Pompeo meets Afghan political rivals during visit to Kabul

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, center left, meets with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, center right, at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan on Monday, March 23, 2020. (Afghan Presidential Palace via AP)
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The US-Taliban peace process has become stalled amid political turmoil in Afghanistan, with the country’s leaders squabbling over who was elected president. (AFP)
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Updated 23 March 2020

Pompeo meets Afghan political rivals during visit to Kabul

KABUL: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in the Afghan capital on Monday on a previously unannounced visit to try to salvage a historic deal between Washington and the Taliban, struck in February but marred by a political feud.

Pompeo visited Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at his palace before meeting his political rival Abdullah Abdullah, both of whom say they are Afghanistan’s rightful leader following a disputed election in September.

Their standoff has stalled the selection of a negotiating team to represent the Afghan government in planned talks with the Taliban.

A senior State Department official said the purpose of Pompeo’s visit was to try to mediate a solution between the two men. He is scheduled to hold meetings later with both together.

“The fear is that unless this crisis gets resolved ... soon, that could affect the peace process... Our agreement with the Talibs could be put at risk,” the official said, adding it was unclear whether a resolution would be found during the one-day visit.

The Afghan government was not a party to the US-Taliban deal, signed in Doha on Feb. 29. But the agreement aimed to pave the way for the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government and included a pact to withdraw foreign troops that would effectively end the United States’ longest war.

The Afghan government and the Taliban have not begun formal negotiations as planned, hampered by disagreement over the release of prisoners and the feud between Ghani and Abdullah.

US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, who has spent much of his time in Kabul since the deal signing, made a plea to both sides last week to act fast on the release of prisoners, a condition the Taliban have set for the talks.

Khalilzad said the coronavirus pandemic added urgency for the release.

With 40 infections in Afghanistan, fears are growing that the thousands returning home from neighboring Iran every day might fuel the outbreak in a nation with a public health network devastated by years of war.

The Taliban and the Afghan government held a “virtual” meeting on prisoner releases on Sunday, officials said.

In February, Afghanistan’s Electoral Commission announced incumbent Ghani as the winner of the presidential election, but Abdullah said he and his allies had won and insisted that he would form a government.


Russians face up to five years’ jail for spreading false coronavirus news

Updated 10 min 20 sec ago

Russians face up to five years’ jail for spreading false coronavirus news

  • Proposals are part of a package of draft legislation that also aims to impose tough punishment for people breaking quarantine ruless
  • be higher. Moscow, with its more than 12 million people, went into lockdown on Monday

MOSCOW: Russian lawmakers were set on Tuesday to consider legislation imposing severe punishment — including up to five years in prison — for people convicted of spreading false information about the coronavirus.
If a person were found guilty of inadvertently causing a person’s death or other grave consequences by spreading “intentionally false” information about life-threatening circumstances, he would face a fine of up to 2 million rubles ($25,000) or up to five years in prison.
The proposals also foresee punishment — including a fine of up to 1.5 million rubles and up to three years in prison — for harming a person’s health through spreading false information.
The proposals are part of a package of draft legislation that also aims to impose tough punishment — including up to seven years in prison — for people breaking coronavirus quarantine rules.
The amendments to Russia’s Criminal Code were proposed by Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house State Duma, and another senior lawmaker of the governing United Russia party, Pavel Krasheninnikov, so are expected to pass swiftly.
Russia, which has a population of 144 million people, has so far reported 1,836 coronavirus cases and nine fatalities but the real number of the infected is believed to be higher.
Moscow, with its more than 12 million people, went into lockdown on Monday and more than a dozen regions moved to introduce similar steps to curb the coronavirus outbreak.