UK politicians slam decision to withdraw scholarships for Afghan students

UK politicians slam decision to withdraw scholarships for Afghan students
About 35 people, just under half of whom are women, will no longer have visas approved for the Chevening Scholarships program this year. (File/AFP)
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Updated 15 August 2021

UK politicians slam decision to withdraw scholarships for Afghan students

UK politicians slam decision to withdraw scholarships for Afghan students
  • FCO: Evacuation of Kabul embassy means no time for applications to be approved
  • British politicians brand decision “morally wrong” as other Afghans struggle with visa system

LONDON: British politicians have decried as “morally wrong” a decision by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to withdraw university scholarship places to Afghan students in light of the crisis enveloping the country.

About 35 people, just under half of whom are women, will no longer have visas approved for the Chevening Scholarships program this year, with the FCO insisting that the places will be deferred for a year with a view to “reinstating the program as soon as possible.”

David Liddington, a key ally of former prime minister Theresa May, and Rory Stewart, the former international development secretary, condemned the decision and urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to intervene on behalf of the students. Liddington called the move “morally wrong,” while Stewart said it was “deeply disappointing.”

Liddington also said that the students in question would be “at particular risk from the Taliban” given their desire to seek an education in the UK.

The militant group has retaken much of the country in the past few weeks, with only the capital Kabul remaining in government hands.

Both the US and UK have sent troops and aerial support to Afghanistan in a bid to evacuate civilians and embassy staff before Kabul falls to the militants.

In a letter sent to the prospective Afghan Chevening scholars, the FCO said: “Current circumstances mean that the British Embassy in Kabul is unable to administer the parts of the program that must be done in Kabul in time for candidates to begin their courses this year.”

Despite suggesting a resumption date in the autumn of 2022, it is unclear if, or when, the scholars will be able to take up their places should the country come under full Taliban control.

The British government is also under fire amid claims from many Afghans who worked with the British Army, British Council or other government bodies that they have been denied access to a fast-track visa scheme to escape the war-torn country.

Most fear retribution from the Taliban for working with a foreign government. Earlier this month, Raab agreed to permit Afghans who had worked with British media companies to apply for the scheme, but critics say that the UK’s system is inferior to that of other Western nations in providing sanctuary to those who qualify, including the US.


Japan PM says Fukushima wastewater release cannot be delayed

Japan PM says Fukushima wastewater release cannot be delayed
Updated 5 sec ago

Japan PM says Fukushima wastewater release cannot be delayed

Japan PM says Fukushima wastewater release cannot be delayed
  • The Fukushima Daiichi plant suffered a triple meltdown in 2011 following a massive earthquake and tsunami
  • The government and TEPCO announced plans in April to start releasing the water into the Pacific Ocean in the spring of 2023 over the span of decades
TOKYO: Japan’s new prime minister on Sunday said the planned mass disposal of wastewater stored at the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant cannot be delayed, despite concerns from local residents.
Speaking at his first visit to the facility since taking office, Fumio Kishida said his government would work to reassure residents nearby the plant about the technical safety of the wastewater disposal project.
The Fukushima Daiichi plant suffered a triple meltdown in 2011 following a massive earthquake and tsunami.
Kishida’s brief tour of the facility by its operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, focused on the ongoing decommissioning of the plant, and the massive amount of treated but still radioactive water stored there.
“I felt strongly that the water issue is a crucial one that should not be pushed back,” Kishida told reporters after the tour.
The government and TEPCO announced plans in April to start releasing the water into the Pacific Ocean in the spring of 2023 over the span of decades.
The plan has been fiercely opposed by fishermen, residents and Japan’s neighbors, including including China and South Korea.
Contaminated cooling water has continued to leak from the damaged reactors since the disaster. The water has been pumped up from basements and stored in about 1,000 tanks which the operator says will reach their capacity late next year.
Japanese officials say disposal of the water is indispensable for the plant cleanup, and that its release into the ocean is the most realistic option.
Kishida said the government will do its utmost to address concerns the water disposal will hurt local fishing and other industries.
“We will provide explanation about the safety (of the disposal) from a scientific viewpoint and transparency in order to dispel various concerns,” Kishida said.
Japan has requested assistance by the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure the discharge meets global safety standards.

US and Canadian warships sailed through Taiwan Strait last week

US and Canadian warships sailed through Taiwan Strait last week
Updated 43 min 49 sec ago

US and Canadian warships sailed through Taiwan Strait last week

US and Canadian warships sailed through Taiwan Strait last week
  • China claims democratically-ruled Taiwan as its own territory
  • China sent around 150 aircraft into the zone over a four-day period beginning on Oct. 1

TAIPEI: A US and a Canadian warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait late last week, the American military said on Sunday, at a time of heightened tension between Beijing and Taipei that has sparked concern internationally.
China claims democratically-ruled Taiwan as its own territory, and has mounted repeated air force missions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the past year or more, provoking anger in Taipei.
China sent around 150 aircraft into the zone over a four-day period beginning on Oct. 1.
The US military said the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Dewey sailed through the narrow waterway that separates Taiwan from its giant neighbor China along with the Canadian frigate HMCS Winnipeg on Thursday and Friday.
“Dewey’s and Winnipeg’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the commitment of the United States and our allies and partners to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” it added.
American Navy ships have been transiting the strait roughly monthly, to the anger of Beijing, which has accused Washington of stoking regional tensions. US allies occasionally also send ships through the strait, including a British warship last month.
While tensions across the Taiwan Strait have risen, there has been no shooting and Chinese aircraft have not entered Taiwanese air space, concentrating their activity in the southwestern part of the ADIZ.
While including Taiwanese territorial air space, the ADIZ encompasses a broader area that Taiwan monitors and patrols that acts to give it more time to respond to any threats.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Sunday that three Chinese aircraft — two J-16 fighters and an anti-submarine aircraft — flew into the ADIZ again.


British MP’s killer was referred to counter-terrorism scheme: Reports

British MP’s killer was referred to counter-terrorism scheme: Reports
Updated 53 min 54 sec ago

British MP’s killer was referred to counter-terrorism scheme: Reports

British MP’s killer was referred to counter-terrorism scheme: Reports
  • Ali’s father, a former adviser to the PM of Somalia, confirmed to The Sunday Times that his son was in custody
  • Residents, including members of the Muslim community, heaped bouquets next to the police tape

LEIGH-ON-SEA: The attacker who fatally stabbed British lawmaker David Amess was referred to an official counter-terrorist scheme for those thought to be at risk of radicalization, according to media reports.
Police said late Saturday that detectives had until Friday, October 22, to question the suspect after he was detained under the Terrorism Act, which allowed them to extend his detention.
Veteran Conservative MP David Amess, 69, was talking with voters at a church in the small town of Leigh-on-Sea east of London when he was stabbed to death on Friday.
Police have said they are investigating “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.” The investigation is being led by Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command.
The BBC said it had received confirmation from Whitehall officials that the man’s name is Ali Harbi Ali.
Ali, a British citizen of Somali heritage, had been referred to Prevent, the UK’s scheme for those thought at risk of radicalization a few years ago, the BBC reported.
Ali is believed not have spent long on the program, which is voluntary, and was never formally a “subject of interest” to MI5, the domestic security agency, said the BBC.
Police and security services believe the attacker acted alone and was “self-radicalized,” The Sunday Times reported, while he may have been inspired by Al-Shabab, Al-Qaeda-linked extremists in Somalia.
Ali’s father Harbi Ali Kullane, a former adviser to the prime minister of Somalia, confirmed to The Sunday Times that his son was in custody, adding: “I’m feeling very traumatized.”
Police said they have been carrying out searches at three addresses in the London area in a “fast-paced investigation.”
The Sun tabloid reported that the attacker stabbed Amess multiple times in the presence of two women staff, before sitting down and waiting for police to arrive.
The Daily Mail newspaper reported that he had booked an appointment a week ahead.
On Saturday evening, hundreds of mourners attended a candle-lit vigil at a sports field near the scene of the crime, holding a minute’s silence in the MP’s memory.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier visited the crime scene to pay his respects on Saturday, laying floral wreaths outside the church with the leader of the opposition, Labour leader Keir Starmer in a rare show of unity.
Residents, including members of the Muslim community, also heaped bouquets next to the police tape.
Britain’s politicians were stunned by the highly public attack, which recalled the murder of a pro-EU lawmaker ahead of the Brexit referendum.
In June 2016, Labour MP Jo Cox was killed by a far-right extremist, prompting demands for action against what lawmakers said was “a rising tide” of public abuse and threats against elected representatives.
Home Secretary Priti Patel on Friday ordered police to review security arrangements for all 650 MPs and The Sunday Times reported that every MP could be granted security protection when meeting the public.
“We will carry on... We live in an open society, a democracy. We cannot be cowed by any individual,” Patel told journalists after laying a wreath for her fellow Essex MP.
Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative MP who tried to save a stabbed police officer during a 2017 terror attack near the Houses of Parliament, on Twitter urged a temporary pause in surgeries, or face-to-face meetings with constituents, until the security review is complete.
House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle in The Observer wrote that “we need to take stock” and review whether security measures introduced after Cox’s murder are “adequate to safeguard members, staff and constituents, especially during surgeries.”
MPs and their staff have been attacked before, although it is rare.
But their safety was thrown into sharp focus by Brexit, which stoked deep political divisions and has led to outburts of angry, partisan rhetoric.
Cox’s killer repeatedly shouted “Britain first” before shooting and stabbing the 41-year-old MP outside her constituency meeting near Leeds, northern England.
A specialist police unit set up to investigate threats against MPs in the aftermath of Cox’s murder said 678 crimes against lawmakers were reported between 2016 and 2020.
Amess, a Brexit backer, had written about public harassment and online abuse in his book “Ayes & Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster,” published last year.
“These increasing attacks have rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians,” he said.
MPs have had to install security cameras and only meet constituents by appointment, he added.
Unlike some MPs, Amess publicized meeting times for constituents on Twitter and held them in public places, while asking people to book ahead.


Pope Francis decries attacks in Norway, Afghanistan and England

Pope Francis decries attacks in Norway, Afghanistan and England
Updated 57 min 9 sec ago

Pope Francis decries attacks in Norway, Afghanistan and England

Pope Francis decries attacks in Norway, Afghanistan and England
  • ‘I implore you, please, to abandon the path of violence, which is always a losing one’
VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Sunday decried recent deadly attacks in Norway, Afghanistan and Britain, expressing closeness to the families of victims and calling violence “a defeat for everyone.”
“Last week various attacks were carried out, for example in Norway, Afghanistan, England, which caused many deaths and injuries,” the pope said, after greeting the public in St. Peter’s Square for his customary Sunday remarks and blessings delivered from a window of the Apostolic Palace.
“I express my closeness to the families of the victims,” Francis said.
In Norway, a bow-and-arrow attack claimed five lives and left three persons wounded.
In southern Afghanistan, a suicide bombing at a mosque killed 47 people and wounded scores more. The Daesh group claimed responsibility.
In England, a British lawmaker who was meeting at a church with some of his constituents was fatally stabbed, and police are investigating the slaying as a terrorist act.
“I implore you, please, to abandon the path of violence, which is always a losing one, is a defeat for all,” Francis said. ”Let’s remember that violence generates violence.”
Norwegian police have been criticized for reacting too slowly to contain the massacre in the town of Kongsberg, acknowledging that the five deaths occurred after police first encountered the attacker, a 37-year-old local resident whom authorities say has admitted to the slayings and is undergoing psychiatric evaluation.
In Afghanistan, relatives of those killed by the bombing at a Shiite mosque in the Kandahar province in the south of the country called on the ruling Taliban to protect them.
British authorities haven’t publicly identified the suspect in the slaying of Conservative lawmaker David Amess in the town of Leigh-On-Sea.

France commemorates the 1961 massacre of Algerians in Paris

France commemorates the 1961 massacre of Algerians in Paris
Updated 17 October 2021

France commemorates the 1961 massacre of Algerians in Paris

France commemorates the 1961 massacre of Algerians in Paris
  • Historians say at least 120 protesters died

PARIS: A tribute march was organized on Sunday in Paris for the 60th anniversary of the bloody police crackdown on a protest by Algerians in the French capital, during the final year of their country’s independence war with its colonial power.
The commemoration comes after French President Macron acknowledged that “crimes” committed on Oct. 17, 1961 — which authorities have sought to cover up for decades — were “inexcusable for the Republic.”
“The repression was brutal, violent, bloody” under orders of Paris police chief Maurice Papon, Macron said in a statement released Saturday. About 12,000 Algerians were arrested and dozens were killed, “their bodies thrown into the Seine River,” the president’s office said.
Historians say at least 120 protesters died, some shot and some drowned, according to Macron’s office. The exact number has never been established as archives remain partially closed.
Papon later became the highest-ranking Frenchman convicted of complicity in crimes against humanity for his role in deporting Jews during World War II.
Human rights and anti-racism groups and Algerian associations in France staged a tribute march in Paris on Sunday afternoon. They called on authorities to further recognize the French state’s responsibilities in the “tragedies and horrors” related to Algeria’s independence war and to further open up archives.
Earlier Sunday, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo attended a tribute ceremony at the Saint-Michel bridge, in the capital’s city center.
Macron paid tribute to victims on Saturday at the Bezons bridge over the Seine River in the northwest of Paris. He was the first president to attend a commemoration event for the massacre.
Earlier this year, he announced a decision to speed up the declassification of secret documents related to Algeria’s 1954-62 war of independence from France. The new procedure was introduced in August, Macron’s office said.
The move was part of a series of steps taken by Macron to address France’s brutal history with Algeria, which had been under French rule for 132 years until its independence in 1962.
In 2018, Macron formally recognized the responsibility of the French state in the 1957 death of a dissident in Algeria, Maurice Audin, admitting for the first time the French military’s use of systematic torture during the war.