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image captionMany people fleeing the conflict in Ethiopia are crossing into Sudan by river

A BBC reporter writes about a relative forced to flee Ethiopia’s Tigray region following the outbreak of conflict between federal and regional troops.

A businessman and farm-owner, my uncle has become a refugee in Sudan, along with tens of thousands of others. He does not even have a pair of shoes, having lost them as he fled Tigray by foot and boat.

He was not expecting a conflict to break out. So, in the beginning of November, he undertook a half-day-long journey from his home near Adwa city in central Tigray to the agricultural hub of Humera in the west, leaving his wife and two children behind.

This is what he normally does at this time of the year, going to his farm in Humera to harvest his sesame and sorghum crops in order to sell them in markets around Tigray and Sudan.

Then, his life – like that of many other people in Tigray, which has a population of about eight million – turned upside down.

Investment corridor hit by fighting

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that he had ordered a military operation to oust the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) from power in Tigray because, he said, it had crossed the “final red line” by seizing control of federal military bases in the region.

Tensions had been escalating for some time, with the TPLF-controlled regional government organising elections in Tigray in September in defiance of a decision taken at federal level to postpone all elections, which were due in August, because of coronavirus.

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image captionTigrayans voted in an election in September – a move criticised by the federal government

Mr Abiy condemned the regional election as illegal while the TPLF said it no longer believed that he was legitimately in office as his mandate to govern had expired.

About a week after the conflict started on 4 November, Ethiopian troops – backed by the neighbouring Amhara regional government’s special forces and militias – captured Humera from Tigray government forces.

Humera has a population of about 30,000 people, and was part of an investment corridor aimed at boosting development. Its crops – especially sesame and cotton – are exported, including to the US and China.

This is highly unlikely to happen this year. My uncle said that he saw some crops set ablaze in the conflict, but he does not know whether his were affected.

‘My uncle fled at night’

The military operation caused ethnic tensions to boil over, with both Tigrayan and Amhara civilians killed in the fighting for control of Tigray, although rival forces deny targeting civilians.

My uncle is Tigrayan and, he said, there was much looting of Tigrayan-owned properties and killings. He said he realised how much his life was in danger when he noticed that Amhara labourers – who had been working and living peacefully with them – were now telling the Amhara special forces and militias where to find Tigrayans in Humera.

Find out more about the Tigray crisis:

media captionThree consequences of the ongoing crisis in Tigray
  • Fears of ethnic profiling stalk Ethiopia conflict

  • Ethiopian soldiers accused of blocking border with Sudan
  • Marooned by conflict: ‘My little brother needs medicine’
  • Can Ethiopia ignore Africa’s diplomats?

My uncle said there was also heavy shelling from the direction of Eritrea, though the governments of both Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Mr Abiy have denied that Eritrea joined the military operation against the Tigray government.

Fearing for his life, my uncle surreptitiously left Humera at night, with none of his belongings, walking a long way until he reached the Tekeze River. There, he found hundreds of other Tigrayans. They all climbed into boats to cross into Sudan.

He said he was relieved to reach the UN refugee centre, but, he told me, the tents were so crammed that he slept out in the open.

media captionThe BBC’s Anne Soy reports from a refugee camp on the Sudan-Ethiopian border

He called me from a Sudanese mobile phone number, saying he had borrowed someone’s phone as his Ethiopian number was not working at the refugee centre.

After that one conversation more than two weeks ago, I have not heard from him, and I have been unable to get through to him. With phone lines in many parts of Tigray still down, his wife and children do not know he has become a refugee in Sudan.

‘Air strike made my family move’

And I cannot tell if his family have fled their home – Adwa was one of the towns that Ethiopian troops took before they captured Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray region.

My parents and siblings live in Mekelle, and I – like thousands of others in the diaspora – have no idea whether they survived the heavy shooting and shelling that affected the city for most of Saturday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says the main referral hospital is struggling to treat the wounded, and there is also a shortage of body bags.

The TPLF said 19 civilians were killed and more than 30 wounded by the Ethiopian army in Mekelle alone, but Mr Abiy said not a single civilian has been killed throughout the weeks-long military operation in Tigray.

I last heard about my family through a contact. This was after the Ethiopian military carried out an air strike on 16 November near the university campus in Mekelle.

‘The most difficult time in my life’

My parents and siblings lived around the campus so, the contact told me, they had decided to abandon their home – which has been in the family for generations – to move in with friends in another part of the city.

I have still not been able to reach anyone in Mekelle. This is the most difficult time in my life, and, all I can do from abroad, is pray for their safety and that of everyone else.

In recent years, there has been conflict in many parts of Ethiopia, which forced nearly two million people to flee their homes. But there was stability in Tigray.

This has now changed, and although Mr Abiy has declared the military operation over after the capture of Mekelle, there are still reports that fighting and air strikes are continuing in some parts of Tigray.

We do not know when the nightmare will end; when the healing of wounds will start; when families will be reunited and achieve closure if they lost loved ones; when all schools will reopen; when electricity and water supplies will be back; when farming and business will resume, when – to put in a nutshell – life will return to normal.

We have not named the people in this report for safety reasons.

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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)

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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers


Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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