Taliban refuses to talk to new Afghan government negotiators

Taliban refuses to talk to new Afghan government negotiators
In this March 2, 2016, file photo, outgoing Commander of Resolute Support forces and United States forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Army General John Campbell, right, and Afghan head of Afghan government peace negotiating team Mohammad Masoom Stanikzai, left, laugh during a change of command ceremony in Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP)
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Updated 28 March 2020

Taliban refuses to talk to new Afghan government negotiators

Taliban refuses to talk to new Afghan government negotiators
  • Mujahid said the militants could not talk to the 21-member team named on Thursday as it was not constituted taking into account all parties

KABUL/PESHAWAR: The Taliban declined on Saturday to begin talks with the Afghan government's new negotiating team in a setback to the U.S.-brokered peace process for one of the world's longest-running conflicts.
Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the militants could not talk to the 21-member team named on Thursday as it was not constituted taking into account all parties.
The team is headed by Masoom Stanekzai, an ex-security chief and supporter of President Ashraf Ghani, and includes politicians, former officials and representatives of civil society. Five members are women.
"In order to reach true and lasting peace, the aforementioned team must be agreed upon by all effective Afghan sides so that it can represent all sides," said Mujahid.
The United States, which ousted the Taliban from power in 2001, signed a troop withdrawal deal with the group in February.
But progress on moving to talks between the militants and the Afghan government has been delayed by a feud between Afghan politicians, and disagreement between the Taliban and the government prisoner releases and a possible ceasefire.
Afghan ministry of peace affairs spokeswoman Najia Anwari said the Taliban's stance was unjustified as the negotiating team was made after wide consultations among Afghan society.
Ghani's political rival Abdullah Abdullah has not confirmed whether he will support the delegation, potentially important given his camp's strong influence in the north and west.
Abdullah's spokesman Fraidoon Khwazoon said that though the announced list was not final and there were "considerations that needed to be addressed", it should not be rejected outright.
"All sides including the Taliban should try not to lose the available opportunity for peace, by make illogical excuses. The Taliban should not lose the current opportunity."
The U.S. Embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo failed to mediate between Abdullah and Ghana to create an "inclusive" government during a visit to Kabul on Monday, and announced a $1 billion cut in U.S. aid to Afghanistan, which he said could be reversed.


Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests

Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests
Updated 23 January 2021

Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests

Russia detains dozens of Navalny supporters at anti-Putin protests
  • The first protests took place in the Far East and Siberia
  • Authorities vowed a tough crackdown with police saying unsanctioned public events would be “immediately suppressed”

MOSCOW: Russian police detained dozens of protesters on Saturday as supporters of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny took to the streets following his call to protest against President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Putin’s most vocal domestic critic called for mass rallies after surviving a near-fatal poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent and returning to Moscow last weekend following months of treatment in Germany. He was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport and jailed.
The rallies — planned for dozens of cities across Russia — are expected to be a major test of the opposition’s ability to mobilize despite the increasing Kremlin pressure on critics and the coronavirus pandemic.
The first protests took place in the Far East and Siberia including Vladivostok, Khabarovsk and Chita where several thousand took to the streets, Navalny supporters said.
OVD Info, which monitors detentions at opposition rallies, said around 50 people were detained in 10 cities.
Authorities vowed a tough crackdown with police saying unsanctioned public events would be “immediately suppressed.”
In Moscow, which usually mobilizes the largest rallies, protesters plan to meet in the central Pushkin Square at 2:00 p.m. (1100 GMT) and then march toward the Kremlin.

On the eve of the rallies, Navalny, who is being held in Moscow’s high-security Matrosskaya Tishina jail, thanked his supporters.
“I know perfectly well that there are lots of good people outside of my prison’s walls and help will come,” he said on Friday.
Navalny’s wife Yulia said she would join the protest in Moscow. “For myself, for him, for our children, for the values and the ideals that we share,” she said on Instagram.
Ahead of the demonstrations several key Navalny aides were taken into police custody for violating protest laws and handed short jail sentences to keep them away from the rallies.
The Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, said Friday it launched a criminal probe into the calls for unauthorized protests.
A hastily organized court on Monday jailed Navalny for 30 days, and his supporters fear that authorities are preparing to sentence him to a long prison term to silence him.
Navalny’s team this week released an investigation into an opulent Black Sea property allegedly owned by Putin.
The “Putin’s palace” report alleges the Russian leader owns a 17,691 square meter mansion that sits on a property 39 times the size of Monaco and features a casino along with a theater and a hookah lounge complete with a pole-dancing stage.
The two-hour video report had been viewed more than 65 million times since Tuesday, becoming the Kremlin critic’s most-watched YouTube investigation.
The Kremlin has denied the property belongs to Putin.
Many Russians took to social media — including video sharing app TikTok hugely popular with teens — to voice support and urge a large turnout on Saturday.
A hashtag demanding freedom for Navalny was trending on TikTok as Russians flooded the Chinese app with thousands of videos.
Russia’s media watchdog warned online platforms against encouraging minors to participate in the rallies or risk hefty fines.
The watchdog said on Friday that media platforms, including TikTok, YouTube and Instagram, removed content at its request.
Russia’s most popular social network VKontakte blocked groups created to coordinate the protests in different cities.
But a number of public figures — including those who usually steer clear of politics — have spoken out in Navalny’s support.
Navalny, 44, rose to prominence a decade ago and has become the central figure of Russia’s opposition movement, leading large-scale street protests against corruption and electoral fraud.
His arrest drew widespread Western condemnation, with the United States, the European Union, France and Canada all calling for his release.