China reports no new local coronavirus cases for first time since July

China reports no new local coronavirus cases for first time since July
The coronavirus outbreak has spurred local authorities across China to impose tough counter-epidemic measures. (AP)
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Updated 23 August 2021

China reports no new local coronavirus cases for first time since July

China reports no new local coronavirus cases for first time since July
  • Latest outbreak was driven mainly by infections first detected among a few airport workers in the eastern city of Nanjing on July 20

BEIJING: China’s health authority reported on Monday that there were no new locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 for the first time since July, offering more signs that the current outbreak which began late last month may be tapering off soon.
The latest outbreak was driven mainly by infections first detected among a few airport workers in the eastern city of Nanjing on July 20. Since then, more than 1,200 people in China have been confirmed to be infected.
The outbreak has spurred local authorities across the country to impose tough counter-epidemic measures including mass testing for millions of people to identify and isolate carriers, as well as treat the infected.
No one has died in the current outbreak, which has largely focused on the cities of Nanjing and Yangzhou in the province of Jiangsu, near the financial hub of Shanghai.
Across China, new local cases fell to the single-digits last week, after peaking in early August.
But over the weekend, Shanghai placed hundreds of people under quarantine after infections were found in cargo workers at one of its two airports, sparking concerns of a fresh outbreak in the city.
Shanghai has reported no new local infections since then.
Including new infections detected among travelers arriving in mainland China, the National Health Commission reported on Monday a total of 21 new confirmed cases for Aug. 22, down from 32 a day earlier.
China reported 16 new asymptomatic coronavirus cases, which it does not classify as confirmed infections until they show signs of infection such as a fever. That is down from 19 a day earlier. The new asymptomatic cases were all imported.
Mainland China as of Aug. 22 has recorded 94,652 confirmed cases, with a death toll of 4,636, unchanged since late January.


Husband of detained Iranian-British woman on hunger strike

Husband of detained Iranian-British woman on hunger strike
Updated 24 October 2021

Husband of detained Iranian-British woman on hunger strike

Husband of detained Iranian-British woman on hunger strike
  • Richard Ratcliffe started his fast on Sunday outside the British government’s Foreign Office in central London
  • He plans to maintain a “constant vigil” by sleeping in a tent outside the building’s main entrance

LONDON: The husband of UK charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been detained more than five years in Iran, has gone on a hunger strike again after a court decided she has to spend another year in prison.
Richard Ratcliffe started his fast on Sunday outside the British government’s Foreign Office in central London.
He plans to maintain a “constant vigil” by sleeping in a tent outside the building’s main entrance in an effort to pressure Prime Minister Boris Johnson to secure the release of his wife and other detained dual British-Iranian nationals, Amnesty International said.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe served five years in prison after being taken into custody at Tehran’s airport in April 2016 and convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups deny.
In May, she was sentenced to an additional year in prison on charges of spreading “propaganda against the system” for having participated in a protest outside the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009 — a decision upheld this month by an appeals court. The verdict includes a one-year travel ban, meaning she wouldn’t be able to leave Iran until 2023.
Ratcliffe went on a 15-day hunger strike two years ago outside the Iranian Embassy, a move he credits with getting their 7-year-old daughter Gabriella released.
“We are now giving the UK government the same treatment. In truth, I never expected to have to do a hunger strike twice. It is not a normal act,” Ratcliffe said on his change.org petition.
He said Iran remains the “primary abuser” in Nazanin’s case, but the “UK is also letting us down.”
“It is increasingly clear that Nazanin’s case could have been solved many months ago – but for other diplomatic agendas. The PM needs to take responsibility for that.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was employed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, and was arrested as she was returning home to Britain after visiting family. Rights groups accuse Iran of holding dual-nationals as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West, something Tehran denies.
Iran doesn’t recognize dual nationalities, so detainees like Zaghari-Ratcliffe can’t receive consular assistance.


Taliban kill three ‘Daesh kidnappers’ in shootout

Taliban kill three ‘Daesh kidnappers’ in shootout
Updated 24 October 2021

Taliban kill three ‘Daesh kidnappers’ in shootout

Taliban kill three ‘Daesh kidnappers’ in shootout
  • The clash erupted in Herat when the new Taliban government's fighters cornered the gang in a high-rise building
  • An interior ministry spokesman said the three Daesh-Khorasan members were involved in major kidnappings

HERAT: Taliban forces fought a three-hour gun battle with a group of alleged Daesh kidnappers on Sunday, killing three of them, officials said.
The clash erupted in the western Afghan city of Herat when the new Taliban government's fighters cornered the gang in a high-rise building, Herat Police Command said in a statement.
Local residents said they heard light and heavier weapons used in the fighting. Police said three Daesh members were killed and two Taliban were wounded in the clash.
Videos circulating on social media appeared to show that at least one suspect was shot dead after he had been detained and disarmed, during a scuffle with his captors.
The footage also showed victorious Taliban forces driving through town with three corpses exposed on the back of a pick-up truck, as cheering supporters followed on scooters.
Interior ministry spokesman Qari Sayed Khosti tweeted the three Daesh-Khorasan members were involved in major kidnappings across Herat province.
"Special forces surrounded them, and they started firing. The men were killed in a shootout with security forces."
The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in mid-August, overthrowing the previous US-backed government, and have vowed to restore stability after a 20-year war.
But their efforts have been undermined by a series of attacks claimed by Daesh-K, another hardline Sunni extremist group that has a bitter rivalry with the Taliban.


Man shot dead in Kashmir as security tight for minister’s visit

Man shot dead in Kashmir as security tight for minister’s visit
Updated 24 October 2021

Man shot dead in Kashmir as security tight for minister’s visit

Man shot dead in Kashmir as security tight for minister’s visit
  • The victim, a milk seller in Kashmir, is the 12th civilian killed by militants or security forces this month
  • Amit Shah, India’s home minister, has been in Kashmir since Saturday

SRINAGAR: Indian paramilitaries shot dead a civilian in Kashmir on Sunday, residents said, as authorities tightened security across the disputed territory for a visit by a top Indian minister.
The victim, a milk seller in the southern Kashmir Valley, is the 12th civilian killed by militants or security forces this month as attacks increase in the Muslim-majority region.
New Delhi has about 500,000 troops and paramilitaries in Kashmir seeking to contain a rebel movement agitating for independence or the region’s merger with Pakistan.
Police said the man was hit in “crossfire” during “militant action” near a police paramilitary camp in the village of Zainapora and that the incident was being investigated.
Villagers told AFP the man had been fatally shot without provocation.
Amit Shah, India’s home minister and effective deputy to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been in Kashmir since Saturday, adding to security concerns.
It is Shah’s first trip to the Himalayan region — also claimed by Pakistan — since New Delhi canceled Kashmir’s semi-autonomy in August 2019 and placed it under direct rule.
His visit follows a series of targeted killings by militants, with minority Hindus and Sikhs as well as migrant workers from elsewhere in India the main targets.
Sandbag bunkers have been erected across Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar and snipers positioned on rooftops around the building where Shah is staying.
Police have in recent days impounded hundreds of motorbikes in the city and intensified checks on pedestrians including women and children. Motorbikes have been used for drive-by killings.
India’s chief of defense staff General Bipin Rawat said security monitoring was being intensified to thwart attacks by rebels.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947.
Rebels launched an insurgency in 1989 and the fighting has left tens of thousands dead, mainly civilians.


Ethiopia launches air strike on Tigray’s ‘western front’

Ethiopia launches air strike on Tigray’s ‘western front’
Updated 24 October 2021

Ethiopia launches air strike on Tigray’s ‘western front’

Ethiopia launches air strike on Tigray’s ‘western front’
  • The seventh aerial bombardment in the war-hit region this last week

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s military launched an air strike on a rebel-held facility in Tigray’s west on Sunday, a government official said, the seventh aerial bombardment in the war-hit region in a week.

“Today the western front of (Mai Tsebri) which was serving as a training and military command post for the terrorist group TPLF has been the target of an air strike,” government spokeswoman Selamawit Kassa said, referring to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has been locked in a war against the TPLF since last November, though Tigray itself had seen little combat since late June, when the rebels seized control of much of Ethiopia’s northernmost region and the military largely withdrew.

But on Monday Ethiopia’s air force launched two strikes on Tigray’s capital Mekele that the UN said killed three children and wounded several other people.

Since then there have been three more strikes on Mekele and another targeting what the government described as a weapons cache in the town of Agbe, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) to the west.

The strikes coincide with ramped-up fighting in Amhara region, south of Tigray.

They have drawn rebukes from Western powers, with the US last week condemning “the continuing escalation of violence, putting civilians in harm’s way.”

A strike Friday on Mekele forced a UN flight carrying 11 humanitarian personnel to turn back to Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, and the UN subsequently announced it was suspending its twice-weekly flights to the region.

The conflict has spurred fears of widespread starvation, as the UN estimates it has pushed 400,000 people in Tigray into famine-like conditions.


Islamists suspend march under agreement with Pakistan government

Islamists suspend march under agreement with Pakistan government
Updated 24 October 2021

Islamists suspend march under agreement with Pakistan government

Islamists suspend march under agreement with Pakistan government
  • Pakistan government had agreed to drop pending charges against the party's leader
  • The head of the Islamist Tehreek-e-Labiak party was arrested last year amid demonstrations against France over the publication of caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad

LAHORE: A radical Islamist party agreed Sunday to suspend for three days its march of thousands toward the capital Islamabad after Pakistan agreed to drop pending charges against the party's leader.
Party supporters Saturday departed the eastern city of Lahore, clashing for a second straight day with police who lobbed tear gas into the crowd. The group began its journey a day earlier with the goal of reaching Islamabad to pressure the government to release Saad Rizvi, head of the Islamist Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party. Rizvi was arrested last year amid demonstrations against France over the publication of caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad.
Raja Basharat, provincial law minister, told The Associated Press that under the agreement Punjab will withdraw charges against Rizvi and release all those detained during the protest march by Tuesday.
Rizvi had been detained pre-emptively on a charge of inciting people to assemble unlawfully. It was unclear when he would be released.
Basharat also said the agreement stipulates that the federal government will honor a previous agreement with the TLP to address diplomatic ties with France over the publication of the caricatures.
Sajid Saifi, spokesman for Rizvi’s party, confirmed the minister’s account and said thousands of party supporters will stay in the town of Mureedke waiting for the release of party leaders and members who have been detained.
Pakistan Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed told reporters that the TLP's demand that the French ambassador to Pakistan be expelled over the caricatures would be taken to a parliamentary committee in the coming days.
Basharat, Ahmed and Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri took part in the talks with the TLP executive council.
Violent clashes erupted between security forces and the Islamists in Lahore killing at least two police and injuring about a dozen, police said. Saifi claimed four party supporters were killed by police fire and “many” others were injured. Police said the demonstrators torched several police vehicles there.
Ahmed said the government was unaware of any deaths of TLP supporters.
Rizvi’s party gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 elections, campaigning on the single issue of defending the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam. It has a history of staging violent protests to pressure the government to accept its demands.