British envoy in Kabul as Taliban seek to break isolation

British envoy in Kabul as Taliban seek to break isolation
Protesters gather around a car with the Taliban flag raised atop it during the anti-Pakistan protest in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Reuters)
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Updated 05 October 2021

British envoy in Kabul as Taliban seek to break isolation

British envoy in Kabul as Taliban seek to break isolation

KABUL: A senior British envoy held talks with top Taliban officials in Kabul on Tuesday — the first since foreign forces evacuated from Afghanistan — as the country’s new masters seek a path out of international isolation.
The hard-line Islamist movement declared a new regime after overrunning the capital in August and ousting the US-backed government.
But after 20 years of war the aid-reliant country faces economic collapse, with major donors pausing funding and no emergency support in place.
The new rulers have been courting hesitant foreign powers in a bid to restart cash flows to the country, where civil servants and health care workers have gone months without salaries.
Taliban officials tweeted pictures of the first meeting between Simon Gass, Britain’s special representative for Afghanistan, and deputy prime ministers Abdul Ghani Baradar and Abdul Salam Hanafi.
The British team, which flew in on a flight facilitated by Qatar, secured the release of Ben Slater, a former British soldier who was detained by the Taliban on the Pakistani border last month as he tried to escort Afghan refugees to safety.
He flew out of Kabul with the British delegation, a UK government official said.
The two sides discussed how Britain can help Afghanistan battle terrorism and a deepening humanitarian crisis — and provide safe passage for those who want to leave the country, a UK government spokesperson said.
“They also raised the treatment of minorities and the rights of women and girls,” the spokesperson added, adding that Gass was joined by Martin Longden, charge d’affaires at the now evacuated UK mission to Afghanistan.
The Taliban, notorious for their brutal and oppressive rule from 1996 to 2001, have faced a backlash after effectively excluding women and girls from education and work across the country.

Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the Taliban’s foreign ministry spokesman, said the meeting “focused on detailed discussions about reviving diplomatic relations between both countries.”
But a UK official was more cautious, stressing that the visit did not represent recognition or “legitimacy” for the Taliban, but rather opening a channel of communication and contact building
“We’re being really realistic,” the official said. “It’s good to be able to get in and get out safely. It’s about pragmatic dialogue, securing safe passage, humanitarian assistance and counter-terrorism.”
Western governments have warned that the Taliban must form an “inclusive” government and respect human and women’s rights if they are to be formally recognized.
Neighbouring Pakistan, however, has been pushing for the international community to engage with the new rulers and help stabilize a country threatened by famine.
The Taliban have made some gestures toward international respectability, while insisting on their right to return to a government based on their hard-line interpretation of Islamic law.
Tuesday saw another example of the kind of practices that feed international concern.
In the western province of Herat the Taliban hung up the bodies of three alleged criminals after a man killed them when they entered his home, deputy governor Mawlawi Shir Ahmad MuHajjir told AFP.
Graphic images posted to social media showed the three corpses hoisted from two cranes in the Obe district in northeast Herat.

But in signs the Islamists may be trying to soften their public image after 50 days in power, the Taliban announced at a stage-managed rally that some women civil servants have been called back to work.
Interior ministry spokesman Qari Sayed Khosti told AFP that all staff of the passport department “including female employees” were asked to return to their offices.
The spokesman said the ministry intended to start issuing Afghan passports again after the system broke down with the fall of the previous government.
Girls also returned to some secondary schools in a northern province, Taliban officials and teachers said, despite them remaining barred from classrooms in much of the country.
A video posted by the group’s spokesman Suhail Shaheen showed dozens of schoolgirls in black, some wearing white head scarves and others with black face veils, sat in chairs waving Taliban flags.
Education ministry official Mohammad Abid said there had been no policy change from the interim central government, telling AFP on Tuesday: “High schools still remain closed for girls.”
The Taliban, which have permitted girls to attend primary school, have said girls will return to secondary schools once their security and strict gender segregation under sharia law can be ensured.
Several teachers and a head teacher in Kunduz city, the provincial capital, told AFP that girls at high schools in some districts had gone back to classes.


Attacker dressed like ninja wounds two French policewomen with sword -police

Attacker dressed like ninja wounds two French policewomen with sword -police
Updated 02 December 2021

Attacker dressed like ninja wounds two French policewomen with sword -police

Attacker dressed like ninja wounds two French policewomen with sword -police
  • A police spokeswoman said there were no immediate signs that the attack was terrorism-related

PARIS: A man dressed like a ninja attacked and wounded two policewomen with a sword in Cherbourg in northwestern France on Thursday before being shot and captured, a police spokeswoman said.
She said there were no immediate signs that the attack was terrorism-related.
She said the attacker had stolen a vehicle and caused an accident, after which he assaulted two policewomen who had been called to the scene, wounding one in the face and the other in the chin.
The assailant — dressed in black in the style of traditional Japanese ninja fighters — was shot three times by the officers and was flown to hospital by helicopter in serious condition.
The attack happened around 3:45 p.m. (1445 GMT) near a gas station of the Leclerc supermarket chain.
The name and nationality of the attacker were not immediately known.


UN headquarters cordoned off over armed man

UN headquarters cordoned off over armed man
Updated 02 December 2021

UN headquarters cordoned off over armed man

UN headquarters cordoned off over armed man
  • "The UN headquarters is closed, there is police activity," a UN spokesman told AFP

UNITED NATIONS, United States: The United Nations headquarters in New York was cordoned off on Thursday during a police stand-off with a lone man apparently holding a gun outside the venue, officials said.
“The UN headquarters is closed, there is police activity,” a UN spokesman told AFP.
Images showed armed police surrounding the man standing on a sidewalk while holding what appeared to be a gun.
According to an official speaking on condition of anonymity, the man threatened to kill himself in front of one of the building’s entrances.
The avenue along the UN headquarters was closed to traffic, but meetings inside were not immediately affected.
“Due to a police investigation, avoid the area of 42 Street and 1st Avenue. Expect emergency vehicles in the surrounding area,” the New York police department said on Twitter.


Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms

Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms
Updated 02 December 2021

Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms

Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms
  • Measures were necessary in light of concerns that hospitals in Germany could become overloaded
  • “The situation in our country is serious,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, calling the measure an “act of national solidarity”

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that people who aren’t vaccinated will be excluded from nonessential stores, cultural and recreational venues.
And parliament will consider a general vaccine mandate as part of efforts to curb coronavirus infections that again topped 70,000 newly confirmed cases in a 24-hour period.
Speaking after a meeting with federal and state leaders, Merkel said the measures were necessary in light of concerns that hospitals in Germany could become overloaded with people suffering COVID-19 infections, which are more likely to be serious in those who haven’t been vaccinated.
“The situation in our country is serious,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, calling the measure an “act of national solidarity.”
She said officials also agreed to require masks in schools, impose new limits on private meetings and aim for 30 million vaccinations by the end of the year — an effort that will be boosted by allowing dentists and pharmacists to administer the shots.
Merkel herself backed the most contentious proposal of imposing a general vaccine mandate. She said parliament would debate the proposal with input from the country’s national ethics committee.
If passed, it could take effect as early as February, Merkel said, adding that she would have voted in favor of the measure if she were still a member of parliament.
About 68.7 percent of the population in Germany is fully vaccinated, far below the minimum of 75 percent the government is aiming for.
There have been large protests against pandemic measures in the past in Germany and the vaccine mandate is likely to be opposed by a minority, though opinion polls show most Germans are in favor.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who is expected to be elected chancellor by a center-left coalition next week, has also backed a general vaccine mandate, but favors letting lawmakers vote on the issue according to their personal conscience rather than party lines.
“If we had a higher vaccination rate, we wouldn’t be discussing this now,”he said.
The rise in COVID-19 cases over the past several weeks and the arrival of the new omicron variant have prompted warnings from scientists and doctors that medical services in the country could become overstretched in the coming weeks unless drastic action is taken. Some hospitals in the south and east of the country have already transferred patients to other parts of Germany because of a shortage of intensive care beds.
Agreeing what measures to take has been complicated by Germany’s political structure — with the 16 states responsible for many of the regulations — and the ongoing transition at the federal level.
Germany’s disease control agency reported 73,209 newly confirmed cases Thursday. The Robert Koch Institute also reported 388 new deaths from COVID-19, taking the total since the start of the pandemic to 102,178.
To reduce the pressure on hospitals over the festive period, the sale of fireworks traditionally set off during New Year’s in Germany will be banned. Each year, hospitals treat hundreds of people with serious injuries because of mishandled fireworks.
The new measures will take effect once Germany’s 16 states incorporate them into existing rules, likely in the coming days.


Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections

Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections
Updated 02 December 2021

Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections

Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections
  • “More cases are expected. Effective tracing is being done to limit transmission routes and prevent major outbreaks,” said Oslo Municipality
  • The government agency said that there was “a high vaccination coverage” in the group

COPENHAGEN: At least 50 people in and around Norway’s capital have been infected with the omicron coronavirus variant and the cases are connected to a Norwegian company’s Christmas party in an Oslo restaurant, officials said Thursday.
“More cases are expected. Effective tracing is being done to limit transmission routes and prevent major outbreaks,” the Oslo Municipality said in a statement.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health said that those affected live in Oslo and surrounding municipalities, and “the infection detection team in Oslo has contacted the municipalities concerned to start infection detection.”
The government agency said that there was “a high vaccination coverage” in the group, adding that overall “more than 50 cases” have been recorded in Norway. The country’s first two cases were announced Monday.
On Wednesday the city of Oslo urged people who visited two restaurants in the capital to be tested. One reportedly was where the Christmas party was held.
Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart vaccines.
It is customary in Scandinavia for companies, associations and individuals to hold Christmas parties in the weeks leading up to Christmas eve.


Pope Francis arrives in Cyprus with migrants in focus

Pope Francis arrives in Cyprus with migrants in focus
Updated 02 December 2021

Pope Francis arrives in Cyprus with migrants in focus

Pope Francis arrives in Cyprus with migrants in focus
  • On Friday he is scheduled to perform mass at an open-air stadium and later hold an 'ecumenical prayer' with migrants at a Catholic Church
  • Francis has arranged to have 50 migrants relocated to Italy after his trip this week

LARNACA, Cyprus: Pope Francis arrived on Cyprus on Thursday with a focus on inter-faith dialogue and lending his support to a country on one of the frontlines of Europe’s migration crisis.
Francis, who will travel on to Greece on Dec. 4, was to meet with Cyprus’s president on Thursday as well as with the Maronite Church. On Friday he is scheduled to perform mass at an open-air stadium and later hold an ‘ecumenical prayer’ with migrants at a Catholic Church in the divided capital.
“It will be a beautiful trip but we will touch some wounds. I hope that we all will be able to gather up the messages given to us,” Pope Francis told journalists on the aircraft.
Young children waving flags of Cyprus and the Vatican welcomed Francis at Larnaca airport, and three young girls in Cypriot traditional dress gave him bouquets of flowers.
Cyprus says it is struggling to cope with an influx of undocumented migrants, either through a dividing line splitting the island, or by boats from the neighboring Middle East.
Francis, who has made defense of migrants and refugees a cornerstone of his papacy, has arranged to have 50 migrants relocated to Italy after his trip this week.
Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict, visited Cyprus in 2010. Cyprus’s Orthodox Church, the dominant Christian communion, traces its lineage back to some of Christ’s earliest followers.
According to the Book of Acts in Christian scripture, St. Paul visited the island with Barnabas, the founder of Cyprus’s Church, and Mark the Evangelist.
The Pope will be staying at a Franciscan monastery in the capital Nicosia, one of the last divided capitals of the world. The Roman Catholic Holy Cross Church, in the same compound, still bears scars from the crossfire of ethnic strife and from a Turkish invasion triggered by a Greek-inspired coup in 1974.