US withdrawal supported
A top diplomat on Thursday met with Taliban representatives and expressed Moscow’s support for the US’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. The meeting came after two days of talks between prominent Afghan figures and Taliban representatives in Moscow. A senior Taliban official on Wednesday said that the US has proposed to withdraw half of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of April, but the US military said it has received no such orders. President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov told RIA Novosti news agency that Russia is willing to help talks between the US and the Taliban, “but if the US says that they want to withdraw their troops, but leave some military bases there — we’re not going to be helping on this.”
Ex-Moldovian PM’s son fined
A son of former Moldovian prime minister Vlad Filat, who drove a Bentley and paid ￡1,000-a-day (US$1,295) rent, was on Thursday ordered to hand over nearly ￡500,000, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said. NCA investigators found that Filat’s 22-year-old son Luca Filat had obtained his wealth “from illegal activity by his father.” In 2015, Vlad Filat was stripped of his immunity and handcuffed in Moldova’s parliament after he allegedly accepted US$260 million in bribes. Vlad Filat was then jailed for nine years for his role in the disappearance of US$1.0 billion. Filat’s son came under scrutiny because he splashed around cash while having “no registered income in the UK,” the NCA said.
Booze order irrelevant: study
Under carefully controlled lab conditions, British and German researchers plied 90 volunteers with beer and wine to find out once and for all whether hangovers are worsened by the order in which drinks are necked. “Everyone knows the saying, ‘beer before wine and you’ll feel fine; wine before beer and you’ll feel queer,’” said Kai Hensel, a senior clinical fellow at Cambridge University. “We debunked the saying, it’s not true. You’re going to be the same whatever order you drink these beverages in,” Hensel said. The study only compared beer with white wine.
US representative dies
Former representative John Dingell, the longest-serving member of the Congress in American history and a master of legislative deal-making who was fiercely protective of Detroit’s auto industry, has died. The Michigan Democrat was 92. Dingell, who served in the House of Representatives for 59 years before retiring in 2014, died on Thursday at his home in Dearborn. Dingell served with every president from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Obama.
Evacuations due to forest fire
About 700 residents were yesterday evacuated from a town as a forest fire threatened the area. Civil defense authorities decided to evacuate parts of Wakefield on South Island. The wildfire began on Tuesday and had spread to about 2,000 hectares by yesterday. It had burned down one house. Richard Kirby, the group recovery manager for the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, said that it might be four of five days before the fire is contained.
Security breach at parliament
Parliament yesterday revealed that its computer network had been compromised by an unspecified “security incident” and said that an investigation was under way. “Following a security incident on the parliamentary computing network, a number of measures have been implemented to protect the network and its users,” parliamentary authorities said in a statement. Officials declined to comment on the nature of the cybersecurity breach, but said that there was no initial evidence that data had been accessed. “We have no evidence that this is an attempt to influence the outcome of parliamentary processes or to disrupt or influence electoral or political processes,” a statement said. “Our immediate focus has been on securing the network and protecting data and users.”
President calls elections
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday announced that general elections would be held on May 8 as the ruling African National Congress looks to reverse falling popularity due to weak growth, unemployment and corruption. Ramaphosa sought to strike an optimistic tone and said that South Africans are “much more hopeful” since he took over one year ago from Jacob Zuma.
IS leader survives coup
Islamic State (IS) group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last month survived a coup attempt launched by foreign fighters in his eastern Syrian hideout and the terrorist group has since placed a bounty on the main plotter’s head, intelligence officials said. The incident is believed to have taken place on Jan. 10 in a village near Hajin in the Euphrates River valley, where the militant group is clinging to its last sliver of land. Regional intelligence officials said that a planned move against al-Baghdadi led to a firefight between foreign fighters and al-Baghdadi’s bodyguards, who spirited him away to the nearby deserts. The IS has offered a reward to whoever kills Abu Muath al-Jazairi, believed to be a veteran foreign fighter, one of an estimated 500 IS fighters thought to remain in the area. While IS did not directly accuse al-Jazairi, placing a bounty on the head of one of its senior members is an unusual move and intelligence officials said they believe he was the central plotter.
At least 10 dead in collapse
The death toll from the collapse of an Istanbul apartment block on Thursday rose to 10 as more bodies were pulled from the rubble, authorities said. The eight-story building in the city’s Kartal District collapsed on Wednesday, but the cause is not yet clear. Rescuers initially put the death toll at two, but Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya said that the figure had leapt to 10 as more bodies were pulled from the rubble, Anadolu news agency reported. Another 13 people were injured, three of them seriously, he said. Forty-three people were registered in the building, Anadolu said.
‘LIKE A CASSANDRA’: Chinese residents of Prato went into self-imposed lockdown and warned their Italian neighbors about what was coming, but were ignored In the storm of infection and death sweeping Italy, one big community stands out to health officials as remarkably unscathed — the 50,000 ethnic Chinese who live in the town of Prato. Two months ago, the country’s Chinese residents were the target of what Amnesty International described as shameful discrimination, the butt of insults and violent attacks by people who feared that they would spread the coronavirus through Italy. However, in the Tuscan town of Prato, home to Italy’s single biggest Chinese community, the opposite has been true. Once scapegoats, they are now held up by authorities as a model for early,
Reporters Without Borders has accused the Algerian government of taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to “settle scores” with independent journalists, including those covering long-running anti-government protests. In a statement signed with Algerian non-governmental organizations, the watchdog on Thursday called for the immediate release of its correspondent, Khaled Drareni, who has been in pretrial detention since Sunday after being charged with inciting an unarmed gathering and endangering national unity. Drareni has been arrested several times for covering the “Hirak” anti-government protests held in the capital, Algiers, every Friday since February last year. Imprisoning people during a pandemic is “an act of physical endangerment,”
Vietnam has lodged an official protest with China following the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat that it said had been rammed by a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel near islands in the South China Sea. The Vietnamese fishing vessel, with eight fishermen onboard, was fishing near the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) on Thursday when it was rammed and sunk by the Chinese vessel, the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement posted on a government Web site yesterday. All of the fishermen were picked up by the Chinese vessel alive and were transferred to two other Vietnamese fishing vessels
DIVIDED YOUTH: There is a belief that overseas students see themselves as superior, which is compounded by perceptions of their extreme wealth and multiple nationalities Chinese students flying home from overseas to escape the COVID-19 pandemic face a frosty reception from sections of the public who view them as wealthy, spoiled — and potentially contaminated. The number of officially reported cases in China has dwindled dramatically over the last month, but the country is now taking drastic steps to try and stem a second wave of infections brought in from abroad. With most international flights canceled and nearly all foreigners barred from entering the country, the vast majority of returnees are Chinese nationals, including many students. The situation has exposed animosities over class and privilege in Chinese society,