Taliban storm Kabul apartment, arrest activist, her sisters

Taliban storm Kabul apartment, arrest activist, her sisters
File photo of Afghan women and teachers demonstrating inside a private school to demand their rights and equal education for women and girls in Kabul in October. (AP)
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Updated 20 January 2022

Taliban storm Kabul apartment, arrest activist, her sisters

Taliban storm Kabul apartment, arrest activist, her sisters
  • A Taliban statement appeared to blame the incident on a recent women's protest, saying insulting Afghan values will no longer be tolerated
  • The activist, Tamana Zaryabi Paryani, was among about 25 women who took part in an anti-Taliban protest on Sunday against the compulsory Islamic headscarf

KABUL, Afghanistan: The Taliban stormed an apartment in Kabul, smashing the door in and arresting a woman rights activist and her three sisters, an eyewitness said Thursday.
A Taliban statement appeared to blame the incident on a recent women’s protest, saying insulting Afghan values will no longer be tolerated.
The activist, Tamana Zaryabi Paryani, was among about 25 women who took part in an anti-Taliban protest on Sunday against the compulsory Islamic headscarf, or hijab, for women. A person from the neighborhood who witnessed the arrest said about 10 armed men, claiming to be from the Taliban intelligence department, carried out the raid on Wednesday night.
Shortly before she and her sisters were taken away, footage of Paryani was posted on social media, showing her frightened and breathless and screaming for help, saying the Taliban were banging on her door.
“Help please, the Taliban have come to our home . . . only my sisters are home,” she is heard saying in the footage. There are other female voices in the background, crying. “I can’t open the door. Please . . . help!”
Associated Press footage from the scene on Thursday showed the apartment’s front door, made of metal and painted reddish brown, dented and left slightly ajar. The occupants of a neighboring apartment ran inside their home, not wanting to talk to reporters. An outer security door of steel slats was shut and padlocked, making it impossible to enter Paryani’s apartment.
The witness said the raid took place around 8 p.m. The armed men went up to the third floor of the Kabul apartment complex where Paryani lives and began pounding on the front door ordering her to open the door.
When she refused, they kicked the door repeatedly until it opened, the witness said. “They took four females away, all of them were sisters,” the witness said, adding that one of the four was Paryani, the activist.
The witness spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing Taliban reprisal.
The spokesman for the Taliban-appointed police in Kabul, Gen. Mobin Khan, tweeted that Paryani’s social video post was a manufactured drama. A spokesman for the Taliban intelligence, Khalid Hamraz, would neither confirm nor deny the arrest.
However, he tweeted that “insulting the religious and national values of the Afghan people is not tolerated anymore” — a reference to Sunday’s protest during which the protesters appeared to burn a white burqa, the all-encompassing traditional head-to-toe female garment that only leaves a mesh opening for the eyes.
Hamraz accused rights activists of maligning Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers and their security forces to gain asylum in the West.
Since sweeping to power in mid-August, the Taliban have imposed widespread restrictions, many of them directed at women. Women have been banned from many jobs, outside the health and education field, their access to education has been restricted beyond sixth grade and they have been ordered to wear the hijab. The Taliban have, however, stopped short of imposing the burqa, which was compulsory when they previously ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s.
At Sunday’s demonstration in Kabul, women carried placards demanding equal rights and shouted: “Justice!” They burned a white burqa and said they cannot be forced to wear the hijab. Organizers of the demonstration said Paryani attended the protest, which was dispersed after the Taliban fired tear gas into the crowd of women.
Paryani belongs to a rights group known as “Seekers of Justice,” which organized several demonstrations in Kabul, including Sunday’s. The group’s members have not spoken publicly of her arrest but have been sharing the video of Paryani.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized the crackdown, saying that since taking over Afghanistan five months ago, the Taliban “have rolled back the rights of women and girls, including blocking access to education and employment for many.”
“Women’s rights activists have staged a series of protests; the Taliban has responded by banning unauthorized protests,” the watchdog said in a statement after Sunday’s protest.
The Taliban have increasingly targeted Afghanistan’s beleaguered rights groups, as well as journalists, with local and international television crews covering demonstration often detained and sometimes beaten.
Also Thursday, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement asking the Taliban to investigate a recent attack on a documentary film maker Zaki Qais who said two armed men, who identified themselves as Kabul police officials, entered his home and beat him. One tried to stab him, according to Steven Butler, the CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.
“Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers must immediately launch an investigation to identify and bring to justice those who attacked journalist Zaki Qais,” said Butler. “The Taliban’s continued silence on these repeated attacks on journalists undermines any remaining credibility of pledges to allow independent media to continue operating.”
Last week the CPJ sought information on an attack on another Kabul-based journalist, Noor Mohammad Hashemi, deputy director for the nonprofit Salam Afghanistan Media Organization, who was beaten up by three unidentified men.


Kim Jong Un orders North Korean military to stabilize supply of COVID-19 drugs

Kim Jong Un orders North Korean military to stabilize supply of COVID-19 drugs
Updated 1 min 51 sec ago

Kim Jong Un orders North Korean military to stabilize supply of COVID-19 drugs

Kim Jong Un orders North Korean military to stabilize supply of COVID-19 drugs
  • Last week brought Pyongyang’s first acknowledgment of an ‘explosive’ outbreak
  • Kim: Drugs procured by the state were not reaching people in a timely and accurate way
SEOUL: Leader Kim Jong Un has ordered North Korea’s military to stabilize distribution of COVID-19 medicines in the capital, Pyongyang, in the battle on the country’s first confirmed outbreak of the disease, state media said.
Last week brought the North’s first acknowledgment of an “explosive” outbreak, with experts warning it could wreak devastation in a country with limited medical supplies and no vaccine program.
Drugs procured by the state were not reaching people in a timely and accurate way, Kim told an emergency politburo meeting on Sunday, before visiting pharmacies near the capital’s Taedong River, state news agency KCNA said.
Kim ordered immediate deployment of the “powerful forces” of the army’s medical corps to “stabilize the supply of medicines in Pyongyang City,” it added.
Although authorities had ordered distribution of national reserves of medicine, pharmacies were not well-equipped to perform their functions smoothly, Kim added, the agency said.
Among their shortcomings were a lack of adequate drug storage other than showcases, while salespeople were not equipped with the proper sanitary clothing and hygiene in their surroundings fell short of standards, the leader said.
He criticized the “irresponsible” work attitude, organization and execution by the cabinet and the public health sector, it added.
Neighbouring South Korea will spare no effort to help the North fight its outbreak, President Yoon Suk-yeol told parliament on Monday, saying it was ready to provide COVID-19 vaccines and other medical support if Pyongyang agrees.
Seoul’s unification ministry, reponsible for relations between the neighbors, said it would soon propose a plan of support to the North.
North Korea’s tally of the fever-stricken stood at 1,213,550, with 50 deaths by Sunday, after KCNA reported 392,920 more cases of fever, and eight more deaths. It did not say how many suspected infections had tested positive for COVID-19.
The North has blamed a large number of the deaths on people who were “careless in taking drugs” because of a lack of knowledge about the omicron variant of coronavirus and its correct treatment.

US removes Jewish extremist Kahane movement from terror blacklist

US removes Jewish extremist Kahane movement from terror blacklist
Updated 16 May 2022

US removes Jewish extremist Kahane movement from terror blacklist

US removes Jewish extremist Kahane movement from terror blacklist
  • Kahane Chai was designated a terrorist organization in 1997
  • Palestinian jihadist group linked to rocket attacks a decade ago also removed from list

WASHINGTON: The United States will remove a Jewish extremist group linked to late rabbi Meir Kahane as well as a Palestinian militant group from a terror blacklist after years without violence, an official said Sunday.
The State Department designated Kahane Chai as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997, three years after its supporter Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.
The group was founded by Kahane, a US-born rabbi and former Israeli MP who advocated the expulsion of Arabs from Israel and was assassinated in New York in 1990.
The State Department informed Congress it will withdraw the designation, which was contested in court by the group, as Kahane Chai “has not been linked to a terrorist attack since 2005,” an official said.


ALSO READ:  Preachers of Hate: Meir Kahane


The official said the State Department was also delisting the Mujahidin Shoura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, a Palestinian jihadist group linked to rocket attacks a decade ago.
Revoking the designations “ensures our terrorism sanctions remain current and credible and does not reflect any change in policy toward the past activities of any of these the organizations,” the State Department official said on condition of anonymity.
Despite the lack of attacks by Kahane Chai group, the late rabbi remains a hero for some on the extreme right of Israeli politics, including member of parliament Itamar Ben-Gvir who has advocated annexing the West Bank and hung a portrait of Goldstein in his home.
Designation as a foreign terrorist organization severely limits activities in the United States, including criminalizing financial support.
The State Department said it was still keeping the two groups on the less potent Specially Designated Global Terrorist list, which helps support law enforcement activities.
 


In latest US violence, gunman kills 1 worshipper, wounds 5 at California church

In latest US violence, gunman kills 1 worshipper, wounds 5 at California church
Updated 16 May 2022

In latest US violence, gunman kills 1 worshipper, wounds 5 at California church

In latest US violence, gunman kills 1 worshipper, wounds 5 at California church
  • Most of those inside the church were senior citizens of Taiwanese descent, says official
  • The violence came a day after  a gunman killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York

LAGUNA WOODS, California: One person was killed and four others were critically wounded in a shooting Sunday afternoon at a Presbyterian church in a suburban Southern California community where the majority of residents are seniors, officials said. 

Police said churchgoers managed to subdue the gunman and hog-tied his legs with an electrical cord.

Police responded to the incident that unfolded at about 1:30 p.m. local time (2039 GMT) at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods and arrested an unidentified suspect in his 60s, Orange County Undersheriff Jeff Hallock told a news conference.
“That group of churchgoers displayed ... exceptional heroism and bravery in intervening to stop the suspect. They undoubtedly prevented additional injuries and fatalities,” he said.
A fifth injured person suffered minor injuries, officials said. All the victims were adults.
It wasn’t immediately clear where inside the church the shooting happened.
About 30 people witnessed the violence, said Carrie Braun, a sheriff’s spokesperson. The majority of those inside the church are believed to be of Taiwanese descent, Braun said.
Investigators were looking at many factors, including whether the bloodshed could be a hate crime and whether the gunman was known to the church community, she said.
More details were expected from a sheriff’s department news conference scheduled for 5 p.m.
Federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were responding to the scene. The FBI was also sending agents to the scene to assist the sheriff.
Laguna Woods was built as a senior living community and later became a city. More than 80 percent of residents in the city of 18,000 people about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles are at least 65.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said on Twitter that he was closely monitoring the situation.
“No one should have to fear going to their place of worship. Our thoughts are with the victims, community, and all those impacted by this tragic event,” the tweet said.
The incident occurred in an area with a cluster of houses of worship, including Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist churches and a Jewish synagogue.
On its website, Geneva Presbyterian Church describes its mission as “to remember, tell, and live the way of Jesus by being just, kind, and humble.”
“All are welcome here. Really, we mean that! … Geneva aspires to be an inclusive congregation worshipping, learning, connecting, giving and serving together.”
The shooting came a day after an 18-year-old man shot and killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
“This is upsetting and disturbing news, especially less than a day after a mass shooting in Buffalo,” said US Rep Katie Porter, whose district includes Laguna Woods. “This should not be our new normal. I will work hard to support the victims and their families.”

 


Somali lawmakers elect president voted out 5 years ago

Somali lawmakers elect president voted out 5 years ago
Updated 16 May 2022

Somali lawmakers elect president voted out 5 years ago

Somali lawmakers elect president voted out 5 years ago
  • Hassan Sheikh Mohamud served as Somalia’s president between 2012 and 2017,
  • Mohamud succeeds Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, whose mandate expired in February 2021

MOGADISHU, Somalia: A former Somali president voted out of power in 2017 has been returned to the nation’s top office after defeating the incumbent leader in a protracted contest decided by legislators in a third round of voting late Sunday.
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who served as Somalia’s president between 2012 and 2017, won the contest in the capital, Mogadishu, amid a security lockdown imposed by authorities to prevent deadly militant attacks.
The first round of voting was contested by 36 aspirants, four of whom proceeded to the second round. With no candidate winning at least two-thirds of the 328 ballots, voting then went into a third round where a simple majority was enough to pick the winner.
Members of the upper and lower legislative chambers picked the president in secret balloting inside a tent in an airport hangar within the Halane military camp, which is protected by African Union peacekeepers. Mohamud’s election ended a long-delayed electoral process that had raised political tensions — and heightened insecurity concerns — after President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s mandate expired in February 2021 without a successor in place.
Mohamed and Mohamud sat side-by-side Sunday, watching calmly as the ballots were counted. Celebratory gunfire rang out in parts of Mogadishu as it became clear that Mohamud had defeated the man who replaced him.
Mohamed conceded defeat, and Mohamud was immediately sworn in.
The 66-year-old Mohamud is the leader of the Union for Peace and Development party, which commands a majority of seats in both legislative chambers. He also is well-known for his work as a civic leader and education promoter, including for his role as one of the founders of Mogadishu’s SIMAD University.
The Somali government under Mohamed faced a May 17 deadline to hold the vote or risk losing funding from international partners.
Mohamed — who is also known as Farmaajo because of his appetite for Italian cheese — said on Twitter while voting was underway that it was “a great honor to lead” Somalia.
For Mohamed and his supporters, Sunday’s loss will be disappointing after he rose to power in 2017 as a symbol of a Somali diaspora eager to see the country prosper after years of turmoil. Mohamed leaves behind a country even more volatile than he found it, with a reported rift in the security services and the constant drumbeat of Al-Shabab attacks.
Analysts had predicted that Mohamed would face an uphill battle to be reelected. No sitting president has ever been elected to two consecutive terms in this Horn of Africa nation, where rival clans fight intensely for political power. In winning the vote, however, Mohamud overcame the odds as no former president had ever launched a successful return to the office.
A member of the Hawiye clan, one of Somalia’s largest, Mohamud is regarded by some as a statesman with a conciliatory approach. Many Somalis hope Mohamud can unite the country together after years of divisive clan tensions but also take firm charge of a federal government with little control beyond Mogadishu. Mohamud promised during campaigns that his government would be inclusive, acknowledging the mistakes of his previous government that faced multiple corruption allegations and was seen as aloof to the concerns of rival groups.
The new president “will get an opportunity to heal a nation in desperate need of peace and stability,” said Mogadishu resident Khadra Dualeh. “The country doesn’t need celebrations; we did that for Farmaajo. Enough celebration. We need prayer, being sober and planning how to rebuild the country.”
Al-Shabab, which has ties with Al-Qaeda, has made territorial gains against the federal government in recent months, reversing the gains of African Union peacekeepers who once had pushed the militants into remote areas of the country.
But Al-Shabab is threatening Mogadishu with repeated assaults on hotels and other public areas. Despite the lockdown, explosions were heard near the airport area as legislators gathered to elect the president.
To discourage extremist violence from disrupting the elections, Somali police put Mogadishu, the scene of regular attacks by the Islamic rebel group Al-Shabab, under a lockdown that started at 9 p.m. on Saturday. Most residents are staying indoors until the lockdown lifts on Monday morning.
The goal of a direct, one-person-one-vote election in Somalia, a country of about 16 million people, remains elusive largely because of the widespread extremist violence. Authorities had planned a direct election this time but, instead, the federal government and states agreed on another “indirect election,” via lawmakers elected by community leaders — delegates of powerful clans — in each member state.
Despite its persistent insecurity, Somalia has had peaceful changes of leadership every four or so years since 2000, and it has the distinction of having Africa’s first democratically elected president to peacefully step down, Aden Abdulle Osman in 1967.
Mohamed’s four-year term expired in February 2021, but he stayed in office after the lower house of parliament approved a two-year extension of his mandate and that of the federal government, drawing fury from Senate leaders and criticism from the international community.
The poll delay triggered an exchange of gunfire in April 2021 between soldiers loyal to the government and others angry over what they saw as the president’s unlawful extension of his mandate.
Somalia began to fall apart in 1991, when warlords ousted dictator Siad Barre and then turned on each other. Years of conflict and Al-Shabab attacks, along with famine, have shattered the country which has a long, strategic coastline by the Indian Ocean.


Crisis-hit Sri Lanka lifts curfew for Buddhist holiday

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka lifts curfew for Buddhist holiday
Updated 15 May 2022

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka lifts curfew for Buddhist holiday

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka lifts curfew for Buddhist holiday
  • Restrictions were imposed on May 9 after peaceful protests turned violent

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan authorities on Sunday fully lifted a nationwide curfew to mark the Buddhist holiday of Vesak, offering the people a chance to celebrate as the nation weathers its economic and political crisis. 

The curfew was imposed on May 9 after once-peaceful protests turned violent, killing at least nine people and injuring hundreds others. The violence was followed with Mahinda Rajapaksa resigning from his premiership, leaving his brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to rule on as president. 

For over a month, protesters have crowded the streets demanding the president’s resignation, as the country of 22 million suffers from increasing shortages of food, fuel and medicines, along with record inflation and lengthy blackouts.  

Buildings across the Buddhist-majority country were flying the multi-colored Buddhist flags on Sunday, while residents visited temples clad in all white to celebrate the day that commemorates Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death.

The government announced it was lifting the curfew for Vesak without saying when or whether it would be reimposed. Sri Lankans also got to enjoy the day without power cuts. 

“This Vesak, we are able to see the traditional almsgiving centers, pandals (bamboo stages), Vesak lanterns and oil lamps illuminations that will boost the spiritual morale of the people,” the Rev. Udawela Kolitha Thera, deputy chief of the Walukarama Temple in Colombo, told Arab News. 

Sri Lanka has been unable to celebrate Vesak properly in the last couple of years due to the pandemic and, in 2019, the Easter Sunday attacks, which also dampened celebrations.

Though events planned for this year have been scaled down due to political instability and the deepening economic crisis, worshippers still welcomed the chance of a respite. 

“We are really excited to celebrate Vesak this year with added enthusiasm,” Colombo-based Kelum Bandara, who works at a leading publishing house in the capital, told Arab News. 

“We will celebrate in a low-key form because of the current economic crisis and the ongoing protests against the government.”

“Sri Lanka was enveloped in spiritual fervor as the island nation celebrated yet another Vesak,” Colombo-based journalist Chaminda Perera told Arab News. 

Newly appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was premier five times previously and never completed a full term, made his first Cabinet appointments on Saturday — all members of Rajapaksas’ party. 

The new appointments have failed to appease Sri Lankan protesters who want the Rajapaksas, the nation’s most influential political dynasty, removed from the nation’s politics.  

The ruling family faces accusations of corruption and mishandling of the economy, as Sri Lanka faces its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.

Opposition parties have refused to join any new government unless the president steps down first.