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News24.com | Hundreds Queue for Passports in Bid to Leave Afghanistan

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People queue to enter the passport office at a checkpoint in Kabul on 19 December 2021, after Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities said they will resume issuing passports.

Mohd Rasfan / AFP

The Taliban government has announced that it would be resuming the issuing of travel documents.
This has prompted hundreds of Afghans into queuing outside the nation’s passport office hoping to collect their own. 
The queues are said to be too long due to many being desperate to leave Afghanistan for medical treatment.

Hundreds of people braved sub-zero temperatures in Afghanistan’s capital to queue outside the passport office early on Sunday, a day after the Taliban government announced it would resume issuing travel documents.

Many began their wait the previous night and most stood patiently in single file – some desperate to leave the country for medical treatment, others to escape the Islamists’ renewed rule.

Tense Taliban personnel periodically charged crowds that formed at the front of the queue and at a nearby roadblock.

“We don’t want any suicide attack or explosion to happen,” said Taliban security operative Ajmal Toofan, 22, expressing concerns about the dangers of crowding.

The local branch of the Islamic State group, the Taliban’s principal enemy, killed more than 150 people in late August when citizens massed at Kabul airport in a desperate bid to leave during the early days of the new regime.

“Our responsibility here is to protect people,” Toofan added calmly, his gun pointed professionally towards the ground. “But the people are not cooperating.”

He spoke to AFP as one of his colleagues pushed a man who then fell headlong just short of a coil of barbed wire.

READ | Afghan women call for rights and aid in Taliban-approved march

Mohammed Osman Akbari, 60, said he was urgently trying to reach Pakistan, because dilapidated hospitals at home were unable to complete his heart surgery.

Medics “put springs in my heart”, he said, referring to a stent. “They need to be removed and it’s not possible here.”

Nearby, ambulances containing people too sick to queue were parked at the side of the road.

“The patient has a heart problem,” said ambulance driver Muslim Fakhri, 21, referring to a 43-year-old man lying on a stretcher inside his vehicle.

An applicant has to be present to ensure the passport is issued, he explained.

‘No one cares’

The Taliban initially stopped issuing passports shortly after their return to power, which came as the previous, Western-backed regime imploded in the final stages of a US military withdrawal.

In October, authorities reopened the passport office in Kabul only to suspend work days later as a flood of applications caused the biometric equipment to break down.

But the office said Saturday that the issue has been resolved and those whose applications were already in process can now get their documents.

Mursal Rasooli, 26, said she was happy to hear the news.

“The situation here is not peaceful,” she told AFP, hugging her two-year-old daughter Bibi Hawa close for dual relief against the biting cold.

“If the situation gets worse than this, then we have the passport” and can flee, she said.

Her husband is in Iran because he could not find work here, she added, before expressing concern about skyrocketing prices and a lack of jobs and education for women and girls.

ALSO READ | Taliban is banning girls from secondary school until it enacts a new education policy

Issuing passports – and allowing people to leave amid a humanitarian crisis the UN has called an “avalanche of hunger” – is seen as a test of the Taliban’s commitment to the international community.

The Taliban are meanwhile pressing donors to restore billions of dollars in aid that was suspended when they came to power.

Local musician Omid Naseer, sporting a leather jacket, short beard and unkempt hair, was desperate to leave.

For “months now, since the Taliban came (to power), we’ve had no work”, he said.

“The artists are most vulnerable, but no one cares.”

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News24.com | Thousands Protest in Madrid Against NATO Summit

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A crowd demonstrates against NATO.

Photo by Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto

Carrying the hammer and sickle flags of the former Soviet Union, thousands protested in Madrid on Sunday against a NATO summit which will take place in the Spanish capital next week.

Amid tight security, leaders of the member countries will meet in Madrid between 29-30 June as the organisation faces the unprecedented challenge of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

NATO is expected to consider the bid, opposed by alliance-member Turkey, for Finland and Sweden to join.

The Nordic nations applied in the wake of the Russian assault on Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin calls the war a special military operation he says in part responds to the accession to NATO of other countries near post-Soviet Russia’s borders since the 1990s.

READ | Biden said Putin’s goal of weakening NATO by invading Ukraine backfired spectacularly

“Tanks yes, but of beer with tapas,” sang demonstrators, who claimed an increase in defence spending in Europe urged by NATO was a threat to peace.

“I am fed up (with) this business of arms and killing people. The solution they propose is more arms and wars and we always pay for it. So, no NATO, no (army) bases, let the Americans go and leave us alone without wars and weapons,” said Concha Hoyos, a retired Madrid resident, told Reuters.

Another protester, Jaled, 29, said NATO was not the solution to the war in Ukraine.

Organisers claimed 5,000 people joined the march, but authorities in Madrid put the number at 2 200.

READ | Pandor says Finland’s bid to join NATO indicates a decline in international security

Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said in a newspaper interview published on Sunday that the summit would also focus on the threat from Europe’s southern flank in Africa, in which he said Russia posed a threat to Europe.

“The foreign ministers’ dinner on the 29th will be centred on the southern flank,” he told El Pais newspaper.

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News24.com | Turkey Police Break up Istanbul Pride March, Detain Dozens: AFP

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Hakan Akgun/dia images

Turkish police on Sunday forcibly intervened in a Pride march in Istanbul, detaining dozens of demonstrators and an AFP photographer, AFP journalists on the ground said.

The governor’s office had banned the march around Taksim square in the heart of Istanbul but protesters gathered nearby under heavy police presence earlier than scheduled.

Police detained protesters, loading them into buses. AFP journalists saw two buses of people who had been held, including AFP’s chief photographer Bulent Kilic, who had been handcuffed from the back.

Kilic, who was also detained last year during the Pride march, is currently in police custody.

Hundreds of protesters carrying rainbow flags pressed ahead with the rally in defiance of police.

Although homosexuality has been legal throughout the period of the modern Turkish republic, LGBTQ individuals point to regular harassment and abuse.

Istanbul Pride has taken place every year since 2003.

The last march which took place without a ban – in 2014 – drew tens of thousands of participants in one of the biggest LGBTQ events in the majority Muslim region.

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News24.com | NASA Blasts Off From Australian Outback in ‘historic’ Launch

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NASA’s first-ever launch from a commercial site outside of the United States blasted off from Australia’s Outback late Sunday, in a “historic” moment for the country’s space industry.

In the first of three planned launches from the Arnhem Space Centre, the rocket, carrying technology likened to a “mini Hubble” telescope, lifted off — blasted about 350 kilometres (218 miles) into the night sky.

“It is a momentous occasion for us as a company in particular, but it’s historic for Australia,” Equatorial Launch Australia CEO Michael Jones told AFP ahead of the lift-off.

Jones, whose company owns and operates the launch site in the far north of Australia, described it as a “coming out” party for the country’s space industry and said the chance to work with NASA was a milestone for commercial space firms in the country.

After a series of rain and wind delays, the suborbital sounding rocket soared into the sky to study x-rays emanating from the Alpha Centauri A and B systems.

After reaching its apogee, the rocket’s payload was to capture data on the star systems before parachuting back to earth.

READ | NASA is slowly powering down the Voyager probes. Here are 18 photos from its 45-year mission.

According to NASA, the launch offers a unique glimpse of the distant systems and unlocked fresh possibilities for scientists.

“We’re excited to be able to launch important science missions from the Southern Hemisphere and see targets that we can’t from the United States,” Nicky Fox, NASA’s Heliophysics Division director in Washington, said on announcing the mission.

Jones said the unique location had made preparations hard, with years of work to get regulatory approval and the need to haul rockets on barges to the launch site – about 28 hours drive from Darwin in northern Australia.

“I think for the team, it’s gonna be, you know, a huge relief that it’s done,” he said.

READ | ‘Giant leap forward’ – South Korea space rocket launch puts satellites in orbit

But with the next launch already looming on July 4, the break would be short-lived.

“We need to, you know, dust ourselves off, take a day off and then get back into it in readiness for the next launch because it’s just as important.”

It is the first NASA rocket to launch from Australia since 1995, and the project was hailed as the start of a “new era” for the country’s space industry by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

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