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World Troubles pile up ahead of Ethiopia's first polls under Abiy

09:15  05 may  2021
09:15  05 may  2021 Source:   afp.com

Ethiopia 'at a crossroads' amid spiraling ethnic conflict

  Ethiopia 'at a crossroads' amid spiraling ethnic conflict GONDAR, Ethiopia (AP) — Aba Yosief Desta preferred not to discuss the ethnicities of victims in the widening conflicts threatening Ethiopia's unity. A wooden cross in hand, the Orthodox monk in yellow robes insisted that victims of massacres “have the same face." Speaking to The Associated Press from the city of Gondar, where he manages a diocesan office, he reflected on the first known massacre of the conflict in the neighboring Tigray region. Ethiopia's government says ethnic Amhara were killed, but ethnic Tigrayan refugees have told the AP they were also targeted.

Ethiopia is set to hold elections in a month, but with war in the north, ethnic violence elsewhere and major logistical hurdles, the path to credible polls is littered with obstacles.

Voter registration has been hampered by logistical issues © EDUARDO SOTERAS Voter registration has been hampered by logistical issues

When Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power three years ago, he promised to break from Ethiopia's authoritarian past and hold the most democratic elections the country has ever seen.

The war in Tigray is one of the many crises facing Abiy © EDUARDO SOTERAS The war in Tigray is one of the many crises facing Abiy

But the Nobel Peace Prize laureate is fighting crises on multiple fronts as the nation of 110 million people prepares to choose national and regional parliamentarians on June 5.

Tigray: Eritrean troops disguised as Ethiopian military are blocking critical aid

  Tigray: Eritrean troops disguised as Ethiopian military are blocking critical aid Despite a promise to leave, Eritrean troops are operating with total impunity in Ethiopia's Tigray region, killing, raping and blocking aid to starving populations.A CNN team traveling through Tigray's central zone witnessed Eritrean soldiers, some disguising themselves in old Ethiopian military uniforms, manning checkpoints, obstructing and occupying critical aid routes, roaming the halls of one of the region's few operating hospitals and threatening medical staff.

The MPs elect the prime minister, who is head of government, as well as the president -- a largely ceremonial role.

A six-month-old war in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region is the most high-profile of several security crises that will make voting impossible in large swathes of the country.

police officers riding on the back of a truck: Vans promoting voter registration on the streets of Addis Ababa © EDUARDO SOTERAS Vans promoting voter registration on the streets of Addis Ababa

Meanwhile voter registration is hampered by logistical issues and prominent opposition parties are planning to boycott, complaining their candidates have been arrested and their offices vandalised.

Map of Ethiopia's regions © Simon MALFATTO Map of Ethiopia's regions

"There is a broad acknowledgement that these elections won't be perfect, to say the least -- that there will be shortcomings, there will be grounds for criticism and for a lot of improvement," a Western diplomat said.

Tigray could face famine without increased access to region, US aid official says

  Tigray could face famine without increased access to region, US aid official says As the humanitarian crisis continues in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region, the US Agency for International Development is warning that the area could face famine if aid organizations are not granted unfettered access to the millions in urgent need of assistance. © Baz Ratner/Reuters Displaced people are seen at the Shire campus of Aksum University, which was turned into a temporary shelter for people displaced by conflict, in the town of Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia, March 14, 2021. REUTERS/Baz Ratner SEARCH "RATNER TIGRAY" FOR THIS STORY.

The ruling coalition that preceded Abiy claimed staggering majorities in the two previous elections, which observers said fell far short of international standards for fairness.

A more open contest in 2005 saw big gains for the opposition but led to a lethal crackdown on protests over contested results.

- Democratic 'resurrection' -

In his Orthodox Easter message over the weekend, Abiy insisted this year's elections would be "one of the chapters of Ethiopia's resurrection."

After an era of "darkness and turmoil, thorns and thistles, pain and death... we have reached the top of the mountain where the light is shining, carrying the hope of democracy for our country," he said.

a person standing in front of a sign: A billboard of The Prosperity Party of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed © EDUARDO SOTERAS A billboard of The Prosperity Party of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

Some in the opposition, like the leader of the Ezema party Berhanu Nega, believe Abiy understands "there is no peace to be had when a government is in power without any popular legitimacy".

Ethiopian Orthodox leader denounces Tigray 'carnage'

  Ethiopian Orthodox leader denounces Tigray 'carnage' The head of Ethiopia's Orthodox Church has accused the government of wanting to "destroy" the country's northern Tigray region, in his first public comments about the war there. An Orthodox official confirmed the authenticity of the recording to AFP. Abune Mathias said he had previously tried to speak out against the war multiple times including in media interviews but had been barred by the government. "I spoke out and they held it back. I spoke out again and they held it back. Until now I have not had the opportunity to display my message through the media," he said.

However he told AFP that "in countries such as ours, there is no guarantee that it will not be the same as the past."

Critics like opposition leader Merera Gudina, whose Oromo Federalist Congress is boycotting the vote, have dismissed it as a farce.

"In many ways we are probably heading for a very serious rupture in this country's politics," said Merera.

- Sign-up snags -

Ethiopia's election was planned for last August, but delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Even in the best of times, organising smooth elections is a tall order in the vast nation, hobbled by poor infrastructure.

Diplomats closely following the process also say the electoral board is sorely missing logistical support usually provided by the military, which is largely tied up in Tigray battling forces aligned with the region's former rulers, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).

In mid-April, electoral board chair Birtukan Mideksa announced that only around half the country's 50,000 polling stations were operational, and that two regions -- Afar and Somali -- had no functional stations at all.

Sudan says Ethiopian peacekeepers deported to refugee camp

  Sudan says Ethiopian peacekeepers deported to refugee camp CAIRO (AP) — Sudanese authorities on Sunday deported around three dozen Ethiopian peacekeepers, working on the U.N. mission in Darfur, to a refugee camp, the state-run news agency reported. Al-Fateh Ibrahim Mohammed, head of the refugee agency in North Darfur province, said the troops are among 120 Ethiopian forces from the Tigrayan ethnic group, who have sought asylum in Sudan after their stay ended earlier this year, according to the SUNA news agency.

She also sounded the alarm about lagging voter registration, saying a mere 200,000 people had signed up in Addis Ababa, a city of five million.

In recent weeks Abiy has tried to get preparations back on track, holding meetings with election officials and leaders from Ethiopia's 10 semi-autonomous regions while publicly urging Ethiopians to register.

On the streets of Addis Ababa, though, there have been few signs of campaigning beyond sporadic rallies and scattered banners for Abiy's Prosperity Party, featuring a lightbulb symbolising a brighter future.

- 'Ethiopia decides' -

The Prosperity Party's other main image is a pair of hands holding up three leaping figures -- one blue, one yellow, one red -- radiating waves of light.

It is meant to represent harmony among Ethiopia's diverse population.

But it belies the violence that has roiled Ethiopia under Abiy, threatening to imperil balloting.

Beyond Tigray, the electoral board chair Birtukan has highlighted hotspots of ethnic killings that have forced the election body to suspend activities, including in the country's most populous regions, Oromia and Amhara.

Hundreds have been killed since March in attacks in Amhara, sparking protests in many of the region's cities.

The European Union said this week it would not send observers to the polls, citing a failure to reach an agreement with the government on basic issues like communications and the observers' independence.

Abiy's government nonetheless seems determined to forge ahead.

"On June 5, #Ethiopia decides," Abiy's press secretary Billene Seyoum wrote last week on Twitter.

"As imperfect as it may seem, the country's path of democratization can only be defined (and) determined by its people."

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