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Ethiopian opposition leaders freed under amnesty

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Several high-profile Ethiopian opposition leaders were tasting freedom on Saturday after the government granted a surprise amnesty for prominent political detainees, including senior Tigrayan figures.

The government said the move was designed to promote “national dialogue” and follows a dramatic shift in fortunes in the brutal 14-month war between forces loyal to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

TPLF fighters withdrew to their stronghold in the northernmost region of Tigray at the end of December in the face of a military offensive by government forces that saw them retake a string of strategic towns.

Several TPLF figures were among those pardoned, as well as opposition leaders from the Oromo ethnic group, the largest in Ethiopia, and the Amhara.

“The key to lasting unity is dialogue. Ethiopia will make any sacrifices to this end,” the government communications service said in a statement late Friday announcing the amnesty.

“Its purpose is to pave the way for a lasting solution to Ethiopia’s problems in a peaceful, non-violent way… especially with the aim of making the all-inclusive national dialogue a success.”

The amnesty was welcomed by the United Nations and the African Union, which has been spearheading international efforts to end the conflict.

It was not clear if the government was proposing any negotiations with the TPLF, the party that dominated politics for three decades until Abiy took power in 2018 but is now considered a terrorist group by Addis Ababa.

There has been something of a pause in fighting since the TPLF retreat, although the rebels accuse the government of still carrying out deadly drone strikes on Tigray.

The UN reported this week that three people including two children had been killed in an air raid on a refugee camp in the region.

– ‘National reconciliation’ –
Tigray also remains under what the United Nations has called a de facto blockade that is preventing life-saving food and medicine from reaching Tigray’s six million people, where many are living in famine-like conditions.

The war in Africa’s second most populous country has claimed the lives of thousands of people, displaced around two million, and inflicted atrocities on civilians in Tigray, as well as the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions.

Abiy — a Nobel peace laureate who reportedly went to the battlefront in November to direct his troops — called for “national reconciliation” and “unity” in a statement issued Friday as Ethiopia celebrated Orthodox Christmas.

However, in another statement Saturday he lashed out at “foreign and internal enemies” and described the TPLF as “snakes”.

The pardons coincided with a mission to Ethiopia by US envoy Jeffrey Feltman, who is pushing for talks to end a conflict that exposed the deep divisions in a country with more than 80 ethnic groups.

– ‘Important gesture’ –
Among those freed were several high-profile politicians rounded up after deadly protests that erupted in mid-2020 over the killing of Hachalu Hundessa, a popular Oromo singer and activist.

They included Eskinder Nega, a veteran Amhara journalist and fierce government critic who has spent many terms in prison under various administrations since 2005.

Others released were Jawar Mohammed, an Oromo media mogul and one-time Abiy ally turned opposition politician, and his colleague in the Oromo Federalist Congress, Bekele Gerba.

In all, 239 people were killed in just a few days of unrest in June and July 2020 that saw Abiy — who had himself swept to power on the back of anti-government protests — wrestling to keep a lid on the simmering ethnic tensions and resentments.

Tuli Bayissa, a lawyer for Jawar, Bekele and others, confirmed their release but told AFP he was working to secure freedom for many more detainees, including senior Oromo figures who had been exonerated of any charges by a court many months ago.

It was not immediately known if the TPLF stalwarts granted amnesty — including one of its founders Sibhat Nega and former Tigray president Abay Woldu — had been released by Saturday.

The fate is also unclear of thousands of people reportedly detained in sweeps that appeared to target Tigrayans under a wartime state of emergency declared in November.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the amnesty announcement but also called for “meaningful improvement” in humanitarian access to all conflict-hit areas.

African Union Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat described it as an “important gesture of appeasement of the political situation in Ethiopia” and voiced hope it would pave the way for a “genuinely inclusive” national dialogue.

AFP

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New Zealand PM Ardern cancels her wedding as Omicron rages

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Agency Reports

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has cancelled her wedding as the nation imposes new restrictions to slow the community spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, she told reporters.

New Zealand will impose mask rules and limit gathering from midnight on Sunday after a cluster of nine cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant showed community transmission from the North to South islands after a wedding.

A family travelled by plane from the North Island capital of Auckland to a wedding in the South Island attended by 100 people.

The family and a flight attendant tested positive.

New Zealand would move to a red setting under its COVID-19 protection framework, with more mask wearing, and a cap of 100 customers indoors in hospitality settings and events such as weddings, or 25 people if venues are not using vaccine passes, Arden said.

“My wedding will not be going ahead,” she told reporters, adding she was sorry for anyone caught up in a similar scenario.

Asked by reporters how she felt about her wedding cancellation, Ardern replied: “Such is life.”

She added, “I am no different to, dare I say it, thousands of other New Zealanders who have had much more devastating impacts felt by the pandemic, the most gutting of which is the inability to be with a loved one sometimes when they are gravely ill.

“That will far, far outstrip any sadness I experience.”

Jacinda’s wedding to Clarke Gayford this summer was rumoured to be fast approaching. Some reports said it was fixed for this month.

But no specific date has actually been announced.

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Kalu meets Abdulsalami Abubakar

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Chief Whip of the Senate, Orji Uzor Kalu, on Saturday night paid a private visit to former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar.

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Kalu who made the announcement through his verified Facebook page, revealed that his discussion with the former president centered on national issues and peaceful coexistence of Nigeria.
He wrote: “ Tonight, I paid a visit to the former President of Nigeria, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, to greet him for the new year. We also discussed major national affairs and peaceful coexistence of our nation.”

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Lagos police arrest NURTW members amid calls for ban

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By Moses Omorogieva/Lagos

The Police Command in Lagos State on Saturday said that its men arrested some members of the National Union of Transport Workers ( NURTW) who clashed on Lagos Island on Friday.

The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) , CSP Adekunle Ajisebutu, disclosed this to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos on Saturday.

Ajisebutu did not mention how many people were arrested and where they were being detained.

He added that normalcy had returned to the Island as more operatives had been deployed there.
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“The police have quelled the crisis. Sufficient facilities were deployed in the area immediately we received a distress call and normalcy was restored.

”Investigation into the crisis is ongoing,” he said.

Two factions of the NURTW clashed over the control of some motor parks on the Island on Friday.

The videos of the clash went viral showing the hoodlums using dangerous weapons against each other

The arrests come amid call by Accord Party for a ban on the notorious union in Lagos.

Lagos State chapter of the Accord Party called on Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu to proscribe the union following repeated violence by its members.

The Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr Dele Oladeji, in a statement on Saturday called on Sanwo-Olu to tame the members of the NURTW by proscribing the union with immediate effect.

“Again, the members of the NURTW were enmeshed in a deadly fight on Lagos Island which was reported to have resulted in the untimely death of some four youths.

“This deadly clash created a security scare, in which innocent and hardworking residents of Lagos had to scamper into shops, crevices, under table and inside gutters for dear lives.

“Many rushed into shops and were locked in with the shop owners, just to stay away from stray bullets or being caught up in the fracas.

“Traders were forced to shutdown their businesses, which led to the loss of transactions running into billions of naira.

“We advise the Lagos State governor to, with immediate effect, proscribe the NURTW for a peaceful and safe Lagos city.”

The spokesman said that the recent violence was one too many among the members of the NURTW in Lagos State.

Oladeji said that though members of the union were always in the habit of killing themselves during such fracas, their action had always defied the security set up in Lagos State and had always created a state of insecurity among residents.

“Ask an average resident of Lagos, and they will tell you they live and commute in utter fright of these ‘union boys’ daily on the streets and roads.

“Gov. Sanwo-Olu should rise up in service to residents of the state and proscribed these lawless group for a safer Lagos State,” he added.

He said that NURTW factions were known to frequently engage in free-for-all over power tussles at different locations and parks.

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