Bomb kills 12 in Ghazni as key Afghan talks begin in Doha

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Afghan security personnel arrive at the site of a car bomb attack that targeted an intelligence unit in Ghazni on Sunday. (AFP)
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Taliban members arrive to attend the Intra Afghan Dialogue talks in the Qatari capital Doha on Sunday. (AFP)
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From left: The Taliban’s former culture and information minister Amir Khan Mutaqi, former deputy education minister Abdul Salam Hanafi and Taliban negotiator Abbas Stanikzai attend the Intra Afghan Dialogue talks in Doha on Sunday, July 7, 2019. (AFP)
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Members of the Taliban arrive to attend the Intra Afghan Dialogue talks in Doha on Sunday, July 7, 2019. (AFP)
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Qatari officials (C) taking part in a meeting between US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (2nd-L) accompanied by his delegation, and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai (6th-R) accompanied by the Taliban delegation, in the Qatari capital Doha. (File/AFP/HO/Qatar's MOFA)
Updated 08 July 2019
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Bomb kills 12 in Ghazni as key Afghan talks begin in Doha

  • Attack on Ghazni wounds more than 180, including scores of children
  • Meeting in Qatar was aimed at preparing the ground for peace talks

KABUL: At least 12 people were killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan on Sunday, as Taliban and government representatives met in Qatar to end the ongoing conflict.
The attack happened at an intelligence base in Ghazni, 120 km southwest of Kabul.
A spokesman for the Public Health Ministry, Wahidullah Mayar, said 179 people, most of them civilians, had been wounded in the incident.
The Taliban, who have lost ground in recent weeks in the area, claimed responsibility. Sediq Seddiqi, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, condemned the attack, calling it a “crime against humanity.”

Both the government, backed by US troops, and the Taliban have intensified operations in recent months against the backdrop of a series of peace negotiations between US diplomats and Taliban delegates in Doha.
Senior Afghan political leaders, including several government representatives, attended a two-day intra-Afghan peace meeting in Doha on Sunday, the first time senior figures of the two sides have met under Ghani's administration.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Arab News the conference did not constitute “formal negotiations” and that participants would speak in a personal capacity. “Every participant will share views as to how peace could return to Afghanistan,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

The Taliban, who have lost ground in recent weeks in the area, claimed responsibility of the attack.

Shaheen added that the Taliban would represent its political office and explain its official stance on the peace process, with Sher Abbas Stanekzai leading the delegation.
Representatives from the Taliban and the US started the seventh round of talks last week, aiming to hammer out a time-frame for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country in exchange for nonaggression from the group against US interests.
Afghan-born US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been tasked by the US government to secure a political settlement with the militants, who now control more territory than at any time since being toppled in 2001 by US-led forces.
In a tweet on Saturday, Khalilzad said the latest round of talks were the “most productive session” to date, adding that significant progress had been made on troop withdrawal, counter-terrorism assurances, participation in intra-Afghan negotiations, and a permanent ceasefire.


Villagers angry as Portugal wildfire still rages

A villager tries to extinguish a wildfire at the village of Chaveira, near Macao, in central Portugal on Monday, July 22, 2019. (AP)
Updated 27 min 32 sec ago
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Villagers angry as Portugal wildfire still rages

  • By evening, the fire was only 70% under control because of the strong winds and high temperatures, Civil Protection commander Pedro Nunes said, adding there were currently no homes or villages at risk

VILA DE REI/MACAO, Portugal: After more than 50 hours, firefighters were still battling a wildfire in central Portugal late on Monday, as villagers and local authorities blamed a lack of resources and government inaction for the damage caused by the flames.
So far, 39 people had been injured, including one who was in serious condition. Portugal’s Civil Protection department said some villagers had been evacuated as a precaution and houses had been destroyed.
The fire was small in comparison with a massive blaze that hit the same region in June 2017, killing 64 people and burning about 55,000 hectares (136,000 acres) in a few days. That was the worst disaster in modern Portuguese history.
Data from the European Union fire-mapping service showed about 8,500 hectares (21,000 acres) burned over the weekend.
Civil Protection said earlier on Monday that the fire, which broke out on Saturday afternoon, was 90% under control, but warned that the remaining blazes required “a lot of attention” as the winds whipped up later in the day, fanning the flames in tinder-dry conditions.
By evening, the fire was only 70% under control because of the strong winds and high temperatures, Civil Protection commander Pedro Nunes said, adding there were currently no homes or villages at risk.
“The worst-case scenario happened,” said Nunes. He said firefighters would adopt techniques overnight to put out the flames, including using four bulldozers provided by the armed forces.
Even though humidity is expected to remain low, the wind is set to lose strength in the early hours of Tuesday, which could help firefighters end the wildfire, Nunes added.
Covered in eucalyptus and pine trees, central Portugal is frequently hit by summer blazes, with hilly terrain making it especially difficult for firefighters to reach.

’THERE WAS NO ONE’
Villagers, as well as authorities in Macao and Vila de Rei, areas in the heart of the fire zone, said there were not enough firefighters and resources to combat the flames.
Sheep farmer Joaquim Ribeiro told Reuters there were no firefighters when the blaze arrived at his village in Macao, forcing him to transfer his animals elsewhere. “It was pandemonium.”
Another sheep farmer, Fernando Cardoso, said he rushed to a nearby fire station as the flames approached his village but the firefighters told him they could not help until given the green light.
“The fire appeared out of nowhere,” he said. “When we got here, there were flames everywhere, no place to turn, no firefighters, there was no one.”
Local authorities have also pointed the finger at Portugal’s Socialist government, led by Prime Minister Antonio Costa.
Speaking to Lusa news agency, the deputy mayor of Vila de Rei, Paulo Cesar, accused the government of not being able to prevent wildfires.
“The municipality is fed up with these successive fires linked to criminal activity and is fed up of seeing the state fail again,” he said.
Asked by reporters about the complaints, Costa said the mayors were “primarily responsible” for protecting their own municipalities from wildfires through “proper management of their territory.”
Internal Administration Minister Eduardo Cabrita said police had opened an investigation into the fires. Portugal’s judiciary police have collected evidence and artifacts that could be related to the fires’ origin, an official told Lusa news agency.
In a statement, police said a 55-year-old man was detained on suspicion of starting a blaze in the Portuguese district of Castelo Branco. But a police source, quoted by Portuguese newspaper Observador, said the detention was not related to the fires in question.
The police did not reply to a Reuters request for comment.
Civil Protection said 1,079 firefighters were on the ground, backed up by 347 firefighting vehicles.
Spain said late on Monday that it was sending two aircraft to help tackle the fires in Portugal.