KABUL: A blast outside a mosque attended by Taliban members in the Afghan capital killed four people minutes after Friday prayers had ended, according to a hospital.
The explosion occurred near the entrance of Wazir Akbar Khan mosque, not far from the fortified former Green Zone that housed several embassies before the Taliban seized power in August last year.
The mosque is now often attended by senior Taliban commanders and fighters.
Italian non-governmental organization Emergency, which operates a hospital in Kabul, said it had received “14 casualties” from the explosion.
“Four of them were already dead on arrival,” it said on Twitter.
Unverified images posted on social media showed a mangled car engulfed in fire on a road outside the mosque.
Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran confirmed the blast and “casualties,” but did not provide details.
A bomb ripped through the same mosque in 2020, killing its imam.
While overall violence has significantly dropped across Afghanistan since the war ended with the Taliban returning to power, there have been regular bomb attacks in Kabul and other cities.
Several mosques and clerics have been targeted in these attacks, some claimed by the jihadist Daesh group.
Two Russian embassy staff members were killed in a suicide bombing outside the offices earlier this month, the latest attack in the capital claimed by the group.
Afghanistan classroom bombing death toll jumps to 43: UN
No group has so far claimed responsibility
Updated 03 October 2022
KABUL: The death toll from a suicide bomb attack on an education center in the Afghan capital last week has risen to at least 43, the United Nations mission in Afghanistan said on Monday.
A suicide bomber blew himself up next to women at a gender-segregated study hall in a Kabul neighborhood on Friday, home to the historically oppressed Shiite Muslim Hazara community.
“Forty three killed. 83 wounded. Girls & young women were the main victims,” the UN mission said in a tweet, adding that casualties were expected to rise further.
The bomber detonated as hundreds of students were sitting a practice test ahead of an entrance exam for university admissions.
No group has so far claimed responsibility, but the Daesh group which considers Shiites as heretics has carried out several deadly attacks in the area targeting girls, schools and mosques.
The Taliban authorities have so far said 25 people were killed and 33 others were wounded in the attack.
The Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan last year brought an end to a two-decade war against the Western-backed government, and led to a significant reduction in violence, but security has begun to deteriorate in recent months.
The extremist hard-liners, accused of failing to protect minorities, have often tried to downplay attacks challenging their regime.
Friday’s attack triggered sporadic women-led protests in Kabul and some other cities.
Around 50 women chanted, “Stop Hazara genocide, it’s not a crime to be a Shiite,” as they marched on Saturday in Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood where the attack happened.
The rallies have been dispersed by Taliban forces often firing shots into the air and beating protesters.
Afghanistan’s Hazaras have regularly faced attacks in the majority Sunni Muslim country.
They have faced persecution for decades, targeted by the Taliban during their insurgency against the former US-backed government and by Daesh — both of which consider Shiites heretics.
In May last year, before the Taliban’s return to power, at least 85 people — mainly girls — were killed and about 300 were wounded when three bombs exploded near their school in Dasht-e-Barchi.
Again, no group claimed responsibility, but a year earlier Daesh claimed a suicide attack on an educational center in the same area that killed 24.
Bolsonaro, Lula headed to runoff after polarized Brazil vote
Since neither of the two got a majority of support, a second-round vote was scheduled on Oct. 30
Bolsonaro beat pre-election polls giving da Silva a commanding lead of 50 percent against 36 percent for him
Updated 03 October 2022
RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil’s top two presidential candidates will face each other in a runoff vote following a polarized election to decide if the country returns a leftist to the helm of the world’s fourth-largest democracy or keeps the far-right incumbent in office for another four years.
With 98 percent of the votes tallied on Sunday’s election, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had 48 percent support and incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro had 43.6 percent support. Brazil’s election authority said the result made a second round vote between the two candidates a mathematical certainty.
Nine other candidates were also competing, but their support pales to that for Bolsonaro and da Silva.
The tightness of the election result came as a surprise, since pre-election polls had given da Silva a commanding lead. The last Datafolha survey published Saturday found a 50 percent to 36 percent advantage for da Silva among those who intended to vote. It interviewed 12,800 people, with a margin of error of 2 percentage points.
“This tight difference between Lula and Bolsonaro wasn’t predicted,” said Nara Pavão, who teaches political science at the Federal University of Pernambuco.
Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo, said: “It is too soon to go too deep, but this election shows Bolsonaro’s victory in 2018 was not a hiccup.”
Bolsonaro outperformed in Brazil’s southeast region, which includes populous Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais states, according to Rafael Cortez, who oversees political risk at consultancy Tendencias Consultoria.
“The polls didn’t capture that growth,” Cortez said.
Bolsonaro’s administration has been marked by incendiary speech, his testing of democratic institutions, his widely criticized handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the worst deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in 15 years.
But he has built a devoted base by defending conservative values, rebuffing political correctness and presenting himself as protecting the nation from leftist policies that he says infringe on personal liberties and produce economic turmoil.
While voting earlier Sunday, Marley Melo, a 53-year-old trader in capital Brasilia, sported the yellow of the Brazilian flag, which Bolsonaro and his supporters have coopted for demonstrations. Melo said he is once again voting for Bolsonaro, who met his expectations, and he doesn’t believe the surveys that show him trailing.
“Polls can be manipulated. They all belong to companies with interests,” he said.
A slow economic recovery has yet to reach the poor, with 33 million Brazilians going hungry despite higher welfare payments. Like several of its Latin American neighbors coping with high inflation and a vast number of people excluded from formal employment, Brazil is considering a shift to the political left.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly questioned the reliability not just of opinion polls, but also of Brazil’s electronic voting machines. Analysts fear he has laid the groundwork to reject results.
At one point, Bolsonaro claimed to possess evidence of fraud, but never presented any, even after the electoral authority set a deadline to do so. He said as recently as Sept. 18 that if he doesn’t win in the first round, something must be “abnormal.”
Da Silva, 76, was once a metalworker who rose from poverty to the presidency and is credited with building an extensive social welfare program during his 2003-2010 tenure that helped lift tens of millions into the middle class.
But he is also remembered for his administration’s involvement in vast corruption scandals that entangled politicians and business executives.
Da Silva’s own convictions for corruption and money laundering led to 19 months imprisonment, sidelining him from the 2018 presidential race that polls indicated he had been leading against Bolsonaro. The Supreme Court later annulled da Silva’s convictions on grounds that the judge was biased and colluded with prosecutors.
Social worker Nadja Oliveira, 59, said she voted for da Silva and even attended his rallies, but since 2018 votes for Bolsonaro.
“Unfortunately the Workers’ Party disappointed us. It promised to be different,” she said in Brasilia.
Others, like Marialva Pereira, are more forgiving. She said she would vote for the former president for the first time since 2002.
“I didn’t like the scandals in his first administration, never voted for the Workers’ Party again. Now I will, because I think he was unjustly jailed and because Bolsonaro is such a bad president that it makes everyone else look better,” said Pereira, 47.
Speaking after casting his ballot in Sao Bernardo do Campo, the manufacturing hub in Sao Paulo state where he was a union leader, da Silva recalled that four years ago he was imprisoned and unable to vote.
Bolsonaro grew up in a lower-middle-class family before joining the army. He turned to politics after being forced out of the military for openly pushing to raise servicemen’s pay. During his seven terms as a fringe lawmaker in Congress’ lower house, he regularly expressed nostalgia for the country’s two-decade military dictatorship.
His overtures to the armed forces have raised concern that his possible rejection of election results could be backed by top brass.
On Saturday, Bolsonaro shared social media posts by right-leaning foreign politicians, including former US President Donald Trump, who called on Brazilians to vote for him. Israel’s former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed gratitude for stronger bilateral relations and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán also praised him.
After voting Sunday morning, Bolsonaro told journalists that “clean elections must be respected” and that the first round would be decisive. Asked if he would respect results, he gave a thumbs up and walked away.
Leda Wasem, 68, had no doubt Bolsonaro will not just be reelected. Wearing a jersey of the national soccer squad at a polling place in downtown Curitiba, the real estate agent said an eventual da Silva victory could have only one explanation: fraud.
“I wouldn’t believe it. Where I work, where I go every day, I don’t see a single person who supports Lula,” she said.
Zelensky discredits Russian referendums, thanks Saudi Crown Prince for prisoner swap’s ‘brilliant result’
Nuclear threats by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov ‘should not be taken seriously,’ says Ukrainian president
Iran slammed for lying and continuing to send kamikaze drones for use against Ukraine
Arab countries and business welcome to invest and contribute to rebuilding Ukrainian cities and sectors
Updated 03 October 2022
Arab News Exclusive
RIYADH: Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, has called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s referendums and accords formally recognizing the annexation of territories in eastern Ukraine a “bloody PR-(stunt) based on human victims.”
Referendums across Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson saw an overwhelming majority voting to join the Russian Federation, in a process that many international observers believe was rigged.
Zelensky also rebuffed Putin’s recent claims of major victories on the battlefield. Just last week, Ukrainian forces retook the strategic eastern town of Lyman located in one of the four regions annexed by Russia, prompting Moscow to announce the “withdrawal” of its troops to “more favorable lines.”
“What they declare is clearly different from what they can do. They said they will occupy our territory, our nation. But in eight months of the war, I can tell you that we won back yet another city, the city of Lyman in Donetsk Oblast, exactly the one that Russia declared as fully occupied a couple of days ago,” said Zelensky.
“I can assure Russia and the Russian people that, unlike Russia, we are not interested in Russian territories. We are interested in our territory, in our borders based on the international recognition from 1991.”
The war in Ukraine has shaken the region and the global geopolitical and economic order due to shifts in the trade of energy, the rising cost of oil and gas, and the reconfiguration of supply chains.
More than six million Ukrainians fled to nearby countries. Meanwhile, diplomatic tensions have mounted as nations are pressed to choose a side. There is also growing concern for global food security.
News of Putin’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions has put world leaders on edge once more, as there appears to be no clear end to the war in sight.
For Zelensky, there are three components that will contribute to Ukraine’s eventual success.
“I think it’s a great victory for any nation worldwide when its people are united and people are able to leave some minor squabbles and historical discrepancies. This is very important,” he said.
“Another important step is that we are advancing against the world’s second biggest army, and we are able to show that the true strength is in unity, not in armaments.
“The third victory is, we have been able to unite Europe and the whole world. You know, before it was much more like everyone stands for him or herself. Now we see this unification and we see that there will be many more challenges also internationally, and there will be more of them.”
Despite Zelensky’s note of optimism, Moscow has vowed to never give up its newly annexed areas and to defend them with all means available. Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of the Chechen Republic, has even gone so far as to suggest the use of low-grade nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Zelensky dismissed these threats, branding Kadyrov a “terrorist who was not even elected by his own people.”
“This is not serious. Come on. In (the) modern world, how can someone threaten others with nuclear weapons? Yeah, we have lots of terrorists worldwide. We have killers, but I cannot condescend to talk to a terrorist like that,” he said.
Since the annexations, Zelensky has signed a request asking for the acceleration of the process of Ukraine joining NATO. However, many skeptics view this as a futile request, especially given the response from Washington did not signal any immediate action.
On Saturday, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the US believes Ukraine’s NATO application “should be taken up at a different time.”
“Right now, our view is that the best way for us to support Ukraine is through practical, on-the-ground support in Ukraine and that the process in Brussels should be taken up at a different time,” said Sullivan.
In spite of this, Zelensky said countries should “pay attention just to the facts, not just to the words.”
“We had statements from 10 allies, NATO members, with full support for Ukraine,” he said. The country should join NATO “as soon as possible.”
“I would rather say not when, in terms of time, but in terms of geography. I think it might happen when we will be standing at our borders.”
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian actor-turned-wartime leader also repeated his rejection of Putin’s offer to negotiate, firmly reiterating that he will only negotiate with a different president.
“We did warn them, if you want to launch these fake referendums, there will be no further talks with the president of the Russian Federation, for if the Russian president cannot respect the law, international law, the constitution, and by the way, not just our constitution, but that of his own country, he should not be violating our territorial integrity if this happens,” Zelensky said.
“Am I in a position to talk to him? He’s not a president.”
However, there does seem to be room for mediation and initiatives that could help to solve different pressing issues such as prisoner swaps and the release of Black Sea grain from Ukraine’s southern ports.
Just last month, Saudi Arabia brokered a prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine, playing an important diplomatic role between the warring nations.
“I’d like to thank Saudi Arabia for the effort,” said Zelensky. “Given the ties that the crown prince has with Russia, probably it was, you know, a good chance of success, and I’m very much thankful to him for this brilliant result.”
The deal saw almost 300 people, including 10 foreigners, returned to their homelands, the first of very few breakthroughs since the war began.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry said at the time that the initiative was based on the support of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and in continuation of his efforts to adopt humanitarian initiatives toward the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
“We are open to any proposals when it is about the results to be achieved, the results of such efforts,” said Zelensky.
While Saudi Arabia has been trying to mediate, Iran has been accused of lying to top Ukrainian officials and selling drones to Russia.
Ukrainian forces shot down Iranian kamikaze drones sold to Russia in an effort to target civilians, which led Zelensky to dismiss Iranian diplomats from the country.
“It is sad that we have to recognize that the Iranian government is lying, as the Russian Federation government is, because we had contact with Iran’s leaders at the topmost level. We talked to the embassy, we had the ambassadors called up to the Ministry of External Affairs, and we were assured that nothing was sold to Russia, it wasn’t their drones, and nothing of the kind,” he said.
“We have a number of these downed Iranian drones, and these have been sold to Russia to kill our people, and they are — you’re right — they are being used against civilian infrastructure and civilians, peaceful civilians. Because of that, we sent Iranian diplomats away from the country. We have nothing to talk with them about.”
While the war rages on, Zelensky has also been looking to the future and insists there are big opportunities for Arab nations to invest in the rebuilding of Ukraine.
“We would really love to see Arab businesses, and (for) Arab countries to be present, working in our country. We are ready to offer wonderful terms and conditions for businesses, fiscal, and so on. And there is also one ambitious aim for every country willing to come to Ukraine with an idea of recovery.”
“There will be a possibility for private companies, for Arab countries as well, because it is about rebuilding — recovering the whole of the state, of the nation.”
However, a recent Arab News/YouGov study conducted in May showed that a majority (66 percent) of Arabs felt indifferent toward the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Furthermore, a majority of respondents from the Arab world expressed a view that the blame for the war lies not with Russia but with US President Joe Biden and with NATO for not allowing Ukraine to join years ago — a finding Zelensky challenged.
“Truly, this war was started by Russia, and Russia is the only one to blame. What else could the united West do to avoid it? Maybe they could do more, but to blame the US, that they, the war is because of them, this is not just, this is not true. Only Russia is guilty of that,” he said.
Among countries in the GCC, Levant and North Africa, although NATO is perceived more often as the party responsible for the conflict, the apportioning of blame is more balanced. People in the Gulf states, for example, blame NATO (23 percent) only marginally more than they do Russia (19 percent).
Despite opting to condemn Russian aggression during a UN vote last March, major Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, have remained largely neutral, and expressed a desire to mediate between Moscow and Kyiv.
Arab News Disclaimer
* It is important to note that since the beginning of this war, Arab News has reached out numerous times to various Russian officials for comment. Most recently the newspaper also reached out to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs official spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, to appear on Frankly Speaking.
To date, all of our interview requests have fallen on deaf ears. However, Arab News wishes to reiterate that in our adherence to our professional duty, Ms. Zakharova’s invitation to appear on Frankly Speaking remains open, and the program looks forward to having her on this show whenever she accepts.
Burkina putsch leader urges end to violence on French targets
Updated 03 October 2022
OUAGADOUGOU: Burkina Faso’s new self-proclaimed putsch leader on Sunday called for an end to violence against French targets, after a series of attacks against buildings linked to the former colonial power.
“Things are progressively returning to order, so we urge you to freely go about your business and to refrain from any act of violence and vandalism ... notably those that could be perpetrated against the French Embassy and the French military base,” an officer said, reading on television from a statement from Captain Ibrahim Traore, who stood by his side.
Dozens of supporters of Traore gathered at the French Embassy in the capital. Security forces fired tear gas from inside the compound to disperse the protesters after they set fire to barriers outside and lobbed rocks at the structure, with some trying to scale the fence.
The latest unrest began on Friday, when junior military officers announced they had toppled the country’s junta leader, sparking deep concern among world powers over the latest putsch to hit the Sahel region battling a growing insurgency.
Late on Saturday, the junta leader, Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, said he had no intention of giving up power and urged the officers to “come to their senses.”
His comments came shortly after the army general staff dismissed the coup as an “internal crisis” within the military and said dialogue was “ongoing” to remedy the situation.
The capital remained tense overnight, with demonstrators gathering on the main roads of Ouagadougou as a helicopter hovered above.
In a statement read out on television on Sunday, the officers who claimed the coup said they had lifted a curfew they had imposed and called for a meeting of ministry heads for later in the day.
The officers had accused Damiba of having hidden at a military base of former colonial power France to plot a “counteroffensive,” charges that he and France denied.
The French Foreign Ministry condemned “the violence against our embassy in the strongest terms” by “hostile demonstrators manipulated by a disinformation campaign against us.”
It marked the latest incident against a France-linked building in two days, after a fire at the embassy on Saturday and a blaze in front of the French Institute in the western city of Bobo-Dioulasso. A French institute in the capital also sustained major damage, the ministry said.
Trump staffers not returning White House records, National Archives says
FBI seized more than 11,000 records, including about 100 classified documents, in a court-approved search
Updated 03 October 2022
WASHINGTON: Former President Donald Trump’s administration has not turned over all presidential records and the National Archives will consult with the Justice Department on whether to move to get them back, the agency has told Congress.
A congressional panel on Sept. 13 sought an urgent review by the National Archives and Records Administration after agency staff members acknowledged that they did not know if all presidential records from Trump’s White House had been turned over.
“While there is no easy way to establish absolute accountability, we do know that we do not have custody of everything we should,” acting Archivist Debra Wall said in a letter Friday to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
The Archives knows some White House staffers conducted official business on personal electronic messaging accounts that were not copied or forwarded to their official accounts, in violation of the Presidential Records Act, Wall said.
“NARA has been able to obtain such records from a number of former officials and will continue to pursue the return of similar types of presidential records from former officials,” Wall said in the letter, first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
She said the Archives, the federal agency charged with preserving government records, would consult with the Department of Justice on “whether to initiate an action for the recovery of records unlawfully removed.”
The Oversight Committee shared a copy of the letter with Reuters but has not issued a statement on it yet.
Representatives for Trump did not immediately return a request for comment on the matter.
Trump is facing a criminal investigation by the Justice Department for retaining government records — some marked as highly classified, including “top secret” — at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida after leaving office in January 2021.
The FBI seized more than 11,000 records, including about 100 documents marked as classified, in a court-approved Aug. 8 search at Mar-a-Lago.
The Justice Department and Trump’s lawyers have been locked in a legal battle over how the records are handled. Government lawyers have been granted access to the classified documents but on Friday asked an appeals court to expedite its ability to access the non-classified documents seized in Florida.