Afghan earthquake kills more than 1,000 | Daily News

Afghan earthquake kills more than 1,000

Afghan children look at the destruction caused by the Wednesday’s earthquake in Khost Province.
Afghan children look at the destruction caused by the Wednesday’s earthquake in Khost Province.

A massive earthquake struck a rural, mountainous region of Eastern Afghanistan early on Wednesday, killing more than 1,000 people and injuring 1,500 more. Officials warned that the already grim toll would likely rise as rescuers dig through collapsed dwellings.

The 5.9 magnitude quake struck hardest in the rugged terrain of the East, where people already live hardscrabble lives in a country in the grip of a humanitarian disaster, made worse by the Taliban takeover in August last year.

Information remained scarce but quakes of that strength can cause severe damage in an area where homes and other buildings are poorly constructed and landslides are common. Experts put the depth at just 10 km (6 miles) – another factor that could increase the impact.

The death toll given by Afghanistan's Bakhtar News Agency was equal to that of a quake in 2002 in Northern Afghanistan that struck immediately after the US-led invasion overthrew the Taliban's earlier government.

Footage from Paktika Province near the Pakistan border showed men carrying people in blankets to waiting helicopters. Others were treated on the ground. Some images showed residents picking through clay bricks and other rubble from destroyed stone houses, some of whose roofs or walls had caved in.

The quake struck about 44 km from the City of Khost, near the Pakistani border, at a depth of 51 km, the US Geological Survey said. The European Mediterranean Seismological Centre said the shaking was felt by about 119 million people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.

In Kabul, Afghan Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund convened an emergency meeting at the presidential palace to coordinate the relief effort, and Bilal Karimi, a deputy spokesman for the Taliban Government, wrote on Twitter to urge aid agencies to send teams to the area.

The “response is on its way”, the UN resident coordinator in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, wrote on Twitter.

The disaster comes as Afghanistan has been enduring a severe economic crisis since the Taliban took over in August as US-led international forces withdrew after two decades of war. In response to the Taliban takeover, many governments have imposed sanctions on Afghanistan's banking sector and cut billions of dollars worth of development aid.

A major earthquake in 2015 that struck the country’s Northeast killed over 200 people in Afghanistan and neighbouring Northern Pakistan. A 6.1 magnitude quake in 2002 killed about 1,000 people in Northern Afghanistan. And in 1998, a 6.1 magnitude quake and subsequent tremors in Northeast Afghanistan Northeast killed at least 4,500 people.

Rescue efforts are likely to be complicated since many international aid agencies left Afghanistan after the Taliban took control last year, and the chaotic withdrawal of the US military from the longest war in its history.

The death toll, given by Afghan emergency official Mawlawi Sharafuddin Muslim, made it the deadliest quake since 2002, when a 6.1-magnitude tremor killed about 1,000 people in Northern Afghanistan, immediately after the US-led invasion overthrew the Taliban Government after the 9/11 attacks.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Shehbaz Sharif, offered his condolences over the earthquake in a statement, saying his nation would provide help to the Afghan people. At the Vatican, Pope Francis offered prayers for all those killed and injured and for the “suffering of the dear Afghan population”.

The disaster comes as Afghanistan grapples with a severe economic crisis that has gripped it since the Taliban takeover.

In response to the new regime, many nations imposed sanctions on Afghanistan’s banking sector and cut billions of dollars worth of development aid. Humanitarian aid has continued, however, with international agencies, such as the UN, still operating.

Ukraine: Donbas under threat

The Battle for the Donbas region is reportedly reaching a ‘fearsome climax’ according to Ukrainian and Western analysts of the current fighting in the East of Ukraine, where the Russians are continuing to advance.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Moscow’s massive air and artillery attacks were aimed at destroying the entire Donbas region, and urged Ukraine’s allies to accelerate the shipment of heavy weapons to match Russia on the battlefield.

The fight for the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in Ukraine’s Luhansk region is “entering a sort of fearsome climax”, said Oleksy Arestovych, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Russia is seeking to capture both Luhansk and Donetsk, which make up the Donbas region – the nation’s industrial heartland.

“We must free our land and achieve victory, but more quickly, a lot more quickly,” Zelensky said in a video address released early Thursday, reiterating Ukrainian demands for larger and faster weapons.

“There were massive air and artillery strikes in Donbas. The occupier’s goal here is unchanged, they want to destroy the entire Donbas step-by-step,” he said.

“This is why we again and again emphasize the acceleration of arms deliveries to Ukraine. What is quickly needed is parity on the battlefield in order to halt this diabolical armada and push it beyond Ukraine’s borders.”

On the diplomatic front, European leaders on Thursday are expected to formally set Ukraine on the long road to EU membership at a summit in Brussels. Though mainly symbolic, the move may help lift Ukrainians’ morale after four months of bloody conflict that has killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed cities.

Russian fuel

Russia is increasing gasoline and naphtha supplies to Africa and the Middle East as Europe is turning down Russian supplies, while Asia is already taking bigger volumes of Russian crude. The development is likely to increase competition for Asian customers between Russia and other big fuel exporters – Saudi Arabia and the United States – which are the top three suppliers to Asia.

The European Union has slowly reduced imports of Russian crude and fuel since March and agreed a full embargo that will take effect by the end of the year.

Asian buyers have stepped in to rapidly increase purchases of Russian crude, even though Asia is not a natural market for Russian fuel because Asia refines more oil than it needs and is a net fuel exporter.

That makes finding new outlets such as Africa and the Middle East paramount for Russia to protect its global market share and avert a deeper decline in oil exports and output.

“Africa and the Middle East seem to be main options for Russian oil product suppliers, so we expect more shipments there in the second half of the year as the EU embargo gets closer,” a trader involved in Russian oil product trading told Reuters.

UK’s largest Rail Strike

Tens of thousands of workers walked out in the UK's biggest rail strike in 30 years this week, with passengers facing further chaos as both the unions and government vowed to stick to their guns in a row over pay.

Some of more than 40,000 rail staff who are due to strike on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday gathered at picket lines from dawn, causing major disruption across the network and leaving major stations deserted. The London Underground metro was also mostly closed due to a separate strike.

Train passengers were facing widespread disruption and cancellations as Britain’s biggest nationwide rail strike for 30 years began on Tuesday morning. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, under pressure to do more to help Britons facing the toughest economic hit in decades, said the strike would harm businesses still recovering from COVID.

Unions have said the rail strikes could mark the start of a “summer of discontent” with teachers, medics, waste disposal workers and even barristers heading for industrial action as inflation pushes 10%.

“The British worker needs a pay rise,” Mick Lynch, Secretary-General of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers told Sky News. “They need job security and decent conditions.”

Johnson told his Cabinet the strikes were “wrong and unnecessary” and said his message to the country was that they needed to be ready to “stay the course” as improvements to the way railways are run was in the public's interest.

Inflation has soared across Europe on the back of a major rise in energy costs and Britain is not alone in facing strikes. Action over the Cost of Living in Belgium caused disruption at Brussels Airport on Monday, while Germany's most powerful union is pushing for large wage increases and in French President Emmanuel Macron is facing unrest over pension reforms. Britain's economy initially rebounded strongly from the COVID-19 pandemic, but a combination of labour shortages, supply chain disruption, inflation and post-Brexit trade problems has prompted warnings of a recession.

Only about 4,500 of the usual 20,000 daily services were expected to run due to the walkout by 40,000 RMT union members at Network Rail – the organisation that maintains the system – and 13 train operators.

London Underground workers will also strike for 24 hours on Tuesday, bringing the capital’s transport system to a halt.

The RMT General Secretary, Mick Lynch, said the rail dispute could not be resolved without the government “removing the shackles” on Network Rail and train operating companies. All parts of the rail industry, as well as Transport for London, have been told to find savings with fare revenue falling away since Covid.

He warned the dispute could continue for months, adding: “It is clear that the Tory Government, after slashing £4bn of funding from National Rail and Transport for London, has now actively prevented a settlement to this dispute.

Strikes in the UK may go on for some time – and as the Cost of Living bites more widely, and will spread across the public sector. The RMT has suggested that strikes on the railways could continue until Christmas. Train drivers represented by Aslef are also expected to strike soon – and teachers and NHS workers could take industrial action too. On Monday, criminal barristers voted to go on strike over legal aid funding, which could see them walk out from next week.

France: Macron loses Assembly

French President Emmanuel Macron lost his majority in the National Assembly in the recent elections. His failure to retain a Parliamentary majority has brought a major threat to his reform plans, announced when he campaigned for the second term of the presidency, which he won very well.

Macron's centrist alliance finished Sunday's Parliamentary Elections 44 seats short of a majority in the National Assembly, as a new left-wing coalition and the far-right made major gains.

On Tuesday, Macron hosted rare talks at the Elysee Palace with Opposition leaders, including the head of the far-right National Rally (RN) Marine Le Pen, to find a way out of the crisis.

He will meet other leaders too, though the head of the left-wing NUPES alliance, hard-leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon is sending MP Adrien Quatennens, 32, to represent him in a clear snub to the president.

President Macron addressing the nation for the first time since his centrist coalition lost control of Parliament said: “We must learn to govern and legislate differently.” He said the Opposition was ready to work with him on “major” issues and promised measures on inflation, Climate Change and unemployment sometime this summer.

He called on legislative groups to be clear in indicating “how far they are ready to go”.

Macron acknowledged that the Parliamentary Elections had highlighted social problems in France, but he called on the Opposition parties to “leave in-fighting behind” and to move “beyond politics”. The current political impasse should not lead to “stagnation” but to renewed dialogue and a new “willingness to listen to each other”.

Analysts have said the most viable solution would be a deal between Macron's centrist alliance and the right-wing Republicans (LR), a party on the decline but which still won 61 seats. But after talks with Macron on Tuesday, LR leader Christian Jacob ruled out any kind of “pact” with Macron's Together alliance.

Former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, whose Horizons Party is part of Macron's alliance, told BFM television late Tuesday that a “grand coalition” should now be formed. “We need to hear what the voters have said and take them seriously,” he said.

Communist Party Chief Fabien Roussel, who is part of the NUPES alliance and held talks with Macron on Tuesday, said after the meeting that the president had evoked a “government of national unity” as a way out.

Speaking as she introduced new MPs at Parliament on Wednesday, Le Pen said the president had floated the same idea with her.

Olivier Veran, the minister in charge of relations with Parliament, ruled out working with Le Pen's RN or the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) of Mélenchon to find a majority. This could be achieved, he said, either through an alliance or on a “bill by bill” basis, the government finding a majority with the help of the right or left, depending on the legislation.

Macron believes the government needs to “stay on task and act” and the president will now seek “constructive solutions” to the political deadlock in talks with Opposition parties, said a presidential official, who asked not to be named.

Mélenchon and Le Pen made big gains in the Parliamentary Poll, leaving them as major players in the new Parliament.

The left-leaning Liberation daily called the results a “slap in the face” for Macron, while the conservative Figaro said he was now “faced with an ungovernable France”.

Macron’s Together alliance won 244 seats, well short of the 289 needed for an overall majority, in a low-turnout vote that resulted in an abstention rate of 53.77 percent

The election saw Melenchon-led NUPES become the main opposition force along with its allies on 137 seats, according to interior ministry figures.

But it appears unlikely the coalition of Socialists, Communists, Greens and the hard-left La France Insoumise (“France Unbowed”) will be able to retain common cause in the legislature.

Mélenchon, the France Unbowed chief who orchestrated the alliance, called its results “fairly disappointing” and proposed Monday to make NUPES a permanent left-wing bloc.

He said it would not be a full-on merger, but simply an effective “alternative” force in Parliament, though the offer was immediately rejected by the three other NUPES parties.

Meanwhile the far right under Le Pen posted the best legislative performance in its history, becoming the strongest single Opposition party with 89 seats, up from eight in the outgoing chamber. A confident Le Pen said her party would demand to chair the National Assembly’s powerful finance commission, as is traditional for the biggest Opposition party.

“The country is not ungovernable, but it’s not going to be governed the way Emmanuel Macron wanted,” Le Pen told reporters Monday.

Macron also faces a new Cabinet shake-up after several of his top allies lost their seats.

Macron had hoped to mark his second term with an ambitious programme of tax cuts, welfare reform and raising the retirement age. All that is now in question.

Colombia - President

Colombia has elected a former guerrilla fighter Gustavo Petro as President, making him the South American country’s first Leftist Head of State.

Petro beat Rodolfo Hernández, a gaffe-prone former mayor of Bucaramanga and business mogul, with 50.47% of the vote in a runoff election on Sunday, and will take office in July amid a host of challenges, not least of which is the deepening discontent over inequality and rising Cost of Living. Petro’s election marks a tidal shift for Colombia, a country that has never before had a leftist president, and follows similar victories for the left in Peru, Chile and Honduras.

In his victory speech Petro said: “From this government that is beginning there will never be political persecution or legal prosecution, there will only be respect and dialogue,” he will listen to not only those who have raised arms but also to “that silent majority of people, women and youth.

US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, congratulated “the people of Colombia for making their voices heard in a free and fair Presidential Election”.

“We look forward to working with President-elect Petro to further strengthen the US-Colombia relationship and move our nations toward a better future,” he said in a statement.

Mexican President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, called the former guerrillas win “historic”. “The conservatives of Colombia have always been tenacious and tough,” López Obrador tweeted.

Petro’s journey from a fighter in the M-19 guerrilla army in the 80s to president also saw him become a senator and the mayor of the capital, Bogotá. He has a reputation for meandering speeches and high-handedness.

When Colombians elected their first leftist president ever on Sunday, they also elected the country’s first Black Vice President: Francia Marquez, a single mother who worked as a maid before challenging international mining interests as a fiery environmentalist. Her victory marks a turning point in a country plagued by social inequalities and historically governed by conservative elites.

“It's time to move from resistance to power,” the 40-year-old candidate would chant, raising her fist – with a smile. With Marquez as his running mate, Petro has signaled not just a political break, but also a social one in a country that has historically denied the existence of racism.

What’s more, Marquez – with her brightly printed fabrics and the assertion of her Afro-Colombian roots – has also thrust the Europeanised elitism of Colombia under the spotlight, opening a discussion on racism in a country that overwhelmingly identifies as racially mixed, or Mestizo, sweeping racism under the table.

Add new comment