Tuesday, 17 August 2021: Biden defends US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Poland recalls ambassador to Israel, German committee backs coronavirus vaccine for all teens


Biden defends US withdrawal from Afghanistan: The Taliban captured the Afghan capital Kabul on Sunday. There were desperate scenes at Kabul airport as thousands attempted to flee following the Taliban takeover. US President Joe Biden on Monday said he did not regret his decision to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan, while acknowledging that the country’s collapse to the Taliban came much sooner than US officials had anticipated. „I stand squarely behind my decision,“ he said from the White House. Biden repeatedly criticised Afghanistan’s elected leaders and military for not putting up more of a fight against the Taliban. He said that they in essence squandered the time and money America spent to build up its security forces. “We gave them every tool they could need,” he said. “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. [What] we could not provide them, was the will to fight for that future.“ The US president added that it was wrong to put Americans in harm’s way to do a job that Afghanistan wouldn’t do itself. „If anything, the developments of the past week reinforce that ending US military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision,“ said Biden.
theguardian.com, politico.com, bbc.com

Merkel calls development in Afghanistan bitter and dramatic: German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke on Monday about the quickly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan after the Taliban seized control. „This is an extremely bitter development. Bitter, dramatic and terrifying,“ said the chancellor. She added the mission in Afghanistan had not been as successful as had been hoped. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas admitted that the German federal government and its intelligence services misjudged the situation in Afghanistan. „The speed with which the Afghan security forces have withdrawn, capitulated, neither we nor our partners nor our experts foresaw that far,“ Maas said. French President Emmanuel Macron warned that Afghanistan should not become the „sanctuary of terrorism“ that it was until the US-led invasion two decades ago. He called on the United Nations Security Council to come up with a reasonable and unified response and said he had spoken to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, adding that joint initiatives would be agreed in the next hours. The upcoming initiative would focus on the fight against irregular flows, solidarity in the effort, the harmonisation of protection criteria and the establishment of cooperation with transit and host countries such as Pakistan, Turkey or Iran, Macron explained, noting that he will push for such a proposal together with Germany and other European countries. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell will discuss the situation with EU foreign affairs ministers this Tuesday. Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer has suggested setting up deportation centres in countries neighbouring Afghanistan.
dw.com, cnn.com, france24.com, politico.eu, cnbc.com, reuters.com

Albania and Kosovo to host Afghan refugees: The fall of Kabul has reopened divisions over immigration in European countries as government leaders brace themselves for an inevitable surge in refugees. Leaders of Albania and Kosovo said on Sunday they had accepted an American request to temporarily host political refugees seeking entry to the US.

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Zambia opposition leader Hichilema wins landslide in presidential election: Opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema has secured a victory over incumbent Edgar Lungu in Zambia’s presidential election. Hichilema defeated the incumbent, President Edgar Lungu, by a landslide – more than a million votes. It was Hichilema’s sixth attempt at winning the presidency. Lungu accepted defeat and congratulated him. In a speech on national TV, Hichilema said he was committed to a smooth transfer of power, which is expected in the coming days. However, he repeated his claims that the elections were not free and fair. Lungu’s six-year rule was criticised for alleged human rights abuses, corruption, a failing economy and massive unemployment. On top of the economic problems, activists and opposition politicians warned that increasingly repressive tactics from Lungu’s government would cause an erosion of the country’s democracy, which was seen as a model across the continent after Zambia’s founding father, Kenneth Kaunda, reluctantly stepped aside when he lost the first multiparty elections in 1991. Even during the voting, the government deployed the military to the streets, citing attacks on Lungu supporters, and it restricted access to social media sites, a decision that a court quickly overturned.
reuters.com, bbc.com, nytimes.com

Chargers: EU to propose legislation on common mobile charger in September euractiv.com
European Medicines Agency (EMA) evaluates Roche arthritis drug as COVID-19 treatment reuters.com
Malaysia: Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin resigns dw.com
Haiti braces for Grace, Florida for Fred as storms brew apnews.com


Now the Taliban have seized control of Kabul, a new reign of terror for people living in Afghanistan has begun. For Afghan women and girls, this means systemic and brutal oppression in all aspects of life. In Taliban-controlled areas, women’s universities have been closed, they are denying girls access to education, and women are sold as sex slaves.
Evelyn Regner, the Chair of the European Parliament’s committee on women’s rights and gender equality, has reacted to developments in Afghanistan.


Poland recalls ambassador to Israel: Poland’s ambassador to Israel has been recalled until further notice, the foreign ministry said on Monday, in a further sign of the deteriorating relations between the countries after Warsaw introduced a law affecting World War Two property restitution. On Saturday, Poland’s president signed a bill that would set limits on the ability of Jews to recover property seized by Nazi German occupiers and retained by post-war communist rulers, bringing into law regulations that Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid branded “anti-Semitic and immoral”. Lapid said the head of Israel’s embassy in Warsaw was being called back immediately.

Polish appeals court overturns ruling against Holocaust historians: A Polish appeals court has overturned a ruling against two leading Holocaust historians accused of defamation, in a closely watched case that raised questions about the freedom to research Poland’s second world war past. The civil case was brought against Prof Barbara Engelking and Prof Jan Grabowski for a book they co-edited about the complicity of Catholic Poles in the genocide of Jews during Nazi Germany’s occupation of Poland.

Two Armenien troops killed along Azerbaijani border: Armenia says clashes along the border with Azerbaijan have left two of its troops dead. The Armenian defence ministry said a skirmish that left one military officer dead took place on Monday, claiming Azerbaijani forces provoked the Armenians when they tried to advance their positions inside Armenian territory at the Yeraskh section of the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan’s Naxcivan exclave. According to the ministry, Azerbaijan „attempted another provocation“ later that evening opening fire and claiming the life of another Armenian soldier. In a separate statement, the Azerbaijani ministry alleged that Armenian forces also opened fire on positions in the Kalbacar district and the city of Susa. Tensions continue to simmer between the two countries after last year’s war over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Flood knocks down German bridge, sweeps people away: Dozens of German rescue teams were searching Monday for missing people who witnesses said were tossed into a river in Bavaria’s Valley of Hell when a sudden flood tore down a bridge they were standing on, the German news agency dpa reported. Police said rescue operations with about 150 police officers, firefighters and mountaineers were underway and at least eight people had been pulled out of the water in the valley known as Höllentalklamm near Germany’s tallest mountain, Zugspitze. “One has to assume that more people are still missing,” spokesman Stefan Sonntag from the Upper Bavaria police headquarters told dpa. The agency later reported that it was likely two more people were missing Monday night.

Winds fan new blazes outside of Athens: Fanned by strong winds, two new big wildfires erupted Monday in hard-hit Greece, triggering evacuation alerts for villages southeast and northwest of Athens — only days after blazes consumed large tracts of forest north of the Greek capital. The worst of the two blazes that erupted Monday was in the Vilia area northwest of the Greek capital, which triggered an evacuation alert for eight villages. That blaze was being fought by 240 firefighters — including 143 from Poland — supported by eight water-dropping planes and nine helicopters. Russia is currently struggling with two natural disasters at once: while millions of hectares of forest are on fire in Yakutia, heavy rain is causing flooding in the south of the country.
apnews.com, tagesschau.de

German committee backs coronavirus vaccine for all teens: Germany’s independent immunisation committee Monday broadened its advice to vaccinate all children aged 12 to 17 against COVID-19 after a review of the latest data. The STIKO committee said in a statement the decision comes after examining new safety data, especially from the US, on around 10 million vaccinated teens. The recommendation marks a U-turn for STIKO, which has come under heavy fire from politicians after it recommended in June that only a restricted group of more vulnerable teens should receive the vaccine. Family Minister Christine Lambrecht emphasised that the recommendation expressly does not mean that children aged 12 to 17 are obliged to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
politico.eu, zdf.de

French shopping malls to require health pass: Shopping malls in Paris and large parts of France had to ask customers to show a health pass on Monday, as the government increased pressure on people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Italy battles wildfires: Mafia hand suspected politico.eu
France: Hate speech inquiries launched over antisemitic protest banners theguardian.com
Germany: Climate protest in Berlin tagesspiegel.de
Serbia to offer COVID-19 booster shots medicalxpress.com


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Bathers in Spain catch suspect after ‘drug boat’ runs aground on beach: Beachgoers in the southern province of Granada inadvertently found themselves in pursuit of a pair of alleged drug smugglers after a cannabis-laden boat careened on to their shore. The chase began on Saturday evening after maritime police spotted a suspicious boat off Melicena beach. Police boat in tow, the small vessel headed full tilt towards the beach. The boat lurched on to the shore and two men dashed out of the boat in an attempt to flee on foot. A dozen or so beachgoers – many of them clad in swim trunks and bikinis – gave chase.


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