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Tokyo Olympics: Games’ opening ceremony director SACKED on the eve of the event over Holocaust jokes

Tokyo Olympics: Games’ opening ceremony director SACKED on the eve of the event over Holocaust jokes

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Organisers of the Tokyo Olympics have sacked the director of the opening ceremony just a day before the event takes place in the latest blow to the troubled Games. 

Kantaro Kobayashi, a 48-year-old comedian, was fired after a skit he performed in 1998 that made light of Nazi genocide resurfaced, including the moment he told his audience: ‘Let’s play Holocaust’. 

Seiko Hashimoto, president of Tokyo’s Olympic committee, said Kobayashi’s entire ceremony is now being ‘reviewed’ just hours before it is due to be performed, adding: ‘We’re still considering how to hold the opening ceremony tomorrow’.

However a spokesman for the Games later confirmed the ceremony would go ahead as planned with no amendments.

The comedian is just the latest big name to be sacked from the Olympic organising team this week after the opening ceremony composer was fired and a popular children’s author withdrew from a cultural event – both over historic bullying claims.

Meanwhile the number of Covid cases linked to the Games rose to 91 including more Czech and Dutch athletes amid fears the already-unpopular competition could turn into a super-spreader event.  

Tokyo Olympics: Games’ opening ceremony director SACKED on the eve of the event over Holocaust jokes

Footage circulating on social media purports to show Kobayashi and a comedy partner in a 1998 TV skit brainstorming games to play with children, when he jokes ‘let’s play Holocaust’

Kobayashi was sacked from his position as director of the opening ceremony just hours before the show is due to go on, with organisers saying they will now 'review' the entire performance

Kobayashi was sacked from his position as director of the opening ceremony just hours before the show is due to go on, with organisers saying they will now ‘review’ the entire performance

Table tennis player Pavel Sirucek and beach volleyball player Marketa Nausch-Slukova were the Czechs to test positive, as the country’s Olympic committee launched an investigation into the flight that brought the team from Prague.

Meanwhile Dutch taekwondo athlete Reshmie Oogink also tested positive, after skateboarder Candy Jacobs became a confirmed Covid case on Tuesday.

Sirucek and Oogink have now been ruled out of the games as they will miss their qualifying events while in isolation. The news is particularly heartbreaking for Oognik who recovered from injury to make the Olympics, and will likely not compete again.

In the unearthed sketch of Kobayashi, her performs alongside a comedy partner while pretending to be children’s entertainers. 

As they brainstorm an activity involving paper, Kobayashi refers to some paper doll cutouts, describing them as ‘the ones from that time you said ‘let’s play the Holocaust”, sparking laughter from the audience.

The pair then joke about how a television producer was angered by the suggestion of a Holocaust-themed activity.

In a statement, Kobayashi apologised, describing the skit as containing ‘extremely inappropriate’ lines.

‘It was from a time when I was not able to get laughs the way I wanted, and I believe I was trying to grab people’s attention in a shallow-minded way.’

Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights group based in Los Angeles, said: ‘Any person, no matter how creative, does not have the right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide. 

‘Any association of this person to the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of 6 million Jews and make a cruel mockery of the Paralympics.’

Hashimoto said she accepted full responsibility for hiring Kobayashi, adding that vetting should have been more thorough.

Keigo Oyamada, an opening ceremony composer, was sacked earlier this week over historic bullying claims

Keigo Oyamada, an opening ceremony composer, was sacked earlier this week over historic bullying claims

In a frank acknowledgement, she said there will be people who no longer want to watch the scandal-hit opening ceremony.

But, she added, she has no intention of stepping down and wants the event to go ahead. 

In a nod to the controversy the Games has courted, officials said Thursday that the opening ceremony has been adapted to include a segment paying tribute to all those suffering from or who have died of Covid in the last year.

An Olympic source told MailOnline: ‘There has been massive criticism of the games going ahead, particularly as spectators have been banned. 

‘The Olympics knows it cannot ignore the opposition or the fact that many of the nations are struggling with the virus back in their homelands.

‘The opening ceremony will have a segment that will state that sport can help the world to overcome adversity.

‘This was part of the rehearsal which was conducted on Wednesday.

‘It will focus on togetherness and how the youth of the world can help ease the catastrophic situation and give hope.’

Kobayashi, a well-known figure in theatre in Japan, is the latest member of the opening ceremony team to depart in disgrace.

The creative director for the opening and closing ceremonies, Hiroshi Sasaki, resigned in March after suggesting a plus-size female comedian appear as a pig – referring to her as an ‘Olympig’.

And on Monday, composer Keigo Oyamada, whose music was expected to be used at the ceremony, was forced to resign because of past bullying of his classmates, which he boasted about in magazine interviews.  

A four-minute musical piece he composed was removed from the ceremony, but organisers left it unclear Thursday how Kobayashi’s firing might affect the event.

‘We’re still considering how to hold the opening ceremony tomorrow,’ Hashimoto said. ‘I want to reach a conclusion as quickly as possible.’

Details of the opening ceremony have been kept under wraps, and strict coronavirus rules mean only around 950 people will be in the stands of the 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium for the extravaganza.

That includes just 15 world leaders – down from some 40 in Rio in 2016 – with even Shinzo Abe, Japan’s former prime minister who was instrumental in getting the Games brought to the country, set to skip it.

In one piece of good news for Tokyo, US First Lady Jill Biden arrived in Tokyo on Thursday for the Games, marking the highest-profile individual to arrive so far. 

Biden is set to dine with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his wife and it is hoped may discuss getting crucial Covid vaccine supplies to Japan to boost its stuttering roll-out.  

Tokyo 2020 has been plagued by a series of gaffes and missteps by Olympic officials, including Hashimoto’s predecessor Yoshiro Mori, who resigned after claiming women speak too much in meetings.

Even before the latest series of firings, the Games were deeply unpopular in Japan with polls consistently showing a majority of Japanese do not want them to go ahead and do not expect to enjoy them.

The troubled Tokyo Olympics is due to kick off in just 24 hours but has been plagued by issues including rising Covid cases, with 91 now linked to the event

The troubled Tokyo Olympics is due to kick off in just 24 hours but has been plagued by issues including rising Covid cases, with 91 now linked to the event 

The Games are being held against the backdrop of rapidly rising cases in Japan (pictured) with Tokyo itself reporting a record daily case total on Wednesday

The Games are being held against the backdrop of rapidly rising cases in Japan (pictured) with Tokyo itself reporting a record daily case total on Wednesday

Scandal-by-scandal, how FIVE officials and artists linked to the Tokyo Olympics have been sacked

Japan thought it had the Olympics in the bag: By mid-2019, most of the venues had been finished on or ahead of time and the country was being hailed as the best-prepared host ever.

Now, after a year of delays due to the pandemic, the ‘best prepared’ country is stumbling from crisis to crisis: Forced to shut out crowds due to Covid with cases rising among athletes, and scandal after scandal hitting organisers.

No fewer than five officials and artists linked with the Games have now been forced to resign – three of them in the last three days.

Scandal-by-scandal, MailOnline looks back at who has been sacked so far:

Yoshiro Mori, organising chief, fired Feb 22

Mori, now 84, is a former Prime Minister of Japan and was appointed head of the Tokyo Olympic organising committee in 2014 at the age of 76.

At the time he dubbed organising the Games ‘my one last service to the country’, joking that he would barely live to see the event staged.

Even before his time as Olympic organiser, Mori was known for gaffes and undiplomatic comments – with Japanese media once describing him as having ‘the heart of a flea and the brain of a shark’.

True to form, in February this year Mr Mori quipped during an online meeting that women should have time limits placed on them during summits because ‘they talk too much’. 

Amid public outcry Mr Mori initially refused to quit though did apologise, before finally leaving his post a week later after petitions to oust him garnered widespread support

Hiroshi Sasaki, artistic director, quit Mar 18

A 66-year-old advertising executive, Sasaki was initially hired to oversee the Paralympic opening and closing ceremonies but added artistic director of the main Games to his CV after the event was pushed back to 2021 due to Covid.

Sasaki had been responsible for the torch handover ceremony between Brazil and Japan at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, which saw then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appear dressed as Super Mario. 

While discussing his changes to the opening ceremony with staff, he suggested lowering a plus-sized Japanese music artist into the stadium dressed as a pig – dubbing her an ‘Olympig’.

The comments were made in 2020 but only became public in March this year, prompting a speedy resignation from Sasaki.

Keigo Oyamada, composer, fired Jul 19

Better known by his musical alias Cornelius, 52-year-old rock musician Oyamada had been announced as a composer for the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony on July 14.

Oyamada had composed a four-minute piece that would feature during the ceremony, organisers said, centered around the concept of ‘celebrating differences, empathizing, and living side by side with compassion.’

The announcement triggered an immediate backlash, as people reposed magazine interviews Oyamada had given in the 1990s where he appeared to brag about bullying disabled and minority ethnic classmates.

Incidents he described included forcing a boy with Down Syndrome to eat faeces and forcing another to masturbate in front of classmates.

Oyamada issued an online apology on July 15, before announcing he had quit on July 19.

Nobumi, children’s author, quit Jul 21

A popular children’s author in Japan, Nobumi was scheduled to appear at a cultural event linked to the Games in August.

Called ONE, the online event was billed as a way to ‘realize an inclusive society’ through music and dance.

However, Nobumi’s name became caught up in the scandal around Oyamada as people also began reposting historic bullying claims against the author.

People pointed out that Nobumi had written and spoken about being abusive towards a female teacher, and had mocked children with birth defects.

Organisers said they raised the comments with him in a meeting following Oyamada’s departure and he subsequently quit. 

Kentaro Kobayashi, opening ceremony director, quit Jul 22 

A comedian, director and artist, 48-year-old Kobayashi was put in charge of directing the new-look opening ceremony after the Games were delayed.

But, on the eve of the performance he helped devise, a clip of a 1998 TV routine in which he mocked the Holocaust appeared online.

In the clip, he and his comedy partner – part of a double-act known as the Rahmens – were dressed as famous children’s entertainers of the time.

The skit involves the pair discussing ideas to entertain children, when one of them pulls out a string of paper figures – prompting the other to ask where the figures have come from.

‘They’re from that time you said “let’s play the Holocaust”’, the other replies before the pair go on to make light of Nazi atrocities.

Kobayashi attempted to defend himself after the clip surfaced, admitting the lines were ‘extremely inappropriate’ but added they were from a time in his career when he was trying to get attention ‘in a shallow-minded way’.

The Tokyo organising committee subsequently ‘decided to relieve Koybayashi of his post’. 

 

In a recent poll, 68 per cent of respondents expressed doubt about the ability of Olympic organisers to control coronavirus infections, with 55 per cent saying they opposed the Games going ahead. 

It comes against the backdrop of rising Covid cases within the country driven by the more-infectious Delta variant which has seen Tokyo put into a state of emergency that bans large gatherings, meaning most events will take place without crowds.

On Thursday, the city reported a new daily high of more than 1,900 Covid cases – a rise of 155 per cent in a week – driven mostly by infections among the unvaccinated.

Japan as a whole reported some 5,300 Covid cases Thursday, up from 4,900 infections reported the previous day and the country’s highest toll since May 20. 

‘What we have worried about is now actually happening,’ Japan Medical Association President Toshio Nakagawa said at a weekly news conference. 

‘The surge in cases has been expected whether we have the Olympics or not, and we are afraid that there will be an explosive increase in cases regardless of the Games.’

More than 500,000 people in Tokyo have also signed petitions in a bid to stop the Olympics from being held.

Opponents vented their anger on the eve of tomorrow’s official opening with the NO OLYMPICS 2020 campaign group claiming the Games are a cynical bid to make money and gain political power at the expense of public health.

A spokesman told MailOnline: ‘We oppose the Olympic Games because they are a massive exploitation and destruction of people’s lives, livelihoods, public spaces, environment and democracy for the benefit of the IOC, the host city governments, politicians, developers and other capitalists. 

‘Tokyo Olympics has brought us many problems such as huge expenditures, evictions, and gentrification of parts of the city. 

‘Now, despite the pandemic, the Olympics are about to be forced on the Japanese people with disdain for their lives and livelihoods, and many people are against it. 

‘We strongly insist that the Tokyo Olympics should be cancelled immediately.’

Just 19 per cent of residents of the host city believe the Games can be held safely, with more than two-thirds demanding the event be cancelled, even at this late stage.

Pensioner Hideo Kora, 63, told MailOnline: ‘The Games should definitely be cancelled.

‘The number of coronavirus cases is rising and it’s not enough to hold the Games without spectators.’

Moe, 34, a businessman man, said: ‘It’s not an easy question, but if there are no spectators then I think it’s okay to hold the Games.

‘Of course, the athletes have made great efforts to participate so we should show consideration for their feelings.’

However some younger people continue to support holding the Games.

High School student Yu, 17, said: ‘I think the Games should go forward. ‘These events come along only once every four years and the athletes have trained hard. I’d feel sorry for them if it were cancelled.

Part-time worker Keisuke, 25, added: ‘I guess it’s better to hold them.

‘Although there is some impact from the coronavirus, it’s an event for the nation and the world, plus the athletes, so it’s better to continue, I think.’

The Olympic source added: ‘It is going to be hard for the athletes with no supporting crowds and somewhat surreal.

‘But in some way this will be all about natural sporting effort and it all being down to the athlete to get themselves into a medal winning position.

‘They will have to draw on, like never before, banks of energy, guile and self-determination without the roar of the spectators.’

Even with strict Covid rules in place, some 50,000 people are expected to arrive in Tokyo for the event – another sore point after Japan imposed strict border controls to keep the pandemic under control.

Japan has registered 850,000 Covid cases and 15,000 deaths to-date – relatively low figures for such a populous country.

But there are fears the Olympics could accelerate the country’s already-rising case totals because only 20 per cent of the population are vaccinated.

Already there have been 91 Covid cases linked to the Games – including among athletes, coaches, volunteers and staff.

That total only includes those who returned a positive test after arriving in Japan and does not include those diagnosed in their home countries before travelling.

The latest athlete to be hit is Czech table tennis player Pavel Sirucek who will have to withdraw from the competition to complete mandatory 10-day isolation. 

US First Lady Jill Biden is pictured arriving in Tokyo to attend the Olympics on Thursday, a day before the Opening Ceremony kicks off

US First Lady Jill Biden is pictured arriving in Tokyo to attend the Olympics on Thursday, a day before the Opening Ceremony kicks off

Jill Biden greets US diplomatic staff based in Japan as she arrived in Tokyo for the Olympics

Jill Biden greets US diplomatic staff based in Japan as she arrived in Tokyo for the Olympics

‘Today, we were informed that Pavel Sirucek has tested positive for COVID-19 and is placed in isolation,’ the International Table Tennis Federation said Thursday.

‘Pavel will be marked as Did Not Start in the table tennis competition, in accordance with the Tokyo 2020 Sport-Specific Regulations. We wish him a speedy recovery.’

The 28-year-old is ranked 52nd in the world.

It comes after Dutch skateboarder Candy Jacobs and Chilean taekwondo fighter Fernanda Aguirre withdrew from the Olympics after being diagnosed Wednesday. 

Japanese Emperor Naruhito, speaking at an IOC event on Thursday, acknowledged the difficulty in hosting the games during a pandemic – telling chief Thomas Bach that it is ‘not easy’ to keep infections down.

‘I express my deep respect for your efforts,’ he added.

Despite the opening ceremony taking place on Friday several competitions have already got underway, including soccer – with players from several teams taking the knee to protest racial injustice before kickoffs.

But the International Olympic Committee courted controversy after removing footage of them making the protest from highlight reels broadcast around the world – forcing a quick U-turn.

It comes after the IOC watered down a decades-old rule banning political protests from the Games after backlash from athletes.   

The concession under Olympic Charter Rule 50, which has long prohibited any athlete protest inside event venues, was finally allowed this month by the International Olympic Committee.

The IOC has tried to reconcile enforcing the rule while recognizing, and sometimes celebrating, the iconic image of American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising black-gloved fists on the medal podium at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

On Wednesday, the British and Chilean teams kneeled before the opening games and were followed by the United States, Sweden and New Zealand players in later kickoffs. The Australia team posed with a flag of Australia’s indigenous people.

Those images were excluded from the official Tokyo Olympic highlights package provided by the IOC to media including The Associated Press who could not broadcast the games live.

Official Olympic social media channels also did not include pictures of the athlete activism.

‘The IOC is covering the Games on its owned and operated platforms and such moments will be included as well,’ the Olympic body said Thursday in an apparent change of policy.

The IOC said hundreds of millions of viewers could have seen the footage watching networks that have official broadcast rights and ‘can use it as they deem fit.’

The decades-long ban on all demonstrations was eased by the IOC three weeks ago when it was clear some athletes – especially in soccer and track and field – would express opinions on the field in Japan.

Two reviews of Rule 50 in the previous 18 months by the IOC’s own athletes commission had concluded Olympic competitors did not want distractions on their field of play.

The new guidance allows taking a knee or raising a fist in pre-game or pre-race introductions but not on medal ceremony podiums. The IOC will still discipline athletes who protest on the podium.

Sports governing bodies still have a veto, and swimming’s FINA has said its athletes are prohibited on the pool deck from any gesture interpreted as protest. 

Olympic Committee vice-president branded a ‘mansplaining dinosaur’ 

The International Olympic Committee’s  vice-president has been branded a ‘mansplaining dinosaur’ after berating a female Australian politician about attending the Tokyo opening ceremony. 

John Coats began berating Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk following a press conference on Wednesday during which Brisbane – the capital of her state – was announced as the host of the 2032 Olympics.

Ms Palaszczuk, who was in Tokyo for the press conference, had previously said she would reject an invitation to be one of 950 VIPs attending the closed-door opening ceremony on Friday.

‘You are going to the opening ceremony,’ Mr Coats – who is also Australia’s most-senior Olympic official – told Ms Palaszczuk while leaning back in his chair and folding his arms. 

‘I’m still the deputy chair of the candidature leadership group,’ he continued, speaking through a plastic screen, ‘and so far as I understand, there will be an opening and closing ceremony in 2032.

‘All of you are going to get along there and understand the traditional parts of that, what’s involved in an opening ceremony.’

‘So none of you are staying behind and hiding in your rooms, alright?’

Palaszczuk – one of the most senior women in Australian politics – was visibly uncomfortable, staying silent throughout his monologue.

‘I don’t want to offend anybody, so,’ she said later in the press conference, before trailing off.

Australian lawmakers pilloried Coates for his behaviour, calling on him to apologise and even resign.

‘John Coates should resign on return from Tokyo,’ independent senator Rex Patrick tweeted. ‘He’s a social and political dinosaur who has spent far too long in the rarefied, self-interested @Olympics bubble.’

Pictured: John Coates (left) and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk (second left) celebrate with other delegates after Brisbane was announced as the 2032 Summer Olympics host city during the 138th IOC Session in Tokyo on July 21, 2021

Pictured: John Coates (left) and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk (second left) celebrate with other delegates after Brisbane was announced as the 2032 Summer Olympics host city during the 138th IOC Session in Tokyo on July 21, 2021

Social media users also called out Coates for his ‘bullying’ of the centre-left leader.

‘Someone asked what the definition of a mansplaining dinosaur looked like and Coates simply raised his hand,’ one tweeted.

Former Swimming Australia CEO Leigh Russell labelled it ‘disgusting’ while conservative MP Darren Chester called it a ‘disrespectful performance which reeked of arrogance’.

In a statement released by the Australian Olympic Committee, Coates said that his comments had been ‘completely misinterpreted by people who weren’t in the room’.

‘The Premier and I have a long standing and very successful relationship. We both know the spirit of my remarks and I have no indication that she was offended in any way,’ he said.

Palaszczuk, who is under political pressure for flying to Tokyo during the pandemic, played down the incident, telling public broadcaster ABC that Coates was ‘fantastic’ and the ‘driving force behind us securing the Olympics’.

Most Australians are prevented from travelling overseas due to strict international border closures, while about half the country’s population of 25 million is currently under lockdown.

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WORLD

Taliban take over Afghanistan: What we know and what’s next

Taliban take over Afghanistan: What we know and what’s next
Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport on Aug. 16, 2021. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

The Taliban have seized power in Afghanistan two weeks before the US was set to complete its troop withdrawal after a costly two-decade war.

The insurgents stormed across the country, capturing all major cities in a matter of days, as Afghan security forces trained and equipped by the US and its allies melted away.

Here is a look at what happened and what comes next:

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN AFGHANISTAN?

The Taliban, a militant group that ran the country in the late 1990s, have again taken control.

The US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 ousted the insurgents from power, but they never left.

After they blitzed across the country in recent days, the Western-backed government that has run the country for 20 years collapsed.

Afghans, fearing for the future, are racing to the airport, one of the last routes out of the country.

WHY ARE PEOPLE FLEEING THE COUNTRY?

They are worried that the country could descend into chaos or the Taliban could carry out revenge attacks against those who worked with the Americans or the government.

Many also fear the Taliban will reimpose the harsh interpretation of Islamic law that they relied when they ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

Back then, women were barred from attending school or working outside the home. They had to wear the all-encompassing burqa and be accompanied by a male relative whenever they went outside.

The Taliban banned music, cut off the hands of thieves and stoned adulterers.

The Taliban have sought to present themselves as a more moderate force in recent years and say they will not exact revenge, but many Afghans are skeptical of those promises.

WHY ARE THE TALIBAN TAKING OVER NOW?

Probably because US troops are set to withdraw by the end of the month.

The US has been trying to get out of Afghanistan, its longest war, for several years now.

American troops ousted the Taliban in a matter of months when they invaded to root out Al-Qaeda, which orchestrated the 9/11 attacks while being harboured by the Taliban.

But it proved more difficult to hold territory and rebuild a nation battered by repeated wars.

As the US focus shifted to Iraq, the Taliban began to regroup and in recent years took over much of the Afghan countryside.

Last year, then-President Donald Trump announced a plan to pull out and signed a deal with the Taliban that limited US military action against them.

President Joe Biden then announced that the last troops would leave by the end of August.

As the final deadline drew close, the Taliban began a lightning offensive, overrunning city after city.

WHY DID THE AFGHAN SECURITY FORCES COLLAPSE?

The short answer? Corruption.

The US and its NATO allies spent billions of dollars over two decades to train and equip Afghan security forces.

But the Western-backed government was rife with corruption. Commanders exaggerated the number of soldiers to siphon off resources, and troops in the field often lacked ammunition, supplies or even food.

Their morale further eroded when it became clear the US was on its way out. As the Taliban rapidly advanced in recent days entire units surrendered after brief battles, and Kabul and some nearby provinces fell without a fight.

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN?

He fled.

President Ashraf Ghani hunkered down and made few public statements as the Taliban swept across the country.

On Sunday, as they reached the capital, he left Afghanistan, saying he had chosen to leave to avoid further bloodshed.

It’s not clear where he went.

WHY ARE PEOPLE COMPARING AFGHANISTAN TO THE FALL OF SAIGON?

The Fall of Saigon to North Vietnamese forces in 1975 marked the end of the Vietnam War.

It became an enduring symbol of defeat after thousands of Americans and their Vietnamese allies were airlifted out of the city on helicopters.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has rejected any comparisons to Afghanistan, saying: “This is manifestly not Saigon.”

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT IN AFGHANISTAN?

It’s not clear.

The Taliban say they want to form an “inclusive, Islamic government” with other factions. They are holding negotiations with senior politicians, including leaders in the former government.

They have pledged to enforce Islamic law but say they will provide a secure environment for the return of normal life after decades of war.

But many Afghans distrust the Taliban and fear that their rule will be violent and oppressive.

One sign that worries people is that they want to rename the country the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which is what they called it the last time they ruled.

WHAT DOES THE TALIBAN TAKEOVER MEAN FOR WOMEN?

Many fear it could mean a severe rollback of rights.

Afghan women have made major gains since the overthrow of the Taliban.

Many are worried they will once again be confined to their homes.

The Taliban have said they are no longer opposed to women attending school but have not set out a clear policy on women’s rights.

Afghanistan remains an overwhelmingly conservative country, especially outside major cities, and the status of women often varied, even under Taliban rule.

WILL THE TALIBAN ONCE AGAIN HARBOUR AL-QAEDA?

That is anyone’s guess, but American military officials are worried.

In the peace deal signed with the United States last year, the Taliban pledged to fight terrorism and prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a base for attacks.

But the US has little leverage to enforce that.

Technological advances over the last 20 years allow the United States to target suspected militants in countries like Yemen and Somalia where it does not have a permanent troop presence.

The Taliban paid a heavy price for their role in the Sep 11 attacks and likely hope to avoid a repeat as they seek to consolidate their rule.

But earlier this year, the Pentagon’s top leaders said an extremist group like Al-Qaeda may be able to regenerate in Afghanistan, and officials are now warning that such groups could grow much faster than expected.

Afghanistan is also home to an Islamic State group affiliate that has carried out a wave of horrific attacks targeting its Shiite minority in recent years. The Taliban have condemned such attacks and the two groups have fought each other over territory, but it remains to be seen whether a Taliban government will be willing or able to suppress IS. AP

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Malala Yousafzai ‘Deeply Worried About Women, Minorities’ As Taliban Takes Kabul

Malala Yousafzai ‘Deeply Worried About Women, Minorities’ As Taliban Takes Kabul

The activist, who survived a Taliban attack, called for urgent humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.

Activist Malala Yousafzai voiced grave concerns for women, minorities and human rights activists after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan.

Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in Pakistan when she was 15, said on Sunday she was watching on in complete shock as Taliban forces advanced into Kabul after executing a near-complete takeover of the country in a little over a week.

“I am deeply worried about women, minorities and human rights advocates,” she said. “Global, regional and local powers must call for an immediate ceasefire, provide urgent humanitarian aid and protect. refugees and civilians.”

Yousafzai was targeted by extremists in 2012 after she spoke out publicly about the right to education for girls and women. She was shot on her school bus. She survived, went on to continue her advocacy from the UK, and in 2014, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

On Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, U.S. Embassy staff were evacuated and several other western missions worked to withdraw personnel. It comes months after the Biden administration announced the withdrawal of a decades-long U.S. military presence in the country.

Many fear the insurgents will roll back decades of gains by women and ethnic minorities, reimposing the brutal rule that all but eliminated women’s rights, the Associated Press reported. AP

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Video Shows Afghans Clinging To U.S. Military Plane As It Takes Off In Kabul

Video Shows Afghans Clinging To U.S. Military Plane As It Takes Off In Kabul

Seven people were reportedly killed during the chaos, including individuals who fell from a departing American transport jet.

Stunning video taken Monday at the Kabul airport shows people clinging to a U.S. military transport plane during takeoff, as well as others appearing to plunge to their death from the sky, in a disturbing scene that reportedly ended with several people dead.

The U.S. military suspended evacuation flights from the Afghan capital later on Monday due to the swarms of people blocking the airport’s tarmac, a spokesperson for the German foreign ministry told reporters.

“I understand there is no air traffic at the moment because a large number of desperate people are crowding the tarmac,” the spokesperson told journalists in Berlin, according to Reuters.

The chaos ended with seven people dead, including those who fell from a departing American military transport jet, The Associated Press reported, citing senior U.S. military officials.

Disturbing videos posted to social media appear to capture some of the deaths, and seem to show bodies falling from a plane shortly after takeoff. The authenticity of these videos has not been independently confirmed by HuffPost.

The Taliban has meanwhile attempted to reassure Afghans, saying in a statement that “life, property and honor” will be respected. But many Afghans fear that the Islamic militants will roll back basic democratic and human rights, particularly for women, journalists and nongovernment organization workers.

“Everyone is worried,” a former government employee who is hiding in Kabul told Reuters. “They’re not targeting people yet but they will, that’s the reality. Maybe in two or three weeks. That’s why people are fighting to get out now.” AP/REUTERS

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What is the Relationship Between the Taliban and ISIS?

What is the Relationship Between the Taliban and ISIS?
Taliban fighters stand guard in a vehicle along the roadside in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war. (AFP)

Who are the two groups?

The Taliban and Isis are both Sunni Islamist extremist groups seeking to form authoritarian states under strict Sharia law and prepared to use violence to achieve their aim.

The two forces are actually enemies, however, who have fought bitterly since 2015 when Isis formed the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP) in Afghanistan at a time when it was first seeking to extend its geographical reach beyond Iraq and Syria.

The Taliban first came to prominence in 1994 during the Afghan Civil War, its ranks composed largely of students – from which the group derives its name in Pashto – many of whom had been mujahideen resistance fighters who had battled occupation by the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

A Deobandi fundamentalist Islamist movement originating in the Pashtun areas of eastern and southern Afghanistan and in northern Pakistan, the Taliban was led by Mullah Mohammed Omar and conquered first the province of Herat and then the whole country by September 1996, overthrowing the Burhanuddin Rabbani regime, establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and making Kandahar the capital.

Its tyrannical rule, marked by the massacre of opponents, the denial of UN food supplies to starving citizens and the oppression of women, was brought to an abrupt end by US-led coalition forces in December 2001 in retaliation for Osama Bin Laden’s devastating al-Qaeda terror strike on the World Trade Center in New York City, which killed 2,996 people and left 25,000 injured.

Since then, Taliban fighters have regrouped as an insurgency and continued to battle to retake Afghanistan from US peacekeeping forces ever since.

Isis meanwhile was first formed by Jordanian jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 1999 before rising to global prominence when it drove Iraqi forces out of key cities in the west of the country in 2014 – having declared itself a worldwide caliphate – and later conquered swathes of eastern Syria before ultimately surrendering Mosul and Raqqa in 2017 when international forces intervened.

It established the ISKP in the Nangarhar Province of eastern Afghanistan in January 2015, actively recruiting defectors from the Taliban, in particular those who were disconttented with their own leadership’s lack of success on the battlefield.

How have their respective factions interacted?

The formation of ISKP prompted Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour to write a letter to his Isis counterpart, Abu Bakr al-

More battles erupted in April 2017 when ISKP captured three drug dealers selling opium to raise funds for the Taliban in the northern Afghan province of Jowzjan and again in May 2017 when 22 militants were killed in clashes between the two sides along the Iranian border.

The Taliban launched an offensive to clear Isis out of Jowzjan the following summer, with the the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan joining in on the latter’s side, as up to 7,000 people were displaced from their homes.

That July’s conflict ended in a significant defeat for ISKP, who suffered further setbacks in skirmishes the following year before being almost entirely eradicated by the US and the Afghan military in late 2019, although the Council for Foreign Relations estimates that there are still 2,200 members of ISKP still active in Afghanistan.

In February 2020, the Donald Trump administration signed its dubious peace accord with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, which saw the latter group pledge to keep other Islamist extremists, including Isis, out of the country.

Why are we asking this now?

Afghanistan is again in a state of turmoil after the Taliban recaptured the capital city of Kabul on Sunday, declaring the country an Islamic Emirate once more after president Ashraf Ghani abandoned the presidential palace and fled to Tajikistan.

The operation followed swiftly on from the withdrawal of American troops from the country last month at the order of US president Joe Biden, their exit coming almost 20 years after the US military drove the same faction out of Kabul at the outset of George W Bush’s War on Terror in response to 9/11.

Biden expressed his determination not to hand the responsibility for policing Afghanistan on to a fifth commander-in-chief following the completion of his own tenure in the White House and trusted in the Afghan military, in whom the US had invested almost $1trn over two decades, to keep the Taliban at bay.

“The fact of the matter is we’ve seen that that force has been unable to defend the country… and that has happened more quickly than we anticipated,” US secretary of state Anthony Blinken lamented on Sunday.

Amid the chaotic scenes in Kabul as people fled for the airports was the alarming sight of 5,000 escaped prisoners walking free from the Pul-e-Charki prison on Bagram air base, occupied by the Americans until recently, with alleged Isis and al-Qaeda fighters present among their number.

Speaking on NPR’s All Things Considered last week, former US defence secretary Leon Panetta gave this blunt assessment of the disaster unfolding: “The Taliban are terrorists, and they’re going to support terrorists. If they take control of Afghanistan, there is no question in my mind that they will provide a safe haven for al-Qaeda, for Isis and for terrorism in general. And that constitutes, frankly, a national security threat to the United States.”

Baghdadi, calling on him to abandon his recruitment drive of the disaffected and arguing that any war for their comparable cause in Afghanistan should be carried out under Taliban leadership.

Fighting duly broke out between the two sides that June 2015 and between two separate factions of the Taliban in the Zabul Province that November over whether or not to join forces with ISIS. INDEPENDENT

 

 

 

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1/3 of Israel’s Older Population Has Received COVID-19 Booster Shot as Delta Cases Rise

1/3 of Israel’s Older Population Has Received COVID-19 Booster Shot as Delta Cases Rise
An Israeli medical worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine during a campaign by the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality to encourage the vaccination of teenagers on July 5 in Tel Aviv. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Over one-third of Israel’s older population has received a COVID-19 booster shot, as the country rushes to administer additional vaccine doses to counter the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday that over 420,000 Israelis older than 60 have so far received a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine. According to government statistics, that number is expected to exceed half a million by the end of the day, the Associated Press reported.

Israel began rolling out COVID-19 booster shots to its older population last weekend, after health officials reported new data indicating a decline in vaccine protection over time. The country had previously offered a third dose of the vaccine to some people with compromised immune systems, such as individuals with cancer.

The latest rollout comes as hospitalizations and daily case counts continue to rise due to the delta variant. Last week, Israel began recording an average of more than 3,000 new coronavirus cases a day, with 250 people in serious condition. That marks its worst outbreak since April, according to Agence France-Presse.

On Saturday, the country recorded 4,211 new cases and 19 new deaths. In response to the latest outbreak, the government recently moved to reinstated its mask mandate for indoor settings and is now weighing more restrictions.

Israel quickly became a world leader in vaccinating against the virus during its initial public campaign. By Sunday, nearly 60 percent of the country’s 9.3 million population has been fully vaccinated, with more eligible people now rushing to receive a third vaccine dose.

Israel booster shot
Over one-third of Israel’s older population has received a COVID-19 booster shot, as the country rushes to administer additional vaccine doses to counter the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. In this photo, Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett accompanies his mother Myrna Bennett as she receives her third COVID-19 vaccine shot, at a Maccabi Healthcare Services clinic in the northern city of Haifa on August 3, 2021. POOL / AFP/Getty Images

While most vaccine makers and researchers agree that booster shots will be needed to provide additional protection against the virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) last week called for a moratorium on the use of third doses until the end of September in order to address inequalities in global vaccine distribution.

In response to the moratorium, Bennett said Thursday that Israel was doing the world a “great service” by administering the booster shots.

“Israel is going ahead here with something that dramatically contributes to global knowledge,” he said in a Facebook broadcast. “Without us, the world wouldn’t know the exact efficacy levels of the booster shots, wouldn’t know the dates, how much they affect infections, how they affect severe illness,” he added.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve of the use of coronavirus vaccine boosters for the American public. However, data from the CDC indicates that an increasing number of Americans are using dishonest means to receive a third jab.

Moderna has estimated that a COVID-19 vaccine booster could ready for use in the U.S. by the winter, and Pfizer is said to be preparing a booster shot for FDA approval soon.

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Israel attacks Hamas sites in Gaza in response to fire balloons

Israel attacks Hamas sites in Gaza in response to fire balloons
The Israeli military said its air raids were in 'response to continual launches of incendiary balloons from Gaza into Israel throughout the day' [File: Jack Guez/AFP]

Palestinians say the balloons aim to pressure Israel to ease restrictions on the coastal enclave that were tightened in May.

Israeli aircraft bombed Hamas sites in the Gaza Strip on Saturday in response to incendiary balloons launched from the Palestinian enclave, Israel’s military said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage from the attack that targeted what the Israeli military said was a rocket launching site and a compound belonging to Hamas, the political group that governs Gaza.

Hamas had no immediate comment.

A social media post by New Press publication, showed streaks of lights coming from Gaza, as shots were fired targeting Israeli planes in retaliation of the attack.

New Press also reported that three sites were targeted by Israel including Beit Hanoun and Jabalya.

Since a May 21 ceasefire ended 11 days of Israel-Hamas fighting, Palestinians in Gaza have sporadically launched balloons laden with incendiary material across the border, causing fires that have burned fields in Israel.

The incendiary balloons have been used previously in response to the tightening of Israel’s blockade on the coastal enclave, after new restrictions were issued during Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in May.

Balloon launches had mostly ebbed after Israel eased some restrictions on Gaza.

But on Friday, balloons were again launched from Gaza, causing at least four brush fires in areas near the Israel-Gaza frontier.

The Israeli military said its air raids were in “response to continual launches of incendiary balloons from Gaza into Israel throughout the day”.

The blazes along the Gaza frontier broke out on Friday as Israel separately traded fire over its northern border with Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah, in a third day of cross-border salvoes amid wider regional tensions with Iran.

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