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Mediterranean tragedy: 500 boat migrants feared dead in 'worst shipwreck in years'

As many as 500 migrants are feared to have drowned after traffickers rammed and sank their boat in what the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) described Monday as "the worst shipwreck in years".

Horrific details of the shipwreck near Malta, told to IOM by survivors, came after dozens of African migrants were reported missing and feared dead after their boat sank off the coast of Libya on Sunday.

"If this story, which police are investigating, is true, it would be the worst shipwreck in years... not an accident but a mass murder, perpetrated by criminals without scruples or any respect for human life," IOM said in a statement.

Two Palestinians plucked from the water by a freighter on Thursday after their boat capsized told IOM that around 500 passengers had been on the vessel, which was wrecked on purpose by people smugglers.
According to the survivors, the Syrian, Palestinian, Egyptian and Sudanese migrants set out from Damietta in Egypt on September 6, and were forced to change boats several times during the crossing towards Europe.

The traffickers, who were on a separate boat, then ordered them onto a smaller vessel, which many of the migrants feared was too small to hold them.

When they refused to cross over to the new boat, the furious traffickers rammed their boat until it capsized, the survivors told the maritime organisation.

"Two survivors brought to Sicily told us that there had been at least 500 people on board. Nine other survivors were rescued by Greek and Maltese ships, but all the rest appear to have perished," Flavio Di Giacomo, IOM's spokesman in Italy, told AFP.
Desire to find refuge
Both Palestinians spent a day and a half in the water, one wearing a lifejacket and the other holding on to a life buoy with other migrants, all of whom perished, including a young Egyptian boy who hoped to make money in Europe to pay for his father's heart operation, the organisation said.

In a separate incident, dozens were feared drowned after a boat carrying 200 migrants sank off Libya, with only 36 survivors rescued.

This year has seen a surge in the numbers of migrants attempting to make the hazardous crossing from North Africa and the Middle East to Europe.

According to the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR), over 2,500 people have drowned or gone missing attempting the crossing in 2014, including over 2,200 since the start of June.

Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, a special envoy for the UNHCR, urged the international community to "wake up to the scale of the crisis."

"There is a direct link between the conflicts in Syria and elsewhere and the rise in deaths at sea in the Mediterranean," she was quoted as saying in a UNHCR statement on Monday.

"We have to understand what drives people to take the fearful step of risking their children's lives on crowded, unsafe vessels. It is the overwhelming desire to find refuge," she said.

"Unless we address the root causes of these conflicts the numbers of refugees dying or unable to find protection will continue to rise," she added.

The IOM also called on the international community to crack down on traffickers, saying "the only way to render these organisations impotent is to begin to open legal canals into Europe for all those people, men, women and children, fleeing their homelands in search of shelter."

According to the Italian navy, some 2,380 migrants and asylum seekers were picked up over the weekend in a number of incidents by Italy's large-scale naval deployment dubbed "Mare Nostrum", launched after over 400 people died in two shipwrecks last October.

Ethiopia PM Hailemariam defends Andargachew Tsege arrest

Ethiopia had a moral obligation to arrest the opposition leader who was controversially extradited from Yemen last month, Ethiopian leader Hailemariam Desalegn has told the BBC.

"Andargachew Tsege is a Trojan horse for the Eritrean government to destabilise this country," he said.

He was sentenced to death in 2009 while in exile for plotting a coup.

Foreign governments could express their concern, but the man would be dealt with according to the law, the PM said.

Andargachew Tsege on TVAndargachew Tsege, a UK national, leads the banned Ginbot 7 movement

Andargachew, a UK national, is secretary-general of Ethiopia's banned Ginbot 7 movement.

The group says Andargachew was on his way from the United Arab Emirates to Eritrea when he was detained at Sanaa airport on 24 June.

Ethiopia and Eritrea are long-time rivals and the neighbours fought a bitter border war between 1998 -2000, which left some 100,000 people dead.

'Caught red-handed'

Earlier this week, the British Foreign Office said it had raised its "deep concerns" with both Ethiopia and Yemen over Andargachew's extradition and had requested reassurances that the death penalty, imposed in absentia, would not be carried out.

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Prime Minister Hailemariam rejected concerns about Andargachew's treatment.

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If you have any connection with terrorists don't think that the Ethiopian government will let you [go] free”

Hailemariam DesalegnEthiopia's prime minister

He said his trial and that of several other Ginbot 7 leaders in 2009 - who were charged with planning to assassinate government officials - was "fair".

"His stooges were there, who were sent to destabilise and bomb this country - they were captured red-handed with their bombs and their detonating elements," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

Asked if the death penalty would be carried out now that Andargachew was in custody, the prime minister replied: "I cannot say this now."

Mr Hailemariam said Ethiopia was a young democracy and opposition parties were allowed to operate, but terrorism would not be tolerated.

"If you ask me to tolerate in the name of democracy those who are engaging [in] destabilising the country and acting as a terrorist and using guns to change government, then you are wrong," he said.

The prime minister also denied that Ethiopia was heavy handed in applying anti-terror laws.

The country has faced criticism from donors for jailing its critics - and most recently some of the country's leading bloggers.

Mr Hailemariam, who became prime minister in September 2012 following the death of long-time leader Meles Zenawi, said no matter people's professions, those found to be linked to "terrorist groups" would be dealt with.

"If you have any connection with terrorists don't think that the Ethiopian government will let you [go] free," he said.

Ginbot 7 (15 May) was named after the date of the 2005 elections, which were marred by protests over alleged fraud that led to the deaths of about 200 people.

 

Ginbot 7's Andargachew Tsege: Ethiopia confirms arrest

 

Andargachew Tsege on TVAndargachew Tsege, a UK national, leads the banned Ginbot 7 movement

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Ethiopia has confirmed it has arrested opposition leader Andargachew Tsege, who disappeared in Yemen last month.

His UK-based wife Yemi Hailemariam told the BBC she was shocked to see him paraded on state television.

Ethiopian TV said Andargachew had been arrested in Yemen and then extradited.

It described him as the country's "most wanted person". He was sentenced to death in absentia in 2009 on charges of planning to assassinate government officials - which he denied.

Andargachew, a UK national, is secretary-general of Ethiopia's banned Ginbot 7 movement.

Amnesty International last week warned he was at risk of being tortured while in Ethiopian custody.

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Correspondents say Andargachew sounded hoarse and appeared to be incoherent during his appearance on TV.

He said he had accepted his arrest as "a blessing in disguise".

"I just want to rest because I was really, really exhausted," he said.

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"We have made clear that we expect immediate consular access and requested reassurances that the death penalty imposed in absentia will not be carried out"

UK Foreign Office

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Ms Yemi said it was difficult to see footage of her husband.

"I switched it off quickly. I couldn't watch it," she said.

Ms Yemi said the UK should demand the immediate release of her husband.

"If they want to try him, they must go through the proper channels," she told the BBC.

A British Foreign Office spokesman said it had raised its "deep concerns" with both Ethiopia and Yemen about the extradition.

"We have made clear that we expect immediate consular access and requested reassurances that the death penalty imposed in absentia will not be carried out," the spokesman said.

Ginbot 7 says Andargachew had been on his way from the United Arab Emirates to Eritrea when he was detained at Sanaa airport on 24 June.

Ginbot 7 (15 May) was named after the date of the 2005 elections, which were marred by protests over alleged fraud that led to the deaths of about 200 people.