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Syrians vote for new parliament amid war, economic turmoil

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(Last Updated On: October 25, 2022)

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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UN warns 6 million Afghans on brink of famine

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(Last Updated On: December 1, 2022)

The United Nations warned on Wednesday that six million people in Afghanistan face an emergency level of food insecurity amid a shortage of sufficient humanitarian assistance due to the lack of funding.

“The economic shocks, which we are experiencing these days are the primary drivers for the humanitarian needs,” UN Deputy Special Representative, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov told reporters.

He said that winter is approaching with temperatures dropping in certain areas of the country to minus 25 degrees Celcius.

“We require $768 million to support winter preparedness activities, and 614 million are required before the end of the year… We’ve been struggling for the funding for the entire year,” Alakbarov said.

Two-thirds of the entire population – more than 28 million people – will need humanitarian assistance next year, according to the UN.

He also said that six million people are getting closer to the famine line.

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Explosion at Samangan school sparks widespread condemnation

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(Last Updated On: December 1, 2022)

The deadly explosion on Wednesday at the Al-Jihadi school in the city of Aybak, the center of Samangan province, which killed and injured a number of children and teenagers, has sparked widespread condemnation both locally and internationally.

According to an announcement by the Ministry of Interior, 10 children died and a number of others were injured in the explosion.

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West, in a series of tweets called the attack terrible.

“All Afghan children have the right to go to school without fear,” he tweeted, adding that the United States condemns this senseless attack against innocent civilians.

Amnesty International called the blast “disturbing”, and stated it was “yet another reminder to the world that the sufferings of Afghan people are far from over.”

Amnesty International has said that Afghanistan demands the attention of the world and that determined efforts must be made to protect the people of this country and that those responsible for such reprehensible attacks face justice in fair trials.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also said in its response that it is horrified by the explosion.

UNICEF added that at least 288 children were killed or injured in Afghanistan in the first half of this year, including in attacks on schools and educational environments. According to the organization, it is believed that the real figure of Wednesday’s explosion is much higher.

The United Nations Children’s Fund has said that children should never be the target of violence.

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also condemned the blast.

“Appalled by today’s horrendous bomb attack on a school in Samangan, Afghanistan, killing and wounding innocent people and students. These atrocities only add to the multitude of crises in Afghanistan. My thoughts go out to the victims’ families and their loved ones,” Anniken Huitfeldt, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway tweeted.

Germany also condemned the explosion, adding that children should be able to go to school without fear and harm.

“We are shocked and saddened by the reports of an attack on a school in Aybak in northern Afghanistan with many dead and injured, including children & young people. Children should be able to go to school without fear and harm. Our thoughts are with those who grieve for a loved one,” German Foreign Office tweeted.

Imdadullah Mahajer, head of the cultural information department in Samangan province, says that an explosion occurred on Wednesday at a religious school called Al-Jihadi in the vicinity of Aybak city, the center of Samangan province.

Mahajer said that students were praying at the time of the explosion.

According to him, 15 students were killed and a number of others were wounded. However, the IEA has put the death toll at 10.

The attack was also widely condemned by IEA officials in the country.

Mawlawi Abdul Kabir, the political deputy of the current government, has strongly condemned the explosion and said that it is against all Islamic and humanitarian principles and an “unforgivable crime”.

“The enemies of Afghanistan and Islam revealed their enmity with Islam with this attack that targeted the students of Quran and Sunnah. I assure that the perpetrators of this crime will not remain unanswered,” Kabir tweeted.

Hamid Karzai, the former president of Afghanistan, has also strongly condemned this explosion and called it against all human and Islamic values.

Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the High Council of National Reconciliation under the previous government, also condemned the incident in a Facebook message.

Abdullah wrote that attacking worshipers, students, religious schools, mosques and places of worship is against Islamic and human values.

The ministry of interior meanwhile stated that the explosion targeted a religious seminary in Samangan’s capital Aybak, killing 10 students and wounding several others.

However, reports on social media indicate that the casualty toll was much higher.

So far no group claimed responsibility for the blast.

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IEA stops Radio Azadi from broadcasting in 13 cities across Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: December 1, 2022)

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s (IEA) publication head, at the Ministry of Information and Culture, says Radio Azadi has been ordered to stop broadcasting in 13 cities in Afghanistan.

The FM radio station has been accused of violating the IEA’s broadcasting regulations.

“This radio broadcasts one-sided news in violation of journalistic principles,” Abdul Haq Hammad tweeted.

Hammad added that: “Radio Azadi, which started broadcasting after the American occupation, was stopped due to non-compliance with journalistic principles and one-sided broadcasts.”

At the same time, Voice of America has also reported that according to the new guidelines of the Ministry of Information and Culture, Voice of America radio broadcasts from inside Afghanistan will be stopped from December 1st.

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