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Without reform Ethiopia risks a deepening crisis

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AFP

Faced with its most serious challenge yet, the Ethiopian regime, a crucial Western ally in the fight against terrorism, risks a deepening crisis if promised reforms do not come, researchers and analysts warn.

A nationwide state of emergency since October 9 combined with the mass arrest of more than 2,500 people has suppressed months of widespread and sometimes deadly anti-government protests.

On Monday state media reported that the majority of those rounded up had been released, but mobile internet and the social networks used to mobilise protesters remain blocked as the government seeks a decisive end to the unrest.

“Violence has been controlled,” government spokesman Getachew Reda said last week. “What we have is a more or less stable situation.”

The challenge to the government has been strongest in the Oromo and Amhara regions — which together account for over 60 per cent of the population — and these areas are now in a siege-like state.

“The government wants to show its strength. The state of emergency has a psychological impact by increasing the feeling of fear and insecurity among the population,” said Rene Lefort, an independent Horn of Africa researcher.

But force alone will not solve the underlying problems and Lefort said he is “sceptical about the ability and willingness of the regime to open up” raising fears that in the absence of concessions to the protesters, the situation will worsen.

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has offered to reform the winner-takes-all electoral system which has allowed his ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition to win every seat in parliament in the 2015 poll.

But even if reforms come, they will not take effect until the next election due in 2020, while a proposed government reshuffle has yet to be carried out.

Jean-Nicolas Bach, an Ethiopia specialist and director of Sudan’s Centre for Social, Legal and Economic Studies and Documentation (CEDEJ-Khartoum) said the EPRDF is committed to its own continuity and may not be capable of adequate change, citing its “hegemonic ambitions and authoritarian mode of government”.

“The goals of the EPRDF have always been clear: maintain power to take the country on the path of development. As for democracy, it will come when it comes,” Bach said.

ZENAWI’S ERA
The regime, led by former rebel commander and strongman Meles Zenawi from 1991 until his death in 2012, is credited with real economic progress that saw a decade of around 10 per cent annual growth.

Infant mortality and malnutrition was halved over the same period, according to figures from the World Bank.

But development has been accompanied by a squeezing of political space, disregard for human rights and a growing outcry at alleged government corruption.

“We need to change the rules that give impunity to local officials and better checks on officials,” said Daniel Berhane, founder and editor of Horn Affairs, an online magazine.

He suggested that every “kebele”, or neighbourhood, hold meetings “to gather public grievances” at the grassroots level which can be relayed to central government “without any editing”.

Berhane said the EPRDF’s total victory in the May 2015 election left some feeling “disenfranchised”, especially in parts of the northern Amhara region and central-western Oromo region where the opposition had hoped to win seats and some power.

“Not surprisingly, these two areas are the epicentres of the protests,” he said.

The brutal repression of the protest movement — human rights organisations say several hundred have been killed by security forces — combined with lack of any political change triggered an explosion of violence in recent weeks, seriously undermining Ethiopia’s reputation as a stable country.

The image of foreign farms and business going up in flames after being set alight by protesters has put off investors.

“The protests have significantly undermined the ruling coalition and genuine stability will take years to recover,” said Emma Gordon, an analyst at Maplecroft Verisk, a risk management firm.

“Until then, further divestments, particularly by Western agribusiness firms, are likely to be announced.”

The most likely scenario, said Gordon, is a continuing weak but persistent challenge to government authority because, the “proposed reforms are unlikely to fully satisfy” opponents.

Protesters want “more sweeping concessions” to reduce the dominance of the minority Tigrayan leaders in the EPRDF and for security forces to be reined in.

But none of this is on the table — meaning, Gordon said, another eruption of protests is likely “in relation to military deployments or evidence of continued restrictions on the political opposition.”

AFP

Middle East

Russia’s Putin visits Syria airbase and orders start of pullout

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BBC — President Vladimir Putin has ordered the partial withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria, during an unannounced visit there on Monday.

Mr Putin was met by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as he arrived at the Russian Hmeimim airbase, near Latakia.

Russian military support has been crucial in turning the tide of Syria’s civil war in Mr Assad’s favour.

Mr Putin made a similar withdrawal announcement last year, but Russian military operations continued.

“I order the defence minister and the chief of the general staff to start withdrawing the Russian group of troops to their permanent bases,” Mr Putin said on Tuesday, according to the Russian RIA Novosti news agency.

“I have taken a decision: a significant part of the Russian troop contingent located in Syria is returning home to Russia,” he added.

Mr Putin said that if “terrorists raise their heads again”, Russia would “carry out such strikes on them which they have never seen”.

“We will never forget the victims and losses suffered in the fight against terror both here in Syria and also in Russia,” he said.

He told President Assad that Russia wanted to work with Iran, the government’s other key ally, and Turkey, which backs the opposition, to help bring peace to Syria.

Last week, Mr Putin announced the “total rout” of jihadist militants from so-called Islamic State (IS) along the Euphrates river valley in eastern Syria.
Russia launched an air campaign in Syria in September 2015 with the aim of “stabilising” Mr Assad’s government after a series of defeats.

Officials in Moscow stressed that it would target only “terrorists”, but activists said its strikes mainly hit mainstream rebel fighters and civilians.

The campaign has allowed pro-government forces to break the deadlock on several key battlefronts, most notably in Aleppo.

The Syrian and Russian air forces carried out daily air strikes on the rebel-held east of the city before it fell in December 2016, killing hundreds of people and destroying hospitals, schools and markets, according to UN human rights investigators.

Moscow has consistently denied that its air strikes have caused any civilian deaths.

However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Sunday that Russian air strikes had killed 6,328 civilians , including 1,537 children.

The UK-based monitoring group has documented the deaths of 346,612 people in total since the start of the uprising against Mr Assad in 2011.

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US Jerusalem move: Fury spreads from Jakarta to Rabat

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AL JAZEERA — A wave of anger against a US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has spread from Asia, through the Middle East, to North Africa, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets to denounce the controversial move.

Protesters filled central avenues and squares in a number of major international cities on Sunday, waving the flag of Palestine and shouting slogans to express their solidarity with the Palestinians, who see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

US President Donald Trump’s announcement on Wednesday drew near-universal condemnation from world leaders and inflamed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with violence flaring up in the occupied Palestinian territories for a fifth day.

According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, 157 people were injured on Sunday in confrontations with Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.

At least four Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the US declaration.
Clashes also erupted on Sunday at a protest in Beirut, where demonstrators fought with security forces outside the US embassy in the Lebanese capital.

Demonstrators set fires in the street, torched US and Israeli flags and threw stones at police officers, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.

Adnan Abdullah, a protester in Beirut, said Trump’s Jerusalem decision “will not happen as long as there are people like us”.

Another demonstrator, whose face was hidden behind a black mask, held up a tear gas canister and condemned Lebanese forces for “defending America”.

He went on to add, “There is no one by our side. None of the Arab countries. Oh God, we will raise the Palestinian flag”

Arab foreign ministers, in a resolution on Sunday, urged Trump to rescind the decision and have called for a UN Security Council condemnation of the shift in US policy.

Meanwhile, more than 5,000 Indonesians rallied outside the US embassy in Jakarta to vent their anger for a second day. Protesters carried Palestinian flags and banners saying “Pray for Palestine”.

“We are not satisfied with just official statements,” said Nurjannah Nurwani, one of the lead organisers of the gathering. “We need follow-up, international lobbying which could pressure them into withdrawing their decision.”

Another female protester in Jakarta urged Trump to “use his brain” and “withdraw from Jerusalem”.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has condemned Trump’s decision. On Thursday, he ordered the US ambassador in Jakarta to be summoned over the move.

In Turkey’s Istanbul, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets again, transforming the city’s Yenikapi Square into a sea of Turkish and Palestinian flags.

“I feel like I should defend Palestine because I don’t know any other way to defend them,” said Ananda Sereka, who was at the protest. “So this is what I can do. This is the least I can do.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one of the most vocal critics of Trump’s move, has called the declaration “null and void” and vowed to fight it.

He has also called a summit of Islamic countries to discuss the move on Wednesday.

In Rabat, Morocco’s capital, protesters yelled slurs against Trump and carried banners saying Jerusalem belonged to Palestine.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Rabat, said the protest was “a show of solidarity with the Palestinian people but also an opportunity to express anger” over Trump’s decision.

“The protesters came from all walks of life,” he said. “Government officials, members of the opposition, seculars and conservatives – all denouncing what they consider to be a decision that could destabilise the region.”

Mohamed Boussaid, Morocco’s finance minister, said the demonstration was a way “to express our indignation and un-satisfaction” and to show that “we refuse completely the decision taken by the president of the US”.

Protester Mohamed Alghram agreed.

“We totally reject the decision that targets the most sacred place for us and we say no,” he said. “Jerusalem is a red line.”

Jerusalem is home to Islam’s third holiest site and its status is deeply sensitive for Muslims.

In Indian-administered Kashmir, protesters took a different approach.

Residents of the capital Srinagar, home to 1.1 million people, closed their shops and abandoned the streets in protest. Salman Khan, a Srinagar resident, told the ANI news agency that Trump’s decision was “completely unjust”.

Muslim solidarity with Palestine also spread to the war-torn nations of Yemen and Syria.

Further protests were held in Egypt, where students and professors demonstrated at the Al-Azhar university.

In Pakistan’s Karachi, hundreds of protesters marched towards the US Consulate in the city, but were turned back by riot police.

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Diaspora

U.S. Put 92 Somalis on a Deportation Flight, Then Brought Them Back

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Ninety-two Somali citizens were flown out of the United States under orders of deportation on Thursday, but their plane never made it to Somalia. The flight landed in the West African country of Senegal and, facing logistical problems, was rerouted back to the United States.

It was an unexpected, 5,000-mile backtrack for the migrants, some of whom have lived in the United States for years, or even decades, while on a list for deportation because they had entered the country without proper documentation.

In recent weeks, dozens of Somali citizens were transported from their homes in the United States — many were living in Minnesota — to Louisiana in preparation for the flight. A few, with the help of lawyers, managed to secure stays of removal.

The 92 on the plane got only as far as Senegal’s capital, Dakar, according to United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In an emailed statement on Friday, the agency said it was notified that a relief flight crew was “unable to get sufficient crew rest due to issues with their hotel in Dakar,” so the aircraft and detainees spent time parked at the airport there. It added that “various logistical options were explored, and ultimately ICE decided to reschedule the mission to Somalia and return to the United States with all 92 detainees.”

Civilians helping a man who was injured in a suicide car bomb explosion in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, in October. Credit Feisal Omar/Reuters

War, famine and disease have killed hundreds of thousands of people in Somalia since the central government collapsed in 1991. Militants, including members of the Shabab, an Islamist terrorist group, are still carrying out deadly attacks in the Horn of Africa country. A pair of truck explosions killed hundreds of people on one of the busiest streets in Mogadishu, the capital, in October. It was the deadliest attack the city had experienced in decades.

Kim Hunter, a lawyer whose firm represents two men who were on the flight, said it did not make sense to send her clients back to such a dangerous country.

“The security situation is abysmal,” she said on Thursday. “I, apparently, was naïve because I actually believed that following the Oct. 14 bombing, this flight might be suspended.”

Ms. Hunter learned on Friday that the flight had turned around and her clients’ deportations had been rescheduled, though it was unclear for when. An ICE spokeswoman said the agency does not provide that information in advance.

Ms. Hunter said she also had no advance notice when immigration officials recently transported five of her clients from their Minnesota homes. (They were first taken to Louisiana to prepare for their deportation.) Her law firm scrambled to secure stays of removal for the men and helped three avoid the flight.

Now that the other two have had their deportations delayed, Ms. Hunter said she would keep working to prevent their removal. Neither client has a criminal record, and both have been in the United States for more than a decade. One is married to a permanent resident and has children who are United States citizens.

“We’re inclined to think that this sort of failed flight reflects on the fact that more deportations are being carried out in haste and are perhaps not as well-planned as they might have been previously,” she added.

One Somali woman in Minnesota, who did not want to give her name for fear of getting her family in trouble with the authorities, said in a phone interview on Friday that her cousin was among those on the flight.

She said she had been desperate for answers since Wednesday, when her cousin called from Louisiana saying he was about to be deported. “I was very sad. I cried, and he told me not to make him cry,” she said, adding that it would be dangerous for him to land in Mogadishu because he had no connections there. “He hasn’t seen Somalia for the last 20 years.”

Many Somali citizens who are in the United States without documentation have been able to stay for years despite deportation orders because Somalia would not grant them the necessary travel documents. Mogadishu, which opened an embassy in Washington in 2015, appears to be cooperating with American officials to accept more of its citizens back.

The number of Somali people being deported from the United States has risen since 2014. During that fiscal year, 65 Somali citizens were removed from the United States. That number jumped to 120 the next year, and 198 the year after that.

In the fiscal year 2017, 521 Somali citizens were deported, according to the most recent report from ICE. A spokeswoman for the agency said there were five chartered flights to Somalia that year.

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