Talks with Taliban begin in Norway 

Representatives of the Taliban arrive in Gardermoen, Norway, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 23 January 2022
Follow

Talks with Taliban begin in Norway 

  • Taliban representatives are for the first time holding official meetings in Europe since August takeover of Afghanistan 
  • Norway says Taliban scheduled to meet women leaders and human rights activists  

OSLO, Norway: A Taliban delegation led by acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi on Sunday started three days of talks with Western government officials and Afghan civil society representatives in Oslo amid a deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan.
The closed-door meetings are taking place at a hotel in the snow-capped mountains above the Norwegian capital, Oslo, and the first day will see Taliban representatives meeting with women's rights activists and human rights defenders from Afghanistan and from the Afghan diaspora.
Before the talks, the Taliban’s deputy minister of culture and information tweeted a voice message he said was from Muttaqi, expressing hope for “a good trip full of achievements” and thanking Norway, a country he said he hopes will become “a gateway for a positive relationship with Europe.”
The trip is the first time since the Taliban took over the country in August that their representatives have held official meetings in Europe. Earlier, they traveled to Russia, Iran, Qatar, Pakistan, China and Turkmenistan.




This handout photograph released by the Afghan Taliban and taken on January 22, 2022 shows Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi (C), Taliban senior official member Anas Haqqani (R) and delegates posing for pictures before departing to Oslo, at the Kabul airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AFP)

During the talks, Muttaqi is certain to press the Taliban’s demand that nearly $10 billion frozen by the United States and other Western countries be released as Afghanistan faces a precarious humanitarian situation.
The United Nations has managed to provide for some liquidity and allowed the new administration to pay for imports, including electricity, but warned that as many as 1 million Afghan children are in danger of starving, and most of the country’s 38 million people are living below the poverty line.
The Norwegian Foreign Ministry said the Taliban delegation would also meet with Afghans in Norway, including “women leaders, journalists and people who work with, among other things, human rights and humanitarian, economic, social and political issues.”
“Norway continues to engage in dialogue with the Taliban to promote human rights, women’s participation in society, and to strengthen humanitarian and economic efforts in Afghanistan in support of the Afghan people,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
A U.S. delegation, led by Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West, plans to discuss “the formation of a representative political system; responses to the urgent humanitarian and economic crises; security and counterterrorism concerns; and human rights, especially education for girls and women,” according to a statement released by the U.S. State Department.
On Friday, Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt stressed that the visit was “not a legitimation or recognition of the Taliban. But we must talk to those who in practice govern the country today.”
“We are extremely concerned about the serious situation in Afghanistan,” Huitfeldt said, noting that economic and political conditions have created “a full-scale humanitarian catastrophe for millions of people” facing starvation in the country.
The Scandinavian country, home to the Nobel Peace Prize, is no stranger to sensitive diplomacy and has in the past been involved in peace efforts in a number of countries, including Mozambique, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Colombia, the Philippines, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Syria, Myanmar, Somalia, Sri Lanka and South Sudan. 


Elon Musk sues OpenAI and CEO Sam Altman, claiming betrayal of its goal to benefit humanity

Updated 1 min 53 sec ago
Follow

Elon Musk sues OpenAI and CEO Sam Altman, claiming betrayal of its goal to benefit humanity

Elon Musk is suing OpenAI and its CEO Sam Altman over what he says is a betrayal of the ChatGPT maker’s founding aims of benefiting humanity rather than pursuing profits.
In a lawsuit filed at San Francisco Superior Court, billionaire Musk said that when he bankrolled OpenAI’s creation, he secured an agreement with Altman and Greg Brockman, the president, to keep the AI company as a nonprofit that would develop technology for the benefit of the public.
Under its founding agreement, OpenAI would also make its code open to the public instead of walling it off for any private company’s gains, the lawsuit says.
However, by embracing a close relationship with Microsoft, OpenAI and its top executives have set that pact “aflame” and are “perverting” the company’s mission, Musk alleges in the lawsuit.
OpenAI declined to comment on the lawsuit Friday.
“OpenAI, Inc. has been transformed into a closed-source de facto subsidiary of the largest technology company in the world: Microsoft,” the lawsuit filed Thursday says. “Under its new Board, it is not just developing but is actually refining an AGI to maximize profits for Microsoft, rather than for the benefit of humanity.”

REUTERS illustration

AGI refers to artificial general intelligence, which are general purpose AI systems that can perform just as well as — or even better than — humans in a wide variety of tasks.
Musk is suing over breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and unfair business practices. He also wants an injunction to prevent anyone, including Microsoft, from benefiting from OpenAI’s technology.
Those claims are unlikely to succeed in court but that might not be the point for Musk, who is getting his take and personal story on the record, said Anupam Chander, a law professor at Georgetown University.
“Partly there’s an assertion of Elon’s founding role in OpenAI and generative AI technology, in particularly his claim he named OpenAI and he hired the key scientist and that he was the primary funder of its early years,” Chander said. “In some sense it’s a lawsuit that tries to establish his own place in the history of generative AI.”
Musk was an early investor in OpenAI when it was founded in 2015 and co-chaired its board alongside Altman. In the lawsuit, he said he invested “tens of millions” of dollars in the nonprofit research laboratory.
Musk resigned from the board in early 2018 in a move that OpenAI said at the time would prevent conflicts of interest as the Tesla CEO was recruiting AI talent to build self-driving technology at the electric car maker. “This will eliminate a potential future conflict for Elon,” OpenAI said in a February 2018 blog post. Musk has since said he also had disagreements with the startup’s direction, but he continued to donate to the nonprofit.
Later that year, OpenAI filed papers to incorporate a for-profit arm and began shifting most of its workforce to that business, but retained a nonprofit board of directors that governed the company. Microsoft made its first $1 billion investment in the company in 2019 and the next year, signed an agreement that gave the software giant exclusive rights to its AI models. That license is supposed to expire once OpenAI has achieved artificial general intelligence, the company has said.

ChatGPT-maker OpenAI is looking to fuse its artificial intelligence systems into the bodies of humanoid robots as part of a new deal with robotics startup Figure. (AP/File)

Its unveiling of ChatGPT in late 2022 bought worldwide fame to OpenAI and helped spark a race by tech companies to capitalize on the public’s fascination with the technology.
When the nonprofit board abruptly fired Altman as CEO late last year, for reasons that still haven’t been fully disclosed, it was Microsoft that helped drive the push that brought Altman back as CEO and led most of the old board to resign. Musk’s lawsuit alleged that those changes caused the checks and balances protecting the nonprofit mission to “collapse overnight.”
One of Musk’s claims is that the directors of the nonprofit have failed to uphold their obligations to follow its mission, but Dana Brakman Reiser, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, is skeptical that Musk had standing to bring that claim.
“It would be very worrisome if every person who cared about or donated to a charity could suddenly sue their directors and officers to say, ‘You’re not doing what I think is the right thing to run this nonprofit,’” she said. In general, only other directors or an attorney general, for example, could bring that type of suit, she said.
Even if Musk invested in the for-profit business, his complaint seems to be that the organization is making too much profit in contradiction to its mission, which includes making its technology publicly available.
“I care about nonprofits actually following the mission that they set out and not being captured for some kind for profit purpose. That is a real concern,” Brakman Reiser said. “Whether Elon Musk is the person to raise that claim, I’m less sure.”
Whatever the legal merits of the claims, a brewing courtroom fight between Musk and Altman could offer the public a peek into the internal debates and decision-making at OpenAI, though the company’s lawyers will likely fight to keep some of those documents confidential.
“The discovery will be epic,” posted venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya on Musk’s social media platform X on Friday. To which Musk replied in his only public commentary so far on the case: “Yes.”
 


Hamas armed wing says seven hostages killed in Gaza

Updated 10 min 32 sec ago
Follow

Hamas armed wing says seven hostages killed in Gaza

  • Israeli officials have generally declined to respond to Hamas’ public messaging on the hostages, casting it as psychological warfare

CAIRO: Seven hostages who have been held in Gaza were killed as a result of the Israeli military’s bombardment of the enclave, Abu Ubaida, the spokesperson for Hamas’ armed wing Al-Qassam brigades said on Friday.
He did not include details, like a timeline, backing up the claim.
The Al-Qassam brigades claimed that the number of hostages killed due to Israel’s military operations in Gaza has now exceeded 70 captives, Abu Ubaida added in a statement on Telegram.
Israeli officials have generally declined to respond to Hamas’ public messaging on the hostages, casting it as psychological warfare.
Israel’s military campaign follows Hamas militants’ killing of 1,200 people in southern Israel and the abduction of at least 250 on Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel has responded with a military assault on the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
During a week-long truce in late November, Hamas freed more than 100 Israeli and foreign hostages in exchange for Israel releasing about 240 Palestinian prisoners.
Hamas at the outset of the war threatened to execute hostages in retaliation for Israeli military strikes, and Israel has accused it of having executed at least two of the dead hostages recovered by the Israeli military.

 


Iranians vote in elections as conservatives expected to dominate

Updated 39 min 38 sec ago
Follow

Iranians vote in elections as conservatives expected to dominate

  • Iran has also been badly affected by international sanctions that have led to an economic crisis
  • Fearing escalation, Iraq asked Iran to help rein in groups

TEHRAN: Iranians voted on Friday in elections for parliament and a key clerical body, amid fears of a low turnout and with conservatives expected to tighten their grip on power.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has called for a strong turnout, was the first to cast his ballot. He vote at a polling station in central Tehran, state television reported.
The elections are the first in Iran since widespread protests erupted after the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, following her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress code for women.
Since the last elections, Iran has also been badly affected by international sanctions that have led to an economic crisis.
More than 61 million of Iran’s 85 million people are eligible to vote for members of parliament as well as the clerics of the Assembly of Experts, which selects Iran’s supreme leader.
There were fears of a low turnout, however, after a state TV poll found more than half of respondents were indifferent about the elections.
“Suppose that I vote: what would it change?” asked a 21-year-old from Kurdistan province who gave her name only as Hanna, for fear of reprisals. “They (the elected officials) do not respect their promises.”
Her comments were echoed by Hashem, a 32-year-old from the southwestern province of Khuzestan. “The problem with the elections is that people are not happy with this system because of the political and economic situation,” he said.
Another voter, Moradiani from south Tehran, said she would heed Khamenei’s call to vote.
“The leader said that participating in the elections is an obligation,” she said, “just as it is obligatory for us to pray.”
Polls closed at midnight (2030 GMT), after voting hours were extended several times during the day, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Local Fars news agency estimated the turnout to stand at “more than 40 percent.”
“The plan to boycott the elections, designed by foreign enemies and their internal supporters, failed with the participation of around 25 million people,” it said, without elaborating

Iran’s last parliamentary election in 2020 saw turnout of 42.57 percent — the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Hadi Tahan Nazif, spokesman for the Guardian Council which vets candidates, voiced optimism about Friday’s turnout, saying it was “even better” than four years ago.
Khamenei had on Friday appealed for people to vote, saying: “Onlookers from all over observe the affairs of our country; make (Iran’s) friends happy and ill-wishers disappointed.”
The supreme leader had previously warned that Iran’s “enemies want to see if the people are present.” Otherwise, he added, “they will threaten your security in one way or another.”
Those watching, he said, included the United States, “most of the Europeans, evil Zionists, capitalists and big companies.”
Iran considers the United States, its Western allies and Israel “enemies” of the state and accuses them of seeking to intervene in its internal affairs.
On the eve of the elections, the United States said they would be unfair.
“I have no expectation that Iran’s elections will be free and fair, and I suspect that a great number of Iranians have no expectation that those elections will be free and fair,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters in Washington.
Candidates for parliament are vetted by the Guardian Council, whose members are either appointed or approved by the supreme leader.
They have approved a total of 15,200 candidates, out of nearly 49,000 applicants, to run for seats in the 290-member parliament.
Conservatives and ultra-conservatives, who hold 232 out 290 seats in the 2020 parliament after reformist and moderate candidates were disqualified, are expected by analysts to dominate once again.
A coalition of parties called the Reform Front said it would not take part in “meaningless, non-competitive and ineffective elections.”

Former Iranian president, the reformist Mohammad Khatami, was quoted in February by the conservative Javan daily as saying that Iran was “very far from free and competitive elections.”
Conservatives are also expected to maintain a firm grip on the Assembly of Experts, an 88-member body exclusively made up of male Islamic scholars.
A total of 144 candidates are running but many hopefuls were disqualified, including moderate former president Hassan Rouhani.
The Israel-Hamas war has sent tensions in the region soaring, with pro-Tehran groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen all involved in clashes with either Israel or its Western allies.
The elections also take place amid crippling international sanctions and mounting economic hardship in Iran, where inflation has hovered around 50 percent and the rial has sharply depreciated against the dollar.
“The prices are extremely high and continue to increase,” Masoumeh, a 40-year-old housewife, told AFP in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar ahead of the vote.
“I don’t think that the representatives who will be elected will be able to improve this situation.”
 


Biden says ‘hoping’ for Gaza ceasefire deal by Ramadan

Updated 50 min 3 sec ago
Follow

Biden says ‘hoping’ for Gaza ceasefire deal by Ramadan

  • Biden had said at the beginning of this week that he expected a deal by Monday for a six-week halt in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, but has steadily walked back the timeline

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden said Friday he was “hoping” for a ceasefire deal in the Israel-Hamas conflict by the Muslim holy month of Ramadan but agreement was still not sealed.
“I’m hoping so, we’re still working real hard on it. We’re not there yet,” he told reporters at the White House when asked if he expected a deal by Ramadan, which will start on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.
“We’ll get there but we’re not there yet — we may not get there,” Biden added, without elaborating, as he headed to his helicopter to spend the weekend at the presidential Camp David retreat.
Biden had said at the beginning of this week that he expected a deal by Monday for a six-week halt in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, but has steadily walked back the timeline.
The 81-year-old Democrat announced earlier Friday that the United States would soon start airdropping aid to Gaza, a day after dozens of desperate Palestinians were killed rushing an aid convoy.
Biden has said the incident could complicate talks, but would not comment Friday on what was holding up a deal, adding: “I’m not going to tell you that because that’ll get involved in the negotiations.”

 


Algerian Muay Thai veteran Mehdi Zatout comes out of retirement to win boxing debut at ONE 166

Updated 02 March 2024
Follow

Algerian Muay Thai veteran Mehdi Zatout comes out of retirement to win boxing debut at ONE 166

  • The 40-year-old overcame previously undefeated Saudi boxer Zuhayr Al-Qahtani in Qatar

Two years ago, former ISKA and WBC Muay Thai World Champion Mehdi Zatout stood inside the ONE Circle with his family as tears streamed down his face.

He had just been awarded a $50,000 bonus for scoring a knockout in what would be the last fight of his decorated Muay Thai career.

Fast-forward to ONE 166 in Qatar, where the 40-year-old was presented with an opportunity he couldn’t refuse – coming out of retirement to make his boxing debut against the undefeated Zuhayr Al-Qahtani.

Fittingly, Zatout made his walkout to “Gonna Fly Now,” the iconic theme song from Rocky (1976).

In a 147lb catchweight bout of 3x3 minute rounds, Zatout exuded confidence from the outset and used his superior reach.

The Algerian connected with a couple of right hands early in the first round.

Al-Qahtani attempted to get on the inside and go to the body using his jab. Zatout advanced with his hands down and was clipped with a right hook toward the end of the opening stanza, but he had landed cleaner shots overall.

The veteran, who trains out of the Venum Training Camp in Pattaya, dropped Al-Qahtani with a left hook in the second, but the knockdown was not scored due to Zatout’s use of dirty boxing in grabbing the back of the Saudi fighter’s head.

Al-Qahtani landed a right hook upstairs, and with the contest slipping away from him, he was under pressure to pick up the pace. He charged forward with his head ducked low and landed a jab on the inside but was getting countered, with Zatout showing slick movement.

“Diamond Heart” had been showboating throughout the contest. With his hands by his sides, he goaded his opponent, pointing at his chin, willing the Saudi to try and hit him in the third round.

“The Arabian Warrior” was moving in recklessly, and Zatout appeared to mock his wild punches, giving the crowd a big smile as he landed a pair of right hands before flexing his muscles. Zatout was clearly there to entertain and sailed toward the unanimous decision.

This was Al-Qahtani’s first fight since 2019, so ring rust may have been a factor as he endured his first professional loss and slipped to 9-1.

“It was a dream come true,” Zatout told Arab News. “I was thinking all my career that I would love to fight in boxing shoes with a jacket, Rocky music. Like a kid’s dream and it was realized today so it was amazing for me.”

In terms of how the fight went, he said: “I’m not especially happy about myself. I was looking for more domination. More striking. But the opponent was short, going too low and the clinch in boxing was not allowed. But it’s OK, it was a pleasure.”

Despite being 40, Zatout clearly enjoyed himself and hasn’t ruled out another go.

“I called it ‘The Last Dance’ but when you’re not happy about your performance … let’s see. I’m a busy man, but you never know!”

Earlier on the card, Yemen’s Osamah Almarwai was submitted by Cleber Sousa in their ONE Flyweight Submission Grappling match.

Both men went hunting for leg locks in the early stages but trouble came for the ATOS man when the Brazilian began relentlessly attacking Osa’s arm.

“Clandestino” had a couple of armbar attempts before transitioning to the back. From there, he went hunting for the rear-naked choke.

Both men were coming off losses to the champion, Mikey Musumeci, on their ONE debuts, and Sousa looked intent on returning to winning ways.

He continued to pressure and sought a kimura before unleashing another armbar attempt. Danger beckoned for the Saudi-born fighter as his opponent wrapped him up in an inverted triangle choke. The anguish showed on Almarwai’s face as Sousa finally secured the armbar after 5 minutes and 31 seconds.

The South American now has an impressive 54 submissions on his CV, while Osamah slides to 0-2 since arriving in ONE Championship.

In the main event, there was a slice of history for Anatoly Malykhin, who is the only MMA fighter to simultaneously hold three world title belts in a major organization.

The Russian finished Middleweight champion Reinier De Ridder in the second round with a grounded knee, having scored a first-round finish with punches in their first meeting in 2022.

“Sladkiy” was awarded a $50,000 bonus and now adds the Dutchman’s Middleweight belt to his Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight titles. He stands with the distinction of being both undefeated and a triple champ.