Taliban declare Afghanistan ‘free, sovereign’ nation, vow ‘good relations’ with rest of world

Taliban special force fighters arrive inside the Hamid Karzai International Airport after the U.S. military's withdrawal, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 01 September 2021

Taliban declare Afghanistan ‘free, sovereign’ nation, vow ‘good relations’ with rest of world

  • Afghans question life under new rulers as Taliban take control of Kabul airport

KABUL: The Taliban on Tuesday declared Afghanistan a “free and sovereign” nation and vowed to maintain “good relations” with the rest of the world following the departure of the last US troops from Kabul airport.
The group took control of the capital’s airport after the US on Monday ended its 20 years of occupation, cementing the Taliban’s return to power after their ouster in 2001.
Celebratory gunfire echoed around Hamid Karzai International Airport as Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid hailed Washington’s withdrawal as an “historic moment,” while pledging to bring security to the war-torn country.
Speaking to reporters at Kabul airport on Tuesday, he said: “We do not have any doubt that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is a free and sovereign nation. America was defeated.”
And he promised Afghans that the group would “protect our freedom, independence, and Islamic values.”
The Taliban took control of Kabul in a lightning offensive two weeks ago, toppling the government in a bloodless siege as President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
Since then, thousands of people camped outside the US-controlled airport with diplomats, foreign aid workers, and civilians desperate to leave the country ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline set by US President Joe Biden for American forces to pull out.
Scenes of deadly chaos ensued with hordes of people in and around the facility trying to board flights, amid fears the Taliban would reinstate their harsh and repressive style of governance as they did during their previous rule from 1996 to 2001, before being toppled in a US-led invasion.
Chaotic evacuation measures by the US and its allies saw more than 123,000 people leave Kabul up until Monday when US troops reportedly destroyed more than 70 aircraft, dozens of armored vehicles, and disabled air defenses.
Several were killed as security officials fired on the tarmac to control crowds thronging to the airport in the past two weeks, while nearly 180 died in a suicide attack claimed by Daesh-Khorasan on Thursday.
Since returning to power, the Taliban have vowed to form an “all-inclusive government,” respect women’s rights, forgive those who fought them, and ensure Afghanistan did not become a haven for terrorists.
The assurances, however, have done little to allay civilians’ fears, with many feeling that while Washington had left the country, Afghanistan now faced many new challenges.
Mohammad Ibrahim, a 35-year-old shopkeeper in Kabul, told Arab News: “There is nothing special about today. Banks are not working, we have no money, and there is no government to respond to the needs of Afghan citizens.”
He pointed out his concerns over the “critical state” of the economy and its impact on his livelihood. “Earlier, I would sell at least 5,000 goods per day, but now I can sell only 500.”
Others recalled the “tragic and horrible moments” of the past 20 years, and worried about “black days” ahead.

Nearly 2,500 US troops and an estimated 240,000 Afghans have lost their lives in America’s longest conflict, according to the Costs of War Project at Brown University.
These included nearly 50,000 Afghan civilians, more than 400 aid workers, and 72 journalists, with fears mounting over the state of minorities in the nation of 38 million people that for two decades had survived on billions of dollars in foreign aid.
Ali Reza Husseini, a 24-year-old resident of the Taimany area of Kabul, told Arab News: “For the public, nothing has changed, still we are in fear. We believe that minority rights will not be given by the Taliban.”
The situation was “delicate and problematic” for Afghan journalists too, with 72 killed in the past and “dozens looking to escape by any means, with the help of smugglers.”
Mumtaz Haidari, 55, a media rights activist, told Arab News: “No one would stay here. We know that our entrances are shut, and there is no hope, so we are looking for the alternatives to flee by land and become an immigrant in neighboring countries.”
On Monday, the Taliban told Arab News they were “committed” to allowing Afghans with valid documents to travel out of the country but urged them “to stay and work for the nation’s development.”
Experts, however, said the next few days would be the true litmus test for Afghanistan’s new rulers.
Abdul Waheed Farzayee, 34, a political analyst based in Kabul, told Arab News: “Today is the first day that Afghanistan is without foreign forces present. We are hopeful that the Taliban would fulfill their commitments given to Afghan citizens.”
He added that while the US’ departure from Afghanistan was “a reality,” the Taliban needed to form a new government “with the presence of all political players in the country.”
Qais Zaheer, an international expert based in Kabul, told Arab News that Washington’s exit had thrown the country into “mass political and military chaos.”
He said: “We have no government, and there is a political-economic gap. We hope that in the upcoming days we will have a government. But still there are some doubts on the Taliban’s policies.”


Finland amends law to bolster Russia border fence

Updated 15 sec ago

Finland amends law to bolster Russia border fence

  • Finland reversed decades of military non-alignment by seeking membership in NATO in May
  • As it stands, Finland’s borders are secured primarily with light wooden fences
HELSINKI: Finnish parliament passed legislation Thursday to build stronger fences on its border with Russia, as the country seeks to join NATO following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Finland reversed decades of military non-alignment by seeking membership in the military alliance in May, formally starting the process to join this week.
Fearing that Moscow could use migrants to exert political pressure, the new amendments to Border Guard Act facilitate the construction of sturdier fences on the Nordic country’s 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) eastern border with Russia.
The aim of the law is to “improve the operational capacity of the border guard in responding to the hybrid threats,” Anne Ihanus, a senior adviser at the interior ministry, said.
“The war in Ukraine has contributed to the urgency of the matter,” she added.
As it stands, Finland’s borders are secured primarily with light wooden fences, mainly designed to stop livestock from wandering to the wrong side.
“What we are aiming to build now is a sturdy fence with a real barrier effect,” Sanna Palo, director of the Finnish border guards’ legal division, said.
“In all likelihood, the fence will not cover the entire eastern border, but will be targeted at locations considered to be the most important,” Palo said.
The new law makes it also possible to close border crossings and concentrate asylum seekers at specific points, in the event of large-scale crossover attempt.
Helsinki also passed amendments to Emergency Powers Act to make the definition of “emergency” better take account of various hybrid threats.

Minneapolis police officer convicted in George Floyd’s death awaits federal sentencing

Updated 28 min 15 sec ago

Minneapolis police officer convicted in George Floyd’s death awaits federal sentencing

  • Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty to the federal civil rights charges in December

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is due to be sentenced in federal court on Thursday for violating the civil rights of George Floyd, a year after a state court sent him to prison for more than two decades for murdering Floyd in an arrest.
Chauvin pleaded guilty to the federal civil rights charges in December in the US District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota, a decision that averted a second trial but almost certainly extended his time behind bars.
Chauvin, who is white, admitted he violated Floyd’s right not to face “unreasonable seizure” by kneeling on the handcuffed Black man’s neck for more than 9 minutes in a murder captured on cellphone video that horrified people around the world.
A state court has already sentenced Chauvin to 22-1/2 years in prison for intentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. People sentenced to prison for felonies in Minnesota are usually released on parole after serving two-thirds of their sentence.
Chauvin’s guilty plea to the federal charges came as part of an agreement with prosecutors that said he would face between 20 and 25 years in federal prison.
In that agreement he admitted for the first time that he was to blame for Floyd’s death.
Floyd could be seen in videos pleading for his life before falling still on the road beneath Chauvin’s knee. A medical examiner ruled the police restraint stopped Floyd from being able to breathe.
Federal prosecutors have asked Judge Paul Magnuson to sentence Chauvin to 25 years, a sentence that would run concurrently with the state one.
Floyd’s murder sparked one of the biggest protest movements seen in the United States, with daily marches to decry racism and brutality in US policing. Chauvin was helping three colleagues to arrest Floyd in May 2020 on suspicion Floyd had used a fake $20 bill when buying cigarettes.
The three other former police officers who worked to arrest Floyd — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Keung and Thomas Lane — were found guilty in the same federal court in February of violating Floyd’s rights. They are yet to receive a sentencing date.


Boris Johnson to announce resignation as UK PM — government source

Updated 07 July 2022

Boris Johnson to announce resignation as UK PM — government source

  • With eight ministers resigning, an isolated Johnson set to bow to inevitable, declare he’s stepping down
  • The Conservatives will now have to elect a new leader, a process which could take about two months

LONDON: Boris Johnson will announce his resignation as British Prime Minister on Thursday, a government source said, after he was abandoned by ministers and his Conservative Party’s lawmakers who said he was no longer fit to govern.

With eight ministers, including two secretaries of state, resigning in the last two hours, an isolated and powerless Johnson was set to bow to the inevitable and declare his was stepping down later.

His Downing Street office confirmed that Johnson would make a statement to the country later.

After days of battling for his job, Johnson had been abandoned by all but a handful of allies after the latest in a series of scandals broke their willingness to support him.

“His resignation was inevitable,” Justin Tomlinson, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, said on Twitter. “As a party we must quickly unite and focus on what matters. These are serious times on many fronts.”

The Conservatives will now have to elect a new leader, a process which could take about two months.

In a sign of his evaporating support over one of the most turbulent 24 hours in recent British political history, Johnson’s finance minister, Nadhim Zahawi, who was only appointed to his post on Tuesday, had called on his boss to resign.

“This is not sustainable and it will only get worse: for you, for the Conservative Party and most importantly of all the country,” he said on Twitter. “You must do the right thing and go now.”

Some of those that remained in post, including defense minister Ben Wallace, said they were only doing so because they had an obligation to keep the country safe.

There had been so many ministerial resignations that the government was facing paralysis.

The ebullient Johnson came to power nearly three years ago, promising to deliver Britain’s departure from the European Union and rescue it from the bitter wrangling that followed the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Since then, some Conservatives had enthusiastically backed the former journalist and London mayor while others, despite reservations, supported him because he was able to appeal to parts of the electorate that usually rejected their party.

That was borne out in the December 2019 election. But his administration’s combative and often chaotic approach to governing and a series of scandals have exhausted the goodwill of many of his lawmakers while opinion polls show he is no longer popular with the public at large.

The recent crisis erupted after lawmaker Chris Pincher, who held a government role involved in pastoral care, was forced to quit over accusations he groped men in a private member’s club.

Johnson had to apologize after it emerged that he was briefed that Pincher had been the subject of previous sexual misconduct complaints before he appointed him. The prime minister said he had forgotten.

This followed months of scandals and missteps, including a damning report into boozy parties at his Downing Street residence and office that broke strict COVID-19 lockdown rules and saw him fined by police over a gathering for his 56th birthday.

There have also been policy U-turns, an ill-fated defense of a lawmaker who broke lobbying rules, and criticism that he has not done enough to tackle inflation, with many Britons struggling to cope with rising fuel and food prices.


Russian defense ministry says warplane hit Ukrainian troops on Snake Island

Updated 07 July 2022

Russian defense ministry says warplane hit Ukrainian troops on Snake Island

  • Russian forces withdrew from Snake Island in the Black Sea on June 30

Russia’s defense ministry said on Thursday that a Russian warplane struck Ukraine’s Snake Island in the Black Sea overnight, shortly after Ukrainian troops claimed to have raised their flag over the island.
Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian President’s chief of staff, posted a video on Telegram on Thursday of three soldiers raising a large Ukrainian flag on the island, from which Russian forces withdrew on June 30.


Boris Johnson to quit as UK prime minister

Updated 50 min 40 sec ago

Boris Johnson to quit as UK prime minister

  • His Downing Street office said Johnson would make a statement to the country later

LONDON: Boris Johnson will announce his resignation as British prime minister on Thursday after he was abandoned by ministers and his Conservative Party’s lawmakers who said he was no longer fit to govern.

After ministers, including two secretaries of state, continued to quit the government early on Thursday, an isolated and powerless Johnson was set to bow to the inevitable and declare he was stepping down later, a source said.

His Downing Street office said Johnson would make a statement to the country later.

After days of battling for his job, Johnson had been deserted by all but a handful of allies after the latest in a series of scandals broke their willingness to support him.

“His resignation was inevitable,” Justin Tomlinson, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, said on Twitter. “As a party we must quickly unite and focus on what matters. These are serious times on many fronts.”

The Conservatives will now have to elect a new leader, a process which could take weeks or months. It was not clear whether Johnson would or could stay on in a caretaker role while the person who would be the new prime minister was chosen.

Many said he should leave immediately and hand over to his deputy, Dominic Raab.

“As well as resigning as party leader the PM must resign his office,” Conservative parliamentary deputy Nick Gibb said. “After losing so many ministers, he has lost the trust and authority required to continue.”

The crisis comes as Britons are facing some of the tightest squeeze on finances in decades, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with soaring inflation, and the economy forecast to be the weakest among major nations in 2023 apart from Russia.

It also follows years of internal division sparked by the narrow 2016 vote to leave the European Union, and threats to the make-up of the United Kingdom itself with demands for another Scottish independence referendum, the second in a decade.

Support for Johnson had evaporated during one of the most turbulent 24 hours in recent British political history, epitomised by finance minister, Nadhim Zahawi, who was only appointed to his post on Tuesday, calling on his boss to resign.

Zahawi and other cabinet ministers had gone to Downing Street on Wednesday evening, along with a senior representative of those lawmakers not in government, to tell Johnson the game was up.

Initially, Johnson refused to go and seemed set to dig in, sacking Michael Gove — a member of his top ministerial team who was one of the first to tell him he needed to resign — in a bid to reassert his authority.

One ally had told the Sun newspaper that party rebels would “have to dip their hands in blood” to get rid of Johnson.

But by Thursday morning as a slew of resignations poured in, it became clear his position was untenable.

“This is not sustainable and it will only get worse: for you, for the Conservative Party and most importantly of all the country,” Zahawi said on Twitter. “You must do the right thing and go now.”

Some of those that remained in post, including defense minister Ben Wallace, said they were only doing so because they had an obligation to keep the country safe.

There had been so many ministerial resignations that the government was facing paralysis with no one willing to accept the vacant posts.

“It is our duty now to make sure the people of this country have a functioning government. This is true now more than ever,” Michael Ellis, a minister in the Cabinet Office department which oversees the running of government, told parliament.

The ebullient Johnson came to power nearly three years ago, promising to deliver Brexit and rescue it from the bitter wrangling that followed the 2016 referendum.

Since then, some Conservatives had enthusiastically backed the former journalist and London mayor while others, despite reservations, supported him because he was able to appeal to parts of the electorate that usually rejected their party.

That was borne out in the December 2019 election. But his administration’s combative and often chaotic approach to governing and a series of scandals exhausted the goodwill of many of his lawmakers while opinion polls show he is no longer popular with the public at large.

The recent crisis erupted after lawmaker Chris Pincher, who held a government role involved in pastoral care, was forced to quit over accusations he groped men in a private member’s club.

Johnson had to apologize after it emerged that he was briefed that Pincher had been the subject of previous sexual misconduct complaints before he appointed him. The prime minister said he had forgotten.

This followed months of scandals and missteps, including a damning report into boozy parties at his Downing Street residence and office that broke COVID-19 lockdown rules and saw him fined by police over a gathering for his 56th birthday.

There have also been policy U-turns, an ill-fated defense of a lawmaker who broke lobbying rules, and criticism that he has not done enough to tackle inflation, with many Britons struggling to cope with rising fuel and food prices.

Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, said Johnson’s resignation was good news for Britain.

“But it should have happened long ago,” he said. “He was always unfit for office. He has been responsible for lies, scandal and fraud on an industrial scale.”