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Cuban Revolutionary Fidel Castro Dies at 90

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(Last Updated On: November 26, 2016)

castroGuerrilla revolutionary and communist idol, Fidel Castro was a holdout against history who turned tiny Cuba into a thorn in the paw of the mighty capitalist United States.

The former Cuban president, who died aged 90 on Friday, said he would never retire from politics.

But emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006 drove him to hand power to Raul Castro, who ended his brother’s antagonistic approach to Washington, shocking the world in December 2014 in announcing a rapprochement with US President Barack Obama.

Famed for his rumpled olive fatigues, straggly beard and the cigars he reluctantly gave up for health reasons, Fidel Castro kept a tight clamp on dissent at home while defining himself abroad with his defiance of Washington.

In the end, he essentially won the political staring game, even if the Cuban people do continue to live in poverty and the once-touted revolution he led has lost its shine.

As he renewed diplomatic ties, Obama acknowledged that decades of US sanctions had failed to bring down the regime — a drive designed to introduce democracy and foster western-style economic reforms — and it was time to try another way to help the Cuban people.

A great survivor and a firebrand, if windy orator, Castro dodged all his enemies could throw at him in nearly half a century in power, including assassination plots, a US-backed invasion bid, and tough US economic sanctions.

Born August 13, 1926 to a prosperous Spanish immigrant landowner and a Cuban mother who was the family housekeeper, young Castro was a quick study and a baseball fanatic who dreamed of a golden future playing in the US big leagues.

But his young man’s dreams evolved not in sports but politics. He went on to form the guerrilla opposition to the US-backed government of Fulgencio Batista, who seized power in a 1952 coup.

That involvement netted the young Fidel Castro two years in jail, and he subsequently went into exile to sow the seeds of a revolt, launched in earnest on December 2, 1956 when he and his band of followers landed in southeastern Cuba on the ship Granma.

Twenty-five months later, against great odds, they ousted Batista and Castro was named prime minister.

-Lawyer turned fighter-

Once in undisputed power, Castro, a Jesuit-schooled lawyer, aligned himself with the Soviet Union. And the Cold War Eastern Bloc bankrolled his tropi-communism until the Soviet bloc’s own collapse in 1989.

Fidel Castro held onto power as 11 US presidents took office and each after the other sought to pressure his regime over the decades following his 1959 revolution, which closed a long era of Washington’s dominance over Cuba dating to the 1989 Spanish-American War.

And Castro’s dangerous liaison with the Soviet Union took the world to the nerve-jarring edge of nuclear war in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. It was sparked when Moscow sought to position nuclear-tipped missiles on the island just 144 kilometers (90 miles) off the US state of Florida.

After a tense standoff between the rival superpowers, the world pulled back from the abyss as Moscow agreed to keep the missiles off Cuban soil.

Castro strode the world stage as a communist icon when the Cold War was at its height.

He sent 15,000 soldiers to help Soviet-backed troops in Angola in 1975 and dispatched forces to Ethiopia in 1977.

The United States has variously been infuriated, embarrassed and alarmed at Castro’s defiance, and intensely frustrated by his survival in power despite the economic embargo Washington hoped in vain would spark rebellion.

The tempestuous Cuban president himself repeatedly pinned the blame for Cubans’ economic hardship on the embargo. The United States had invaded the island nation before, he reminded his 11 million people constantly, and could do so again at any time.

After a cutoff of Soviet bloc aid in 1989 nearly collapsed the economy, Castro allowed more international tourism and slight economic reform on the Caribbean’s largest island.

But as even China loosened economic reins, Havana backtracked and held tight to the centralized economic model. Instead, a new ally, Hugo Chavez, president of oil-rich Venezuela and also a foe of Washington, began bankrolling Castro’s regime.

– They called him ‘Fidel’-

Known widely among Cubans as simply “Fidel” or “El Comandante,” Castro broke off diplomatic ties with the United States in 1961 and expropriated US companies’ assets totaling more than one billion dollars.

In April 1961 he weathered an invasion attempt by some 1,300 CIA-trained Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs.

But the island suffered from an exodus of people and capital abroad, mainly to Florida where a large anti-Castro movement thrived.

Castro kept his private life largely private, but in recent years, more details became public.

In 1948, he married Mirta Diaz-Balart, who gave birth to their first son, Fidelito. The couple later divorced.

In 1952, Castro met Naty Revuelta, a socialite married to a doctor, and they had a daughter, Alina, in 1956.

He met Celia Sanchez, said to have been his main life partner, in 1957 and remained with her until her death in 1980.

In the 1980s, Castro reportedly married Dalia Soto del Valle, with whom he had five children: Angel, Antonio, Alejandro, Alexis and Alex.

After stepping aside in 2006, Fidel Castro recovered slowly from surgery and kept rallying on the sidelines to push his Revolution into the 21st century. It made it, in decidedly rough shape.

President Raul Castro, the former defense chief who is now (born June 3, 1931) himself, in the past few years kept dissent largely in check and economic reform limited, with the island’s economy in very dire straits.

Written by: AFP

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Ghani and Pakistani PM discuss need for ceasefire

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(Last Updated On: September 26, 2020)

President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistan’s Prime Minister held a telephone conversation Friday where both parties agreed there was an urgent need for a ceasefire. 

In a statement issued by the Presidential Palace (ARG), government said Ghani and Khan discussed bilateral relations, the peace process, and a ceasefire in Afghanistan. 

Ghani also invited Khan to pay an official visit to Afghanistan. 

ARG quoted Khan as saying: “We fully support the establishment of a ceasefire in Afghanistan and thanked the President for his invitation.”

According to ARG, Khan will “visit Kabul in the near future.”

Pakistan’s Geo TV meanwhile reported that Pakistan would fully support the decisions that the Afghan people would take about their future, according to Khan.

The prime minister also underlined the importance Pakistan attaches to constructive engagement with Afghanistan, and to peace, stability, and prosperity of the Afghan people.

Geo TV also stated that the Chairman of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), Abdullah Abdullah, would be visiting Islamabad next week.

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Khalilzad says Taliban unlikely to call a ceasefire until a deal is made

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(Last Updated On: September 26, 2020)

As the world continues to call for a reduction in violence in Afghanistan, US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said on Friday he did not think the Taliban would call for a ceasefire until an agreement between the two sides has been sealed. 

When asked about this in an interview with America’s PBS News Hour on Friday night, Khalilzad said: “I think you’re right that the Talibs will not accept a cease-fire, comprehensive and permanent, until there’s a political settlement,” adding however that this was not unprecedented in other conflicts in the past. 

In going forward and discussing a road map for peace, which might take into account an interim government, Khalilzad said there were various options the Afghan negotiating team and the Taliban have in front of them. 

“But it is for the Afghans to agree to a political road map. And the fact that they are sitting across the table from each other is unprecedented, that warring – Afghan warring parties have sat together.

“When the Soviets withdrew, before their withdrawal, there was no Afghan meetings. It was an agreement that Pakistan and the Afghan government signed with the US and USSR as guarantors. And ever since then, the warring Afghan parties have not sat together.”

“This is an extraordinary development in contemporary Afghan history,” he said.

Over the past few weeks, critics have raised their voices claiming the US was pushing Afghanistan and the Taliban together to sign a deal before the US elections in November. 

Questioned about whether he was under pressure by the White House or the US State Department to ensure progress was made by November 3, Khalilzad said he was not. 

“We would like the war to end as soon as possible. This is the expectation of the Afghan people. We have not set any artificial deadline for when these negotiations have to succeed. We are not directly involved in the negotiations. It’s Afghan-Afghan. They did not want a foreigner to be a mediator or a facilitator, to be in the room,” he said. 

Khalilzad said the Taliban had stated in Doha that the rights of minorities, such as the Shia community, would be respected and that there would be no discrimination. 

“But that’s still an unresolved issue in terms of an exact formulation and an agreement. We obviously support an agreement that respects the right of all Afghans, whether they belong to one sect or another, whether they’re men or women.”

On the issue of al-Qaeda, in terms of the February deal signed between the US and the Taliban, which had not yet cut ties with the terrorist organization, Khalilzad said Washington was holding the Taliban to that agreement. 

“And what we do is contingent, in terms of reduction of forces, on what they do. We have seen progress in terms of delivering on the commitment that they have made on terrorism, but that’s unfinished business. 

“And we will see in a couple of months, when we reached a number between 4,000 to 5,000 in terms of our troops. We will assess where they are.”

He said the US was very committed to ensuring Afghanistan could not be used as a platform to threaten the US and that Washington would “take measures necessary to protect the United States from potential terrorist threats in Afghanistan or from Afghanistan.”

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Australia Test against Afghanistan on hold due to COVID-19

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(Last Updated On: September 26, 2020)

Australia’s planned historic maiden Test against Afghanistan has become the latest victim of the global coronavirus pandemic, with the one-off match scheduled for later this year postponed until next year.

According to Cricket Australia (CA), complexities around international travel and quarantine requirements have also forced Cricket Australia to push back their proposed men’s ODI series against New Zealand until 2021-22.

Under the speculative schedule released by CA in May, the Test against Afghanistan was to have been played at Perth Stadium in late November.

But Cricket Australia confirmed Friday that following discussions with the Afghanistan and New Zealand cricket boards the decision had been made to delay those matches until next summer due to “the complexity of scheduling international matches during the global coronavirus pandemic”.

CA indicated it was confident a suitable window could be found within the current ICC Future Tours Program (FTP), that maps out the complex playing schedule for international men’s teams, to stage the postponed bilateral matches before the FTP’s conclusion in 2023.

“Cricket Australia looks forward to working with our good friends at the Afghanistan Cricket Board and New Zealand Cricket to deliver the matches at a time when, hopefully, the restrictions brought on by the COVID19 pandemic have eased,” CA’s interim Chief Executive Officer Nick Hockley said today.

“We all worked incredibly hard to make the series happen this summer, but the challenges around international travel and quarantine restrictions ultimately convinced all parties that the series would need to be played at a later date.”

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