An attack on one of the only women taking part in negotiations with the Taliban was a “cowardly and criminal” attempt to disrupt the Afghan peace process, the US envoy has said.
Zalmay Khalilzad said he was “relieved” that Fawzia Koofi had escaped Friday’s shooting “without serious injury”.
Ms Koofi was shot in the right arm while travelling with her sister.
The Taliban have denied they were behind the attack, which came as the two sides prepared for talks.
The militant group has previously refused to negotiate directly with the Afghan government, but agreed to take part in the talks aiming to end almost two decades of conflict after reaching an agreement with the US in February.
As part of the agreement, the Afghan government had to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners. On Thursday, it began releasing the last 400 militants. Talks are expected to start in Qatar after the final prisoner is released.
But there are concerns the attack on Ms Koofi, an outspoken critic of the Taliban who was returning from a meeting in the northern Parwan province when she was attacked near the capital Kabul, could undermine the process.
“Worrying pattern of targeted attacks that can negatively impact confidence in peace process,” the chief of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, Shaharzad Akbar, wrote on Twitter.
Mr Khalizad also took to Twitter, saying he wanted “all sides who seek peace to not only condemn the attack but to accelerate the peace process and start intra-Afghan negotiations ASAP”.
The attack, which no one has claimed, was also condemned as “cowardly” by President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the High Council for National Reconciliation.
Ms Koofi is one of the few women to have taken part in dialogue with the hard-line Islamist group, which ruled Afghanistan until they were removed from power in Afghanistan by a US-led invasion in 2001.
They have fought to regain territory since. Last year alone, more than 3,000 civilians were killed in the conflict, according to United Nations figures.
However, the deal reached with the US has proved controversial. On Saturday, France objected to the release of some of the remaining 400 prisoners held by the Afghan authorities – some of whom it says were involved in the killings of French nationals.
Nearly 100 whales die in mass stranding in New Zealand
Some 97 whales and three dolphins died in the stranding, which conservation department staff were alerted to around midday local time on Sunday.
A power outage and the remote location of New Zealand’s most eastern islands, around 500 miles east off the country’s South Island, meant Department of Conservation rangers did not arrive at Waitangi West Beach until 3 p.m., officials said.
“Only 26 of the whales were still alive at this point, the majority of them appearing very weak, and were euthanized due to the rough sea conditions and almost certainty of there being great white sharks in the water which are brought in by a stranding like this,” biodiversity ranger Jemma Welch said in a statement.
Pilot whales — small, toothed whales with a bulging forehead, a short snout and pointed flippers — are sociable creatures, and live in groups of dozens, hundreds or even thousands.
Two more whales were stranded on Monday and also had to be euthanized, the Department of Conservation said, adding that the whales will be left to decompose naturally.
Representatives from theIndigenous Hokotehi Moriori Trust and Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri Iwi Trust performed a karakii/karakia— a prayer, or incantation — to honor the spirit of the whales on Sunday, the department added.
Mass strandings are common on the Chatham Islands, according to the department, which said that up to 1,000 animals died in a stranding in 1918.
In September, more than 450 pilot whales beached in Tasmania, Australia, in that state’s largest ever beaching. At least a third died during rescue attempts.
Rubio calls Biden’s national security team ‘polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline’
In recent days Biden has announced plans to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of State and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — jobs whose occupants require Senate confirmation. The president-elect has also named Jake Sullivan as his national security adviser, a White House role on which the Senate has no say.
Blinken, Thomas-Greenfield and Sullivan join a handful of other high-profile nominees — former Secretary of State John Kerry among them — who have thus far been light on surprises and heavy on experienced hands and veterans of the Obama administration. Biden has not yet announced his pick for Defense secretary, a centerpiece of the national security apparatus, despite widespread speculation that the job would go to Michèle Flournoy.
Rubio ran for president in 2016 and remains one of the GOP’s highest-profile lawmakers. The Florida senator, a child of Cuban immigrants, has been especially vocal on issues related to foreign policy, and his concern about the U.S. relationship with China dovetails with one of the Trump administration’s basic international relations tenets.
But the president-elect has to walk a fine line with his choices for administration posts that need Senate approval given the razor-thin margins in the chamber and the likelihood that nominees will need to garner Republican support to win confirmation. Some Republican senators have recently indicated a willingness to sign off on Biden’s Cabinet selections — while warning they will sink nominees they believe to be out of the political mainstream — potentially defusing what would be an early standoff in Biden’s presidency.
The Finance Watchdog Says There’s “Evidence” Neither Ministers Or Businesses Are “Fully Prepared” For Brexit
Chancellor Rishi Sunak made no mention of Brexit in his economic update
3 min read
The Office for Budget Responsibility has warned there is “evidence” that ministers and businesses are not prepared for “imminent changes” to the economy from Brexit.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has come under fire for failing to mention the potential impact of Brexit on the nation’s finances during the spending review, despite the OBR warning a no-deal outcome was a “material risk”.
The watchdog, which modelled a 11.3% contraction of the economy, said the figures were based on a presumption that ministers would strike a free trade deal with Brussels ahead of the 31 December deadline.
But it said the “unresolved nature” of the talks meant that “other outcomes are possible, including that no agreement is reached and the UK defaults to trading with the EU on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms from 1 January 2021.”
The finance watchdog concluded that under that scenario the UK’s GDP would be reduced by a further 2% in 2021, “due to various temporary disruptions to cross-border trade and the knock-on impacts”.
It added: “As these abate, the longer-term effects of lower trade instensity continue to build such that output is 1.5% lower than our central forecast after five years, and 2% lower in the long run…”
The analysis also found that a no-deal scenario would see borrowing likely rise by a further 0.5% of GDP from 2021-22.
And under its worst case scenario, which would also see vaccines failing to control the pandemic, the OBR predicted the additional impacts of a no-deal would lead to national debt reaching 126.3% of GDP by 2025-26.
“The degree of near-term disruption to economic activity associated with defaulting to WTO terms depend in part upon the preparedness of the Government and businesses to manage any additional administrative, regulatory, and customs requirements,” the report said.
“While both have had more time to prepare than when we last considered these issues in our [earlier report], they have also been distracted by the need to deal with the disruption caused by the virus.
“This is likely to have taken up personnel and resources at some businesses that would have otherwise been used to prepare for a no deal Brexit, while also running down cash reserves and inventories making them more vulnerable to shocks,” it went on.
Meanwhile, pointing to work carried out by business groups, the OBR said there was “evidence” that ministers and businesses were still not prepared for Brexit related disruption, even if a deal is signed.
The watchdog added: “We continue to assume that the UK and EU conclude a free-trade agreement (FTA) and that there is a smooth transition to the new trading relationship after the transition period ends on 31 December 2020. However, there is evidence that neither the government nor businesses are fully prepared for the imminent changes even if a deal is agreed.”
Hitting out at Mr Sunak’s failure to address Brexit during his economic update, shadow chancellor Anneliesse Dodds, said: “In less than 40 days, we’re due to leave the transition period. Yet the chancellor didn’t even mention that in his speech.
“There’s still no trade deal. So does the chancellor truly believe that his government is prepared and that he’s done enough to help those businesses that will be heavily affected?”