Rebels hold out in Afghan valley as Taliban set up government in Kabul

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Afghan resistance movement and anti-Taliban uprising forces take part in military training in Panjshir province on September 2, 2021. (AFP)
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Afghan resistance movement and anti-Taliban uprising forces take part in military training in Panjshir province on September 2, 2021. (AFP)
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Afghan resistance movement and anti-Taliban uprising forces take part in military training in Panjshir province on September 2, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 02 September 2021

Rebels hold out in Afghan valley as Taliban set up government in Kabul

  • Panjshir is the last province resisting rule by the Taliban
  • A spokesman for the NRFA rebel grouping said it had full control of all passes and entrances

KABUL: Taliban forces and fighters loyal to local leader Ahmad Massoud battled in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley on Thursday, more than two weeks after the Islamist militia seized power, as Taliban leaders in the capital Kabul worked to form a government.
Panjshir is the last province resisting rule by the Taliban, whose overthrow of the Western-backed government as US and other foreign troops withdrew after 20 years has left the country in chaos.
Each side said it had inflicted heavy casualties.
“We started operations after negotiation with the local armed group failed,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
Taliban fighters had entered Panjshir and taken control of some territory, he said. “They (the enemy) suffered heavy losses.”
A spokesman for the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA) rebel grouping said it had full control of all passes and entrances and had driven back efforts to take Shotul district.
“The enemy made multiple attempts to enter Shotul from Jabul-Saraj, and failed each time,” he said, referring to a town in neighboring Parwan province.
Since the Taliban swept into Kabul on Aug. 15, several thousand fighters from local militias and remnants of the government’s armed forces have massed in Panjshir under the leadership of Massoud, son of a former Mujahideen commander.
They have been holding out in the steep valley where attacks from outside are difficult.
Efforts to negotiate a settlement appear to have broken down, with each side blaming the other for the failure, as the Taliban prepare to announce a new government.
Mujahid said this was a matter of a few days away, while Taliban official Ahmadullah Muttaqi said a ceremony was being prepared at the presidential palace.
The legitimacy of the government in the eyes of international donors and investors will be crucial for the economy as the country battles drought and the ravages of a 20-year conflict that killed an estimated 240,000 Afghans.
Humanitarian organizations have warned of impending catastrophe and the economy — reliant for years on many milions of dollars of foreign aid — is close to collapse.
Many Afghans were struggling to feed their families amid severe drought well before the Taliban militants seized power and millions may now face starvation with the country isolated and the economy unraveling, aid agencies say.
“Since the 15th of August, we have seen the crisis accelerate and magnify with the imminent economic collapse that is coming this country’s way,” Mary-Ellen McGroarty, World Food Programme country director in Afghanistan, told Reuters from Kabul.
The economy is expected to sink by 9.7 percent this financial year and 5.2 percent next year, Fitch said in a report, adding foreign investment would be needed to support a more optimistic outlook.
The Taliban enforced a radical form of sharia, or Islamic law, when it ruled from 1996-2001 but has tried to present a more moderate face to the world this time, promising to protect human rights and refrain from reprisals against old enemies.
The United States, the European Union and others have cast doubt on such assurances, saying formal recognition of the new government — and the economic aid that would flow from that — is contingent on action.
The foreign minister of current EU president Slovenia, Anze Logar, said the bloc was “far from even tackling this question,” which EU leaders might discuss at summits next month. Some EU states consider the Taliban a terrorist organization.
If the EU — the world’s biggest aid donor — decides to recognize the Taliban government, “aid is the leverage that the European Union has” in setting conditions, Logar told Reuters
A source with direct knowledge of the move said Afghan diplomats had been asked to stay in overseas posts for the time being. The Taliban had made clear there would eventually be change but also wanted to maintain a sense of continuity, the source said.
Afghanistan’s ambassador to France, Mohammad Azizi, told a conference in Paris that he remained his country’s envoy and that the Taliban takeover had no legitimacy. Asked if he had spoken directly to the Taliban, he said he had not.
The Taliban have promised safe passage out of the country for any foreigners or Afghans left behind by the huge airlift which ended when US troops withdrew on Monday. But with Kabul airport still closed, many were seeking to flee over land.
Neighbouring Tajikistan said on Thursday it could not afford to take in Afghan refugees without help.
Qatar’s foreign minister said the Gulf state was talking with the Taliban and Turkey about potential technical support to restart operations at Kabul airport, which would facilitate humanitarian assistance and possibly more evacuations.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he would discuss securing safe passage through third countries with regional leaders.
“We need to adjust to the new reality” in Afghanistan, he said.


Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines

Updated 13 August 2022

Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines

  • Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko said Russian authorities repeatedly have blocked efforts to provide state-subsidized drugs to people in occupied cities, towns and villages

KYIV: Ukraine’s health minister has accused Russian authorities of committing a crime against humanity by blocking access to affordable medicines in areas its forces have occupied since invading the country 5 1/2 months ago.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko said Russian authorities repeatedly have blocked efforts to provide state-subsidized drugs to people in occupied cities, towns and villages.
“Throughout the entire six months of war, Russia has not (allowed) proper humanitarian corridors so we could provide our own medicines to the patients that need them,” Liashko said, speaking at the Health Ministry in Kyiv late Friday.
“We believe that these actions are being taken with intent by Russia, and we consider them to be crimes against humanity and war crimes that will be documented and will be recognized,” the minister said.
The Ukrainian government has a program that provides medications to people with cancer and chronic health conditions. The destruction of hospitals and infrastructure along with the displacement of an estimated 7 million people inside the country also have interfered with other forms of treatment, according to United Nations and Ukrainian officials.
The war in Ukraine has caused severe disruptions to the country’s state-run health service, which was undergoing major reforms, largely in response to the coronavirus pandemic, when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade on Feb. 24.
The World Health Organization said it recorded 445 attacks on hospitals and other health care facilities as of Aug. 11 that directly resulted in 86 deaths and 105 injuries.
But Liashko said the secondary effects were far more severe.
“When roads and bridges have been damaged in areas now controlled by the Ukrainian forces... it is difficult to get someone who had a heart attack or a stroke to the hospital,” he said. “Sometimes, we can’t make it in time, the ambulance can’t get there in time. That’s why war causes many more casualties (than those killed in the fighting). It’s a number that cannot be calculated.”


Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry

Updated 13 August 2022

Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry

ANKARA: Two more ships left from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Saturday, Turkey’s defense ministry said, bringing the total number of ships to depart the country under a UN-brokered deal to 16.
Barbados-flagged Fulmar S left Ukraine’s Chornomorsk port, carrying 12,000 tons of corn to Turkey’s southern Iskenderun province, it said. The Marshall Island-flagged Thoe departed from the same port and headed to Turkey’s Tekirdag, carrying 3,000 tons of sunflower seeds.
The statement added that another ship would depart from Turkey on Saturday to Ukraine to buy grains.

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul

Updated 13 August 2022

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul

  • Some women protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts

KABUL: Taliban fighters beat women protesters and fired into the air on Saturday as they violently dispersed a rare rally in the Afghan capital, days ahead of the first anniversary of the hard-line Islamists’ return to power.
Since seizing power on August 15 last year, the Taliban have rolled back the marginal gains made by women during the two decades of US intervention in Afghanistan.
About 40 women — chanting “Bread, work and freedom” — marched in front of the education ministry building in Kabul, before the fighters dispersed them by firing their guns into the air, an AFP correspondent reported.
Some women protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts.
The protesters carried a banner which read “August 15 is a black day” as they demanded rights to work and political participation.
“Justice, justice. We’re fed up with ignorance,” chanted the protesters, many of them not wearing face veils, before they dispersed.
Some journalists covering the protest — the first women’s rally in months — were also beaten by the Taliban fighters.
After seizing power, the Taliban had promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
But many restrictions have already been imposed.
Tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs.
Women have also been banned from traveling alone on long trips, and can only visit public gardens and parks in the capital on days separate from men.
In May, the country’s supreme leader and chief of the Taliban, Hibatullah Azkhundzada, even ordered women to fully cover themselves in public, including their faces — ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.
Some Afghan women initially pushed back against the curbs, holding small protests.
But the Taliban soon rounded up the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying they had been detained.


‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump

Updated 13 August 2022

‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump

  • In Poland, the government has come under heavy criticism for failing to take swift action
  • Officials believe that the fish are likely to have been poisoned

SCHWEDT, Germany: Thousands of fish have washed up dead on the Oder river running through Germany and Poland, sparking warnings of an environmental disaster as residents are urged to stay away from the water.
The fish floating by the German banks near the eastern town of Schwedt are believed to have washed upstream from Poland where first reports of mass fish deaths were made by locals and anglers as early as on July 28.
German officials accused Polish authorities of failing to inform them about the deaths, and were taken by surprise when the wave of lifeless fish came floating into view.
In Poland, the government has also come under heavy criticism for failing to take swift action.
Almost two weeks after the first dead fish appeared floating by Polish villages, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday that “everyone had initially thought that it was a local problem.”
But he admitted that the “scale of the disaster is very large, sufficiently large to say that the Oder will need years to recover its natural state.”
“Probably enormous quantities of chemical waste was dumped into the river in full knowledge of the risk and consequences,” added the Polish leader, as German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke urged a comprehensive probe into what she called a brewing “environmental disaster.”
Standing by the riverbank, Michael Tautenhahn, deputy chief of Germany’s Lower Oder Valley National Park, looked in dismay at the river on the German-Polish border.
“We are standing on the German side — we have dead fish everywhere,” he told AFP.
“I am deeply shocked... I have the feeling that I’m seeing decades of work lying in ruins here. I see our livelihood, the water — that’s our life,” he said, noting that it’s not just fish that have died, but also mussels and likely countless other water creatures.
“It’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
The Oder has over the last years been known as a relatively clean river, and 40 domestic species of fish make their home in the waterway.
But now, lifeless fish — some as small as a few centimeters, others reaching 30-40 cm — can be seen across the river. Occasionally, those still struggling to pull through can be seen flipping up in the water, seemingly gasping for air.
Officials believe that the fish are likely to have been poisoned.
“This fish death is atypical,” said Axel Vogel, environment minister for Brandenburg state, estimating that “undoubtedly tons” of fish have died.
Fish death is often caused by the distortion of oxygen levels when water levels are too low, he explained.
“But we have completely different test results, namely that we have had increased oxygen level in the river for several days, and that indicates that a foreign substance has been introduced that has led to this,” he said.
Tests are ongoing in Germany to establish the substance that may have led to the deaths, but there are early indications of extremely high levels of mercury — although authorities said final results are still pending.
In Poland, prosecutors have also begun investigating after authorities came under fire over what critics said was a sluggish response to a disaster.
Tautenhahn said the disaster would likely carry consequences for years to come.
“If it is quicksilver, then it will also stay here for a long time,” he said, noting that mercury does not disintegrate but would then remain in the sediments.


Salman Rushdie, whose writing made him target of Iranian death threats, on ventilator after stabbing

Updated 13 August 2022

Salman Rushdie, whose writing made him target of Iranian death threats, on ventilator after stabbing

  • Police identified the suspect involved in the attack as Hadi Matar, a resident of New Jersey
  • Rushdie’s literary agent said the novelist could lose one eye and was not able to speak

NEW YORK: British author Salman Rushdie, whose writings have made him the target of Iranian death threats, was on a ventilator and could lose an eye after he was repeatedly stabbed at a literary event in New York state Friday.
Following the attack just before 11:00 am local time, Rushdie was airlifted to the hospital where he needed emergency surgery, and his agent said in a statement obtained by The New York Times that “the news is not good.”
“Salman will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged,” said agent Andrew Wylie, who added that as of now Rushdie cannot speak.
New York state police identified the suspect involved in the attack as Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old from Fairfield, New Jersey. A probable motive remained unclear.
Police said Rushdie was stabbed in the neck as well as the abdomen. A number of people rushed to the stage and took the suspect to the ground, before a trooper present at the event arrested him.
A doctor in the audience administered medical care until emergency first responders arrived. An interviewer onstage, 73-year-old Ralph Henry Reese, suffered a facial injury but has been released from the hospital, police said.
The attack occurred at the Chautauqua Institution, which hosts arts programs in a tranquil lakeside community 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of Buffalo city.
Carl LeVan, an American University politics professor attending the event, told AFP he saw the suspect run onto the stage where Rushdie was seated and “stabbed him repeatedly and viciously.”
LeVan, a Chautauqua regular, said the suspect “was trying to stab him as many times as possible before he was subdued,” adding that he believed the man “was trying to kill” Rushdie.
“There were gasps of horror and panic from the crowd,” the professor said.
LeVan said witnessing the event had left him “shaken,” adding he considered Chautauqua a safe place of creative freedom.
“To know that this happened here, and to see it – it was horrific,” he said. “What I saw today was the essence of intolerance.”
Another witness, John Stein, told ABC that the assailant “started stabbing on the right side of the head, of the neck. And there was blood ... erupting.”
Rushdie, 75, was propelled into the spotlight with his second novel “Midnight’s Children” in 1981, which won international praise and Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize for its portrayal of post-independence India.
But his 1988 book “The Satanic Verses” brought attention beyond his imagination when it sparked a fatwa, or religious decree, calling for his death by Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The novel was considered by some Muslims as disrespectful of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH).
Rushdie, who was born in India to non-practicing Muslims and today identifies as an atheist, was forced to go underground as a bounty was put on his head – which remains today.
He was granted police protection by the government in Britain, where he was at school and where he made his home, following the murder or attempted murder of his translators and publishers.
He spent nearly a decade in hiding, moving houses repeatedly and being unable to tell his children where he lived.
Rushdie only began to emerge from his life on the run in the late 1990s after Iran in 1998 said it would not support his assassination.
Now living in New York, he is an advocate of freedom of speech, notably launching a strong defense of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo after its staff were gunned down by Islamists in Paris in 2015.
Global leaders voiced anger over the attack and support for Rushdie, with French President Emmanuel Macron saying the author “embodied freedom” and that “his battle is ours, a universal one.”
British leader Boris Johnson meanwhile said he was “appalled,” sending thoughts to Rushdie’s loved ones and praising the author for “exercising a right we should never cease to defend.”