Former Afghan minister returns to Kabul at Taliban invitation

Former Afghan minister returns to Kabul at Taliban invitation
The Taliban is trying to woo back high-profile individuals to shore up a government that is yet to win international recognition. Above, some Taliban leaders in Kabul on April 3, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 08 June 2022

Former Afghan minister returns to Kabul at Taliban invitation

Former Afghan minister returns to Kabul at Taliban invitation
  • Ghulam Farooq Wardak is the latest in a string of returning officials
  • Taliban looking to shore up a government that is yet to win international recognition

KABUL: A former Afghan minister, who fled as the Taliban took over Afghanistan last year, returned on Wednesday, officials said, following security assurances given as part of the hard-line group’s initiative to woo back high-profile individuals.
Ghulam Farooq Wardak, a member of the cabinets of former presidents Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, is the latest in a string of returning officials, said Taliban officials looking to shore up a government yet to win international recognition.
Wardak had returned from Turkey, said Ahmad Wasiq, the spokesman of a body set up by the Taliban to negotiate the return of high-profile Afghans abroad.
Other officials to return included a former spokesman for the defense ministry, the former head of Afghanistan’s national power company, and some military officials, he told Reuters.
While Reuters could not immediately verify the return of the others, Wardak spoke to state-run media after landing in Afghanistan.
“Most authorities are thinking about returning,” the former education minister said, adding that he felt respect and happiness in his home, although he cautioned that a small group might not want to come back.
Most high-profile officials fled Afghanistan as the Taliban took over last August, including Ghani, the president at the time, who is now in the UAE. Karzai remains in Kabul, the capital.
The Taliban set up the high-powered panel to negotiate the returns a few weeks ago, with nine members, including the intelligence and military chiefs.
It has the power to ensure amnesty, and provide security to returning officials, as well as ensuring work in the private sector.
Since last year, former government personalities, especially security officials have faced reprisals nationwide, say international bodies and media.
The Taliban say such attacks were unauthorized, with action taken for breaches of a general amnesty order.


Spain firefighters battle to control huge Valencia wildfire

Spain firefighters battle to control huge Valencia wildfire
Updated 13 sec ago

Spain firefighters battle to control huge Valencia wildfire

Spain firefighters battle to control huge Valencia wildfire
MADRID: Some 300 firefighters spent a difficult night battling a huge wildfire in southeastern Spain that has burnt through nearly 10,000 hectares in an area notoriously difficult to access, officials said Tuesday.
The fire began when lightning hit the Vall de Ebo area in the province of Alicante late Saturday and it has since spread rapidly, fueled by strong winds, forcing the evacuation of more than 1,000 people, Valencia’s regional government said.
“It’s been a very complicated night,” regional interior minister Gabriela Bravo told Antena 3 television, saying some 300 firefighters were battling the flames, backed by 24 planes and helicopters.
“At the moment we are talking about more than 9,500 hectares burnt with a perimeter of 65 kilometers (40 miles),” regional president Ximo Puig said late Monday, describing the blaze as “absolutely huge.”
“It’s a very complicated situation... The fire is creating enormous difficulties that are absolutely impossible to tackle with the speed we would like.”
Firefighters elsewhere in the region were also battling two other wildfires north of Valencia city, with hundreds of firefighters and at least 10 firefighting planes engaged in the operation, officials said.
Further north, firefighters in the Aragon region were hoping to bring under control another major blaze that broke out Saturday that has burnt more than 6,000 hectares of land, forcing at least 1,500 people from their homes.
So far this year, Spain has suffered 391 wildfires, fueled by scorching temperatures and drought conditions, which have destroyed a total of 271,020 hectares of land, according to the latest figures from the European Forest Fire Information System.
This year’s fires in Spain have been particularly devastating, destroying more than three times the area consumed by wildfires in the whole of 2021, which amounted to 84,827 hectares, the figures show.
Scientists say human-induced climate change is making extreme weather events, including heatwaves and droughts, more frequent and intense. They in turn increase the risk of fires, which emit climate-heating greenhouse gases.
Fires have blazed across Europe, particularly in France, Greece and Portugal, making 2022 a record year for wildfires on the continent.
In Portugal, a wildfire brought under control last week reignited Tuesday in the UNESCO-designated Serra da Estrela natural park, the civil protection agency said.

Gunmen kill 2 policemen escorting polio workers in Pakistan

Gunmen kill 2 policemen escorting polio workers in Pakistan
Updated 16 August 2022

Gunmen kill 2 policemen escorting polio workers in Pakistan

Gunmen kill 2 policemen escorting polio workers in Pakistan
  • The assailants fled the scene and no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in the town of Gomal

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Gunmen riding on motorcycles opened fire on Tuesday on police escorting a team of polio workers in northwestern Pakistan, killing two policemen, authorities said.
None of the polio workers were harmed, said Mohammad Imran, a local police official. The four polio workers and their police escort were all traveling on motorcycles.
The assailants fled the scene and no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in the town of Gomal, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan.
The attack came on the second day of Pakistan’s latest anti-polio campaign in the province. Pakistan has registered 14 new polio cases since April, all from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The outbreak has been a blow to the Islamic nation’s efforts to eradicate the disease, which can cause severe paralysis in children.
Pakistan’s anti-polio campaigns are regularly marked by violence as Islamic militants often target polio teams and police protecting them, falsely claiming that the vaccination campaigns are a Western conspiracy to sterilize children.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries in the world where polio remains endemic. In 2021, Pakistan reported only one case, raising hopes it was close to eradicating polio.

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Russian leader Vladimir Putin lashes out at US over Ukraine, Taiwan

Russian leader Vladimir Putin lashes out at US over Ukraine, Taiwan
Updated 16 August 2022

Russian leader Vladimir Putin lashes out at US over Ukraine, Taiwan

Russian leader Vladimir Putin lashes out at US over Ukraine, Taiwan
  • ‘The situation in Ukraine shows that the US is trying to prolong this conflict’
  • ‘We see this as a carefully planned provocation’

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday accused Washington of seeking to prolong the conflict in Ukraine and of fueling conflicts elsewhere in the world, including with the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan.
“The situation in Ukraine shows that the US is trying to prolong this conflict. And they act in exactly the same way, fueling the potential for conflict in Asia, Africa and Latin America,” Putin said in televised remarks, addressing the opening ceremony of a security conference in Moscow via videolink.
“The American adventure in relation to Taiwan is not just a trip of an individual irresponsible politician, but part of a purposeful, conscious US strategy to destabilize and make chaotic the situation in the region and the world,” he added.
He said the visit was a “brazen demonstration of disrespect for the sovereignty of other countries and for its (Washington’s) international obligations.”
“We see this as a carefully planned provocation,” Putin said.
Relations between Moscow and Washington have been in tatters since Russia in late February launched a military intervention in pro-Western Ukraine.
Pummeled by a barrage of unprecedented Western sanctions, Putin has sought to bolster ties with countries in Africa and Asia, especially with China.
Moscow was in full solidarity with key ally Beijing during Pelosi’s August visit to self-ruled, democratic Taiwan, which China considers its territory.


Iran says Swedish citizen detained for espionage might face other charges

Iran says Swedish citizen detained for espionage might face other charges
Updated 16 August 2022

Iran says Swedish citizen detained for espionage might face other charges

Iran says Swedish citizen detained for espionage might face other charges

DUBAI: A Swedish citizen detained in Iran on suspicion of espionage might face other charges, Iranian judiciary spokesperson Masoud Setayeshi said on Tuesday in a televised news conference.
The suspect, who remains unnamed, had been under surveillance by the intelligence ministry during several previous trips to Iran because of “suspicious behavior,” the official IRNA news agency reported in July.


Bus rams into fuel truck in eastern Pakistan, killing 20

Bus rams into fuel truck in eastern Pakistan, killing 20
Updated 16 August 2022

Bus rams into fuel truck in eastern Pakistan, killing 20

Bus rams into fuel truck in eastern Pakistan, killing 20
  • The bus was traveling from the eastern city of Lahore to the southern port city of Karachi
  • Deadly traffic accidents are common in Pakistan due to poor road infrastructure and disregard for traffic laws

MULTAN, Pakistan: A passenger bus rammed into a fuel truck on a highway in eastern Pakistan before dawn on Tuesday, igniting a fire that killed at least 20 people, police and rescue officials said.
According to the officials, the accident happened near the town of Jalalpur Peerwala in Punjab province. The bus was traveling from the eastern city of Lahore to the southern port city of Karachi.
Tahir Wattoo, a local government official in Multan, the nearest district, said early indications were that the bus driver’s negligence had caused the collision. The driver, who was also killed, slammed into the back of the fuel truck, according to photographs from the scene.
The injured were taken to hospital and at least six passengers were reported in critical condition, he added.
Some of the bodies were burned beyond recognition and DNA tests will be conducted to identify the remains before the bodies are handed over to the families, Wattoo also said.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif offered his condolences in a statement and asked health authorities to provide the best possible treatment to the injured.
Deadly traffic accidents are common in Pakistan due to poor road infrastructure and disregard for traffic laws.