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Taliban Warn Turning Away from Afghan Peace Deal ‘Doomed to Failure’ 

The Taliban demanded Sunday that the United States and its foreign military allies leave Afghanistan by May 1, in line with a peace agreement the insurgent group signed with Washington a year ago, warning any attempt to change the path “is already doomed to failure.” 
  
In a statement released to journalists and on its website marking the first anniversary of the February 2020 accord sealed in Doha, Qatar, the Taliban claimed they have fully adhered to, and remain committed to, the understanding aimed at ending two decades of Afghan war. It called on Washington to honor its part of what the group described as a “historic” deal. FILE – In this Feb. 29, 2020, U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, left, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban group’s top political leader sign a peace agreement between Taliban and US officials in Doha, Qatar.  
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is currently reviewing the deal his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, sealed with the Afghan insurgency and deciding whether to pull the remaining 2,500 American soldiers from Afghanistan to close America’s longest war. NATO-led U.S. allies have fewer than 10,000 troops left in the country. 
  
The U.S. review process has stemmed from widespread allegations the Taliban have not lived up to their commitments, including those of cutting ties with al-Qaida and other terrorist groups that threaten the U.S. and the security of its allies. 
  
“The Doha agreement has created a practical framework for bringing peace and security to Afghanistan. If any other pathway is pursued as a replacement, then it is already doomed to failure,” the Taliban statement warned. 
  
It said that Washington has committed itself in the agreement that within 14 months of signing, all U.S.-led international forces and their nondiplomatic personnel, private contractors, advisers, trainers and service providers will withdraw from Afghanistan. 
  
“In line with this agreement, a large part of foreign forces specifically American forces have withdrawn from our country, while the rest must also withdraw within the specified date,” the statement stressed. 
  
The Taliban said Qatar and the United Nations Security Council, along with all other countries and international observers that attended the Doha signing ceremony, “have an obligation in the complete implementation of the agreement that must be fulfilled.” 
  
The insurgents, under the deal, agreed to stop attacking international forces in Afghanistan and to open direct peace talks with representatives of the U.S.-backed Afghan government to try to negotiate a political settlement to the country’s long conflict.  
Washington acknowledges the U.S. military has not suffered any casualties since signing the Doha agreement. Before then, the Afghan military mission had claimed the lives of more than 2,400 American soldiers and injured thousands of others. 
  
The Taliban rejected terror link charges and allegations they have intensified the conflict as propaganda by some Afghan and “foreign actors” who the group said are attempting to disrupt the peace process. 
  
Edmund Fitton-Brown, coordinator of the United Nations monitoring team for Islamic State, al-Qaida and the Taliban, told an online event at the Middle East Institute on Thursday that the Taliban have failed to cut ties with al-Qaida.   
  
“As yet, we have not seen any evidence,” he said.   
  
The so-called intra-Afghan negotiations started in September, six months later than scheduled in the U.S.-Taliban deal because of a rift between the Afghan government and the Taliban over the release of 5,000 insurgent prisoners.  FILE – Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, bottom right, speaks at the opening session of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, Sept. 12, 2020.Kabul was unhappy with the Doha accord because it was kept out of it. 
  
Meanwhile, the United Nations has reported the Afghan violence has also intensified since the start of the talks, with civilians bearing the brunt of it. 
 
More than 3,000 civilians were killed and 5,800 were injured in Afghanistan in 2020, the U.N office in Kabul said last week. The annual report said civilian casualties rose 45% after the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations. 
  
Afghan leaders allege the Trump administration’s decision to leave Kabul out of the February 2020 agreement has only emboldened the Taliban to intensify military assaults and drag their feet in the peace talks.  
  
The insurgents dismiss Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government as an illegitimate entity they say stemmed from the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. 
  
Ghani’s special envoy for neighboring Pakistan, Mohammed Umer Daudzai, said Biden’s review of Afghan peace deal with the Taliban has ended the “unpredictability” that was plaguing the process from the outset about whether the arrangement will promote peace in Afghanistan.  
  
“Now with the Biden administration, we see an increase in predictability,” Daudzai told VOA in an interview.  
  
The Afghan presidential envoy said his government has left it entirely for Washington to decide whether they withdraw or leave some troops in Afghanistan while reviewing the document. 
  
“We don’t seek that Americans should get back into the war, should get involved in the war. What we are seeking from them is that the process of state building that they together with us started 19 years ago they continue with that,” said Daudzai. The Taliban say their deal with the U.S. required the release of another 7,500 insurgent prisoners from Afghan jails and the removal of names of top Taliban leaders from a U.N. sanctions list by now, but those terms have not been fulfilled by the opposing side. The insurgents also dismiss Kabul’s demand for a ceasefire, saying they have reduced battlefield attacks as part of the deal with Washington, but a complete cessation of hostilities, they insist, is linked to a political agreement the warring parties intend to reach in the ongoing intra-Afghan negotiations.  

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Туреччина викликала посла Ірану через суперечку щодо Іраку

Іран і Туреччина є політичними суперниками в деяких частинах Близького Сходу і Центральної Азії

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Фанати білоруських клубів оголосили бойкот матчів через політичну ситуацію

Фанати заявили, що не будуть відвідувати ні домашні, ні гостьові матчі своїх команд «до повної перемоги народу»

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Прем’єру Угорщини зробили щеплення китайською вакциною від COVID-19

Угорщина цього тижня стала першою країною Європейського союзу, яка почала вакцинацію китайським препаратом – незважаючи на те, що він наразі не був схвалений на рівні Євросоюзу

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‘Not a Good Idea:’ Experts Concerned about Pope Trip to Iraq 

Infectious disease experts are expressing concern about Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to Iraq, given a sharp rise in coronavirus infections there, a fragile health care system and the unavoidable likelihood that Iraqis will crowd to see him.No one wants to tell Francis to call it off, and the Iraqi government has every interest in showing off its relative stability by welcoming the first pope to the birthplace of Abraham. The March 5-8 trip is expected to provide a sorely-needed spiritual boost to Iraq’s beleaguered Christians while furthering the Vatican’s bridge-building efforts with the Muslim world.But from a purely epidemiological standpoint, as well as the public health message it sends, a papal trip to Iraq amid a global pandemic is not advisable, health experts say.Their concerns were reinforced with the news Sunday that the Vatican ambassador to Iraq, the main point person for the trip who would have escorted Francis to all his appointments, tested positive for COVID-19 and was self-isolating.In an email to The Associated Press, the embassy said Archbishop Mitja Leskovar’s symptoms were mild and that he was continuing to prepare for Francis’ visit.Beyond his case, experts note that wars, economic crises and an exodus of Iraqi professionals have devastated the country’s hospital system, while studies show most of Iraq’s new COVID-19 infections are the highly-contagious variant first identified in Britain.“I just don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Dr. Navid Madani, virologist and founding director of the Center for Science Health Education in the Middle East and North Africa at Harvard Medical School’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.The Iranian-born Madani co-authored an article in The Lancet last year on the region’s uneven response to COVID-19, noting that Iraq, Syria and Yemen were poorly placed to cope, given they are still struggling with extremist insurgencies and have 40 million people who need humanitarian aid.Christians volunteers decorate streets with the pictures of Pope Francis, ahead of his planned visit to to Iraq, in Qaraqosh, Iraq, Feb. 22, 2021.In a telephone interview, Madani said Middle Easterners are known for their hospitality, and cautioned that the enthusiasm among Iraqis of welcoming a peace-maker like Francis to a neglected, war-torn part of the world might lead to inadvertent violations of virus control measures.“This could potentially lead to unsafe or superspreading risks,” she said.Dr. Bharat Pankhania, an infectious disease control expert at the University of Exeter College of Medicine, concurred.“It’s a perfect storm for generating lots of cases which you won’t be able to deal with,” he said.Organizers promise to enforce mask mandates, social distancing and crowd limits, as well as the possibility of increased testing sites, two Iraqi government officials said.The health care protocols are “critical but can be managed,” one government official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity.And the Vatican has taken its own precautions, with the 84-year-old pope, his 20-member Vatican entourage and the 70-plus journalists on the papal plane all vaccinated.But the Iraqis gathering in the north, center and south of the country to attend Francis’ indoor and outdoor Masses, hear his speeches and participate in his prayer meetings are not vaccinated.And that, scientists say, is the problem.“We are in the middle of a global pandemic. And it is important to get the correct messages out,” Pankhania said. “The correct messages are: the less interactions with fellow human beings, the better.”He questioned the optics of the Vatican delegation being inoculated while the Iraqis are not, and noted that Iraqis would only take such risks to go to those events because the pope was there.In words addressed to Vatican officials and the media, he said: “You are all protected from severe disease. So if you get infected, you’re not going to die. But the people coming to see you may get infected and may die.”“Is it wise under that circumstance for you to just turn up? And because you turn up, people turn up to see you and they get infected?” he asked.The World Health Organization was diplomatic when asked about the wisdom of a papal trip to Iraq, saying countries should evaluate the risk of an event against the infection situation, and then decide if it should be postponed. “It’s all about managing that risk,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19. “It’s about looking at the epidemiologic situation in the country and then making sure that if that event is to take place, that it can take place as safely as possible.”Francis has said he intends to go even if most Iraqis have to watch him on television to avoid infection. The important thing, he told Catholic News Service, is “they will see that the pope is there in their country.”Francis has frequently called for an equitable distribution of vaccines and respect for government health measures, though he tends to not wear face masks. Francis for months has eschewed even socially distanced public audiences at the Vatican to limit the chance of contagion.Dr. Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Medicine, said the number of new daily cases in Iraq is “increasing significantly at the moment” with the Health Ministry reporting around 4,000 a day, close to the height of its first wave in September.Head said for any trip to Iraq, there must be infection control practices in force, including mask-wearing, hand-washing, social distancing and good ventilation in indoor spaces.“Hopefully we will see proactive approaches to infection control in place during the pope’s visit to Baghdad,” he said.The Iraqi government imposed a modified lockdown and curfew in mid-February amid a new surge in cases, closing schools and mosques and leaving restaurants and cafes only open for takeout. But the government decided against a full shutdown because of the difficulty of enforcing it and the financial impact on Iraq’s battered economy, the Iraqi officials told AP.Many Iraqis remain lax in using masks and some doubt the severity of the virus.Madani, the Harvard virologist, urged trip organizers to let science and data guide their decision-making.A decision to reschedule or postpone the papal trip, or move it to a virtual format, would “be quite impactful from a global leadership standpoint” because “it would signal prioritizing the safety of Iraq’s public,” she said. 

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At Bicoastal Globes on Sunday, ‘Borat’ Could Triumph

When drained of glamour, what’s left of the Golden Globes?That’s one of the biggest questions heading into the 78th annual awards on Sunday night. The show, postponed two months from its usual early-January perch, will have little of what makes the Globes one of the frothiest and glitziest events of the year. Due to the pandemic, there will be no parade of stars down the red carpet outside the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California. Its hosts, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, will be on different sides of the country.More than any award show, the Globes revel in being an intimate banquet of stars. When the show begins at 8 p.m. EST on NBC, with Poehler in Beverly Hills and Fey in New York’s Rainbow Room, the circumstances will test the Globes telecast like never before.Presenters will include Awkwafina, Joaquin Phoenix, Kristen Wiig, Tiffany Haddish, Margot Robbie and Angela Bassett. At least some of them will be present at one of the two locations. Pre-show coverage is still going forward on E! beginning at 4 p.m. EST and on NBC beginning at 7 p.m. EST. The telecast will be streamed on NBC’s website with a television-provider log-in, as well as on the Roku Channel, Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV, AT&T TV, Sling TV and Fubo TV.Lack of diversityBut pandemic improvising is only part of the damage control the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which puts on the Globes, finds itself dealing with this year. A pair of extensive reports by the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times in the week leading up to the awards renewed scrutiny on the press association and its 87 voting members.While the HFPA has long been known as an organization with members of questionable qualification — most of its members don’t write for well-known publications — and are known for being swayed by high-priced junkets, the reports again forced the HFPA to defend itself.Among the most damning details was the revelation that there are no Black voting members in the group, something that only reinforced criticism that the press association — which host Ricky Gervais last year called “very, very racist” in his opening monologue — needs overhauling. This year, none of the most acclaimed Black-led films — Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, One Night in Miami, Judas and the Black Messiah, Da 5 Bloods — were nominated for the Globes’ best picture award.In a statement, the HFPA said it would make “an action plan” to change. “We understand that we need to bring in Black members, as well as members from other underrepresented backgrounds,” the group said.For some, none of the revelations were surprising. Ava DuVernay tweeted in response to the Los Angeles Times article: “Reveals? As in, people are acting like this isn’t already widely known? For YEARS?”Two-time nominee Sterling K. Brown, who’s presenting Sunday, said in an Instagram post that “having a multitude of Black presenters does not absolve you of your lack of diversity.”“87 people wield a tremendous amount of power,” said Brown. “For any governing body of a current Hollywood award show to have such a lack of voting representation illustrates a level of irresponsibility that should not be ignored.”42 nominations for NetflixYet the Globes have persisted because of their popularity (the show ranks as the third most-watched award show, after the Oscars and Grammys), their profitability (NBC paid $60 million for broadcast rights in 2018) and because they serve as important marketing material for contending films and Oscar hopefuls. That may be especially true this year when the pandemic has upset the normal rhythms of buzz in a virtual awards season lacking the usual frenzy.The Globes are happening on the original date of the Academy Awards, which are instead to be held April 25.Netflix comes in with a commanding 42 nominations, including a leading six nods for David Fincher’s Mank and The Crown also topping TV nominees with six nods. Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, also from Netflix, is also a heavyweight with five nominations.Chloe Zhao, the Nomadland filmmaker and Oscar frontrunner, is expected to become the first woman of Asian descent to win best director at the Globes and the first woman since Barbra Streisand won for Yentl in 1984.Chadwick Boseman, nominated for best actor for his performance in the August Wilson adaptation Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, could win a posthumous Golden Globe. Boseman is widely expected to be nominated for an Oscar.And Borat Subsequent Moviefilm stands a good chance of being crowned best picture, comedy or musical. With many of the leading nominees in the drama category — among them Mank, Nomadland, The Father, Promising Young Woman and The Trial of the Chicago 7 — Sacha Baron Cohen’s sequel could emerge a big winner. Cohen, who won a Globe for his performance in the first Borat film, is nominated for Borat and for his role in The Trial of the Chicago 7.Jane Fonda, a seven-time Globe winner, will receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement. Norman Lear will be honored for his television career and accept an award named after Carol Burnett.

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У США схвалили вакцину Johnson & Johnson

Американський регулятор заявив, що вакцина безпечна, викликає лише незначні побічні ефекти і забезпечує надійний захист від вірусу

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Візит Борреля до Москви був і приниженням, і успіхом – голова МЗС Литви

«Без цього візиту, думаю, зараз не було б рішення про санкції», – сказав Габріелюс Ландсбергіс