Afghanistan sets new curbs as jab supplies dwindle

Afghanistan sets new curbs as jab supplies dwindle
An Afghan man talks with his mother in the intensive care unit ward for COVID-19 patients at the Afghan-Japan Communicable Disease Hospital in Kabul. (AP)
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Updated 07 June 2021

Afghanistan sets new curbs as jab supplies dwindle

Afghanistan sets new curbs as jab supplies dwindle
  • WHO vaccine delivery planned for May ‘delayed until August,’ official says

KABUL: Afghanistan imposed new anti-COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday amid a surge in new cases and depreciating reserves of donated vaccines.

But the country is preparing to replenish vaccine stocks in the “near future,” an official said.

“Wearing masks has become compulsory in public areas. We have almost finished our vaccines (donated by India) and hope to receive 700,000 more from China in the near future,” Dastagir Nazari, a Health Ministry spokesman, told Arab News.

Additional measures involve bans on large public gatherings, including religious ceremonies, and the closure of wedding halls, in addition to a two-week leave for government staff aged older than 55 or those who have cancer, heart disease and diabetes, as well as pregnant workers.

Nazari said that 3 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, which the World Health Organization pledged to deliver by May, will now arrive in August.

“There was a commitment by the international community to aid Afghanistan technically and financially, but since the pandemic has become a global threat, countries have their own priorities,” he added.

Last week, the Afghan government ordered the closure of all schools and universities in most areas of the country after cases of the Delta variant were detected, which was first identified in India.

As of Sunday, 80,615 Afghans have tested positive for the disease, with 3,200 deaths reported, according to official data.

However, some figures have suggested that the real infection and death rates are much higher than government data suggests.

On Saturday, the Health Ministry said that 50 people had died from coronavirus-related complications, the highest official single-day toll recorded in war-torn Afghanistan, which relies on international aid for its battle against the virus, adding to the woes of the government amid an escalation in violent attacks by the Taliban.

Nazari said Afghans were facing a “tough and hard time” due to the pandemic, but declined to call it a “crisis or disaster.”

Mirwais Aliza, another spokesman for the health ministry, said that a shortage of ventilators and oxygen in some parts of the country presented “other challenges,” urging locals to follow restrictions amid fears over an uncontrollable spike in cases.

“If the countrymen do not heed our health advice, then there is a high likelihood that we will face serious problems,” Aliza told Arab News.

Many Afghans ignored the restrictions imposed by the government last year, as they felt the measures represented a threat to their livelihoods and businesses.

A report by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said that according to World Bank estimates, Afghanistan’s overall poverty level rose from 55 percent to 72 percent in 2020 due to economic challenges amid a second wave of COVID-19.

The latest uptick in positive cases coincides with an escalation of violence in more than half of Afghanistan since May 1, when US-led foreign troops began exiting the country.

On Sunday alone, more than 60 Afghan security personnel were killed in a series of Taliban attacks in parts of the country, sources told Arab News.

The deadliest attack targeted a police base in northern Balkh, where militants reportedly staged a commando-style strike in a clash with security forces that lasted for two hours.

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German woman indicted over her time with Daesh in Syria

German woman indicted over her time with Daesh in Syria
Updated 28 July 2021

German woman indicted over her time with Daesh in Syria

German woman indicted over her time with Daesh in Syria

BERLIN: A German woman who traveled to Syria to join the Daesh group and whose husband bought a Yazidi woman as a slave has been charged with membership in a terror group and being an accessory to a crime against humanity, German prosecutors said Wednesday.
The indictment of Leonora M., whose full name wasn’t released because of local privacy rules, is the latest in a string of cases in Germany involving women who went to the area held by Daesh and were involved in holding women captured by the extremist group as slaves.
Federal prosecutors said the suspect went to Syria and joined Daesh in 2015 and became the “third wife” of a member of the group. She is accused of enabling her husband’s activities for Daesh by running their household in Raqqa and writing his application for a job in the group’s intelligence service.
The suspect herself allegedly worked at an Daesh-controlled hospital and snooped on wives of Daesh fighters for the group’s intelligence service.
Prosecutors said her husband bought a 33-year-old Yazidi woman as a slave in 2015 with the aim of selling her with her two small children. Leonora M., they said, cared for the woman so that she could be sold on at a profit — which she subsequently was.
The suspect surrendered to Kurdish fighters in January 2019 as IS lost the areas it held in Syria. She was brought back to Germany in December last year and arrested after her arrival.
The indictment was filed on July 7 at a court in the eastern town of Naumburg.


Taliban tell China Afghanistan will not be base for separatists

Taliban tell China Afghanistan will not be base for separatists
Updated 55 min 7 sec ago

Taliban tell China Afghanistan will not be base for separatists

Taliban tell China Afghanistan will not be base for separatists
  • Taliban officials have cranked up their international diplomacy in recent months

KABUL: A top-level Taliban delegation visiting China assured Beijing the group will not allow Afghanistan to be used as a base for plotting against another country, an insurgent spokesman said Wednesday.
The delegation is in China for talks with Beijing officials, spokesman Mohammad Naeem told AFP, as the insurgents continue a sweeping offensive across Afghanistan — including areas along their shared border.
Their frontier is just 76 kilometers (47 miles) long — and at a rugged high altitude without a road crossing — but Beijing fears Afghanistan could be used as a staging ground for Uyghur separatists in Xinjiang.
“The Islamic Emirate assured China that Afghanistan’s soil would not be used against any country’s security,” Naeem said.
“They (China) promised not to interfere in Afghanistan’s affairs, but instead help to solve problems and bring peace.”
Taliban officials have cranked up their international diplomacy in recent months, seeking global recognition for when they hope to return to power.
They have made sweeping advances across Afghanistan since May, when US-led foreign forces began the last stage of a withdrawal due to be completed next month.
Beijing hosted a Taliban delegation in 2019, but back-door links with the insurgents stretch back longer, through Pakistan.
Communist Party leaders in Beijing and the fundamentalist Taliban have little ideological common ground, but experts feel shared pragmatism could see mutual self-interest trump sensitive differences.
For Beijing, a stable and cooperative administration in Kabul would pave the way for an expansion of its Belt and Road Initiative into Afghanistan and through the Central Asian republics.
The Taliban, meanwhile, would consider China a crucial source of investment and economic support.
“China can deal with the Taliban... but they still find the Taliban’s religious agenda and motivations inherently discomforting,” Andrew Small, author of “The China-Pakistan Axis,” told AFP earlier this month.
“They have never been sure how willing or able the Taliban really are to enforce agreements on issues such as harboring Uyghur militants.”
The Taliban’s campaign has so far seen them capture scores of districts, border crossings and encircle several provincial capitals.
Government forces have abandoned some rural districts without a fight, but are digging in to defend provincial capitals even as the insurgents tighten a noose around the cities.
Rights groups have accused the insurgents of committing atrocities in territories under their control, including in the border town of Spin Boldak, where Afghan officials accuse Taliban fighters of killing around 100 civilians.
The nine-member Taliban team in China is led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, co-founder of the hard-line movement.


Risking China’s anger, Blinken meets representative of Dalai Lama in India

Risking China’s anger, Blinken meets representative of Dalai Lama in India
Updated 28 July 2021

Risking China’s anger, Blinken meets representative of Dalai Lama in India

Risking China’s anger, Blinken meets representative of Dalai Lama in India
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also met his Indian counterpart, Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar

NEW DELHI: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with a representative of Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in New Delhi on Wednesday, a State Department spokesperson said, a move that is likely to provoke anger in China.
Blinken met briefly with Ngodup Dongchung, who serves as a representative of Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), also known as the Tibetan government in exile, the spokesperson said.
Chinese troops seized Tibet in 1950 in what Beijing calls a “peaceful liberation.” In 1959, the Dalai Lama fled into exile in India following a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
The CTA and Tibetan advocacy groups have received a boost in international support in recent months amid rising criticism of China’s human rights record, particularly from the United States.
In November, Lobsang Sangay, the former head of the Tibetan government in exile, visited the White House, the first such visit in six decades.
A month later, the US Congress passed the Tibet Policy and Support Act, which calls for the right of Tibetans to choose the successor to the Dalai Lama, and the establishment of a US consulate in the Tibetan capital Lhasa.
Blinken’s meeting with Dongchung is the most significant contact with the Tibetan leadership since the Dalai Lama met then-president Barack Obama in Washington in 2016.
China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Beijing says Tibet is a part of China and has labelled the Dalai Lama a dangerous separatist.
In his first visit to India since joining US President Joe Biden’s administration, Blinken also met his Indian counterpart, Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, and other officials on Wednesday before heading to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The two sides are expected to discuss supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, the security situation in Afghanistan, and India’s human rights record.
Speaking to a group of civil society leaders at a New Delhi hotel, Blinken said that the relationship between the United States and India was “one of the most important in the world.”
“The Indian people and the American people believe in human dignity and equality of opportunity, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms including freedom of religion and belief . . . these are the fundamental tenets of democracies like ours,” he said.
“And of course, both of our democracies are works in progress. As friends we talk about that.”
Indian foreign ministry sources said ahead of Blinken’s visit that the country was proud of its pluralistic traditions and happy to discuss the issue with him.
Modi’s government has faced allegations of suppressing dissent, pursuing divisive policies to appeal to its Hindu nationalist base and alienating Muslims, the country’s biggest minority.
Blinken arrived in India on Tuesday night and leaves for Kuwait later on Wednesday.


Myanmar junta seeks international cooperation over COVID-19 crisis

Myanmar junta seeks international cooperation over COVID-19 crisis
Updated 28 July 2021

Myanmar junta seeks international cooperation over COVID-19 crisis

Myanmar junta seeks international cooperation over COVID-19 crisis
  • Junta leader says COVID-19 vaccinations needed to be increased
  • Efforts to tackle the outbreak have been further hampered by some of the worst flooding in years in eastern Myanmar

Myanmar’s military ruler is looking for greater cooperation with the international community to contain the coronavirus, state media reported on Wednesday, as the Southeast Asian country struggles with a surging wave of infections.
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing called in a speech for more cooperation on prevention, control and treatment of COVID-19, including with fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and “friendly countries,” the Global New Light of Myanmar reported.
The junta leader said vaccinations needed to be increased, through both donated doses and by developing domestic production, aided by Russia, the newspaper said, adding Myanmar would seek the release of funds from an ASEAN COVID-19 fund.
Myanmar recently received two million more Chinese vaccines, but it was believed to have only vaccinated about 3.2 percent of its population, according to a Reuters tracker.
There have been desperate efforts by people to find oxygen in many parts of the country. The Myanmar Now news portal, citing witnesses, reported that at least eight people died in a Yangon hospital at the weekend after a piped oxygen system failed.
Reuters could not independently confirm the report and the North Okkalapa General Hospital and a health ministry spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.
Infections in Myanmar have surged since June, with 4,964 cases and 338 deaths reported on Tuesday, according to health ministry data cited in media. Medics and funeral services put the toll much higher.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the military ousted an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, with regular protests and fighting between the army and newly formed militias.
Last week, prisoners in Yangon staged a protest over what activists said was a major COVID-19 outbreak in the colonial-era Insein jail, where many pro-democracy protesters are being held.
Efforts to tackle the outbreak have been further hampered by some of the worst flooding in years in eastern Myanmar.
The military has appeared wary of outside help in past disasters, particularly if it believes strings are attached, forcing Myanmar’s people to help each other, though a previous junta did allow in aid via ASEAN after the devastating cyclone Nargis in 2008.
Despite Min Aung Hlaing agreeing to an ASEAN peace plan reached in April, the military has shown little sign of following through on it and has instead reiterated its own, entirely different plan to restore order and democracy.
The military justified its coup by accusing Suu Kyi’s party of manipulating votes in a November general election to secure a landslide victory. The electoral commission at the time and outside observers rejected the complaints.
But in a further sign of the junta’s tightening grip on power, the military-appointed election commission this week officially annulled the November results, saying the vote was not in line with the constitution and electoral laws, and was not “free and fair,” army-run MRTV network reported.


Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan

Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan
Updated 28 July 2021

Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan

Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan
  • In six weeks of fighting last September to November, Azeri troops drove ethnic Armenian forces out of swathes of territory they had controlled since the 1990s

MOSCOW: Three Armenian soldiers were killed in an exchange of gunfire with Azerbaijan forces, Armenia’s defense ministry said on Wednesday.
In six weeks of fighting last September to November, Azeri troops drove ethnic Armenian forces out of swathes of territory they had controlled since the 1990s in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region, before Russia brokered a cease-fire.