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Tensions run high despite Armenia, Azerbaijan ceasefire

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Reuters
(Last Updated On: October 11, 2020)

A Russian-brokered humanitarian ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan was under severe strain on Sunday as each side accused the other of violating the terms of the truce. 

The ceasefire, which came into effect at midday on Saturday, was meant to halt fighting to allow ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azeri forces to swap prisoners and war dead, Reuters reported.

The enclave is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.

But on Sunday, both sides accused one another of breaking the ceasefire almost immediately on Saturday, and Azerbaijan gave the impression in public comments from top officials that it saw it as only a brief and temporary breathing space anyway, Reuters stated.

Azerbaijan accused Armenia of heavily shelling a residential area in Ganja, its second-largest city, in the early hours of the morning, and of hitting an apartment building.

Azerbaijan officials said five people had been killed and 28 wounded in the attack.

The Armenian defense ministry meanwhile called the Azeri allegations “an absolute lie” and accused Azerbaijan of continuing to shell populated areas inside Karabakh, including Stepanakert, the region’s biggest city.

However, a Reuters photographer in Ganja saw rescue workers carrying one dead person from the ruins of a large apartment building on Sunday morning. The structure had been almost leveled. An excavator was clearing the debris.

Buildings and cars in the immediate vicinity had also been severely damaged.

Bloomberg meanwhile reported that Azerbaijan said at least seven civilians were killed and 33 others were injured when Ganca, the country’s second-largest city, was bombed Sunday by Armenians. 

Armenia and the defense ministry of the self-proclaimed republic of Nagorno-Karabakh denied firing toward Ganca while saying two civilians were killed in the city of Hadrut.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hosted his counterparts from the two former Soviet republics in Moscow for negotiations that ran for more than 10 hours overnight Friday to Saturday. 

However, Arayik Harutyunyan, Nagorno-Karabakh’s president, said at a media briefing on Sunday the situation was relatively calm now along the contact line. 

But Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry reported continued fighting in the south of Nagorno-Karabakh.

COVID-19

Global coronavirus caseload crosses the 40 million mark

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(Last Updated On: October 19, 2020)

The number of COVID-19 cases worldwide passed the 40 million mark on Monday, according to a Reuters tally. 

Reuters reported that this comes as the onset of winter in the northern hemisphere appears to have fuelled a resurgence in the spread of the disease. 

Experts however believe the true numbers of both cases and deaths are likely much higher, given deficiencies in testing and potential under-reporting by some countries.

The Reuters data shows the pace of the pandemic continues to increase as it took just 32 days to go from 30 million global cases to 40 million, compared with the 38 days it took to get from 20 to 30 million, the 44 days between 10 and 20 million, and the three months it took to reach 10 million cases from when the first cases were reported in Wuhan, China, in early January.

Reuters also reported that record one-day increases in new infections were seen at the end of last week, with global coronavirus cases rising above 400,000 for the first time.

The United States, India, and Brazil remain the worst affected countries in the world. 

 

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UN secretary general condemns Ghor attack 

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(Last Updated On: October 19, 2020)

UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday strongly condemned the attack in Ghor province on Sunday that killed and wounded dozens of civilians. 

In a statement issued by the organization, Guterres said he “strongly condemns the indiscriminate attack today on a provincial police headquarters in Afghanistan’s province of Ghor, in an area where many civilians are present.”  

The UN stated that according to preliminary reports, the car bomb claimed the lives of at least 13 people and injured dozens of civilians, including women and children. 

“Those who carry out such crimes must be held accountable,” the statement read. 

“The Secretary-General expresses his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured,” Guterres said.

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US peace envoy warns high levels of violence could derail peace process 

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(Last Updated On: October 19, 2020)

US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad warned that “distressingly” high levels of violence could derail the peace process and the understanding that there is no military solution to the war in Afghanistan. 

In a series of tweets overnight Monday, Khalilzad appeared to have been responding to Sunday’s spat between the Taliban and the US Forces Afghanistan after the insurgent group accused the US of violating the Doha agreement by carrying out airstrikes in Helmand and Farah provinces last week. 

The US Forces Afghanistan responded not long after rejecting the claim and said they were within the terms of the agreement as they had been defending the Afghan security forces who had come under attack by the Taliban. 

The Taliban also issued a veiled threat in their statement and said: “All responsibility and consequences from the continuation of such actions shall fall squarely on the shoulders of the American side.”

Khalilzad meanwhile said in his Twitter statement: “Unfounded charges of violations and inflammatory rhetoric do not advance peace. Instead, we should pursue strict adherence to all articles of the US-Taliban Agreement and US-Afghanistan Joint Declaration and not neglect the commitment to gradually reduce violence.

“Continued high levels of violence can threaten the peace process and the agreement and the core understanding that there is no military solution. Violence today remains distressingly high in spite of the recent reaffirmation of the need for substantial reduction.

“Taliban attacks in Helmand, including on the provincial capital; Taliban attacks against Afghan security forces; & Taliban complaints of ANSF operations and coalition strikes led to a recent meeting in Doha.

“All sides agreed to decrease attacks and strikes and reduce violence and casualties. Although violence in Helmand has decreased, violence overall in the country remains high.

“Our expectation has been and remains that violence comes down and stays down.

“It was a focus of the Agreement we signed, further highlighted in connection with the releases of the last batch of prisoners and reaffirmed again in the most recent commitment all sides made to adhere to all aspects of the deal,” Khalilzad said. 

Reacting to the car bombing on Sunday in Ghor province that killed at least 13 people, Khalilzad stated: “Violence has stalked Afghans for far too long. It has robbed far too many Afghans of their loved ones. The tragedy in Ghor today is the most recent example.”

He said: “The belief that says violence must escalate to win concessions at the negotiating table is very risky. Such an approach can undermine the peace process and repeats past miscalculations by Afghan leaders.

“We must adhere to the letter and spirit of what was negotiated and the recent understanding. They provide a path to minimizing Afghan loss of life and protecting an historic opportunity for peace which must not be missed,” Khalilzad said.

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