Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Fight Over Officer Testimony Roils Proud Boys Sedition Case

By ALANNA DURKIN RICHER

FILE - Proud Boys leader Henry "Enrique" Tarrio wears a hat that says The War Boys during a rally in Portland, Ore., on Sept. 26, 2020. A legal fight has erupted over a Washington D.C. police officer who was communicating with Tarrio in the run-up to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack that could shape the outcome of the upcoming trial of Tarrio and other far-right extremists. (AP Photo/Allison Dinner, File)

A legal fight has erupted over a Washington D.C. police officer who was communicating with Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio in the run-up to the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol attack that could shape the outcome of the upcoming trial of Tarrio and other far-right extremists.

Metropolitan Police Lt. Shane Lamond’s testimony is crucial for the former Proud Boys national chairman’s defense against seditious conspiracy and other serious charges stemming from the attack, Tarrio’s attorneys say.

But Lamond plans to invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self incrimination if called to the witness stand after prosecutors warned the officer he could be charged with obstructing the investigation into Tarrio, the Proud Boy’s attorneys say. They have accused the Justice Department of trying to bully Lamond into keeping quiet because his testimony would hurt their case. Prosecutors have vehemently denied that charge.

The legal skirmish is unfolding two weeks before jury selection is supposed to begin in one of the highest-profile cases the Justice Department has brought since the Jan. 6 insurrection. Prosecutors charge Tarrio and four co-defendants conspired to forcibly stop the transfer of presidential power from former President Donald Trump to Democrat Joe Biden.

The Proud Boys trial will be another major test for the Justice Department, which secured a major victory last month in the seditious conspiracy convictions of two other far-right extremist group leaders: Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, and Kelly Meggs, who was the leader of the group’s Florida chapter. Tarrio’s far-right, male chauvinist extremist group that seized on the Trump administration’s policies was a major agitator during earlier pro-Trump protests and at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Tarrio wasn’t in Washington when the riot erupted, but authorities say he helped put into motion the violence of that day. Shortly before the riot, authorities say Tarrio posted on social media that the group planned to turn out in “record numbers” on Jan. 6, but would be “incognito” instead of donning their traditional clothing colors of black and yellow.

Tarrio was arrested in Washington two days before the riot and charged with vandalizing a Black Lives Matter banner at a historic Black church during a protest in December 2020. Tarrio was released from jail on Jan. 14, 2022 after serving his five-month sentence for that case.

Tarrio’s lawyers say Lamond has been under investigation for some time for possible obstruction of justice into the investigation of the Proud Boys leader.

Lamond was placed on administrative leave by the police force in February, said Mark Schamel, an attorney for the officer. Schamel said Lamond is a “decorated veteran” of the D.C. police department and “doesn’t share any of the indefensible positions” of extremist groups.

Lamond, an intelligence officer for the police force, was responsible for monitoring groups like the Proud Boys when they came to Washington. Tarrio regularly communicated with Lamond before the Proud Boys came to the capital city to discuss the “purpose of the trip, the agenda, and the location,” defense lawyers wrote in court documents.

Tarrio told Lamond that Proud Boys would not be wearing their traditional colors of black and yellow in order to protect themselves from possible attacks from antifa activists. Tarrio told the officer they planned to watch Trump’s speech, protest the results of the election “and later that night they planned to party with plenty of beers and babes,” Tarrio’s lawyers wrote.

“He told me they are trying to go incognito this time,” Lamond told fellow officers in one message, according to Tarrio’s attorneys. “Even if they aren’t wearing their colors they will stick together as a group so we should be able to identify them. Not to mention they won’t be head to toe in black with makeshift shields!”

The defense says Lamond’s testimony would support Tarrio’s claims that he was looking to avoid violence, not cause it. Tarrio’s lawyers have asked the judge to dismiss the case if the government refuses to grant immunity for Lamond so he can take the stand.

“How can there be sedition if the Proud Boys are informing law enforcement of their plans on Jan. 6?” Tarrio attorney Sabino Jauregui said during a recent hearing. “They don’t want him to testify because it will completely destroy their case.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Kenerson told the judge the suggestion that prosecutors are pressuring and threatening witnesses is “categorically false.”

Tarrio has a history of cooperating with law enforcement.

Court records uncovered last year showed that Tarrio previously worked undercover and cooperated with investigators after he was accused of fraud in 2012. After Tarrio’s indictment for participating in a scheme involving the resale of diabetic test strips, he helped the government prosecute more than a dozen other people, according to court papers.

Tarrio will stand trial with four others: Ethan Nordean, of Auburn, Washington; Joseph Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Florida; Zachary Rehl, of Philadelphia and Dominic Pezzola of Rochester, New York.

Amid Outcry, San Francisco Pauses on ‘Killer Police Robots’

FILE - Diana Scott holds up a sign while taking part in a demonstration about the use of robots by the San Francisco Police Department outside of City Hall in San Francisco, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. San Francisco supervisors have voted put the brakes on a controversial policy that would let police use robots for deadly force. The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to send the issue back to a committee for further discussion. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco supervisors voted Tuesday to put the brakes on a controversial policy that would have let police use robots for deadly force, reversing course just days after their approval of the plan generated fierce pushback and warnings about the militarization and automation of policing.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to explicitly ban the use of robots in such a fashion for now. But they sent the issue back to a committee for further discussion and could vote in the future to let police use robots in a lethal manner in limited cases.

The board voted last week to allow the use of deadly robots in extreme circumstances. The police department said it had no plans to arm the robots with guns but wanted the ability to put explosives on them and use then to contact, incapacitate or disorient dangerous or armed suspects when lives are at risk.

The initial vote thrust the famously liberal city into the center of a debate about the future of technology and policing, with some saying arming robots was a step too close to something one would see in a dystopian science fiction movie. Though robot technology for policing has become more widely available, departments across the country have rarely used it to confront or kill suspects,

Three supervisors who rejected the policy from the beginning joined dozens of protesters Monday outside City Hall to urge the board to change course. They chanted and held signs with phrases like “We all saw that movie... No Killer Robots.”

Supervisor Dean Preston was among them, and on Tuesday he told his colleagues the public hadn’t been given enough time to voice their concerns about such a pressing issue.

“The people of San Francisco have spoken loud and clear: There is no place for killer police robots in our city,” he said in a statement after the vote. “We should be working on ways to decrease the use of force by local law enforcement, not giving them new tools to kill people.”

The vote was the result of a new state law that requires police departments to inventory equipment including certain guns, grenades, armored vehicles and battering rams and to seek explicit approval for their use. So far, only San Francisco and Oakland have discussed lethal robots as part of that law. Oakland police wanted to arm robots with shotguns but backed down in the face of public opposition, instead opting for pepper spray.

Some San Francisco officials wanted to proceed with allowing robots to use deadly force in certain cases, arguing nothing substantive had changed to warrant a reversal. But the vote to advance the broader police equipment policy — including the ban on lethal robots — passed unanimously.

It still allows police to use robots to check out potentially dangerous scenes so that officers can stay back.

“Having robots that have eyes and ears and can remove bombs, which happens from time to time, is something that we want the police department to do while we continue to have this very controversial discussion,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who brought forward last week’s motion around the use of robots.

The new policy needs another vote to take effect.

Democratic Sen. Warnock Wins Georgia Runoff against Walker

By BILL BARROW and JEFF AMY

Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock speaks during an election night watch party, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, in Atlanta. Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock has defeated Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a runoff election in Georgia. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA (AP) — Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock defeated Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a Georgia runoff election Tuesday, ensuring Democrats an outright majority in the Senate for the rest of President Joe Biden’s term and helping cap an underwhelming midterm cycle for the GOP in the last major vote of the year.

With Warnock’s second runoff victory in as many years, Democrats will have a 51-49 Senate majority, gaining a seat from the current 50-50 split with John Fetterman’s victory in Pennsylvania. There will be divided government, however, with Republicans having narrowly flipped House control.

“After a hard-fought campaign -- or should I say campaigns -- it is my honor to utter the four most powerful words ever spoken in a democracy: The people have spoken,” Warnock, 53, told jubilant supporters who packed a downtown Atlanta hotel ballroom.

“I often say that a vote is a kind of prayer for the world we desire for ourselves and for our children,” declared Warnock, a Baptist pastor and his state’s first Black senator. “Georgia, you have been praying with your lips and your legs, your hands and your feet, your heads and your hearts. You have put in the hard work, and here we are standing together.”

In last month’s election, Warnock led Walker by 37,000 votes out of almost 4 million cast, but fell short of the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff. The senator appeared to be headed for a wider final margin in Tuesday’s runoff. Walker, a football legend who first gained fame at the University of Georgia and later in the NFL in the 1980s, was unable to overcome a bevy of damaging allegations, including claims that he paid for two former girlfriends’ abortions.

“The numbers look like they’re not going to add up,” Walker, an ally and friend of former President Donald Trump, told supporters late Tuesday at the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta. “There’s no excuses in life, and I’m not going to make any excuses now because we put up one heck of a fight.”

Democrats’ Georgia victory solidifies the state’s place as a Deep South battleground two years after Warnock and fellow Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff won 2021 runoffs that gave the party Senate control just months after Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate in 30 years to win Georgia. Voters returned Warnock to the Senate in the same cycle they reelected Republican Gov. Brian Kemp by a comfortable margin and chose an all-GOP slate of statewide constitutional officers.

Walker’s defeat bookends the GOP’s struggles this year to win with flawed candidates cast from Trump’s mold, a blow to the former president as he builds his third White House bid ahead of 2024.

Democrats’ new outright majority in the Senate means the party will no longer have to negotiate a power-sharing deal with Republicans and won’t have to rely on Vice President Kamala Harris to break as many tie votes.

National Democrats — whom Warnock had avoided throughout his campaign — gloated Tuesday, with Biden tweeting a photo of his congratulatory phone call to the senator. “Georgia voters stood up for our democracy, rejected Ultra MAGAism, and ... sent a good man back to the Senate,” Biden tweeted from his official account.

About 1.9 million runoff votes were cast in Georgia by mail and during early voting. A robust Election Day turnout added about 1.4 million more, slightly more than the Election Day totals in November and in 2020.

Total turnout still trailed the 2021 runoff turnout of about 4.5 million. Voting rights groups point to changes made by state lawmakers after the 2020 election that shortened the period for runoffs, from nine weeks to four, as a reason for the decline in early and mail voting.

Elections officials reported few problems processing early votes and tabulating ballots cast Tuesday.

Warnock emphasized his willingness to work across the aisle and his personal values, buoyed by his status as senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. once preached.

Walker benefited during the campaign from nearly unmatched name recognition from his football career, yet was dogged by questions about his fitness for office and allegations of hypocrisy.

A multimillionaire businessman, Walker inflated his philanthropic activities and business achievements, including claiming that his company employed hundreds of people and grossed tens of millions of dollars in sales annually, even though records indicate he had eight employees and averaged about $1.5 million a year. He has suggested that he’s worked as a law enforcement officer and graduated college, though he has done neither.

He was accused by two former girlfriends of encouraging and paying for their abortions, despite supporting an outright national ban on the procedure during the campaign. He denied both women’s claims.

He was also forced to acknowledge during the campaign that he had fathered three children out of wedlock whom he had never before spoken about publicly. The mother of one of those children told The Daily Beast that Walker had not seen his young son since January 2016 and had to be taken to court for child support — in direct conflict with Walker’s years spent criticizing absentee fathers and his calls for Black men, in particular, to play an active role in their kids’ lives.

His ex-wife said Walker once held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her. He has never denied those specifics and wrote of his violent tendencies in a 2008 memoir that attributed the behavior to mental illness.

As a candidate, he sometimes mangled policy discussions, attributing the climate crisis to China’s “bad air” overtaking “good air” from the United States and arguing that diabetics could manage their health by “eating right,” a practice that isn’t enough for insulin-dependent diabetic patients.

On Tuesday, Atlanta voter Tom Callaway praised the Republican Party’s strength in Georgia and said he’d supported Kemp in the opening round of voting. But he said he cast his ballot for Warnock because he didn’t think “Herschel Walker has the credentials to be a senator.”

“I didn’t believe he had a statement of what he really believed in or had a campaign that made sense,” Callaway said.

Walker, meanwhile, sought to portray Warnock as a yes-man for Biden. He sometimes made the attack in especially personal terms, accusing Warnock of “being on his knees, begging” at the White House — a searing charge for a Black challenger to level against a Black senator about his relationship with a white president.

“My opponent is not a serious person,” Warnock said during the runoff campaign. “But the election is very serious. Don’t get those two things confused.”

Warnock promoted his Senate accomplishments, touting a provision he sponsored to cap insulin costs for Medicare patients. He hailed deals on infrastructure and maternal health care forged with Republican senators, mentioning those GOP colleagues more than he did Biden or other Washington Democrats.

Warnock distanced himself from Biden, whose approval ratings have lagged as inflation remains high. After the general election, Biden promised to help Warnock in any way he could, even if it meant staying away from Georgia. Bypassing the president, Warnock decided instead to campaign with former President Barack Obama in the days before the runoff election.

Walker, meanwhile, avoided campaigning with Trump until the campaign’s final day, when the pair conducted a conference call Monday with supporters.

Walker joins failed Senate nominees Dr. Mehmet Oz of Pennsylvania, Blake Masters of Arizona, Adam Laxalt of Nevada and Don Bolduc of New Hampshire as Trump loyalists who ultimately lost races that Republicans once thought they would — or at least could — win.

___

Associated Press writers Christina A. Cassidy and Ron Harris contributed to this report.

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Democrats Make Major Concession on Vaccine Mandate

BY ELLEN MITCHELL, RACHEL FRAZIN AND MIKE LILLIS 

12/06/22 4:42 PM ET

Congress is poised to use the annual defense policy bill to eliminate the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate — a major concession by President Biden’s Democratic allies that helps clear the way to passing the sweeping package before year’s end. 

In a compromise with Republicans, House Democrats are allowing language into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that repeals the coronavirus vaccine mandate for U.S. service members a year after it was enacted, House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) confirmed to The Hill Tuesday.  

The bill, which lays out how an $847 billion Defense Department top line will be allocated in fiscal 2023, is tentatively set to be released as early as Tuesday evening and voted on by the House Thursday, Rogers said.  

Asked if he believes the language will stick amid all the last-minute jostling over the bill, Rogers replied: “Yes.” 

Republican lawmakers for months have pushed back on the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin first installed in August 2021.  

Since then, thousands of active-duty service members have been discharged for refusing the shots, according to the latest Pentagon numbers.  

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is vying for the Speaker’s gavel in the next Congress, said on Sunday that the NDAA “will not move” unless the mandate for the military is lifted through the bill. 

The compromise is effectively a loss for the White House and Pentagon, which have both opposed using the NDAA to repeal the vaccine mandate.  

“We lost a million people to this virus,” Austin told reporters traveling with him Saturday, as reported by The Associated Press. “A million people died in the United States of America. We lost hundreds in DOD. So this mandate has kept people healthy.” 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday strongly supported the Pentagon’s mandate, but also emphasized that the art of compromise means that no side gets everything it wants. For Democrats, he said, that might mean they have to give up the mandate to pass the bigger package. 

“It’s a question of how can you get something done,” he told reporters in the Capitol. “We have a very close vote in the Senate, a very close vote in the House, and you don’t just get everything you want.”

The concession by Democrats on a mandate they once championed zealously highlights how attitudes surrounding the vaccines have shifted since the coronavirus struck almost three years ago. 

“The politics on that have changed,” said Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas), another member of the Armed Services panel. “If this were 2020, it would be a different story.” 

One thing not expected in the bill, however, is language to reinstate troops, sailors and airmen who were discharged or received penalties for declining the vaccine, a provision GOP lawmakers hoped to insert in the legislation.  

Instead, lawmakers on the House and Senate Armed Services committees are planning report language for the bill that allows the Pentagon to evaluate service members affected by the mandate, Rogers said.  

“There’s no statutory language, but there’s report language that tells the [Defense Department] to ascertain everybody that’s been adversely affected by the vaccine mandate and what it would take to make them whole and get that to us next year. Then we can decide if we want to try to do that or not,” he said.  

“Some people aren’t going to want to come back to the military, but if they do, what would that look like? How many people are we talking about?”

The issue of COVID-19 vaccines was just one among a minefield of contentious topics facing negotiators as they race to pass the sweeping defense authorization bill this month. 

Another potential policy hurdle, a proposal by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) aimed at speeding up the approval process for energy infrastructure permits, also appears unlikely to make it into the final defense bill if lawmakers want to get it across the finish line. 

The White House had promised Manchin a vote on his permitting reforms in return for his support on a massive tax, health care and climate bill enacted earlier in the year. And Democratic leaders in the White House and both chambers have pressed this week to include the provision in the defense bill. 

Yet that plan appears to have hit a wall in the form of progressive lawmakers, who are threatening to oppose the rule that would allow the defense bill to make it to the floor if the energy policies are included. 

Given the Democrats’ slim majority and the fact that Republicans almost never vote for rules put forward by Democrats, even if they support the underlying bill, the maneuver would probably only require a few Democratic defectors to succeed. 

“It does not appear to me that there’s the votes to sustain that,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told The Hill. “If it was up to me at this point it would not be in, but it’s not up to me, but it seems to me like there’s not the support for it.” 

Smith said, however, that the ultimate decision on whether to include the provisions rests with House leadership and that it hasn’t yet been made. 

Among the Democrats who have said they would vote against the rule if permitting reform is included are Reps. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), Jesús García (Ill.), Ro Khanna (Calif.) and Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.).

“I think the numbers are there,” Garcia said. “I would think our opposition might cause them to reconsider.” 

And the list of defectors could grow. 

“I don’t want to say categorically that I would vote against the rule, but if it’s the Manchin shit sandwich, made worse to appease Republicans, of course I’m not going to choke that down,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, indicated she believes the progressive effort would be enough to kill the permitting reform’s chances in the NDAA. 

“Typically Republicans don’t vote for the rule, some of them might, but I can’t imagine there would be enough to counter the number of progressives that have already told me they’re voting against the rule,” she said. She added the caucus was still taking stock of how large the opposition to the rule could be. 

As the barriers fall, top Democrats are already predicting that the House will ultimately pass the package with broad bipartisan support by the end of the week. 

“At the end of the day, I don’t think there will be any issue that would derail the NDAA from being passed,” said Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), a senior member of Armed Services panel. “We passed it 60 years in a row, and I think this year will be no exception.” 

The 'Office Apocalypse' is Upon Us

Tall office buildings looming over above, the negative space between them forming a down-trending arrow in a red-orange sky

Remote work is gutting downtowns, forcing leaders to reinvent the postpandemic city. 

Marianne Ayala/Insider
Emil Skandul
Dec 6, 2022, 7:03 AM

Deserted downtowns have been haunting US cities since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Before the pandemic, 95% of offices were occupied. Today that number is closer to 47%. Employees' not returning to downtown offices has had a domino effect: Less foot traffic, less public-transit use, and more shuttered businesses have caused many downtowns to feel more like ghost towns. Even 2 1/2 years later, most city downtowns aren't back to where they were prepandemic.

Not unlike how deindustrialization led to abandoned factories and warehouses, the pandemic has led downtowns into a new period of transition. In the 1920s factories were replaced by gleaming commercial high-rises occupied by white-collar workers, but it's not clear yet what today's empty skyscrapers will become. What is clear is that an office-centric downtown is soon to be a thing of the past. With demand for housing in cities skyrocketing, the most obvious next step would be to turn empty offices into apartments and condos. But the push to convert underutilized office space into housing has been sluggish. 

Without more-robust policies to address failing downtowns, cities are going to start hurting. Even small declines in foot traffic and real-estate use compounding over time will lead to reduced tax revenue and sales receipts for small businesses, ultimately affecting city budgets. And while city planners are reimagining downtowns, the impact on cities' bottom lines has been devastating; in New York, for instance, the value of commercial real estate declined by 45% in 2020, and research suggests it will remain 39% below prepandemic levels.

Less economic activity in urban cores and a lower tax base could mean fewer jobs and reduced government services, perpetuating a vicious cycle that further reduces foot traffic in downtowns, leading to more decline, more crime, and a lower quality of life. For residents of many downtowns, ghost downtowns will be a visible infliction, and throngs of people crowding into a bus on a Monday morning will be apparitions of a recent past.

The death of great American downtowns

The devastation of downtown commercial districts has been an unmistakable shift in America's largest cities. In San Francisco, the landmark Salesforce tower and other buildings have remained mostly unoccupied as the tech industry has embraced remote and hybrid work. In New York, Meta recently terminated its lease agreement for three offices totaling 450,000 square feet in Hudson Yards and on Park Avenue, taking a significant financial hit. This tracks with trends: San Francisco has faced office-vacancy rates of 34% to 40% in some parts of the city, while in New York about 50% of workers are back in the office. 

Even in cities where more workers have returned, like Austin or Dallas, occupancy rates are still only 60% of what they were prepandemic. These shifts follow the unassailable stickiness of remote work; researchers for the National Bureau of Economic Research predicted that 30% of workdays would be worked from home by the end of this year, a huge jump from before the pandemic.

The increased cancellations of office leases have cratered the office real-estate market. A study led by Arpit Gupta, a professor of finance at New York University's Stern School of Business, characterized the value wipeout as an "apocalypse." It estimated that $453 billion in real-estate value would be lost across US cities, with a 17-percentage-point decline in lease revenue from January 2020 to May 2022. The shock to real-estate valuations has been sharp: One building in San Francisco's Mission District that sold for $397 million in 2019 is on the market for about $155 million, a 60% decline.

Other key indicators that economists use to measure the economic vitality of downtowns include office vacancy rates, public-transportation ridership, and local business spending. Across the country, public-transportation ridership remains stuck at about 70% of prepandemic levels. If only 56% of employees of financial firms in New York are in the office on a given day, the health of a city's urban core is negatively affected.

The second-order effects of remote work and a real-estate apocalypse are still playing out, but it isn't looking good. Declines in real-estate valuations lead to lower property taxes, which affects the revenue collected to foot the bill of city budgets. Declines in foot traffic have deteriorated business corridors; a recent survey by the National League of Cities suggested cities expect at least a 2.5% decline in sales-tax receipts and a 4% decline in revenue for fiscal 2022. Last year, Atlanta's tax revenue was projected to decline by 5.7%. Finding and retaining government employees has been a problem in New York, where public-sector salaries haven't kept up with inflation. Day-to-day operations and essential government services such as public transportation, trash collection, and street cleaning would undoubtedly take a hit from hamstrung city budgets.

It comes as no surprise, then, that in recent months the combination of a stagnant flow of tax receipts and hollowed-out downtowns has spooked city leaders. At a recent conference, the mayor of Seattle, Bruce Harrell, expressed concern about tax revenue. "The fact of the matter is there will never be the good ol' days where everyone's downtown working," he said. London Breed, San Francisco's mayor, told Bloomberg that "life as we knew it before the pandemic is not going to go back." In the National League of Cities' 2022 survey, almost a third of cities said they'd be in a difficult financial situation in 2023 once federal funds dissipate. In the event of a recession, things could look much worse. 

It's about new housing, stupid

While there's been a lack of demand for commercial real estate, the residential market has gone into overdrive. A recent NBER paper suggests the new space requirements of remote workers — space for a desk or office, or to accommodate the extra time spent at home — have helped cause housing costs to skyrocket.

The solution to the office-housing conundrum seems obvious: Turn commercial spaces like offices into housing. Empty offices can become apartments to ease housing pressure while also bringing more people back to downtown areas. But after two years, few buildings have been converted. Jessica Morin, the head of US office research at the commercial real-estate firm Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis, said there hasn't been a "noticeable increase" in conversions. Since 2016, only 112 commercial office spaces in the US have been converted, while 85 projects are underway or have been announced, according to CBRE's data. Despite the promise of new housing –– one recent study in Los Angeles estimated that 72,000 new homes could be built in the city by converting offices and hotels –– progress has been slow.

So what's going on? Simply: The costs to convert are often hard for developers to justify. Construction costs are assessed on a building-by-building basis and need to take into account structural issues such as floor layouts, plumbing, and window access. Residential buildings also have to accommodate shared spaces like hallways, meaning they generally have less rentable space than an office building. Rising costs of labor and increasing interest rates may dampen efforts to convert offices to homes and inject more risk for developers. "The cost of construction is just so high, and even if you set aside the specific issues related to conversions and just think about the economics of building anything, it's just gotten very difficult," Gupta told me. 

Another barrier for office-to-residential conversions is local housing rules. To turn commercial buildings into housing, they would have to be rezoned — which requires input from community members and local officials — to meet specific requirements. Codes for everything from lighting to sustainability vary by city, presenting irregular hurdles in project costs and timelines. Housing developers may not want to put themselves in precarious political situations or go through resource-draining approval processes for a high-risk project with potentially significant financial downside.

Gupta's study suggested, however, that continually falling office values may kick off more interest from developers in adaptive-reuse projects. Despite their cost and complexity, they may be better than letting a building sit empty. 

The birth of the central social district 

To avoid a commercial real-estate apocalypse, cities will need to streamline conversions. There are several ways to do this. California has set aside $400 million for adaptive-reuse-incentive grants. New York state approved a $100 million fund for hotel conversions, but the stringent requirements led to only a single developer applicant. 

Most impactful on the city level would be land-use planning processes that could help speed up conversions. Laws like the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance that Los Angeles passed in 1999 could help dispense with some of the more onerous city-code hurdles, like parking requirements. Gupta suggested that cities could also adapt their tax codes to make conversions more economically feasible by moving to a land-value tax or something similar. Federal initiatives could provide tax credits to developers to ensure buildings are readapted and could provide support for city planners to assist with redevelopment projects. 

Overall, combating the death of downtowns requires a reworking of how we think about cities and the value they provide. The urban author Jane Jacobs proclaimed in her famous 1958 article for Fortune magazine, "Downtown Is for People," that ​​"there is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans." 

While the central business district characterized downtowns in the 20th century, the latest revitalization of cities will hinge on social value. Remote work has isolated people, and central social districts can be the new lure for cities. Restaurants, coffee shops, and coworking spaces are becoming just as important as industry hubs for a city's economy. The urbanist Richard Florida argued in an article for Bloomberg in August that for cities to survive postpandemic, they must transform into places for robust social connectivity. Dense downtowns in Austin and New York have seen steep increases in rental demand, a sign that people continue to be willing to pay a premium to live in a social district. 

The transformation is likely to mean mixed-use 24-hour neighborhoods and downtowns where nearly all daily necessities are within walking or cycling distance of where people live. In Montréal and New York, some open-street programs developed during the pandemic became permanent, allowing people and events to replace moving vehicles year-round or during the summer months. The repurposing of rail yards in Sante Fe, New Mexico, and of elevated train lines in New York into parks shows that adaptive reuse can be applied to park infrastructure as well. 

The corporatization of work led to urbanization, but the trend today is a decorporatization of downtowns. Out of previous financial districts, new vibrant neighborhoods could form and reestablish local consumption. It would require infrastructure upgrades and the adaptation of public spaces and streets, but, as Gupta noted, office buildings are already ideally situated "smack-dab in the center of the transit network." Meanwhile, research has linked mixed-use areas with lower crime rates than commercial districts.

The economic health of cities is intrinsically linked to how space is used or unused, and right now downtowns are undergoing a massive shift. Despite the sluggish movement, it's in cities' best interest to figure out how to quickly convert office-centric downtowns into something more suitable for everyone. 

Emil Skandul is a writer on technology and urban economics, and a Tony Blair Institute fellow.

Monday, December 05, 2022

ANC STATEMENT ON THE OUTCOMES OF THE SPECIAL NATIONAL COMMITTEE

5 December 2022

The African National Congress (ANC) National Executive Committee (NEC) met in a specialsession on Monday the 5th of December 2022 to deliberate on the Section 89 parliamentary report.

The President of the ANC comrade Cyril Ramaphosa attended the special NEC and made remarks after which he was allowed to recuse himself.

Members of the NEC having received the report of the special NWC held on Sunday the 4th of December 2022 engaged extensively, fully and frankly; concluding as follows:

That the NEC resolved that the ANC will vote against the adoption of the Report of the Section 89 Panel, given the fact that it is being taken on review.

ISSUED BY THE AFRICAN NATIONAL TREASURER GENERAL PAUL MASHATILE FOR

AND ON BEHALF OF THE NEC

Enquiries

Pule Mabe

National Spokesperson

071 623 4975

NEC RESOLVES FOR RAMAPHOSA TO REMAIN ANC PRESIDENT DESPITE SECTION 89 REPORT

The ANC NEC, which is the party’s highest decision-making body in between conferences, convened a special meeting on Monday to discuss Ramaphosa’s fate, following the release of the report.

FILE: With opposition parties set to file a motion of no confidence against Ramaphosa, Mashatile said no ANC Member of Parliament (MP) would be supporting that motion. Picture: Abigail Javier/Eyewitness News

Thabiso Goba | 05 December 2022 20:10

JOHANNESBURG - The African National Congress’ (ANC) National Executive Committee (NEC) resolved to reject Parliament’s Section 89 panel report, following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s review application at the Constitutional Court.

The ANC NEC, which is the party’s highest decision-making body in between conferences, convened a special meeting on Monday to discuss Ramaphosa’s fate, following the release of the report.

The report found that Ramaphosa might have violated his oath of office and the Prevention and Combatting of Corruption Activities Act.

After a marathon two-day meeting, the ANC NEC resolved that Ramaphosa would continue as the party and the country’s president.

Briefing the media on the NEC’s outcomes, ANC acting secretary general Paul Mashatile said the party’s Parliamentary caucus was advised to vote against noting the report on Tuesday.

Parliament is expected to sit to debate the Section 89 panel report on Tuesday.

Mashatile said since Ramaphosa decided to file a court application to review and set aside the report, there was no need for it to be noted in its current state.

He said that the ANC NEC would discuss the matter again once the court processes have concluded.

With opposition parties set to file a motion of no confidence against Ramaphosa, Mashatile said no ANC MP would be supporting the motion.

This paved the way for Ramaphosa to be nominated for a second term as ANC president when the party meets for its 55th National Elective Conference on 16 December.

RAMAPHOSA FILES PAPERS IN CONCOURT TO REVIEW AND SET ASIDE PHALA PHALA REPORT

This relates to the 2020 theft of foreign currency at his Phala Phala farm in Limpopo.

President Cyril Ramaphosa virtually replying to oral questions during a hybrid sitting of the National Assembly on 30 August 2022. Picture: @PresidencyZA/Twitter

Kgomotso Modise | 05 December 2022 17:53

JOHANNESBURG - President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday filed papers in the Constitutional Court to review and set aside the Section 89 panel report that found he may have violated the Constitution.

This relates to the 2020 theft of foreign currency at his Phala Phala farm in Limpopo.

The independent panel found Ramaphosa had failed to report the matter to the relevant authorities.

It also found that the president may be contravened anti-corruption laws and abused his power.

Ramaphosa indicated last week that he would be taking the report for judicial review as it concerns potential impeachment.

At the same time, African National Congress secretary general Paul Mashatile said the party’s parliamentary caucus will vote against the adoption of the Section 89 panel on Tuesday.

Mashatile made the announcement during a media briefing on Monday.

Sudanese Military Accept Return to Civilian Rule: Minister

Al-Burhan addresses Sudanese army troop at Al-Markhayat military base on November 13, 2022

December 2, 2022 (JUBA) – Military rulers in Sudan have accepted a return to civilian rule, raising hopes of a return to the rule of law and the country’s stability, a South Sudanese official said.

“We were in Sudan as the ministers of foreign affairs from IGAD [ Intergovernmental Authority on Development] member countries. My counterparts from all other IGAD member states and I were in Khartoum for the 48th IGAD ordinary ministerial council meeting. This was an opportunity to discuss with Sudanese leaders from across the political spectrum. It was an opportunity to listen and learn from them the way forward,” said South Sudan’s Foreign Affairs minister, Mayiik Ayii Deng.

He added, “From the meetings and engagements, it became clear the Sudanese military are ready to allow the civilian component to form the civilian-led government”.

Deng commended Sudan’s Sovereign Council leaders for accepting to peacefully and amicably resolve their political disputes without external support and intervention.

“The most important thing which, if the spirit of the discussions and willingness to move forward which we experienced is peacefully implemented, will set a stage for others,” he stated.

Deng said Sudanese leaders warmly received them and engaged with them in an atmosphere free of pressure and willingness to listen to our views.

“They were opened throughout. We asked for their views, explored their perspectives, and we also listened to them. They gave us their advice, their perspectives on the way forward, and of course, what they should expect when returning to our respective countries and reporting back to the heads of state and government of the IGAD member countries who sent us to convene the ordinary meeting on their behalf,” explained the minister.

The meeting, he further explained, took place after they met with representatives of the African Union (AU), the United Nations as well as non-state stakeholders who are not part of the peace agreement.

He hinted that the meetings gave him the impression that some political forces may not be eager to enter the political process in Sudan at this particular stage but it does not mean that they are not interested in the process that would return to transition toward democracy and lasting peace.

“His excellency the president of the republic, Gen Salva Kiir Mayardit has always said peace in Sudan and in the region can be realized if everyone is included. Nobody should be left out. Some may not participate but if they see those doing what they could have done participating in the process, then it sends  a signal their views and perspectives would make a difference and that generates hope for the transition towards democracy and stable inclusive peace very, very closely interrelated,” stressed Deng.

The minister revealed those who signed the 2020 Juba peace agreement would participate in the future political arrangement in Sudan but that it was up to the Sudanese leaders to decide.

(ST)

Islamist Groups Reject Sudan’s Framework Agreement

Mohamed Ali al-Gizouli speaks at a rally of the Sudan's People Call on December3, 2022

December 3, 2022 (KHARTOUM) – Sudanese Islamists demonstrated in Khartoum on Saturday to voice their opposition to a framework agreement ending the coup d’état between the military component and civilian forces.

Sudan’s People Call, which is a coalition gathering the Islamic Movement groups; proposed to hold an inclusive dialogue supporting the coup leaders. When the latter change their mind and decided to hand over power to civilian leaders, they launched a campaign to denounce foreign intervention in the country.

On Saturday the coalition leaders organized a rally outside the UNITAMS premises but all their criticism was directed against the Forces for Freedom and Change and called on the military leaders to reconsider their decision to hand over power to the revolution’s forces.

“”We are not free political supporters for the military, we are with them if they preserve Sudan’s sovereignty, identity and unity ensure an independent transition without parties, and organize free and fair elections,” said Mohamed Ali al-Jazouli a member of the Executive Office of the Call.

“But we will resist the leadership of the military component and are ready to close the East and North and transfer the protests to the Army General Command,” added the leader of a radical Islamist group.

His message meant to say they would call on the army to side with them and seize power.

The leader of the Beja Mohamed Terk who is also a member of the Democratic Bloc with Gibril Ibrahim and Minni Minnawi called on the military to reconsider their position. Also, he reiterated his rejection of the Juba peace agreement for eastern Sudan.

The Islamist groups reappeared on the political scene after the coup of October 25, 2021.

Their emergence caused tensions within the military component as the army’s commander-in-chief al-Burhan sought to use them to support the coup while the commander of the Rapid Support Forces stood against the move.

In addition to the Islamists, the political framework agreement which would be signed on Monday faces the opposition of the Democratic Bloc which rejects any review of the Juba peace agreement.

(ST)

Sudan’s Military Release FFC Detainees Hours Before the Signing of Political Agreement

Wagdi Salih speaks in a public meeting while Khalid Omer Youssif is sitting at his left behind (SUNA photo)

December 4, 2022 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese authorities released, on Sunday, a prominent member of the suspended Empowerment Removal Committee (ERC), Wagdi Salih, and retired police officer Abdallah Suleiman, after two months of arrest.

Salih turned himself into the police, on October 12,  when the Public Prosecution published an arrest warrant describing him as a fugitive suspect on the background of a complaint lodged by the Ministry of Finance. Suleiman who was tasked with the implementation of the ERC decisions was also arrested.

“The Public Prosecution approved Salih’s release on bail in two cases, and upon an order by the Attorney General,” said Mahmoud al-Shazaly head of the defence team.

The FFC had requested to create a conducive environment including the release of the two detainees before the signing of the political framework agreement which will be signed on Monday.

His political group, the Baath Party, rejected the agreement and refuses to take part in the signing ceremony.

“I got out of prison with the support of the masses and the revolutionaries,” Salih told his supporters outside the detention facility, shortly after his release. He further called for the release of all detainees of the Resistance Committees.

He stressed his rejection of any political settlement, whatever its form, to legitimize the military coup, adding it would lead to establishing a totalitarian regime.

“I am the son of this people and with their aspirations and I will never deviate from them. The revolution continues and we will advance the ranks regardless of the sacrifices,” he asserted.

The Baath Party calls to dismiss the military leaders and prosecute them on charges of undermining the constitutional order, murders and human rights violations.

(ST)

Sudanese Stakeholders Sign Political Framework Agreement

The signing of the Political Framework Agreement on December 5, 2022

December 5, 2022 (KHARTOUM) – Sudanese stakeholders from the military component and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) on Monday, signed the Political Framework Agreement which to establish a new transitional period.

In accordance with the framework agreement, the signatories agreed to repeal the 2019 constitutional declaration and to review the decisions issued by the military leaders after the October 25, 2021 coup.

In addition, the deal provides that the Transitional Constitution is the supreme law of the state, ending the supremacy of the Juba Peace Agreement.

The agreement reaffirms the establishment of a single professional army and the merger of Rapid Support Forces, prohibiting the military from conducting investment and commercial business except for the military industry.

The signed text reaffirmed the principle of accountability, justice and transitional justice for the war crimes, the attacks on the pro-democracy sit-in and the post-coup killing of protesters.

Based on the principle of the civilian state, the framework agreement provides that the head of state will be the commander-in-chief of the army.

The two-year transition will start with the appointment of the prime minister who will be chosen by the forces of the revolution.

To avoid any confusion as was the case in 2019, the text clearly stipulates that the prime minister will appoint the Director of the General Intelligence Service.

Also, the minister of interior will control all the security forces.

The text acknowledges the plight of the eastern Sudan region and the right to development and political participation.

Concerning the Juba peace agreement, the document reiterated the commitment to implement the Juba peace agreement once it is reviewed.

In addition, the civilian government has to resume talks with the SPLM-N led by Abdel Aziz al-Hilu based on the declaration of principles of March 2021. The cabinet also has to negotiate the SLM of Abdel Wahid al-Nur.

The transitional government will consist of the legislative council, the head of state entity, and the council of minister independent commissions. The text emphasizes that 40% of the parliament’s seats should be allocated for women’s representation.

The framework agreement provides to develop four pillars before forming the transitional authority within a month.

The four issues that need more development are justice and transitional justice, security reform, the review of the Juba peace agreement and the dismantlement of the al-Bashir regime.

The framework agreement is being developed with broad public participation from the stakeholders and the forces that signed the political declaration and the forces of the revolution on 4 main issues that need more details, namely:

The Justice and Equality Movement (SLM) and Sudan Liberation Movement- Minnawi (SLM-MM) rejected to sign the agreement as they call to maintain the 2019 constitutional document.

Suleiman Sandal, JEM political official called on the Resistance Committees to take to the streets to reject the agreement.

(ST)

Sudan’s Generals, Pro-democracy Group Ink Deal to End Crisis

By ASHRAF IDRIS and JACK JEFFERY

FILE - Sudanese demonstrators attend a rally to demand the return to civilian rule a year after a military coup, in Khartoum, Sudan, Nov. 17, 2022. Sudan’s ruling generals and the main pro-democracy group signed a framework deal until elections on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, but key dissenters have stayed out of the agreement. The deal pledges to establish a new, civilian-led transitional government to guide the country to elections and offers a path forward in the wake of Sudan’s stalled transition to democracy following the October 2021 coup. (AP Photo/Marwan Ali, File)

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Sudan’s coup leaders and the main pro-democracy group signed a deal Monday to establish a civilian-led transitional government following the military takeover last year. But key players refused to participate, and no deadline was set for the transition to begin.

The framework — signed by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo and the leaders of the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change — appears to offer only the broadest outlines for how the country will resume its progression to democracy. That process was upended in October 2021, when Burhan unseated the civilian half of Sudan’s ruling Sovereignty Council with Dagolo’s backing.

Since the coup, international aid has dried up and bread and fuel shortages, caused in part by the war in Ukraine, have become routine, plunging Sudan’s already inflation-riddled economy into deeper peril. Security forces have ruthlessly suppressed near-weekly pro-democracy marches. Deadly tribal clashes have flared in the country’s neglected peripheries.

It’s not clear whether or how quickly the deal signed Monday can offer a way out for Sudan, given that it appears to leave many thorny issues unresolved and doesn’t have the support of key political forces, including the grassroots pro-democracy Resistance Committees. That network’s leaders called for demonstrations against the agreement.

Several former rebel leaders, who have formed their own political bloc, have also rejected the deal.

Many of the points in a draft of the deal were already promised in a 2020 agreement that saw Sudan’s previous transitional government make peace with several rebels in Sudan’s far-flung provinces.

According to the draft, the deal envisions Sudan’s military eventually stepping back from politics. The document says it will form part of a new ”security and defense council” under the appointed prime minister. But it does not address how to reform the armed forces, saying only they should be unified and controls should be imposed on military-owned companies.

It makes specific mention of Sudan’s wealthy paramilitary force, the Rapid Support Forces, headed by Dagalo. The force amassed wealth through its gradual acquisition of Sudanese financial institutions and gold reserves in recent years.

It also does not address creating a transitional judiciary system or say when the transitional government will be put in place. Only then will a two-year transition officially begin — the end goal of which is elections.

Analysts have cast doubt over whether the aims of the agreement are achievable, given its lack of detail on key issues and the boycott of key players.

“Realistically none of these complex processes can be dealt with within a transitional time frame of two years,” said Kholood Khair, founder and director of Confluence Advisory, a think tank in Khartoum.

Sudan has been plunged into turmoil since the coup threw off course a democratic transition that began after three decades of autocratic rule by President Omar al-Bashir. The former leader was toppled in April 2019, following a popular uprising.

The U.N. special envoy to Sudan, Volker Perthes, attended Monday’s signing and later, at a speech at the palace, described the deal as “Sudanese-owned and Sudanese-led.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hoped the agreement will pave the way for the return to a civilian-led transition, said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

He called on “all Sudanese stakeholders to work without delay on the next phase of the transition process to address outstanding issues with a view to achieving a lasting, inclusive political settlement,” Dujarric said.

Monday’s development came after months of negotiations between the military and the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, facilitated by a mediating team of the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Britain.

In a joint statement issued after the signing, the four countries commended the agreement.

“A concerted effort to finalize negotiations and reach agreement quickly to form a new civilian-led government is essential to address Sudan’s urgent political, economic, security, and humanitarian challenges,” the group said.

The hope is the deal could draw in new international aid, after donor funds dried up in response to the coup.

Sudan has also seen a sharp increase in inter-tribal violence in the country’s west and south. In the southern Blue Nile province, two days of clashes between the Berta and Hausa killed over 170 peopl e in October. Last month some 48 were killed in tribal clashes in Darfur. Many commentators have attributed the rising tribal violence to the power vacuum caused by last year’s military takeover and the subsequent political and economic crisis.

___

Jeffery reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the U.N. contributed.

Palestinian Man Killed During Israeli Raid in West Bank

Palestinian mourners carry the body of Omar Manaa during his funeral in the West Bank refugee camp of Deheishe near the city of Bethlehem, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. Palestinian health officials say a 22-year-old Palestinian man has been killed by Israeli fire during a military raid in the occupied West Bank. The army said it opened fire after a crowd attacked soldiers with stones and firebombs. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinian health officials said a Palestinian man was killed by Israeli fire during a military raid in the occupied West Bank on Monday.

It was the latest death in a recent surge of violence in the territory. The Israeli military has been conducting daily raids throughout the West Bank since the spring.

The official Palestinian news agency Wafa said that soldiers entered the Deheishe refugee camp near the city of Bethlehem early on Monday, sparking clashes with residents. The soldiers then directed tear gas and opened fire at the crowd, it said.

The agency said Omar Manaa, 22, was killed while six other Palestinians were wounded. Four were arrested.

The Israeli military said soldiers entered the camp to arrest three wanted militants. It said the soldiers opened fire after the crowd hurled rocks and firebombs at them.

Palestinians later declared a general strike throughout Bethlehem, shuttering schools, businesses and government offices to protest the killing. The strike came as the city, revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, is getting ready for the busy Christmas season.

Rising Israeli-Palestinian tensions have made 2022 the deadliest year in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the long-running conflict since 2006. Further escalation appears likely, as the most right-wing and religious government in Israel’s history is poised to be installed in the coming weeks, with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returning to power.

More than 140 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli-Palestinian fighting this year. The Israeli army says most of the Palestinians killed have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting Israeli army incursions and others not involved in confrontations have also been killed.

Monday’s deadly shooting came against the backdrop of months of Israeli arrest raids in the West Bank, prompted by a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israelis in the spring that killed 19 people. The military says the raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks, but the Palestinians say they entrench Israel’s open-ended occupation, now in its 56th year. A recent wave of Palestinian attacks against Israeli targets killed an additional nine people.

Greece Protests Over Teenager’s Shooting in Police Chase

By COSTAS KANTOURIS

People blocking a main road set fire to rubbish bins outside the Ippokrateio General Hospital, in Greece's second largest city of Thessaloniki, on Monday, Dec 5, 2022. Dozens of Roma men protested Monday outside a hospital in northern Greece where a Roma teenager was being treated in critical condition, having been shot by police in a road chase after he allegedly drove off from a gas station without paying. (AP Photo/Dimitris Tosidis)

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — Violent protests broke out in Greece’s second-largest city over the police shooting Monday of a Roma teenager after he allegedly filled his vehicle at a gas station and drove off without paying.

The 16-year-old boy was being treated in critical condition at a Thessaloniki hospital. The officer who allegedly shot him in the head was arrested and suspended from duty, police in the northern city said.

About 1,500 people took part in a protest march organized by left-wing and anarchist groups in central Thessaloniki on Monday night. Some smashed shops and threw Molotov cocktails at police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades.

Police detained six people after the end of the march.

Before that protest, about a hundred Roma men set up barricades, blocking a main road outside the hospital where the boy was being treated, and set fire to trash cans. Police had used stun grenades and tear gas earlier to disperse protesters throwing bottles at them outside the hospital.

Several hundred people also took part in a peaceful protest march in central Athens over the teen’s shooting as well as a past incident in which a Roma man also was shot during a police chase. The demonstrators in Greece’s capital had a banner reading, “They shot them because they were Roma.” Brief clashes broke out with police after the protest ended.

Members of the Roma community in Greece and human rights activists frequently accuse Greek authorities of discriminating against Roma. Several Roma men have been fatally shot or injured in recent years during confrontations with police while allegedly seeking to evade arrest for breaches of the law.

The injured youth was not named but identified by relatives as being a member of the Roma minority. Police said the 34-year-old officer arrested on suspicion of shooting the teenager was suspended and an internal investigation was under way.

The incident occurred outside Thessaloniki before dawn Monday. Officers from a motorcycle patrol chased the teenager’s pickup truck after authorities a gas station employee reported the unpaid bill of 20 euros ($21).

The arrested officer was due to appear before a public prosecutor Tuesday on charges of attempted manslaughter.

Police said the officer fired two shots to try and stop the suspect from ramming the pursuing motorcycle on which the office was a passenger. A statement said the driver of the pickup truck had “repeatedly made dangerous maneuvers” and drove through red lights before the shots were fired, adding that the vehicle subsequently crashed.

Asked to comment on the shooting, government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said: “The value of a human life can never be measured by any amount of money.”

A spokesman for Greece’s main opposition left-wing Syriza party accused the center-right government of failing to keep excessive policing methods in check.

“Society can no longer tolerate this climate of fear created by extreme police brutality which, for trivial reasons, has threatened the life of an underage 16-year-old child,” said Christos Spirtzis, the party spokesman for public order.

The shooting occurred on the eve of annual protests in Greek cities to mark the fatal 2008 police shooting of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos in Athens, whose death triggered the worst riots in recent Greek history that lasted for weeks and caused extensive damage to private and public property.

Anniversary protests held since the shooting have often led to violent clashes between protesters and riot police.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

From Cessation of Hostilities to Lasting Peace in Ethiopia

December 4, 2022    

BY SOLOMON WASSIHUN

It has been a month since we heard the least expected joyous news from South Africa about the signing of the CoHA, the permanent Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, which halted the two years of bloody conflict in northern Ethiopia. Thanks to the AU, the guns have been silenced for over a month without any disruption. Both negotiating parties have so far fully complied with the commitments they made in the peace agreement and have continued their engagement in a series of dialogues to advance the implementation of the Pretoria Peace Agreement.

The permanent ceasefire agreement, which has been in place for a month, has changed the lives of millions of people in war-affected areas in several ways. These changes were unthinkable a week before the peace agreement was signed in Pretoria early last month, on November 2.

All humanitarian corridors to northern Ethiopia, particularly to the Tigray region, are now open. Food , medicines, fuel ,and other supplies , are being channeled to war-affected communities through the four corridors and airlift via terminals in Mekelle and Shire . This is undoubtedly the most intensive and effective humanitarian relief effort since the conflict began two years ago.

As mentioned earlier, in addition to the road transport ,humanitarian supplies are being airlifted to the war-affected areas . Various international aid agencies such as World Food Program, WFP, the Red Cross, and Save the Children have announced the dispatch of huge quantity of humanitarian supplies by air to the war-affected regions . The huge scale of humanitarian operations was said to be the first of their kind since the third round of the conflict broke out last August.

Companies providing basic services including banking, telecom, and power are resuming delivery of services in several towns in the war-affected areas. Even towns and villages in Tigray, Amhara, and Afar regions are lighting up for the first time since the war started back in 2020.

IDPs that have been sheltering in makeshift camps far away from their villages are now returning home. Militias who left their loved ones to join the war are holding down their guns and returning to their civilian life and reuniting with their families. It is harvest season now, farmers are returning to their fields to join their co-workers.

North Wollo zone is one of the war-affected areas that saw the most severe devastation and humanitarian crisis during the conflict, since it has been the scene of several rounds of heavy fighting. Now, with the advent of the cessation of hostilities agreement, schools in this area are beginning to open their doors to their pupils. Children, the most vulnerable victims of war for the first time entered their schoolyards to meet their teachers.

The students could not wait until they manage to get exercise books and pencils, and the classrooms get fully furnished. Like wise,the teachers could not wait until they get enough chalk and teaching materials. These schools that were ransacked during the war are now opened just out of sheer determination to return life to normalcy and make the most out of the fragile peace sprouting in their locality. Civic socities an philanthropists have a lot of room to play in filling the resource gaps in rehabilitation of communities in the war affected areas.

Last week, one of the holiest days in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church calendar, St Mary’s day, also called the Hidar Zion, has been colorfully celebrated in northern Ethiopia, in the ancient city of Axum[considered by the faithful as the most sacred Ethiopian city], at the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion,- a stone’s throw away from the incredible world heritage site of Axum Obelisks. It was celebrated with such a huge mass congregation for the first time since the war started 2 years ago. The vibrant celebration of Hedar Tsion with a massive influx of pilgrims to Axum is a significant indicator of the beginning of the return of life to normalcy in that part of the Tigray region, which is under the control the federal government. The peaceful event also signifies the peace deal has begun making tangible positive impacts on the lives of the people of Tigray.

Currently, the peace process is in the middle of a critical stage where negotiating parties are dissecting the details of the Pretoria agreement and the Nairobi declaration to ensure smooth implementation of the peace deal. We expect that sticking points in the peace deal may take several rounds of discussion and a longer time than previously assumed. The lagging behind the set schedule of the implementation plan should not be considered a sign of an impending stalemate, as some pessimist critics might thought. As a noted peace researcher puts it, peace processes ebb and flow and are rarely linear. It is a process that requires stakeholders to be tenacious, optimistic, and patient.

One thing that guarantees the inevitable success of the peace process is the huge popular support it garnered from the majority of Ethiopians across the political spectrum on both sides of the war. Political parties, citizens residing in various regions, and Ethiopian diaspora in different corners of the world have expressed their solidarity in their support for the peace process.

The peace process may lag behind schedule for unforeseen reasons and for impediments posed by those who try to derail the process in pursuit of their hidden agenda. Nevertheless, slowly but surely, it would certainly reach its goal to bring lasting peace to northern Ethiopia. Any plan that wins the backing of the masses would surely succeed, no matter how long it delays, and how hard challenges it faces.

In particular, the fact that the peace deal is welcomed by the overwhelming majority of the people of Tigray is proof of the high probability of success of the peace deal. One of the leading politicians from the Tigray region, Nebyu Seul, recently made a strong statement attaching great importance to the peace deal and its significance as a precursor for positive change and lasting peace in the Tigray region.

“The peace deal is a great achievement. It is an opportunity for our nation to leave behind difficult times and for our people to be redeemed. It could also be considered as an introduction to a civilized mechanism that could resolve long-standing political disputes and historical grudges. All of us need to contribute our share to enable the Cessation of Hostilities agreement brings lasting peace,” he said.

The international community is another force that is making considerable effort to ensure the success of the peace process. The UN Chief arrived in Addis a few days ago and held talks with Ethiopian authorities. Mr. Guterres reportedly reiterated his full support for the full implementation of the AU-brokered Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, CoHA, that envisages shoring up a negotiated settlement and lasting peace in northern Ethiopia. He stressed that the entire UN system would provide humanitarian support to all those in need.

“Peace is never easy, but peace is always necessary… The United Nations will continue working with the AU to deliver the peace, prosperity, and climate justice that the people of Africa deserve. We discussed how our organizations are working to ensure peace across the [African] continent” said the UN Chief.

THE ETHIOPIAN HERALD SUNDAY EDITION 4 DECEMBER 2022

Restoration of Constitutional Order in Tigray: The Sacred Element of Pretoria Peace Deal

December 1, 2022

BY ADDISALEM MULAT

The Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) without doubt plays a paramount role in restoring constitutional order and permanent suspension of hostilities. Apart from that the agreement on the ceasefire indisputably is a bedrock for ensuring a lasting peace and putting constitutional order in the Tigray state into effect.

Aside from paving the way for expediting humanitarian aid and restoration of infrastructural facilities in the war-impacted areas, the peace deal also helps to reinstate law and order in the Tigray state.

In addition to serving as a springboard for long-lasting and prolonged peace, the cessation of hostilities agreement gives backing to restoring constitutional order in the Tigray State. It is self-evident that in the present circumstances the move taken by the federal government and TPLF has been receiving a pat on the back and winning the hearts and minds of the wider international community.

It is a matter of common sense that the peace accord has played a huge role in beating swords into plowshares. Aside from that, it plays a huge role in the disarmament, demobilizing, and reintegration of the Tigray Defense Force for the reason that there should not be two armies under the roof of one Ethiopia.

In recent times, Commander of Tigray combatants Taddesse Werede on the subject of the peace implementation said that in some areas, leaders of the TPLF forces and the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) are meeting in person and discussing the implementation of the agreement. The disarmament process is progressing well according to the agreement reached in Nairobi, Kenya.

TPLF forces have received orientation in the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) process and various activities have also been carried out to raise public awareness in this regard. The orientation would be completed soon.

After the disengagement of forces from areas of deployment, they would be transported to rehabilitation and orientation centers and all the necessary preparation has been finalized to this end. “Other activities have also been carried out in accordance with the CoHA in a clear manifestation of our commitment to implement the truce,” Taddesse noted.

On the heels of the resolute stance of the incumbent, the peace implementation is making progress in the right direction and registering positive changes. Notwithstanding the fact that prior to the start of the law enforcement operations, the federal government has moved heaven and earth to get to the bottom of the problem in an atmosphere of calm, the choice of force sparked a devastating conflict that almost lasted for two years tensions and turning the knife in the wound.

It should be remembered that the last straw that broke the camel’s back was the attack carried out in the early morning of 4 November 2020 by TPLF on the Northern Command of the Ethiopian National Defense Force. In the fullness of time, the attack metamorphosed into bringing about unimaginable human suffering and material damage.

The Pretoria peace deal if implemented effectively will help ensure equality, and fairly in making the supreme law of the country fully functional. The speedy disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of TPLF armed combatants is the kernel for the successful implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA), according to a veteran politician.

Lauding the government’s commitment to the implementation of the truce, the politician Neamin Zeleke told local media that the former should work to end the public suffering and humanitarian crisis in Tigray and other parts of the country.

The only guarantee for the government and the people of Ethiopia to have lasting peace is continuing the effort of disarming the armed group according to the peace accord. Unless ending the potential insurgency efficiently with the active participation of the public, the situation would cause further human loss and property damage.

 “By doing so, the government would thwart the security threat that would be imposed by an armed group and sustain the peace of the country. As guaranteed in the CoHA, the existence of parallel forces in Ethiopia is impossible.”

As to him, there are some groups that consider the trilateral cooperation among Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia as a threat to their greedy interest in the strategic Horn of Africa and have made every effort to ruin the alliance.

Noting the ill-conceived attempts of those groups would have a negative impact for the implementation of the peace accord, Neamin stressed that the Ethiopian National Defense Force has the capability to foil any destructive attempts that transcend the CoHA.

The level of the commitment of the government to implement the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) is limitless owing to its desire to lift the people from crises that are created by the war, an Ethiopian diplomat said.

Speaking to international media, Ethiopian Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Suleiman Dedefo stated that the government’s desire to avoid war and end the public suffering from conflicts is so firm. The speedy implementation of the CoHA is also in the best interest of the people of Ethiopia and not meant to please third parties.

“The government is expecting the same from the other end and until now we are watching that even though it is not speedy, the implementation of the CoHA (by TPLF) is going on, but expect that the implementation process will be as per the agreements in Pretoria and Nairobi. We are very hopeful that the agreement will be implemented as it is.”

He continued: “The government is doing its level best to execute the CoHA because this unnecessary and meaningless war is imposed on it.” Ambassador Suleiman further noted that it is the responsibility of the Ethiopian government to secure and protect the Tigray State and no one can be concerned more than the former about the safety and security of the people of Tigray. “This should be left to the Ethiopian government as per the agreement that clearly stipulated that once it takes over Tigray, the government is entitled to ensure peace and order in the area.”

In good truth, as the federal government has been working around the clock for the realization of the agreement, TPLF should respond in kind. The agreement also gives assurance to the need to respect the demarcation of authorities and get back the Tigray state to the constitutional framework in the shortest possible time. As putting the peace accord into effect provides a foundation for the suspension of hostilities and gives the thumbs up for the full functioning of the country’s vital organizations, all stakeholders should go to the ends of the earth with the intention of bringing peace implementation into effect. At this moment in time, the incumbent is extremely resolute about representing Tigray’s people in the federal organizations in conformity with the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian Herald December 1/2022

Flash Flood Kills Nine at Church Gathering in South Africa

By MOGOMOTSI MAGOME

Rescuers carry the body of a flood victim that was retrieved from the Jukskei river in Johannesburg, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022. At least nine people have died while eight others are still missing in South Africa after they were swept away by a flash flood along the Jukskei river in Johannesburg, rescue officials said Sunday. (AP Photo)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — At least nine people died and eight others were missing in South Africa after a flash flood swept away members of a church congregation along the Jukskei River in Johannesburg, rescue officials said Sunday.

The dead and missing were all part of the congregation, which was conducting religious rituals along the river on Saturday, officials said. Rescue workers reported finding the bodies of two victims that day and another seven bodies when the search and recovery mission resumed Sunday morning.

The teams were interviewing people from the congregation to establish how many others were unaccounted for.

Religious groups frequently gather along the Jukskei River, which runs past townships such as Alexandra in the east of Johannesburg, for baptisms and ritual cleansing.

Johannesburg Emergency Services spokesman Robert Mulaudzi said Sunday that officials had warned residents about the dangers of conducting the rituals along the river.

“We have been receiving a lot of rain on the city of Johannesburg in the last three months, and most of the river streams are now full. Our residents, especially congregants who normally practice these kinds of rituals, will be tempted to go to these river streams,” Mulaudzi said during a news briefing.

“Our message for them is to exercise caution as and when they conduct these rituals,” he added.

Burkina Faso Suspends Broadcast of French State-Owned RFI Radio

By SPUTNIK 

December 3, 2022

Burkina Faso’s military government has suspended the broadcast of France’s state-owned Radio France Internationale (RFI), accusing it of having released a message from a terrorist leader to intimidate the population of the West African nation, government spokesman Jean Emmanuel Ouedraogo said.

According to Ouedraogo’s Saturday statement, RFI spread “a message to intimidate the public, attributed to a terrorist leader,” which, according to Burkinabe authorities, contributes to terrorist activities against “millions of Burkinabe citizens who came together to defend their homeland.”

The government also accused the broadcaster of featuring in its press review some “false information” suggesting that interim President Ibrahim Traore has said there had been an attempted coup against him.

“In view of the above, the government has decided to immediately suspend the broadcast of Radio France Internationale programs throughout the national territory until further notice,” Ouedraogo said.

RFI said later on Saturday that it deplored this decision, calling the actions of the Burkinabe government “totally unfounded.” The broadcaster pointed out that the suspension was ordered without prior notice and without implementing the procedures stipulated in RFI’s broadcasting agreement with the country’s authorities.

The owner of RFI, France Medias Monde, will explore ways to restore the radio’s broadcasting in the country, RFI’s statement said.

In October, Ibrahim Traore was sworn in as head of the transitional government of Burkina Faso in front of the country’s constitutional council.

In late September, media in Burkina Faso reported that Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, the leader of an interim government who came to power through a coup earlier this year, was ousted by a group of military officers led by Traore in what became the second military takeover in the country in eight months.

Damiba overthrew elected President Roch Marc Christian Kabore in January, 2022.