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“We are not deleting them”: Afghanistan’s Taliban promise progress on girls’ schooling soon

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November 2, 2021

By Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam

KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s Taliban government said it would announce good news soon on older girls being allowed to go back to school, but urged the international community to help it fund the process as most external aid has been halted.

Ensuring rights for women and girls has been one of the most sensitive issues facing the Taliban since they seized power in August, with international bodies demanding proof they were being respected before any discussion of formal recognition of the new government.

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In September, the hardline Islamist movement drew global condemnation when it allowed boys to return to the classroom but told older girls to stay home until conditions permitted their return.

“Inshallah we will have a good announcement for the whole country, the whole nation,” Waheedullah Hashimi, Director of External Programmes and Aid at the Ministry of Education, told Reuters in an interview.

In some northern areas, girls have already resumed their education but others are forced to study in hiding and heavy scepticism remains with countries from the United States to Russia demanding they match promises with action.

“Our Ulema (religious scholars) are working on it, and soon inshallah, we will announce it to the world,” Hashimi said.

The effective ban on educating girls beyond primary school echoed decisions by Taliban’s previous government, between 1996-2001, when women were largely shut out of paid employment and girls were not allowed to go to school.

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Hashimi said the movement was committed to educating girls and was working on ways of getting them back to school. He said no women teachers had been laid off, and that this was “a positive message to the world that we are working on a mechanism. We are not working on deleting them from our schools and universities.”

However, Hashimi also said that education, like other areas of government, had been hit hard by the abrupt withdrawal of foreign support following the collapse of the Western-backed government in August and he appealed for aid to be restored.

“If they truly want to see girls in schools, they ought to help us now,” Hashimi said.

While education spending had been increasing slowly under the last government, a UNESCO report said that external aid represented almost half the education budget in 2020.

As well as the issue of girls’ education, Hashimi said the ministry was working on a new curriculum for schools to bring them into line with the principles of Islam, local culture, and international standards.

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“The changes will be according to international standards in physics and chemistry and biology and all these science subjects,” Hashimi said, adding that no changes had been made yet to the curriculum.

He said ministry officials had been working closely with international agencies, which he said had reacted positively to the parts they had seen.

However, he cautioned that the system would be set up in a manner that would be agreeable the Taliban leadership and scholars, and not based on international pressure.

“We want to educate, and we will educate, our women and men – boys and girls.”

(Reporting by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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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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