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Mar 23, 2010

VOA starts Ethiopia satellite service after jamming

ADDIS ABABA, March 23 (Reuters) – U.S.-funded broadcaster
Voice of America is broadcasting its local Amharic language
service to Ethiopia via satellite after the country’s Prime
Minister ordered it jammed and sparked a diplomatic row.

Ethiopia holds national elections in May and international
press freedom advocacy groups say the government is cracking
down on the media before the vote. The government denies that.

Mar 20, 2010

U.S., Ethiopia spar over VOA broadcasts

ADDIS ABABA, March 19 (Reuters) – U.S.-funded broadcaster
Voice of America’s local Amharic language service in Ethiopia
will be blocked because it is destabilizing the country, Prime
Minister Meles Zenawi said, a move quickly condemned by

The Horn of Africa country holds national elections in May
and international press freedom advocacy groups say the
government is cracking down on the media before the vote.

Mar 19, 2010

Ethiopia PM willing to meet long-time Eritrean enemy

ADDIS ABABA, March 19 (Reuters) – Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said he is willing to meet Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki despite more than 10 years of bitter words and a bloody border war.

Eritrea last month accused Ethiopia of blocking its participation in African Union (AU) summits in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa — seat of the 53-nation body.

Responding to questions, Meles denied the claims and said Isaias was welcome in Ethiopia.

"If the Eritrean government is eager to send any person, whether the president himself or any person, and participate in meetings they will be treated exactly like any other delegation," Meles told reporters late on Thursday.

Meles said it was Addis Ababa’s obligation as AU headquarters.

The 1998-2000 war between two of the world’s poorest countries killed at least 70,000 people. An independent border commission in 2002 awarded the flashpoint town of Badme to Eritrea but Ethiopia still occupies the territory.

"I am prepared to talk to anybody on matters that help peace in the neighbourhood," Meles said. "So as I have made it very clear on many occasions we are ready to talk to them at any level, at any time, any place."

Meles did not say whether he was willing to discuss the border issue.

"I have no obligation to meet him at the airport," Meles added.

In December, the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on Eritrea, accusing it of backing rebel groups in Somalia, where at least 21,000 people have been killed in violence since the beginning of 2007.

The sanctions, adopted in December and backed by 13 of the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council, include an arms embargo, travel restrictions and asset freezes for some of the country’s top officials.

Asmara says the Security Council is a proxy for the United States and says the multi-state body continues to ignore the fact that their territory is being occupied by Ethiopia, Washington’s strongest ally in the Horn of Africa. (Editing by Giles Elgood)

Mar 19, 2010

Ethiopian PM wants VOA news service jammed

ADDIS ABABA, March 19 (Reuters) – U.S.-funded broadcaster
Voice of America’s (VOA) local Amharic language service in
Ethiopia will be blocked because it is destabilising the
country, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said.

The Horn of Africa country holds national elections in May
and international press freedom advocacy groups say the
government is cracking down on the media ahead of the poll.

Mar 17, 2010

African Union imposes sanctions on Madagascar

ADDIS ABABA, March 17 (Reuters) – The African Union (AU) has slapped sanctions on Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina and 108 other people in the Indian Ocean island who have backed Africa’s youngest leader since he seized power a year ago.

The AU said in February it would impose targeted sanctions if there was no progress by March 16 on forming a new government with the three main opposition groups to restore constitutional order as soon as possible.

Some analysts said the sanctions were largely symbolic and would have little impact on Rajoelina’s rule, as long as influential military allies continued to back him.

"The sanctions consist of a refusal to grant visas, the freezing of assets, including their financial assets in foreign banks, and diplomatic isolation," said Ramtane Lamamra, the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security.

Others targeted included government officials, senior military officers who have backed the president, and key supporters who are seen as obstacles to a negotiated solution to the crisis.

"I hope the sanctions will have the effect of nurturing wisdom among the parties and the realisation that the solution has to be based on consensus," said Lamamra.

The AU said it will now send a request to the United Nations asking it to recognise the punitive measures.


Rajoelina and three former presidents agreed a power-sharing deal in Mozambique last year but disagreements over top government posts scuppered progress. The accord was then revived at talks in Ethiopia, only to flounder for the same reasons.

The European Union, which has suspended aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars, is also mulling sanctions.

Rajoelina has said the sanctions would hit the people of Madagascar most, while analysts said there would be little impact on the already struggling economy from the AU measures.

"It is a purely political gesture and will probably have no impact whatsoever on the government," said Edward George of the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

Former president Marc Ravalomanana handed over power to senior military leaders exactly a year ago after weeks of violent protests against his increasingly authoritarian rule.

The top brass then named Rajoelina leader of the world’s fourth largest island, which is increasingly eyed by major foreign companies for its oil, nickel, cobalt, uranium and gold.

Ravalomanana, a self-made millionaire who remains exiled in South Africa, implored Rajoelina to resume talks.

"I hope that these targeted sanctions will spur Andry Rajoelina into cooperating with the international community and that they serve as a wake-up call," he said in a statement. (Additional reporting by Alain Iloniaina in Antananarivo and Richard Lough in Nairobi; Editing by David Clarke and Noah Barkin)

Mar 15, 2010

Somali Sufi militia joins government to fight rebels

ADDIS ABABA, March 15 (Reuters) – Somalia’s government on Monday agreed to bring one of the country’s militia groups on board ahead of an expected military push against Islamist rebels threatening to topple the administration.

Two insurgent groups have been fighting the Horn of Africa nation’s government since the start of 2007 and the Western-backed administration has been hemmed into a few blocks of the capital Mogadishu since a rebel offensive last May.

The group brought in, Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca (ASWJ), is made up of moderate Sufi Muslims who have been fighting the insurgent groups al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam in central Somalia.

Somalia has a rich Sufi tradition going back more than five centuries. Sufis have been angered by the desecration of graves, the beheading of clerics, and bans on celebrating the birth of the Prophet imposed by the hardline Wahhabi insurgents.

Ahlu Sunna’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Mahmoud Sheikh Hassan, said the groups would need financial support from the international community to integrate their administrative, leadership and military structures and fight al Shabaab.

"This is not a fight or struggle against people but against an ideology," Hassan said at the signing ceremony in Ethiopia’s capital. "The meaning of this agreement is to save the people of Somalia and the reputation of the Islamic faith."

Al Shabaab, which professes loyalty to al Qaeda, is battling to impose its own harsh version of sharia law throughout Somalia. The government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed has agreed to implement a more moderate version of sharia in the country.


Somalia has had no effective government for 19 years and Western nations and neighbours say the anarchic country is used as a shelter by militants intent on launching attacks in east Africa and further afield.

Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke said Ahlu Sunna would be given five, as yet undetermined, ministries and would appoint deputy commanders of the military, the police and the intelligence services.

"This agreement is a victory for peace and a crushing defeat for extremist groups," Sharmarke said at the ceremony. "This day will go into history as the day of peace for the Somali people and the region as a whole."

The government has said for several months it will launch a major offensive but has yet to do so. Rebels have stepped up attacks in various parts of the capital this month.

At least 21,000 Somalis have been killed since the start of 2007, 1.5 million have been uprooted from their homes and nearly half a million are sheltering in other countries in the region.

A resident in the Ahlu Sunna held town of Dusamareb in central Somalia said the deal brought some hope.

"The power sharing deal is likely to reduce Somalia’s chaos," Ali Suleiman said by phone. "We now smell peace: if the government and Ahlu Sunna have united, the rebels will be pushed from opposite sides and thus weakened."

But Hizbul Islam said Ahlu Sunna would just lose support by joining a government which has little influence outside Mogadishu and is often criticised as being corrupt and divided.

"The Addis agreement will not have any positive impact. It will only lead to the destruction of the so-called Ahlu Sunna," Sheikh Mohamed Osman, Hizbul Islam spokesman, told Reuters. (Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh, Abdi Guled in Mogadishu, Abdiqani Hassan in Bossaso and Abdiaziz Hassan in Nairobi; Editing by David Clarke)

Feb 19, 2010

African Union gives Madagascar sanctions ultimatum

ADDIS ABABA, Feb 19 (Reuters) – The African Union gave Madagascar’s diplomatically isolated leader an ultimatum on Friday, saying he will face sanctions if previous power-sharing agreements are not in place by March 16.

Since Andry Rajoelina seized power on the Indian Ocean island in a coup last March, international mediators, donor countries and opposition leaders have been pressing for a power-sharing government and a return to democracy.

Rajoelina agreed an initial power-sharing deal with three former presidents in Maputo, Mozambique, in August but they failed to strike a consensus on senior government positions.

An extension was signed in Ethiopia in November but there were instant disputes over the divisions of executive power and Rajoelina then snubbed the African Union’s latest attempt to strike a compromise in January.

"Sanctions will be effected as of the 17th of March unless, before the 16th of March, full compliance is displayed with the mediator in the implementation of the Maputo and Addis agreements," Ramtane Lamamra, AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, said after a meeting in Addis Ababa.

Rajoelina has formed a government unilaterally and promised parliamentary elections in May with a view to reforming the constitution and holding presidential elections.


Mull Sebujja Katende, chair of the AU Peace and Security Council, said mediation would continue under former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano, but time was running out for the "de facto authorities in Madagascar".

"We will impose targeted sanctions according to the institutions we have. We have travel bans, we have economic sanctions, and all those that apply," he told reporters.

Some analysts say the island’s heavy reliance on donor aid gives mediators a chance to drag Rajoelina back to talks. The United States severed preferential trade agreements last December and the European Union is considering a similar move.

Moderates in the government argue Rajoelina needs international support and stability to reboot the stagnant economy and soothe the fears of foreign investors, analysts say.

Overseas investment surged to around $1.47 billion in 2008 from $86 million in 2005 as companies including Rio Tinto <RIO.AX> <RIO.L> and Sherritt International <S.TO> poured money into the extraction and exploration of oil and minerals.

But the administration is split over the need to bow to the African Union and European Union.

This week, Rajoelina said he was not afraid of individual sanctions, but called on international bodies to spare the ordinary people from more economic hardship.

In a rare show of consensus, Marc Ravalomanana, the president Rajoelina ousted last March, urged the African Union a day later to avoid provoking a humanitarian crisis.

"I am deeply concerned that poorly targeted economic sanctions will cause additional suffering to my countrymen," he wrote in a letter to the AU’s Peace and Security Council.

"I call on the African Union to ensure that any new sanctions are carefully targeted against the illegal regime." (Additional reporting and writing by David Clarke in Nairobi; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Feb 19, 2010

AU gives Madgascar leader sanctions deadline

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Madagascar must comply with previous power-sharing agreements by March 16 or the African Union will impose sanctions, the latest attempt by the organization to restore democracy on the Indian Ocean island.

Since Andry Rajoelina seized power in a coup last March, international mediators, donor countries and opposition leaders have been pressing for a power-sharing government and new elections.

Feb 17, 2010

Gunmen stop Ethiopia candidates registering-group

ADDIS ABABA, Feb 17 (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s main opposition coalition said on Wednesday that some of its candidates were being prevented at gunpoint from registering for national elections in May.

The eight-party coalition, Medrek, also said it had obtained a ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) newsletter calling on party officials to follow, photograph and document the movements of opposition members.

"In a lot of areas we have faced serious problems," Medrek spokesman Merera Gudina told a news conference.

"In some areas our candidates were turned back at gunpoint. A candidate’s driver was told to leave town immediately or his car would be burned," he said.

The Horn of Africa country’s election will be the first since a government victory in 2005 was disputed by the opposition. About 200 street protesters were killed by security forces and the main opposition leaders imprisoned.

Analysts say Medrek is the main threat to the 18-year-old government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, but the ruling party is still expected to win the May 23 poll. [ID:nL1641132]

The opposition says this is because they are harassed and jailed. The government says the opposition is trying to discredit the poll because it has no chance of winning.

Meles was hailed as part of a new generation of democratic African leaders in the 1990s but rights groups have increasingly criticised him for cracking down on opposition in sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous nation.


Meles has agreed an electoral code of conduct with three opposition parties — two of which are dismissed by opponents as EPRDF aligned. Medrek refused to take part in talks saying crucial issues such as electoral board reform were left out.

Government spokesman Shimeles Kemal told Reuters the code outlined complaint procedures but the opposition had not yet used it to make allegations about being threatened at gunpoint.

"If they want to make the complaints officially they can, and they will be investigated," Shimeles said. "Why haven’t they? Most of the complaints the opposition have made publicly so far have been proven to be false."

Medrek described the EPRDF members newsletter it had obtained as an "election manual".

"It describes us as anti-Ethiopia, anti-people, anti-peace, anti-development, all kinds of anti," Merera said, showing the document in Amharic to the media.

Former Ethiopian President Negaso Gidada, who joined the opposition after falling out with Meles, said the newsletter tells ruling party officials to track opposition members.

"It tells them to get any kind of document in your hand from opposition parties in your area," Negaso told Reuters. "And these documents could serve as evidence to be used against opposition leaders to accuse them and bring them to court."

Ruling party spokesman, Hailemariam Desalegn, acknowledged that EPRDF members had been told to observe opposition members, but only to ensure they were not violating the code of conduct or provoking civil disobedience.

"The opposition always makes unfounded allegations against us," Hailemariam told Reuters. "We need to ensure that if we accuse them, we have evidence."

Candidates have five more days to register for the poll. (Editing by David Clarke and Jon Boyle)

Feb 13, 2010

Federer reduced to tears on visit to Ethiopia

KORE ROBA, Ethiopia (Reuters) – World number one Roger Federer sends the ball spinning into the net.

His opponent, Ethiopian teenager, Jirata Demksa, smiles and prays the Swiss is having an off day.

    • About Barry

      "Irish journalist who has lived in the Horn and east Africa since 2006 - first in Ethiopia, then in Uganda - covering politics, elections, society, culture and economics across the region. I have also worked for Reuters in Tunisia, Iraq and Libya and was part of the team that dominated coverage of Muammar Gaddafi's killing. Always welcome a good chat over on Twitter: @malonebarry"
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