Expectations surge ahead of US-Taliban talks

Expectations surge ahead of US-Taliban talks

US and the Taliban are to meet in Qatar for fresh talks on Monday seeking an end to 17 years of grinding conflict in Afghanistan.

Kabul, February 24

The US and the Taliban are to meet in Qatar for fresh talks on Monday seeking an end to 17 years of grinding conflict in Afghanistan, with the stakes ratcheting higher as the spring fighting season approaches.

Marathon talks held in Doha last month have stoked hopes of a breakthrough after the two sides walked away with a “draft framework” that included a Taliban commitment to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for international terror groups. It was the most substantial engagement by Washington with the militants since US forces ousted them from power in 2001. But there is still no accord on a timetable for a US withdrawal or a ceasefire — both major issues on which previous efforts have foundered.This time Washington’s special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has spearheaded the months-long effort, is expected to face an expanded Taliban negotiating team headed by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban’s former deputy minister of foreign affairs.

Neither side has stated how long they expect the meetings to last or the details of what will be discussed.Analysts say this round will likely see the Taliban push for the removal of its leaders from a UN travel blacklist, matched with pressure from the US for the militants to open a dialogue with the Afghan government.

“Both sides are going into this process with open minds and a sense of urgency as the weather gets warmer and fighting season draws closer,” Graeme Smith, a consultant based with International Crisis Group, said. The Taliban have steadfastly refused to negotiate with Kabul, whom they dismiss as “puppets”. They have also stated that, without a withdrawal timetable, further progress is “impossible”. — AFP

Fear and hopes

  • Marathon talks held in Doha last month have stoked hopes of a breakthrough after the two sides walked away with a “draft framework” that included a Taliban commitment to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for international terror groups
  • It was the most substantial engagement by Washington with the militants since US forces ousted them from power in 2001
  • But there is still no accord on a timetable for a US withdrawal or a ceasefire — both major issues on which previous efforts have foundered
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Brexit: May increasingly likely to accept article 50 extension, minister suggests – Politics live

Brexit: May increasingly likely to accept article 50 extension, minister suggests - Politics live

Theresa May at the EU-Arab summit in Sharm El Sheikh Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Neil Henderson (@hendopolis)

TELEGRAPH: May draws up plans to delay Brexit by 2 months #tomorrowspaperstodaypic.twitter.com/DUN7vjh4CoFebruary 24, 2019
Paul Waugh (@paulwaugh)

Does @Tobias_Ellwood know something we don’t? “The Prime Minister is listening…” Asked if she’s looking at Brexit delay: “You need to wait until she gets back’. When pressed further: “That I don’t know. I’m making the case”February 25, 2019
Kevin Schofield (@PolhomeEditor)

Defence minister Tobias Ellwood drops a very heavy hint that Theresa May will announce an extension to Article 50 to head off ministerial resignations: “You need to hear what she has to say when she gets back (from Sharm El Sheikh).” #r4todayFebruary 25, 2019

Oscars 2019: the red carpet, the ceremony and the winners – live!

Protesters Mark Nemtsov Assassination Amid Heavy Police Presence

Thousands gathered in central Moscow on Sunday to mark the fourth anniversary of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov’s murder.

Although the events were approved by Moscow authorities, police limited access to the northern edge of the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky bridge just outside the Kremlin, where for years a makeshift memorial comprising of plaques, photos, flowers and candles has marked the spot of the 55-year-old’s assassination by gunshot.

It was on the evening of February 27, 2015, when Nemtsov was walking across the bridge when a car stopped alongside him. A gunman emerged from the vehicle and fired multiple shots from a range of several feet, striking Nemtsov in the head, heart, liver and stomach, killing him instantly.

The attack come just hours after the activist had publicly called for a rally to protest Russia’s war in Ukraine. In the days leading up to his assassination, he had said he was preparing to release a damning report entitled “Putin. War” that would undercut Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial that the Kremlin had troops on the ground in eastern Ukraine.

In the center of Moscow, as in other cities across Russia, thousands took to the streets with placards in Russian and English with statements such as “Killed for freedom,” “Are you going to kill us too?” and “Putin is a liar.” Although five men were convicted of Nemtsov’s killing, supporters say those who commissioned the hit have evaded justice.

According to Evan Gershkovich of The Moscow Times, many placards visible at the rally touched on a litany of grievances frequently invoked by the Russia’s anti-Kremlin community — from a 2018 movie theater blaze that killed scores of Siberian children to arrests over political commentary on social media threads.

“For many demonstrators, the rally … was ultimately less about [Nemtsov’s] death as much as it was about keeping his spirit of opposition alive,” he wrote.

“This is a march in opposition to Vladimir Putin,” one of the event’s organizers, politician Ilya Yashin, said in a video prior to the march. “This is a march for a free and democratic Russia.”

According to the “White counter,” an independent activists group that specializes in assessing rally turnout, the Moscow event drew and estimated 10,600 people

Moscow police reported about 6,000 participants.

The march route, which was coordinated with city officials, didn’t include a stop at Nemtsov’s memorial, but participants planned on walking there to deposit flowers after the rally concluded. They were met by steel slat barriers and police officers, some donning riot gear, who said access to the bridge was restricted.

Attempting to approach the bridge from Red Square, one VOA reporter was told access to the bridge was closed. When asked why the bridge was blocked, the officer gestured to step back. “Be on your way,” he said, point away from the bridge.

Riot control vehicles were visible in an area alongside the bridge.

“For some reason, they decided to make access to the bridge as difficult as possible,” said one protester named Vladimir, who has attended a number of annual Nemtsov memorial rallies. “Maybe they did it hoping that people won’t reach the place. But who wants to come will come. The state, apparently, has decided people will suffer before coming and pay their respect to Boris Nemtsov.”

“At first, we tried to reach the bridge from one entrance. It was closed. Then we tried to go through another one,” added Vladimir, who withheld his last name. “It’s not the first year they are doing this. It’s been expected, there’s nothing new.”

Andrew, who hadn’t planned on attempting to reach the site of the memorial in order to lay flowers there, made a last-minute effort — and with success.

“[Police] a little bit fenced the place around, and I asked, ‘can I pass?’, and they said ‘yes, you can.’ And then the next behind me tried to pass through, too, but they said, “the passageway is closed.’

“It’s somehow a bit incomprehensible,” Andrew added. “A week ago, I was here, and I could pass. They don’t want people to come here. They’re ruining the memorial here every time flowers are laid. They are afraid.”

Later in the afternoon, police opened one point of access to the memorial — this time from Red Square, where marchers could walk through a gangway cordoned by crowd-control fencing with officers regulating pedestrian access in a seemingly arbitrary way.

Several prominent opposition politicians, including Alexei Navalny, attended the march.

Reports on Ekho Moskvy radio said similar rallies were being held in at least 20 Russian cities. In St. Petersburg, radio reports said, municipal officials denied permits for several memorial events.

Credit : Voice of America (VOA)

Brexit vote put off to March 12

Brexit vote put off to March 12

Theresa May, Prime Minister

London, February 24

Prime Minister Theresa May sparked outrage on Sunday by suggesting parliament may not be able to vote on her Brexit deal until March 12, just days before Britain leaves the EU.

The decision increases the chances that MPs will move next week to delay Brexit beyond March 29, to avoid a potentially disastrous situation where Britain exits with no agreement at all.May had held out the possibility of a vote this week, but said on Sunday she was still discussing with the EU possible amendments to the deal’s arrangements for the Irish border.

“As we’re continuing with those talks, we won’t bring a meaningful vote to parliament this week,” she told reporters as she arrived at a summit of European and Arab leaders in Egypt.“But that will happen by March 12. And we still have it within our grasp to leave the European Union with a deal on March 29,” she added.

Since MPs rejected her withdrawal deal last month, May has sought to address their concerns about the text’s “backstop” arrangement, which is designed to keep the border with Ireland free flowing.

She is meeting with European Council chief Donald Tusk and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the two-day summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, and her team will also return to Brussels on Tuesday.

But opposition politicians and pro-European MPs in London reacted with fury at what they believe is a deliberate strategy of delay. Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said her move not to hold a vote this week was “the height of irresponsibility and an admission of failure”. “May is recklessly running down the clock in a desperate attempt to force MPs to choose between her deal and no deal,” he said. — AFP

US Looking for New Ways to Get Aid into Venezuela

US Looking for New Ways to Get Aid into Venezuela

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the U.S. is looking for ways to get humanitarian assistance into Venezuela, after troops loyal to President Nicolas Maduro repelled aid trucks in clashes at the borders with Brazil and Colombia.

The top U.S. diplomat, in an interview Sunday on CNN, did not suggest how the U.S. might carry out the aid mission in the face of armed opposition.

He said, however, that the United States would consider imposing more sanctions against the Venezuelan government to increase pressure on Maduro to quit in favor of the country’s interim president, Juan Guaido, the president of the National Assembly. Guaido is considered by the U.S. and dozens of other countries as the legitimate leader in Caracas.

Pompeo called Maduro a tyrant, saying, “I’m confident that the Venezuelan people will ensure that Maduro’s days are numbered.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is meeting Monday with Guaido and other regional leaders in Bogota, the Colombian capital, to discuss a strategy against Maduro and how to get aid into Venezuela, where supplies of food and medicine have run low.

Maduro has blocked the aid effort spearheaded by the U.S., saying it is a pretext for an armed U.S. invasion.

On Saturday, Maduro supporters fired bullets at those attempting to get aid trucks into Venezuela, while Venezuelan border troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets.

Foro Penal [Criminal Forum], a group that tracks violence in Venezuela, reported four deaths at the Brazilian border with Venezuela on Saturday. It said the victims were shot by pro-government militia members.

At one border point, aid trucks caught fire, leading the crowd to rush to save the boxes of food and medical supplies.

A U.S. State Department official traveling with the Brazilianaid convoy told VOA that the trucks crossed the borderintoVenezuela, but were not allowed through the military checkpoint there, and did notunload their cargo.

The European Union, also supporting Guaido, condemned Maduro’s actions to repel the trucks with the humanitarian aid. “We repudiate the use of irregular armed groups to intimidate civilians and lawmakers who have mobilized to distribute assistance,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on behalf of the 28-member bloc of countries.

Sunday, Pompeo deplored the fact that the Venezuelan military, despite a small number of defections to the opposition, has mostly remained loyal to Maduro.

“We hope the military will take that role back in protecting their citizens from these tragedies. If that happens, I think good things will happen,” he said.

“We’re aimed at a singular mission — ensuring the Venezuelan people get the democracy they so richly deserve and the Cubans and the Russians who have been driving this country into the ground for years and years and years no longer hold sway,” he said.

Colombian officials say more than 60 Venezuelan soldiers defected Saturday. Venezuelan Army Major Hugo Parra announced his defection, telling VOA Noticias he recognizes Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela.

Guaido tweeted his praise of the soldiers’ actions. “They aren’t deserters,” he said. “They’ve decided to put themselves on the side of the people and the constitution.”

Maduro announced in a speech to his supporters Saturday that he is cutting off diplomatic ties with Colombia. Colombia President Ivan Duque has been making public appearances with Guaido as they work to transport aid across Venezuelan borders.

Duque said Colombian ambassadors and consuls have 24 hours to leave Venezuela.

Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holms Trujillo released a statement in response, saying, “Colombia holds the usurper Maduro responsible for any aggression or violation of the rights of Colombian officials in Venezuela.”

Maduro also said he would defend Venezuela’s independence with his life. He called Guaido a puppet of the White House.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted his support for Guaido.

“The people of Venezuela stand at the threshold of history, ready to reclaim their country and their future. God Bless the people of Venezuela!” Trump said.

Credit : Voice of America (VOA)

Bradley Cooper & Irina Shayk to have another baby after Oscars 2019?

Bradley Cooper & Irina Shayk to have another baby after Oscars 2019?

Ever since Bradly Cooper has acted alongside Lady Gaga in Oscars nominee A Star Is Born, fans are rooting to see them as a couple. But as everyone knows this for a fact that Bradley is in a loving relationship with Irina Shayk and as per a recent report, after the 91st Academy Awards, Cooper is reportedly set to be a father again.

Bradley Cooper and Irina Shayk started seeing each other in 2015. In March 2017, Shayk gave birth to their daughter Lea, and now there is a report that Bradley Cooper and Irina Shayk are ready to be parents again. According to an alleged report by Hollywood Life, since there are no more awards shows to go to, Bradley and Irina can now focus on their personal lives and even think about having another child.

An alleged insider revealed that Bradley has reportedly been telling everyone that he and his model girlfriend would like to have a second baby soon.

“He constantly is bringing up his daughter in conversations with people, often showing off photos of her. Bradley is obsessed with his daughter and absolutely loves being a dad. He’s very hands on. He respects the fact that Irina likes to support him from afar and not be so in the spotlight like he is right now,” the alleged insider further contended.

Bradley Cooper and Irina Shayk’s reps have not commented on these above claims. There are chances that these are nothing but some fabricated news about their personal lives.

Furthermore, Bradley’s name is constantly getting linked with his A Star is Born movie star Lady Gaga. As recently reported, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s intimate live performance of “Shallow” from A Star Is Born was perfect to its core. The duo simply sat on their seats together, approached the stage and sang the Academy Award-winning song. Fans from around the world got teary eyes but what about Bradley Cooper’s girlfriend Irina Shayk?

As per HarpersBazaar, in the released video of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper performing Shallow, one could see Irina Shayk stands up to clap. Even after winning the Academy, Gaga comes back to her seat and hugged Shayk.

You can check out the performance below:

Ladies, gentlemen, #Oscars winner @ladygaga has entered Dolby for first time since winning for “Shallow.” She hugs Irina Shayk, Sam Elliott and Bradley Cooper, and she tries to hand him her statue for their creative collaboration. pic.twitter.com/7O3OcSO2xc— Chris Gardner (@chrissgardner) February 25, 2019

Venezuela CRISIS: Maduro’s ‘days are numbered’ WARNS Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Venezuela CRISIS: Maduro's 'days are numbered' WARNS Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Two people died as a result of clashes on the Venezuelan border with Brazil Saturday (Image: Getty)

Mr Pompeo told CNN: “Picking exact days is difficult. I’m confident that the Venezuelan people will ensure that Maduro’s days are numbered.”Two people died on Saturday after violent clashes broke out on the Venezuelan border with Brazil between civilians and troops loyal to Maduro. The troops were blocking aid filled US food and medicine using teargas and rubber bullets.

Two trucks were also set ablaze on the Simon Bolivar bridge linking Brazil and Venezuela.

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-declared interim President Juan Guaidó said Mr Maduro should resign.

Mr Guaidó has been recognised as the countries interim leader by more than 50 countries.

He said he would propose to the international community that all options remain open to oust President Maduro.

Troops were blocking aid filled with US food and medicine using teargas and rubber bullets (Image: Getty)

Mr Guaidó said on Twitter following Saturday’s clash: “Today’s events have forced me to make a decision: To formally propose to the International Community that we must have all options open to secure the freedom of our country, which fights and will keep fighting.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded to Saturday’s events on Twitter.

He said in the post: “We denounce Maduro’s refusal to let humanitarian assistance reach Venezuela.

“What kind of a sick tyrant stops food from getting to hungry people?

“The images of burning trucks filled with aid are sickening.”

Interim president Juan Guaidó said he believes Maduro needs to resign (Image: Getty)

He also said in another post that the US condemns the attacks of civilians in Venezuela perpetrated by Maduro’s thugs.

He added: “These attacks have resulted in deaths and injuries.

“Our deepest sympathies to the families of those who have died due to these criminal acts. We join their demands for justice.”

Mr Guaidó said he will attend a meeting of Latin American countries in Columbia Monday, even though he is under a travel ban set by Mr Maduro.

US Vice President Mike Pence will be representing Washington at the talks in Bogota.

Mr Pence is planning to announce “concrete steps” and “actions” to address the crisis in the talks on Monday.

Australia to Probe Abuse of People with Disabilities

Australia to Probe Abuse of People with Disabilities

Australia will be forced to confront decades of abuse of people with disabilities after parliament agreed to set up a Royal Commission, the nation’s highest form of inquiry.

For years Australians living with physical and mental disabilities have suffered violence and abuse at workplaces, institutions and schools, including a young boy with autism who was tied up with rope and put in an enclosed space by a teacher.

All parties in Australia’s federal parliament have agreed that a Royal Commission, a quasi-judicial investigation, is needed to investigate the abuses. The leader of the opposition Bill Shorten said it would be the “king of all inquiries” and that the “abuse and mistreatment of people with disability is Australia’s hidden shame.”

Victims say that they have been marginalized, institutionalized and abused, and that their stories of mistreatment were too often ignored.

Craig Wallace from Disabled People’s Organizations Australia, a rights group, says as a young boy he was treated viciously in hospital.

“The overwhelming feeling that I remember when I was a child and there was a nurse coming and setting fire to my hair at night is that people did not believe us. If we can have a Royal Commission into the banks then surely we can have an inquiry into the most vulnerable people in our community that are being preyed upon by monsters who come at night”.

It’s not clear when the commission will start, but it follows years of campaigning by victims and their families.

The center-right Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that the inquiry would need the support of all Australian states and territories.

The Royal Commission will attempt to uncover the true scale of the problem. There is no exact data, and experts say that violence against women with disabilities often goes unreported and when it is highlighted it is invariably dismissed, ignored or covered up.

It is estimated that about 18 percent of Australians have a disability.

Credit : Voice of America (VOA)

Trump won’t rush North Korea on denuclearization; peace deal possible

Trump won't rush North Korea on denuclearization; peace deal possible

HANOI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un hold a second summit this week with no real expectation of a final deal on ridding the North of nuclear weapons but hope raised on Monday for an official peace on the peninsula at long last.

The two leaders are due to meet in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, on Wednesday and Thursday, eight months after their historic summit in Singapore, the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader.

There they pledged to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but their vague agreement has produced few results. U.S. Democratic senators and security officials have warned Trump against cutting a deal that would do little to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Trump, speaking in Washington on the eve of his departure for Vietnam, said he believed he saw eye to eye with Kim and that they had developed “a very, very good relationship”.

But he appeared to play down any hope of a major breakthrough, saying he would be happy as long as North Korea maintained its pause on weapons testing.

“I’m not in a rush. I don’t want to rush anybody,” Trump said. “I just don’t want testing. As long as there’s no testing, we’re happy.”

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North Korea conducted its last nuclear test, its sixth, in September 2017. It last tested an intercontinental ballistic missile in November 2017.

Before the freeze, the North conducted a series of tests that it says has given it powerful nuclear bombs and missiles capable of delivering them to the U.S. mainland.

The United States has for years demanded North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization, before any concessions will be granted. North Korea denounced that stance as unilateral and “gangster like”.

But in recent days, Trump has signaled a possible softening, saying he would love to be able to remove tough sanctions if there was meaningful progress on denuclearization.

Trump said he and Kim expected to make progress at the summit and again held out the promise that denuclearization would help North Korea develop its economy.

He scoffed at critics of his handling of North Korea, and added that Chinese President Xi Jinping has been supportive of U.S. efforts.

A person walks past a banner showing North Korean and U.S. flags ahead of the North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 25, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

LIMITED DEAL?

Speculation the Trump administration is open to a limited deal at the summit has raised expectations the two sides might declare an end to a technical state of hostilities that has existed on the Korean peninsula since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a truce.

A South Korean presidential spokesman told reporters in Seoul the two sides might agree to a formal end of the war, which the North has long called for as a major step towards normalizing ties.

“The possibility is there,” the spokesman, Kim Eui-kyeom told a briefing in Seoul when asked if an end-of-war declaration was on the agenda.

In return, North Korea could allow international inspectors to observe the dismantlement of its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, analysts say.

The United States could also agree to the opening U.S.-North Korea liaison offices and to allow some inter-Korean projects, provided the North takes steps towards denuclearization.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, who supports opening up to old rival North Korea, praised both Trump and Kim in comments in Seoul, and said those opposed to better ties on the peninsula, and between North Korea and the United States, should “discard such biased perspectives”.

Slideshow (11 Images)

Trump will arrive in Vietnam on Tuesday evening, Vietnam’s foreign ministry said. He will meet Vietnam President Nguyen Phu Trong, who is also general secretary of the ruling Communist Party, on Wednesday morning, the ministry said.

Vietnam has released few details about arrangements for the summit including its specific venue or timing.

Kim is making his way to Vietnam by train and passed through the Chinese city of Hengyang at about 3.30 p.m. (0730 GMT), South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

That means he would be due to arrive in Vietnam early on Tuesday. No official details of his travel have been released.

For live coverage of the summit, click: here; Additional reporting by Mai Nguyen, Josh Smith; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Lincoln Feast

Robert Vadra is joker in Rahul-Priyanka lef political circus: BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi

Robert Vadra is joker in Rahul-Priyanka lef political circus: BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi

New Delhi: Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Monday called businessman Robert Vadra a ‘Joker’. Mocking the possibility of Vardra joining active politics, Naqvi told ANI, ” In this circus-led by Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, entry of a joker was obvious. Now the Joker is about to make an entry.”

Vadra, the brother-in-law of Congress president Rahul Gandhi, has hinted at joining politics, a month after his wife Priyanka Gandhi made her debut into active politics and was appointed a general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh East in the party.

Following the reports of Vadra joining politics, posters welcoming him to contest the upcoming Lok Sabha polls appeared in Uttar Pradesh’s Moradabad city. “Robert Vadra Ji, you are welcome to contest the election from the Moradabad Lok Sabha constituency,” the posters read.

The 49-year-old businessman is currently under the Enforcement Directorate’s scanner for his alleged involvement in various land scams and money laundering cases.