Tourists wounded in deadly Afghanistan shooting stable — hospital 

Tourists wounded in deadly Afghanistan shooting stable — hospital 
People gather to check on missing relatives a day after a twin suicide bombs attack, which killed scores of people outside Kabul airport, at a hospital run by Italian NGO Emergency in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 27, 2021. (AFP/File)
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Updated 19 May 2024
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Tourists wounded in deadly Afghanistan shooting stable — hospital 

Tourists wounded in deadly Afghanistan shooting stable — hospital 
  • Group of tourists was fired at while shopping in mountainous city of Bamiyan on Friday 
  • Attack first deadly assault on foreign tourists since Taliban’s return to power in 20221

KABUL: Tourists wounded in an attack in Afghanistan which left three Spaniards and three Afghans dead were in a stable condition, a hospital said Saturday, as a survivor described the horror of the shooting in an open market.
The group was fired on while shopping in the bazaar in the mountainous city of Bamiyan, around 180 kilometers (110 miles) from the capital Kabul, on Friday.
French tourist Anne-France Brill, one of the dozen foreign travelers on an organized tour, said a gunman on foot approached the group’s vehicles and opened fire.
“There was blood everywhere,” the 55-year-old told AFP from Dubai, where she landed Saturday after being evacuated from Kabul with two Americans.
“One thing is certain,” she said, the assailant “was there for the foreigners.”
Brill, who works in marketing and lives near Paris, said she helped collect the bloodied belongings of her wounded fellow travelers before a Taliban escort brought them to the capital, where they were taken in by a European Union delegation.
The attack is believed to be the first deadly assault on foreign tourists since the Taliban returned to power in 2021 in a country where few nations have a diplomatic presence.
The bodies of those killed were transported to Kabul overnight Friday, along with the wounded and survivors, after bad weather made an airlift impossible.
Italian NGO Emergency, which operates a hospital in Kabul, received the injured who it said were from Spain, Lithuania, Norway, Australia and Afghanistan.
“The wounded people arrived at our hospital at 3:00 am (2230 GMT Friday) this morning, about 10 hours after the incident took place,” said Dejan Panic, Emergency’s country director in Afghanistan, in a statement.
“The Afghan national was the most critically injured, but all patients are now stable,” he added.
Spain’s government on Friday announced that three of the dead were Spanish tourists.
Its foreign ministry said one of the wounded was also a Spanish woman, who had been seriously injured and underwent surgery in Kabul.
The dead included three Afghans — two civilians and a Taliban member, the government’s interior ministry spokesman Abdul Mateen Qani said.
Local officials said the civilians were working with the tour group, while the Taliban security official had returned fire when the shooting broke out.
“Overwhelmed by the news of the murder of Spanish tourists in Afghanistan,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez posted on social media platform X.
The bodies of the dead would likely be brought back to Spain on Sunday, the country’s foreign minister Jose Manuel Albares said on Spanish public television TVE.
Spanish diplomats were headed to Afghanistan from Pakistan and Qatar, where the Spanish ambassador to the country is currently based.
The Spanish embassy was evacuated in 2021, along with other Western missions, after the Taliban took back control of Kabul, ending a bloody decades-long insurgency against foreign forces.
Spanish authorities have also been coordinating with a European Union delegation in the capital.
Interior ministry spokesman Qani said seven suspects had been arrested, “of which one is wounded.”
“The investigation is still going on and the Islamic Emirate is seriously looking into the matter,” he added.
There has not yet been a claim of responsibility.
The EU condemned the attack “in the strongest terms.”
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, said it was “deeply shocked and appalled by the deadly terrorist attack” in Bamiyan, adding it had provided assistance after the incident.
The Taliban government has yet to be officially recognized by any foreign government.
It has, however, supported a fledgling tourism sector, with more than 5,000 foreign tourists visiting Afghanistan in 2023, according to official figures.
Western nations advise against all travel to the country, warning of kidnap and attack risks.
Alongside security concerns, the country has limited road infrastructure and a dilapidated health service.
Multiple foreign tourism companies offer guided package tours to Afghanistan, often including visits to highlights in cities such as Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and Bamiyan.
Bamiyan is Afghanistan’s top tourist destination, once home to the giant Buddha statues that were blown up by the Taliban in 2001 during their previous rule.
The number of bombings and suicide attacks in Afghanistan has fallen dramatically since the Taliban authorities took power, and deadly attacks on foreigners are rare.
However, a number of armed groups, including Daesh, remain a threat.
The group has waged a campaign of attacks on foreign interests in a bid to weaken the Taliban government, targeting the Pakistani and Russian embassies as well as Chinese businessmen.


An ex-gun lobbyist is revising New Zealand’s gun laws, tightened after the 2019 mosque attack

An ex-gun lobbyist is revising New Zealand’s gun laws, tightened after the 2019 mosque attack
Updated 5 sec ago
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An ex-gun lobbyist is revising New Zealand’s gun laws, tightened after the 2019 mosque attack

An ex-gun lobbyist is revising New Zealand’s gun laws, tightened after the 2019 mosque attack
  • McKee, a former gun lobbyist, says she will examine all parts of the law, including restrictions on semiautomatic guns
WELLINGTON: New Zealand’s government will overhaul the tighter gun laws introduced after a deadly mass shooting by a white supremacist five years ago, because they put excessive burdens on gun owners who feel vilified by law enforcement and the public, the lawmaker leading the changes said.
“What’s happened is a massive change with massive penalties and targets on people who didn’t do anything wrong,” Associate Justice Minister Nicole McKee — a lobbyist for gun owners before she entered Parliament in 2020 — told The Associated Press in an interview this week. Every part of the law will be scrutinized, including the restrictions that bar all but a few hundred New Zealanders from firing banned semiautomatic weapons, she said.
McKee’s pledge of a wide-ranging review — following an earlier announcement that she would ease rules for gun clubs — was applauded by groups representing the country’s 250,000 license holders and decried by survivors of the 2019 attack at two Christchurch mosques where an Australian man opened fire on Muslim worshippers, killing 51 people.
“It makes me scared for our futures,” Temel Ataçocuğu — who was shot nine times in the attack and fears an erosion of the assault weapon ban — told the AP. “What have the past five years been for? How are they going to prevent this from happening again?”
New Zealand drew global admiration when its then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said six days after the massacre that her government would outlaw all semiautomatic weapons. The change was approved by 119 lawmakers with only one opposed, and sweeping reforms followed: bolstered licensing requirements, more rules for gun clubs, and the creation of a firearms registry.
The changes introduced “onerous regulatory compliance,” said McKee, whose political party, Act, campaigned for New Zealand’s 2023 election on a platform for reversing many of them. Now in government as part of a center-right coalition, McKee pledged to update the law before the next election in 2026.
Her bloc has enough lawmakers to easily pass any reforms in the face of any resistance from the parliamentary opposition.
“The changes we made off the back of March 15 took military-style semi-automatic weapons off the street and made our communities safer,” said Ginny Andersen, a lawmaker for Labour — the largest opposition party, previously led by Ardern. “Making those guns more accessible will take New Zealand backwards.”
McKee’s consultation was a “box ticking exercise, with a select group and a very short time for responses,” Andersen said in her emailed statement.
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, whose party is in government with McKee’s, did not answer AP’s requests for comment.
McKee said she would consult with the public before deciding specific measures and that her personal views would not direct the overhaul. Critics rejected that.
“She was elected as a gun lobbyist, that was her role,” said Chris Cahill, president of the Police Association, a group representing most New Zealand officers. “She’s got a loyalty to the gun lobby groups.”
The review was “without a doubt, a backdoor into giving people access to semiautomatic assault rifles again,” Cahill said.
At the time of the ban, McKee denounced it as “knee-jerk.” As a minister she is more guarded, but told the AP that New Zealand had not been entirely rid of such weapons; several hundred people have permits to use them for pest control in rural areas, while others can own but not fire them.
“If we extend the access, what are the possible controls around the use of the extension? And would society be happy with what those controls mean?” McKee said she would ask during the review.
“It’s about how do we find the balance with protecting people but not going over the top with a regulatory regime,” she said. Any concerns raised by opponents should be “realistic,” McKee added. “It cannot be anecdotal.”
New Zealand’s gun laws were safer before the 2019 reforms, the minister said, citing the dozens of pages of information now required for a gun license as an example of changes that could deter gun owners’ compliance.
“That’s absolute rubbish,” said Cahill. Gun laws were “loose” before the attack, he added, and the scrutiny reported by owners in the years since reflected the proper administration of the law after an injection of government funds.
McKee will begin by examining the gun registry created after the attacks; some gun owners want it shrunk to only the highest-powered weapons, rather than all guns. She will also explore removing from police oversight the new agency that administers gun licenses and registrations.
Gun crime has increased in New Zealand since 2019, according to analysis of official crime figures by New Zealand news outlets. Supporters of the tighter restrictions say they will take time to have an impact, and that a burgeoning problem with violent gang crime is fueling the rise. McKee, and groups representing gun owners, say scrutiny since the attack has fallen on law-abiding license holders at the expense of criminals, who are not captured by the stricter rules.
The Council of Licensed Firearms Owners said members had lost or couldn’t obtain licenses because of malicious reports from past partners — who must be interviewed as part of a person’s application — or because they had divulged depression to their doctors. Areas of flexibility should be introduced to applications, spokesperson Hugh Devereux-Mack said.
“Every single New Zealander who is not convicted of a serious criminal offense and has no sort of problematic behaviors or serious mental health conditions is eligible to own a firearm,” Devereux-Mack said.
The gunman serving a life sentence for the Christchurch attack, Brenton Tarrant, moved to New Zealand from Australia, acquired a gun license and amassed a cache of assault weapons, all legally, without drawing the attention of law enforcement until he committed the massacre.
The police were censured by an inquiry that found Tarrant was incorrectly allowed to nominate a character reference who barely knew him because he did not have relatives in New Zealand who could be interviewed.
McKee said the rules that followed have made the system rigid and unwieldy. She would prefer a licensing regime “that looked at the individual,” she said — without prompting the same disregard of rules that had allowed Tarrant to receive a license.
Devereux-Mack said his group might support an additional practical testing component to gun licensing, and a tiered system with more freedoms for longtime license holders.
“New Zealand won’t be safer if it becomes easier to get a gun,” Ataçocuğu said. “I have to have an eye test every time I renew my drivers’ license. Gun owners should have similar background and mental health checks every few years to make sure they’re still safe to have guns.”

EU confirms launch of Ukraine, Moldova membership talks Tuesday

EU confirms launch of Ukraine, Moldova membership talks Tuesday
Updated 19 min 28 sec ago
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EU confirms launch of Ukraine, Moldova membership talks Tuesday

EU confirms launch of Ukraine, Moldova membership talks Tuesday
  • Starting the negotiations will still only put the two ex-Soviet states at the beginning of what is likely to be a years-long process of reforms before they can finally become members

LUXEMBOURG: EU countries on Friday formally approved launching accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova next week, a landmark event for the two countries at the start of their long path toward joining the bloc.
European Union ministers will start negotiations first with Ukraine and then with Moldova in Luxembourg on Tuesday afternoon, officials said.
Ukraine — followed by its neighbor Moldova — lodged its application to join the 27-nation EU in the wake of Russia’s 2022 invasion.
Starting the negotiations will still only put the two ex-Soviet states at the beginning of what is likely to be a years-long process of reforms before they can finally become members.
EU leaders took the key step in December of agreeing to open talks on war-torn Ukraine — and Moldova — joining the club.
But to actually begin the negotiations the bloc’s members still had to sign off on a formal framework for the process.
The EU’s executive told member states this month that Ukraine and Moldova had met all the criteria needed to launch the talks.
Pressure has grown to move Ukraine onto the next step in its quest for membership, in the face of fears that Hungary could stall progress when it takes over the EU’s rotating presidency in July.
Hungary — the friendliest country to Russia in the EU — has said it does not intend to hold any further rounds of talks with Ukraine during its six months at the helm.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has reinvigorated a push in the EU to take on new members, after years in which countries particularly in the Western Balkans made little progress on their hope to join.
The EU in December 2023 also granted candidate status to another of Russia’s former Soviet neighbors, Georgia.
It has also approved accession negotiations with Bosnia and has opened such talks with Serbia, Montenegro, Albania and North Macedonia.


South Korea summons Russian ambassador as tensions rise with North Korea

South Korea summons Russian ambassador as tensions rise with North Korea
Updated 21 June 2024
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South Korea summons Russian ambassador as tensions rise with North Korea

South Korea summons Russian ambassador as tensions rise with North Korea
  • Earlier Friday, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued a vague threat of retaliation after South Korean activists flew balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets across the border
  • South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Hong Kyun summoned Russian Ambassador Georgy Zinoviev to protest the deal between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un

SEOUL, South Korea: South Korea summoned the Russian ambassador to protest the country’s new defense pact with North Korea on Friday, as border tensions continued to rise with vague threats and brief, seemingly accidental incursions by North Korean troops.
Earlier Friday, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued a vague threat of retaliation after South Korean activists flew balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets across the border, and South Korea’s military said it had fired warning shots the previous day to repel North Korean soldiers who briefly crossed the rivals’ land border for the third time this month.
That came two days after Moscow and Pyongyang reached a pact vowing mutual defense assistance if either is attacked, and a day after Seoul responded by saying it would consider providing arms to Ukraine to fight Russia’s invasion.
South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Hong Kyun summoned Russian Ambassador Georgy Zinoviev to protest the deal between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un and called for Moscow to immediately halt its alleged military cooperation with Pyongyang.
Kim, the South Korean diplomat, stressed that any cooperation that directly or indirectly helps the North build up its military capabilities would violate UN Security Council resolutions and pose a threat to the South’s security, and warned of consequences for Seoul’s relations with Moscow.
Zinoviev replied that he would convey Seoul’s concerns to his superiors in Moscow, the ministry said.
Leafletting campaigns by South Korean civilian activists in recent weeks have prompted a resumption of Cold War-style psychological warfare along the inter-Korean border.
The South Korean civilian activists, led by North Korean defector Park Sang-hak, said it sent 20 balloons carrying 300,000 propaganda leaflets, 5,000 USB sticks with South Korean pop songs and TV dramas, and 3,000 US dollar bills from the South Korean border town of Paju on Thursday night.
Pyongyang resents such material and fears it could demoralize front-line troops and residents and eventually weaken Kim Jong Un’s grip on power, analysts say.
In a statement carried by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, Kim Yo Jong, one of her brother’s top foreign policy officials, called the activists “defector scum” and issued what appeared to be a threat of retaliation.
“When you do something you were clearly warned not to do, it’s only natural that you will find yourself dealing with something you didn’t have to,” she said, without specifying what the North would do.
After previous leafletting by South Korean activists, North Korea launched more than 1,000 balloons that dropped tons of trash in South Korea, smashing roof tiles and windows and causing other property damage. Kim Yo Jong previously hinted that balloons could become the North’s standard response to leafletting, saying that the North would respond by “scattering dozens of times more rubbish than is being scattered on us.”
In response, South Korea resumed anti-North Korea propaganda broadcasts with military loudspeakers installed at the border for the first time in years, to which Kim Yo Jong, in another state media statement, warned that Seoul was “creating a prelude to a very dangerous situation.”
Tensions between the Koreas are at their highest in years as Kim Jong Un accelerates his nuclear weapons and missile development and attempts to strengthen his regional footing by aligning with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a standoff against the US-led West.
South Korea, a growing arms exporter with a well-equipped military backed by the United States, says it is considering upping support for Ukraine in response. Seoul has already provided humanitarian aid and other support while joining US-led economic sanctions against Moscow. But it has not directly provided arms, citing a long-standing policy of not supplying weapons to countries actively engaged in conflict.
Putin told reporters in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Thursday that supplying weapons to Ukraine would be “a very big mistake,” and said South Korea “shouldn’t worry” about the agreement if it isn’t planning aggression against Pyongyang.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Minister Cho Tae-yul on Friday held separate phone calls with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa to discuss the new pact. The diplomats agreed that the agreement poses a serious threat to peace and stability in the region and vowed to strengthen trilateral coordination to deal with the challenges posed by the alignment between Moscow and Pyongyang, Cho’s ministry said in a statement.
North Korea is extremely sensitive to criticism of Kim’s authoritarian rule and efforts to reach its people with foreign news and other media.
In 2015, when South Korea restarted loudspeaker broadcasts for the first time in 11 years, North Korea fired artillery rounds across the border, prompting South Korea to return fire, according to South Korean officials. No casualties were reported.
South Korea’s military said there are signs that North Korea was installing its own speakers at the border, although they weren’t yet working.
In the latest border incident, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said several North Korean soldiers engaged in unspecified construction work briefly crossed the military demarcation line that divides the two countries at around 11 a.m. Thursday.
The South Korean military broadcast a warning and fired warning shots, after which the North Korean soldiers retreated. The joint chiefs didn’t immediately release more details, including why it was releasing the information a day late.
South Korea’s military says believes recent border intrusions were not intentional, as the North Korean soldiers have not returned fire and retreated after the warning shots.
The South’s military has observed the North deploying large numbers of soldiers in frontline areas to build suspected anti-tank barriers, reinforce roads and plant mines in an apparent attempt to fortify their side of the border. Seoul believes the efforts are likely aimed at preventing North Korean civilians and soldiers from escaping to the South.


Armenia recognizes Palestine as a state, says Armenian Foreign Ministry

Armenia recognizes Palestine as a state, says Armenian Foreign Ministry
Updated 21 June 2024
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Armenia recognizes Palestine as a state, says Armenian Foreign Ministry

Armenia recognizes Palestine as a state, says Armenian Foreign Ministry

Yerevan: Armenia announced Friday its recognition of the State of Palestine, the latest country to do so during the war in Gaza, saying it was against “violence toward civilian populations.”
A series of countries have recognized the State of Palestine amid the war between Israel and Hamas, drawing strong rebukes from Israeli officials.
“Confirming its commitment to international law, equality of nations, sovereignty and peaceful coexistence, the Republic of Armenia recognizes the State of Palestine,” Yerevan said.
Armenia added that it is “genuinely interested in establishing long-term peace and stability in the Middle-East.”
Yerevan, which has itself been ridden by conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan for decades, slammed Israel’s military conduct in Gaza.
“Armenia deplores using civilian infrastructure as shields during armed conflicts and violence toward civilian populations,” the ministry said.
It also deplored Hamas for “the captivity of civilian persons” and said it “joins the demands of international community on freeing them.”
A senior official from the Palestinian Authority, Hussein Al-Sheikh, welcomed the move.
“This is a victory for right, justice, legitimacy and the struggle of our Palestinian people for liberation and independence,” Al-Sheikh said on social media.
“Thank you our friend Armenia.”
The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 41 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.
Israel is a major arms supplier to Armenia’s arch-foe neighbor Azerbaijan, with which Yerevan had been locked in a decades-long territorial dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region that Baku recaptured last year from Armenian separatists.


India’s Modi leads yoga day celebration in Muslim-majority Kashmir

India’s Modi leads yoga day celebration in Muslim-majority Kashmir
Updated 21 June 2024
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India’s Modi leads yoga day celebration in Muslim-majority Kashmir

India’s Modi leads yoga day celebration in Muslim-majority Kashmir
  • Thousands of government employees, schoolteachers and students were brought in for the event from all over Kashmir
  • A local resident describes the event as cultural intrusion, calling it an imposition to change the upcoming generations

SRINAGAR: Stretching, arching his back and kneeling on a mat, India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi led hundreds of people performing yoga in the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir on Friday.

The exercises in Srinagar, capital of the Indian-administered part of the disputed territory, marked the 10th International Yoga Day, Modi’s own brainchild.

But while yoga is not itself a religious practice, it has its origins in Hindu philosophy – the god Shiva is said to have been the first yogi – and many residents of Kashmir are indifferent to the discipline.

Thousands of government employees, schoolteachers and students from all over Kashmir were brought in for the event, although rain forced Modi’s performance indoors.

Afterwards, he urged hundreds of people including many police and armed forces personnel on the shores of Dal Lake to make yoga “a part of their daily lives.”

“Yoga fosters strength, good health and wellness,” he said.

In this handout photograph taken and released on June 21, 2024 by the Indian Press Information Bureau (PIB), India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi performs asana on International Day of Yoga in Srinagar. (AFP/Indian Press Information Bureau)

But one Srinagar resident saw the event as a cultural intrusion.

“This yoga is being imposed on our children to culturally change the next generations and control their minds,” they told AFP, declining to be identified for fear of reprisal.

“It’s an imposition on us.”

Rebel groups in Kashmir have waged an insurgency since 1989, demanding independence or a merger with Pakistan.

Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict, and violence has been largely suppressed since Modi removed the region’s limited autonomy in 2019 and imposed a security crackdown.

But his visit came after a series of attacks by suspected rebels opposed to Indian rule, including one that left 10 Hindu pilgrims dead.

Islamabad controls a part of the divided territory and, like India, claims all of Kashmir.

June 21 was declared International Yoga Day a decade ago and Modi has since led events at emblematic locations across India, and last year at the UN headquarters in New York.