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Ethiopia objects to alleged “misconduct” of WHO chief Tedros

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GENEVA (AP) — The government of Ethiopia has sent a letter to the World Health Organization, accusing its Ethiopian director-general of “misconduct” after his sharp criticism of the war and humanitarian crisis in the country.

Ethiopia nominated Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to be the head of the U.N. health agency four years ago, but says he has “not lived up to the integrity and professional expectations required from his office,” accusing him of interfering in Ethiopia’s internal affairs, according to a press release issued late Thursday.

“Through his acts, (Tedros) spread harmful misinformation and compromised WHO’s reputation, independence and credibility,” Ethiopia’s ministry of foreign affairs said.

WHO had no immediate response to the claims.

Tedros, an ethnic Tigrayan, has repeatedly deplored the situation in his home country and called for humanitarian access to the conflict-ridden region of Ethiopia.

“Nowhere in the world are we witnessing hell like Tigray,” said Tedros at a media briefing Wednesday. He cited a missive WHO had received recently from a physician in the region, who said health authorities had run out of basic medicines for diseases including diabetes in June and were now using expired stocks and intravenous fluids. Health officials in the Tigray capital have described the same to The Associated Press.

Tedros condemned Ethiopia’s blockade of international access to Tigray, saying that WHO had not been allowed to send any supplies to the region since July, noting the U.N. agency had access to Syria and Yemen even during their worst conflicts.

He said there should be “unfettered” humanitarian access to Tigray and said that “just respecting the constitutional order ”would bring this problem into a peaceful conclusion.”

He continued: “Of course, I am from that region and from the northern part of Ethiopia. But I am saying this without any bias.”

The Ethiopian government said Tedros was using his office “to advance his political interest at the expense of Ethiopia” and said he continues to be an active member of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front; Tedros was foreign minister and health minister when the TPLF dominated the country’s ruling coalition.

The TPLF, the political party that runs the Tigray region, has been clashing with Ethiopian federal forces since the country’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister accused the heavily armed regional government of attacking a military base. Each government regards the other as illegitimate after a months-long falling-out amid political reforms.

On Friday, the U.N. World Food Program warned its food assistance in northern Ethiopia is “about to grind to a halt because intense fighting has blocked the passage of fuel and food.” No WFP convoys have reached the Tigray capital since mid-December, it said in a statement, “and the last of WFP’s cereals, pulses and oil will be distributed next week.” Stocks of nutritionally fortified food to treat malnourished children and women are depleted, it said.

“We’re now having to choose who goes hungry to prevent another from starving,” said Michael Dunford, WFP’s regional director for Eastern Africa, calling for safe humanitarian corridors on all routes across northern Ethiopia. The WFP says nearly 10 million people need food assistance.

In a separate statement on the war, the U.N human rights office said at least 108 civilians have reportedly been killed in Tigray this year by airstrikes “allegedly carried out by the Ethiopian air force.” It warned of possible war crimes.

The airstrikes have continued despite a shift in the war in recent weeks, with the Tigray forces retreating into their region and Ethiopian forces saying they wouldn’t pursue them further there. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has spoken of reconciliation and national dialogue.

In September, France, Germany and other European countries nominated Tedros for a second term as WHO’s director-general, the first time any candidate was not supported by his or her home country. Tedros is expected to be confirmed for another five-year term in May, as he is running unopposed.

Under Tedros, WHO came under withering criticism from the U.S. Trump administration over allegations of grievous missteps in responding to COVID-19 and for allegedly “colluding” with China in the early phases of the outbreak.

Tedros has been a leading voice urging rich countries and vaccine makers to do more to improve access to COVID shots in the developing world — a call that has largely gone unheeded.

Last year, WHO faced mounting pressure over revelations from an AP investigation and an independent panel that found senior management were informed of sexual abuse allegations during the agency’s response to an Ebola outbreak in Congo.

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Cara Anna in Nairobi contributed.

The Associated Press

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Crime

Author Salman Rushdie attacked on lecture stage in New York

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CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. (AP) — Salman Rushdie, the author whose writing led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s, was attacked and apparently stabbed in the neck Friday by a man who rushed the stage as he was about to give a lecture in western New York.

An Associated Press reporter witnessed a man confront Rushdie on stage at the Chautauqua Institution and punch or stab him 10 to 15 times as he was being introduced. The 75-year-old author was pushed or fell to the floor, and the man was arrested.

State police said Rushdie was apparently stabbed in the neck and was flown to a hospital. His condition wasn’t immediately known. The moderator at the event was also attacked and suffered a minor head injury, police said.

Rabbi Charles Savenor was among the roughly 2,500 people in the audience. Amid gasps, spectators were ushered out of the outdoor amphitheater.

The assailant ran onto the platform “and started pounding on Mr. Rushdie. At first you’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ And then it became abundantly clear in a few seconds that he was being beaten,” Savenor said. He said the attack lasted about 20 seconds.

Another spectator, Kathleen Jones, said the attacker was dressed in black, with a black mask.

“We thought perhaps it was part of a stunt to show that there’s still a lot of controversy around this author. But it became evident in a few seconds” that it wasn’t, she said.

A bloodied Rushdie was quickly surrounded by a small group of people who held up his legs, presumably to send more blood to his chest.

Rushdie has been a prominent spokesman for free expression and liberal causes. He is a former president of PEN America, which said it was “reeling from shock and horror” at the attack.

“We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil,” CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.

Rushdie “has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered,” she added.

His 1988 book “The Satanic Verses” was viewed as blasphemous by many Muslims. Often-violent protests against Rushdie erupted around the world, including a riot that killed 12 people in Mumbai.

The novel was banned in Iran, where the late leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death. Khomeini died that same year.

Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years hasn’t focused on the writer.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s attack.

A bounty of over $3 million has also been offered for anyone who kills Rushdie.

The death threats and bounty led Rushdie to go into hiding under a British government protection program, which included a round-the-clock armed guard. Rushdie emerged after nine years of seclusion and cautiously resumed more public appearances, maintaining his outspoken criticism of religious extremism overall.

He has said he is proud of his fight for freedom of expression, saying in a 2012 talk in New York that terrorism is really the art of fear.

“The only way you can defeat it is by deciding not to be afraid,” he said.

Iran’s government has long since distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment has lingered. The Index on Censorship, an organization promoting free expression, said money was raised to boost the reward for his killing as recently as 2016, underscoring that the fatwa for his death still stands.

In 2012, Rushdie published a memoir, “Joseph Anton,” about the fatwa. The title came from the pseudonym Rushdie had used while in hiding.

Rushdie rose to prominence with his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel “Midnight’s Children,” but his name became known around the world after “The Satanic Verses.”

The Chautauqua Institution, about 55 miles southwest of Buffalo in a rural corner of New York, has served for more than a century as a place for reflection and spiritual guidance. Visitors don’t pass through metal detectors or undergo bag checks. Most people leave the doors to their century-old cottages unlocked at night.

Police said a state trooper was assigned to Rushdie’s lecture.

The Chautauqua center is known for its summertime lecture series, where Rushdie has spoken before. Speakers address a different topic each week. Rushdie and moderator Henry Reese were set to discuss “the United States as asylum for writers and other artists in exile and as a home for freedom of creative expression.”

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Associated Press writers Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York; Michael Hill in Albany, New York; and Jennifer Peltz in New York City contributed to this report.

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Trump calls for ‘immediate’ release of Mar-a-Lago warrant

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Donald Trump called late Thursday for the “immediate” release of the federal warrant the FBI used to search his Florida estate, hours after the Justice Department had asked a court to unseal the warrant, with Attorney General Merrick Garland citing the “substantial public interest in this matter.”

In messages posted on his Truth Social platform, Trump wrote, “Not only will I not oppose the release of documents … I am going a step further by ENCOURAGING the immediate release of those documents.” He continued to assail the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago as “unAmerican, unwarranted and unnecessary.”

“Release the documents now!” he wrote.

The Justice Department request earlier Thursday is striking because such documents traditionally remain sealed during a pending investigation. But the department appeared to recognize that its silence since the search had created a vacuum for bitter verbal attacks by Trump and his allies, and that the public was entitled to the FBI’s side about what prompted Monday’s action at the former president’s home.

“The public’s clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred under these circumstances weighs heavily in favor of unsealing,” said a motion filed in federal court in Florida on Thursday.

Should the warrant be released — the request is now with the judge — it could disclose unflattering information about the former president and about FBI scrutiny of his handling of sensitive government documents right as he prepares for another run for the White House. During his successful 2016 campaign, he pointed frequently to an FBI investigation into his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, over whether she mishandled classified information.

It’s unclear at this point how much information would be included in the documents, if made public, or if they would encompass an FBI affidavit that would presumably lay out a detailed factual basis for the search. The department specifically requested the unsealing of the warrant as well as a property receipt listing the items that were seized, along with two unspecified attachments.

To obtain a search warrant, federal authorities must prove to a judge that probable cause exists to believe that a crime was committed. Garland said he personally approved the warrant, a decision he said the department did not take lightly given that standard practice where possible is to select less intrusive tactics than a search of one’s home.

In this case, according to a person familiar with the matter, there was substantial engagement with Trump and his representatives prior to the search warrant, including a subpoena for records and a visit to Mar-a-Lago a couple of months ago by FBI and Justice Department officials to assess how the documents were stored. The person was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Neither Trump nor the FBI has said anything about what documents the FBI might have recovered, or what precisely agents were looking for. But the former president complained anew Thursday about the search.

Trump, who for years has lambasted the FBI and sought to sow distrust among his supporters in its decisions, said the warrant was served and the search conducted despite his cooperation with the Justice Department over the search.

In a post to his Truth Social platform, Trump said that his “attorneys and representatives were cooperating fully” prior to the search, and that government officials “could have had whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, if we had it.”

The Justice Department has until Friday afternoon to alert the judge about whether Trump will object to the release.

FBI and Justice Department policy cautions against discussing ongoing investigations, both to protect the integrity of probes and to avoid unfairly maligning someone who is being scrutinized but winds up ultimately not being charged. That’s especially true in the case of search warrants, where supporting court papers are routinely kept secret as the investigation proceeds.

In this case, though, Garland cited the fact that Trump himself had provided the first public confirmation of the FBI search, “as is his right.” The Justice Department, in its new filing, also said that disclosing information about it now would not harm the court’s functions.

Even so, Garland, in a hastily scheduled public statement delivered from the Justice Department podium, appeared to acknowledge the unusual nature of the department’s request as he declined to take questions or provide any substantive details about the FBI’s investigation.

“Much of our work is by necessity conducted out of the public eye. We do that to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans and to protect the integrity of our investigations,” he said. “Federal law, longstanding department rules and our ethical obligations prevent me from providing further details as to the basis of the search at this time.”

The Justice Department under Garland has been leery of public statements about politically charged investigations, or of confirming to what extent it might be investigating Trump as part of a broader probe into the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The department has tried to avoid being seen as injecting itself into presidential politics, as happened in 2016 when then-FBI Director James Comey made an unusual public statement announcing that the FBI would not be recommending criminal charges against Clinton regarding her handling of email — and when he spoke up again just over a week before the election to notify Congress that the probe was being effectively reopened because of the discovery of new emails.

The Mar-a-Lago search warrant served Monday was part of an ongoing Justice Department investigation into the discovery of classified White House records recovered from Trump’s home in Palm Beach, Florida, earlier this year. The National Archives had asked the department to investigate after saying 15 boxes of records it retrieved from the estate included classified records. Multiple federal laws govern the handling of classified information.

The attorney general also condemned verbal attacks on FBI and Justice Department personnel over the search. Some Republican allies of Trump have called for the FBI to be defunded. Large numbers of Trump supporters have called for the warrant to be released hoping they it will show that Trump was unfairly targeted.

“I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked,” Garland said of federal law enforcement agents, calling them “dedicated, patriotic public servants.”

Earlier Thursday, an armed man wearing body armor tried to breach a security screening area at an FBI field office in Ohio, then fled and was later killed after a standoff with law enforcement. A law enforcement official briefed on the matter identified the man as Ricky Shiffer and said he is believed to have been in Washington in the days leading up to the attack on the Capitol and may have been there on the day it took place.

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Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Lindsay Whitehurst and Meg Kinnard contributed to this report.

More on Donald Trump-related investigations: https://apnews.com/hub/donald-trump

Eric Tucker And Michael Balsamo, The Associated Press

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