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American kidnapped in southern Niger, officials say

omersukrugoksu/iStockBy CONOR FINNEGAN, AICHA EL HAMMAR CASTANO and MORGAN WINSOR, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A U.S. citizen living in Niger has been kidnapped, a Nigerien Ministry of Defense source told ABC News.

Philip Walton, 27, was kidnapped from his backyard in the West African nation after his assailants asked him for money but he only offered $40, according to the source. Walton lives with his wife and young daughter on a farm near Massalata, a small village in southern Niger near the country's border with Nigeria.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State confirmed to ABC News that an American citizen has been abducted in Niger and that the U.S. government is "providing their family all possible consular assistance." The spokesperson declined to comment further on the case, citing "privacy considerations," but added, "When a U.S. citizen is missing, we work closely with local authorities as they carry out their search efforts, and we share information with families however we can."

The Nigerien Ministry of Defense source told ABC News that the kidnappers are believed to be an armed group from neighboring Nigeria but, for now, the incident isn't considered terror-related.

Niger, which is three times the size of California and home to some 22 million people, is one of many nations in Africa's Sahel region that is plagued by terrorism and instability. But the Nigerien military has been a close partner to the United States in the fight against regional jihadist groups, including affiliates of both al Qaeda and ISIS.

Last week, a United Nations-backed donor summit raised $1.7 billion to support governments in the Central Sahel region as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that a fast-growing humanitarian crisis created by a combination of conflict, climatic changes and poverty is at a "breaking point," with 13.4 million people in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger who are in need of assistance and protection this year to survive.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Muslim nations call for boycott of French products

Ramberg/iStockBy IBTISSEM GUENFOUD, ABC News

(PARIS) -- Several Arab countries are condemning French President Emmanuel Macron after he said he would propose legislation to tackle Islamist separatism and paid tribute to history teacher Samuel Paty, who was murdered after showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class. Macron has previously called Islam a "religion in crisis."

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Bangladesh and the Gaza Strip this week after Macron's comments led to social media channels being flooded with the hashtags #BoycottFrenchProducts and #NeverTheProphet.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan publicly called for the boycott of French products on Tuesday, decrying "rising Islamophobia in Europe." Some shops have already removed dozens of French brands from their shelves. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Monday the French ambassador to Turkey would be called back to Paris for consultation amid rising diplomatic tensions.

Leaders and officials in Iran, Pakistan and Qatar have also come out to denounce Macron's support of the Prophet Muhammad cartoons, which many Muslims find disrespectful. Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, even called on Facebook to place a ban on Islamophobia and hate speech against Islam "given the rampant abuse and vilification of Muslims on social media platforms."

The Qatari State has condemned an escalation of "populist rhetoric inciting the abuse of religions."

Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif said insulting 1.9 billion Muslims for "the abhorrent crimes of such extremists is an opportunistic abuse of freedom of speech."

The Oct. 16 killing of Paty has led to protests across France. The French Council for the Muslim Faith denounced the history teacher's murder as "a betrayal of the message of the prophet" but said "forcing [the cartoons] on everyone by projecting them on public buildings or showing them to children in a compulsory education setting is another thing."

On Sunday, Macron pleaded for unity.

"We are united," he tweeted, adding, "We will not give in, ever" in both English and Arabic.

Debate around Islam is raging as the French government seeks to implement strong measures against radical Islamism.

Meanwhile, European leaders are standing behind France. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called Erdogan's comments "completely unacceptable" and European Union High Representative Josep Borelles said Turkey needs to "stop this dangerous spiral of confrontation."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Almost 200 dogs rescued from South Korea dog meat farm land in US to find new homes

Ksenia Raykova/iStockBy JON HAWORTH, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Almost 200 dogs have now arrived in the United States after being rescued from a dog meat farm in South Korea, according to the Humane Society International.

The rescue effort was conducted by Humane Society International (HIS) at a dog meet farm in Haemi, South Korea, and included a total of 170 dogs from one farm -- including golden retrievers, a poodle, Korean jindos and mastiffs, Pomeranians, terriers and a Labrador -- as well as 26 other dogs from a previous dog meat market and farm rescue operation. Those 26 animals had not been able to leave their temporary shelter in South Korea until now due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to HSI.

HSI’s U.S. team flew to Seoul, South Korea, where they remained in quarantine for two weeks at a government sanctioned hotel before being allowed out to rescue the animals from the dog meat farm in Haemi.

“Although most people in South Korea don’t regularly eat dog meat, and support for a ban is growing, there remain thousands of farms of all sizes across the country where dogs of all breeds endure a harsh existence,” said Kelly O’Meara, HSI’s vice president of companion animal campaigns in a statement. “With fewer people wanting to eat dog, farmers can see the writing is on the wall for this dying industry and so they work with HSI to find a solution that gives both them and their remaining dogs a chance of a new life. With such interest from dog farmers, and public support, we hope the Korean government will adopt this type of approach to phase out the dog meat industry for good.”

The majority of the rescued dogs will now take shelter in the Washington, D.C. area either in local area shelters or at a temporary shelter set up by HSI and the Animal Rescue Team of the Humane Society of the United States, with assistance from RedRover, an animal rescue organization. Any remaining dogs will be taken to a temporary shelter in Montreal, Canada, before being placed with local shelter partners of HSI there.

“All the dogs will be evaluated, receive the veterinary treatment needed, and be in warm beds with nutritious food for the first time in their lives,” said HSI. “The dogs staying in the HSI/HSUS temporary shelter will gradually move to shelter partners across the US over the coming month.”

The dog farm in Haemi is now the 17th one that HSI has permanently closed down, according to the organization.

“Dog adoption is not yet widely accepted in South Korea, however HSI hopes that its work to raise awareness about the benefits of adoption and promotion of its adoption success stories overseas, will gradually lead to more dogs finding forever families within the country,” said HSI.

While South Korea is the only country that intensively farms dogs for human consumption on a large scale -- an estimated two million dogs per year -- a new opinion poll conducted by Nielsen showed that 84% of the population say they don’t or won’t eat dog, and almost 60% support a legislative ban on the trade.

“Most South Koreans do not consume dog meat, and many citizens increasingly see dogs only as companion animals,” said HSI. “The increase in companionship with dogs, particularly among younger Koreans, has at the same time fostered a greater interest in animal welfare and a decline in acceptance of eating dog meat.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


US-brokered ceasefire for Armenia-Azerbaijan fails, as fighting continues

200mm/iStockBy PATRICK REEVELL, ABC News

(MOSCOW) -- A ceasefire brokered by the United States between Armenia and Azerbaijan appears to have collapsed without ever having taken hold, as heavy fighting continues between the two and Azerbaijan has appeared to seek to make military advances.

The ceasefire was announced on Sunday to begin on Monday morning, but within minutes both sides accused each other of violating the agreement and fighting has intensified since.

The truce was the third attempt in three weeks to establish a ceasefire first brokered by Russia to stop the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

While exact figures are uncertain, thousands may have died and tens of thousands of civilians may have been forced to flee after Azerbaijan launched an offensive seeking to retake the region, based on numbers released over the past month and analysts' estimates.

The U.S., Russia and France, which head the so-called OSCE Minsk Group that mediates the conflict, have tried to negotiate a ceasefire. The first two attempts led by Russia and then France also quickly unraveled.

The latest ceasefire was agreed upon after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted separate meetings with Armenia and Azerbaijan's foreign ministers in Washington D.C., last week.

But Armenia's prime minister Nikol Pashinyan late Sunday tweeted, "the efforts of the international community, this time brokered by the #UnitedStates, to establish a ceasefire, have failed," blaming Azerbaijan.

Intense fighting reportedly continued on Tuesday and Armenia's defense ministry accused Azerbaijan of firing directly on border units in Armenia, outside Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan has accused Armenian forces of firing into Azerbaijan, including a missile strike that it alleged killed several civilians.

Pompeo on Tuesday called Pashinyan and Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev and urged them to observe the ceasefire, according to the State Department.

The ceasefire was the U.S.' first attempt to take the lead in brokering a ceasefire for the current fighting. President Donald Trump told reporters in Pennsylvania on Monday the ceasefire was "holding." And a day earlier, Trump told a rally in New Hampshire that he was going to "straighten out" the conflict, calling it an "easy one."

Trump in recent days has spoken more about the conflict, and at the rally he praised Armenians, promising to stop the war for them and calling them "incredible people," in what some have seen as an attempt to win support from the large diaspora in the U.S.

Pashinyan in a speech on Monday said the failure of the ceasefire to take hold was becoming an issue in the U.S. election.

"In the case of the United States, the issue is getting more urgent due to the election campaign there, and it is actually about President Trump's ability to influence the international situation," Pashinyan said.

In recent days, Azerbaijan has appeared to make significant military gains, moving closer to a key strategic area known as the Lachin corridor, that connects Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh. The move prompted alarm from international experts that if the war continues in this direction, it could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe, raising the spectre of ethnic cleansing.

Armenia's military has said that Azerbaijan in the past two days has made advances in the south of the enclave, on Sunday night taking the town of Kubatlu (Qubadlı) and had approached the outskirts of Syunik, the Armenian province that borders Lachin.

The current military conflict dates back to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s when Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a 6-year war for control of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region between the two countries. That war was estimated to have killed 20,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

It left Nagorno-Karabakh under an ethnic Armenian government and a majority Armenian population, but the territory remained recognised internationally as Azerbaijani. Azerbaijan has never accepted the loss of the enclave and the conflict has flared periodically for three decades.

But there has been nothing like the current fighting since the 1990s war. The conflict has been fundamentally altered by the involvement of Turkey, which is backing Azerbaijan far more aggressively than it has in the past, providing weapons and military advisers. It has also been accused of recruiting mercenaries from Turkish-backed Syrian rebel groups that are fighting for Azerbaijan.

Most outside observers believe there is little desire for a ceasefire from Azerbaijan, which has said any truce can only be temporary until Armenia agrees to withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh -- which Azerbaijan's President Aliyev in a fiery speech on Monday again pledged to ensure.

Aliyev has said Azerbaijan is fighting to force Armenia to fulfil a peace plan that was agreed upon following the 1990s war that would return occupied territories. Aliyev has pledged to return full control of Nagorno-Karabakh itself.

"We are on a righteous path, united as a fist," Aliyev tweeted on Monday.

Russia which has close ties with both Armenia and Azerbaijan on Tuesday urged Turkey to use its influence to halt the fighting.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


The world is watching the US election. What are they thinking?

scyther5/iStockBy ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. elections are just one week away and the eyes of the world are watching.

Here are the views from over a dozen countries, reported by the ABC News team around the world from Sao Paulo to Seoul, Hong Kong to Havana.

Mexico


Mexico is very pleased to be somehow absent from the 2020 campaign after serving as what many called an electoral piñata for Donald Trump in 2016.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO, has a good relationship with President Trump, but could have a better one with former Vice President Joe Biden as his potential presidency will mean less pressure with issues including a border wall and migration from Central America. After Trump forced AMLO to toughen his immigration policy or face penalties, a Biden victory could see a complete reset in the narrative and a more "humanitarian" immigration policy, like it used to be.

Anne Laurent reported from Mexico City, Mexico.


Brazil


Both Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro share an ideology defined by its conservatism and populism. Bolsonaro needs Trump in the White House to legitimize his presidency in Brazil and to give him a mandate for a second run. If Trump loses, Bolsonaro will be more isolated on the world stage and at home.

Sources close to Bolsonaro and in his administration have expressed deep concern about the U.S. elections and what a change in administration could mean for the relationship. One person close to Bolsonaro and his wife Michelle said she is praying to God every day for Trump to win.

In particular, Brazil needs economic and technological partnerships with the U.S., including new military technologies and membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD. While Trump declared Brazil a major non-NATO ally and backed its OECD membership bid, a Biden White House could be more difficult -- given disagreements on human rights, climate change, the Amazon and more.

Aicha El Hammar Castano reported from Brussels, Belgium.


Cuba


Just as travel between the U.S. and Cuba was beginning to increase and relations were thawing between the Cold War adversaries, Trump's election delivered a shocking blow to any hope of normalized relations.

The Cuban government thinks that if Trump wins reelection, he will increase economic measures against Havana and deepen the island nation's economic crisis. While Trump said last week that he was open to renegotiating with Havana "at the right time," his administration has made next to no effort so far, and Cubans don't expect him to do more any time soon.

If Biden wins, the Cuban government expects he will return to the Obama-era deal that he was a part of -- but they don't expect full normalization. They believe Biden will have to maintain some restrictions, perhaps learning that voters in Florida will demand some stringent measures to keep them in the Democrats' fold -- after Hillary Clinton lost there in 2016.

Mara Valdes reported from Havana, Cuba.


Egypt


For Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, election success for Trump seems to be of utmost importance. Sisi had a frosty relationship with former President Barack Obama, whose administration repeatedly rebuked Egypt for its human rights record and, at one point, suspended U.S. military aid.

In Trump's first year, his administration similarly withheld aid, but backed down. Since then, Egypt has increased its crackdown on Islamist, liberal and secular opposition, jailing thousands and banning any kind of protests -- and Trump's administration has largely stopped short of directly rebuking Cairo, apart from some remarks on Americans jailed in Egyptian cells. "We are not here to lecture," Trump told Arab leaders in the Saudi capital of Riyadh in 2017.

When "Black Lives Matter" protests erupted, Egyptian media, which is tightly controlled by the state, leapt to Trump's defense. One famous presenter, notorious for his eccentric views, accused the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood of trying to sow chaos in the U.S. and unseat Trump.

Biden has indicated that he will not follow a similar path, tweeting in July: "No more blank checks for Trump's 'favorite dictator,'" referring to Trump's reported description of Sisi. The former vice president was commenting on the release of Mohamed Amashah, a hunger-striking medical student from New Jersey who served more than a year in pre-trial detention for holding up a sign that read "Freedom to All Prisoners" in the iconic Tahrir Square.

Should he win, Biden is likely to press Sisi on a range of human rights issues, with several other American citizens still languishing in Egyptian jails, including several relatives of Mohamed Soltan, a U.S.-based Egyptian activist and a former prisoner himself who spearheads efforts to free political prisoners in Egypt.

Hatem Maher reported from Cairo, Egypt.


Israel and the Palestinian territories


The official Palestinian position on the U.S. election is silent and neutral, but Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh spoke for many Palestinians earlier this month when he said, "God help up if Trump wins re-election."

Palestinian leadership cut all ties with the Trump administration after it moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and the administration has tried to strong arm them into accepting its peace plan with the Israelis -- even cutting aid to Palestinian hospitals.

"Palestinians are watching closely the U.S. election. No U.S. president caused a huge damage to the Palestinian cause as much as President Trump," Professor Ghassan al Khattib of Birzeit University near Ramallah told ABC News. The former Palestinian Authority planning minister added, "He harmed the Palestinians and exaggerated his support for Israel."

That's exactly why Trump's earned so much support in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is fighting for his political survival and awaiting trial in January 2021, would be nothing short of ecstatic to see Trump reelected. A Trump win would boost his political standing at home, allow for continuity as he pushes for new relations with other Arab countries, and keep Palestinians in their present position -- a very favorable one for the Israeli right wing.

A Biden presidency could mean a harder line against Netanyahu, especially on annexation in the West Bank and his human rights record, and the return of divisions over the Iran nuclear deal.

But it won't necessarily give the Palestinians a boost as Arab neighbors move toward closer ties with the Israeli government. Their diplomatic losses both in the U.S. and among the Middle East's Arab countries will take a long time to fix -- if they can be restored at all.

Bruno Notta and Nasser Atta reported from Jerusalem, Israel.


Iran


As with many aspects of life in Iran, the views of the U.S. presidential election are quite different between government officials and the general public -- and getting real answers from the latter group is difficult at best in these tense political times.

The biggest question for Iran is the future for the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. The current Iranian government, led by President Hassan Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are willing to revive the deal and assemble the current signatories to negotiate a new agreement if Biden takes office.

But conservatives and senior leaders of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Crops say that the Islamic Republic will not negotiate with those who killed the military branch's top general, Qassem Soleimani. While Trump sent the order, they do not differentiate between him and Biden, saying that Soleimani was killed by the U.S. and that that guarantees the end of negotiations with the U.S.

For the Iranian people, disappointment is the most dominant sentiment -- disappointed and fed up with both sides. They have no hope in either a conservative or reformist administration in the country's leadership, nor a Republican or Democrat in the Oval Office.

Trump says that he will negotiate a "better" deal with Iran in his second term and that it will include Iran's ballistic missile program. But military power is nonnegotiable no matter what the price is and how many sanctions are put against the country -- or who wins Iran's presidential elections in 2021. The Iranian people still vividly remember their vulnerability during the eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980's, how isolated Tehran was, and how the nation needs to stand on its own feet.

Somayeh Malekian reported from Tehran, Iran.


Afghanistan


Soon after news that Trump tested positive for COVID-19 reached Afghanistan, it was also reported that the Taliban prayed -- even organized a prayer -- for Trump's urgent recovery. That sent a negative signal to many ordinary Afghans -- not that they needed one after the U.S. signed a historic agreement with the Taliban, giving the insurgent group more political acceptance.

That agreement opened the door for a group that was until very recently considered a terrorist group to become a big political group. Despite being blacklisted on the United Nations' and individual countries' no travel lists, their leaders started enjoying freedom and representing their group in meetings with other international partners.

Ordinary Afghan people -- who nowadays have access to social media and are chatting with each other online -- believe that Trump is on good terms with the Taliban. If he wins, he might bring the Taliban back into power to rule the country, many fear. With bad memories of brutal Taliban rule still fresh, they certainly do not want the group to be able to rule the country.

"I don't know about U.S. election. All I want and dream of is a peaceful Afghanistan, but I heard that Trump is a friend of Taliban. I hope he doesn't win," said Hussain Ali, a 45-year-old street vendor, selling fresh fruits from a wheel barrow on Kabul's busy streets. "He might impose the Taliban on us. All I care is about our own country, but since the Americans are involved in Afghanistan, it's better another person come to power because Trump is supporting Taliban."'

Laila Haidary, a women's rights activist who also runs a drug rehabilitation center in Kabul, told ABC News, "Many people believe Taliban have changed, but I do not see any changes in their policies for women. Whoever wins the U.S. election I hope does not turn a blind eye towards the Taliban. Currently Afghanistan is in a very fragile situation. Any small mistake could change the whole achievement and sacrifices of the past 20 years."

Aleem Agha reported from Kabul, Afghanistan.


United Kingdom


It is hard to recall in recent history a more consequential U.S. presidential election for Britain, Europe and much of global foreign policy, from trade to climate action.

A second term for Trump will be a reaffirmation of the populist nation-first approach adopted by Britain's conservative government, as well as other European countries like Hungary and autocrats from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines.

A victory for Biden will leave allies like Prime Minister Boris Johnson looking isolated with no immediate prospect of a trade deal, Brexit negotiations faltering and the special relationship he's built with Trump and Jared Kushner redundant. Conversely, the sigh of relief from Britain's opposition parties and European capitals from Paris to Berlin will be audible.

The hope is that a Biden administration will bring American foreign policy back into the fold of Western liberal consensus and that it will retake its position at the top of the table. With shared threats from Russia to China and, most immediately, the pandemic and climate change, there will be much business at hand, so expect a long queue of world leaders beating a path to Biden's Oval Office.

If Trump wins a second term, the silence will be deafening, but it might also strengthen the hand of those who feel, if anything, the last four years have proved that much of the world can carry on without Uncle Sam holding its hand every step of the way.

Ian Pannell reported from London, England.


Russia


Probably no foreign country features so largely and controversially in the 2020 election as Russia. U.S. intelligence agencies have warned that Russia is repeating its interference efforts from 2016, having again concluded that it favors Trump. The FBI has warned that Russia, this time, is running an effort to try to discredit Biden, and according to the U.S. Treasury Department, that includes using a Russian agent in Ukraine's parliament to promote unfounded conspiracy theories that have been picked up by the Trump campaign.

Trump has never dropped his promises to improve relations with Moscow and has shunned criticizing President Vladimir Putin, while Biden shares the consensus among Western governments that Putin is a threat.

Overall, however, Russian officials expect little improvement in relations no matter who wins.

Most observers believe the Kremlin is pleased by Trump's disruptive influence on America's relationship with its NATO allies. But despite Trump's friendliness, in reality the political whirlwind from the Russia-gate scandal and Russia's provocative acts overseas have meant the relationship has gotten worse, with Russia hit repeatedly by congressionally mandated sanctions.

In Moscow, some are alarmed that a Biden presidency will mean an even more hawkish attitude towards Russia. But on a key issue, Biden is more conciliatory -- he has said he would to try to extend the last remaining major nuclear arms control treaty between Russia and the U.S., known as New START. Ahead of its Feb. 5, 2021 expiration, Moscow also wants an extension, but the Trump administration is close to letting the agreement lapse.

Patrick Reevell reported from Dublin, Ireland.


France


In France, a traditionally American-skeptic country, a second win for Trump would be seen by most as the final nail in the superpower's coffin. While Emmanuel Macron has not expressed support for a particular candidate, a Biden win is in the French president's interests. Although few would see it as the victory of "a true leader" across the pond, Biden has general support, including in as high places as the Elysée Palace.

It is hoped that Biden would bring the U.S. back into the Paris climate accord and international organizations such as the World Health Organization -- in essence, returning to a more traditional role on the international scene.

"What is very important in the international context is that the U.S. can play their role as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, of a fully engaged member in multilateral issues," Macron said recently. For France in particular, the United States' trade war and the tariffs set by the Trump administration, which heavily affect French goods such as wine, are a point of contention.

Besides, a return to traditional U.S. diplomacy would reassure this European country in more ways than one: American society's widening divisions mirror that of Europe, and the rise of far-right populists in Europe's own backyard. Trump forces the EU to face its own weaknesses.

Macron has been managing the White House resident better than other European leaders -- treating him with all the care due to a foreign power, while profiting off the vacuum left on the international scene to build his own role as diplomatic savior. But a Trump win will also resound as a warning of what cards Macron will be dealt in 2022, with a far-right Marine Le Pen consistently on the rise.

Ibtissem Guenfoud reported from Paris, France.


Germany


The U.S. and Germany have enjoyed an especially close relationship since the end of World War II. But the Trump presidency has put enormous strain on it.

"The transatlantic relationship is practically on life support," Sudha David-Wilp of the German Marshall Fund, American think tank, told The Local in Berlin.

In addition to Trump withdrawing from many multilateral agreements, putting tariffs on EU products, and chiding Germany for not meeting its NATO spending target, Germans are unsettled by the United States' domestic issues. In a recent Pew study, just 26% of Germans had a positive view of the U.S. -- comparable to sentiment after the start of the Iraq War in 2003 and a staggering drop from 78% in 2000.

Angela Merkel, who has been chancellor of Germany since 2005, has said she will not run for re-election again in 2021. There's been no love lost between Trump and Merkel's party, the center-right Christian Democrats. Foreign affairs leader Norbert Röttgen told Politico that cooperation between the U.S. and the European Union at large would be at risk in a second Trump term.

"A country that is internally divided and full of acrimony will at some point lose the ability to shape foreign affairs, so we'd see the American retreat from international politics continue, creating a vacuum that others would be more than happy to fill," he said. Under Biden, the U.S.-German relationship would become a partnership again, he said.

"If Trump wins, the transatlantic rift will make another audible crack. If Joe Biden wins, the loudest sound will be the popping of champagne corks," wrote Andreas Kluth, a German columnist for Bloomberg News.

Grace Dobush reported from Berlin, Germany.


Italy


Italians in general always watch U.S. elections with a lot of amazement, but this year in particular.

Italian media has marveled at Trump's stance on COVID-19 and his various antics, while many in the public don't really understand what Biden stands for. One shopkeeper said last week that he didn't see any difference between the two white, rich men.

Historically, Italy of course has had a good relation with the U.S., despite the strange bedfellows of the current coalition government and some tensions with the Trump administration over Italy's ties to China and the 5G business and over Trump's tariffs on the European Union.

But little is expected to change, with the Italian government cozying up quite fast to any new president and administration -- a key U.S. ally with NATO and American bases on its soil. As Biden has said his priority will be restoring transatlantic ties, "NATO would have more consideration, and the new president would take a tougher stance regarding relations with China and Russia and would be closer to Europe, Japan and Australia," according to Gianni Riotta, a well-known Italian commentator who covers U.S. politics.

Biden would also be only the second Catholic president of the United States, after John F. Kennedy. That may matter less for Italians, although it could make him more simpatico with the Holy See in Rome and Pope Francis, who has served as something of a counter to Trump, particularly with his support for migrants and action on climate change.

Phoebe Natanson reported from Rome, Italy.


South Korea


Officials in Seoul are holding their breath to see the presidential election results because Biden's victory would bring significant consequences and change to U.S. foreign policy on China, North Korea and U.S. troops in South Korea.

Although President Moon Jae In's administration reiterates the "strong and solid alliance" rhetoric with the U.S. on the surface, it's been steering away and working towards closer relations with China -- South Korea's number one trading partner and a key player in influencing North Korea.

Analysts here expect U.S. pressure on China will continue whether it's Biden or Trump who wins, but whereas Trump fought China on his own and left South Korea alone, Biden's administration would likely take the traditional diplomatic approach and demand South Korea choose sides. That will be a difficult call for Seoul.

As for North Korea, the mood is that Trump's top-down approach dealing directly with Kim Jong Un surely advanced nuclear talks. It is highly likely, analysts here say, that Biden's presidency will force steps back to the pre-Trump era, forcing North Korea back into their hermit kingdom mode.

Biden's heavy focus on "advancing human rights and democracy around the world" and describing Kim as "murderous," "brutal" and "ruthless" would definitely put the current Moon administration effort to maintain a "Moon-Kim romance" at odds with the U.S.

Trump's unilateral demand of South Korea for a massive increase in host nation support for U.S. forces stationed here and the recent decision to relocate troops out of Germany has only reinforced anxiety here about whether the U.S. is a "reliable" partner. Analysts say a Biden administration is likely to dump Trump's strategy and negotiate towards a more amicable direction.

Joohee Cho reported from Seoul, South Korea.


Japan


Generally, the Japanese public sees the U.S. as a good partner, but one going through a period of internal trouble. The government has made herculean efforts to preserve the U.S.-Japanese alliance, with former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe largely successful in sidestepping U.S. tariffs or troop withdrawals.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will continue to try to keep the U.S. happy and hold that alliance, regardless of who wins the U.S. election: "Suga would be able to do similarly with either (Trump or Biden), but with a touch preference given to the current administration simply because with Mr. Trump Japan has done quite a lot in the immediate past," according to Tomohiko Taniguchi, former special adviser to Abe's cabinet.

That makes Japan unique among America's allies. Its conservative party, which is almost always in power, prefers Republicans to Democrats in general, according to Koichi Nakano, a dean and political science professor at Tokyo's Sophia University, because they prioritize big business and focus less on human rights, democracy and rule of law.

"That said, what matters is unchangeable," said Tomohiko, "Whoever chances to be in the highest office of the United States, it is the first, second and the third most important task for the Japanese prime minister of the day to build the best possible relationship with that POTUS."

Anthony Trotter reported from Tokyo, Japan.


China


There may be no more consequential long-term foreign policy challenge for whichever candidate wins the election than the U.S. relationship with China. Since the pandemic, the China hawks within the Trump administration unleashed a multitude of long-gestating grievances against Beijing and confronted them all at once -- on domestic espionage and technology theft; human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong; military build-up in the South China Sea; and U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

The winner will have to assess what that policy has gained for the U.S., as well as to contend with an increasingly confident China. Despite COVID-19 first appearing in China, it appears Beijing has the pandemic completely under control within its borders, and China will likely be the only country to see its economy grow in 2020. With the U.S. unable to get their infections under control and marked by images of social unrest, Chinese state media has played up America's woes as signs that the U.S. is a nation in decline. In that gap, China has flexed its muscles aggressively in the Asia-Pacific region with tensions rising with almost all its neighbors.

Despite this -- or perhaps because of it -- a recent Pew survey showed the only country whose reputation has fared worse this year than China is the U.S.

In spite of the trade war and the bellicose rhetoric from the Trump administration, many observers believe that Beijing actually prefers another four years of Trump. The prevailing belief is that the short term pain of dealing with Trump for four more years would yield longer-term gains. A popular nickname for Trump on Chinese social media is 'jianguo' or "Building the Nation."

The nation they're referring to is China., with Trump making China great again by weakening America's network allies around the world, especially in Asia. While China also has increasingly fewer friends in the region, Beijing sees that a Trump administration is viewed internationally as unreliable and chaotic -- creating a major opportunity for them.

While a Biden administration would likely provide return to previous established norms of engagement -- such as not airing the relationship dirty laundry in tweets -- a Biden win would be seen as a greater challenge for Beijing if he and his advisers were able to re-galvanize America's traditional allies into a more unified front to counter China.

The reality is not lost on Beijing that whoever wins the White House, the relationship between Beijing and Washington has already been indelibly altered. The level and pace that it would continue to devolve will depend on which president will sit behind the Resolute Desk on Jan. 20, 2021.

Karson Yiu reported from Hong Kong.


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Thieves steal nearly a half-ton of grapes from Canadian vineyard

barmalini/iStockBy KELLY MCCARTHY, ABC News

(ROUGEMONT, Quebec) -- As winemakers in Quebec prepared to harvest grapes after months of careful viticulture, they arrived to a depleted vineyard that had been picked over by thieves.

The unknown suspects stole more than 1,0000 pounds of Vidal blanc grapes -- nearly half a ton, which equals almost 300 bottles -- the evening before harvest at Vignoble et Coteau Rougemont vineyard.

"We had nearly 500 kilograms of grapes stolen from the vineyard last night," the winery said Thursday in a Facebook post translated from French. "We met the police this morning to file a complaint. We are offering a reward of five cases of wine for anyone who will help us pin down these unscrupulous thieves."

A spokesman from the vineyard and winery told ABC News on Tuesday that "so far, nobody has been caught or charged in relations to this event."

The winery shared additional updates on social media and explained that, due to the unfortunate events, they "hurried to complete the Vidal harvest" over the weekend, but were still optimistic about the yield, "despite the missing 500 kilograms!"

"Thank you greatly for your messages of encouragement following yesterday morning's event," the winery said in response to the support on Facebook.

It also shared a photo of the last parcel of Vidal blanc, a hybrid white wine varietal with high sugar content and moderate to high acidity, that was harvested to make its White Slope 2020 vintage.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Poland’s new abortion law triggers broader discontent as women lead protests

Bigandt_Photography/iStockBy TOMEK ROLSKI, ABC News

(KRAKOW, Poland) -- “Poland is an example for Europe and the world,” chanted the hundreds of pro-life activists gathered outside the Constitutional Court in Warsaw last Thursday. Their outburst of enthusiasm came after the court had ruled to almost completely ban abortions.

But on Tuesday, as on Monday, streets in large cities and small towns across Poland are blocked by not hundreds, but tens of thousands of people, mostly women, who are outraged by that restrictive court ruling.

Tuesday is the sixth day women came out with placards reading “My body’s not an incubator” and “This is war,” and Poles are beginning to take this protest further, beyond the anti-abortion law, to vent their anger at their rulers.

Marta Lempart, one of the demonstrators’ leaders says, "Now it’s not about abortion alone, it’s about freedom in general and abortion has become a symbol of it.”

Many in Poland are referring to the swelling protests as the Women’s Revolution. Poland has not seen such a manifestation of nationwide solidarity in years. During Monday's protest, taxi drivers stopped their cabs and blocked road junctions, and the so-called "ultras" -- soccer fans who take pride in being macho stadium hooligans -- marched with the women. The town of Krakow was a scene of rare defiance -- riot police, there to contain the demonstrations, changed sides and took off their helmets, dropped their shields and marched alongside the protesting women.

It is common knowledge in Poland that it’s not only the conservative, right-wing government that is behind the ban, but particularly bishops of the influential Catholic Church. On Sunday, demonstrators took their anger to the churches across the country and disrupted services.

Laws imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19 ban public gatherings of more than 10 people and provide authorities with a justifiable excuse to send in police to break up the swelling demonstrations.

Several dozen people have been detained and fined, but at least for now, police actions have been restrained. Helmeted, shield-wielding riot police control the demonstrations, but seem to be there mostly to intimidate.

Up until last Thursday, Poland’s abortion law was a compromise that worked. Pro-abortionists saw it as too restrictive, pro-lifers considered it to be too liberal, but both accepted it ever since the law was passed in 1993.

Abortion was allowed only if the pregnancy was a result of a criminal act, when pregnancy posed a serious threat to a pregnant woman’s health or life, or when there was high probability of a serious and irreversible fetal malformation or an incurable lethal disease.

Now the Polish Constitutional Court decided that terminating a pregnancy in case of serious fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional and violated an article that guarantees the right to life.

The Polish government seems shocked by the scale of the protests and is visibly at a loss of how to deal with the unrest. Poland’s rulers realize that these large-scale demonstrations are not a one-off, localized protest -- they encompass the entire country and are growing. The ban on abortion has become a unifying factor bringing together people who have otherwise been on opposite extremes of the political spectrum.

What is most worrying to the ruling authoritarian Law and Justice party is that the new abortion law has become only one of the reasons for protesters to take to the streets.

Every day more people are joining in, furious how the government is drifting away from European Union values, how it mishandled preparations for the second wave of COVID-19, angry at how the ruling party is unashamedly taking over the judiciary and at how it imposes its conservative values on schools. The ripple effect stretched out far beyond abortion -- it even encouraged dissatisfied farmers to block streets with their tractors.

With protests getting out of control, the Polish government has a dilemma of whether to backtrack and lose support of its hard-line, religious electorate or to suppress the ongoing protests forcefully.

For now, it is buying time, evading responsibility by saying that the abortion ban was a decision of the Constitutional Court, an institution independent of the government. That, however, is a risky excuse given that the court was taken over by the ruling party in an undemocratic way.

The Catholic Church, which has enormous influence on Poland’s current rulers, issued a statement saying it is not Poland’s lawmaker, so it had no influence on the Constitutional Court’s ruling. The court itself claims to have been true to the letter of the constitution, which protects all life as sacred, so it did what it had to.

The abortion-spurred unrest of the last six days may result in a shakeup in Poland. The Catholic Church is losing support with numbers of faithful on the decline. Polls indicate that the ruling Law and Justice populists are steadily losing popularity. Their anti-European Union stance, incompetence and mishandling of the pandemic is beginning to be noticed even by their most faithful voters.

Magda Bryla, one of the organizers of protests in Warsaw, told ABC News that the women are planning to hold a strike this Wednesday.

“We have asked all women to consider not going to work tomorrow,” Bryla said.

“If anyone can stop this steamroller, this destructive administration, it’s us, women," she continued. "We feel nationwide support and we would disappoint everyone if we backed off. Our opponents call us barbaric savages worshiping the civilization of death -- and that alone is good enough reason to express our anger. All we are asking for is basic dignity and for human rights to be observed. Tightening the abortion law even further is unacceptable. Women will be afraid to have children, there will be real tragedies.”

In a nationwide address Tuesday, Polish Prime Minster Mateusz Morawiecki defended the Court’s ruling and appealed to the protesters for “calm and reason.” But the women, and men who support them, are unlikely to hear his call.

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Belarus opposition calls for national strike in what could be key test for protest movement

Viktorcvetkovic/iStockBY: PATRICK REEVELL, ABC NEWS

(NEW YORK) —Workers and students across Belarus declared strikes on Monday, heeding a call for a national strike to try to force authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko to resign at the start of what could be an important week for the country's protest movement.

The strike was called by Belarus' main opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, in response to Lukashenko ignoring an ultimatum to step down by Sunday night.

The call to strike is seen as a potential major test of the strength of the protest movement to break a stalemate with Lukashenko, who has not been forced from power despite more than two months of enormous protests that were triggered by accusations of a rigged presidential election in August.

But on Monday, while some workers did strike and a sizable protest took place in the capital of Minsk, it did not appear that strikers had been joined by significant numbers of workers at the massive state plants that are critical to Belarus' economy.

At the Minsk Tractor Factory, a vast complex that employs around 30,000, most workers were reported to have come in for their shift as normal, and similar situations were reported at other major plants.

Videos posted on social media by some opposition channels did show workers walking out of some factories, including the Atlant factory in Minsk, which makes refrigerators. Three hundred workers from the High Technologies Park in the capital were seen forming a human chain along the roadside. They were dispersed by police but later returned.

Those striking faced tough pressure from the authorities. At the huge Grodno Azot plant, a key chemical factory in western Belarus, around 100 workers who gathered to strike were confronted by police, who arrested at least 30 of them.

Dozens of small businesses in Minsk, including shops and cafes, did close on Monday, according to local and foreign reporters on the ground.

In Minsk, thousands of pensioners and students marched through the city center in one of the largest weekday protests in weeks. All day, police in balaclavas appeared in vans near the protests, occasionally leaping out and grabbing people. After nightfall, riot police were seen roughly dispersing a smaller crowd of demonstrators. A local rights group, Vesna, said at least 235 people had been detained.

In a statement on Monday evening, Tikhanovskaya thanked everyone who had taken part in the strike, saying the workers who had joined were "heroes."

"We have irreversibly defeated the fear that the regime can put down the protest," said Tikhanovskaya, who was forced into exile shortly after the election in August. "The protest will end only when we reach our goals."

Strikes involving thousands of workers began in the early days of the protests following August's election, but they quickly fizzled under pressure from authorities who threatened to fire workers after detaining key opposition leaders, forcing some into exile.

Tikhanovskaya's ultimatum, announced two weeks ago, is seen as an attempt to break the deadlock between the protesters and Lukashenko's regime. Since August the huge peaceful protests have continued each Sunday, but the security forces have remained loyal to Lukashenko and for now neither side has seemed to be strong enough to defeat the other.

On Sunday before the new strikes, massive peaceful protests again flooded central Minsk, with an estimated 100,000 people -- the biggest crowd in weeks -- rallying ahead of the ultimatum.

At the end of Sunday's protest, police attacked demonstrators, launching a barrage of stun grenades at the peaceful crowd. The Interior Ministry said it had arrested over 500 people across the country.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Huge crowds protest again in Belarus as opposition ultimatum for Lukashenko expires

Duminda Cooray/iStockBY: PATRICK REEVELL, ABC NEWS

(NEW YORK) -- Police used stun grenades and fired non-lethal weapons on Sunday to attack peaceful protesters in Belarus’ capital who are demanding the resignation of authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

An estimated 100,000 protesters marched peacefully through Minsk in what appeared to be the largest demonstration in weeks. People were rallying ahead of an ultimatum set by the opposition for Lukashenko to step down from power.

Police did not act against the crowds in Minsk for most of the day. But as darkness fell, videos posted by local media showed police attacking a large crowd with stun grenades and appearing to open fire. In the videos, people can be seeing running in panic as explosions and clouds of white smoke go off.

Shots could also be heard and local media reported that rubber bullets had been used.

There were reports of injuries among protesters. The Belarusian human rights group Vesna said over 120 people had been arrested in several cities.

Videos also showed police roughly detaining people in other towns, including in Grodno and Brest.

Huge protests have gathered in Minsk each Sunday for 11 weekends in a row since Lukashenko was awarded a sixth term in a presidential election widely criticized as rigged.

Two weeks ago, Belarus’ key opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, announced what she called a “People’s Ultimatum” demanding that Lukashenko resign by midnight Sunday or else face a national strike.

The ultimatum is seen as a potential moment of reckoning for the protest movement and Lukashenko’s regime after two months of stalemate. Despite the huge demonstrations, the security forces and most of the government have remained loyal to Lukashenko.

The question is whether the opposition now has the power to mobilize major strikes and civil disobedience sufficient to move the crisis into a new phase.

Besides Lukashenko’s resignation, the opposition’s ultimatum had also called for all political prisoners to be freed and violence against protesters to end.

Tikhanovskaya — who is in exile in Lithuania — said the national strike should go ahead, noting the violence from Lukashenko’s security forces.

“The regime today again showed Belarusians that violence is the only thing that it’s capable of. But to explode stun grenades in a crowd of people,” she said in a statement Sunday. “That’s not strength.”

She went on, “This regime is not worthy of the Belarusian people. It means it will lose power.”

The United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada have sanctioned senior Belarusian officials over their alleged role in rigging August’s election and violence against protesters.

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Pope names US Archbishop Wilton Gregory 1st African American cardinal

piola666/iStockBY: BILL HUTCHINSON, ABC NEWS

(VATICAN CITY) -- Pope Francis on Sunday elevated Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Wilton Gregory, to cardinal, making him the first African American appointed to the red-hat conclave.

The 72-year-old Gregory, who led the Roman Catholic Church's response to an internal sexual abuse scandal in the early 2000s, was one of 13 new cardinals named by Pope Francis during his noontime prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. The cardinal nominees will be installed during a ceremony on Nov. 28.

"With a very grateful and humble heart, I thank Pope Francis for this appointment which will allow me to work more closely with him in caring for Christ’s Church," cardinal-elect Gregory said in a statement following the news from the Holy See.

In naming the selections, the pope elevated several archbishops from developing countries, including Cuba, the Congo and Guatemala. Nine of the new cardinals are younger than 80, a requirement to be allowed to vote on a successor to the pontiff.

The pope said the new crop of cardinals have all shown dedication to "the missionary vocation of the Church that continues to proclaim the merciful love of God to all men and women of the earth."

The new appointments will expand the College of Cardinal's from 120 to 128 electors, who hail from 68 countries.

The elevation of Gregory to cardinal will make him the highest-ranking African American prelate in the nation.

The historical appointment came two years after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral letter condemning what it called an accumulation of “episodes of violence and animosity with racial and xenophobic overtones" and imploring the Catholic church to practice what it preaches in regards to racial equality.

In June, Francis denounced the “sin of racism” and identified George Floyd, a Black man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25, as the victim of a “tragic” killing.

“We cannot close our eyes to any form of racism or exclusion while pretending to defend the sacredness of every human life,” the pope said at the time.

Gregory, who was born and raised in Chicago, was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago in May 1973, according to his biography on the Archdiocese of Washington website. He served as the seventh bishop of the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, from 1994 to December 2004, when Pope John Paul II appointed him archbishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

Gregory was elected president o the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2001 and under his leadership, the bishops implemented the "Charter of Protection of Children and Young People" that laid out five principles for responding to a sex abuse crisis involving Catholic clergy and conceded they had been remiss in protecting children from pedophile priests.

During his tenure in Atlanta, Gregory came under criticism for spending $2.2 million in church money earmarked for charity to build a Tudor-style mansion for the archbishop's residence. He made national news in 2014 when he sold the mansion and used the proceeds for pastoral work, a move in keeping with the austere priorities set by Pope Francis.

Pope Francis appointed Gregory as the seventh archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington on April 4, 2019.

Earlier this year, Gregory issued a statement rebuking a visit by President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., for a photo op.

“I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree," Gregory said.

His statement came just days after protesters outside the White House were tear-gassed and forcibly removed so Trump could walk to a vandalized St John's Episcopal Church and pose for photos holding a Bible.

“St. Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth," Gregory's statement added. "He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace."

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Ethiopian prime minister compared to Mandela now ruling with an iron fist

Smart/iStockBY: GUY DAVIES, ABC NEWS

(WASHINGTON) -- Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, 44, burst onto the international scene as a leading light in African politics when he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.

Abiy received the award primarily for his efforts in ending one of the continent's most protracted conflicts -- a decades-long frozen war between Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea -- with the Nobel committee also commending his efforts to "build democracy" and his contributions to "peace and reconciliation" in East Africa.

"Over the past few months, Ethiopia has made historic investments in peace, the returns of which we will see in years to come," Abiy said in his acceptance speech. "We have released all political prisoners. We have shut down detention facilities where torture and vile human rights abuses took place."

As the phenomenon dubbed "Abiymania" took hold at home, the new prime minister was even compared to Nelson Mandela in some quarters of the international press.

Now, just one year after that speech, the Ethiopian leader has a very different reputation. Several experts told ABC News that not only has he failed to live up to his early promises, he has unleashed a wave of repression, locking up those he once freed, advancing a dangerous form of nationalism and indefinitely postponing elections.

Rise to power


Abiy, the former head of one of Ethiopia's top security agencies before his career in politics, was appointed prime minister in April 2018, becoming the continent's youngest national leader, after the unexpected resignation of Hailemariam Desalegn following months of anti-government protests.

Abiy was tasked with leading Ethiopia's transition to democracy on the condition he would invite back exiled opposition, according to Awol Allo, a former admirer of Abiy and lecturer at Keele University in England. Ethiopians, yearning for change, welcomed his vision of renewed democracy and human rights-led governance.

"I think most of the accolades and admiration that Abiy received at the beginning largely emerged out of the desperation of the Ethiopian public for some kind of change," Allo told ABC News. "This is a society that has not really seen a head of government that even pretends to want to make things good for them, to want to be democratic and address the urgent needs and demands of the public."

The opposition in exile were invited back into Ethiopia's political fold soon after Abiy's appointment, and political prisoners of the previous regime were released. Meanwhile, eye-catching policies such as the selection of an equal-gendered cabinet and the promise to plant a million trees stoked excitement both at home and abroad. But it was the peace secured with neighboring Eritrea that truly captured the world's attention. The conflict, though frozen in a "no peace, no war" stalemate for 20 years, was marred by deadly violence throughout the 1990s that claimed an estimated 100,000 lives.

For a moment, Abiy's premiership appeared to be a new dawn over one of the world's poorest countries.

But within weeks of accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Abiy already was deploying the language of a very different leader -- saying that Ethiopia was "readied" for war with Egypt over an ongoing dispute over the Nile dam. Citing "domestic concerns," he refused to take questions publicly after the award. Very quickly, it became clear at home the Abiy's intentions were quite different from his international image.

"In terms of the Nobel itself, it is very difficult to think of a political leader who was awarded the prize that conducted himself in the same manner," Allo said. "[It is] now very clear that all accolades and praises showered on him, including by myself, were premature."

The return to oppression

Human rights groups have issued repeated warnings about Abiy's recent actions. In March, millions of Ethiopians in the western Oromia region faced a government shutdown of the internet and phone services -- just as the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold. Thousands were arrested after the killing of Hachalu Hundesa, an outspoken popular singer, with a police crackdown on intercommunal protests that left at least 177 killed over the summer, according to Amnesty International.

Elections have been twice delayed this year, now indefinitely, due to the pandemic. Those same opposition groups who were invited back from exile have since been locked up, according to Allo.

"The man came out of nowhere, changed the party, and he knows the party could not win a competitive election," he said. "So what did he do? He rounded everybody up and put them in jail."

Most shocking of all, Ethiopia's security services were accused of "horrendous human rights violations" in response to communal violence and attacks by local armed groups in the Amhara and Oromia regions, including rape, extrajudicial executions and arbitrary detentions.

"The Ethiopian authorities have made notable progress in changing the country's bleak human rights record," Amnesty International's director for East and Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, noted back in May. "However, it is unacceptable that the security forces should be allowed to carry on committing human rights violations with impunity."

What can explain the change in Abiy, a former darling of the international human rights community now accused of leading a police state?

To understand Abiy, according to Allo, you have to look back to the time, before the 1974 Revolution, when Ethiopia was ruled by emperors -- the last of whom was Haile Salaisse. Now, Ethiopia is governed under a federation of nine territories given autonomy. But in the imperial period, Allo said, the Amhara ethnic group proved dominant in culture and language, exercising national control over the provinces.

Allo said Abiy's dream is to take the country "back to the imperial era."

"He seems fairly determined to impose his idea of national unity on an ethnically diverse country, and I think that is the central problem the country is facing," Allo said. "He wants to move away from ethnic-built politics to what he calls pan-Ethiopian, that returns a particular glory of the Ethiopian state. But most people see the glory that he talks about were the glories of one particular ethnic group -- the Amharas."

Daniel Mekonnen, a Geneva-based independent consultant and director of the Eritrean Law Society, who counted himself among the optimists when Abiy rose to power, agrees.

"One of his main problems," Mekonnen explained, "is his fantasy with an old and dysfunctional dream of Ethiopia as an empire, a project too dangerous to be implemented in present day Ethiopia without a huge cost to human security."

A fractured country

Abiy created a pan-Ethiopian Prosperity Party in December 2019, but even in his home region the idea of an imperial government is unpopular. The Omoro, the ethnic group from which Abiy descends, are fiercely federalist, and Abiy's recent maneuvers to centralize the government cost him support from that base.

Domestic turmoil also threatens to undermine that newly negotiated peace. Last month, authorities in the Tigray region, led by the Tigray People's Liberation Front, pushed ahead with their own regional elections despite a pandemic-induced delay to an August 2020 vote. In response, Abiy's government has effectively frozen them out, sparking fears Ethiopia not only could fracture but also undermine the peace deal with Eritrea.

"As far the stalemate with Eritrea is concerned, yes he tried but he did not succeed, simply because he cannot do so without including in the TPLF," Mekonnen told ABC News. "This should not be confused with exonerating the TPLF from past misdeeds. ... I am afraid he has failed in both fronts -- in making meaningful peace with Eritrea and in fixing Ethiopia's deep-seated political problems."

In recent months, sporadic intercommunal violence has broken out, but little is known about who is instigating the fighting. Abiy has a strong hold on the state's security services despite having been appointed as a caretaker, and he's regularly blamed Ethiopia's internal problems on foreign agents, according to Allo.

Other experts, such as Yohannes Gedamu, a lecturer in political science at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, Georgia, are not so pessimistic. He points to Ethiopia's long history of suppressing descent and the problems of a "highly entrenched ethnic state" as reasons for Abiy's policies.

"The problem is that Abiy has inherited a highly repressive state, and, to this day, he is working with individuals from the old regime," Gedamu told ABC News. "While I think that [the prime minister] could still be committed toward a democratization process, I highly doubt that he has been surrounded by capable individuals and advisers in his administration that would join hands to lead the country."

In the meantime, however, there looks to be no let-up in what analysts perceive as an increasingly oppressive regime. For now, the risks of Ethiopia fracturing ever further are "high," the impact of which would be "too much to bear for the entire Horn of Africa," according to Mekonnen.

"He is intent in winning the next election, whatever it takes, even if it drives the country to the cliffs," he said. "It is frightening to think about it, from a human security point of view."

ABC News' Morgan Winsor contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Trump lifts sanctions on Sudan as he announces deal between African nation and Israel

Official White House Photo by Tia DufourBy CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump formally notified Congress on Friday that his administration will remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, nearly 30 years after the African country was first listed.

In a historic joint call afterwards, he also announced a "very special deal" between Israel and Sudan -- marking the third Arab country to move toward normalizing relations with the Jewish state in an election-season push by his administration.

It's unclear if Sudan, which had pushed back on the White House efforts, is formally recognizing Israel or ending hostilities against it after decades of tensions.

Either way, Friday's events mark a historic new chapter, 18 months after the Sudanese people overthrew their strongman leader in mass protests. Facing fuel and food shortages and sky-high inflation, Sudan is desperate for international assistance, humanitarian aid, and foreign investment, all of which have been stymied or outright blocked by U.S. sanctions.

Despite the advances, several critical hurdles remain, including for the U.S. victims of terror attacks who have legal claims against Sudan.

In an agreement reached between the State Department and Sudan's transitional government, the country agreed to pay $335 million to the victims of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, victims of the USS Cole attack, and the family of murdered USAID employee John Granville.

The White House confirmed Friday that those funds were now in escrow, triggering Trump's pending formal notification to Congress. But none of that money will be paid out until lawmakers resolve Sudan's "legal peace," and after a deal to do so fell apart last month, several sources warned there's no resolution in sight.

In the meantime, Trump celebrated the announcements Friday, by touting his deal-making abilities: "Do you think Sleepy Joe could have made this deal, Bibi?" he asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over a speakerphone, referring to former Vice President Joe Biden the morning after their last debate.

"There are many, many more coming," Trump added, after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain announced normalized relations with Israel earlier this fall. Few in the Oval Office were wearing masks.

Sudan's prime minister Abdalla Hamdok had resisted relations with Israel, saying his transitional government did not have the authority to do so. Hamdok is the civilian leader, sharing power with Gen. Abdel Fattah al Burhan, chair of Sudan's Transitional Military Council, after the military ousted Omar al Bashir, a murderous dictator who led the country from 1989 to 2019. After mass demonstrations ousted Bashir, the military seized power, but later agreed to a transition to democracy because of continued demonstrations.

Trump's focus on Israel overshadowed the historic nature of the U.S. lifting its most stringent sanctions on Sudan, providing a renewed opportunity as the transitional government struggles to provide for the Sudanese people.

While the formal notification has not yet been delivered to Congress, it can now happen because Sudan transferred the $335 million for terror victims to a European bank, according to two sources.

But no victim will see a dime until legal peace is resolved, according to a congressional aide and a source briefed on the matter, and there's a clock ticking down because the money was loaned to Sudan from the African Export-Import Bank. If the money is not transferred within a certain time period, Sudan would face penalties and likely take the funds back.

Congress will have to resolve ongoing claims against Sudan in legislation that re-establishes its "legal peace" -- a legal term that means as a sovereign country, it cannot be sued.

Sudan's listing on the state sponsors of terrorism list waived that immunity, but before Congress returns it, some lawmakers have concerns about protecting ongoing litigation by victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, even though Sudan has not been found liable for those. An agreement to resolve those issues fell apart last month, sources told ABC News at the time.

Sources told ABC News this week that a deal to resolve the issue is taking shape in Congress.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Americans threatened by terror, kidnapping plots in Turkey, embassy warns

omersukrugoksu/iStockBy CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. mission in Turkey warned Americans of "potential terrorist attacks and kidnappings" in Istanbul Friday in an urgent security alert.

The warning, which said U.S. citizens and other foreigners could be targeted, comes after U.S. forces warned of a threat from al Qaeda in Syria.

The alert said specifically that the U.S. consulate general in Istanbul was threatened, but it did not provide details on where the threats come from or who provided the reports.

As a precaution, all U.S. diplomatic facilities are closed to the public, including for American citizens, the alert said.

The alert was "a result of our ongoing assessment of security conditions," an embassy spokesperson told ABC News. "We are grateful for the support of the Turkish government in ensuring the safety of Americans living in Turkey as well as Turkish citizens who visit our Embassy and Consulates."

While the embassy and State Department declined to provide more details, the U.S. has recently increased its air strikes against al Qaeda operatives in neighboring Syria.

A meeting of senior al Qaeda leaders was targeted by U.S. forces on Thursday, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

"AQ-S takes advantage of the instability in northwest Syria to establish and maintain safe havens to coordinate terrorist activities," CENTCOM warned.

U.S. officials have been warning about the strength of Islamist forces in Idlib province, the last rebel stronghold in Syria after nearly a decade of war. Syrian opposition forces continue to beat back an assault by strongman Bashar al Assad with support from Turkey and its military, but some of those fighters include hard-line jihadists.

As the fight against ISIS continues, the U.S. military has increasingly turned to targeting al Qaeda-linked operatives, too -- with Thursday's strike the second in as many weeks.

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US official meets with Nigeria's vice president, after killing of #EndSARS protesters

kylieellway/iStockBy MORGAN WINSOR, ABC News

(LONDON) -- U.S. Department of State counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl met with Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in the capital of Abuja on Thursday to raise concerns about the ongoing violence, as widespread protests against police brutality grip Africa's most populous country.

The meeting was part of a previously scheduled delegation, which included top U.S. diplomats for human rights, Robert Destro, and for conflict stabilization, Denise Natali, according to State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus.

"The Counselor expressed the U.S. condemnation of the use of excessive force by military forces who fired on unarmed demonstrators in Lagos," Ortagus said in a statement Thursday night. "He expressed condolences to the victims of these shootings and urged the government of Nigeria to abide by its commitment to hold those responsible accountable under the law. The Vice President and the Counselor noted that the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are essential human rights and core democratic principles."

Amnesty International said in a report that at least 12 people were killed and hundreds more were severely injured on Tuesday night when Nigerian security forces opened fire without warning on two large gatherings of peaceful protesters in parts of Lagos, Nigeria's largest city. The London-based human rights organization cited "evidence gathered from eyewitnesses, video footage and hospital reports."

"Soldiers clearly had one intention -- to kill without consequences," Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International in Nigeria, said in a statement Wednesday night, alongside the release of the report.

Amnesty International said it also received reports that surveillance cameras at the toll gate in Lekki, a wealthy suburb of Lagos where protesters have been camped for two weeks, were removed by government officials and the electricity was cut off shortly before the shootings in what appeared to be an attempt to hide evidence. Some of those killed and injured at the protest sites in both Lekki and Alausa, another suburb of Lagos, were allegedly taken away by the military, according to Amnesty International.

"These shootings clearly amount to extrajudicial executions," Ojigho said. "There must be an immediate investigation and suspected perpetrators must be held accountable through fair trials. Authorities must ensure access to justice and effective remedies for the victims and their families."

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement Thursday, condemning "the use of excessive force by military forces" and urging Nigeria's "security services to show maximum restraint and respect fundamental rights and for demonstrators to remain peaceful." It was the first comment to come from the White House on the situation in Nigeria, following outcry from American celebrities, lawmakers and even Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

While the shootings in Lagos have prompted global outrage and have been widely condemned, the Nigerian military has denied responsibility. On its official Twitter account, the Nigerian Army has labeled numerous reports about the shootings as "fake news."

Lagos, a sprawling financial hub of the West African nation, has been the center of weeks-long, nationwide demonstrations over a now-disbanded, widely-criticized police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The youth-led protest movement, which uses the social media hashtag #EndSARS, has been largely peaceful, but tensions have boiled over in recent days and fires have been set to cars, government buildings and television stations. Authorities have imposed an indefinite, round-the-clock curfew in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria.

Last week, as protesters showed no signs of backing down, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced he would dissolve SARS, which operated across the country -- often in plainclothes -- and has been accused of assault, extortion, extrajudicial killings, kidnapping, torture, unlawful detentions and robbery.

Buhari, who is a retired general of the Nigerian Army, addressed the nation Thursday night, urging demonstrators "to discontinue the street protests and constructively engage the government in finding solutions." He made no mention of the shootings of peaceful protesters in Lagos.

"This government will not allow anybody or (any) groups to disrupt the peace of the nation," Buhari warned in his televised address. "For you to do otherwise will amount to undermining national security and law and order."

"Under no circumstances would this be tolerated," he added.

In response to criticism from fellow African heads of state and other world leaders, Buhari called on them "to seek to know all the facts available before taking a position, or rushing to judgment and making hasty pronouncements."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Russia continues to spread coronavirus conspiracies, intel bulletin warns

macky_ch/iStockBy JOSH MARGOLIN and LUCIEN BRUGGEMAN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Russia and other foreign adversaries are ramping up efforts to spread conspiracy theories and disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., according to an internal U.S. intelligence bulletin obtained by ABC News -- a development that critics say reflects another example of President Donald Trump and the Russians parroting similar talking points.

The Oct. 19 intelligence bulletin, from analysts at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and disseminated to federal state, and local law enforcement partners, noted the “re-emergence of domestic COVID-19 [misinformation and disinformation] narratives online" from China and Iran, but emphasized the most harmful material is emanating from Russia.

“Russia continues to spread COVID-19 disinformation and conspiracy theories that have the greatest potential to impact U.S. public health efforts,” according to the bulletin.

The bulletin did not provide more details on the impact, and DHS declined to comment on the leaked document.

The bulletin found that disinformation narratives appear to be gaining traction online, as “the volume of engagement [with these] narratives has increased since 02 October.”

COVID has become one of the most politically consequential and charged topics in the upcoming election, with deep divisions emerging on masks, social distancing and lockdown measures and the use of certain therapeutics and vaccines.

The disease's lethality, method of transmission and other key points have become the subject of intense scientific and political debate, deriving in part from misinformation and disinformation campaigns.

While details of the specific conspiracies the Russians are peddling was not clear in the bulletin, several examples of coronavirus-related misinformation have emanated domestically -- and often from the White House itself. The president’s mixed messages on the coronavirus -- such as promoting untested therapies and calling into question the efficacy of wearing masks -- has helped sow confusion and discord among Americans as they respond to the virus.

The president has long faced scrutiny for misleading Americans about the pandemic. Perhaps most notably, during an interview with journalist Bob Woodward in March, Trump admitted to deliberately minimizing the seriousness of the disease publicly despite understanding its true danger.

After testing positive for the virus earlier this month, Trump told Americans, “don’t be afraid of Covid,” prompting scrutiny from critics who accused him of minimizing a disease that had already taken more than 200,000 American lives.

Critics say it is part of a pattern that harkens back to previous instances in which Trump has echoed messages aligned with misinformation from foreign adversaries.

“For years a key part of the Russian disinformation playbook has relied on American elected officials and mainstream media personalities amplifying their narratives,” said John Cohen, an ABC News contributor and the former undersecretary for intelligence at DHS under President Barack Obama.

“So from a national security perspective,” he continued, “it is highly disconcerting to see a growing number of instances in which these conspiracies promoted by Russia have been mimicked by the president and his supporters.”

On several occasions in the past, Trump has promoted false narratives about other matters that match disinformation emanating from foreign adversaries. It has never been clear whether the president has taken his cues from the foreign adversaries or vice versa.

Last month, for example, ABC News reported that Russia sought to “amplify” concerns about the integrity of U.S. elections by promoting allegations that mail-in voting will lead to widespread fraud -- an unfounded complaint Trump has raised frequently in recent months.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Trump has also tried to return focus to the business dealings of Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, in large part by supporting the efforts of his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to dig up dirt on the Democratic contender’s family.

In September, the U.S. Treasury Department characterized one of Giuliani’s sources of information about the Bidens, Ukrainian politician Andrii Derkach, as a Russian agent. Giuliani said at the time that he had "no reason to believe [Derkach] is a Russian agent.”

“There is nothing I saw that said he was a Russian agent,” Giuliani said. “There is nothing he gave me that seemed to come from Russia at all."

The Washington Post later reported on a classified CIA finding that “[Russian] President Vladimir Putin and the senior most Russian officials are aware of and probably directing Russia’s influence operations aimed at denigrating the former U.S. Vice President” -- including Derkach’s collaboration with Giuliani.

In a statement responding to ABC News’ reporting last month, Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesperson, said, "We don't need or want any foreign interference," and added, "President Trump will beat Joe Biden fair and square.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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