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As Ethiopian Government Hints of ‘Threat’ From Sudan, Will Tigrayans Seek Independence?

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Ethiopia is an ethnic jigsaw puzzle of different tribes – Amhara, Oromo, Tigrayan, Sidama, Gurage, Wolayta and Somali. The government in Addis Ababa declared a unilateral ceasefire earlier this week after waging war on rebels in the northern region of Tigray since November.

The Ethiopian government has claimed it could re-enter the capital of the rebel region of Tigray “within weeks” but says it is facing a bigger threat, hinting at a possible attack by Sudan or Egypt.

The Tigray Defence Forces (TDF) rebels – led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – recaptured Mekelle on Monday, 28 June, after a 10-day offensive which forced Ethiopian troops to retreat.

​The fall of the regional capital was a humiliating blow to the government of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

But on Wednesday, 30 June, Redwan Hussein, a spokesman for the Ethiopian government’s Tigray taskforce said, in an apparent reference to Sudan: “Ethiopia is exposed to an attack from outsiders.”

​Mr Redwan said the ceasefire had been “made for humanitarian cause” but he claimed: “If it is required, we can easily enter to Mekelle and we can enter in less than three weeks.”

The head of the Ethiopian Army, Lieuteant General Bacha Debele, added: “The TPLF is no more a threat, but we’ve got a more national threat that we need to shift our attention to.”

Ethiopia has been at loggerheads with Sudan and Egypt over its plans to complete the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which they fear will affect the flow of water downstream in the Nile.

Mr Abiy’s government invaded the northern region of Tigray in November, claiming the local government, led by the TPLF, were out of control.

​Ethiopian troops, backed by Eritrean forces who crossed over the border into northern Tigray, quickly took over the capital Mekelle and most of the urban areas as the rebels retreated to the mountains.

But in recent weeks the TPLF and their allies have mounted a stunning counter-attack which culminated in them retaking Mekelle on Monday.   

​Negasi Tesfaye, a political observer in Addis Ababa, said: “Tigrayans will 100 percent go for independence. They will not make the same mistake as 1991 where they thought they were Ethiopians.”

Mr Tesfaye said: “Abiy Ahmed and the Amhara elite have shown Tigrayans that they are not Ethiopians, that Ethiopians despise them, and use TPLF as a cover for their hatred of Tigrayans. Abiy’s support base is entirely dependent upon Amhara nationalists, Addis Ababa opportunists and Westrn support, due to his liberalisation policies.”

He said: “Amharas may abandon him if he gives up fighting Tigray. My theory is Amharas are using him and will discard him after the war with Tigray is over, similar to what they did with Aman Andom in 1974. He is not fully Amhara after all, so they view him with disdain.”

In September 1974 Aman Andom took over as head of state after the Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed by a military coup but was killed two months later after a shootout with other members of the Derg, the socialist junta which had taken over.

​The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s national politics between 1991 and 2012, when its leader Meles Zenawi died of cancer.

His successors gradually lost their grip on power and the TPLF retreated to Tigray as Amhara and Oromo politicians took over in Addis Ababa.

Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel peace prize when he negotiated a deal with Eritrea to end years of border conflict but he then decided to neutralise the TPLF, an ambition which has apparently backfired on him.The fighting in Tigray has displaced two million people and there have been reports of brutal gang rapes and mass killings by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops.

​The UN has accused Ethiopian and Eritrean forces of blocking food convoys to 350,000 people it claims are facing famine.

Eritrean forces have abandoned the town of Shire in northern Tigray and fled back across the border.

Mr Tesfaye said the TDF had talked about attacking Eritrea and the neighbouring Amhara region but he said that was “risky” and they might “overreach” themselves.

He said while the Eritrean leader Isaias Afwerki and his regime had oppressed his people for 30 years it was unlikely the Tigrayans would be seen as “liberators.”



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Build Back Better: Friendly fire aimed at Joe Biden | USA

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In early October, a group of activists kayaked to the houseboat belonging to US Senator Joe Manchin in Washington to protest his opposition to the Democratic Party’s €3.5-trillion Reconciliation bill, which is a star policy of the Joe Biden administration. This came just days after Senator Kyrsten Sinema was ambushed by protesters during her trip back to Washington.

But neither Manchin nor Sinema are part of the Republican Party’s offense against the bill: they are two moderates in the Democratic Party who are forcing the president to reconsider the reforms. In the meantime, Biden is facing both pressure and disillusionment as his popularity in the polls plummets.

The Democratic Party’s ambitious spending plan, called Build Back Better, involves the largest extension of social-welfare coverage in the United States since the 1970s when Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson was in power. The bill includes a tax credit for children and other dependent family members, extends aid to the elderly and disadvantaged people, and in its current form, funds a raft of sweeping measures aimed at fighting climate change and promoting renewable energy. But it is the environmental side of the plan that Biden is now considering changing due to the complete opposition from Senator Manchin, whose state – the conservative West Virginia – relies heavily on coal mining for employment. The plan is estimated to cost $3.5 trillion (around €3 trillion), but it is likely that it will be cut back to less than $2.5 million.

This is because, unlike former president Lyndon B. Johnson, Biden only has a narrow majority in Congress. In 1965, when Johnson signed the Medicare bill – which established a health-insurance program for the elderly – the Democratic Party had an overwhelming majority in Congress and held control of two-thirds of the Senate. But even then it was difficult to convince the moderate sector to approve the bill. Fifty years later, in 2011, when former president Barack Obama put forward his healthcare reforms, he also had a stronger position than Biden in both legislative chambers: 57 democrats and two independents in the Senate.

Senator Manchin’s opposition to the social-welfare plan is based on fears over rising inflation in the US, an increase of public debt and – something more abstract – concern that it will turn the country “into an entitlement society,” as he stated at the beginning of October. The statement came after he published an opinion poll in The Wall Street Journal called “Why I Won’t Support Spending Another $3.5 Trillion.” In the article, he argues: “Establishing an artificial $3.5 trillion spending number and then reverse-engineering the partisan social priorities that should be funded isn’t how you make good policy.”

Since becoming a senator after the 2020 election, Kyrsten Sinema has defended a bipartisan approach to legislating – a position she has also taken with the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill, which is still awaiting ratification. “The American people are asking for us to take action. What they don’t want to see is us sit on our hands, waiting until we get every single thing that we want,” she said in a radio interview with NPR in August. “That all-or-nothing approach usually leaves you with nothing,” added Sinema, who is the first Democratic senator in the state of Arizona in 30 years.

Both senators raised record sums of money in the third quarter of the year, thanks to large contributions from the oil and gas, pharmaceutical and financial services sectors, according to filings recorded and published by the Financial Times. Manchin raised $1.6 million (€1.38 million), up from $1.5 million ( €1.29 million) in the second quarter and just $175,000 (€150,000) in the first. Meanwhile, Sinema received €1.1 million (€950,000) in donations in the third quarter, a figure narrowly outstripping the second and far from the $375,000 (€322,000) in the first. This is despite the fact that neither of the politicians face reelection until 2024.

Two Senators cannot be allowed to defeat what 48 senators and 210 House members want

Senator for Vermont, Bernie Sanders

In the meantime, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is starting to lose patience and is also pressuring the White House. “Two senators cannot be allowed to defeat what 48 senators and 210 House members want,” Bernie Sanders, senator for Vermont, wrote in a message on Twitter. “Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better legislation,” he added in a separate tweet. In a similar vein, Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said: “Four percent of Democrats are opposing passing the president’s agenda.”

Democrat veteran Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, has begun to try to solve the conflict and is preparing lawmakers to accept cuts to the reconciliation bill. “I’m very disappointed that we’re not going with the original $3.5 trillion,” she admitted on October 12. “But whatever we do, we will make decisions that will continue to be transformative.”

The greater debate with respect to the spending plan is over the size of public spending and to what extent the state should intervene in the economy. Biden came to the White House with the message that a monumental crisis required a strong and broad government. The Biden administration has been able to pass new legislation on voting rights at a time when Republican-led states are pushing for restrictions, which in practice, hinder access to minority groups and the disadvantaged. But there are more projects in limbo. The reason is that it is not enough to have a simple majority in the Senate; the Democratic Party needs 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber, but only has 50, plus the casting vote of Deputy President Kamala Harris.

Meanwhile, Biden’s popularity has taken a nosedive. He entered the White House on January 20 with a 57% approval rating, according to respected pollster Gallup. But in August, after six months in power, the figure had fallen below 50%, and in September, the last month for which there is available data, it was down to 43%. This is higher than the approval rating of former US president Donald Trump, which came in at 37% after the same period of time, but is nine points lower than the same figure for Obama. The fall is largely due to the drop in support among independent voters: before the election, 61% of them approved of Biden, compared to 37% now.

Economic uncertainty, an uptick of the coronavirus pandemic over summer and stalled reforms are among the reasons Biden’s popularity is waning. Other factors include the administration’s migration policy, which has maintained some of the most restrictive elements of the Trump era, and the upheaval following the US army’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. With the anniversary of the November 2020 election fast approaching, Biden is hoping that he will be able to pass his star legislation, despite the internal opposition.



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Too hot to handle: can our bodies withstand global heating?

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Extreme heat can kill or cause long-term health problems – but for many unendurable temperatures are the new normal

The impact of extreme heat on the human body is not unlike what happens when a car overheats. Failure starts in one or two systems, and eventually it takes over the whole engine until the car stops.

That’s according to Mike McGeehin, environmental health epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “When the body can no longer cool itself it immediately impacts the circulatory system. The heart, the kidneys, and the body become more and more heated and eventually our cognitive abilities begin to desert us – and that’s when people begin fainting, eventually going into a coma and dying.”

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Polish TV sabotages Tusk press briefing

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Polish opposition leader Donald Tusk clashed with Polish propaganda outlet TVP in Warsaw Tuesday. A TVP reporter asked him why Tusk’s party wanted Poland to leave the EU. “This is beyond imagination … I won’t answer such absurdities,” Tusk, whose Civic Platform party is pro-EU, said, before a prickly exchange ensued. TVP also muted MEPs who said Poland should face EU rule-of-law sanctions in its coverage of a Strasbourg debate.

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