G-20 Summit Kicks Off With Focus on Global Minimum Tax, Pandemic Preparedness

ROME —

The G-20 Summit hosted by Italy kicked off Saturday in Rome, where leaders from the world’s major economies discussed issues of mutual concern, including pandemic recovery and climate change.

The red carpet was rolled out at “La Nuvola,” Rome’s convention center, as Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi welcomed U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders amid strict COVID-19 protocols.

This weekend’s summit is the leaders’ first face-to-face meeting in two years, following last year’s virtual summit hosted by Saudi Arabia. Notably absent are Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. They will join virtually, citing pandemic concerns at home.

Global minimum tax

On day one, G-20 leaders voiced their support for a global corporate minimum tax deal agreed to by finance ministers from 136 countries earlier this month after four years of negotiations led by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The deal would mean a sweeping overhaul of international tax rules. Under the deal, countries will apply a minimum global corporate tax rate of 15% for companies with annual revenues of more than $870 million, while large multinational companies must pay taxes where they operate, not just where they are headquartered.

“The president emphasized the importance of this historic deal during his intervention,” a senior administration official said.

“G-20 members are right to celebrate this deal,” said Matthew Goodman, senior vice president for economics at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. The question is whether and how soon G20 members can implement the agreement within their respective domestic legal frameworks.

“That’s going to be, frankly, quite challenging in the United States and several other countries,” said Goodman.

Pandemic response and prevention

On Friday, G-20 health and finance ministers released a communique committing to bringing the pandemic under control globally as soon as possible, and strengthening collective efforts to prepare for, prevent, detect, and respond to future pandemics. The communique says the G-20 will take all necessary steps needed to advance global goals of vaccinating at least 40% of the population in all countries by the end of 2021 and 70% by mid-2022, as recommended by the World Health Organization.

The ministers announced the formation of a new panel to improve the global response to future pandemics but did not specify any funding for the task force. They could not reach agreement on a separate financing mechanism proposed by the U.S. and Indonesia to prepare for future pandemics.

“We’re looking for not the ultimate final product of a financing mechanism or the ultimate final product of a taskforce or a board that would operate as kind of a global coordinating body going forward,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told VOA aboard Air Force One on Thursday. “So the hope is to have in the communiqué a statement of intent that we will work towards these two outcomes.”

Climate change

On Sunday, G-20 leaders will shift their focus to climate change. From Rome, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called the summit an opportunity to “put things on track” ahead of the UN COP26 climate conference in Glasgow that G-20 leaders will participate in following their Italy meeting.

“There is a serious risk that Glasgow will not deliver,” Guterres said. “The current nationally determined contributions — formal commitments by governments — still condemn the world to a calamitous 2.7-degree increase,” he said referring to the pledge made at the 2015 Paris Climate Accord to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, ideally to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Countries are expected to announce more emissions reduction pledges to reach the target of net-zero emissions by around mid-century. But some analysts are skeptical of these voluntary commitments that come without enforcement mechanisms.

“There’ll be pledges, the best-case scenario something along the lines of what we saw in Paris,” said Dalibor Rohac, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Rohac added that to make progress on climate change, the world needs tangible actions. “Rather than to proceed with this habit of looking for a Big Bang multilateral solution, to pursue sound domestic policies that accelerate decarbonization.”

A key issue to watch is whether G-20 members can agree on coal. The U.N. has called for wealthy countries to phase out coal by 2030, but G20 environment ministers have failed to agree on a timeline.

Guterres also called on wealthy nations to uphold commitments to provide funding to help developing nations mitigate the impacts of climate change. Under the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, wealthy nations pledged a minimum of $100 billion per year in climate funding to lower-income countries. Much of that money has not been delivered. enario something along the lines of what we saw in Paris,” said Dalibor Rohac, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Rohac added that to make progress on climate change, the world needs tangible actions.

“Rather than to proceed with this habit of looking for a big-bang multilateral solution, to pursue sound domestic policies that that accelerate decarbonization,” he said.

A key issue to watch is whether G-20 members can agree on coal actions. The U.N. has called for wealthy countries to phase out coal by 2030, but G-20 environment ministers have failed to agree on a timeline.

Guterres also called on wealthy nations to uphold commitments to provide funding to help developing nations mitigate the impacts of climate change. Under the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, wealthy nations pledged a minimum of $100 billion per year in climate funding to lower-income countries. Much of that money has not been delivered.

Source: Voice of America

Tigrayan Forces Say They Have Seized Strategic Town ?n Ethiopia’s Amhara Region

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA —

Tigrayan forces said on Saturday they had seized the strategic town of Dessie in Ethiopia’s Amhara region where tens of thousands of ethnic Amharas have sought refuge from an escalation in fighting, but the government denied this.

The fighters pushed Ethiopian government forces from Dessie and were headed towards the town of Kombolcha, Getachew Reda, spokesperson for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), told Reuters by satellite phone from an undisclosed location.

He said Tigrayan forces had captured numerous Ethiopian soldiers.

Legesse Tulu, the government spokesperson, told Reuters in a text message that the town was still under the control of the Ethiopian government and said claims by the Tigrayan forces were “fabricated propaganda.”

Ethiopian military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane referred Reuters to the federal government. Legesse Tulu, the government spokesperson, Abebe Gebre Mesqel, the mayor of Dessie and a spokesperson for the town did not respond to requests for comment.

Reuters could not independently verify the TPLF’s account of developments and phone lines in Dessie appeared to be down as of Saturday afternoon.

The capture of Dessie would be a strategic gain for the Tigrayan fighters against the central government forces who are trying to dislodge them from the Amhara region.

The large town is some 385 km from the capital, Addis Ababa, and is the furthest south in Amhara that the TPLF has reached since pushing into the region in July.

War broke nearly a year ago between federal troops and the TPLF. Thousands of people have been killed and more than 2 million people have been forced to flee.

Tigrayan forces were initially beaten back, but recaptured most of the region in July and pushed into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions.

In mid-October, the Tigrayan forces said the military had launched a ground offensive to push them out of Amhara. The military said on Thursday there was heavy fighting there, but accused the Tigrayan forces of starting it.

Source: Voice of America

Deaths Reported in Sudan as ‘March of Millions’ Demands Restoration of Civilian Rule

Three people were shot dead by security forces during Saturday demonstrations against a military coup in Sudan.

The Sudan Doctors Committee had initially reported two protesters were shot and killed, but confirmed that a third person died when security forces fired into crowds in Omdurman, Khartoum’s sister city.

Twelve people have been killed in demonstrations since the military seized power and deposed the prime minister on Monday.

Saturday’s demonstrations have drawn hundreds of thousands of people in the capital, Khartoum, as well as major cities throughout the country.

Protests began Monday, when General Abdel-Fattah Burhan declared a state of emergency and announced the dissolution of a landmark transitional government established in 2019. But Saturday’s “March of Millions” is expected to be the largest coordinated demonstration yet.

Images and video footage from Khartoum and other cities throughout the country show crowds carrying Sudanese flags and banners denouncing the military government. Chants and songs that were sung in 2019 when protesters demanded the ouster of dictator Omar al-Bashir have been revived in this week’s protests as well.

“I see people everywhere, from each direction, thousands of young people, women, old men, children, everyone,” Walaa Salah, an activist in Khartoum, told VOA’s English to Africa.

“Khartoum, the entire city, is outside protesting, calling for the fall of the military rule, calling for the fall of the coup, calling for the end of this partnership,” she said. “People are chanting against the military.”

Witnesses reported heavy military security in Khartoum, especially by the Rapid Special Forces, notoriously for fatally shooting dozens of protesters in 2019.

Earlier this week, security forces killed at least nine people by gunfire and wounded at least 170 others during the protests, according to the Sudan Doctors’ Committee. Experts and demonstrators had expressed concern that Saturday’s protests could be violent.

Despite mobile internet and some WIFI being blocked throughout the country, organizers were able to coordinate demonstrations. Netblocks, which monitors internet cuts around the world, has reported that with the exception of one four-hour window, mobile internet has been cut throughout Sudan since Tuesday’s military takeover.

“We can’t call or text. We have no idea what’s going on, on the other side of the city,” Salah said.

Volker Perthes, the special representative of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, said in a statement Friday that he “remains in constant contact with all sides to facilitate a political solution in line with the Constitutional Document. UNITAMS (the U.N. Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan) is actively coordinating with mediation efforts currently underway to facilitate an inclusive dialogue, which remains the only path toward a peaceful solution to the current crisis.”

The United States had urged the military leaders of Monday’s coup to refrain from “any and all violence” against peaceful protesters.

The appeal to Sudan’s military leaders came from a senior U.S. State Department official who was briefing reporters on condition of anonymity.

Saturday will be “a real indication of what the military intentions are,” the official had said.

The military takeover occurred after weeks of escalating tensions between military and civilian leaders over Sudan’s transition to democracy. The coup threatens to derail the process, which has slowly progressed since the army ousted longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir, ending a popular uprising in 2019.

But even after the landmark power-sharing agreement in August of 2019, in which now-deposed Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok was named the country’s leader, protests have continued. Demonstrators, who often used the word “Medaniya,” or civilian, to call for a civilian government, opposed any military control in the transitional government.

Burhan said Tuesday the army’s overthrow of the country’s transitional government was necessary to avoid a civil war.

Source: Voice of America

Zimbabwe President Mnangagwa to Attend COP26 Conference

BINDURA, ZIMBABWE —

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa says he will attend COP26, becoming the first Zimbabwe leader to visit the United Kingdom since Zimbabwe was accused of human rights abuses and election rigging. Mnangagwa also said a U.N. rapporteur had proved his government was right about the sanctions issue.

Winding up an annual conference of the ruling ZANU-PF party Saturday in Bindura, 80 kilometers north of Zimbabwe’s capital, Mnangagwa said he was looking forward to attending the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, in Scotland, which begins Sunday.

“I wish to inform the conference that tomorrow morning (Sunday) I travel to Glasgow, United Kingdom, after over two decades have passed without Zimbabwe leadership going to United Kingdom. I have been invited by [British Prime Minister] Boris Johnson, and [he] has indicated he might meet me; one on one, as well as other leaders like India prime minister and others, we are meeting them,” he said.

Mnangagwa also said he was happy about a report by U.N. Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan after a two-week visit to Zimbabwe. The Belarus national urged the U.S. and other Western governments to lift sanctions they imposed on Zimbabwe nearly two decades ago and for alleged election-rigging and human rights abuses.

Source: Voice of America