Veiled protest: Afghan women rally in support of the Taliban

Veiled protest: Afghan women rally in support of the Taliban
Veiled students hold Taliban flags as they listen women speakers before a pro-Taliban rally. (AFP)
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Updated 11 September 2021

Veiled protest: Afghan women rally in support of the Taliban

Veiled protest: Afghan women rally in support of the Taliban

KABUL: Afghan women wearing full face veils sat in rows at a Kabul university lecture theatre Saturday, pledging commitment to the Taliban's hardline policies on gender segregation.
About 300 women -- covered head-to-toe in accordance with strict new dress policies for education -- waved Taliban flags as speakers railed against the West and expressed support for the Islamists' policies.
A handful wore blue burqas, which have only a small mesh window to see from, but most wore black niqabs covering most of the face apart from the eyes.
Many also wore black gloves.
Women's rights in Afghanistan were sharply curtailed under the Taliban's 1996-2001 rule, but since returning to power last month they have claimed they will implement a less extreme rule.
This time, women will be allowed to attend university as long as classes are segregated by sex or at least divided by a curtain, the Taliban's education authority has said.
They must also wear an abaya robe and niqab.


The women, who organisers said were students, listened to a series of speeches at Shaheed Rabbani Education University in the capital, Kabul.
Large Taliban flags flanked the podium, as the female speakers criticised women who have protested across Afghanistan in recent days.
They also defended the new government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which has banned demonstrations unless permission is granted by the justice ministry.
Daud Haqqani, director of foreign relations at the education ministry, said the protest was organised by the women, who had asked and been granted permission to demonstrate.

"We are against those women who are protesting on the streets, claiming they are representative of women," said the first speaker, covered head to toe.
"Is it freedom to like the last government? No, it is not freedom. The last government were misusing women. They were recruiting women just by their beauty," she claimed.
Some in the audience held babies, who occasionally cried during the speeches, while others were young girls clearly too young for university.
A student named Shabana Omari told the crowd she agreed with the Taliban's policy that women should cover their heads.
"Those not wearing the hijab are harming all of us," she said, referring to the headscarves worn by many Muslim women.
"The hijab is not an individual thing."
Omari concluded her speech by leading a chorus of "Allahu Akbar", or "God is greatest".
Another speaker, Somaiya, said history had changed since the Taliban came back.
"After this we will not see 'bihijabi' (people not wearing headscarves)," she said.
"Women will be safe after this. We are supporting our government with all our strength."
After the speeches in the meeting hall, the women walked in organised lines a short distance on the street outside, holding printed banners and flanked by Taliban soldiers carrying rifles and machine guns.
The public demonstration was in stark contrast with scenes in Kabul and elsewhere earlier in the week, when Taliban fighters fired into the air to disperse a number of protests against their rule, shooting two people dead.
"Women who left Afghanistan cannot represent us," one pro-Taliban banner on Saturday read.
"We are satisfied with attitude and behaviour of Mujahideens (Taliban)" read another.
The Taliban say they want to distance themselves from the harsher policies of old, when half the population was excluded from work and education.
Under new rules, women may work "in accordance with the principles of Islam", the Taliban have decreed, but few details have yet been given as to what that exactly might mean.

 


US, others walk out of APEC talks over Russia’s Ukraine invasion – officials

US, others walk out of APEC talks over Russia’s Ukraine invasion – officials
Updated 18 sec ago

US, others walk out of APEC talks over Russia’s Ukraine invasion – officials

US, others walk out of APEC talks over Russia’s Ukraine invasion – officials
  • Representatives from Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Australia joined the Americans
BANGKOK: Representatives of the United States and several other nations walked out of an Asia-Pacific trade ministers meeting in Bangkok on Saturday to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, officials said.
The walkout was “an expression of disapproval at Russia’s illegal war of aggression in Ukraine and its economic impact in the APEC region,” one diplomat said.
Representatives from Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Australia joined the Americans, led by Trade Representative Katherine Tai, in walking out of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, two Thai officials and two international diplomats said.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, saying it aimed to demilitarize and “denazify” its neighbor. Ukraine and the West say President Vladimir Putin launched an unprovoked war of aggression, which has claimed thousands of civilian lives, sent millions of Ukrainians fleeing and caused economic fallout around the world.
Another diplomat said the five countries that staged the protest wanted “stronger language on Russia’s war” in the group’s final statement to be issued on Sunday.
“The meeting will not be a failure if (a joint statement) cannot be issued,” Thai Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit told reporters, adding that the meeting was “progressing well” despite the walk out.
The walkout took place while Russian Economy Minister Maxim Reshetnikov was delivering remarks at the opening of the two-day meeting from the group of 21 economies.
The delegations from five countries that staged the protest returned to the meeting after Reshetnikov finished speaking, a Thai official said.

Britain wants to arm Moldova to protect it from Russian threat — The Telegraph

Britain wants to arm Moldova to protect it from Russian threat — The Telegraph
Updated 59 min 35 sec ago

Britain wants to arm Moldova to protect it from Russian threat — The Telegraph

Britain wants to arm Moldova to protect it from Russian threat — The Telegraph

Britain wants to send modern weaponry to Moldova to protect it from the threat of invasion by Russia, The Telegraph reported, citing Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
She told the newspaper that Russian President Vladimir Putin was determined to create a “greater Russia” even though his invasion of Ukraine had failed to achieve quick success.
Russia has called the invasion it launched on Feb. 24 a “special military operation” aimed at disarming Ukraine and ridding it off radical anti-Russian nationalists. Ukraine and its allies have dismissed this as a baseless pretext for war.
Moldova, which borders Ukraine to the south west, is not a member of the NATO alliance.
Truss said talks were taking place to make sure that Moldova’s defenses could deter any future attack.
“I would want to see Moldova equipped to NATO standard. This is a discussion we’re having with our allies,” she told The Telegraph.
“Putin has been absolutely clear about his ambitions to create a greater Russia. And just because his attempts to take Kyiv weren’t successful doesn’t mean he’s abandoned those ambitions,” she said.
If Truss’s plans are adopted, NATO members would provide modern weaponry to Moldova, replacing its Soviet-era equipment, and will train soldiers on how to use it.


Shanghai inches toward COVID-19 lockdown exit, Beijing plays defense

Shanghai inches toward COVID-19 lockdown exit, Beijing plays defense
Updated 21 May 2022

Shanghai inches toward COVID-19 lockdown exit, Beijing plays defense

Shanghai inches toward COVID-19 lockdown exit, Beijing plays defense
  • Shanghai’s lockdown since the beginning of April has dealt a heavy economic blow to China’s most populous city

BEIJING/SHANGHAI: Shanghai cautiously pushed ahead on Saturday with plans to restore part of its transport network in a major step toward exiting a weeks-long COVID-19 lockdown, while Beijing kept up its defenses in an outbreak that has persisted for a month.
Shanghai’s lockdown since the beginning of April has dealt a heavy economic blow to China’s most populous city, stirred debate over the sustainability of the nation’s zero COVID-19 policy and stoked fears of future lockdowns and disruptions.
Unlike the financial hub, Beijing has refrained from imposing a city-wide lockdown, reporting dozens of new cases a day, versus tens of thousands in Shanghai at its peak. Still, the curbs and endless mass testing imposed on China’s capital have unsettled its economy and upended the lives of its people.
As Beijing remained in COVID-19 angst, workers in Shanghai were disinfecting subway stations and trains before planned restoration of four metro lines on Sunday.
While service will be for limited hours, it will allow residents to move between districts and meet the need for connections to railway stations and one of the city’s two airports. More than 200 bus routes will also reopen.
Underlining the level of caution, Shanghai officials said commuters would be scanned for abnormally high body temperatures and would need to show negative results of PCR tests taken within 48 hours.
Shanghai found 868 new local cases on Friday, compared with 858 a day earlier, municipal health authorities said on Saturday, a far cry from the peak in daily caseloads last month.
No new cases were found outside quarantined areas, down from three a day earlier, health authorities added.
The city of 25 million has gradually reopened shopping malls, convenience stores and wholesale markets and allowed more people to walk out of their homes, with community transmissions largely eliminated in recent days.
Still, Shanghai tightened stringent curbs on two of its 16 districts on Friday.
The authorities “urge enterprises to strictly implement safe production, which is their responsibility, especially in meeting some epidemic prevention and control requirements,” an official from the city’s emergency bureau told a news conference on Saturday.
Delta Airlines said on Friday it would resume one daily flight to Detroit from Shanghai via Seoul on Wednesday.
Most of Beijing’s recent cases have been in areas already sealed up, but authorities remained on edge and quick to act under China’s ultra-strict policy.
In Fengtai, a district of 2 million people at the center of Beijing’s counter-COVID-19 efforts, bus and metro stations have been mostly shut since Friday and residents told to stay home.
A Fengtai resident was stocking up on groceries at a nearby Carrefour on Saturday, uncertain whether restrictions would continue.
“I’m not sure if I can do more shopping over the next week or so, so I’ve bought a lot of stuff today and even bought some dumplings for the Dragon Boat holiday” in early June, she said, asking not to be identified.
On Friday, thousands of residents from a neighborhood in Chaoyang, Beijing’s most populous district, were moved to hotel quarantine after some cases were detected, according to state-run China Youth Daily.
Social media users on China’s Twitter-like Weibo were swift to draw parallels with Shanghai, where entire residential buildings were taken to centralized quarantine facilities in response to a single positive COVID-19 case in some instances.


Russia halts gas supplies to Finland

Russia halts gas supplies to Finland
Updated 21 May 2022

Russia halts gas supplies to Finland

Russia halts gas supplies to Finland
  • Natural gas accounts for about eight percent of Finland’s energy consumption and most of it comes from Russia

HELSINKI: Russia on Saturday halted providing natural gas to neighboring Finland, which has angered Moscow by applying for NATO membership, after the Nordic country refused to pay supplier Gazprom in rubles.
Natural gas accounts for about eight percent of Finland’s energy consumption and most of it comes from Russia.
Following Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has asked clients from “unfriendly countries” — including EU member states — pay for gas in rubles, a way to sidestep Western financial sanctions against its central bank.
Finnish state-owned energy company Gasum said it would make up for the shortfall from other sources through the Balticconnector pipeline, which connects Finland to Estonia, and assured that filling stations would run normally.
“Natural gas supplies to Finland under Gasum’s supply contract have been cut off,” the company said in a statement.
Gasum said Friday that it had been informed by Gazprom Export, the exporting arm of Russian gas giant Gazprom, that the supply would stop on Saturday morning.
In April, Gazprom Export demanded that future payments in the supply contract be made in rubles instead of euros.
Gasum rejected the demand and announced on Tuesday it was taking the issue to arbitration.
Gazprom Export said it would defend its interests in court by any “means available.”
Gasum said it would be able to secure gas from other sources and that gas filling stations in the network area would continue “normal operation.”
In efforts to mitigate the risks of relying on Russian energy exports, the Finnish government on Friday also announced that the country had signed a 10-year lease agreement for an LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminal ship with US-based Excelerate Energy.
On Sunday, Russia suspended electricity supplies to Finland overnight after its energy firm RAO Nordic claimed payment arrears, although the shortfall was quickly replaced.
Finland, along with neighboring Sweden, this week broke its historical military non-alignment and applied for NATO membership, after public and political support for the alliance soared following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Moscow has warned Finland that any NATO membership application would be “a grave mistake with far-reaching consequences.”


North Korea reports more fevers as Kim Jong Un claims COVID-19 virus progress

North Korea reports more fevers as Kim Jong Un claims COVID-19 virus progress
Updated 21 May 2022

North Korea reports more fevers as Kim Jong Un claims COVID-19 virus progress

North Korea reports more fevers as Kim Jong Un claims COVID-19 virus progress
  • North Korea said more than 2.4 million people have fallen ill and 66 people have died since an unidentified fever began quickly spreading in late April

SEOUL: North Korea said Saturday it found nearly 220,000 more people with feverish symptoms even as leader Kim Jong Un claimed progress in slowing a largely undiagnosed spread of COVID-19 across an unvaccinated population of 26 million.
The outbreak has caused concern about serious tragedies in the poor, isolated country with one of the world’s worst health care systems and a high tolerance for civilian suffering. Experts say North Korea is almost certainly downplaying the true scale of the viral spread, including a strangely small death toll, to soften the political blow on Kim as he navigates the toughest moment in his decade of rule.
Around 219,030 North Koreans with fevers were identified in the 24 hours through 6 p.m. Friday, the fifth straight daily increase of around 200,000, according to the North’s Korean Central News Agency, which attributed the information to the government’s anti-virus headquarters.
North Korea said more than 2.4 million people have fallen ill and 66 people have died since an unidentified fever began quickly spreading in late April, although the country has only been able to identify a handful of those cases as COVID-19 due to a lack of testing supplies. After maintaining a dubious claim for 2 1/2 years that it had perfectly blocked the virus from entering its territory, the North admitted to omicron infections last week.
Amid a paucity of public health tools, the North has mobilized more than a million health workers to find people with fevers and isolate them at quarantine facilities. Kim also imposed strict restrictions on travel between cities and towns and mobilized thousands of troops to help with the transport of medicine to pharmacies in the country’s capital, Pyongyang, which has been the center of the outbreak.
During a ruling party Politburo meeting on Saturday, Kim insisted the country was starting to bring the outbreak under control and called for tightened vigilance to maintain the “affirmative trend” in the anti-virus campaign, KCNA said. But Kim also seemed to hint at relaxing his pandemic response to ease his economic woes, instructing officials to actively modify the country’s preventive measures based on the changing virus situation and to come up with various plans to revitalize the national economy.
KCNA said Politburo members debated ways for “more effectively engineering and executing” the government’s anti-virus policy in accordance with how the spread of the virus was being “stably controlled and abated,” but the report did not specify what was discussed.
Even while imposing what state media described as “maximum” preventive measures, Kim has stressed that his economic goals still should be met, and state media have described large groups of workers continuing to gather at farms, mining facilities, power stations and construction sites.
Experts say Kim can’t afford to bring the country to a standstill that would unleash further shock on a fragile economy, strained by decades of mismanagement, crippling US-led sanctions over his nuclear weapons ambitions and pandemic border closures. State media have portrayed an urgent push for agricultural campaigns aimed at protecting crops amid an ongoing drought, a worrisome development in a country that has long suffered from food insecurity, and for completing large-scale housing and other construction projects Kim sees as crucial to his rule.
The virus hasn’t stopped Kim from holding and attending important public events for his leadership. State media showed him weeping during Saturday’s state funeral for top North Korean military official Hyon Chol Hae, who is believed to have been involved in grooming Kim as a future leader during the rule of his father, Kim Jong Il.
North Korea’s optimistic description of its pandemic response starkly contrasts with outside concerns about dire consequences, including deaths that may reach tens of thousands. The worries have grown as the country apparently tries to manage the crisis in isolation while ignoring help from South Korea and the United States. South Korea’s government has said it couldn’t confirm reports that North Korea had flown aircraft to bring back emergency supplies from ally China this week.
The North in recent years has shunned millions of vaccine doses offered by the UN-backed COVAX distribution program, possibly because of international monitoring requirements attached to those shots. The WHO and UNICEF have said North Korea so far has been unresponsive to their requests for virus data or proposals for help, and some experts say the North may be willing to accept a certain level of fatalities to gain immunity through infection.
It’s possible at least some of North Korea’s fever caseload are from non-COVID-19 illnesses such as water-borne diseases, which according to South Korean intelligence officials have become a growing problem for the North in recent years amid shortages in medical supplies.
But experts say the explosive pace of spread and North Korea’s lack of a testing regime to detect large numbers of virus carriers in early stages of infection suggest the country’s COVID-19 crisis is likely worse than what its fever numbers represent. They say the country’s real virus fatalities would be significantly larger than the official numbers and that deaths will further surge in coming weeks considering the intervals between infections and deaths.
North Korea’s admission of a COVID-19 outbreak came amid a provocative run in weapons tests, including the country’s first demonstration of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017 in March, as Kim pushes a brinkmanship aimed at pressuring the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
The challenges posed by a decaying economy and the COVID-19 outbreak are unlikely to slow his pressure campaign. US and South Korean officials have said there’s a possibility the North conducts another ballistic missile test or nuclear explosive test during or around President Joe Biden’s visits to South Korea and Japan this week.
Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled for more than three years over disagreements over how to relax crippling US-led sanctions in exchange for disarmament steps by the North.