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Ethiopia says U.N. staff will face penalties if they break the law

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November 11, 2021

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopian staff working for the United Nations or African Union who break the law will face penalties, the foreign ministry spokesman said on Thursday, following the arrest of several U.N. employees for unspecified offences.

Ethiopia declared a state of emergency on Nov. 2 after rebellious forces from the northern region of Tigray and their allies made territorial gains and threatened to march on the capital.

Since then, hundreds of Tigrayans have reportedly been arrested in Addis Ababa, along with 16 U.N. staff members whose ethnicity has not been disclosed. Seven were later released. Police say the arrests – which have caught up large numbers of Tigrayan civilians – are not ethnically motivated.

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Foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti told a news conference in the capital: “U.N. staff who reside in Ethiopia should respect the law of the country. They live in Ethiopia, not in space. Whether it is a U.N. or A.U. staff member, they shall be held accountable.”

The United Nations, African Union, and African and Western governments called for a ceasefire last week.

But Dina reiterated the government’s stance that it will not hold ceasefire talks with leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) because Tigrayan forces have not yet withdrawn from the Amhara and Afar regions, which both neighbour Tigray.

The Tigrayan forces entered Amhara in July after Ethiopian troops withdrew from most of Tigray after months of bloody battles. Amhara forces have been supporting the military.

The A.U.’s envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, and U.S. Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman have both visited Ethiopia this week to talk about a ceasefire.

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Also on Thursday, state-affiliated broadcaster Fana reported that the Ethiopian military, fighting alongside regional forces and allied militias, repulsed attacks by Tigrayan forces near the town of Kemise in Amhara. Kemise is 325 km (200 miles) from the capital; the TPLF said it seized it last week although Reuters was unable to independently verify the claim.

Fana also reported soldiers pushed back Tigrayan forces trying to capture the town of Mille in Afar, which lies along the highway linking the port of Djibouti to landlocked Ethiopia.

The TPLF spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The spreading conflict has killed thousands of civilians and forced more than two million people from their homes.

Two diplomatic sources said on Thursday that the European Union is evacuating non-essential staff from Ethiopia; several other nations have advised nationals to leave.

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(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom; Additional reporting by Ayenat Mersie in Nairobi; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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Pope says willing to go to Moscow to meet Orthodox Patriarch

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December 6, 2021

By Philip Pullella

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Monday he was willing to go to Moscow for to meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill “brother to brother” in what would be the first trip by a pope to Russia.

The pair’s meeting in Cuba in 2016 was the first by a pope and a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since the great schism that split Christianity into Eastern and Western branches in 1054.

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Both sides have declared a willingness to work towards unity but they are still far apart theologically and over what role the pope would play in an eventually reunited Church.

“We are brothers and we talk straight to each other. We do not dance the minuet,” Francis told reporters aboard his plane returning from a trip to Cyprus and Greece.

“We have to move forward, walking and working towards unity.”

He said he was willing to go Moscow and that a top Russian Orthodox official was expected in Rome next week to decide the time and location of the meeting.

Francis said working out the protocols would be less important than meeting “brother to brother” with Kirill.

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The Pope normally travels to countries with a joint invitation from its religious authorities as well as one from the government, meaning that Francis would most likely need an invitation from President Vladimir Putin to visit Russia.

The Russian Orthodox Church, the largest in Christian Orthodoxy, with about 100 million members, is closely aligned with the Kremlin.

Francis said the meeting with Kirill was “on the not too distant horizon”.

He said Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, who is responsible for the Russian Orthodox Church’s external relations, would be coming to the Vatican to meet him to discuss where and when the next meeting can take place.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alison Williams)

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Yemen Houthis bury their dead as Marib fighting rages

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December 6, 2021

By Adel Al-Khader

SANAA (Reuters) – Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis held military funerals on Monday for 25 fighters killed in battles with a Saudi-led coalition, as fighting shows no sign of abating despite intense international diplomacy to end the seven-year-old conflict.

The funerals took place as fighting has raged in the gas-rich Marib region, while warplanes from the coalition have intensified their bombing of Sanaa, Marib and other areas.

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The Houthis have also stepped up cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia using armed drones and missiles.

An honour guard carried the coffins – draped with flags, flowers and photographs of the dead – with military music through the capital Sanaa. Relatives gathered to mourn their loved ones.

“We are in these days inspired by these martyrs’ pride and dignity and say to them: ‘congratulations! You have preceded us to a paradise as wide as the heavens and earth’,” said Ali Muhyaddin, a relative of one of the dead.

The war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands and caused what the United Nations describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

U.N.-led efforts to agree a ceasefire have stalled in the conflict, which is seen largely as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign invasion.

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Houthi media showed fighters exchanging heavy artillery fire with coalition forces in Marib on Sunday as warplanes flew overhead. All the 25 fighters buried in Sanaa were killed in Marib, Houthi officials said.

The Houthis have launched a year-long offensive to take Marib, which hosts Yemen’s biggest gas fields. The city is the last stronghold of the internationally recognised government.

Marib is home to 3 million people, including nearly 1 million who fled other parts of Yemen after the Houthis ousted the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to intervene.

The number of displaced people in camps in the province has risen nearly 10-fold since September, with more than 45,000 people fleeing their homes as Houthi forces press the offensive, the U.N. migration agency IOM said last month.

(Writing by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Putin and Modi discuss trade, humanitarian situation in Afghanistan

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December 6, 2021

By Alasdair Pal and Neha Arora

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Russian President Vladimir Putin in New Delhi on Monday, with trade and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan both on the agenda.

Afghanistan’s takeover by the Taliban earlier this year has led to a humanitarian crisis in the country, which New Delhi and Moscow have both previously said risks destabilising the region.

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“The fight against terrorism is also a fight against drug trafficking and organised crime,” Putin said in introductory remarks broadcast by Indian media. “In that regard, we are concerned about developments of the situation in Afghanistan.”

The visit by Putin and several top Russian officials comes amid increasingly strained relations between Russia and the United States, also a key Indian ally.

Earlier on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a deal to supply India with S-400 air defence missile systems was being implemented despite what he said were U.S. efforts to undermine the accord.

India and Russia are expected to cement several trade and defence pacts at the summit.

“The relation between India and Russia is truly a unique and reliable model,” Modi said.

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(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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