KABUL: Amid the ongoing drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan, the war-torn country has seen a spike in the incidents of violence in recent weeks, leading to casualties of Afghan security forces and civilians.
Afghan security officials on Saturday said that the Taliban in the past week tried to take over some strategic areas in at least six provinces of the country, but security forces repelled their offensives. Over 1,000 Taliban terrorists have been killed and wounded in several encounters with the Afghan security forces during this period in Kandahar, Helmand, Farah, Herat and Baghlan provinces, said General Yasin Zia, the Afghan Chief of Army Staff.
Alongside Ghazni city, Khawja Omari, Jaghato, Waghaz and Khogyani districts have also faced deadly battles in the past days. Meanwhile, local officials in Baghlan said that hundreds of people have taken up arms to fight the Taliban.
Afghan Ministry of Defence said that offensive operations have been launched to eliminate the Taliban in areas under their control. It added that at least 250 Taliban fighters were killed in at least seven provinces in the last 24 hours and thousands more in the last four months.
The Taliban, however, has rejected the Afghan Defence Ministry report that they had suffered significant losses due to heavy fighting over the first four months of this year.
According to the ministry’s data, the period in question was the deadliest for the Taliban, as 6,320 group members were killed and 2,790 others were injured in clashes in different provinces across the country. The highest number of casualties in the past four months — 2,099 — was reported in the southern Kandahar province, as reported by Sputnik.
The Taliban on Saturday rejected the Afghan Defence Ministry report that they (Taliban) had suffered significant losses due to heavy fighting over the first four months of this year but the Ministry maintained that the figures of Taliban casualties were accurate.
Amid this surge in violence, US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on Friday had said that the United States will stand with Afghans who support the Republic if the Taliban do not choose peace.
“If the Taliban do not choose peace, a future based on consensus and compromise, then we will stand with Afghans who strive to keep the Republic intact,” Khalilzad had said in a tweet.
Leading UN officials on Saturday condemned the deadly bombing outside a high school in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, which led to the deaths of at least 30 people, including several school children.
Most of the casualties are reported to be girls, who were leaving the building at the end of the school day, UN News reported, adding that the city was full of shoppers, ahead of the Eid-al-Fitr celebrations.
“UNICEF strongly condemns the horrific attack earlier today near the Sayed Ul-Shuhada high school, in Kabul, Afghanistan,” said Henrietta Fore, the Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF.
“The attack claimed the lives of dozens of schoolchildren, mostly girls, and severely injured many more. Violence in or around schools is never acceptable. Schools must be havens of peace where children can play, learn and socialize safely.” The UNICEF chief added that children must never be the target of violence, and that the UN agency continues to call on all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan to adhere to international human rights and humanitarian law.
Volkan Bozkir, the President of the General Assembly described the blast as “an abhorrent and cowardly attack”.
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PROTESTS IN BERLIN TO MARK SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF HONG KONG UPRISING
On the second anniversary of the pro-democracy uprising in Hong Kong, scores of people including German citizens and Hongkongers jointly organized a protest in Berlin, Germany.
Nearly 100 protestors including representatives of Tibetans and Uyghurs participated in the protest at Alexanderplatz, a large public square in the capital city, on June 12 against the widespread human rights abuse by the Chinese government. Demonstrations were staged in several cities across the globe on Saturday to commemorate the second anniversary of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
Since June last year, the sweeping national security law Beijing imposed on the city is being used to stifle political opposition and anti-government protests.
Ousted Myanmar leader Suu Kyi’s trial begins
More than four months after a military coup took place in Myanmar, the trial of ousted democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi opened on Monday with critics denouncing the move as a bogus exercise.
Suu Kyi, 75, is facing several cases ranging from the illegal possession of walkie-talkie radios to breaking the Official Secrets Act, Euronews reported. The National League for Democracy (NLD) leader will also appear on Tuesday on sedition charges alongside ex-president Win Myint. “We are preparing for the worst,” one of her lawyers, Khin Maung Zaw, said, as qouted by Euronews. The lawyer also denounced “absurd” accusations fabricated to “keep her off the country’s (political) stage and sully her image.”
Last week, Myanmar’s military junta levelled new corruption charges against the deposed leader and other former officials from her government.
The cases are the latest of a series brought against the elected leader, who was overthrown by the army on February 1 in a coup that has plunged the Southeast Asian country into chaos.
The months-long military crackdown on anti-coup protesters in Myanmar has so far taken over 840 lives, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP).
The army overthrew Suu Kyi, saying her party had cheated in November elections, an accusation rejected by the previous election commission and international monitors.
Since then, the army has failed to establish control. It faces daily protests, strikes that have paralysed the economy, assassinations and bomb attacks and a resurgence of conflicts in Myanmar’s borderlands.
Escalating violence across Myanmar including attacks on civilians must be halted to prevent even greater loss of life and a deepening humanitarian emergency, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said last Friday.
Bachelet’s appeal follows reports of a continuing military build-up in various parts of the country including Kayah State in the east – where more than 108,000 people have fled their homes in the last three weeks – and in Chin State in the west.
This runs contrary to commitments made in April by Myanmar’s military leaders to regional powers ASEAN, to cease brutal violence against civilians which has followed the 1 February coup.
CHINA CHALLENGES U.S. POSITION AS THE VITAL PARTNER FOR MIDDLE EAST COUNTRIES
Following the US policy shift to disengage from the Middle East region, which started under President Barack Obama and continued and accelerated under Donald Trump, China stepped in to fill the vacuum created and now plays a wider role in the region. China’s growing influence in the Middle East is a real challenge to US dominance in the region. With the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013, the Chinese government decided to expand its influence in the Middle East and the world in general and to provide an alternative source of financial assistance to some cash-strapped governments, helping them develop their infrastructure.
China is now the primary buyer of Middle Eastern oil, as about 72 percent of oil consumed in this vast country comes from overseas imports. As oil consumption in the rest of the world is declining and may decline further, China’s oil imports are becoming increasingly significant for Middle Eastern oil producers and so China’s geopolitical importance is growing fast.
Already China has developed comprehensive strategic partnerships with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, while its influence in Iran has increased significantly, following the signing of a 25-year cooperation plan with Tehran.
In the wake of the “Arab Spring”, China gradually expanded its engagement in the Middle East and has become the largest investor in the region and the most significant trading partner with the Arab League.
Chinese tech-companies are involved in the most important technological projects in the region such as Smart Dubai 2012 and Saudi Arabia’s National Transformation Program 2030.
As Beijing is becoming increasingly alienated by Western countries, which are trying hard to agree on a policy to halt China’s global expansion and prevent its domination of world trade, it has turned its attention to the Middle East, a region that has been neglected by Washington in the past decade.
Jonathan Fulton, assistant professor of political science at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, writes: “China has established comprehensive strategic partnerships with Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, as well as strategic partnerships with Djibouti, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Turkey. Coinciding with the expansion of the BRI, this flurry of diplomatic activity indicates that Chinese leaders increasingly perceive the Middle East as important to their political and strategic goals.”
Through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a more assertive Beijing seeks to put China at the center of global trade and at the same time place the Digital Silk Road in the leading position of technological innovation, helping jumpstart digital development in the region. Telecommunication companies in Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have all partnered with Huawei to build 5G networks.
The Belt and Road Initiative envisages the creation of a vast network of railways, highways, energy pipelines and the building of 50 special economic zones. More than 60 countries have signed on BRI projects.
Putin denies cyberattacks on US, seeks evidence
In an interview with NBC broadcast on Monday ahead of his summit with President Joe Biden, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed accusations that Moscow was behind cyberattacks against the United States as “farcical”. He also said he was open to a prison swap with the United States—the fate of prisoners is set to be on the agenda when the two meet in Geneva on Wednesday—and said that jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny would “not be treated any worse than anybody else.”
Biden will attend the summit after a week of meeting allies from the G7, European Union and NATO, with tensions between Moscow and Washington at their highest in years over a long list of disputes. Asked if Russia was waging a “cyber war” against the United States, Putin said: “Where is proof? It’s becoming farcical.”
“We have been accused of all kinds of things, election interference, cyberattacks and so on and so forth, and not once, not one time, did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof, just unfounded accusations.”
US companies, including a major fuel pipeline network, have been hit by cyberattacks in recent months, often forcing temporary shutdowns until ransoms are paid.
Any negotiations over prisoners would focus on individuals including former US marine Paul Whelan who was jailed for 16 years by Russia for espionage. Whelan has urged Biden to arrange a prisoner exchange and said in a recent interview he was victim of hostage diplomacy.
Another US citizen, Trevor Reed, was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2020 on charges of assaulting Russian police officers while drunk. Moscow could be eyeing the return of the notorious Russian arms dealer imprisoned by the United States, Viktor Bout, and a contract pilot and alleged drug trafficker, Konstantin Yaroshenko.
But the White House moved to quickly tamp down talk of an exchange of “cyber criminals” after Biden appeared open to the idea when speaking at a press conference after the G7 meeting in Britain. “He’s not saying he’s going to be exchanging cyber criminals with Russia,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said. “What he was talking about was accountability and the idea that responsible countries should be held accountable… not harboring cyber criminals, and to bringing cyber criminals to justice.”
When asked about Navalny and accusations of brutal crushing of dissent in Russia, Putin said “you are presenting it as dissent and intolerance towards dissent in Russia… we view it completely differently.” He called for “predictability and stability” in Russian-US relations, saying it was “something we haven’t seen in recent years”.
WITH AGENCY INPUTS
RUSSIA WILL ACCEPT CONDITIONAL HANDOVER OF CYBER CRIMINALS TO US, SAYS PRESIDENT PUTIN
Three days before the US-Russia summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday said that the two countries need to engage in a constructive dialogue and establish mechanisms for interaction as there are areas in which Moscow and Washington can cooperate.
“[We need] to restore our personal contacts, relations, establish a direct dialogue, create really functioning mechanisms of interaction,” Putin said in an interview broadcast by the Smotrim.ru media outlet. The President noted that the US side is well aware that there are a number of areas that are of mutual interest, such as strategic stability, regional conflicts, environmental protection measures, and climate. “There are areas in which we can really work effectively,” Putin added.
In the process, President Putin said that Russia would be ready to hand over cyber criminals to the United States if Washington did the same for Moscow and the two powers reached an agreement to that effect.
The Russian leader said he expected the Geneva meeting to help establish bilateral dialogue and revive personal contacts, adding that important issues for the two men included strategic stability, Libya and Syria, and the environment.
Putin also praised Biden for having shown “professionalism” when the United States and Russia agreed this year to extend the New START nuclear arms control treaty.
The White House has said Biden will bring up ransomware attacks emanating from Russia at the meeting. That issue is in the spotlight after a cyberattack disrupted the North American and Australian operations of meatpacker JBS USA.
A Russia-linked hacking group was behind that attack, a US source familiar with the matter said last week.
Asked if Russia would be prepared to find and prosecute cyber criminals, Putin said Russia’s behaviour here would depend on formal agreements being reached by Moscow and Washington.
Both sides would have to commit to the same obligations, he said.
“If we agree to extradite criminals, then of course Russia will do that, we will do that, but only if the other side, in this case the United States, agrees to the same and will extradite the criminals in question to the Russian Federation,” he said.
“The question of cyber security is one of the most important at the moment because turning all kinds of systems off can lead to really difficult consequences,” he said.
With agency inputs
12 killed, 138 injured in gas explosion in China
HUBEI: At least 12 people were killed and 138 were injured in a huge gas explosion in central China on Sunday, state media reported.
A gas pipe exploded in the Zhangwan district of Shiyan city, in Hubei province at about 6:30 am local time. The number of casualties is still being verified as the search and rescue operation is underway. According to the local authorities, 150 people have been pulled from the debris, and the injured are being treated at local hospitals.
Apparently, the explosion destroyed a wet market there and greatly affected nearby residents. “Hearing the loud bang, I immediately scrabbled beneath the table, thinking it was an earthquake,” a resident surnamed Liu, told the Global Times via phone.
Images are circulating on social media, which appeared to be from the scene, showed rescue workers in orange jumpsuits working through the wreckage of flattened houses.
The cause of the accident is under investigation, according to the city government, which informed on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo.
Rescue operation is underway and more details are awaited. ANI
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