Afghans count human cost of war, urge leaders to attend Turkey talks

Afghans count human cost of war, urge leaders to attend Turkey talks
Many civilians in Afghanistan have viewed the peace talks as possibly the last international push in the reconciliation process. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 April 2021

Afghans count human cost of war, urge leaders to attend Turkey talks

Afghans count human cost of war, urge leaders to attend Turkey talks
  • Nearly 111,000 civilians killed, injured in country’s decades of conflict

KABUL: Afghan teenager Habibullah finally stopped counting on his fingers at 27 – the number of his close relatives killed during four decades of conflict in the country.

“That’s how many I can recall. I may have forgotten two or three, but can you imagine losing at least 27 family members and relatives in the war? And I am not alone; there are some who have lost many more relatives,” he told Arab News.

Similar to many Afghans, the 19-year-old, who makes a living selling fruit and vegetables in the capital Kabul, has never witnessed peaceful times. And his family mourns its losses with numerous others.

According to UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan data, nearly 111,000 civilians have been killed or injured in the country’s prolonged conflict, and that figure is only since it began systematically recording civilian casualties in 2009.

Habibullah’s family victims of war include his sister, two brothers, an uncle, and his grandfather, all dying in aerial or suicide attacks.

Channeling arms and resources to their proxies, both Russia and the US have led separate invasions of Afghanistan, with Washington’s presence surpassing 19 years in one of the world’s most protracted and complicated theaters of war.

Habibullah, who fled drought in his village in the northern Samangan province to work in Kabul, was counting his losses a day after Turkey postponed a crucial meeting on the Afghan peace process to mid-May, without explaining the reasons why.

Many civilians in Afghanistan have viewed the peace talks as possibly the last international push in the reconciliation process. The planned April 22 Istanbul meet was part of Washington’s efforts to prevent a total collapse of the US-sponsored intra-Afghan talks which began in Doha, Qatar, between the Taliban and Afghan government delegates in September last year but have failed to make progress.

Last week, the Taliban said they would be boycotting Wednesday’s meeting and future conferences on Afghan peace until all American-led foreign troops withdrew from Afghanistan.

The group’s move followed an announcement by US President Joe Biden delaying the deadline for the total military pullout from May 1 to Sept. 11 – a key condition and basis for a historic agreement inked between former American President Donald Trump’s administration and the Taliban more than a year ago. The Taliban halted attacks on foreign troops as per the accord but have accused Washington of breaching the crucial part of the deal.

Ordinary Afghans now fear that the war could escalate if Kabul and the Taliban fail to reach a consensus on the country’s future during the Turkey meeting.

“The survivors of war, ordinary Afghans want peace. Our leaders, on all sides, need to sacrifice their demands for the sake of poor people like us,” Habibullah said.

The meeting, already delayed once, had sought to facilitate a future political roadmap for Afghanistan, including the formation of an interim government that would also include the Taliban and end Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s second term in office, which is set to expire in 2024.

Ali Reza, a 46-year-old bus conductor, said Biden’s move to extend US troops’ presence in the country showed “that America has no good intention to end the war in Afghanistan and must be held responsible.”

He told Arab News: “The Taliban want total power, Ghani does not want to leave power, and America makes excuses one after the other for its goals. We, the ordinary people, are stuck in the middle and make sacrifices every day.”

Reza added that similar to other Afghans, his demand for peace was “from our leaders, not America because it is an invader,” and he urged Kabul not to miss the opportunity for peace “and make good use of Turkey’s conference for the survival of Afghanistan.”

Bibi Raihana, 53, who works at a private factory in Kabul, said that the Afghan leaders would be “doomed in history” if they failed to settle the country’s problems “through understanding and talks.”

She added: “Afghans have suffered the most in aliens’ wars. When we can make peace with foreigners, why not make it among ourselves? I hope they agree on peace for the sake of God and the poor people of this land.”


India’s COVID-19 cases dip from peak, calls for shutdown mount

India’s COVID-19 cases dip from peak, calls for shutdown mount
Updated 10 May 2021

India’s COVID-19 cases dip from peak, calls for shutdown mount

India’s COVID-19 cases dip from peak, calls for shutdown mount
  • The 366,161 new infections and 3,754 deaths reported by the health ministry were off a little from recent peaks

NEW DELHI/BENGALURU: Calls grew for India to impose a nationwide lockdown as new coronavirus cases and deaths held close to record highs on Monday, increasing pressure on the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The 366,161 new infections and 3,754 deaths reported by the health ministry were off a little from recent peaks, taking India’s tally to 22.66 million with 246,116 deaths.
As many hospitals grapple with an acute shortage of oxygen and beds while morgues and crematoriums overflow, experts have said India’s actual figures could be far higher than reported.
Sunday’s 1.47 million tests for COVID-19 were this month’s lowest yet, data from the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research showed. The figure compared with a daily average of 1.7 million for the first eight days of May.
The number of positive results from the tests was not immediately clear, however.
Many states have imposed strict lockdowns over the last month while others have placed curbs on movement and shut cinemas, restaurants, pubs and shopping malls.
But pressure is mounting on Modi to announce a nationwide lockdown as he did during the first wave of infections last year.
He is battling criticism for allowing huge gatherings at a religious festival and holding large election rallies during the past two months even as cases surged.
“A failure of governance of epic and historic proportions,” Vipin Narang, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, said on Twitter.
On Sunday, top White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said he had advised Indian authorities they needed to shut down.
“You’ve got to shut down,” Fauci said on ABC’s “This Week” television show. “I believe several of the Indian states have already done that, but you need to break the chain of transmission. And one of the ways to do that is to shut down.”
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has also called for a “complete, well-planned, pre-announced” lockdown.
New Delhi, the capital, entered a fourth week of lockdown, with tougher curbs such as the shutdown of the suburban rail network, while residents scrambled for scarce hospital beds and oxygen supplies.
“This is not the time to be lenient,” Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Sunday.
“This phase is so tough, this wave is so dangerous, so many people are dying...the priority at this hour is to save lives,” he said in a televised address.
Late on Sunday, the northern state of Uttarakhand said it would impose curfew from Tuesday until May 18, just days after mass religious gatherings held in the state became virus super spreading events.
Shops selling fruits, vegetables and dairy items will stay open for some hours in the morning, while malls, gyms, theaters, bars and liquor shops are among the enterprises that will be shut, the government said.
Organizers of the popular and lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament conceded the remaining games will have to be played overseas after they suspended the contest over the virus this month.
Global support, in the form of oxygen cylinders and concentrators, ventilators and other medical gear, has poured in.
On Monday, US company Eli Lilly and Co. said it signed licensing deals with Indian drugmakers, such as Cipla Ltd., Lupin and Sun Pharma to make and sell its arthritis drug baricitinib for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
India’s drug regulator has approved the drug for restricted emergency use in combination with remdesivir for hospitalized adult sufferers in need of supplemental oxygen.
By Sunday, the world’s largest vaccine-producing nation had fully vaccinated just over 34.3 million, or only 2.5 percent, of its population of about 1.35 billion, government data shows.


Britain set to ease COVID-19 lockdown

Britain set to ease COVID-19 lockdown
Updated 10 May 2021

Britain set to ease COVID-19 lockdown

Britain set to ease COVID-19 lockdown
  • Rapid vaccination programs have allowed a number of wealthy nations to start taking steps toward normality

LONDON: Britain on Monday was set to announce a further easing of its coronavirus lockdown, joining several European nations in gradually reopening their economies, but India remained in the grip of a devastating outbreak.
Rapid vaccination programs have allowed a number of wealthy nations to start taking steps toward normality, but the virus is still surging in many countries and concerns are growing about global vaccine inequality.
The pandemic has claimed close to 3.3 million lives worldwide and Britain has the highest death toll in Europe, but its successful vaccination program has allowed the authorities to start relaxing curbs.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was due to announce the latest measures – effective May 17 – in a press conference on Monday, including the reopening of indoor seating in pubs and restaurants.
When asked during a BBC interview Sunday if hugging would be allowed, senior minister Michael Gove said: “Without prejudice to a broader review of social distancing... friendly contact, intimate contact between friends and family is something that we want to see restored.”
Cinemas are also expected to reopen, as well as some large indoor venues after the government held several pilot events – including a rock concert – to test safety measures.
This follows Spain’s lifting of a state of emergency in place since October, allowing people to travel between regions.
“It’s like New Year’s,” said 28-year-old Oriol Corbella in Barcelona, where the end of the curfew was met with shouts, applause and music.
In Germany, people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 were exempt from many restrictions from Sunday after the government passed new legislation.
And Cyprus on Monday will exit a third partial lockdown with a new coronavirus “safety pass” system to allow people to move freely.


Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday

Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday
Updated 10 May 2021

Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday

Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday
  • The cease-fire would begin on either Wednesday or Thursday
  • The Afghan government has not yet responded to the Taliban announcement

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Taliban Monday announced a three-day cease-fire for the Eid-Al-Fitr holiday this week marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The cease-fire would begin on either Wednesday or Thursday. The Muslim calendar follows lunar cycles and the Eid holiday depends on the sighting of the new moon.
Justs hours after the pending cease-fire was announced, a bus in southern Zabul province struck a roadside mine killing 11 people, said Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Aeian. At least 24 more people on the bus were injured. Improvised explosive devices litter the countryside and have been used extensively by the Taliban.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said Taliban fighters have been ordered to stop all offensives, “to provide a peaceful and secure atmosphere to our compatriots … so that they may celebrate this joyous occasion with a greater peace of mind.”
The cease-fire announcement comes amid heightened violence in the country and follows a brutal attack on a girls’ school on Saturday that killed as many 60 people, most of them students between 11-15 years old. The death toll from the three explosions continues to climb.
The Taliban denied any responsibility and condemned the attack, which occurred in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi in the west of the capital.
Attacks in the area are most often claimed by the Afghan Islamic State affiliate, but no group yet has claimed the attack on the school.
The cease-fire announcement also comes as the US and NATO are withdrawing the last of their military forces. The final 2,500-3,500 American soldiers and roughly 7,000 allied NATO forces will leave by Sept. 11 at the latest.
The Afghan government has not yet responded to the cease-fire announcement.


US man kills 6 people and himself at Colorado birthday party

US man kills 6 people and himself at Colorado birthday party
Updated 10 May 2021

US man kills 6 people and himself at Colorado birthday party

US man kills 6 people and himself at Colorado birthday party
  • Gunman fortunately did not fire on children who were present inside a trailer at a mobile home park
  • The massacre was the latest in a resurgence of mass shootings in the US

COLORADO SPRINGS, US: A man fatally shot six people including his girlfriend before turning the gun on himself early on Sunday at a birthday party in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but did not fire on traumatized children who were present inside a trailer at a mobile home park.
Police arrived to find six people dead plus a seventh who was seriously wounded and died after being taken to a hospital, a police statement said.
“The suspect, a boyfriend of one of the female victims, drove to the residence, walked inside and began shooting people at the party before taking his own life,” said the statement released by the Colorado Springs Police Department.
“Friends, family, and children were gathered inside the trailer to celebrate when the shooting occurred,” the statement said.
A motive has yet to be determined.
The shooting happened within the Canterbury Manufactured Home Community, a mobile home park of some 470 trailers and largely Latino residents on the southeast side of town, near the Colorado Springs airport, about 70 miles (110 km) south of Denver.
Police blocked off the area, where a mobile crime lab was parked near the home. A small group of adults stood nearby, some of them audibly sobbing, along with a small child.
Freddie Marquez, 33, said his mother-in-law was one of the victims and that he was at the party but left around 10:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Some time after midnight, he received a call from the son of one of the women at the party, who was crying on the phone.
“Somebody came in and shot everybody,” Marquez said, relating what he had been told on the phone.
The Denver Post quoted neighbor Yenifer Reyes as saying she was awakened by the sound of gunfire.
“I thought it was a thunderstorm. Then I started hearing sirens,” Reyes told the newspaper.
She said she saw police take children out of the trailer and put them into a squad car.
“They were crying hysterically,” Reyes said.

Spate of mass shootings
The massacre was the latest in a resurgence of mass shootings in the United States after such occurrences seemed to recede during the height of coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
Among the incidents this year was one in Boulder, Colorado, where a 21-year-old man has been charged with killing 10 people in a March 22 shooting spree at a supermarket about 30 miles (50 km) northwest of Denver. That came less than a week after another 21-year-old gunman was accused of killing eight people at three Atlanta-area day spas.
Colorado was also the state where two other deadly rampages took place, both in the Denver area: the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School that killed 15 people including the two perpetrators, and the 2012 shooting in an Aurora movie theater that killed 12 people and wounded about 70. The Aurora shooter is serving a life sentence.
The recent shootings have revived the gun control debate, with Democratic President Joe Biden calling them a “national embarrassment” and calling for new legislation from Congress.
But he faces serious opposition from gun rights advocates including Republicans and some Democrats who cite the US Constitution’s protection of gun ownership rights.
Police said they withheld releasing details of the shooting for several hours “in order to properly and respectfully notify family members of the deceased and ensure support was in place.”
The names of the victims will be released later, the statement said.


South Sudan president dissolves parliament

South Sudan president dissolves parliament
Updated 10 May 2021

South Sudan president dissolves parliament

South Sudan president dissolves parliament
  • Activists and civil society groups welcomed the dissolution of parliament, saying it was long overdue but also expressing distrust

JUBA: South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has dissolved parliament, opening the way for lawmakers from opposing sides of the country’s civil war to be appointed under a 2018 peace accord. Kiir’s decision was announced on public television but no date was given as to when the new parliament will begin working.

The setting up of a new legislative body was part of an accord signed in September 2018 between Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, for years on opposition sides during the five-year civil war that left 380,000 people dead and four million displaced.

Activists and civil society groups welcomed the dissolution of parliament, saying it was long overdue but also expressing distrust.

“It is a welcome development and we hope that the dissolution (will not) also open the way to a lengthy process toward reconstituting the parliament,” Jame David Kolock, chairman of the South Sudan Civil Society Forum.

“The civil society is getting frustrated and no longer believes that even if the parliament is reconstituted it will be a very viable parliament.”

In accordance with the 2018 accord, the new assembly will number 550 lawmakers, the majority — 332 — from Kiir’s governing SPLM party. The parliamentarians will not be elected but nominated by the different parties.

The dissolution of parliament came on the eve of a visit to the capital Juba by US special envoy to South Sudan Donald Booth.

“Of particular concern to the United States is the slow implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, ongoing violence, and deteriorating economic and humanitarian conditions,” the US State Department said in a statement.

Kiir and Machar formed a coalition government on February 22, 2020 after nearly a year of delays.

However few provisions of the truce have been honored, and analysts have warned of a return to war.

The oil-rich country remains severely underdeveloped and poorly managed.

Despite the peace deal, brutal communal conflicts — often over cattle raiding — continue, with more than 1,000 killed in violence between rival communities in the last six months of 2020.