Ethiopia conflict: Tigray rebels accused of destroying airport as government issues 72-hour surrender ultimatum | World News

Rebels have attacked an airport in northeast Ethiopia, the country’s state-run media has said, having been given 72 hours to surrender by the prime minister.

Forces from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which have been battling with soldiers deployed by the central government, destroyed an airport in the ancient town of Axum, according to state-affiliated media.

Axum, which lies near the border with Eritrea, 133 miles (214km) north of the regional capital, Mekelle, is a popular tourist draw and UNESCO World Heritage site.

Its history and ruins, including fourth-century obelisks, are what give Ethiopia its claim to be one of the world’s oldest centres of Christianity.

Legend says the town was once home to the Queen of Sheba, who features in both the Bible and the Koran, and that the Ark of the Covenant was once housed in one of its churches.

News of the assault in Axum – reported by the state-affiliated Fana broadcaster – came after Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, gave rebels 72 hours to lay down their arms before federal troops attacked Mekelle.

They are currently circling the city at a range of about 30 miles, seemingly ready to strike if the demand is not met by Wednesday.

The threat from the prime minister was a cover for government forces to regroup after a series of defeats, TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael told Reuters news agency.

But there was no immediate response from either side to the other’s latest comments, and Reuters could not confirm their statements.

Claims by all sides are hard to verify because phone and internet communication has been taken down in Tigray, a mountainous northern zone of five million people, cutting it off from the world.

Buses take Ethiopian refugees to a camp inside Sudan

Hundreds, possibly thousands, have been killed in fighting and air strikes that erupted on 4 November, sending about 40,000 refugees into neighbouring Sudan.

The conflict, a long-running power struggle between Addis Ababa and the region’s leaders, has spread beyond Tigray, with the TPLF firing rockets into both the neighbouring Amhara region and across the border to Eritrea.

Some rockets fired into Amhara were targeted at the city of Bahir Dar, the government has said.

The United Nations is among those calling for mediation, but to little avail.

Ethiopian refugees who fled the fighting in the Tigray region gather on the banks of a border river with Sudan
Ethiopian refugees who fled the fighting in the Tigray region gather on the banks of a border river with Sudan
An Ethiopian fleeing the fighting in Tigray crosses the Setit River to get to Sudan
An Ethiopian fleeing the fighting in Tigray crosses the Setit River to get to Sudan

Mr Abiy’s government has repeatedly said it is only targeting TPLF leaders and facilities to restore law and order after they rose up against federal troops. It denies hitting civilians.

Its taskforce for the Tigray conflict said in a statement: “Our women and men in uniform have shown great care to protect civilians from harm during the law enforcement operation they have carried out in Tigray so far.”

The TPLF says Mr Abiy has “invaded” its region to dominate it and is inflicting “merciless” damage on Tigrayans.

Mr Gebremichael said in a text message to Reuters on Monday: “We are people of principle and are ready to die in defence of our right to administer our region.”

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Brexit: Trade talks hang in balance as UK rejects EU ultimatum

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David Frost (left) and Michel Barnier (right) will meet for trade talks again next week

Talks over a trade deal with the EU are hanging in the balance amid a stand-off over the UK’s plans to override part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

The EU has warned the UK it could face legal action if it does not ditch controversial elements of the Internal Market Bill by the end of the month.

Concerned Conservative MPs have launched a bid to amend the new law.

Boris Johnson will host a virtual meeting with MPs later on Friday to discuss the controversial bill.

The PM’s official spokesman said Mr Johnson would reiterate his commitment to working on the implementation of the withdrawal agreement with the EU.

But he will also say, if that work fails, “as a responsible government, we must provide a safety net that removes any ambiguity”.

Meanwhile, informal trade talks between the two sides are due to resume on Monday amid “significant” differences.

No 10 said this week’s discussions had been “relatively more constructive than you might expect”, but added: “Ultimately, progress will be determined by whether we get more realism from them on the key areas of divergence.”

The next official round of talks – the ninth since March – will begin in Brussels on 28 September.

Mr Johnson’s proposed Internal Market Bill, which will be formally debated by MPs in the House of Commons for the first time on Monday, addresses the Northern Ireland Protocol – an element of the Brexit withdrawal agreement designed to prevent a hard border returning to the island of Ireland.

The new law would give UK ministers powers to modify or “disapply” rules relating to the movement of goods that will come into force from 1 January, if the UK and EU are unable to strike a trade deal.

The PM’s spokesman said it would also “ensure the government can always deliver on its commitments to the people of Northern Ireland”.

The publication of the bill prompted emergency talks on Thursday, in which the EU said the planned changes must be scrapped or risk jeopardising the UK-EU trade talks.

But the government defied the EU’s demand, insisting it would proceed as planned with the legislation it says is necessary to protect the integrity of the UK and the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Time and trust are running out

When it comes to Brexit, all negotiations are inter-linked: EU-UK trade talks, the process to implement their divorce deal, negotiations on fishing rights and Brussels’ deliberation on UK financial service.

What happens in one area very much affects progress in the others. You cannot separate them entirely.

Which is why this week, as the war of words and wills between Brussels and Downing Street raged over the government’s threat to throw a grenade at key parts of the divorce deal, everyone’s thoughts turned immediately to the trade talks between the two sides.

Could they survive? In fact, they limp on.

Despite bitter arguments over legislation and a huge list of outstanding issues still to be ironed out in bilateral trade talks; despite time and trust running out on both sides; neither the EU nor the UK seem to want to be the first ones to walk out the door.

Read more here.

After the latest round of trade talks concluded in London on Thursday, the UK said it remained committed to reaching a deal but the process was “challenging”.

Boris Johnson has previously said he would walk away from the negotiating table if an agreement with the EU is not reached by 15 October.

‘Not if, but how’

Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi defended the legislation as necessary in case existing “ambiguities” in the Withdrawal Agreement are not settled through the formal dispute resolution process.

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Media captionGordon Brown: Internal Market Bill “self-harm”

“It’s not about if we implement the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Irish protocol, it’s how we implement it,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.

“If we don’t reach an agreement in time by the end of the year… we can’t allow any adverse impacts on the communities in Northern Ireland.

“No government, no minister, can allow any community within our country, within the UK, to be damaged.”

But the prime minister’s approach continues to cause unease within the Conservative Party, with former leaders Theresa May, Lord Howard and Sir John Major among those urging him to think again.

Former chancellor Lord Lamont said the government was in a “terrible mess” and warned that the Internal Market Bill would not get through the House of Lords in its present form.

And even strong supporters of the government’s overall Brexit strategy and the Internal Market Bill have expressed concerns about how events could play out.

Sir Bernard Jenkin – a member of the strongly pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG) – told LBC Radio that Mr Johnson “should be more mindful of the reputational damage of playing such hardball”.

‘Poor decisions’

Leading Brexiteer and former ERG chairman Steve Baker told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the UK was “in a bad place” after a “series of very poor decisions”.

He said a solution was “tantalisingly within our grasp” if a free trade agreement could be concluded but the UK should be prepared to “repudiate” the whole Withdrawal Agreement as the EU had acted in “bad faith”.

Meanwhile, senior Conservative backbencher Sir Bob Neill, who chairs the Commons Justice Committee, is tabling an amendment to try to force a separate parliamentary vote on the three contentious clauses of the bill.

Sir Bob, whose backers include ex-cabinet minister Damian Green, told Times Radio they were “not natural rebels”.

“So I hope it’s at least an indication as a government that really, you need to think very hard and carefully about going down this route,” he said. “For heaven’s sake, try and find some other way.”

Gordon Brown has become the latest former prime minister to warn of the damage the move could do to the UK’s international reputation, telling Today it was a “huge act of self harm”.

The ex-Labour leader added: “If I had done that when I was prime minister, the Conservatives would have accused me of breaching the rule of law and would have thrown everything at us.”

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John Thompson’s ultimatum to drug kingpin Rayful Edmond

In Washington DC in the 1980s, crossing drug kingpin Rayful Edmond didn’t usually end well.

Largely credited with introducing crack cocaine to the US capital, Edmond’s 150-man network was allegedly making $300 million a year moving tonnes of drugs.

In his early 20s, Edmond also loved playing and watching basketball.

In DC there was really only one team in town, college basketball’s Georgetown University.

Coached by John Thompson, the Hoyas — led by Patrick Ewing — won the national championship in 1984 and became an international brand.

They were an even bigger deal locally and Edmond, who was one of the city’s best playground players, loved to sit courtside and mix it up.

But as the Drug Enforcement Administration began to zero in on the flashy, good-looking trafficker, Thompson wanted to put an end to any association between his team and the underworld figure.

Most concerning to the coach were revelations two of his players — NBA-bound centre Alonzo Mourning and DC native John Turner — had been spotted hanging out with Edmond and playing for his playground team.

So Thompson, who had just returned from coaching America to a win in the bronze medal game against Australia at the 1988 Olympics, put word out on the street he wanted to see Edmond.

Not long after, a man linked with the deaths of more than 30 people — earning DC the nickname the “murder capital of the United States — knocked on the door of his office.

Thompson was an imposing figure himself. Standing 208cm tall, he’d been a star high school player in DC before being drafted by the Boston Celtics and winning NBA championships in 1965 and 1966.

After coaching at high school level he took his towering presence to Georgetown, where he ended up coaching for 27 seasons in a Hall of Fame career.

But intimidating young players, opposing coaches and referees and staring eyeball to eyeball with a man like Edmond — who was a fugitive at the time — were two markedly different things.

Still the coach had a point to make — stay away from my players.

“I didn’t get into his background or conduct an interrogation; that’s for the police,” Thompson later described. “I tried to make sure he knew the goals and objectives of my kids, and (tried to) make it very clear to him that I didn’t want anything going on with my kids.

“I had heard the rumours and innuendo, but it’s still an obligation if I hear of something going on to check it out. I figured, ‘He plays basketball, he loves basketball. Let me talk to this man’. My thing is basketball. Let me try and confront this problem immediately.”

Thompson was forced to explain the meeting when Edmond was arrested a few months afterwards.

“I don’t understand this expression of amazement,” said Thompson, about the furore surrounding their sit-down. “We cannot close ourselves off from the whole of society. We cannot isolate (ourselves), seal ourselves off from people. We’d better start confronting these problems. We’d better understand we’re incorporated into these problems. This isn’t them or they. The people involved with the drugs and being killed are our children. It’s not like somebody crawled out of some hole who is so different from us.”

He also separately admonished Mourning and Turner.

“(He said) you’re an embarrassment to the school and to the program,” Mourning recalled later. “You’re not only hurting yourself, you’re hurting the program. You’re hurting every player who ever came here and built this program with their blood, sweat and tears.”

Edmond was convicted of numerous offences related to drug trafficking and sentenced to life in prison.

Thompson finished coaching in 1999. He watched the program at Georgetown go full circle when Ewing became head coach in 2017, before the legendary mentor died on Tuesday aged 78.

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West Coast Eagles deliver ultimatum over stay in AFL Queensland coronavirus hub

The West Coast Eagles have delivered something of an ultimatum on their stay in Queensland, saying they must be allowed to return to Perth after their round-five match against Richmond, if they are required to quarantine in a hotel on their arrival in WA.

The AFL is yet to release fixtures beyond round five, with Fremantle, Adelaide, Port Adelaide and the Eagles still unclear about whether they will be asked to remain in Queensland beyond that weekend.

The Western Australian sides have been in a hub on the east coast for nearly two weeks, and will be there for another three weeks according to the current fixtures.

“Our position is, if we can’t quarantine in our own houses when we get back, and [have to] stay in a hotel for another two weeks, we need to get home after Richmond [on July 2],” coach Adam Simpson said on Friday, ahead of his side’s clash with Brisbane at the Gabba.

“That’s our position, and we’re pretty strong on that.

A dejected West Coast Eagles defender Jeremy McGovern looks down with his hand on his head.
The West Coast Eagles lost heavily to Gold Coast in round two.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

“To play another two or three games here, and then have to go back to Perth and sit in a hotel for another two weeks … we’re not here to complain, but we have to look after our staff and players and it’s probably a bridge too far.”

“There needs to be a line in the sand at some stage, and we just haven’t been informed at the moment about return dates.”

The AFL is currently working on fixturing beyond round five, with speculation West Coast and Fremantle could be asked to play an additional two games on the east coast before returning to WA.

Simpson says that’s too big an ask.

“We’re happy to do our bit, we’re here to win, we’re really disappointed in last week, so our priority is footy, but we’ve also got to look after our players and staff and their health and wellbeing,” he said.

“If we have to play one or two extra games here and then quarantine in a hotel, that will be really difficult on our staff and players.

Sam Day clenches both fists in celebration as Jackson Nelson and Oscar Allen look disappointed
The Eagles will be based on the Gold Coast until round five at the earliest.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

“If we have to quarantine [on the return to Perth] we’ll come home after Richmond.”

There has been no clarity on when WA will ease its hard border restrictions, which have been in place for three months.

Premier Mark McGowan is increasingly coming under pressure to bring down the border, as unemployment in the state becomes the highest in the country.

South Australia opened its borders to WA, Tasmania and Queensland on Thursday and will lift all restrictions from July 20.

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