“Jasmine Revolution”
Symbol of peace: Flowers placed on the barrel of a tank
in very much calmer protests than in recent days in Tunisia

'The Protester' - Time Person of the Year 2011

'The Protester' - Time Person of the Year 2011
Mannoubia Bouazizi, the mother of Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi. "Mohammed suffered a lot. He worked hard. but when he set fire to himself, it wasn’t about his scales being confiscated. It was about his dignity." (Peter Hapak for TIME)

1 - TUNISIA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

How eyepatches became a symbol of Egypt's revolution - Graffiti depicting a high ranking army officer with an eye patch Photograph: Nasser Nasser/ASSOCIATED PRESS

2 - EGYPT Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

''17 February Revolution"

3 - LIBYA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

5 - SYRIA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

"25 January Youth Revolution"
Muslim and Christian shoulder-to-shoulder in Tahrir Square
"A Summary" – Apr 2, 2011 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Religion, Shift of Human Consciousness, 2012, Intelligent/Benevolent Design, EU, South America, 5 Currencies, Water Cycle (Heat up, Mini Ice Ace, Oceans, Fish, Earthquakes ..), Middle East, Internet, Israel, Dictators, Palestine, US, Japan (Quake/Tsunami Disasters , People, Society ...), Nuclear Power Revealed, Hydro Power, Geothermal Power, Moon, Financial Institutes (Recession, Realign integrity values ..) , China, North Korea, Global Unity,..... etc.) -
(Subjects: Egypt Uprising, Iran/Persia Uprising, Peace in Middle East without Israel actively involved, Muhammad, "Conceptual" Youth Revolution, "Conceptual" (without a manager hierarchy) managed Businesses, Internet, Social Media, News Media, Google, Bankers, Global Unity,..... etc.)
"The End of History" – Nov 20, 2010 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll)
(Subjects:Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Muhammad, Jesus, God, Jews, Arabs, EU, US, Israel, Iran, Russia, Africa, South America, Global Unity,..... etc.) (Text version)

"If an Arab and a Jew can look at one another and see the Akashic lineage and see the one family, there is hope. If they can see that their differences no longer require that they kill one another, then there is a beginning of a change in history. And that's what is happening now. All of humanity, no matter what the spiritual belief, has been guilty of falling into the historic trap of separating instead of unifying. Now it's starting to change. There's a shift happening."

“ … Here is another one. A change in what Human nature will allow for government. "Careful, Kryon, don't talk about politics. You'll get in trouble." I won't get in trouble. I'm going to tell you to watch for leadership that cares about you. "You mean politics is going to change?" It already has. It's beginning. Watch for it. You're going to see a total phase-out of old energy dictatorships eventually. The potential is that you're going to see that before 2013.

They're going to fall over, you know, because the energy of the population will not sustain an old energy leader ..."

African Union (AU)

African Union (AU)
African Heads of State pose for a group photo ahead of the start of the 28th African Union summit in Addis Ababa on January 30, 2017 (AFP Photo/ Zacharias ABUBEKER)

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela
Few words can describe Nelson Mandela, so we let him speak for himself. Happy birthday, Madiba.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Unemployment fuels unrest in Arab states: IMF

Yahoo – AFP, Omar Hasan, October 28, 2019

Violent protests have broken out in several Arab countries since early 2010 and
turned into bloody civil wars, including in Yemen (AFP Photo/MOHAMMED HUWAIS)

Dubai (AFP) - Unemployment and sluggish economic growth are fuelling social tension and popular protests in several Arab countries, the International Monetary Fund said Monday.

The unrest is in turn contributing to slower growth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, alongside global trade tensions, oil price volatility and a disorderly Brexit process, the IMF said in a report on the regional economic outlook.

Earlier this month it lowered the 2019 forecast for the region -- taking in the Arab nations and Iran -- to a meagre 0.1 percent from 1.1 percent last year.

The IMF slashed its outlook for the region's three largest economies -- Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates.

The risks around the forecast of earlier this month "are skewed to the downside and are highly dependent on global factors," the IMF said in its report on Monday.

"The level of growth that countries in the region are having is below what is needed to address unemployment," said Jihad Azour, the IMF's director for the Middle East and Central Asia.

"We are in a region where the rate of unemployment at the youth level exceeds 25-30 percent and this requires growth to be higher by 1-2 percent" in order to make a dent in joblessness, Azour told AFP in an interview.

A new wave of demonstrations erupted over the last year in Algeria (pictured) Sudan, Iraq
and Lebanon, typically demanding economic reforms and action against corruption

The IMF report said that the high unemployment was worsening social tensions in Arab countries.

"Unemployment averages 11 percent throughout the region versus seven percent across other emerging market and developing economies," it said.

"Women and young people are particularly likely to be out of work, with more than 18 percent of women... without jobs in 2018."

Violent protests have broken out in several Arab countries since early 2010 and turned into bloody civil wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya.

A new wave of demonstrations erupted over the last year in Algeria, Sudan, Iraq and Lebanon, typically demanding economic reforms and action against corruption.

In Lebanon, where protesters have brought the country to a standstill with demands for a full overhaul of the political system, the economy grew at a very slow pace over the past few years, Azour noted.

"The government has to act firmly and swiftly in order to address those imbalances, bring confidence back by addressing the fiscal situation, and lower expenditure," he said.

The IMF also said that public debt levels were very high in many Arab countries -- exceeding 85 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on average, with rates of more than 150 percent in Lebanon and Sudan.

"Having built over many years, the cost of public debt burdens has become sizeable, preventing investments critical to the region's long-term economic future," it said.

In Lebanon, where protesters have brought the country to a standstill with demands 
for a full overhaul of the political system, the economy grew at a very slow pace
over the past few years (AFP Photo/Anwar AMRO)

Iran flounders

The IMF said that Iran, which is subject to crippling US sanctions, has entered a steep economic recession and faces a battle against spiralling inflationary pressures.

The Islamic republic's economy is projected to contract by 9.5 percent this year after posting negative growth of 4.8 percent in 2018.

Iranian authorities must align "the exchange rate close to the market rate and also reform the financial sector... and try to address some of the implications of the high level of inflation," Azour said.

As a result of the sanctions, Tehran is believed to be exporting only around 500,000 barrels per day of crude, down from over two million bpd before the sanctions.

The IMF said that oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, led by Saudi Arabia, are expected to grow by just 0.7 percent this year from 2.0 percent in 2018 due to lower oil prices and output.

"GCC economies need to diversify and grow out of oil and this requires them to accelerate the reforms that have been started in the last four to five years," Azour said.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Newly sworn-in Tunisia president pledges to heal divisions

Yahoo – AFP, Kaouther Larbi, 23 October 2019

Tunisia's new President Kais Saied, an academic nicknamed "Robocop" for his rigid
and austere manner, takes the oath of office after his upstart election victory earlier this month

Tunisia's new President Kais Saied vowed Wednesday to defend women's rights, reunite the country and restore trust in its leaders as the political outsider outlined his agenda following a surprise election victory.

Saied, a conservative academic with no previous political experience who won the overwhelming support of younger voters in an October 13 runoff, was sworn in before members of the constituent assembly and other top state bodies.

He thanked all Tunisians for delivering "this historic moment", after handily winning over his controversial opponent, businessman Nabil Karoui, in an election that reshaped the country's post-revolution political landscape.

Tunisians, he said, "needed a new relationship based on trust with their politicians and those in power".

After sweeping 72.71 percent of the vote in this month's runoff, Saied has won a clear mandate to fight corruption and promote social justice, even though his role focuses on security and diplomacy.

The poll followed the death in July of Beji Caid Essebsi, Tunisia's first president freely elected by universal suffrage.

'Reuniting' all Tunisians

A constitutional law professor whose rigid and austere demeanour earned him the nickname "Robocop", Saied vowed as president to "reunite" all Tunisians.

Despite having spearheaded the Arab Spring revolt that ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and gaining unprecedented freedoms along the way, Tunisians have been bitterly divided between old political classes and Islamist forces.

Saied said his countrymen were "free in their beliefs and choices" but stressed the state must be immune from "political calculations".

Tunisia's new President Kais Saied received a rousing round of applause 
from a packed parliament when he vowed to uphold women's right

"The people (Tunisians) have waited for so long...wanting to move from despair to hope", he added.

Honing his main talking points that distinguished him in the electoral race, Saied promised to uphold the rule of law.

He also reassured the chamber that "women's rights would not be diminished", which received a rousing round of applause from a packed parliament.

He went on to stress that he would "strengthen the rights of the Tunisian woman, especially her socio-economic rights".

Saeid has previously rejected a bid to overhaul Tunisia's inheritance law -- which remains based on Islamic law, meaning that women inherit half of their male siblings' part.

'Will of the people'

An international novice with no real foreign policy experience, he emphasised Tunisia's respect for "various international agreements but also to revise them according to the interest and will of the people".

The professor who up until his swearing-in Wednesday lived in a middle-class Tunis neighbourhood will now be moving to the presidential palace in Carthage.

Tunis, which currently chairs the Arab League, could renew diplomatic ties with Syria, severed since 2012, and play a role in the return of the war-torn country to the bloc.

He has made strong statements against Israel, considering any ties with the Jewish state to be "high treason" -- an Arab nationalist position that earned him praise among supporters.

While the security situation has significantly improved since a series of high-profile attacks on tourists in 2015, Tunisia has maintained a state of emergency for four years, with assaults against security forces persisting.

On June 27, a suicide attack killed two people in the heart of the capital Tunis, reviving the spectre of violence.

During the campaign debate, Saied said a key to fighting terrorism was education, arguing that improving primary education would "immunise" youth against extremism.

Another significant task he will face is reforming the police force, which was a cog in the dictatorship toppled by the Arab Spring revolt of 2011 and which continues to be accused of human rights abuses.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Central African countries in talks on boosting anti-Ebola fight

Yahoo – AFP, October 22, 2019

Vaccination is playing a key role in the fight against DR Congo's Ebola epidemic.
Two tested but unlicensed vaccines are being given to frontline health workers
and other people at risk (AFP Photo/Augustin WAMENYA)

Goma (DR Congo) (AFP) - Health ministers in 10 central African countries have held talks on boosting data sharing and cross-border surveillance in the fight against Ebola, the Democratic Republic of Congo announced Tuesday.

Health Minister Eteni Longondo and counterparts from the nine countries bordering the DRC met on Monday to swap views on "developing a framework for cross-border collaboration," the health ministry said.

The strategy aims at ensuring "timely sharing of critical information for rapid response and control of the epidemic... (and) strengthening cross-border health surveillance", it said in a statement.

The DRC's latest Ebola epidemic, the 10th in the country's history, has killed 2,171 people since August 2018, according to official figures.

It is the world's deadliest outbreak of the haemorrhagic virus after a pandemic in three West African countries that ran from 2014 to 2016 and claimed more than 11,300 lives.

On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the DRC epidemic remains a global "public health emergency," a status that ensures a heightened response from among WHO members.

The meeting of health ministers was organised in the eastern city of Goma in partnership with the WHO and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), a health arm of the African Union.

Representatives from Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia attended.

Of the DRC's neighbours, Uganda is the only one to have recorded cases of Ebola on its territory, registering four cases, but thousands of people cross the DRC's borders each day.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Outsider Saied set for landslide in Tunisia presidency: exit polls

Yahoo – AFP, Kaouther Larbi, October 13, 2019

Conservative academic Kais Saied (C), flanked by his wife Ichraf Chebil (R),
celebrates his victory in the Tunisian presidential election (AFP Photo/Fethi Belaid)

Tunis (AFP) - Conservative academic Kais Saied, a political outsider, was headed for a landslide victory Sunday in Tunisia's presidential runoff, sweeping aside his rival, media magnate Nabil Karoui, exit polls said.

In a contest which reflected Tunisia's shifting post-revolution political landscape, Saied, an independent, scooped almost 77 percent of the vote, compared to 23 percent for Karoui, Wataniya television said.

Another exit poll from market research group Emrhod gave him almost 73 percent of the vote.

The official results are expected Monday, but news of the projected victory triggered celebrations at the retired law professor's election campaign offices in central Tunis, as fireworks were set off outside and supporters honked car horns.

In his first reaction, Saied thanked the country's young people "for turning a new page," and vowed to try to build "a new Tunisia".

"Kais Saied, voice of the people," a gathered crowd chanted. "Long live Tunisia!"

"We are very happy. Tunisia has an honest man at the helm now. The difference between the two candidates was the work he has been doing," said Mustafa El Ghali, a family member.

The runoff was contested by two political newcomers -- pitting Saied nicknamed "Robocop" against businessman, Karoui, who is dubbed Tunisia's "Berlusconi".

Tunisians celebrate the victory of Kais Saied in the country's presidential 
polls runoff (AFP Photo/Fethi Belaid)

They trounced the old guard in a September 15 first round, highlighting voter anger over a stagnant economy, joblessness and poor public services in the cradle of the Arab Spring.

Adding controversy and suspense to the contest, Karoui only walked free on Wednesday, having spent more than a month behind bars on suspicion of money-laundering.

The poll, Tunisia's second free presidential elections since its 2011 revolt, followed the death of president Beji Caid Essebsi in July. Turnout was higher than in the first round, and estimated at around 57 percent.

'Peaceful transition'

In one polling station, voters said they were divided between "the one who will apply the law" and the one "who helps the poor," referring to a charity television show that boosted Karoui's popularity.

The 56-year-old business tycoon Karoui portrayed himself as a bulwark against political Islam, which he accused his rival of supporting.

Saied, a 61-year-old constitutional law expert, whose low-cost, door-to-door campaign caught fire in the country, called for Tunisians "to make a choice today in complete freedom".

"You have created a new concept of revolution, let your conscience guide you," he said, casting his ballot.

Some Tunisians travelled far to their hometowns to vote taking 
advantage of car-sharing rides (AFP Photo/FETHI BELAID)

Saied campaigned upon the values of the 2011 revolution, based on opposition to Westernised and corrupt elites, and in favour of radical decentralisation.

"Congratulations to Tunisia; less for whom they voted, and more for showing a continued commitment to resolving differences via peaceful transitions," said H.A Hellyer, a senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, in a tweet.

For what was the third election in four weeks, some Tunisians organised car-sharing and free transport for students who had to travel far to their hometowns to cast their ballots.

"I am doing it out of love for my country. I support the one who embodies hope for Tunisia," said taxi driver Bakri who offered free rides to Saied supporters between Tunis and the coastal city of Nabeul.

The Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, which won the most seats in parliament in general elections earlier this month, had called on supporters to back Saied.

But the runoff outcome had remained uncertain, with a ban on opinion polls.

Saied topped the first round with 18.4 percent of votes, while Karoui followed with 15.6 percent.

Presidential contender Nabil Karoui only walked free days before the vote 
having spent more than a month behind bars on suspicion of money-laundering 

Sharp contrast

While the candidates were both seen as anti-establishment figures, the contrast between them was sharp, with Saied earning his nickname for his rigid and austere manner.

A social conservative, he has defended the death penalty, criminalisation of homosexuality and a sexual assault law that punishes unmarried couples who engage in public displays of affection.

Saied taught at the Tunis faculty of judicial and political sciences for nearly two decades.

Karoui presented himself as a candidate for the poor and the appeal of the flamboyant candidate, who always appeared in designer suits, stemmed largely from his media empire and philanthropic activity.

After the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the Nessma TV channel that Karoui founded turned from entertainment programming towards news, becoming one of Tunisia's largest private broadcasters.

Karoui has dismissed the allegations against him as politically motivated.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Abiy Ahmed: Meteoric rise of the man trying to remould Ethiopia

Yahoo – AFP, Robbie COREY-BOULET, October 11, 2019

Since taking office in April 2018, Abiy has aggressively pursued policies that have
the potential to upend Ethiopian society (AFP Photo/Zacharias Abubeker)

Addis Ababa (AFP) - The son of poor villagers who became a spy boss, and now the man behind dizzying attempts to reform Africa's fastest-growing economy and heal wounds with Ethiopia's neighbours, Abiy Ahmed has seen an unpredictable and peril-strewn rise to fame.

Another chapter was added to his remarkable tale on Friday when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Since becoming Ethiopian prime minister in April 2018, the 43-year-old has aggressively pursued policies that have the potential to upend his country's society and reshape dynamics beyond its borders.

Within just six months of his swearing-in, Abiy made peace with bitter foe Eritrea, released dissidents from jail, apologised for state brutality, and welcomed home exiled armed groups branded "terrorists" by his predecessors.

More recently he has turned to fleshing out his vision for the economy while laying the groundwork for elections currently scheduled to take place next May.

But analysts fret that his policies are, simultaneously, too much too fast for the political old guard, and too little too late for the country's angry youth, whose protests swept him to power.

Despite the challenges, Abiy's allies predict his deep well of personal ambition will prompt him to keep swinging big.

Ethiopians have celebrated some of Abiy's reforms including allowing the
return of dissidents (AFP Photo/YONAS TADESSE)

Tareq Sabt, a businessman and friend of Abiy's, says one of the first things that struck him when they met was the prime minister's drive: "I always said to friends, when this guy comes to power, you'll see a lot of change in Ethiopia."

"I have said often that winds of hope are blowing ever stronger across Africa. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is one of the main reasons why," UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said after Abiy's Nobel victory was announced.

'Sleeping on the floor'

Born in the western town of Beshasha to a Muslim father and Christian mother, Abiy "grew up sleeping on the floor" in a house that lacked electricity and running water.

"We used to fetch water from the river," he said in a wide-ranging radio interview with Sheger FM last month, adding that he didn't even see electricity or an asphalt road until the seventh grade.

Yet Abiy progressed quickly through the power structures created by the ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), after it took power from the Derg military junta in 1991.

Fascinated with technology, he joined the military as a radio operator while still a teenager.

He rose to lieutenant-colonel before entering government, first as a securocrat -- he was the founding head of Ethiopia's cyber-spying outfit, the Information Network Security Agency.

He then became a minister in the capital Addis Ababa, and a party official in his home region of Oromia.

Abiy has sought a role in shaping events across the Horn of Africa (AFP Photo/

Seizing the moment

The circumstances that led to Abiy's ascent to high office can be traced to late 2015.

A government plan to expand the capital's administrative boundaries into the surrounding Oromia region was seen as a land grab sparking protests led by the Oromo, Ethiopia's largest ethnic group, and the Amhara people.

States of emergency and mass arrests -- typical EPRDF tactics -- worked to quell the protests but failed to address the underlying grievances.

When then-prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn abruptly resigned, many feared a power-struggle within the EPRDF, or even an unravelling of the coalition that would leave a dangerous vacuum.

Instead, the coalition's member parties chose Abiy to become the first Oromo prime minister.

"He's the only one that could have saved the EPRDF," said Mohammed Ademo, a journalist who accompanied Abiy on his first visit to the large Ethiopian diaspora community in the United States last year.

"My feeling is that he's prepared for this moment all his life."

As prime minister, Abiy has sought to shape events across the Horn of Africa, fuelling criticism that he is taking on too much at once.

The immediate demands of Ethiopian politics may leave Abiy with no choice but 
to shift his focus inward in the months to come (AFP Photo/MICHAEL TEWELDE)

Beyond the rapprochement with Eritrea, for which he was cited for the Nobel, he has played a leading role in mediating Sudan's political crisis and has also tried to revive South Sudan's uncertain peace deal.

Yet whether any of these initiatives will ultimately succeed is an open question.

Even the Eritrea deal, which many see as Abiy's signature achievement to date, has been undermined by a lack of tangible progress on critical issues like border demarcation.

"Abiy has had real foreign policy successes, but there has been some misguided optimism from abroad that he can transform the Horn of Africa," said James Barnett, an analyst specialising in East Africa at the American Enterprise Institute.

"The Horn is volatile. I'm sceptical that one leader can undo decades of competition and mistrust."

Assassination bid

The immediate demands of Ethiopian politics may leave Abiy with no choice but to shift his focus inward in the months to come.

Holding credible elections by next May, the current timeline, is a daunting task, yet Abiy is keen on scoring the kind of victory that would give him a mandate with the general public.

First, he must contend with Ethiopia's formidable security challenges.

Ethnic violence has been on the rise in recent years, causing Ethiopia to record more internally displaced people last year than any other country.

And last June, Abiy faced the greatest threat yet to his hold on power when gunmen assassinated high-ranking officials including a prominent regional president and the army chief.

Abiy seems well aware of the danger he faces, and from time to time makes public reference to attempts on his own life, including a grenade attack at a rally just two months after he took his post.

For now, as he noted in the Sheger FM interview, he remains in control.

"There were many attempts so far, but death didn't want to come to me," he said. "Death shied away from me."

Thursday, October 10, 2019

US blacklists S. Africa's Gupta family over 'widespread corruption'

Yahoo – AFP, October 10, 2019

The US Treasury has sanctioned close associates of South Africa's former president
Jacob Zuma, pictured here, who is at the center of a massive corruption scandal

Washington (AFP) - The US Treasury announced sanctions Thursday on South Africa's Gupta family and associate Salim Essa, calling them a "significant corruption network" that dispersed bribes and misappropriated millions in state funds.

The wealthy, Indian-born Guptas are at the center of a judicial inquiry into rampant corruption during the nine-year administration of South Africa's former president Jacob Zuma.

"The Gupta family leveraged its political connections to engage in widespread corruption and bribery, capture government contracts, and misappropriate state assets," said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

"Treasury's designation targets the Guptas' pay-to-play political patronage, which was orchestrated at the expense of the South African people," she said.

The sanctions immediately freeze any assets the blacklisted individuals have under US jurisdiction and forbid Americans and US businesses -- particularly international banks with any US operations -- from transactions with them.

The sanctions were placed under the US Global Magnitsky Act which targets large-scale corruption and human rights violation.

"Today's sanctions announcement demonstrates the US government's unwavering commitment to supporting the rule of law and accountability in South Africa," the Treasury said.

"We support the anti-corruption efforts of South Africa's independent judiciary, law enforcement agencies, and the ongoing judicial commissions of inquiry."

In that inquiry, the Gupta brothers -- Ajay, Atul and Rajesh -- are accused of fraudulently profiting from government contracts including energy and transport deals through their close association with Zuma.

The investigation has also cast a shadow over President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has denied business dealings with the brothers.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Ethiopia's largest ethnic group marks thanksgiving festival

Yahoo - AFP, October 5, 2019

The festival marks the end of the rainy season (AFP Photo/YONAS TADESSE)

Addis Ababa (AFP) - Members of Ethiopia's largest ethnic group chanted and waved flags as they gathered for the first time to celebrate their thanksgiving festival in the capital -- a city that prominent members of the group claim belongs to them.

The annual Irreecha festival of the Oromo people marks the end of the rainy season and the start of the harvest season.

It is traditionally held in the city of Bishoftu, located in the Oromia region some 50 kilometres (30 miles) southeast of the capital, Addis Ababa.

Many Oromo leaders argue that Addis Ababa is part of their group's territory, meaning the decision to allow Irreecha celebrations there risked exacerbating ethnic tensions.

But a concert Friday night in the central Meskel Square and blessing ceremonies Saturday morning appeared to have unfolded without major incident.

Dawud Ibsa, leader of the opposition Oromo Liberation Front, a former rebel group, told AFP that Saturday's celebrations would be "very significant" for Oromos who believe their claims to Addis Ababa have not been respected.

"This is our turn and a revival of what is taken from you," he said.

Irreecha has already been a political flashpoint in recent years.

The annual Irreecha festival marks the end of the rainy season and the start of
the harvest season (AFP Photo/YONAS TADESSE)

In 2016, the use of tear gas and firearms by security forces sparked a stampede that killed dozens of people, some of whom drowned in a nearby lake.

The government put the death toll at 55, though Human Rights Watch later said it could have been in the hundreds.

The following year Irreecha turned into an anti-government protest.

Last year's Irreecha -- the first since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, himself an ethnic Oromo, came to power -- was peaceful.

The celebrations in Addis Ababa on Saturday will be followed by a larger event on Sunday in Bishoftu.

State-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate said Irreecha was expected to draw "millions of Oromos from all over the country as well as non-Oromo visitors from different parts of the country and other parts of the world."

Abiy said in his Irreecha message that the festival was "a symbol of peace and unity," Fana said.

Security forces were nonetheless on high alert. Federal police reported Thursday that they had detained a number of people with weapons who were seeking to "disrupt" Irreecha.

Security is expected to be tight in Addis Ababa all weekend, and roads in the city centre were closed Saturday.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Hidden for 21 years, Ethiopian crown set to return home

Yahoo – AFP, Jan HENNOP,  October 2, 2019

The ornate gilded copper crown, featuring images of Jesus and the Apostles,
was unearthed after refugee-turned-Dutch-citizen Sirak Asfaw (L) contacted
Dutch 'art detective' Arthur Brand (R) (AFP Photo/Jan HENNOP)

Rotterdam (Netherlands) (AFP) - A priceless 18th-century Ethiopian crown is set to be returned from the Netherlands to Addis Ababa after a one-time refugee found it in a suitcase and hid it in his apartment for two decades.

The ornate gilded copper headgear, featuring images of Christ and the Twelve Apostles, was unearthed after refugee-turned-Dutch-citizen Sirak Asfaw contacted Dutch 'art detective' Arthur Brand.

Brand, dubbed the "Indiana Jones of the art world" for his discoveries of missing works, said the crown, which is currently being held in a secure location, would soon be handed to the Ethiopian authorities.

Speaking at his apartment in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam, Sirak told AFP the remarkable story of how he came into possession of the crown -- which experts say belongs to a series of some of Ethiopia's most important cultural artefacts.

Sirak, a former Ethiopian refugee who today works as a management consultant for the Dutch government, fled the country during the late 1970s during the so-called "Red Terror" purges.

Once settled in the Netherlands, Sirak used to receive a stream of Ethiopians including pilots and diplomats, along with people who had fled a continuous cycle of hardship in Africa's most ancient country.

Then, in April 1998, while looking for a document, Sirak stumbled upon the crown in a suitcase left behind by one of his visitors.

"I looked into the suitcase and saw something really amazing and I thought 'this is not right. This has been stolen. This should not be here. This belongs to Ethiopia'," he said.

'It would just disappear'

Sirak said he confronted the suitcase's owner -- whom he did not identify -- and told him that the crown "will not leave my house unless it goes back to Ethiopia".

Shortly afterwards Sirak posted a message on an Ethiopian chat group on the internet -- still a new phenomena back in 1998 -- asking what people thought he should do with "an Ethiopian artefact".

But he did not get a satisfactory answer "and I did not want to return it to the same regime that had made it possible for the crown to get stolen," he said.

The former refugee decided to become the crown's de facto guardian "until such time it could go back".

The crown, which is currently being held in a secure location
 in the Netherlands, would soon be handed to the 
Ethiopian authorities (AFP Photo/Jan HENNOP)

For 21 years the crown was hidden in his apartment as Ethiopia continued to be ruled by an iron-fisted one-party government.

During that time, Sirak was pressured by Ethiopians who knew he had the crown and wanted to force him to give it back.

"But I knew if I gave it back, it would just disappear again," he said.

Sirak said however that when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office last year, he felt that things had changed sufficiently in Ethiopia to finally give the crown back.

Brand said Sirak had contacted him and "told me he was in possession of an Ethiopian artefact of great cultural importance.

"It turns out that Sirak Asfaw had been the custodian of a rare 18th-century Ethiopian crown for the past 21 years and wants to give it back," said Brand.

"It was a story straight from a crime thriller," said the art sleuth, who became world famous in 2015 after finding two bronze statues of horses made by Hitler's favourite sculptor Joseph Thorak.

The Dutch government too confirmed to AFP that Brand had told them about the crown's existence saying "its authenticity will now have to be established in close cooperation with Ethiopian authorities," before the next steps will be taken.

'This is Ethiopia's identity'

The artefact is currently being stored at a high-security facility in the Netherlands, where it was seen by an AFP correspondent.

Jacopo Gnisci, a research associate at Oxford University who also examined the artefact and confirmed its authenticity, said there were less than two dozen of these crowns, called "zewd", in existence.

"These crowns are of great cultural and symbolic significance in Ethiopia, as they are usually donated by high-ranking officials to churches in a practice that reaches as far back as the Late Antiquity," he told AFP.

This crown has an inscription dating to 1633-34, but Gnisci said it was more likely to have been made a century later and was commissioned by one of Ethiopia's most powerful warlords, "ras" Welde Sellase.

Gnisci, who is currently writing a book about medieval Ethiopian manuscripts, said Welde Sellase likely donated the crown to a church in a village called Cheleqot near the modern-day city of Mekelle in northern Ethiopia.

The last time the crown was seen in public, it was worn by a priest in a photograph taken in 1993 before it disappeared, said Gnisci. An investigation was launched at the time but the culprits were never found.

"These crowns are of priceless symbolic value and it is important that they be retuned to Ethiopia," said Gnisci.

"This is Ethiopian cultural heritage, this is Ethiopia's identity and finally it feels good to give it back," said Sirak.