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Ethiopia’s Tigray Conflict: Truce Agreed

Cassandra Sherman

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Image source, AFP

A surprise deal has been reached in the Ethiopian civil war with both sides agreeing to halt their two-year conflict which led to thousands of deaths and warnings of a famine.

The African Union (AU) has called it a new “dawn”, AFP news agency says.

The agreement between the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan forces should allow aid deliveries to resume.

Almost 90% of people in the northern Tigray region need food aid, the World Health Organization says.

About a third of the region’s children are suffering from malnutrition.

Although it’s a major breakthrough, it’ll be received with some degree of caution.

This is not the first ceasefire in the conflict – a previous one was breached in August, just months after both sides committed to it.

This time though, the agreements have gone further. The Ethiopian government officials and representatives of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have signed up to a disarmament plan and the restoration of crucial services, including aid supplies.

“Ethiopia has only one national defence force,” reads the joint statement. The TPLF has made a major concession – to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate fighters into the federal army.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has described the agreement as “monumental” and committed to implementing it.

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who mediated the deal agreed after a week of talks in South Africa, said it was just the beginning of the peace process.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was “a welcome first step, which we hope can start to bring some solace to the millions of Ethiopian civilians that have really suffered during this conflict”.

Image source, AFP

Tigray has been cut off from the outside world for most of the past two years – hospitals have been running out of drugs, while electricity, phone and banking services have been cut, along with the internet.

Both sides have been accused of atrocities, include ethnic cleansing and sexual violence.

Some of the worst abuses have been blamed on Eritrean troops fighting alongside government forces and some have noted with caution that Eritrea was not represented at the talks.

The war began almost two years ago to the day – 4 November 2020 – when forces loyal to the party in power in Tigray, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), seized a military barracks, prompting the Ethiopian army to seize the region, before later being pushed out of most of it.

This followed a breakdown in relations between the government and the TPLF, which had dominated the whole of Ethiopia for two decades until Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018.

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Three Women Among Dozen Publicly Flogged in Afghanistan – Taliban Official

Cassandra Sherman

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Image source, Reuters

Twelve people, including three women, have been flogged in front of thousands of onlookers at a football stadium in Afghanistan.

The group were guilty of “moral crimes” including adultery, robbery and gay sex, a Taliban official told the BBC.

This is thought to be the second time in a month the Islamist group has carried out public lashings.

The move could signal a return to the hard-line practices seen in the previous Taliban rule in the 1990s.

Omar Mansoor Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman for Logar region in eastern Afghanistan, where the lashings happened, said that all three women were freed after they were punished. Some of the men were jailed, he said, but it is not clear how many.

The men and women received between 21 and 39 lashes each. The maximum number a person can receive is 39, another Taliban official said.

Nineteen people were also punished last week in a similar flogging in Takhar province in northern Afghanistan, reports say.

The flogging in Logar province comes a week after the Taliban’s supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, ordered judges to enforce punishments for certain crimes in line with the group’s strict reading of Islamic Sharia law.

This interpretation of Islamic law includes public executions, public amputations and stoning – although exact crimes and corresponding punishments have not been officially defined by the Taliban.

The supreme leader’s order is the latest sign that the Taliban is taking a tougher stance on rights and freedoms; after promising to rule more moderately when they took power last year.

During their rule from 1996-2001, the Taliban were condemned for regularly carrying out punishments in public, including floggings and executions at the national stadium in Kabul.

The government also vowed that they would not repeat the brutal repression of women; but since the group’s return to rule women’s freedoms have been severely curbed and a number of women have been beaten for demanding rights.

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Ukraine War: Zelensky Denounces Russian ‘terror’ in UN Address

Cassandra Sherman

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Image source, Getty Images

President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of “crimes against humanity” after a bombardment caused blackouts across Ukraine.

At least six civilians were killed in the barrage, and officials were forced to shut down three nuclear reactors due to power outages.

Neighbouring Moldova also experienced blackouts, but it was not directly hit.

With winter setting in, Moscow has stepped up strikes on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

Officials say Russia’s missile strikes on energy stations has caused “colossal” damage and left more than half of the country’s power grid in need of repair.

Addressing an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council in New York, Mr Zelensky said the latest strikes had forced “millions of people to stay without energy supplies, without heating, without water” as temperatures started to drop below zero.

“That’s the Russian formula of terror,” he told delegates in New York via video link.

On Wednesday, an air-raid alert was issued across Ukraine, followed by reports of explosions in a number of locations – including in the capital Kyiv and in the Western city Lviv.

In the southern Zaporizhzhia region, a newborn baby was killed when a missile hit a maternity unit, emergency services said.

General Valeriy Zaluzhniy – the commander of Ukraine’s armed forces – said 67 cruise missiles were launched by Moscow, with air defences successfully intercepting 51 projectiles.

But the attack has caused significant damage to infrastructure across the country.

In Kyiv, parts of the city were left without water and completely without power. By nightfall Mayor Vitali Klitschko said at least 80% of residents remained without power or water.

Most thermal and hydro-electric power plants were forced to shut down as well, Ukraine’s energy ministry said.

Shortly before the fresh reports from Kyiv and Lviv, officials said southern Ukraine had come under renewed assault.

The governor of the Mykolaiv region warned of “many rockets” arriving from the south and east.

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Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov did not comment on the attacks during a visit to the Armenian capital Yerevan, but he pledged that the “future and the success of the special operation (Moscow’s term for its war in Ukraine) are beyond doubt”.

Moscow has said that attacking Ukraine’s power grid could weaken its ability to fight and drive its leaders to the negotiating table.

But French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter that such strikes against “civilian infrastructure” constituted a war crime, following similar comments from the US.

Blackouts in Moldova

More than half of Moldova was left without electricity, deputy prime minister Andrei Spinu wrote on Twitter. He said the attack on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure has caused a “massive blackout”.

Within a few hours power was restored in much of the capital, Chisinau, where a third of the Moldovan population lives.

Moldova also experienced widespread power cuts as a result of strikes on Ukraine on 15 November, Mr Spinu said. Mobile networks were also badly affected.

Energy policy analyst Sergiu Tofilat said that because Moldova and Ukraine were connected to the European grid in March, one of the connection points on the power line between Moldova and neighbouring Romania shut down automatically if Ukraine was hit to protect the system: “We reconnect once Ukraine has assessed the damage.”

In response to the outages, Moldovan President Maia Sandu said Russia had “left Moldova in the dark”.

“Russia’s war in Ukraine kills people, destroys residential blocks and energy infrastructure with missiles…” she wrote on Facebook. “But the electricity supply can be restored. We will solve the technical problems and we will have light again. All state institutions are working in this direction.”

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G20: Xi Accuses Trudeau of Leaks to Media About China-Canada Relations

Cassandra Sherman

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China’s Xi Jinping has been filmed accusing Justin Trudeau of leaking meeting details, days after they held talks at the G20 summit in Bali.

President Xi told the Canadian PM, via a translator, this was inappropriate and accused him of lacking “sincerity”.

He was likely referring to reports that Mr Trudeau discussed alleged Chinese espionage and interference in Canadian elections at the sit down.

The talks, which happened behind closed doors, were the pair’s first in years.

In the footage, filmed by journalists at the now finished gathering of world leaders, President Xi and Mr Trudeau can be seen standing close to each other and conversing via a translator.

“Everything we discussed has been leaked to the papers and that is not appropriate,” the Chinese leader told Mr Trudeau in Mandarin.

It captures a rare candid moment of President Xi, whose image is normally carefully curated by Chinese state media.

After smiling and nodding his head, the Canadian PM responded by saying “in Canada we believe in free and open and frank dialogue and that is what we will continue to have”.

“We will continue to look to work constructively together but there will be things we disagree on,” he added.

Before Mr Trudeau could finish, President Xi cut his counterpart off and asked that he first “create the conditions” – eventually shaking Trudeau’s hand and walking away.

The short but revealing exchange highlighted tensions between China and Canada, running high since the detention of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018 and Beijing’s subsequent arrest of two Canadians on spying charges. All three were later released.

But tensions recently resurged following the arrest of Yuesheng Wang, a public utility worker at Hydro-Quebec, who was charged with espionage.

Mr Wang “obtained trade secrets to benefit the People’s Republic of China, to the detriment of Canada’s economic interests,” Canadian police said in a statement.

At the time, Mr Trudeau and President Xi were at the G20 summit on the Indonesian island of Bali.

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