Connect with us

Global Affairs

‘Before they were our brothers. Now I want revenge’: Tigray conflict engulfs neighbouring state | Global development

When the bombs started to fall on Afar, people scattered. In the chaos and panic families were ripped apart. A young father lost two of his children, killed by ricocheting rocks. A grandmother had to leave behind her dying son-in-law, a bullet wound in his back; his wife still hasn’t heard the news. A 28-year-old woman doesn’t know if three of her five children are alive or dead.

All of them are nomadic people from Ethiopia’s north-east Afar region, and survivors of the latest round of bloodshed in the country’s devastating civil war. In makeshift shelters that have sprung up around Afdera, a hardscrabble merchant town beside a volcanic salt lake, they talk about homes destroyed by shelling and villages looted bare. Afar’s authorities estimate that more than 300,000 people have fled the fighting since January.

The war’s tremors were first felt in northern Afar in late December, when volleys of gunfire and artillery shells flew across the border with Tigray, the rebel region fighting the central Ethiopian government. Both sides accused the other of firing first. But in January, troops led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) mounted fully fledged incursions into multiple Afar districts. TPLF forces now occupy five of them.

A family who fled fighting in Abala, northern Afar
A family forced to leave home after fighting in Abala, northern Afar, gather in the punishingly hot town of Afdera for safety. Photograph: The Guardian

Siraj Ali Laad, a 60-year-old camel herder with three wives and 15 children, says the first shells landed in his home town of Berhale in January. One of his wives is missing – he believes she was captured – and five of his children are “over there”, he says, gesturing in the direction he came from two weeks earlier. “Everyone was running to save their lives,” he says. His journey to Afdera took about 15 days; all he brought with him were the clothes he wore. In the punishing desert heat he depended on the goodwill of strangers to survive.

At a busy hospital in Semera, the Afar capital, patients have similar tales. Mahdina Usman has a chest injury and one of her five children has a fractured leg after a shell hit their roadside camp in late January, several days after they were forced from their home by the fighting. On another bed, a 13-year-old girl lies huddled on her own, hands covering her face. A doctor says her mother was killed in the attack.

In the paediatric ward are children ravaged by burns from the blasts that shook their villages. Nine-year-old Tahir Dersa’s entire body and face are blistered; his older brother’s leg is similarly scarred. Their father says they were playing when a shell hit the family home early one morning about a month ago. “It happened suddenly without any warning,” he says. It took more than two weeks to reach the hospital for treatment.

Nuru Seid, a surgeon, explains that the first victims began arriving, almost daily, about six weeks ago. Most have blast injuries. Because the main roads are blocked by soldiers, it takes several days to reach the hospital, by which time many of the patients have already developed life-threatening complications. Some have had to cross through neighbouring Eritrea to the north to reach the hospital, which lacks critical medicines and intensive care facilities.

A camp for internally-displaced persons in Afdera, Afar
Afar’s regional government estimates more than 300,000 have been displaced by fighting in the state. Photograph: The Guardian

This latest episode is not the first to draw Afar, one of Ethiopia’s poorest regions, into the conflict, which at first seemed distant. What began as a war centred on Tigray – in which the occupying federal army and its allies, in particular troops from Eritrea, committed alleged war crimes – morphed last summer to include Tigray’s neighbours, Afar and Amhara.

The TPLF, which dominated Ethiopia’s central government before prime minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018, says its forces marched south and east to break what the UN has called a “de facto blockade” of Tigray by Abiy’s government, which has left millions hungry. The TPLF neared the capital, Addis Ababa, in December but retreated to Tigray in the face of drone strikes and popular mobilisation. The TPLF said the move was to allow for a “decisive opening for peace” and to expedite the delivery of humanitarian aid. Since then, it has justified its incursions into northern Afar as retaliation against aggression at the state border, and also as a response to alleged killings of Tigrayans in the border town of Abala.

But the foray into Afar has perplexed some observers. “It’s a bit confusing to us,” says one western government official.

The TPLF has alleged that Eritrean forces, widely seen as likely spoilers of any peace process, are active in Afar and fighting alongside Afar paramilitaries. But on 12 February, it released a statement saying fighting in the region had ceased.

Local people dispute this. “There is fighting ongoing on four fronts,” says Humed Ali Ibrahi, a militia commander in Afdera, who claims his forces are preparing a “strategic plan to liberate our land from the invaders”. He and others, including those leaving the conflict area, describe the incursions as punitive raids and complain they lack the arms to fight back. “We are defending ourselves with Kalashnikovs,” says Humed. “Nobody is supporting us.”

Notably absent is Ethiopia’s federal army, which fought alongside Afar forces in southern parts of the region last year and still has a visible presence in parts of it. Ahmed Kaloyta Qasnum, a spokesperson for Afar’s regional government, says the Ethiopian air force has conducted some airstrikes in the north, but little else.

A spokesperson for the central government downplayed the conflict, saying TPLF forces had retreated. This sparked accusations that Abiy was ignoring Afar, treating it as a distraction from his government’s bid to move on from the war and rebuild the country’s image. Moussa Adem, an Afar opposition politician, says: “[federal] government officials keep saying there is no war in Afar. This is at the same time as the regional government is saying more than 300,000 have been displaced.”

Afar and Tigray are regions with long histories of intermarriage, migration and trade. Though some Afar politicians have sided with the TPLF against Abiy – including a former regional president – others are backing the Afar government, reinforcing a sense that this is becoming a war between two ethnic groups.

Ali Holale
Ali Holale, a former rebel who last year commanded several thousand Afar militias and paramilitaries. Photograph: The Guardian

“We have a just cause, we didn’t deserve to be attacked,” says Ali Holale, a former rebel who last year commanded several thousand Afar militias and paramilitaries. “As long as there is one metre of Afar under their [TPLF] control, there will not be peace.”

Hostilities have also made the prospect of national peace talks seem more distant. “We believed that we were getting to a point where people were willing to talk with each other,” says a western official. “But it was at that moment [when the Afar conflict erupted] that the people who were willing to talk with each other started pulling back from that idea.”

In Afar, young men and women are angry at the bloodshed and say they want to take up arms. Usman Humo, whose children were killed last month, says all he needs is a gun. “Before this they [the TPLF] were our brothers,” he says. “Now I want revenge.”

Sign up for a different view with our Global Dispatch newsletter – a roundup of our top stories from around the world, recommended reads, and thoughts from our team on key development and human rights issues, delivered to your inbox every two weeks:

Sign up for Global Dispatch – please check your spam folder for the confirmation email

Source link

Global Affairs

A populist ex-premier who opposes support for Ukraine leads his leftist party to victory in Slovakia | International

A populist former prime minister and his leftist party have won early parliamentary elections in Slovakia, staging a political comeback after campaigning on a pro-Russian and anti-American message, according to almost complete results.

Former Prime Minister Robert Fico and the leftist Smer, or Direction, party had 22.9% of the votes, the Slovak Statistics Office said early Sunday after counting 99.98% of the ballots from some 6,000 polling stations.

Fico said he was ready to open talks with other parties on forming a coalition government as soon as President Zuzana Caputova asks him to do so. “We’re here, we’re ready, we’ve learned something, we’re more experienced,” he said.

“We have clear ideas, we have clear plans,” Fico said. “We know what exactly the government should do.”

Saturday’s election was a test for the small eastern European country’s support for neighboring Ukraine in its war with Russia, and the win by Fico could strain a fragile unity in the European Union and NATO.

Fico, 59, has vowed to withdraw Slovakia’s military support for Ukraine in Russia’s war if his attempt to return to power succeeds.

“People in Slovakia have bigger problems than Ukraine,” he said.

The country of 5.5 million people created in 1993 following the breakup of Czechoslovakia has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine since Russia invaded last February, donating arms and opening the borders for refugees fleeing the war.

Slovakia has delivered to Ukraine its fleet of the Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets, the S-300 air defense system, helicopters, armored vehicles and much-needed demining equipment.

The current caretaker government is planning to send Ukraine artillery ammunition and to train Ukrainian service members in demining.

Winning approval for sending more arms to Ukraine is getting more difficult in many countries. In the U.S. Congress, a bill to avert a government shutdown in Washington, D.C., excluded President Joe Biden’s request to provide more security assistance to the war-torn nation.

In other countries, including Germany, France, and Spain, populist parties skeptical of intervention in Ukraine also command significant support. Many of these countries have national or regional elections coming up that could tip the balance of popular opinion away from Kyiv and toward Moscow.

With no party winning a majority of seats in Slovakia, a coalition government will need to be formed.

The president traditionally asks an election’s winner to try to form a government, so Fico is likely to become prime minister again. He served as prime minister in 2006-2010 and again in 2012-2018.

A liberal, pro-West newcomer, the Progressive Slovakia party, was second, with 18% of the votes.

Its leader Michal Simecka, who is deputy president of the European Parliament, said his party respected the result. “But it’s bad news for Slovakia,” he said. “And it would be even worse if Robert Fico manages to create a government.”

He said he’d like try to form a governing coalition if Fico fails.

The left-wing Hlas (Voice) party, led by Fico’s former deputy in Smer, Peter Pellegrini, came in third with 14.7%. Pellegrini parted ways with Fico after the scandal-tainted Smer lost the previous election in 2020, but their possible reunion would boost Fico’s chances to form a government.

Pellegrini replaced Fico as prime minister after he was forced to resign after major anti-government street protests following the 2018 killing of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee.

Pellegrini congratulated Fico on his victory but said that two former prime ministers in one government might not work well.

“It’s not ideal but that doesn’t mean such a coalition can’t be created,” he said.

Another potential coalition partner, the ultranationalist Slovak National Party, a clear pro-Russian group, received 5.6%.

Those three parties would have a parliamentary majority if they joined forces in a coalition government.

Fico opposes EU sanctions on Russia, questions whether Ukraine can force out the invading Russian troops and wants to block Ukraine from joining NATO.

He proposes that instead of sending arms to Kyiv, the EU and the U.S. should use their influence to force Russia and Ukraine to strike a compromise peace deal.

Fico’s critics worry that his return to power could lead Slovakia to abandon its course in other ways, following the path of Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and to a lesser extent of Poland under the Law and Justice party.

“It can’t be ruled out that he will be looking for a partner who uses similar rhetoric, and the partner will be Viktor Orbán,” said Radoslav Stefancik, an analyst from the University of Economics in Bratislava.

Orbán welcomed Fico’s victory.

“Always good to work together with a patriot,” he posted on X, the former Twitter. “Looking forward to it!”

Hungary has been sanctioned by the EU for alleged rule-of-law violations and corruption, while EU institutions say Poland has been on a slippery slope away from the EU’s rule-of-law principles. Fico has threatened to dismiss investigators from the National Criminal Agency and the special prosecutor who deals with the most serious crimes and corruption.

Hungary also has — uniquely among EU countries — maintained close relations with Moscow and argued against supplying arms to Ukraine or providing it with economic assistance.

Fico repeats Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unsupported claim that the Ukrainian government runs a Nazi state from which ethnic Russians in the country’s east needed protection. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust.

Known for foul-mouthed tirades against journalists, Fico also campaigned against immigration and LGBTQ+ rights.

The populist Ordinary People group, the conservative Christian Democrats and the pro-business Freedom and Solidarity also won seats in parliament while the far-right Republic failed to do so.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

Source link

Continue Reading

Global Affairs

Slovakia election pits a pro-Russia former prime minister against a liberal pro-West newcomer | International

Voters in Slovakia cast ballots Saturday in an early parliamentary election that pits a populist former prime minister who campaigned on a pro-Russia and anti-American message against a liberal, pro-West newcomer.

Depending on which of them prevails, the election could reverse the small eastern European country’s support for neighboring Ukraine in the war with Russia, threatening to break a fragile unity in the European Union and NATO.

Former Prime Minister Robert Fico, 59, and his leftist Smer, or Direction, party have vowed to withdraw Slovakia’s military support for Ukraine in Russia’s war, if his attempt to return to power is successful.

Smer’s main challenger is Progressive Slovakia, a liberal party formed in 2017 and led by Michal Simecka, 39, a member of the European Parliament.

Referring to his rival, Fico said Saturday he wished his country would not be run by “amateurs” without experience in politics.

Fico, who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2012 to 2018, opposes EU sanctions on Russia, questions whether Ukraine can force out the invading Russian troops and wants to block Ukraine from joining NATO.

He proposes that instead of sending arms to Kyiv, the EU and the U.S. should use their influence to force Russia and Ukraine to strike a compromise peace deal. He has repeated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unsupported claim that the Ukrainian government runs a Nazi state.

Fico also campaigned against immigration and LGBTQ+ rights and threatened to dismiss investigators from the National Criminal Agency and the special prosecutor who deal with corruption and other serious crimes.

Progressive Slovakia sees the country’s future as firmly tied to its existing membership in the EU and NATO.

The party vowed to continue Slovakia’s support for Ukraine. It also favors LGBTQ+ rights, a rarity among the major parties in a country that is a stronghold of conservative Roman Catholicism.

“Every single vote matters,” the party’s head, Michal Simecka, said on Saturday.

Popular among young people, the party won the 2019 European Parliament election in Slovakia in coalition with the Together party, gaining more than 20% of the vote. But it narrowly failed to win seats in the national parliament in 2020.

No party is expected to win a majority of seats Saturday, meaning a coalition government will need to be formed. The party that secures the most votes typically gets the first chance to put together a government.

Polls indicate that seven or eight other political groups and parties might surpass a 5% threshold needed for representation in the 150-seat National Council.

Among them is the left-wing Hlas (Voice), led by Fico’s former deputy in Smer, Peter Pellegrini. They parted ways after Smer lost the previous election in 2020 but their possible reunion would boost Fico’s chances to rule.

“It’s important for me that the new coalition would be formed by such parties that can agree on the priorities for Slovakia and ensure stability and calm,” Pellegrini said after voting in Bratislava.

The others include the Republic, a far-right group led by former members of the openly neo-Nazi People’s Party Our Slovakia whose members use Nazi salutes and want Slovakia out of the EU and NATO.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

Source link

Continue Reading


“The Creator”: A Glimpse Into A Future Defined By Artificial Intelligence (AI) Warfare

By Cindy Porter

In “The Creator” visionary director Gareth Edwards thrusts us into the heart of a dystopian future, where the battle lines are drawn between artificial intelligence and the free Western world.

Set against the backdrop of a post-rebellion Los Angeles, the film grapples with pressing questions about the role of AI in our society.

A Glimpse into a Future Defined by Artificial Intelligence (AI) Warfare

A Glimpse into a Future Defined by Artificial Intelligence (AI) Warfare

While the narrative treads familiar ground, it is timely, given the rising prominence of artificial intelligence in our daily lives.

A Fusion of Genres

Edwards embarks on an ambitious endeavor, blending elements of science fiction classics with contemporary themes.

The result is a cinematic stew reminiscent of James Cameron’s “Aliens” tinged with shades of “Blade Runner” a dash of “Children of Men,” and a sprinkle of “Akira” This concoction, while intriguing, occasionally veers toward familiarity rather than forging its own distinct identity.

Edwards’ Cinematic Journey

The British filmmaker, known for his foray into doomsday scenarios with the BBC docudrama “End Day” in 2005, has traversed a path from indie gem “Monsters” (2010) to the expansive Star Wars universe with “Rogue One” (2016).

“The Creator” marks another bold step in his repertoire. The film introduces compelling concepts like the posthumous donation of personality traits, punctuated by impactful visuals, and raises pertinent ethical dilemmas. It stands as a commendable endeavor, even if it occasionally falters in execution.

Navigating Complexity

In his pursuit of depth, Edwards at times stumbles into the realm of convolution, leaving the audience grappling with intricacies rather than immersing in the narrative.

While adept at crafting visual spectacles and orchestrating soundscapes, the film occasionally falters in the art of storytelling.

In an era where classic storytelling is seemingly on the wane, some may argue that this approach is emblematic of the times.

AI: Savior or Peril?

“The Creator” leaves us with a question that resonates long after the credits roll: Will artificial intelligence be humanity’s salvation or its undoing? The film’s take on machine ethics leans toward simplicity, attributing AI emotions to programmed responses.

This portrayal encapsulates the film’s stance on the subject – a theme as enigmatic as the AI it grapples with.

“The Creator”

Director: Gareth Edwards.
Starring: John David Washington, Gemma Chan, Madeleine Yuna Boyles, Ken Watanabe.
Genre: Science fiction.
Release Year: 2023.
Duration: 133 minutes.
Premiere Date: September 29.


Top 5 Movies by Gareth Edwards:

1. “Monsters” (2010)

– A breakout hit, “Monsters” showcases Edwards’ talent for blending intimate human drama with towering sci-fi spectacles. Set in a world recovering from an alien invasion, it’s a poignant tale of love amidst chaos.

2. “Rogue One” (2016)

– Edwards helms this epic Star Wars installment, seamlessly integrating new characters with the beloved original trilogy. It’s a testament to his ability to navigate complex narratives on a grand scale.

3. “End Day” (2005)

– This BBC docudrama marked Edwards’ entry into the world of speculative storytelling. Presenting five doomsday scenarios, it set the stage for his later exploration of dystopian futures.

4. “The Creator” (2023)

– Edwards’ latest venture, “The Creator,” immerses audiences in a future fraught with AI warfare. While not without its challenges, it boldly tackles pertinent questions about the role of artificial intelligence in our lives.

5. Potential Future Project

– As Edwards continues to push the boundaries of speculative cinema, audiences eagerly anticipate his next cinematic endeavor, poised to be another thought-provoking addition to his illustrious filmography.

“The Creator” stands as a testament to Gareth Edwards’ unyielding vision and his penchant for exploring the frontiers of speculative cinema.

While it doesn’t shy away from the complexities of AI, it occasionally falters in navigating its intricate narrative.

As we peer into this cinematic crystal ball, we’re left with a stark question: Will artificial intelligence be our beacon of hope, or will it cast a shadow over humanity’s future? Only time will unveil the answer.

We Can’t Thank You Enough For Your Support!

— By Cindy Porter

— For more information & news submissions:

— Anonymous news submissions:

Continue Reading


Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates 
directly on your inbox.

You have Successfully Subscribed!