At least 24 people, including children, were killed and six others were injured in a government airstrike in Northern Afghanistan on Saturday.
Two witnesses said most of those killed in Saturday's airstrikes, which struck the village of Sayed Ramazan in northern Kunduz province, were civilians.
The Khanabad district in the province where the village is located is Taliban-controlled, reports AP.
The Afghan Defense Ministry, however, said the airstrikes killed 30 Taliban fighters, but added an investigation was being made into claims that civilians were among those killed.
The airstrikes come as Taliban and government-appointed negotiators are meeting for the first time in Qatar to discuss the future of Afghanistan and an end to decades of war and conflict.
Villagers said an initial airstrike targeted a house belonging to a Taliban fighter, whose home doubled as a checkpoint for stopping and frisking people to ensure they were not connected to the government. The explosion set fire to a nearby home, trapping a family inside, said Latif Rahmani, who witnessed the airstrikes and spoke to the AP by phone.
Rahmani said farmers and villagers ran to douse the fire and rescue trapped family members inside when a second airstrike hit, killing many of them.
Rahmani, who said he was working on his house at the time of the airstrike, warned his neighbors against running toward the burning buildings for fear of a second airstrike.
"I yelled at people and told them not to go because maybe there would be another bombing, but they ran to help and to put out the fire," Rahmani said.
A second witness in the area, Kalamuddin, who like many Afghans uses just one name, said the lone Taliban fighter who lived in the house that was initially hit had been killed. He said five children were among the 24 civilians that were killed.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid condemned the airstrikes and said the Taliban had no military operations in the area at the time of the airstrike.
The United Nations has harshly criticized both sides in the conflict for the relentless killing of civilians in Afghanistan's protracted war. A U.N. report said 1,282 Afghan civilians were killed in the first half of 2020, down 13% from 2019.
The peace talks in Qatar are part of a U.S.-brokered deal with the Taliban that will eventually lead to US withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.
In late July, an Afghan government airstrike killed at least 14 people in the western Herat province, many of them women and children. Witnesses said hundreds of people had gathered to welcome home a former Taliban fighter freed from jail when aircraft pounded the gathering.
Earlier that month, Afghan national army personnel fired mortars into a busy market in southern Helmand, killing 23 people. The Defense Ministry is still investigating the incident.
Also Saturday, at least six rockets were fired at NATO's Resolute Support base in southern Kandahar. No casualties were reported and no one claimed responsibility. NATO said in a statement that if the Taliban were behind the rocket fire, it could jeopardize the US peace deal in which the Taliban have promised not to attack US and NATO forces.
Amid an uproar in Parliament, Indian lawmakers on Sunday approved a pair of controversial agriculture bills that the government says will boost growth in the farming sector through private investments, reports AP.
The two bills were approved even though most opposition parties and some allies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi called them anti-farmer.
The legislation is aimed at reforming India’s deeply stressed farming sector and will give farmers freedom to market their produce, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said while tabling the proposed laws in the upper house of Parliament.
The bills are also aimed at removing middlemen from the farm trade and making farming market-oriented, the government has said.
The upper house passed two out of three bills, amid a war of words between ruling lawmakers and those opposing the legislation.
The third bill, intended to be part of the farm liberalization plan, could not be taken up because the upper house adjourned for the day amid chaotic scenes, with opposition lawmakers tearing documents and shouting slogans against the bills.
The lower house had approved all three bills on Thursday.
The passed bills will have to be signed by India’s ceremonial president, a formality before becoming law.
On Thursday, Shiromani Akali Dal party lawmaker Harsimrat Kaur resigned as minister for food processing in protest against the bills.
The party is one of the Modi government’s most trusted allies.
Tomar sought to allay critics of the legislation by saying that the government’s market intervention policy to procure agriculture crops from farmers will continue. The policy insures farmers against any sharp fall in prices of their agricultural produce.
However, the opposition leaders launched scathing attacks on the government, calling the legislation “black law” and “pro-corporate.”
Rahul Gandhi, a top leader of the main opposition Congress party, said in a tweet Sunday that Modi “is making farmers ‘slaves’ of the capitalists, which the country will never allow to succeed.”
The government has projected that its massive support plans in the agriculture sector will double farmers’ income by 2022.
The critics say the bills create an undemocratic mechanism by which bureaucrats become arbitrators to settle any contract disputes between farmers and buyers, rather than civil courts. They also say that in the absence of better infrastructure like climate-controlled storage facilities, proper roads and reliable irrigation and power supply, removing middlemen will not be helpful to the farming sector.
Participating in the Parliament debate, former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, now a lawmaker, asked Modi to explain the short- and long-term impact of the bills on farmers.
“The prime minister should explain why there’s a hurry to pass the bills amid the pandemic,” he said. Modi should “explain how it will help in achieving the government’s goal of doubling farmers’ income,” he added.
Farmers have long been seen as the heart and soul of India, where agriculture supports more than half of the country’s 1.4 billion people. But they’ve also seen their economic clout diminish over the last three decades. Once accounting for a third of India’s gross domestic product, farmers now account for only 15% of the country’s $2.9 trillion economy.
India’s farmers, often complaining about being ignored, hold frequent protests to demand better crop prices, more loan waivers and even water delivery systems to guarantee irrigation during dry spells. Sometimes they stage sit-ins or dump truckloads of vegetables onto highways to disrupt traffic. Several protests by farmers were reported against the bills in northern India on Sunday.
More than half of India’s farmers are in debt, with 20,638 killing themselves in 2018 and 2019, according to India’s National Crime Records Bureau.
Many factors are believed to contribute to farmer suicides, including poor crop yields, financial devastation or debt, and a lack of community support.
India, the second worst coronavirus-hit country, recorded 92,605 fresh cases on Sunday in the past 24 hours, officials said.
According to the India’s federal health ministry, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country has risen to 5,400,619, reports Xinhua.
Meanwhile, 1,133 new deaths were also recorded.
The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases across India is 5,400,619 and the death toll is 86,752, the health ministry said.
According to ministry officials, 4,303,043 people have been discharged from hospitals after showing improvement.
The number of active cases in the country right now is 1,010,824, the ministry said.
Meanwhile, 63,661,060 samples were tested so far across the country, out of which 1,206,806 tests were conducted on Saturday alone, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said.
Currently, India is in the grip of COVID-19 pandemic and cases are increasing with every passing day.
Coronavirus cases across the globe reached 30,673,633 on Sunday, according to the Centre for System Science and Engineering of Johns Hopkins University (JHU).
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Protesters gathered Saturday in Bangkok for the most ambitious rally so far in a pro-democracy campaign that has shaken up the government and Thailand’s conservative establishment.
Organisers predicted that as many as 50,000 will march over two days in an area of the capital historically associated with political protests, after an estimated 10,000 people turned out for the last major rally on Aug. 16. But the early turnout was modest Saturday as a steady light rain fell.
Demonstrators wore face masks, but ignored a Thursday night plea from Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to cancel the event, which he said risked spreading the coronavirus and derailing recovery of Thailand’s battered economy, reports AP.
The core demands declared by the protesters in July were the dissolution of parliament with fresh elections, a new constitution and an end to intimidation of political activists.
They believe that Prayuth, who as then-army commander led a 2014 coup toppling an elected government, was returned to power unfairly in last year’s general election because the laws had been changed to favor a pro-military party. A constitution promulgated under military rule is likewise undemocratic, they charge.
The mostly student activists raised the stakes dramatically at an Aug. 10 rally by issuing a 10-point manifesto calling for reforming the monarchy. Their demands seek to limit the king’s powers, establish tighter controls on palace finances and allow open discussion of the monarchy.
Their boldness was virtually unprecedented, as the monarchy is considered sacrosanct in Thailand. A lese majeste law calls for a prison sentence of three to 15 years for anyone found guilty of defaming the royal institution.
The students are too young to have been caught up in the sometimes violent partisan political battles that roiled Thailand a decade ago, Kevin Hewison, a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina and a veteran Thai studies scholar, said in an email interview.
“This is why they look and act differently and why they are so confounding for the regime,” Hewison said. “What the regime and its supporters see is relatively well-off kids turned against them and this confounds them.”
At least 8,000 police reportedly were deployed for the weekend protest, and prospects for confrontations appear high. Protest organizers have been said they will use Thammasat University and the adjacent field known as Sanam Luang as the rally venue, but had been denied permission to do so.
Undeterred, a small group pushed and argued Saturday at one of the university gates until it was opened, with no resistance from the authorities. Later, protesters began assembling a stage in Sanam Luang, despite police warnings that they were breaking the law.
“I cannot accept a system that is corrupt, but with the last few rallies there was no response from those who hold the power,” said one protester, Thanakorn Thatana. “The three core demands were ignored and even the most basic demand to stop harassing the people. The government didn’t listen to us, but instead there was an increase in harassment cases against even primary school kids.”
Arrests on charges including sedition for earlier actions have failed to faze the young activists.
Students launched the protest movement in February with rallies at universities around the country in reaction to a court ruling that dissolved the popular Future Forward Party and banned its leaders from political activity for 10 years.
The party won the third-highest number of seats in last year’s general election with an anti-establishment stance that attracted younger voters, and it is widely seen as being targeted for its popularity and for being critical of the government and the military.
But public protests were suspended in March when Thailand had its first major outbreak of the coronavirus and the government declared a state of emergency to cope with the crisis. The emergency decree is still in effect, and critics allege it is used to curb dissent.
Royalists have expressed shock at the students’ talk about the monarchy. Army commander Gen. Apirat Kongsompong indirectly but harshly criticized the protesters, declaring in a speech to military cadets that “COVID-19 can be cured ... but the disease that cannot be cured is the hatred of the nation.”
But actual blowback so far has been minor, with only half-hearted organizing efforts by mostly older royalists.
India's federal health ministry on Friday said about 30 Covid-19 vaccines were under various stages of development in the country, reports Xinhua.
According to the ministry, of the 30 vaccines, three were in the advanced stage.
"Nationally, nearly 30 COVID-19 vaccine candidates are under development, by both industry and academia. These vaccines are in different stages of pre-clinical and clinical development of which three candidates are in advanced stage of Phase I/II/III trials and four are in advanced pre-clinical development stage," Federal Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told the Indian parliament.
One COVID-19 vaccine is likely to be available by the beginning of the next year, said the minister.
According to the minister, a high-level expert group was looking into matters related to vaccine distribution and immunization.
"The distribution and immunization of the coronavirus vaccine are subject to availability. Once available, the coronavirus vaccine distribution follows the same route as for the current practice of vaccines distribution under Universal Immunization Program (UIP)," Vardhan said
India is in the grip of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the cases are increasing with each passing day.
India Friday said the number of COVID-19 cases in the country has reached 5,214,677 including 84,372 deaths.
Globally India is the second worst-hit country by the COVID-19 pandemic.
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