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Ethiopian army clearing TPLF from two northern regions, says government

Ethiopia’s national armed forces are still in the process of clearing rebellious forces from the northern Tigray region from neighboring Amhara and Afar, government spokeswoman Billene Seyoum said on Tuesday.

Billene rejected a statement by the TPLF, the party that controls Tigray, that it had conducted a strategic withdrawal from the Amhara and Afar regions. She presented what had unfolded as a series of military victories by the national forces against the TPLF.

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The TPLF said on Monday its forces had withdrawn from Amhara and Afar, presenting the move as a “decisive opening for peace” and writing to the United Nations setting out a series of demands.

“As we have seen in recent weeks, the national defense forces together with allied forces from the Afar region and the Amhara region have made considerable gains in reversing the occupation by TPLF of many Amhara and Afar towns,” Billene said during a news conference live-streamed on YouTube.

“We’re still in the final stages of this latest operation …The aim was to ensure that TPLF forces were cleared out of the Amhara and Afar regions,” she said.

“This is something that is still being undertaken because there are still some elements within certain pockets that need to be fully cleared out.”

The 13-month-old war in Africa’s second most populous nation has destabilized an already fragile region, sent 60,000 refugees into Sudan, pulled Ethiopian soldiers away from war-ravaged Somalia and drawn in armed forces from neighboring Eritrea.

Read more: Freelance journalist accredited to AP detained in Ethiopia

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Beirut blast judge postpones interrogations over dispute


The Lebanese judge leading the investigation into the deadly 2020 Beirut port explosion said Monday he has postponed questioning of officials over a dispute with the country’s top prosecutor.

Judge Tarek Bitar resumed his probe last month after a 13-month hiatus amid vehement political and legal pushback, which now threatens to derail the investigation once again.

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Reopening the case, he had charged several senior former and incumbent officials, including Prosecutor General Ghassan Oueidat.

Oueidat retaliated by charging the judge with “usurping power” and insubordination, and slapped Bitar with a travel ban.

Bitar told reporters on Monday he has postponed all interrogations planned for February due to the “lack of cooperation” from the prosecutor’s office, without setting new dates.

“There are charges accusing me of usurping power that must be resolved,” he said from his office in the Lebanese capital.

If these charges “are proven, then I must be held to account, and if the contrary happens, then I must continue the investigation,” Bitar argued.

One of history’s biggest non-nuclear explosions, the blast on August 4, 2020 destroyed much of Beirut port and surrounding areas, killing more than 215 people and injuring over 6,500.

Authorities said the mega-explosion was caused by a fire in a portside warehouse where a vast stockpile of the industrial chemical ammonium nitrate had been haphazardly stored for years.

The arm-wrestling between Bitar and Oueidat is the latest in Lebanon’s mounting woes, facing dire economic and political crises.

Observers fear the spat over the blast probe could lead to the outright collapse of the judicial system — one of the country’s last fully functioning state institutions.

Read more: Bitar needs to hold nerve and hold Hezbollah to account

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Ancient Gaziantep Castle damaged in devastating Turkey earthquake


The deadly earthquake that struck Turkey early Monday destroyed part of the ancient Gaziantep Castle, with pictures online showing a large section of the building sliding off a cliff.
Before and after pictures showed the extensive damage with debris blocking a nearby road.
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Part of the thousands-year-old Gaziantep Castle, a historic and touristic site, was destroyed after a 7.8-magnitude struck southern Turkey also affecting northern Syria.

The Ancient Gaziantep Castle before it was destroyed by the earthquake. (Twitter)

The Ancient Gaziantep Castle before it was destroyed by the earthquake. (Twitter)

The strong earthquake left thousands of people dead and injured as the death toll is expected to rise as rescue efforts to continue.
The earthquake was also felt in neighboring Lebanon and Jordan, sending residents panicking.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier said 2,818 buildings were destroyed after the first tremor, describing it as the country’s “largest disaster” since 1939, when a major quake struck the eastern province of Erzincan.
Read more:
Dutch researcher accurately predicts Turkey-Syria quake 3 days before it happened
Saudi Arabia expresses solidarity with Turkey, Syria following earthquake: Statement
Can earthquakes be predicted? UAE-based expert seismologist weighs in

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Ethiopia holds referendum on creation of a 12th regional state in the south


Ethiopians were voting on Monday in a referendum on the creation of a 12th regional state in the south of the country, the third such ballot in under four years.

More than three million people are registered to vote in areas that currently fall in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR), according to election board figures cited by state media.

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Results are due on February 15.
Since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018, two new regional states have already been carved out: Sidama in 2019 and South West in 2021.

Both separated from the SNNPR, a mosaic of minority ethnic groups and scene of tension and violence in recent years.

Africa’s second most populous country has faced several chal-lenges to its unity and stability, including the two-year war in Tigray that ended with a peace deal in November and an ongoing insurgency in the largest region of Oromia.

The current constitution adopted in 1995, four years after the fall of the military-Marxist Derg regime, had initially divided Ethiopia into nine regional states, cut out along ethno-linguistic lines and enjoying considerable power in a federal system.

This “ethnic federalism” was supposed to offer a degree of autonomy to the 80 or so ethnic communities that make up Ethiopia, but has been accused by critics of exacerbating inter-communal tensions.

Read more: Cautious optimism as Ethiopia sets out on long road to peace after two years of war

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