Taliban seize key district in northern Afghanistan

Taliban seize key district in northern Afghanistan
Thousands of civilians have fled their homes in southern Afghanistan to escape violent attacks following the withdrawal of US forces from a military base in the area. (AFP)
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Updated 06 May 2021

Taliban seize key district in northern Afghanistan

Taliban seize key district in northern Afghanistan
  • Spike in violence follows US withdrawal of troops, which began last week

KABUL: Taliban fighters have captured a key district in northern Afghanistan while thousands of civilians have fled their homes in the southern part of the country to escape violent attacks by the group after the withdrawal of US forces from a military base in the area, officials said on Wednesday. 

The rugged Burka district in Baghlan, one of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban overnight after the militant group staged an attack on government forces, Javid Basharat, a spokesman for Baghlan’s governor, told Arab News. 

“I can confirm that the enemy has captured the Burka district as a result of an encounter. Security and defense forces tactically, without suffering any losses, withdrew and have plans to recapture it,” he added. 

The capture of Burka, which links various districts in the region, is being seen as a massive victory for the Taliban after clashes between the group’s fighters and Afghan forces intensified across the country last week after the US began withdrawing its remaining troops from the war-torn country after decades of conflict. 

Since then, government forces have unleashed a series of offensives against the Taliban, who in turn have their eye on Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, where US forces handed over a pivotal base to the Afghan National Army on Sunday. 

Officials said thousands of civilians had fled their homes due to clashes in various parts of Helmand. 

“Around 1,000 families have been displaced because of the clashes in various districts. Some live in open areas now, others in hotels or with relatives,” Sayed Mohammad Ramin, head of Helmand’s department for displaced refugees and repatriation, told Arab News. 

Mohammad Alam, a 49-year-old displaced resident of a village adjacent to Lashkar Gah, said he “only had time to evacuate his four children and disabled wife on Monday evening when the clashes escalated.”

Alam told Arab News: “We had no time even to take our personal belongings. It was heavy fighting, now we are living in a makeshift tent in a relative’s yard.”

In a statement released in Kabul on Wednesday, Fawad Aman, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said that more than 100 Taliban fighters had been killed in the clashes near Lashkar Gah, and Afghan forces had “foiled the Taliban’s push for its capture.”

However, Attaullah Afghan, chief of Helmand’s provincial council, told Arab News that the “Taliban had captured several posts from the government during the fighting in Lashkar Gah.”

He added that several civilians had been killed in the fighting without providing an approximate number of lives lost. 

One healthcare facility in Helmand, however, said it had admitted 106 wounded residents since May 1, while 13 people had died after succumbing to their injuries. 

“These are very difficult days in Lashkar Gah. My colleagues and I, both local and international, are doing everything we can to assist the people there…” Viktor Urosevic, medical coordinator for the Emergency Hospital, said in a statement on Tuesday. 

Amid the uptick in violence, some lawmakers have expressed concern about the fall of Lashkar Gah to the Taliban, while others urged Kabul to send reinforcements to the historically volatile province, which once served as the Taliban’s stronghold and is infamous as a key narcotics production hub. 

“Helmand, war, displacement, vagrancy, fear. How long this calamity will last?...Will we wake up a day with the announcement of ceasefire from our bed?”, Shahrzad Akbar, head of Afghanistan’s Independent Commission for Human Rights, said in a Twitter post on Tuesday. 

“The Taliban, showing no seriousness in participating in the talks and failing to agree to a ceasefire, bear most of the responsibility for the continuation of the current bloody situation in the month of Ramadan,” he added. 

With the fate of the US-sponsored peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government in limbo, there has been an escalation in violence in recent weeks. 

It is expected to spike in the upcoming months as US-led troops prepare to leave Afghanistan by Sept. 11, amid fears of the country descending into another civil war. 

By formally ending its most protracted conflict in history, which Washington started in late-2001 by ousting the Taliban from power, the US military began withdrawing the remaining 2,500 troops from Afghanistan on Saturday, based on a directive issued by President Joe Biden last month. 

All foreign troops were expected to exit the country by May 1 — the original deadline set by the Taliban before signing a landmark deal with Washington in Doha, Qatar, more than a year ago. 

The Taliban has blamed Washington for violating the key condition of the Doha accord, which also pushed Kabul and the Taliban to hold talks and draw a political roadmap for a future government in Afghanistan. 

Based on the Doha deal — which also required the Taliban to cut ties with Al-Qaeda and other militants and not use Afghan soil to launch attacks on any other country, including the US — the insurgents had halted attacks on foreign troops, but not on Afghan forces. 

Both domestic and foreign diplomats, including those from the US, fear that the troops’ departure from the country could propel the Taliban to return to power by force once again. 

According to media reports, US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad — the chief architect of the Doha deal with the Taliban — spoke with Afghan leaders over the weekend, emphasizing that “there was strong consensus within both the regional and international community against any effort by the Taliban to pursue a military takeover.”


Gulf buyers snap up properties in iconic London development

Gulf buyers snap up properties in iconic London development
Updated 44 min 47 sec ago

Gulf buyers snap up properties in iconic London development

Gulf buyers snap up properties in iconic London development
  • Battersea Power Station has long been a staple of the British capital’s skyline
  • 20% of homes in the complex are being sold to Mideast investors, mostly from the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia

LONDON: The redevelopment of one of London’s most iconic buildings has piqued the interest of Gulf buyers, who have snapped up millions of dollars’ worth of properties in what will soon be one of the British capital’s trendiest commercial, residential and cultural quarters.

Completed in 1935, Battersea Power Station has long held a special place in the British psyche.

It dominated the London skyline and powered the UK economy for decades. Plumes of smoke from its iconic four chimneys even guided British fighter planes home after bombing runs during World War II.

Now the building, with its coal-burning past firmly behind it, is taking on a new role as one of the capital’s hottest commercial developments — and Arab buyers have taken notice.

Simon Murphy, CEO of the Battersea Power Station Development Co. — which is redeveloping the unused site into luxury living spaces, retail quarters and offices — told Arab News that around 20 percent of homes in the complex are being sold to Middle Eastern investors.

“Within this, the majority have been from the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. We’ve recently received over 100 enquiries mainly from buyers from Saudi and the UAE in the last month,” he said.

“There are a number of reasons why Battersea Power Station appeals to buyers from the Gulf,” he added, including its lucrative financial opportunities, its prime location next to the River Thames, and the abundance of green space provided in neighboring Battersea Park.

“Gulf buyers are also attracted to the project’s mix of uses, which includes homes, offices — including Apple’s new UK campus — shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, cinemas, theaters, a hotel and more. This genuine mix of uses is something that resonates with buyers from the Middle East,” he said. 

“The unique history and heritage of the power station building itself, which welcomed its first residents last month, is of course another point of attraction. The opportunity to buy a slice of British history is greatly appealing.”

Grahame Clist, a consultant at property investment firm Spot Blue, told Arab News that people’s expectation that the London property market would be crippled by the coronavirus pandemic turned out to be unfounded.

“If you’re taking a medium-term view for properties in London, especially for places like Battersea Power Station, then you’ve got a sound investment and something that not just Saudis but everyone in the world wants,” he said.

The pandemic stalled the property market and held back transactions, but when the ability to conduct viewings resumed there was a “massive uptake” of people looking to re-enter the market, he added.

“There’s been, to a certain degree, a property shortage that has held the market up,” Clist said. “In the Greater London area, prices have increased by at least 10 percent in the last six months — and that’s if you can find a property.”

Developments such as Battersea Power Station, he said, are among the first to capitalize on this surge in demand.

He echoed Murphy’s emphasis on the importance of British history in the development’s popularity. 

“It’s an iconic London building,” Clist said. “It’s almost as if Buckingham Palace was turned into apartments and put on the market — people would be rushing in to buy them from all over the world.”


Protestor, 69, scales London crane to unfurl Palestine flag

Protestor, 69, scales London crane to unfurl Palestine flag
Updated 57 min 17 sec ago

Protestor, 69, scales London crane to unfurl Palestine flag

Protestor, 69, scales London crane to unfurl Palestine flag
  • Nick Georges: ‘We should all be doing more to promote the cause of peace and freedom for the Palestinians’
  • ‘The Palestinians have no rights. As a Christian who cares, I can’t just stand by and let this go on’

LONDON: A pro-Palestine protestor scaled a 300-foot crane in central London to unveil a Palestinian flag, and spent 30 hours there before being removed by police.

Nick Georges, 69, took two hours to scale the crane, and recorded and released a heartfelt message about the plight of Palestinians from the top of the structure on Tuesday.

 

 

“I’ve climbed this 300-foot tower crane in the middle of London to tell the world about Palestine,” Georges said in the message.

“For three months I was sent to Palestine as a humanitarian witness and protected presence. For three months, on a daily basis, I witnessed the atrocities and the horrors of the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian homeland,” he added.

“I’ve seen a house where a family of four were burnt alive by Jewish settlers with incendiary bombs. I’ve seen land desecrated, olive plantations burned. I’ve seen so many demolitions of homes and houses by JCB machines, British-built machines, in Israel,” said Georges, who is a member of activist group Palestine Action.

“Every day … they’re demolishing more Palestinian homes. The Palestinians have no rights. Even their electricity and their water is taken from them,” he added.

“Israel is the fourth-largest nuclear military power in the world. The Palestinians have nothing.

“As a Christian who cares, I can’t just stand by and let this go on. We should all be doing more to promote the cause of peace and freedom for the Palestinians and stop the horrors that Israel is visiting upon these people.”
Georges used bolt cutters and a portable ladder to break into the building site — which will one day be home to a 650-foot skyscraper — at 4 a.m.
He said the crane stunt was “the most terrifying thing I’ve done in my 69 years of being on this planet — the heights, the fear of falling and breaking into the building site.”

This marks his second arrest by police in a year. In February, he and a team of activists scaled and vandalized a British factory producing drones for the Israeli military.

There has been a flurry of pro-Palestinian activism globally in recent weeks following nearly two weeks of Israeli bombardment of Gaza that claimed the lives of around 250 Palestinians, injured thousands and left tens of thousands homeless.


Security should have confronted Manchester bomber: inquiry

Security should have confronted Manchester bomber: inquiry
Updated 17 June 2021

Security should have confronted Manchester bomber: inquiry

Security should have confronted Manchester bomber: inquiry
  • The attack, as concert-goers were leaving the show, was perpetrated by 22-year-old Salman Abedi
  • Inquiry heard that an officer from British Transport Police was supposed to be present in the foyer of the arena at the show’s end

LONDON: Security teams at Britain’s Manchester Arena “should have prevented or minimized” the impact of the 2017 terror attack at an Ariana Grande concert that killed 22 people, a public inquiry found Thursday.
The attack, as concert-goers were leaving the show, was perpetrated by 22-year-old Salman Abedi, a Mancunian of Libyan descent.
In a report examining security measures at the venue in northwest England, inquiry chairman John Saunders said Arena operator SMG, security provider Showsec and British Transport Police all missed opportunities to either prevent or mitigate the attack, which took place on May 22, 2017.
“The security arrangements for the Manchester Arena should have prevented or minimized the devastating impact of the attack,” he wrote.
“Salman Abedi should have been identified on 22nd May 2017 as a threat by those responsible for the security of Arena and a disruptive intervention undertaken.
“Had that occurred, I consider it likely that Salman Abedi would still have detonated his device, but the loss of life and injury is highly likely to have been less,” he added.
The inquiry had heard that an officer from British Transport Police was supposed to be present in the foyer of the arena at the end of the show, where the bomb was detonated, but nobody was there.
A Showsec security guard also told the inquiry that he had a “bad feeling” when he saw Abedi around five minutes before the attack, but did not approach him for fear of being called a racist.
“I felt unsure about what to do,” said Kyle Lawler, who was aged 18 at the time of the attack.
“I did not want people to think I am stereotyping him because of his race.”
Lawler said he had tried to radio the control room, but that he gave up as he could not get through due to radio traffic.
A member of the public had reported Abedi, who was dressed in black and carrying a large rucksack, to security 15 minutes before he detonated the bomb, packed with 3,000 nuts and bolts.
Abedi’s brother was last year jailed for life for playing an “integral part” in the attack, that also injured hundreds.
The Daesh group-inspired suicide bombing targeted crowds of mostly young people.
The youngest victim was aged just eight. Others included parents who had come to pick up their children.


Sweden govt set to lose confidence vote: parties

Sweden govt set to lose confidence vote: parties
Updated 17 June 2021

Sweden govt set to lose confidence vote: parties

Sweden govt set to lose confidence vote: parties
  • Sweden’s minority government, took power in 2019 after months of political struggles
  • To secure power it inked a deal with two center-left parties

STOCKHOLM: Sweden’s minority government could be toppled next week after a group of four parties in parliament announced Thursday they would back a no confidence vote, potentially triggering a snap election.

The far-right Sweden Democrats party announced it was calling for a motion of no confidence for Monday after the Left Party earlier warned it would seek a similar move over a dispute on rent controls for newly constructed apartments.

“There is now a majority in parliament that wants to dismiss the prime minister,” Henrik Vinge, parliament group leader for the Sweden Democrats, told a press conference.

Vinge said they hoped the government would fall a year ahead of the next general election.

Both the conservative Moderate Party and the Christian Democrats followed suit, securing a parliamentary majority for the no confidence motion against the government of Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.

“We were against the Lofven government when they took power. We were against the Lofven government then, we are against the Lofven government now,” Ebba Busch, party leader of the Christian Democrats, told a press conference.

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson echoed this sentiment in a post to social media.

“Our opinion is very clear, this government should never have taken office,” Kristersson wrote in a post to Facebook.

Speaker of the house, Andreas Norlen, confirmed in a statement the vote would be held on Monday.

Sweden’s minority government, took power in 2019 after months of political struggles to secure support for a government following the 2018 election.

To secure power it inked a deal with two center-left parties, and was propped up by the Left Party.

The deal included liberal market reforms, including a government inquiry into allowing landlords to freely set rents for new apartments.

Several of these reforms have irked the Left Party, and after multiple calls on the government to abandon the “market rents,” party leader Nooshi Dadgostar said earlier on Thursday that they were looking for support among other parties for a vote of no confidence.

“Someone has to stand up for Sweden’s tenants,” Dadgostar told a press conference adding that it wasn’t an “easy announcement.”

Speaking in parliament, Lofven responded by saying it was “not responsible” to call for the vote.

Lofven has announced a press conference of his own at 4 p.m. (1400 GMT).


UK refugee charity fears for future

UK refugee charity fears for future
Updated 17 June 2021

UK refugee charity fears for future

UK refugee charity fears for future
  • Lack of funding for Refugee Kindness could prevent it helping thousands
  • Founder set up charity after witnessing plight of Syrian family

LONDON: A charity that provides household items, clothing and other support to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK has said it fears for its future.

Refugee Kindness — based in Wrexham, Wales — is a young charity that grew from a spur-of-the-moment decision by a Welsh barrister to donate her spare furniture to a local Syrian family.

Rachel Watkin said after making that donation, she realized just how many basic necessities refugees and asylum seekers are in need of.

She set up a Facebook group to encourage other locals to do the same, and founded her charity later after witnessing the plight of one Syrian family.

“When they came to the house, it turned out there were a lot of items they didn’t have. They didn’t have games for their kids to play with ... they didn’t have nice things like pillows and rugs, they didn’t have as much cutlery as the rest of us would have, they didn’t have a fridge freezer,” she said.

“I just thought it was so imbalanced really, so unfair that we have this mass of stuff in our garages that we want to get rid of and they had so little. I knew there must be lots of families like them.”

The charity now has over 2,000 donors and has helped 54 families — but the work is becoming too much for Watkin to handle alone.

More than 20,000 Syrians have been granted asylum and resettled in the UK in the last five years.

Despite Britain taking a relatively low number of refugees, Watkins said demand for what her charity offers has “exploded,” and now it is struggling financially to provide for them. 

Refugee Kindness, less than a year old, has run into bureaucratic problems that could endanger its entire future.

Most charities, Watkin said, need to exist for two years before unlocking access to wider funding.

“When I first set it up it didn’t need funding, but now we have so many families and we’re doing more things, it’s become more difficult,” she added.

“People have been generous and they’ve given us money, but we only have about £1,500 ($2,091).”

A 2020 report by the British Red Cross found that asylum seekers granted refugee status often face significant financial hardships as their Home Office support ends and they are expected to quickly adapt to mainstream life in the UK.

“New refugees must complete a number of complex tasks which, research by the British Red Cross and other organisations has shown, are almost impossible to achieve in 28 days,” said the report.

“These include opening a bank account, finding a job and/or applying for mainstream benefits (and receiving the first wages or payment), and finding and moving into new accommodation.”

While Refugee Kindness cannot assist in solving all these problems, if it receives more funding its donations can ease the transition.

Syrian refugee Khawla said the donations she received, including a sofa, helped her family settle in.

“When we first came here it was difficult, but now it’s good. They helped a lot and I’m thankful,” she added.

Watkins said: “We’ve given it the deadline of September to secure funding ... Beyond that, I don’t know.”