Under-pressure Taliban meet EU-US delegation in push for support

Under-pressure Taliban meet EU-US delegation in push for support
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Members of the Taliban delegation meet with foreign diplomats in Qatar’s capital Doha on Oct. 12, 2021. (AFP)
Under-pressure Taliban meet EU-US delegation in push for support
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The new Taliban administration decided last month that schools above the sixth grade would only reopen for boys and refused to give ground on allowing girls to return to high school. (AFP)
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Updated 12 October 2021

Under-pressure Taliban meet EU-US delegation in push for support

Under-pressure Taliban meet EU-US delegation in push for support
  • Direct talks in Doha were facilitated by Qatar which has long hosted a Taliban political office

DOHA: The Taliban held their first face-to-face talks with a joint EU-US delegation Tuesday in Qatar as the hard-line Islamists pursue their diplomatic push for international support.
Afghanistan’s new rulers are seeking recognition, as well as assistance to avoid a humanitarian disaster, after they returned to power in August following the withdrawal of US troops after 20 years of war.
UN chief Antonio Guterres urged the world to donate to Afghanistan to head off its economic collapse, but also slammed the Taliban’s “broken” promises to Afghan women and girls.
The direct talks in Doha were facilitated by Qatar which has long hosted a Taliban political office.
EU spokeswoman Nabila Massrali said the meeting would “allow the US and European side to address issues” including free passage for people wanting to leave, access for humanitarian aid, respect for the rights of women and preventing Afghanistan becoming a haven for “terrorist” groups.
“This is an informal exchange at technical level. It does not constitute recognition of the ‘interim government’,” she said.
The Taliban badly need assistance as Afghanistan’s economy is in a parlous state with international aid cut off, food prices rising and unemployment spiking.
The regime, still yet to be recognized as a legitimate government by any other country, is also facing a security threat from the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) group, who have launched a series of deadly attacks.
“We want positive relationships with the whole world,” the Taliban’s acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said at an earlier event in Qatar.
“We believe in balanced international relations. We believe such a balanced relationship can save Afghanistan from instability,” said Muttaqi, who led the Taliban delegation Saturday for the first in-person talks with US officials since the American pullout.
Ahead of Tuesday’s talks, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc was looking to bolster its direct aid to the Afghan people in an effort to stave off “collapse.”
“We cannot ‘wait and see’. We need to act, and act quickly,” Borrell said after discussions with EU development ministers.
The international community is facing a tough balancing act trying to get urgently needed aid to Afghans without endorsing Taliban rule.
G20 leaders were to hold a virtual summit on Tuesday to discuss the humanitarian and security situation following the Taliban takeover.
It was not clear if all the leaders of the G20 economic powers, which include the United States, EU, China, Turkey, Russia and Saudi Arabia among others, would join the meeting organized by Italy.
But an Italian government official said it would be “mostly heads of state and government.”
Guterres underscored discontent with the Taliban over its treatment of women despite vows it would not repeat its earlier hard-line rule.
“I am particularly alarmed to see promises made to Afghan women and girls by the Taliban being broken,” he told reporters Monday.
Afghanistan’s boys were allowed to return to secondary schools three weeks ago, but girls have been told to stay at home along with women teachers in much of the country, though they can attend primary school.
Asked about the exclusion of girls, Muttaqi said schools had been closed because of COVID-19 — a threat he said had lessened.
“COVID... has been controlled and incidences are very few, and with the reduction of that risk, opening of schools has already started and every day it is increasing,” he said.
Muttaqi also insisted there was no discrimination against the Shiite community and claimed that IS-K was being tamed.
“Whatever preparations they had made have been neutralized 98 percent,” he said.
IS-K claimed a bombing of a Shiite mosque that killed more than 60 people on Friday, the deadliest attack since the US pullout.
Underlining the shaky security situation, the US and Britain warned their citizens on Monday to avoid hotels in Afghanistan.
Spain was to organize a second evacuation flight for Afghans Tuesday after flying 84 from Pakistan to a base near Madrid on Monday.
Madrid evacuated more than 2,000 people, most of them Afghans who had worked for Spain and their families, during the Western withdrawal from Kabul in August but the flights had to stop once the last American troops left.


Norway tightens measures as Covid cases surge

Updated 8 sec ago

Norway tightens measures as Covid cases surge

Norway tightens measures as Covid cases surge
OSLO: Norway will tighten health measures to combat a surge in Covid-19 cases, including a limit on the number of people at parties, the government said on Tuesday.
From four weeks starting at midnight on Thursday, authorities will limit the number of guests in a home to 10 — in addition to the people in the household.
Last week, a suspected outbreak of the newly discovered omicron variant among dozens of partygoers who had all been vaccinated led the government to introduce new restrictions to deal with Covid in and around the capital Oslo.
“The situation is now so serious that we have to take new measures to keep the pandemic under control,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store told a press conference.
However, the number may be raised to 20 over the Christmas period, so long as at least a meter (three feet) is kept between guests, it said.
Masks will also be compulsory — but again, only if social distancing cannot be maintained at one meter, while table-only service will be mandatory at restaurants and bars.
“The risk of overloading health services and the spread of the more contagious omicron variant now requires new strict measures in our country,” Store said.
Norway has recorded 29 omicron cases so far.

Putin demands security guarantees from Biden to curb NATO expansion

During two hours of talks with Biden on a video call, Putin said NATO was bolstering its military potential near Russia’s borders. (Reuters/File Photos)
During two hours of talks with Biden on a video call, Putin said NATO was bolstering its military potential near Russia’s borders. (Reuters/File Photos)
Updated 31 min 7 sec ago

Putin demands security guarantees from Biden to curb NATO expansion

During two hours of talks with Biden on a video call, Putin said NATO was bolstering its military potential near Russia’s borders. (Reuters/File Photos)
  • The talks were held as the West voiced concerns that Russia will invade Ukraine

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin presented US President Joe Biden with a demand for legally binding security guarantees that would rule out the expansion of NATO, the Kremlin said on Tuesday after virtual talks between the two leaders.

During two hours of talks with Biden on a video call, Putin said NATO was bolstering its military potential near Russia’s borders and “making dangerous attempts to conquer Ukrainian territory,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

“Therefore, Russia is seriously interested in obtaining reliable, legally fixed guarantees that rule out NATO expansion eastward and the deployment of offensive strike weapons systems in states adjacent to Russia,” the Kremlin said.

Russian authorities have said that NATO's growing ties with Ukraine and the possibility of the alliance deploying missiles targeted against Russia there was a “red line” it would not allow to be crossed.

Putin also told his US counterpart he wanted guarantees that offensive strike systems would not be deployed in countries close to Russia, the Kremlin said.

The talks were held as the West voiced concerns that Russia will invade Ukraine and warned of “strong economic and other measures” as punishment should Moscow start a military conflict.

The Kremlin, which said before Tuesday's meeting that it did not expect any breakthroughs, has denied harbouring any intention to attack Ukraine and said that its troop posture is defensive. 


HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO

HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO
Updated 07 December 2021

HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO

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

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.

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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.