The United Nations says food has now run out for the nearly 100,000 refugees from Eritrea who have been sheltering in camps in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, which has been cut off from the world for nearly a month amid fighting.
“Concerns are growing by the hour,” U.N. refugee spokesman Babar Baloch told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday. “The camps will have now run out of food supplies – making hunger and malnutrition a real danger, a warning we have been issuing since the conflict began nearly a month ago. We are also alarmed at unconfirmed reports of attacks, abductions and forced recruitment at the refugee camps.”
Wednesday marks a month since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that fighting had erupted in the Tigray region between federal forces and regional ones, as each government now regards the other as illegitimate due to a dispute over holding elections during the pandemic.
Communications and transport links to the Tigray region of 6 million people have been severed, and the U.N. and others have pleaded for access to deliver badly needed food, medicines and other supplies.
Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, has rejected the idea of dialogue with the Tigray regional leaders, who are on the run but say they continue to fight even after Abiy over the weekend declared victory in the deadly conflict.
Under growing international pressure, Abiy on Monday said that “my message to friends of Ethiopia is that we may be poor but we are not a country that will negotiate our sovereignty. Threatening Ethiopia for coins will not work.”
Ethiopia’s government has said it will create and manage a “humanitarian corridor” for the delivery of aid, but the U.N. wants access that is neutral, unhindered and immediate.
The U.N. has said some 2 million people in Tigray now need assistance — a doubling from the number before the fighting — and some 1 million people are displaced, including more than 45,000 Ethiopians who have fled into Sudan as refugees.
The 96,000 Eritrean refugees are in an especially precarious position. They are in camps in Ethiopia near the border of their homeland, Eritrea, which they fled, and reports of have emerged that some have been attacked or abducted. The U.N. refugee chief has warned that, if true, any such actions “would be major violations of international norms.”
Eritrea has remained almost silent as the Tigray leaders accuse it of joining the conflict at Ethiopia’s request, which Abiy’s government has denied.
Some 1,000 of the Eritrean refugees have arrived in the Tigray regional capital, Mekele, looking for food and other help, the International Committee of the Red Cross said over the weekend.
“For almost two decades, Ethiopia has been a hospitable country for Eritrean refugees but now we fear they are caught in the conflict,” Baloch said. “UNHCR appeals to the government of Ethiopia to continue to fulfill its responsibility in hosting and protecting Eritrean refugees and allow humanitarians to access people who are now desperately in need.”
In Mekele, which the Ethiopian military has said is under its “full control” after its offensive last week, “aid workers report that people have been forced to rely on untreated water to survive following the damage and destruction of water infrastructure,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Monday. “Our humanitarian colleagues are also warning that it is critical that essential supplies and services be restored immediately in Mekelle and across the Tigray region.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres underscored that need in a phone call with Abiy on Sunday, Dujarric said.
President Donald Trump filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Wisconsin seeking to disqualify more than 221,000 ballots in the state's two most Democratic counties, a longshot attempt to overturn Joe Biden's win in the battleground state he lost by nearly 20,700 votes.
Trump filed the day after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and the chairwoman of the Wisconsin Elections Commission certified Biden as the winner of the state's 10 Electoral College votes. Trump asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take the case directly, rather than have it start in a lower court, and order Evers to withdraw the certification.
The state's highest court, controlled 4-3 by conservatives, also is considering whether to hear two other lawsuits filed by conservatives seeking to invalidate ballots cast during the presidential election.
Trump repeats many of claims he made during a recount of votes in Milwaukee and Dane counties that large swaths of absentee votes were illegally cast. Local officials rejected his claims during the recount, and Trump is challenging procedures that have been in place for years and never been found to be illegal.
Trump is not challenging any ballots cast in conservative counties he won.
A spokesman for the Biden campaign in Wisconsin did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Evers' spokeswoman Britt Cudaback referred to comments Evers made Monday that the election was “safe, fair, and efficient.” Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, and other attorneys involved with the recount on behalf of Evers and Biden, did not immediately return messages.
“The people of Wisconsin deserve election processes with uniform enforcement of the law, plain and simple," Trump's Wisconsin attorney, Jim Troupis, said in a statement. “During the recount in Dane and Milwaukee counties, we know with absolute certainty illegal ballots have unduly influenced the state’s election results.”
Similar Trump campaign lawsuits have failed in other battleground states.
In Phoenix, a judge has scheduled a Thursday trial in Arizona GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward’s lawsuit that seeks to annul Biden’s victory in the state. A judge is letting Ward’s lawyers and experts compare the signatures on 100 mail-in ballot envelopes with signatures on file to determine whether there were any irregularities. Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ office, which certified Arizona’s election results on Monday, said there was no factual basis for conducting such a review.
Trump is running out of time to have his legal cases heard. The Electoral College is scheduled to meet on Dec. 14 and Congress is to count the votes on Jan. 6.
Trump's Wisconsin lawsuit seeks to discard 170,140 absentee ballot where there was not a written application on file and all absentee ballots cast in person during the two weeks before Election Day.
People who vote in person early fill out a certification envelope in which they place their ballot and which serves as the written record. But the vast majority of absentee requests these days are made online, with a voter’s name entered into an electronic log with no paper record.
Trump wants to toss 5,517 ballots where election clerks filled in missing address information on the certification envelope where the ballot is inserted. The state elections commission told clerks before the election that they could fill in missing information on the absentee ballot envelopes, a practice that has been in place for at least the past 11 elections.
Trump also challenges 28,395 absentee ballot where a voter declared themselves to be “indefinitely confined” under the law. Such a declaration exempts voters from having to show photo identification to cast a ballot. The Wisconsin Supreme Court in March ruled that it is up to individual voters to determine whether they are indefinitely confined, a designation used by nearly four times as many voters this year than in 2016 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump also challenges 17,271 ballots returned at events held in Madison parks where election workers accepted completed absentee ballots from voters looking to avoid crowds and mail delays. Trump alleges those were illegal absentee voting sites, but city officials said the poll workers at the 220 parks served the same purpose as ballot drop boxes around the state.
The Indian government and protesting farmers were unable to reach common ground in talks held Tuesday, with the farmers saying their demonstrations against new agriculture laws will continue as will their blockades of key highways.
The farmers rejected the government’s offer to set up expert committees to discuss the new laws, which deregulate crop pricing, even as the agriculture minister appealed for an end to agitation and invited the farmers for further discussions on Thursday.
“Our movement will continue and we will definitely take back something from the government — be it bullets or a peaceful solution,” Chanda Singh, a farmer leader who was part of the talks, told reporters in New Delhi.
Farmers have been protesting the laws for nearly two months in Punjab and Haryana states — where they have been blocking key highways. The situation escalated last week when tens of thousands of them marched to the Indian capital, where they clashed with police who used tear gas, water cannons and batons against them.
The farmers have since camped along at least five major highways on the outskirts of New Delhi and have said they won't leave until the government rolls back what they call “black laws.”
The farmers say the laws passed in September will lead the government to stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and result in exploitation by corporations who will push down prices.
The laws add to already existing resentment from farmers, who often complain of being ignored by the government in their push for better crop prices, additional loan waivers and irrigation systems to guarantee water during dry spells.
The government has argued the laws bring about necessary reform that will allow farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment.
Agriculture supports more than half of India's 1.3 billion people, but farmers have seen their economic standing diminish over the last three decades. Once accounting for a third of India’s gross domestic product, they now produce only 15% of GDP, which is valued at $2.9 trillion a year.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his allies have both tried to allay farmers' fears about the new laws while also dismissing their concerns. Some of his party leaders have called the farmers “misguided” and “anti-national,” a label often given those who criticize Modi or his policies.
Many opposition party leaders, activists and even some allies of Modi’s party have called the laws anti-farmer and expressed support for those protesting. The demonstrations have also started to draw international attention.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday noted the protests and said "Canada will always be there to defend the rights of peaceful protest.”
“We’ve reached out through multiple means to the Indian authorities to highlight our concerns" Trudeau said in a video address without elaborating.
India’s Foreign Ministry did not directly name Trudeau but said comments by some Canadian leaders were “ill-informed” and “unwarranted.”
“Such comments are unwarranted, especially when pertaining to the internal affairs of a democratic country,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava.
On Tuesday, thousands more joined the protests at multiple locations on the outskirts of the capital. The farmers, driving tractors and trucks, brought food, fuel and firewood to sustain themselves.
“We are here to stay," said Manjeet Singh, a farmer who was part of a team making meals for the protesters. "We aren't going anywhere.”
Vendors broke out in applause in the flagship Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris as eager shoppers returned for the first time in a month, after yet another virus lockdown.
The reopening won’t be enough to make up for sales lost during the pandemic - but reflects the glimmer of hope that forecasters are starting to see in the global economy.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicted Tuesday that the world economy will bounce back to its pre-pandemic levels by the end of next year - though that recovery will be uneven across the countries and big risks remain.
In a report on the state of the economy, the OECD said that progress on coronavirus vaccines means that the outlook has improved for the first time since the pandemic began.
“The road ahead is brighter but challenging,” the international watchdog said.
China, which has brought its virus infections under control better than many major economies, will lead that economic recovery and account for a third of global growth next year. Europe, Japan and the U.S. will lag, while many poorer countries, particularly those that rely on tourism, will continue to suffer and require international aid, the OECD said.
It predicts the global economy will shrink about 4.2% this year and rebound by the same rate in 2021 before growing 3.7% the following year.
Across Europe, governments are reopening their economies as they get a handle on a second virus surge – but only gradually, and partially. Vast cobblestone plazas stand empty this festive season instead of hosting Christmas markets that usually electrify historic cities.
Lines of shoppers reappeared this week outside the Louis Vuitton boutique on the Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris, glittering with holiday lights -- but France’s famed cafes remained shuttered for several more weeks, the tourists that are the country’s lifeblood are gone, and many small businesses aren’t expected to survive.
With just a few weeks until Christmas, luxury shops and conventional retail stores alike are all hoping to claw back a pinch of sales in what will be a catastrophic year.
Jean-Noel Reinhardt, who presides over the Champs-Elysees Committee that oversees the avenue’s businesses, estimates a loss this year of up to 1 billion euros, and a downturn in business activity of 70%.
“The Champs-Elysees thrives on two types of visitors: foreign tourists who have not come, and the second population are those who work in the neighborhood … and these people are working from home online,” Reinhardt told The Associated Press.
The only saving grace, he said, is that most Champs-Elysees shops are worldwide brands that are part of larger conglomerates that might be able to absorb the losses in a way that smaller businesses can’t.
The OECD, which advises countries on economic policy, warned about this and other kind of economic inequalities that have been been worsened by the pandemic.
It recommended investing public money in reducing these inequalities as well as in other areas that deliver long-term benefits, including health, education and fighting climate change.
It said that governments should continue to support people who have been hit hardest by the virus and ensuing lockdowns, and that global cooperation is sorely needed to maximize the impact of government efforts to bring economies back to health.
Despite still-high virus infections in many countries, some consumers are eager to be able to shop in person again.
“I bought myself a computer, a telephone, of course. I didn’t just buy to buy. I could have done it online but the pleasure of buying from a boutique is not the same as shopping online,” said 25-year-old legal expert Alexandra Esquier, carrying her bags down the Champs-Elysees.
At the Galeries Lafayette, vendors and shoppers seemed equally excited to see each other again, at a reopening accompanied by Christmas music, animated holiday decorations, lots of hand sanitizer and the chatter of masked crowds.
“It’s about trying to do some shopping and have our relatives and the family enjoy everything we can buy, and kickstart the economy,” said Stephane Ney, a 41-year-old customer from the Paris region. “It’s important.”
The European Medicines Agency will convene a meeting on Dec. 29 to decide if there is enough data about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech for it to be approved, the regulator said Tuesday.
The agency also said Tuesday it could decide as early as Jan. 12 whether to approve a rival COVID-19 vaccine developed by Moderna Inc.
The German pharmaceutical company BioNTech and its U.S. partner Pfizer said earlier Tuesday that they had asked the regulator for speeded-up, conditional approval of their coronavirus vaccine, concluding the rolling review process they initiated with the agency on Oct. 6.
The move comes a day after rival Moderna said it was asking U.S. and European regulators to allow the use of its COVID-19 vaccine.
BioNTech said if the vaccine, currently named BNT162b2, is approved, its use in Europe could begin before the end of 2020.T he companies said last month that clinical trials with 44,000 participants showed the vaccine is 95% effective. The efficacy rate in particularly vulnerable older age groups was more than 94%, they said.
In a statement, the EU medicines regulator said it had already begun a “rolling review” of the Moderna vaccine based on laboratory data previously submitted by the company and would now assess data on how well that vaccine triggers an immune response and whether it is safe enough for broad use across Europe.
The agency said that “if the data are robust enough to conclude on quality, safety and effectiveness,” then it could approve the Moderna vaccine at a meeting scheduled for Jan. 12.
BioNTech and Pfizer have already submitted a request for emergency approval with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.K. regulator MHRA, as well as rolling submissions in other countries including in Australia, Canada and Japan.
“We have known since the beginning of this journey that patients are waiting, and we stand ready to ship COVID-19 vaccine doses as soon as potential authorizations will allow us,” Pfizer’s chief executive Albert Bourla said in a statement.
BioNTech said it stands ready to ship stockpiles of vaccines where they are needed when the Amsterdam-based agency or the FDA approve the vaccine.
“Depending on how the authorities decide we can start delivering within a few hours,” said BioNTech's chief operating officer, Sierk Poetting.
The European Union's top official said around 2 billion doses of potential COVID-19 vaccines have been secured for the bloc's 27 nations, with the first deliveries likely to start before the end of the year.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said EU nations have started working on their vaccination plans and on the logistics for delivering tens of millions of doses across the bloc, a major challenge for the EU.
“If everything goes well, the first European citizens might already be vaccinated before the end of December,” Von der Leyen said. “And it will be a huge step forward toward our normal life. In other words, I just wanted to say there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
The Commission, the EU’s executive arm, has secured deals allowing to purchase doses with Moderna, AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, BioNTech-Pfizer and CureVac.
Von der Leyen however urged EU citizens to remain “disciplined till we have reached finally a vaccination that is appropriate to eradicate this virus.”
Germany’s science minister said Tuesday that the same safety standards are being applied in the approval process for coronavirus vaccines as for other drugs and that this would be key to gaining the widest possible public acceptance for COVID immunization.
Anja Karliczek cited the fact that Europan regulators plan to hold a public hearing on Dec. 11 about the approval request by BioNTech and Pfizer.
Speaking to reporters in Berlin, Karliczek stressed that the vaccine will be voluntary and that authorities will work hard to inform the public about possible side effects that a small percentage of recipients might experience after immunization, such as headaches, exhaustion and fever.
Marylyn Addo, a doctor at Hamburg’s UKE hospital who is involved in the trials for a rival vaccine, said the rapid development of a vaccine was the result of enormous efforts by scientists, early funding and experience from previous vaccines.