Alliance formed to challenge Afghan president’s re-election bid

Key Afghan government officials and major political parties have forged an alliance in a bid to challenge any move by President Ashraf Ghani to extend his term, in the face of growing concerns about elections being postponed. (AP)
Updated 27 July 2018
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Alliance formed to challenge Afghan president’s re-election bid

  • The alliance, launched on Thursday, said it aims to improve governance, create jobs, ensure the holding of transparent elections, and maintain security across the country.
  • President Ghani said the coalition should help the government resolve key national issues.

KABUL: Key Afghan government officials and major political parties have forged an alliance in a bid to challenge any move by President Ashraf Ghani to extend his term, in the face of growing concerns about elections being postponed.
The Grand Coalition of Afghanistan includes First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum, who recently returned from 14 months in exile, Second Deputy Executive Chief Mohammad Mohaqiq, Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, key regional strongmen and former Cabinet ministers.
Dostum’s unexpected participation in the alliance comes amid reports of a stalemate in talks with Ghani over the release of one of the vice president’s commanders.
His arrest a few weeks ago sparked massive anti-government protests in the north, and led to Dostum’s return to put an end to them.
The alliance, launched on Thursday, said it aims to improve governance, create jobs, ensure the holding of transparent elections, and maintain security across the country.
The coalition “marks a major display of unity in which Afghanistan’s core political and social forces have converged to bring democratic changes in accordance with our peoples’ will and needs, for a democratic, all-inclusive and stable Afghanistan,” Rabbani said.
The alliance said its focus is primarily on “growing instability, poverty and ethnic divisions” in the country, among other issues.
Ghani recently said he will run for a second term in next year’s presidential election, which will be followed by long-delayed parliamentary polls.
With the Taliban gaining ground, and the Ghani administration losing its writ over hundreds of polling stations due to rising violence and deepening divisions within the government, many believe that neither election will be held as announced.
Atta Mohammad Noor, the de facto ruler of the northern Balkh province, said at the launch of the alliance: “Afghanistan is on the verge of collapsing due to the ineffectiveness of government leaders.”
Nearly 4 million people, out of 9 million registered by the government-appointed election body, are “fake voters,” he added.
Dostum said the alliance comprises different political and ethnic groups, which “articulated peace, stability and a constructive role to improve the current state of affairs.”
Mohaqiq also lashed out at the government during the launch of the alliance, describing the current situation in Afghanistan as “worrisome.”
People are fleeing their homes due to insecurity, and a significant part of the country is under militant control, he said.
Ghani said the alliance should help his administration overcome challenges. “The NUG (national unity government) welcomes pragmatic approaches, suggestions and plans by political parties, coalitions and civil society, provided they’re in accordance with the law and wishes of the people,” said a statement released by the president’s office.
“Given the current circumstances, elections, peace and reconciliation are top priorities of the NUG.”
Ghani said his administration pays utmost importance to achieving consensus between the government and political parties.
Constructive ideas and proposals by these groups can help the government and the people to achieve critical national objectives, he added.
Waheed Mozhdah, a Kabul-based political analyst, told Arab News that the formation of the alliance is a “serious challenge for Ghani,” and a sign of how his “wrong policies” alienated senior government members and reconciled old rivals.
“This is a major development. It’s in fact the formation of a front against Ghani, who has failed to reach peace with the Taliban, leading the US to try to hold direct talks with the group,” Mozhdah said.
“It’s highly likely that the elections won’t be held, so the alliance is bracing itself to block any extension of Ghani’s power when his mandate expires,” he added.
“Afghanistan is an unpredictable place. Unless things change, the chance of Ghani winning another term is doomed to failure.”
Atta Nasib, a pro-Ghani parliamentary candidate, said the alliance has nothing to offer common Afghans.
The factions that are part of the coalition had forged similar ones in the past, but without any impact, he added.
“Welcome to the New Grand Coalition of the same old tried and tested telepathic superheroes riding high on jihadi ballistic missiles,” Nasib tweeted.
“For once I’m curious to learn more about issue-based politics that this fragile coalition claims to bring to the table.”


Surveillance clips show Chinese billionaire with accuser

Updated 7 min 55 sec ago
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Surveillance clips show Chinese billionaire with accuser

  • The son of peasants, Liu built a Beijing electronics shop into JD.com, China’s biggest online direct retailer, selling everything from clothes to toys to fresh vegetables
  • Jingyao Liu is a Chinese citizen studying at the university on a student visa and was a volunteer in the doctorate program while Richard Liu was there
MINNEAPOLIS: An attorney for JD.com founder Richard Liu said Monday that surveillance video showing the Chinese businessman in an elevator and walking arm-in-arm with a woman who has accused him of rape provides a different account of what happened that night.
Two edited videos of Liu and his accuser were posted Monday to a Chinese social media site. One video shows the pair leaving a group dinner in Minneapolis on Aug. 30, with the woman getting up to leave after Liu gets up, then following him out the door. The other video shows the woman holding onto Liu’s arm as they walk to her apartment, where she says he raped her as she begged him to stop.
Liu, founder of the Beijing-based e-commerce site JD.com, was arrested Aug. 31 in Minneapolis on suspicion of felony rape, but prosecutors announced in December that he would face no criminal charges because the case had “profound evidentiary problems” and it was unlikely they could prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The woman, Jingyao Liu, a Chinese college student at the University of Minnesota, sued the businessman and his company last week. She alleged she was groped in Richard Liu’s limousine and raped in her apartment after a dinner at Origami, a Japanese restaurant in Minneapolis, in which she felt pressured to drink as Liu and other executives toasted her. At one point, Richard Liu said she would dishonor him if she did not join in, the lawsuit says.
Richard Liu and Jingyao Liu are not related.
It’s not clear who posted the videos, which were posted on Weibo under an account for Mingzhou Events. The clips are short and the content is edited, but Richard Liu’s attorneys in China confirmed their authenticity. The videos do not contain audio, and they do not show what happened in his limousine or in the woman’s apartment.
Jill Brisbois, Richard Liu’s attorney in Minnesota, said in a statement to The Associated Press that the clips “further dispel the misinformation and false claims that have been widely circulated and clearly support the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office decision not to file charges against our client.”
Brisbois said the videos speak for themselves and show events as they are happening. While the woman has alleged she was impaired and coerced to drink, she appears to be walking without assistance and linking her arm with the businessman.
The law firm of Florin Roebig, which is representing the woman, said the clips that have been posted online, as well as the full surveillance videos, are consistent with what the woman alleged in her lawsuit and with what she told law enforcement. The lawsuit says the woman went to her apartment building with Liu to be polite and respectful, and believed he was simply walking her to the door.
The clip in Jingyao Liu’s apartment complex shows Richard Liu and the woman walking through multiple lobbies and taking multiple elevators. Initially, Richard Liu’s female assistant is with them and the woman leads the way. At one point, the assistant does not get on an elevator with Richard Liu and the woman, and when they exit the elevator, she has her hand through his arm and he has his hands in his pockets.
She leads him up a short stairway, then through another set of doors and continues to link her hand through his arm. As they get off another elevator, she leads him down a hallway to an apartment. She opens the door and goes in, and Richard Liu follows.
The other clip features surveillance video from the end of the dinner at Origami. It shows Jingyao Liu seated at a table with other men, and Richard Liu is a few seats away, appearing to have an animated conversation with others at the table. One man at the dinner party is slumped over and appears to be passed out. The woman is seen talking to the man next to her, and when Liu gets up to leave, she gets up and appears to follow him. They walk out next to each other. Video from outside the restaurant shows her leaving with Richard Liu and his assistant.
Richard Liu walks ahead and it appears the woman and Liu’s assistant have a brief conversation, then she follows Liu.
Text messages previously reviewed by The Associated Press and portions of the woman’s interviews with police show the woman alleges Liu pulled her into a limousine and made advances and groped her despite her protests. The lawsuit says Liu forcibly raped her at her apartment, again over her protests and resistance. She texted a friend: “I begged him don’t. But he didn’t listen.”
The alleged attack happened while Richard Liu was in Minneapolis for a weeklong residency as part of the University of Minnesota’s doctor of business administration China program. The four-year program in the university’s management school is geared toward high-level executives in China and is a partnership with Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management.
Jingyao Liu is a Chinese citizen studying at the university on a student visa and was a volunteer in the doctorate program while Richard Liu was there. The Associated Press does not generally name alleged victims of sexual assault without their consent, but the Florin Roebig law firm has said she agreed to be named. She was 21 at the time of the alleged attack.
Richard Liu, known in Chinese as Liu Qiangdong, is a prominent member of the Chinese tech elite, with a fortune of $7.5 billion. He is part of a generation of entrepreneurs who have created China’s Internet, e-commerce, mobile phone and other technology industries since the late 1990s. The son of peasants, Liu built a Beijing electronics shop into JD.com, China’s biggest online direct retailer, selling everything from clothes to toys to fresh vegetables.