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WHO chief says his home region in Ethiopia under ‘systematic’ blockade
12 November 2021, 9:36 PM

The World Health Organisation’s chief said on Friday his home Tigray region in northern Ethiopia was being subjected to a “systematic” blockade and people were dying because of a lack of supplies.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus did not say who he thought was stopping aid getting through to Tigray, where rebellious forces have been fighting a year-long war with Ethiopia’s government.

Ethiopia’s government has denied blocking aid to Tigray and has said it is rebuilding infrastructure. The United Nations has repeatedly called on the government to get aid into the north, and has said that shortages there are “man-made”.

Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to a request for a comment on Tedros’s statement on Friday.

“People are dying because of lack of supplies,” Tedros, who is an ethnic Tigrayan, told a press briefing in Geneva.

“We cannot send supplies and medicines to Tigray because it is under blockade, and the blockade is systematic,” he said. In unusually frank public remarks, he described the situation in Ethiopia as “really distressing”.

War broke out in November 2020 between Ethiopian federal troops and forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the ruling party of Tigray. Thousands have been killed in the conflict, which has since spread into two neighbouring regions in northern Ethiopia.

Soon after the conflict started, the Ethiopian army’s chief of staff accused Tedros of backing the Tigray rebels. He denied that.

The WHO Director-General, who was Ethiopia’s health minister during the era when the TPLF dominated national politics, has repeatedly said he is not taking sides in the war.

No UN-organised humanitarian supplies have entered Tigray for more than three weeks, the UN said on Thursday, adding some 364 trucks are waiting in a neighbouring region, pending authorization from authorities to proceed.

Around 80% of essential medicine is no longer available in Tigray and most health facilities are not functioning, the UN said in a report on Thursday.

The warring parties have so far rejected calls from the United States, the United Nations and the African Union for a ceasefire. Both the government and the Tigrayan forces have set conditions that the other rejects.

Vulnerable states call climate loss and damage deal ‘bare minimum’
12 November 2021, 8:08 PM

After a three-decade struggle, some of the world’s most climate-harmed countries are inching closer to securing more help for the devastation caused by global warming.

The first call to address loss and damage caused by climate change came in 1991, when small island nations first pushed to create a mechanism to compensate vulnerable countries for the destruction caused by climate impacts such as rising sea levels and supercharged wildfires. Rich nations resisted acknowledging financial liability for their years of emissions that drove climate change as they rose to economic prosperity.

The impasse continued through years of UN climate talks. But in a draft document released at COP26 in Glasgow on Friday, negotiators for the first time laid out a pathway for addressing the issue by establishing a dedicated agency. Yet the draft stops short of setting up a fund to compensate climate-linked losses and damage.

Some climate-vulnerable countries acknowledged the modest progress.

“There are some important hooks there that we can build on, but we still have a long way to go,” said Simon Stiell, Grenada’s minister for climate resilience and the environment, after a meeting on the issue. He called the draft proposal “the bare minimum” acceptable to vulnerable states.

A new draft agreement for the UN Climate Conference: Laura Makin-Isherwood

Currently, the draft Glasgow agreement under discussion commits to realising within two years what was described as the Santiago Network during the last UN climate summit in Madrid in 2019, to “catalyse technical assistance” for developing countries to address loss and damage.

That would involve creating a separate secretariat under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the draft says, referencing financial and technical support for its operations.

“That’s the start of a breakthrough from the demands of vulnerable countries,” said Yamide Dagnet, director of climate negotiations at World Resources Institute.

The loss and damage facility would be separate from the $100 billion a year pledged by rich countries toward helping developing countries quit fossil fuels and adapt to a warmer world.

But in the waning hours of negotiations in Glasgow, climate-vulnerable countries and environmental campaigners said they will push for more. Beyond creation of a secretariat, they want a guarantee of a fund dedicated to help recover or rebuild when communities are destroyed by climate-driven floods, fires or drought.

The costs could be significant. Economists estimate costs from climate-related weather damage could total around $400 billion per year by 2030. A study commissioned by development agency Christian Aid estimated climate damage could cost vulnerable countries a fifth of their gross domestic product by 2050.

The United States and European Union have long resisted creating a fund for such payments, concerned about being on the hook for compensation and liability.

On Friday, US Special Envoy on climate change John Kerry expressed support only for a secretariat’s that offers technical support. EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans was noncommittal, saying countries must “find the solutions” to enable vulnerable nations to deal with loss and damage.

Teresa Anderson, climate policy coordinator for the non-profit ActionAid International, said agreement on a funding mechanism should not yet be ruled out.

A separate fund “seemed out of the question coming into the COP, but in the last two weeks the tone has changed and it feels more possible now than it ever has,” she said. “The US remains the main blocker.”

This week, Scotland offered the first-ever commitment from the industrialised world for such a fund, committing a somewhat symbolic 2 million pounds ($2.7 million).

The move impressed Saleemul Huq of Bangladesh, an advisor to the Climate Vulnerable Forum group of 48 countries.

Calling Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon a “true leader,” Huq lamented the lack of support elsewhere. “The US is giving us $0. Europe is giving us zero euros.”

Russian planes intercepted by Belgian jets over North Sea: Netherlands
12 November 2021, 7:04 PM

Two Russian strategic bombers were intercepted by Belgian F-16 fighter planes after entering NATO airspace over the North Sea on Friday, the Dutch Defence Ministry said.

The planes, identified by the ministry as Tu-160 “Blackjack” supersonic bombers, were then escorted further by the British Air Force.

“Russian military aircraft occasionally enter NATO airspace without identifying themselves,” the statement said. “The fighter jets followed the Russians until the British Royal Air Force took over the escort.”

NATO planes are scrambled from either the Netherlands or Belgium when an aircraft flies near or into Dutch airspace without making radio contact, it said.

Cyber attack turns off the taps at Barcelona’s Damm brewery
12 November 2021, 6:14 PM

Spain’s second biggest beer maker Damm halted output at its main brewery outside Barcelona after a cyber attack hit its computer systems earlier this week, a spokesperson said on Friday.

The attack hit the brewery on Tuesday night and for a few hours the plant in El Prat de Llobregat, which produces 7 million hectolitres of beer a year, was “entirely paralysed”, Olga Vidal, Damm’s head of communications, told Reuters on Friday.

“IT services made possible a partial resumption of production and we expect to operate at 100% in the coming hours,” she said.

She declined to say whether a ransom was demanded of the company or if the maker of Estrella Damm lager had paid anything to the hackers behind the attack.

She wouldn’t confirm whether the company had notified the police and local police declined to comment.

Damm bottles several other beer brands beside its iconic Estrella Damm and has honoured all deliveries to bars, restaurants and supermarkets thanks to existing stocks, Vidal said.

Several high-profile cyber attacks in the past year, including the Colonial Pipeline hack, which caused panic buying of fuel across the eastern US in May, have jolted governments and companies into reviewing their security policies.

A European Union report released in October found the COVID-19 pandemic and rise of home working had created opportunities for cyber-criminals to flourish and led to a proliferation of so-called hackers for hire.

Last month, the Autonomous University of Barcelona was hit by a ransomware attack, while earlier this year hackers knocked out several services at Spain’s employment agency.

World powers meet on Libya crisis to push elections
12 November 2021, 5:33 PM

World powers will push for sanctions against anyone who disrupts Libya’s electoral process and political transition, according to draft conclusions of a conference that started on Friday in Paris.

The meeting, which includes the leaders of France, Libya, Germany and Egypt, as well as the US vice president, is aimed at cementing world backing for the planned vote on December 24 and efforts to remove foreign forces.

The elections are envisaged as a key moment in an UN-backed peace process to end a decade of violent chaos that has drawn in regional powers and undermined Mediterranean stability since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.

The votes for a new president and parliament are still in doubt with six weeks to go amid disputes between rival eastern and western Libyan factions and political bodies over the rules underpinning the electoral schedule and who can run.

The wrangling threatens to unravel the wider peace process, which also includes efforts to unify long-divided state institutions and to pull out foreign mercenaries who remain entrenched along frontlines despite a ceasefire.

Draft conference conclusions affirmed “that individuals or entities, inside or outside of Libya, who might attempt to obstruct, undermine, manipulate or falsify the electoral process and the political transition” could face sanctions.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in a video message to the conference warned that “any party that deliberately undermines or sabotages peace must be held accountable”.

The UN Security Council has previously agreed sanctions against Libyan political figures for their role in the conflict. However, Russia has only sent lower-level representatives to Paris, raising questions over its backing of any positions agreed there.

The document seen by Reuters takes note of the Libyan electoral commission setting December 24 as the starting date for an electoral process that would extend to a later second-round presidential vote on the same day as a parliamentary election.

INCLUSIVE VOTE

The foreign powers want an inclusive election – one that would likely allow all potential candidates to run, including divisive figures seen as unacceptable in large swathes of Libya, as well as serving officials.

A French presidential official told reporters at a briefing some actors were ready to seize on any ambiguities to advance their own interests.

“They are obviously waiting to ambush and try to derail the electoral process,” the official said.

Paris initially wanted the leaders of Russia and Turkey to attend. Turkey, which fears France wants to accelerate the departure of Turkish forces from Libya, has joined Moscow in sending lower level representatives.

Mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group are entrenched alongside the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA), which was supported in the war by Moscow, along with the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

The former Tripoli government had support from Turkish regular forces in Libya as advisers, and from allied Syrian fighters, the Turkish government has said.

Diplomats have said Turkey was unlikely to act before there were departures from the east.

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