US grants licenses for more aid flow to Afghanistan despite sanctions

US grants licenses for more aid flow to Afghanistan despite sanctions
The US on Friday paved the way for aid to flow to Afghanistan despite US sanctions on the Taliban issuing general licenses amid concern that Washington’s punitive measures could compound an unfolding humanitarian crisis. (Reuters)
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Updated 24 September 2021

US grants licenses for more aid flow to Afghanistan despite sanctions

US grants licenses for more aid flow to Afghanistan despite sanctions
  • The US Treasury Department said it issued two general licenses
  • Washington will continue to work with financial institutions, NGOs and international organizations

UNITED NATIONS: The United States on Friday further paved the way for aid to flow to Afghanistan despite US sanctions on the Taliban, who seized control of the country last month, issuing general licenses amid concern that Washington’s punitive measures could compound an unfolding humanitarian crisis.
The US Treasury Department said it issued two general licenses, one allowing the US government, NGOs and certain international organizations, including the United Nations, to engage in transactions with the Taliban or Haqqani Network — both under sanctions — that are necessary to provide humanitarian assistance.
The second license authorizes certain transactions related to the export and re-export of food, medicine and other items.
“Treasury is committed to facilitating the flow of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan and other activities that support their basic human needs,” Andrea Gacki, director of the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the statement.
She added that Washington will continue to work with financial institutions, NGOs and international organizations to ease the flow of agricultural goods, medicine and other resources while upholding sanctions on the Taliban, Haqqani Network and others.
The United Nations said that at the start of the year more than 18 million people — about half of Afghanistan’s population — require aid amid the second drought in four years.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week that Afghanistan is on “the verge of a dramatic humanitarian disaster” and has decided to engage the Taliban in order to help the country’s people.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has said it is committed to allowing humanitarian work in Afghanistan to continue despite Washington listing the Taliban as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group.
The sanctions freeze any US assets of the Islamist militant group and bar Americans from dealing with them, including the contribution of funds, goods or services.
Reuters reported last month that Washington issued a license authorizing the US government and its partners to continue to facilitate humanitarian aid in Afghanistan.
Friday’s move expands on that specific license, allowing international organizations and NGOs to pay taxes, fees, import duties or permits, licenses or other necessary transactions for assistance to reach the people of Afghanistan.
The licenses allow NGOs and foreign financial institutions to continue humanitarian assistance such as the delivery of food, shelter, medicine and medical services, including COVID-19 assistance, a Treasury spokesperson said.
“We have not reduced sanctions pressure on Taliban leaders or the significant restrictions on their access to the international financial system,” the spokesperson said.
A Taliban offensive as foreign forces withdrew from Afghanistan after a 20-year war culminated in the capture of the capital Kabul on Aug. 15, two decades after they were driven from power by a US-led campaign in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

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HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO

HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO
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HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO

HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO
JOHANNESBURG: HIV infection rates in Africa have decreased markedly, but the continent is still behind set targets, with efforts slowed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.
“Africa has made significant progress against HIV over the past decade, reducing new infections by 43 percent and nearly halving AIDS-related deaths,” the WHO Africa office said in a statement.
But it warned that Africa was not likely to meet a target to end AIDS as a public health threat by the turn of the decade as Covid has undermined the fight in many countries.
“Covid-19 has made the fight against HIV all the more challenging, but one virus must not win out over another. We must tackle Covid-19 and HIV in parallel,” WHO Africa chief Matshidiso Moeti said.
Covid has also slowed HIV screening rates because of restrictions of movements.
UNAIDS last week warned that HIV infection rates were not decreasing fast enough to reach the goal of eradicating AIDS by 2030.
According to data released at the annual International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (ICASA) currently being held in South Africa’s port city of Durban, only nine African countries are on track to meet the target in the next four years.
The countries are Botswana, Cape Verde, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
“This scorecard is a wake-up call for African governments to stay focused on ending AIDS,” Moeti said.
South Africa, the country with the world’s highest HIV prevalence at 20.4 percent, is hosting the week-long annual meeting bringing together scientists, politicians and activists.

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated
Updated 07 December 2021

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated
  • A week before that general lockdown, people not fully vaccinated against coronavirus had been placed under lockdown
  • Details still need to be ironed out at a meeting on Wednesday between the government and the influential governors of Austria’s nine provinces

VIENNA: Unvaccinated individuals will continue to stay in lockdown even after Austria lifts its wider coronavirus measure for the general public on Sunday, Chancellor Karl Nehammer confirmed on Tuesday, a day after he took office.
Austria’s two-week-old lockdown aimed to counter a surge in daily COVID-19 infections to record levels, with restaurants, bars, theaters, museums and non-essential shops shut to all but take-away business. Hotels are closed to tourists.
A week before that general lockdown, people not fully vaccinated against coronavirus had been placed under lockdown, barring them from roughly the same places that are now shut, and allowed to leave home only for the same few reasons as the public now, such as going to work.
“The lockdown for the unvaccinated is staying,” Nehammer told a news conference, while confirming that the wider curbs would be lifted on Sunday as planned.
However, details still need to be ironed out at a meeting on Wednesday between the government and the influential governors of Austria’s nine provinces.
“For all the unvaccinated who are suffering from the fact they are staying in lockdown, there is a clear offer: you can come out of it if you seize the chance to get vaccinated,” Nehammer said, adding that his aim was to encourage as many as possible to get their first dose of vaccine.
Asked if restaurants and hotels would re-open at the weekend, Nehammer said that had already been agreed with provincial governors and the aim was to re-open businesses as broadly as possible.
The question that remained was what safety measures and curbs needed to be adopted, he added.


Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February
Updated 07 December 2021

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February

Ryanair cancels Morocco flights until February
  • Move follows government ban on all arrivals to combat spread of omicron variant
  • Irish carrier is largest airline in Europe, which is facing severe COVID-19 outbreak

LONDON: Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, has canceled all flights to Morocco until February 2022.

The move follows a total ban by the Moroccan government on flights arriving in the North African country until Dec. 13 to combat the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19.

It is not yet clear whether the ban will extend beyond the initial December deadline.

Other countries, including Japan and Israel, have also implemented stringent flight bans in an attempt to prevent the spread of the new variant.

Irish carrier Ryanair usually flies thousands of flights a day across Europe and beyond. The continent’s COVID-19 outbreak is far worse than many other places in the world, including Morocco, which recorded just 90 cases in the last 24 hours compared with 50,000 in Britain.


One dead, two missing after building collapses in France

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France
Updated 07 December 2021

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France

One dead, two missing after building collapses in France
  • Two adjacent buildings were also heavily damaged in the blast that occurred in the port at Sanary

SANARY-SUR-MER,France: French rescue workers on Tuesday recovered a man’s body from the rubble of a residential building destroyed overnight in a suspected gas explosion, and were scrambling to find two other people still missing after extracting a woman and a baby alive.
The woman and baby as well as three others were injured in the blast in the Mediterranean coastal city of Sanary-sur-Mer, which was heard from as far as eight kilometers (five miles) away.
“It’s very likely that the victim is the father of the baby,” Houda Vernhet, director of the government’s regional authority for the Var region, told AFP.
He was unconscious when located and declared dead after rescue workers spent more than two hours removing him from the unsteady wreckage of the three-story building.
The two people still missing “are a mother, an elderly woman, and her son” who lived on the ground floor, Vernhet said.
“For now, we haven’t yet found any signs of life from the rubble, but we didn’t hear the baby right away, either,” said Col. Eric Grohin, director of the fire service for the Var department.
Authorities said rescue workers smelled gas when they arrived at the site.
“The causes aren’t known for now. There was smell of gas, but we can’t say anything more while the police inquiry is underway,” the regional authorities said in a statement.
Two adjacent buildings were also heavily damaged in the blast that occurred in the port at Sanary, a city of around 15,000 people southeast of Marseille.


Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities
Updated 07 December 2021

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities

Hedge fund founder Steinhardt will return looted antiquities
  • Among the billionaire's collection were items from Egypt, Turkey and Iraq

NEW YORK: Billionaire hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt has agreed to turn over $70 million worth of stolen antiquities and will be subject to an unprecedented lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities, the Manhattan district attorney announced Monday.
In return, Steinhardt, a philanthropist who is chair of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life and co-founder of Birthright Israel, an organization that sends young Jews on free trips to Israel, will not face criminal charges for acquiring pieces that were illegally smuggled out of 11 countries including Iraq, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Syria and Turkey, prosecutors said.
“For decades, Michael Steinhardt displayed a rapacious appetite for plundered artifacts without concern for the legality of his actions, the legitimacy of the pieces he bought and sold, or the grievous cultural damage he wrought across the globe,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a news release. “His pursuit of ‘new’ additions to showcase and sell knew no geographic or moral boundaries, as reflected in the sprawling underworld of antiquities traffickers, crime bosses, money launderers, and tomb raiders he relied upon to expand his collection."
Steinhardt said in a prepared statement issued by his attorneys that he was "pleased that the District Attorney’s years-long investigation has concluded without any charges, and that items wrongfully taken by others will be returned to their native countries.”
Attorneys Andrew J. Levander and Theodore V. Wells Jr. said that many of the dealers from whom Steinhardt bought the items “made specific representations as to the dealers’ lawful title to the items, and to their alleged provenance.”
According to prosecutors, while complaining about a subpoena requesting documentation for an antiquity in May 2017, Steinhardt pointed to a small chest from Greece and said to an investigator, “You see this piece? There’s no provenance for it. If I see a piece and I like it, then I buy it.”
Many of the pieces Steinhardt acquired were removed from their countries of origin during times of war or civil unrest, prosecutors said.
Steinhardt, who turns 81 on Tuesday, founded the hedge fund Steinhardt Partners in 1967 and closed it in 1995. He came out of retirement in 2004 to head Wisdom Tree Investments.
New York University named its Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development after Steinhardt in recognition of two $10 million donations.
Manhattan prosecutors began investigating Steinhardt's collection of ancient artifacts in 2017 and raided his office and his Manhattan home in 2018, seizing several artworks that investigators said had been looted.
The items surrendered by Steinhardt include a stag’s head in the form of a ceremonial vessel for libations, dating from to 400 B.C., which prosecutors say appeared without provenance on the international market after rampant looting in Milas, Turkey. The stag's head is valued at $3.5 million, the district attorney said.
There was also the chest for human remains from the Greek Island of Crete, called a larnax and dating from around 1300 B.C., which prosecutors said was purchased from a known antiquities trafficker.