LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists urged the Taliban on Wednesday to immediately release two detained Afghan journalists and investigate the violent assault of another.
“The Taliban must take immediate measures to halt repeated arbitrary detentions and abuse of journalists in Afghanistan,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.
“The Taliban must immediately release journalists Abdul Hannan Mohammadi and Khan Mohammad Sial, and investigate the assault of Mohammad Ikram Esmati.”
Sial, a broadcast manager for the independent Paiwaston TV station, was detained in early May by Taliban police in Trinkot, and has since been held in the central prison of Uruzgan Province.
According to reports, Taliban members beat Sial and told him to confess that his outlet was funded by foreign entities, and was both morally and financially corrupt. Taliban members also reportedly told Sial that he would be released if he confessed.
In mid-June, Taliban intelligence agents detained Mohammadi, a reporter for Pajhwok news agency in northern Kapisa Province. Mohammadi was on his way to an assignment, but the Taliban agents relocated him to an undisclosed location.
The reason for his detention is not immediately clear.
On the same day in a separate incident, the Taliban stopped Esmati, a former journalist for the independent Kabul News TV station, and questioned him about his work.
According to Esmati, three Taliban members then bundled him in a vehicle, drove him to a remote area, and beat him with guns and fists until he was knocked unconscious.
Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last August, the Taliban have cracked down on media freedom in the country, prompting watchdogs to voice concerns about the safety of Afghan journalists, reporters and media workers.
According to Reporters without Borders, at least 12 journalists were arbitrarily arrested in Afghanistan in May despite the Taliban announcement of a new system to protect media workers.
In the same month, the Taliban ordered women TV presenters to cover up fully in public, including their faces, ideally with the traditional burqa.
To charge or not to charge: the Trump dilemma roiling America
The committee has presented a trove of text messages suggesting Trump did nothing to stop the violence for hours as increasingly frantic allies tried to get him to call off the mob
Updated 21 min 42 sec ago
WASHINGTON: A chilling portrait of a US president who knew he’d lost an election but tried to steal it anyway has emerged in testimony on the Capitol assault, posing a perilous question: should prosecutors indict Donald Trump?
In their comments to the congressional committee investigating the deadly violence, White House and Trump campaign staff, lawyers and even family members have drawn the contours of a possible prosecution, outlining potential presidential misconduct culminating in the riot at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
The picture they have painted is that it was part of a broader “coup” attempt led by the defeated president and his lawyer John Eastman.
“The odds are in favor of the Justice Department indicting Mr. Trump,” Kevin O’Brien, a former assistant US attorney in New York who now specializes in white-collar criminal defense, told AFP.
“The legal case is sound and would be compelling to a jury, assuming prosecutors can establish a link between the plans of Trump and John Eastman to thwart the counting of electoral votes on the one hand, and the insurrection at the Capitol building on the other.”
The committee’s official line has always been that it will leave charging decisions to the proper authorities.
But it has heavily hinted it will accuse Trump of at least two felonies — obstructing Congress’s counting of electoral votes, and joining a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States.
And the established facts don’t look good for the 76-year-old former reality TV star.
Trump spent weeks ahead of the violence in Washington duping his followers into thinking the election had been stolen.
He encouraged his supporters to descend on the city on January 6, riled up the huge crowd at his “Stop the Steal” rally and instructed them to march on the Capitol as lawmakers were ratifying the election.
The committee has presented a trove of text messages suggesting Trump did nothing to stop the violence for hours as increasingly frantic allies tried to get him to call off the mob.
And the House committee’s hearings have positioned the violence within a larger conspiracy to cling to power by intimidating and harassing poll workers, election officials and the federal justice department.
Trump’s defenders argue that he genuinely believed the election was stolen and was engaged in a good faith attempt to protect voters.
But the live testimony and videotaped depositions at the hearings suggest he knew he’d been fairly defeated, given the sheer number of times he was told so by his closest aides.
One of the most credible and impactful witnesses was retired judge J. Michael Luttig, a star in conservative judicial and political circles who testified that Trump presented a “clear and present danger” to US democracy.
While there is a degree of consensus outside of Trump’s support base that he could reasonably be charged, a more fraught question for Attorney General Merrick Garland is whether he should be.
For a start, the burden of proof for conviction in a criminal prosecution is considerably higher than the bar for condemning someone in a congressional hearing. “A botched prosecution would make Trump stronger and even help re-elect him,” Washington-based Financial Times columnist Edward Luce wrote this week.
Garland could expect strong public support if he decided to go after Trump, with a new ABC News and Ipsos poll finding almost 60 percent of Americans think the ex-president should face charges.
But Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor in San Diego, said he didn’t think the attorney general had “the stomach” for the fight.
“Indicting a former president would be unprecedented, and it takes an aggressive prosecutor that is willing to take on a difficult and politically charged prosecution,” Rahmani told AFP.
“I don’t think Merrick Garland is that prosecutor.”
Many Americans fear a prosecution would spark widespread civil unrest as Trump’s supporters, feeling under attack, took to the streets. Violence, after all, has already been wielded in Trump’s defense.
Nicholas Creel, a law professor at Georgia College and State University, argues however that letting Trump walk would make a mockery of the central tenet of American justice that “no man is above the law.”
“While an indictment would violate the norms of not prosecuting former presidents and would almost certainly unleash massive civil upheaval from his supporters... the alternative is to allow him to have attempted a coup unpunished, wounding the nation far more than his prosecution would,” he told AFP.
Russians ‘fully occupy’ Severodonetsk, focus shifts to Lysychansk
Millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes and their country since the invasion, most to neighboring Poland
Russia has intensified its offensive in the northern city of Kharkiv in recent days
Updated 26 June 2022
KYIV/POKROVSK, Ukraine: Russian forces fully occupied the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk on Saturday, both sides said, confirming Kyiv’s biggest battlefield setback for more than a month following weeks of some of the war’s bloodiest fighting.
Ukraine called its retreat from the city a “tactical withdrawal” to fight from higher ground in Lysychansk on the opposite bank of the Siverskyi Donets river. Pro-Russian separatists said Moscow’s forces were now attacking Lysychansk.
The fall of Sievierodonetsk — once home to more than 100,000 people but now a wasteland — was Russia’s biggest victory since capturing the port of Mariupol last month. It transforms the battlefield in the east after weeks in which Moscow’s huge advantage in firepower had yielded only slow gains.
Russia will now seek to press on and seize more ground on the opposite bank, while Ukraine will hope that the price Moscow paid to capture the ruins of the small city will leave Russia’s forces vulnerable to counterattack.
President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed in a video address that Ukraine would win back the cities it lost, including Sievierodonetsk. But acknowledging the war’s emotional toll, he said: “We don’t have a sense of how long it will last, how many more blows, losses and efforts will be needed before we see victory is on the horizon.”
• Capture of Sievierodonetsk big gain for Russia
• Ukraine says it carries out 'tactical withdrawal'
• Dozens of missiles hit Ukrainian military bases
“The city is now under the full occupation of Russia,” Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said on national television. “They are trying to establish their own order, as far as I know they have appointed some kind of commandant.”
Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, told Reuters that Ukraine was carrying out “a tactical regrouping” by pulling its forces out of Sievierodonetsk.
“Russia is using the tactic ... it used in Mariupol: wiping the city from the face of the earth,” he said. “Given the conditions, holding the defense in the ruins and open fields is no longer possible. So the Ukrainian forces are leaving for higher ground to continue the defense operations.”
Russia’s defense ministry said “as a result of successful offensive operations” Russian forces had established full control over Sievierodonetsk and the nearby town of Borivske.
Not long after that, however, Ukrainian shelling from outside Sievierodonetsk forced Russian troops to suspend evacuation of people from a chemical plant there, Russia’s Tass news agency quoted local police working with Russian separatist authorities as saying.
Oleksiy Arestovych, senior adviser to Zelensky, said some Ukrainian special forces were still in Sievierodonetsk directing artillery fire against the Russians. But he made no mention of those forces putting up any direct resistance.
Russia’s Interfax news agency cited a representative of pro-Russian separatist fighters saying Russian and pro-Russian forces had entered Lysychansk across the river and were fighting in urban areas there.
Russia also launched missile strikes across Ukraine on Saturday. At least three people were killed and others may have been buried in rubble in the town of Sarny, some 185 miles (300 km) west of Kyiv, after rockets hit a carwash and a car repair facility, said the head of the local regional military administration.
Russia denies targeting civilians. Kyiv and the West say Russian forces have committed war crimes against civilians.
Seeking to further tighten the screws on Russia, US President Joe Biden and other Group of Seven leaders attending a summit in Germany starting on Sunday will agree on an import ban on new gold from Russia, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. ’IT WAS HORROR’
In the Ukrainian-held Donbas town of Pokrovsk, Elena, an elderly woman in a wheelchair from Lysychansk, was among dozens of evacuees who arrived by bus from frontline areas.
“Lysychansk, it was a horror, the last week. Yesterday we could not take it any more,” she said. “I already told my husband if I die, please bury me behind the house.”
As Europe’s biggest land conflict since World War Two entered its fifth month, Russian missiles also rained down on western, northern and southern parts of the country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of troops over the border on Feb. 24, unleashing a conflict that has killed thousands and uprooted millions. It has also stoked an energy and food crisis which is shaking the global economy.
Since Russia’s forces were defeated in an assault on the capital Kyiv in March, it has shifted focus to the Donbas, an eastern territory made up of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk were the last major Ukrainian bastions in Luhansk.
The Russians crossed the river in force in recent days and have been advancing toward Lysychansk, threatening to encircle Ukrainians in the area.
The capture of Sievierodonetsk is likely to seen by Russia as vindication for its switch from its early, failed attempt at “lightning warfare” to a relentless, grinding offensive using massive artillery in the east.
Moscow says Luhansk and Donetsk, where it has backed uprisings since 2014, are independent countries. It demands Ukraine cede the entire territory of the two provinces to separatist administrations.
Ukrainian officials had never held out much hope of holding Sievierodonetsk but have sought to exact a high enough price to exhaust the Russian army.
Ukraine’s top general Valeriy Zaluzhnyi wrote on the Telegram app that newly arrived, US-supplied advanced HIMARS rocket systems were now deployed and hitting targets in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine.
Asked about a potential counterattack in the south, Budanov, the Ukrainian military intelligence chief, told Reuters that Ukraine should begin to see results “from August.”
Russian missiles also struck elsewhere overnight. “48 cruise missiles. At night. Throughout whole Ukraine,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. “Russia is still trying to intimidate Ukraine, cause panic.”
The governor of Lviv region in western Ukraine said six missiles were fired from the Black Sea at a base near the border with Poland. Four hit the target but two were destroyed.
The war has had a huge impact on the global economy and European security, driving up gas, oil and food prices, pushing the European Union to reduce reliance on Russian energy and prompting Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership.
G7 summit kicks off under shadow of Ukraine war, stagflation risk
The G7 partners are set to agree to ban imports of gold from Russia, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters
The G7 leaders are also expected to discuss options for tackling rising energy prices and replacing Russian oil and gas imports
Updated 26 June 2022
SCHLOSS ELMAU, Germany: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz welcomes leaders of the Group of Seven rich democracies on Sunday to a three-day summit in the Bavarian Alps overshadowed by the war in Ukraine and its far-reaching consequences, from energy shortages to a food crisis.
The summit takes place against a darker backdrop than last year when the British, Canadian, French, German, Italian, Japanese and US leaders met for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic and vowed to build back better.
Soaring global energy and food prices are hitting economic growth in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The United Nations warned on Friday of an “unprecedented global hunger crisis.”
Climate change, an increasingly assertive China and the rise of authoritarianism are also set to be on the agenda.
The G7 leaders are expected to seek to show a united front on supporting Ukraine for as long as necessary and cranking up pressure on the Kremlin — although they will want to avoid sanctions that could stoke inflation and exacerbate the cost-of-living crisis affecting their own people.
“The main message from the G7 will be unity and coordination of action... That’s the main message, that even through difficult times... we stick to our alliance,” an EU official said.
The G7 partners are set to agree to ban imports of gold from Russia, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. A German government source later said that leaders were having “really constructive” conversations on a possible price cap on Russian oil imports.
The G7 leaders are also expected to discuss options for tackling rising energy prices and replacing Russian oil and gas imports.
The summit takes place at the castle resort of Schloss Elmau at the foot of Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze — the same venue as when the country last hosted the G7 annual meet-up in 2015. Then too, Russian aggression against Ukraine dominated the agenda a year after Moscow’s invasion of Crimea.
The summit is also a chance for Scholz to capitalize on being the host by displaying more assertive leadership on the Ukraine crisis.
The chancellor vowed a revolution in German foreign and defense policy after Russia’s invasion in February, promising to bolster the military with a 100 billion euro fund and send weapons to Ukraine.
But critics have since charged him with foot-dragging and sending mixed messages by warning that Russia might perceive NATO as a war party and highlighting the risk of nuclear war.
The G7 was founded in 1975 as a forum for the richest nations to discuss crises such as the OPEC oil embargo.
It became the G8 after Russia was admitted six years after the fall of the Soviet Union. But Moscow was suspended in 2014 after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine.
This year, Scholz has invited as partner countries Senegal, currently chairing the African Union, Argentina, currently heading the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, as well as Indonesia and India, the current and next hosts of the G20 group of large industrial nations, as well as South Africa.
“The summit must send not only the message that NATO and the G7 are more united than ever, but also that the democracies of the world stand together against Putin’s imperialism just as they do in the fight against hunger and poverty,” Scholz told the German parliament this week.
Many countries of the global south are concerned about the collateral damage from western sanctions.
An EU official said G7 countries would impress upon the partner countries that food price spikes hitting them were the result of Russia’s actions and that there were no sanctions targeting food. It was also a mistake to think of the Ukraine war as a local matter.
“It’s more than this. It’s questioning the order, the post Second World War order,” the official said.
WHO says monkeypox not currently a global health emergency
“The vast majority of cases is observed among men who have sex with men, of young age,” chiefly appearing in urban areas, in “clustered social and sexual networks,” according to the WHO report of the meeting
Updated 26 June 2022
GENEVA: The World Health Organization’s chief said Saturday that the monkeypox outbreak was a deeply concerning evolving threat but did not currently constitute a global health emergency.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus convened a committee of experts on Thursday to advise him whether to sound the UN health agency’s strongest alarm over the outbreak.
A surge of monkeypox cases has been detected since early May outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic. Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.
More than 3,200 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the WHO from more than 50 countries this year.
“The emergency committee shared serious concerns about the scale and speed of the current outbreak,” noting many unknowns about the spread and gaps in the data, Tedros said.
“They advised me that at this moment the event does not constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), which is the highest level of alert WHO can issue, but recognized that the convening of the committee itself reflects the increasing concern about the international spread of monkeypox.”
Tedros said the outbreak was “clearly an evolving health threat” that needed immediate action to stop further spread, using surveillance, contact-tracing, isolation and care of patients, and ensuring vaccines and treatments are available to at-risk populations.
“The vast majority of cases is observed among men who have sex with men, of young age,” chiefly appearing in urban areas, in “clustered social and sexual networks,” according to the WHO report of the meeting.
While a few members expressed differing views, the committee resolved by consensus to advise Tedros that at this stage, the outbreak was not a PHEIC.
“However, the committee unanimously acknowledged the emergency nature of the event and that controlling the further spread of outbreak requires intense response efforts.”
They are on standby to reconvene in the coming days and weeks depending on how the outbreak evolves.
The committee recommended that countries improve diagnostics and risk communication.
It noted that many aspects of the outbreak were unusual, while some members suggested there was a risk of sustained transmission due to the low level of population immunity against pox virus infection.
The committee that considered the matter is made up of 16 scientists and public health experts and is chaired by Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, a former director of the WHO’s Vaccines and Immunization Department.
Thursday’s five-hour private meeting was held in person at the WHO’s Geneva headquarters and via video conference.
The committee discussed current observations of plateauing or potential downward trends in case numbers in some countries; difficulties in contact tracing due to anonymous contacts, and “potential links to international gatherings and LGBTQI+ Pride events conducive for increased opportunities for exposure through intimate sexual encounters.”
They were also concerned that the potential stigmatization of affected groups could impede response efforts.
There are knowledge gaps on transmission modes, the infectious period, as well as over access to vaccines and antivirals and their efficacy, they said.
The normal initial symptoms of monkeypox include a high fever, swollen lymph nodes and a blistery chickenpox-like rash.
Initial outbreak cases had no epidemiological links to areas that have historically reported monkeypox, suggesting that undetected transmission might have been going on for some time.
Few people have been hospitalized to date, while 10 cases have have been reported among health care workers.
The WHO’s current plan to contain the spread focuses on raising awareness among affected population groups and encouraging safe behaviors and protective measures.
There have been six PHEIC declarations since 2009, the last being for Covid-19 in 2020 — though the sluggish global response to the alarm bell still rankles at the WHO HQ.
A PHEIC was declared after a third emergency committee meeting on January 30. But it was only after March 11, when Tedros described the rapidly worsening situation as a pandemic, that many countries seemed to wake up to the danger.
DHAKA: Bangladesh unveiled the largest infrastructure project in its history on Saturday.
The 6.15-kilometer Padma Bridge — which spans the river after which it was named — connects Dhaka to the country’s southern regions, slashing the distance between the capital and Bangladesh’s second-largest seaport, Mongla, by 100 kilometers. Journeys that would previously have taken two to three days from the south of the country can now be completed in a few hours, according to Ahsan H. Monsur, executive director of the Dhaka-based Policy Research Institute.
The bridge cost an estimated $3.6 billion to build, all paid for with domestic funding. It will open to the public on Sunday, after an inauguration attended by thousands.
“The bridge belongs to the people of Bangladesh. It showcases our passion, our creativity, our courage, our endurance, and our perseverance,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said at the ceremony in Mawa, about 34 kilometers southwest of Dhaka.
“This bridge is built with the latest technology … The whole construction process has been completed while maintaining the highest standards,” Hasina added.
More than 14,000 workers — including some foreign engineers — took part in the project, which is expected to spur economic growth in the country, as the government plans to build special economic and industrial zones in Bangladesh’s less-developed southern and southwestern region.
“Now that the Padma Bridge has been established, we will have more special economic zones, industrial zones, factories and employment. We will be able to process crops and fish for export. It will put an end to our sorrows and change our fortunes,” Hasina said.
Construction of the bridge began in November 2014. The construction faced several setbacks, including the World Bank pulling funding from the project over concerns about corruption.
That decision prompted other lending agencies, including the Asian Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank, to distance themselves from the project, leaving Bangladesh to build the bridge with its own funds.
Monsur told Arab News that the bridge is an “iconic investment” for Bangladesh and that it would likely contribute to economic growth.
“People from the southern region are now easily connected with the capital and other regions. The return of this investment can’t be measured considering only financial indexes, it’s something beyond,” he said.
“The country’s gross domestic product may see a growth of more than 1 percent due to the project’s launch,” Monsur continued.
“Bangladesh built the bridge with self-financing and it has a high signaling value. We hope it will bring more foreign investment into the country.”