Tomas Dapkus contributed reporting.

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Mass Detentions of Civilians Fan ‘Climate of Fear’ in Ethiopia

NAIROBI, Kenya — The family was startled awake by a loud bang in the middle of the night on the gate of their home on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

Police officers barged in without a warrant, ransacking the living room and looking under the beds. They seized three members of the family, among them a 76-year-old, one-legged amputee yanked from bed while his sons begged to go in his place.

“They showed him no mercy even after he cried, ‘I am disabled and diabetic,’” said the man’s nephew, Kirubel, who would give only his first name for fear of reprisals.

The family is among hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of Ethiopians belonging to the Tigrayan ethnic group who have been rounded up and detained in the capital and beyond in recent weeks.

routed the Ethiopian army in Tigray, swept south, recently captured two strategic towns and threatened to advance toward the capital.

On Nov. 2, the government declared a state of emergency, and the resulting roundups have swept up anyone of Tigrayan descent, many of whom had no ties to the rebels or even affinity for them. They were not just young men and women, but also mothers with children and the elderly, according to human rights advocates and interviews with nearly a dozen family members and friends of detainees.

They have been seized off the streets, in their homes and even in workplaces — including banks, schools and shopping centers — and taken to overcrowded cells in police stations and detention facilities.

Tigrayans have been targeted by the police based on a mix of hints: their surnames, details listed on identification cards and drivers licenses, even the way they speak Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia.

said Tuesday through a spokeswoman. “Its provisions are extremely broad, with vague prohibitions going as far as encompassing ‘indirect moral’ support for what the government has labeled ‘terrorist groups.’”

The ethnically motivated detentions come amid a significant rise in online hate speech, which is only adding fuel to the civil war tearing apart Africa’s second-most populous nation. Reports of massacres, ethnic cleansing and widespread sexual assault by all sides in the conflict have undermined the vision of Ethiopian unity that Mr. Abiy, the prime minister and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, promised when he rose to power more than three years ago.

The war between Ethiopian federal forces and their allies and Tigrayan rebel fighters has left thousands of people dead, at least 400,000 living in famine-like conditions and millions displaced. It risks engulfing the whole of Ethiopia and the wider Horn of Africa.

Mr. Abiy’s determination to prosecute the war seems to have been only hardened by economic threats from the Biden administration, which has imposed sanctions on his military allies in neighboring Eritrea and suspended Ethiopia from duty-free access to the U.S. market.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who is traveling to Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal this week, has expressed worry that Ethiopia could “implode.”

defend the capital “with our blood” even as African and Western envoys sought to broker a cease-fire.

Police officials have defended the arrests, saying they were seizing supporters of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the country’s former dominant party, which Ethiopia now classifies as a terrorist organization.

Activists, however, say the state of emergency provisions are so nebulous that they give security officials unfettered latitude. The provisions allow for the search of any person’s home or their arrest without a warrant “upon reasonable suspicion” that they cooperate with terrorist groups.

Laetitia Bader, the Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said “the state of emergency is legitimizing and legalizing unlawful practices” and creating “a real climate of fear.”

Many ethnic Tigrayans say they now fear leaving home. Almost all those who agreed to be interviewed declined to be identified by name for fear that they might be arrested or face retaliation.

began a military campaign in the country’s northern Tigray region, hoping to vanquish the Tigray People’s Liberation Front — his most troublesome political foe.

In Addis Ababa, security officers have demanded that landlords identify Tigrayan tenants. In one secondary school, a teacher said four Tigrayan teachers had been taken into custody as they ate lunch after officers arrived with a letter from the intelligence service containing their names.

A merchant in Addis Ababa, 38, was picked up by security officers after he opened his mobile phone accessories shop. A nearby shop owner phoned that news to the seized merchant’s wife, who said she left their two children with a neighbor and rushed to the shop — only to find it closed and her husband gone.

After a three-day search, the wife said, she found her husband in a crowded Addis Ababa detention facility with no proper bedding or food.

In Addis Ababa, rights groups say, police stations are so full of detainees that the authorities have moved the overflow to heavily guarded makeshift facilities, among them youth recreation centers, warehouses and one major prison. With no access to lawyers, some relatives of detainees say they will not approach these facilities, fearful they could be arrested too.

whistle-blower, have long accused Facebook of failing to moderate hateful incitement speech. With pressure mounting, Facebook this month deleted a post by Mr. Abiy urging citizens to “bury” the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Twitter also disabled its Trends section in Ethiopia, citing “the risks of coordination that could incite violence or cause harm.”

Timnit Gebru, an Ethiopian-born American computer scientist who spotted and reported some of the posts on Facebook, said the measures were insufficient and amounted to “a game of whack-a-mole.”

For now, many Tigrayans worry that it’s only a matter of time before they are seized. One businessman, who paid a $400 bribe for his release, said officers had told him they would come for him again.

It’s a fate Kirubel said he worried about as his disabled uncle and cousins remained detained.

“My children worry that I will not come back when I leave the house,” he said. “Everyone is afraid.”

Employees of The New York Times contributed reporting from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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In India, Facebook Struggles to Combat Misinformation and Hate Speech

On Feb. 4, 2019, a Facebook researcher created a new user account to see what it was like to experience the social media site as a person living in Kerala, India.

For the next three weeks, the account operated by a simple rule: Follow all the recommendations generated by Facebook’s algorithms to join groups, watch videos and explore new pages on the site.

The result was an inundation of hate speech, misinformation and celebrations of violence, which were documented in an internal Facebook report published later that month.

bots and fake accounts tied to the country’s ruling party and opposition figures were wreaking havoc on national elections. They also detail how a plan championed by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, to focus on “meaningful social interactions,” or exchanges between friends and family, was leading to more misinformation in India, particularly during the pandemic.

a violent coup in the country. Facebook said that after the coup, it implemented a special policy to remove praise and support of violence in the country, and later banned the Myanmar military from Facebook and Instagram.

In Sri Lanka, people were able to automatically add hundreds of thousands of users to Facebook groups, exposing them to violence-inducing and hateful content. In Ethiopia, a nationalist youth militia group successfully coordinated calls for violence on Facebook and posted other inflammatory content.

Facebook has invested significantly in technology to find hate speech in various languages, including Hindi and Bengali, two of the most widely used languages, Mr. Stone said. He added that Facebook reduced the amount of hate speech that people see globally by half this year.

suicide bombing in the disputed border region of Kashmir set off a round of violence and a spike in accusations, misinformation and conspiracies between Indian and Pakistani nationals.

After the attack, anti-Pakistan content began to circulate in the Facebook-recommended groups that the researcher had joined. Many of the groups, she noted, had tens of thousands of users. A different report by Facebook, published in December 2019, found Indian Facebook users tended to join large groups, with the country’s median group size at 140,000 members.

Graphic posts, including a meme showing the beheading of a Pakistani national and dead bodies wrapped in white sheets on the ground, circulated in the groups she joined.

After the researcher shared her case study with co-workers, her colleagues commented on the posted report that they were concerned about misinformation about the upcoming elections in India.

Two months later, after India’s national elections had begun, Facebook put in place a series of steps to stem the flow of misinformation and hate speech in the country, according to an internal document called Indian Election Case Study.

The case study painted an optimistic picture of Facebook’s efforts, including adding more fact-checking partners — the third-party network of outlets with which Facebook works to outsource fact-checking — and increasing the amount of misinformation it removed. It also noted how Facebook had created a “political white list to limit P.R. risk,” essentially a list of politicians who received a special exemption from fact-checking.

The study did not note the immense problem the company faced with bots in India, nor issues like voter suppression. During the election, Facebook saw a spike in bots — or fake accounts — linked to various political groups, as well as efforts to spread misinformation that could have affected people’s understanding of the voting process.

In a separate report produced after the elections, Facebook found that over 40 percent of top views, or impressions, in the Indian state of West Bengal were “fake/inauthentic.” One inauthentic account had amassed more than 30 million impressions.

A report published in March 2021 showed that many of the problems cited during the 2019 elections persisted.

In the internal document, called Adversarial Harmful Networks: India Case Study, Facebook researchers wrote that there were groups and pages “replete with inflammatory and misleading anti-Muslim content” on Facebook.

The report said there were a number of dehumanizing posts comparing Muslims to “pigs” and “dogs,” and misinformation claiming that the Quran, the holy book of Islam, calls for men to rape their female family members.

Much of the material circulated around Facebook groups promoting Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an Indian right-wing and nationalist group with close ties to India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P. The groups took issue with an expanding Muslim minority population in West Bengal and near the Pakistani border, and published posts on Facebook calling for the ouster of Muslim populations from India and promoting a Muslim population control law.

Facebook knew that such harmful posts proliferated on its platform, the report indicated, and it needed to improve its “classifiers,” which are automated systems that can detect and remove posts containing violent and inciting language. Facebook also hesitated to designate R.S.S. as a dangerous organization because of “political sensitivities” that could affect the social network’s operation in the country.

Of India’s 22 officially recognized languages, Facebook said it has trained its A.I. systems on five. (It said it had human reviewers for some others.) But in Hindi and Bengali, it still did not have enough data to adequately police the content, and much of the content targeting Muslims “is never flagged or actioned,” the Facebook report said.

Five months ago, Facebook was still struggling to efficiently remove hate speech against Muslims. Another company report detailed efforts by Bajrang Dal, an extremist group linked with the B.J.P., to publish posts containing anti-Muslim narratives on the platform.

Facebook is considering designating the group as a dangerous organization because it is “inciting religious violence” on the platform, the document showed. But it has not yet done so.

“Join the group and help to run the group; increase the number of members of the group, friends,” said one post seeking recruits on Facebook to spread Bajrang Dal’s messages. “Fight for truth and justice until the unjust are destroyed.”

Ryan Mac, Cecilia Kang and Mike Isaac contributed reporting.

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This Ethiopian Road Is a Lifeline for Millions. Now It’s Blocked.

AFAR, Ethiopia — The road, a 300-mile strip of tarmac that passes through some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth, is the only way into a conflict-torn region where millions of Ethiopians face the threat of mass starvation.

But it is a fragile lifeline, fraught with dangers that have made the route barely passable for aid convoys trying to get humanitarian supplies into the Tigray region, where local fighters have been battling the Ethiopian army for eight months.

the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in a decade.

wrote on Twitter. “People are starving.”

Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, said last week that his government was providing “unfettered humanitarian access” and committed to “the safe delivery of critical supplies to its people in the Tigray region.”

But Mr. Abiy’s ministers have publicly accused aid workers of helping and even arming the Tigrayan fighters, drawing a robust denial from one U.N. agency. And senior aid officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing their operations, said the government’s stated commitment to enable aid deliveries was belied by its actions on the ground.

Aid workers have been harassed at airports or, in the case of a World Food Program official last weekend, have died inside Tigray for want of immediate medical care.

Tigrayan fighters had marched into the regional capital, Mekelle, hours after beleaguered Ethiopian soldiers quit the city. The city airport was shut, so the only way out of Tigray was on a slow-moving U.N. convoy that took the same desolate route out as the fleeing Ethiopian soldiers.

We drove down a rocky escarpment on a road scarred by tank tracks. As we descended into the plains of Afar, the temperature quickly rose.

publicized the flight but made no mention of the delays or harassment — an omission that privately angered several U.N. officials and other aid workers who said it followed a pattern of U.N. agencies being unwilling to publicly criticize the Ethiopian authorities.

Further complicating the aid effort: The war is now spilling into Afar.

In the past week Tigrayan forces have pushed into the region. In response Mr. Abiy mobilized ethnic militias from other regions to counter the offensive.

Mr. Abiy has also resorted to increasingly inflammatory language — referring to Tigrayan leaders as “cancer” and “weeds” in need of removal — that foreign officials view as a possible tinder for a new wave of ethnic violence across the country.

Ms. Billene, his spokeswoman, dismissed those fears as “alarmist.” The Ethiopian leader had “clearly been referring to a terrorist organization and not the people of Tigray,” she said.

Inside Tigray, the most pressing priority is to reopen the road to Afar.

“This is a desperate, desperate situation,” said Lorraine Sweeney of Support Africa Foundation, a charity that shelters about 100 pregnant women displaced by fighting in the Tigrayan city of Adigrat.

Ms. Sweeney, who is based in Ireland, said she had fielded calls from panicked staff members appealing for help to feed the women, all of whom are at least eight months pregnant.

“It brings me back to famine times in Ireland,” Ms. Sweeney said. “This is crazy stuff in this day and age.”

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How Local Guerrilla Fighters Routed Ethiopia’s Powerful Army

A scrappy force of local Tigrayan recruits scored a cascade of battlefield victories against the Ethiopian military, one of Africa’s strongest. Times journalists witnessed the decisive week in an eight-month civil war.


SAMRE, Ethiopia — The Tigrayan fighters whooped, whistled and pointed excitedly to a puff of smoke in the sky, where an Ethiopian military cargo plane trundling over the village minutes earlier had been struck by a missile.

Smoke turned to flames as the stricken aircraft broke in two and hurtled toward the ground. Later, in a stony field strewn with smoking wreckage, villagers picked through twisted metal and body parts. For the Tigrayan fighters, it was a sign.

“Soon we’re going to win,” said Azeb Desalgne, a 20-year-old with an AK-47 over her shoulder.

The downing of the plane on June 22 offered bracing evidence that the conflict in the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia was about to take a seismic turn. A Tigrayan guerrilla army had been fighting to drive out the Ethiopian military for eight months in a civil war marked by atrocities and starvation. Now the fight seemed to be turning in their favor.

The war erupted in November, when a simmering feud between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Tigrayan leaders, members of a small ethnic minority who had dominated Ethiopia for much of the three previous decades, exploded into violence.

airstrike had struck a crowded village market that day, killing dozens. We watched as the first casualties arrived at Mekelle’s largest hospital.

Days later, three aid workers from Doctors Without Borders were brutally murdered by unknown assailants.

In the countryside, the war was moving at a furious pace. Ethiopian military positions fell like dominoes. Hours after the Tigrayans shot down the military cargo plane, we reached a camp holding several thousand newly captured Ethiopian soldiers, about 30 miles south of Mekelle.

Clustered behind a barbed wire fence, the prisoners erupted into applause when we stepped from our vehicle — hoping, they later explained, that we were Red Cross workers.

Some were wounded, others barefoot — Tigrayans confiscated their boots as well as their guns, they said — and many pleaded for help. “We have badly wounded soldiers here,” said Meseret Asratu, 29, a platoon commander.

Further along the road was the battlefield where others had died. The bodies of Ethiopian soldiers were scattered across a rocky field, untouched since a fight four days earlier, now swelling in the afternoon sun.

Personal items cast aside nearby, amid empty ammunition boxes and abandoned uniforms, hinted at young lives interrupted: dog-eared photos of loved ones, but also university certificates, chemistry textbooks and sanitary pads — a reminder that women fight on both sides of the conflict.

Stragglers were still being rounded up. The next day, Tigrayan fighters marched five just-captured prisoners up a hill, where they slumped to the ground, exhausted.

Dawit Toba, a glum 20-year-old from the Oromia region of Ethiopia, said he had surrendered without firing a shot. War in Tigray was not like he had imagined it. “We were told there would be fighting,” he said. “But when we got here it was looting, robbery, attacks on women.”

“This war was not necessary,” he added. “Mistakes have been made.”

Driving off, we came across a figure sprawled on the roadside — an Ethiopian, stripped of his uniform, with several bullet wounds to his leg. He groaned softly.

The wounded soldier appeared to have been dumped there, although it wasn’t clear by whom. We drove him back to the prisoner camp, where Ethiopian medics did some basic treatment on the ground outside a school. Nobody was sure if he would survive.

Artillery boomed in the distance. The Tigrayan offensive was continuing to the north, using captured heavy guns against the Ethiopian troops who had brought them in. A platoon of fighters walked through, bearing a wounded man on a stretcher. Teklay Tsegay, 20, watched them pass.

Before the war, Mr. Teklay was a mechanic in Adigrat, 70 miles north. Then, last February, Eritrean soldiers fired into his aunt’s house, killing her 5-year-old daughter, he said. The following day, Mr. Teklay slipped out of Adigrat to join the resistance.

“I never thought I would be a soldier,” he said. “But here I am.”

As Tigrayans quietly mustered a guerrilla army this year, they drew on their experience of fighting a brutal Marxist dictatorship in Ethiopia in the 1970s and 1980s, under the flag of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Then, Tigrayan intellectuals used Marxist ideology to bind peasant fighters to their cause, much like the Viet Cong or rebels in Angola and Mozambique.

But this time, the Tigrayan fighters are largely educated and hail from the towns and cities. And it is anger at atrocities, not Marxism, that drew them to the cause.

At the recruitment camp, instructors standing under trees gave speeches about Tigrayan culture and identity, and taught new recruits to fire an AK-47.

The wave of recruits has included doctors, university professors, white-collar professionals and diaspora Tigrayans from the United States and Europe, colleagues and friends said. Even in government-held Mekelle, recruitment grew increasingly brazen.

Two weeks ago, a T.D.F. poster appeared on a wall beside St. Gabriel’s, the city’s largest church. “Those who fail to join are as good as the walking dead,” it read. Hours later, Ethiopian soldiers arrived and tore it down.

Mulugeta Gebrehiwot Berhe, 61, a senior fellow at the World Peace Foundation at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, in Massachusetts, was visiting Mekelle when war erupted in November. I found him near the town of Samre, a leather-holstered pistol on his hip.

“I joined the resistance,” said the academic, who once helped broker a peace deal for the United Nations in Darfur. “I felt I had no other option.”

Even some Ethiopian commanders felt alienated by Mr. Abiy’s approach to the conflict.

Until late June, Col. Hussein Mohamed, a tall man with a gold-tooth smile, commanded the 11th Infantry Division in Tigray. Now he was a prisoner, held with other Ethiopian officers in a closely guarded farmhouse.

Of the 3,700 troops under his command, at least half were probably dead, said Colonel Hussein, confirming that he was speaking voluntarily. “The course of this war is political madness, to my mind,” he said.

He always had serious reservations about Mr. Abiy’s military alliance with Eritrea, Ethiopia’s old foe, he said: “They ransack properties, they rape women, they commit atrocities. The whole army is unhappy about this marriage.”

Still, Ethiopian soldiers have been accused of much the same crimes. I met Colonel Hussein in a stone-walled room, with a tin roof, as rain splattered outside. When the room’s owner, Tsehaye Berhe, arrived with a tray of coffee cups, her face clouded over.

“Take it!” she snapped at the Ethiopian officer. “I’m not serving you.”

Moments later Ms. Tsehaye returned to apologize. “I’m sorry for being emotional,” she said. “But your soldiers burned my house and stole my crops.”

Colonel Hussein nodded quietly.

Even before Ethiopian forces abandoned Mekelle on June 28, there were hints that something was afoot. The internet went down, and at the regional headquarters where Mr. Abiy had installed an interim government, I found deserted corridors and locked offices. Outside, federal police officers were slinging backpacks into a bus.

Smoke rose from the Ethiopian National Defense Forces’ headquarters in Mekelle — a pyre of burning documents, it turned out, piled high by detainees accused of supporting the T.D.F.

Weeks earlier, Ethiopian intelligence officers had tortured one of them, Yohannes Haftom, with a cattle prod. “We will burn you,” Mr. Yohannes recalled them saying. “We will bury you alive.”

But after he followed their orders to cart their confidential documents to the burn pit on June 28, the Ethiopians set Mr. Yohannes free. Hours later, the first T.D.F. fighters entered Mekelle, setting off days of raucous celebration.

Residents filled streets where young fighters paraded on vehicles like beauty queens, or leaned from speeding tuktuks spraying gunfire into the air. Nightclubs and cafes filled up, and an older woman prostrated herself at the feet of a just-arrived fighter, shouting thanks to God.

On the fourth day, fighters paraded thousands of Ethiopian prisoners through the city center, in a show of triumphalism that was a pointed rebuke to the leader of Ethiopia. “Abiy is a thief!” people chanted as dejected soldiers marched past.

The celebrations eventually reached the house where Mr. Getachew, the Tigrayan leader and T.D.F. spokesman, now descended from his mountain base, was staying.

As the whiskey flowed, Mr. Getachew juggled calls on his satellite phone while a generator rattled in the background. Mr. Abiy had once been his political ally, even his friend, he said. Now the Ethiopian leader had cut the power and phone lines to Mekelle and issued a warrant for his arrest.

Buoyed by victory, the guests excitedly discussed the next phase of their war in Tigray. One produced a cake with the Tigrayan flag that Mr. Getachew, sharing a knife with a senior commander, cut to loud cheers.

For much of his career, he had been a staunch defender of the Ethiopian state. But the war made that position untenable, he said. Now he was planning a referendum on Tigrayan independence.

“Nothing can save the Ethiopian state as we know it, except a miracle,” he said. “And I don’t usually believe in them.”

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‘I Didn’t Expect to Make It Back Alive’: An Interview With Tigray’s Leader

GIJET, Ethiopia — The convoy sped down from the mountain, slipping and sliding on roads greasy from a recent shower of hailstones. As it descended toward the regional capital of Tigray, curling through rocky hills and remote hamlets, people clustered along the route in celebration.

Women stood ululating outside stone farmhouses, and fighters perched atop a ridge fired their weapons into the air as the vehicles curled around the detritus of battle: burned-out tanks, overturned trucks and a mucky field where on June 23 an Ethiopian military cargo plane, shot down by the Tigrayans, had smashed into the ground.

The leader of Tigray, Debretsion Gebremichael, was going home.

Two days earlier, his scrappy guerrilla force had retaken the regional capital, Mekelle, hours after Ethiopian troops suddenly abandoned the city. Now Mr. Debretsion, a former deputy prime minister of Ethiopia, was leaving the mountains where he had been ensconced for eight months leading a war to re-establish his rule over the region.

“I didn’t expect to make it back alive,” Mr. Debretsion said on Thursday night in an interview, his first since the fall of Mekelle. “But this isn’t personal. The most important thing is that my people are free — free from the invaders. They were living in hell, and now they can breathe again.”

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military operation there. The civil war has led to the displacement of nearly two million people, and to widespread hunger and reports that civilians were subjected to atrocities and sexual violence.

Mr. Debretsion, who is believed to be in his late 50s, claimed to have crippled Ethiopia’s powerful army, defeating seven of its 12 divisions and killing at least 18,000 soldiers. He also detailed plans to expand the war across Tigray, in defiance of international calls for a cease-fire, until his fighters have expelled from the region every outside force, including Eritrean soldiers and ethnic Amhara militias.

“They have taken the land by force,” Mr. Debretsion said. “So we will take it back by force.”

Tigray Defense Forces mounted a spectacle that seemed intended to humiliate Ethiopia’s leader. The fighters marched at least 6,000 Ethiopian prisoners of war through downtown Mekelle past residents chanting, “Abiy is a thief!” A woman holding a large photograph of Mr. Debretsion led the procession.

The Tigrayan leader fought his first war in the 1980s as the head of a guerrilla radio station for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a rebel group leading the resistance against a brutal Marxist dictatorship in Ethiopia.

The rebels swept to power in 1991, with the Tigrayan leadership at the head of a governing coalition that dominated Ethiopia for nearly three decades until Mr. Abiy became prime minister in 2018.

In power, the Tigrayan leadership stabilized Ethiopia and achieved soaring economic growth for nearly a decade. But progress came at the cost of basic civil rights. Critics were imprisoned or exiled, torture was commonplace in detention centers and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front won successive elections with a reported 100 percent of the vote.

By then, Mr. Debretsion had a reputation as a low-key technocrat. He served as communications minister and headed Ethiopia’s power utility, where he oversaw construction of a $4.5 million hydroelectric dam that, when completed, will be Africa’s largest.

But as popular protests against the Tigrayan leadership’s rule roiled Ethiopia from 2015, and as the police killed hundreds of protesters, Mr. Debretsion rose in prominence inside the party. Analysts say he was seen as a younger and more moderate figure than those steeped in Tigrayan nationalism who had dominated the party for decades.

The eruption of war changed everything.

Mr. Abiy said he had no choice but to launch military action, after months of escalating political tensions, when Tigrayan forces attacked a military base on Nov. 4.

Mr. Debretsion challenged that account, saying that Ethiopian troops had been massing on Tigray’s borders for days in preparation for an assault. He had advance knowledge of those plans, Mr. Debretsion said, because ethnic Tigrayans accounted for more than 40 percent of senior Ethiopian military officers, and many defected in the early days of the fight.

At first, Tigrayan forces were caught off guard by a barrage of drone strikes against artillery and supply lines that he said were conducted by the United Arab Emirates, an ally of both Mr. Abiy and the leader of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki.

An Emirates spokesman did not respond to questions about the alleged drone strikes. Mr. Debretsion said they had changed the course of the war.

“Without the drones,” he said, “the fight would have been different.”

The Tigrayans, buoyed by a huge influx of new recruits, mounted their dramatic comeback just before Ethiopia’s election on June 21.

With the vote canceled in Tigray, Ethiopian forces attacked the T.D.F. at its stronghold in the Tembien mountains, west of Mekelle. The Tigrayans struck back hard, and within days several Ethiopian bases had been overrun and thousands of Ethiopian soldiers were captured.

Mr. Debretsion said he would free most of the Ethiopian prisoners who were marched through Mekelle on Friday, but would continue to detain the Ethiopian officers.

He called on the international community to ensure accountability for the spree of atrocities reportedly committed in Tigray in recent months — massacres, rape, the use of starvation as a weapon of war. Some Tigrayans had also been accused of atrocities during the conflict. But Mr. Debretsion rejected a United Nations-led investigation that is being conducted alongside a rights body linked to the Ethiopian government.

“It’s very clear they are partial,” he said.

He warned that if Mr. Abiy tried to mass forces in regions bordering Tigray again, he would quickly send fighters to intercept them.

In recent days, some Tigrayan leaders have suggested that troops could march on Asmara, Eritrea’s capital, to oust Mr. Afwerki, who harbors a decades-old enmity with them.

Mr. Debretsion sounded a more cautious note. Tigrayan troops would fight to push Eritrean troops over the border, he said, but not necessarily go farther.

“We have to be realistic,” Mr. Debretsion said. “Yes, we would like to remove Isaias. But at the end of the day, Eritreans have to remove him.”

The euphoric mood that gripped Mekelle this past week, with some fighters rushing to be with families and others celebrating in the city’s restaurants and nightclubs, is also a challenge for Mr. Debretsion.

The mood might be deflated in the coming weeks, as shortages of food and fuel hit Mekelle, now isolated on all sides.

Aid groups say that more vulnerable Tigrayans may starve if Mr. Abiy’s government does not allow vital aid deliveries.

Even if the conflict ends soon, Mr. Debretsion said, Tigray’s future as part of Ethiopia is in doubt. “The trust has broken completely,” he said. “If they don’t want us, why should we stay?”

Still, he added, nothing has been decided: “It depends on the politics at the center.”

Simon Marks contributed reporting from Brussels.

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Famine Looms in Ethiopia’s War-Ravaged Tigray Region, U.N. Says

Famine is now knocking on the door of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where a civil war that erupted last year has drastically cut the food supply and prevented relief workers from helping the hungry, the top U.N. humanitarian official has warned.

In a confidential note to the United Nations Security Council, the official, Mark Lowcock, the under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, said sections of Tigray, a region of more than 5 million people, are now one step from famine — in part because the government has obstructed aid shipments.

The note, seen by The New York Times, was submitted Tuesday under a Security Council resolution requiring such notification when conflicts cause famine and widespread food insecurity.

“These circumstances now arise in the Tigray region of Northern Ethiopia,” Mr. Lowcock said in the note. While below-average rain, locusts and the Covid-19 pandemic have all contributed to food scarcity, he said, “the scale of the food crisis Tigray faces today is a clear result of the conflict and the behavior of the parties.”

since last November. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and neighboring Eritrea ordered their military forces into the region to crush Mr. Abiy’s political rivals and strengthen his control.

What Mr. Abiy, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, predicted would be a short operation has instead become a quagmire that threatens to destabilize the Horn of Africa. Ethiopian and Eritrean troops have been accused of ethnic cleansing, massacres and others atrocities in Tigray that amount to war crimes.

While the United Nations and international relief organizations have achieved some cooperation from the Ethiopian authorities in gaining access to deprived areas of Tigray, Mr. Lowcock said in his note, such cooperation has deteriorated in recent months. “Humanitarian operations are being attacked, obstructed or delayed in delivering lifesaving assistance,” he wrote, and at least eight aid workers have been killed.

“As a result of impediments and the effect of restrictions, not nearly enough support is being provided,” he wrote. He urged Security Council members “to take any steps possible to prevent a famine from occurring.”

His warning was echoed by Samantha Power, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, the main U.S. government provider of humanitarian assistance to needy countries. Ms. Power, a former American ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement that one of the aid workers killed had worked for the agency she now runs.

took the unusual step of penalizing Ethiopia over growing American exasperation with Mr. Abiy’s actions in Tigray. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced visa restrictions on officials linked to the conflict, preventing their travel to the United States.

Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry reacted angrily, calling the restrictions “extremely regrettable” and suggesting they would “seriously undermine this longstanding and important bilateral relationship.”

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Changing Tack, U.S. Sanctions Ethiopia Over Abuses in Tigray War

NAIROBI, Kenya — Growing American frustration over the war in the Tigray region of Ethiopia spilled over into an open confrontation on Monday when Ethiopian officials lashed out at Washington over new restrictions including aid cuts and a ban on some Ethiopians traveling to the United States.

The restrictions, announced by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Sunday, amount to an unusual step against a key African ally, and a pointed rebuke to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel Peace Prize winner whose troops and allies have been accused of ethnic cleansing, massacres and others atrocities that could amount to war crimes.

Despite “significant diplomatic engagement,” Mr. Blinken said in a statement, “the parties to the conflict in Tigray have taken no meaningful steps to end hostilities or pursue a peaceful resolution of the political crisis.”

American visa restrictions will apply to all actors in the Tigray conflict, Mr. Blinken said, including current and former Ethiopian and Eritrean officials, ethnic Amhara militias and Tigrayan rebels.

a statement on Monday, Ethiopia’s foreign affairs ministry reacted with an expression of regret and what appeared to be thinly veiled threats. It accused the United States of meddling in its internal affairs and trying to overshadow national elections scheduled for June 21.

And it said that Ethiopia could be “forced to reassess its relations with the United States, which might have implications beyond our bilateral relationship.”

gave $923 million, according to USAID, although the vast majority of that money was for humanitarian purposes — health care, food aid, education and democracy support — that will not be hit by the new measures.

The United States had already suspended $23 million in security aid to Ethiopia. Officials say the new measures will preclude any American arms sales to Ethiopia, although much of the country’s weapons come from Russia.

Still, there could be other impacts. Western diplomats say the United States could block international funding to Ethiopia from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund — integral to Mr. Abiy’s economic plans.

dispatched by President Biden in March, and Jeffrey Feltman, the recently appointed Horn of Africa envoy.

American officials worry that the growing chaos in Tigray could destabilize the entire Horn of Africa region, or jeopardize efforts to mediate a high-stakes dispute with Egypt over the massive hydroelectric dam that Ethiopia is building on the Nile.

The growing humanitarian crisis, including the threat of a famine within months, is also driving the sense of urgency.

Those responsible for the Tigray crisis “should anticipate further actions from the United States and the international community,” Mr. Blinken said. “We call on other governments to join is taking these measures.”

Simon Marks contributed reporting from Brussels.

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Severe Covid Is More Often Fatal in Africa Than in Other Regions

People in Africa who become critically ill from Covid-19 are more likely to die than patients in other parts of the world, according to a report published on Thursday in the medical journal The Lancet.

The report, based on data from 64 hospitals in 10 countries, is the first broad look at what happens to critically ill Covid patients in Africa, the authors say.

The increased risk of death applies only to those who become severely ill, not to everyone who catches the disease. Over all, the rates of illness and death from Covid in Africa appear lower than in the rest of the world. But if the virus begins to spread more rapidly in Africa, as it has in other regions, these findings suggest that the death toll could worsen.

Among 3,077 critically ill patients admitted to the African hospitals, 48.2 percent died within 30 days, compared with a global average of 31.5 percent, the Lancet study found.

The study was observational, meaning that the researchers followed the patients’ progress, but did not experiment with treatments. The work was done by a large team called The African Covid-19 Critical Care Outcomes Study Investigators.

For Africa as a whole, the death rate among severely ill Covid patients may be even higher than it was in the study, the researchers said, because much of their information came from relatively well-equipped hospitals, and 36 percent of those facilities were in South Africa and Egypt, which have better resources than many other African countries. In addition, the patients in the study, with an average age of 56, were younger than many other critically ill Covid patients, indicating that death rates outside the study could be higher.

The other eight countries in the study were Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger and Nigeria. Leaders of 16 other African nations had also agreed to participate, but ultimately did not.

Reasons for the higher death rates include a lack of resources such as surge capacity in intensive care units, equipment to measure patients’ oxygen levels, dialysis machines and so-called ECMO devices to pump oxygen into the bloodstream of patients whose lungs become so impaired that even a ventilator is not enough to keep them alive.

But there was also an apparent failure to use resources that were available, the authors of the study suggested. Proning — turning patients onto their stomachs to help them breathe — was underused, performed for only about a sixth of the patients who needed it.

Almost 16 percent of the hospitals had ECMO, but it was offered to less than 1 percent of patients. Similarly, although 68 percent of the sites had access to dialysis to treat kidney failure, which is common in severe Covid cases, only 10 percent of the critically ill patients received it. Half the patients who died were never given oxygen, but the authors of the study said they had little data to explain why.

A Lancet editorial by experts not involved in the study said, “It is common in Africa to have expensive equipment that is non-functional due to poor maintenance or lack of skilled human resources.” Some 40 percent of the medical equipment in Africa was out of service, according to a 2017 report by the Tropical Health and Education Trust, the editorial said.

Another factor is that few doctors in Africa have the training in pulmonary and critical care that is considered essential in treating Covid patients.

As in other studies, chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and diseases affecting the heart, kidney or liver increased the risk of death from Covid. This study was the first to include a large proportion of patients with H.I.V., which nearly doubled the risk of death. The report states, “Our data suggests that H.I.V./AIDS is an important risk factor for Covid-19 mortality.” But the authors also said they did not have data on how the severity of the H.I.V. infection might affect the risk.

An unexpected finding of the study was that, unlike Covid patients in the rest of the world, men in Africa were no more likely than women to die. That result suggests that African women are at higher risk than women in other regions.

The authors suggested that women in Africa might face “barriers to accessing care and limitations or biases in care when critically ill.”

The editorial asked whether new variants could be causing the high death rate found in the study, but also said, “This is a question which, in a continent with severe shortage of sequencing, could take a long time to answer.”

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South Africa Vaccine Rollout Expands to People 60 and Older

CAPE TOWN — Facing a resurgence of Covid-19 infections and plagued by delays with vaccine supply, South Africa began the second phase of its public vaccination campaign on Monday, opening appointments for people aged 60 or older.

Only about 500,000 people in the country have been vaccinated to date, and most doses have gone to health care workers in a trial involving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. South Africa is aiming to open vaccinations for people aged 40 or older in July, followed by the rest of the adult population in November.

South Africa has obtained nearly a million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and anticipates receiving around 4.5 million doses by the end of June.

The country has also ordered 3 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but only plans to begin using these in the public rollout following a verification process by international regulatory agencies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

some 1.6 million confirmed cases, South Africa has been hit harder by the pandemic than any other nation in Africa. Its most recent wave of infections, in December and January, was driven by a more contagious variant of the coronavirus, known as B.1.351, that was first detected in South Africa.

The government has set a goal to vaccinate 5 million people by the end of June, South Africa’s health minister, Zweli Mkhize, said Sunday. Just over 4,000 people were scheduled to receive vaccines on Monday.

The expanded eligibility comes at a critical phase: South Africa is experiencing a sustained rise in cases, and officials have warned of a third wave in the coming weeks, as the southern hemisphere heads into winter.

The slow rollout has underscored global problems of vaccine inequality, especially in Africa, where fewer than 23 million vaccines have been administered, according to the Africa C.D.C. Even vaccines manufactured in South Africa have been disproportionately exported to wealthier nations.

suspended use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine after ordering more than one million doses, and again in April, following safety concerns surrounding the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“For now, we can go on and protect the most vulnerable,” said Dr. Keith Cloete, the head of the health department in the Western Cape province, where more than 11,000 people have died from Covid-19.

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