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Ethiopia recalls retired military officers as anti-government alliance forms

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November 5, 2021

By Maggie Fick

NAIROBI (Reuters) -The Ethiopian army on Friday called on former personnel to rejoin the military to fight the advance of Tigrayan forces, state media said, as nine anti-government factions formed a new alliance to push out Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government.

Called the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces, the alliance includes the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has been fighting Abiy’s government for a year in a war that has killed thousands of people and forced more than two million more from their homes.

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Faced with a spreading conflict and threats by Tigrayan and allied forces to march on the capital Addis Ababa, the federal armed forces appealed to retired soldiers and veterans to rejoin the military, setting a Nov. 24 deadline to register.

In the past week, the government and local authorities have also told civilians in the capital to register their weapons and prepare to defend their neighburhoods.

African and Western nations have called for an immediate ceasefire https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/us-embassy-ethiopia-allows-voluntary-departure-some-staff-family-2021-11-04 in Ethiopia after Tigrayan forces from the north said they had moved closer to Addis Ababa this week.

The new anti-government alliance includes political, military and diplomatic cooperation and expands an existing agreement between the TPLF and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), one of the organisers, the TPLF’s Yohanees Abraha, told Reuters.

“We are considering establishing a transitional arrangement and we have agreed that the regime in power at this time must go as soon as possible,” he said.

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The nascent alliance was not in touch with Abiy’s government but planned to begin liaising with foreign governments and bodies, he said.

Abiy’s spokesperson, Billene Seyoum, asked for reaction to the formation of the alliance, referred Reuters to a comment she posted on Twitter in which she defended Abiy’s rule since he took office in 2018.

She said in the post the opening of political space after Abiy took office provided ample opportunity for the opposition to settle differences at the ballot box. Abiy’s party was re-elected in June. She did not refer directly to the new alliance.

Attorney General Gedion Temothewos called the alliance “a publicity stunt” and said some of the groups had a track record of “ethnic cleansing2.

TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda also did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

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CEASEFIRE CALLS

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday called for a ceasfire, saying: “The conflict in Ethiopia must come to an end.”

The spokespeople for the Ethiopian government and the TPLF did not respond to requests for comment on Blinken’s call. On Thursday, the government’s communication department said in a statement: “This is not a Country that Crumbles under Foreign Propaganda! We are fighting an existential war!”

Prior to the new alliance, the OLA had already joined with the Tigrayan forces. The two groups told Reuters they are in the town of Kemise in Amhara state, 325 km (200 miles) from the capital.

It was not possible to independently confirms made by either side as communications in the area are down.

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On Thursday the government accused the Tigrayan forces of exaggerating their territorial gains.

The TPLF had said on Tuesday its forces were closing in on the town of Mille, which would enable them to cut off the highway linking neighbouring Djibouti to Addis Ababa.

On Friday, government spokesperson Legesse Tulu rejected the claim, saying fighting was 80 km (50 miles) from Mille. He had not responded to earlier requests for comment.

He also said there was fighting at least 100 km (60 miles) north of Shewa Robit, a town in the Amhara region that is on the A2 highway, which links the capital to Ethiopia’s north. That would put fighting about 57 km (36 miles) south of Kombulcha, one of two towns that the TPLF said it captured last weekend.

The government said on Friday that a TPLF commander, Colonel Guesh Gebrehiwot, was captured on Thursday during fighting near Dessie, in Amhara. The TPLF was unreachable for comment.

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At a market on Addis Ababa’s outskirts, traders went about their business as usual but fewer people were coming to shop.

Vegetable seller Abdisa Wili, 32, said prices were rising.

“If the war is going to continue, it will have impact on the economy,” he said. “Both sides should stop the war, no one will profit from war except death and economic downfall. They should solve the problem through discussion.”

NEW SANCTIONS BILL

Amnesty International said there has been an alarming rise in social media posts advocating violence. The rights group also said a state of emergency declared on Tuesday is overly broad and “a blueprint for escalating human rights violations”.

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The conflict started a year ago 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 accused him of centralising power at the expense of regional states. Abiy denies this.

(Additional reporting by George Obulutsa in Nairobi; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Angus MacSwan, William Maclean)

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Explainer-What remains of the Iran nuclear deal as talks resume?

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November 28, 2021

By Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) – Talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are to resume in Vienna on Monday, with Iran’s atomic advances raising doubt https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/low-expectations-nuclear-talks-iran-creates-facts-grounds-2021-11-28 as to whether a breakthrough can be made to bring Tehran and the United States back into full compliance with the accord.

Since the United States under then-President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, Iran has breached many of its deal’s restrictions designed to lengthen the time it would need to generate enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb to at least a year from 2-3 months – the so-called “breakout time”.

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Iran says it only wants to enrich uranium for civil uses. But many suspect it is at least seeking to gain leverage in the indirect talks with the United States by getting closer to being able to produce a nuclear weapon.

How close is Iran to being able to do so, and what remains of the deal’s restrictions?

BREAKOUT TIME

Experts generally put breakout time at around three to six weeks but say weaponisation would take longer – often roughly two years. Israel’s finance minister recently said https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israeli-minister-says-iran-could-have-nuclear-arms-within-5-years-2021-11-23 Iran could have nuclear weapons within five years.

ENRICHMENT

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The deal restricts the purity to which Iran can enrich uranium to 3.67%, far below the roughly 90% that is weapons-grade or the 20% Iran reached before the deal. Iran is now enriching to various levels, the highest being around 60%.

The deal also says Iran can only produce, or accumulate, enriched uranium with just over 5,000 of its least efficient, first-generation centrifuges at one facility: the underground Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz.

The deal lets Iran enrich for research, without accumulating enriched uranium, with small numbers of advanced centrifuges, which are often at least twice as efficient as the IR-1.

Iran is now refining uranium with hundreds of advanced centrifuges both at the FEP and the above-ground Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) at Natanz.

It is also enriching with more than 1,000 IR-1s at Fordow, a plant buried inside a mountain, and plans to do the same with more than 100 advanced centrifuges already installed there.

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URANIUM STOCKPILE

The International Atomic Energy Agency, policing Iranian nuclear activities, estimated this month https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/21/11/gov2021-51.pdf that Tehran’s stock of enriched uranium is just under 2.5 tonnes, more than 12 times the 202.8-kg (446-pound) limit imposed by the deal, but less than the more than five tonnes it had before the deal.

That said, it is now enriching to a higher level and has around 17.7 kg of uranium enriched to up to 60%. It takes around 25 kg of weapons-grade uranium to make one nuclear bomb.

INSPECTIONS AND MONITORING

The deal made Iran implement the IAEA’s so-called Additional Protocol, which allows for snap inspections of undeclared sites. It also expanded IAEA monitoring by cameras and other devices beyond the core activities and inspections covered by Iran’s long-standing Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA.

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Iran has stopped implementing the Additional Protocol and is allowing the extra monitoring to continue only in a black-box-type arrangement https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-nuclear-iaea-deal-idUSKBN2AN1UU, whereby the data from cameras and other devices is collected and stored but the IAEA does not have access to it, at least for the time being.

The one exception https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/iaea-chief-says-negotiations-iran-proved-inconclusive-2021-11-24 to the continued monitoring is a centrifuge-parts workshop at the TESA Karaj complex, which was hit by apparent sabotage in June that destroyed one of four IAEA cameras there, after which Iran removed all of them. Iran has not let the IAEA re-install the cameras since.

POTENTIAL WEAPONISATION

Iran has produced uranium metal, both enriched to 20% and not enriched. This alarms Western powers because making uranium metal is a pivotal step towards producing bombs and no country has done it without eventually developing nuclear weapons.

Iran says it is working on reactor fuel.

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(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Former Cambodian premier Prince Norodom Ranariddh dies at 77

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November 28, 2021

By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) -Cambodian former prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the current king’s half-brother, who spent his later years in the political shadow of his one-time rival Prime Minister Hun Sen, has died in France. He was 77.

The prince, whose royalist political party won elections in 1993, was ousted in a 1997 coup by coalition partner Hun Sen, who remains Cambodia’s authoritarian leader.

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Hun Sen said in a statement on Sunday that he and his wife were “heartbroken” at the news, calling Ranariddh “a dignitary, (a) member of the royal family who was patriotic to the nation, religion, the king”.

Ranariddh was the most political member of Cambodia’s royal family in recent decades, leading his Funcinpec party in elections for years after he was ousted.

But in 2017, he dismayed https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cambodia-politics-prince-idUSKBN1CK020 Cambodia’s weakened opposition by backing the dissolution of another party whose leader was jailed on treason charges. Hun Sen has since effectively sidelined all opposition and now presides over a one-party parliament.

Explaining his position, Ranariddh told Reuters that year: “… Hun Sen, you want or you don’t want, you like him or you don’t like him, he brings about this national unity.”

His younger half-brother, King Norodom Sihamoni, has occupied the Cambodian throne since the abdication of their father, King Norodom Sihanouk https://www.reuters.com/article/oukwd-uk-cambodia-sihanouk-idAFBRE89D0K120121015, in 2004. Sihanouk died aged 89 in 2012 in Beijing.

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Lao Mong Hay, a veteran Cambodian analyst, said Ranariddh had lacked the political savvy of his father.

“He was soon outwitted and overthrown by his far more talented rival,” Lao Mong Hay said, citing a Cambodian proverb that 10 learned persons are less than one talented person. “So Norodom Ranariddh happened to be one of those 10.”

Ranariddh’s career reflected the way Hun Sen has neutralized rivals since defecting from the Khmer Rouge “killing fields” regime in the late 1970s to help drive it from power.

Hun Sen led the Vietnam-backed Communist government in Phnom Penh for more than a decade while the Khmer Rouge waged a guerrilla insurgency.

The royal family lived in exile during this time, headed by former absolute ruler Sihanouk, who had led Cambodia to independence from France and abdicated a first time to enter democratic politics and become prime minister before the Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975.

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Ranariddh was working as a French law lecturer when his father called him to contest the 1993 elections organised by the United Nations as part of a peace process.

With royalist sentiment strong, Ranariddh won the elections. But when Hun Sen threatened a return to war, a political deal resulted in a coalition government making Ranariddh “first prime minister”, Hun Sen “second prime minister” and returning King Sihanouk to the throne as constitutional monarch.

The uneasy coalition lasted four years before Ranariddh was overthrown by forces loyal to Hun Sen and driven into exile.

After international pressure, Ranariddh was allowed to return and contest elections a year later, but he never again came close to winning and entered into on-and-off alliances with Hun Sen.

(Writing by Kay JohnsonEditing by Frances Kerry, Mark Heinrich and Catherine Evans)

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Thousands protest against Czech COVID measures as hospitals fill

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November 28, 2021

PRAGUE (Reuters) – Several thousand people protested in Prague against anti-coronavirus restrictions on Sunday as many Czech hospitals halted non-urgent procedures in the face of one of the world’s fastest rates of new infections.

Gathered in a park overlooking the Czech capital’s centre, protesters waved national flags and carried signs with slogans such as: “Get vaccinated? Over your dead bodies”.

The outgoing government toughened measures on Thursday, including a ban on Christmas markets, which was one of the main themes at Sunday’s rally.

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“I am here to fight for freedom. I am here because I don’t agree with what is happening today,” Jiri Hulec told Reuters.

Czech hospitals, including the largest one, Prague’s Motol, have ceased planned operations and limited other care in the past days as the number of patients with COVID-19 has doubled to around 6,000 over the past three weeks.

Newly-appointed Prime Minister Petr Fiala earlier called on people to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others from serious conditions if infected.

Only 58.5% of Czechs are vaccinated against coronavirus, compared to a European Union average of 65.8%, data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control shows.

(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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