Afghan security personnel flee into Tajikistan as Taliban advance

Afghan security personnel flee into Tajikistan as Taliban advance
Afghanistan’s government soldiers sit at a bridge next to Tajikistan-Afghanistan border in Tajikistan. Afghan security personnel fled into Tajikistan after Taliban advanced in northern Afghanistan. (AP)
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Updated 05 July 2021

Afghan security personnel flee into Tajikistan as Taliban advance

Afghan security personnel flee into Tajikistan as Taliban advance
  • Hundreds of Afghan security force members have fled swift Taliban advances in the north
  • Tajikistan is looking into setting up camps for potential refugees from Afghanistan, government sources told Reuters

DUSHANBE/TAJIKISTAN: More than 1,000 Afghan security personnel have fled across the border into Tajikistan after Taliban advances in northern Afghanistan, the Tajik border guard service said on Monday.
Meanwhile dozens of others were captured by the insurgents.
The crossings on Sunday underscore a rapidly deteriorating situation in the country as foreign troops near a complete withdrawal after 20 years of war in Afghanistan and with peace negotiations stalled.
Hundreds of Afghan security force members have fled swift Taliban advances in the north. But Sunday’s retreats were the largest confirmed, coming just two days after the United States officially vacated its main base in Afghanistan as part of a plan to withdraw all foreign troops by Sept. 11.
The Taliban took over six key districts in the northern province of Badakhshan, which borders both Tajikistan and China, following which 1,037 Afghan servicemen fled across the border with Tajikistan’s permission, its border guard service said.
On Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke to his Tajik counterpart, President Emomali Rakhmon, by phone to discuss the developments.
“Special attention was paid to the escalation of the situation in Afghanistan’s northern areas adjacent to Tajikistan,” the Tajik president’s office said in a statement.
It added that Rakhmon expressed concern about “forced crossings” by members of the Afghan security forces. Tajikistan is looking into setting up camps for potential refugees from Afghanistan, government sources told Reuters.
Rakhmon also spoke to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday, who reassured him that Moscow would support Dushanbe if necessary, both directly and through a regional security bloc, the Kremlin said in a statement.
Rakhmon also called fellow Central Asian leaders Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan and Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan and held a security council meeting where he ordered additional troops to be sent to the Afghan border, his office said.
A senior Afghan official confirmed there had been hundreds of crossings into Tajikistan but did not know the exact number. “The Taliban cut off all the roads and these people had nowhere to go but to cross the border,” he told Reuters on Monday.
Last week, US forces vacated Bagram Air Base — bringing an effective end to the longest war in US history — as part of an understanding with the Taliban, against whom it has fought since ousting the radical Islamist movement from power after the Sept. 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States.
The Taliban has ceased attacks on Western forces but continues to target Afghan government and security installations as it makes rapid territorial gains across the country.
Peace talks between the two sides remain inconclusive.
Zabihullah Atiq, a parliamentarian from Badakhshan, told Reuters that the Taliban had captured 26 of the border province’s 28 districts — three of which were handed over to the insurgents without a fight.
Afghan security force members used various routes to flee, he said, but added that the Taliban captured dozens of personnel in Ishkashem district where Tajik border forces had blocked any crossing into the former Soviet republic.
Tajik officials said they let in 152 people from Ishkashem, but did not comment on whether anyone was denied entry.
Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib, in Moscow on Monday for security talks, said government forces had not anticipated the Taliban offensive but would counterattack.
Russia, which operates a military base in Tajikistan, said the Russian consulate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif was suspending operations over security concerns, TASS news agency reported.


Sweden to extend COVID booster shots to all aged 65 or above

Sweden to extend COVID booster shots to all aged 65 or above
Updated 13 sec ago

Sweden to extend COVID booster shots to all aged 65 or above

Sweden to extend COVID booster shots to all aged 65 or above
STOCKHOLM: Sweden will start offering COVID-19 booster shots to people aged 65 or older as well as many care workers and plans to gradually extend the third jabs to most Swedes in the coming months, the government said on Wednesday.
The booster shots of mRNA vaccine will be gradually extended to cover all people in the Nordic country aged 16 or older during the winter and spring, Health Minister Lena Hallengren told a news conference.
“It is thanks to the fact that so many have been vaccinated that we can live our lives a little bit more as usual,” Hallengren said. “Now we offer booster shots to 1.5 million more.”
The health care staff to be offered boosters included all employees involved in home care, nursing homes and assisted living programs.
Infections remain at fairly low levels four weeks after almost all restrictions and recommendations were abolished in Sweden. Still, deaths have started to slowly edge higher after a slow summer, pushing the toll over the course of the pandemic above the 15,000 mark this week.
“According to studies, we notice a diminishing antibody effect. We saw during the summer that we had outbreaks in nursing homes,” Public Health Agency head Johan Carlson said. “A third dose provides a substantial increase in antibodies.”
Previously, people living in elderly care homes and those aged 80 or older were eligible for a booster shot six months after the second dose. Around 85 percent of all Swedes aged 16 or above have had one vaccine shot and 80 percent have had two shots or more.
In recent weeks, vaccinations have also been offered to children in the 12-15 age group though only relatively few have received inoculations so far.

24 migrants rescued from North Sea off Belgian coast

24 migrants rescued from North Sea off Belgian coast
Updated 30 min 27 sec ago

24 migrants rescued from North Sea off Belgian coast

24 migrants rescued from North Sea off Belgian coast
  • Carl Decaluwé told AP that all 24 passengers were rescued but that one of the migrants was in serious condition

BRUSSELS: A small boat transporting 24 migrants was rescued Wednesday from the North Sea by emergency services off the coast of Zeebrugge, according to the governor of Belgium’s West Flanders province.
Carl Decaluwé told AP that all 24 passengers were rescued but that one of the migrants was in serious condition.
The Belgian air force said it sent an helicopter to the scene after receiving a distress call and a medic boarded the shipwrecked boat close to an offshore wind farm area. The air force said the Belgian Navy also provided assistance.
Decaluwé said five migrants were airlifted to safety, with the 19 others transported back to land by boat. He said authorities had yet to determine where the migrants came from.


Southeast Asian states announces new strategic pact with Australia

Southeast Asian states announces new strategic pact with Australia
Updated 31 min 58 sec ago

Southeast Asian states announces new strategic pact with Australia

Southeast Asian states announces new strategic pact with Australia
  • Pact would further strengthen Australia’s diplomatic and security ties in the fast-growing region
  • China has also sought an agreement on the same strategic level with ASEAN

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN: Australia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed at a summit on Wednesday to establish a “comprehensive strategic partnership,” a sign of Canberra’s ambition to play a bigger role in the region.
The pact would further strengthen Australia’s diplomatic and security ties in a fast-growing region that has become a strategic battleground between the United States and China.
While concrete strategic objectives of the partnership were not immediately announced, Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised Australia would “back it with substance.”
“This milestone underscores Australia’s commitment to ASEAN’s central role in the Indo-Pacific and positions our partnership for the future,” he said in a joint statement with Foreign Minister Marise Payne. “Australia supports a peaceful, stable, resilient, and prosperous region, with ASEAN at its heart.”
Brunei, serving as chair of ASEAN, said the agreement “marked a new chapter in relations” and would be “meaningful, substantive and mutually beneficial.”
After the announcement, Australia said it would invest $154 million in projects in Southeast Asia on health and energy security, counter-terrorism, fighting and transnational crime, plus hundreds of scholarships.
China has also sought an agreement on the same strategic level with ASEAN. Premier Li Keqiang met ASEAN leaders on Tuesday, and the bloc’s leaders will meet China’s President Xi Jinping in November at a special summit, to be held virtually, two diplomatic sources told Reuters.
Australia already has bilateral strategic partnerships of various levels with Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam.
STABILITY AND SECURITY
Morrison also sought to reassure ASEAN that a trilateral security pact agreed last month between the United States, Britain and Australia, under which Australia will get access to nuclear-powered submarines, would be no threat to the region.
One ambassador to ASEAN, who asked not to be identified, said Australia clinching the comprehensive strategic partnership with ASEAN was “quite something” in the wake of regional reservations over its new AUKUS pact with Washington and London.
“Kudos to Australia,” the ambassador said.
AUKUS has raised some concerns in Southeast Asia that China could see it as a move by the West to challenge its growing influence in the region, particularly in the South China Sea.
The United States and allies have increased patrols to challenge Beijing’s vast maritime fleet which it deploys to buttress its claims to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea.
“AUKUS adds to our network of partnerships that support regional stability and security,” Morrison said.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Wednesday said he was concerned AUKUS “could spark rivalry in the region,” according to his foreign minister, Retno Marsudi.
US ally the Philippines has backed AUKUS but its president, Rodrigo Duterte, on Wednesday said it “must complement and not complicate our working methods for cooperation.”
Military analysts have said the nuclear submarines Australia will purchase from the United States have unmatched stealth and underwater longevity. China has opposed the pact and said it could be damaging and intensify an arms race.
US President Joe Biden was due to join the virtual East Asia Summit later on Wednesday, with leaders of China, India, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and South Korea, Japan and ASEAN members.
In an earlier meeting, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stressed to Southeast Asian leaders his country’s strong opposition to challenges to a free and open maritime order, underscoring regional concerns about China’s growing military clout.


Belgium warns Poland ‘not to play with fire’ over EU dispute

Belgium warns Poland ‘not to play with fire’ over EU dispute
Updated 27 October 2021

Belgium warns Poland ‘not to play with fire’ over EU dispute

Belgium warns Poland ‘not to play with fire’ over EU dispute
  • The comments follow years of disputes over changes Poland’s government has made to the country’s courts
  • The nationalist ruling party in Poland, Law and Justice, has been in conflict with Brussels since winning power in 2015 over a number of matters

BRUSSELS: European Union founding member Belgium warned Poland on Wednesday not to treat the EU like “a cash machine” to boost its economic fortunes while disregarding its democratic and rule of law principles at will.
“You cannot pocket all the money but refuse the values,” said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo at the opening of the College of Bruges, an academic well of European thinkers.
De Croo targeted Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki who accused the EU of threatening “World War III” for insisting that Poland should respect the independence of the judiciary and the primacy of EU law. The Belgian prime minister said his Polish counterpart was “playing with fire when waging war with your European colleagues for internal political reasons.”
The comments follow years of disputes over changes Poland’s government has made to the country’s courts. The EU believes the changes erode democratic checks and balances, and the European Commission is holding up billions of euros to Poland earmarked in a pandemic recovery plan.
The war of words also comes on the heels of an EU summit, where Polish arguments that fundamental judicial changes the country made would not undermine the EU failed to convince key bloc leaders.
Among them was French President Emmanuel Macron, who will meet his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda later Wednesday.
Morawiecki’s recalcitrance crystalized in an interview with the Financial Times over the weekend. When asked if Poland could use its veto power to block legislation in retaliation, for instance on climate issues, Morawiecki said: “If they start the third world war, we are going to defend our rights with any weapons which are at our disposal.”
The interview did not go down well with Morawiecki’s EU colleagues. “You are playing a dangerous game,” De Croo said.
“This is about the overwhelming majority of member states – from the Baltics to Portugal — who agree our Union is a union of values, not a cash machine,” De Croo said, alluding to the fact that Poland has long been a major net recipient of EU funds.
The nationalist ruling party in Poland, Law and Justice, has been in conflict with Brussels since winning power in 2015 over a number of matters, including migration and LGBT rights. The longest running dispute, however, has centered on the Polish government’s attempts to take political control of the judiciary.
The matter came to a head earlier this month when the constitutional court ruled that some key parts of EU law are not compatible with the nation’s constitution. The ruling by a court stacked with ruling party loyalists was made after Morawiecki asked it to decide on whether EU or national law has primacy.


Former Nissan executive and aide to Carlos Ghosn seeks acquittal in Tokyo trial

Former Nissan executive and aide to Carlos Ghosn seeks acquittal in Tokyo trial
Updated 27 October 2021

Former Nissan executive and aide to Carlos Ghosn seeks acquittal in Tokyo trial

Former Nissan executive and aide to Carlos Ghosn seeks acquittal in Tokyo trial
  • Japanese prosecutors are seeking a two-year prison sentence for Greg Kelly
  • The only person to stand trial over claims Nissan tried to hide planned payments to Ghosn

TOKYO: Former Nissan executive Greg Kelly said Wednesday he was “not guilty of any crime” as the defense wrapped up its case in Tokyo, where he faces jail over financial misconduct allegations.
Japanese prosecutors are seeking a two-year prison sentence for Kelly, a US citizen and former aide to ex-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn.
Kelly, 65, is the only person to stand trial over claims Nissan tried to hide planned payments to auto tycoon Ghosn, who jumped bail and fled Japan hidden in an audio equipment box in December 2019.
“I was not involved in a criminal conspiracy, and I am not guilty of any crime,” Kelly said in his closing remarks at the Tokyo District Court.
The actions taken “to find a lawful way to retain Mr.Carlos Ghosn after he retired were in the best interests of Nissan,” he added.
His defense lawyers said prosecutors had failed to prove Kelly was behind an alleged plot to under-report Ghosn’s compensation over several years.
The charges against Kelly involve around 9.1 billion yen ($80 million at current rates) that prosecutors say was promised to his former boss upon retirement.
“It is clear that the prosecution’s portrayal of Kelly is unfairly distorted,” Kelly’s lawyer Yoichi Kitamura told the court.
“There’s no indication that Kelly had any personal interest in considering the payment for Ghosn ... the only possible conclusion in this case is acquittal.”
Kelly and Ghosn — a fugitive in Lebanon — were arrested in Tokyo in 2018, sending shock waves through the business world.
They have both maintained their innocence, saying no final agreement was made on any post-retirement pay, and therefore no disclosure was legally required.
“There was no crime,” Kelly said outside court after the hearing. “Carlos Ghosn never was paid anything. And there was no enforceable agreement.”
“Three and a half years, is that being given the right to a speedy trial?” he said, adding he had liked working for Ghosn, but “wasn’t his friend.”
Nissan, standing trial as a company alongside Kelly, has pleaded guilty and on Wednesday asked the judge for leniency ahead of the verdict on March 3.
Prosecutors have demanded Nissan be fined 200 million yen, but the firm’s lawyers said the alleged misconduct “was carried out to benefit Ghosn” and not the company.
It comes after Rahm Emanuel, nominated as the next US ambassador to Japan, said last week he would prioritize Kelly’s case.
“The number one responsibility of an embassy ambassador is to ensure the safety of a US citizen on foreign soil,” Emanuel told the Senate.
“I’m going to be approaching this subject as a former US congressman who knows what it means when you have a constituent at heart.”