Boats carrying hundreds of migrants arrive in Italy’s Lampedusa

Migrants are seen after disembarking from a wooden boat on the island of Lampedusa, Italy, October 18, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 09 May 2021

Boats carrying hundreds of migrants arrive in Italy’s Lampedusa

  • About 400 migrants of various nationalities got off one of the boats, a drifting fishing vessel
  • Another boat carrying 325 people was intercepted eight miles off Lampedusa

MILAN: Seven boats packed with hundreds of migrants arrived on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa on Sunday, and officials said more people were expected as the weather improved.
More than 1,000 people got off the vessels at Lampedusa, one of the main landing points for people trying to get across the Mediterranean into Europe, ANSA news agency said.
“Migrants arrivals are resuming alongside good weather,” Lampedusa’s mayor Toto Martello told state broadcaster RAI. “We need to restart discussions about the immigration issue.”
Numbers in recent years have been down from 2015-2017, when Europe took in hundreds of thousands of migrants, many of them fleeing poverty and conflict across Africa and the Middle East.
But the issue still sharply divides European governments and has fueled anti-immigration sentiment and parties across the continent.
Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s far-right League party, called on Prime Minister Mario Draghi to tackle the issue.
“With millions of Italians facing difficulties, we cannot care for thousands of illegal migrants,” he wrote on Twitter.
Some of the boats were intercepted off the coast of the Mediterranean island by the Italian tax police, who deal with financial crime and smuggling, ANSA said.
About 400 migrants of various nationalities got off one of the boats, a drifting fishing vessel, the agency reported.
Another boat carrying 325 people was intercepted eight miles off Lampedusa, the agency added.

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Ethiopia finally set to vote as prime minister vows first fair election

Updated 19 June 2021

Ethiopia finally set to vote as prime minister vows first fair election

KAMPALA: Ethiopians will vote on Monday in a landmark election overshadowed by reports of famine in the country’s war-hit Tigray region and beset by logistical problems that mean some people won’t be able to vote until September.
The election is the centerpiece of a reform drive by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose rise to power in 2018 seemed to signal a break with decades of authoritarian rule and led to his Nobel Peace Prize the following year.
He has described the poll as “the nation’s first attempt at free and fair elections.”
Abiy’s ruling Prosperity Party, formed in 2019 by merging groups who made up the previous ruling coalition, is widely expected to cement its hold on power.
The party that wins a majority of seats in the House of Peoples’ Representatives will form the next government.
“We will secure Ethiopia’s unity,” Abiy said ahead of his final campaign rally on Wednesday, repeating his vow of a free and fair election after past votes were marred by allegations of fraud.
But opposition groups have accused Ethiopia’s ruling party of harassment, manipulation and threats of violence that echo abuses of the past.
And Abiy is facing growing international criticism over the war in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region.
Thousands of civilians have been killed and more than 2 million people have been displaced since fighting broke out in November between Ethiopian forces, backed by ones from neighboring Eritrea, and those supporting the now-fugitive Tigray leaders.
Last week, humanitarian agencies warned that 350,000 people in Tigray are on the brink of famine, a crisis that several diplomats have described as “manmade” amid allegations of forced starvation.
Ethiopia’s government has rejected the figure and says food aid has reached 5.2 million in the region of 6 million.
No date has been set for voting in Tigray’s 38 constituencies, where military personnel who usually play a key role in transporting election materials across Africa’s second-most populous country are busy with the conflict.
Meanwhile, voting has been postponed until September in 64 out of 547 constituencies throughout Ethiopia because of insecurity, defective ballot papers and opposition allegations of irregularities.
Outbreaks of ethnic violence have also killed hundreds of people in the Amhara, Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz regions in recent months.
Some prominent opposition parties are boycotting the election. Others say they have been prevented from campaigning in several parts of the country.
“There have been gross violations,” Yusef Ibrahim, vice president of the National Movement of Amhara, said earlier this month.
He said his party had been “effectively banned” from campaigning in several regions, with some party members arrested and banners destroyed.
Neither officials with the Prosperity Party nor Abiy’s office responded to requests for comment on such allegations.
Ethiopia last year postponed the election, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, adding to the tensions with Tigray’s former leaders.
Recently, the vote was delayed again by several weeks amid technical problems involving ballot papers and a lack of polling station officials.
Abiy’s Prosperity Party has registered 2,432 candidates in the election, which will see Ethiopians voting for both national and regional representatives.
The next largest party, Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice, is fielding 1,385 candidates. A total of 47 parties are contesting the election.
But on Sunday, five opposition parties released a joint statement saying that campaigning outside the capital, Addis Ababa, “has been marred by serious problems, including killings, attempted killings and beatings of candidates.”
Two prominent opposition parties, the Oromo Liberation Front and the Oromo Federalist Congress, are boycotting the vote.
“It’s going to be a sham election,” OFC chairman Merera Gudina said earlier this month.
That means the Prosperity Party will face little competition in Oromia, Ethiopia’s most populous state.
Several prominent OFC members remain behind bars after a wave of unrest last year sparked by the killing of a popular Oromo musician, and the OLF’s leader is under house arrest.
The leader of the Balderas Party for True Democracy, Eskinder Nega, was also detained and is contesting the election from prison.
Getnet Worku, secretary-general of the newly established ENAT party, said earlier this month it is not standing candidates in several constituencies because the threat of violence is too high, asserting that armed militias organized by local officials frequently broke up rallies.
There are growing international concerns over whether the elections will be fair.
The EU has said it will not observe the vote after its requests to import communications equipment were denied.
In response, Ethiopia said external observers “are neither essential nor necessary to certify the credibility of an election,” although it has since welcomed observers deployed by the African Union.
Last week the US State Department said it is “gravely concerned about the environment under which these upcoming elections are to be held,” citing “detention of opposition politicians, harassment of independent media, partisan activities by local and regional governments, and the many interethnic and inter-communal conflicts across Ethiopia.”
Abiy’s appointment as prime minister in 2018 was initially greeted by an outburst of optimism both at home and abroad.
Shortly after taking office, he freed tens of thousands of political prisoners, allowed the return of exiled opposition groups and rolled back punitive laws that targeted civil society.
In 2019 he won the Nobel Peace Prize in part for those reforms and for making peace with Eritrea by ending a long-running border standoff.
But critics say Ethiopia’s political space has started to shrink again. The government denies the accusation.
Several prominent opposition figures accused of inciting unrest are behind bars.
While opening a sugar factory earlier this month, Abiy accused “traitors” and “outsiders” of working to undermine Ethiopia.
This week his spokeswoman, Billene Seyoum, described the election as a chance for citizens to “exercise their democratic rights” and accused international media of mounting a “character assassination of the prime minister.”


Dutch to ditch most facemasks rules as COVID cases fall

Updated 18 June 2021

Dutch to ditch most facemasks rules as COVID cases fall

  • Most limits on group sizes will be lifted from June 26, as long as people can keep at least 1.5 metres apart
  • No new limits will be set on the number of guests allowed in stores, bars and restaurants

AMSTERDAM: Face masks will mostly no longer be required across the Netherlands and other restrictions will ease from next week, after a drop in COVID-19 cases, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday.
Most limits on group sizes will also be lifted from June 26, as long as people can keep at least 1.5 meters (5 ft) apart, he told a news conference.
“This is a special moment,” Rutte said. “Many times I have stood here to tell you what you can’t do. But now we can focus on what is possible.”
No new limits will be set on the number of guests allowed in stores, bars and restaurants, Rutte said, as long as they keep their distance, or show that they have been vaccinated or have a negative test.
“We can expect a beautiful summer,” Rutte said. “But we need to remain cautious. There are many uncertainties toward the autumn. You can always be stabbed in the back by a new variant.”
People will still need to wear masks on public transport and in airports, where distancing is not possible.
Coronavirus infections in the Netherlands have dropped to their lowest levels in nine months in recent weeks as the rollout of vaccinations has gathered pace.
Earlier this month authorities let bars and restaurants reopen.
Around 13 vaccinations have been administered in the country of 17.5 million people as of Friday. The government has said it is aiming to offer each Dutch adult at least one shot by mid-July.
Almost 1.7 million coronavirus infections have been confirmed in the Netherlands, and more than 27,000 deaths.


Beheadings reported in insurgent-hit Mozambique

Updated 18 June 2021

Beheadings reported in insurgent-hit Mozambique

  • Palma and surrounding areas have been on tenterhooks since militants linked to Daesh launched a raid of unprecedented scale on the town
  • British charity Save the Children said it was ‘shocked and appalled’ by news this week of two 15-year-old boys being beheaded in Palma

PEMBA, Mozambique: Several beheadings, including of teenagers, have been reported around the restive northern Mozambique town of Palma since it was attacked by militants in March, a charity and local sources said on Friday.
Palma and surrounding areas have been on tenterhooks since militants linked to Daesh launched a raid of unprecedented scale on the town, killing dozens and forcing tens of thousands to flee.
Many sought refuge in nearby Quitunda, a resettlement village next to a heavily guarded gas exploration site operated by French oil giant Total and abandoned days after the raid.
Several bouts of low-key violence have been reported since the militants retreated.
British charity Save the Children on Friday said it was “shocked and appalled” by news this week of two 15-year-old boys being beheaded in Palma on Sunday.
The teenagers were among a group of 15 adults who had left Quitunda in search of food, according to the independent news outlet Carta de Mocambique, which reported the incident.
Two adults were also killed, it added.
“We are appalled and disgusted at this senseless crime,” Save the Children Mozambique country director Chance Briggs said in a statement.
The insurgency is “having a continual, horrific, deadly impact on children,” he said.
“They are being killed, they are being abducted, they are being recruited for use by armed groups.”
One local source in the provincial capital Pemba said relatives in Quitunda had heard of “insurgents” beheading several people on Saturday.
Momade Bachir, who is regularly in touch with family members still stranded around Palma, told AFP that four residents were attacked after they left the town to pick manioc in surrounding fields.
Another three beheaded bodies were found near Pemba that evening, according to Bachir.
Finding food has been difficult since the March 24 attack on Palma and aid agencies have struggled to take in supplies due to security concerns.
The World Food Programme has warned that almost one million people, mostly displaced, faced severe hunger.
Insurgents have been wreaking havoc in Cabo Delgado since 2017.
The fighting has claimed more than 2,800 lives, half of them civilians, according to conflict data tracker ACLED, and displaced around 800,000.


British ‘Daesh bride’ was ‘trafficking victim,’ court told

Updated 18 June 2021

British ‘Daesh bride’ was ‘trafficking victim,’ court told

  • Shamima Begum was 15 when she traveled from London to Syria with two fellow pupils in February 2015
  • Britain’s interior ministry revoked her citizenship on national security grounds

LONDON: A schoolgirl who left Britain to join Daesh and had her British citizenship revoked was a victim of human trafficking, a court heard on Friday.
Shamima Begum was 15 when she traveled from London to Syria with two fellow pupils in February 2015.
Britain’s interior ministry revoked her citizenship on national security grounds after she was discovered heavily pregnant in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019, amid an outcry led by right-wing newspapers.
The Court of Appeal ruled last July that Begum could return to Britain to challenge the decision.
But the Supreme Court in February overturned the lower court ruling, and prevented her from doing so on national security grounds.
Begum, now 21, is challenging the interior ministry’s decision at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) that deals with deportations on national security grounds and the revocation of citizenship.
Her lawyer, Samantha Knights, claimed Begum was “a child trafficked to and remaining in Syria for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced marriage.”
She also argued that revoking Begum’s citizenship left her stateless and the decision was procedurally unfair.
The court was told Begum was living in a “dire” and “fundamentally unsafe environment in which violence is endemic” in the Al-Roj refugee camp in northern Syria.
Knights added there was a “serious and present danger” to Begum after the media located her whereabouts and due to her engagement with Western legal processes.
The lawyer argued against delaying her appeal until the conclusion of a separate case in March 2022.
Lawyer David Blundell, representing Britain’s interior ministry, said Begum should not be allowed to change the grounds of her appeal.
“The absence of a claim that she has been trafficked means this ground proceeds on an uncertain factual basis. It is entirely speculative,” he said.
Begum is of Bangladeshi heritage but the country’s foreign minister has said he will not consider granting her citizenship.
An estimated 900 Britons traveled to Syria and Iraq to join Daesh. The government has prosecuted returnees and revoked more than 150 people’s citizenship, with unconfirmed numbers stuck in Syria.
Rights group Reprieve in April said the government was “systematically failing” vulnerable young women who were trafficked to Syria for sexual and other forms of exploitation.
SIAC judge Robert Jay said he would give a ruling by the end of June.


UN re-elects Antonio Guterres as secretary-general

Updated 18 June 2021

UN re-elects Antonio Guterres as secretary-general

  • Ambassadors burst into applause as Assembly President announced Guterres’ re-election by “acclamation,”
  • The General Assembly appoints the secretary-general on the recommendation of the Security Council

UNITED NATIONS: The UN General Assembly unanimously elected Antonio Guterres to a second term as secretary-general on Friday.
Guterres was given another five years at the helm of the 193-member organization at a time a deeply divided world faces numerous conflicts, the growing impact of climate change, and a pandemic still circling the globe.
Ambassadors in the assembly chamber burst into applause as Assembly President Volkan Bozkir announced Guterres’ re-election by “acclamation,” without a vote. Just before the announcement, Estonia’s UN Ambassador Sven Jurgenson, the current Security Council president, read a resolution adopted by the 15-member council recommending Guterres for a second term.
Under the UN Charter, the General Assembly appoints the secretary-general on the recommendation of the Security Council.
Guterres was the only candidate nominated by a UN member state, his home country Portugal where he previously served as prime minister, and the country’s current president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, was in the assembly chamber to watch the event.
Immediately after his re-election, Guterres took the oath of office and delivered an address urging UN member nations “to do everything we can to overcome current geostrategic divides and dysfunctional power relations.”
“There are too many asymmetrics and paradoxes,” he said. “They need to be addressed head on.”
Guterres expressed hope that “what we are living through today in terms of mistrust is, I hope, an aberration but it cannot become the norm.”
He pledged to “give it my all to ensure the blossoming of trust between and among nations, large and small, to build bridges and to engage relentlessly in confidence building” — and to “seek to inspire hope that we can turn things around, that the impossible is possible.”
Traditionally, candidates for the UN’s top job have been nominated by a UN member state, but that is not a requirement in the UN Charter or in a resolution adopted by the General Assembly in 2015.
That measure made the previously largely secretive selection of the secretary-general more open and transparent, allowing member states for the first time to see basic information about all candidates, including their resumes, and to question them at open sessions.
Guterres, a former UN refugee chief, was elected by the assembly to succeed Ban Ki-moon after a hotly contested and transparent race in October 2016 that initially included 13 candidates — seven women and six men. Guterres took office on Jan. 1, 2017.
This year, seven individuals submitted applications to be secretary-general without backing from any government, including most recently former Ecuadorian President Rosalia Arteaga.