From an old-style Afghan camera, a new view of life under the Taliban emerges

From an old-style Afghan camera, a new view of life under the Taliban emerges
Associated Press photographer Rodrigo Abd takes a portrait of Taliban fighters with a wooden box camera in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, on June 18, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 22 September 2023
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From an old-style Afghan camera, a new view of life under the Taliban emerges

From an old-style Afghan camera, a new view of life under the Taliban emerges
  • Mamra-e-faoree, or instant camera, was a common sight on Afghan city streets in the last century
  • Tool of a bygone era, the box camera imparts a vintage, timeless quality to the images

KABUL, Afghanistan: The odd device draws curious onlookers everywhere. From the outside, it resembles little more than a large black box on a tripod. Inside lies its magic: a hand-made wooden camera and darkroom in one.
As a small crowd gathers around the box camera, images of beauty and of hardship ripple to life from its dark interior: a family enjoying an outing in a swan boat on a lake; child laborers toiling in brick factories; women erased by all-covering veils; armed young men with fire in their eyes.
Sitting for a portrait in a war-scarred Afghan village, a Taliban fighter remarks: “Life is much more joyful now.” For a young woman in the Afghan capital, forced out of education because of her gender, the opposite is true: “My life is like a prisoner, like a bird in a cage.”
The instrument used to record these moments is a kamra-e-faoree, or instant camera. They were a common sight on Afghan city streets in the last century — a fast and easy way to make portraits, especially for identity documents. Simple, cheap and portable, they endured amid half a century of dramatic changes in this country — from a monarchy to a communist takeover, from foreign invasions to insurgencies — until 21st-century digital technology rendered them obsolete.
Using this nearly disappeared homegrown art form to document life in post-war Afghanistan, from Herat in the west and Kandahar in the south to Kabul in the east and Bamiyan in the center, produced hundreds of black-and-white prints that reveal a complex, sometimes contradictory narrative.
Made over the course of a month, the images underscore how in the two years since US troops pulled out and the Taliban returned to power, life has changed dramatically for many Afghans — whereas for others, little has changed over the decades, regardless of who was in power.
A tool of a bygone era, the box camera imparts a vintage, timeless quality to the images, as if the country’s past is superimposed over its present, which in some respects, it is.
At first glance the faded black-and-white, sometimes slightly out-of-focus images convey an Afghanistan frozen in time. But that aesthetic is deceiving. These are reflections of the country very much as it is now.

AN UNEASY RELATIONSHIP WITH THE CAMERA

During their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban banned photography of humans and animals as contrary to the teachings of Islam. Many box cameras were smashed, though some were quietly tolerated, Afghan photographers say. But it was the advent of the digital age that sounded the device’s death knell.




Associated Press photographer Rodrigo Abd takes a portrait of a man and his pack animal with a wooden box camera in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, on June 16, 2023. (AP/File)

“These things are gone,” said Lutfullah Habibzadeh, 72, a former kamra-e-faoree photographer in Kabul. “Digital cameras are on the market, and (the old ones) are out of use.” Habibzadeh still has his old box camera, a relic of the last century passed down to him by his photographer father. It no longer works, but he has lovingly preserved its red leather coating, decorated with sample photos.

On Afghan city streets today, billboard advertisements have faces spray-painted out, and clothing store windows display mannequins with their heads wrapped in black plastic bags, to adhere to the renewed ban on the depictions of faces.

But the advent of the Internet age and of smartphones have made a ban on photography impossible to impose. The novel sight of an old box camera elicits excitement and curiosity – even among those who police the new rules. From foot soldiers to high-ranking officials, many Taliban were happy to pose for box camera portraits.




Associated Press photographer Rodrigo Abd takes a portrait of Lutfullah Habibzadeh, 72, who uses a similar wooden box camera, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 31, 2023. (AP/File)

Outside a warehouse in Kabul, a group of men watch intently as the camera is set up. At first, they seem shy. But as the first portraits emerge, curiosity overtakes their reservations. Soon, they’re smiling and joking as they wait to have their photos taken, pitching in to help when a black cloth backdrop slips off the wall. As each man steps forward for his portrait, set jaws replace tentative smiles. Adjusting their grip on their assault rifles, they look straight into the camera’s tiny lens and hold their poses.
Most of these men joined the Taliban as teenagers or in their early 20s and have known nothing but war. They were drawn to the fundamentalist movement because of their fervent Muslim faith – and their determination to expel US and NATO troops who invaded their country and propped up two decades of Afghan governments that failed to crack down on rampant corruption and crime.
Bahadur Rahaani, a 52-year-old Taliban member with piercing light blue eyes beneath his black turban, says he’s happy to see the Taliban back in power. With them in government, “Afghanistan will be rebuilt,” he says. “Without them, it is not possible.”

PEACE, AT A PRICE

Two years after Taliban militias swept across the country to seize power again, there are strong echoes of life as it was before US-led NATO forces toppled them from government in 2001.
Once more, the country is ruled by a fundamentalist movement that has restored many of the strict rules it imposed in the 1990s. The first Taliban regime was notorious for destroying art and cultural patrimony it deemed un-Islamic, such as the giant ancient buddhas carved into cliffs in Bamiyan. They imposed brutal punishments, chopping off hands of thieves, hanging supposed blasphemers in public squares and stoning women accused of adultery.
Once again, executions and lashings are back. Music, movies, dancing and performances are banned, and women are again excluded from nearly all public life, including education and all but a few professions.
The return to fundamentalist policies has chased away Western donors, aid workers and trade partners. Poverty has spiraled to crisis levels, fueled by the ban on women working, deep cuts in foreign aid and international sanctions. But there is nearly universal relief that the relentless bloodshed of the past four decades of invasions, multiple insurgencies and civil war has largely ceased.
There are still sporadic bombings, most attributed to enemies of the Taliban, the extremist group Islamic State-Khorasan Province, or IS-K. But Afghans interviewed say their country is more peaceful than they’ve known for decades.
The United Nations recorded 1,095 civilians killed in deliberate attacks between Aug. 15, 2021, when the Taliban reclaimed power, through May 30, 2023. That’s a fraction of the annual civilian death toll over two decades of war between US-led NATO forces and insurgents.
Even those who dislike the current regime say banditry, kidnapping and corruption, which were rampant under the previous governments, have been largely reined in.
But less crime and violence does not necessarily translate to prosperity and happiness.

WOMEN, ERASED

In a three-story building tucked in a Kabul alleyway, a group of women work silently at a loom. Zamarod’s hands move swiftly, nimble fingers flitting between strands of yarn as she knots colored wool around them, making a carpet. Her movements are rapid, almost brusque, but her voice is soft and sad. “My life is like a prisoner,” she says. “Like a bird in a cage.”
The 20-year-old had been studying computer science, but the Taliban banned women from universities before she could graduate. Now she and her 23-year-old sister work in a carpet factory, falling back on a skill their mother taught them as children. They are among very few women who can earn money outside the home and, like others, asked that only their first names be used for fear of retribution for speaking out.




Associated Press photographer Rodrigo Abd takes a portrait of a girl in a carpet factory, with a wooden box camera, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 29, 2023. (AP/File)


Women have experienced the starkest changes since the Taliban’s return. They must adhere to a strict dress code, are banned from most jobs and denied simple pleasures such as visiting a park or going to a restaurant. Girls can no longer attend school beyond sixth grade, and women must be escorted by a male relative to travel.
For all intents and purposes, women have been being erased from public life.
Even in this environment, Zamarod hasn’t given up on her dream of graduating. “We have to have hope. We hope that one day we will be free, that freedom is possible,” she says. “That’s why we live and breathe.”
In another room, 50-year-old Hakima is introducing her teenage daughter Freshta to weaving. It is their only way of eking out a living, though she still dreams her 16-year-old daughter will someday become a doctor. “Afghanistan has gone backwards,” she says, donning an all-encompassing burka to pose for a portrait. “People go door to door for a piece of bread and our children are dying.”
While the clock has turned back for women who’ve lost financial independence and a voice in public life and government, in conservative, tribal parts of the country, expectations for women have always been different and have changed little over the years — even during US and NATO military presence.
Even so, education is a priority for many Afghans. In dozens of interviews across the country, nearly everyone — including some members of the Taliban — said they wanted girls and women to be educated. Most said they believed the education ban was temporary, and that older girls would eventually be allowed back into schools. They say keeping girls and women confined at home doesn’t help the country, or its economy.
“We need doctors, teachers,” says Hajji Muhibullah Aloko, a 34-year-old teacher in the village of Tabin, west of Kandahar. Women must be educated “so that Afghanistan improves in every sector.”
The international community has withheld recognition of the Taliban and pressed its leadership to roll back their restrictions on women — to no avail.
“That is up to Afghans and not foreigners, they shouldn’t get involved,” Taliban government spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid says during an interview in Kandahar, the birthplace of the movement in southern Afghanistan and a stronghold of conservative values.
“We are waiting for the right moment regarding the schools. And while the schools are closed now, they won’t be forever,” he says. He won’t give a timeline but insists “the world shouldn’t use this as an excuse” not to recognize the Taliban government.

VICTORIOUS INSURGENTS

The village of Tabin lies deep in the Arghandab River valley, a fertile swath of fruit orchards and irrigation canals cutting through Kandahar Province’s dusty desert.
But around it, the remnants of war are everywhere. The derelict remains of American combat outposts have faded warnings of mines and grenades spraypainted on their wind-blown blast walls. Tangles of abandoned razor wire litter the ground. Bombed-out houses lie in ruins. And there’s the ubiquitous presence of armed young men adjusting from a life of fighting to one of living in peace.
The new jobs — policing streets, guarding buildings, collecting garbage — are the mundane, necessary tasks of governing. It’s less dramatic than waging war, but there is palpable relief to be free of the violence.
Without fear of airstrikes or bullets, children shriek in delight as they splash about in an irrigation canal, leaping into the murky water from a bridge.
“Life is much more joyful now. Before there used to be lots of brutality and aggression,” 28-year-old Abdul Halim Hilal says, sheltering from the blazing sun under a mulberry tree before posing for a portrait. “Innocent people would die. Villages were bombed. We couldn’t bear it.”
He joined the Taliban as a teenager, believing it was his moral duty to fight foreign troops. He lost as many as 20 friends to the war, and more were wounded. He’s stung by the memory of his dead brothers-in-arms when he sees their fatherless children, but he’s comforted by an unshakeable belief that their sacrifice was worth it.
“The ones that were killed were fighting to sacrifice themselves for the country,” he says. “It’s because of the blood they gave that we’re now here, giving interviews freely, and the Muslims here are living in peace.”
A villager walks by, glancing at the gaggle of curious children and adults gathered around the box camera. “It’s so strange,” he mutters. “We used to fight against these foreigners, and now they’re here taking pictures.”
Mujeeburahman Faqer, a 26-year-old Taliban fighter, now mans an uneventful security checkpoint in Kabul. Like many others, he’s struggling to adapt to a peacetime mentality, because all he’s ever known was war. “I had prepared my head for sacrifice,” he says, “and I am still ready.”

A FOUNDERING ECONOMY —  AND A STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE

Security has improved since the end of the insurgency against US forces. But with peace came an economy in freefall.
When the Taliban seized power again in 2021, international donors withdrew funding, froze Afghan assets abroad, isolated its financial sector and imposed sanctions.
That squeeze, combined with the near-total ban on women working, has crippled the economy. Per capita income shrank by an estimated 30 percent last year compared to 2020, according to the United Nations Development Program.
Nearly half of Afghanistan’s 40 million people now face acute food insecurity, the UN’s World Food Program says. Malnutrition is above emergency thresholds in 25 of 34 provinces.
Struggling to survive is something Kasnia already knows at age 4. In a brick factory outside Kabul, she scoops out a chunk of mud with her tiny hands, kneading it until it is pliable enough for a brick mold. After countless repetitions, her movements are automatic. She works six days a week from sunrise until sunset, with brief breaks for breakfast and lunch, toiling next to her siblings and her father — one family among many in a sprawling factory where children become laborers at age 3.
“Everyone wishes that their children study and become teachers, doctors, engineers, and benefit the future of the country,” says her father, Wahidullah, 35, who goes by one name, as do his children.
Even with the entire family working, there’s often not enough money for food and they live hand to mouth on credit from shopkeepers. Of his three sons and three daughters, all except the youngest one are brickmakers.
“When I was young, my dream was to have a comfortable life, to have a nice office, to have a nice car, to go to parks, to travel around my country and abroad, to go to Europe,” he recalls. Instead, “I make bricks.” There is no bitterness in his voice, just acceptance of an inevitable fate.
Many Afghans have resorted to selling their belongings — everything from furniture to clothing and shoes — to survive.
When the Taliban banned movies, Nabi Attai had nothing to fall back on. In his 70s, the actor appeared in a dozen television series and 76 films, including the Golden Globe-winning 2003 movie “Osama.” Now he is destitute.
His home, tucked in a warren of steep alleys, is now nearly devoid of furniture, which he sold in the bazaar to feed his extended family. Sold, too, is his beloved TV.
After 42 years of acting, Attai has no work. Neither do his two sons, who were also in the movie and music business. Attai is glad the streets are now safe, but he has 13 family members to feed and no way to feed them.
He asked local authorities for any job, even collecting garbage. There was nothing. So he started selling his belongings. “I have no hope right now,” he says. Even begging is now punished by imprisonment under the Taliban.
Over the past year, he has become frail. His cheeks are sunken, his frame thinner. There’s a sadness in his eyes that rarely leaves, even when he recounts his glory days.
“We made good movies before,” he says. “May God have mercy that music and cinema will be allowed again, and the people will rebuild the country hand in hand, and the government will come closer to the people and embrace each other as friends and brothers.”

PINPRICKS OF GLITZ

The shimmering lights of wedding halls cut through the gloom as night encroaches on Kabul, pinpricks of glitz in the darkness.
Despite the economic slump, wedding halls are doing a brisk trade, buoyed in part by wealthier Afghan emigres returning home for traditional marriage ceremonies now that the security situation has improved.
Weddings are a big part of Afghan culture, and families sometimes bankrupt themselves to ensure a lavish party for hundreds or even thousands of guests.
Construction of the Imperial Continental wedding hall began four years ago but was disrupted by the COVID pandemic and the Taliban takeover. The opulent venue finally opened its doors last year.
Manager Mohammad Wesal Quaoni, 30, cuts a dapper figure in a sharp suit as he sweeps through the glamorous, cavernous halls, juggling four weddings in one night. The former Kabul University lecturer in economics and politics is trying to ensure the business thrives amid the country’s economic woes. It’s not easy.
“Business is weak,” he says, and onerous government rules and regulations don’t help. The Taliban are raising taxes, but he says there isn’t enough commerce to support a healthy tax base.
The ban on music and dancing doesn’t help. Gone are the live musicians and even the DJs who would bring in extra revenue, Quaoni says. Weddings are segregated by gender but, for once, there’s sometimes a bit more fun for the women.
Occasionally women and girls enjoy taped music in the ladies’ section. “If they want, they do it,” restrictions or not, he said. “Women will be women.”
Five hundred miles west of the capital, on the outskirts of the city of Herat, businessman Abdul Khaleq Khodadadi, 39, has an entirely different set of challenges.
Rayan Saffron Company, where he is vice president, exports the prized spice to customers, mainly in Europe and the US But the Taliban takeover and ensuing sanctions left many foreign clients reluctant to do business with an Afghan company – even though it’s one of the few still allowed to employ women, whose hands are deemed more suitable than men’s to extracting and handling the delicate crocus flowers.
The isolation of the banking sector has also left many Afghan companies with no way to trade except through a third country, usually Pakistan, which significantly increases costs. Then there’s drought that has decimated crops, including saffron.
His company had aimed to increase their production this year. Instead, their production fell to half of what it was three years ago, he says.
Khodadadi says he is determined to persevere. For him, successful businesses are the best way to heal Afghanistan’s wounds.
In the chaotic early days of the Taliban takeover, Khodadadi felt intense pressure to join the tens of thousands of people who fled, he says. He had a visa and family and friends urged him to leave, but he refused to go.
“It was very, very hard,” he recalls. “But ... if I leave, if all the talented people, educated people leave, who will make this country? When will this country solve the problems?”


Several Malian soldiers killed in large-scale attack by suspected jihadists

Several Malian soldiers killed in large-scale attack by suspected jihadists
Updated 11 sec ago
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Several Malian soldiers killed in large-scale attack by suspected jihadists

Several Malian soldiers killed in large-scale attack by suspected jihadists
  • Official says more than 100 jihadis attacked an army position at Kwala, about 300 km north of the capital Bamako
  • Mali army said that it "destroyed a large number of “terrorists,” but made no mention of casualties in its ranks

BAMAKO: Several Malian soldiers died on Wednesday in a large-scale attack by suspected jihadists on a military outpost in the remote west of the landlocked West African nation.

“More than 100 jihadists attacked an army position at Kwala,” said an elected representative of the nearby town of Mourdiah, 300 kilometers (180 miles) north of the capital Bamako.
“Several soldiers were killed, the jihadists took over the place before leaving without a problem,” he said, asking to remain anonymous.
A local political official confirmed to AFP the same version of events, adding that the army “camp was first hit with a car bomb.”
A second elected official said there had been a lot of gunfire and government troops returned to the base after the jihadists left.
The army reported the assault in a statement, making no mention of casualties in its ranks and claiming to have “found and destroyed” a large number of “terrorists.”
AFP was unable to verify the claims from the various sources in the remote zone.
Mali’s military junta pushed out a French anti-jihadist force in 2022 amid deteriorating relations following military coups in 2020 and 2021.
Mali has since pivoted toward Russia, both politically and militarily.
 


Arab campaigners in Michigan declare ‘victory’ in primary election protest against Biden

Arab campaigners in Michigan declare ‘victory’ in primary election protest against Biden
Updated 27 min 8 sec ago
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Arab campaigners in Michigan declare ‘victory’ in primary election protest against Biden

Arab campaigners in Michigan declare ‘victory’ in primary election protest against Biden
  • More than 100,000 voters heed call to snub president by choosing ‘uncommitted’ option on ballot, amid anger about his unflinching support for Israel during war in Gaza
  • This could prove significant during the presidential election in November, in which Michigan is likely to be one of the most closely contested states

CHICAGO: Arab American leaders hailed as a “victory” the results of a Democratic presidential primary election in Michigan on Tuesday, in which more than 100,000 voters snubbed President Joe Biden’s nomination bid by choosing the “uncommitted” option on the ballot.

Campaigners had urged Arab voters to do this in protest against the Biden administration’s unwavering support for Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip, despite the thousands of civilians who have been killed or injured as a result.

Primaries are elections held by the Democratic and Republican parties in every state to select their candidates for the presidential election. The “uncommitted” voting option is only offered by some states. Campaigners said the number of Arab Americans in Michigan who voted “uncommitted” represented a solid rejection of Biden’s candidacy.

He still comfortably won the primary. With more than 95 percent of the votes counted on Wednesday afternoon, he had received 618,441, representing 81.1 percent of the total. The number of “uncommitted” votes stood at 101,107, or 13.3 percent. Two other candidates, Marianne Williamson and Dean Phillips, each received about 3 percent of the vote.

The “uncommitted” vote could nevertheless prove significant in the presidential election if it translates into loss of support for Biden or a switch of allegiance to his likely rival, Donald Trump. Biden claimed victory in Michigan at the 2020 presidential election by the relatively narrow margin of 154,188 votes out of more than 5.5 million cast. There are more than 500,000 Arab and Muslim voters in Michigan. In addition, turnout for a presidential election is usually significantly higher than for a primary; about 1.8 million people voted in the Michigan primary on Tuesday, for example, compared with the 5.5 million at the 2020 presidential election.

In Michigan’s Republican primary, Trump comfortably won with 68.2 percent of the vote. Closest rival Nikki Haley received just 26.6 percent, which 3 percent were uncommitted.

The Michigan primary was the first among several identified by Arab American campaign groups as taking place in key swing states where Biden’s victory over Trump in 2020 was particularly narrow.

Arab Americans have launched anti-Biden protest movements in several of those states, the most prominent of which has been #AbandonBiden. Its leaders cite as the main reason for Arab anger the president’s support for and defense of Israel during the war in Gaza, including: the allocation of more than $34 billion in aid and weapons; what they view as the pro-Israel bias of Secretary of State Antony Blinken; and the US decisions to veto three UN Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire.

The #AbandonBiden campaign launched on Nov. 1, shortly after Israel invaded Gaza in response to the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7. It criticized Israel for the “brutality” of its military campaign, which has razed cities to the ground, destroying civilian buildings and infrastructure in the process, including mosques, hospitals, churches, schools, homes and businesses. Nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the territory in the past four months.

Osama Siblani, publisher of the Michigan-based Arab American News, which describes itself as the largest Arab American publication in the US, told Arab News that “empty words” from the Biden administration seeking to placate Arab voters will not work.

“The message has been delivered to Biden loud and clear from Michigan’s Arab Americans: Defeat is waiting for you in November,” he said. “This is only a down payment.”

Imad Hamad, the executive director of the American Human Rights Council, told Arab News: “The community delivered and fulfilled its solid commitment not to commit to the reelection of President Biden.

“The uncommitted votes, as well as the votes of those who flipped the party affiliation from the Democratic Party to Republican speaks for itself, setting the record straight moving forward toward the general elections in November.”

The possibility that the #AbandonBiden campaign might help return Trump to the White House has caused alarm among many traditional Democrat supporters.

Jim Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute and a longtime political activist, said many movements have emerged in response to discontent over Biden’s policies on Israel and Gaza.

“We hoped to send a message that couldn’t be ignored by President Biden and we did just that,” he told Arab News.

“The turnout in the Arab community was great and with the support of our allies we topped over 100,000 votes. This is a huge win.”

Samir Khalil, founder of the Arab American Democratic Club in Illinois, where Biden could face another Arab voter backlash in that state’s primary on March 19, said that the president’s abandonment of Palestinians was “unconscionable and unacceptable.”

He told Arab News: “Four years of Donald Trump doesn’t even come close to comparing to four months of Israel’s killings in the Gaza Strip.

“Over 100,000 people voted for ‘uncommitted’ in the Michigan presidential primary yesterday. This record-breaking total for the uncommitted option sent a loud and clear message to the Democratic Party and the Biden campaign: It is time to take action to end the genocide in Gaza.

Abed Ayoub, president of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee echoed these comments and said: “Uncommitted voters represent diverse demographics, including young voters, progressive voters, and a significant number of voters from ally communities.”

In a message posted on social media platform X, Abdullah Hammoud, the mayor of the Michigan city of Dearborn wrote: “I am overwhelmed by the power of the people, demonstrated today by the number of Michiganders who voted ‘uncommitted’ … Every person who voted ‘uncommitted’ today was personally compelled to use their voice to speak out against President Biden’s support of (Israeli President) Benjamin Netanyahu’s ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Biden has faced harsh criticism from other groups, including the Council on American Islamic Relations; Our Revolution, founded by progressive Democratic US Senator Bernie Sanders; and Listen to Michigan.

Hassan Abdel Salam, the national coordinator of #AbandonBiden, and the group’s Michigan coordinator, Khalid Turani, released a statement on Wednesday in which they said: “Abandon Biden leaders stand before the nation today, not just as victors in the Michigan primary, but as bearers of a profound and indignant message against President Joe Biden’s oversight of the ongoing US-Israeli genocide in Gaza. This isn’t just a political setback for Biden; it’s a damning indictment of his presidency’s moral bankruptcy.

“Our motivation is driven by the harrowing realities of Gaza, where the statistics of death and despair climb daily under the shadow of a genocide facilitated by Biden’s administration. At least 29,606 innocent men, women and children have been murdered, including more than 12,300 children and 8,400 women; and more than 69,737 wounded, including at least 8,663 children and 6,327 women.

“These aren’t just numbers; they’re a damning testament to the horror and suffering supported by Biden’s foreign policy.”

They added: “As we move from Michigan to the national stage, our message remains unequivocal: We will accept nothing less than justice, accountability and an end to US funding, arming and support of the genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Biden faced no significant challengers in the Michigan primary, so voting “uncommitted” was the best and clearest way to express the outrage and anger of the Arab American community, campaigners said.

To become president, a candidate must win at least 270 of the 538 Electoral College votes up for grabs. Each of the 50 states receives a set number of Electoral College votes based on population size, and they are normally awarded to the candidate that wins the popular vote in the state.

In 2020, Biden won 306 Electoral College votes compared with Trump’s 232. If Arab Americans votes prevent Biden from winning 36 of these votes in three key swing states at the presidential election in November, he could lose, #AbandonBiden leaders said. Michigan has 16 Electoral College votes up for grabs.

Biden is particularly vulnerable in several swing states where his 2020 margins of victory over Trump were even closer than in Michigan. They include: Arizona, which has 11 Electoral College votes and in which he won the popular vote by a narrow margin of 10,457; Wisconsin (10 College votes; 2020 victory margin: 20,682); Georgia (16 College votes; 2020 victory margin: 11,779); and Nevada (6 College votes; 2020 victory margin: 33,596).


Ukraine warns against ‘destructive external interference’ in Transnistria

Ukraine warns against ‘destructive external interference’ in Transnistria
Updated 50 min 44 sec ago
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Ukraine warns against ‘destructive external interference’ in Transnistria

Ukraine warns against ‘destructive external interference’ in Transnistria
  • Fears that landlocked Transnistria could become a new flashpoint in Russia’s conflict with neighboring Ukraine
  • Russia’s foreign ministry: ‘Protecting the interests of the residents of Transnistria, our compatriots, is one of our priorities’

KYIV, Ukraine: Ukraine’s foreign ministry on Wednesday cautioned against any meddling from Russia in Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria, whose separatist leaders earlier appealed to Russia for “protection.”
The move from Transnistrian separatists raised fears that the landlocked territory could become a new flashpoint in Moscow’s conflict with neighboring Ukraine.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine... calls for a peaceful resolution of economic, social and humanitarian issues between Chisinau and Tiraspol without any destructive external interference,” the ministry said.
Transnistria is a primarily Russian-speaking region that has long depended on Moscow for support.
After the separatist lawmakers’ resolution was passed, Russia’s foreign ministry said it considered “all requests” for help.
“Protecting the interests of the residents of Transnistria, our compatriots, is one of our priorities,” the ministry told Russian news agencies.
Officials in Moldova and analysts have downplayed concerns.
But the move has fueled comparisons with February 2022, when Russian-backed militants in eastern Ukraine asked for protection against what they said was relentless attacks by Kyiv’s forces.
“Our country knows the horrors of war and the price of peace better than anyone else,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said.
“We are making and will continue to make every effort... to prevent any attempts by Russia to destabilize Moldova or other countries in our region,” it added.


S. Korean, US troops will begin major exercises next week in response to N. Korean threats

S. Korean, US troops will begin major exercises next week in response to N. Korean threats
Updated 28 February 2024
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S. Korean, US troops will begin major exercises next week in response to N. Korean threats

S. Korean, US troops will begin major exercises next week in response to N. Korean threats

SEOUL: South Korean and US troops will begin their expanded annual military drills next week in response to North Korea’s evolving nuclear threats, the two countries said Wednesday, a move that will likely enrage North Korea because it views its rivals’ joint training as an invasion rehearsal.

In recent months, North Korea has inflamed animosities on the Korean Peninsula with fiery rhetoric and continued missile tests. While it’s unlikely for North Korea to launch full-blown attacks against South Korea and the US, observers say the North could still stage limited provocations along the tense border with South Korea.

On Wednesday, the South Korea and US militaries jointly announced that the allies will conduct Freedom Shield exercise, a computer-simulated command post training, and a variety of separate field training, from March 4-14.

Col. Lee Sung-Jun, a spokesperson for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that the allies’ drills are designed to bolster their joint capabilities to prevent North Korea from using its nuclear weapons. He said the allies are to carry out 48 field exercises this spring, twice the number conducted last year, and that this year’s drills would 

involve air assault, live-firing and bombing training.

“Our military is ready to punish North Korea immediately, strongly and to the end in the event of its provocation, and we’ll further strengthen our firm readiness through the upcoming drills,” Lee said. 

Col. Isaac L. Taylor, a spokesperson for the US military, said the allies’ exercises have been defensive in nature and that there is solid evidence that “a high readiness rate” helps ensure deterrence.

North Korea didn’t immediately respond to the drills’ announcement. North Korea has reacted to previous major South Korea-US military drills with its own missile tests.

North Korea has sharply intensified its weapons testing activities since 2022 in part of its efforts to expand its nuclear and missile arsenals. This year, the North already conducted six rounds of missile tests — five of them reportedly involving cruise missiles — and other weapons launches.


UK pro-Palestinian marches to continue until government calls for ceasefire, protesters say

UK pro-Palestinian marches to continue until government calls for ceasefire, protesters say
Updated 28 February 2024
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UK pro-Palestinian marches to continue until government calls for ceasefire, protesters say

UK pro-Palestinian marches to continue until government calls for ceasefire, protesters say
  • Cleverly said that the protesters had “made their point” and were putting “huge pressure” on police

LONDON: Pro-Palestinian marches in the UK will continue to take place with thousands participating despite calls by British Home Secretary James Cleverly to end demonstrations, organizers have said.

The UK capital has been the scene of some of Europe’s largest pro-Palestine protests since October, with regular marches every fortnight in central London drawing hundreds of thousands.

Protest organizers said that the demonstrations would continue “at the very least until we see an immediate ceasefire” in Gaza, The Times reported.

Organizers vowed to continue taking to the streets even if a “humanitarian pause” was agreed on, arguing that this would only be a “stay of execution” for Palestinians.

Cleverly said that the protesters had “made their point” and were putting “huge pressure” on police. He added that the demonstrations in London, as well as those in other towns and cities across the UK, were “not really saying anything new.”

Ministers are concerned about the drain on police resources, with estimates suggesting that the protests have cost £25 million and caused thousands of rest days for officers to be canceled, The Times reported.

The government is debating changing protest rules to require organizers to give police more than the current six days’ notice.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign condemned the UK government’s “growing attacks on the right to protest.”

According to PSC Director Ben Jamal, people will “continue to march in huge numbers because the genocide has not stopped.”

He promised to fight back against the “repressive environment” being “whipped up” by the government.

Other groups that have joined the protests criticized the police’s response to the marches, which began in October, after Israel began its bombardment and military invasion of Gaza with nearly 30,000 people killed.

Chris Nineham, a founding member of the Stop the War Coalition, said that there were fewer arrests per person at pro-Palestinian marches than at the Glastonbury Festival or a Premier League football match, The Times reported.

He accused Scotland Yard of “extraordinary hysteria” and “overpolicing.”

UK Policing Minister Chris Philp said that there had been 600 arrests at the marches to date, but emphasized that free speech and the right to protest were the foundations of a democratic society.

On Saturday, the PSC plans to stage protests at dozens of Barclays bank branches across the country, which has financial ties to arms companies that sell weapons to Israel.

Earlier in February, a group of pro-Palestinian activists blocked the bank’s Canary Wharf headquarters and protested with a banner that read: “Are you sure you want to close your account? YES.” They chanted, among other things: “Barclays, Barclays, you can’t hide, you’re enabling genocide,” as well as “Your profits are covered in Palestinian blood.”