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From academic to labourer: Afghan economic crisis spares few

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November 1, 2021

By Zeba Siddiqui

(Reuters) – Unpaid for months and with many mouths to feed, Afghan assistant professor Khalilullah Tawhidyar recently found temporary work on a building site. With the 300 afghanis ($3.30) he earned that day, he bought provisions for his family.

The former member of a government taskforce on educational reform, who teaches English at Parwan University just north of Kabul, is one of thousands of middle class, educated Afghans fighting poverty as the country’s economy teeters.

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“I had no choice,” Tawhidyar told Reuters, adding that he had not received his salary for three months. “This is the story of many educated people here now.”

Already battling a severe drought and the coronavirus pandemic, Afghanistan’s financial crisis has worsened since the return of the Taliban to power in mid-August.

Billions of dollars in international aid have dried up as the international community works out how to interact with the hardline Islamist movement, and billions more in foreign currency reserves are locked up in vaults in the West.

“You see doctors, teachers, judges being forced to work as shopkeepers, taxi drivers, or labourers,” said Victor Moses, the Afghanistan country director for the non-profit group CARE.

A report by the group last month said close to half of Afghanistan’s population – around 19 million people – face acute hunger. A recent UN report said as much as 97% of the population could sink below the poverty line by mid-2022.

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Over the weekend, the Taliban renewed calls https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-says-failure-recognise-their-government-could-have-global-effects-2021-10-30 for their government to be recognised, saying that a failure to do so and the continued freezing of Afghan funds abroad would lead to problems not only for the country but for the world.

FIGHT FOR FOOD

Tawhidyar, who has a masters degree from India and has attended courses in Malaysia and Sri Lanka, said he took up manual labour after he ran out of money and food.

While he sometimes goes into the public university where he works, classes have yet to resume because of lack of funding.

Like many Afghan households, Tawhidyar lives with his extended family, and 17 people depend on his salary.

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“I was making just enough money to support my needs,” said the 36-year-old. When the salary stopped, he borrowed from friends and relatives, but that ran out weeks ago. By then, his heavily pregnant wife had missed two doctor’s appointments.

“The situation came that we didn’t have bread … we were just cooking rice and then the rice also finished,” he said.

Syed Bashir Aalemy, head of the English language department at Tawhidyar’s university, said he had been working as a taxi driver for the past few weeks.

“There is no other way,” Aalemy said. With fuel prices rising, that work may dry up, he added.

The rise of an educated middle class, working in education and government or for aid groups, banks and media and telecoms companies, was one of the most visible products of 20 years of Western involvement in Afghanistan.

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Thousands of those people fled in the chaotic evacuation that followed the Taliban’s shock victory in August, fearing a return to its harsh rule and restricted freedoms. For those who remain, financial distress is common, even among the better off.

Abdul, a 41-year-old former police officer in Kabul and father of four, said he recently sold the last piece of land he inherited from his father in order to buy a taxi.

The 300-500 afghanis he earned each day was barely enough to provide daily meals for his family of six, added Abdul, who declined to give his last name for security reasons.

DEBTS PILE UP

Tawhidyar said he was carrying a sack of building material at the construction site when a friend took a picture of him.

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Later that night in mid-October, he said, he posted an emotional message on Facebook featuring the image. “I was thinking about where I have come in my life.”

The post quickly went viral with thousands of shares on social media, and some of his friends reached out to express sympathy and offer financial help.

He borrowed around $300 from close friends who insisted he took the money, he said.

“But how long will I borrow? I already have a debt of thousands of dollars.”

Fearing a backlash, and warnings from Afghans who support the Taliban’s return to power, he said he had since deleted the post and deactivated his Facebook account.

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If the university salary does not arrive, he said, he would have to return to manual labour.

(Additional reporting by the Islamabad newsroom; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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Russian court remands mine director, inspectors in custody after deadly accident

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Siberia on Saturday remanded five people in custody for two months to face charges related to a mining accident that killed more than 50 people this week.

Three managers of the Listvyazhnaya mine, including its director, were ordered to remain in custody until late January for flouting industrial safety standards, a spokesperson for the regional prosecutor’s office said.

The court also ordered two safety inspectors, who had issued a certificate for the mine this month but had not actually checked the facility, to remain in custody until late January.

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The accident, which regional authorities say was likely caused by a methane explosion, claimed the lives of 51 people, including five rescuers who were sent to bring out dozens of men stuck deep underground.

The health ministry said on Saturday that 60 people were being treated in hospital for injuries sustained at the mine, TASS news agency reported.

The accident at the mine, located some 3,500 km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region, was Russia’s worst since 2010 when explosions killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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Russia spy chief says Ukraine invasion plan ‘malicious’ U.S. propaganda

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine and suggestions to the contrary are malicious U.S. propaganda, Moscow’s foreign intelligence chief said on Saturday.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch an attack.

Russia has repeatedly said it is free to move its troops on its own territory and that such movements should not be a cause for concern.

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“I need to reassure everyone. Nothing like this is going to happen,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, said in an interview broadcast on state television, referring to comments on Russia’s alleged invasion plans.

“Everything that is happening around this topic right now is of course malicious propaganda by the U.S. State Department.”

Naryshkin spoke a day after the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said all options were on the table in how to respond to Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine’s border and that NATO would decide on the next move after consultations next week.

While U.S. officials have voiced concerns about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, Moscow has accused Washington, Kyiv and NATO of provocative and irresponsible behaviour near its borders.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Spanish police march in Madrid to protest against ‘Gag Law’ reform

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November 27, 2021

By Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo

MADRID (Reuters) – Thousands of Spanish police officers marched through Madrid on Saturday to protest against a proposed reform of a security law which they say will hamper their ability to do their work.

Politicians from Spain’s three main conservative parties joined police officers in the protest against proposed changes to the 2015 Citizens Security Law, which critics say violates the right to protest and limits free expression.

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Dubbed the “Gag Law” by those who oppose it, the legislation allows authorities to fine media organisations for distributing unauthorised images of police, strictly limits demonstrations and imposes heavy fines for offenders.

Spain’s leftist government has proposed reforms including no longer classifying the taking of photographs or making of recordings of police at demonstrations as a serious offence.

Under the changes, police will also have to use less harmful materials at protests after a number of people were seriously injured by rubber bullets fired by officers.

The time that suspects who are arrested at protests can be held in custody will be cut from six hours to two and fines will be proportional to how much offenders earn.

“They should either leave the current law as it is or make it better for the police and for the citizens,” Civil Guard officer Vanessa Gonzalez told Reuters.

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Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, of the far-right Vox party, said: “There is strong opposition against (the reform) of this law. It is against our police and we will not let it happen.”

However, Isa Serra, spokeswoman for the far-left Unidas Podemos party, said at a rally in Cantabria in northern Spain that the law had done a “lot of damage to Spanish democracy”.

Organisers said 150,000 people took part in the Madrid demonstration but the government put the figure at 20,000.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley, Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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