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Ceasefire calls as army claims progress

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An Ethiopian woman who fled war in the northern Tigray region carries her food ration as others queue at the Um-Rakoba camp on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, Sudan, 19 November 2020
Aid agencies are preparing for up to 200,000 people to arrive in Sudan from Ethiopia in the coming months

Aid agencies are calling for an immediate temporary ceasefire in northern Ethiopia to allow aid to reach civilians affected by fighting.

The UN wants humanitarian corridors set up after two weeks of conflict between Ethiopia’s military and forces backing the leadership in the Tigray region.

Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed in the clashes.

On Friday Ethiopia’s government said it had captured the city of Aksum and the town of Adwa.

The government said that forces battling its military in both areas had “surrendered”.

However, the claims have not been independently verified and information is difficult to confirm because phone and internet connections have been down since the beginning of the conflict.

Aksum is one of the largest cities in the Tigray region and the mountainous town of Adwa is also considered strategically important.

Earlier this week, central government forces seized two other towns in Tigray – Shire and Raya – and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said his army was advancing on the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle.

Ethiopia has so far rejected calls for talks over the crisis, seeing its operation as internal “law enforcement”.

The conflict is rooted in long-standing tension between powerful regional party the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopia’s central government.

When Mr Abiy postponed a national election due to coronavirus in June, tension escalated between the two sides. The TPLF sees the central government as illegitimate, arguing that Mr Abiy no longer has a mandate.

How bad is the situation?

Aid agencies have no access to the conflict zone, but they fear that thousands of civilians may have been killed since fighting erupted at the beginning of November.

At least 33,000 refugees have already crossed Ethiopia’s border into Sudan and the UN refugee agency has said it is preparing for up to 200,000 people to arrive over the next six months if the fighting continues.

On Friday, the TPLF was accused of firing rockets into the city of Bahir Dar in the neighbouring Amhara region. The Amhara government said there were no casualties and no damage caused.

But the reported incident in Amhara, which has a long-running border dispute with Tigray, has raised concerns that the conflict could extend into a wider war after regional forces were sent to support federal troops.

Meanwhile, the UN has raised concerns about the influx of refugees into Sudan, which it says could destabilise a nation already supporting about a million people displaced from other African countries.

The refugees arriving in Sudan, the majority of whom are believed to be children, are hungry and frightened, aid agencies say, and an immediate ceasefire would allow them to help thousands of civilians still trapped inside Ethiopia.

A researcher for the human rights organisation Amnesty International in Ethiopia, Fisseha Tekle, said the conflict must be conducted in accordance with international law, which requires the protection of civilians “including access to humanitarian services”.

“As much as possible, human rights organisations, like Amnesty, should be given access to monitor the human rights situation,” he said.

Aid agencies are appealing for $50m (£38m) for food and shelter for the new arrivals.

Five things about Tigray:

1. The Kingdom of Aksum was centred in the region. Described as one of the greatest civilisations of the ancient world, it was once the most powerful state between the Roman and Persian empires.

Ruins of the palace of the Queen of Sheba near Axum, Aksum, Dongur Palace
Aksum is believed to have been the home of the biblical Queen of Sheba

2. The ruins of the city of Aksum are a UN World Heritage Site. The site, dating from between the 1st and 13th Century AD, features obelisks, castles, royal tombs and a church which is believed by some to house the Ark of the Covenant.

3. Most people in Tigray are Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. The region’s Christian roots stretch back 1,600 years.

4. The region’s main language is Tigrinya, a Semitic dialect with at least seven million speakers worldwide.

5. Sesame is a major cash crop, exported to the US, China and other countries.

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Britain set to reveal spending plans for virus era

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Britain’s government, seeking to support the pandemic-ravaged economy and the nation’s post-Brexit future, on Wednesday unveils its eagerly-awaited spending plans.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak will deliver his spending review to parliament, one week before England ends a month of restrictions aimed at cutting a second wave of infections.

The chancellor of the exchequer will reveal the outcome of his review that will set state departmental resource and capital budgets for 2021/2022.

Britain’s rightwing government has already spent billions so far this year on battling economic fallout from the virus, subsidising private-sector jobs, and boosting the state-run National Health Service (NHS).

His speech comes amid a global race for vaccines that is strengthening hopes for a return to normality, particularly in Britain which has the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe.

This week’s key review has attracted more attention than usual because the government decided in September to axe Sunak’s planned autumn budget due to chronic virus turmoil.

– ‘Economic shock laid bare’ –

Sunak warned last weekend that the British economy was under “enormous strain” because of Covid-19 — and ruled out cuts to public services amid soaring borrowing.

But he has refused to say whether he will impose a public sector pay freeze, angering unions and the main opposition Labour party.

Alongside the statement, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) watchdog will publish its latest economic growth forecasts, detailing the fallout from the pandemic.

“People will see the scale of the economic shock laid bare,” Sunak told the Sunday Times newspaper.

“We can see the data every month, and obviously the shock that our economy is facing at the moment is significant.”

The watchdog will also examine the impact of England’s latest virus restrictions that have sparked widespread concerns of a so-called double dip recession before an expected recovery in 2021.

Britain has been one of the worst-affected countries in the world in the outbreak, registering more than 54,000 deaths from 1.4 million cases.

– Borrowing set to rocket –

The OBR is also widely expected to reveal an explosion in public borrowing which could reach almost £400 billion for the current financial year, as public debt exceeds £2.0 trillion.

On Saturday, ahead of the spending review, the Treasury unveiled another £3 billion to support the NHS in tackling the impact of coronavirus.

As part of the package, £1 billion will be spent on addressing backlogs in the health service -– paying for up to one million extra checks, scans and additional operations for those who have had their treatment delayed since the outbreak began.

Sunak is also expected Wednesday to flesh out details of a vast £100-billion infrastructure investment plan to modernise the UK transport network and help combat climate change.

In November, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government imposed four weeks of tough restrictions in an attempt to stop surging virus infections.

Schools, colleges and universities have remained open to avoid disruption to education but shops and services deemed non-essential have been forced to close.

Office workers have also been told to work from home wherever possible.

The restrictions are due to be partially lifted on December 2, giving some relief to businesses.

But there could still be disruption, as Johnson said the country would revert to three tiers of restrictions according to infection rates.

The worst-affected areas could see businesses and services closed or restricted.

“We’re not going to release national measures with a free-for-all, a status quo ante covid,” he told parliament on Monday.

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Biden cabinet: Inner circle get key posts as John Kerry named climate envoy

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Other key picks included long-time Biden aide Antony Blinken as secretary of state, while

reports say former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen will be the choice for treasury secretary.

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U.N. says Carlos Ghosn's arrest was human rights violation

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U.N. says Carlos Ghosn's arrest was human rights violation

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