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Kidnapped German tourists could be free

Ethiopian rebels have announced the release of two German tourists who they have held hostage for six weeks in the remote Afar desert region. The German Foreign Ministry is yet to confirm the release.

Kidnapped German tourists could be free
Photo: DPA

The two were handed over to German embassy officials and local elders in the desolate northern Ethiopian region on Monday, the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front (ARDUF) said in a statement.

They were seized in a bloody attack on the slopes of the famed Erta Ale volcano. Two other Germans, two Austrians and a Hungarian were killed in a gun battle between the rebels and government forces escorting the tourist group.

Since then, the Germans have been held in the harsh desert environment, one of the hottest places in the world.

In their statement, the rebels apologised to the unnamed pair and wished them a safe return home. Ethiopian officials were not immediately available for comment.

The rebels said the Ethiopian government had frustrated their earlier plans to free the Germans by making movement in the area “impossible.”

The Germans were among 22 tourists trekking on the slopes of Erta Ale volcano when the shootout erupted.

The incident dealt a blow to regional tourism, after tourists were were kidnapped in Kenyan resorts months earlier by Somali pirates.

Ethiopia says the rebels attacked the tourist convoy, but the ARDUF said fighting broke out when Ethiopian troops protecting the tourist party fired on one of its patrols and blamed Addis Ababa for the deaths.

“The five innocent European tourists were killed by Ethiopian fire,” added the statement.

Erta Ale, or “Smoking Mountain” sits in the Afar depression, also known as the Danakil depression, which lies below sea level and features as the dramatic backdrop to scenes in Hollywood’s 2010 epic fantasy “Clash of the Titans.”

Access to the region is limited and foreigners need official approval to get there but it attracts a steady stream of volcano buffs and adventure backpackers who often plan group trips on Internet forums to share the high travel costs.

Ethiopia has blamed arch-rival Eritrea for backing the rebels and claimed the tourists were held across the border in remote desert areas of Eritrea – charges Asmara fiercely denied.

Last month, ARDUF rebels said they supported the hostages’ safe release, but warned that “any military engagement with ARDUF would… endanger the lives of the two German citizens.”

It claimed there had been repeated clashes between Ethiopian forces and ARDUF rebels since the January attack.

ARDUF has been fighting a low-level insurgency in the northern region near the tense Eritrean border to end what it says is “political marginalisation and economic deprivation” by Addis Ababa. The group claims to have no links to Eritrea.

In 2007, ARDUF rebels seized five European tourists and eight Ethiopians. The Europeans were released after 12 days to the Eritrean government, while the Ethiopians were freed almost two months later.

AFP/The Local/jcw

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

EU sees trouble but no breakdown with Italy far-right in power

The potential emergence of a far-right government in Italy has put the European Union on alert for disruptions, with fears that unity over the war in Ukraine could be jeopardised.

EU sees trouble but no breakdown with Italy far-right in power

Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni and the League’s Matteo Salvini are slated to be the big winners in Sunday’s general election on a firmly “Italians First” agenda, in which officials in Brussels largely play the role
of the bogeyman.

The biggest worries concern the economy.

Italy’s massive debt is seen as a threat to European stability if Rome turns its back on the sound financing championed by outgoing prime minister, Mario Draghi, a darling of the EU political establishment.

A victory by Meloni and Salvini would follow fast on an election in Sweden where the virulently anti-migration and eurosceptic Sweden Democrats entered a ruling coalition, just months before the Scandinavian country is due to take over the EU’s rotating presidency.

READ ALSO: Giorgia Meloni’s party will likely win the elections – but will it last?

But officials in Brussels said they would not jump to conclusions about Italy, cautiously hanging on to reassurances made by key right-wing players ahead of the vote.

Giorgia Meloni delivers speech at party rally

Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni (Rear C on stage) delivers a speech on September 23, 2022 in Naples. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

“This is not the first time that we risk confronting governments formed with far-right or far-left parties,” said European Commissioner Didier Reynders, a veteran of EU politics.

“Let voters choose their elected representatives. We will react to the actions of the new government and we have instruments at our disposal,” he added.

That was echoed by Commission head Ursula von der Leyen, who warned that Brussels had “tools” to deal with errant member states.

“My approach is that whatever democratic government is willing to work with us, we’re working together,” she said.

Anti-immigration League leader Matteo Salvini condemned the EU chief’s comments on Friday, calling them “squalid threats”.

READ ALSO: How would victory for Italy’s far right impact foreigners’ lives?

‘Benefit of the doubt’

Italy has huge amounts of EU money on the line. It is awaiting nearly 200 billion euros in EU cash and loans as part of the country’s massive share of the bloc’s coronavirus recovery stimulus package.

In order to secure each instalment, the government must deliver on a long list of commitments to reform and cut back spending made by previous administrations.

“To do without the billions from the recovery plan would be suicidal,” said Sebastien Maillard, director of the Jacques Delors institute.

“We will give them the benefit of the doubt,” said an EU official, who works closely with Italy on economic issues.

and right-wing parties Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d'Italia, FdI), the League (Lega) and Forza Italia at Piazza del Popolo in Rome, ahead of the September 25 general election.

(From L) Leader of Italian far-right Lega (League) party Matteo Salvini, Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi, leader of Italian far-right party Brothers of Italy Giorgia Meloni, and Italian centre-right lawmaker Maurizio Lupi on stage on September 22, 2022 during a joint rally of Italy’s coalition of far-right and right-wing parties. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

“We will judge them on their programme, who will be the finance minister. The names being mentioned are people that we in Brussels are familiar with,” the official added.

READ ALSO: Political cheat sheet: Understanding the Brothers of Italy

However, when it comes to Russia, many fear that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will find in Italy a quick ally in his quest to water down measures against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A longtime friend of the Kremlin, Salvini has promised that he will not try to undo the EU sanctions. But many believe that his government will make the process more arduous in the coming months.

Whether the war or soaring inflation, “what we are facing in the coming months is going to be very difficult and very much test European unity”, said Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive at the European Policy Centre.

The likely election result in Italy is “not going to help in making some of these hard decisions”, he added.

READ ALSO: TIMELINE: What happens on election day and when do we get the results?

France’s European affairs minister, Laurence Boone, pointed to the headache of the far-right’s unpredictability.

“One day they are for the euro, one day they are not for the euro. One day they support Russia, one day they change their minds,” she told French radio.

“We have European institutions that work. We will work together. But it is true that it is worrying,” she added

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