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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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Taliban resumes peace talks with US envoy in Qatar

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Islamabad :The Taliban and the United States resumed talks in Doha, Qatar with an aim to end the stalemate over the participation of Afghan government in the negotiations for a political settlement of the conflict.

Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban spokesman in a statement said, “Following American acceptance of the agenda of ending invasion of Afghanistan and preventing Afghanistan from being used against other countries in the future, talks with American representatives took place today in Doha.”

Doha meeting happened as the Taliban fighters attacked an Afghan intelligence agency — National Directorate of Security — installation in Maidan Shahr, Kabul, killing and wounding dozens of security personnel.

 

The two sides — US and Taliban — had last met in December 2018 in Abu Dhabi in a meeting facilitated by Pakistan and observed by Saudi Arabia and UAE. It had been agreed at the meeting that the engagement process would be continued. But, arranging the next round of talks became difficult due to the Taliban’s inflexibility over negotiating with the Afghan government. The Taliban have, meanwhile, been insisting that US should instead withdraw its forces and release Taliban prisoners.

There was no word from the US side on the Taliban claim after the latest meeting in Doha that US had agreed to discuss withdrawal plans.

Recently, the Afghan Taliban while rejecting media reports of possible talks with the US in Islamabad and reiterated that they will not deal directly with the Afghan Government.

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11 die as ships with Indian, Turkish crews catch fire in Kerch Strait

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Moscow:Two ships carrying Indian, Turkish and Libyan crew members had caught fire in the Kerch Strait separating Crimea from Russia, killing at least 11 people, media reports said on Tuesday.

The fire broke out off Russia’s territorial waters. Both vessels were flying Tanzanian flags. One of them was a liquefied natural gas carrier and the other a tanker. The fire broke out as the two ships were transferring fuel from one to the other.

One of the ships, the Candy, had a 17-member crew–nine Turkish citizens and eight Indian nationals.

 

The other, the Maestro, had a 15-member crew–seven Turkish nationals, seven Indian citizens and an intern from Libya, Russian news agency Tass quoted maritime authority as saying.

At least 11 sailors had died, Russian Maritime Agency was quoted by RT news, a Russian television network.

“Presumably, an explosion occurred (on one of the vessels). Then the fire spread to another vessel. A rescue tug is en route,” said a spokesman for the Russian Maritime Agency.

Some three dozen sailors managed to escape the burning ships by jumping off the vessels.

Twelve people have so far been rescued from the sea. Nine sailors were still listed as missing, the spokesperson said.

Severe weather conditions at sea had prevented rescue ships from taking victims to the shore for medical treatment, the report added.

The Kerch Strait is a key waterway that holds strategic importance for both Russia and Ukraine.

It is an important economic lifeline for Ukraine that allows ships leaving the port city of Mariupol to access the Black Sea.

It’s also the closest point of access for Russia to Crimea, a peninsula Moscow annexed in 2014. A Russian-built bridge over the Kerch Strait opened in May last year. PTI

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Pak shares Kartarpur draft pact, calls India ‘urgently’ to finalise deal

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Lahore/New Delhi: Pakistan said it has shared a draft agreement on the Kartarpur Corridor with India and invited New Delhi to “urgently” send a delegation to Islamabad to “negotiate and finalise” the proposal.

The proposed agreement aims at facilitating travel of Indian Sikh pilgrims to Darbar Sahib Kartarpur Gurudwara in Narowal, nearly 4 km away from Gurdaspur border on the Indian side.

“The draft agreement between the two governments has been shared with New Delhi through the Indian High Commission in Islamabad,” Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said in a statement.

 

The move is in line with Pakistan’s policy of promoting inter-faith harmony and religious tolerance and Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s vision of a peaceful neighbourhood, he added.

Pakistan has appointed Director-General (South Asia and SAARC) as the focal person on its side and requested India to designate its focal person soon.

Pakistan also invited India to “urgently send a delegation to Islamabad to negotiate and finalise the agreement”, Faisal said.

He also tweeted, “Continuing with PM Imran Khan’s initiative, Pakistan, today, shared the proposed draft agreement on Kartarpur Corridor with India. Indian delegation invited to visit Islamabad for an expedited conclusion of the agreement. Keeping promises – Work in progress on Kartarpur Corridor on Pakistan side.”

Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on November 26 last year laid the foundation stone of the Kartarpur corridor in Gurdaspur district.

Two days later on November 28, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone of the corridor at Narowal, 125 km from Lahore.

The decision to build the corridor – from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to the international border – was taken by the Union Cabinet on November 22.

The much-awaited corridor will connect Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur – the final resting place of Sikh faith’s founder Guru Nanak Dev – with Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district and facilitate visa-free movement of Indian Sikh pilgrims, who will have to just obtain a permit to visit Kartarpur.

The corridor was a long-pending demand of the Sikh community. Pakistan had committed to open the corridor in November on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.

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