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A son orphaned, a daughter lying in a coma, an elderly woman killed – these are just some of the casualties reported by a doctor and other survivors of the bombardment of their city by the Ethiopian military during its operation to overthrow the ruling party in the northern Tigray region.

Their accounts of what happened in Tigray’s capital Mekelle – which has a population of about 500,000 – contradict that of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

He told the federal parliament that the military had not killed a single civilian during the operation that led to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) being ousted from power in the region on 28 November.

Mr Abiy ordered an air and ground offensive against the TPLF on 4 November after it seized military bases in Tigray, following two years of tensions over the political direction of Ethiopia.

There was a communication blackout during much of the operation, but with mobile phone services now restored, the BBC spoke to several residents – whose names are being withheld for their safety – about their ordeal.

Warning: Some people might find some of the descriptions upsetting

Landlord in Ayder district:

Heavy artillery fire destroyed four homes in my compound on Saturday, 28 November. In one family, only a boy survived. His father, mother and two sisters died on the spot. Their bodies were destroyed, almost to pieces. For six years, they were my tenants. What happened to them was very sad.

In the compound, three other women were wounded – one on the hand, another on the leg and the third on her face and breast. Two of them are still in hospital.

image copyrightGetty Images

image captionThe TPLF-controlled regional government was headquartered in Mekelle since 1991

My wife was also injured, but not badly. I was wounded on the chest, and still have the injuries. We both got discharged from the Ayder Referral Hospital (the main hospital in Mekelle) a few days ago.

It was very hard to get proper treatment because of the shortage of medicines, equipment and even doctors. There were many casualties, and the hospital was focusing on those with major injuries.

When I got discharged the hospital told me to buy medicines for myself and my wife from pharmacies outside, but they did not have the medicine. They were out of stock.

Life is difficult. For about 40 days now, the main markets are closed. We cannot get basic necessities. It is hard to even get food.

Many residents who fled Mekelle to save their lives are not yet back. We do not know about their whereabouts.

A young mother-of-two in Hawelti district:

There was artillery fire and bombardment in Mekelle before the 28th. But on that day, it was in my area.

It started in the morning and carried on into the evening. Some of the artillery was passing over our home. We were scared. The children were crying.

One of the shells destroyed a house in the area. It killed an elderly lady and wounded her daughter very badly. She is still in a coma at Ayder Referral Hospital.

Most of our neighbours left Mekelle before the shelling on 28 November.

image captionTPLF forces withdrew from Mekelle ahead of the offensive by the Ethiopian military

But me, my children, and some other tenants stayed in my house because of a disabled lady who could not run away. But when the shelling got heavier on that day, we went to a nearby building that was still under construction.

We hid in its basement, where we spent the night.

‘Hungry troops ask for food’

The next morning, we started hearing the voices of people, but we still stayed there until we felt it was safe to come out.

Later on, we saw federal soldiers who had now taken over.

They asked for food and water because the markets and shops were all closed.

We had little food which we were sharing among ourselves, but I gave them some of it.

image copyright EPA/MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES
image captionSatellite images have captured some of the damage to buildings in the market area in Mekelle

Now, some markets have reopened, but the prices are very high. They keep going up because of the shortages.

In some other areas in Mekelle, water and electricity supplies have been restored, but not where I live. I have a big oven, which is lit with firewood.

I make injera (a pancake-like fermented bread, which is a staple in Ethiopia) in it. My neighbours also come and use the oven.

We get water from boreholes or from the outskirts of Mekelle.

image copyrightGetty Images

The federal soldiers are patrolling the city. Residents get nervous when they come face-to-face with them because of rumours that in other parts of Tigray the soldiers looted properties and shot people. But I have not seen them do this in Mekelle.

In some parts of the city, they are going house-to-house, looking for wanted people. But that is not happening where I am.

‘Freed prisoners looted city’

We are still under a dusk-to-dawn curfew. Until a few days ago, we used to hear a lot of gunshots at night. People say young men were being killed by the soldiers.

They were breaking the curfew to go out to protect properties because of robberies and looting.

More eyewitness account from the Tigray conflict:

  • Medics on the run: ‘I hid in the woods to flee shooting’

  • ‘How I survived an 11-hour gun battle’
  • ‘Why my uncle crossed a river to become a refugee’

When the soldiers confronted them for defying the curfew, they challenged them and they were shot.

The police – who were under the regional government – are no longer on the streets. There were a lot of robberies, especially in the first few days after the regional government lost control of the city.

Most of the crime was done by prisoners who got out of jail. We do not whether they were released or they escaped. Some residents were also involved in the robberies.

But this has largely stopped now.

Doctor at Ayder Referral Hospital

We survived the harsh situation. I am OK with my family. But some people who lived near the hospital were killed by artillery fire.

From around 10:00 on Saturday, 28 November, the federal forces fired cannons and other heavy weaponry into the city. It carried on into the evening.

I myself counted the bodies of 22 people brought to the hospital – seven in the morning and 15 in the evening. They were all civilians. Some of the bodies could not be recognised.

image captionThe Ethiopian government has repeatedly denied targeting civilians during the operation

Of those who could be identified, there was a girl who was about 10 years old and a woman who was about 70.

The dead were from different areas in the city – 15 Kebelle, Endageberieal, Menahariya and Kebelle 12.

We received more than 70 wounded, including an 18-month-old child.

More on the Tigray crisis:

media captionThree consequences of the ongoing crisis in Tigray

About two weeks before the federal forces captured the city, there was an air strike that hit one of the campuses of Mekelle University.

We treated 22 wounded students. Unfortunately, one of them, a sociology student, died.

A mother and her seven-year-old daughter were also killed in another air strike in the Enderta area.

The mother died on the spot. Her daughter was brought to the hospital with head injuries, and one of her eyes had been destroyed. We tried our best to save her life but she did not survive.

There was a severe shortage of beds, medicines and medical equipment. The federal government is now sending supplies, but the hospital is still not fully functional.

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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

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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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