Sunday, March 31, 2024

Hezbollah's Drones Pummel Israeli Artillery Units, Soldiers

By Al Mayadeen English

Islamic Resistance fighters in Lebanon target Israeli soldiers, sites, artillery units, and equipment using a wide array of weapons, including suicide drones.

The Islamic Resistance in Lebanon - Hezbollah has launched yet another series of operations targeting Israeli occupation forces and sites across the Lebanese-Palestinian border on Sunday. 

Hezbollah fighters have been consistently attacking Israeli positions in support of the Palestinian people and their Resistance in the Gaza Strip since October 8, 2023. 

A list of Hezbollah's operations on March 31st

At 12:15 pm (local time), Hezbollah's artillery units attacked the "Ramim" Barracks, dealing direct hits to the intended targets.

At 1:18 pm, the Islamic Resistance targeted the al-Malikiyah military site with several large caliber Burkan rockets. 

Less than half an hour later, Hezbollah's Unmanned Air Force targeted the positions of Israeli artillery units and soldiers via one-way attack drones that directly hit their targets near and inside the recently set-up "Barkhta" site.

At 3:45 pm, Hezbollah targeted the Zibdine military site in the Israeli-occupied Lebanese Shebaa farms with artillery shells. 

Concurrently, Hezbollah fighters launched an attack on the Roueissat al-Alam military sites in the Israeli-occupied Lebanese Kfar Chouba Hills, via "appropriate weapons".

Just ten minutes later, Hezbollah fighters targeted and destroyed recently set-up spyware and surveillance equipment in al-Jirdah, opposite the Lebanese town of al-Dhayrah.

At 5:00 pm, Hezbollah fighter restarted their operations, targeting a grouping of Israeli occupation forces in the vicinity of the "Menara" military site, dealing direct hits to the intended target. 

At 11:10 pm, nearing midnight, Hezbollah fighters attacked the "Metulla" military site with artillery shells, causing confirmed casualties to military forces at the site. 

On Sunday dawn, Hezbollah's Military Media released two videos showcasing the group's operations against Israeli occupation forces along the Lebanese-Palestinian border that were conducted on Saturday. 

The first video published by the Military Media showcased an anti-tank guided missile attack on the "Admit" settlement, targeting a building that had been appropriated by Israeli occupation forces for military use. The Hezbollah anti-tank fighter dealt a direct hit to the intended target, which came in response to Israeli attacks on Lebanese towns and villages. 

The second video published by the Military Media showcased a direct attack on Israeli occupation forces, via artillery shells and unspecified rocket weapons. The attack dealt confirmed hits to a grouping of Israeli occupation soldiers at the al-Raheb military site. 

Later on Sunday, Hezbollah mourned its fighter martyr Ismail Ali al-Zein, "Ragheb", from the town of Qabrikha in South Lebanon on the path to al-Quds. 

Meanwhile, Israeli media outlets said that 755 settler units and infrastructures were destroyed in northern settlements, during confrontations with Hezbollah and other Resistance factions. 

In detail, 550 settler units and buildings were damaged by Hezbollah's operations, while the remaining 205 were damaged due to work done by Israeli occupation forces.

US Has Agreed to Send More Bombs and Warplanes to Israel, Sources Say


Israeli soldiers embrace after returning from the Gaza strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in southern Israel on February 29, 2024.

The US in recent days authorised the transfer of billions of dollars worth of bombs and fighter jets to Israel, two sources familiar with the effort said on Friday, even as Washington publicly expresses concerns about an anticipated Israeli military offensive in Rafah.

The new arms packages include more than 1,800 MK84 2,000-pound bombs and 500 MK82 500-pound bombs, said the sources, who confirmed a report in the Washington Post.

Washington gives $3.8 billion in annual military assistance to Israel, its longtime ally.

The package comes as Israel faces strong international criticism over its continued bombing campaign and ground offensive in Gaza and as some members of President Joe Biden's party call for him to cut US military aid.

The United States has been rushing air defenses and munitions to Israel, but some Democrats and Arab American groups have criticized the Biden administration's steadfast support of Israel, which they say provides it with a sense of impunity.

Biden on Friday acknowledged "the pain being felt" by many Arab Americans over the war in Gaza and over US support for Israel and its military offensive.

Still, he has vowed continued support for Israel despite an increasingly public rift with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The White House declined comment on the weapons transfers.

The Israeli embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The decision on weapons follows a visit to Washington by Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant this week when he discussed Israel's weapons needs with US counterparts.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Gallant, apparently seeking to cool US-Israeli tensions, said he stressed the importance of US ties to his country's security and of maintaining Israel’s "qualitative military edge" in the region, including its air capabilities.

The war erupted on October 7 after Hamas militants attacked Israel and killed 1,200 people and seized 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. Israel has retaliated by launching an air and ground assault on Hamas in the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 32,000 people, health authorities in Gaza say.

Faye’s Headache of Keeping Poll Promises and Kingmaker Sonko


Senegal's president-elect Bassirou Diomaye Faye speaks during a press conference in Dakar, Senegal on March 25, 2024. PHOTO | REUTERS


In his first speech after his landslide victory, Senegal’s incoming President, Bassirou Diomaye Faye promised to stay the course of his party’s pre-election campaign promises.

On top of the list of these promises contained in his campaign manifesto, christened Project Senegal, are fighting corruption, creating employment opportunities for the youth, and significantly reducing the cost of living, a major concern for the majority of the 17 million Senegalese population.

Diomaye, as he is popularly known, also promises to review oil and gas mining agreements, among other things.

But an even more thorny issue surrounding the new president is his promise to revisit relations with former colonial master, France. His party, the African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity (Pastef), has said the new administration wants to terminate the country’s membership of the 14-nation West African monetary union, which is pegged on the Euro, and which many Senegalese believe has allowed France to control its former colony since independence.

Pastef was led by Ousmane Sonko who, like Mr Faye, was in jail until two weeks ago. Mr Sonko emerged from jail and publicly endorsed Mr Faye, earning him a great dose of popularity. With that, some say Mr Faye’s victory is largely a credit to Mr Sonko, who himself has nursed presidential ambitions.

In this election, Mr Sonko had been removed from the ballot paper owing to his struggles with legal issues, including an earlier accusation of sexual violence.

A lot of the discussions before and during the elections centred on the French connection, but, tallying with high anti-French sentiment partly fuelled by events in neighbouring countries, where the militaries have usurped power in the face of growing insecurity in the region. Senegal had been the odd one out of the former French colonies, having never experienced a coup since independence.

But, for many Senegalese youth, the outcome of the election marks the true independence of their country. And, by this they mean that they should be able to determine their destiny, going forward.

The 44-year-old president-elect is expected to be sworn in on April 2, the day the term of outgoing President Macky Sall officially ends.

He said in an address to the media on Monday night, after his victory became clear, that for the Senegalese people, his election represented the choice of a break with the past to give substance to the immense hope raised by plans put forward by his movement, which led to his election victory.

The statement was as much an assurance to the Senegalese people as it was for the West African nation’s development partners.

“I pledge to govern with humility and transparency, and to fight corruption at all levels,” Mr Faye said, adding: “I pledge to devote myself fully to rebuilding our institutions.”

In order for him to achieve all this, the president-elect must step on some toes. And the challenge is that many of these toes belong to people outside his party, who aided his bid to the presidency.

They include political parties who just wanted to see the back of outgoing President Macky Sall’s Alliance pour la République (APR) party.

A notable one of these is Karim Wade’s Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), which threw their support behind him at the last minutes to the election.

Mr Wade has a bad reputation of accountability during the 12-year rule of his father, Abdoulaye Wade, founder of the PDS.

Mr Faye, a lawyer by training, graduated from Senegal’s National School of Administration in 2004, then became a tax inspector. It was there that he met his political mentor, Ousamane Sonko, who made his name among Senegalese youth through his tough stance against corruption in tax administration.

Mr Faye would later join Pastef, formed and headed by Mr Sonko. He would eventually rise to the rank of secretary-general of the party in 2021.

Pastef was at the heart of the political unrest that marred President Sall’s second term, beginning in 2019, due to their anti-establishment stance that galvanised Senegal’s mainly youthful population. his is what led to their incarceration for separate offences.

Sonko’s endorsement of his former deputy in the run-up to the delayed election was crucial, but a little short on rabble-rousing emotion.

“My choice of Diomaye is not a choice from the heart, but from reason. I chose him because he meets the criteria that I have defined. He is competent and has attended the most prestigious school in Senegal,” Sonko said in a video message.

“No one can say he is not honest. I would even say that he is more honest than me. I entrust the project into his hands,” Sonko said.

According to Faye’s biography on his campaign website, he was often the top of his class growing up. He graduated from high school on Senegal’s southern coast in 2000, then studied law and got a master’s degree from Dakar’s Cheikh Anta Diop University.

In 2004, the devout Muslim passed the competitive entrance exam to Senegal’s National School of Administration which trains the former French colony’s top civil servants, where he specialised as a tax inspector.

He was arrested in April 2023, a few months before Sonko was also held, and charged with contempt of court and defaming magistrates, charges Faye had denied. Crucially, unlike Sonko, he was not barred from running in elections.

The election came after months of unrest sparked by the decision of President Sall to reschedule it. The initial date was February 25.

The publication of the candidates list sparked allegations of corruption within the Constitutional Council, prompting President Sall’s move, which he claimed was necessitated by his desire to prevent crisis after the election. But his decision ended up creating the crisis he claimed he wanted to avoid.

Scores of people were killed and dozens of others arrested and jailed, among them Mr Faye and Mr Sonko.

When Mr Sonko was dropped from the list of candidates, Pastef, which was outlawed, selected Mr Faye as Plan B.

A lot of the credit of his victory in last weekend’s election goes to Mr Sonko, who campaigned vigorously for his protégé.

A lot of the views expressed by Mr Faye are believed to have emanated from Mr Sonko.

Concerns, therefore, abound about the potential of the two men falling out, given the influence of Mr Sonko.

In his address on Monday, Mr Faye paid tribute to Mr Sonko, but made no mention of his role in the new government, something everyone in Senegal appears eager to hear about.

The new president also spoke about rebuilding “our institutions,” echoing President Sall’s APR slogan, which was a statement promise to place the motherland before the party’s interest. To many Senegalese, the outgoing president went against that slogan.

But Mr Faye seems intent on being true to his words, at least for now. Reports on Tuesday indicated that he had resigned his positions in all bodies within Pastef. His stepping aside from its decision-making bodies augurs well for pro-democracy and accountability campaigners who see it as a much needed separation of party from the state machinery.

If he keeps his word, it would mean ridding the financial registers of all political party activists and other vested interests.

President Sall was accused by his critics of reneging on his promise to fight corruption and the impunity from which certain people close to his regime benefited. Therefore, some Senegalese are concerned that Mr Faye’s declaration of reconciliation in his speech should not be a sorting exercise that only creates sacred cows.

As for his relations with Sonko, it is certain to suffer if he goes against what the political godfather has espoused all these years.

Convinced that Sonko’s detention and the banning of Pastef were part of a ploy by President Sall’s government to eliminate strong rivals from the election - all accusations rejected by the government — several party members including Faye put their names forward.

Zambia Sighs in Debt Deal: Is it Relief or New Bondage?


Zambia's President Hakainde Hichilema. 


Zambia’s historic agreement with its creditors to restructure its $3.5 billion Eurobond has come as a huge sigh of relief to the Southern African country that has had a long-drawn debt crisis.

Either that or it could only delay a bigger crisis in future.

President Hakainde Hichilema announced this week that an agreement was reached under the G20 Common Framework, lifting a key hurdle in his government’s push to restructure the country’s $18.6 billion external debt.

The debt restructuring negotiations have been held back by differences between China and Western creditors.

Zambia’s Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane described the agreement with the Eurobond holders as a “major milestone all have been looking forward to.”

The new deal will see bondholders forgoing about $840 million of their claims, compared with $700 million under the initial agreement that was reached in November 2023, but was rejected by China.

Bondholders also agreed to extend payment dates and provide relief, which will enable Zambia to continue receiving funds under a $1.3 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme.

The World Bank said the new deal “meets comparability of treatment requirements” and was a major milestone for Zambia towards restoring debt sustainability.

“The World Bank welcomes the agreement between the government of the Republic of Zambia and bondholders on the terms for restructuring Zambia’s Eurobonds,” the Bank said in a statement.

“This follows the agreement Zambia reached in 2023 with the official bilateral creditors. The Official Creditor Committee has confirmed that the agreement meets comparability of treatment requirements. The terms are consistent with the parameters of the Joint World Bank-International Monetary Fund Debt Sustainability Framework.

“To finalise the debt restructuring process, other commercial creditors must now agree to restructure debt on terms that are comparable to those offered by bondholders and official bilateral creditors. Zambia’s agreement on the terms of debt restructuring with Eurobond holders represents a critical milestone toward restoring debt sustainability.”

The Bretton Woods institution said the completion of negotiations with other commercial creditors will bring a final resolution to Zambia’s debt crisis. This will help Zambia attract new investments, accelerate growth, generate jobs, and respond to urgent priorities, such as the ongoing drought,” it added.

Zambia’s next hurdle in its efforts to move from debt distress is to agree on terms with commercial creditors, who include two Chinese state-owned banks.

Lusaka owed the China Development Bank $469 million as of June 2023 and the China Industrial Commercial Bank of China $461 million.

Observers say Zambia’s deal could give hope to other African countries like Ghana that are clamouring for debt restructuring.

“We will see how Zambia does it in the next three to five years,” an analyst told Global Capital. “There is optimism, but maybe Zambia is back here again.”

The Rane Network, a geopolitics intelligence solutions provider, said the Eurobond agreement did not only provide a glimmer of hope for the Zambian economy, but also gave confidence to countries such as Ghana and Ethiopia who are engaged in debt restructuring talks.

“Following Zambia’s agreement with Eurobond holders, a deal with commercial lenders is the only outstanding agreement Zambia must reach to secure compliance with its $1.3 billion International Monetary Fund relief programme,” the Rane Network said in its analysis of the deal.

“The Eurobond agreement will also buttress investor confidence in Zambia, potentially materialising through an increase in foreign investments as well as strengthening of the kwacha, the country’s national currency. More broadly, the March 25 agreement marks the first success of the G20 Common Framework, suggesting that Ghana and Ethiopia could also make further progress regarding debt restructuring talks under the framework in the coming months.”

Zambia acquired most of the Chinese loans during the reign of former president Edgar Lungu, whose government embarked on massive infrastructure projects bankrolled by Beijing.

In 2020, Zambia became the first African country to default on its debt repayments during the Covid-19 era.

President Hichilema, who took over from Mr Lungu in 2021, has been pushing creditors to restructure their debt to help kick-start the country’s copper-reliant economy.

Soon after coming into power, he cancelled $1.6 billion yet-to-be-disbursed loans from the China Exim Bank and Industrial Commercial Bank of China to help Zambia manage its debt.

The cancellation forced the country to halt the construction of several roads and information and technology projects funded by Chinese lenders.

Start-up Closures and Scalebacks Leave Trail of Job Losses in Africa


An office worker walking with a box full of personal stuff after losing his job. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK


A record 20 start-ups closed down across Africa last year, and many more scaled back operations due to a general funding drought that impacted many countries on the continent, leaving a trail of job losses.

Last year, the amount of funding raised by start-ups on the continent declined by 31 percent to about $4.5 billion, from the $6.5 billion raised in 2022, which significantly impacted cash flows for budding companies.

According to the African Venture Capital Association (AVCA), a number of start-ups, which had previously raised significant amount of funding from investors, last year closed down after failing to raise follow-up funding rounds.

“This funding drought led several early-stage companies to either significantly downscale operations or shutter completely,” said AVCA in its latest Venture Capital Activity in Africa Report.

“Reasons for their ultimate death range from a lack of working capital after failing to raise follow-on funding rounds, difficulties establishing sufficient and sustainable market penetration, and allegations of corporate governance misconduct against founders.”

In Kenya, where start-up funding defied the global drought to post a significant increment, at least five firms which have each raised over $1 million in funding in the past, either shut down or scaled back, after failing to raise additional funding.

Among them is logistics firm Sendy, which boomed during the pandemic peak after raising $20 million in follow-up financing in January 2020. After shutting down its retail and supplier platform in late 2022, the firm last year was put under administration after defaulting on its debts.

Another one, Zumi, which was a business-to-business e-commerce platform, also shut down in March 2023, after failing to secure follow-up funding to continue its operations.

Besides those that closed down, others also reduced their operations, laying off up to 30 percent of their workforce, as was the case with Twiga Foods, which is also currently struggling to keep up with its debt obligation with some of its creditors wanting it liquidated.

Nairobi-based e-commerce platform Copia, which, after raising over $123 million in funding, expanded into Uganda, suspended its operations in Kampala, laying off its staff there.

Across Africa, thousands of people are estimated to have lost their jobs in the wave of start-up closures and scale-backs last year, mostly in the top four start-up markets on the continent – Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt and South Africa.

Nigeria had the most casualties, with at least eight start-ups, including genomics firm 54gene, crypto exchange platform Bundle Africa and web3 firm Lazerpay, folding, and several others downscaling.

“These strategic retreats and hard pivots for growth-focused ventures triggered a series of mass job cuts which resulted in over 1,000 layoffs across the continent in 2023,” says AVCA.

“Should the lack of liquidity and present market challenges persist, founders may be forced to make tougher, strategic decisions in order to remain afloat and prioritise profit.”

There was an overall slump in start-up funding last year, as high inflation and high interest rates in the US dis-incentivising investment in budding companies in Africa and across the globe.

The number of young companies sent into the graveyard may continue to increase this year, should the funding drought continue on a downward trajectory, according to AVCA’s prediction.

Meanwhile, the era of foreign nationals dominating the African innovation scene, may be coming to a close as majority of start-ups that receive investor funding to solve problems on the continent are founded purely by Africans.

Latest data by startup funding tracker Disrupt Africa shows that last year, 86.7 per cent of the start-ups that raised money from different investors had only African founders, while those consisting of only expatriate founders had dwindled down to just 4.2 percent.

Start-ups that have a mix of local and foreign co-founders accounted for just 9.1 per cent last year, an indication that investors now have more confidence in start-ups with only local faces.

“The issue around non-African founders securing funding in Africa is well-documented, but is increasingly becoming less relevant,” said Disrupt Africa in its latest African Tech Start-up Funding Report.

Indeed, about four years ago, start-ups with only local faces found it harder to raise funding from both local and international investors, while those with expatriates, especially white or Asian, could easily raise funds even to solve non-existent problems.

In 2019, a majority of the start-ups domiciled in different African countries that raised over $1 million in funding were founded by foreigners, as local-led firms got the least investments.

In Kenya, 65 percent of the funded start-ups that received funding were started by expatriates, and 24 percent had both local and foreigners as co-founders, with only 11 percent being purely locally led ventures, analysis by Nairobi-based venture capital Viktoria Ventures shows.

Across the continent, 45 percent of all start-ups that received funding in 2019 had foreign founders, while only 32 percent had any local co-founders in their boards, but this has now changed.

By 2022, about 94.8 percent of the funded start-ups in Africa had at least one local co-founder, with the majority being founded by only Africans.

Last year, the number improved to 95.8 percent, meaning expatriate-founded firms in Africa have fallen to less than five percent, from 45 per cent in 2019.

Previously, experts argued that the African start-up scene was dominated by foreigners because most of the funding also came from foreigners, with local investors accounting for just a minority of capital financing for start-ups.

“Finances are traditionally more available in the more developed markets, so it’s only logical that they’ll give them to the people who can convince them the most,” Flocash founder Sirak Mussie told The EastAfrican in an earlier interview.

According to the AVCA, from 2014 to 2020, 40 percent of start-up investors hailed from North America, mostly the United States and 25 percent from Europe, while only 18.6 percent were based in Africa.

By last year, the number of investors within Africa had risen to 29.4 percent, while start-up investors from North America and Europe now account for 31 percent and 22 percent respectively.

This shows that while the majority of investors are still from outside the continent, more African investors have cropped up, narrowing the gap that previously existed.

US Urges UN Security Council Action to Get Aid into Sudan from Chad


A Sudanese family who fled the conflict in Murnei in Sudan's Darfur region, sit beside their belongings while waiting to be registered by UNHCR upon crossing the border between Sudan and Chad in Adre, Chad on July 26, 2023. 

 The United States warned on Thursday that it would push the UN Security Council to take action to get aid to starving people in Sudan, possibly by authorising cross-border deliveries from Chad, if the Sudanese armed forces do not restore full access.

Ahead of the one-year anniversary of the conflict in Sudan, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the warring parties had both undermined aid operations and ignored a Security Council call for an immediate cessation of hostilities.

"The situation in Sudan remains catastrophic and it is only getting worse," she told reporters.

"People are starving."

War erupted in Sudan on April 15, 2023, between the Sudanese army (Saf) and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The UN says nearly 25 million people - half Sudan's population - need aid, some 8 million have fled their homes and nearly 5 million could suffer catastrophic hunger in the coming months.

Thomas-Greenfield accused the Saf of impeding aid from Chad into Sudan's Darfur region - controlled by the rival RSF - and describing it as "literally a matter of life and death."

"At the Zamzam camp in North Darfur a child dies every two hours. Experts warn that in the coming weeks and months over 200,000 more children could starve to death," she said, calling on the Saf to immediately fully reopen the border.

"Should they not, the Security Council must take swift action to ensure lifesaving aid is delivered and distributed, including - if necessary - through a cross-border mechanism," Thomas-Greenfield said.

The Security Council has authorised such an operation before - for nine years it allowed the delivery of humanitarian aid from neighboring countries to millions of people largely in opposition-held areas of Syria.

The United States says the warring parties in Sudan have committed war crimes. Washington is eyeing April 18 for a possible resumption of peace talks on Sudan in Saudi Arabia, US Special Envoy for Sudan Tom Perriello said on Tuesday.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 people were killed in one city alone in Sudan's West Darfur region last year in ethnic violence by the RSF and allied Arab militia, according to a UN sanction monitors report seen by Reuters in January.

Ethiopia Repatriates 70,000 Nationals from Saudi Arabia


A fiber boat with migrants arriving at the port of Arguineguin, on the island of Gran Canaria, Spain on February 8, 2024.


Ethiopia has opted to take back thousands of its nationals who had been living in squalid conditions in Saudi Arabia. The decision was announced last week in Addis Ababa but will actually begin in early April, targeting some 70,000 Ethiopians.

It may be the noblest thing to do in rescuing its stranded citizens, but it poses a humanitarian problem to a country struggling with displacement of populations by local conflicts and from neighbouring countries.

State Minister Birtukan Ayano said the repatriation, the third such programme since 2018, will target “Ethiopians who are in a difficult situation”.

It will not be cheap. Although the government in Addis did not formally announce the actual cost of the programme, Ms Birtukan said “necessary budget, logistics and shelters should be prepared for the returnees”.

Tayba Hassan, director-general of Refugees and Returnees, the Ethiopian agency charged with managing displacement in the country, said regional administrations are expected to ensure the returnees resettle in their native home areas. Ethiopia has in the past relied on donors to resettle nationals rescued from squalor abroad.

Julieta Valls Noyes, US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, visited Ethiopia. Ideally, the US and other donors expect Ethiopia to provide “critical support” to the displaced, especially from neighbouring Sudan, where war has raged since April last year.

“It was shared poverty and shared humanity. And I thought that that was an excellent way of describing how both Chad and, for that matter, Ethiopia are responding to their respective refugee situations,” Ms Noyes told a virtual press briefing on Tuesday, visiting Ethiopia and Chad, two of the Sudanese refugees host countries.

The US has been the biggest donor for humanitarian services in Ethiopia. In 2023, it sent $1 billion to Addis, mostly via the World Food Programme and Unicef. It has sent in some $89 million so far this year “to provide life-saving support for refugees, asylum seekers, the internally displaced people …and others who are affected by conflict, drought, food instability.”

Ethiopia is hosting 50,000 Sudanese refugees who fled their country over the last 11 months.

Ethiopia currently hosts about 917,000 refugees from neighbouring countries and four million internally displaced persons from its own conflicts and environmental hardships, according to the Ethiopian Refugees and Returnees Service (RRS). Its refugees come from Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Eritrea.

There have been funding cuts meant for these groups, however. On March 22, RRS and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) gathered stakeholders in Addis Ababa “with the intent to reach common understanding on the rising fund cut for the refugee operation in Ethiopia and to stand together to respond to the crises thereon.”

They said they were “urging partners and donors to contribute the much-needed fund to respond to the burning needs of refugees and asylum seekers.”

With over 4 million internally displaced people, including those who fled Tigray during the internal war and haven’t returned, Addis Ababa’s repatriation of 70,000 people will mean they add to the budgetary constraints of resettling them. That resettlement has been delayed, for Tigray, especially since the infrastructure that was destroyed during the war (which ended in November 2022) has yet to be rebuilt.

At the end of that war between Ethiopian forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), conservative estimates had showed Ethiopia will need at least $1 billion to repair the damages in Tigray. After Tigray, however, new security challenges have since emerged in neighbouring Amhara and the Oromo regions as the government battles militia. More people were displaced.

According to a dispatch from the Ethiopian government, repatriation expenses will include flight tickets, temporary holding at transition centres in Addis Ababa, fare to travel back to their native regions and some money to restart life.

In 2021, Ethiopia said it was providing 45 million birr ($180,000) to 30,000 returnees to enable them move from Addis Ababa to their homes. When the first such programme began in 2018 to return stranded nationals, Ethiopia spoke of Sustainable Reintegration support to Ethiopians, especially those returning from Europe.

Known as SRSERE, it was a three-year project of worth $16.18 million and funded by the European Union.

In March 2022, Ethiopia had struck a deal with Saudi Arabia to repatriate more than 100,000 Ethiopians. It followed rights groups’ accusations of Saudi Arabia that it was mistreating foreign labourers.

In this new programme, Ethiopia didn’t clarify whether the returnees had been in Saudi Arabia illegally. But an earlier assessment by the International Organisation for Migration, which has been involved in past repatriation, showed most of them unemployed or in irregular unskilled work.

“Along the Eastern Route, most movements from Ethiopia to Saudi Arabia are believed to be irregular, economically driven and highly risky, with the Ethiopian Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs suggesting a ratio of around 2:3 between movements through irregular channels and those through regular channels,” an IOM bulletin said of the trends in Ethiopia.

“However, these movements tend to be temporary, meaning that most migrants return to Ethiopia after a few years abroad,” says IOM.

The repatriation includes flights to Addis Ababa from Saudi Arabia, electronic registration and temporary holding to await transfer back to their villages. It also includes some kind of counselling, temporary access to meals and medical assistance. The programme has in the past fallen short, however.

“Given this sudden and unprepared forced repatriation, the reintegration of Ethiopian returnees has been painfully slow and largely unaddressed,” IOM said of the previous programmes.

“Most returnees face severe difficulties in reintegrating, as they return empty-handed because they used their earnings for living expenses and remittances.”

Last year, IOM helped 42,000 of them return to Ethiopia. It helped over 92,000 in 2022.

Seven Parties Back President Kagame for Fourth Term


Rwanda's President Paul Kagame talks during an interview in Kigali, Rwanda on September 6, 2020.


Two of the oldest and political parties in Rwanda, Liberal Party (PL), and the Social Democratic Party (PSD), have endorsed the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) candidate Paul Kagame in the July presidential race.

The two join four smaller political parties, which are already in a coalition with the ruling RPF — Ideal Democratic Party (PDI), Democratic Union of the Rwandan People’s Party (UDPR), Prosperity and Solidarity Party (PSP) and Rwandan Socialist Party (PSR) — in endorsing Kagame.

PL and PSD are historically allied to the ruling party, and their leaders have served in different government positions. For example, president of Liberal Party Donatille Mukabalisa is also the Speaker of Parliament.

“We endorse President Kagame in developing different sectors such as agriculture, education, health, and security,” Mr Mukabalisa said.

While announcing his party’s endorsement of Kagame, Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta, the PSD president, said: “It is a good thing that President Kagame acknowledges and considers ideas from other political parties.”

Formed in 1991, a year after RPA, the military wing of RPF had launched a military war against President Juvenal Habyarimana’s government, PSD has enjoyed a healthy alliance with RPF.

Both PL and PSD have had four chances of fielding presidential candidates, in 2003, 2010, 2017 and 2024.

Prosper Higiro contested for president in 2010 on the PL ticket while PSD nominated Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo as its presidential candidate.

President Kagame garnered 93.08 percent of the vote, with Ntawukuriryayo getting 5.5 percent, and PL’s Higiro having 1.3 percent.

They both conceded defeat and continue to work with the government.

A PL member heads Parliament, while a PSD leader heads Senate.

After Habyarimana’s government was arm-twisted into allowing the return of the multiparty system in 1991, PSD and PL were some of the political parties that were formed.

These new parties exerted internal pressure on the ruling MRND party to further open up the political space, and to provide for the rule of law and advancement of democracy and human rights in the country.

According to Tito Rutaremara, one of the founding members of RPF, it helped their cause that there were political parties that exerted political pressure from inside the country.

“Although we were putting external military pressure on Habyarimana’s government, it was important that there is internal pressure from political parties opposed to the ruling party and government, and parties like PSD and PL served this role,” he said.

Rutaramera said that RPF remained in touch with opposition politicians in the country.

“Seth Sendashonga was always in touch with the politicians in the country, some of whom were PSD party leaders.”

Some sources say that RPF was even bankrolling PSD at the time.

The parties, which were young and weak at the time, later succumbed to machinations of Habyarimana and his MRND party and couldn’t sustain the pressure, especially after some of their leaders were bought or beaten into silence, according to Rutaremara.

After capturing power and stopping the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, these parties that didn’t participate in the genocide were included in the new government of national unity.

Analysts critical of this brand of alliance politics that has characterised Rwanda in the past two decades say the weaker parties are in it for political survival.

“The primary goal of every political party, big or small, should be to a quest for political power, or at least to influence politics with its ideas and ideology, but all we have are parties that have forfeited these. Rwandans deserve opposition parties with agency to challenge the ruling party, someone to do checks and balances, not cheer-leaders,” said a commentator who requested anonymity.

In its manifesto for this year’s elections, PSD is proposing the extension of military service for girls and boys who have completed secondary education, starting from the age of 18, and to include additional training beyond one year in military service while continuing their education.

Musa Fazil Harerimana, a senator and president of PDI, said the reason his party continues to endorse Kagam is that he puts the needs and interests of all Rwandans ahead of everything else, and because of his relentless pursuit of unity of Rwandans, protection of the country’s sovereignty, development and democracy.

Pie Nizeyimana, spokesperson of the Forum for Political Parties in Rwanda, said everything the parties are doing is within their democratic rights.

“By backing the RPF candidate the parties are exercising their freedoms and democratic rights. They have a right to front a candidate in their party, back candidates from other parties, or even form coalitions,” he said.

The EU Plans to Fast-track Some Financial Aid to Egypt. The Usual Funding Safeguards Will Not Apply


12:12 PM EDT, March 29, 2024

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union intends to fast-track some of its aid money to Egypt using an urgent funding procedure that bypasses parliamentary oversight and other safeguards, according to the president of the bloc’s executive branch.

The 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) intended for this is part of a larger package of 7.4 billion euros ($8 billion) in financial assistance to the North African country that the EU announced on March 17.

Egypt has for years relied on cash handouts, often from wealthy Gulf Arab states, as concerns mount that economic pressure and regional conflicts could drive more migrants from the region to Europe’s shores.

The EU package includes three year’s worth of grants and favorable loans for the Arab world’s most populous country. Most of the funds — 5 billion euros ($5.4 billion) — are known as macro-financial assistance, or MFA, and would be paid directly to Egypt’s Central Bank.

It’s rare for the EU to sidestep safeguards, but European Parliament elections are due June 6-9 — a timeline that if the checks were implemented, would slow the delivery of that money. 

With those polls in mind, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced plans for “an urgent MFA operation for up to 1 billion euros” for Egypt, noting in a letter to EU Parliament President Roberta Metsola the country’s “rapidly deteriorating economic and fiscal situation.”

The letter, seen by The Associated Press, preceded the announcement of the deal with Egypt.

Von der Leyen blamed “a very large exposure to the economic effects of Russia ’s full-scale war of aggression on Ukraine, the wars in Gaza and Sudan, and the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea,” and said it was “imperative to make sure that a first significant contribution” would get to Egypt by the end of 2024.

To do so, the commission would employ a seldom-used part of the EU treaties, Article 213, which stipulates that the 27 member countries must endorse the funds — but not the parliament, the bloc’s only democratically elected institution.

Not even when COVID-19 spread in 2020 and the EU bailed out governments from the Balkans to the Middle East was this path taken. Nor is it used to keep Ukraine’s war-shattered economy afloat, although Kyiv did benefit from it a decade ago, when Russia annexed Crimea and hiked natural gas prices.

Apart from removing the need for parliamentary oversight, the urgent funding procedure also sidesteps a requirement for an impact assessment on the effects of the assistance.

Von der Leyen said the new parliament that will be formed after the EU elections would be “fully involved” in the remaining 4 billion euros ($4.3 billion) of MFAs to Egypt, to be disbursed when Cairo agrees to implement “more comprehensive” reforms.

The deal also includes a 1.8 billion euro ($1.9 billion) investment plan and 600 million euros ($647 million) in loans, including at least 200 million euros ($217 million) that will go to Egypt for “migration management.”

The fast-track money would inject much-needed funds into the Egyptian economy, which has been hit hard by years of government austerity, the coronavirus pandemic, the fallout from Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and most recently, the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

Usually, MFAs are meant for governments with dire economic woes and to encourage them to introduce reforms. Yet the commission acknowledges that Egypt is “sluggish” on policy revision and already has a “backlog of domestic reforms” to address.

Migration is a key factor driving the EU-Egypt deal. As in previous years, it will be an election issue in the EU and mainstream parties want to keep arrivals down to deprive the far-right of campaign fuel.

The deal in Cairo came just weeks after a pact was sealed with Mauritania involving money to help the country — a major transit hub for people moving through Africa toward Europe — beef up border security.

A more substantial agreement was clinched with Tunisia last July, expanding on a model the bloc developed with Turkey in 2015 to stop migrants reaching Europe.

While the Egyptian coast has not been a key launching pad for human traffickers sending overcrowded boats across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, Egypt faces migratory pressures from the region, with the added looming threat that the Israel-Hamas war could spill across its borders.

The commission, asked by the AP what conditions Egypt should respect to receive urgent funding, said that “relevant and feasible reform priorities would need (to) be selected taking into account the corresponding time horizon.”

The commission’s website says macro-financial assistance must be “exceptional in nature” and that “a pre-condition for granting MFA is the respect of human rights and effective democratic mechanisms.”

Amnesty International has implored the EU to put rights abuses at the center of relations with Egypt — and the commission concedes that “human rights challenges in Egypt remain significant.”

Still, the EU’s executive branch maintains that “the political leadership in Egypt has taken several steps putting greater emphasis on the importance of the respect for human rights” in recent years.

Earlier this month, Egypt floated its currency and announced a deal with the International Monetary Fund to increase its bailout loan from $3 billion to $8 billion, moving to shore up an economy hit by a staggering shortage of foreign currency and soaring inflation.

Cairo’s coffers will also be replenished with $35 billion from a massive project involving an Emirati consortium to jointly develop the Mediterranean city of Ras el-Hekma.

Since coming to power in 2013, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has relied heavily on Gulf Arab states, from where an estimated more than $100 billion entered Egypt via Central Bank deposits, fuel aid and other support

Extreme Drought in Southern Africa Leaves Millions Hungry

James Tshuma, a farmer in Mangwe district in southwestern Zimbabwe, stands in the middle of his dried up crop field amid a drought in Zimbabwe, Friday, March, 22, 2024. A new drought has left millions facing hunger in southern Africa as they experience the effects of extreme weather that scientists say is becoming more frequent and more damaging. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)


3:32 AM EDT, March 31, 2024

MANGWE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Delicately and with intense concentration, Zanyiwe Ncube poured her small share of precious golden cooking oil into a plastic bottle at a food aid distribution site deep in rural Zimbabwe.

“I don’t want to lose a single drop,” she said.

Her relief at the handout — paid for by the United States government as her southern African country deals with a severe drought — was tempered when aid workers gently broke the news that this would be their last visit.

USAID and the United Nations’ World Food Programme aim to help some of the 2.7 million people in rural Zimbabwe threatened with hunger because of the drought that has enveloped large parts of southern Africa since late last year. (March 31) (AP Video/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi and Kenneth Jali)

Ncube and her 7-month-old son she carried on her back were among 2,000 people who received rations of cooking oil, sorghum, peas and other supplies in the Mangwe district in southwestern Zimbabwe. The food distribution is part of a program funded by American aid agency USAID and rolled out by the United Nations’ World Food Programme.

They’re aiming to help some of the 2.7 million people in rural Zimbabwe threatened with hunger because of the drought that has enveloped large parts of southern Africa since late 2023. It has scorched the crops that tens of millions of people grow themselves and rely on to survive, helped by what should be the rainy season.

They can rely on their crops and the weather less and less.

The drought in Zimbabwe, neighboring Zambia and Malawi has reached crisis levels. Zambia and Malawi have declared national disasters. Zimbabwe could be on the brink of doing the same. The drought has reached Botswana and Angola to the west, and Mozambique and Madagascar to the east.

A year ago, much of this region was drenched by deadly tropical storms and floods. It is in the midst of a vicious weather cycle: too much rain, then not enough. It’s a story of the climate extremes that scientists say are becoming more frequent and more damaging, especially for the world’s most vulnerable people.

In Mangwe, the young and the old lined up for food, some with donkey carts to carry home whatever they might get, others with wheelbarrows. Those waiting their turn sat on the dusty ground. Nearby, a goat tried its luck with a nibble on a thorny, scraggly bush.

Ncube, 39, would normally be harvesting her crops now — food for her, her two children and a niece she also looks after. Maybe there would even be a little extra to sell.

The driest February in Zimbabwe in her lifetime, according to the World Food Programme’s seasonal monitor, put an end to that.

“We have nothing in the fields, not a single grain,” she said. “Everything has been burnt (by the drought).”

The United Nations Children’s Fund says there are “overlapping crises” of extreme weather in eastern and southern Africa, with both regions lurching between storms and floods and heat and drought in the past year.

In southern Africa, an estimated 9 million people, half of them children, need help in Malawi. More than 6 million in Zambia, 3 million of them children, are impacted by the drought, UNICEF said. That’s nearly half of Malawi’s population and 30% of Zambia’s.

“Distressingly, extreme weather is expected to be the norm in eastern and southern Africa in the years to come,” said Eva Kadilli, UNICEF’s regional director.

While human-made climate change has spurred more erratic weather globally, there is something else parching southern Africa this year.

El Niño, the naturally occurring climatic phenomenon that warms parts of the Pacific Ocean every two to seven years, has varied effects on the world’s weather. In southern Africa, it means below-average rainfall, sometimes drought, and is being blamed for the current situation.

The impact is more severe for those in Mangwe, where it’s notoriously arid. People grow the cereal grain sorghum and pearl millet, crops that are drought resistant and offer a chance at harvests, but even they failed to withstand the conditions this year.

Francesca Erdelmann, the World Food Programme’s country director for Zimbabwe, said last year’s harvest was bad, but this season is even worse. “This is not a normal circumstance,” she said.

The first few months of the year are traditionally the “lean months” when households run short as they wait for the new harvest. However, there is little hope for replenishment this year.

Joseph Nleya, a 77-year-old traditional leader in Mangwe, said he doesn’t remember it being this hot, this dry, this desperate. “Dams have no water, riverbeds are dry and boreholes are few. We were relying on wild fruits, but they have also dried up,” he said.

People are illegally crossing into Botswana to search for food and “hunger is turning otherwise hard-working people into criminals,” he added.

Multiple aid agencies warned last year of the impending disaster.

Since then, Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema has said that 1 million of the 2.2 million hectares of his country’s staple corn crop have been destroyed. Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera has appealed for $200 million in humanitarian assistance.

The 2.7 million struggling in rural Zimbabwe is not even the full picture. A nationwide crop assessment is underway and authorities are dreading the results, with the number needing help likely to skyrocket, said the WFP’s Erdelmann.

With this year’s harvest a write-off, millions in Zimbabwe, southern Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar won’t be able to feed themselves well into 2025. USAID’s Famine Early Warning System estimated that 20 million people would require food relief in southern Africa in the first few months of 2024.

Many won’t get that help, as aid agencies also have limited resources amid a global hunger crisis and a cut in humanitarian funding by governments.

As the WFP officials made their last visit to Mangwe, Ncube was already calculating how long the food might last her. She said she hoped it would be long enough to avert her greatest fear: that her youngest child would slip into malnutrition even before his first birthday.


Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa.

Decision to End Gaza War Lies in Washington's Hands: Hamas Official

By Al Mayadeen English

The Hamas representative in Lebanon says the US shares the same objective with the Israeli occupation, which is to eliminate the Resistance in Gaza.

Hamas representative in Lebanon, Ahmad Abdel Hadi, affirmed Saturday evening that the indirect negotiations between the Palestinian Resistance and "Israel" clearly showed that the occupation entity has no intention to achieve any deal.

Abdel Hadi told Al Mayadeen that the Resistance aims to reach an agreement leading to the cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of the Israeli occupation forces from Gaza, and the reconstruction of the enclave.

He emphasized that the Palestinian people prioritize confronting aggression, showing resilience, and achieving victory in this war.

Touching on negotiations over a prisoner exchange deal, the Hamas official pointed out that the Resistance has shown tangible flexibility but has not received guarantees from the Israeli occupation regarding the cessation of hostilities. He stressed that the Resistance will not conclude any deal without these guarantees.

Abdel Hadi reiterated that the decision to end the war on Gaza rests in Washington's hands, which sponsors the wars of extermination and starvation against the Palestinian people.

The Palestinian official highlighted that the United States shares the same objectives with the Israeli occupation, which are to eliminate the Resistance and find an alternative from within Gaza.

He noted that the Israeli and American proposals are not a sincere effort to complete a deal but rather a maneuver, adding that "Israel" and the United States are not serious about reaching a deal.

Earlier on Saturday, Egyptian broadcaster Al Qahera News cited a security source in Egypt revealing that Egytian-Qatari mediated ceasefire talks between "Israel" and the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas will continue on March 31.

In recent months, several talks have taken place, but no conclusion has been reached so far as international mediators also attempted to reach a Ramadan ceasefire deal. 

Hezbollah Pours Burkan Rockets Against Israeli Sites, Assembly Points

By Al Mayadeen English

30 Mar 2024 22:42

The Islamic Resistance in Lebanon has conducted eight operations against 'Israel' in support of Palestine and in defense of Lebanon.

The Islamic Resistance in Lebanon - Hezbollah - announced on Saturday that its fighters carried out eight operations against Israeli occupation military sites and assembly points across the Lebanese-Palestinian border area in continued support of the Palestinian people in Gaza and their Resistance. 

Operations overview

1. At 01:20 a.m., the Islamic Resistance fighters targeted an Israeli occupation forces gathering and military vehicles in the al-Malekiya military site and its vicinity, using rocket weapons, and inflicted confirmed casualties

2. At 08:00 a.m., the Islamic Resistance fighters targeted the 'Ramim' barracks using a Bukran rocket, achieving a direct hit. 

3. At 12:15 p.m., the Islamic Resistance fighters targeted a building in the 'Admit' settlement where IOF soldiers were stationed, inflicting confirmed casualties. Hezbollah noted that the operation came as a response to the ongoing Israeli aggression against the resilient Lebanese villages, towns, and homes.

4. At 12:20 p.m., the Islamic Resistance's fighters targeted the 'Khirbet Maer' military base using rocket weapons. 

5. At 12:25 p.m., the Islamic Resistance's fighters targeted an IOF gathering in the Raheb site and its vicinity, using rocket weapons and artillery shelling, inflicting casualties. 

6. At 3:00 p.m., the Islamic Resistance fighters targeted the Radar military site in occupied Lebanese Shebaa Farms, using rocket weapons and achieving direct hits. 

7. At 3:30 p.m., the Islamic Resistance fighters launched a drone attack against the Israeli Southern Brigade Leadership military center, located in the 'Yaara' settlement, with a Bukran rocket, achieving direct hits. 

8. At 4:30 p.m., the Islamic Resistance fighters targeted the Ruwaisat al-Alam military site in Lebanese Kfar Chouba Heights, using a Bukran rocket and achieving a direct hit.

Hezbollah's strategic achievement in north: Israeli media

Israeli media reported on Friday that Hezbollah has evacuated occupied northern Palestine labeling it a strategic achievement completed through only little effort and at a reasonable price. 

The military affairs analyst at Israeli Channel 13, Alon Ben David, wondered about the possibility of restoring "safety" for settlers in northern occupied Palestine amid "Israel" not having any actual plan. 

He added that "Israel" can continue its back-and-forth attacks with Hezbollah, however, this will not pressure Hezbollah to push back. 

In a similar context, the military commentator on Israeli Channel 12, Nir Devuri, confirmed that Hezbollah's Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is leading the battle from the strategic end highlighting that Israeli settlers will not be going back to settlements in northern occupied Palestine. 

Debate About Ukrainian President’s Legitimacy May be Moot After May 20 — Lavrov

The top Russian diplomat also pointed to Zelensky’s decree banning him from holding talks with the Russian leadership

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Mikhail Tereshchenko/TASS

© Mikhail Tereshchenko/TASS

MOSCOW, March 28. /TASS/. Talk about Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s legitimacy may be moot after his term expires on May 20, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

"As for the May 20 deadline and what will happen on May 21, let’s wait and see. Perhaps, we won’t need to recognize anything," he said in an interview with the Izvestia daily.

Lavrov also pointed to Zelensky’s decree banning him from holding talks with the Russian leadership. According to the top diplomat, Russian President Vladimir Putin "has made numerous statements on the matter, highlighting our readiness to engage in serious negotiations." "However, in order to make sure that this process is taken seriously or at least ensure that there is hope for it to be serious, he told Zelensky’s Western sponsors: let him first revoke the decree. This issue has been brought up before," Lavrov noted.

Russia Won’t Take Part in Conference on Ukraine Mentioned by Kuleba — Diplomat

Maria Zakharova said that Vladimir Zelensky's "formula is nothing but alchemy"

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service/TASS

© Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service/TASS

MOSCOW, March 29. /TASS/. Russia does not intend to take part in the conference on Ukraine, the possibility of which was mentioned by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

Earlier, the top Ukrainian diplomat said that negotiations with Russia on the settlement of the armed conflict with Ukraine could take place between the first and second summits on Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky's "peace formula."

"Russia does not intend to participate in such a conference. Zelensky's formula is nothing but alchemy," the diplomat pointed out.

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, speaking via videoconference on the G20 summit in mid-November 2022, presented a so-called ten-point peace plan that does not take into account Moscow's position. In particular, it calls for the complete withdrawal of Russian forces from the 1991 borders and the return of control over the "exclusive economic zone" in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov to Ukraine. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted that Kiev's statements about a peaceful settlement were made without taking into account the existing realities. Moscow sees no progress in the peace process, so it continues the special military operation, he said.

Russian Forces Carried Out 58 Airstrikes, Including via Tsirkon Missiles, in 7 Days

All designated targets were hit

© Russian Defence Ministry/TASS

MOSCOW, March 30. /TASS/. The Russian Armed Forces carried out 1 massive and 57 precision strikes, including via Tsirkon cruise and Kinzhal air-launched hypersonic ballistic missiles, in the past 7 days, the Russian Defense Ministry reported.

According to the Ministry, missile and drone strikes hit Ukrainian military industrial complex, Armed Forces and Security Service (SBU) decision-making centers, unmanned speedboat assembly shops, arsenals, fuel depots, air defense objects, energy infrastructure and temporary deployment locations for special operations forces and foreign mercenaries.

All designated targets were hit, the Ministry added.

Avdeyevka direction

Ukrainian forces lost over 1,870 troops and 13 tanks in the Avdeyevka direction in the past week, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

"Over the past week, Ukrainian forces lost more than 1,870 troops, 13 tanks, 20 armored combat vehicles and 50 cars in that direction," the ministry said.

Also, 30 field artillery pieces, including five US-made M777 howitzers, a US-supplied M109 Paladin self-propelled artillery mount and a German-made Panzerhaubitze 2000 self-propelled howitzer as well as a Grad multiple rocket launcher were struck with counter-battery fire there, the ministry added.

Donetsk direction

Russian forces liberated the settlement of Krasnoye in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and repelled 12 Ukrainian counterattacks in the past week, with the enemy losing over 2,360 troops and 105 pieces of equipment, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

Among other enemy weapons, five tanks, 16 armored combat vehicles, and 23 field artillery pieces, including 11 foreign-made ones, as well as 61 cars were destroyed.

Kherson direction

The Ukrainian armed forces lost over 370 troops and 5 M777 howitzers on the Kherson direction, the Russian Defense Ministry reported.

"The enemy lost over 370 troops, 2 tanks, 7 armored combat vehicles, 29 automobiles and 13 field artillery guns, including 5 US-made M777 howitzers," the Ministry said.

According to the Ministry, Battlegroup ‘Dnepr’ inflicted damage to personnel and vehicles of Ukraine’s 128th Mountain Assault Brigade, 28th, 65th and 118th Mechanized brigades, 35th Marine Brigade and three territorial defense brigades near Rabotino, Novosyolovka, Nesteryanka, Pyatikhatki (Zaporozhye Region), Ivanovka, Mikhaylovka, Gavrilovka and Tyaginka (Kherson Region).

Kupyansk direction

Over the past week, Russian forces repelled 11 enemy counterattacks in the Kupyansk direction, with Ukrainians losing roughly 310 troops and 46 pieces of equipment, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

In particular, the enemy lost two tanks, three armored combat vehicles, 22 cars, and 19 field artillery pieces, including two US-supplied howitzers, an M777 and an M198, and a French-made Caesar self-propelled howitzer, the ministry reported.

South Donetsk direction

Ukrainians sustained over 860 casualties and lost two Krab self-propelled howitzers and two British-supplied FH-70 howitzers in the south Donetsk direction.

"Enemy losses amounted to over 860 troops, four armored combat vehicles, 35 cars, and seven field artillery pieces, including two Polish-made Krab self-propelled howitzers and two British-supplied FH-70 howitzers," according to the report.

Ukrainian surrender

A total of 18 Ukrainian servicemen surrendered in the past seven days, the Russian Defense Ministry also said.

"During the past week, 18 Ukrainian servicemen surrendered," the Defense Ministry added

Rockets, missiles, drones

Over the past week, Russian air defenses and aircraft downed 171 Ukrainian MLRS projectiles, and 1,208 drones, as well as 11 British-supplied Storm Shadow missiles, three Neptune anti-ship missiles and four US-made ADM-160 MALD missiles.

In all, the Russian Armed Forces have destroyed 577 Ukrainian warplanes, 270 helicopters, 17,773 unmanned aerial vehicles, 489 surface-to-air missile systems, 15,644 tanks and other armored combat vehicles, 1,257 multiple rocket launchers, 8,582 field artillery guns and mortars and 20,381 special military motor vehicles since the start of the special military operation, the Russian Defense Ministry concluded.

French Lawmakers Condemn ‘Bloody and Murderous’ 1961 Massacre of Algerian Protesters

10:29 AM EDT, March 28, 2024

PARIS (AP) — French lawmakers on Thursday condemned an infamous 1961 police crackdown on Algerian protesters in Paris as a “bloody and murderous repression,” marking another step in the country’s recognition of the massacre that authorities sought to cover up for decades.

The National Assembly, parliament’s lower house, voted 67-11 in favor of a nonbinding resolution that condemned the police brutality that occurred on Oct. 17, 1961. The resolution also asked that France establish a national day of remembrance.

About 12,000 Algerians were arrested in the crackdown and dozens were killed, “their bodies thrown into the Seine River,” President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged in 2021 on the 60th anniversary of the massacre.

Historians say at least 120 protesters died, some shot and some drowned, Macron’s office said then.

The protesters in 1961 had answered a call for a peaceful demonstration by the French branch of the National Liberation Front, or FLN, which was fighting for Algerian independence, against a discriminatory nighttime curfew targeting Algerians in the Paris region.

Algeria was under French rule for 132 years until its independence in 1962.

Algeria’s Government Pushes Staples to Subsidized Markets to Stave off Ramadan Shortages

10:48 AM EDT, March 28, 2024

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algeria’s government has flooded newly opened markets selling subsidized goods with pantry staples to stave off shortages during Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, when demand typically increases in Muslim-majority countries and prices tend to rise.

Authorities have moved to increase food and fuel imports and also limit exports, hoping to meet the demands of Algerians preparing nightly feasts as their families break the sunrise-to-sunset fasting during Ramadan.

The policies mark a reversal of the government’s longstanding practice of limiting imports to buoy local producers in the oil-rich North African nation with a struggling economy.

At one state subsidized market in the country’s capital, Algiers, shopper Sofiane Ameri commended the government’s strategy for reining in prices.

“Prices are lower here,” he said. “It’s about 20% (less).”

Prices of red meat fluctuated during the first week of Ramadan, which started earlier this month, but later stabilized. Others, including many fruits and vegetables, stayed steady through the first week and spiked in the second, raising concern among the public.

With more than half of Ramadan behind them, officials are applauding their efforts to stabilize prices of products such as meat and avoid shortages.

“The availability of products in quantity and quality is a palpable reality across the country’s regions,” Commerce Minister Tayeb Zitouni said on public radio this week. “With reasonable prices, I am sure that has a positive effect on the citizens’ purchasing power.”

But while grocery stores in Algiers and other cities and towns are well-stocked, residents of mountain regions have taken to social media with worries about whether the imports can get to their markets.

“If residents of Algiers are gorging themselves on affordable red meat from Brazil, we in Tizi Ouzou aren’t seeing or tasting it,” said a posting on a popular Facebook group.

Olive oil, white flour and semolina — key staples in this Mediterranean country — have stayed available so far through Ramadan.

But the price of potatoes has gradually risen, much like peppers, green beans, peas, oranges and strawberries.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Girl, 8, Only Survivor of Bus Crash that Kills 45 Easter Pilgrims on South Africa’s Deadly Roads

A bus carrying worshippers on a long-distance trip from Botswana to an Easter church gathering in South Africa plunged off a bridge on a mountain pass Thursday. An 8-year-old child was the only survivor of the crash that killed at least 45. (AP Video: Nqobile Ntshangase)


8:51 PM EDT, March 29, 2024

MMAMATLAKALA, South Africa (AP) — An 8-year-old girl was the lone survivor after a bus full of pilgrims making their way to a popular Easter festival in rural South Africa slammed into a bridge on a mountain pass and plunged into a ravine before bursting into flames, killing all 45 others onboard.

It was a tragic reminder of how deadly South Africa’s roads become during the Easter period, when millions crisscross the country during the long holiday weekend. Authorities repeatedly warn motorists of the danger and had issued multiple messages urging caution just a day before Thursday’s horrific crash.

The girl somehow survived after the bus carrying worshippers from neighboring Botswana careened off the bridge, fell more than 150 feet (50 meters) and caught fire as it hit the rocks below, according to authorities.

The girl was in a stable condition in the hospital after being admitted with serious injuries and was “in safe hands,” an official with the local health department said Friday. Details of her injuries were not released.

Forensic investigators retrieved what they believed were 34 of the 45 bodies but couldn’t be certain of the exact number, reflecting the gruesome nature of the crash. Many of the victims trapped inside the bus were burned beyond recognition, authorities said.

Dr. Phophi Ramathuba, an official with the Limpopo provincial health department, said only nine of the bodies recovered were likely to be identifiable.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the victims, who appeared to all be from Botswana, were on their way to the rustic town of Moria in Limpopo province for the Easter weekend pilgrimage that attracts hundreds of thousands of followers of the Zion Christian Church.

The church has its headquarters in Moria and it was the first time the full pilgrimage was being held since the COVID-19 pandemic. Worshippers flocked to the small town which features a giant star — the church’s emblem — and the words “Zion City Moria” painted in white on a hillside.

The church was formed in South Africa in the early 1900s as a Christian denomination that also retains some African traditions. It has an estimated 7 million followers across the southern African region.

Ramathuba said South African authorities had asked church leaders from Botswana to come and help identify the victims.

Good Friday and Easter Monday are national holidays in South Africa and many of its neighbors, when millions travel into, out of and across the nation. For some South Africans, it’s a chance to return to their home towns and villages from jobs in the cities. Migrants also travel back to their home countries to see family. Some, like the pilgrims that died on Thursday, make religious trips.

Road travel can be treacherous; South Africa’s Road Traffic Management Corporation reported that 252 people died in road crashes between Holy Thursday and Easter Monday last year.

Authorities said it appeared the bus driver lost control and the vehicle slammed into the barriers along the side of the bridge and then went over the edge. The driver was among the dead.

South African Minister of Transport Sindisiwe Chikunga was in Limpopo province attending a road safety campaign when she was informed of the “devastating news” of the crash, according to the national Department of Traffic.

Ramathuba said she had been at an Easter prayer meeting when she was called to the crash scene on the Mmamatlakala bridge near the town of Mokopane, which is about 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of the South African capital, Pretoria.

“I attended the scene of the accident, but now our focus as the health department is on the brave little survivor. She is in safe hands in a hospital with experts looking after her,” Ramathuba told reporters. She declined to give details of the child’s injuries, but authorities released a photograph of the child lying in a hospital bed and being examined by a doctor.

Ramathuba also declined to say if the child’s parents or other family members were on the bus, saying authorities needed time to trace and inform families of the dead, who were mostly in Botswana.

Meanwhile, forensic investigators worked through the wreckage amid the rocks and steep cliffs. At least 11 bodies were believed still inside what was left of the charred bus, which was almost crushed flat.

“We were at the scene,” said local resident Simone Mayema, who said he was one of the first to arrive after the crash. “We tried to help (but) there was nothing we could do because there was flames.”


Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa.

A Tropical Cyclone Makes Landfall in Northern Madagascar, Killing 18 People

At least 11 people were reported killed after Cyclone Gamane made landfall into northern Madagascar, according to officials. (AP/Michaël Tsimpa)

10:50 AM EDT, March 29, 2024

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (AP) — A tropical cyclone that swept across Madagascar has killed 18 people and left four missing after making landfall on the north of the Indian Ocean island nation earlier this week, authorities said on Friday.

The storm has also caused severe flooding that partly submerged entire villages, displaced or affected some 47,000 people and set off landslides that injured three people, the National Office for Disaster Management said.

Cyclone Gamane hit northern Madagascar on Wednesday and has now weakened considerably, leaving a trail of destruction behind it.

In the Diana and Sava regions in the north, bridges and roads were washed away and houses and rice fields were submerged. Residents paddled around their villages in canoes looking to help others trapped in their homes as the water level nearly reached the roofs of some buildings.

The cyclone red alert was lifted on Thursday morning after the worst part of the storm brought wind gusts of over 210 kilometers per hour (130 miles per hour).

Madagascar has been hit by at least 10 strong tropical cyclones since the start of 2022 and is facing a hunger crisis in parts of the island, due to the damaging impact of extreme weather, according to the World Food Program.

The United Nations said the number of cyclones in the past two years is unprecedented for Madagascar, which has also suffered from its worst drought in 40 years in the south. It is one of the countries most at risk to climate change and one with the highest rates of poverty, according to the World Bank.

As Conflict Worsens in Eastern Congo, 2 Armed Groups Pledge to Respect Civilians

From left, Nduma Defense of Renewed Congo (NDR-C) President Jeremie N’Kuba, NDR-C spokesman Marcellin Shenkuku N’Kuba, Appel de Geneve general director Alain Deletroz and Collective of Movements for Change/Self-Defense Force of Congolese People (CMC-MDP) external relations Jimmy Butsitsi ink pledges to better protect civilians in the eastern Congo conflict during a ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. The envoys of armed groups made commitments that their forces will work to end sexual violence, food insecurity and conditions of famine, and to ensure greater access to health care in parts of increasingly violent eastern Congo that they operate in and control. (AP Photo/Jamey Keaten)


12:03 AM EDT, March 30, 2024

GENEVA (AP) — Under a crystal chandelier in a hall where the first Geneva Convention was signed in the mid-19th century, representatives of two armed groups in Congo signed solemn pledges this week to both their violence-wracked country and the wider world: We will do better to respect and protect civilians.

With several Western diplomats looking on, the envoys made commitments that their forces will work to end sexual violence, food insecurity and conditions of famine and to ensure greater access to health care in the parts of increasingly violent eastern Congo that they operate in and control.

The ceremony Tuesday at City Hall in Geneva, a Swiss city that’s known for an internationalist bent and as home to the international Red Cross, is the culmination of years of work by the humanitarian group Geneva Call, which works to protect civilians in conflict zones.

Congo, Africa’s second-largest country, has seen a recent upsurge in insecurity in its mineral-rich east, an area that has been wracked by conflict for decades. More than 120 armed groups are fighting for land and power and, in some cases, protecting their communities. However, M23, the largest and best-known group, allegedly linked to neighboring Rwanda, has not engaged with Geneva Call. 

President Felix Tshisekedi, who started his second five-year term in January, had made quelling violence in the eastern parts of the Central African country a priority in his first term — but has struggled to deliver results.

In Geneva, two armed groups that are loosely aligned with the government against M23 inked separate “Deeds of Commitment” on the rules they’ve vowed to respect. Geneva Call was quick to say these are not formal agreements and don’t “legitimize” the armed groups.

One of the two, CMC-FDP (the French language acronym for Collective of Movements for Change/Self-Defense Force of Congolese People), has worked with Geneva Call for five years and taken steps such as releasing 35 children who were formerly in the group and rehabilitating schools and health centers.

“We are here as representatives of a patriotic resistance group in the Democratic Republic of Congo and we’re here in Geneva to reiterate our commitment to respect international humanitarian law and human rights.” said Jimmy Didace Butsitsi, an assistant to the group’s president, Christophe Mulumba.

The larger of the two groups is NDC-R/Guidon (Nduma Defense of Renewed Congo/Guidon), which has about 5,000 fighters. It has released over 20 hostages, undergone training in humanitarian law, and handed over 53 “perpetrators” of sexual or gender-based violence in its ranks to authorities as part of its work with the Geneva group.

“Before all these training courses that we’ve taken, we could let ourselves do whatever we wanted,” said group spokesman Marcellin Shenkuku N’Kuba, who was accompanied in Geneva by Jérémie N’Kuba, the group’s political chairman. “Now, we feel — we can see — there’s a change on the ground, and so we can’t let ourselves do whatever we want anymore.”

Shenkuku N’Kuba acknowledged that respecting the commitments “isn’t easy” and said he’s “not a prophet” but that the group will endeavor to adhere to them now that the pledges have been made.

He said his group was also motivated out of a desire to debunk preconceived notions that people around the world might have about resistance groups, and “show our desire and to influence others also to adhere to the philosophy of respect for human rights ... despite the circumstances our country is going through for the moment.”

Alain Délétroz, Geneva Call’s director-general, said the idea behind such commitments is “to encourage other groups to follow the examples of these bigger groups.”

The humanitarian group was born in 2000 out of an effort to ban landmines, and it has shepherded nearly 120 such pledges from armed groups in countries, including Iraq, Myanmar and Syria, on issues like child protection, sexual violence and gender discrimination.

Geneva Call will keep tabs on any signs that the two groups might be violating their commitments, and would first raise any issues with their leaders confidentially. If troubles persisted, the aid group could go so far as to “repudiate” the deeds — but that has never happened in any other country.

The ceremony took place in the City Hall’s “Alabama Room,” under a painting that commemorates a meeting of bearded and mustachioed envoys from Europe and the United States who signed the first Geneva convention on aid to war-wounded in 1864.