Saharan dust storm covers Spain, spreads out across Europe

Saharan dust storm covers Spain, spreads out across Europe
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An orange sky is seen over a building in Navares, south eastern Spain, on Monday. (AP)
Saharan dust storm covers Spain, spreads out across Europe
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A flock of birds fly through a cloud of dust in front of the hidden Mont Blanc Massif as seen from Verbier, Switzerland on Tuesday. (AP)
Saharan dust storm covers Spain, spreads out across Europe
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A worker cleans the dust from the Sahara desert at Sol square in Madrid on Tuesday. (AP)
Saharan dust storm covers Spain, spreads out across Europe
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A red and orange tinged sky is seen over the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia on Monday. (AP)
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Updated 16 March 2022

Saharan dust storm covers Spain, spreads out across Europe

Saharan dust storm covers Spain, spreads out across Europe
  • Europeans woke up to eerie skies, from the grimy gray in Madrid to orange-hues in the Swiss Alps
  • While Spain is bearing the brunt of the storm, dust was flung far beyond, dumping ochre-colored blobs on cars in a rainy Paris and sifting a fine powder down on a huge swath of the continent

BARCELONA, Spain: A huge dust storm swirling over Europe from the Sahara desert made it hard to breathe in large parts of Spain for a second straight day on Wednesday.
The storm also gave cleaning crews extra work as far away as Paris, London and Belgrade to remove the film of dirt falling on cars and buildings.
Europeans woke up to eerie skies, from the grimy gray in Madrid to orange-hues in the Swiss Alps, caused by the tiny particles that had traveled thousands of kilometers across the Mediterranean Sea.
The European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service said it was tracking the large mass of dust that has “degraded air quality across large parts of Spain, Portugal and France.”
While Spain is bearing the brunt of the storm, dust was flung far beyond, dumping ochre-colored blobs on cars in a rainy Paris and sifting a fine powder down on a huge swath of the continent.
Experts, including Spain’s national weather service, described the event as “extraordinary” for the amount of dust in the air but noted that it had not broken any records.
“This is an intense event, but this type of event typically occurs once or twice a year, normally in February or March, when a low-pressure system over Algeria and Tunisia gathers up dust and carries it north to Europe. Dust can reach the UK, or even Iceland, as it did last year,” Carlos Pérez García, a researcher studying atmospheric dust at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, told The Associated Press.
The area of Spain rated by its national air quality index as “extremely unfavorable” — its worst rating — expanded from the start of the European event on Tuesday to include most of the nation’s southern and central regions, including Madrid and other major cities like Seville.
Authorities recommended for people to wear face masks — still in wide use because of the pandemic — and avoid outdoor exercise, especially for those people suffering respiratory diseases. Emergency services for Madrid told the AP that so far there had been no increase in calls for care to people with breathing problems.
Visibility was reduced for a large part of Spain. Municipal cleaners swept up the dust from city streets. In Spain’s south, the dust mixed with rain to produce mud.
Curious photos and videos of the dust popped up on social media, including snowboarders cutting beautiful white lines through the red-tinged snow in the Pyrenees Mountains.
Rubén del Campo, spokesman for Spain’s weather service, said that largest quantities of air-born dust will accumulate on Wednesday afternoon in Spain’s southeast and central regions.
“The air will then begin to clear little by little, although some floating dust will reach the Canary Islands (in the Atlantic Ocean) over the weekend,” Del Campo said.
To the relief of farmers, the storm front that pulled in the African dust is also forecast to bring more rain over the coming days to Spain’s parched fields and descending reservoirs.
In Switzerland, skiers cut through orange-tinted snows on the Alpine slopes of the Pizol resort near tiny Liechtenstein, while reddish-hued skies loomed over places like the Payerne Air Base near Lake Neuchatel.
The national weather service, MeteoSwiss, said aerosols regularly swoop up dust from the Sahara and the one that began Tuesday is the third recorded this year and most dramatic. Light from the sky was tinted yellowish-orange in Geneva as weather forecasters predicted skies would stay colored for several days.
The Serbian capital woke up Wednesday covered in a thick layer of yellow-color dust that covered pavements and parks after a light rain that fell overnight.
Belgrade, which already is one of the most polluted capitals in Europe because of Serbia’s coal-powered electric plants and factories, has recorded “hazardous” air quality, according to AirVisual. Environmentalists said it is the result of the dust cloud, but also because of Serbia’s perennial pollution problems.
The dust cloud reached as far as London and southeast England Wednesday, and some of the dust settled on people’s windows and car windscreens as rain brought the particles down to ground level.
“It’s about as strong as it gets, as far as Saharan dust crossing to the UK,” said meteorologist Alex Burkill at the Met Office. “Rain has washed the dust from higher up in the atmosphere and brought it down to the surface, that’s why people are seeing it on their windows.”
He added that most people will not see any health impact but some may experience irritation in the eyes or a sore throat.


Taliban torn over reforms one year after seizing power

Taliban torn over reforms one year after seizing power
Updated 10 sec ago

Taliban torn over reforms one year after seizing power

Taliban torn over reforms one year after seizing power
  • The group’s hard-line core, composed of battle-hardened veteran fighters, is against any significant ideological change that could be viewed as a sign of capitulation to their enemies in the West

KANDAHAR: One year on from the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, some cracks are opening within their ranks over the crucial question of just how much reform their leaders can tolerate.
Infamous during their first reign for their brutal crackdowns on rights and freedoms, the Islamists vowed to rule differently this time.
On a superficial level at least, they appear to have changed in some respects.
Officials in Kabul have embraced technology, while cricket matches are cheered in full stadiums.
Televisions were banned under the Taliban government’s first incarnation, while Afghans now have access to the Internet and social media.
Girls are allowed to attend primary school and women journalists are interviewing government officials — unthinkable during the Taliban’s first stint in power in the 1990s.
The group’s hard-line core, composed of battle-hardened veteran fighters, is against any significant ideological change that could be viewed as a sign of capitulation to their enemies in the West.
“You have one (Taliban) camp, which is pushing ahead with what they’re seeing as reforms, and another camp that seems to think even these meagre reforms are too much,” said Ibraheem Bahiss, an Afghanistan analyst with International Crisis Group.
The United States and its allies — which had bankrolled Afghanistan for 20 years — have locked the country out of the global banking system and billions in frozen assets abroad, as they hold out for reforms from the Taliban.
Without significant progress, it is the Afghan people who suffer as the country reels under a massive economic crisis that has seen some families choose between selling their organs or their infant daughters.
On whether the Taliban are even capable of reform, analysts are wary that recent policy changes amount to little more than “tokenism.”
“There are some cases where we could point to an evolution in policy, but let’s be very clear... We’re still looking at an organization that has refused to move beyond very retrograde, dogmatic views,” said Michael Kugelman, an Afghanistan specialist with the Washington-based Wilson Center think tank.
Most secondary schools for girls remain closed. Many women have been forced out of government work, while many fear venturing out and being chastised by the Taliban.
Simple joys such as music, shisha and card games are strictly controlled in the most conservative areas, while protests have been crushed and journalists regularly threatened or detained.
Demands from the West for an inclusive government were ignored, and the assassination of Al-Qaeda’s leader in Kabul last week underlined the Taliban’s ongoing ties with jihadist groups.
It is from the Taliban’s power base of southern Kandahar that the secretive supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada gathers his powerful inner circle of veteran fighters and religious clerics to impose a harsh interpretation of sharia.
And for them, ideological concerns outweigh any political or economic drivers to effect change.
“The needs of the Afghans remain the same as 20 years ago,” Mohammad Omar Khitabi, a member of a council of clerics who advise Akhundzada in Kandahar, told AFP.
His thoughts are echoed by Kandahar’s Vice and Virtue Director Abdul Rahman Tayabi, another close aide of the supreme leader.
“Our people do not have too many demands, like people in other countries might have,” he told AFP.
Afghan families were left stunned in March when Akhundzada overturned the education ministry’s decision to reopen secondary schools for girls.
Some analysts believe he felt uneasy over what could be seen by hard-liners as an act of surrender to the West on girls’ rights.
Hopes of restoring international money flows were shattered — to the dismay of many Taliban officials in Kabul, some of whom spoke out against the decision.
Relations with Western diplomats — who meet regularly with Taliban ministers but have no access to Akhundzada — suffered a major setback.
A slew of directives that harked back to the first reign of the Taliban quickly followed.
“The decisions that (Akhundzada) has made so far are all based on the opinions of religious scholars,” said Abdul Hadi Hammad, the head of a madrassa and member of the supreme leader’s advisory council.
Akhundzada has stressed the need for unity in the movement as he carefully seeks to balance several factions — including competing groups that claim the credit for the 2021 victory over US-led forces.
While advisers to Akhundzada claim the Taliban can survive without foreign income, unlocking billions of dollars in frozen assets abroad would be a crucial lifeline.
“We know the Taliban can be transactional, but they cannot appear to be transactional,” a Western diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Within the movement, no one dares openly challenge Akhundzada’s power, but discontent is quietly growing among the lower ranks.
“Taliban guards are getting their salaries late, and their salaries are low too. They are unhappy,” said one mid-level Taliban official based in northwestern Pakistan, who asked not to be named.
Many have returned to their villages or traveled to Pakistan to take up different work, another Taliban member added.
Attempts by the movement to shore up revenue through lucrative coal mining have sparked infighting in the north, exacerbated by ethnic divisions and religious sectarianism.
With winter only a few months away, food security and freezing temperatures will put even more pressure on the leaders of one of the world’s poorest countries.
These mounting stresses have the potential to worsen divisions, Kugelman said, though likely not enough to force any dramatic shift in policy.
“If the Taliban leadership start to feel very real threats to their political survival, then could they change?” he asked.
“Given that they are ideologically focused, that may not be the case.”


Rival cartels clash in Mexican border city Juarez, killing 11

Rival cartels clash in Mexican border city Juarez, killing 11
Updated 13 August 2022

Rival cartels clash in Mexican border city Juarez, killing 11

Rival cartels clash in Mexican border city Juarez, killing 11
  • Across town, convenience stores were shot at and set on fire. FEMSA, the parent company of the Oxxo chain, said in a statement that one of its employees and a woman who was applying for a job were killed in the violence

MEXICO CITY: Hundreds of Mexican soldiers were sent to the border city of Juarez Friday after a prison face-off between members of two rival cartels caused a riot and shootouts that killed 11 people, most of them civilians, authorities said.
Los Chapos, members of the infamous Sinaloa Cartel formerly led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, and local group Los Mexicles clashed in a prison Thursday afternoon, Deputy Security Minister Ricardo Mejia said.
A riot then broke out, leaving two shot to death and four injured with bullet wounds, Mejia said, speaking alongside Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at a regular news conference. Another 16 were injured in the fighting, he said.

Members of the Mexican Army arrive in Ciudad Juarez to reinforce security after different violent events in the last hours, at the airport in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico August 12, 2022. (REUTERS)

Officials did not say what caused the clash.
Following the riot, the Mexicles rampaged in the city, authorities said, killing nine civilians. Among them were four employees of a radio station, including one announcer, Mejia said.
Across town, convenience stores were shot at and set on fire. FEMSA, the parent company of the Oxxo chain, said in a statement that one of its employees and a woman who was applying for a job were killed in the violence.
Around 1 a.m. Friday morning, six alleged members of Mexicles were arrested by local police, with help from the Army and National Guard, Mejia said.
By Friday afternoon, some 300 Army soldiers were scheduled to arrive in town, with another 300 to follow. “(Juarez) Mayor Cruz Perez has let us know that (the city) is now in a state of calm; public order has been reestablished,” Mejia said.
“We hope it doesn’t happen again, because innocent people were attacked,” Lopez Obrador said.
Thursday’s attacks follow clashes between cartels and the military in central Mexico, which led to taxis, buses and some 20 Oxxo stores being set ablaze, Lopez Obrador said.
“We should not and cannot get used to this type of event,” said retail group ANTAD. “Mexico does not deserve it.”


FBI seized top secret documents at Trump’s home; Espionage Act cited

FBI seized top secret documents at Trump’s home; Espionage Act cited
Updated 13 August 2022

FBI seized top secret documents at Trump’s home; Espionage Act cited

FBI seized top secret documents at Trump’s home; Espionage Act cited
  • Agents took more than 30 items, including 20-plus boxes
  • Trump says the seized records were “all declassified“

WASHINGTON : FBI agents in this week’s search of former US President Donald Trump’s Florida home removed 11 sets of classified documents including some marked as top secret, the Justice Department said on Friday, while also disclosing it had probable cause to conduct the search based on possible Espionage Act violations.
The bombshell disclosures were made in a search warrant approved by a US magistrate judge and accompanying documents released four days after agents searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach. The Espionage Act, one of three laws cited in the warrant application, dates to 1917 and makes it a crime to release information that could harm national security.
Trump, in a statement on his social media platform, said the records were “all declassified” and placed in “secure storage.”
“They didn’t need to ‘seize’ anything. They could have had it anytime they wanted without playing politics and breaking into Mar-a-Lago,” the Republican businessman-turned-politician said.
The search was carried out as part of a federal investigation into whether Trump illegally removed documents when he left office in January 2021 after losing the presidential election two months earlier to Democrat Joe Biden.
Although the FBI on Monday carted away material labeled as classified, the three laws cited as the basis for the warrant make it a crime to mishandle government records, regardless of whether they are classified. As such, Trump’s claims that he declassified the documents would have no bearing on the potential legal violations at issue.

The receipt for property seized by the FBI at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida is shown in this photo taken on Aug. 12, 2022. (AP)

FBI agents took more than 30 items including more than 20 boxes, binders of photos, a handwritten note and the executive grant of clemency for Trump’s ally and longtime adviser Roger Stone, a list of items removed showed. Also included in the list was information about the “President of France.”
The warrant showed that FBI agents were asked to search a room called “the 45 Office” — Trump was the 45th US president — as well as all other rooms and structures or buildings on the estate used by Trump or his staff where boxes or documents could be stored.
The Justice Department said in the warrant application approved by US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart that it had probable cause to believe violations of the Espionage Act had occurred at Trump’s home.
That law was initially enacted to combat spying. Prosecutions under it were relatively uncommon until the Justice Department ramped up its use under both Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama to go after leakers of national security information, including leaks to the news media.
The law’s section cited as the basis for the warrant prohibits unauthorized possession of national defense information. It did not spell out the details about why investigators have reason to believe such a violation occurred.
The Justice Department has used the Espionage Act in high-profile cases in recent years including former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, former military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
The application also cited probable cause of possible violations of two other statutes that make it illegal to conceal or destroy official US documents.

Levels of classification
There are three primary levels of classification for sensitive government materials: Top secret, secret and confidential.
“Top secret” is the highest level, reserved for the most closely held US national security information. Such documents usually are kept in special government facilities because disclosure could gravely damage national security.
FBI agents on Monday collected four sets of top secret documents, three sets of secret documents and three sets of confidential documents, it was disclosed on Friday. Agents were revealed to have collected a set of documents labeled “classified/TS/SCI documents,” a reference to top secret and sensitive compartmented material.
Trump has not been charged with any wrongdoing. It remained unclear whether any charges would be brought.

An escalation
Monday’s search marked a significant escalation in one of the many federal and state investigations he is facing from his time in office and in private business, including a separate one by the Justice Department into a failed bid by Trump’s allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election by submitting phony slates of electors.
Trump on Wednesday declined to answer questions during an appearance before New York state’s attorney general in a civil investigation into his family’s business practices, citing his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday announced that the department asked Reinhart to unseal the warrant. This followed Trump’s claim that the search was political retribution and a suggestion by him, without evidence, that the FBI may have planted evidence against him.

Legal experts said Trump’s claim that he had declassified the materials would not be a useful defense should he ever face charges.
“The statute does not even strictly require even that the information be classified so long as it is relating to the national defense,” Northwestern University law professor Heidi Kitrosser said, referring to the Espionage Act.
The investigation into Trump’s removal of records started this year after the National Archives and Records Administration, an agency charged with safeguarding presidential records that belong to the public, made a referral to the Justice Department.
Republican House of Representatives Intelligence Committee members on Friday called on Garland and FBI Director Chris Wray to release the affidavit underpinning the warrant, saying the public needs to know.
“Because many other options were available to them, we’re very concerned of the method that was used in raiding Mar-a-Lago,” Representative Michael Turner, the committee’s top Republican, told reporters.
If the affidavit remains sealed, “it will still leave many unanswered questions,” Turner added.
The Justice Department’s request to unseal the warrant did not include a request to unseal the accompanying affidavit, nor has Trump’s legal team publicly made such a motion.
Since Monday’s search, the department has faced fierce criticism and online threats, which Garland have condemned. Trump supporters and some Republicans in Washington have accused Democrats of weaponizing the federal bureaucracy to target him even as he mulls another run for the presidency in 2024.
 


Taliban still ‘dangerous,’ says former US general Petraeus

Taliban still ‘dangerous,’ says former US general Petraeus
Updated 13 August 2022

Taliban still ‘dangerous,’ says former US general Petraeus

Taliban still ‘dangerous,’ says former US general Petraeus
  • David Petraeus said Afghanistan’s ‘economy has collapsed, many of the people are literally starving and the Taliban regime (has taken) the country back to the 8th or 9th century
  • He added that women in the country now ‘have very little opportunity to contribute to the economy, the business world, even to society’

LONDON: A former US military commander warned that the Taliban has allowed Al-Qaeda to return and Daesh to become “very dangerous” amid the disastrous situation in Afghanistan in the 12 months since US troops withdrew.

“Gen. David Petraeus said that in the year since Western forces left, the country had returned to the 8th or 9th century, with the new regime imposing an ‘ultra-conservative’ vision of Islam,” according to a report by The Guardian newspaper, which cited an interview he gave to Times Radio.

The report added that the West “left behind hundreds of thousands of people whose security was jeopardized because of their service in the Afghan government or work alongside Western troops.”

“I think it is still a tragic, heartbreaking and, frankly, disastrous situation. Clearly the Taliban have allowed Al-Qaeda to return. The Islamic State appears very dangerous,” Petraeus said, using an alternative name for the terrorist organization Daesh.

“The economy has collapsed, many of the people are literally starving and the Taliban regime has imposed an ultra-conservative vision of Islam that takes the country back to the 8th or 9th century … and in which women have very little opportunity to contribute to the economy, the business world, even to society.”

He added: “The vast majority of the coalition forces who were carrying out training and assistance in the country until last summer had wanted to stay.”

The Guardian said that intelligence chiefs “previously warned that withdrawing from the country could weaken the ability of the UK and US to gain an accurate picture of terrorist activity on the ground.”

Since the departure of US-led Western troops on Aug. 31 last year and the resultant Taliban takeover, warnings and threats from the West to the group about its actions have been ignored, The Guardian said, and British security agencies have major concerns that it will continue to allow a resurgence of extremist groups, in particular Al-Qaeda “who could exploit a security vacuum.”

Petraeus also said a number of resources had been employed to carry out strikes against individuals who pose a threat, including Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri who was killed by a US drone strike on his hideout in the Afghan capital, Kabul, this month.

Meanwhile, almost 60 percent of journalists in Afghanistan have lost their jobs or fled the country since the Taliban takeover, according to a survey published on Friday by Reporters Without Borders.

The France-based nongovernmental organization said 219 of the nation’s 547 media organizations have shut down in the past year and women are the worst affected, with 76 percent of them losing their jobs. The survey found that only 656 female journalists in the country are still working, the vast majority of them in Kabul, compared with 2,756 a year ago.

“Journalism has been decimated during the past year in Afghanistan,” said Christophe Deloire, the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders. “The authorities must undertake to end the violence and harassment inflicted on media workers, and must allow them to do their job unmolested.”

Accusations of immorality are frequently used to remove women working in the media from their posts.

“The living and working conditions of women journalists in Afghanistan have always been difficult, but today we are experiencing an unprecedented situation,” Meena Habib, a journalist in Kabul, told Reporters Without Borders. “They work in conditions that are physically and mentally violent and tiring, without any protection.”

Some media outlets were forced to shut by Taliban rules banning the broadcast of music and other content, while others have been unable to continue without international funding.

In addition, a decree issued last month by Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada warned against “defaming and criticizing government officials without proof.” It was the latest in a series of measures aimed at curbing press freedoms.

At least 80 journalists have been detained for varying lengths of time by Taliban security forces in the past year, including three who are currently imprisoned, Reporters Without Borders said. The organization ranked Afghanistan 156th out of 179 countries in its 2022 press freedom index.

(With additional reporting by AFP)


Afghan migrants continue to face abuse from Iranian border guards, traffickers

Afghan migrants continue to face abuse from Iranian border guards, traffickers
Updated 13 August 2022

Afghan migrants continue to face abuse from Iranian border guards, traffickers

Afghan migrants continue to face abuse from Iranian border guards, traffickers
  • ‘We were forced to do hard labor and if we didn’t, they would hit us,’ one man says
  • Allegations of mistreatment of Afghans in Iran have been on the rise since last year

KABUL: When Mohammad Parwiz was trying to cross from Iran to Turkey in search of a better life, he was caught by Iranian police guards and subjected to forced labor before being deported back to Afghanistan.

Parwiz is just one among hundreds of Afghans trying to cross the Iranian border every day to find employment abroad. He is also one of an increasing number to face abuse in the process.
Iran has for decades hosted millions of Afghans fleeing armed conflict in their war-torn country. The number jumped to 5 million from nearly 4 million last year, according to Iranian Foreign Ministry data, as economic restrictions imposed on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover in August 2021 triggered unprecedented levels of poverty.
“As embassies closed in August last year, I had no other way but to go to Iran illegally,” Parwiz, a 22-year-old from the northern Baghlan province, told Arab News.
“I stayed in Iran for three months working at my relative’s bakery. My friends and I were caught by a border police patrol close to Turkey’s border.
“We were kept in jail for 12 days where we were forced to do hard labor and if we didn’t, they would hit us. We wouldn’t get proper food during that time. They constantly threatened us that if we come to Iran again, we may get killed. After 12 days of forced labor, humiliation, abuse and torture by Iran’s police, we were sent back to Afghanistan.”
Allegations of mistreatment of Afghans in Iran have been on the rise since last year. Reports include abuse not only by the Iranian police, but also human traffickers.
Ahmad Jalil, a 19-year-old from Laghman province, tried to leave Afghanistan and go via Iran to Turkey, from where he wanted to reach Europe with a group of 15 other teenagers.
“We paid a lot of money to the trafficker here but when we entered Iran through the border in Nimroz province during the night, we were received by another person after walking in the desert for hours,” he said.
The second smuggler asked them for more money.
“The trafficker would abuse us and would beat some of us,” Jalil said. “He even threatened us with death.”
Eventually, Jalil was abandoned and managed to return to Afghanistan on his own.
“We have cases of Afghan migrants being abused, beaten up and even killed,” Sayed Hazratullah Zaeem, a commissioner at Islam Qala, a border town in Herat province, near the Afghanistan–Iran border, told the Afghan media on Thursday.
Abdullah Qayoum, an official of the Department of Refugees and Repatriation in Herat, confirmed the reports of abuse.
“Afghans who want to go there (Iran), some of them are sent back after being tortured,” he said.
In April, videos circulated on social media showing civilians being manhandled by men dressed like Iranian security forces sparked a wave of demonstrations targeting Iranian diplomatic missions in Kabul and Herat, and a diplomatic protest by Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities.
“The border police in Iran are so brutal. For them we are not even humans,” said Mohammad Karim, a recent graduate from Kabul, who tried to cross from Iran to Turkey earlier this year.
He did not manage to reach his destination after he was injured in a car accident as his traffickers tried to evade Iranian police.
“If they saw our vehicle in the desert, they would shoot at us,” he said.