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At rally to back military’s campaign, Ethiopians denounce the U.S

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November 7, 2021

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) -Tens of thousands of Ethiopians rallied in Addis Ababa on Sunday in support of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government as federal troops fight rebellious forces who are threatening to march on the city.

Some demonstrators denounced the United States, which is among the foreign powers that have called for a ceasefire as a year-long war that has killed thousands of people intensified amid rebel advances last weekend.

The United States, the U.N. Security Council, the African Union, and Kenya and Uganda have called in recent days for a ceasefire.

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Abiy’s government has pledged to keep fighting. On Friday, the government said it had a responsibility to secure the country, and urged its international partners to stand with Ethiopia’s democracy.

Some of those gathered in Meskel Square in central Addis Ababa draped themselves in the national flag. Many singled out the United States for criticism.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday accused Ethiopia of “gross violations” of human rights and said it planned to remove the country from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade agreement.

“Shame on you USA,” read one demonstrator’s placard, while another said the United States should stop “sucking Ethiopia’s blood”.

Other demonstrators expressed anger at the U.S. call for the government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to begin talks.

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The conflict in the north of the country started a year ago when forces loyal to the TPLF seized military bases in the Tigray region. In response, Abiy sent troops, who initially drove the TPLF out of the regional capital, Mekelle, but have faced a sharp reversal since June this year.

“Why does the U.S. government not negotiate with terrorists like al Shabaab?” said 37-year-old Tigist Lemma, referring to an al-Qaeda linked militant group in Somalia.

“They want to destroy our country like they did to Afghanistan. They will never succeed, we are Ethiopians.”

Speaking at the rally, Addis Ababa Mayor Adanech Abiebe invoked Ethiopia’s history of resisting colonial power to justify the war.

The conflict has killed thousands of people, forced more than 2 million from their homes and left 400,000 people in Tigray facing famine.

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On Sunday, U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths and the AU’s special envoy to the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, landed in Mekelle, one humanitarian source in Ethiopia and one person familiar with the matter told Reuters.

A spokesperson for the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Ethiopia did not respond to a request for comment, and U.N. officials in New York were not immediately reachable. AU spokesperson Ebba Kalondo did not respond to a request for comment.

“I can confirm only that they are both here and we are having discussions,” TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda told Reuters.

Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu did not respond to a request for comment on the officials’ visit.

‘NO YOUTH’ TO FRONT LINES

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During the Addis Ababa rally, there was one call for restraint, from popular musician Tariku Gankisi, whose songs call for unity of all Ethiopians.

“Let no youth go to the front lines to fight, let the elders go holding the fresh grass and ask for reconciliation,” Tariku told the crowd, before his microphone was switched off, it was unclear by whom. Fresh grass is a symbol of peace in the country.

A state of emergency declared by the government on Tuesday allows it to order citizens of military age to undergo training and accept military duties.

Reuters has not been able to confirm independently the extent of the TPLF advance. The TPLF and their allies told Reuters last week they were 325 km (200 miles) from the capital. The government accuses the group of exaggerating its gains.

The government has also complained about foreign media coverage of the conflict and some people at the rally held signs denouncing “fake news” in Ethiopia.

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Billene Seyoum, Abiy’s spokesperson, said in a Twitter post late on Saturday: “Orchestrated media propaganda against Ethiopia is escalating … Despite it all Ethiopia will overcome!”

(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom and Nairobi newsroomWriting by Duncan MiririEditing by Maggie Fick and Frances Kerry)

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One of suspected killers of Saudi journalist Khashoggi arrested in France – RTL

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December 7, 2021

PARIS (Reuters) – One of the suspected killers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was arrested at the Roissy airport near Paris on Tuesday as he was about to board a flight to Riyadh, French RTL radio reported.

RTL said the person arrested was a former Royal Guard of Saudi Arabia who is believed to have been involved in the killing of Kashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Writing by GV De Clercq, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Biden, Putin begin talks, RIA says, after U.S. warning of toughest sanctions yet if Russia invades Ukraine

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December 7, 2021

By Steve Holland and Andrew Osborn

WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden began a video conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, Russian state television said, after U.S. officials warned Moscow could be hit with the toughest economic sanctions yet if it invades Ukraine.

The officials said the sanctions, which one source said could target Russia’s biggest banks and Moscow’s ability to convert roubles into dollars and other currencies, were designed to dissuade Putin from using tens of thousands of troops massed near the Ukrainian border to attack its southern neighbour.

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The Kremlin, which said before the meeting it did not expect any breakthroughs, has denied harbouring such intentions and has said its troop posture is defensive.

But Moscow has voiced rising vexation over Western military aid to Ukraine, a fellow former Soviet republic that has tilted towards the West since a popular revolt toppled a pro-Russian president in 2014, and what it calls creeping NATO expansion.

Moscow has likewise questioned Ukrainian intentions and said it wants guarantees that Kyiv will not use force to try to retake territory lost in 2014 to Russia-backed separatists, a scenario Ukraine has ruled out.

“We’re looking for good, predictable relations with the United States. Russia has never intended to attack anyone, but we have our concerns and we have our red lines,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

Calling for everyone to keep “a cool head”, Peskov said it was vital that Putin and Biden speak given what he called the extraordinary escalation of tensions in Europe.

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The Russian rouble weakened slightly on Tuesday, with some market analysts predicting the talks would de-escalate tensions and others saying that the U.S. sanctions threat eroded hopes of finding common ground.

Ahead of his first direct talks with Putin since July, Biden discussed the sanctions plan with European allies on Monday, seeking a strong joint stance in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

He spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

They called on Russia to defuse tensions and return to diplomacy and said their teams would stay in close touch, including in consultation with NATO allies and EU partners, on a “coordinated and comprehensive approach”, the White House said.

Biden’s team has identified a set of economic penalties to impose should Russia launch an invasion, a senior Biden administration official said.

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A separate source familiar with the situation said targeting Putin’s inner circle has been discussed but no decision made. Sanctions against Russia’s biggest banks and curbing the conversion of roubles into dollars and other currencies were also being considered, another source said.

(Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington, Gleb Stolyarov, Dmitry Antonov, Alexander Marrow, Tom Balmforth and Katya Golubkova in Moscow, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Catherine Evans and Mark Heinrich)

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Britain reports 101 more cases of Omicron coronavirus variant

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December 7, 2021

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain has found a further 101 confirmed cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the UK Health Security Agency said on Tuesday, taking the total number of cases to 437.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by William Schomberg)

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