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MPs Elected First, Second Deputy Speakers of Parliament

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(Last Updated On: July 2, 2019)

Amir Khan Yar, an MP from Nangarhar province, has been elected as the first deputy of the parliament speaker.

He won 131 votes at the end of the third round of elections over the seat.

His rival Mohammadullah Batash failed to win enough votes.

Meanwhile, Ahmad Shah Ramazan, an MP from Balkh province, elected as the Second Deputy Speaker of the House by securing 119 votes.

During the last two months, the Afghan parliament is struggling to elect its administrative board but lawmakers have been unable to complete the board yet.

COVID-19

Russia registered world’s first COVID-19 vaccine: Putin

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(Last Updated On: August 11, 2020)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that his country has succeeded to develop a vaccine that “forms stable cell and antibody immunity” against the COVID-19.

Speaking at a government meeting, Putin said: “As far as I know, this morning for the first time in the world a vaccine against the novel coronavirus infection was registered.” 

The Russian Tass news agency reported that the vaccine was developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya institute and its clinical trials were over.

The vaccine was approved by the country’s Health Ministry after less than two months of human testing.

“I know this very well, because one of my daughters got vaccinated, so in this sense, she took part in testing,” Putin said. He noted that after the first vaccine shot, his daughter had a 38°C fever, and on the next day, a fever slightly higher than 37°C. And then, after the second shot, she had a slight fever again, and then everything was fine, she is feeling well and has a high [antibody] count,” Putin said quoted by the Tass.

The vaccine still has to complete final trials but Russia’s move could pave the way for mass vaccination.

Reuters reported that the vaccine’s approval by the health ministry comes before the start of a larger trial involving thousands of participants, commonly known as a Phase III trial.

Such trials, which require a certain rate of participants catching the virus to observe the vaccine’s effect, are normally considered essential precursors for a vaccine to receive regulatory approval.

The Moscow-based Association of Clinical Trials Organizations (ACTO), a trade body representing the world’s top drugmakers in Russia this week urged the health ministry to postpone approval until that final trial had been successfully completed.

In a letter to the ministry, it said there were high risks associated with registering a drug before that happened.

“It is during this phase that the main evidence of a vaccine’s efficacy is collected, as well as information on adverse reactions that could appear in certain groups of patients: people with weakened immunity, people with concomitant diseases and so forth,” it said.

Some international experts have also questioned the speed at which Russia approved its vaccine.

“Normally you need a large number of people to be tested before you approve a vaccine,” said Peter Kremsner from the University Hospital in Tuebingen, currently testing CureVac’s COVID-19 vaccine in clinical trials.

“In that respect, I think it’s reckless to do that (approve it) if lots of people haven’t already been tested.”

Duncan Matthews, a professor of intellectual property law at the Queen Mary University of London, said news of a potential COVID-19 vaccine was to be welcomed, “but safety must be the priority”.

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) have fast-track approval procedures for emergency humanitarian use and we need to see evidence that Russia is adopting an equally prudent approach,” Matthews said in an emailed comment.

More than 100 possible vaccines are being developed around the world to try to stop the COVID-19 pandemic. At least four are in final Phase III human trials, according to WHO data.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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Private sector welcomes peace move which could bring enormous investment opportunities

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(Last Updated On: August 11, 2020)

Peace in Afghanistan would provide enormous opportunities for local and international businesses to invest in the country, in turn boosting the economy and aiding in its overall development. 

Afghan business owners and leaders in the private sector have said the war has created major obstacles for investors in the country over the past 19 years. 

Following President Ashraf Ghani’s decree, issued on Monday afternoon, to release the remaining 400 prisoners so as to pave the way for peace talks, the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Investment (ACCI) urged all warring parties to seize the opportunity to bring about peace so as to improve the country’s dismal economic climate.

“We welcome the Loya Jirga’s decision to release Taliban prisoners, which could have a positive impact on the country’s economic growth,” said Khanjan Alokozai, an ACCI member said. 

Officials at the Afghanistan Chamber of Mines and Industries seconded this and said peace in Afghanistan would not only increase investment opportunities but also create much-needed jobs. 

“With the release of the prisoners, our hope is that dialogue between Afghans will begin, as this will increase investment in the country,” said Sakhi Ahmad Paiman, deputy director of the Chamber of Mines and Industries.

Ghani’s decree comes a day after the consultative Loya Jirga voted in favor of releasing the hardcore Taliban insurgents, as per the Doha agreement between the US and Taliban in February – which was one condition that needed to be fulfilled before intra-Afghan peace talks could start.

Meanwhile, economic experts are also optimistic about the opportunity for peace and for what is hoped will be the resultant economic growth in the country.

Hakimullah Siddiqui, an economist, said: “Both sides of the war must seize the opportunity to stabilize and grow the country economically, in order to increase economic opportunities.”

Other economists said peace would open up vast opportunities for investments in all sectors, including mining, agriculture, services, energy, and manufacturing. 

Talks are expected to officially begin on Sunday, in Doha, Qatar, between government and the Taliban.

The Afghan government’s negotiating team is expected to leave Kabul on Wednesday.

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Lebanese government quits amid fury over Beirut blast

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(Last Updated On: August 11, 2020)

Lebanon’s prime minister announced his government’s resignation on Monday, saying the huge explosion that devastated Beirut and triggered public outrage was the result of endemic corruption.

Last week’s detonation at a port warehouse of what authorities said was more than 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate killed at least 163 people, injured more than 6,000 and destroyed swathes of the city, compounding months of political and economic meltdown.

“Today we follow the will of the people in their demand to hold accountable those responsible for the disaster that has been in hiding for seven years,” Prime Minister Hassan Diab said in a speech announcing the resignation.

He blamed the disaster on endemic corruption and said those responsible should be ashamed because their actions had led to a catastrophe “beyond description”.

“I said before that corruption is rooted in every lever of the state but I have discovered that corruption is greater than the state,” he said, pointing to a political elite for preventing change and saying his government faced a brick wall on reforms.

While Diab’s move attempted to respond to popular anger about the blast, it also plunged Lebanese politics deeper into turmoil and may further hamper already-stalled talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a financial rescue plan.

The talks, launched in May, were put on hold due to inaction on reforms and a row between the government, banks and politicians over the scale of vast financial losses.

President Michel Aoun accepted the resignation and asked Diab’s government – formed in January with the backing of Iran’s powerful Hezbollah group and its allies – to stay as a caretaker until a new cabinet is formed, a televised announcement said.

At the White House, US President Donald Trump said the explosion had triggered what he called “a revolution,” but did not comment further.

Ahead of Diab’s announcement, demonstrations broke out for a third day in central Beirut, with some protesters hurling rocks at security forces guarding an entrance leading to the parliament building, who responded with tear gas.

For many ordinary Lebanese, the explosion was the last straw in a protracted crisis over the collapse of the economy, corruption, waste and dysfunctional governance, and they have taken to the streets demanding root-and-branch change.

“The entire regime needs to change. It will make no difference if there is a new government,” Joe Haddad, a Beirut engineer, told Reuters. “We need quick elections.”

The system of government requires Aoun to consult with parliamentary blocs on who should be the next prime minister, and he is obliged to designate the candidate with the greatest level of support among parliamentarians.

Forming a government amid factional rifts has been daunting in the past. Now with growing public discontent with the ruling elite over the blast and a crushing financial crisis, it could be difficult to find a candidate willing to be prime minister.

After former premier Saad Hariri stepped down in October last year amid anti-government protests over perceived corruption and mismanagement, it took more than two months to form Diab’s government.

Diab’s cabinet was under severe pressure to step down. Some ministers had already resigned over the weekend and Monday while others, including the finance minister, were set to follow suit, ministerial and political sources said.

Diab said on Saturday he would request early parliamentary elections.

Aoun has said explosive material was stored unsafely for years at the port. In later comments, he said the investigation would consider whether the cause was external interference as well as negligence or an accident.

The cabinet decided to refer the investigation of the blast to the judicial council, the highest legal authority whose rulings cannot be appealed, a ministerial source and state news agency NNA said. The council usually handles top security cases.

Lebanese, meanwhile, are struggling to come to terms with the scale of losses after the blast wrecked entire areas.

“The economy was already a disaster and now I have no way of making money again,” said Eli Abi Hanna, whose house and car repair shop were destroyed. 

“It was easier to make money during the civil war. The politicians and the economic disaster have ruined everything.”

The Lebanese army said on Monday that another five bodies were pulled from the rubble, raising the death toll to 163. Search and rescue operations continued.

Anti-government protests in the past two days have been the biggest since October, when angry demonstrations spread over an economic crisis rooted in pervasive graft, mismanagement and high-level unaccountability.

An international donor conference on Sunday raised pledges worth nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) for immediate humanitarian relief, but foreign countries are demanding transparency over how the aid is used.

Some Lebanese doubt change is possible in a country where sectarian politicians have dominated since the 1975-90 conflict.

“It won’t work, it’s just the same people. It’s a mafia,” said Antoinette Baaklini, an employee of an electricity company that was demolished in the blast.

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