Bomb at political rally in northwest Pakistan kills at least 44 people, wounds nearly 200

Bomb at political rally in northwest Pakistan kills at least 44 people, wounds nearly 200
Local residents make way for an ambulance inside the District Headquarters Hospital in Khar, Bajaur after a blast targeted a political gathering in northwestern Pakistan on July 30, 2023. (Photo courtesy: Twitter/@SyedWiqasAhmad1)
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Updated 31 July 2023
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Bomb at political rally in northwest Pakistan kills at least 44 people, wounds nearly 200

Bomb at political rally in northwest Pakistan kills at least 44 people, wounds nearly 200
  • Police say blast took place during Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl’s (JUI-F) public rally
  • Injured taken to District Headquarters Hospital in Khar, Bajaur, says rescue official

KHAR, Pakistan: A powerful bomb ripped through a political rally by supporters of a hard-line cleric and political leader on Sunday in Pakistan’s northwestern Bajur district, police and health officials said. At least 44 people were killed and nearly 200 wounded, including children, in one of the worst attacks in recent years.
Senior police officer Nazir Khan said the workers’ convention of Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema Islam party was taking place on the outskirts of Khar, the capital of Bajur district, when the bomb went off. AP video showed wounded people being carried from the scene in the chaotic aftermath.

Bajur used to be a haven for Islamic militants. It is the former stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, a militant group that is a close ally of the Taliban government of Afghanistan. The TTP was in recent years evicted from the area as a result of operations by the Pakistani military.

The bombing came hours before the arrival of Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng in Islamabad, where he was to participate in an event to mark a decade of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC, a sprawling package under which Beijing has invested billions of dollars in Pakistan.
In recent months, China has helped Pakistan avoid a default on sovereign payments. However, some Chinese nationals have also been targeted by militants in northwestern Pakistan and elsewhere.

 

In a statement sent to The Associated Press, the TTP condemned the bombing, saying it was aimed at pitching Islamists against each other. Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Afghan Taliban, also condemned the bombing. “Such crimes cannot be justified in any way,” he said in a message on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
Though a separate group, the TTP remains a close ally of the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in Afghanistan in mid-August 2021. The takeover emboldened the TTP. They unilaterally ended a cease-fire agreement with the Pakistani government last November and have since stepped up attacks across the country.
One of the victims, Adam Khan, 45, was hit by splinters in his leg and both hands. He said it was around 4 p.m. when the explosion knocked him to the ground.
“There was dust and smoke around, and I was under some injured people from where I could hardly stand up, only to see chaos and some scattered limbs,” he said.
Initially, police said 10 people were killed but later more bodies arrived at a local hospital, bringing the death toll to 40. Feroz Jamal, the provincial information minister, told The Associated Press that so far 40 people had been “martyred” and nearly 200 wounded in the bombing.
The JUI workers’ convention was arranged in a hall close to a market, but tents were later added because of the large number of supporters who turned out. The venue was being guarded by party volunteers with batons. The arrival of Abdul Rasheed, a senior party leader, was being announced when the bomb exploded.
The bombing was one of the four worst attacks in the northwest since 2014, when 147 people, mostly schoolchildren, were killed in a Taliban attack on an army-run school in Peshawar. In January, 74 people were killed in a bombing at a mosque in Peshawar. n February, more than 100 people, mostly policemen, died in a bombing at a mosque inside a high-security compound housing Peshawar police headquarters.
District health officer Dr. Faisal Khan said 40 bodies from the blast were at Khar’s main hospital. Some of the wounded were in critical condition and were being transferred to a facility in Peshawar and the adjoining district of Dir, including by army helicopters.
Prime Minister Sharif and President Arif Alvi condemned the attack and asked officials to provide all possible assistance to the wounded and the bereaved families.
Maulana Ziaullah, the local chief of Rehman’s party, was among the dead. JUI leaders Rasheed and former lawmaker Maulana Jamaluddin were also on the stage but escaped unhurt. Party officials said Rehman was not at the rally.
Rasheed, the regional chief of the party, said the attack was an attempt to remove JUI from the field before parliamentary elections in November, but he said such tactics would not work.
Rehman is considered to be a pro-Taliban cleric and his political party is part of the coalition government in Islamabad. Meetings are being organized across the country to mobilize supporters for the upcoming elections.
“Many of our fellows lost their lives and many more wounded in this incident. I will ask the federal and provincial administrations to fully investigate this incident and provide due compensation and medical facilities to the affected ones,” Rasheed said.
Mohammad Wali, another attendant at the rally, said he was listening to a speaker address the crowd when the huge explosion temporarily deafened him.
“I was near the water dispenser to fetch a glass of water when the bomb exploded, throwing me to the ground,” he said. “We came to the meeting with enthusiasm but ended up at the hospital seeing crying, wounded people and sobbing relatives taking the bodies of their loved ones.”


London Mayor Sadiq Khan receives death threats from Islamic extremists, gets round-the-clock police protection, says source

London Mayor Sadiq Khan receives death threats from Islamic extremists, gets round-the-clock police protection, says source
Updated 9 sec ago
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London Mayor Sadiq Khan receives death threats from Islamic extremists, gets round-the-clock police protection, says source

London Mayor Sadiq Khan receives death threats from Islamic extremists, gets round-the-clock police protection, says source
  • Khan, who is the first Muslim mayor of the British capital, is reportedly protected around the clock by 15 police officers

LONDON: The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has received death threats from Islamic extremists and has been under police protection since 2017, it was reported on Tuesday.

A source with knowledge of the mayor’s security arrangements told The Guardian newspaper that the threat from Islamic fundamentalists was as high as it was from right-wing extremists.

Khan, who is the first Muslim mayor of the British capital, is protected around the clock by 15 police officers, the source added.

The Labour mayor, who has voted for same-sex marriage and backed gay rights in the UK, is seen as a target for Islamists because of his liberal views and his denouncement of terrorist attacks carried out by Islamic extremists, such as the twin attacks in London in 2017 and the Manchester Arena bombing in the same year.

The news comes in the same week that Khan was accused by former senior Conservative politician Lee Anderson of being “under the control of Islamists.”

A man pleaded guilty on Monday to two charges of sending communication threatening death or serious harm, reportedly to Khan, on Saturday following Anderson’s comments.

The charges against the man said that he called police to “convey a threat of death or serious harm to another, intending or being reckless as to whether an individual encountering the message would fear that the threat would be carried out.”


3 men snared in right-wing extremism probe charged in London court with prepping for terrorism

3 men snared in right-wing extremism probe charged in London court with prepping for terrorism
Updated 27 February 2024
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3 men snared in right-wing extremism probe charged in London court with prepping for terrorism

3 men snared in right-wing extremism probe charged in London court with prepping for terrorism
  • Men had manufactured an FGC-9 semi-automatic gun, had instructions on assembling a 3D-printed firearm and identified an Islamic education center in Leeds as a possible target
  • Christopher Ringrose, 33, and Brogan Stewart and Marco Pitzettu, both 24, were held in custody after their appearances by video at Westminster Magistrates’ Court

LONDON: Three men arrested in an investigation into right-wing extremism were charged Tuesday in a London court with preparing to commit a terrorist act, authorities said.
They were arrested on Feb. 21, Counter Terrorism Policing North East said.
Prosecutors said the men had joined extreme right-wing online chat forums, had right-wing text messages and distributed information on guns and ammunition.
The men had manufactured an FGC-9 semi-automatic gun, had instructions on assembling a 3D-printed firearm and identified an Islamic education center in Leeds as a possible target.
Christopher Ringrose, 33, and Brogan Stewart and Marco Pitzettu, both 24, were held in custody after their appearances by video at Westminster Magistrates’ Court and ordered to return to the Central Criminal Court on March 15. They did not enter pleas.


Poland mulls wider ban on Ukrainian food imports as farmers warn of more protests

Poland mulls wider ban on Ukrainian food imports as farmers warn of more protests
Updated 27 February 2024
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Poland mulls wider ban on Ukrainian food imports as farmers warn of more protests

Poland mulls wider ban on Ukrainian food imports as farmers warn of more protests
  • Tusk made the remarks during a visit to Prague as thousands of Polish farmers took to the streets of Warsaw, escalating a protest against food imports from Ukraine and EU green rules
  • Poland last year extended a ban on Ukrainian grain imports

WARSAW: Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on Tuesday he could not rule out widening a national ban on imports of Ukrainian grains to other products if the European Union does not act to protect the bloc’s markets.
Tusk made the remarks during a visit to Prague as thousands of Polish farmers took to the streets of Warsaw, carrying the national flag and blowing handheld horns, escalating a protest against food imports from Ukraine and EU green rules.
Farmers across Europe have been protesting for weeks against constraints placed on them by the EU’s “Green Deal” regulations meant to tackle climate change, as well as rising costs and what they say is unfair competition from outside the EU, particularly Ukraine.
The EU in 2022 waived duties on Ukrainian food imports following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Poland last year extended a ban on Ukrainian grain imports.
“We are talking about it with the Ukrainian side — that it will be necessary to expand the embargo to other products if the European Union does not find more effective ways to protect the European and Polish markets,” Tusk said on Tuesday.
Polish Agriculture Minister Czeslaw Siekierski said in a Tuesday evening interview on Polsat News TV that further talks with Ukraine on solutions were planned for Wednesday and various possibilities were being considered.
“Tomorrow we will also talk about it with Ukraine’s minister of economy, who will be a guest at the Ministry of Development and New Technologies,” he said, adding that he would be participating.
He said Polish farmers were invited to the agriculture ministry for talks on Thursday.
Speaking after Siekierski on Polsat News, protest organizer Szczepan Wojcik said the invitation was welcome, but warned of more protests if no progress was made during the next few days.
“Further protests in Warsaw have already been announced for March 6. Farmers are already organizing on the roads, and border crossings will continue to be blocked,” he said.
Asked about the possibility of further escalation, Wojcik said, “The farmers are desperate. ... The ball is in the government’s court.”
Earlier in the day, Tusk said the EU had to solve the problems created by its decision to open its borders to imports of Ukrainian food products.
He added that Poland was ready to co-finance purchases of Polish, European and Ukrainian food and agricultural products to be sent as humanitarian aid to famine-stricken countries, and that “Europe should certainly find funds for this.”
Back home, farmers rallied in central Warsaw before marching toward parliament and then Tusk’s office. A city hall official cited by PAP state news agency put the number of protesters around 10,000.
“We are protesting because we want the ‘green deal’ to be lifted, as it will lead our farms to bankruptcy with its costs...that are not comparable to what we harvest and to what we are paid,” said Kamil Wojciechowski, 31, a farmer from Izbica Kujawska in central Poland.
“What we’re paid for our work, it has decreased because of the influx of grain from Ukraine and this is our second demand — to block the influx of grain from Ukraine,” he said.
The farmers began a series of protests throughout the country earlier this month, which included a near-total blockade of all Ukrainian border crossings, as well as disruptions at ports and on roads nationwide.
“We won’t give up. We have no choice. Our farms will go bankrupt, we will lose our livelihoods,” Pawel Walkowiak, 47, a corn and wheat producer from Konarzewo in western Poland, said.
The city hall official said Tuesday’s protest in Warsaw took place without major incidents.


Strike by Athens taxi drivers coincides with nationwide public sector stoppage

Strike by Athens taxi drivers coincides with nationwide public sector stoppage
Updated 27 February 2024
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Strike by Athens taxi drivers coincides with nationwide public sector stoppage

Strike by Athens taxi drivers coincides with nationwide public sector stoppage

ATHENS: Taxi drivers in the Greek capital began a 48-hour strike Tuesday, with the second day timed to coincide with a nationwide strike by public and some private sector workers that is expected to disrupt public transport, ground some flights and leave ferries tied up in port.

More than 200 taxis drove through the center of Athens as part of a demonstration on the first day of the walkout, called by the capital’s main taxi union over a series of demands, including a reduction in taxes, access to bus lanes and stricter regulation on ride-sharing apps.

New taxes imposed on the self-employed in Greece have hammered the taxi industry, said Georgios Voilis, a taxi driver and union member. The tax burden “is a financial debasement, a tombstone,” for taxis, he said.

The second day of the taxi strike coincides with a nationwide strike called by Greece’s main public sector umbrella union to mark the first anniversary of the country’s deadliest rail disaster. Nearly 60 people were killed and dozens injured just before midnight on Feb. 28, 2023, when a passenger train collided head-on with a freight train after the two had mistakenly been put on the same track heading in opposite directions.

“One year (has passed) and those responsible for the tragedy have still not answered for their criminal actions that led 57 of our compatriots …. to their deaths,” the union, known by its Greek acronym ADEDY, said in its announcement of the strike.

ADEDY is also calling for a 10 percent increase in public sector salaries to tackle the rising cost of living and inflation, collective wage agreements and a series of tax breaks.

Wednesday’s strike is expected to disrupt all public transport in the Greek capital and leave ferries to and from the islands tied up in ports. The country’s air traffic controllers’ union has also announced its participation, which is expected to lead to the grounding of numerous flights.

Medical staff in public hospitals and teachers in public schools have said they will participate in the walkout, while staff at banks are also to strike for the day.


US names new special envoy to Sudan in push to end war

US names new special envoy to Sudan in push to end war
Updated 27 February 2024
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US names new special envoy to Sudan in push to end war

US names new special envoy to Sudan in push to end war

WASHINGTON: The US will appoint a new special envoy for Sudan as Washington seeks to bring an end to a war that has wrecked parts of the country and killed tens of thousands.

Former diplomat and US member of Congress Tom Perriello will assume the special envoy role, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement as the US seeks to bring increased focus to the conflict after the failure of talks so far.

Perriello said he will build on efforts of partners across Africa and the Middle East to bring an end to the war, a humanitarian crisis and atrocities.

“This appointment reflects the urgency and importance President Biden and Secretary Blinken have placed on ending this war, putting a stop to rampant atrocities against civilians, and preventing an already horrific humanitarian situation from becoming a catastrophic famine,” Perriello said.

The US Ambassador to Sudan John Godfrey has left his role, Blinken said in the statement.

Daniel Rubinstein will serve as interim charge d’affaires as director of the Office of Sudan Affairs, Blinken said. He will be based in Ethiopia.

War broke out in Sudan last April over disputes about the powers of the army and the Rapid Support Forces under an internationally-backed plan for a political transition toward civilian rule and elections.

The army and the RSF had shared power with civilians after the fall of former leader Omar Bashir in a popular uprising in 2019, before staging a coup two years later.

The fighting has wrecked parts of Sudan including the capital Khartoum, killed more than 13,000 people according to UN estimates, drawn warnings of famine, and created an internal displacement crisis.

The Rapid Support Forces are accused by the US of participating in an ethnic cleansing campaign in West Darfur, along with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The army, which has carried out a widespread airstrike campaign, is also accused of war crimes by the US.

Perriello previously served as special envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and as a US representative from Virginia.

Rubinstein recently led the US delegation at talks on Sudan in the Saudi city of Jeddah. Neither side maintained commitments made in the talks. The US military evacuated American government personnel from Khartoum in April last year and suspended operations at its embassy there after fighting between Sudan’s rival commanders broke out.