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Ethiopia declares state of emergency as Tigrayan forces gain ground

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November 2, 2021

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) -Ethiopia declared a state of emergency on Tuesday after forces from the northern region of Tigray said they were gaining territory and considering marching on the capital Addis Ababa.

The announcement on state-affiliated media came two days after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed urged citizens to take up arms to defend themselves from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Earlier on Tuesday, authorities in Addis Ababa told residents to register their arms and prepare to defend their neighbourhoods.

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The state of emergency was imposed after the TPLF claimed to have captured several towns in recent days and said it was considering marching on Addis Ababa, about 380 km (235 miles) to the south of their forward positions.

Ethiopia last imposed such a measure in February 2018 for six months ahead of the transition of power to Abiy. Curfews were enforced and people’s movements restricted, while thousands of people were detained.

The city administration said people should register their weapons and gather in their neighbourhoods. House-to-house searches were being conducted and troublemakers arrested, a statement said.

“Residents can gather in their locality and safeguard their surroundings,” it said. “Those who have weapons but can’t take part in safeguarding their surroundings are advised to handover the weapon to the government or their close relatives or friends.”

Prior to the announcement, people moved around the capital as normal.

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“I will try to buy food commodities in advance. But so far I haven’t yet purchased anything,” said one woman, who asked not to be named.

The governments of four of the country’s 10 regions also called upon Ethiopians to mobilize to fight against the Tigrayan forces, state-affiliated Fana TV said.

The conflict started over the night of Nov. 3, 2020, when forces loyal to the TPLF – including some soldiers – seized military bases in Tigray, a northern region. In response, Abiy sent more troops there.

The TPLF had dominated national politics for nearly three decades but lost much influence when Abiy took office in 2018 following years of anti-government protests.

Relations with the TPLF soured after they accused him of centralising power at the expense of Ethiopia’s regional states – an accusation Abiy denies.

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TOWNS CAPTURED

TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda said that if the Tigrayan forces and their allies succeeded in removing the government, they would establish an interim government.

“If the government falls, we will definitely have an interim arrangement,” he said.

There would also need to be a national dialogue, he said, but Abiy and his ministers would not be asked to take part.

“They will have their day in court,” he said.

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The government has also said it wants to take TPLF leaders to trial.

The TPLF has claimed the capture of Dessie, Kombolcha and Burka, all in the Amhara region, in recent days.

A government spokesperson disputed the capture of Dessie and and Kombolcha but later released a statement saying TPLF “infiltrators” had killed 100 youths in Kombolcha.

Spokespeople for the government, military and the Amhara region did not return calls seeking further comment on Tuesday.

On Monday night, Tigrayan forces said they had linked up https://www.reuters.com/article/ethiopia-conflict-link-idAFL8N2RS5NL with fighters from an Oromo force also fighting the central government. The Oromo are Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group. Many of their political leaders are currently in prison.

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U.S. ALARM

The conflict in what was once considered a stable Western ally in a volatile region has plunged around 400,000 people in Tigray into famine, killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 2.5 million people in the north to flee their homes.

The U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa said on Tuesday Washington was alarmed by the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the north and urged all sides to find ways to de-escalate and let aid in.

Jeffrey Feltman said Washington was seeing signs of famine and near-famine and that it was mostly government restrictions that were preventing humanitarian help from getting to people.

The government had denied blocking food aid.

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Also on Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration accused Ethiopia of “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” and said it planned to remove the country from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade agreement which gives it duty-free access to the United States.

When he first came to power, Abiy enacted significant political reforms but rights groups say many of those freedoms have since been rolled back.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for ending a long-running border conflict with Eritrea. Troops from Eritrea, whose president is an arch-enemy of the TPLF, later entered Tigray to support Ethiopian forces.

The Eritreans pulled back from most of Tigray in June after many reports of major human rights violations, but if they returned, their presence could slow the TPLF advance. The Eritreans denied responsibility for any abuses.

(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom, Maggie Fick and Katharine Houreld in Nairobi, Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewisin Washignton; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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China top representative in Macau to advise govt on national security-state media

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December 3, 2021

HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s top representative in the semiautonomous gambling hub of Macau will begin advising the former Portuguese colony’s government on national security matters, state news agency Xinhua reported on Friday.

The move highlights increased scrutiny from Beijing over Macau affairs after the central government declared outflows of Chinese gambling-related funds into Macau and other gaming hubs a national security risk.

Last week Macau authorities arrested Alvin Chau https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/gambling-group-suncitys-shares-set-rise-61-after-arrested-chairman-resigns-2021-12-02, the founder of Macau’s biggest junket operator, which brings in high rollers to play at casinos, along with 10 others, for allegedly using Macau as a base for an illegal “live web betting platform.”

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A warrant for Chau’s arrest has also been issued by the mainland Chinese city of Wenzhou, accusing him of forming an extensive junket agent network that helps citizens engage in gambling activities and of setting up a company that helps gamblers make cross-border fund transfers.

The move was seen as a warning that Macau and mainland Chinese authorities were adopting a zero-tolerance approach to the promotion of gambling in mainland China where it is illegal.

Xinhua said Macau asked Beijing to appoint a national security affairs adviser in the city and that Beijing tasked the head of its Liaison Office Fu Ziying to “supervise, guide, coordinate, and support” the government on the matter.

Beijing will also appoint three national security technical advisers from within the Liaison Office, which is Beijing’s main representative institution in Macau.

(Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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S.Korea makes vaccine pass mandatory for many more venues as Omicron fears rise

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December 3, 2021

By Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea announced on Friday that people visiting restaurants and cinemas and other public spaces will have to show vaccine passes, amid a surge in COVID-19 infections and five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.

The government also re-imposed limits on private gatherings, which had been recently relaxed, as the country posted record numbers of new cases this week.

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Desperate to fend off the Omicron variant, authorities halted quarantine exemptions on Thursday for fully vaccinated inbound travellers and made a 10-day quarantine mandatory.

From next Monday, people visiting 14 designated public spaces, including hospitality and entertainment venues, will have to show their vaccines passes, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum told a coronavirus response meeting, setting out the plan to reduce the risk of community spread. The public will have a grace period of a week to get used to the new rules.

While people have been required to show their vaccine pass at high-risk venues such as gyms, saunas and bars, it is the first time that the requirement has been extended to restaurants and cafes.

From February, anyone aged 12 years or older will have to show a vaccination pass. The government decided to lower the exemption age, currently set at 17 years, to encourage teenagers to get vaccinated as the under-18 age group accounts for 20% of all infections, Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol told a briefing.

The limit on private gatherings was cut to six people in the greater Seoul area, and eight outside, from the current limit of 10 in Seoul and 12 outside, Kwon said.

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South Korea has so far confirmed a total of five Omicron cases after a fully vaccinated couple tested positive for the variant after arriving last week from Nigeria. The patients are either asymptomatic or have mild symptoms such as headache, low-grade fever, dizziness and sore throat, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

KDCA reported 4,944 COVID-19 cases for Thursday, a slight decline from record high 5,266 cases on Wednesday. It has reported a total of 462,555, with 3,739 deaths overall.

South Korea has fully vaccinated 91.6% of its adult population aged 18 and over, yet the booster dose uptake remains at 8.1%.

(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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U.S. House to consider bill to clamp down on products from China’s Xinjiang

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December 3, 2021

By Michael Martina and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. House of Representatives is set to consider a bill as soon as next week that would ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region over concerns about forced labor, Representative Jim McGovern, the bill’s sponsor, told reporters on Thursday.

“Next week is an important week for human rights,” McGovern said. “… We think it’s important to move some China legislation, hopefully much of it focused on human rights. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act we want to see that get over the finish line in some form.”

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President Joe Biden is hosting a summit of democracies next week, seen as an effort to push back against China’s growing influence.

Republicans and Democrats have been arguing over the Uyghur legislation for months. Most recently, Republican Senator Marco Rubio has been demanding that the measure be included as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, delaying the Senate’s consideration of the massive annual bill setting policy for the Pentagon.

Rubio’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether House passage of McGovern’s bill would change his stance on the defense bill.

If the Uyghur measure becomes law, it would create a “rebuttable presumption” that all goods from Xinjiang, where the Chinese government has set up a vast network of detention camps for Uyghurs and other Muslim groups, were made with forced labor.

China denies abuses in Xinjiang, which supplies much of the world’s materials for solar panels, but the U.S. government and many rights groups say Beijing is carrying out genocide there.

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Republicans have accused Biden’s Democrats of slow-walking the legislation because it would complicate the president’s renewable energy agenda. Democrats deny that.

“I just want to see a strong, a much stronger, approach when it comes to forced labor in Xinjiang,” Democratic Representative Dan Kildee told Reuters in a telephone interview, arguing that domestic production of solar panels could be ramped up.

(Reporting by Michael Martina and Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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