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End to war will remain ‘dream’ if Taliban don’t talk to Kabul: Abdullah

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KABUL: Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said that the Taliban’s refusal to involve the government in peace talks means the end to a conflict that has lasted 17 years can only remain a dream.

Abdullah’s remarks came a day after the Taliban called off a fourth round of talks with US officials in Qatar, due to start this week, over disagreements about the involvement of Afghan officials, a possible ceasefire and prisoner exchange.

Efforts for a negotiated settlement have gathered pace in recent weeks, even as reports that US President Donald Trump plans to withdraw thousands of US troops triggered uncertainty.

 

The US is pressing Taliban leaders to sit down with Afghan government officials but the Taliban see the US as the main power and dismiss the Kabul administration as a puppet.

“In any peace deal in which the rights of our citizens, that have been gained with a lot of sacrifices, are not respected, the deal is a dream and will never happen,” Abdullah told gathering in Kabul, commemorating the 15th anniversary of the constitution. “Today the talk about the withdrawal of foreign forces is an excuse for continuation of war and gaining more opportunities.”

A Taliban leader told Reuters that the talks, which would have been the fourth round with US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, would have focused on a US withdrawal, prisoner exchange and the lifting of a ban on movement of Taliban leaders. Taliban sources said that they had demanded that US authorities release 25,000 prisoners and that they would free 3,000, but that US officials were not keen to discuss the exchange.

The war in Afghanistan is America’s longest overseas military intervention. It has cost Washington nearly $1 trillion and killed tens of thousands of people.

Abdullah, who shares power with President Ashraf Ghani after a US-brokered political deal in 2014 that led to formation of a coalition government, said the Taliban have not changed since their austere regime was toppled by US-led forces in 2001. “We haven’t seen any change in the Taliban so far and that country that supports them, has not unfortunately changed its policies toward us either,” said Abdullah, referring to Pakistan which Kabul accuses of harbouring Taliban leaders. Pakistan denies the charge and says it is encouraging the Taliban to talk directly with the Afghan government.

A senior Afghan government official said the talks also would have involved discussion about the formation of an interim administration known as the “peace government” after US forces announce a withdrawal and the Taliban accept a ceasefire. The peace government would bring all warring parties under one administration until the Taliban are fully integrated and election are held.

But Ghani has strongly opposed any interim government. Abdullah called on Afghans to support the current administration instead. “They say they are not the Taliban of the past and they have learnt lessons and are in favour of an inclusive government, but they instead go and talk to some individuals and call them elders which is against our national interest,” Abdullah said, referring to political figures. “They do this to show that the government is either weak or does not exist,” he added.

The impasse over the talks comes as Afghanistan prepares to hold presidential elections in July with many Afghans believing the vote may be cancelled if a peace deal is reached with the Taliban. Presidential candidates, including Ghani who seeks a second five-year term, have not officially announced they are running as coalition-building among leaders of various ethnic groups debated whom to support.


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International

26 killed as tour bus catches fire in China

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Beijing: A tour bus caught fire in central China’s Hunan Province killing 26 people, local authorities said. The 28 injured in the incident were rushed to three local hospitals for treatment. Among them the condition of five were state to be critical, state-run Xinhua news agency quoted local officials as saying.

The accident occurred around when the 59-seater bus from neighbouring Henan province suddenly caught fire on a highway in Hanshou County in the city of Changde.

The bus had 53 passengers, two drivers and a tour guide at the time of the incident.

 

The two drivers were detained and an investigation into the cause of the accident is underway.

The incident came a day after 64 people lost their lives while 640 were injured in a powerful explosion at a chemical plant in eastern China. The blast occurred on Thursday following a fire in a fertilizer factory in a chemical industrial park in Yancheng, Jiangsu province, according to the government of Xiangshui county.

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International

New Zealand bans Christchurch terrorist’s manifesto

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Wellington: New Zealand has banned the possession and distribution of a manifesto believed to be written by the lone terrorist who carried out the March 15 Christchurch mosques carnage where 50 people were killed, officials said on Saturday.

The Office of Film and Literature Classification announced that the document is objectionable under the law, reports CNN.

The so-called “manifesto” of Brenton Tarrant, the 28-year-old Australian charged with the massacre, spans more than 80 pages and is filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rants.

 

“There is an important distinction to be made between ‘hate speech,’ which may be rejected by many right-thinking people, but which is legal to express, and this type of publication, which is deliberately constructed to inspire further murder and terrorism,” said New Zealand’s Chief Censor David Shanks. “It crosses the line.”

The document was posted on social media and was sent to the office of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern just before the shooting began.

On Thursday, Shanks called on the public to delete any copies, as well as online posts or links to the document.

People can also report any social media posts, links or websites.

“New Zealanders can all play a part in denying those who exhort hatred, killing and terror,” Shanks said.

“Do not support the murderous objectives of its author by republishing or distributing it.”

Earlier this week, authorities banned footage of the fatal shootings, including edited clips and still images.

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Death toll climbs to 64 in one of China’s worst industrial blasts in years

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Beijing: The death toll climbed to 64 in one of the worst industrial accidents of China in recent times which knocked down buildings, tossed children into air and caused a tremor equivalent to a magnitude-3.0 earthquake, officials said Saturday. The officials said that 24 others were missing.

The explosion occurred after a fire in the fertilizer factory in Jiangsu province on Thursday, according to the government of Xiangshui county. Thirty-four people were in a critical condition and 73 seriously injured, state-run China Daily reported. The death toll is expected to rise as several people have been critically injured.

Over 640 people were injured in the incident. More than 3,000 workers and around 1,000 residents have been relocated to safe places. The Ministry of Emergency Management said that 88 people were rescued from the scene.

 

Such is the scale of the devastation that the entire industrial park in the Yancheng resembled an area struck by a massive earthquake with almost all buildings demolished in one go.

It is the worst industrial accident since the massive explosion rocked the port area of Tianjin in 2015 in which 173 people were killed. The China earthquake centre reported an earthquake of 3.0 magnitude during the time of the blast. An aerial video posted by China Daily which provided the first detailed view of the area showed shocking images of the blast which has destroyed the entire neighbourhood, causing an extensive damage showcasing the destructive side of China’s unbridled industrial development.

Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemical plant, where the blast took place, was flattened and 16 neighbouring factories were left with varying degrees of damage. The impact smashed windows and uprooted roofs of some buildings and reduced others to rubble. Officials claimed that the rivers outside the chemical industrial park were not polluted.

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