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Calls for ceasefire in Ethiopia grow amid deepening conflict

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November 4, 2021

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) -African and Western nations called for an immediate ceasefire in Ethiopia on Thursday after Tigrayan forces from the country’s north made advances towards the capital this week.

The U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, arrived in Addis Ababa to press for a halt to military operations and a start to ceasefire talks.

African Union Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat said he met Feltman to discuss efforts towards dialogue and political solutions to the conflict, which pits the central government against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and its allies.

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The European Union and the East African bloc the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) joined the chorus of bodies calling for a ceasefire. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni announced an IGAD meeting on Nov. 16 to discuss the war.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta urged the rival parties to lay down their arms and find a path to peace.

“The fighting must stop!,” he said in a statement.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he had spoken to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Wednesday and offered to help create the conditions for a dialogue.

Abiy’s government declared a state of emergency https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/addis-ababa-government-urges-residents-register-arms-media-2021-11-02 on Tuesday as the Tigrayan forces threatened to push forward to Addis Ababa.

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TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said on Wednesday TPLF troops were in the town of Kemise in Amhara state, 325 km (200 miles) from the capital.

The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa authorised the voluntary departure of some staff and family members because of the intensifying hostilities. Washington said on Wednesday https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/us-gravely-concerned-by-escalating-violence-ethiopia-ahead-envoys-visit-2021-11-03 it was “gravely concerned” about the situation and called for a halt to military operations and ceasefire talks.

The year-long conflict has killed thousands of people, forced more than two million more from their homes, and left 400,000 people in Tigray facing famine.

The United States, the European Union and the United Nations said that an end to a de facto government blockade in Tigray is needed to avert a large-scale famine.

No humanitarian convoys have entered Tigray since Oct. 18 and no fuel has entered to aid the humanitarian response since early August, according to the United Nations.

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ADDIS ARRESTS

Streets and shops in Addis Ababa, a city of around five million people, were busy as usual on Thursday morning, though some residents said there was a feeling of uneasy calm.

“There are rumors about the approach of the rebels. People debate about the conflict, most of the people accuse the government for what happened,” said one man, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Police had arrested “many people” in Addis Ababa since the government declared the state of emergency, police spokesperson Fasika Fanta said on Thursday.

Residents told Reuters on Wednesday many Tigrayans had been arrested but Fasika said arrests were not based on ethnicity.

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“We are only arresting those who are directly or indirectly supporting the illegal terrorist group,” he said. “This includes moral, financial and propaganda support.”

He also said many people were registering weapons at police stations around the city in line with a government directive issued on Tuesday for people to prepare to defend their neighbourhoods.

“Some are even coming with bombs and heavy weapons. We are registering those too,” he said.

Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu did not respond to requests for comment.

YEAR-OLD CONFLICT

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The conflict started last November when forces loyal to the TPLF, including some soldiers, seized military bases in Tigray. In response, Abiy sent more troops to the northern region.

The TPLF had dominated national politics for nearly three decades but lost much influence when Abiy took office in 2018.

The TPLF then accused him of centralising power at the expense of Ethiopia’s regional states – an accusation Abiy denies.

The Tigrayan forces and their Oromo allies have made significant advances in the past week. Spokesman Getachew on Wednesday pledged to minimise casualties in their drive to take Addis Ababa.

“We don’t intend to shoot at civilians and we don’t want bloodshed. If possible we would like the process to be peaceful,” he said.

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A regional analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the TPLF was likely to hold off on any advance on Addis Ababa until they secured the highway running from neighbouring Djibouti to the capital.

That requires seizing the town of Mille, in Afar region. Getachew said on Tuesday that Tigrayan forces were closing in on Mille.

Ethiopian military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane and an Afar regional government spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

Abiy’s spokesperson, Billene Seyoum, accused the international media of being “overly alarmist” in its coverage of Ethiopia.

“Perpetuating terrorist propaganda as truth from offices far off and detached from the ground is highly unethical,” she said in a tweet.

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(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom;Additional reporting by George Obulutsa and Ayenat Mersie in Nairobi;Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel and Angus MacSwan)

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Russian court remands mine director, inspectors in custody after deadly accident

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Siberia on Saturday remanded five people in custody for two months to face charges related to a mining accident that killed more than 50 people this week.

Three managers of the Listvyazhnaya mine, including its director, were ordered to remain in custody until late January for flouting industrial safety standards, a spokesperson for the regional prosecutor’s office said.

The court also ordered two safety inspectors, who had issued a certificate for the mine this month but had not actually checked the facility, to remain in custody until late January.

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The accident, which regional authorities say was likely caused by a methane explosion, claimed the lives of 51 people, including five rescuers who were sent to bring out dozens of men stuck deep underground.

The health ministry said on Saturday that 60 people were being treated in hospital for injuries sustained at the mine, TASS news agency reported.

The accident at the mine, located some 3,500 km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region, was Russia’s worst since 2010 when explosions killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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Russia spy chief says Ukraine invasion plan ‘malicious’ U.S. propaganda

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine and suggestions to the contrary are malicious U.S. propaganda, Moscow’s foreign intelligence chief said on Saturday.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch an attack.

Russia has repeatedly said it is free to move its troops on its own territory and that such movements should not be a cause for concern.

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“I need to reassure everyone. Nothing like this is going to happen,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, said in an interview broadcast on state television, referring to comments on Russia’s alleged invasion plans.

“Everything that is happening around this topic right now is of course malicious propaganda by the U.S. State Department.”

Naryshkin spoke a day after the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said all options were on the table in how to respond to Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine’s border and that NATO would decide on the next move after consultations next week.

While U.S. officials have voiced concerns about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, Moscow has accused Washington, Kyiv and NATO of provocative and irresponsible behaviour near its borders.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Spanish police march in Madrid to protest against ‘Gag Law’ reform

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November 27, 2021

By Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo

MADRID (Reuters) – Thousands of Spanish police officers marched through Madrid on Saturday to protest against a proposed reform of a security law which they say will hamper their ability to do their work.

Politicians from Spain’s three main conservative parties joined police officers in the protest against proposed changes to the 2015 Citizens Security Law, which critics say violates the right to protest and limits free expression.

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Dubbed the “Gag Law” by those who oppose it, the legislation allows authorities to fine media organisations for distributing unauthorised images of police, strictly limits demonstrations and imposes heavy fines for offenders.

Spain’s leftist government has proposed reforms including no longer classifying the taking of photographs or making of recordings of police at demonstrations as a serious offence.

Under the changes, police will also have to use less harmful materials at protests after a number of people were seriously injured by rubber bullets fired by officers.

The time that suspects who are arrested at protests can be held in custody will be cut from six hours to two and fines will be proportional to how much offenders earn.

“They should either leave the current law as it is or make it better for the police and for the citizens,” Civil Guard officer Vanessa Gonzalez told Reuters.

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Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, of the far-right Vox party, said: “There is strong opposition against (the reform) of this law. It is against our police and we will not let it happen.”

However, Isa Serra, spokeswoman for the far-left Unidas Podemos party, said at a rally in Cantabria in northern Spain that the law had done a “lot of damage to Spanish democracy”.

Organisers said 150,000 people took part in the Madrid demonstration but the government put the figure at 20,000.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley, Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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