Grand day for the French: Cafe and bistro terraces reopen

Grand day for the French: Cafe and bistro terraces reopen
French President and French Prime Minister at a cafe terrace in Paris on Wednesday as restaurants and bar terraces reopen today at 50-percent capacity while curfew will be pushed to 9:00 pm. (AFP)
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Updated 19 May 2021

Grand day for the French: Cafe and bistro terraces reopen

Grand day for the French: Cafe and bistro terraces reopen
  • French government is lifting restrictions incrementally to stave off a resurgence of COVID-19
  • France's 7 p.m. nightly curfew was pushed back to 9 p.m. and museums, theaters and cinemas reopened along with outdoor cafe terraces

PARIS: It’s a grand day for the French. Cafe and restaurant terraces reopened Wednesday after a six-month coronavirus shutdown deprived residents of the essence of French life — sipping coffee and wine with friends.
The French government is lifting restrictions incrementally to stave off a resurgence of COVID-19 and to give citizens back some of their signature “joie de vivre.” As part of the plan’s first stage, France’s 7 p.m. nightly curfew was pushed back to 9 p.m. and museums, theaters and cinemas reopened along with outdoor cafe terraces.
President Emmanuel Macron, taking a seat at a cafe terrace, chatted with customers and Prime Minister Jean Castex, projecting a mood of measured optimism.
“Let’s get used to try and live together,” Macron told reporters. “If we manage to get well organized collectively and continue vaccinating, have a common discipline as citizens, there’s no reason why we can’t continue moving forward.”
Castex planned to attend a cinema later Wednesday. Actress Emmanuel Beart, meanwhile, went to a movie theater opening in Paris where her latest film “L’Etreinte” (“The Embrace“) was showing. The appetite for seeing movies was such that many in Paris lined up at breakfast to see a movie instead of getting their morning croissant.
Moviegoer Michael Souhaite, who works in the industry, set his alarm clock to make sure to be there for his 9 a.m. showing of “Drunk.”
“I really need to go to the movies,” he said. “I go to movies maybe twice a week, minimum. So for me it was really, really, really important... Today it’s almost emotional to be here.”
France is not the first European country to start getting back a semblance of social and cultural life. Italy, Belgium, Hungary and other nations already allow outdoor dining while drinking and eating indoors began Monday in Britain.
Eateries in France have been closed since the end of October, the longest time of any European country except Poland, where bars and restaurants reopened Saturday for outdoor service after being closed for seven months.
Still, the French government has put limits on how much fun can be had. Restaurants can fill only 50 percent of their outdoor seating and have no more than six people at a table. Movie theaters can only seat 35 percent of capacity, while museums must restrict entries to allow space between visitors.
Starting on June 9, the French government plans to move the curfew back to 11 p.m. and to permit indoor dining. Also on that date, France will begin to welcome tourists from non-EU destinations provided they have some sort of coronavirus passport or health pass. The final phase of the three-stage reopening plan is scheduled for June 30, when the curfew will end and all other restrictions will be lifted, if pandemic conditions allow.
Macron’s plan to bring France out of the pandemic aren’t just about resuscitating long-closed restaurants, boutiques and museums, but also about preparing his possible campaign for a second term. Before next year’s presidential election, Macron is focusing on saving jobs and reviving the pandemic-battered French economy.
France has recorded more than 108,000 deaths due to COVID-19, among the highest tolls in Europe. But virus deaths, admissions to critical care units and the coronavirus infection rate are now on the decline.
Dr. Michel Slama, chief of the Intensive Care Unit at Amiens Hospital, said his stance, like Macron’s, was “optimistic but prudent.”
“We are attentive about the reopening but worried is not the word,” he told The Associated Press. “There has been a significant drop in emergency hospital admissions for the virus in France. That’s good news. The high vaccine rate now we hope will help us avoid a new wave.”
About 40 percent of France’s adult population has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose — but that rate is still well behind Britain’s 70 percent and behind several other EU nations.
Tourists waited excitedly as the cordon around the world’s most visited museum and home of the “Mona Lisa,” the Louvre, was finally lifted.
“It means a lot, you know. It means COVID-19 is starting to finish, when it’s the opening of all museums and public areas,” said visitor Walid Hneini.
Benoit Puez, a Parisian art lover, was more understated but still pleased about France opening up.
“Maybe I didn’t really miss it, but we are happy it’s reopening. It’s a stage,” he said.


Taliban reject US envoy’s claims of seeking ‘lion’s share’ in future government

Taliban reject US envoy’s claims of seeking ‘lion’s share’ in future government
Updated 8 min 31 sec ago

Taliban reject US envoy’s claims of seeking ‘lion’s share’ in future government

Taliban reject US envoy’s claims of seeking ‘lion’s share’ in future government
  • Group aims for accord that ‘observes Islamic aspirations’ of Afghans, spokesman says

KABUL: The Taliban on Wednesday refuted US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s assertions that it was seeking a “lion’s share of power” in a future government, terming it as a “personal view,” as fighting worsens across Afghanistan and foreign troops inch closer to completing a withdrawal mission by month-end.

“That is his personal view. We heard Khalilzad’s comments, but our stance is that we want an accord that can observe the Islamic aspirations of the people,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Arab News, adding that the group was “not after a monopoly of power or eyeing a key share.”

“We do not want anything for ourselves; we have given lofty sacrifices for Islam. The nation is exhausted. There will definitely be a complete Islamic government, and all sides will have to accept this … All Afghans will be given a share in it,” he added.

The comments follow Khalilzad’s remarks during a virtual conference of the Aspen Security Forum on Tuesday when he said: “At this point, (the Taliban) are demanding that they take the lion’s share of power in the next government given the military situation as they see it.”

He added that the Taliban and the Kabul government “are far apart” in US-backed peace negotiations, which began in Doha, Qatar, nearly a year ago.

The intra-Afghan talks were the first formal step to politically settle a decades-old conflict that began after the Taliban were toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Khalilzad was the chief architect of the controversial, behind-the-door negotiations between the US and the Taliban, which Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his administration were excluded from.

They led to the signing of a conditional agreement on Feb. 29 in Qatar between former US President Donald Trump’s administration and Taliban representatives based on which US and NATO troops were to pull out of Afghanistan as part of a 14-month process that began on May 1 and is scheduled to complete on Aug. 31.

Since then, Khalilzad has played a crucial role in facilitating the talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government in Doha and, in March, proposed the formation of an inclusive interim government to replace Ghani, whose term ends in 2024.

Both groups have failed to make headway in the Doha talks, which was the subject of a phone call on Tuesday between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ghani, who agreed on the need to accelerate the peace process.

This comes a day after Ghani, during a special parliamentary session, called for a nationwide war against the Taliban, who have made significant gains in several parts of Afghanistan and after an overnight attack in Kabul on the defense minister’s home.

“Eight non-combatants, including a woman, were killed in the attack on the home of Defense Minister Gen. Besmillah Khan in Kabul,” Interior Ministry Spokesman Mirwais Stanekzai told reporters on Wednesday.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the strike.

“We were behind the strike,” Mujahid said. “The attack was in response to the airstrikes by the defense ministry.” 

Ghani blamed the country’s deteriorating security on Washington’s “abrupt” decision to withdraw its troops.

Presenting his security plan before parliament on Monday, Ghani said the situation in the war-torn nation would be “under control within six months,” adding that the US has pledged its full support.

The gap left by departing troops has emboldened the Taliban, who have intensified their insurgency since early May, targeting Afghan government forces and stepping up attacks on Herat in the west, Kandahar, and the adjacent Helmand province in the south — three major regions — since last week.

Helmand’s provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, has taken the brunt of the fighting.

Both Taliban and government officials said fighting was “intense” on Wednesday in various parts of Lashkar Gah, where the group has made significant inroads.

A lawmaker from Helmand, Mirwais Khadem, said the Taliban were “in control of all parts of the city,” except for a series of government buildings, such as the governor’s compound, police and intelligence headquarters and the central prison.

“I can say that there is street-to-street fighting in Lashkar Gah now. The Taliban have taken shelter in people’s homes. Afghan troops fire back on them, and there are bombardments both by the government and US forces,” Khadem told Arab News.

He chided the army’s move asking residents to “flee from their homes” in Taliban-held areas.

“This decision of the government is not appropriate. We urged the government to go instead to a desert where there are no residential homes. Both the Taliban and the government can fight there and decide who will be the winner and will be defeated,” he said.

“But the government did not accept it. Asking civilians in the middle of the war to leave their homes, without arrangements for shelter, food and other necessities in this hot weather is not fair,” Khadem added.

He explained that “there were casualties among civilians both from shelling and air raids in Lashkar Gah” but could not provide the exact fatality count.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders said casualties were “mounting” in Lashkar Gah.

“There has been relentless gunfire, airstrikes and mortars in densely populated areas. Houses are being bombed, and many people are suffering severe injuries,” Sarah Leahy, the aid group’s coordinator for Helmand, said in a statement.

The loss of Lashkar Gah to the Taliban would be a massive blow for Kabul, which has pledged to safeguard provincial capitals “at all costs” after losing much of the countryside to the insurgent group over the summer.

US-led troops have stepped up aerial attacks on suspected Taliban positions to support Afghan forces and block Taliban advances.

Experts say the measures are too little, too late.

“American forces do not want to see the fall of any major city to the Taliban before their exit. That is why they continue providing air support for national forces,” Torek Farhadi, an analyst and former adviser to former President Hamid Karzai, told Arab News.

“But these attacks cause civilian casualties, such as the ones we saw in Helmand. This is not good for the Kabul government,” he added.

Nearly 2,400 Afghan civilians have been killed or injured in May and June amid an uptick in violence between the Taliban and Afghan security forces, the highest number for those two months since records started in 2009, the UN’s Assistance Mission to Afghanistan said in a July report.

By then, it had documented 5,183 civilian casualties between January and June, of which 1,659 were deaths. The number was up 47 percent from the same period last year.


South London terrorist claimed he had changed days before knife rampage

South London terrorist claimed he had changed days before knife rampage
Updated 21 min 8 sec ago

South London terrorist claimed he had changed days before knife rampage

South London terrorist claimed he had changed days before knife rampage
  • Sri Lankan-born Sudesh Amman was offered support from two different mentors following his release from jail but before the attack
  • Mentors said there was no behavior of concern to report, but were ‘shocked’ when they saw details of the 2020 incident in Streatham

LONDON: A convicted terrorist told his mentor that he had changed, days before carrying out a knife rampage in south London which ended when he was shot dead by police, an inquest has heard.

Sudesh Amman, 20, told his allocated mentor that he had “now realized” that terrorists were “pushing people away” from Islam.

Amman made the comments on Jan. 30, 2020, seven days after his early release from prison and just three days before he suddenly stole a knife from a shop in Streatham and stabbed two unsuspecting members of the public. He was fatally shot by covert police officers who were tasked with keeping him under surveillance. Both of his victims survived.

An inquest into his death at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London heard yesterday that Amman pledged his allegiance to Daesh in prison and that he told prisoners he “wanted to kill the Queen.”

The inquest was told that the Sri Lankan-born terrorist was offered support from a theological mentor to deal with his extreme brand of Islam and a practical mentor to help him adapt to life beyond prison.

He had met both of them following his release from prison.

His mentors told the court that they were “shocked” and “gobsmacked” when they recognized Amman as the perpetrator of the shocking attack on Feb. 2, 2020.

One of his mentors had a testimony following a meeting with Amman read out in court: “He (Amman) said he now realized that people who hurt other people through things like acts of terror were pushing people away from the faith and causing hatred.”

The witness said Amman had been “the most relaxed that I have seen him” in the last of their four meetings in person, which took place in HMP Belmarsh and after his release.

The mentor, who was known as “Witness M” to retain their anonymity, said: “He was happy to talk, he had no moments where he held back from saying anything and he seemed happy and relieved at being released.

“I took him at his word. He seemed sincere the way he was saying it.”

The mentor said that he felt there was no behavior of concern to report, but was “shocked” when he saw details of the incident in Streatham unfolding.

Witness M said: “I saw when it said the incident was in Streatham, I knew I visited him, I hoped it was not (him). I kept watching the news and I had a little bit of disbelief, to be honest.”

The other mentor, referred to as “Witness T,” told the inquest that he discussed religious matters with Amman during their only meeting on Jan. 29.

Witness T said Amman showed that he was “ignorant” of Islam during their meeting. Amman told Witness T that he was keeping to himself in the week after his release at a Streatham probation hostel out of fear that people believed he was radicalizing others.

Witness T said he found out about the attack on Streatham high street on the same day it occurred.

“I was gobsmacked, I was shocked, I was surprised,” he said.


Taliban commander leading Lashkar Gah onslaught was part of US-brokered prisoner release

Taliban commander leading Lashkar Gah onslaught was part of US-brokered prisoner release
Updated 34 min 49 sec ago

Taliban commander leading Lashkar Gah onslaught was part of US-brokered prisoner release

Taliban commander leading Lashkar Gah onslaught was part of US-brokered prisoner release
  • Mawlavi Talib was among 5,000 militants freed last year by the Afghan government under pressure from Washington

LONDON: The Taliban assault on Lashkar Gah is being led by a commander released by the Afghan government last year as part of a US deal to boost peace talks.

Mawlavi Talib was among 5,000 militants freed under pressure from Washington as it attempted to reach an agreement to end the 20-year war, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province is one of several Afghan cities under a fierce onslaught from the Taliban as the insurgents seek further gains after sweeping through the country’s rural areas in recent months.

The report of Talib’s release is particularly embarrassing for US President Joe Biden, who faced fierce criticism for his decision to pull American troops out of the country. 

Many of the freed insurgents are now taking part in offensives that have brought huge pressure on the Afghan government.

A Taliban commander told The Times newspaper that Talib is “leading the fight and the Taliban are close to gaining control of Lashkar Gah.”

“Talib is an aggressive fighter, advancing well in the province,” he said. 

Talib previously commanded militants in Helmand before working as the Taliban’s “shadow” deputy governor for the province.

He was arrested last year by Afghan troops but was freed within months after the Afghan government reluctantly agreed to release the insurgents.

British and American troops spent years in fierce battles with the Taliban as the militants attempted to capture Helmand.

Much of Lashkar Gah was seized by the Taliban in recent weeks but US and Afghan airstrikes overnight on Tuesday into Wednesday attempted to dislodge the fighters.

The UN said on Wednesday it was “deeply concerned” about tens of thousands of people in the city who could be trapped by the fighting.


UK moves UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and India to amber list for medium-risk travel

UK moves UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and India to amber list for medium-risk travel
Updated 21 min 27 sec ago

UK moves UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and India to amber list for medium-risk travel

UK moves UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and India to amber list for medium-risk travel
  • Britain will also require arrivals from France to quarantine even if they are fully vaccinated
  • The government has gradually eased restrictions, as vaccination numbers increased

LONDON: The UK government said late Wednesday it will ease English entry rules and will move the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and India to its “amber” list of countries for travel after being on the red list, which requires a costly 10-day hotel quarantine on arrival.
The change will come into effect at 4:00 a.m. (0300 GMT) on Sunday.
Britain will also require arrivals from France to quarantine even if they are fully vaccinated, following its latest review of travel curbs, which puts France back on England’s “amber” list under its traffic light system for arriving travelers.
The government last month eased the rules to allow people from amber countries fully jabbed with a vaccine approved by regulators in the United States and European Union to enter without having to self-isolate.
However, arrivals from France were the exception.
Britain said it acted over fears about the prevalence of the Beta strain, even though it mainly affected France’s overseas territories, particularly La Reunion.
But furious officials in Paris called the move “discriminatory.”
France now rejoins dozens of other countries on the amber list — including many EU members and the US — which mandates virus tests before and after arrival for those jabbed in those territories.
Others must self-isolate at home for 10 days.
Other changes to the rules — which are reviewed every three weeks — will see Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, Romania and Norway added to the green list.
Travelers in that designation must only take COVID-19 tests before and after entering England, regardless of their vaccination status, and do not have to self-isolate.
Meanwhile, Georgia, Mexico, and France’s Indian Ocean territories of La Reunion and Mayotte will be moved onto the red list.
“We are committed to opening up international travel safely,” Britain’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said in a statement.
“While we must continue to be cautious, today’s changes reopen a range of different holiday destinations across the globe, which is good news for both the sector and traveling public.”
The UK government in London determines health and travel policy for England. The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland governments set their own and have broadly adopted the same measures.
Britain has been badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, with 130,000 deaths within 28 days of a positive test since the outbreak began.
But the government has gradually eased restrictions, as vaccination numbers increased, cutting numbers of hospital admissions with COVID.
Some 88.7 percent of all adults have now had a first dose, and 73.2 percent two doses, according to the latest government figures.


Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier

Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier
Updated 04 August 2021

Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier

Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier
  • Gen. Nick Carter: Govt forces need to secure military stalemate with Taliban so as to enable talks
  • There is a ‘real risk’ that the West is ‘giving far too much legitimacy to the Taliban’

LONDON: Afghanistan risks becoming a failed state unless government forces can prevent the Taliban’s advance, Britain’s most senior soldier warned on Wednesday.

Gen. Nick Carter, the chief of defense staff, said Afghan forces have to secure a military stalemate in order to start talks between the government and the Taliban. 

He also warned the international community against giving credence to the Taliban and its leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, saying there is a risk of giving the group “legitimacy” that it does not deserve.

Carter said the country becoming a failed state “is one of the scenarios that could occur, but we have to get behind the current Afghan government and support them in what they’re trying to do.

“And if they can achieve a military stalemate, then there will have to be a political compromise. Even the Taliban at the level of Baradar recognize that they can’t … conquer Afghanistan.

“There has to be a conversation. And the important thing is to achieve the military stalemate that can then bring on that conversation.”

Carter told the BBC that there is a “real risk” that the West is “giving far too much legitimacy to the Taliban movement.”

He added: “There’s a huge disparity between what Mullah Baradar is saying publicly and … what’s actually happening on the ground. 

“And the international community has got to do much more about calling out the way that the people on the ground are trashing government buildings, they’re threatening the population, there are reports of people being forced into marriages.”

Carter said he has seen “grisly videos of war crimes,” and the international community “mustn’t let them get away with this — we’ve got to call them out.”

His comments come as Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative MP and chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, called for the West to “rethink its strategy.”

Ellwood, himself a former British Army officer, tweeted on Wednesday that there is “still time to prevent civil war” by sending “a 5,000-strong coalition force — enough to give legitimacy to the Afghan government & support to Afghan forces to contain and deter the Taliban.” He added: “Otherwise we face a failed state.”