All clear: Kabul begins ambitious plan to remove maze of concrete barriers

All clear: Kabul begins ambitious plan to remove maze of concrete barriers
People at a market area in Kabul on Monday following the Taliban’s military takeover of the country. Afghan authorities plan to demolish blast walls across the capital. (AFP)
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Updated 24 August 2021

All clear: Kabul begins ambitious plan to remove maze of concrete barriers

All clear: Kabul begins ambitious plan to remove maze of concrete barriers

KABUL: Afghan authorities have initiated a colossal plan to demolish blast walls across the capital, installed to shield political leaders, government officials, and foreign missions for a major part of the past 20 years, the city’s mayor told Arab News on Monday.
Also known as a Bremer or T-wall, the 12-foot-high, steel-reinforced and portable structures are a common sight across Kabul.
The municipality’s move follows the capture of Kabul by Taliban fighters, some of whom were behind suicide attacks and car bombings which prompted officials to erect the concrete walls as a protective measure. 
However, since returning to power, the Taliban have pledged to maintain peace and form an “all-inclusive government.”
“We have begun removing the barriers starting with government institutions,” Kabul Mayor Daud Sultanzoy said. “Private individuals are to follow this too and embassies, depending on their circumstances, are requested to do so. We plan to clear all of Kabul. The process will take months since the number of such concrete walls is very high and there is not enough machinery.”
He was also mayor under former President Ashraf Ghani, who fled Kabul hours after the Taliban took over the presidential palace.
Authorities were going to remove the T-walls some time ago but were “stopped by strongmen and factional leaders, including the head of parliament.”
In some areas of Kabul, entire streets and avenues have been blocked from view, turning the city into “a strange fort” and creating restrictions in movement.
“These walls had created a choking environment for the people of Kabul because they blocked streets,” the mayor added.
According to a municipality official, who requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media, there are more than 3,700 T-walls installed in just one of Kabul’s 22 districts.
These are in addition to nearly 8,400 T-walls set up in compounds housing US-led NATO forces, who are set to leave Afghanistan by the end of the month.
“Hundreds more have been installed to protect embassies, government authorities and leaders,” the official said.
There was a gradual increase in the number of barriers set up in recent years following a surge in commando-style attacks by Taliban and Daesh militants who used car bombs, causing enormous destruction. One such strike was carried out against former Defense Minister Gen. Besmillah Khan Mohammadi in a posh area of Kabul a few weeks ago, when Taliban fighters used a vehicle laden with explosives. Later, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
Kabul residents hailed the clearing out as the T-walls made the city look like it was in a “constant state of war.”
“This (removal of the concrete walls) is indeed a noble initiative,” taxi driver Fateh Shah told Arab News. “The city looked like it was at constant war. We are happy about it because it will reduce traffic congestion and allow easy movement.”
Others said that while the purpose of the T-walls was to safeguard certain areas they had “created a headache” for ordinary people’s security on the streets. 
“They were of no help for other people; (they) blocked roads and created problems such as access to hospitals,” retired civil servant Qurban Ali told Arab News. “People would find themselves trapped in some of the blasts and their evacuation was almost impossible because of these hindrances.”


India marks administering more than 1bn COVID-19 jabs

India marks administering more than 1bn COVID-19 jabs
Updated 22 October 2021

India marks administering more than 1bn COVID-19 jabs

India marks administering more than 1bn COVID-19 jabs
  • PM Narendra Modi hails achievement as ‘triumph of Indian science’

NEW DELHI: India on Thursday hailed administering 1 billion coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine doses as a milestone in its fight against the Delta variant of the virus that caused a deadly surge earlier this year.
The country started its immunization drive in January with two Indian-made vaccines — Covishield, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, and locally developed Covaxin produced by the Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech — and plans to fully vaccinate 944 million of its adult population by the year’s end.
COVID-19 cases have recently fallen sharply in India since a devastating second wave of infections between March and May claimed the lives of more than 450,000 people, when the highly transmissible Delta variant, first detected in India a year ago, was infecting hundreds of thousands daily.
While only 30 percent have so far been fully vaccinated with two vaccine doses, the 1 billion mark was welcomed by the government as a “triumph.”
In a tweet on Thursday, as he marked the occasion with a visit to a government hospital in New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “India scripts history. We are witnessing the triumph of Indian science, enterprise, and the collective spirit of 130 crore (1.3 billion) Indians. Congrats India on crossing 100 crore vaccinations.”
The PM also expressed his “gratitude to our doctors, nurses, and all those who worked to achieve this feat.”
Dr. Vinod Kumar Paul, the man in charge of India’s vaccination drive, described the 1 billion jabs mark as “an achievement” and highlighted the consistency in the vaccination drive. “It’s remarkable to reach the 1 billion dose mark for any nation, an achievement in just over nine months since the vaccination program started in India,” he said in a tweet.
To mark the achievement, the government was holding a series of cultural events throughout the country.
However, some health experts warned that only fully vaccinated people were protected from COVID-19.
Prof. Rama Baru, from Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Center of Social Medicine and Community in New Delhi, told Arab News: “The completion of two doses for protection from the virus has not yet been achieved. And coverage of the second dose is very poor in relatively poor states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
“If you look at the age-related data, we still have 18-plus population in several rural areas like Uttar and Bihar who have not got the first shot yet.
“Besides the vaccination drive the focus should also have been on the drastic improvement of the public health infrastructure. After the second wave you would have expected the government to enhance its investment in the public health service, but in fact that has not happened,” she said.


Duterte thanks Saudi Arabia for hospitality, support for Filipinos

Duterte thanks Saudi Arabia for hospitality, support for Filipinos
Updated 22 October 2021

Duterte thanks Saudi Arabia for hospitality, support for Filipinos

Duterte thanks Saudi Arabia for hospitality, support for Filipinos

MANILA: President Rodrigo Duterte thanked Saudi Arabia for its hospitality toward Filipinos in the Kingdom, as he welcomed the new Saudi ambassador to Manila.
The new Saudi envoy, Hisham bin Sultan Al-Qahtani, presented his credentials to the Philippine president on Wednesday.
“I thank the Saudi Arabian government for the hospitality extended to the almost a million Filipinos in the Kingdom, including the free COVID-19 vaccination offered by your government,” Duterte told the envoy during a livestreamed ceremony at the presidential palace, Malacanang.
He also expressed his gratitude to Saudi authorities for repatriating hundreds of overseas Filipino workers stranded in the Kingdom by the coronavirus disease pandemic.
“The repatriation of the 645 distressed Filipinos in June shows the continuing partnership between our countries in upholding the welfare of OFWs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I am hopeful that Your Excellency will continue to strengthen this most important pillar of our bilateral relations,” Duterte said.
He added he was also looking forward to expanding cooperation with Saudi Arabia, particularly in trade and investment during Al-Qahtani’s tenure.
“We hope to improve the bilateral trade and investment exchanges as well as the transportation and travel cooperation between the Philippines and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during your tenure,” he said.
Saudi Arabia has been providing aid to the Philippines to help it fight the pandemic and also to rebuild Marawi City, and Duterte conveyed his appreciation for the support.
“I convey my appreciation for the pledge of support for our efforts against COVID-19 and in the rehabilitation of Marawi City,” he said.
Marawi, a predominantly Muslim lakeside town on the island of Mindanao, was taken by pro-Daesh militants in May 2017 and suffered widespread damage during five months of fighting as government forces tried to regain control. The conflict between government forces and the militants left at least 1,200 people dead, while the once-bustling city was flattened, displacing more than 100,000 residents.
As he presented his credentials, the Saudi envoy vowed to take Philippine-Saudi ties to a new height.
“During my term, I would exert my efforts to expand and deepen friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation, enhance the mutual understanding and friendship between the governments and the peoples, and bring the relations of the Philippines and Saudi Arabia to a new height,” Al-Qahtani told Duterte.
Al-Qahtani’s appointment comes as Manila and Riyadh celebrate 52 years of diplomatic relations on Sunday.
Aside from Al-Qahtani, Duterte also received the credentials of the new ambassadors of the UK, UAE, Italy, Sweden, Israel, and Malta.


Syrian jailed for anti-Semitic attacks in Austria

Syrian jailed for anti-Semitic attacks in Austria
Updated 21 October 2021

Syrian jailed for anti-Semitic attacks in Austria

Syrian jailed for anti-Semitic attacks in Austria
  • The man was arrested after he threw stones and scrawled pro-Palestinian slogans on the town synagogue
  • In court the man said he regretted actions that the prosecutor said were motivated by ‘hatred of Jews’

VIENNA: An Austrian court on Thursday handed a Syrian aged 32 a three-year jail term for vandalising a synagogue and other anti-Semitic attacks.
The court in the southeastern city of Graz was placed in a care institution after finding the man, who committed the offenses in August 2020, to be psychologically disturbed, a spokesperson told AFP.
He was arrested after he threw stones and scrawled pro-Palestinian slogans on the town synagogue before threatening the head of the local Jewish community and also damaged a local facility used by an LGBT group.
In court the man said he regretted actions that the prosecutor said were motivated by “hatred of Jews, homosexuals and prostitutes,” the APA news agency reported.
At the time of the arrest, President Alexander Van der Bellen stressed anti-Semitism had no place in a country whose 192,000-strong pre-war Jewish population was decimated during the Holocaust under Nazi rule.
The country registered 585 anti-Semitic acts last year alone, according to Vienna’s Jewish IKG community association.
Graz’s synagogue was notably destroyed in the 1938 anti-Jewish Kristallnacht — or the Night of Broken Glass — pogrom. A new one was built in 2000.


Afghan refugees may be housed in hotels for up to a year, say UK councils

Afghan refugees may be housed in hotels for up to a year, say UK councils
Updated 21 October 2021

Afghan refugees may be housed in hotels for up to a year, say UK councils

Afghan refugees may be housed in hotels for up to a year, say UK councils
  • Charity workers warn conditions are unsafe for children and can affect their mental wellbeing
  • Around 8,500 Afghans were evacuated to the UK by British forces earlier this year

LONDON: Local politicians across the UK are making contingency plans to house Afghan refugees in hotels for up to a year, as progress on finding them long-term accommodation slows.

So far, around 1,500 of the 8,500 Afghans airlifted out of Kabul by British forces more than two months ago have been provided long-term accommodation, leaving roughly 7,000 without a permanent home in the UK, and with no guidance on when they will be provided, the Guardian reported.

Many of those brought to the UK had worked alongside British or coalition forces as interpreters or in other support roles.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously committed to supporting them, saying: “We will never forget the brave sacrifice made by Afghans who chose to work with us, at great risk to themselves.”

But local councils across Britain are struggling to deal with the influx of refugees and the logistical challenges they pose.

Some councils, the Guardian reported, said they had received no support from the Home Office in providing immediate needs assessment on arrivals, and an official from one said they were given no notice that the government was block-booking hotels in the area for refugees.

“We’re planning for a year, to be honest,” said one unnamed central London hotel official. “We don’t think it will be quick.”

Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle City Council, who heads the UK’s Local Government Association Asylum, Refugees and Migration Task Group, told the Guardian: “I get no sense that the government sees this as an urgent priority. I’m concerned that now they are in hotels they are out of sight and out of mind.”

There have also been warnings that hotel conditions are not suitable for the many children to have been evacuated to Britain.

“There are kids in lots of hotels with nothing to do; their mental health wellbeing is not being met, they are becoming frustrated and playing up. We could and should be doing better,” one charity worker said after visiting several London hotels, where 4,000 people are being housed.

Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, told the Guardian that finding long-term accommodation for 7,000 people would be possible if just half of the UK’s 343 local authorities offered to house 60 people, adding: “That’s just 12 homes each — that should be doable, shouldn’t it?”


Nigeria seizes $11 mln worth of amphetamine pills in shipment from Lebanon

Nigeria seizes $11 mln worth of amphetamine pills in shipment from Lebanon
Updated 21 October 2021

Nigeria seizes $11 mln worth of amphetamine pills in shipment from Lebanon

Nigeria seizes $11 mln worth of amphetamine pills in shipment from Lebanon
  • The 451,807 captagon tablets were seized at the Apapa sea port in September

ABUJA: Nigerian authorities intercepted nearly half a million amphetamine pills hidden in machinery coming into a Lagos port, an official said on Thursday.
The 451,807 captagon tablets were seized at the Apapa sea port in September, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Chairman Mohamed Marwa told reporters.
“This was traced to have come from Lebanon,” he said. “We have arrested one of those involved in the importation and he is helping us to trace all those involved.”
Marwa estimated the tablets were worth $11 million, or roughly 6 billion naira.
In April, Saudi Arabia announced a ban on imports of fruits and vegetables from Lebanon, blaming an increase in drug smuggling.