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U.N. says at least 16 staff, dependents detained in Ethiopia

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November 10, 2021

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) -At least 16 United Nations staff and dependents have been detained in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, a U.N. spokesperson said on Tuesday, amid reports of widespread arrests of ethnic Tigrayans.

“We are, of course, actively working with the government of Ethiopia to secure their immediate release,” U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.

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He declined to answer a question on the ethnicity of those detained, saying: “These are United Nations staff members, they’re Ethiopians…, and we would like to see them released, whatever ethnicity is listed on their identity cards.”

The state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said on Sunday it had received many reports of arrests of Tigrayans in the capital, including elders and mothers with children.

Daniel Bekele, head of the commission, told Reuters on Tuesday that it was monitoring “the arrests of hundreds of Tigrayans in Addis Ababa”.

Police have denied making ethnically motivated arrests, saying they are only targeting supporters of the rebellious Tigrayan forces fighting the central government.

Fasika Fanta, spokesperson for the Addis Ababa police, and government spokesman Legesse Tulu told Reuters they had no information on the arrests of U.N. staff.

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“Those that have been detained are Ethiopians who violate the law,” said Legesse.

The U.S. State Department said Washington finds the reports of arrests of U.N. staff members “concerning”, adding that harassment and detention on the basis of ethnicity is completely unacceptable.

“The reports do tend to suggest an arrest based on ethnicity and that is something that if confirmed, we would strongly condemn. So whatever we can do to secure the release of these individuals, we will be prepared to do,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

The year-long conflict in northern Ethiopia between the government and Tigrayan forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has intensified in recent weeks after he TPLF pushed southward. Tigrayan forces and their allies have threatened to march on the capital.

Ethiopia declared a state of emergency https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/addis-ababa-government-urges-residents-register-arms-media-2021-11-02 on Nov 2. That permits the government to arbitrarily arrest, without a court order, anyone suspected of collaborating with a terrorist group. Parliament designated the TPLF as a terrorist group earlier this year.

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Britain tightened its travel advice on Tuesday, advising citizens to leave Ethiopia while commercial flights are available, after the United States on Nov. 5 advised all citizens to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible.

Zambia evacuated non-essential staff from Ethiopia on Tuesday, its foreign ministry said.

DIPLOMATIC PUSH

Diplomatic efforts continue to try to lay the ground for talks and avert an attack on the Ethiopian capital, home to 5 million people.

“Our position remains that there can be no military solution to this conflict and only dialogue can produce a lasting peace,” Britain’s minister for Africa, Vicky Ford, told journalists.

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Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo is in Ethiopia on behalf of the African Union to try to facilitate talks. The TPLF’s spokesperson, Getachew Reda, told Reuters they had held discussions with him.

“He wanted to know if we believe there is the possibility of a political solution to this problem. We said yes,” he told Reuters. But, Getachew added, “we are not willing to retreat because of the siege, because of the blockade.”

The United Nations has accused the government of operating a de facto blockade preventing humanitarian aid from entering Tigray. The government has denied blocking aid.

Getachew also said that a government air strike had killed dozens in the town of Chefa Robit and there had been drone and air strikes on Wollo University in Dessie and the town of Chifra in Afar.

Reuters was unable to independently confirm his account as communications to those areas are down. Government and military spokespeople did not return calls seeking comment.

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The State Department said Washington believes there is a small window of an opening to work with the African Union to make progress on peacefully resolving the conflict.

The U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, returned to Addis Ababa on Monday and remains in Ethiopia, Price said on Tuesday.

Government spokesperson Legesse and foreign affairs ministry spokesperson Dina Mufti did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the talks.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols, Additional reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom and Humeyra Pamuk and Daphne Psaledakis in WashingtonWriting by Maggie Fick and Katharine Houreld Editing by Franklin Paul, Giles Elgood and Mark Heinrich)

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Germany’s Free Democrats back coalition agreement

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December 5, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) – Members of Germany’s pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) voted on Sunday by a large majority to back a coalition agreement with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, paving the way for the three-way alliance to form a new government next week.

The coalition, the first at federal level between the environmentalist Greens, the FDP and Olaf Scholz’s centre-left SPD, will end 16 years of conservative governments led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The SPD approved the agreement on Saturday and the Greens are due to announce the outcome of a member survey on the deal on Monday. The three parties hope the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, will vote Scholz in as chancellor on Wednesday.

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The “traffic light” alliance, named after the parties’respective colours, will usher in a new era of relations with Europe, and plans to speed up digitalisation of the continent’sbiggest economy and put a focus on fighting climate change.

(Reporting by Alexander Ratz; Writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Gambian President Barrow on course for resounding election win

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December 5, 2021

By Bate Felix

BANJUL (Reuters) – Gambia’s incumbent president, Adama Barrow, was on course for a resounding election win on Sunday, partial results indicated, that could help to draw a line under recent political turmoil.

Saturday’s vote was the first in 27 years without disgraced former president Yahya Jammeh, who lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea after refusing to accept defeat to Barrow in 2016.

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Jammeh, whose 22-year rule over the tiny nation of 2.5 million people was characterised by killings and torture of political opponents, had tried to persuade supporters to vote for an opposition coalition in telephoned speeches that were relayed to campaign rallies.

But his lingering influence was not enough to dent Barrow’s showing. The president, who only needs to win more votes than the second-placed candidate, won 36 of the first 41 constituencies announced, taking 315,547 votes.

His nearest rival, political veteran Ousainou Darboe, had 133,177 votes, with four other candidates far behind.

Only 12 constituencies remained to be announced.

The election was seen as a test of Gambia’s democratic progress and its ability to leave the Jammeh era behind.

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Barrow’s first term was marked by the coronavirus pandemic, which damaged an economy that relies heavily on tourism, as well as exports of peanuts and fish.

(Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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S.Africans protest against Shell oil exploration in pristine coastal area

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December 5, 2021

By Siyabonga Sishi

PORT EDWARD, South Africa (Reuters) – South Africans took to their beaches on Sunday to protest against plans by Royal Dutch Shell to do seimsic oil exploration they say will threaten marine wildlife such as whales, dolphins, seals and penguins on a pristine coastal stretch.

A South African court on Friday struck down https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/shell-wins-court-case-start-seismic-surveys-offshore-south-africa-2021-12-03 an application brought by environmentalists to stop the oil major exploring in the eastern seaboard’s Wild Coast, rejecting as unproven their argument that it would cause “irreparable harm” to the marine environment, especially migrating hump-back whales.

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The Wild Coast is home of some of the country’s most undisturbed wildlife refuges, and it’s stunning coastal wildernesses are also a major tourist draw.

At least 1,000 demonstrators gathered on a beach near Port Edward, a Reuters TV correspondent saw.

“It’s just absolutely horrendous that they are even considering this. Look around you?” said demonstrator Kas Wilson, indicating an unspoilt stretch of beach. “It’s unacceptable and … we will stop it.”

Shell officials were not immediately available for comment, but the company said on Friday that its planned exploration has regulatory approval, and it will significantly contribute to South Africa’s energy security if resources are found.

But local people fear the seismic blasting conducted over 6,000 square kilometres will kill or scare away the fish they depend on to live.

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“I don’t want them to operate here because if they do we won’t be able to catch fish,” said 62-year-old free dive fisherwoman Toloza Mzobe, after pulling a wild lobster from the ground. “What are we going to eat?”

Environmentalists are urging Shell and other oil companies to stop prospecting for oil, arguing that the world has no chance of reaching net zero carbon by 2050 if existing oil deposits are burned, let alone if new ones are found.

Earlier this year, a Dutch court ordered Shell to reduce its planet warming carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2019 levels, a decision it plans to appeal.

South Africa’s environment ministry referred Reuters to a statement late last month that “the Minister responsible for environmental affairs is … not mandated to consider the application or to make a decision on the authorisation of the seismic survey.”

(Writing by Tim Cocks;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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