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Ethiopia will vote in twice-delayed elections on Monday, despite growing concern over the credibility of the vote.

International attention is much more focused on an ongoing war in the country's Tigray region, where famine is affecting 350,000 people.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed promised the vote will be the most democratic in the country's history. Campaigning officially wrapped on Thursday.

"Our issue isn't protecting Ethiopia's unity, rather it is making Ethiopia the strength of the Horn of Africa," Abiy said at a rally in Addis Ababa.

37 million people will be able to vote, with Abiy's ruling Prosperity Party favorites to win.

But under Abiy, Africa's second most populous nation has been dogged by instability that's killed thousands and displaced over a million people.

In power since 2018, Abiy's reforms and a peace deal with neighboring Eritrea spurred optimism.

But as a new election approaches, that surge of hope has diminished.

Tensions over the dam Addis Ababa is building on the Nile have also surged in recent months but it is the domestic crises that worry observers the most.

Chief among the challenges is the grueling conflict in Tigray in the north, where the vote will not take place.

Fighting is still ongoing, 7 months after federal troops were sent to confront an armed rebellion by the region's ruling party - the Tigray People's Liberation Front.

The humanitarian situation here is dire. The UN says 91% of residents are in urgent need of food aid.

Elsewhere in the north, Amhara state also suffers from food insecurity. And like much of the country, it has also seen an increase in ethnic violence.

Ethiopia's two largest ethnic groups, the Oromo and the Amhara, frequently clash.

Here too there won't be any voting.

Some say these conflicts are the unfortunate off-spin of the premier's break with an authoritarian past.

"There has been a looseness after Abiy came to office, in the name of widening the democracy," said Agagenew Mekete, the mayor of Ataye, a small town in the country's central region.

Several international players have voiced concerns.

The United States has condemned the imprisonment of opposition leaders.

Most notably Eskinder Nega, a long-term government critic who was jailed in September last year on terrorism charges.


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Ebrahim Raisi

Hardline judge Ebrahim Raisi leads Iran’s presidential election, an interior ministry official said on Saturday, a day after millions of Iranians voted in a contest that critics boycotted over economic woes and political restrictions.

Raisi had so far won 17.8 million votes, the official said in televised news conference. More than 28 million Iranians out of 59 million eligible voters cast ballots, the official said.

Raisi, a 60-year-old Shi’ite cleric who is subject to U.S. sanctions for alleged human rights abuses, had been widely expected to win the contest, thanks to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s support.

Raisi’s only moderate rival congratulated him.

“I hope your administration, under the leadership of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will make the Islamic Republic proud, improve livelihood and ensure the nation’s well-being and welfare,” media quoted former central bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati as saying in a letter.

In a televised speech, outgoing President Hassan Rouhani congratulated “the people’s elected (president)”, without naming him.

“Because it has not been officially announced yet, I will delay the official congratulations. But it is clear who received the votes,” Rouhani said.

Other candidates also congratulated Raisi.

Raisi is a harsh critic of the West and the standard bearer of Iran’s security hawks. Accused by critics of human rights abuses stretching back decades – allegations his defenders deny – Raisi was appointed by Khamenei to the high-profile job of judiciary chief in 2019.

The election comes at a critic time. Iran and six major powers are in talks to revive their 2015 nuclear deal. Then U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions that have squeezed Iran’s oil income.

Raisi offered no detailed political or economic programme during his election campaign, but has backed the revival of the nuclear pact, a development that would bring an easing of U.S. sanctions that have crushed the economy.

Khamenei, not the president, has the last say on all state matters like foreign and nuclear policies.

LACK OF CHOICE

Hoping to boost their legitimacy, the country’s clerical rulers had urged people to turn out and vote on Friday, but dissidents inside and abroad said popular anger over economic hardship and curbs on freedoms kept many Iranians at home.

Another deterrent for many pro-reform voters was a lack of choice, after a hardline election body barred heavyweight moderate and conservative candidates from standing.

Analysts said the exclusions by the Guardian Council cleared the way for Raisi’s expected victory.

Before Hemmati’s concession, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said: “Iranians were denied their right to choose their own leaders in a free and fair electoral process” – a likely reference to the disqualification of candidates.


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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris urged Americans to get COVID-19 shots on Friday, as the country looks likely to miss the White House’s goals for vaccination next month.

“Act now, act now,” Biden said in remarks at the White House, urging the unvaccinated to talk to their family and friends who have had shots.

Deaths and hospitalizations are going “drastically down in places where people are getting vaccinated,” but not other areas, Biden said. “They’re actually going up in some places.”

At the current pace, the United States seems unlikely to hit Biden’s goal of 70 percent of adults receiving at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by July 4, the Independence Day holiday. As of Friday, around 65.1 percent of people in the United States had gotten at least one shot, and that mark has increased by less than one percentage point over the past two weeks.

That pace would have to more than double over the next two weeks for the United States to hit the target.

“When you get the vaccine for yourself, that means that you will not possibly pass it on to somebody else in general because you’re unlikely to get COVID,” Harris said during a vaccination drive at Atlanta’s famed Ebenezer Baptist Church. “Isn’t that an extension of love thy neighbor?” she said, to which several in the audience responded, “Amen!”

The United States has administered 300 million COVID-19 vaccinations in 150 days, a White House official said on Friday ahead of Biden’s speech. Biden’s government-wide push to accelerate vaccinations was paying off, with COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths down to their lowest levels since the start of the pandemic, officials said.

The news comes days after the United States marked a grim milestone, surpassing 600,000 COVID-19 deaths.

The U.S. death toll remains the highest in the world, although other countries, including Brazil, Britain and Russia, have higher death rates as a measure of their populations.

A White House fact sheet said the number of COVID-19 deaths has decreased by 90% since Biden took office in January, when more than 3,300 Americans were dying each day, and highlighted big gains in the economy as people return to work.

It said more than 175 million Americans had now received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot, and 55% of adults were fully vaccinated.

Addressing racial imbalances in vaccination rates remained a huge and continuing concern, the White House said, but pointed to gains there as well. In the past month, it said, people of color had accounted for 54% of nationwide vaccinations, while making up 40% of the U.S. population.

The vice president’s visit to a vaccination site at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on Friday underscored the importance of faith groups and community-based organizations in accelerating vaccinations and overcoming vaccine hesitancy.

“Church is always a healing place. It’s so appropriate that we’re doing this here,” Harris said in remarks at the historic church where civil rights leader the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and his father once preached.

“We just need to get the word out. One of the most important ways is friend to friend, neighbor to neighbor … please help us get the word out,” Harris said, according to a pool press report on the visit.


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As a three-day coronavirus travel ban came into force around Lisbon on Friday afternoon, drivers stopped by police asking them their reason for travelling said they felt concerned about the worrying rise in infections .

People living in the 18 municipalities of Lisbon’s metropolitan area will be banned from leaving from 3 p.m. on Friday until 6 a.m on Monday. Those living outside the area will not be allowed in.

Portugal, population 10 million, posted over 1,000 new COVID-19 cases for the third day in a row on Friday and the number of daily infections are back to late February levels, when the country was still under lockdown.

Most new cases were reported in the Lisbon area.

A lockdown was imposed in January to tackle what was then world’s worst coronavirus surge but most restrictions have since been lifted. The jump in infections comes less than a month after Portugal opened to visitors from the EU and Britain.

The government has come under fire for allowing two mass gatherings of football fans to take place last month, including the Champions League final between two English teams in Porto.

In a report on Friday, health institute Ricardo Jorge said the Delta coronavirus variant, which was first identified in India but is rapidly spreading in Britain, was likely to become the dominant variant in Portugal over the next weeks.

Britain removed Portugal from its so-called green list of foreign destination around two weeks ago.

On highways around the Lisbon region, police stopped drivers and asked them why they were travelling. Most had a valid reason, including work. But some of the drivers were not impressed with the new rule.

“It doesn’t make sense for this measure to only be in place during the weekend – the virus circulates all week,” said 43-year-old Sergio Ribeiro after the police gave him the green light to continue his journey.

Antonio Alfaiate, who was also stopped by police as he made his way out of Lisbon, has already been vaccinated against COVID-19 but the recent spike in infections has scared the 69-year-old.

“The situation is complicated and we need rules because if we don’t the virus will spread again and we will be worse off than we were in the past,” a visibly worried Alfaiate said.

Portugal’s health system was on the verge of collapsing earlier this year and some hospitals in the city are already gearing up to treat more patients if needed. The number of people in hospital has increased in recent days.

The Ricardo Jorge institute also said on its Friday report that the virus was now spreading with “intensity” and the pressure on the health services was growing, particularly in Lisbon.


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The House of Commons

A lawmaker in British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has been charged with sexual assault, prosecutors said on Friday, an allegation he denied.

Imran Ahmad Khan, who represents the Wakefield constituency in northern England, is accused of one offence of sexual assault, relating to an incident in 2008, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said in a statement.

“The CPS made the decision that Mr Khan should be charged after reviewing a file of evidence from Staffordshire Police,” Rosemary Ainslie, head of Special Crime, said. “The CPS reminds all concerned that criminal proceedings against Mr Khan are active and that he has a right to a fair trial.”

Khan, who captured his parliamentary seat from the opposition Labour Party in the 2019 election, said the allegation from 13 years ago was “denied in the strongest terms”.

“This matter is deeply distressing to me and I, of course, take it extremely seriously,” he said in a statement. “To be accused of doing something I did not do is shocking destabilising and traumatic. I am innocent.”

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The Governor of Katsina State, Aminu Bello Masari, has commended the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) for its responsiveness in the fight against armed banditry and other forms of criminality in Katsina State and other states in Northwest Nigeria. 

He also noted that the glaring commitment and dedication of the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Oladayo Amao, as well as the efforts of NAF personnel at the forefront of on-going operations in the Northeast has significantly curtailed the activities of the bandits and limited their scope of operation. 

Governor Aminu Masari disclosed this today, 18 June 2021, when he paid a courtesy call on the CAS at NAF Headquarters, Abuja. 

Speaking further, the Governor stated that banditry in Katsina State and environs was peculiar as it does not represent any ideology, doctrine, religion or political party. According to him, ‘Banditry in Katsina is pure criminality’. 

He also revealed that the Katsina State Government have made several efforts to engage the bandits, but the moves have yielded little or no result as each group operates independently. 

The security situation, according to Governor, was compounded by the vastness of the Katsina open border with Niger Republic as well as the huge ungovernable spaces in the State which gives the bandits freedom of movement.  

He expressed sadness that the activities of these miscreants which was associated with wanton destruction of lives and properties, kidnapping, rape and arson has greatly affected the progress of the State. Even more worrisome, according to the Governor, was the sad fact that these bandits attack the same locality they reside in and people they have lived with for years. 

While noting that the primacy of governance can only be felt when peace and security is achieved, Governor Masari stated that all efforts must be made to root out banditry to restore sanity and normalcy in the entire North-western Nigeria.  

He expressed happiness with the level of synergy among the various security agencies and stated that the result of the new level of cooperation has started yielding the requisite outcome with some level of normalcy being felt in some areas of the State. He therefore called on the collective support of Nigerians as the military work round the clock to ensure the protection of lives and properties.

Responding, the CAS thanked Governor Masari for his support to the NAF and other security agencies in Katsina State. He also informed the Governor of NAF’s firm support for the Governor’s stance of not negotiating with bandits, while assuring him that in no distant time, the security situation would take a turn for the better. 

Air Marshal Oladayo also used the opportunity of the visit to inform the Governor that the mandate given the service chiefs by President Muhammadu Buhari was clear and unambiguous: Deal decisively with all bandits and other criminal elements in the country. 

According to the CAS, ‘With the induction of new platforms including the Super Tucanos and other platforms in the next month or 2, there will be no hiding place for these bandits.’ On ongoing NAF operational projects in Katsina State, Air Marshal Amao assured Governor Masari that when completed, the projects would enhance the operational capabilities and reach of NAF platforms in the State. 

Highlight of the visit included the laying of wreath at the NAF Memorial Arcade in respect of NAF personnel who had paid the supreme price in the course of duty. 

The visit was witnessed by Branch Heads from headquarters NAF and some members of Katsina State Executive Council.

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on June 17, 2021 secured the conviction of Yinka Bello and Energy Fields Nigeria Limited before Justice K. N. Ogbonnaya of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Abuja.

The conviction followed a change of plea by the defendants from “not guilty” to “guilty”, pursuant to a plea bargain agreement with the prosecution.

The defendants were first arraigned on March 29, 2021, for offences bordering on issuance of dud cheque, contrary to the Dishonored Cheques Offences Act Cap 102 laws of the Federation of Nigeria.

Upon arraignment, the defendants pleaded not guilty and the 1st defendant was ordered remanded in a Correctional Centre.

After three months, the defendants entered into a plea bargain negotiation with the prosecution, leading to the amendment of the charge.

At the resumed trial on Thursday June 17, the 1st defendant pleaded guilty to the amended charge.

The charge reads; “That you Energy Fields Nigeria Limited on or about the 31st day of October 2016 in Abuja within the jurisdiction of this honorable court with knowledge that you had insufficient funds in your account issued to Habul Nigeria Limited a UBA Bank cheque no. 057080099 dated 31st October 2016 in the sum of N10, 000,000.00 being refund of money advanced to you by Habiba Umar Bello. This said cheque when presented for payment within 3 months of issuance was dishonored due to insufficient funds standing to the credit of the account to cover the face value of the cheque and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 1(1)(a) of the Dishonored Cheques Offences Act Cap 102 laws of the Federation of Nigeria and Punishable under section 1(1)(b)(I)(II) of the same Act 2007.”

Based on his plea, the prosecuting counsel, Ijeabalum Diribe prayed the court to convict and sentence the defendant in line with the plea bargain agreement.

Justice Ogbonnaya consequently convicted and sentenced the 1st defendant to a fine of N500, 000.00 (Five Hundred Thousand Naira). He was also ordered to refund the victim, the cumulative sum of N10,000,000.00, being the value of the dishonored cheque.

The court also convicted and sentenced the 2nd defendant to a fine of N500, 000 (Five Hundred Naira).