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Here’s What You Need to Know About the Canceled U.S.-Taliban Peace Talks

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  • President Trump tweeted Saturday that he canceled secretly scheduled peace negotiations with the Taliban.
  • The proposed peace deal involved the U.S. taking troops out of Afghanistan and the Taliban promising to no longer engage in violence in areas where the U.S. military is present.
  • Many opposed the plan and the meeting, including officials in the Trump administration who worried the Taliban could not be trusted.
  • Afghan officials were also skeptical of the plan, arguing that it did not include input from the Afghan government and did not require the Taliban to stop attacks on Afghan civilians or the Afghan military.

Trump’s Announcement

President Donald Trump announced in a series of tweets on Saturday that he had canceled a secret meeting between U.S. officials and the Taliban.

“Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday” the president wrote on Twitter. 

“Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people,” he continued. “I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations.”

“If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway,” he concluded.

Here’s what you need to know about the agreement, the talks, and what comes next.

The Agreement

Under the agreement, which officials have been negotiating for almost a year, the U.S. would remove 5,400 of the remaining 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan within 135 days.

The broader goal of the deal would be to gradually withdraw the entire U.S. military presence, which has been in the country for nearly 18 years since the 9/11 attacks. In exchange for the U.S. withdrawing the troops, the Taliban would stop enacting and supporting violence in the regions of Afghanistan where the U.S. military is based.

Last Monday, the U.S. envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad told local media in the country that both sides had agreed to the deal “in principle.” 

However, many people in the Afghan government, including President Ashraf Ghani, were skeptical of both the peace deal and the meeting at Camp David.

Afghan critics of the agreement argued that it did not include input from the Afghan government and did not really give them a seat at the table for negotiations.

The Trump administration addressed this concern by arguing that its talks with the Taliban would pave the way for the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.

But others worried that plan was problematic because the Taliban does not recognize the Afghan government, and has refused to negotiate with them in the past.

Those critical of the plan also argued that the deal only protected American troops because it did not require the Taliban to stop attacks on Afghan civilians or the Afghan military.

That is especially important because the Taliban now controls more territory in the country than it has at any time since the war started, and also because the Taliban has carried out and supported numerous deadly attacks over the last few months.

Now, Afghan officials are worried that if the U.S. pulled out, it would create a sort of security vacuum, leaving the Afghan military to fend for itself. They fear that, as a result, the Taliban would not only launch more violent attacks but also try to take over the government.

Opposition In Trump Administration

Afghan officials were not the only people who opposed the negotiations.

According to reports, multiple high-ranking officials, including Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton, also did not support the meeting. 

Bolton, among others, allegedly did not believe that the Taliban could be trusted and so the deal would just collapse anyway. 

Other administration officials who did not want the meeting reportedly worried about the optics of having an unprecedented meeting with a militant group on U.S. soil just days before the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.

One senior administration official also told NBC that Pence had argued the meeting could also send a bad message to members of the U.S. military and their families, especially those who had fought and been killed by the Taliban.

Taliban & Afghan Government Responds

After Trump’s tweets, a leader from the Taliban told NBC they were caught off guard by the news.

“It not only shocked us it made us realize the people we were talking with were not sincere in peace talks,” the leader said.

On Sunday, the Taliban also released an official statement on the matter.

Such a reaction towards a single attack just before the signing of an agreement displays lack of composure and experience,” the statement read.

“We called for dialogue twenty years earlier and maintain the same stance today and believe America shall return to this position also,” it continued. “Our previous eighteen-year resistance should have proven to America that we will accept nothing less than the complete end of occupation and allowing Afghans to decide their own fate.”

President Ghani has not responded specifically to Trump’s tweets, but his office released a formal statement on Sunday.

“The people and the government of Afghanistan pursue a dignified and sustainable peace and are committed to putting any effort into ensuring peace in the country,” it said. “We have consistently stressed that genuine peace is possible when the Taliban stop the killing of Afghans, embrace an inclusive ceasefire, and enter into direct negotiations with the Afghan government.”

“The government of Afghanistan praises the earnest efforts of its allies and is committed to working together with the United States and other partners to ensure honorable and enduring peace in the country,” the statement continued.

Conflicts on Cancelation Reasons

While speaking to news outlets Sunday night, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed Trump’s comments by insisting that the reason the negotiations were canceled was because of the most recent Taliban attack.

However, a report from The New York Times suggested there could have been other factors. Citing Pompeo’s negotiator, the Times said the Taliban wanted to go to Washington, but not until after their deal had been announced. 

Trump, however, did not want their visit to be a celebration of the deal, instead, he “wanted to be the dealmaker who would put the final parts together himself, or at least be perceived to be.”

What Next?

The breakdown of peace talks with the Taliban has left many wondering what comes next.

During Pompeo’s major news circuit Sunday, he provided some insight into that question. When asked by a Fox News anchor if Afghan talks were dead, Pompeo responded, “For the time being they are.”

However, he also told CNN that the U.S. is still interested in striking a deal, as long as the Taliban honors its commitments.

Right now for the U.S., it looks like it has three main options. It could try to come to the table with another deal, it could withdraw the troops without concessions from the Taliban, or the U.S. could just keep the troops in Afghanistan.

As for Afghanistan, it is set to have elections later this month, on September 28.

The Taliban does not want those elections to take place, and now, officials in both the U.S. and Afghanistan are concerned that the Taliban will have more incentive to ramp up their violent attacks as the election approaches.

See what others are saying: (Vox) (VICE) (NBC News)

International

Indonesian President Delays Bill Outlawing Extramarital Sex

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  • The President of Indonesia tabled a vote on a proposed penal code that would outlaw sex outside of marriage. The legislation will now be pushed to a new parliament set to convene in October.
  • The vote was delayed after it received widespread backlash from legal experts, human rights activists, and Indonesians, many of whom believed it was an overextension of conservative Islamic policies.
  • The legislation included other provisions that would limit freedom of speech, reduce rights for religious minorities, and significantly restrict women’s reproductive rights.
  • Gay and lesbian sex would also be functionally criminalized under the new penal code, as gay marriage is not allowed in Indonesia.

Widodo Halts Vote

Indonesian President Joko Widodo delayed a vote on a controversial new penal code Friday that, among other things, would criminalize both gay and premarital sex.

The bill was expected to be passed by parliament as early as next week, but Widodo asked lawmakers to postpone the legislation following significant public outcry. The bill will now be held until a new parliament is seated in October.

“After hearing from various groups with objections to aspects of the law, I’ve decided that some of it needs further deliberation,” the president said in a press briefing, before adding that the bill needed further review.

If passed, the new penal code would be a massive overhaul to existing legal systems.

Provisions of the Law

One provision would have punished any instance of sex outside of marriage with six months to a year in jail as well as fines. Though not explicitly stated in the law, it would also effectively outlaw gay and lesbian sex entirely, because Indonesia does not allow same-sex marriages.

According to the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, a nongovernmental organization, millions of Indonesians could risk being jailed under the new law. 

Under another article, unmarried couples living together could face up to six months in prison and fines.

The code also included measures that would restrict women’s reproductive rights. Receiving an abortion outside of the exceptions of medical emergencies or rape could be punishable by a maximum of four years in prison.

The bill would additionally restrict access to contraceptives for minors, as well as impose penalties for promoting contraceptives.

Some proposed provisions would target religious minorities, while others would limit freedom of speech, such as prohibiting anyone from insulting the president, vice president, government, and state agencies.

Supporters

The new law was supported by conservative Islamic groups, who wish to see more sharia-like laws implemented in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

“Indonesia has social values, moral values, also cultural values that are different from those in Western countries,” said Arsul Sani, one of the lawmakers who supported the bill, and who belongs to one of the four Islamist parties in Indonesia’s parliament.

“The state must protect citizens from behavior that is contrary to the supreme precepts of God,” said Nasir Djamil, another parliamentarian who supported the bill from a different Islamic party.

Despite its reputation for being a south-east Asian democracy with relatively moderate Muslims populations and Islamic legal systems, Indonesia has seen a recent trend towards deeper religiosity and conservative Islamic policies, especially at the local level.

In some areas, local governments have enforced aspects of sharia law, such as requiring women to wear hijabs and adopting curfews for women unaccompanied by male relatives. 

Opponents

The government’s efforts to implement elements of sharia law at the national level with the proposed penal code have been troubling to Indonesia’s substantial Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist minority populations, as well as many others.

“If passed, the criminal code will confirm that Indonesia is now becoming an Islamic state,” Andreas Harsono, a senior Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch said on Twitter.

“Indonesia’s draft criminal code is disastrous not only for women and religious and gender minorities, but for all Indonesians,” Harsono said in a statement to the media. “The bill’s provisions censoring information about contraception could set back the progress Indonesia has made in recent years to dramatically reduce maternal deaths.”

Other experts echoed Harsono’s sentiment about the spread of Islamic conservativism.

“Across the board, this is a ratcheting up of conservatism. It’s extremely regressive,” said Tim Lindsey, the director of the University of Melbourne’s Center for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society.

Beyond legal experts and activists, a large number of Indonesian citizens also voiced their disapproval of the law.

According to Al Jazeera, an online petition for the bill the be thrown out received nearly half a million signatures, and hundreds of thousands of Indonesians voiced their opposition on social media. 

Some also argued that the ban on extramarital sex could discourage tourism and foreign investment, as the law would have applied to foreigners. 

This could significantly hurt Indonesia, especially at a time when President Widodo is trying to attract foreign investors and expand tourism to other parts of Indonesia beyond Bali, which is a popular spot for Westerners.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, in 2018, travel and tourism composed 6% of Indonesia’s gross domestic product (GDP) and added 13 million jobs to the economy.

Foreign investors will also likely consider the penal code when deciding where to invest. Some international companies have also expressed concern over how the law would impact their employees in Indonesia.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The New York Times) (Reuters)

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International

Hundreds of Thousands March in Climate Strikes Around the World

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  • Student activists all over the world are skipping school to attend the global climate strike.
  • There are over 2,000 events planned in over 150 countries.
  • The demonstrations are inspired by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement, which encourages students to engage in climate change protests on Fridays.
  • Thunberg will be participating in New York City’s strike and will be in the city on Monday when the United Nations hosts the Climate Action Summit.

Protests Unfold Around the World

Student activists in every corner of the world are skipping school on Friday to participate in a global climate strike. 

From Bangkok to London and Jakarta to Toyko, hundreds of thousands of people are flooding city streets calling for action on climate change. While these demonstrations are mainly led and attended by students, activists of all ages have been encouraged to attend.

The protests are inspired by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement, which she began last year. Students in the movement have been skipping school on Fridays to call for global leaders to address the climate crisis. The Swedish teenager has become internationally recognized as the face of youth environmental activism. She is currently in New York City and scheduled to speak at the organized march there.

Over one million students in New York City were given permission to leave school in favor of the protests, so long as they had parental approval. Most marches in the United States are currently underway or just beginning right now, but countries across the globe have already seen a massive turnout. 

Reports say that over 2,000 rallies across 150 countries have been planned for Friday. Right now, most cities and countries do not have clear counts on how many people attended the protests. In Australia, reports estimate about 300,000 people turned out.

Around the world, students held signs that said things like “There Is No Planet B” and “Like the Oceans, We Rise.” 

Greta Thunberg to Attend Climate Action Summit

These demonstrations precede the United Nation’s Climate Action Summit on Monday. The summit will be held in the U.N.’s capital, New York City, prompting Thunberg’s presence in the Big Apple. Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic for 15 days on a zero-carbon emissions yacht to attend the event. 

“This is not the time and place for dreams, this is the time to wake up,” she said speaking to Congress on Thursday. 

“This is the moment in history we need to be wide awake. Dreams cannot stand in the way of telling it like it is, especially not now.”

See what others are saying: (Aljazeera) (The Guardian) (Vox)

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International

Three Instances of Justin Trudeau in Blackface and Brownface Surface

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  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized Wednesday after TIME published a picture of him from 2001 in brownface.
  • While apologizing, he also admitted to wearing blackface during a high school talent show. Soon after, the second picture in question circulated around the internet.
  • The next day, Global News published a video of a third incident that appeared to show the prime minister in blackface again.
  • This news is expected to significantly hurt Trudeau in Canada’s election next month, which is already expected to be a close call for Trudeau’s Liberal Party.

Brownface Photo Surfaces

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing backlash after three separate instances of the Liberal Party leader in brown and blackface surfaced this week.

The incident first came to light on Wednesday, when TIME published a photo of Trudeau wearing brownface. According to TIME, the photo was taken in 2001 at an “Arabian Nights” themed gala at the private school where he was teaching at the time.

Source: TIME

The outlet reported that they had been given a copy of the school’s yearbook with the photo earlier this month by a businessman named Michael Adamson, who “first saw the photograph in July and felt it should be made public.”

Shortly after the story broke, Trudeau responded in a press conference, where he confirmed that the story was true.

“I shouldn’t have done that. I should have known better, but I didn’t, and I’m really sorry,” the prime minister said. “It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time, but now I recognize it was something racist to do, and I am deeply sorry.” 

“I have worked all my life to try and create opportunities for people, to fight against racism and intolerance. And I can just stand here and say that I made a mistake when I was younger and I wish I hadn’t,” he continued.

When asked by a reporter if that instance was the only time in his life he had done black or brownface, Trudeau admitted that he had.

“When I was in high school I dressed up at a talent show and sang ‘Day O.’ With makeup on,” he said.

After that new admission, the picture in question circulated around the internet.

Source: TIME

Third Blackface Instance Exposed

Towards the end of the news conference, a reporter asked Trudeau if he would like to speak to any other instances where he had engaged in racism.

“Do you want to tell Canadian’s about any other instances where you were concerned that you were racist? Or that you had blackface or brownface on?” the reporter asked.

“I think its been plenty,” Trudeau responded, seemingly to the first part of the question. “The fact of the matter is that I’ve always, and you’ll know this, been more enthusiastic about costumes than is sometimes appropriate. But these are the situations that I regret deeply.”

“Is it the only two or are there more?” the reporter clarified.

“These are the situations that I regret deeply,” the prime minister repeated.

However, on Thursday morning, the Canadian outlet Global News published a video that appeared to show Trudeau wearing black makeup on his face and all over his body while sticking out his tongue and making faces.

Global News reported that they had received the video from a source in the Conservative Party earlier this week, but had to verify the video before publishing it.

“A senior member of the Liberal campaign confirmed it was Trudeau early Thursday morning but would not comment further,” the outlet reported, also noting that the video was taken sometime in the 1990s.

Trudeau addressed the situation again in a longer press briefing Thursday afternoon, where he apologized directly to people of color in Canada.

“What I did hurt them, hurt people who shouldn’t have to face intolerance and discrimination because of their identity. This is something that I deeply, deeply regret,” he said.

“Darkening your face, regardless of the context, of the circumstances, is always unacceptable, because of the racist history of blackface. I should have understood that then, and I never should have done it,” he added.

The prime minister also said that he did not remember any other times that he did blackface or brownface when asked by a reporter.

Response

A number of politicians and party leaders in Canada responded to the incident after TIME published the photo. 

Jagmeet Singh, the leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party, who is Sikh, addressed the photos in an interview Wednesday.

“It’s troubling, I mean, it’s really insulting,” he said. “Anytime we hear examples of blackface or brownface it’s really, it’s making a mockery of someone for what they live and what their lived experiences are.”

“I think he needs to answer for it. I think he’s got to answer the question why he did that, and what does that say about what he thinks about people who, because of who they are, because of the color of their skin face challenges, barriers, and obstacles in their life,” he added. 

The leader of the Green Party of Canada, Elizabeth May, also chimed in, saying in a tweet that she was “deeply shocked by the racism shown in the photograph of Justin Trudeau.”

Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, who is also Trudeau’s main opponent responded in a video of his own.

“Like all Canadians, I was extremely shocked and disappointed when I learned of Justin Trudeau’s actions this evening,” the opposition leader said.

“Wearing brownface is an act of open mockery and racism, it was just as racist in 2001 as it is in 2019. And what Canadian’s saw this evening was someone with a complete lack of judgment and integrity, and someone who is not fit to govern this country.”

However, some have pointed out that Scheer has recently rejected calls for him to kick out members of his own party for making racist or homophobic comments. Earlier this week, he even said he would stand by candidates who had made offensive comments in the past as long as they apologized.

“As long as someone takes responsibility for what they’ve said, and addresses the fact that in 2019 some things that may have been said in the past are inappropriate today, that if anything that they’ve ever said in the past caused any type of hurt or disrespect to one community or another and have apologized for that, I accept that,” he said. 

“You know, I accept the fact that people can make mistakes in the past.”

Upcoming Election

This incident could not come at a worse time for Trudeau, who faces an already contentious election in one month.

Trudeau’s re-election prospects dipped earlier this year after it was revealed that his former justice minister and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, an indigenous woman, claimed that the prime minister and an aide pressured her to reach a settlement in a criminal case against the Canadian-based engineering and construction firm SNC-Lavalin.

The criminal case in question would have prevented SNC from getting lucrative government contracts, and Trudeau argued that settling the case would save thousands of jobs.

However, many saw the incident as a prime minister, a self-described feminist who claimed to champion indigenous rights, directing his mostly male aides to bully an indigenous woman to protect a corporation that financially benefited the Liberal Party in Quebec, where Trudeau is from.

Now, experts believe that this new blackface scandal could seriously hurt Trudeau’s chances of re-election.

The prime minister fell drastically in the polls after Canada’s ethics commissioner found that he had broken the country’s conflict-of-interest law in the SNC debacle.

Even before the blackface controversy broke on Wednesday, the Conservative and Liberal parties were polling neck and neck at 34.4% and 34.2%, according to the CBC News poll tracker, which aggregates all of the other public polls.

In an already close race, experts are now saying this blackface revelation could pull not only more progressive voters away from the Liberal Party, but also centrist voters.

Canada also has a large population of people who are of South Asian and Middle Eastern descent. Those demographics have been a key source of support for the Liberal Party and Trudeau in the past, specifically in areas around Toronto, which are seen as key electoral battlegrounds for the Liberals.

With this recent controversy, it is unclear where those voter bases, which could be essential to giving Trudeau the edge he needs to be re-elected, will cast their votes next month.

See what others are saying: (TIME) (CBC) (The Guardian)

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