Death toll up to 12 in suicide attack on Afghan security forces

Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack in Jalalabad city, Afghanistan July 10, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 10 July 2018
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Death toll up to 12 in suicide attack on Afghan security forces

  • Some of the victims were brought to hospital with severe burns, health director Najibullah Kamawal said, confirming the casualty toll
  • Violence is expected to continue ahead of Afghanistan’s long-delayed legislative elections on October 20 that militants have vowed to disrupt

JALALABAD, Afghanistan: A suicide attacker blew himself up near an Afghan security forces vehicle on Tuesday, killing at least 12 people, mostly civilians, officials said, in the latest deadly violence to rock the country.

The explosion in the eastern city of Jalalabad also left at least five people wounded and set a nearby petrol station alight, the provincial governor’s spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said.

Some of the victims were brought to hospital with severe burns, health director Najibullah Kamawal said, confirming the casualty toll.

“I saw a big ball of fire that threw people away. The people were burning,” Esmatullah, who witnessed the incident, said.

Tolo News posted a video online purportedly showing several burned-out vehicles and gutted shops at the scene of the attack.

The Daesh group claimed the attack via its Amaq propaganda agency — the latest carried out by the extremists in restive Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan.

Daesh has claimed a series of high-casualty suicide bomb attacks in the province in recent weeks, as US and Afghan forces continue offensive operations against the group.

While the Taliban is Afghanistan’s largest militant group, Daesh has a relatively small but potent presence mainly in the east and north of the country.

Tuesday’s attack comes a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed “hope” for peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban, during an unannounced visit to Kabul.

Pompeo’s first trip to Afghanistan since he was sworn in as America’s top diplomat in April came amid renewed optimism for peace in the war-weary country, following last month’s unprecedented cease-fire by the Taliban and Kabul during Eid.

The Islamic holiday was marked by spontaneous street celebrations involving Afghan security forces and Taliban militants, raising hopes peace was possible after 17 years of war.

“An element of the progress is the capacity that we now have to believe that there is now hope,” Pompeo told a joint press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

“Many of the Taliban now see that they can’t win on the ground militarily. That’s very deeply connected to President Trump’s strategy,” he said, referring to Trump’s much-vaunted South Asia policy announced last August.

The ceasefire did not extend to the Daesh franchise in Afghanistan, which first emerged in the country in 2014 and established a stronghold in Nangarhar before spreading north.

The most recent major attack in Jalalabad on July 1 saw 19 people killed and 21 wounded when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus.

The group had been waiting to meet Ghani, who was visiting the city, when the bomber struck.

That came after two separate suicide attacks in Nangarhar during the cease-fire that were also claimed by Daesh.

Violence is expected to continue ahead of Afghanistan’s long-delayed legislative elections on October 20 that militants have vowed to disrupt.

Afghan security forces, already struggling to beat back the Taliban and Daesh on the battlefield, will be responsible for protecting polling stations, many of which will be located in schools.


French envoy returns to Italy as friendship rekindles

Updated 15 February 2019
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French envoy returns to Italy as friendship rekindles

  • Ties between the traditionally close allies have grown increasingly tense since mid-2018, with Italy’s Deputy Prime Ministers Luigi di Maio and Matteo Salvini firing verbal pot-shots at Macron and his government
  • The recall came after di Maio met members of France’s “yellow vest” movement, which has mounted sometimes violent protests against Macron’s liberal economic reform program.

PARIS: France’s ambassador to Italy returned to Rome on Friday, eight days after his recall by President Emmanuel Macron, as the European neighbors defused their worst diplomatic crisis since World War Two.
A senior French diplomat described the recall as “electro-shock therapy” necessary to end to “repeated, baseless” attacks by Italian political leaders against France.
Some commentators saw the recall as over-reaction, but French officials said it had persuaded Italian politicians to reaffirm publicly their friendship with Paris and halt their verbal onslaught — at least for now.
“We blew the whistle loud enough to make everybody stop,” the diplomat said.
The ambassador was received on his return by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, said a source at Macron’s office. He also delivered a letter from Macron inviting Mattarella to France for a state visit in the coming months.
Ties between the traditionally close allies have grown increasingly tense since mid-2018, with Italy’s Deputy Prime Ministers Luigi di Maio and Matteo Salvini firing verbal pot-shots at Macron and his government, mostly over migration.
The recall came after di Maio met members of France’s “yellow vest” movement, which has mounted sometimes violent protests against Macron’s liberal economic reform program.
Salvini initially wanted to meet Macron directly but later wrote what French diplomats described as a “polite” letter to his counterpart, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, inviting him to Italy, French officials said.
Italy’s president also spoke with Macron by telephone “and they expressed the extent to which (their) ... friendship ... was important and how the two countries needed one another,” French European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau told private radio station RTL.
But French diplomats do not rule out tensions resurfacing ahead of European elections in May, with Macron and Salvini framing the campaign as a clash between pro-European “progressives” and Euroskeptic nationalists.
Migration policy and French initiatives to bring peace to Libya, a former Italian colony, without consulting Rome have both been sources of tension in recent months.
A split in the Italian coalition government over the fate of an under-construction Alpine rail tunnel linking France and Italy, could also test relations going forward.
There was no immediate comment on the French ambassador’s return from the Italian government.