UN chief urges donors to halt Afghan economy ‘death spiral’

A cobbler takes a nap while waiting for customers along the roadside in Kabul. (File/AFP)
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Updated 31 March 2022

UN chief urges donors to halt Afghan economy ‘death spiral’

  • UN has reached less than 13 percent of its $4.4 billon fundraising goal for Afghanistan this year, the secretary-general said
  • Guterres lambasted actions by the Taliban including barring girls from secondary education

LONDON: Afghanistan’s economy risks falling into a “death spiral” without urgent aid, with some Afghans already forced to sell their children and body parts to survive, UN chief Antonio Guterres said Thursday.
The United Nations has reached less than 13 percent of its $4.4 billon fundraising goal for Afghanistan this year, the secretary-general told a virtual conference of donors co-hosted by the UN, Britain, Germany and Qatar.
“Wealthy, powerful countries cannot ignore the consequences of their decisions on the most vulnerable,” he said, after Western nations withdrew from Afghanistan last year and allowed the Taliban back to power.
Since then, the international community has frozen nearly $9 billion in Afghan assets overseas.
Guterres lambasted actions by the Taliban including barring girls from secondary education.
“There is simply no justification for such discrimination,” he said, calling on the fundamentalist militia to deliver “an inclusive and representative government.”
But foreign donors must not abandon the Afghan people, Guterres warned, stressing that some 95 percent of Afghans do not have enough to eat and nine million are at risk from famine.
“Without immediate action, we face a starvation and malnutrition crisis in Afghanistan. People are already selling their children and their body parts, in order to feed their families,” he said.
“The first step in any meaningful humanitarian response must be to halt the death spiral of the Afghan economy.”


SpaceX gets US approval to deploy up to 7,500 satellites

Updated 27 min 58 sec ago

SpaceX gets US approval to deploy up to 7,500 satellites

WASHINGTON: The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said on Thursday it approved SpaceX’s bid to deploy up to 7,500 satellites, but put on hold some other decisions.
SpaceX’s Starlink, a fast-growing network of more than 3,500 satellites in low-Earth orbit, has tens of thousands of users in the United States so far, with consumers paying at least $599 for a user terminal and $110 a month for service. The FCC in 2018 approved SpaceX plans to deploy up to 4,425 first-generation satellites.
SpaceX has sought approval to operate a network of 29,988 satellites, to be known as its “second-generation” or Gen2 Starlink constellation to beam Internet to areas with little or no Internet access.
“Our action will allow SpaceX to begin deployment of Gen2 Starlink, which will bring next generation satellite broadband to Americans nationwide,” the FCC said in its approval order, adding it “will enable worldwide satellite broadband service, helping to close the digital divide on a global scale.”
The FCC said its decision “will protect other satellite and terrestrial operators from harmful interference and maintain a safe space environment” and protect “spectrum and orbital resources for future use.”
In August, a US appeals court upheld the 2021 decision of the FCC to approve a SpaceX plan to deploy some Starlink satellites at a lower Earth orbit than planned as part of its push to offer space-based broadband Internet.
In September, SpaceX challenged the FCC decision to deny it $885.5 million in rural broadband subsidies. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in August Starlink’s technology “has real promise” but that it could not meet the program’s requirements, citing data that showed a steady decline in speeds over the past year and casting the service’s price as too steep for consumers.


Independent inquiry launched into death of 5-year-old British Muslim

Updated 44 min 25 sec ago

Independent inquiry launched into death of 5-year-old British Muslim

  • Yusuf Mahmud Nazir had a severe throat infection but Rotherham Hospital in South Yorkshire, in the north of England, refused to admit him
  • Days later, unable to speak, eat or drink, he was taken by ambulance to another hospital here he was treated immediately but died on Nov. 23

LONDON: An independent investigation will be carried out into the death of a five-year-old boy who died after he was sent home from an allegedly understaffed and underequipped hospital.

Yusuf Mahmud Nazir had a severe throat infection but Rotherham Hospital in South Yorkshire, in the north of England, refused to admit him. His uncle, Zaheer Ahmed, said he “begged” staff to do more to help his nephew but was told the children’s ward had “not got the doctors” and “not got the beds.”

Ahmed told the British media that Yusuf took ill with a sore throat on Nov. 13 and was given antibiotics by the family’s doctor. But his condition quickly got worse and he was taken to Rotherham Hospital, where staff said they could not admit him and sent him home.

On Nov. 18, Yusuf was unable to speak, eat or drink and was taken by ambulance to Sheffield Children’s Hospital where he was treated immediately but, despite being given intravenous antibiotics, he died on Nov. 23.

Rotherham Hospital initially said it would carry out an internal investigation but Dr. Richard Jenkins, the hospital’s chief executive, on Thursday said investigators from outside South Yorkshire will review the case. In a letter to local MP Sarah Champion, he said he was working with NHS England to “identify appropriate independent investigators.”

Champion said: “I’m so relieved that the wants and needs of the family have been listened to and we are going to get this independent inquiry. Independent is the key bit. It has to be really robust and independent.”

Jenkins said he spoke to Yusuf’s uncle to “directly express my condolences and to apologize to the family.”

Yusuf’s family confirmed that they received the apology but that alone is not enough, adding: “They’ve apologized but that doesn’t give us any answers.”
 


Security meeting overshadowed by Russia’s war, ban on Lavrov

Updated 01 December 2022

Security meeting overshadowed by Russia’s war, ban on Lavrov

  • The two-day meeting in Lodz, Poland, is the first such high-level meeting since Russia invaded Ukraine in February
  • Notably absent was Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who was banned by Poland, the current chair of the OSCE, from entering the country

LODZ, Poland: Europe’s largest security organization opened a meeting Thursday with foreign ministers and other representatives strongly denouncing Russia’s war against Ukraine, a conflict that is among the greatest challenges the body has faced in its nearly half-century of existence.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was founded to maintain peace and stability on the continent, has been a rare international forum — along with the United Nations — where Russia and Western powers have been able meet to discuss security matters. The two-day meeting in Lodz, Poland, is the first such high-level meeting since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
But since the war began, the 57-nation OSCE has also become another venue where the bitter clash between Russia and the West has played out, exposing the organization’s own inadequacies in helping to resolve the conflict.
Notably absent was Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who was banned by Poland, the current chair of the OSCE, from entering the country. Poland is a member of the 27-member European Union, which has put Lavrov on a sanctions list.
Lavrov denounced the ban and Poland on Thursday.
“I can say responsibly that Poland’s anti-chairmanship of the OSCE will take the most miserable place ever in this organization’s history,” Lavrov said. “Nobody has ever caused such damage to the OSCE while being at its helm.”
“Our Polish neighbors have been digging a grave for the organization by destroying the last remains of the consensus culture,” he said in a video call with reporters.
The Polish chairman in office, Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, said he had a responsibility to defend the OSCE’s “fundamental principles,” and argued that it was not Poland but Russia which has hurt the organization by blocking budgets, appointments and other critical aspects of its work. He accused Russia of spreading disinformation against Poland.
“I would say it’s outrageous to hear Russia accusing the chairmanship of pushing the OSCE into the abyss, destroying its foundations and breaking its procedural rules,” Rau said.
Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the OSCE acted as a mediator in Ukraine, negotiating peace deals for eastern Ukraine following a Russian-backed separatist war that began in the Donbas in 2014. In March, the OSCE discontinued its special monitoring mission to Ukraine.
Also missing from the meeting in Lodz was Belarus Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei, who died suddenly last weekend at the age of 64 and was buried earlier this week. Belarusian authorities didn’t give the cause of Makei’s death, and he wasn’t known to suffer from any chronic illness, triggering speculation about possible foul play.
A Belarusian representative, Andrei Dapkiunas, delivered remarks that he said had been prepared by Makei before his death. He deplored the exclusion of Lavrov, saying it “is killing the OSCE,” and accused Western powers of undermining Europe’s security structure with what he described as an unfair isolation of Russia and Belarus.
Peter Szijjarto, the foreign minister of Hungary, which is in the unusual position of being an ally of Poland while maintaining close economic and diplomatic ties with Russia, appeared to fault Poland for excluding Lavrov.
“Channels of communication must be maintained,” Szijjarto said.
Szijjarto told the meeting that Hungary wants peace in Ukraine, but didn’t mention Russia by name.
The OSCE was established in 1975 at a time of Cold War detente. Its approach to security is undergirded by an emphasis on human rights and economic development in conjunction with military security. It is possibly best known for its monitoring of elections but has also carried out conflict prevention and post-conflict peace-building missions in places including Bosnia, Moldova, Georgia and Tajikistan.
The US representative, Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said she came away from the gathering in Lodz with a renewed optimism within the OSCE, noting that 55 of its 57 members — Russia and Belarus excluded — were finding new ways to work to defend democratic principles.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “has failed to defeat Ukraine,” Nuland said. “Despite his brutal war of aggression, his war crimes, and now his vicious fight against civilians trying to freeze them in the middle of winter, Putin has also failed in his effort to divide and destroy the OSCE.”


Biden and Macron hold talks on Ukraine, climate, China

Updated 01 December 2022

Biden and Macron hold talks on Ukraine, climate, China

  • Biden is honoring Macron with the first state dinner of his presidency on Thursday evening
  • Both leaders at the ceremony paid tribute to their countries’ long alliance

WASHINGTON D.C.: Presidents Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron sat down Thursday for the centerpiece talks of a pomp-filled French state visit, with the two leaders eager to talk through the war in Ukraine, concerns about China’s increasing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific and European dismay over aspects of Biden’s signature climate law.
Biden is honoring Macron with the first state dinner of his presidency on Thursday evening, but first the two leaders met in the Oval Office to discuss difficult issues that they confront.
At the top of the agenda is the nine-month-old war in Ukraine in which Biden and Macron face headwinds as they try to maintain unity in the US and Europe to keep economic and military aid flowing to Kyiv as it tries to repel Russian forces.
“The choices we make today and the years ahead will determine the course of our world for decades to come,” Biden said at an arrival ceremony.
Macron at the start of the face-to-face meeting acknowledged the “challenging times” in Ukraine and called on the two nations to better “synchronize our actions” on climate.
The leaders began their talks shortly after hundreds of people gathered on the South Lawn on a sunny, chilly morning for the ceremony that included a 21-gun salute and review of troops. Ushers distributed small French and American flags to the guests who gathered to watch Biden and Macron start the state visit.
Both leaders at the ceremony paid tribute to their countries’ long alliance. But they acknowledged difficult moments lay ahead as Western unity shows some wear nine months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In Washington, Republicans are set to take control of the House, where GOP leader Kevin McCarthy has said his party’s lawmakers will not write a “blank check” for Ukraine. Across the Atlantic, Macron’s efforts to keep Europe united will be tested by the mounting costs of supporting Ukraine in the war and as Europe battles rising energy prices that threaten to derail the post-pandemic economic recovery.
Macron at the arrival ceremony stressed a need for the US and France to keep the West united as the war continues.
“Our two nations are sisters in the fight for freedom,” Macron declared.
Amid the talk of maintaining unity, differences on trade were shadowing the visit.
Macron has made clear that he and other European leaders are concerned about the incentives in a new climate-related law that favor American-made climate technology, including electric vehicles.
He criticized the legislation, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, during a luncheon Wednesday with US lawmakers and again during a speech at the French Embassy. Macron said that while the Biden administration’s efforts to curb climate change should be applauded, the subsidies would be an enormous setback for European companies.
“The choices that have been made ... are choices that will fragment the West,” Macron said. He said the legislation “creates such differences between the United States of America and Europe that all those who work in many companies (in the US), they will just think, ‘We don’t make investments any more on the other side of the Atlantic.’”
He also said major industrial nations need to do more to address climate change and promote biodiversity.
In an interview that aired Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Macron said the US and France were working together well on the war in Ukraine and geopolitics overall, but not on “some economic issues.” The US climate bill and semiconductor legislation, he said, were not properly coordinated with Europe and created “the absence of a level playing field.”
Earlier, he had criticized a deal reached at a recent climate summit in Egypt in which the United States and other wealthy nations agreed to help pay for the damage that an overheating world is inflicting on poor countries. The deal includes few details on how it will be paid for, and Macron said a more comprehensive approach is needed — “not just a new fund we decided which will not be funded and even if it is funded, it will not be rightly allocated.″
The blunt comments follow another low point last year after Biden announced a deal to sell nuclear submarines to Australia, undermining a contract for France to sell diesel-powered submarines. The relationship has recovered since then with Biden acknowledging a clumsy rollout of the submarine deal and Macron emerging as one of Biden’s strongest European allies in the Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As for the Inflation Reduction Act, the European Union has also expressed concern that tax credits, including those aimed at encouraging Americans to buy electric vehicles, would discriminate against European producers and break World Trade Organization rules.
Macron planned to make his case to US officials against the subsidies, underscoring that it’s crucial for “Europe, like the US, to come out stronger ... not weaker” as the world emerges from the tumult of the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to a senior French government official
Macron also planned to seek exceptions to the US legislation for some European clean energy manufacturers, according to a second French official who requested anonymity under the presidency’s customary practices.
Biden administration officials have countered that the legislation goes a long way in helping the US to meet global goals to curb climate change.
Macron also raised eyebrows earlier this month in a speech at a summit in Bangkok when he referred to the US and China as “two big elephants” that are the cusp of creating “a big problem for the rest of jungle.” His visit to Washington also comes as both the US and France are keeping an eye on China after protests broke out last weekend in several mainland cities and Hong Kong over Beijing’s “zero COVID” strategy.
The honor of this state visit is a boost to Macron diplomatically that he can leverage back in Europe. His outspoken comments help him demonstrate that he’s defending French workers, even as he maintains a close relationship with Biden. The moment also helps Macron burnish his image as the EU’s most visible and vocal leader, at a time when Europe is increasingly concerned that its economy will be indelibly weakened by the Ukraine war and resulting energy and inflation crises.
Macron and his wife, Brigitte, came to the US bearing gifts carefully tailored to their American hosts, including a vinyl and CD of the original soundtrack from the 1966 film “Un Homme et une Femme,” which the Bidens went to see on their first date, according to the palace.
Biden and First Lady Jill Biden presented the Macrons with a mirror framed by fallen wood from the White House grounds and made by an American furniture maker. It is a reproduction of a mirror from the White House collection that hangs in the West Wing.
Biden also gave President Macron a custom vinyl record collection of great American musicians and an archival facsimile print of Thomas Edison’s 1877 Patent of the American Phonograph. The First Lady gave Mrs. Macron a gold and emerald pendant necklace designed by a French-American designer.
Harris will host Macron for a lunch at the State Department before the evening state dinner for some 350 guests, a glitzy gala to take place in an enormous tented pavilion constructed on the White House South Lawn.


Air raid warning issued over all Ukraine – Ukrainian officials

Updated 01 December 2022

Air raid warning issued over all Ukraine – Ukrainian officials

  • Border service: ‘An overall air raid alert is in place in Ukraine. Go to shelters’

Air raid alerts were issued across all of Ukraine on Thursday following warnings by Ukrainian officials that Russia was preparing a new wave of missile and drone strikes.
“An overall air raid alert is in place in Ukraine. Go to shelters,” country’s border service wrote on Telegram messaging app.