UK PM urges caution as virus cases fall for six days

UK PM urges caution as virus cases fall for six days
Pedestrians cross on Westminster Bridge in the summer sunshine in central London on Monday. For the first time in the latest wave of coronavirus covid-19 infections, the weekly number of cases has fallen. (AFP)
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Updated 27 July 2021

UK PM urges caution as virus cases fall for six days

UK PM urges caution as virus cases fall for six days
  • Recorded infection rates across the UK have dropped for six consecutive days
  • Despite the turnaround ministers are warning the long-term situation remains uncertain

LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for caution Tuesday after Britain registered nearly a week of lower coronavirus case numbers, a decline that has surprised officials and experts.
Recorded infection rates across the UK have dropped for six consecutive days, with 24,950 new cases announced Monday compared to 46,558 last Tuesday — a fall of 46 percent.
The reversal after weeks of rising rates has coincided with the removal on July 19 of nearly all pandemic rules in England, including legal requirements for social distancing wearing a mask in public indoors.
It has confounded the government and scientists, who had previously warned cases would likely surge to 100,000 a day in the weeks ahead after the restrictions were eased.
Despite the turnaround, which comes after the start of summer school holidays, ministers are warning the long-term situation remains uncertain.
“I have noticed that obviously we have six days of some better figures but it’s very, very important that we don’t allow ourselves to run away with premature conclusions about this,” Johnson said during a visit to a police station in southeast England.
“People have got to remain very cautious and that remains the approach of the government,” he added.
Johnson ended 10 days in self-isolation late Monday after being in close contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this month.
The prime minister argued that Britain’s successful vaccination campaign — which has fully vaccinated 70 percent of adults — allowed for the relaxation of legal curbs last week.
But the move attracted widespread criticism, with fears the National Health Service could again come under severe strain from rising caseloads, even if many fewer people are now dying of Covid.
Experts have struggled to explain why infections appear to have declined so dramatically since early last week.
The end of the Euro 2020 football tournament — which was blamed for a spike in cases among younger men gathering to watch games — as well as the school holidays and a heatwave have all been mooted as factors.
“The recent fall in cases in England is great news, but also puzzling given that progressive relaxation of restrictions has occurred,” said Stephen Griffin of Leeds University’s School of Medicine.
But, echoing Johnson’s call for caution, he added: “I would be surprised if we are likely to see a continuation of this decline.”


Witness: Taliban hang dead body in Afghan city’s main square

Witness: Taliban hang dead body in Afghan city’s main square
Updated 7 sec ago

Witness: Taliban hang dead body in Afghan city’s main square

Witness: Taliban hang dead body in Afghan city’s main square
KABUL: The Taliban hanged a dead body from a crane in the main square of Herat city in western Afghanistan, a witness said Saturday, in a gruesome display that signaled a return to some of the Taliban’s methods of the past.
Wazir Ahmad Seddiqi, who runs a pharmacy on the side of the square, told The Associated Press that four bodies were brought to the square and three bodies were moved to other squares in the city to be displayed.
Seddiqi said the Taliban announced in the square that the four were caught taking part in a kidnapping and were killed by police.
Ziaulhaq Jalali, a Taliban appointed district police chief in Herat, said later that Taliban members rescued a father and son who had been abducted by four kidnappers after an exchange of gunfire. He said a Taliban fighter and a civilian were wounded by the kidnappers but “the four (kidnappers) were killed in crossfire.”
Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, one of the founders of the Taliban and the chief enforcer of its harsh interpretation of Islamic law when they last ruled Afghanistan, told The Associated Press this week that the hard-line movement will once again carry out executions and amputations of hands, though perhaps not in public.
Since the Taliban overran Kabul on Aug. 15 and seized control of the country, Afghans and the world have been watching to see whether they will re-create their harsh rule of the late 1990s. The group’s leaders remain entrenched in a deeply conservative, hard-line worldview, even if they are embracing technological changes, like video and mobile phones.
Also on Saturday, a Taliban official said a roadside bomb hit a Taliban car in the capital of eastern Nangarhar province wounding at least one person.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing. Daesh–Khorasan, which is headquartered in eastern Afghanistan, has said it was behind similar attacks in Jalalabad last week that killed 12 people.
Taliban spokesperson Mohammad Hanif said the person wounded in the attack is a municipal worker.

Historic UN summit looks to future of global energy

Historic UN summit looks to future of global energy
Updated 53 min 18 sec ago

Historic UN summit looks to future of global energy

Historic UN summit looks to future of global energy
  • US climate envoy: Turning tide against climate change is matter of will, not capacity
  • World dangerously close to missing Paris Agreement target of no more than 1.5 degrees of global warming

NEW YORK: The UN has welcomed commitments by member states to transition toward renewable and clean energies but warned that more work is needed to address global energy poverty and to decarbonize the global energy system, in a historic summit on Friday.

A total of $400 billion in new finance and investment was committed by governments and the private sector during the UN’s High-level Dialogue on Energy, the first such meeting of its kind in more than 40 years.

More than 35 countries, including Arab and Gulf states, took part in the conference, and many announced funding and partnerships that will assist in domestic and global transitions toward a sustainable energy system.

According to the UN, nearly 760 million people worldwide lack access to electricity, and 2.6 billion people lack access to clean cooking solutions — the cost of closing this “energy access gap” is estimated at $35 billion a year for electricity and $25 billion for clean cooking.

And this transition, the UN said, must be accomplished without further contributing to global warming.

According to the UN, the world is dangerously close to missing its target, agreed as part of the Paris Climate Agreement, of no more than 1.5 degrees of global warming above pre-industrial temperature — spelling potential catastrophe for people and the planet.

Among the states committed to alleviating energy poverty without harming the environment is the UAE, whose Minister of Climate Change and Environment Abdullah Bin Mohammed Al-Nuaimi told the conference that his country was “honored” to be part of the global energy revolution.

“Today the United Arab Emirates is the home to three of the largest in capacity and lowest in cost solar plants in the universe. To date, we have invested over $40 billion in clean energy projects locally,” Al-Nuaimi said.

“Globally, we are proud to have provided over $1 billion in aid for renewable energy,” he said, adding that a major asset in the emirates’ energy transition has been the mobilization of the country’s burgeoning private sector.

As part of the energy dialogue event, the UAE committed to providing 100 percent of its population with access to electricity by 2030, powered primarily by clean fuels. The emirates also committed to scaling up its solar energy sector.

But while the global transition to clean energy is of paramount importance in combating climate change and alleviating poverty, the International Energy Institute’s CEO Fatih Birol warned that “we shouldn’t forget that energy provides important economic and social development. Energy brings light, power, heat and cool for our homes and hospitals; to cook, to travel. These are legitimate desires for every person in the world.”

Birol said, however, that it was possible to achieve a massive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions while also achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which outline a series of objectives acknowledged by the international community as essential to providing a sustainable and liveable world by 2030.

“This is a race against time. We should not forget — unless all the nations finish this race, nobody will win the race. As such, international collaborations are critical to reaching the SDGs,” Birol said.

In his speech, US Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry embraced international collaboration to fight climate change, and said that Friday’s meeting “couldn’t come at a more important time.”

Kerry committed the US to deriving 80 percent of its electricity from clean sources by 2030, and said that the US International Development Finance Corporation, America’s development bank, would decarbonize its investment portfolio.

“Around the world, the United States is going to continue to promote clean energy infrastructure, in order to advance economic development,” said Kerry, who also announced that the US would provide 35 million new electrical connections in African homes and businesses across the continent.

“By working together, we will do what the scientists tell us we can do, which is win this battle,” he said. “We have the opportunity. It’s not a matter of a lack of capacity, it’s been a lack of willpower.”


Mozambicans return to uncertain future after Islamists pushed back

Mozambicans return to uncertain future after Islamists pushed back
Updated 25 September 2021

Mozambicans return to uncertain future after Islamists pushed back

Mozambicans return to uncertain future after Islamists pushed back
  • Some local officials have encouraged civilians to return, according to media reports

PALMA, Mozambique: Rwandan forces will help secure and rebuild areas of northern Mozambique destroyed by an Islamist insurgency, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame said on Friday, as Mozambican officials began encouraging civilians to return to the gas-rich region.
The United Nations has warned of a continuing militant threat in Cabo Delgado, where Rwandan forces are patrolling burnt-out streets once besieged by the militants.
Kagame told a joint news conference in Maputo with his Mozambican counterpart Filipe Nyusi that Rwandan troops would help secure and rebuild the areas destroyed by the insurgency.
“The mission of Rwandan troops in Mozambique continues,” he said. “The new action should be to guarantee security in the liberated areas until the reconstruction is finished.”
Kagame said the troops would stay as long as Mozambique requests.
Nyusi thanked Rwanda for helping fix what had been destroyed by “terrorists.”
Allied Rwandan-Mozambican troops moved in to recapture parts of northern Cabo Delgado — an area hosting $60 billion worth of gas projects that the militants have been attacking since 2017 — in July.
A day earlier, soldiers had laid out rifles and rocket launchers seized from the Islamist fighters, who Mozambique’s government has said are on the run.
Some local officials have encouraged civilians to return, according to media reports, and the Rwandan military’s spokesman said 25,000 people had been brought home. “It is very safe for them to go back,” Ronald Rwivanga told Reuters on Thursday.
But United Nations officials are not so sure.
A document compiled in September for UN agencies and other aid groups, seen by Reuters, said it was not clear whether militant capabilities had been much reduced. “Fighting continues in certain locations and civilian authorities have not been re-established,” it added.
Children played in the streets of the town of Palma on Thursday and vendors sold goods from kiosks, six months after the militants attacked the settlement, killing dozens and forcing tens of thousands to flee.
But 60 km south in the port of Mocimboa da Praia — a hub needed for cargo deliveries for the gas projects — the streets were largely deserted, flanked by windowless, rubble-strewn buildings and overturned military vehicles.
Graffiti, using a local name for the militant group, read: “If you want to make Al-Shabab laugh, threaten them with death.”
Aside from the Rwandans, a contingent of forces from the regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is also patrolling northern Cabo Delgado.
Rwivanga said the Rwandans had been moving civilians back into the area they control around a $20 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) project run by oil major TotalEnergies , which was forced to a halt by the Palma attack.
Yet security analysts say the Mozambican military deficiencies that allowed the insurgency to take hold in the north — including soldiers that are ill equipped, undisciplined and poorly paid — will not be easily reversed.
Even with other forces there, they say, security is uncertain outside of small, heavily guarded areas.
Returnees, meanwhile, are more preoccupied with where the next meal is coming from. The World Food Programme said this week that the first shipment of aid had reached Palma since the March attack.
“Now the situation is calm, the war that remains is hunger and lack of jobs,” Ibrahimo Suleman, 60, a resident who works for a kitchen-fitting company said.
Many others remain too afraid or unwilling to return, with almost 750,000 people still displaced as of this month, according to the International Organization of Migration.


What we know about the Taliban’s political agenda

What we know about the Taliban’s political agenda
Updated 25 September 2021

What we know about the Taliban’s political agenda

What we know about the Taliban’s political agenda
  • While much remains opaque, here is what we know about their political program so far

KABUL: A month after seizing power following a lightning offensive in Afghanistan, the Taliban this week completed their interim government — but their political agenda is still unclear.
The lack of clarity is fueling concern among Afghans and the international community that the hard-line Islamists are heading toward imposing the same brutal policies against women and opponents seen in their previous rule between 1996 and 2001.
While much remains opaque, here is what we know about their political program so far.
This is one of the most eagerly awaited areas of Taliban policy.
How the all-male leadership treat women is expected to be critical to any resumption of suspended Western economic aid on which the country depends.
Since their return to power on August 15, the group have said they will respect women’s rights in accordance with Islamic sharia law, without elaborating. During their last rule, women were forced to wear all-covering burqas, and barred from work or study except in rare circumstances.
Most have been told not to return to work until the Taliban have ironed out “new systems,” while some are staying home out of fear of future reprisal attacks for being a working woman.
Girls are allowed to go to primary school but have been excluded from secondary school.
The Taliban says the measures are temporary, but many are distrustful of the group.
Afghan women studying at private universities can return to single-sex classrooms with strict conservative rules imposed on attire.
Upon taking power, the Taliban said journalists — including women — can continue to work.
“We will respect freedom of the press because media reporting will be useful to society and will be able to help correct the leaders’ errors,” a Taliban spokesman told Reporters Without Borders.
A month later, the tone has changed. According to RSF, the group have imposed 11 rules on Afghan journalists that they must now obey.
One of them is a ban on broadcasting “material contrary to Islam” or considered “insulting to public figures.”
The rules could be used for the persecution of journalists and open the door to censorship, RSF said.
Even before the announcement of these new guidelines in mid-September, many journalists had fled the country.
Those who were unable to leave remain in hiding at home for fear of reprisals.
Some Afghan journalists were briefly arrested or beaten on the sidelines of recent anti-Taliban protests.
During their first stint in power, the Taliban were infamous for their strict interpretation of sharia law, banning music, photography, television, and even children’s games such as kite-flying.
The group dynamited giant Buddha statues at Bamiyan months before they were ousted from power.
This time, the Taliban have yet to issue official decrees regarding entertainment and culture.
“Music is forbidden in Islam,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the New York Times last month.
Music schools have closed and some players have smashed their instruments.
Libraries, museums and galleries are also shuttered, with heritage experts deeply concerned about whether ancient artifacts will be protected and access to literature allowed.
This is one of the most pressing challenges the new regime will have to tackle.
Afghanistan is facing a financial crisis following the takeover, with much of the international aid that had propped up the economy frozen.
The Taliban’s economic program is still extremely vague.
“We are going to be working on our natural resources and our resources in order to revitalize our economy,” Mujahid said.
But it remains to be seen how the Taliban will find the funds to pay civil servants’ salaries — or to support critical infrastructure to keep the lights on, water running and telecommunications working.
In the midst of a liquidity crisis and at a time when the population was already struggling to make ends meet, the movement said it had turned the page on corruption, which tainted the previous government.
Many Afghans have reported an increased sense of security since the Taliban took over and fighting ended.
But it has moved to crush dissent, breaking up protests led mainly by women by firing shots into the air and later effectively banning all demonstrations.
The Taliban have also warned that “anyone who tries to start an insurgency will be hit hard,” a message to resistance forces in Panjshir, who were defeated earlier this month.
They have also said they would eradicate the local branch of jihadist group Daesh, which has claimed a number of bomb attacks over the past few weeks.
As for drugs, Taliban spokesperson Mujahid promised that the new government would not turn Afghanistan, the world’s leading producer of opium, into a real narco-state.
Certain sports were allowed under the Taliban’s first government, but they were strictly controlled and only men could play or attend matches.
The new sports chief of the Taliban government, Bashir Ahmad Rustamzai, said they would allow around 400 sports “permitted by the laws of Islam” — but declined to clarify if women could participate in any of them.
The statements of other Taliban members sowed confusion, leaving sportswomen and the country’s athletes fearing a step backwards.
Some of them have already fled and found refuge abroad.


Imran Khan paints Pakistan as victim of US ungratefulness

Imran Khan paints Pakistan as victim of US ungratefulness
Updated 25 September 2021

Imran Khan paints Pakistan as victim of US ungratefulness

Imran Khan paints Pakistan as victim of US ungratefulness

NEW YORK: Prime Minister Imran Khan sought to cast Pakistan as the victim of American ungratefulness and an international double standard in his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Friday.
In a prerecorded speech aired during the evening, the Pakistani prime minister touched on a range of topics that included climate change, global Islamophobia and “the plunder of the developing world by their corrupt elites” — the latter of which he likened to what the East India Company did to India.
It was for India’s government that Khan reserved his harshest words, once again labeling Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government “fascist.” But the cricketer turned posh international celebrity turned politician was in turn indignant and plaintive as he painted the United States as an abandoner of both Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan.
“For the current situation in Afghanistan, for some reason, Pakistan has been blamed for the turn of events, by politicians in the United States and some politicians in Europe,” Khan said. “From this platform, I want them all to know, the country that suffered the most, apart from Afghanistan, was Pakistan when we joined the US war on terror after 9/11.”
He launched into a narrative that began with the United States and Pakistan training mujahedeen — regarded as heroes by the likes of then-President Ronald Reagan, he said — during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. But Pakistan was left to pick up the pieces — millions of refugees and new sectarian militant groups — when the Soviets and the Americans left in 1989.
Khan said the US sanctioned its former partner a year later, but then came calling again after the 9/11 attacks. Khan said Pakistan’s aid to the US cost 80,000 Pakistani lives and caused internal strife and dissent directed at the state, all while the US conducted drone attacks.
“So, when we hear this at the end. There is a lot of worry in the US about taking care of the interpreters and everyone who helped the US,” he said, referring to Afghanistan. “What about us?”
Instead of a mere “word of appreciation,” Pakistan has received blame, Khan said.
Despite Khan’s rhetoric espousing a desire for peace, many Afghans have blamed Pakistan for the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan because of close links. The United Nations in August also rejected Pakistan’s request to give its side at a special meeting on Afghanistan, indicating the international community’s shared skepticism.
In his speech, Khan echoed what his foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, told The Associated Press earlier this week on the sidelines at the UN: the international community should not isolate the Taliban, but instead strengthen the current Afghan government for the sake of the people.
He struck an optimistic tone about Taliban rule, saying their leaders had committed to human rights, an inclusive government and not allowing terrorists on Afghan soil. But messages from the Taliban have been mixed.
A Taliban founder told the AP earlier this week that the hard-liners would once again carry out executions and amputated hands — though this time after adjudication by judges, including women, and potentially not in public.
“If the world community incentivizes them, and encourages them to walk this talk, it will be a win-win situation for everyone,” he said.
Khan also turned his ire on that same community for what he perceives as a free pass given to India.
“It is unfortunate, very unfortunate, that the world’s approach to violations of human rights lacks even-handedness, and even is selective. Geopolitical considerations, or corporate interests, commercial interests often compel major powers to overlook the transgressions of their affiliated countries,” Khan said.
He went through a litany of actions that have “unleashed a reign of fear and violence against India’s 200 million strong Muslim community,” he said, including lynchings, pogroms and discriminatory citizenship laws.
As in years past, Khan — who favors delivering his speeches in his British-inflected English, in contrast to Modi’s Hindi addresses — devoted substantial time to Kashmir.
“New Delhi has also embarked on what it ominously calls the ‘final solution’ for the Jammu and Kashmir dispute,” Khan said, rattling off a list of what he termed “gross and systematic violations of human rights” committed by Indian forces. He specifically decried the “forcible snatching of the mortal remains of the great Kashmiri leader, ” Syed Ali Geelani , who died earlier this month at 91.
Geelani’s family has said authorities took his body and buried him discreetly and without their consent, denying the separatist leader revered in Kashmir a proper Islamic burial. Khan called upon the General Assembly to demand Geelani’s proper burial and rites.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and has been claimed by both since they won independence from the British empire and began fighting over their rival claims.
He said Pakistan desires peace, but it is India’s responsibility to meaningfully engage.
Modi is set to address the UN General Assembly in person on Saturday, a day after a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden.

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