In a shocking turn of events, the Taliban have taken the vast majority of Afghanistan, including the capital Kabul, in just over a week and are now the de facto government.
Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban on Sunday after an offensive that lasted a little over a week saw the group capture every major city and provincial capital.
Taliban leadership posed for interviews from the presidential palace, and in a later statement to Al Jazeera, spokesperson Mohammad Naeem said, “Today is a great day for the Afghan people and the mujahideen [Taliban]. They have witnessed the fruits of their efforts and their sacrifices for 20 years.”
“Thanks to God, the war is over in the country.”
Just before the Taliban arrived, Afghanistan’s former President fled and resigned to avoid “a flood of bloodshed,” and he is reported to have taken massive amounts of cash and luxury vehicles with him. For many, the move serves as an example of why some Afghans didn’t mind the Taliban over the central government due to the latter’s rampant corruption. President Ashraf Ghani first tried to land in Tajikistan but was denied. He is now in Oma with the possibility of counting onto the United States.
In the meantime, there won’t be any kind of interim government, according to the Taliban, which instead opted to become the government with little input from those governed.
While the Taliban control the vast majority of the country and are now the de facto government, there are still small pockets held by Afghan National Army troops, including one just 100 miles northwest of Kabul. It’s believed that Vice President Amrullah Saleh fled there. He announced on Twitter that he would continue the fight for the country and that he was the “legitimate caretaker President.”
How successful that fight will be is unclear, as most encounters over the last month between National Army troops and the Taliban have ended quickly with a Taliban victory.
For many Afghans, that’s a minor issue right now because they’re trying to flee the country. Thousands rushed to Kabul airport Monday morning, the last lifeline out of the country after border crossings were closed. In various videos from the scene, gunshots can be heard either from Taliban fighters taking aim at fleeing aircraft or from American forces at the airport shooting over the crowds to slow them.
People are desperately trying to get on flights, which has led to scenes of some waiting in lines or forcefully making their way onto planes. In some of the most dramatic and tragic footage, people are seen attempting to hold onto the wheels and exterior of a plane, only to fall off once it takes off.
At least seven deaths were reported at the airport, most likely from stampeding, people falling off of planes, or possibly even from gunfire by Taliban or security forces.
Currently, American forces have taken over the airport, along with air traffic control, and are directing flights to and from Kabul’s airport. Throughout Monday, evacuations were halted amid the chaos, but they have since resumed. Multiple outlets report that all 10,000 members of the U.S. embassy staff have been evacuated and that 6,000 troops in total will be deployed to secure the location. Yet, the Taliban hasn’t made any serious efforts to interfere with the evacuations.
American authorities plan to evacuate at least 5,000 people a day, including not just Americans but also Afghans who are eligible for a special visa because they worked with U.S. forces. Around 88,000 Afghans qualify for the Special Immigrant Visa, though it’s unclear how many will be able to get out or how long the U.S. will be able to maintain control at the airport. The Pentagon is preparing plans to relocate 30,000 applicants to the U.S. despite not having their paperwork done or vetted, something President Joe Biden said was against the law just a month ago before seemingly reversing course as the situation deteriorated.
What happens next in Afghanistan remains a mystery. There are fears that the Taliban will return to their strict adherence to Sharia Law as they did before being ousted in 2001. However, the group has made claims to say that they’ve softened their views.
Spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters on Monday via a press conference that women in the country “are going to be working with us, shoulder to shoulder with us, and the international community – if they have concerns – we would like to assure them that there is not going to be any discrimination against women, but of course within the frameworks that we have.”
While they may say that, there are mixed reports that say some areas under Taliban control have already returned to its more strict interpretation of Islamic law and scripture, which probits such behaviors.
Mujahid also went on to urge government officials to return to work, as they will be given a general amnesty.
For many, there was one statement that was keenly missing for over 36 hours, that of President Biden. By Monday afternoon he finally addressed the public about the situation in Afghanistan and assured the world that the decision for American troops to pull out of the country was the correct one, adding that he didn’t want to pass the problem onto the next president.
The U.S. has also moved to block billions in Afghan reserve funds, effectively cutting off the Taliban from liquid assets. The Biden administration hasn’t closed the possibility of recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, depending on how the group acts in the coming months.
However, the Taliban will likely receive some international recognition from major powers such as Russia and China, neither of which abandoned their embassies and have continued their diplomatic missions in the nation.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (Politico)
Quebec Introduces Legislation To Ban Anti-Vax Protests at Schools and Hospitals
Lawmakers said they are tired of anti-vaccine protesters intimidating students and hindering access to hospitals while hosting their demonstrations.
Outrage at Anti-Vaccine Demonstrations
Quebec lawmakers introduced legislation on Thursday that would regulate where anti-vaccine protesters can hold demonstrations.
While there have been large anti-vax protests across Quebec, small protests at schools and hospitals have specifically triggered concern. Though such protests typically feature about a dozen people, there have been reports of demonstrators harassing students and blocking access to hospitals when gathering at these locations.
Legislation aimed at addressing the issue has been in discussion for weeks. Following reports of these types of gatherings Tuesday, Premier Francois Legault said, “I cannot accept to have anti-vaccine people in front of our schools and hospitals. So I will use whatever is necessary to stop that.”
Prior to Legault’s comments, Education Minister Jean-F. Roberge tweeted out his own outrage at an anti-vaccine protest in front of a high school in Louis-Riel.
“I am appalled by these demonstrators who have used the tragic death of a young girl to fuel disinformation,” he wrote. “It is an irresponsible gesture and I offer my condolences to the relatives of the victim and to the school staff.”
Fifty Meter Standard
If approved, the new legislation would ban all forms of protests within 50 meters of a school, hospital, or daycare.
Police would be allowed to levy a $10,000 fine to anyone protesting at one of these locations depending on their demeanor. If the protests are related specifically to COVID-19 health regulations or vaccines, another fine of up to $6,000 can be added. Protesters intimidating someone, which is open to interpretation, can face another $10,000 fine.
The bill would also ban inciting or encouraging protests, including through posts on online platforms such as Facebook, where many protests are organized.
All of Quebec’s major parties said they support the bill, but it could still be held up by a single vote from Claire Samson. The conservative lawmaker broke with her party over concerns that the provisions don’t have an expiration date, despite them applying to more than just protests over COVID-19 regulations.
Some experts have argued that the new proposal is unnecessary since the government and police already have unenforced laws on the books to crack down on unruly protesters. However, the largest concerns regarding the legislation stem from its constitutionality.
Many on the right claim that such provisions limit the freedom of speech and assembly, both of which are explicitly allowed in Canada in various forms.
Still, while Canada has the freedom of speech and assembly just like the United States, it also has what American legal analysts call “time, place, and manner” restrictions.
As Pearl Eliadis, a human rights lawyer who teaches at McGill University in Montreal explained to Global News, “The issue is not really freedom of expression. No one’s telling them they can’t say stuff. It’s just where they’re saying it.”
“I think there’s a strong argument to be made that children, in particular minor children, should not in any way be intimidated or frightened for going to school,” Eliadis added.
“If you’re a patient going into a facility, or trying to get into a facility, and you’ve been intimidated or frightened, your right to access has been diminished.”
Similar laws in Canada have already withstood legal scrutiny. In 2016, Quebec banned demonstrations within 50 meters of an abortion clinic. Since then, other provinces have introduced their own bans on protests near abortion clinics. Alberta has its own spin on such regulations against people protesting energy and oil companies. Quebec’s proposal also has the possibility of inspiring national legislation. While campaigning in the recent federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also promised legislation to restrict protests in front of schools and hospitals.
The proposals, according to proponents, are meant to protect students and those seeking medical care from unnecessary harassment by individuals who are likely unvaccinated in the midst of a pandemic.
See what others are saying: (Global News) (CTV) (La Presse)
New Zealand Considers Offering Vaccines at Fast-Food Chains Like KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson discussed the move as a possibility Thursday, saying, “We want to make sure we’re going to where people are.”
Government Discusses Vaccine Partnership With Fast-Food Industry
The New Zealand government is reportedly in talks with fast-food brands about offering customers COVID-19 vaccines at their locations.
Auckland Councillor Josephine Bartley tweeted Wednesday that Restaurant Brands — the company behind KFC, Pizza Hut, Carl’s Jr., and Taco Bell in New Zealand — was speaking to the government about a potential partnership.
“We want to make sure we’re going to where people are,” Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson also told Radio New Zealand on Thursday.
New Zealand’s 90% Vaccination Goal
New Zealand has had a good handle on the virus over the last year thanks to its strict safety protocols. For instance, in August, it went straight into another lockdown after recording its first case of COVID in six months.
Despite its general success in fighting off the virus, the country is still hoping to increase its overall vaccination rate. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Thursday that lockdowns measures could be dropped for good if enough people get vaccinated.
Her goal is for New Zealand to have a 90% vaccination rate. According to government data, 40% of the country’s eligible population is fully vaccinated as of Thursday while 75% have had one dose.
Some believe strategies, like this potential fast-food partnership, could help boost those numbers, especially since New Zealanders apparently love fast-food. In fact, the Guardian reported that the country has one of the highest per-capita distributions of KFC and McDonald’s outlets in the world.
Just this week, the government finally eased some restrictions in Auckland, ending nearly five weeks of the strictest lockdown in its most populous city. That meant restaurants could reopen for takeout and delivery again, and once that happened they were met with massive lines of people waiting to order.
Still, in his interview Thursday, Robertson did admit that there could be some issues to consider with this plan.
“There’s a few logistics to work through, one of which is obviously making sure that people wait,” he said. “When someone gets the vaccines, as you know you wait in the waiting room to make sure everything’s going okay.”
He went on to suggest that such a requirement could be challenging considering the time crunch fast-food restaurants deal with. However, he also said the government is working through the options and looking at other spots people frequently visit, not just fast-food chains.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian)(The Independent)(Insider)
Northern Ireland Police Arrest Two More Men Over Murder of Journalist Lyra McKee
Lyra McKee was covering a riot in 2019 when members of the New Irish Republican Army opened fire on police, accidentally killing McKee in the process.
Police Making Headway
Police in Northern Ireland announced Wednesday that they have arrested two more men in connection with the April 2019 murder of journalist Lyra Mckee.
According to authorities, the 24- and 29-year-old men were detained under the Terrorism Act and are specifically suspected of being with the actual gunmen who shot McKee, rather than involved in other crimes that occurred that night.
Three other men have been charged with murder for her death, including 33-year-old Peter Géaroid Cavanagh and 21-year-old Justin Devine, both of who were arrested last week. They were similarly charged under the Terrorism Act while two additional men were arrested on rioting and petrol bomb offenses on the night McKee was killed.
McKee died while covering a demonstration that turned violent in Derry. She was reportedly standing near police when members of the New Irish Republican Army (New IRA) opened fire. The group’s role in her death has rarely been in doubt, as it was quick to take responsibility for the crime.
“In the course of attacking the enemy, Lyra McKee was tragically killed while standing beside enemy forces,” it said in a statement to The Irish Times, which the paper confirmed via a series of code words. “The IRA offer our full and sincere apologies to the partner, family and friends of Lyra McKee for her death.”
McKee was considered an upcoming journalist who focused on LGBTQ issues in relatively conservative Northern Ireland. Despite her death and seeming remorse from the New IRA, the group was unwilling to give up its members. Information about her death was slow coming, with police taking nearly a year before making any substantial arrests.
Prosecutors Fail to Block Bail
One of the first people arrested in connection to this case was 53-year-old Paul McIntrye, who has been on bail for more than a year. His current freedom led prosecutors to fail in a bid on Wednesday to keep Devine, Cavanagh, and 21-year-old Joe Cambell (who is accused of throwing petrol bombs) from being released on bail. A judge told prosecutors, “It’s difficult to distinguish the case against McIntyre and that against Devine and Cavanagh.”
“The prosecution have not sought to differentiate between these applicants and McIntyre in terms of involvement.”
McKee is one of many deaths inflicted by the New IRA and its predecessors. The group originated in 2012 when various republican dissident groups within Northern Ireland banded together. Most of these organizations, including the New IRA, claim to be the legitimate successors of the “IRA,” a nebulous term that encompasses many groups that engaged in anti-British activities throughout Northern Ireland until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The New IRA rejects the agreement and seeks a united Ireland through the use of physical force.
The defendants currently released on bail are all expected to return to court on October 7.