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Syrians vote for new parliament amid war, economic turmoil

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(Last Updated On: July 19, 2020)

Syrians go to the polls Sunday to elect a new parliament as the Damascus government grapples with international sanctions and a crumbling economy after retaking large parts of the war-torn country.

More than 7,400 polling stations will open at 7.30 am in government-held parts of Syria, including for the first time in former opposition strongholds, AFP reported.

President Bashar al-Assad’s Baath party and its allies are expected to take most of parliament’s 250 seats in the third such polls to be held since the war started nine years ago.

On the eve of the polls, one person was killed and another wounded in two blasts in Damascus, state news agency SANA said.

Several lists were allowed to run across the country but any real opposition is absent, and the ruling Baath party is expected to retain its hegemony.

Portraits of the contenders have been displayed across the capital for weeks, with the 1,658 candidates including several prominent businessmen.

The elections, twice postponed from April due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, come at a time when most Syrians are worried about the soaring cost of living.

Many candidates are running on programs pledging to tackle inflation and improve infrastructure ravaged by the conflict.

“Lawmakers are going to have to make exceptional efforts to improve services,” said Umaya, a 31-year-old woman who works in a dentist’s practice.

Millions of Syrians living abroad, after fleeing a war that has killed more than 380,000 people, are not eligible to vote.

But for the first time, voting will take place in territory retaken by the government, including in the Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus and in the south of Idlib province in the country’s northwest.

After a string of military victories backed by key ally Russia, the government is back in control of around 70 percent of the country, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

In the last polls in 2016, turnout stood at 57 percent.

This year’s vote comes as Damascus struggles to redress an economy battered by nine years of war, Western sanctions, and the fallout of a financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon.

Food prices in Syria have shot up by more than 200 percent in the past year and now stand at 20 times their pre-war levels, the World Food Programme says.

In a country where more than 80 percent of people already live in poverty, the UN food agency has warned that Syrians are now facing an “unprecedented hunger crisis”.

The elections also come as Assad marked a second decade in power this month, and weeks after the United States imposed new sanctions on Syria including on the president’s wife.

The next presidential polls are expected in 2021, and candidates will need the written approval of at least 35 members of parliament.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem last month said Assad would remain in power “as long as the Syrians want him to stay”.

 

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World leaders call for peace, stability in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: September 23, 2021)

On day 2 of the UN General Assembly, world leaders called for peace and stability in Afghanistan and voiced their concerns about attacks being launched from Afghanistan.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in his address to the general assembly that the international community needs to work with Afghanistan’s neighbors in order to prevent instability in the region.

“Regarding Afghanistan, we’ll have to start working with neighbouring countries in this new context to face the humanitarian crisis and prevent more instability in the region.

“We cannot lower our guard in the face of a terrorist menace (Daesh) that is real and that already has delivered a heavy blow in the midst of the evacuation operations.

“Afghanistan cannot turn into a shelter for terrorists. Spain is firmly committed to find maximum international security,” said Sanchez.

Leaders attending the 76th General Assembly, also called for achievements made over the past 20 years to be preserved.

“As the UN Global Advocate for Every Woman Every Child, it makes me sad that the progress seen during the past two decades in Afghanistan could be reverted so quickly,” said Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia.

Indonesia, which has the highest Muslim population of any country in the world, called on the international community to support the call for rights for women and minorities and for stability in Afghanistan.

 “The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the importance of diversification of vaccine production centers across the world.

“We must be stern in fighting intolerance, conflicts, terrorism and war. Peace in diversity and the protection of women’s and minority rights must be upheld. Concerns on the marginalization of women and violence in Afghanistan, Palestine’s elusive independence and the political crisis in Myanmar must be our common agenda,” said Joko Widodo, president of Indonesia.

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Acting foreign minister upbeat about future trade and diplomatic relations

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(Last Updated On: September 23, 2021)

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s (IEA) acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi says he is working to build strong economic ties with regional nations and countries around the world.

Speaking at a ceremony to introduce the new acting minister of commerce and industry, Nooruddin Aziz, Muttaqi said he is focused on developing the country’s economic sector.

Muttaqi also said that Afghanistan’s economic relations with regional countries would soon be regulated, which would have a positive impact on trade.

“We have selected a minister from the private sector for the ministry of commerce and industry so as to ensure the smooth running of the private sector and economic activities. We hope that the private sector will also play an active role in the country’s economy,” Muttaqi said at the ceremony.

Aziz meanwhile said he will also work to expand economic ties with all countries, both regionally and globally, in order to get Afghanistan to a point where it is financially self-sufficient.

“We strive to make Afghanistan a self-sufficient and economic-free country and to maintain relations with regional and neighboring countries; also the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, and a number of other countries,” said Aziz.

Private sector representatives said they will support the new ministers and work with them to grow the country’s economy.

“Security is crucial for economic development and the fight against corruption. So far the (security) problem has been solved. We will expand our activities,” said Khan Jan Alkozai, Vice President of Afghan Chamber of Commerce & Industries.

“Unless we speed up our efforts to develop industry and domestic production in the country, economic growth may not be possible. We call on the Islamic Emirate to make efforts to develop domestic production,” said Sherbaz Kaminzada, head of the chamber of mines and industries.

Officials of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan have assured members of the private sector that the security of domestic investors will be maintained and that more opportunities for economic development will be provided.

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Afghanistan faces severe medicine shortage amid Forex restrictions

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(Last Updated On: September 23, 2021)

Afghanistan is now faced with medicine shortage due to disrupted border crossings and limited operation of banks.

Almost all medicine in Afghanistan is imported from neighboring countries, such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Iran and Turkey.

However, the border crossings between Afghanistan and its neighbors were disrupted in the lead-up to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s (IEA) takeover, and normal operations are yet to resume.

Worse still, wholesalers have been unable to complete transactions due to the limited operation of banks.

“Yes, since the takeover, banks are closed [for international transactions]. As the banks are closed, we can’t transfer payments to suppliers. If we don’t transfer money to the suppliers legally, they will not be able to deliver us the medicine and prices will definitely rise. When demand is high, and supply is low, the prices naturally go up. We are facing a shortage in supply of essential medicine,” said Rohullah Alokozay, President of GPS Pharma, Reuters reported.

Officials said the number of visitors at government hospitals has increased since the change of regime. The good news is that international donors have increased their focus towards government hospitals.

“In fact, we have even more visiting patients. Fortunately, we got more attention from UNICEF and the WHO, especially, towards our hospital which is a children’s hospital. They didn’t have enough focus in the last few years, but in the last month they increased our medical supply,” said Noor ul Haq Yousufzai, president of Indira Gandhi Institute for Children’s Health.

In fact, the government hospitals didn’t have enough medical facilities in the past three to four years due to lengthy procurement processes and the problem of corruption.

Government hospitals were not able to provide medicines to patients despite the continued funding in the previous regime.

“On one hand, prices have increased, while on the other hand, the people have become poorer. This has affected the doctors, patients and the society. Even in the former regime, patients used to buy their medicine at the market. We used to prescribe the medicine. Patients were not provided even with a single pill from the hospital,” said Dr. M. Fayaz Safi, Head of Medical Doctors’ Association in Afghanistan.

Many of the problems in the health sector have been left over from the previous regime. Wahid Majrooh, former acting minister of public health in the previous government said the former Afghan authorities had tried to solve the issues in coordination with stakeholders, but efforts were unsuccessful.

“And it led us to having few or no supplies, and most of our health facilities including essential medicine, fuel, oxygen, staff salary. We have been trying to work with different stakeholders to see if we can fulfil the urgent needs, but we haven’t been able to do it successfully,” said Majrooh.

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