Another east Afghan province falls to Taliban without battle

Update Another east Afghan province falls to Taliban without battle
Taliban fighters patrol the streets in Herat on August 14, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 15 August 2021

Another east Afghan province falls to Taliban without battle

Another east Afghan province falls to Taliban without battle
  • The fall of Mazar-i-Sharif hands the insurgents control over all of northern Afghanistan
  • Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ata Mohammad Noor, former warlords who command thousands of fighters, have fled the province

KABUL: An Afghan lawmaker says the Taliban have also taken over the eastern province of Kunar, bordering Pakistan, without a fight.
Neamatullah Karyab, a lawmaker from the area, says the insurgents took over the province on Saturday evening.
The Taliban now control around 23 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and are encircling the capital, Kabul. The lightning advance comes less than three weeks before the US plans to withdraw it’s last forces, ending America’s longest war.

Hours earlier, the Taliban captured Mazar-i-Sharif, a large, heavily defended city in northern Afghanistan in a major setback for the government.
The fall of Mazar-i-Sharif, the country’s fourth largest city, which Afghan forces and two powerful former warlords had pledged to defend, hands the insurgents control over all of northern Afghanistan, confining the Western-backed government to the center and east.
Abas Ebrahimzada, a lawmaker from the Balkh province where the city is located, said the national army surrendered first, which prompted pro-government militias and other forces to lose morale and give up in the face of a Taliban onslaught launched earlier Saturday.
Ebrahimzada said Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ata Mohammad Noor, former warlords who command thousands of fighters, had fled the province and their whereabouts were unknown.
The Taliban have made major advances in recent days, including capturing Herat and Kandahar, the country’s second- and third-largest cities. They now control about 20 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, leaving the Western-backed government with a smattering of provinces in the center and east, as well as the capital, Kabul.
On Saturday, the Taliban captured all of Logar province, just south of Kabul, and detained local officials, said Hoda Ahmadi, a lawmaker from the province. She said the Taliban have reached the Char Asyab district, just 11 kilometers (7 miles) south of the capital.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had flown to Mazar-i-Sharif on Wednesday to rally the city’s defenses, meeting with several militia commanders, including Dostum and Noor.
On Saturday, Ghani delivered a televised speech, his first public appearance since the recent Taliban gains. He vowed not to give up the “achievements” of the 20 years since the US toppled the Taliban after the 9/11 attacks.
The US has continued holding peace talks between the government and the Taliban in Qatar this week, and the international community has warned that a Taliban government brought about by force would be shunned. But the insurgents appear to have little interest in making concessions as they rack up victories on the battlefield.
“We have started consultations, inside the government with elders and political leaders, representatives of different levels of the community as well as our international allies,” Ghani said. “Soon the results will be shared with you,” he added, without elaborating further.
Insurgents also captured the capital of Paktika, bordering Pakistan, according to Khalid Asad, a lawmaker from the province. He said fighting broke out in Sharana early Saturday but ended after local elders intervened to negotiate a pullout. He said the governor and other officials surrendered and were on their way to Kabul.
Sayed Hussan Gerdezi, a lawmaker from the neighboring Paktia province, said the Taliban seized most of its local capital, Gardez, but that battles with government forces were still underway. The Taliban said they controlled the city.
The Taliban also took control of Maimana, the capital of northern Faryab province, said Fawzia Raoufi, a lawmaker from the province. Maimana had been under siege for a month, and Taliban fighters entered the city days ago. Security forces finally surrendered Saturday, she said.
Tens of thousands of Afghans have fled their homes, with many fearing a return to the Taliban’s oppressive rule. The group had previously governed Afghanistan under a harsh version of Islamic law in which women were forbidden to work or attend school, and could not leave their homes without a male relative accompanying them.
Salima Mazari, one of the few female district governors in the country, expressed fears about a Taliban takeover earlier Saturday in an interview from Mazar-i-Sharif, before it fell to the insurgents.
“There will be no place for women,” said Mazari, who governs a district of 36,000 people near the northern city. “In the provinces controlled by the Taliban, no women exist there anymore, not even in the cities. They are all imprisoned in their homes.”
The withdrawal of foreign troops and the swift collapse of Afghanistan’s own forces — despite hundreds of billions of dollars in US aid over the years — has raised fears the Taliban could return to power or that the country could be shattered by factional fighting, as it was after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. It’s also prompted many American and Afghan veterans of the conflict to question whether two decades of blood and treasure was worth it.
Afghans have been streaming into Kabul’s international airport in recent days, desperate to fly out, even as more American troops have arrived to help partially evacuate the US Embassy.
The first Marines from a contingent of 3,000 arrived Friday. The rest are expected by Sunday, and their deployment has raised questions about whether the administration will meet its Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline.
The US Air Force has carried out several airstrikes to aid its Afghan allies on the ground but they appear to have done little to stem the Taliban’s advance. A B-52 bomber and other warplanes traversed the country’s airspace Saturday, flight-tracking data showed.
The Taliban meanwhile released a video announcing the takeover of the main radio station in the southern city of Kandahar, which fell to the insurgents earlier this week, renaming it the Voice of Sharia, or Islamic law.
In the video, an unnamed insurgent said all employees were present and would broadcast news, political analysis and recitations of the Qur’an, the Islamic holy book. It appears the station will no longer play music. It was not clear if the Taliban had purged the previous employees or allowed them to return to work.
The US invaded shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, which Al-Qaeda planned and carried out while being sheltered by Taliban. After rapidly ousting the Taliban, the US shifted toward nation-building, hoping to create a modern Afghan state after decades of war and unrest.
Earlier this year, President Joe Biden announced a timeline for the withdrawal of all US troops by the end of August, pledging to end America’s longest war. His predecessor, President Donald Trump, had reached an agreement with the Taliban to pave the way for a US pullout.
Biden’s announcement set the latest offensive in motion. The Taliban, who have long controlled large parts of the Afghan countryside, moved quickly to seize provincial capitals, border crossings and other key infrastructure.
“The security situation in the city is getting worse,” said Kawa Basharat, a resident in Mazar-i-Sharif. “I want peace and stability; the fighting should be stopped.”


12 bodies found after South China Sea typhoon shipwreck: official

12 bodies found after South China Sea typhoon shipwreck: official
Updated 5 sec ago

12 bodies found after South China Sea typhoon shipwreck: official

12 bodies found after South China Sea typhoon shipwreck: official
BEIJING: Twelve bodies have been found following a shipwreck in the South China Sea over the weekend that left the crew of 30 missing, Chinese authorities said Monday.
“As of 3:30 p.m. on July 4, rescue forces found and recovered 12 bodies, suspected to be of victims who drowned, in an area around 50 nautical miles southwest of the site where the vessel sank,” said the Guangdong Maritime Search and Rescue Center in a notice.

Copenhagen shooting suspect had mental health issues: police

Copenhagen shooting suspect had mental health issues: police
Updated 04 July 2022

Copenhagen shooting suspect had mental health issues: police

Copenhagen shooting suspect had mental health issues: police
  • A 22-year-old Danish man was arrested, Copenhagen police inspector Søren Thomassen told reporters

COPENHAGEN: Danish police said Monday that the suspect in a weekend shooting at a Copenhagen mall that left three dead, including two teenagers, was known to mental health services.
“Our suspect is also known among psychiatric services, beyond that I do not wish to comment,” Copenhagen police chief Soren Thomassen told a press conference.
Thomassen added that the victims appeared to have been randomly targeted and there was nothing to indicate it was an act of terror.
“Our assessment is that the victims were random, that it isn’t motivated by gender or something else,” Thomassen said.
The police chief could not yet comment on a motive, but said there seemed to have been preparation ahead of the attack and that the 22-year-old suspect was not aided by anyone else.
“As things stand, it seems he was acting alone,” he said.
The three killed have been identified as a Danish teenage girl and boy, both aged 17, and a 47-year-old Russian citizen residing in Denmark.
Another four were injured in the shooting: two Danish women, aged 19 and 40, and two Swedish citizens, a 50-year-old man and a 16-year-old woman.
Police confirmed that the suspected shooter was present at the mall at the time of the shooting and is known to the police “but only peripherally.”
They added that they believe videos of the suspect circulating since Sunday evening on social media to be authentic.

An ambulance and armed police are seen during the evacuation of people at the Fields shopping center in Copenhagen, Denmark, on July 3, 2022 after Danish media reported a shooting. (AFP)

In some of the images, the young man can be seen posing with weapons, mimicking suicide gestures and talking about psychiatric medication “that does not work.”
YouTube and Instagram accounts believed to belong to the suspect were closed overnight, AFP noted.
The shooting occurred Sunday afternoon at the busy Fields shopping mall, located between the city center and Copenhagen airport.
According to police, the shooter was armed with a rifle, a pistol and a knife, and while the guns were not believed to be illegal, the suspect did not have a license for them.
Witnesses quoted by the Danish media described how the suspect had tried to trick people by saying his weapon was fake to get them to approach.
“He was sufficiently psychopathic to go and hunt people, but he wasn’t running,” one witness told public broadcaster DR.
Other eyewitnesses told Danish media they had seen more than 100 people rush toward the mall’s exit as the first shots were fired.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen denounce the “cruel attack” in a statement late Sunday.

People embrace outside Fields shopping center, after Danish police said they received reports of a shooting at the site, in Copenhagen, Denmark, July 3, 2022. (Reuters) 

“Our beautiful and usually so safe capital was changed in a split second,” she said.
The shooting came just over a week after a gunman opened fire near a gay bar in Oslo in neighboring Norway, killing two people and wounding 21 others.
In February of 2015, two people were killed and five injured in Copenhagen in a series of Islamist-motivated shootings.


Pope Francis denies he is planning to resign soon

Pope Francis denies he is planning to resign soon
Updated 30 min 35 sec ago

Pope Francis denies he is planning to resign soon

Pope Francis denies he is planning to resign soon
  • The 85-year-old pontiff repeated his condemnation of abortion following the US Supreme Court ruling last month

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis has dismissed reports that he plans to resign in the near future, saying he is on track to visit Canada this month and hopes to be able to go to Moscow and Kyiv as soon as possible after that.
In an exclusive interview in his Vatican residence, Francis also denied rumors that he had cancer, joking that his doctors “didn’t tell me anything about it,” and for the first time gave details of the knee condition that has prevented him carrying out some duties.
In a 90-minute conversation on Saturday afternoon, conducted in Italian, with no aides present, the 85-year-old pontiff also repeated his condemnation of abortion following the US Supreme Court ruling last month.
Rumors have swirled in the media that a conjunction of events in late August, including meetings with the world’s cardinals to discuss a new Vatican constitution, a ceremony to induct new cardinals, and a visit to the Italian city of L’Aquila, could foreshadow a resignation announcement.
L’Aquila is associated with Pope Celestine V, who resigned the papacy in 1294. Pope Benedict XVI visited the city four years before he resigned in 2013, the first pope to do so in about 600 years.
But Francis, alert and at ease throughout the interview as he discussed a wide range of international and Church issues, laughed the idea off.
“All of these coincidences made some think that the same ‘liturgy’ would happen,” he said. “But it never entered my mind. For the moment no, for the moment, no. Really!”
Francis did, however, repeat his often-stated position that he might resign someday if failing health made it impossible for him to run the Church — something that had been almost unthinkable before Benedict XVI.
Asked when he thought that might be, he said: “We don’t know. God will say.”
The interview took place on the day he was to have left for Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, a trip he had to cancel because doctors said he might also have to miss a trip to Canada from July 24-30 unless he agreed to have 20 more days of therapy and rest for his right knee.
He said the decision to cancel the Africa trip had caused him “much suffering,” particularly because he wanted to promote peace in both countries.
Francis used a cane as he walked into a reception room on the ground floor of the Santa Marta guest house where he has lived since his election in 2013, eschewing the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace used by his predecessors.
The room has a copy of one of Francis’ favorite paintings: “Mary, Untier of Knots,” created around 1700 by the German Joachim Schmidtner.
Asked how he was, the pope joked: “I’m still alive!”
He gave details of his ailment for the first time in public, saying he had suffered “a small fracture” in the knee when he took a misstep while a ligament was inflamed.
“I am well, I am slowly getting better,” he said, adding that the fracture was knitting, helped by laser and magnet therapy.
Francis also dismissed rumors that a cancer had been found a year ago when he underwent a six-hour operation to remove part of his colon because of diverticulitis, a condition common in the elderly.
“It (the operation) was a great success,” he said, adding with a laugh that “they didn’t tell me anything” about the supposed cancer, which he dismissed as “court gossip.”
But he said he did not want an operation on his knee because the general anesthetic in last year’s surgery had had negative side-effects.
Speaking of the situation in Ukraine, Francis noted that there have been contacts between Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about a possible trip to Moscow.
The initial signs were not good. No pope has ever visited Moscow, and Francis has repeatedly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; last Thursday he implicitly accused it of waging a “cruel and senseless war of aggression.”
When the Vatican first asked about a trip several months ago, Francis said Moscow replied that it was not the right time.
But he hinted that something may now have changed.
“I would like to go (to Ukraine), and I wanted to go to Moscow first. We exchanged messages about this because I thought that if the Russian president gave me a small window to serve the cause of peace ...
“And now it is possible, after I come back from Canada, it is possible that I manage to go to Ukraine,” he said. “The first thing is to go to Russia to try to help in some way, but I would like to go to both capitals.”
Asked about the US Supreme Court’s ruling overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling establishing a woman’s right to have an abortion, Francis said he respected the decision but did not have enough information to speak about it from a juridical point of view.
But he strongly condemned abortion, comparing it to “hiring a hit man.” The Catholic Church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception.
“I ask: Is it legitimate, is it right, to eliminate a human life to resolve a problem?”
Francis was asked about a debate in the United States over whether a Catholic politician who is personally opposed to abortion but supports others’ right to choose should be allowed to receive the sacrament of communion.
House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi, for example, has been barred by the conservative archbishop of her home diocese of San Francisco from receiving it there, but is regularly given communion at a parish in Washington, D.C. Last week, she received the sacrament at a papal Mass in the Vatican.
“When the Church loses its pastoral nature, when a bishop loses his pastoral nature, it causes a political problem,” the pope said. “That’s all I can say.”


Bus falls into deep gorge in northern India, killing 16

Bus falls into deep gorge in northern India, killing 16
Updated 04 July 2022

Bus falls into deep gorge in northern India, killing 16

Bus falls into deep gorge in northern India, killing 16
  • Deadly road accidents are common in India due to reckless driving, poorly maintained roads and aging vehicles

NEW DELHI: A passenger bus slid off a mountain road and fell into a deep gorge in northern India on Monday, killing 16 people, including schoolchildren, a government official said.
Rescue workers pulled out the badly injured from the wreckage of the vehicle and sent them to a hospital, Ashutosh Garg, a senior administrator for the district of Kullu in Himachal Pradesh state, told news agency Press Trust of India.
Another official, Prashant Sirkek Singh, said about 20 passengers were traveling in the bus.
Photos shared on social media showed responders trying to rescue survivors from the mangled hulk of the yellow bus. The exact cause of the crash was not immediately known.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed sorrow over the accident.
Deadly road accidents are common in India due to reckless driving, poorly maintained roads and aging vehicles. More than 110,000 people are killed every year in road accidents across India, according to police.


Japan protests Chinese navy sailing near disputed islands

Japan protests Chinese navy sailing near disputed islands
Updated 04 July 2022

Japan protests Chinese navy sailing near disputed islands

Japan protests Chinese navy sailing near disputed islands
  • The islets, known as the Senkaku by Tokyo and the Diaoyu by Beijing, are at the center of a long-running dispute between Japan and China

TOKYO: Japan lodged a protest with China on Monday over a Chinese naval vessel sailing near disputed islands, a Japanese official said, as reports emerged of Russia also sending its own navy ship to the area.
The islets in the East China Sea, known as the Senkaku by Tokyo and the Diaoyu by Beijing, are at the center of a long-running dispute between Japan and China.
Japanese officials regularly protest the presence of Chinese coast guard vessels in waters near the islands, but it is the first time since 2018 that a navy ship has been spotted there, according to public broadcaster NHK.
At around 7:44 a.m. on Monday, a Chinese navy frigate “was observed entering Japan’s contiguous waters” southwest of one of the Tokyo-controlled islands, a statement from the Japanese defense ministry said.
Contiguous waters are a 12-nautical-mile band that extends beyond territorial waters.
“We expressed grave concerns and lodged our protest to the Chinese side through a diplomatic route, and urged them to prevent a repeat” of similar incidents, deputy chief cabinet secretary Seiji Kihara told reporters.
The islets “are Japanese territory from the viewpoints of both history and international law,” he added.
Separately, a Russian naval ship was also spotted in the contiguous waters of the disputed islands on Monday morning, NHK, Jiji Press and other Japanese media reported, citing anonymous defense ministry sources.
The ministry could not immediately confirm the reports to AFP.
In May, Chinese and Russian fighter jets carried out joint flights near the East Asian country as leaders of the so-called Quad bloc — Japan, United States, Australia and India — met in Tokyo.
While the planes did not breach territorial airspace, Japan said the move was “provocative” given that the timing coincided with the leaders’ summit.
Beijing said the flights were part of Chinese and Russian “annual military cooperation plan.”