Do not turn away from Afghanistan, says global Red Cross

Do not turn away from Afghanistan, says global Red Cross
An Afghan child removes debris from his damaged house after the recent earthquake in the district of Zinda Jan, in Herat. (Reuters)
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Updated 10 October 2023
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Do not turn away from Afghanistan, says global Red Cross

Do not turn away from Afghanistan, says global Red Cross
  • Foreign governments to aid agencies on the ground to help with rescue, recovery

ZINDA JAN, Afghanistan: Clinging to hope that finding survivors was still possible, Afghan rescuers and villagers kept digging through rubble in western Herat province on Tuesday, three days after one of the deadliest earthquakes in the region left more than 2,000 dead.

Elsewhere in Herat, people were digging graves for loved ones killed in Saturday’s 6.3 magnitude quake. On a barren field in the district of Zinda Jan, a bulldozer removed mounds of earth to clear space for a long row of graves.

“It is very difficult to find a family member from a destroyed house and a few minutes to later bury him or her in a nearby grave, again under the ground,” said Mir Agha, from the city of Herat, who had joined hundreds of volunteers to help the locals.

Across kilometers (miles) of dusty hills, there was little left of villages besides rubble and funerals.

In Naib Rafi, a village that previously had about 2,500 residents, people said that almost no one was still alive besides men who were working outside when the quake struck. Survivors worked all day with excavators to dig long trenches for mass burials.

Janan Sayiq, a spokesman for the Afghan Taliban government’s national disaster authority, said the quake killed and injured thousands but couldn’t provide a breakdown for the casualties. Earlier, Taliban officials said more than 2,000 had died across Herat.

The epicenter was about 40 kilometers northwest of the city of Herat, the provincial capital, the US Geological Survey said. Several of the aftershocks have been strong, including one on Monday that caused residents of the city to rush out of their homes once again.

The United Nations said the Zinda Jan district was the worst-affected area, with 1,294 deaths and 1,688 injuries. In addition, 485 people — 191 men and 294 women — are missing. Six schools are also reported to have been destroyed, said the UN.

Nearly 2,000 houses in 20 villages were destroyed, the Taliban have said. The area hit by the quake has just one government-run hospital.

As winter approaches, the new disaster is likely to make it even harder for people to meet basic needs, such as shelter, food and medicine, aid groups have warned.

It is not clear how much foreign aid has reached Herat since Saturday. The global response has been slow. Much of the world is wary of dealing directly with the Taliban-led government and focused on the deadly escalation between Israel and the Palestinians in the aftermath of the surprise attack by Gaza militants on Saturday.

Pakistan has pledged to send blankets, tents, and medicines, and China is reported to have offered cash and other forms of emergency humanitarian assistance.

Other foreign governments said they will work with aid agencies on the ground to help with rescue and recovery, and Afghans have launched fundraising campaigns.

Authorities in Kabul did not respond to questions about how much aid has arrived from overseas. In a statement, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies urged the media not to turn away from Afghanistan. “Your reporting can bring back attention to Afghanistan and the Afghan people’s untold stories of resilience and need,” an IFRC statement said.

“Afghanistan needs you — now, more than ever. Please, let’s not add ‘forgotten’ to the long list of tragedies that this resilient nation has already endured,” IFRC spokesperson Tommaso Della Longa said in the statement.

The Taliban’s Justice Ministry has urged national and international charity foundations, businesses and Afghans to gather aid for the province.


Maldives signs China defense deal as India prepares exit

Maldives signs China defense deal as India prepares exit
Updated 5 sec ago
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Maldives signs China defense deal as India prepares exit

Maldives signs China defense deal as India prepares exit
  • Maldives pro-China President Mohamed Muizzu has ordered Indian military personnel out of the country
  • India is suspicious of China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean and its influence in the Maldives

Malé, Maldives: The Maldives has signed a “military assistance” deal with China after ordering Indian troops deployed in the small but strategically-placed archipelago to leave, officials said Tuesday.

Some 89 Indian military personnel in the country will be gone by May 10 after having been previously ordered out by pro-China President Mohamed Muizzu, who came to power last year on an anti-Indian platform.

The Maldivian defense ministry said they signed an “agreement on China’s provision of military assistance” with Beijing late Monday, saying the agreement was “gratis,” or without payment or charge, but giving no further details.

The defense ministry said the deal was to foster “stronger bilateral ties,” in a post on social media platform X.

India is suspicious of China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean and its influence in the Maldives, a chain of 1,192 tiny coral islands stretching around 800 kilometers (500 miles) across the equator, as well as in neighboring Sri Lanka.

Both South Asian island nations are strategically placed halfway along key east-west international shipping routes.

Relations between Male and New Delhi have chilled since Muizzu won elections in September.

New Delhi considers the Indian Ocean archipelago to be within its sphere of influence, but the Maldives has shifted into the orbit of China — its largest external creditor.

Muizzu, who visited Beijing in January where he signed a raft of infrastructure, energy, marine and agricultural deals, has previously denied seeking to redraw the regional balance by bringing in Chinese forces to replace Indian troops.

India last week said it was bolstering its naval forces on its “strategically important” Lakshadweep islands, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of the Maldives.

The Indian naval unit based on the island of Minicoy will boost “operational surveillance” of the area, the navy said.

Addressing a public rally north of the capital on Monday, Muizzu vowed there would be no Indian troops on Maldivian soil after May 10, when they are expected to complete a withdrawal.

The Indians had been deployed to operate three reconnaissance aircraft New Delhi had gifted Male to patrol its vast maritime boundary.

India is expected to replace the military personnel with civilian staff to operate the aircraft, and the Maldives defense ministry announced last month that Indian civilian crew had begun arriving in the atoll nation.

Last month, Male allowed a controversial Chinese research ship to enter its waters in a sign of the nation’s diplomatic reorientation toward Beijing and away from its traditional benefactor India.

China’s Xiang Yang Hong 3 arrived in Male after being refused permission to dock by Sri Lanka following objections from India, which has labeled it a spy ship.

China also gave 12 electric ambulances to the Maldives on Sunday, the health ministry said.


Ukraine says destroyed Russian warship on Black Sea

Ukraine says destroyed Russian warship on Black Sea
Updated 30 min 13 sec ago
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Ukraine says destroyed Russian warship on Black Sea

Ukraine says destroyed Russian warship on Black Sea
  • There was no official response from the Russian defense ministry

KYIV: Ukraine claimed Tuesday that its forces had destroyed a Russian military patrol boat on the Black Sea near the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia 10 years ago.
The strategic waterway has become an increasingly important battleground as Ukrainian forces claim a string of attacks on Moscow’s fleet.
Ukraine’s military intelligence spokesman Andriy Yusov said the ship had been hit previously but was destroyed after the overnight attack by maritime drones.
“As for the crew, the details are being clarified. There are dead and wounded. But it is likely that some of the crew managed to evacuate,” he told Ukrainian media.
There was no official response from the Russian defense ministry.
Ukraine’s military intelligence said earlier that their drones struck the ship near the Kerch Strait, causing “damage to the stern, starboard and port sides.”
The Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said that Russia’s Black Sea fleet is “a symbol of the occupation,” adding that, “it cannot be in Ukraine’s Crimea.”
Ukraine’s air force said earlier Tuesday it had downed 18 of 22 Iranian-designed attack drones launched by Russia over the Black Sea port city of Odesa.


North Korea denounces South Korea-US military drills, warns of consequences

North Korea denounces South Korea-US military drills, warns of consequences
Updated 05 March 2024
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North Korea denounces South Korea-US military drills, warns of consequences

North Korea denounces South Korea-US military drills, warns of consequences
  • The exercises can never be defensive but are an attempt to invade the North, spokesperson said

SEOUL: North Korea’s defense ministry urged South Korea and the United States to stop military drills, saying they are rehearsals of war and warning of consequences, KCNA reported on Tuesday.
South Korean and US militaries kicked off their annual spring exercises on Monday with twice the number of troops joining compared to last year, seeking to improve their responses to North Korea’s evolving nuclear and missile threats.
An unnamed spokesperson of Pyongyang’s defense ministry said it strongly denounces what it called “frantic, reckless” military drills, urging them to stop, KCNA said.
The exercises can never be defensive but are an attempt to invade the North, the spokesperson said, pointing to their increased scale and the participation of 11 member countries of the United Nations Command.
“A nuclear war may be ignited even with a spark,” KCNA quoted the spokesperson as saying.
The US and South Korea will have to “pay a dear price for their false choice,” the official added, vowing to conduct “military activities to strongly control the unstable security environment.”
South Korea’s defense ministry dismissed the North’s statement, saying the exercises are defensive and meant to fend off the North’s provocations and aggression.
“If North Korea makes a direct provocation using the exercises as an excuse, we will make overwhelming responses immediately, strongly and until the end,” it said in a statement.
The Freedom Shield exercises, set to end on March 14, came as North Korea pushes to develop its nuclear capabilities with missile and other weapons tests.
The exercises are primarily designed to neutralize the North’s nuclear threats, including by “identifying and striking” cruise missiles, which Pyongyang had indicated could carry nuclear warheads, Seoul military officials said.


US Supreme Court rules Trump can stay on Colorado primary ballot

US Supreme Court rules Trump can stay on Colorado primary ballot
Updated 05 March 2024
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US Supreme Court rules Trump can stay on Colorado primary ballot

US Supreme Court rules Trump can stay on Colorado primary ballot

WASHINGTON: The US Supreme Court on Monday removed a potential hurdle to Donald Trump’s bid to recapture the White House, unanimously dismissing a state court ruling that could have barred him from the ballot for engaging in insurrection.

The high-stakes ruling in favor of the former president came on the eve of the Super Tuesday primaries that are expected to cement Trump’s march toward the Republican nomination to take on President Joe Biden in November.

It was the most consequential election case heard by the court since it halted the Florida vote recount in 2000 with Republican George W. Bush narrowly leading Democrat Al Gore.

The question before the nine justices was whether Trump was ineligible to appear on the Republican presidential primary ballot in Colorado because he engaged in an insurrection — the January 6, 2021 assault on the US Capitol by his supporters.

In a 9-0 decision, the conservative-dominated court said “the judgment of the Colorado Supreme Court... cannot stand,” meaning 77-year-old Trump can appear on the state’s primary ballot.

“All nine Members of the Court agree with that result,” the ruling said, though one conservative and the three liberal justices dissented on certain technical aspects.

Trump hailed the decision, declaring a “BIG WIN FOR AMERICA!!!” in a post on his Truth Social website.

The case stemmed from a ruling in December by the supreme court of Colorado, one of the 15 states and territories voting on Super Tuesday.

The state court, citing the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, ruled that Trump should be kicked off the ballot because of his role in the January 6 attack on Congress, when a mob tried to halt certification of Biden’s 2020 election victory.

Section 3 of the 14th Amendment bars those who engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” after once pledging to support and defend the Constitution from holding public office — although Trump’s lawyers argued the rule does not apply to the presidency.

During two hours of arguments last month, both conservative and liberal justices on the US Supreme Court expressed concern about having individual states decide which candidates can be on the presidential ballot this November.

On Monday, the top court ruled that “responsibility for enforcing Section 3 against federal officeholders and candidates rests with Congress and not the States” — and that the principle applied “especially (to) the Presidency.”

The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868 after the Civil War, was aimed at preventing supporters of the slave-holding breakaway Confederacy from being elected to Congress or from holding federal positions.

Monday’s ruling renders other similar state challenges to Trump’s primary ballot appearance effectively moot, including in Maine which also votes on Super Tuesday.

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said her state’s barring of Trump from the ballot had been withdrawn, writing in a statement that the votes cast for Trump “will be counted.”

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said she was “disappointed” in the outcome, posting on X that the state should be able to bar “oath-breaking” insurrectionists.

Speaking to reporters from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Trump alleged again without evidence that the legal maneuvering against him was “in total coordination with the White House.”

His only remaining rival in the Republican primary, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, told CNN she was happy with the decision.

“Look, I’m trying to defeat Donald Trump fair and square. I don’t need them taking him off the ballot to do it,” she said.

The Supreme Court, which includes three justices nominated by Trump, has historically been loath to get involved in political questions, but it is taking center stage in this year’s White House race.

Besides the Colorado case, the high court has also agreed to hear Trump’s claim that he is immune from criminal prosecution as a former president and cannot be tried on separate charges of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election.

Trump was impeached by the Democratic-majority House of Representatives for inciting an insurrection but was acquitted thanks to Republican support in the Senate.

He is also scheduled to go on trial in New York on March 25 on charges of covering up hush money payments to a porn star ahead of the 2016 election.

In yet another case, Trump faces federal charges in Florida of refusing to give up top secret documents after leaving the White House.


France becomes the only country to explicitly guarantee abortion as a constitutional right

France becomes the only country to explicitly guarantee abortion as a constitutional right
Updated 05 March 2024
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France becomes the only country to explicitly guarantee abortion as a constitutional right

France becomes the only country to explicitly guarantee abortion as a constitutional right

PARIS: French lawmakers on Monday overwhelmingly approved a bill to enshrine abortion rights in France's constitution, making it the only country to explicitly guarantee a woman’s right to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy
The historic move was proposed by President Emmanuel Macron as a way to prevent the kind of rollback of abortion rights seen in the United States in recent years, and the vote during a special joint session of France's parliament drew a long standing ovation among lawmakers.
The measure was approved in a 780-72 vote in the Palace of Versailles. Abortion enjoys wide support in France across most of the political spectrum, and has been legal since 1975.
Many female legislators in the hall smiled broadly as they cheered. While a small group of protesters stood outside the joint session, there were jubilant scenes of celebrations all over France as women’s rights activists hailed the measure promised by Macron within hours of the Dobbs ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022.
The U.S. decision has reverberated across Europe’s political landscape, forcing the issue back into public debate in some countries at a time when far-right nationalist parties are gaining influence.
Both houses of France's parliament, the National Assembly and Senate, had separately adopted a bill to amend Article 34 of the French Constitution, but the amendment needed final confirmation by a three-fifths majority in the special joint session. The measure specifies that “the law determines the conditions by which is exercised the freedom of women to have recourse to an abortion, which is guaranteed.”
The French measure is seen as going a step further than was the case in the former Yugoslavia, whose 1974 constitution said that “a person is free to decide on having children.” Yugoslavia dissolved in the early 1990s, and all its successor states have adopted similar measures in their constitutions that legally enable women to have an abortion, though they do not explicitly guarantee it.
In the lead-up to the vote, French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal addressed the more than 900 lawmakers gathered for the joint session in Versailles, and called on them to make France a leader in women's rights and set an example for countries around the world.
“We have a moral debt to women,” Attal said. He paid tribute to Simone Veil, a prominent legislator, former health minister and key feminist who in 1975 championed the bill that decriminalized abortion in France.
“We have a chance to change history,” Attal said in a moving and determined speech. “Make Simone Veil proud," he said to a standing ovation.
None of France’s major political parties have questioned the right to abortion, including Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party and the conservative Republicans.
Le Pen, who won a record number of seats in the National Assembly two years ago, said on Monday that her party planned to vote in favor of the bill but added that “there is no need to make this a historic day.”
A recent poll showed support for abortion rights among the French public at more than 80%, consistent with previous surveys. The same poll also showed that a solid majority of people are in favor of enshrining it in the constitution.
A group of about 200 anti-abortion protesters gathered soberly in Versailles ahead of the vote, some holding a banner reading: ‘’I too was an embryo.''
A larger crowd of women's rights activists gathered at Trocadero Plaza overlooking the Eiffel Tower, letting out a collective cry of joy as the vote results came in. Others celebrated around France even before the joint parliamentary session began.
Sarah Durocher, a leader in the Family Planning movement, said Monday's vote is “a victory for feminists and a defeat for the anti-choice activists.”
“We increased the level of protection to this fundamental right,” said Anne-Cécile Mailfert of the Women’s Foundation. “It’s a guarantee for women today and in the future to have the right to abort in France.”
The government argued in its introduction to the bill that the right to abortion is threatened in the United States, where the Supreme Court in 2022 overturned a 50-year-old ruling that used to guarantee it.
“Unfortunately, this event is not isolated: In many countries, even in Europe, there are currents of opinion that seek to hinder at any cost the freedom of women to terminate their pregnancy if they wish,” the introduction to the French legislation says.
“It may not be an issue in France, where a majority of people support abortion,” said Mathilde Philip-Gay, a law professor and a specialist in French and American constitutional law. “But those same people may one day vote for a far-right government, and what happened in the U.S. can happen elsewhere in Europe, including in France.”
Inscribing abortion into the French Constitution "will make it harder for abortion opponents of the future to challenge these rights, but it won't prevent them from doing it in the long run, with the right political strategy,” Philip-Gay added.
"It only takes a moment for everything we thought that we have achieved to fade away,” said Yael Braun-Pivet, the first female president of the French parliament, in her address to the joint session.
Amending the constitution is a laborious process and a rare event in France. Since it was enacted in 1958, the French Constitution has been amended 17 times.
The justice minister said the new amendment will be formally inscribed into the Constitution at a public ceremony at Vendome Plaza in Paris on Friday — International Women's Day.