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Somalia expels Kenyan envoy in row over alleged poll interference

Monitoring Desk

Somalia has ordered the expulsion of Kenya’s ambassador after accusing neighbouring Kenya of interfering in the electoral process in Jubbaland, one of Somalia’s five semi-autonomous states.

Somalia also recalled its ambassador from Nairobi in the latest dispute between the two African countries.

“As a result of the Kenyan government’s political interferences in the internal affairs of Somalia, the regional President of Jubbaland has reneged on the election agreement that was reached on the 17th September 2020 in Mogadishu,” the Somali foreign ministry said in a statement on Facebook.

The statement did not elaborate on the interference or the agreement the Jubbaland president had reneged on.

This is not the first time there has been tension between Mogadishu and Nairobi.

Last year, Kenya recalled its ambassador after Mogadishu decided to auction off oil and gas exploration blocks at the centre of a maritime territorial dispute.

The two countries restored ties a few months later.

Kenya’s government spokesman, Cyrus Oguna, did not immediately comment on the latest dispute.

Kenya contributes troops to Somalia as part of an African Union-led peacekeeping force which, along with the Somali federal government and local states, is fighting the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab armed group.

Earlier on Monday, the group’s fighters attacked an army base in central Somalia, Major Nur Mohamud told Reuters news agency, adding that five soldiers had been killed.

Courtesy: Al Jazeera

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Tigray leader urges PM Abiy to withdraw troops from the region

Monitoring Desk

The leader of Ethiopia’s Tigray region has asked Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to withdraw troops from the region two days after Abiy declared victory.

Debretsion Gebremichael, in a phone interview with The Associated Press, said he was still near the Tigray capital, Mekele, which the Ethiopian army on Saturday said it now controlled. Far from accepting Abiy’s declaration of victory, the Tigray leader asserted that ”we are sure we’ll win.”

Debretsion Gebremichael wearing a suit and tie© Provided by dw.comHe also accused the Ethiopian forces of carrying out a ”genocidal campaign” against the Tigray people. With the Tigray region still cut off a month after the fighting began, no one knows how many people have been killed, and it’s difficult to verify the warring sides’ claims.

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) which controls the country’s northern region bordering Eritrea and Sudan once dominated Ethiopian politics as part of a ruling coalition called the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

During its 27 years in power, the country witnessed massive improvements in child mortality and agriculture. But the country remained a one-party state fueling feelings of exclusion among younger Ethiopians.

Abiy Ahmed who run on the promise of political reform, has been accused by the TPLF of political targeting and sidelining. The fight is about self-determination of the region of some 6 million people, the Tigray leader said, and it ”will continue until the invaders are out.”

Read more: Ethiopia: A timeline of the Tigray crisis

He asserted that his forces held an undetermined number of ”captives” among the Ethiopian forces, including the pilot of a fighter jet that his side claims to have shot down over the weekend.

”Civilian casualties are so high,” he said, albeit declining to offer even an estimated toll. He accused Ethiopian forces of ”looting wherever they go.”

However, in an address to parliament on Monday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed claimed in parliament soldiers did not kill any civilians as they took over Mekele and other cities in Tigray.

“Mekele is ours, it was built with our own resources. We are not going to destroy it,” he told lawmakers. “Not even a single person was harmed by the operation in Mekele.”

Abiy said federal forces were monitoring Tigray’s leaders who had fled west of the capital and would soon attack them.

UN calls for helps as conflict worsens refugee crisis

As the two leaders traded accusations, more than 45,000 people have been displaced, many of them seeking shelter in camps in Sudan, according to the UN.

Conditions in the camps are tough and the health situation precarious. Medics with aid group Mercy Corps at the Um Raquba camp told AFP earlier that they had seen multiple cases of dysentery and tuberculosis, malaria and HIV among the refugees.

Speaking to DW on Monday, Ethiopia’s minister in charge of democratization, Zadig Abraha said the country was supplying food to refugees through UN agencies. He said the government would soon open a humanitarian corridor to allow aid to reach those in need.

Courtesy: DW

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Nigeria returns 3,000 displaced after jihadist violence

(AFP) — Some 3,000 people began returning to their homes and deserted farms in the northeast Nigerian state of Borno on Monday, six years after fleeing jihadist violence and despite a weekend massacre that underscored the security risks they still face.Map of Nigeria locating Maiduguri, near the site of Saturday's massacre© Vincent LEFAI Map of Nigeria locating Maiduguri, near the site of Saturday’s massacre

And adding to their troubles, officials there warned of a looming food crisis, caused at least in part by the deadly attacks on farm workers.

They boarded dozens of trucks and buses at their camp in the state capital Maiduguri to travel some 130 kilometres (80 miles) to their home area of Marte, once considered the breadbasket of the Lake Chad region. 

“I’m very happy to return to my roots which I left six years ago,” returnee Bukar Kyarimi told AFP. “We need to go back and tend our abandoned farms but we hope the government will give us adequate protection from the insurgents.” 

“We are eager to go back to our homes but what happened in Koshobe… is frightening,” said another returnee.

The operation came after an attack Saturday on the village of Koshobe and nearby communities killed dozens of farm workers in one of the deadliest assaults this year blamed on Islamist militants. 

The precise death toll of the massacre was unclear, but 43 victims of the attack were laid to rest on Sunday in a mass burial attended by Borno state Governor Babaganan Umara Zulum, who said at least 70 people perished in the massacre.

– Looming food crisis –

Both the IS-affiliated Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and the rival group Boko Haram have been blamed for increasing attacks on civilians they accuse of spying for the army and pro-government militia.

Saturday’s massacre was “unfortunately one of too many such attacks targeting farmers, fishermen and families who are trying to recover some livelihood opportunity after over a decade of conflict,” the UN humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, said in a statement.

“Helping them to farm land and rebuild livelihoods are amongst our priorities and the only way to avoid the looming food crisis in Borno state,” he added.

Monday’s return was of a first batch of IDPs from Marte, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said in a statement.

Governor Zulum pledged to return all of some two million IDPs to their homes, despite concern from aid agencies for their safety. 

He said it was no longer financially viable to house people in camps protected by soldiers and totally reliant on food handouts from humanitarian groups.

But the head of the Wal-Wanne Group, which employed many of the farm workers killed Saturday, warned at a news conference: “We may be facing a severe food security crisis due to the destructive activities of bandits who are not only destroying farms but also killing farmers.”

– Fortified towns –

Nigeria officially went into recession last week for the second time in four years, and the northeast region may see a worse food security situation next year than the near famine it suffered in 2016.

In the last two years, residents were returned to five major towns where they are confined under military protection, with trenches dug around the towns to fend off attacks by the jihadists.

Despite the security measures, the insurgents have continued to launch attacks on the fortified towns.

At least 36,000 people have been killed in the jihadist conflict since 2009 and violence has spread into neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional military coalition.

ISWAP, which split from Boko Haram in 2016, has camps on islands in Lake Chad — where Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad meet — and the area is known to be the group’s bastion.

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Nepal’s female soldiers break taboos to tackle COVID crisis

KATHMANDU(Reuters) – Four women wearing protective gear lift the body of a coronavirus victim at the Pashupati crematorium in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, and hand it over to crematory workers – a scene unimaginable in the conservative country in recent years.

Women touching a dead body is still a cultural taboo in Nepal. But rights for women have improved since the majority-Hindu country emerged from a decade-long conflict in 2006 and abolished its centuries-old feudal monarchy two years later.

The women carrying corpses in Kathmandu, all soldiers, are being deployed for the first time as the nation of 30 million people tries to manage the bodies of COVID-19 victims amid the growing pandemic.

“I feel privileged and happy for being given a chance to do the work that was done only by the males so far,” said one of the women, a 25-year-old corporal named Rachana, who asked to be identified by just one name. “Society is changing … I have not been to my family since I started my new duty, but my friends are happy. They thank me and say, ‘You have performed a difficult task carefully and maintained your personal safety. Thank you’. I feel happy.”

On their first day on the job last month, the four moved six bodies from a hospital to a crematorium.

Nepal Army spokesman Shantosh B. Poudyal said the 95,000-strong force was putting women soldiers in new roles, part of a programme to empower them.

“Women were deployed in combat duty, hospitals, ordnance, engineers and disasters before. This is the first time they are managing the bodies from hospitals and transporting them to the crematorium,” Poudyal told Reuters. “You can say it is breaking the borders … breaking the glass ceiling.”

Nepal’s army is responsible for managing the bodies of coronavirus victims across the nation.

The pandemic has killed 1,508 people in the country and infected 233,452 since the virus was first detected in January, according to official data.

On Monday, 29 people were reported dead from COVID-19, the highest number of daily fatalities since Nov. 4, health ministry data showed.

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Military counters UN over figures of farmers murdered as body says 110 killed

Monitoring Desk

John Enenche, the military spokesperson, has countered the United Nations’ report that over 100 rice farmers were killed on Saturday, November 28, in Zabarmari village, Borno state.

The United Nations had on Sunday, November 29, said that 110 farmers were killed by men suspected to be Boko Haram insurgents at a rice field in Jere local government contrary to the reported 43.

Speaking through its resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria in a statement, the UN said many other innocent civilians were wounded in the ruthless attack.

But the Nigerian military on Monday, November 30, said the onslaught on farmers in Zabarmari has 43 casualties.

Enenche who spoke during his appearance on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily said more bodies may be discovered in the future but only 43 victims have been identified so far.

“I have to respond, it is coming from the United Nations. This is a source that identified itself that 110 persons specifically were killed.

“Probably we may count up to the figure he gave in the future. But as it is, up till the time I came here, what we have counted with the locals is still 43. And we are hoping that we don’t get beyond that. So that’s the real situation.”

Meanwhile, all the 36 state governors under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) have expressed grief over the killing of 43 farmers in Borno state on Saturday, November 28.

In a statement released on Sunday, November 29, by the chairman of the forum, Governor Kayode John Fayemi of Ekiti state, the atrocity, which was carried out by suspected weapon-wielding Boko Haram insurgents, was described as “wicked, unwarranted, and morally reprehensible.”

Fayemi who noted with distress that the killing “raises serious questions on the general security situation” questioned if there is an adequate arrangement to protect the lives of Nigerians living in vulnerable communities.


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Joe Biden nominee Janet Yellen would be first woman to head US Treasury

Monitoring Desk

US President-elect Joe Biden’s US Treasury Department nominee would be the first woman ever to hold the role.

In a statement, Mr Biden said he would nominate Janet Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chair, to lead the Treasury Department.

Mr Biden has put a premium on diversity in his Cabinet selectionREUTERS Former Clinton and Obama adviser Neera Tanden is being nominated to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget. 

He also named Wally Adeyemo, a former Obama administration official and the first CEO of the former president’s nonprofit foundation, as his nominee for deputy treasury secretary. 

He also unveiled his White House economic team, consisting of economists Cecilia Rouse, Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey.

Mr Biden, who has placed a premium on diversity in his selection of Cabinet nominees and key advisers, is looking to notch a few firsts with his economic team selections. 

Ms Yellen would be the first woman to lead the Treasury Department and Adeyemo the first Black deputy secretary. 

Ms Tanden would be the first woman of colour to lead OMB and Ms Rouse the first woman of colour to chair the Council of Economic Advisers.

“As we get to work to control the virus, this is the team that will deliver immediate economic relief for the American people during this economic crisis and help us build our economy back better than ever,” Mr Biden said in a statement.

Ms Yellen became Federal Reserve chair in 2014 when the economy was still recovering from the devastating Great Recession. 

In the late 1990s, she was President Bill Clinton’s top economic adviser during the Asian financial crisis. 

If confirmed, Ms Yellen would become the first woman to lead the Treasury Department in its nearly 232-year history. 

She would inherit an economy with still-high unemployment, escalating threats to small businesses and signs that consumers are retrenching as the pandemic restricts or discourages spending.

Ms Tanden, the president and CEO of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, has been tapped to serve as the director of the Office of Management and Budget. 

She was the director of domestic policy for the Obama-Biden presidential campaign, but she first made her mark in the Clinton orbit.

She served as policy director for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. Before that, she served as legislative director in Clinton’s Senate office and deputy campaign manager and issues director for Ms Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign. 

Ms Tanden was a senior policy adviser in the Bill Clinton administration.

If confirmed, she would be the first woman of color and the first South Asian woman to lead the OMB, the agency that oversees the federal budget.

But Senate Republicans are signaling they’ll oppose confirmation. Late Sunday a spokesman for Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas tweeted that Ms Tanden “stands zero chance of being confirmed.” 

And Josh Holmes, a political adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, tweeted that confirmation was likely doomed. Republicans hold the edge in the current Senate, although next year’s majority won’t be decided until January 5 runoffs in two races involving Republican incumbents in Georgia.

Courtesy: Evening Post

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Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon skyrockets to 12-year high

(Reuters) -Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest surged to a 12-year high in 2020, official government data showed on Monday, with destruction soaring since President Jair Bolsonaro took office and weakened environmental enforcement.

In 2020, destruction of the world’s largest rainforest rose 9.5% from a year earlier to 11,088 square kilometers (2.7 million acres), according to data from Brazil’s national space research agency Inpe, seven times the size of London.

That means Brazil will miss its own target, established under a 2009 climate change law, for reducing deforestation to roughly 3,900 square kilometers. The consequences for missing the target are not laid out in the law but could leave the government open to lawsuits.

The official annual measure, known as PRODES, is taken by comparing satellite images from the end of July 2020 with those from the beginning of August 2019. These dates are chosen to coincide with the Amazon’s dry season, when there is less cloud cover to interfere with the calculations.

The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest and its protection is crucial to stopping catastrophic climate change because of the vast amount of carbon dioxide it absorbs.

The latest annual destruction is a substantial increase from the 7,536 square kilometers that were deforested in 2018, the year before Bolsonaro took office.

While environmentalists blamed the government for the rise, federal officials hailed the figures as a sign of progress in fighting deforestation, as the increase was far lower than the 34% increase recorded in 2019.

“While we are not here to celebrate this, it does signify that the efforts we are making are beginning to bear fruit,” Vice President Hamilton Mourao told reporters at Inpe headquarters in the Sao Paulo satellite city of Sao Jose dos Campos.

Bolsonaro has weakened the environmental enforcement agency Ibama and called for introducing more commercial farming and mining in the Amazon region, arguing it will lift the region out of poverty. Environmental advocates say this has emboldened illegal ranchers, miners and land grabbers to clear the forest.

“The PRODES figures show that Bolsonaro’s plan worked. They reflect the result of a successful initiative to annihilate the capacity of the Brazilian State and the inspection bodies to take care of our forests and fight crime in the Amazon,” the Brazilian non-governmental organization Climate Observatory said in a statement.

The president’s main policy response to global outcry over Amazon destruction has been to send in the military, who were first deployed in 2019 and are expected to remain in the region fighting deforestation and forest fires through April 2021.

Mourao said the government is planning further measures to combat deforestation after the military operation ends in April, without giving details. He said the government must work within its currently tight budget constraints.

More recently, deforestation declined in July to September compared with the same months a year ago, according to preliminary Inpe data, but was back on the rise in October.

European leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron have fiercely criticized Brazil, arguing it is not doing enough to protect the forest. The election of Joe Biden as U.S. president has raised the possibility that the United States will also ramp up pressure on Brazil over the rainforest.

Biden said in a debate that the world should offer Brazil money to fund efforts to stop deforestation, and threatened economic consequences against the Latin American nation if it did not. The comment drew fierce criticism from Bolsonaro, who said it was a threat against Brazil’s sovereignty.

“Let’s remember that the future (American) president knows our country,” Mourao said on Monday, speaking about Biden. “He is a person with whom we will establish a dialogue at some point without major problems.”

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Russian President Putin stresses need to harmonize post-Soviet security bloc’s anti-terror laws

MOSCOW (TASS): Russia considers it important for member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to harmonize their legislation on the fight against drug trafficking, international terrorism and extremism, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in his address to a session of the CSTO Parliamentary Assembly, the Kremlin website reported on Monday.

“In the conditions of the increase of such common challenges for us as international terrorism and extremism, drug trafficking and illegal migration, we attach great importance to the activity of the Parliamentary Assembly for ensuring the timely ratification of documents adopted within the CSTO on harmonizing the national legislation in the sphere of security,” the president’s message says.

“Elaborating common approaches to countering threats related to interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states is also an important area of inter-parliamentary cooperation,” Putin said.

“And, naturally, the coordination of efforts aimed at fighting the coronavirus pandemic is becoming especially important today,” Putin stressed.

Strengthening security in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) space and developing the collective defense potential in close coordination with partners are key priorities for Russia’s CSTO presidency this year, the Russian leader said.

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Turkey, Russia hold talks on joint Karabakh truce centre

ANKARA (Agencies): Turkish and Russian military delegations are holding talks on establishing a joint centre in Nagorno-Karabakh, where Armenia and Azerbaijan recently fought a 44-day war in Baku’s favour.

“Works with Russians are ongoing as planned,” Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told top commanders in a video conference on Monday.

Fighting erupted on September 27 when the Armenian army launched attacks on civilians and Azerbaijani forces and violated humanitarian ceasefire agreements.

During the conflict, Azerbaijan liberated several cities and nearly 300 settlements and villages from the Armenian occupation.

On November 10, the two countries signed a Russia-brokered agreement to end fighting and work toward a comprehensive resolution.

The truce is seen as a victory for Azerbaijan and a defeat for Armenia.

Turkey and Russia have since signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a joint centre to monitor the peace deal.

It will be established on the Azerbaijani territories liberated from Armenia’s occupation.

On the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, Akar said Turkey is not the one who escalates tension in the region, adding that Ankara always tries to solve disputes through dialogue and good neighborly relations.

“Unfortunately, our neighbor stubbornly refrains from talks and meetings about the issue,” he said, and added that Greece seeks solutions “at other doors”.

He said Athens, with this attitude, is doing wrong as problems cannot be solved in such a way.

“We will maintain our principled attitude to protect our rights and interests, and to maintain good neighborly relations,” he said.

Opposition to Greece’s violations

Turkey has consistently opposed Greece’s efforts to declare an exclusive economic zone based on small islands near Turkish shores, violating the interests of Turkey, the country with the longest coastline on the Mediterranean.

Ankara has also said energy resources near the island of Cyprus must be shared fairly between the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Greek Cypriot administration of Southern Cyprus.

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France to ‘rewrite’ controversial police bill

PARIS (Reuters): The French government has dropped a controversial bill that would have curbed the right to film police officers in action, the speaker of French President Macron’s ruling party has said.

“The bill will be completely rewritten and a new version will be submitted,” Christophe Castaner, head of the LaRem party in the French parliament told a news conference.

“We know that questions still persist” about the measure, part of new legislation passed by the National Assembly last week, Castaner said at a press conference alongside other lawmakers.

Rights campaigners and journalists organisations staged street protests in Paris and other French cities against the proposed security bill that they say would be a violation of the freedom of information.

Saturday’s protests were called by Reporters without Borders, Amnesty International France, the Human Rights League, journalists’ unions, and other groups.

The proposed measure could create a new criminal offence of publishing ima-ges of police officers with the intent to cause them harm. Macron’s government previously said it is intended to protect police officers from online calls for violence.

Critics feared that the measure could endanger journalists and other people who take videos of officers at work, especially during violent demonstrations.