After charming leaders, Queen Elizabeth sits back for parade

After charming leaders, Queen Elizabeth sits back for parade
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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II watches a military ceremony to mark her official birthday at Windsor Castle on June 12, 2021 in Windsor. (AFP)
After charming leaders, Queen Elizabeth sits back for parade
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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II watches a military ceremony to mark her official birthday at Windsor Castle on June 12, 2021 in Windsor. (AFP)
After charming leaders, Queen Elizabeth sits back for parade
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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II watches a military ceremony to mark her official birthday at Windsor Castle on June 12, 2021 in Windsor. (AFP)
After charming leaders, Queen Elizabeth sits back for parade
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A military ceremony unfolds in the Quadrangle to mark the official birthday of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle on June 12, 2021 in Windsor. (AFP)
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Updated 12 June 2021

After charming leaders, Queen Elizabeth sits back for parade

After charming leaders, Queen Elizabeth sits back for parade
  • On Friday, she was the star turn at a reception with the G-7 leaders and their spouses at the Eden Project
  • She drew laughter from her guests as she chided them during a group photo session: “Are you supposed to be looking as if you’re enjoying yourself?”

LONDON: Fresh from charming leaders at the Group of Seven summit, Queen Elizabeth II was back at her residence at Windsor Castle on Saturday to view a military parade to mark her official birthday.
The 95-year-old monarch sat on a dais to watch the ceremony that despite ongoing social distancing restrictions did not disappoint on the pomp and pageantry front. If she was tired after meeting G-7 leaders, including US President Joe Biden, on Friday evening, it didn’t show.
The ceremony is a gift from the Household Division of army regiments, which has a close affinity with the monarch. It featured soldiers who have played an integral role in the COVID-19 response, as well as those who have been serving on military operations. She was seen beaming from ear to ear as the nine planes of the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows flew past in formation and let loose their red, white and blue smoke.
The traditional Trooping the Color ceremony is normally staged in London and features hundreds of servicemen and women and thousands of spectators. However, for the second year running, that was not possible and it was a slimmed-down affair in the grounds of Windsor Castle, which is around 27 miles (44 kilometers) west of the capital.


Dubbed a mini Trooping the Color, it featured soldiers in ceremonial scarlet coats and bearskin hats. The servicemen and women on parade numbered almost 275, with 70 horses, compared with the 85 soldiers who took part in the ceremony last summer. A small handful of seated guests lined part of the quadrangle — a change from last year when only the military were present.
The ceremony originated from traditional preparations for battle. The colors — or flags — were “trooped,” or carried down the lines of soldiers, so they could be seen and recognized in battle.
Lt. Col. Guy Stone, who planned the queen’s official birthday celebrations in Windsor Castle’s quadrangle, said he wanted to create a “memorable and uplifting day” for the monarch.
The ceremony took place a couple of months after the death of her 99-year-old husband Prince Philip, whose funeral also took place at Windsor Castle.
Though she has been mourning the loss of her husband of 73 years, the queen has carried on performing her duties, including delivering a government-scripted speech to mark the new session of parliament.
On Friday, she was the star turn at a reception with the G-7 leaders and their spouses at the Eden Project, a futuristic botanical garden housed inside domes that features the world’s largest indoor rainforest.
She drew laughter from her guests as she chided them during a group photo session: “Are you supposed to be looking as if you’re enjoying yourself?”
Though the queen’s actual birthday is on April 26, she celebrates another one in June when the British weather — it is hoped — is more conducive to outdoor celebrations. It’s a royal tradition that goes back to 1748 and the reign of King George II, whose actual birthday was in November.
One of the major parts of the queen’s official birthday is her award of honors to those deemed to have made a positive contribution to society.
This year’s honors list has celebrated those at the forefront of the UK’s rapid rollout of coronavirus vaccines over the past few months, which has been credited with turning around the country’s pandemic response.
Sarah Gilbert, the professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford who was instrumental in the development of the vaccine being manufactured by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, and Kate Bingham, the former head of the UK Vaccines Taskforce credited for the country’s successful procurement program, have both been recognized with damehoods.
Though the UK has seen Europe’s highest virus-related death toll, with nearly 128,000 people having lost their lives, its vaccination program has been deemed one of the world’s speediest and most coherent rollouts.


Human rights court stops Austria from deporting Afghan — NGO

Human rights court stops Austria from deporting Afghan — NGO
Updated 03 August 2021

Human rights court stops Austria from deporting Afghan — NGO

Human rights court stops Austria from deporting Afghan — NGO
  • The ECHR decision told the Vienna government to delay until Aug. 31 the planned deportation of the man
  • The court asked the government to explain how it planned to conduct the removal given

ZURICH: The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has temporarily halted the imminent deportation from Austria of an Afghan whose request for asylum was turned down, a relief group supporting the man said on Tuesday.
The ECHR decision, published on the website of the non-governmental organization Counselling for Deserters and Refugees, told the Vienna government to delay until Aug. 31 the planned deportation of the man, whose identity was not released.
The court asked the government to explain how it planned to conduct the removal given that Afghanistan has informed EU members that it has stopped accepting such deportations until Oct. 8.
It also asked whether “there is a real risk of irreparable harm” to the applicant’s rights given the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.
Clashes between Afghan forces and the Taliban have intensified across the country, with the insurgent group gaining control over check points, trading posts and infrastructure projects.
The court ruling applied only to the man in question.
The European Union is weighing a new package of financial aid to Afghanistan and its neighbors to help limit the flow of refugees from the country, ravaged by intense fighting between government forces and the Taliban, officials told Reuters last month.


US: Kabul attack bears Taliban hallmark

US: Kabul attack bears Taliban hallmark
Updated 45 min 28 sec ago

US: Kabul attack bears Taliban hallmark

US: Kabul attack bears Taliban hallmark
  • Taliban have seized control of much of rural Afghanistan since foreign forces began withdrawing in May
  • Fighting is raging for Lashkar Gah with the UN saying at least 40 civilians were killed in the last 24 hours

RIYADH:  The US Sate Department has said that a recent attack in the Afghan capital is consistent with previous attacks carried out by the Taliban, though it is not yet in a position to officially indicate who exactly carried it out. 

A car bomb explosion followed by several blasts and rapid gunfire rocked Kabul, not far from the heavily fortified Green Zone that houses several embassies, including the US mission.
“We’re not in a position to attribute it officially just yet but of course it does bear all the hallmarks of the spate of Taliban attacks that we have seen in recent weeks,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters. 
“It’s important for the Taliban to recognize that it cannot achieve its objectives by seizing power through violence,” he added.
No one immediately took responsibility for the attack that apparently targeted the country’s acting defense minister, but it came as Taliban insurgents have been pressing ahead with an offensive that is putting pressure on the provincial capitals in the south and west of the country.
Clashes have intensified since early May after President Joe Biden announced US troops would leave the country by September after almost 20 years battling the group. 
Unidentified gunmen were killed at Tuesday’s attack site which is home to Afghan officials, lawmakers and prominent residents.
Interior Ministry spokesman Mirwais Stanekzai said the blast happened in the posh Sherpur neighborhood, which is in a deeply secure section of the capital known as the green zone. It is home to several senior government officials.
Stanekzai said it appeared the guesthouse of acting Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi was targeted in the attack. His Jamiat-e-Islami party was told the minister was not in the guesthouse and his family had been safely evacuated.
A party leader and former vice president, Younus Qanooni, reassured the party in a message shared on social media that the minister and his family were safe.
The Defense Ministry released a video in which Mohammadi says that his guards had been wounded in a suicide attack. “I assure my beloved countrymen that such attacks cannot have any impact on my willingness to defend my countrymen and my country,” he says.
Details of the attack were sketchy even as it ended but it appeared that gunmen had entered the area after the explosion. Stanekzai said three attackers were killed by security personnel and a clean-up operation was conducted by police. All roads leading to the minister’s house and guesthouse were closed, he said.
Hundreds of residents in the area were moved to safety, said Ferdaws Faramarz, spokesman for the Kabul police chief. He said security personnel had also carried out house-to-house searches.
At least 11 people were wounded in the attack and were taken to hospitals in the capital, said Health Ministry spokesman Dastgir Nazari.
Daesh has claimed some recent attacks in Kabul but most have gone unclaimed, with the government blaming the Taliban and the Taliban blaming the government.
After the attack, hundreds of civilians in Kabul came out on to the streets and chanted Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest) to express their support for Afghan government forces and opposition to the Taliban.
The night-time march spilled across the city with mostly men and some women joining in the demonstrations, carrying candles and Afghan flags to signal united opposition to the hardline Islamist group.
“The whole world can choose to be silent about what is going on in Afghanistan but we can’t and won’t stay quiet anymore...we will stand side by side with our security forces until our last breath,” said a demonstrator in Kabul on condition of anonymity.
The country’s first Vice President Amrullah Saleh said the demonstrations were “historic moments” of “emotions and patriotism.”
“Allah o Akbar, death to Talib terrorists & their backer,” he said in a tweet at a time when Afghan forces flushed out militants in the overnight operations.
Last week, residents in the western province of Herat braved the streets despite nearby fighting to protest against the Taliban. Other cities quickly organized to join from their homes in the evenings, as a message of support for embattled security forces.
Afghan forces appealed to residents of the southern city of Lashkar Gah to leave their homes and stay away from areas where the Taliban were taking control, as they intend to launch operations against the group where its fighters were traveling freely.
The loss of Lashkar Gah would be a huge strategic defeat for the government, which has pledged to defend strategic centres after losing much of the rural parts to the Taliban in recent months.
The Taliban said their fighters killed a district governor of central Maidan Wardak province on Tuesday, the latest in a series of killings by the insurgent group aimed at eliminating senior government officials and social activists. 

— with input from AP, Reuters, AFP


Lithuania to turn migrants crossing in from Belarus away

Lithuania to turn migrants crossing in from Belarus away
Updated 03 August 2021

Lithuania to turn migrants crossing in from Belarus away

Lithuania to turn migrants crossing in from Belarus away
  • Lithuania says the migrant influx in the past months is an act of retaliation to increased sanctions by the European Union
  • Interior Ministry distributed a video shot from a helicopter as a proof that large groups of immigrants were being escorted to Lithuania's EU border

VILNIUS, Lithuania: Lithuania has ordered its border guards to turn away, by force if needed, migrants attempting to enter the Baltic country.
This comes amid a surge of Iraqis and others coming in from neighboring Belarus has emerged as a major foreign policy issue.
Lithuania says the migrant influx in the past months is an act of retaliation by Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko to increased sanctions by the European Union toward his country over an air piracy incident.
The Interior Ministry distributed a video shot from a helicopter as a proof that large groups of immigrants were being escorted to Lithuania’s EU border by vehicles belonging to Belarus border guards.
Lithuania’s Interior Ministry said Tuesday that at least three large migrant groups were stopped in thick woods in the border between the two countries, and Lithuanian border guards ordered them to return back to Belarus.
“First of all, (Lithuanian border) officers tell them (migrants) that they are lost; that they have arrived in the beautiful country of Belarus and got the wrong way while enjoying its nature but now they must continue the tourist track back into that country,” Vice Interior Minister Arnoldas Abramavicius told reporters.
If that method proves unsuccessful, he said Lithuania has reserved the right to use force to keep the migrants away but “the use of force depends on circumstances.”
“It cannot be ruled out that (border guard) officers will face aggression” from migrants, Abramavicius said, adding the measures were necessary to stop illegal border crossings. “Lithuania can not accept this influx, which grows day by day.”
Some 4,026 migrants, most of them from Iraq, have crossed from Belarus into Lithuania, a EU and NATO nation of slightly less than 3 million, this year. Lithuanian officials turned away 180 migrants attempting to enter the country on Tuesday.
Lithuania officials estimate that more than 10,000 more migrants might try to arrive this year as the number of direct flights from Iraq to the Belarus capital of Minsk tripled in August. The country has no physical barriers for its almost 679 kilometer (420-mile) long border with Belarus.
On Monday, EU officials pledged millions of euros to help Lithuania tackle its migrant crisis.
Lithuania wants to build a physical barrier with Belarus, which it estimates will cost more than 100 million euros ($119 million) but EU funding is not usually permitted to finance border barriers.
Some Lithuanian politicians, meanwhile, urged the government to still respect the migrants’ rights.
Tomas Vytautas Raskevicius, the head of the parliamentary human rights committee, said he saw the measures taken by Lithuanian authorities as “necessary” but acknowledged that the migrant situation “is sensitive from the point of view of human rights, and that should be assessed.”
Raskevicius, a member of the liberal Freedom Party, said attention should be paid in particular to women who migrate with children.


Pentagon on lockdown after gunshots fired near Metro

Pentagon on lockdown after gunshots fired near Metro
Updated 03 August 2021

Pentagon on lockdown after gunshots fired near Metro

Pentagon on lockdown after gunshots fired near Metro

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon was on lockdown Tuesday after reports of a shooting at a subway station just outside the secure US military headquarters.
Employees in the US Defense Department headquarters in the Arlington suburb of Washington were ordered to shelter in place amid reports of several gunshots and possible injuries in the station, the entrance of which is just a few dozen yards (meters) from the building’s main doors.
At least one person was down, according to two people familiar with the shooting, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information publicly. The person’s condition was not known.
“The Pentagon currently is on lock down due to an incident at the Pentagon Transit Center. We are asking the public to please avoid the area,” the Pentagon’s security force said in a tweeted statement. 
The incident occurred on a Metro bus platform that is part of the Pentagon Transit Center
The local news station WUSA showed a picture of heavy security and fire and rescue vehicles at the iconic five-sided building.
A Pentagon announcement said the facility was on lockdown due to “police activity.”
Metro subway trains were ordered to bypass the Pentagon due to a police investigation.
(With AFP and AP)


Early-release London terrorist ‘wanted to kill the queen’

Early-release London terrorist ‘wanted to kill the queen’
Updated 03 August 2021

Early-release London terrorist ‘wanted to kill the queen’

Early-release London terrorist ‘wanted to kill the queen’
  • Sudesh Amman shot dead by police in February 2020 after stabbing 2 people
  • Prison officers found note in his cell in which he pledged allegiance to Daesh

LONDON: A terrorist who stabbed two people in south London last year had become increasingly violent and radicalized while in prison, where he is reported to have said he “wanted to kill the queen,” an inquest heard on Tuesday.

Sudesh Amman was shot dead by police in February 2020, 10 days after leaving prison on an early release.

Jurors at the central London inquest heard how Amman discussed becoming a suicide bomber and openly expressed his “extreme” views in prison.

After being released in January 2020, Amman, 20, was placed under constant armed surveillance, and there were concerns about his exit from prison.

He went on to injure a man and woman in a sudden knife attack in south London on Feb. 2 last year, before being shot dead by the team that was tracking his movements.

He was sentenced to 40 months in jail for preparing and engaging in acts of terrorism, but he was given an early release on Jan. 23, 2020, which sparked concerns.

The inquest at the Royal Courts of Justice was shown a prison report on Amman that detailed how he had “been shouting different things on the wings such as ‘this place is full of non-believers’ ... and ‘everyone here will come under the black flag (the symbol of Daesh)’.”

About a month before he was released on license, prison officers found a note in his cell in which Amman had pledged his allegiance to Daesh.

He also “appeared proud of being the youngest terrorist offender in Belmarsh (prison)” and “didn’t seem remorseful,” the inquest was told.

Leon Campbell, a probation officer, assessed that Amman was a high risk to the public, and that he could cause serious harm “due to his promoting of extremist ideas … and wanting to carry out a terrorist act.”

Jurors were told that a senior officer in London’s Metropolitan Police wrote to the governor of Belmarsh prison on Jan. 15, 2020, to request a delay to Amman’s release.

The request was rejected, with the officer reportedly being told that a delay to Amman’s release was impossible.