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UN urges civilians protection, reduced violence ahead of intra-Afghan talks

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(Last Updated On: July 2, 2020)

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) urges parties to redouble efforts at protecting civilians from harm and de-escalating the conflict in order to save lives and create a conducive environment for the upcoming intra-Afghan talks in Doha, the capital of Qatar. 

The peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are expected to start this month.

In a statement released on Thursday, the UNAMA said that it is particularly concerned by a recent spate of violent incidents in which members of Afghanistan’s civil society have been targeted.

“Deliberate attacks against religious leaders, healthcare workers, members of the judiciary, civil society activists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and journalists are both shocking and criminal,” UNAMA said it seeks to the authorities to bring the perpetrators to account, emphasizing its determination to continue support to Afghanistan’s flourishing civil society sector.

“It’s taken enormous work and some brave decisions for Afghans to reach the point of being on the eve of unprecedented intra-Afghan negotiations,” said Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan. “I encourage parties to lay the necessary foundation for the talks by showing their commitment to peace through immediate and concrete actions to protect civilians and reduce violence.”

“There are spoilers who do not wish to see an end to war,” said Lyons, who is also head of UNAMA. “No matter what tactics they employ to de-rail the peace process, they cannot be allowed to succeed.”

In the first six months of 2020, preliminary figures indicate more than 800 civilians were killed and injured in deliberate attacks against civilians. UNAMA attributed responsibility for approximately half of these civilian casualties to the Taliban.

UNAMA remains particularly concerned by the deliberate targeting of religious leaders, with 18 incidents verified this year (six in June); healthcare personnel, with 13 incidents verified this year (two in June); judiciary members, with 11 incidents verified this year (three in June); civil society activists, with six incidents verified this year; NGOs, with five incidents verified this year (one in June); and journalists, with three incidents verified this year.

June incidents that require further verification include that of 22 June in Kabul, when armed men on a motorbike opened fire on a vehicle, killing all five passengers inside, including one prosecutor, working in the Bagram detention facility; and the 27 June incident also in the capital, when an Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission staff member and driver were killed by an IED when they were traveling to work.

The United Nations reiterates that attacks deliberately targeting Afghanistan’s civilian population are serious violations of international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes.

UNAMA draws attention to the continued harm to civilians from the use of indirect fire during ground engagements in civilian-populated areas that have caused roughly 25 percent of civilian casualties in the second quarter of 2020. On 29 June, in Sangin district, Helmand province, dozens of civilian casualties resulted from mortars fired by the Afghan National Army in response to Taliban fire when the mortars missed the intended target and landed in a busy marketplace, according to UNAMA’s preliminary findings.

“Verification of civilian harm remains ongoing and UNAMA will provide updated civilian casualty figures in its midyear protection of civilians report in July,” the organization said.

In addition, there has been a recent increase in civilian casualties from the Taliban’s use of pressure-plate IEDs; in the week following the Eid ceasefire, these victim-activated devices were the leading cause of civilian casualties.

The Mission’s continued call for an end to violence is also immediately linked to the need for all parties to provide the necessary focus and resources to combating the COVID-19 pandemic, a serious threat to everyone in Afghanistan.

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Concerns raised around peace talks after journalists have Qatar visas rejected

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(Last Updated On: August 12, 2020)

The Afghan media on Wednesday voiced concern over the upcoming intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha after Qatar visas for local journalists were not approved.

Members of the public also objected to the move saying talks should not be held behind closed doors and that the people of Afghanistan have the right to be kept up-to-date on the details of negotiations.

A group of local journalists was expected to travel with the official Afghan negotiating team to Qatar this week for the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations on Sunday.

However, the government has not yet commented on the visa issue.

A member of the Access to Information Commission meanwhile said that this was a serious concern.

“The presence of journalists should be a condition for negotiations so that they bring any decisions made about the fate of the people to light,” he said.

Initially reports indicated the Afghan talks team, led by Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, would leave Kabul, along with the group of journalists, on Wednesday.

However, the negotiating team will now only leave Thursday.

The Afghan negotiating team met with President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday to discuss issues around the upcoming peace talks with the Taliban.

Stanekzai briefed Ghani following the Loya Jirga’s decision on Sunday in favor of releasing the final 400 Taliban prisoners – which had been a stumbling block in the way of kick-starting negotiations.

Stanekzai stated Tuesday they will sit around the negotiating table with the Taliban as a united team in favor of “the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” and they will consider the interests of the people.

Meanwhile, Ghani said the Loya Jirga had drawn a peace roadmap for government, and that they are “committed to the implementation of that.”

“We are committed to peace, the goal is to end the war in a fundamental way,” Ghani added.

He said the peace talks team will negotiate a suitable and fair peace deal with the Taliban as it is in the best interests of the people.

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China’s Tencent profit beats estimates on strong games demand

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(Last Updated On: August 12, 2020)

Chinese gaming and social media giant Tencent Holdings Ltd said second-quarter net profit rose 37%, beating market estimates, on higher demand for its video games as coronavirus put a dent in other entertainment options.

Revenue from online games, which accounts for one-third of total sales, jumped 40% in the quarter, primarily driven by smartphone games including Peacekeeper Elite and Honour of Kings. That offset a continued decline in desktop games.

Social networks, fintech and business services, and social advertising revenues all grew by nearly 30%.

Media advertising revenues fell by 25% however, “as a result of weak brand advertising demand amid the challenging macro environment”, and delayed content production and releases.

The world’s largest gaming firm by revenue booked a 33.1 billion yuan ($4.8 billion) profit for the three months through June. That was ahead of an average analysts’ estimate of 27.56 billion yuan, according to data from Refinitiv.

Revenue rose 29% to 114.88 billion yuan, versus market expectations of 112.76 billion yuan.

The results come a few days after the United States said it would ban WeChat-related transactions in the country.

Tencent, which owns the Chinese messaging app, is under pressure to address concerns about the impact of the ban and outline its plans to mitigate any fallout.

Source: Reuters

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COVID-19: AFC 2022 World Cup qualifiers postponed to 2021

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(Last Updated On: August 12, 2020)

FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced Wednesday that the qualifying matches in Asia for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 have been postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic.

FIFA and AFC in a joint statement said that the Asian qualifiers matches scheduled to take place in October and November 2020 will be rescheduled to 2021.

“In light of the current COVID-19 situation in many countries, FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) have jointly decided that the upcoming qualifying matches for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023, originally scheduled to take place during the international match windows in October and November 2020, will be rescheduled to 2021,” the statement said.

According to the statement, the matches were postponed to make sure all participants are protected from contracting the Coronavirus.

“With the aim of protecting the health and safety of all participants, FIFA and the AFC will continue to work together to closely monitor the situation in the region and to identify new dates for the respective qualifying matches,” read the statement. 

The AFC further said that it will announce new dates for the next round of the qualifying matches for the FIFA World Cup 2022 and the Asian Cup 2023 in the coming days.

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