G20 leaders ‘laser-focused’ on anti-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan

Leaders of the world's major economies including US President Joe Biden were discussing the situation in Afghanistan. (Reuters/File Photo)
Leaders of the world's major economies including US President Joe Biden were discussing the situation in Afghanistan. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 12 October 2021

G20 leaders ‘laser-focused’ on anti-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan

Leaders of the world's major economies including US President Joe Biden were discussing the situation in Afghanistan. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • The G20 leaders also discussed the need to provide safe passage for foreign nationals and “Afghan partners” out of the country

WASHINGTON D.C.: G20 leaders holding a virtual summit on Afghanistan Tuesday are “laser-focused” on keeping the Taliban-ruled country from becoming a militant haven and on providing humanitarian aid, says a US readout on the meeting.

Leaders of the world's major economies including US President Joe Biden, joined by representatives of the United Nations and key intermediary Qatar, “discussed the critical need to maintain a laser-focus on our enduring counterterrorism efforts, including against threats from ISIS-K,” a White House statement said.

It was referring to Daesh's offshoot in the region, a bitter rival of the Taliban that has staged a series of deadly attacks of late as it tries to destabilize the country's new rulers.

It claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed 55 people last week in a Shiite mosque.

The G20 leaders also discussed the need to provide safe passage for foreign nationals and “Afghan partners” with documentation who hope to leave Afghanistan, the US readout said.

The leaders also reaffirmed a commitment to provide humanitarian assistance directly to the Afghan people through independent international organizations, and “to promote fundamental human rights for all Afghans, including women, girls, and members of minority groups.”

The US -- which completed a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in late August -- remains committed to “using diplomatic, humanitarian, and economic means to address the situation in Afghanistan and support the Afghan people.”

The G20 needs to maintain contact with Afghanistan's Taliban government but this does not mean the Kabul administration will be formally recognised, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi also said Tuesday.

Speaking after chairing a special G20 summit on the Afghan crisis, Draghi said the virtual meeting had been a success despite the absence of key leaders such as China's Xi Jinping and Russia's Vladimir Putin.

“This was the first multilateral response to the Afghan crisis ... multilateralism is coming back, with difficulty, but it is coming back,” Draghi told reporters after the video conference.

There was unanimous agreement among the participants about the need to tackle Afghanistan's mounting humanitarian crisis and safeguard the position of women in the impoverished nation, Draghi said.

“It is very hard to see how you can help people in Afghanistan without involving the Taliban,” Draghi said. 

Qatar's diplomatic point man on Afghanistan said countries should engage the country's new Taliban rulers, warning that isolation could lead to instability and a wide-reaching security threat.

Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani, Qatar’s special envoy for counterterrorism and mediation in conflict resolution, said he's held conversations with the Taliban about combating terrorism.

The Taliban, he said, are committed to fighting Daesh and its affiliates, which are increasingly active in Afghanistan, and ensuring the country is not used by terrorist organizations.

The sides have also discussed pressing issues related to the role of women in society, girls' access to education and the importance of an inclusive government.

“What we are saying to the Taliban, which is the caretaker government, the de facto authorities in Kabul, (is that) discrimination and exclusion... this is not a good policy,” Al-Qahtani said in a speech at the Global Security Forum in Doha organized by The Soufan Center.

The current Afghan government, which the Taliban say is only interim, is comprised solely of Taliban figures, including several blacklisted by the UN.

Qatar was crucial to the US airlift of more than 100,000 people from Kabul after the Taliban’s surprise takeover of the capital Aug. 15, and has hosted face-to-face talks between the Taliban and the US.

* With AFP, AP and Reuters


Singapore to hold off further reopening to evaluate omicron variant

Singapore to hold off further reopening to evaluate omicron variant
Updated 12 sec ago

Singapore to hold off further reopening to evaluate omicron variant

Singapore to hold off further reopening to evaluate omicron variant
  • ‘This is a prudent thing to do for now, when we are faced with a major uncertainty’
SINGAPORE: Singapore will hold off on further reopening measures while it evaluates the omicron COVID-19 variant and will boost testing of travelers and frontline workers to reduce the risk of local transmission, authorities said on Tuesday.
“This is a prudent thing to do for now, when we are faced with a major uncertainty,” Health Minister Ong Ye Kung told a media briefing on Tuesday, adding the variant had not yet been detected locally.

Moderna CEO says vaccines likely less effective against Omicron — FT

Moderna CEO says vaccines likely less effective against Omicron — FT
Updated 49 sec ago

Moderna CEO says vaccines likely less effective against Omicron — FT

Moderna CEO says vaccines likely less effective against Omicron — FT
  • Drugmaker CEO warns of “material drop” in vaccine effectiveness, mutations mean existing vaccines likely need modifying

SYDNEY: The head of drugmaker Moderna said COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely to be as effective against the Omicron variant of the coronavirus as they have been previously, sparking fresh worry in financial markets about the trajectory of the pandemic.
“There is no world, I think, where (the effectiveness) is the same level . . . we had with Delta,” Moderna Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel told the Financial Times.
“I think it’s going to be a material drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data. But all the scientists I’ve talked to . . . are like ‘this is not going to be good.’“
Vaccine resistance could lead to more sickness and hospitalizations and prolong the pandemic, and his comments triggered selling in growth-exposed assets like oil, stocks and the Australian dollar.
Bancel added that the high number of mutations on the protein spike the virus uses to infect human cells meant it was likely the current crop of vaccines would need to be modified.
He had earlier said on CNBC that it could take months to begin shipping a vaccine that does work against Omicron.
Fear of the new variant, despite a lack of information about its severity, has already triggered delays to some economic reopening plans and the reimposition of some travel and movement restrictions.

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Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte’s preferred successor quits presidential race

Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte’s preferred successor quits presidential race
Updated 45 min 58 sec ago

Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte’s preferred successor quits presidential race

Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte’s preferred successor quits presidential race
  • Making the ‘supreme sacrifice for the good of the country and for the sake of unity among our supporters and leaders’

MANILA: Philippine Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, the preferred successor of Rodrigo Duterte, said on Tuesday he was withdrawing his candidacy for presidency.
Go, President Duterte’s long-time aide, had recently hinted he may drop out of the race and his withdrawal leaves the administration without a presidential candidate. It was not clear yet who Duterte will now support. “I and President Duterte are ready to support whoever will truly serve and can continue and protect Duterte’s legacy toward a more comfortable and safe and prosperous life for our children,” Go said in a short speech streamed on Facebook.
Go said he was making the “supreme sacrifice for the good of the country and for the sake of unity among our supporters and leaders.” Duterte’s daughter, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio is running for the deputy post alongside the son of late Philippine dictator and namesake, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who has emerged as an early frontrunner. The Southeast Asian nation of 110 million people holds elections in May 2022 for positions from president down to governors, mayors and local officials.
Duterte, 76, is barred by the constitution from seeking re-election but he will run for a seat in the senate next year.


Myanmar court defers verdicts in Suu Kyi trial to Dec. 6

 Detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi (L) and detained president Win Myint (R) during their first court appearance in Naypyidaw. (AFP file photo)
Detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi (L) and detained president Win Myint (R) during their first court appearance in Naypyidaw. (AFP file photo)
Updated 30 November 2021

Myanmar court defers verdicts in Suu Kyi trial to Dec. 6

 Detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi (L) and detained president Win Myint (R) during their first court appearance in Naypyidaw. (AFP file photo)
  • Suu Kyi now appears most weekdays at the junta courtroom, with her legal team saying last month the hectic schedule was taking a toll on the 76-year-old’s health

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar: A court in military-ruled Myanmar deferred on Tuesday verdicts in the trial of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to Dec. 6, a source familiar with the proceedings said.
The court had been due to rule on charges of incitement and violations of a law on natural disasters, accusations that Suu Kyi has rejected.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not give a reason for the deferral.
The Nobel laureate has been detained since the generals ousted her government in the early hours of February 1, ending the Southeast Asian country’s brief democratic interlude.
More than 1,200 people have been killed and over 10,000 arrested in a crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitoring group.
Suu Kyi faces three years in prison if found guilty of incitement against the military — although analysts say it is unlikely she will be taken away to jail on Tuesday.
Journalists have been barred from proceedings in the special court in the military-built capital Naypyidaw and Suu Kyi’s lawyers were recently banned from speaking to the media.
The courtroom will remain off-limits to reporters for the verdict, junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun recently said.
Days after the coup Suu Kyi was hit with obscure charges for possessing unlicensed walkie-talkies, and for violating coronavirus restrictions during elections her National League for Democracy (NLD) won in 2020.
The junta has since added a slew of other indictments, including violating the official secrets act, corruption and electoral fraud.
Suu Kyi now appears most weekdays at the junta courtroom, with her legal team saying last month the hectic schedule was taking a toll on the 76-year-old’s health.
Suu Kyi’s long spells of house arrest under a previous junta were spent at her family’s colonial-era mansion in Yangon, where she would appear before thousands gathered on the other side of her garden fence.
Min Aung Hlaing’s regime has confined her to an undisclosed location in the capital, with her link to the outside world limited to brief pre-trial meetings with her lawyers.
At her first court appearance, she used them to send a message of defiance, vowing the NLD would endure and asking the party faithful to remain united.
But in October her team were hit with a gag order after they relayed vivid testimony from deposed president Win Myint describing how he rejected a military offer to resign to save himself during the coup.
In recent weeks the trials of other ranking members of Suu Kyi’s NLD have wrapped up, with the junta doling out harsh sentences.
A former chief minister was sentenced to 75 years in jail earlier this month, while a close Suu Kyi aide was jailed for 20.


Barbados ditches Britain’s Queen Elizabeth

Barbados ditches Britain’s Queen Elizabeth
Updated 30 November 2021

Barbados ditches Britain’s Queen Elizabeth

Barbados ditches Britain’s Queen Elizabeth
  • Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, stood somberly as Queen Elizabeth’s royal standard was lowered and the new Barbados declared

BRIDGETOWN: Barbados ditched Britain’s Queen Elizabeth as head of state, forging a new republic on Tuesday with its first-ever president and severing its last remaining colonial bonds nearly 400 years after the first English ships arrived at the Caribbean island.

At the strike of midnight, the new republic was born to the cheers of hundreds of people lining Chamberlain Bridge in the capital, Bridgetown. A 21-gun salute fired as the national anthem of Barbados was played over a crowded Heroes Square.

Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, stood somberly as Queen Elizabeth’s royal standard was lowered and the new Barbados declared, a step which republicans hope will spur discussion of similar proposals in other former British colonies that have Queen Elizabeth as their sovereign.

Barbados casts the removal of Elizabeth II, who is still queen of 15 other realms including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Jamaica, as a way to finally break with the demons of its colonial history.

After a dazzling display of Barbadian dance and music, complete with speeches celebrating the end of colonialism, Sandra Mason was sworn in as Barbados’s first president in the shadow of Barbados’s parliament.

“Full stop this colonial page,” Winston Farrell, a Barbadian poet told the ceremony. “Some have grown up stupid under the Union Jack, lost in the castle of their skin.”

“It is about us, rising out of the cane fields, reclaiming our history,” he said. “End all that she mean, put a Bajan there instead.”

The birth of the republic, 55 years to the day since Barbados declared independence, unclasps almost all the colonial bonds that have kept the tiny island tied to England since an English ship claimed it for King James I in 1625.

It may also be a harbinger of a broader attempt by other former colonies to cut ties to the British monarchy as it braces for the end of Elizabeth’s nearly 70-year reign and the future accession of Charles.

Prime Minister Mia Mottley, the leader of Barbados’ republican movement, helped lead the ceremony. Mottley has won global attention by denouncing the effects of climate change on small Caribbean nations.

“Tonight’s the night!” read the front-page headline of Barbados’ Daily Nation newspaper.

“I’m overjoyed,” Ras Binghi, a Bridgetown cobbler, said ahead of the ceremony. Binghi said he would be saluting the new republic with a drink and a smoke.

Prince Charles will give a speech highlighting the continuing friendship of the two nations despite England’s central role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

While Britain casts slavery as a sin of the past, some Barbadians are calling for compensation from Britain.

Activist David Denny celebrated the creation of the republic but said he opposes the visit by Prince Charles, noting the royal family for centuries benefited from the slave trade.

“Our movement would also like the royal family to pay a reparation,” Denny said in an interview in Bridgetown.

The English initially used white British indentured servants to toil on the plantations of tobacco, cotton, indigo and sugar, but Barbados in just a few decades would become England’s first truly profitable slave society.

Barbados received 600,000 enslaved Africans between 1627 and 1833, who were put to work in the sugar plantations, earning fortunes for the English owners.

More than 10 million Africans were shackled into the Atlantic slave trade by European nations between the 15th and 19th centuries. Those who survived the often brutal voyage, ended up toiling on plantations.

Barbados will remain a republic within the Commonwealth, a grouping of 54 countries across Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe.

Outside the lavish official ceremony, some Barbadians said they were uncertain what the transition to a republic even meant or why it mattered.

“They should leave Queen Elizabeth be — leave her as the boss. I don’t understand why we need to be a republic,” said Sean Williams, 45, standing in the shadow of an independence monument.

The last time the queen was removed as head of state was in 1992 when the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius proclaimed itself a republic.