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Beware the prospect of a nuclear calamity

The world’s indifference to the prospect of a nuclear disaster, today, is frankly insane.

For the past few months, Western experts have downplayed the probability that the Ukraine war would lead to nuclear escalation between Russia and the West. Since Putin first put Russia’s nuclear arsenal on alert back in February, many experts have argued that he was merely posturing in a bid to throw his “adversaries off balance”.

However, Putin’s most recent threats of using such weapons — made in a televised speech on Wednesday morning — must not be taken lightly, regardless of his motivation or intention. He said that Western officials have threatened Russia with nuclear weapons, a charge that US President Joe Biden denied during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly hours later. Putin also announced a partial mobilisation and his support for upcoming referendums in four Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine that could pave the way for their annexation by Moscow.

It’s one thing for the West to dismiss as irrelevant the threat of Putin firing, for instance, a secretary. However, any chance he may fire his nukes should be taken seriously, regardless of how remote the possibility is.

In fact, the West has so far avoided imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine or transferring long-range missiles and other weapons that may threaten Russian territory for fear of the Kremlin’s retaliation against Europe.

Yet, the sophisticated military assistance that the US and its allies have provided to Kyiv has begun to change the balance of power on the battlefield in favour of Ukraine. Russia’s mounting losses in the past few weeks are clearly pushing Putin into a corner. He is angry, humiliated and is losing clout at home and abroad. That’s why he has decided to mobilise 300,000 extra troops to try to reverse his setbacks in Ukraine.

However, as past Russian and American wars have shown – whether in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere – a troops surge may win him time but won’t necessarily win him the war. That’s why he coupled his decision for a military surge with a nuclear warning, putting the West on notice: back off or face the consequences.

Hence the seriousness of Putin’s threat to use weapons of mass destruction. The threat is “not a bluff” as he put it, nor a bluster; it rather sounds desperate and deliberate. It is also the biggest escalation since the invasion began seven months ago and the biggest troop mobilisation since the end of the Cold War.

Some are now sounding a warning about Putin’s potential use of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield. Or as one analyst put it: “Russia is willing to use nuclear weapons if Ukraine continues its offensive operations”. Indeed, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday that the Kremlin could use tactical nuclear weapons to defend its occupation of parts of Ukraine that it annexes.

In theory, the use of these weapons, which are short-range and designed for limited strikes, sounds implausible considering Ukraine’s geographic proximity and Russia’s nuclear doctrine which underlines the defensive use of nuclear weapons or when the very existence of Russia is threatened.

That’s why Putin’s sense of victimhood, real or imagined, makes the escalation ever more disturbing. In his speech on Wednesday, he portrayed his own destructive war on Ukraine as a Western conspiracy to destroy Russia — a NATO-led aggression against all Russians posing an existential threat to the country.

Whether he truly believes that or not is somewhat irrelevant. He has demonised the West and Ukraine, and is marshalling Russian public opinion towards a wider war with unknown consequences.

Putin has also accused the Ukrainian government of holding Europe hostage to a nuclear Armageddon by bombing the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant under Russian control. The Ukrainians claim that it is Russia that is doing the shelling.

This is truly and tragically unforgivable, lest we also forget that Eastern Europe and parts of Russia continue to suffer from the effects of Chornobyl, 36 years after the nuclear disaster at the Ukrainian nuclear plant.

In short, the danger of a nuclear calamity is real if the war continues to escalate, whether by design or default; whether stemming from strategic or tactical use of nuclear weapons, or from the bombing of a nuclear plant.

None of it is inevitable and all of its totally avoidable. Nuclear powers have lost or ended conventional wars in the past without resorting to nuclear weapons. That’s why world powers have a duty to stop the escalation and to seek a diplomatic solution sooner rather than later.

Putin may be directly responsible for this war of aggression against Ukraine, but the West’s insistence on NATO’s expansion to Russia’s border and its sabre rattling in Ukraine have also been terribly provocative and reckless.

The war has been a disaster for all, especially Ukraine. It will get worse. That’s why cooler heads must prevail. Before it is too late. Those still hoping to win must remember that there is no winning a nuclear war.

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Russian parliamentary chief tells MPs to join Ukraine war

Comments by Vyacheslav Volodin follow President Vladimir Putin’s order for partial mobilisation.

Published On 22 Sep 2022

Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, the Duma, has called on deputies to take part in the war in Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial military call-up.

“Those who meet the requirements of partial mobilisation should help with their participation in the special military operation,” Volodin said on his Telegram channel on Thursday, referring to Russia’s invasion of its neighbouring country.

“There is no protection for the deputies,” added the ally of Putin.

In a televised statement that aired on Wednesday morning, Putin had ordered a partial call-up of reservists to bolster his forces in Ukraine after they suffered a string of battlefield setbacks.

The total number of reservists to be called up could be as high as 300,000, according to Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. However, Putin’s decree authorising the move offered few details, raising suspicions that the draft could be broadened at any moment.

The call-up, meanwhile, sparked rare protests across the country and led to almost 1,200 arrests. It also sent some Russians scrambling to buy plane tickets to leave the country.

Volodin’s comments were seen as a reaction to a view that is common among some parliamentary circles that Putin’s call for national defence does not apply to them – one legislator, for instance, said he was needed in the country.

At the same time, Volodin praised parliamentarians who were already deployed in the occupied Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. According to him, only reservists with combat experience and special military training are called up.

He also acknowledged that “questions arise that worry [Russian] citizens” following street protests and reports of a mass exodus of young Russians from the country.

Volodin also said Russian troops in Ukraine were also fighting “NATO forces”.

“In Ukraine there are NATO trainers, mercenaries from NATO countries, NATO technology, weapons and ammunition,” he said, adding that there were 1,000 kilometres (621 miles) of the front line to defend.

NATO has not sent troops to defend Ukraine, which is not a member of the Western military alliance, but Western countries have provided significant military assistance to Ukraine to help it fight back against Russia’s invasion.



Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Infographic: How many nuclear weapons does Russia have?

As tensions continue to rise and the rhetoric heats up, we take a look at Russia’s nuclear capabilities.

On Wednesday morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilisation while threatening to use “all weapons available” in case of attack.

In a pre-recorded speech, Putin accused Western countries of arming Ukraine’s military and encouraging Kyiv to attack Russia.

“In the event of a threat to the territorial integrity of our country and to defend Russia and our people, we will certainly make use of all weapon systems available to us,” he said. “This is not a bluff. And those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the weathervane can turn and point towards them.”

The United States and Kyiv’s Western allies have said Moscow’s latest moves – including planned annexation referendums in occupied Ukrainian areas – showed Russia’s campaign was failing.

As tensions grow and the rhetoric heats up, we take a look at Russia’s nuclear capabilities.

Which countries have nuclear weapons?

Nine countries held roughly 12,700 warheads as of early 2022, according to estimates by the Federation of American Scientists.

While Russia and the US have dismantled thousands of their retired warheads, they still own 90 percent of the world’s total nuclear weapons.

At the peak in 1986, the two rivals had nearly 65,000 nuclear warheads between them, making the nuclear arms race one of the most threatening events of the Cold War.

South Africa is the only country to voluntarily relinquish nuclear weapons. In 1989, the then-government halted its nuclear weapons programme and in 1990 began dismantling its six nuclear weapons.

Two years later, South Africa joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as a non-nuclear country.

INTERACTIVE Which countries have nuclear weapons
(Al Jazeera)

Russia’s nuclear programme

Russia has an estimated 5,977 nuclear warheads. About 1,588 warheads are currently deployed which means they are on intercontinental missiles and at heavy bomber bases. About half (2,889) of Moscow’s warheads are not deployed on launchers but in storage.

The remaining 1,500 warheads are retired and set to be dismantled.

The USSR conducted its first nuclear test on August 29, 1949. Codenamed RDS-1, the test was conducted at the Semipalatinsk test site in Kazakhstan. Between 1949 and 1990, the Soviet Union carried out a total of 715 nuclear tests.

In 1961, the Soviet Union conducted the world’s largest nuclear explosion by detonating the Tsar Bomba over the Novaya Zemlya, north of the Arctic Circle. The explosion’s yield was 50 mega-tonnes, 3,300 times more powerful than the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

INTERACTIVE Russia's nuclear programme
(Al Jazeera)

Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons

Established in 1968, the NPT aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The treaty bans signatories other than the US, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France from acquiring nuclear weapons in return for allowing them to pursue peaceful nuclear programmes for power generation, overseen by the UN.

As many as 190 nations are currently signed up for the treaty, with only India, Israel, Pakistan and South Sudan never being a party to it. North Korea signed the treaty in 1985 but withdrew from it in 2003. Three years later, under the leadership of Kim Jong Il, the country detonated its first nuclear weapon.

INTERACTIVE Non-Proliferation Treaty
(Al Jazeera)

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Israel urged to deport Mexican official over missing students

Tomas Zeron, who previously led Mexico’s Criminal Investigation Agency, has reportedly been in Israel for about two years.

Published On 22 Sep 2022

Relatives of the 43 Mexican students who disappeared in 2014 have protested outside Israel’s embassy to demand the extradition of a former top investigator wanted in connection with the case.

Hundreds gathered outside the embassy in Mexico City on Wednesday with no visible police presence as some carried pictures of the missing students while others sprayed graffiti on the embassy walls.

Tomas Zeron, who previously led Mexico’s Criminal Investigation Agency, was accused of manipulating the probe into one of the country’s worst human rights tragedies. He has reportedly been in Israel for about two years.

Zeron is one of the architects of “historical truth” – the official version of the case presented in 2015 that was rejected by the victims’ relatives and independent experts.

“Israel is protecting Tomas Zeron, a human rights violator who tortured those he detained at the time to build the ‘historical truth,’” said Meliton Ortega, a representative of the students’ families.

But Israeli ambassador to Mexico Zvi Tal criticised the demonstrators’ actions.

“It is clear to us that the violence displayed during the demonstration, where they left the walls of our headquarters painted with offensive graffiti – here is written ‘Death to Israel’ – has no relation to the Ayotzinapa case,” he said in a video address in front of the embassy.

“Israel as a state of law must implement its international legal obligations while examining the request from Mexico, even when it is a request related to an open wound in Mexican public opinion,” he said.

Mexico has repeatedly asked Israel to hand over Zeron, who is accused of kidnapping, torturing suspects and manipulating evidence – allegations he has denied.

What happened to them?

The 43 teaching students had commandeered buses in the southern state of Guerrero to travel to a demonstration in Mexico City before they went missing.

Investigators say they were detained by corrupt police and handed over to a drug cartel that mistook them for members of a rival gang, but exactly what happened to them is disputed. So far, the remains of only three victims have been identified.

Last month, a truth commission tasked by the current government to investigate the atrocity branded the case a “state crime” involving agents of various institutions.

It said military personnel bore “clear responsibility” either directly or through negligence.

Prosecutors announced last month that arrest warrants were issued for more than 80 suspects, including 20 military personnel, 44 police officers and 14 cartel members.

The same day, former attorney general Jesus Murillo Karam, who led the controversial “historical truth” investigation, was detained on charges of forced disappearance, torture and obstruction of justice.

Last week, the government said an army general and two other military personnel had also been arrested.

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Photos: Iran protests spread as internet curbed

Published On 22 Sep 2022

Nationwide protests have continued in Iran after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained for what the country’s morality police deemed “immodest clothing”.

The protests continued for a fifth day on Wednesday, including in the capital, Tehran.

Amini’s death has unleashed anger over issues including restrictions on freedoms in Iran and an economy reeling from sanctions. Women have played a prominent role in the protests, waving and burning their veils, with some cutting their hair in public.

Amini fell into a coma while held by police after what authorities said were a stroke and a heart attack.

Iran’s morality police enforce strict rules in Iran requiring women to cover their hair and wear loose-fitting clothes in public. Her funeral was held on Saturday.

Tehran’s police chief claimed that Amini suffered from epilepsy and diabetes.

Her father has rejected that, and said that she had no health problems and that she suffered bruises to her legs in custody. The police have denied harming her.

Iranian media and a local prosecutor said five people had been killed in the last two days, bringing the death toll according to official sources to nine, including a member of the police and two pro-government militia members.

NetBlocks, a London-based group that monitors internet access, had earlier reported widespread disruptions to both Instagram and WhatsApp, as well as wider internet outages.

On Wednesday, Iran’s telecommunications minister Isa Zarepour was quoted by state media as saying that certain restrictions might be imposed “due to security issues”, without elaborating.

Iran already blocks Facebook, Telegram, Twitter and YouTube, even though top Iranian officials use public accounts on such platforms.

In a separate development, several official websites, including those for Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei, the presidency and the Central Bank, were taken down, at least briefly, as hackers claimed to have launched a cyberattack on state agencies.

Hackers linked to the shadowy “Anonymous” movement said they also targeted other Iranian state agencies, including state TV.

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Leicester: Call for calm after Hindu-Muslim unrest in UK city

Community leaders and local politicians in the British city of Leicester have called for an immediate end to “provocation and violence” after weeks of unrest that was triggered following a cricket match between India and Pakistan late last month.

Leaders of Hindu and Muslim communities gathered on Tuesday morning on the steps of a mosque.

Pradip Gajjar, the president of the city’s Iskcon Leicester Hindu temple, read out a joint statement saying they were “saddened and heartbroken to see the eruption of tension and violence”.

“Physical attacks on innocent individuals and unwarranted damage to property are not part of a decent society and indeed not part of our faiths,” he added, according to a video posted by the local Leicester Mercury newspaper.

Jonathan Ashworth, an opposition Labour MP in Leicester, condemned “shocking scenes of unacceptable incidents of violence”, in an interview with Times Radio.

The politician tweeted on Monday that all in the city “are united in calling for calm, peace and harmony”.

Muslim-Hindu Unity Statement by Temple President, Pradyumna Das, outside Asfordby St Mosque.

“#Leicester has no place for any foreign extremist ideology that causes division. Our message to anyone that sows disharmony between us is clear ‘we will not let you succeed.’”

— ISKCON Leicester (@IskconLeicester) September 20, 2022

Dozens of people have been arrested in the wake of the violence in the most multicultural English city that has made headlines in India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom.

What caused the outbreak of violence?

So what caused the outbreak of unprecedented violence in Leicester, where Hindus and Muslims have lived peacefully for decades?

Violent street clashes between some members of the Hindu and Muslim communities broke out after India beat archrival Pakistan in an Asia Cup match in Dubai on August 28.

After the match, a large crowd went out on Melton Road in Leicester, some of them waving Indian flags, to celebrate India’s win over its arch foe Pakistan. Some in the crowd appeared to chant “Pakistan Murdabad” (death to Pakistan), according to videos shared on social media.

Police in Leicester reported a “series of incidents” in different parts of the city over the following week.

On Saturday night, a crowd of about 200 Hindu men marched in the city, with some shouting – “Jai Shri Ram” (Hail Lord Ram) – a war cry for far-right Hindus in India. Soon Muslims came out on the streets leading to scuffles.

The disturbances continued into Sunday with videos posted on local media showing large groups of youths wearing masks and balaclavas fighting in the streets.

A Hindu temple was vandalised on the weekend as a group of Muslim men protested in response to Saturday’s unplanned march during which Muslim residents and shop owners were intimidated.

Some members of the Asian community in the UK say the unrest could be linked to the rise in Hindu nationalism in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under which minorities, particularly Muslims, have faced increasing attacks since 2014, has been actively working among the diaspora Hindu community.

‘We will not tolerate violence’

Police in Leicester said at least 47 people had been arrested. “The impact this disorder is having on our local communities is not acceptable,” Leicestershire police said on Monday.

“We will not tolerate violence, disorder or intimidation in Leicester and we continue to call for calm and dialogue. Our police operations and investigations continue with rigour and at scale.”

Police said those arrested were men, mostly in their teens and 20s, and faced charges such as possession of offensive weapons or firearms, violent disorder and making threats to kill.

Police have obtained extra powers to stop and search anyone in certain areas and take minors back to their homes. They have urged against “circulating speculation on social media”.

The city’s mayor has blamed social media disinformation for the escalation of the violence.

Community leaders are in shock at the violence in a city known for its communal amity. Hindus and Muslims form a sizable section of the city’s population.

“What we have seen on the streets is very alarming,” Suleman Nagdi of the Federation of Muslim Organisations was quoted as saying by the BBC.

Sanjiv Patel from the Hindu community also expressed shock.

“We have lived in harmony in the city for many decades but over the past few weeks it is clear there are things that need to be discussed around the table to get out what people are unhappy about,” Patel, who represents Hindu and Jain temples in Leicester, was quoted as saying by the BBC.

‘A balanced view’

Dharmesh Lakhani, another Hindu community leader, said the desecration of the temple was “unacceptable”.

“I’m really proud to say on that day, when the flag was removed, there was an imam outside. He said I’m standing outside the mandir [temple], making sure nothing happens,” Lakhani was quoted as saying by the Guardian.

The India High Commission issued a statement on Monday condemning the “vandalisation of premises and symbols of Hindu religion”.

“We have strongly taken up this matter with the UK authorities and have sought immediate action against those involved in these attacks.”

But the Muslim Council of Britain, the UK’s largest umbrella body for Muslim-led organisations, criticised the Indian High Commission for its selective condemnation.

“Whilst it is right that we condemn the desecration of Hindu symbols, you must represent all Indians and also condemn the deliberate targeting, intimidation and instances of assault of Muslims and Sikhs,” Zara Mohammed, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, wrote in a letter to the Indian High Commission.

“There is a clear hesitancy to call out these groups who have instigated this thuggery and their political ideology; which they seem to be attempting to import from India.

“British Indian communities expect a balanced view from the Indian High Commission, which represents all of the diaspora, which can help heal divisions locally.”

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UN chief says world ‘in peril and paralysed’ as summit convenes

At UN General Assembly, Guterres warns leaders that nations are ‘gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction’, under shadow of Ukraine war.

Published On 20 Sep 2022

In an alarming assessment, the head of the UN has warned world leaders that nations are “gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction” and are not ready or willing to tackle the challenges that threaten humanity’s future.

“Our world is in peril — and paralysed,” he said on Tuesday.

The 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting of world leaders convenes under the shadow of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has unleashed a global food crisis and opened fissures among major powers in a way not seen since the Cold War.

Speaking at the opening of the annual high-level meeting in New York City, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres started his remarks by sounding a note of hope.

He showed a photo of the first UN-chartered ship carrying grain from Ukraine — part of the deal between Ukraine and Russia that the UN and Turkey helped broker — to the Horn of Africa, where millions of people are on the edge of famine. It is, he said, an example of promise and hope “in a world teeming with turmoil”.

He stressed that cooperation and dialogue are the only path forward to maintain global peace — two fundamental UN principles since its founding after World War II. And he warned that “no power or group alone can call the shots”.

“Let’s work as one, as a coalition of the world, as united nations,” he urged leaders gathered in the vast General Assembly hall.

“The divergence between developed and developing countries, between North and South, between the privileged and the rest, is becoming more dangerous by the day,” the secretary-general said.

“It is at the root of the geopolitical tensions and lack of trust that poison every area of global cooperation, from vaccines to sanctions to trade.”

Calls for end to Russia-Ukraine war

At the top of the agenda for many is Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, which not only threatens the sovereignty of its smaller neighbour but has raised fears of a nuclear catastrophe at Europe’s largest nuclear plant in the country’s now Russia-occupied southeast.

The loss of important grain and fertiliser exports from Ukraine and Russia has triggered a food crisis, especially in developing countries, and inflation and a rising cost of living in many others.

King Abdullah II of Jordan said the pandemic, exacerbated by the crisis in Ukraine, has disrupted global supply chains and increased hunger. Many well-off countries experiencing empty food shelves for the first time “are discovering a truth that people in developing countries have known for a long time — for countries to thrive, affordable food must get to every family’s table,” he said.

“On a global level, this demands collective measures to ensure fair access to affordable food, and speed the movement of staples to countries in need,” Abdullah said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged world leaders at the UN headquarters on the need for a peaceful solution to the war on Ukraine, stopping short of providing any tangible steps.

“That may not necessarily be reflective of Turkey’s shortcomings, in so much as it is a fact of where we are right now where no body or country has been able to find practical steps to put an end to this war,” said Al Jazeera correspondent Jamal Elshayyal.

“That said, maybe Ankara’s position is a lot more promising than others in that it has succeeded in finding common ground to some of the knock-on effects of this war, particularly with regards to food security and the global supply chain of grain and other important things coming out of there,” he added.

“Ultimately Erdogan’s main message to delegates was one of seeking support for his country’s attempt at conflict resolution.”

INTERACTIVE Ukraine Refugees

‘Sham’ referendum plans

The assembly comes as officials in four Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine said they will hold referendums on becoming part of Russia from September 23 to 27, which could set the stage for Moscow to escalate the war.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called the referendum plans a “sham”.

“Such referenda have no legitimacy because they are sham referenda,” he told Al Jazeera.

“They will not change the nature of the war. This remains a war of aggression against Ukraine and it represents an escalation because if suddenly these territories, which are part of Ukraine, are declared as part of Russia, that will further escalate the conflict.”

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron made an impassioned speech to the assembly, saying no country can stand on the sidelines in the face of Russia’s aggression.

He accused those who remain silent of being “in a way complicit with a new cause of imperialism” that is trampling on the current world order and is making peace impossible.



Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Tigrayan forces accuse Eritrea of launching offensive

US special envoy for the Horn of Africa condemns the crossing of Eritrean troops into Ethiopia’s Tigray region amid renewed fighting.

Published On 20 Sep 2022

Forces in Ethiopia’s Tigray region say Eritrea has launched a full-scale offensive and heavy fighting was taking place in several areas along the border in what appears to be an escalation of last month’s renewal of fighting.

The Eritreans are fighting alongside Ethiopian federal forces, including commando units, as well as allied militias, said Getachew Reda, spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), on Tuesday.

“Eritrea is deploying its entire army as well as reservists. Our forces are heroically defending their positions,” Reda wrote on Twitter.

There was no immediate comment from authorities in Ethiopia or Eritrea, which lies north of Tigray.

Two aid workers reported intense fighting along the border, including shelling into a camp for displaced persons, the Reuters news agency reported. They did not say whether Eritrean troops were on the ground in Tigray.

A humanitarian worker in the northern Ethiopian town of Adigrat told The Associated Press that Eritrean forces were shelling the surrounding areas.

The US special envoy for the Horn of Africa said the United States was aware of Eritrean troops crossing into Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

“We have been tracking Eritrean troops’  movement across the border … and we condemn it,” Mike Hammer told reporters in a briefing after a trip to Ethiopia to help facilitate African Union-led peace talks between the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan forces.

“All external foreign actors should respect Ethiopia’s territorial integrity and avoid fuelling the conflict,” he said.

If confirmed, the participation of Eritrean troops would mark an escalation in a conflict that was reignited last month after the collapse of a ceasefire in place since March.

Canada and the United Kingdom issued travel advisories last week telling their citizens in Eritrea to be vigilant after authorities there called up citizens to report for military duty.

The war in Tigray is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of people and left millions without basic services for well over a year.

United Nations experts on Monday said that there are reasonable grounds to believe that “war crimes and crimes against humanity” have been committed by the Ethiopian government in the Tigray region.

Ethiopia’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, Zenebe Kebede Korcho, said the experts’ conclusions were “self-contradictory and biased”.

“There is not any single evidence that shows the government of Ethiopia used humanitarian aid as an instrument of war,” the envoy told the AFP news agency, describing the report as “a mockery” and “rubbish”.

“Therefore we have no other option but to reject this report.”

Eritrean forces fought on the side of Ethiopian federal troops in Tigray when war erupted in November 2020. Eritrean forces were implicated in some of the worst atrocities committed in the conflict — charges they deny. The war reignited in August after a lull in fighting earlier this year.

Inside Tigray, millions of residents are still largely cut off from the world. Communications and banking services are severed, and their restoration has been a key demand in mediation efforts.

The full-blown entry of Eritrea into the Tigray war could potentially complicate any peace efforts between Tigrayan leaders and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who mended ties with Eritrea as soon as he rose to power in 2018.

But that rapprochement was viewed suspiciously by Tigrayan authorities, for whom Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki remains a foe two decades after Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a bloody border war.

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How significant is the prisoner swap between US and Afghanistan?

From: Inside Story

The Taliban has freed an American contractor in exchange for an Afghan drug dealer.

The Taliban has released US Navy veteran Mark Frerichs in exchange for an Afghan tribal leader.

Frerichs was abducted in February 2020 while Bashir Noorzai was serving a life sentence for smuggling heroin.

US President Joe Biden says the decision was not taken lightly.

The Taliban says this is a new era of relations with Washington.

But will it change anything?

And are diplomatic ties between the Taliban and the US even possible?

Presenter: Hashem Ahelbarra


Peter Zwack – Retired brigadier general in the US army

Graeme Smith – Senior consultant on Afghanistan for the International Crisis Group

Ahmad Shuja Jamal – Former director general of international relations and regional cooperation at the Afghan National Security Council

Published On 20 Sep 2022

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US lays charges in ‘egregious plot’ to steal child meal funding

Justice Department accuses defendants in Minnesota of stealing $250m meant to feed low-income children during COVID-19 pandemic.

Published On 20 Sep 2022

The US Justice Department has charged 47 people in the state of Minnesota for allegedly participating in an “egregious” scheme to steal $250m from a federal programme that provides food to low-income children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement on Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the “egregious plot to steal public funds meant to care for children in need … amounts to the largest pandemic relief fraud scheme yet”.

“The defendants went to great lengths to exploit a program designed to feed underserved children in Minnesota amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, fraudulently diverting millions of dollars designated for the program for their own personal gain,” Wray said.

Prosecutors say the defendants created companies that claimed to be offering food to tens of thousands of children across Minnesota, then sought reimbursement for those meals through the US Department of Agriculture’s food nutrition programmes.

Prosecutors say few meals were actually served, and the defendants used the money to buy luxury cars, property and jewellery.

“Rather than feed children, the defendants enriched themselves,” the Department of Justice said.

Many of the companies that claimed to be serving food were sponsored by a nonprofit called Feeding Our Future, which submitted the companies’ claims for reimbursement.

Feeding Our Future’s founder and executive director, Aimee Bock, was among those indicted on Tuesday, and authorities say she and others in her organisation submitted the fraudulent claims for reimbursement and received kickbacks.

Bock’s lawyer, Kenneth Udoibok, said the indictment “doesn’t indicate guilt or innocence”. He said he would not comment further until seeing the indictment.

In interviews after law enforcement searched multiple sites in January, including Bock’s home and offices, Bock denied stealing money and said she never saw evidence of fraud.

Andy Luger, the US attorney for Minnesota, said during a news conference that the government was billed for more than 125 million fake meals, with some defendants making up names for children by using an online random name generator.

He displayed one form for reimbursement that claimed a site served exactly 2,500 meals each day Monday through Friday — with no children ever getting sick or otherwise missing from the programme. “These children were simply invented,” Luger said.

He said the government has so far recovered $50m in funds and property and expects to recover more.

The defendants face charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and bribery, the Justice Department said.

“Exploiting a government program intended to feed children at the time of a national crisis is the epitome of greed,” Special Agent in Charge Justin Campbell of the Internal Revenue Agency said in Tuesday’s statement.

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