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Ethiopia’s PM Abiy Ahmed claims war gains, urges rebels to ‘surrender’

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Tuesday urged Tigrayan rebels to surrender, claiming government forces were nearing victory just one week after he vowed to lead military operations at the front.

“The youth of Tigray is perishing like leaves. Knowing it is defeated, it is being led by one who does not have a clear vision or plan,” Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, said in comments aired on state media.

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“It should surrender today to the Ethiopian National Defense Force, to the special forces, to the militias and to the people.”

Tuesday’s footage was the latest in a series of clips showing Abiy, in uniform with soldiers, in what appeared to be the northeastern region of Afar.

The area has been the site of fierce fighting in recent weeks as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group tries to seize control of a critical highway that supplies the capital Addis Ababa.

On Sunday state media claimed the army controlled the lowland Afar town of Chifra, and Abiy said Tuesday such gains would be replicated to the west, in Amhara region.

“The enemy has been defeated. We scored an unthinkable victory with the eastern command in one day… Now in the west we will repeat this victory,” he said.

The announcement last week that Abiy, a former lieutenant-colonel in the military, would head to the battlefield came after the TPLF claimed to control Shewa Robit, a town just 220 kilometers (135 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa by road.

Fears of a rebel march on the capital have prompted the United States, France, the United Kingdom and other countries to urge their citizens to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible, though Abiy’s government says TPLF gains are overstated, and the city is secure.

A TPLF spokesman on Monday dismissed Abiy’s deployment as a “circus” involving “farcical war games.”

War broke out between the two sides in November 2020, with Abiy sending troops into the northernmost Tigray region to topple the TPLF – a move he said came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps.

The fighting has killed thousands, displaced more than two million and driven hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions, according to UN estimates.

Diplomats led by Olusegun Obasanjo, the African Union’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, are trying to broker a ceasefire, though there has been little evident progress so far.

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Russian and UK defense ministers to meet over Ukraine

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Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has accepted an invitation to meet his British counterpart Ben Wallace to discuss the crisis on the Russia-Ukraine border, a senior UK defense source said Saturday.

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“The Defense Secretary is glad that Russia has accepted the invitation to talk with his counterpart,” the source said.

“Given the last defense bilateral between our two countries took place in London in 2013, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has offered to meet in Moscow instead,” added the source.

“The Secretary of State has been clear that he will explore all avenues to achieve stability and a resolution to the Ukraine crisis.”

Tens of thousands of Russian troops are massed on Ukraine’s border, along with an arsenal of tanks, fighting vehicles, artillery and missiles.

Russia has denied it plans to invade but the White House believes an attack could now come “at any point.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned on Friday that Moscow risks becoming embroiled in a “terrible quagmire” if it invades.

In a speech in Australia, the UK’s top diplomat issued a blunt and personal warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he is on the brink of making a major strategic blunder.

He “has not learned the lessons of history,” Truss told Sydney’s Lowy Institute.

“The Ukrainians will fight this, it could be a quagmire” she said.

Britain is among a handful of Western nations rushing weapons such as anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.

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At least six killed in blast in western Afghan city of Herat

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A blast ripped through a minivan in the western Afghan city of Herat on Saturday, killing at least six people, according to officials.

Herat commander Mawlawi Ansari told Reuters that nine people had been injured. The cause of the blast was not clear.

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A health official in Herat, who asked not to be named, said an explosion hit a small van used for public transport just after 1800 local time and that three of the injured were in serious condition.

Since the Taliban took over in August, a series of blasts and attacks, some claimed by Islamic State, have taken place across Afghanistan.

The attacks have heightened the new administration’s security challenges as the country spirals into an economic crisis.

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Arab League delays annual summit as COVID-19 bites again

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The Arab League has announced it is delaying its annual summit scheduled for March 22 in Algiers because of COVID-19 after two years of cancellations due to the pandemic.

“Every year, the summit is held in March, but this year, there has been a delay,” the pan-Arab organization’s assistant secretary general, Hossam Zaki, said in televised remarks Friday, a week after returning to Cairo from a visit to Algiers.

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The last Arab League summit was held in Tunis in March 2019. The past two years’ gatherings have been cancelled due to the pandemic.

Zaki added that Algeria “preferred the option” of delaying the summit, noting that the critical mass of Arab leaders and high-ranking officials needed for the summit could not be guaranteed due to the public health situation.

Arab foreign ministers are expected to announce a new date for the summit during their scheduled meeting on March 9, Zaki said.

Zaki said that there were “no political reasons” behind the delay, but the time could be used to “improve political climates” in the region.

The summit is important for Algeria, which has been seeking to expand its political sphere of influence, against the backdrop of heightened tensions with Morocco.

No agenda has been announced for this year’s summit, but the Arab world remains plagued with multiple conflicts and crises.

These extend from the war in Yemen, which has killed nearly 400,000 people since 2015, to the 2021 coup in Sudan that resulted in its suspension from the African Union, as well as protracted crises in Libya, Lebanon and beyond.

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