Suicide bomber kills more than 30 near shrine in Afghan capital

Police patrol the streets after a suicide attack in front of the Kabul university in Kabul, Wednesday, March 21, 2018. (AP)
Updated 21 March 2018
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Suicide bomber kills more than 30 near shrine in Afghan capital

KABUL: A suicide bomber blew himself up near a shrine in Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least 32 people and wounding dozens, as the Afghan capital celebrated the Nawruz holiday marking the start of the Persian new year.
The explosion underlined the threat to the city from militant attacks, despite government promises to tighten security in the wake of an attack in central Kabul that killed around 100 people in January.
Militant group Daesh, which has claimed several previous attacks on Shiite targets, claimed responsibility, saying the attack specifically targeted Shiites celebrating Nawruz, its Amaq news agency said.
The Taliban, which often fights Daesh’s local affiliate in Afghanistan, issued a statement denying any connection to the blast.
Kabul had been on alert for attacks over the Nawruz holiday but the bomber was still able to detonate his explosives as people were leaving the Kart-e Sakhi shrine, in the west of the city.
“People were heading home joyously after the end of the ceremony when the suicide bomber detonated his explosives among them,” said Kabul police chief Daud Amin. “Many of our countrymen were martyred.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh said the bomber had apparently intended to reach the shrine, which was attacked during a Shiite festival in October 2016, but had been prevented from getting closer by police checkpoints.
“We had our security in place in and around the shrine,” he said. “All the casualties were young people who were either passing by on the road or gathering to enjoy Nawruz.”
Waheed Majroh, a spokesman for the ministry of public health, said 32 people were confirmed dead with more than 50 wounded being treated in hospitals in the city. Women and children were among the casualties, he said.
Wednesday’s attack was the latest in a series to have struck Kabul this year, including one earlier this month that targeted the Hazara minority.
The seemingly endless attacks have undermined support for the government of President Ashraf Ghani, who offered last month to hold peace talks with Taliban insurgents fighting to drive out international forces and reimpose their version of strict Islamic law.
The Taliban have so far shown little sign of accepting the offer of talks with the Western-backed government, which they consider an illegitimate, foreign-imposed regime, although they have offered to talk to the United States.


NATO, EU, US hail Macedonia vote as key step on Western path

Updated 20 October 2018
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NATO, EU, US hail Macedonia vote as key step on Western path

BRUSSELS: NATO, the European Union and the US on Saturday hailed a Macedonian parliament vote as another step toward ending a decades-long name row with Greece that takes the small country closer to joining their Western clubs.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg and EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini welcomed the close vote late Friday to start the process of renaming the country North Macedonia — a move that EU and NATO member Greece also hailed.
“It’s up to the government & political leaders to complete national procedures on the name agreement & seize this historic opportunity to bring the country into #NATO,” Stoltenberg tweeted after the vote.
“We now expect the national procedures for the implementation of the agreement to continue without any delays, toward the adoption of the constitutional changes,” Mogherini and fellow EU official Johannes Hahn said in a statement.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert welcomed the decision by Macedonia’s parliament “to initiate the constitutional changes needed to implement” the agreement with Greece.
She called it an “historic opportunity to advance stability, security and prosperity throughout the region.”
Amendments will now be drafted in the capital Skopje to incorporate the new name into the constitution, after which another parliamentary vote will be required to enshrine the changes.
Under the accord, which Prime Minister Zoran Zaev struck with his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras in June, the Balkan state would rename itself North Macedonia. In exchange, Athens has promised to stop blocking its entry into NATO and the EU.
Greece has stood in Macedonia’s way for 27 years in protest at the country’s name, which it argues is an encroachment on its own province called Macedonia.
Mogherini and Hahn, the European commissioner who oversees talks to bring new members into the 28-nation bloc, said the vote underscored the determination and courage of both sides to resolve their long dispute.
“This is a truly unique opportunity for decisively moving the country forward on its European Union path as well as for reconciliation in the region,” Mogherini and Hahn said.
“The European Union will continue to fully support and accompany the country, all its citizens and its institutions.”