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International economists ask Biden to release Afghan bank funds

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ISLAMABAD:

More than 70 economists and experts, including Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, called for Washington and other nations to release Afghanistan’s central bank assets in a letter sent to US President Joe Biden on Wednesday.

The letter said foreign capitals needed to return the roughly $9 billion in Afghan central bank assets to Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB) to allow the economy to function, despite criticism of behaviour by the ruling Taliban towards women and minorities.

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“The people of Afghanistan have been made to suffer doubly for a government they did not choose,” the letter said. “In order to mitigate the humanitarian crisis and set the Afghan economy on a path toward recovery, we urge you to allow DAB to reclaim its international reserves.”

The letter, also addressed to US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, was signed by 71 economists and academic experts, many based in the United States as well as Germany, India and the United Kingdom.

Among them was former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and Stiglitz, a Columbia University professor who received the Nobel Prize in economics in 2001 and is on the advisory board to the Washington-based think tank the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which organised the letter.

Afghanistan’s economy has plunged deep into crisis since the Taliban took over almost a year ago as foreign forces withdrew. The sudden cut in aid and other factors including inflation driven by conflict in Ukraine have contributed, but economists say the country is severely hampered by the inability of its central bank to function without access to its reserves.

This has resulted in a sharp depreciation of the Afghan currency, pushing up import prices, and led to a near collapse of the banking system with citizens facing problems accessing their savings and receiving salaries.

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“Without access to its foreign reserves, the central bank of Afghanistan cannot carry out its normal, essential functions … the economy of Afghanistan has, predictably, collapsed,” the letter said.

Washington and other capitals say they want to find a way to release the funds for the benefit of the Afghan people while not benefiting the Taliban, whom they have condemned for imposing severe restrictions on women’s freedoms in the last year and allegedly carrying out human rights abuses including vendettas against former enemies.

The Taliban say they respect rights in accordance with their interpretation of Islamic law and that individual abuses would be investigated.

Despite their widely differing stances, both sides are engaged in detailed discussions over plans to possibly release the central bank assets, around $7 billion of which is held in the United States. Roughly half of that is currently set aside as it is the subject of a court battle related to the 9/11 attacks.

Key sticking points remain in the banking talks, in particular over US objections to the Taliban’s appointment of a deputy governor of the central bank who is subject to US sanctions.

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‘Iran will act decisively after biggest protests in years’

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DUBAI:

Iran must deal decisively with protests which have swept the country after the death in custody of a woman detained by the Islamic Republic’s morality police, President Ebrahim Raisi said on Saturday.

At least 41 people have been killed in the week-long unrest, state television said on Saturday. It said that toll was based on its own count and official figures were yet to be released. Protests have erupted in most of the country’s 31 provinces.

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State media quoted Raisi on Saturday as saying Iran must “deal decisively with those who oppose the country’s security and tranquillity”.

Raisi was speaking by telephone to the family of a member of the Basij volunteer force killed while taking part in the crackdown on unrest in the northeastern city of Mashhad.

The president “stressed the necessity to distinguish between protest and disturbing public order and security, and called the events … a riot,” state media reported.

The protests broke out in northwestern Iran a week ago at the funeral of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who died after falling into a coma following her detention in Tehran by morality police enforcing hijab rules on women’s dress.

Her death has reignited anger over issues including restrictions on personal freedoms in Iran, the strict dress codes for women, and an economy reeling from sanctions.

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Read more: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards issue warning as protests over woman’s death spread

Women have played a prominent role in the protests, waving and burning their veils. Some have publicly cut their hair as furious crowds called for the fall of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The protests are the largest to sweep the country since demonstrations over fuel prices in 2019, when Reuters reported 1,500 people were killed in a crackdown on protesters – the bloodiest confrontation in the Islamic Republic’s history.

On Friday, state-organised rallies took place in several Iranian cities to counter the anti-government protests, and the army promised to confront “the enemies” behind the unrest.

In neighbouring Iraq, dozens of Iraqi and Iranian Kurds rallied outside the United Nations compound in the northern city of Erbil on Saturday, carrying placards with Amini’s photograph and chanting “Death to the Dictator”, referring to Khamenei.

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State television in Iran, which has accused armed exiled Iranian Kurdish dissidents of involvement in the unrest, said Iranian Revolutionary Guards had fired artillery on bases of Kurdish opposition groups in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

‘Deadly response’

At least three times this week, mobile Internet has been disrupted in Iran, the NetBlocks watchdog has reported. Activists say the move is intended to prevent video footage of the violence reaching the world.

On Saturday NetBlocks said Microsoft’s (MSFT.O) Skype video calling app was now restricted, the latest such measure after platforms including Instagram, WhatsApp and LinkedIn were targeted.

In an effort to help sustain internet connection, the United States is making exceptions to its sanctions regime on Iran – a move which Tehran said on Saturday was in line with Washington’s hostile stance.

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Rights group Amnesty International said protesters face a “spiralling deadly response from security forces” and called for an independent United Nations investigation.

On the night of Sept. 21, shootings by security forces left at least 19 people dead, including three children, it said.

“The rising death toll is an alarming indication of just how ruthless the authorities’ assault on human life has been under the darkness of the internet shutdown,” Amnesty said.

State television showed footage purporting to show calm had returned to many parts of the capital Tehran late on Friday.

“But in some western and northern areas of Tehran and certain provinces rioters destroyed public property,” it said, carrying footage of protesters setting fire to garbage bins and a car, marching, and throwing rocks.

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The activist Twitter account 1500tasvir carried videos of protests near Tehran university on Saturday. Riot police were seen clashing with protesters and arresting some.

Videos posted on social media showed continued protests in Sanandaj, capital of Kurdistan province, late on Saturday, despite a heavy police presence. Reuters could not verify the videos.



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At least 26 killed in rain-related incidents in India

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NEW DELHI:

At least 26 people were killed in rain-related mishaps in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in the last 48 hours, officials said on Saturday.

According to state officials, the casualties occurred as a result of building collapse, lightning strikes, and drowning reported from different parts of Uttar Pradesh affected severely by torrential rains.

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“In the last 24-48 hours, 26 people have died in rain/lightning-related incidents across the state,” relief commissioner Prabhu N Singh said. “We have sent an alert to all district magistrates. The immediate rescue and relief operation is the top priority, and teams are hard at work on it.”

Read more: India’s monsoon to start its retreat in next two days

Rainfall also lashed other regions of northern India, including the national capital New Delhi, causing life to grind to a halt due to severe waterlogging and snarled-up traffic.

The authorities have ordered the closure of schools on Friday in the cities of Noida and Gurugram on the outskirts of the capital.

Mahesh Palawat, the chief meteorologist of Skymet Weather Services, told Anadolu Agency that the current rainfall is the final phase of monsoon rains across northern India.

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“The northern parts of India have been experiencing intermittent rainfall for the last three days, which has also resulted in waterlogging at some places,” he said, adding that the intensity of the rainfall will decrease on Sunday and the current weather trend will end on Monday.

 



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Indian nationals in Canada to exercise caution citing hate crimes

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NEW DELHI:

The Indian government on Friday advised its nationals in Canada to exercise caution citing “incidents of hate crimes, sectarian violence and anti-India activities in Canada.”

Police in Texas arrested a woman who they said shouted racial abuse at four Indian women in a viral video, telling them to “Go back to India,” in an incident happened earlier in August brought to the attention of federal authorities.

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“This incident is a hate crime in accordance with Texas laws,” police in Plano, Texas, where the incident occurred, said in a statement on Saturday.

“This incident may also be a hate crime based on federal law, and we are working closely with the FBI and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division on this case.”

In a video of the incident, which was shared on social media and got millions of views, the woman was seen shouting racist comments in a parking lot at a group of four women of Indian origin.



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