Anti-government protests end in Afghan north after appeal of returned exiled Dostum

In this file photo, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (R) holds up the hand of his vice-presidential candidate Abdul Rashid Dostum during an election campaign rally in Mazar-i-sharif on June 3, 2014. (AFP)
Updated 23 July 2018
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Anti-government protests end in Afghan north after appeal of returned exiled Dostum

  • Dostum’s return follows nearly three weeks of mass protests in northern Afghanistan
  • The protests were a major headache for the government amid increased attacks by the Taliban and Daesh

KABUL: Demonstrators who had blocked border crossings and various state facilities as part of nearly three weeks-long anti-government move in northern Afghanistan, ended their protests on Monday after exiled first Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum made an appeal on his arrival, residents and officials said.

“After what you can call appeal or order of Dostum, we have ended the protests, life is returning to normalcy,” Ahmad Tawab, a protester from the north told Arab News by phone.

Dostum, who was exiled by President Ashraf Ghani’s government over allegations of sexual abuse, returned home on Sunday to a rapturous reception from supporters as well as officials and is set to resume his duties as normal.

Dostum was greeted by hundreds of people, including women, some senior government officials, among them his political allies on a red carpet which was put on the tarmac of Kabul airport next to the stairs of the chartered plane that brought him from Turkey.

Some kissed his hands, others tried to get near him amid tight security with several TV stations showing live his arrival.

But as his convoy of armoured motorcades left the airport, a suicide bomber blew himself up moments later. 

Kabul police chief Daud Amin said that has been 19 killed, mostly security forces, and 60 were wounded.

Speaking to a big crowd in the garden of his spacious office, Dostum said presidential elite force were among the casualties.

Wearing a khaki suit with a necktie, the bespectacled burly former militia leader termed the arrest of his senior commander in the north by government Nizamuddin Qaisari as an “unfair move”. He said will talk with Ghani tomorrow and will raise the issue of the arrest.

Dostum who until recently, spoken against peace talks with Taliban, told the crowd that he was in favor of negotiations with the militants.

“I as the first Vice President, consider peace with the Taliban more important than any other thing,” he said. He called on his fellow ethnic Uzbek supporters to end the protest in north, allow reopening of schools, state institutions and border crossings which they had closed since the start of the protests nearly three weeks ago.

Dostum’s return follows nearly three weeks of mass protests in northern Afghanistan by his ethnic Uzbek supporters, who blocked several border crossings and government institutions, and threatened to boycott the long-delayed October elections.

The protests were a major headache for the government amid increased attacks by the Taliban and Daesh in the north recently.

Dostum’s supporters accuse Ghani of having sidelined him. The protests were triggered by the arrest of Qaisari, accused of severe human rights abuses and threatening to kill provincial officials.

In a video, government troops were seen beating Qaisari’s handcuffed guards during his arrest, stoking further anger. Haroon Chakansuri, a spokesman for Ghani, said Dostum had gone to Turkey for nearly 14 months for unspecified medical treatment.

Accusations that Dostum had ordered his guards to sexually abuse and torture political rival Ahmad Eschi will be handled independently by the courts, Chakansuri said. Dostum supporters say the allegations about Eschi are a conspiracy. Ghani picked Dostum, the self-proclaimed leader of ethnic Uzbeks, as his running mate in the 2014 elections.

Ghani last year blocked Dostum’s return from exile when he tried to fly home to form an opposition alliance including senior government members. The ethnic Uzbek vote is essential for any candidate in the presidential elections slated for next year. Ghani has said he will stand for office again.

“I think the government wants to hunt two pigeons with a shot,” said Inayatullah Kakar, an Afghan researcher.“It (Dostum’s return) will make the north tensions calm … then he will be part of the upcoming elections ...”


France’s Macron forced to curb his ambitions for Europe

Updated 19 May 2019
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France’s Macron forced to curb his ambitions for Europe

  • His pro-Europe vision has collided with populists and national interests across the continent
  • In his country, his political vision has given rise to France’s raucous yellow vest uprising over his government’s pro-business policies

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron sees himself as Europe’s savior and next week’s European Parliament elections as a make-or-break moment for the beleaguered European Union.
But Macron is no longer the fresh-faced force who marched into a surprising presidential victory to the rousing EU anthem two years ago. His pro-Europe vision has collided with populists and national interests across the continent. And at home, his political vision has given rise to France’s raucous yellow vest uprising over his government’s pro-business policies.
Macron wanted the May 23-26 European Parliament elections to be the key moment that he could push his ambitions for a stronger Europe — but instead, nationalists and populists who criticized the 28-nation bloc could achieve unprecedented success.
They argue that EU leaders have failed to manage migration into the continent and remain out of touch with ordinary workers’ concerns.
“We have a crisis of the European Union. This is a matter of fact. Everywhere in Europe, when you look at the past five to six years, in our country but in a lot of countries, all the extremes, extreme-rights, are increasing,” Macron said Thursday, making an unexpected appeal for European unity on the sidelines of a technology trade show.
“On currency, on digital, on climate action, we need more Europe,” he said. “I want the EU to be more protective of our borders regarding migration, terrorism and so on, but I think if you fragment Europe, there is no chance you have a stronger Europe.”
In person, the 41-year-old Macron comes across as strikingly, sincerely European. A political centrist, he’s at ease quoting Greek playwrights, German thinkers or British economists. France’s youngest president grew up with the EU and has been using the shared European euro currency his whole adult life, and sees it as Europe’s only chance to stay in the global economic game.
Macron has already visited 20 of the EU’s 28 countries in his two years in office, and while he acknowledges the EU’s problems, he wants to fix the bloc — not disassemble it.
Macron won the 2017 presidential election over France’s far-right, anti-immigration party leader Marine Le Pen on a pledge to make Europe stronger to face global competition against the Unites States and China. Since then, he’s had to make compromises with other EU leaders — and clashed with some nations where populist parties govern, from Poland to neighboring Italy.
Four months after his election, Macron outlined his vision for Europe in a sweeping speech at Paris’ Sorbonne university, calling for a joint EU budget, shared military forces and harmonized taxes.
But with Brexit looming and nationalism rising, Macron has had to reconsider his ambitions. He called his political tactics with other EU leaders a “productive confrontation.”
“In Europe, what is expected from France is to clearly say what it wants, its goals, its ambitions, and then be able to build a compromise with Germany to move forward” with other European countries, Macron said last week.
Macron stressed that despite her initial reluctance, German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed last year to create a eurozone budget they hope will boost investment and provide a safety mechanism for the 19 nations using the euro currency.
In March, Macron sought to draw support for a Europe of “freedom, protection and progress” with a written call to voters in 28 countries to reject nationalist parties that “offer nothing.”
And he proposed to define a roadmap for the EU by the end of this year in a discussion with all member nations and a panel of European citizens.
“There will be disagreement, but is it better to have a static Europe or a Europe that advances, sometimes at different paces, and that is open to all?” he asked.
France and Germany are the two heavyweights in Europe, and Macron can also count on cooperation from pro-European governments of Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and others.
He has made a point, however, of not yet visiting Hungary or Poland, two nations led by populist leaders whom Macron accused last year of “lying” to their people about the EU.
France has also been entangled in a serious diplomatic crisis with Italy over migration into Europe. Italy’s anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has repeatedly criticized Macron and is backing his rival Le Pen’s National Rally party in the election this week that aims to fill the European parliament’s 751 seats.
Macron has little chance to repeat Europe-wide what he did in France: rip up the political map by building a powerful centrist movement that weakened the traditional left and right.
The campaign for Macron’s Republic on the Move party is being led by former European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau under a banner called “Renaissance.” The party wants to associate with the pro-market ALDE alliance to create new centrist group at the European Parliament.
But across the continent, the centrists are not expected to come out remotely on top but rank third or even lower behind the parliament’s traditional two biggest groups, the right-wing European People’s Party and the left-wing Socialists and Democrats group.
Even at home, Macron is far from certain of being able to claim victory in the European vote. Polls suggest his party will be among France’s top two vote-getters in the election, which takes place in France on May 26.
But its main rival, the far-right National Rally party, is determined to take revenge on Macron beating Le Pen so decisively in 2017.
Macron’s political opponents across the spectrum are calling on French voters to seize the European vote to reject his government’s policies.
While he won 64% of the presidential vote in 2017, French polls show that Macron’s popularity has been around half that for the past year.
It reached record lows when France’s yellow vest movement broke out last fall, demanding relief from high taxes and stagnant wages for French workers, then slightly rose as extensive violence during yellow vest protests, especially in Paris, dampened support for the movement’s cause.
Still, the yellow vests are not going away. New protests against Macron and his government are planned for the EU election day.