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US Yemen envoy condemns ‘brutal’ Houthi attacks on civilians

ZARZIS, Tunisia: A cemetery in southern Tunisia for migrants who drowned crossing the Mediterranean in the hope of a better life in Europe is already half full — even before it is formally opened. Jardin d’Afrique, French for Garden of Africa, is for those who were “the wretched of the sea,” said Rachid Koraichi, the Algerian…

ZARZIS, Tunisia: A cemetery in southern Tunisia for migrants who drowned crossing the Mediterranean in the hope of a better life in Europe is already half full — even before it is formally opened.

Jardin d’Afrique, French for Garden of Africa, is for those who were “the wretched of the sea,” said Rachid Koraichi, the Algerian artist and Sufi Muslim who built the cemetery.

These migrants, many of whom drowned after boarding flimsy and overloaded boats while facing extortion from “gangsters and terrorists,” deserve a dignified resting place, he said. “I wanted to give them a first taste of paradise,” 74-year-old Koraichi added.

His art includes sculptures and ceramics embellished with calligraphy, and has been exhibited from Venice to New York.

In 2018, he bought a plot of land to host the cemetery in the southern Tunisian port of Zarzis, near the Libyan border; an area where countless migrants have taken to sea over the years.

More than 200 white graves already fill the cemetery, surrounded by five olive trees to symbolize the five precepts of Islam and 12 vines to represent the 12 apostles who were the first disciples of Jesus.

Vicky, a 26-year-old from Lagos, Nigeria, arrived on foot to Tunisia after several failed bids to reach Italy from Libya.

“Going to Europe was my dream,” she told AFP as she swept the cemetery grounds. “But trying to get there has been hell.”

The cemetery was formally inaugurated on Wednesday by Audrey Azoulay, head of the UN’s cultural agency UNESCO.

She paid tribute to those “castaways who perished in pursuit of a better life” and to the “universal solidarity of associations, fishermen … or others who save lives” on the Mediterranean.

“On this sea, inscribed with part of humanity’s history, there unfolds today a tragedy,” she added, mourning those who died “neglected and forgotten.”

Many of those buried there remain nameless for now, and the headstones bear grim and scant information about them.

One is inscribed with the words: “Woman, black dress, Hachani beach,” indicating the location where she was found. Another reads: “Man, black sweater, Four Seasons Hotel beach.”

“When I see this, I am not certain anymore that I want to make the sea crossing again,” cemetery sweeper Vicky said.

Tunisia and neighboring Libya are key departure points for migrants, many from sub-Saharan African, who attempt the dangerous crossing from the North African coast to Europe, particularly Italy.

In early May, the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR said that at least 500 people had died trying to cross the central Mediterranean this year, more than triple the 150 in the same period of 2020.

Koraichi, whose brother was swept away by a current while swimming for leisure in the Mediterranean, funded the cemetery by selling some of his artwork. His brother’s body was never found.

“I wanted to help the families get closure and for them to know that there is a place for a dignified burial” of their loved ones, he said.

“It is also a symbolic place, like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” he said, referring to monuments to fallen servicemen that can be found across the world.

A wooden door dating back to the 17th century leads into the cemetery where hand-painted ceramics line the ground and fragrant flowers, including jasmin, fill the air with a sweet scent.

A white cupola sits atop a chapel where worshippers from all faiths can pray.

Space has been allocated for a morgue and forensics lab to help identify the dead.

So far only one family from war-torn Libya has visited the cemetery to pray at the graveside of a young relative who had been identified by travel companions.

“We offered to let them take his body home but his father replied ‘God has abandoned Libya, keep him here,’” Koraichi said.

Koraichi is a member of the Tijaniyyah order of Sufism, a spiritual form of Islam, which originated in North Africa before spreading to other parts of the continent.

He chose Zarzis as the place to build the Garden of Africa after learning that authorities in the fishing port were struggling to bury dozens of bodies of migrants that had washed up on its shores.

Municipal workers had buried more than 600 unidentified migrants — from sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and elsewhere — in a sandy, windswept plot near an old city dump.

That burial ground was already full when, in July 2019, another 100 bodies arrived, overwhelming the municipality.

That was when the first graves were dug at the Garden of Africa, even before the work to build the ornate cemetery had started.

Since then — and especially in summer when the number of sea crossings rise — bodies that washed up on the shores of Zarzis and around the region are brought in for burial each week.

Around 200 white bricks mark each empty grave in the cemetery.

Koraichi fears that they will fill up by the end of the summer.

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Singapore sees early rush for Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine

KAMPALA: Ethiopians will vote on Monday in a landmark election overshadowed by reports of famine in the country’s war-hit Tigray region and beset by logistical problems that mean some people won’t be able to vote until September.The election is the centerpiece of a reform drive by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose rise to power in…

Singapore sees early rush for Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine

KAMPALA: Ethiopians will vote on Monday in a landmark election overshadowed by reports of famine in the country’s war-hit Tigray region and beset by logistical problems that mean some people won’t be able to vote until September.The election is the centerpiece of a reform drive by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose rise to power in 2018 seemed to signal a break with decades of authoritarian rule and led to his Nobel Peace Prize the following year.He has described the poll as “the nation’s first attempt at free and fair elections.”Abiy’s ruling Prosperity Party, formed in 2019 by merging groups who made up the previous ruling coalition, is widely expected to cement its hold on power.The party that wins a majority of seats in the House of Peoples’ Representatives will form the next government.“We will secure Ethiopia’s unity,” Abiy said ahead of his final campaign rally on Wednesday, repeating his vow of a free and fair election after past votes were marred by allegations of fraud.But opposition groups have accused Ethiopia’s ruling party of harassment, manipulation and threats of violence that echo abuses of the past.And Abiy is facing growing international criticism over the war in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region.Thousands of civilians have been killed and more than 2 million people have been displaced since fighting broke out in November between Ethiopian forces, backed by ones from neighboring Eritrea, and those supporting the now-fugitive Tigray leaders.Last week, humanitarian agencies warned that 350,000 people in Tigray are on the brink of famine, a crisis that several diplomats have described as “manmade” amid allegations of forced starvation.Ethiopia’s government has rejected the figure and says food aid has reached 5.2 million in the region of 6 million.No date has been set for voting in Tigray’s 38 constituencies, where military personnel who usually play a key role in transporting election materials across Africa’s second-most populous country are busy with the conflict.Meanwhile, voting has been postponed until September in 64 out of 547 constituencies throughout Ethiopia because of insecurity, defective ballot papers and opposition allegations of irregularities.Outbreaks of ethnic violence have also killed hundreds of people in the Amhara, Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz regions in recent months.Some prominent opposition parties are boycotting the election. Others say they have been prevented from campaigning in several parts of the country.“There have been gross violations,” Yusef Ibrahim, vice president of the National Movement of Amhara, said earlier this month.He said his party had been “effectively banned” from campaigning in several regions, with some party members arrested and banners destroyed.Neither officials with the Prosperity Party nor Abiy’s office responded to requests for comment on such allegations.Ethiopia last year postponed the election, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, adding to the tensions with Tigray’s former leaders.Recently, the vote was delayed again by several weeks amid technical problems involving ballot papers and a lack of polling station officials.Abiy’s Prosperity Party has registered 2,432 candidates in the election, which will see Ethiopians voting for both national and regional representatives.The next largest party, Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice, is fielding 1,385 candidates. A total of 47 parties are contesting the election.But on Sunday, five opposition parties released a joint statement saying that campaigning outside the capital, Addis Ababa, “has been marred by serious problems, including killings, attempted killings and beatings of candidates.”Two prominent opposition parties, the Oromo Liberation Front and the Oromo Federalist Congress, are boycotting the vote.“It’s going to be a sham election,” OFC chairman Merera Gudina said earlier this month.That means the Prosperity Party will face little competition in Oromia, Ethiopia’s most populous state.Several prominent OFC members remain behind bars after a wave of unrest last year sparked by the killing of a popular Oromo musician, and the OLF’s leader is under house arrest.The leader of the Balderas Party for True Democracy, Eskinder Nega, was also detained and is contesting the election from prison.Getnet Worku, secretary-general of the newly established ENAT party, said earlier this month it is not standing candidates in several constituencies because the threat of violence is too high, asserting that armed militias organized by local officials frequently broke up rallies.There are growing international concerns over whether the elections will be fair.The EU has said it will not observe the vote after its requests to import communications equipment were denied.In response, Ethiopia said external observers “are neither essential nor necessary to certify the credibility of an election,” although it has since welcomed observers deployed by the African Union.Last week the US State Department said it is “gravely concerned about the environment under which these upcoming elections are to be held,” citing “detention of opposition politicians, harassment of independent media, partisan activities by local and regional governments, and the many interethnic and inter-communal conflicts across Ethiopia.”Abiy’s appointment as prime minister in 2018 was initially greeted by an outburst of optimism both at home and abroad.Shortly after taking office, he freed tens of thousands of political prisoners, allowed the return of exiled opposition groups and rolled back punitive laws that targeted civil society.In 2019 he won the Nobel Peace Prize in part for those reforms and for making peace with Eritrea by ending a long-running border standoff.But critics say Ethiopia’s political space has started to shrink again. The government denies the accusation.Several prominent opposition figures accused of inciting unrest are behind bars.While opening a sugar factory earlier this month, Abiy accused “traitors” and “outsiders” of working to undermine Ethiopia.This week his spokeswoman, Billene Seyoum, described the election as a chance for citizens to “exercise their democratic rights” and accused international media of mounting a “character assassination of the prime minister.”

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Faith healers turn vaccine myth busters to get India’s rural population jabbed

KAMPALA: Ethiopians will vote on Monday in a landmark election overshadowed by reports of famine in the country’s war-hit Tigray region and beset by logistical problems that mean some people won’t be able to vote until September.The election is the centerpiece of a reform drive by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose rise to power in…

Faith healers turn vaccine myth busters to get India’s rural population jabbed

KAMPALA: Ethiopians will vote on Monday in a landmark election overshadowed by reports of famine in the country’s war-hit Tigray region and beset by logistical problems that mean some people won’t be able to vote until September.The election is the centerpiece of a reform drive by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose rise to power in 2018 seemed to signal a break with decades of authoritarian rule and led to his Nobel Peace Prize the following year.He has described the poll as “the nation’s first attempt at free and fair elections.”Abiy’s ruling Prosperity Party, formed in 2019 by merging groups who made up the previous ruling coalition, is widely expected to cement its hold on power.The party that wins a majority of seats in the House of Peoples’ Representatives will form the next government.“We will secure Ethiopia’s unity,” Abiy said ahead of his final campaign rally on Wednesday, repeating his vow of a free and fair election after past votes were marred by allegations of fraud.But opposition groups have accused Ethiopia’s ruling party of harassment, manipulation and threats of violence that echo abuses of the past.And Abiy is facing growing international criticism over the war in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region.Thousands of civilians have been killed and more than 2 million people have been displaced since fighting broke out in November between Ethiopian forces, backed by ones from neighboring Eritrea, and those supporting the now-fugitive Tigray leaders.Last week, humanitarian agencies warned that 350,000 people in Tigray are on the brink of famine, a crisis that several diplomats have described as “manmade” amid allegations of forced starvation.Ethiopia’s government has rejected the figure and says food aid has reached 5.2 million in the region of 6 million.No date has been set for voting in Tigray’s 38 constituencies, where military personnel who usually play a key role in transporting election materials across Africa’s second-most populous country are busy with the conflict.Meanwhile, voting has been postponed until September in 64 out of 547 constituencies throughout Ethiopia because of insecurity, defective ballot papers and opposition allegations of irregularities.Outbreaks of ethnic violence have also killed hundreds of people in the Amhara, Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz regions in recent months.Some prominent opposition parties are boycotting the election. Others say they have been prevented from campaigning in several parts of the country.“There have been gross violations,” Yusef Ibrahim, vice president of the National Movement of Amhara, said earlier this month.He said his party had been “effectively banned” from campaigning in several regions, with some party members arrested and banners destroyed.Neither officials with the Prosperity Party nor Abiy’s office responded to requests for comment on such allegations.Ethiopia last year postponed the election, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, adding to the tensions with Tigray’s former leaders.Recently, the vote was delayed again by several weeks amid technical problems involving ballot papers and a lack of polling station officials.Abiy’s Prosperity Party has registered 2,432 candidates in the election, which will see Ethiopians voting for both national and regional representatives.The next largest party, Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice, is fielding 1,385 candidates. A total of 47 parties are contesting the election.But on Sunday, five opposition parties released a joint statement saying that campaigning outside the capital, Addis Ababa, “has been marred by serious problems, including killings, attempted killings and beatings of candidates.”Two prominent opposition parties, the Oromo Liberation Front and the Oromo Federalist Congress, are boycotting the vote.“It’s going to be a sham election,” OFC chairman Merera Gudina said earlier this month.That means the Prosperity Party will face little competition in Oromia, Ethiopia’s most populous state.Several prominent OFC members remain behind bars after a wave of unrest last year sparked by the killing of a popular Oromo musician, and the OLF’s leader is under house arrest.The leader of the Balderas Party for True Democracy, Eskinder Nega, was also detained and is contesting the election from prison.Getnet Worku, secretary-general of the newly established ENAT party, said earlier this month it is not standing candidates in several constituencies because the threat of violence is too high, asserting that armed militias organized by local officials frequently broke up rallies.There are growing international concerns over whether the elections will be fair.The EU has said it will not observe the vote after its requests to import communications equipment were denied.In response, Ethiopia said external observers “are neither essential nor necessary to certify the credibility of an election,” although it has since welcomed observers deployed by the African Union.Last week the US State Department said it is “gravely concerned about the environment under which these upcoming elections are to be held,” citing “detention of opposition politicians, harassment of independent media, partisan activities by local and regional governments, and the many interethnic and inter-communal conflicts across Ethiopia.”Abiy’s appointment as prime minister in 2018 was initially greeted by an outburst of optimism both at home and abroad.Shortly after taking office, he freed tens of thousands of political prisoners, allowed the return of exiled opposition groups and rolled back punitive laws that targeted civil society.In 2019 he won the Nobel Peace Prize in part for those reforms and for making peace with Eritrea by ending a long-running border standoff.But critics say Ethiopia’s political space has started to shrink again. The government denies the accusation.Several prominent opposition figures accused of inciting unrest are behind bars.While opening a sugar factory earlier this month, Abiy accused “traitors” and “outsiders” of working to undermine Ethiopia.This week his spokeswoman, Billene Seyoum, described the election as a chance for citizens to “exercise their democratic rights” and accused international media of mounting a “character assassination of the prime minister.”

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Virus rule extension endangers Euro 2020 final at Wembley

TOKYO: Japanese medical experts said on Friday that banning spectators at the Olympics was the least risky option for holding the Games, even as they appeared resigned to the possibility of fans in venues during the COVID-19 pandemic.The government and Tokyo 2020 organizers have for months held off deciding whether domestic spectators will be allowed…

TOKYO: Japanese medical experts said on Friday that banning spectators at the Olympics was the least risky option for holding the Games, even as they appeared resigned to the possibility of fans in venues during the COVID-19 pandemic.The government and Tokyo 2020 organizers have for months held off deciding whether domestic spectators will be allowed — overseas fans are already banned — underscoring their desire to salvage the event amid deep public opposition.Japan has avoided the kind of explosive coronavirus outbreaks that crippled many other countries. But the vaccine roll-out has been slow and the medical system pushed to the brink in parts of the country. The government’s drive to hold the Games has been criticized by hospitals and doctors’ unions.“There is a risk the movement of people and opportunities to interact during the Olympics will spread infections and strain the medical system,” the experts, led by top health adviser Shigeru Omi, said in a report issued on Friday.They said that holding the Games without spectators was the “least risky” option and the desirable one.Yet Omi’s experts have already floated the possibility that venues could hold up to 10,000 fans in areas where “quasi-emergency” measures, such as shorter restaurant hours, have been lifted. That has heightened the perception the Games may well be held with spectators.The final decision is expected at a meeting set for Monday between organizers, including Tokyo 2020 and the International Olympic Committee, and representatives from the national and Tokyo governments.The president of Tokyo 2020, Seiko Hashimoto, said that while she accepted the Olympics would be safer without spectators, organizers were still looking for ways to have fans safely in venues, like other events.“Given that other sports events are being held with spectators, I think it’s also Tokyo 2020’s job to continue to look for ways to understand and lessen the risk of infections at the Olympics until we’ve exhausted all the possibilities,” she told a news conference following the release of Omi’s report.The Games were delayed last year as the pandemic raged. Cancellation would be costly for organizers, the Tokyo government, sponsors and insurers.Some 41 percent of people want the Games canceled, according to a Jiji news poll released on Friday. If the Games go ahead, 64 percent of the public want them without spectators, the poll found.Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government decided on Thursday to end emergency coronavirus curbs in nine prefectures including Tokyo while keeping some “quasi-emergency” restrictions.Tokyo is scheduled to be under such restrictions until July 11. The current state of emergency, the third since April last year, expires on June 20.The lifting of previous emergencies has been followed by increased infections and strains on hospitals.Organizers should be prepared to act swiftly to ban spectators or declare another state of emergency if needed, the experts said. If spectators are allowed, rules should be strict, such as limiting fans to local residents, the experts said.Omi, a former World Health Organization official, has become increasingly outspoken about the risks from the event. He told parliament this month it was “not normal” to hold the Games during a pandemic.Other Japanese health experts and medical organization have been much more vocal, calling for the Games to be canceled outright.One of the signatories of Omi’s recommendations, Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura, said he believed canceling the Games would be best, but the decision was for the government and organizers.“If the epidemic situation worsened, no spectators and canceling the Games in the middle (of the event) should be debated,” he told Reuters.The country has recorded more than 776,000 cases and over 14,200 deaths, while just 15 percent of its population has had at least one COVID-19 vaccination.

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