Tigray rebels vow to drive out ‘enemies’ despite ‘cease-fire’

An Ethiopian refugee attends a gathering to celebrate the 46th anniversary of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in eastern Sudan. (File/AFP)
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Updated 29 June 2021

Tigray rebels vow to drive out ‘enemies’ despite ‘cease-fire’

  • The Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) entered the regional capital Mekele
  • The brutal war in Tigray has been marked by massacres, widespread sexual violence and other abuses

ADDIS ABABA: Dissident leaders in Ethiopia’s war-hit Tigray have vowed to drive out “enemies” from the region, suggesting fighting will continue despite a federal government cease-fire declaration.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray last November to oust the northern region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

He said the move came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps, and vowed that victory would be swift.

But almost eight months on, the operation suffered a serious blow when rebels known as the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) entered the regional capital Mekele on Monday, prompting celebrations in the streets as federal soldiers and members of an Abiy-appointed interim regional government fled.

Abiy’s government then announced Monday night it was declaring a “unilateral cease-fire,” though there was no immediate response from the TDF.

A statement overnight from Tigray’s pre-war government hailed the TDF advances and said Mekele was fully under its control.

“The government and army of Tigray will carry out all the tasks necessary to ensure the survival and security of our people,” the statement said.

“The government of Tigray calls upon our people and army of Tigray to intensify their struggle until our enemies completely leave Tigray.”

Though the TDF did not hold any major cities and towns for months, its leaders have repeatedly boasted that they were regrouping in remote rural areas.

Last week the TDF launched a major offensive that coincided with Ethiopia’s highly anticipated national elections, which unfolded in much of the country though not in Tigray.

The results of the polls have yet to be announced, but they are widely expected to deliver Abiy a formal mandate.

The brutal war in Tigray has been marked by massacres, widespread sexual violence and other abuses.

The United Nations has also warned that the conflict has pushed hundreds of thousands of people to the brink of famine.

In announcing its cease-fire, the federal government said it would last until the end of the current “farming season” and was intended to facilitate agricultural production and aid distribution while allowing rebel fighters “to return to a peaceful road.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday he had spoken with Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, and was “hopeful that an effective cessation of hostilities will take place.”

He called recent events in Tigray “extremely worrisome” saying they “demonstrate, once again, that there is no military solution to the crisis.”

Britain, the United States and Ireland have called for an emergency UN Security Council public meeting, which could happen on Friday, diplomatic sources said.

The Security Council has failed to hold a public session on Tigray since the war erupted, with many African countries, China, Russia and other nations deeming the crisis an internal Ethiopian affair.

Throughout the fighting, Abiy has benefited from the military backing of soldiers from neighboring Eritrea and Ethiopia’s Amhara region, which borders Tigray to the south.

These forces’ involvement “will complicate a blanket application of a temporary cease-fire, which so far appears to be a mostly unilateral move by the federal government,” said Connor Vasey, analyst with the risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

Should discussions on a possible political settlement actually go ahead, they “are likely to be difficult and protracted,” Vasey said.

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FBI searches Florida home of Gabby Petito’s boyfriend

FBI agents begin to take away evidence from the family home of Brian Laundrie, who is a person of interest after his fiancé Gabby Petito went missing on September 20, 2021 in North Port, Florida. (AFP)
Updated 14 sec ago

FBI searches Florida home of Gabby Petito’s boyfriend

  • Laundrie has been named a person of interest in the case, but his whereabouts in recent days were unknown

NORTH PORT, Florida: FBI agents and police Monday searched the home of the boyfriend wanted for questioning in the death of 22-year-old Gabby Petito, whose body was discovered over the weekend at a Wyoming national park months after the couple set out on a cross-country road trip.
The FBI gave no details on the search by at least a dozen law enforcement officers, but agents removed several boxes and towed away a car that neighbors said was typically used by 23-year-old Brian Laundrie’s mother. Local media said Laundrie’s parents were seen getting into a police vehicle.
Laundrie and Petito had been living with his parents at the North Port home before the road trip on which she died.
The young couple had set out in July in a converted van to visit national parks in the West. They got into a fight along the way, and Laundrie was alone when he returned in the van to his parents’ home on Sept. 1, police said.
In Wyoming, the FBI announced on Sunday that agents had discovered a body on the edge of Grand Teton National Park, which the couple had visited. No details on the cause of death were released. An autopsy was set for Tuesday.
“Full forensic identification has not been completed to confirm 100 percent that we found Gabby, but her family has been notified,” FBI agent Charles Jones said.
Laundrie has been named a person of interest in the case, but his whereabouts in recent days were unknown.
Petito’s father, Joseph, posted on social media an image of a broken heart above a picture of his daughter, with the message: “She touched the world.”
In an interview broadcast Monday on TV’s “Dr. Phil” show, Joseph Petito said Laundrie and his daughter had dated for 2 1/2 years, and Laundrie was “always respectful.” During the interview, which was recorded before his daughter’s body was found, Petito said the couple had taken a previous road trip to California in her car and there were no problems.
“If there were, I would have discouraged going on the trip,” Petito said.
Petito said his family began worrying after several days without hearing from their daughter.
“We called Brian, we called the mom, we called the dad, we called the sister, we called every number that we could find,” Petito said. “No phone calls were picked up, no text messages were returned.”
Petito said he wants Laundrie to be held accountable for whatever part he played in Gabby’s disappearance, along with his family for protecting him.
“I hope they get what’s coming, and that includes his folks,” Petito said. “Because I’ll tell you, right now, they are just as complicit, in my book.”
The FBI said investigators are seeking information from anyone who may have seen the couple around Grand Teton.
Police looking for Laundrie searched a 24,000-acre Florida nature preserve over the weekend without success. Investigators had focused intently on the area after Laundrie’s parents told police he may have gone there.
Petito and Laundrie were childhood sweethearts who met while growing up on New York’s Long Island. His parents later moved to North Port, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) south of Sarasota.
A man who saw Petito and Laundrie fighting in Moab, Utah, on Aug. 12 called 911 to report a domestic violence incident, according to a recording of the call obtained from the Grand County Sheriff’s Office. The man said that he saw Laundrie slap Petito while walking through the town and proceeded to hit her before the two got in their van and drove off.
Video released by the Moab police showed that an officer pulled the couple’s van over on the same day after it was seen speeding and hitting a curb near Arches National Park. The body-camera footage showed an upset Petito.
Laundrie said on the video that the couple had gotten into a scuffle after he climbed into the van with dirty feet. He said he did not want to pursue a domestic violence charge against Petito, who officers decided was the aggressor.
Moab police separated the couple for the night, with Laundrie checking into a motel and Petito remaining with the van.
In the footage, Gabby Petito cried as she told the officer that she and Laundrie had been arguing over her excessive cleaning of the van. She told the officer she has OCD — obsessive compulsive disorder.
On “Dr. Phil,” her father said that wasn’t literally true. She just likes to keep her living area orderly and was using slang, he said.


EU ministers voice “solidarity” with France on submarine deal: Borrell

Updated 7 sec ago

EU ministers voice “solidarity” with France on submarine deal: Borrell

UNITED NATIONS: European Union foreign ministers voiced solidarity Monday with France, which was angered by Australia’s cancelation of a submarine contract, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.
“The ministers expressed clear solidarity with France. This announcement ran counter to calls for greater cooperation with the European Union in the Indo-Pacific,” Borrell told reporters after EU ministers met on the sidelines of the United Nations.


Canadians vote in pandemic election that could cost Trudeau

Updated 13 min 34 sec ago

Canadians vote in pandemic election that could cost Trudeau

  • A combination of high expectations, scandal and calling the vote during the pandemic hurt the brand of the 49-year-old Trudeau
  • Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s campaign chair said holding Trudeau to a minority government would be a win for O’Toole.

TORONTO: Canadians voted Monday in a pandemic election that could weaken Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or reward his government’s handling of the pandemic.
Trudeau gambled on an early election to try to capitalize on the fact that Canada is now among the most fully vaccinated countries in the world. But the opposition has been relentless in accusing him of calling an unnecessary early vote — two years before the deadline — for his own personal ambition.
Polls before the election showed Trudeau’s Liberal Party in a neck-and-neck race with the rival Conservatives. The Liberals appeared likely to win the most seats in Parliament, but not a majority, forcing the party to rely on an opposition partner to pass legislation. However, an extremely close outcome could raise questions about Trudeau’s judgment in calling the vote and whether he should continue to lead the party long-term. A majority win would cement his legacy and leave him in power for another four years.
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s campaign chair said holding Trudeau to a minority government would be a win for O’Toole.
“Even without a plurality (of seats) today, we will have achieved our objective,” Walied Soliman told the Toronto Star on Monday. “At the start of this race, nobody would’ve expected that we’d be in a knife fight in strongly held Liberal (districts). And today we are. And we are very proud of Erin O’Toole and the incredible campaign that has been run here.”
Jenni Byrne, who served as campaign manager and deputy chief of staff to former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, told The Associated Press she was “stunned” by Soliman’s comments and said Soliman made a big mistake when Canadians are still voting.
Soliman later tried to clarify. “My comments in the Star are being misrepresented unfortunately. Let me be very clear: this election is too close to call. We may not know the result for days. Every vote will count,” he tweeted.
Polls have closed in Atlantic Canada. Early results have begun to trickle in, with the Liberals appearing poised to hang on to most of their seats in the four easternmost provinces but the Conservatives making some gains.
A combination of high expectations, scandal and calling the vote during the pandemic hurt the brand of the 49-year-old Trudeau, who channeled the star power of his father, the Liberal icon and late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, when he first won election in 2015.
Still, Trudeau is betting that Canadians don’t want a Conservative government during a pandemic. Trudeau’s government spent hundreds of billions of dollars to prop up the economy amid lockdowns and he argues that the Conservatives’ approach, which has been skeptical of lockdowns and vaccine mandates, would be dangerous and says Canadians need a government that follows science.
O’Toole hasn’t required his party’s candidates to be vaccinated and won’t say how many are unvaccinated. O’Toole describes vaccination as a personal health decision, but a growing number of vaccinated Canadians are becoming increasingly upset with those who refuse to get vaccinated.
“We do not need a Conservative government that won’t be able to show the leadership on vaccinations and on science that we need to end this,” Trudeau said at a campaign stop in Montreal on Sunday.
Trudeau supports making vaccines mandatory for Canadians to travel by air or rail, something the Conservatives oppose. And Trudeau has pointed out that Alberta, run by a Conservative provincial government, is in crisis.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, an ally of O’Toole, said the province might run out of beds and staff for intensive care units within days. Kenney has apologized for the dire situation and is now reluctantly introducing a vaccine passport and imposing a mandatory work-from-home order two months after lifting nearly all restrictions.
A Conservative win would represent a rebuke of Trudeau against a politician with a fraction of his name recognition. O’Toole, 47, is a military veteran, former lawyer and a member of Parliament for nine years.
O’Toole advertised himself a year ago as a “true-blue Conservative.” He became Conservative Party leader with a pledge to “take back Canada,” but immediately started working to push the party toward the political center.
O’Toole’s strategy, which included disavowing positions held dear by his party’s base on issues such as climate change, guns and balanced budgets, was designed to appeal to a broader cross section of voters in a country that tends to be far more liberal than its southern neighbor.
The son of a long-time politician has faced criticism he will say and do anything to get elected.
Whether moderate Canadians believe O’Toole is the progressive conservative he claims to be and whether he has alienated traditional Conservatives have become central questions of the campaign.
Byrne, the campaign manager for Conservative Prime Minister Harper, said there is a lack of enthusiasm among Conservatives across the country.
“We will know on Tuesday morning whether the Erin O’Toole version of the Conservative Party is connecting with voters, but if there is any truth to the polls, it’s something that I don’t think is connecting in numbers that we have connected with in the past, including in the last election,” Byrne said.
The wild card could be a politician who narrowly lost the leadership of the Conservative Party in 2017 but who now leads a far-right party that opposes vaccines and lockdowns. Polls suggest as many as 5 percent to 10 percent support for Maxime Bernier and the People’s Party of Canada — potentially bleeding support from O’Toole’s Conservatives and helping the Liberals retain power.
Adrian Archambault, a 53-year-old Vancouver resident, voted Liberal and said he didn’t mind the election was held during a pandemic. He noted provincial elections have also happened during the pandemic.
“Everybody has been so preoccupied with COVID the last few years it wasn’t maybe a bad thing to sort of do a re-check,” he said.
Trudeau’s legacy includes embracing immigration at a time when the US and other countries closed their doors. He also legalized cannabis nationwide and brought in a carbon tax to fight climate change. And he preserved free trade deal with the US and Mexico amid threats by former US President Donald Trump to scrap the agreement.
Former US President Barack Obama and ex-Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton tweeted support for Trudeau.
There won’t be a Trump endorsement of O’Toole. Soliman, the Conservative co-chair of the campaign, said there is no alignment whatsoever between O’Toole and Trumpism.
But if O’Toole wins, he has promised to take a tougher stand against China, including banning Chinese technology giant Huawei from Canada’s next generation of telecommunication networks.
O’Toole has also said he’ll move the Canadian Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem just as Trump moved the US Embassy, upending decades of policy.


British PM urges developed world to ‘step up to the plate’ on climate action

Updated 21 September 2021

British PM urges developed world to ‘step up to the plate’ on climate action

  • Developing countries will pay the price of 200 years of economic growth in the developed world, says Boris Johnson after UN meeting
  • Egypt’s president outlines development plan designed to meet aims of UN Sustainable Development Goals while prioritizing needs of Egyptians

NEW YORK: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the developed world to take urgent action on climate change. He warned that countries that played the least part in causing the climate crisis are the ones now facing the prospect of paying the steepest price.

Speaking on Monday at the UN headquarters in New York, where the 76th session of the General Assembly is taking place, Johnson said a number of world leaders who attended a behind-closed-doors meeting he convened had presented “very powerful” arguments suggesting the developed world must take urgent action on climate change.

“We heard from some of the countries staring down the barrel — the Maldives, Bangladesh, the Marshall Islands — countries pleading with the developed world to step up to the plate and supply the finance needed to make the changes necessary to fight climate change in the developing world,” he said.

“It is the developing world that is bearing the brunt of catastrophic climate change in the form of hurricanes and fires and floods, and the real, long-term economic damage they face. Yet it is the developed world that, over 200 years, has put the carbon in the atmosphere that is causing the acceleration of this climate change.”

The British PM said there are “faint signs of progress” from some developed countries that are beginning to take action, but that the US is in the best position to send out a clear signal that developed, Western nations are willing to act.

Long-term financing to help countries to grow without further contributing to harmful climate change is one of the cornerstones of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Developed countries pledged as part of that deal to contribute $100 billion a year toward funding for this until 2025.

That target was missed in 2019 and 2020 — and, according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, this year’s fundraising effort looks likely to fall about $20 billion short.

Johnson said that there has been some progress toward achieving this financial goal, however, and that the US could make a “huge difference” to the efforts. An American contribution would send a “massively powerful signal to the world, to the developing countries, that we in the industrialized West do take this seriously,” he said.

Both Johnson and Guterres emphasized the key role that creative and sustainable financing — by those wealthy countries that can best afford it — can play in tackling climate change.

“Developed nations need to step up,” said Guterres. “Many asset owners and managers and other financial institutions are now shifting their investments toward a decarbonized, sustainable and resilient economy.

“But these private-finance flows will not cover the immediate needs of the many countries that need support now, or who cannot borrow money because of their debt burden.”

Therefore “increased support from international financial institutions is also crucial,” he added.

Earlier, leaders from a number of countries provided details of their plans to address climate change, while also developing their economies and civil societies.

They included Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who said Monday’s meeting came at a “crucial time for the world.”

He reiterated Egypt’s support for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, a collection of interlinked global targets relating to issues such as climate, poverty, education, healthcare and gender equality that are designed to be a blueprint for a better and more sustainable future.

“In addition to sustainable development we need to increase growth and eliminate poverty and unemployment,” El-Sisi said. “But we also have the complex political situation in very many areas of the world, and we also have climate change and its devastating impact on water and food security.”

These challenges must be addressed in a “comprehensive and sustainable” way, he said, adding that he will prioritize “the interests of the Egyptian citizen” — but that this approach is also in line with the aims of the SDGs.

He cautioned, however, that African countries have been struggling with a decline in the flow of international development aid throughout the pandemic.

“In that context, we hope to see a continuance of this important international effort, so that we can achieve our common goals and create a better future for future generations,” said El-Sisi.


Coercion and threats will not work on the Taliban, says Pakistani envoy

Updated 21 September 2021

Coercion and threats will not work on the Taliban, says Pakistani envoy

  • In an exclusive interview, Munir Akram says we must engage with Afghanistan’s new leaders and convince them of the benefits of an open society
  • He warns that stoking a “climate of fear” will only help to fuel a refugee crisis on a scale the international community is desperate to avoid

NEW YORK: As nations scramble to find ways to deal with the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan, a leading Pakistani diplomat on Monday warned that threats and coercion do not sit well with the Afghan mentality and are not an effective strategy.
To get the country “back to normality,” Munir Akram, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN, called for engagement with the Taliban in an effort to show them the “benefits of modernity, technology, education and the values of an open society.”
The situation in Afghanistan is likely to dominate high-level discussions during the 76th session of the UN General Assembly, which began on Sept. 14 and continues until the end of the month.
In an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with Arab News ahead of this week’s annual General Assembly gathering of world leaders, Akram urged the international community to avoid “an attitude of coercion and threats, of attempting to leverage money in order to get a certain conduct.”

Instead he called for a better understanding of the complexities of Afghanistan, its culture, and the beliefs and character of its people.
Akram’s US counterpart, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, was asked recently how US authorities intend to champion the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan now that American troops have withdrawn from the country and leverage has therefore been lost.
“I would argue the opposite,” she said. “We are one of the largest contributors to humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan and that gives us tremendous leverage.”
Understanding the reality of the situation in Afghanistan is increasingly important as the world witnesses the fallout from the crisis affecting not only neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Iran, but also Europe and even the US.
Pakistan has been hosting Afghan refugees for more than 40 years, since the Soviet invasion drove millions to flee across the border. The close relationship between the two countries goes back hundreds of years, during which marriages and migrations created “a natural affinity” between two peoples who share similar ethnic and tribal identities.
“Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic state,” said Akram. “Unless there is peace within all the sections of Afghanistan there will continue to be some form of conflict. And if there is a conflict or a humanitarian crisis, there’s likely to be more outflows of refugees (engulfing) not only Pakistan and Iran as neighboring countries but also Europe and maybe even the US.

“It is not very clear whether they will be welcomed. It has been said that (other countries) are willing to take many of those Afghan people who worked with US and NATO in the past 20 years, but what about the rest of the Afghan people? People who really need assistance, really are destitute, really are hungry and poor? We must not forget them.”
Akram’s road map for responding to the challenges in Afghanistan includes an immediate relief effort to address the severe humanitarian crisis in the country. Levels of poverty and hunger have risen since the Taliban took over last month, and foreign aid has dwindled, raising fears of a mass exodus. According to the UN, 18 million Afghans, half of the population, are food insecure.
During a UN conference last week, organized to galvanize an international aid effort, donors pledged more than $1.1 billion to Afghanistan.
Akram described this as “a positive” and added: “I hope that those pledges will be fulfilled as quickly as possible.”
Any lasting peace in Afghanistan will also require the formation of an inclusive government in Kabul. However the post-takeover authority excludes women and minorities, fueling fears of a return to the hard-line Taliban attitudes and practices of the past.
Last Friday, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution calling for Taliban leaders to establish an inclusive government that guarantees the “full, equal and meaningful participation of women” and upholds human rights.
Akram believes that the current interim government is only “a first step,” talks are continuing among Afghans, and the Taliban’s desire to establish an inclusive government “is still there.” He also cautioned against failing to take into account what he called “ground realities.”
“The Taliban have fought a war for 20 years and they have been successful in that war, therefore they will wish to have adequate representation,” he said. “But this should also include other groups so that there is peace throughout Afghanistan.”
Deborah Lyons, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special representative for Afghanistan, has warned of the deteriorating humanitarian situation. She called for a “modus vivendi,” or compromise agreement, to prevent a total breakdown by allowing money to continue to flow into the country.
Some members of the new government are on the Security Council’s sanctions list, and therefore subject to economic, trading and diplomatic restrictions.
Akram said the Taliban expect the Security Council to begin the process of lifting these sanctions. This was part of the agreement the group reached with Washington in February, in return for which it pledged not to attack US or NATO forces during their withdrawal from Afghanistan.
In the weeks since the Taliban took over, there have been increasing reports from Kabul of grave human rights abuses. According to Human Rights Watch, the new authorities have raided the homes of journalists and activists, apparently searching for individuals who criticized them. In addition, restrictions have been imposed on the education of girls and the right of women to work.
Akram acknowledged these concerns but warned of the danger of what he called the “fake news” that is circulating. In particular he highlighted reports of a crackdown on a demonstration by Afghan women, saying that the very fact such a protest was allowed to go ahead reveals a change of behavior by the Taliban.
The envoy said he understands why some Afghans fear for their personal safety, and that Pakistani authorities have arranged for 12,000 Afghans and foreign nationals who felt threatened to leave country.
But he denounced what he described as attempts to create “a climate of fear” that might push Afghans to flee their country at a time when it needs them to “stay and build.”
“Creating a climate of fear will (lead to) the very results that we fear, which is an outflow of refugees,” he added.

Another concern among many people is that Afghanistan might once again become a haven for terrorists. Akram responded to this fear by considering the lessons he believes have been learned in the past 20 years.
“What we needed to do against Al-Qaeda was to use a pick to find them and extract them from where they were,” he said. “Instead, we used a hammer. We went in and invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and killed hundreds of thousands of people.
“When you bomb people and kill their children, you recruit people into terrorism. And that is what has happened.”
As a result, he added, the threat of terrorism has spread and become much more complex.
“It is no longer in Afghanistan alone; it is in Yemen, Syria, the Western Sahara and all over the world,” said Akram.
“At the same time, because of the equation of terrorists with Muslims, Islamophobia rose and today you have terrorist organizations that target Muslims. So we have to learn from those mistakes.”
Taking all of this into account, Akram urged the international community to adopt a comprehensive, coordinated strategy and work with the Taliban in an effort to address all forms of terrorism.
“If we adopt competitive strategies — ‘I can deal only with my terrorist threat but not yours’ — I think we will lose,” he added.