Afghans hope for peace amid ‘violence reduction’ week

An Afghan refugee distributes sweets on the outskirts of Peshawar to celebrate the step toward peace agreed between Taliban, US and Afghan forces. (AFP)
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Updated 23 February 2020

Afghans hope for peace amid ‘violence reduction’ week

  • The Taliban have ordered its fighters to refrain from visiting cities or government-controlled areas
  • US troops withdrawal is a tit-for-tat condition set by the Taliban during the talks

KABUL: Weary Afghans exhausted by decades of conflict expressed optimism on Saturday that a week-long reduction in violence could lead to a longer-lasting peace in the country.
Jubilant residents had danced in Kabul and the eastern city of Jalalabad’s public areas, as music blared from giant loudspeakers following news of the agreement between the Taliban and the US.
The armed group has committed to preventing suicide attacks, rocket fire and bombings — a key US demand ahead of a peace deal due to be signed on Feb. 29.  “We are smelling peace, let us welcome with good tidings this reduction of violence,” Mohammad Dad, a 46-year-old vegetable vendor in Kabul, told Arab News.
The US-Taliban agreement follows nearly a year and a half of concerted and secret talks between the two groups in Doha. The reduction of violence — if successful — would be followed by a gradual departure of foreign troops from the country and the start of an intra-Afghan dialogue.
The troop withdrawal is a tit-for-tat condition set by the Taliban, which has refused to engage with President Ashraf Ghani and his government.
Quli Beg, a university student in Kabul, welcomed news of the partial and unofficial truce as well as the prospect of peace deal being signed.
“The atmosphere is charged with optimism,” he told Arab News. “We fought against foreigners or among ourselves for over 40 years. Let us all give peace a chance and we have to unite and work for our country.”
The Taliban have ordered its fighters to refrain from visiting cities or government-controlled areas. A reduction in violence would also allow thousands of war-displaced people to visit their relatives in areas that were previously considered unsafe.
Sharifullah, who is one among tens of thousands of people displaced in the past 19 years, said he would try to travel from Kabul to the southern Helmand province after nearly 10 years.
“I have not seen my home, (my) village for a long time and I look forward to going there to see what has happened and see if we can return at some stage,” he told Arab News. “All Afghans, except warmongers here and outside, want peace.”
But there is scepticism in some quarters. “We pray that this leads to a total cease-fire, but at the same time since the a superpower is the main side of the deal, all Afghans must be vigilant and act prudently as superpowers during the course of history have acted cunningly and are skillfully cruel,” Karim Khuram, chief of staff for former President Hamid Karzai, tweeted.
Violence-reduction week comes at a time of increased political uncertainty in Afghanistan after the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced that incumbent Ghani was the winner of last September’s disputed presidential election.
His arch-rival Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who has shared power with him for more than five years, also claimed victory. He has warned that he will form his own government, alleging that the IEC has not invalidated tens of thousands of fraudulent votes cast in Ghani’s favor.
“The opportunity for peace is at our doorstep and I hope we exercise maximum responsibility towards it,” Omar Zakhilwal, a former minister, wrote.


Indonesia begins human trials of anti-virus vaccine

Updated 11 sec ago

Indonesia begins human trials of anti-virus vaccine

  • The third phase of the clinical trials of the vaccine — which is manufactured by China’s Sinovac Biotech in collaboration with its Indonesian pharma counterpart, Bio Farma — began on Tuesday
  • The third phase is a must before the vaccine, known as CoronaVac, goes into the production stage and is a prerequisite for all pharmaceutical products, including medicines and vaccines

JAKARTA: Indonesia is stepping up efforts to find a COVID-19 vaccine by launching human trials of a potentially effective drug amid criticism of its lacklustre handling of the pandemic and concerns about its plummeting economy.

The third phase of the clinical trials of the vaccine — which is manufactured by China’s Sinovac Biotech in collaboration with its Indonesian pharma counterpart, Bio Farma — began on Tuesday and is being conducted by the Padjadjaran University School of Medicine at six locations in Bandung, West Java province, where the university and the state-owned pharma company are based.

“The first day of the trial went well, with 20 volunteers in each of the six locations injected with the potential vaccine. We have no complaints so far, and we are preparing the second injection batch on Aug 14,” Iwan Setiawan, a spokesman for Bio Farma, told Arab News on Wednesday.

He added that the six-month trial would require the participation of 1,620 volunteers who were “in good health and had not tested positive” for the disease.

Ridwan Kamil, governor of West Java, Indonesia’s most populated province, is among the volunteers who have signed up for the trial.

The third phase is a must before the vaccine, known as CoronaVac, goes into the production stage and is a prerequisite for all pharmaceutical products, including medicines and vaccines.

“The potential vaccine had gone through three trials; the pre-clinical, the clinical trial first phase and the second phase in China,” Bio Farma CEO Honesti Basyir said in a statement.

According to Basyir, Sinovac is one of the few institutions that have progressed to the third phase of the clinical trial from among hundreds of research institutions around the world that are developing the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to Oxford Business Group’s COVID-10 Economic Impact Assessment, there are more than 150 different vaccines that international researchers are working on. However, only 26 have reached the human trial stage so far.

Once the trials are concluded, Bio Farma will register the vaccine with the Food and Drug Supervisory Agency so that it can begin mass-production of the drug.

“We have prepared a production facility for the COVID-19 vaccine with a maximum capacity of 100 million dosages, and by the end of December this year we will have an increased production capacity to produce an additional 150 million dosages,” Basyir said.

President Joko Widodo oversaw the first injections to the batch of volunteers in one of the six locations and also toured Bio Farma’s production facility. 

“We hope this clinical trial would conclude in six months and so we can start producing the vaccine in January and vaccinate our people soon,” Widodo said.

State-Owned Enterprise Minister Erick Thohir, who is also the head of the COVID-19 mitigation and national economic recovery committee, said that Bio Farma was a well-established vaccine producer whose products were halal-compliant and used in 150 countries, including in the Middle East.

The collaboration with Sinovac is one of three vaccine-development projects that Indonesia is engaging in with foreign parties as it grapples with a surge in infections. At the same time, social restrictions and economic activities were eased. The other two projects are with South Korea’s Genexine and Norway’s Coalition for Epidemic, Preparedness and Innovation.

As of Wednesday, Indonesia had reported 130,718 infections with 1,942 new cases, 85,798 recoveries and 5,903 deaths, although experts suggest that the numbers could be higher due to the country’s low testing capacity.

Cases also surged in the capital Jakarta with workplaces emerging as the new infection clusters after thousands of employees returned to work recently.