” and urges Ukraine’s territorial integrity to be respected.
The document, dated June 13, also calls for Kyiv to regain control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and access to its sea ports. The draft had deleted an earlier reference to Russian “aggression” where “war” is cited.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky trumpeted the summit’s attendance as a success and predicted “history being made.”
“Today is the day when the world begins to bring a just peace closer,” he told leaders assembled around a giant rectangular table.
US President Joe Biden sent his deputy Kamala Harris to represent him — a decision that had riled Kyiv.
Harris announced more than $1.5 billion in energy and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, where infrastructure has been pounded by Russian airstrikes since the 2022 full-scale invasion.
On the eve of the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia would end the war if Kyiv agreed to drop its NATO ambitions and hand over four provinces claimed by Moscow. The conditions apparently reflected Moscow’s growing confidence its forces have the upper hand.
But they were swiftly rejected by Ukraine and its allies.
“He’s calling for surrender,” Harris said, adding: “Let nothing about the end of this war be decided without Ukraine.”
“Freezing the conflict today, with foreign troops occupying Ukrainian land, is not the answer. It is a recipe for future wars of aggression,” added European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

China and Russia
China said it would boycott the event after Russia was frozen out of the process, with the US suggesting Beijing’s decision was taken at Moscow’s behest.
“Putin has no interest in a genuine peace,” said British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
“He has launched a sustained diplomatic campaign against this summit ordering countries to stay away, spinning a phoney narrative about his willingness to negotiate.”
Avoiding some of the most difficult issues, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz compared the summit to “a small plant that needs watering, nurturing and delicate care” that would yield results further down the line.
But countries including Turkiye, Saudi Arabia and Kenya noted Russia’s absence as a hurdle.
“I must also note that this summit could have been more result-oriented if the other party to the conflict, Russia, was present in the room,” said Turkiye’s foreign minister, Hakan Fidan.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said credible talks would involve “difficult compromise.”
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer saw an opportunity to start building a broader global consensus to pressure Russia.
“It’s like we’re in a Western echo chamber. That is: all Western European countries, the USA, we agree on what we want to happen with Ukraine,” Nehammer said. “But that alone is not enough.”
Calls for Russia to be at the table will only get stronger over time, said Bob Deen, senior research fellow at the Netherlands-based Clingendael Institute think-tank.
“There is a risk that if Ukraine waits too long, it might end up with rival formats popping up. It may risk losing the initiative,” Deen told a forum on the summit’s sidelines.
Supporters of Ukraine marked the talks with a series of events in the nearby city of Lucerne to draw attention to the war’s humanitarian costs.
Dozens of Ukrainian refugees from choirs around Switzerland converged in a public square to sing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”
Earlier about 250 people gathered in the center of the city, many wrapped in Ukrainian flags, wearing traditional clothes and carrying pictures of missing brothers, husbands or sons as they shared their stories.
“I’m clinging to the idea that my husband is still alive,” said Svitlana Bilous, the wife of a soldier who has been missing for more than 14 months. “That’s what keeps me going.”


Italian activist freed from Hungary returns home after being elected to European Parliament

Italian activist freed from Hungary returns home after being elected to European Parliament
Updated 16 June 2024
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Italian activist freed from Hungary returns home after being elected to European Parliament

Italian activist freed from Hungary returns home after being elected to European Parliament
  • Salis became a hot-button political issue in Italy after images emerged of her handcuffed and shackled in a Hungarian courtroom where she faced trial

ROME: Italian anti-fascist activist Ilaria Salis returned to her parents’ house in the northern Italian city of Monza on Saturday evening, after being freed from house arrest in Budapest the day before.
“A nightmare is over,” her father Roberto Salis told journalists waiting for her at her home.
“Now we must ensure that this accusation for which Ilaria believes she is innocent is dropped,” he added.
Ilaria Salis was released after being elected as a new member of the European Parliament for the Italian Green and Left Alliance earlier this month.
The 39-year-old activist was elected during her time under house arrest in Hungary, where she is on trial and faces charges for allegedly assaulting far-right demonstrators.
European Parliament lawmakers enjoy substantial legal immunity from prosecution, even if the allegations relate to crimes committed prior to their election.
More than 170,000 voters in Italy wrote Salis’ name onto the ballot in a bid to bring her home from Hungary, where she has been detained for more than a year.
Salis became a hot-button political issue in Italy after images emerged of her handcuffed and shackled in a Hungarian courtroom where she faced trial.
The Italian activist was charged in Hungary with attempted murder after being part of a group of anti-fascists accused of assaulting individuals they believed were linked to the far-right Day of Honor last year.
The event, held annually on Feb. 11, sees far-right activists mark the failed attempt by Nazi and allied Hungarian soldiers to break out of Budapest during the Red Army’s siege in 1945.
The alleged victims of the attack reportedly didn’t complain to police.
Before the European Parliament election earlier this month, Salis’ father repeatedly voiced concerns over his daughter’s trial, saying she faced up to 24 years in jail. The Hungarian prosecutor had asked for a prison term of 11 years.


UK polls point to ‘electoral extinction’ for Prime Minister Sunak’s Conservatives

UK polls point to ‘electoral extinction’ for Prime Minister Sunak’s Conservatives
Updated 16 June 2024
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UK polls point to ‘electoral extinction’ for Prime Minister Sunak’s Conservatives

UK polls point to ‘electoral extinction’ for Prime Minister Sunak’s Conservatives
  • “Our research suggests that this election could be nothing short of electoral extinction for the Conservative Party,” Chris Hopkins, political research director at Savanta, said

LONDON: Three British opinion polls released late on Saturday presented a grim picture for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party, and one pollster warned that the party faced “electoral extinction” in July 4’s election.
The polls come just over halfway through the election campaign, after a week in which both the Conservatives and Labour set out their manifestos, and shortly before voters begin to receive postal ballots.
Sunak surprised many in his own party by announcing an early election on May 22, against widespread expectations that he would wait until later in the year to allow more time for living standards to recover after the highest inflation in 40 years.
Market research company Savanta found 46 percent support for Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, up 2 points on the previous poll five days earlier, while support for the Conservatives dropped 4 points to 21 percent. The poll was conducted from June 12 to June 14 for the Sunday Telegraph.
Labour’s 25-point lead was the largest since the premiership of Sunak’s predecessor, Liz Truss, whose tax cut plans prompted investors to dump British government bonds, pushing up interest rates and forcing a Bank of England intervention.
“Our research suggests that this election could be nothing short of electoral extinction for the Conservative Party,” Chris Hopkins, political research director at Savanta, said.
A separate poll by Survation, published by the Sunday Times, predicted the Conservatives could end up with just 72 seats in the 650-member House of Commons — the lowest in their nearly 200-year history — while Labour would win 456 seats.
The poll was conducted from May 31 to June 13.
In percentage terms, the Survation poll had Labour on 40 percent and the Conservatives on 24 percent, while former Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage’s Reform UK party — a right-wing challenger to the Conservatives — was on 12 percent.
A third poll, by Opinium for Sunday’s Observer and conducted from June 12 to June 14, also showed Labour on 40 percent, the Conservatives on 23 percent and Reform on 14 percent, with the two largest parties yielding ground to smaller rivals.


Britain’s ‘impossible’ refugee visa rules leave children stranded in war zones, charity says

Britain’s ‘impossible’ refugee visa rules leave children stranded in war zones, charity says
Updated 15 June 2024
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Britain’s ‘impossible’ refugee visa rules leave children stranded in war zones, charity says

Britain’s ‘impossible’ refugee visa rules leave children stranded in war zones, charity says
  • Organization points to ‘catastrophic failure’ of system 

LONDON: Children are being left stranded in war zones due to the “impossible” bureaucratic requirements for one of Britain’s few legal routes for asylum-seekers, a charity has told The Guardian.

The UK government has said that the family reunion process allows refugees to safely reunite with loved ones in the country.

However, a new report from the Refugee and Migrant Forum of East London, a charity that helps vulnerable migrants, reveals that the scheme is “not fit for purpose” and has abandoned applicants, putting them at risk of trafficking, or even death.

RAMFEL reported that when the conflict in Sudan erupted in April 2023, it was assisting 14 people, all of whom were eligible to travel to the UK under the scheme.

More than a year later, eight people remain trapped there, “facing extreme risks.” Several of the children previously fled Eritrea, where men, women, and children face forced mass conscription.

In some cases, teenagers have fled Sudan via irregular routes. One boy was detained in Libya, and another unaccompanied child was trafficked to South Sudan and raped.

The UK government has closed its visa application center in Khartoum but has not waived the requirement for applicants to register their fingerprints and biometric data in person.

“Visa application centers are open and operating in neighboring countries,” a Home Office letter, seen by The Guardian, reads.

“However, travel across Sudan is conducted at your own risk, and under your own discretion, considering whether it is safe to do so,” it added.

Eritrean refugee Yusef, who is living in the UK, shared his efforts to bring his two young brothers, now aged 17 and 14, to join him. They fled to Sudan alone after their mother died and their father was seized by Eritrean authorities.

He told The Guardian: “I made the (family reunion) application but the Home Office was saying that there was not a place to test them for tuberculosis or a visa center in Sudan. They said they couldn’t take them.”

His brothers fled north to Egypt, and Yusef said: “They don’t have anyone. How will they survive? If the police find them asleep, they will take them back to Eritrea and they will be put in prison. They are still in this situation and they’re very scared.”

In October of last year, the Home Office declined to consider a request to bypass biometric enrollment for the children. RAMFEL is currently attempting to have them registered in Cairo.

RAMFEL pointed to the Sudan conflict as an example of the “catastrophic failure” of the family reunion system. The process primarily aids children and spouses of UK residents and can only extend to siblings and other close relatives under a more restrictive scheme.

The charity argues that the flawed system is pushing more refugees toward irregular routes, leading to an increase in small boat crossings over the English Channel, which have reached record levels.

Nick Beales, head of campaigning at RAMFEL, said: “The UK’s family reunion system is not fit for purpose and this report shows that it does not act as an effective safe route for refugees seeking to come to the UK.

“For people in places such as Sudan and Gaza, they are prevented from even applying for family reunion due to the government’s inflexible and unreasonable insistence on them attending non-existing visa application centers.

“This leaves those in conflict zones, including unaccompanied children, with no choice but to take dangerous journeys in search of family reunification.”

RAMFEL called on the next government to create a process that allowed those with loved ones in the UK to swiftly and safely secure visas for legal travel to Britain.