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Facebook faces growing criticism after Australia news ban

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(Last Updated On: February 20, 2021)

Facebook is facing mounting criticism after it blocked news content in Australia amid a dispute with the government over a planned law which will reportedly force tech giants to pay for news content on their platforms.

According to BBC, Facebook says the legislation “fundamentally misunderstands” its relationship with publishers.

But politicians, publishers and rights groups in several countries have accused it of bullying, and raised concerns over access to information.

BBC states that under Facebook’s new rules, Australian users are blocked from viewing and sharing local and international news, while local publishers are restricted from sharing or posting any links on their pages.

However, reports soon emerged that several Australian government health and emergency pages were also blocked. BBC reported that Facebook later said this was a mistake and many of these pages are now back online.

But Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the social media company’s actions to “unfriend Australia” were “as arrogant as they were disappointing”.

He said he was in “regular contact with the leaders of other nations” over the issue and would not be “intimidated”.

BBC reported that Morrison has raised the issue with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as he sought to gain international support, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Other Australian officials have also criticised the move. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the ban on news information had a “huge community impact”. About 17 million Australians visit the social media site every month. It is the most important social platform for news in the country.

Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan accused Facebook of “behaving like a North Korean dictator”, BBC reported.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch’s Australia director said Facebook was censoring the flow of information, calling it a “dangerous turn of events”.

A local campaigner with rights group Amnesty International said it was “extremely concerning that a private company is willing to control access to information that people rely on”.

The move also faced criticism outside Australia.

BBC reported that Julian Knight, the head of the British parliamentary committee overseeing the media industry, called Facebook’s action “bullying”.

“I think it’s staggeringly irresponsible – at a time when we are facing a plethora of fake news and disinformation in relation to the Covid vaccine,” he told the BBC.

“This is not just about Australia. This is Facebook putting a marker down, saying to the world that ‘if you do wish to limit our powers… we can remove what is for many people a utility’.”

Global publishers also reacted, with the company behind the Guardian newspaper saying it was “deeply concerned”.

The head of Germany’s BDZV news publishers’ association said it was “high time that governments all over the world limit the market power of the gatekeeper platforms”, BBC reported.

Many Australian users are also angry about their sudden loss of access to trusted and authoritative sources.

“It feels obviously very restrictive in what Facebook is going to allow people to do in the future, not only in Australia but around the world,” Peter Firth, in Sydney, told the BBC.

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Afghan forces abandon a base, three outposts in Laghman

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(Last Updated On: May 7, 2021)

The Afghan Security and Defense Forces (ANSDF) have abandoned a military base and three outposts in the Alingar district of eastern Laghman province, sources said Friday.

Security sources told Ariana News that the base and the outposts have been captured by the Taliban militants after the Afghan forces retreated.

The Taliban, however, published pictures claiming the militants have captured 14 members of the Afghan forces and seized a number of weapons and ammo.

This comes after the Taliban militants captured the Shahr-e Kohna region of Baghlan-e Markazi district and Burka district of Baghlan province this week.

Afghan army officials stated that the operation underway to retake the Shahr-e Kohna of Baghlan-e Markazi.

Safiullah, an Afghan army commander in the north, stated: “We have recaptured large areas. We are capable to bring the situation to normal.”

“The Afghan forces have been deployed in the area. We will not let any place collapse to the Taliban,” Mohammad Akbar Barakzai governor of Baghlan said.

The security organizations stated that the Taliban have carried out 870 attacks – 10 suicide attacks, 100 bombings, and 30 targeted assassinations – on the Afghan forces during this week.

The Afghan army, however, stated that at least 250 Taliban militants have been killed in Kandahar, Badghis, Balkh, Helmand, Herat, Takhar, and Kunduz in the last 24 hours,

Fawad Aman, deputy spokesman for the Ministry of Defense (MoD) stated: “The Afghan Security and Defense forces have cracked down on the Taliban in parts of the country. Their attacks against civilians mean that the group does not believe in anything unless war.”

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International community calls on Taliban to stop spring offensive

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(Last Updated On: May 7, 2021)

The Special Envoys of the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, NATO, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States on the Afghan Peace Process in a joint statement on Friday “strongly” condemned the continued violence in Afghanistan. 

The statement, which was issued following a virtual meeting of the international community envoys and the Taliban delegation, said that the Taliban are largely responsible for the continued violence, urging all warring parties to take immediate and necessary steps to reduce violence and in particular, “to avoid civilian casualties in order to create an environment conducive to reaching a political settlement.” 

The envoys called on all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law in all circumstances, including those related to the protection of civilians and urged all sides to immediately agree on steps that enable the successful implementation of a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.

The envoy emphasized that durable peace in Afghanistan can only be achieved through an inclusive, negotiated political settlement among Afghans.

The envoys affirmed their commitment to UNSC resolution 2513 (2020) and emphasized that they oppose the establishment in Afghanistan of any government by force which would constitute a threat to regional stability, the statement read.

The envoys highlighted “the need to accelerate the pace of the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace negotiations and committed to work with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Taliban, and other Afghan political and civil society leaders to reach a comprehensive and sustainable peace agreement and political compromise that ends the war for the benefit of all Afghans and that contributes to regional stability and global security.”

This comes as the Taliban have intensified attacks across the country since the foreign troops’ officially begin to withdraw from Afghanistan on May 1.

The Taliban militants have captured the Dahla dam in Kandahar, the Shahr-e Kohna region of Baghlan-e Markazi district of Baghlan province, a security base in Ghazni, and a military base and three outposts in Laghman province during the last seven days.

The international community also called upon the Taliban “to stop their undeclared spring offensive, to refrain from attacks against civilians, and to stop immediately all attacks in the vicinity of hospitals, schools, universities, mosques and other civilian areas.”

The envoy also called for an immediate end to the campaign of targeted assassinations against civil society leaders, the clergy, journalists and other media workers, human rights defenders, healthcare personnel, judicial employees, and other civilians.

Meanwhile, the Taliban in a series of tweets that a powerful Islamic government is a need in Afghanistan that could maintain “women’s rights and freedom of speech.”

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Another two B-52 bombers arrive in region to protect US troops

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(Last Updated On: May 7, 2021)

Two additional US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress aircraft from the 5th Bomb Wing, Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, arrived at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, on Tuesday as the US Forces and NATO ramp up the troops’ withdrawal process.

According to the US Central Command, the bombers join the four B-52 aircraft that arrived at Al Udeid in late April.

These aircraft are in place to “protect the orderly and responsible withdrawal of US and coalition forces from Afghanistan,” CENTCOM stated.

In addition, CENTCOM stated it is committed to providing the necessary force protection to ensure the drawdown is conducted in a safe manner.

On Saturday, the US military and coalition forces officially started their withdrawal process after almost 20 years in the country.

Within days of the start of the exit process, US officials said 60 planeloads of military equipment had already left the country.

According to reports, US military cargo flights were working around the clock to move hardware out of Afghanistan.

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