Afghans hope for end to power vacuum as Taliban prepare to announce government

A man on his bicycle rides past a convoy of Taliban fighters patrolling along a street in Kabul on Thursday. The Taliban are preparing to unveil their new government. (AFP)
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Updated 02 September 2021

Afghans hope for end to power vacuum as Taliban prepare to announce government

  • New government could be revealed as soon as on Friday, says militant group

KABUL: The Taliban said on Thursday they were preparing to unveil their government, with Afghans hoping it will happen soon as the country urgently needs a new administration after its state institutions collapsed over two weeks ago.
The Taliban took control of Afghanistan earlier this month and seized Kabul on Aug. 15, as US-led forces were completing their withdrawal.
The group that returned to power after 20 years of insurgency, following their removal by a US-led invasion in 2001, is now faced with the responsibility of running a country of 35 million people devastated by decades of war and with an economy on the edge of collapse.
Photos circulated on social media on Thursday showed the Taliban in preparations for a ceremony at the presidential palace in Kabul.  
“We were expecting that the government formation would be finalized as soon as possible,” Bilal Karimi, member of the Taliban cultural commission, told Arab News. “Possibly it would be Friday or the upcoming 72 hours.”
While there are many unknowns, fears and hopes regarding the new establishment, most ordinary Afghans long for it to be urgently formed to end a power vacuum.
“In the current situation, we are in an urgent need of a government,” Kabul-based international relations analyst Qais Zaheer told Arab News.
He expressed hope the new administration would be one in which all would find their representation, and that it would obtain international legitimacy.
“On the internal level everyone should see themselves in the government and on the international level, the world should recognize it,” he said. 
The Taliban had declared a blanket amnesty, vowing no reprisals against former enemies and Afghans who supported the previous administration, and announced their aim of forming an inclusive Islamic government. It remains unclear to what extent these promises will be kept.
“This government should be inclusive and professional and should assure the people that they are able to serve the nation,” Afghan Civil Society Forum director Aziz Rafee said, adding: “All sides, including the former government officials would be a part of it.”
The international legitimacy of the new government will be crucial, as most payments to foreign aid-dependent Afghanistan have been suspended since the takeover, sending the economy into freefall.
Ali Reza, a 23-year-old shop owner in Kabul, said he hoped the economy would improve with the formation of the new government, as businesses are reeling from the current situation.
“We hope that the new government will provide us with facilities and opportunities,” he said.
The country is facing the possibility of a humanitarian crisis on top of the political and economic situation. The UN has warned that up to half a million Afghans could flee their homeland by the end of the year.
Thousands of people have already left, while the young and educated fear for their future.
“The major issue is that the Taliban would possibly put the new generation under a serious threat,” journalist Nabi Karimi told Arab News.
Those who feel especially threatened are women, whose freedoms were curtailed during the previous Taliban rule of 1996-2001.
“We hope that Taliban fulfil their commitments,” journalist Qudsia Eshaqzai said, adding that she and her colleagues are hoping to resume their professional lives. During their previous reign, the Taliban treated them like second-category citizens.
“The only thing we can do is to continue our hope,” she said. “I hope that soon the situation will change and they will give us the right to work.”


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.


UK prime minister Boris Johnson to resign – British media

Updated 07 July 2022

UK prime minister Boris Johnson to resign – British media

  • Embattled UK leader to make a statement to the country today

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is resigning, several media outlets including the BBC reported on Thursday.

“The Prime Minister will make a statement to the country today,” a spokesperson said.

The prime minister has spoken to Queen Elizabeth as a courtesy ahead of an impending announcement about his resignation plan, ITV Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana said.

Johnson had been hanging onto power despite the resignation of a string of his top ministers. On Thursday the man he appointed as finance minister less than 48 hours earlier publicly urged Johnson to go.

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace also called on Johnson to quit but said he would stay in his role to protect national security.

British education minister Michelle Donelan also resigned from government less than 48 hours after she was appointed, saying it was the only way to force the hand of Johnson to quit.

“I see no way that you can continue in post, but without a formal mechanism to remove you it seems that the only way that this is... possible is for those of us who remain in Cabinet to force your hand,” Donelan wrote in a resignation letter, saying she had “pleaded” with Johnson on Wednesday to resign.

“You have put us in an impossible situation... as someone who values integrity above all else, I have no choice.”

More than 50 ministers have quit the government in less than 48 hours, saying Johnson was not fit to be in charge after a series of scandals, while dozens in his Conservative Party are in open revolt.

A delegation of senior ministers and a senior figure representing Conservative lawmakers who are not in government went to Downing Street on Wednesday evening to tell Johnson he needed to go and to make a dignified exit.

But he refused to budge, and even sacked Michael Gove, one of his most effective ministers who, according to media reports, had told the British leader he should quit.

“I am not going to step down,” Johnson told a parliamentary committee. The Sun newspaper quoted an ally of the prime minister as saying that rebels in his party would “have to dip their hands in blood” if they wanted to get rid of him.

Johnson has suggested that he had a mandate to govern from the almost 14 million voters who voted for the Conservatives in December 2019 when he swept to power with a promise to sort out Britain’s exit from the European Union after years of bitter wrangling.

He says it would not be responsible to walk away from the job in the middle of an economic crisis and war in Europe. Johnson has been a visible supporter of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion in late February.

He has also refused to say if he would try to stay in the job even if he lost a confidence vote from his own lawmakers. That could come next week if they agree to change the party’s rules, which only allow one such challenge a year. He narrowly won a similar vote last month.

Opposition lawmakers said the chaos meant government could not function. Committees due to meet on Thursday to scrutinize legislation, including the National Security Bill, were being canceled because there was no minister available.


Russia attends G20 meeting set to be dominated by Ukraine conflict

Updated 07 July 2022

Russia attends G20 meeting set to be dominated by Ukraine conflict

  • The G20 foreign ministers’ meeting runs until Friday in host country Indonesia
  • Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will be up close with the most vocal opponents of the Ukraine invasion

NUSA DUA, Indonesia: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was on the Indonesian island of Bali on Thursday preparing for a G20 gathering that will be his first face-to-face meeting with the fiercest critics of his country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The G20 foreign ministers’ meeting runs until Friday in host country Indonesia, which has this year grappled with the tough balancing act of running a global summit buffeted by geopolitical pressures and a global food crisis blamed on the Ukraine war.
There was tight security on Thursday as foreign diplomats descended on the tropical island for a meeting where the Russia-Ukraine conflict will be front and center.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said her country and like-minded nations would use the G20 meeting to highlight the impact of the war.
“We will be making very clear collectively our views about Russia’s position and Russia’s behavior,” she said.
Thursday’s welcome dinner will be the first time President Vladimir Putin’s long-serving foreign minister Lavrov will be up close with the most vocal opponents of the Ukraine invasion, which Moscow has called a “special military operation.”
Lavrov planned to meet some G20 counterparts on the sidelines of the summit, Russian news agency TASS reported, but ministers including Germany’s Annalena Baerbock and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken have ruled out separate meetings with Lavrov.
The Group of 20 includes Western countries that have accused Moscow of war crimes in Ukraine and imposed sanctions, but also countries like China, Indonesia, India and South Africa that have been more muted in their response.
Some US and European officials have stressed the gathering would not be “business as a usual,” with a spokesperson for the German foreign minister saying G7 countries would coordinate their response to Lavrov.
In 2014, the G7 excluded Russia from the G8 over its annexation of Crimea.
Top officials from Britain, Canada and the United States walked out on Russian representatives during a G20 finance meeting in Washington in April.
Despite early talk of boycotting subsequent G20 meetings, some analysts say Western nations may have decided it would be counterproductive to cede the floor to Russia.
A senior US State Department official said on Thursday it was important to maintain a focus on what Indonesia had set out for its G20 presidency and “not let there be any disruptions or interruptions to that.”
Discussion of energy and food security are on the agenda in the two-day meeting, with Russia accused of stoking a global food crisis and worsening inflation by blockading shipments of Ukrainian grain. Russia has said it ready to facilitate unhindered exports of grain.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi discussed with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi the need to protect regional stability and solve global issues related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
“The solidity of the voices of developing nations are needed to stop the war, and to reintegrate food exports of Ukraine and Russia into the global supply chain,” Indonesia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Trying to leverage Indonesia’s neutrality, President Joko Widodo undertook an ambitious peace-brokering mission last week, visiting Kyiv and Moscow to meet his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts.

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Australia offers fourth COVID-19 shot to over 30s

Updated 07 July 2022

Australia offers fourth COVID-19 shot to over 30s

  • Australia had previously recommended a fourth COVID-19 shot only to people over 65 as well as to vulnerable groups
SYDNEY: Australia will offer a fourth COVID-19 vaccine to everyone over 30, health authorities said Thursday, as hospitals bulge with patients in a winter wave of infections.
The government said it is recommending a fourth jab for over 50s — but also offering it to everyone over 30 despite benefits to the younger age group being unclear.
It followed a recommendation by the top immunization advisory body, which said it recognized younger people might want a winter booster dose, even though its impact for them “is uncertain but likely to be limited.”
Australia had previously recommended a fourth COVID-19 shot only to people over 65 as well as to vulnerable groups, including those with weakened immune systems.
As new, more infectious omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5 race through the population, the number of Australian hospital patients with COVID-19 has jumped by more than 1,000 in a month to about 3,900, with 140 people now in intensive care.
“This is placing real pressure on our health and hospital systems,” Health Minister Mark Butler told a news conference as he announced the decision.
More than 95 percent of people over the age of 16 are fully vaccinated in Australia, where few people now wear a mask or take measures to socially distance.
As restrictions are gradually dismantled in a country that previously shut its international borders for nearly 20 months to exclude the virus, Australia this week dropped all vaccine certificate requirements for foreign visitors.