18 killed as Taliban strike near historic minaret

Afghan men working at a site near the Minaret of Jam following floodwaters in the Shahrak District of Ghor Province. The minaret of Jam, a revered Afghan historical treasure, has been saved from imminent danger after hundreds of workers diverted surging floodwaters that were gnawing at the 12th-century tower, officials said on May 27, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 29 May 2019

18 killed as Taliban strike near historic minaret

  • Militants capture some checkpoints around the heritage site
  • It is situated on the frontier of Ghor and Herat provinces

HERAT: Taliban fighters have stormed several security posts providing protection to Afghanistan’s historic minaret of Jam, cutting access to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and killing 18 security forces, officials said on Wednesday.

The attack comes less than a week after the revered 12th-century minaret, located in a remote part of the western province of Ghor, was threatened by surging floodwaters.

“The Taliban have captured some checkpoints around the minaret. We had to retreat because more fighting would cause damage to the minaret,” Sayed Zia Hussaini, the deputy police chief of Ghor, said.

Abdul Hai Khatebi, the provincial governor spokesman, said 15 pro-government militias and three policemen had been killed in the attacks, which started on Monday.

“The Taliban have shut off telecommunication towers and have cut any access to the area,” Fakhruddin Ariapur, the Ghor province director of information and culture, said.

“The cleaning-up work (from the flood) has stopped and we don’t know what is happening there.”

Dramatic video footage from late last week showed brown torrents crashing up against the base of the brick minaret, which was built in about 1190. 

FASTFACT

The Jam minaret is the world’s second tallest made of bricks, reaching a height of 65 meters.

On Monday, the government said it had hired about 300 local workers to channel floodwaters away from the tower. The work appeared to have saved the minaret from imminent danger.

Located in an area largely under Taliban control, the Jam minaret is the world’s second tallest made of bricks, reaching a height of 65 meters (213 feet). It is situated on the frontier of Ghor and Herat provinces, at the heart of the former Ghorid Empire, which dominated Afghanistan and parts of India in the 12th-13th centuries.

On Tuesday, a Taliban delegation met a group of senior Afghan politicians in Moscow, insisting that international forces must leave Afghanistan for peace to be agreed, amid gathering diplomatic efforts to end the 18-year war. The delegation, led by chief Taliban negotiator Mullah Baradar Akhund, met politicians, including senior regional leaders and candidates challenging President Ashraf Ghani in this year’s presidential election.

“The Islamic Emirate wants peace but the first step is to remove obstacles to peace and end the occupation of Afghanistan,” Baradar said.

The Taliban, ousted by US-backed forces weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US, refer to themselves as the Islamic Emirate.


Hong Kong police fire rubber bullets to pin back campus protesters

Updated 2 min 47 sec ago

Hong Kong police fire rubber bullets to pin back campus protesters

  • Dozens tried to flee the Polytechnic University after a night of mayhem in the Chinese-ruled city
  • Police urged protesters to ‘drop their weapons’ and leave

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on Monday to force back anti-government protesters trying to escape a university where hundreds are holed up with petrol bombs and other homemade weapons amid fears of a bloody crackdown.
Dozens tried to flee the Polytechnic University after a night of mayhem in the Chinese-ruled city in which major roads were blocked and a bridge was set on fire and a police officer was shot by a bow and arrow.
Many were arrested near the university on Monday, public broadcaster RTHK reported, while in the nearby commercial area of Nathan Road activists stopped traffic and forced shopping malls and stores to shut.
“We’ve been trapped here for too long. We need all Hong Kongers to know we need help,” said Dan, a 19-year-old protester on the campus, as he burst into tears.
“I don’t know how much longer we can go on like this. We may need international help.”
Protesters tried to make another run for it in the afternoon but were met with more volleys of tear gas.
Thirty-eight people were wounded overnight on Sunday, the city’s Hospital Authority said. Reuters witnesses saw some protesters suffering from burns from chemicals in jets fired from police water cannons.
“Remember you have life in your hands. Why do you need to push us to death?” one person shouted at police from a campus rooftop as protesters wearing gas masks and clutching umbrellas looked for ways to escape.
Police urged protesters to “drop their weapons” and leave.
“Police appeal to everyone inside the Polytechnic University to drop their weapons and dangerous items, remove their gas masks and leave via the top level of Cheong Wan Road South Bridge in an orderly manner,” they said in a statement.
“They should follow police instructions and must not charge at police cordons.”
Live video showed protesters with their hands tied behind their backs sitting cross-legged on a road as riot police stood guard in one of the busiest commercial and tourist districts in the former British colony.
Police said they fired three live rounds when “rioters” attacked two officers who were attempting to arrest a woman. No one was wounded and the woman escaped amid a dramatic escalation of the unrest that has plunged the Asian financial hub into chaos for almost six months.
Demonstrators angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in Hong Kong’s promised freedoms when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. They say they are responding to excessive use of force by police.
China says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula granting Hong Kong autonomy, with the city’s police accusations they use undue violence.
The city’s Cross-Harbor Tunnel, next to the Polytechnic university, linking Hong Kong island to the Kowloon peninsula, remained closed after protesters torched a bridge above the toll booths on Sunday.
Some train services and many roads across the Kowloon peninsula were closed. All schools were shut.
As police approached the barricaded front gate of the university in the predawn hours, protesters retreated into the campus and started fires at the gate and a footbridge.
Some protesters discussed trying to leave, while others reinforced barricades and carried boxes of petrol bombs to positions around the complex.
Thousands of residents and protesters flocked to districts around the university including Tsim Sha Tsui, Jordan and Yau Ma Tei, to try to penetrate the riot-police lines to rescue the trapped students.