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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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Calm returns as clean-up begins in Solomon Islands -media

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November 28, 2021

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Soldiers and police from Australia and Papua New Guinea were helping to restore calm in the Solomon Islands as clean-up operations started, after several days of rioting left three dead and led to dozens of arrests, local media reported.

The Solomon Star newspaper said Australian soldiers and police and troops from Papua New Guinea had helped to restore normalcy in the country’s capital Honiara, halting the looting, rioting and burning of buildings and shops.

Overnight, clean up operations began in earnest in areas that were particularly hard hit, including the city’s Chinatown, the newspaper said. Footage obtained by Reuters showed heavy machinery moving rubble from burned out shops.

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Three charred bodies were discovered in a store on Friday in the Chinatown district, an area targeted by protesters still resentful the government in 2019 ended diplomatic ties with Taiwan to establish formal links with China.

More Australian Federal Police would arrive in the South Pacific nation on Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a televised news conference.

“Although things are very unstable at this point … plans, we know, are being made, to ensure there can be calm,” he said.

Some 50 officers from the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary arrived in Honiara on Friday, a day after Australia sent its own forces to the capital, both in response to requests from the Solomon Islands government for help.

(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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Australia to introduce new laws to force media platforms to unmask online trolls

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November 28, 2021

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia will introduce legislation to make social media giants provide details of users who post defamatory comments, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday.

The government has been looking at the extent of the responsibility of platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, for defamatory material published on their sites and comes after the country’s highest court ruled that publishers can be held liable for public comments on online forums.

The ruling caused some news companies like CNN to deny Australians access to their Facebook pages.

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“The online world should not be a wild west where bots and bigots and trolls and others are anonymously going around and can harm people,” Morrison said at a televised press briefing.

“That is not what can happen in the real world, and there is no case for it to be able to be happening in the digital world.”

The new legislation will introduce a complaints mechanism, so that if somebody thinks they are being defamed, bullied or attacked on social media, they will be able to require the platform to take the material down.

If the content is not withdrawn, a court process could force a social media platform to provide details of the commenter.

“Digital platforms – these online companies – must have proper processes to enable the takedown of this content,” Morrison said.

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“They have created the space and they need to make it safe, and if they won’t, we will make them (through) laws such as this.”

(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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In Honduras, parties flag fears of fraud ahead of pivotal vote

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November 28, 2021

By Gustavo Palencia and David Alire Garcia

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – Warnings of potential foul play are flying from all sides ahead of Sunday’s presidential election in Honduras, raising fears of possible disputes and unrest if leading challenger Xiomara Castro does not win by a clear margin.

The charged political atmosphere reflects memories of the disputed 2017 election, which the ruling National Party won after a delayed count and that the Organization of American States said was riddled with irregularities before calling for a fresh vote.

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The opposition said the result was fraudulent and both sides claimed victory. More than two dozen people were killed in the ensuing riots and repression.

The current election cycle has already claimed more political violence than four years ago, with more than 30 killed so far, according to researchers at Honduras’ national university.

Salvador Nasralla, the 2017 runner-up, is the current candidate for vice president for the leading opposition slate led by self-declared democratic socialist Castro. He accuses the National Party of planning a repeat of what he said was voter suppression in 2017.

“I don’t have any confidence in our electoral process,” he told Reuters.

The conservative National Party routinely uses its full control of government institutions and funds to reward supporters, punish opponents and influence elections, politicians from both sides say.

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This week, the party itself issued a statement blasting the electoral authority for already committing errors including a lack of transparency that could lead to a “national crisis” with delayed and suspect results.

“It creates a situation of high risk to the election,” it said.

Sunday’s vote will mark the latest fraught political showdown in Central America, after Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega cruised to re-election this month after detaining all leading rivals.

In a sign of concerns in the final week before the election, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden took the unusual step of sending a high-level delegation to meet with the main candidates, government officials and election organizers.

After the visit, a senior U.S. State Department official said the main objective of the delegation was to encourage a fair, free and peaceful election, given what it describes as democratic backsliding in the region.

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If poll leader Castro wins, she would bring the Honduran left to power for the first time since her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya, was ousted in a 2009 coup.

If ruling party candidate Nasry Asfura prevails, he will have overcome the unpopularity of outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who is fighting accusations of corruption and links to drug smugglers.

Hernandez denies wrongdoing.

A LOOK AT THE CANDIDATE’S PHONE

During an interview, Nasralla showed Reuters a video on his phone he said was captured by his home-security cameras a few days ago. It showed someone painting slurs on a wall of his house. In the video, the person can be seen removing an outer layer of clothing to reveal a shirt bearing the logo of Castro’s Libre party underneath.

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Nasralla said the video was evidence that National Party agitators were disguising themselves as Libre supporters, and worried they will provoke violence or property destruction to erode opposition votes.

“They’re the ones that cause violence,” he said.

The National Party did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Friday, a handful of businesses in the capital Tegucigalpa covered glass store entrances with wood and metal panels, in a sign some were taking the possibility of unrest seriously.

Rixi Moncada, the Libre Party’s representative on the electoral council, said the government and the National Party have caused “a lot of obstruction” in its efforts to organize a fair vote.

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She specifically accused the finance ministry of interfering with the council’s budget and causing delayed deliveries of polling station equipment, like printers and finger-print readers.

Moncada, a lawyer, expressed concern that any post-election dispute might reach the courts, widely seen as loyal to the ruling party.

“This country has very little faith in our system of justice,” she said.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia and David Alire Garcia; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Daniel Flynn and Nick Zieminski)

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