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Death toll from Afghanistan suicide blast rises to 68, over 160 injured

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Kabul: The death toll from a suicide bomb attack at a protest gathering in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar on Tuesday has risen to 68, with 165 wounded, a government official said.
The bombing on Tuesday in the eastern province of Nangarhar was the latest in a wave of deadly insurgent attacks which has claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians and security forces across Afghanistan.
The blast wounded another 165 people, provincial governor spokesman Ataullah Khogyani said.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the massacre, but the Islamic State group, which has carried out most of the recent suicide bombings in Afghanistan, is active in the province.
The Nangarhar health department confirmed the toll.
Scores of demonstrators had blocked the highway between the provincial capital of Jalalabad and a major Pakistan border crossing in protest over the appointment of a local police chief when the suicide bomber blew himself up.
The dead and wounded were rushed to several hospitals in the back of pickup trucks and ambulances, overwhelming doctors and nurses as they struggled to cope with the huge number of casualties.
Zar Khan, one of the injured, told AFP he saw a young man get out of a car and run towards the protesters shouting “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest).
“Then the explosion happened and I found myself surrounded by blood and flesh,” Khan said from his hospital bed.
It was the deadliest attack since an ambulance packed with explosives detonated in a crowded street in the heart of Kabul in January, killing more than 100 people, mostly civilians. That bombing was claimed by the Taliban.
Violence across the country has intensified in recent weeks as the Taliban make gains on the battlefield and IS launches deadly urban attacks.
It comes as Afghanistan enters a typically violent period of the year — the holy month of Muharram, which began on Tuesday.
Ashura, the most important Shiite observance, falls on the 10th day of Muharram and is often marred by deadly attacks.
The fighting has tempered optimism that had been tentatively growing as Afghan and international players ratchet up efforts to convince the Taliban to negotiate an end to the 17-year conflict.
An unprecedented ceasefire in June followed by talks between US officials and Taliban representatives in Qatar in July raised hopes that peace negotiations could bring an end to the fighting.
There has been speculation the two sides will meet again this month.
The Taliban have long insisted on direct talks with Washington and refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which they see as illegitimate.
The intensified fighting has also fuelled speculation over whether Afghanistan’s long-delayed parliamentary elections will go ahead on October 20.
The country’s stretched security forces will be tasked with protecting thousands of polling stations around the country at a time when they are already struggling to beat back insurgents.
Delivering ballot papers and monitoring the vote, which is seen as a test run for next year’s presidential election, will be challenging, officials have warned.
There are already concerns about widespread fraud.
In recent days, Taliban fighters killed nearly 60 members of the security forces in a spate of attacks in the country’s north, and threatened a provincial capital for the second time in as many months.


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International

Pakistan doesn’t do ‘a damn thing’ for US:Trump

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Washington: President Donald Trump defended his administration’s decision to stop hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Pakistan, saying the country does not do “a damn thing” for the US and its government had helped Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden hide near its garrison city.

Referring to Laden and his former compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Donald Trump in an interview to Fox News said, “You know, living – think of this – living in Pakistan, beautifully in Pakistan in what I guess they considered a nice mansion, I don’t know, I’ve seen nicer.”

The compound was demolished shortly after US Naval Special Warfare Development Group forces, in a daring helicopter raid, killed Laden there in 2011.

“But living in Pakistan right next to the military academy, everybody in Pakistan knew he was there,” he added.

“And we give Pakistan USD 1.3 billion a year. … (Laden] lived in Pakistan, we’re supporting Pakistan, we’re giving them USD 1.3 billion a year — which we don’t give them anymore, by the way, I ended it because they don’t do anything for us, they don’t do a damn thing for us,” he said.

The ties between the two countries strained after Trump, while announcing his Afghanistan and South Asia policy in August last year, hit out at Pakistan for providing safe havens to “agents of chaos” that kill Americans in Afghanistan and warned Islamabad that it has “much to lose” by harbouring terrorists.

In September, the Trump administration cancelled USD 300 million in military aid to Islamabad for not doing enough against terror groups active on its soil.

Trump also said that he has plans to visit Iraq and Afghanistan to meet American troops stationed there.

“Well, I think you will see that happen. There are things that are being planned. We don’t want to talk about it because of — obviously because of security reasons and everything else,” he said.

Trump has been criticized by his political opponents for not visiting either Afghanistan or Iraq in the first two years of his presidency.

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California wildfire death toll rises to 77

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Chico (US) : Authorities say one more set of human remains has been found, bringing the total number killed in a devastating California wildfire to 77.

A state incident report released says the flames destroyed more than 10,500 homes.

Over a thousand names remain on a list of those unaccounted for after the so-called Camp Fire swept through the rural town of Paradise on November 8. Authorities stressed that many of those may be safe and unaware they have been reported missing.

Hundreds of volunteers are sifting through ash and debris, searching for human remains before expected rains complicate their efforts. The predicted downpours could wash away telltale fragments of bone, or turn loose, dry ash into a thick paste that would frustrate the search.

The fire was 65 per cent contained Sunday.

Crews searching for remains of people after the devastating Northern California wildfire are stepping up their efforts ahead of rains forecast for later this week that could complicate their work.

A team of 10 volunteers along with a cadaver dog were examining burned houses Sunday in a Paradise neighbourhood looking for victims.

They’re focusing on vehicles, bathtubs and mattress springs that would indicate a charred bed.

If no remains are found, the team leaves a note in orange spray paint near the home.

Rain would help suppress the fire but could also complicate the search and recovery effort. Officials say ash that is now dry and easy to dust off would turn into paste, making it harder to uncover remains.

The National Park Service says all but one of 13 mountain lions being tracked in Southern California mountains have been accounted for following a devastating wildfire.

As of Friday, the only missing mountain lion was one dubbed P-74, a young male born last year.

In addition, all four bobcats that the agency monitors via GPS have been located in the Santa Monica Mountains northwest of Los Angeles.

Officials have again increased the number of homes and other structures burned by a huge Southern California wildfire.

The figure rose Sunday to 1,130 buildings destroyed – many of them homes – and 300 damaged. The tally is continuing.

Firefighters are making progress against the blaze that broke out November 8 and tore through communities west of Los Angeles from Thousand Oaks to Malibu.

More evacuees have been allowed back in their homes and the 151-square-mile (391-square-kilometer) blaze is now 88 percent contained.

California’s governor is expressing optimism that President Donald Trump will support the state as it deals with raging wildfires.

Democratic Governor Jerry Brown said in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” airing Sunday that the Republican president has “got our back” and has pledged to continue to help.

Trump initially blamed state officials for poor forest management in exacerbating the fires and threatened to cut off federal funding. He’s since signed an emergency declaration and toured the devastated areas Saturday with Brown and Governor-elect Gavin Newsom.

Brown also suggested in the CBS interview that the wildfires will make believers of even the most ardent climate change skeptics “in less than five years” and that those living near forests might need to build underground shelters to protect them from wildfires going forward.

Pope Francis has prayed for victims of California’s wildfires and freezing weather on the US East Coast.

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Trump refuses to hear tape of Khashoggi killing

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Washington: US President Donald Trump said that while Turkey has shared with US an audio purported to be of the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, he has no plans to listen to the recording.

“We have the tape. I don’t want to hear the tape. No reason for me to hear the tape,” the president told interviewer Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”

When Wallace asked him his reason, Trump replied: “Because it’s a suffering tape, it’s a terrible tape. I’ve been fully briefed on it, there’s no reason for me to hear it,” reports Efe.

Khashoggi, who was a columnist for The Washington Post, died on October 2 inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, where he had gone to obtain documents enabling him to marry his Turkish fiance.

Weeks later, the Saudi government acknowledged that he was killed inside the consulate and last Thursday, the kingdom’s attorney general that he would seek the death penalty for five of the 11 suspects charged in connection with the journalist’s death.

In a press conference in Riyadh, Saud al-Mojeb insisted that Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Sultan, had not had any prior knowledge of the operation, whose original aim was to bring Khashoggi back to Riyadh.

Long a member of the Saudi establishment, Khashoggi became estranged from the government as a result of his criticism of the crown prince and had been living in self-imposed exile in the US since 2017.

Al-Mojeb said the investigation had shown that Khashoggi died after being restrained and injected with a tranquiliser following a fight inside the consulate.

US media have reported that the CIA concluded Mohamed bin Salman — known as MbS — was ultimately behind Khashoggi’s death.

Trump, who described the media accounts as “very premature,” wondered aloud Sunday whether the truth of who ordered the operation may never be known.

“Well, will anybody really know? All right, will anybody really know? But he (MbS) did have certainly people that were reasonably close to him and close to him that were probably involved,” the president told Fox News.

He pointed to the measures the US government announced Thursday against 17 Saudi Arabian officials for their alleged role in the Khashoggi murder, including Saud al-Qahtani, a chief adviser to MbS.

“You saw we put on very heavy sanctions, massive sanctions on a large group of people from Saudi Arabia. But at the same time we do have an ally and I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good,” Trump said.

The president reiterated that in personal conversations with the crown prince, MbS had repeatedly denied involvement in the killing.

“He told me that he had nothing to do with it. He told me that, I would say five times at different points, as recently as a few days ago,” Trump said.

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