US virus death toll hits 350,000; surge feared

US virus death toll hits 350,000; surge feared
In this file photo taken on December 16, 2020 Dr. Bijay Sah attends to a patient in the Covid-19 alternative care site, built into a parking garage, at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada. (AFP)
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Updated 03 January 2021

US virus death toll hits 350,000; surge feared

US virus death toll hits 350,000; surge feared
  • Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows the US passed the threshold early Sunday morning
  • More than 20 million people in the country have been infected

BALTIMORE, M.D.: The COVID-19 death toll in the United States has surpassed 350,000 as experts anticipate another surge in coronavirus cases and deaths stemming from holiday gatherings over Christmas and New Year’s.
Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows the US passed the threshold early Sunday morning. More than 20 million people in the country have been infected. The US has begun using two coronavirus vaccines to protect health care workers and nursing home residents and staff but the rollout of the inoculation program has been criticized as being slow and chaotic.
Multiple states have reported a record number of cases over the past few days, including North Carolina and Arizona. Mortuary owners in hard-hit Southern California say they’re being inundated with bodies.
The US by far has reported the most deaths from COVID-19 in the world, followed by Brazil, which has reported more than 195,000 deaths.


UN and Afghanistan’s Taliban, figuring out how to interact

UN and Afghanistan’s Taliban, figuring out how to interact
Updated 12 sec ago

UN and Afghanistan’s Taliban, figuring out how to interact

UN and Afghanistan’s Taliban, figuring out how to interact
NEW YORK: It’s been little more than a month since Kalashnikov-toting Taliban fighters in their signature heavy beards, hightop sneakers and shalwar kameezes descended on the Afghan capital and cemented their takeover. Now they’re vying for a seat in the club of nations and seeking what no country has given them as they attempt to govern for a second time: international recognition of their rule.
The Taliban wrote to the United Nations requesting to address the UN General Assembly meeting of leaders that is underway in New York. They argue they have all the requirements needed for recognition of a government. The UN has effectively responded to the Taliban’s request by signaling: Not so fast.
Afghanistan, which joined the UN in 1946 as an early member state, is scheduled to speak last at the General Assembly leaders’ session on Monday. With no meeting yet held by the UN committee that decides challenges to credentials, it appears almost certain that Afghanistan’s current ambassador will give the address this year — or that no one will at all.
The UN can withhold or bestow formal acknowledgement on the Taliban, and use this as crucial leverage to exact assurances on human rights, girls’ access to education and political concessions. This is where the power — and relevance, even — of the 76-year-old world body still holds.
Afghanistan is a good, and perhaps extreme, representative case study of precisely why the United Nations was founded in the aftermath of World War II, said Rohinton Medhora, president of the Center for International Governance Innovation in Canada.
“If you’re the UN and you want to represent the family of nations, then you want absolutely everyone of the family there — even you know, the distant cousin that not everyone’s proud of,” he said. “So the UN needs Afghanistan and countries to demonstrate the value of many of its operations.”
In Afghanistan, the United Nations can deploy the weight of its vast aid and development programs to show just how crucial its often underfunded agencies are in providing stability and security. The country is facing multiple humanitarian crises and near-total poverty due to fallout from the political situation.
There are already growing calls for aid to be contingent on ensuring girls’ access to education. Despite promises to be inclusive and open, the Taliban have yet to allow older girls back to school, have curtailed local media freedoms and returned to brutal practices like publicly hanging dead bodies in city squares.
“Taliban does not represent the will of the Afghan people,” Afghanistan’s currently accredited ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Nasir Andisha, told The Associated Press.
If the United Nations recognizes the Taliban’s claim to power, Andisha said, then it sends a corrosive message to others — be it in Yemen or in Myanmar — that they can take up guns, create violence, join with US-designated terrorist groups.
“I think for the world, for the United Nations, it’s time to use this as a leverage,” Andisha said.
The Taliban’s appointed UN representative, Suhail Shaheen, a former negotiator and political spokesman, told The Associated Press that his government should be admitted into the club of nations and that “all borders, territory and major cities of Afghanistan are in our control.”
“We have support of our people and because of their support, we were able to continue a successful struggle for independence of our country which culminated in our independence,” he said. “We have all the requirements needed for recognition of a government. So we hope the UN as an neutral World Body recognize the current government of Afghanistan.”
More than a dozen ministers in the all-Taliban Cabinet are on a UN blacklist, including the group’s foreign minister, whom Andisha and other Afghan diplomats abroad are refusing to speak to.
Andisha was serving in Geneva under the US-backed government of Ashraf Ghani when the president fled Afghanistan Aug. 15 to seek refuge in the United Arab Emirates as the Taliban encircled the capital. Ghani’s government swiftly fell thereafter.
Andisha is still holding meetings with representatives from countries around the world, imploring them to push for the resuscitation of intra-Afghan peace talks. He wants the United Nations to make clear that joining its ranks is not only about “holding a country under the barrels of your guns and having enough population taken hostage.”
Meanwhile, Qatar has urged countries not to boycott the Taliban, and Pakistan called on nations to avoid isolating the Taliban, and to incentivize them to hold to their promises of renouncing terrorism and being inclusive.
The United States, which withdrew all its forces from the country last month in a chaotic airlift that ended America’s “forever war,” says it is critical that the international community remains united in ensuring the Taliban meets a range of commitments before granting legitimacy or support beyond humanitarian aid.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this is the message he delivered to the UN Security Council and others on the sidelines of the General Assembly this week.
The US has “significant leverage when it comes to the Taliban,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Friday. “But we have all the more leverage when we work in coordination and in harmony with our allies and partners around the globe,” he added.
Medhora, of the Center for International Governance Innovation, said the UN has levers it can use through its various agencies, such as UNICEF, which focuses on children, UNHCR, which assists refugees, and the World Food Program, all “where the actual work of the UN gets done.” This is another area where the United States has major sway as the the largest donor to the United Nations, contributing nearly one-fifth of funding for the body’s collective budget in 2019, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
In multiple UN speeches this past week, a number of world leaders mentioned Afghanistan, including US President Joe Biden and Afghanistan’s neighbors, such as Pakistan, Iran and Uzbekistan.
Enayat Najafizada, who runs an independent think tank in Kabul that monitors security issues in Afghanistan’s provinces, said the UN should also facilitate negotiations between Afghan groups and bring the various countries with a history of meddling in the nation on board for the sake of regional security.
“Without forming an inclusive government, the country will move to a civil war,” said Najafizada, founder of The Institute of War and Peace Studies.
Although what comes next for Afghanistan is far from certain, it is clear the Taliban do not want to be seen as global pariahs, said Kamal Alam, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
“They want a seat at the UN They want to go to Davos. They like the private jet lifestyle,” he said, referring to the group’s political elite who reside in exile in Qatar.
“But that’s only the political leaders. The foot soldiers on the ground, there’s no such thing as ‘the new Taliban’,” he said. “There is no new Taliban. Everything they’re doing is a tactic to get recognition as well as not be isolated.”

British police make ‘significant’ arrest over Muslim teacher’s death

British police make ‘significant’ arrest over Muslim teacher’s death
Updated 26 September 2021

British police make ‘significant’ arrest over Muslim teacher’s death

British police make ‘significant’ arrest over Muslim teacher’s death
  • Nessa, 28, was found dead in Kidbrooke, southeast London, on Sept. 17
  • The Metropolitan Police force said a 38-year-old man was arrested overnight in southern England

LONDON: British police said Sunday they have arrested a man on suspicion of murdering Sabina Nessa, a primary school teacher killed as she walked in a London park.
Nessa’s death — as she went to meet a friend a few minutes from her home — has fueled concerns that women aren’t safe on the streets of Britain’s capital.
The Metropolitan Police force said a 38-year-old man was arrested overnight in southern England. Two other men have previously been detained and then released under investigation, but police stressed the latest arrest was a “significant development.”
Police had earlier released closed-circuit TV footage of a man who was seen along Nessa’s route on the night she was killed, asking anyone who recognized him to contact them immediately.
Nessa, 28, was found dead in Kidbrooke, southeast London, on Sept. 17. Detectives believe she was attacked during what should have been a five-minute walk to meet a friend at a nearby pub.
Hundreds of people held a candlelight vigil for Nessa on Friday, demanding an end to violence against women.
“This feels like we are stuck in a bad dream and can’t get out of it. Our world is shattered, we are simply lost for words,” Nessa’s sister, Jebina Yasmin Islam, told the crowd. “No family should go through what we are going through.”
Nessa’s death came six months after the abduction, rape and murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard in south London by a serving police officer. The Everard case shocked the country and saw thousands take to the streets to denounce violence against women.


UK could be powered by giant Moroccan renewable energy farm

UK could be powered by giant Moroccan renewable energy farm
Updated 26 September 2021

UK could be powered by giant Moroccan renewable energy farm

UK could be powered by giant Moroccan renewable energy farm
  • Xlinks proposal would see solar, wind farm the size of London attached to national grid
  • $22bn scheme would include 3,200 km undersea cable linking Britain to North Africa

LONDON: A plan has emerged to import renewable electricity to the UK from a giant wind and solar farm in Morocco, connected to the British mainland via a giant undersea cable.

Dave Lewis, former CEO of retail giant Tesco, is heading a bid by energy startup Xlinks to provide up to 8 percent of the UK’s power needs from a site in southern Morocco.

The proposed location, in Guelmim-Oued Noun, would cover an area the size of Greater London, and hosts consistently sunny and windy weather, making it optimal to install wind and solar farms.

It would be linked to the UK via a power cable over 3,800 km in length, installed off the coasts of Portugal, Spain and France, with the whole project estimated to cost around £16 billion ($22 billion).

However, Lewis said the plan would only become viable with a guarantee from the British government, which has not yet been forthcoming.

“It’s completely consistent with (Prime Minister) Boris Johnson’s energy strategy,” he told The Times. “It’s renewables, but it’s renewables at a lower cost and more reliable (than current options), so what’s not to like?

“But it will require the government to step forward in a leadership role and engage with an innovative project, because they’ve not seen one like this before.”

The emergence of the plan comes as the UK faces an energy crisis, with prices increasing, difficulties in fuel supply chains, and talks ongoing about approving construction of new nuclear power plants to meet demand.

The UK is also struggling to keep pace with its own commitments to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

On Friday, Johnson addressed the UN in New York where, ahead of the UK’s hosting of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, he said it is “time for humanity to grow up” on energy production and climate change.

The UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy told The Times it is “aware” of the Xlinks proposal and is “keeping the project under review.”


Taliban ask airlines to resume international flights to Afghanistan

Taliban ask airlines to resume international flights to Afghanistan
Updated 26 September 2021

Taliban ask airlines to resume international flights to Afghanistan

Taliban ask airlines to resume international flights to Afghanistan
  • A limited number of aid and passenger flights have been operating from Kabul airport

The Taliban government in Afghanistan appealed on Sunday for international flights to be resumed, promising full cooperation with airlines and saying that problems at Kabul airport had been resolved.
The statement from the foreign affairs ministry comes as the new administration has stepped up efforts to open up the country and gain international acceptance following the collapse of the Western-backed government last month.
A limited number of aid and passenger flights have been operating from the airport. But normal commercial services have yet to resume since it was closed in the wake of the chaotic evacuation of tens of thousands of foreigners and vulnerable Afghans that followed the Taliban’s seizure of the capital.
The airport, which was damaged during the evacuation, has since been reopened with the assistance of technical teams from Qatar and Turkey.
While some airlines including Pakistan International Airlines have been offering limited services and some people have been able to get places on flights, prices have been reported to be many times higher than normal.
Foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi said the suspension of international flights had left many Afghans stranded abroad and also prevented people from traveling for work or study.
“As the problems at Kabul International Airport have been resolved and the airport is fully operational for domestic and international flights, the IEA assures all airlines of its full cooperation,” he said, using an abbreviation for Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban’s term for their new government.
Since taking power, the Taliban have grappled with a severe economic crisis and have faced pressure on issues ranging from girls’ education to allegations of reprisals against former officials and others associated with the previous government.


UK says it has seen ships breaching North Korea sanctions

UK says it has seen ships breaching North Korea sanctions
Updated 26 September 2021

UK says it has seen ships breaching North Korea sanctions

UK says it has seen ships breaching North Korea sanctions
  • North Korea is under strict international sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs

LONDON: Britain said on Sunday it had collected evidence of multiple ships from various nationalities apparently breaching United Nations sanctions against North Korea which ban the sale of fuel to the country.
British frigate HMS Richmond has been taking part in UN sanctions enforcement operations in the region.
“HMS Richmond’s deployment in the East China Sea identified ships acting in suspected breach of UN sanctions and tracked vessels which had previously not been flagged to the Enforcement Coordination Cell,” defense minister Ben Wallace said in a statement.
The statement did not detail those thought to be in breach of the sanctions, but said “multiple ships of various nationalities” had been identified.
North Korea is under strict international sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Talks aimed at persuading Pyongyang to give up those weapons in return for lifting sanctions have been stalled.
Earlier this month, a US-based research group said in a report that smugglers suspected of evading sanctions on North Korea have turned to schemes to create fraudulent identities for sanctioned ships.