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White House services administration signals transition to Biden

US President Donald Trump says he has instructed his team to "do what needs to be done" on initial protocols for transitioning to a Joe Biden presidency. Photo: AFP CNN reported it had seen a letter from administrator Emily Murphy that informed President-elect Joe Biden that the Trump administration was ready to begin the formal transition process. The letter has been the White House's biggest step towards conceding the presidential election win. Murphy said she had not been pressured by the White House to delay the formal transition and did not make a decision "out of fear or favouritism," saying she "did not receive any direction to delay my determination". Then, in a tweet, Trump said he wanted to thank Murphy for her steadfast dedication and loyalty to the country, and he was recommending that she and her team "do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols". ...fight, and I believe we will prevail! Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 23, 2020 "She has been harassed, threatened, and abused - and I do not want to see this happen to her, her family, or employees of GSA. Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good ... fight, and I believe we will prevail! Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same," he wrote. A Trump appointee, Murphy had previously refused to move forward with the process, locking the President-elect's team out of speaking with federal agencies. Joe Biden's victory in the swing state of Michigan has now been certified, further narrowing the legal routes Trump can take to change the election result. #Breaking: GSA’s Emily Murphy signs off and says the transition can begin, per @KristenhCNN pic.twitter.com/S6YKKQBrQR — Manu Raju (@mkraju) November 23, 2020
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Biden’s inner circle get key cabinet posts as John Kerry named climate tsar

Former US secretary of state John Kerry will act as "climate tsar" when US President-elect Joe Biden takes office. John Kerry was chosen for the role of special presidential envoy for climate. Photo: AFP / Getty Images Kerry was one of several people named for top positions by the Biden transition team on Monday. Other key picks include Avril Haines as the first woman to lead intelligence, and long-time Biden aide Antony Blinken as secretary of state - the most important foreign policy position. It comes as calls are growing for Donald Trump to concede the election. He has made unsubstantiated claims of widespread electoral fraud and is continuing to pursue legal challenges over the result. Biden is projected to beat President Trump by 306 votes to 232 when the US electoral college meets to formally confirm the winner on 14 December. This is far above the 270 votes he needs. In a statement following the announcement on Monday, Biden said: "I need a team ready on day one to help me reclaim America's seat at the head of the table, rally the world to meet the biggest challenges we face, and advance our security, prosperity, and values. This is the crux of that team." Some of the positions require confirmation in the US Senate. Joe Biden, top row centre, with cabinet appointments Linda Thomas-Greenfield, left, and Avril Haines. Bottom row from left, Alejandro Mayorkas, Antony Blinken and John Kerry. Photo: AFP What will John Kerry do? Kerry was chosen for the role of special presidential envoy for climate. The Biden transition team said the position would see him "fight climate change full-time". He is also set to be the first official dedicated to climate change to sit on the National Security Council. Kerry signed the Paris climate agreement on behalf of the US in 2016. The deal committed countries to working to limit the rise in global temperature. Under Trump, the US this month became the first country to formally withdraw from the agreement. But Biden has said he plans to re-join the accord as soon as possible. Under the rules, all that is required is a month's notice and the US should be back in the fold. In a tweet following the announcement on Monday, Kerry wrote: "America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is. I'm proud to partner with the President-elect, our allies, and the young leaders of the climate movement to take on this crisis as the President's Climate Envoy." Kerry previously served as secretary of state during Barack Obama's second term as president. A veteran Democratic politician, he lost to incumbent Republican George W Bush in the 2004 presidential election. He was a senator for 28 years and chairman of the foreign relations committee. What about the other roles? Antony Blinken was nominated as secretary of state. The 58-year-old is a long-time adviser to the president-elect. He was deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration, in which Biden served as vice-president. He is expected to manage a Biden foreign policy agenda that will emphasise re-engaging with Western allies. Other selections included Avril Haines as director of national intelligence and Alejandro Mayorkas as the first Latino secretary of homeland security. Jake Sullivan was named as White House national security adviser. Sullivan served as Biden's national security adviser during Obama's second term. Long-time diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield was nominated US ambassador to the UN. She also served under President Obama, including as assistant secretary of state for African affairs between 2013 and 2017. What about the calls for Trump to concede? President Trump is continuing to refuse to concede and facilitate a smooth presidential transition. He has been pursuing so-far fruitless legal challenges in several states to try to overturn his loss, but calls are growing for him to accept defeat. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a prominent Trump ally, called the president's legal team a "national embarrassment". "I have been a supporter of the president's. I voted for him twice. But elections have consequences, and we cannot continue to act as if something happened here that didn't happen," he told ABC's This Week programme on Sunday. High-profile Trump supporter Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of investment company Blackstone, also said it was time for Trump to accept he lost. "Like many in the business community, I am ready to help President-elect Biden and his team as they confront the significant challenges of rebuilding our post-Covid economy," he said in a statement reported by US media. Maryland's Republican Governor Larry Hogan told CNN that the Trump camp's continued efforts to overturn the election results were "beginning to look like we're a banana republic". Some Republican lawmakers have also moved to acknowledge Trump's defeat in the election. What's the latest with the challenges? The Trump campaign has lost a slew of lawsuits contesting results from the election, and its latest efforts focus on stopping the swing states that handed Biden his win certifying the results - an essential step for the Democrat to be formally declared victor. In a scathing ruling, Judge Matthew Brann said his court had been presented with "strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations". The move paves the way for Pennsylvania to certify Biden's win on Monday. However, the Trump campaign is appealing against the ruling. - BBC
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Qatar airport police officers charged over invasive searches of women

Qatar's public prosecutor has filed criminal charges against an unspecified number of police officers working at Qatar's Hamad airport after women said they were invasively searched there last month. Women on board a flight that was bound for Sydney were forced to undergo an examination in an ambulance parked on the tarmac at the airport in Doha in October. Photo: AFP A New Zealand woman was among those subjected to internal examinations along with some other Australians. Qatari officials said the searches were conducted in order to locate the mother of a new-born child found abandoned in a garbage bin in an airport bathroom. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the searches were appalling and Qatar Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz al-Thani has apologised. Judicial police officers working in the Airport Security Department broke the law when they summoned female medical staff to conduct the searches, the public prosecutor said in a statement on Monday. Police officers acted unilaterally and face "penalties of a maximum of three years," it said. The public prosecutor did not say what crimes had been committed, how many police officers had been charged or detail the penalties they faced, such as imprisonment, if convicted. The public prosecutor said it had also charged the child's mother, who has left the country, with attempted murder and that it had launched legal proceedings to arrest her. The mother, identified as of "Asian nationality", faces a maximum penalty of 15 years if convicted, the statement said. It also said a male defendant had been identified as the father of the child after a DNA test, without saying how they were able to initially locate him. The mother of the abandoned child had messaged the father telling him she had just given birth and that she was abandoning the child and leaving the country, the prosecutor said. It was not clear what charges the father faced. The baby girl is being taken care of by Qatari authorities. The prosecutor said in the statement that the medical staff had been summoned to conduct "external examination of female passengers", contradicting Australian officials who said the women had been invasively searched. - Reuters
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Climate change: Covid pandemic has little impact on rise in CO2

The global response to the Covid-19 crisis has had little impact on the continued rise in atmospheric concentrations of CO2, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) says. Despite the fall off in airline and other forms of transportation, CO2 levels in the atmosphere are on the rise. (file image) Photo: Supplied/ Air NZ This year carbon emissions have fallen dramatically due to lockdowns that have cut transport and industry severely. But this has only marginally slowed the overall rise in concentrations, the scientists say. The details are published in the WMO's annual greenhouse gas bulletin. This highlights the concentrations of warming gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gas concentrations are the cumulative result of past and present emissions of a range of substances, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Through the Paris Agreement, countries are trying to reduce emissions of these pollutants which are generated through, for example, the burning of fossil fuels. These greenhouse gases trap heat close to the Earth's surface, driving up temperatures. This planetary warming threatens global food supplies, makes weather events - such as tropical storms and heatwaves - more extreme and increases the risk of flooding caused by sea level rise. CO2 levels are measured in parts per million (ppm) - an indication of their overall atmospheric abundance. According to the WMO, the global average in 2019 was 410.5ppm, an increase of 2.6ppm over 2018. This was larger than the increase from 2017 to 2018 and bigger than the average over the past decade. Thanks to lockdowns in early 2020, carbon emissions fell by 17 percent at their peak, but the overall effect on concentrations has been very small. Preliminary estimates suggest that CO2 will continue to increase this year but that rise will be reduced by 0.08 to 0.23ppm. This falls within the 1ppm natural variability that occurs from year to year. Prof Petteri Taalas. Photo: AFP "We breached the global threshold of 400 parts per million in 2015, and just four years later, we crossed 410 ppm, such a rate of increase has never been seen in the history of our records," WMO secretary general, Prof Petteri Taalas, said. "The lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph. We need a sustained flattening of the curve," he said. While there isn't an overall figure for 2020 concentrations, individual monitoring stations show that the rise has continued this year despite the pandemic. Monthly average CO2 concentrations at Mauna Loa in Hawaii - a key atmospheric monitoring station, where carbon dioxide data is gathered - were 411.29ppm in September 2020, up from 408.54 the previous year. Similarly, at Cape Grim in Tasmania, another key air pollution measurement station, September 2020 saw CO2 concentrations reach 410.8ppm - up from 408.58 in 2019. Sam Cleland, the officer in charge of the Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station, looking at the station's equipment in Cape Grim, Tasmania. Photo: AFP While there are no details of methane levels for 2020, concentrations of that gas also went up in 2019. Methane concentrations increased by more than the average over the past decade, although the increase was slightly lower than in previous years. More than half of the methane emitted comes from human activities such as raising cattle, growing rice and drilling for oil and gas. Concentrations of nitrous oxide grew by about the average of the past decade. Emissions come from agriculture, energy and waste management. This gas damages the ozone layer as well as contributing to global warming. While the Covid-19 pandemic hasn't slowed down the increase in concentrations of all these warming gases in the atmosphere, the decline in emissions in the early part of this year shows what's possible. "The Covid-19 pandemic is not a solution for climate change," said Prof Taalas. "However, it does provide us with a platform for more sustained and ambitious climate action to reduce emissions to net zero [balancing out any emissions by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere] through a complete transformation of our industrial, energy and transport systems. "The needed changes are economically affordable and technically possible and would affect our everyday life only marginally." Meteorologists expect CO2 levels to vary by 1ppm between years due to natural fluctuations in the climate - for reasons other than human releases of carbon. - BBC
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Covid-19: Vaccination will be required to fly, says Qantas chief

International air travellers will in future need to prove they have been vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to board Qantas flights, the airline says. Qantas will ask people to have a vaccination before they can get on an aircraft, its chief executive says. Photo: AFP The Australian flag carrier's boss, Alan Joyce, said the move would be "a necessity" when vaccines are available. "I think that's going to be a common thing talking to my colleagues in other airlines around the globe," he said. Australia shut down its international borders early in the pandemic and required those returning to quarantine. The country has more recently relied on lockdowns, widespread testing and aggressive contact tracing to push daily infections nationwide close to zero. In an interview with Australia's Nine Network on Monday, Mr Joyce said Qantas was looking at ways of changing its terms and conditions for international travellers as the industry, which has been hit hard by travel restrictions, looks at ways of moving forward. "We will ask people to have a vaccination before they can get on the aircraft... for international visitors coming out and people leaving the country we think that's a necessity," he told the broadcaster. "There are always exemptions for any vaccine on medical grounds, but that should be the only basis," he told radio station 3AW. Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce. Photo: AFP That same month, Qantas reported an annual loss of almost A$2bn because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Joyce said at the time that trading conditions were the worst in the airline's 100-year history and that "the impact of Covid on all airlines is clear - it's devastating". On Monday, the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) reopened its border with neighbouring Victoria for the first time since infections soared in Victoria's state capital, Melbourne, in July. Flights between the city and the NSW capital Sydney - normally one of the world's busiest routes - had been cancelled. Arriving in Sydney on a Qantas flight for the first time in months, passengers were greeted by people at the terminal holding up signs that read "welcome back". More than 20 additional flights were scheduled between the two states on Monday. "Today is the day I get to meet my four-month-old grandson for the first time," one passenger told the BBC. Australia has recorded about 900 coronavirus-related deaths and almost 28,000 infections in total. - BBC
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Afghanistan war: 26,000 Afghan children killed or maimed since 2005

An average of five children have been killed or wounded every day for the past 14 years in war-torn Afghanistan, a charity has found. A young boy looks at the camera as a policeman holding a rocket-propelled grenade stands behind in a house at Deh Qubad village in Maiwand district of Kandahar province on September 27, 2020. Photo: Wakil Kohsar / AFP Data from the UN showed at least 26,025 children were killed or maimed from 2005 to 2019, said Save the Children. The charity has urged donor nations to protect the future of children ahead of a key meeting in Geneva on Monday. Violence has been rising in Afghanistan amid stalled peace talks and US troop withdrawals. Afghanistan is among the 11 most dangerous nations in the world for children, according to Save the Children. In 2019, it accounted for the greatest number of killing and maiming violations of all the global conflicts covered in the charity's report released on Friday - with 874 Afghan children killed and 2275 maimed. More than two-thirds of those killed and maimed last year were boys, it said, "as a result of ground engagements between pro- and anti-government forces or of improvised explosive devices in both suicide and non-suicide attacks". The report found that schools have routinely been attacked in the ongoing conflict that pits the Afghan government, supported by US troops, against the Taliban and other insurgents. Save the Children said that between 2017 and 2019 there were more than 300 attacks on schools. "Imagine living with the constant fear that today might be the day that your child is killed in a suicide attack or an airstrike. This is the grim reality for tens of thousands of Afghan parents whose children have been killed or injured," said Chris Nyamandi, Save the Children's country director in Afghanistan, in a statement. Ahead of the 2020 Afghanistan Conference, a meeting of international donors that is starting in Geneva on Monday, the charity urged donor nations to safeguard the future of Afghan children. A young Afghan patient receives medical treatment at a hospital following a series of blasts in Jalalabad on May 13, 2019. Photo: Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Afghanistan has seen decades of violent conflict that has left tens of thousands of civilians dead. US forces have been in the country since 2001 in an operation to oust the Taliban after the deadly 9/11 attacks in New York. The Taliban was removed from power but later regrouped and now controls more territory than at any time since the start of America's longest war. In February the US started withdrawing its troops after signing a landmark agreement with the insurgents. But violence in the country has risen again as the Taliban steps up its offensives amid stalled negotiations with the Afghan government. On the weekend a deadly rocket attack in Kabul killed at least eight and wounded more than 30. Last year a BBC investigation found that unrelenting violence affected almost the entire country, documenting daily casualties in the month of August 2019. Many observers have warned that the Afghan army is not strong enough to fight the insurgency alone after foreign troops leave. But last week the US announced further cuts, saying it would withdraw 2,000 troops from Afghanistan by mid-January, leaving some 2,500 in the country. -BBC
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AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine can be 90% effective, results show

AstraZeneca says its vaccine for the novel coronavirus can be around 90 percent effective without any serious side effects. Photo: AFP The vaccine developed by Oxford University was 90 percent effective in preventing Covid-19 when it was administered as a half dose followed by a full dose at least one month apart, according to data from the late-stage trials in Britain and Brazil. No serious safety events related to the vaccine have been confirmed and it was well tolerated across both dosing regimens, it said. "This vaccine's efficacy and safety confirm that it will be highly effective against Covid-19 and will have an immediate impact on this public health emergency," Pascal Soriot, Astra's chief executive, said in a statement. The British drugmaker's preliminary trial results mark a fresh breakthrough in the fight against a pandemic that has killed nearly 1.4 million people and roiled the global economy. British Prime minister Boris Johnson said it was "incredibly exciting news the Oxford vaccine has proved so effective in trials." AstraZeneca shares fell 1.1 percent in early morning trade, defying expectations for a bounce and underperforming the wider market with the FTSE 100 index rising 0.5 percent at the open. Another dosing regimen showed 62 percent efficacy when given as two full doses at least one month apart, and the combined analysis from both dosing regimens resulted in an average efficacy of 70 percent. All results were statistically significant. The interim analysis was based on 131 infections among participants who received the vaccine and those in a control group who were given an established meningitis shot. The data showing a range of efficacy between 60 percent and 90 percent comes after US rivals published interim data in recent weeks showing efficacy of more than 90 percent. While the efficacy reading from Astra's viral vector vaccine is lower than its US rivals, the data will boost confidence about the chances of successfully developing a variety of vaccines using different approaches. Public health experts say the world will need many vaccines to meet global demand. On 16 November, US-based Moderna Inc said its experimental vaccine proved to be 94.5 percent effective based on an early data analysis. A week earlier, Pfizer Inc and Germany's BioNTech SE said their vaccine candidate had demonstrated greater than 90 percent efficacy that rose to 95 percent with analysis of full trial data. Russia's Sputnik-V vaccine on 11 November was also shown to be more than 90 percent effective, though only based on 20 infections. The AstraZeneca vaccine uses a modified version of a chimpanzee common cold virus to deliver instructions to cells to fight the target virus, which is different than the new technology known as messenger RNA (mRNA) deployed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. The company - one of the UK's most valuable listed companies - will now immediately prepare regulatory submission of the data to authorities around the world that have a framework in place for conditional or early approval. It will also seek an emergency use listing from the World Health Organization to speed up availability in low-income countries. In parallel, the full analysis of the interim results is being submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. -Reuters
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Trump campaign parts ways with Powell after vote-switching claim

US President Donald Trump's election campaign has distanced itself from a lawyer who last week said electronic voting systems had switched millions of ballots to President-elect Joe Biden. Sidney Powell speaking during a press conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, DC. Photo: AFP The lawyer, Sidney Powell, made the claim without evidence at a news conference last week. "Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own," Trump campaign lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis said in a statement. "She is not a member of the Trump Legal Team." The announcement came a day after a federal judge dismissed the campaign's lawsuit seeking to halt Pennsylvania officials from certifying Biden's victory in the state, dealing a major blow to Trump's flailing efforts to overturn his 4 November election loss. Powell had made other dramatic claims without evidence, saying she had a voter fraud case of "biblical" proportions in Georgia. She told conservative Newsmax TV over the weekend that "Georgia is probably going to be the first state I'm gonna blow up," and accused Republican Governor Brian Kemp of conspiring against Trump. Powell, a conservative activist and former federal prosecutor, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. She is representing Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn in his effort to end a long-running criminal case against him. Flynn, saying that Powell had been suspended from Twitter for 12 hours, wrote on the platform that she understood Giuliani's statement and "agrees with it." Flynn said Powell was "staying the course" to prove election fraud. Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Democrats and some Republicans have accused Trump of trying to undermine faith in the American electoral system and delegitimise Biden's victory by promoting false claims of widespread voter fraud. The Republican president expressed concerns that Powell's claims were too outlandish and would distract from other legal arguments, a person familiar with the discussions said. Trump had referred to Powell as one of his "wonderful lawyers and representatives" in a 15 November tweet. Tucker Carlson, an influential Fox News host, criticised Powell on Thursday local time for a lack of evidence to support her claims. "She never demonstrated that a single actual vote was moved illegitimately by software from one candidate to another. Not one," Carlson said. Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa who won re-election in this month's vote, told a Fox News radio program on Thursday that Powell's allegations were "offensive". - Reuters
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Samoa lengthens quarantine period

People returning to Samoa on the country's first repatriation flight from the US will have to spend three weeks in quarantine upon their arrival. Samoa's Faleolo airport Photo: RNZI Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia The 300 passengers scheduled to return on Friday will be spend 21 days rather than the usual 14 days in such conditions. The Ministry of Health's revealed the increase in the number of quarantine days after several people called for the repatriation flight from Los Angeles to be postponed as Covid cases in the state of California surge. Meanwhile the country is still awaiting the outcome of further testing of a repatriated sailor who produced a positive result last week alongside two negative tests. Samples have been sent to New Zealand for confirmation of his status and a result is due soon.
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Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis explained: The long, medium, and short story

A conflict between the government of Ethiopia and forces in its northern Tigray region has thrown the country into turmoil. Members of the Ethiopian Army stand holding Ethiopian national flags during an event to honour the national defence forces. Photo: AFP Fighting has been going on for almost two weeks, destabilising the populous country in East Africa, with reports of hundreds dead. A power struggle, an election and a push for political reform are among several factors that led to the crisis. Here, we've broken them down to explain how and why this conflict has flared. In simple chunks of 100, 300 and 500 words, this is the story of the crisis so far. The story in 100 words The conflict started on 4 November, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military offensive against regional forces in Tigray. He said he did so in response to an attack on a military base housing government troops in Tigray. The escalation came after months of feuding between Abiy's government and leaders of Tigray's dominant political party. For almost three decades, the party was at the centre of power, before it was sidelined by Abiy, who took office in 2018 after anti-government protests. Abiy pursued reforms, but when Tigray resisted, a political crisis ensued. Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Photo: AFP The story in 300 words The roots of this crisis can be traced to Ethiopia's system of government. Since 1994, Ethiopia has had a federal system in which different ethnic groups control the affairs of 10 regions. Remember that powerful party from Tigray? Well, this party - the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) - was influential in setting up this system. It was the leader of a four-party coalition that governed Ethiopia from 1991, when a military regime was ousted from power. Under the coalition, Ethiopia became more prosperous and stable, but concerns were routinely raised about human rights and the level of democracy. Eventually, discontent morphed into protest, leading to a government reshuffle that saw Mr Abiy appointed prime minister. Abiy liberalised politics, set up a new party (the Prosperity Party), and removed key Tigrayan government leaders accused of corruption and repression. Meanwhile, Abiy ended a long-standing territorial dispute with neighbouring Eritrea, earning him a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. These moves won Abiy popular acclaim, but caused unease among critics in Tigray. Tigray's leaders see Abiy's reforms as an attempt to centralise power and destroy Ethiopia's federal system. The feud came to a head in September, when Tigray defied the central government to hold its own regional election. The central government, which had postponed national elections because of coronavirus, said it was illegal. The rift grew in October, when the central government suspended funding for and cut ties with Tigray. Tigray's administration said this amounted to a "declaration of war". Tensions increased. Then, in what the International Crisis Group termed a "sudden and predictable" descent into conflict, Abiy said Tigray had crossed a "red line". He accused Tigrayan forces of attacking an army base to steal weapons. "The federal government is therefore forced into a military confrontation," Abiy said. A make-shift shelter housing Ethiopian refugees who fled fighting in Tigray province, at the Um Rakuba camp in Sudan's eastern Gedaref province. Photo: Photo by Ebrahim HAMID / AFP) The story in 500 words Ethiopia, Africa's oldest independent country, has undergone sweeping changes since Abiy came to power. A member of the Oromo, Ethiopia's largest ethnic group, Abiy made appeals to political reform, unity and reconciliation in his first speech as prime minister. His agenda was spurred by the demands of protesters who felt Ethiopia's political elite had obstructed the country's transition to democracy. The Tigrayan politicians that led the ruling coalition for 27 years were deemed to be part of the problem. In the 1970s and 1980s their party, the TPLF, fought a war to wrest control of government from a military junta known as the Derg. The party succeeded, becoming a leading member of the coalition government that took power in 1991. Pro-Tigrayan demonstrators display placards during a protest in front of the Chancellery in Berlin on November 12. Photo: John Macdougall / AFP The coalition gave autonomy to Ethiopia's regions, but retained a tight grip on central government, with critics accusing it of repressing political opposition. Now the party finds itself in opposition. In 2019, it refused to participate in Abiy's new government and merge with his Prosperity Party. This snub was followed by further escalations. Tigray's decision to hold its own election in September, for example, was an unprecedented act of defiance against the central government. Since then, both governments have designated each other as "illegitimate". Tigray argues that the central government has not been tested in a national election since Abiy's appointment as prime minister. Tigray has also called out the prime minister for his "unprincipled" friendship with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki. A youngster stands below an Ethiopian national flag during a blood donation rally organised by the city administration of Addis Ababa. Photo: AFP / Eduardo Soteras There has long been animosity between Tigray and the government in Eritrea, which shares a border with the region. A dispute over territory along this border was the cause of a war fought between Ethiopia and Eritrea from 1998 until 2000. You may remember this dispute making headlines in 2018. That year, Abiy signed a peace treaty with Eritrea's government, ending the territorial spat. A year later, Abiy won the Nobel Peace Prize. Now it is war, not peace, that is drawing attention to Ethiopia. Thousands of civilians have been displaced since 4 November, when Abiy ordered his military to strike forces in Tigray. Hundreds more are reported to have died, with reports of a civilian massacre. With the communications largely cut in Tigray, the exact number of casualties is not clear. The Ethiopian government has announced a six-month state of emergency in Tigray. A full-blown civil war could last far longer. "Given the strength of Tigray's security forces, the conflict could well be protracted," International Crisis Group, a non-profit organisation, says. "Tigray has a large paramilitary force and a well-drilled local militia, thought to number perhaps 250,000 troops combined." As Africa's second-most populous country, Ethiopia is pivotal to stability in the Horn of Africa. If the conflict intensifies, there are fears it could spill over into neighbouring countries. There have already been reports of missiles fired into Eritrea and 27,000 refugees fleeing to Sudan. There is also a concern that the conflict could exacerbate ethnic tensions elsewhere in Ethiopia. - BBC
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