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Civilian deaths in Afghan war hit record in 2018: UN



More civilians were killed in the Afghan war in 2018 than during any other year on record after nearly two decades of fighting, according to a United Nations report released on Sunday.

Civilian deaths jumped by 11 per cent from 2017 with 3,804 people killed and another 7,189 wounded, according to the UN figures, as suicide attacks and bombings wreaked havoc across the war-torn country.

The report’s release comes a day before the United States (US) and the Taliban hold their next round of talks aimed at ending the conflict, raising tentative hopes for peace along with fears that an American withdrawal could spark an even bloodier civil war.

The talks in Doha follow years of escalating violence in Afghanistan.

According to the UN, at least 32,000 civilians have been killed and another 60,000 wounded in the last decade when the organisation began compiling the data.

The uptick in violence in 2018 coincides with a significant increase in the number of deaths caused by the “deliberate targeting of civilians”, according to the report, mostly stemming from suicide attacks by militants allied with the Taliban or the militant Islamic State (IS) group.

“It is time to put an end to this human misery and tragedy,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan.

“The best way to halt the killings and maiming of civilians is to stop the fighting,” he said.

At least 65 suicide attacks were recorded in 2018 — the majority hitting Kabul — with militants responsible for the death of more than 2,200 civilians across the country.

An increase in air strikes by the US and Afghan forces also led to more civilian deaths in 2018, with more than 500 civilians killed by “aerial operations for the first time on record”, the report noted.

The US intensified its air campaign against Taliban and IS fighters as Washington seeks to pile pressure on the militants, dropping twice as many munitions on insurgent positions in 2018 compared to the previous year.

Yamamoto said the civilian casualties were “wholly unacceptable” and called on all parties to take “immediate and additional concrete steps to stop a further escalation in the number of civilians harmed and lives destroyed”.


Christchurch, Ardern and Islamophobia

The path is laid out for the world to choose



The tragedy at Christchurch remains in the news. But what compels me to write now is not the pain inflicted on Muslims as well as humanitarians around the world. What has moved is the compassion in New Zealand, led by none other than the nation’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern.

Wearing a traditional Maori cloak, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was among those who stood silently with heads bowed while the names of 50 people, including nine Pakistanis, killed by a self-avowed white supremacist were read out at a national remembrance service recently.

“Racism exists, but it is not welcome here,” said Ardern, who when took the stage joined by representatives from nearly 60 nations, received a prolonged standing ovation.

Wearing a hijab and modestly dressed in black, Jacinda Ardern, the 38 year old female prime minister, had went in person to condole the families of the victim when the tragic shootout at Christchurch took place. Pain was etched all over her face. But the condolence didn’t stop here. Her parliament held a session with the recitation of the Quran, the holy book of Islam. Ardern began her speech by saying Assalam Alekum, the customary greeting of Muslims in Arabic, which literally means, ‘May peace be upon you’. She refused to take the name of the man who killed over 50 Muslims in a killing spree triggered by hatred towards their religion. She vowed to tighten laws in her country about the rights of owning and using a weapon and gun owners have already started submitting their weapons to authorities.

Whether her consolations drew from a passionate instinct natural to a woman, or from her being a more tolerant person, the inspiration Jacinda Ardern prompts is immense. The people of Christchurch turned out to show their rejection of the hate that inspired the attacks. Outside the two mosques that were attacked, mourners laid flowers as well as hand written notes. “This is not New Zealand” read one. Women of the nation wore a hijab on a Friday to show solidarity with Muslim women, the same day when the Azaan, a Muslim call to prayer, was broadcast.

All these steps were prompted by one incident, with which suffered the one percent representation of New Zealand’s population: Muslims. Compare them with the 1 percent Muslims living in the United States. Despite being a very small part of the US population, contribution by Muslims there is more pronounced. From the boxing champion Muhammad Ali to Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the first Muslim women elected to Congress, from Huma Abedin, aide to United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Zalmay Khalilzad, former US ambassador to the United Nations and to Fareed Zakaria, a journalist and Faran Tahir an actor, famous Muslim faces in the United States are many. But so are the sentiments of hatred triggered at them, as hate crimes in the United States increased by 7 percent last year to reach a record high.

Compare the leader of New Zealand, Ardern, with that of the US, Trump. His latest demand was to reinstate a TV newsperson made to go off air after her offensive remarks on Ilhan Omar. A statement of his related to Muslims was: “I think Islam hates us.” As if Islam was a person, with frailties and emotions a human possesses.

The hatred was also evident in an Australian senator’s reaction, who blamed the Christchurch incident on Muslims themselves, but was soon egged back to senses by a young boy. A man in London was attacked outside a London mosque hours after the New Zealand Christchurch shooting, while some men drove by the mosque and called those attending prayer “terrorists”.

Sadly, Islamophobia is a phenomenon afflicting the entire world today. It is also true, that unfortunately, many Muslims have themselves contributed to it. By claiming their violent acts as a jihad – a holy war, against atrocities targeted at Muslims, they in turn made people of other faiths come to believe, that Islam is a harsh religion, when in contrast, it’s faith is based on peace and love for humanity.

So is Islamophobia here to stay? As long as there is belief in a white supremacy or an Arya raj, the hatred would prevail. As long as a Muslim answers prejudice with anger and violence, the malevolence against him will remain. So long as a Muslim fails to understand the message of Islam himself and if he does, keeps it to himself, none will try to understand him.

But while hatred can be answered zealously by malice in turn, it can be truly conquered with love.

A man whose wife was killed in the Christchurch attack said he harbours no hatred toward the gunman who has no regret over his spiteful act. When the victim was asked if he forgave the 28-year-old white supremacist suspect, he said: “Of course. The best thing is forgiveness, generosity, loving and caring, positivity.”

One worshiper, Ambreen Rashid, whose 21 year old son and husband were among those killed, says “You can’t see me crying…. He (the son) will live forever because beautiful things never die.”

“Now we understand that this is not a game, terrorism doesn’t choose its victims selectively,” said Waleed Aly, an Australian television news anchor, also a Muslim. “That we are one community and everything we say to try and tear people apart, demonise particular groups, set them against each other — that all has consequences, even if we’re not the ones with our fingers on the trigger.”

Aly’s message was loud and clear, that those who claim to be tough on terrorism should impart justice without prejudice, not only when a Muslim fanatic kills a white man, but also when a white supremacist shoots innocent and peaceful followers of Islam.

If all Muslims demand justice in a rightful manner, and yet maintain a loving gesture towards humanity, and if all belonging to different faiths accept each other as part of one community, there will be no phobia against Islam, and no more shoot outs at Christchurch. The path is laid out for the world to choose. The victims of Christchurch have pointed towards it with their magnanimity and steps have been taken on it by Jacinda Ardern. It now awaits us to join hands.

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49 killed, 20 injured as gunmen open fire in two mosques in New Zealand’s Christchurch

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the attacks as ‘one of New Zealand’s darkest days’



At least 49 people have been killed and 20 seriously injured after gunmen opened fire in two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch Friday, a coordinated and unprecedented attack that has shocked the usually peaceful nation.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the incident a terrorist attack in a Friday press conference, saying the suspects held “extremist views” that have no place in New Zealand or the world.

She confirmed that 30 people were killed when gunmen stormed the al Noor mosque on Deans Avenue. Ten people died at the Linwood mosque on Linwood Avenue, including three who were found outside the building.

Both mosques are in Christchurch’s city center and police have placed the two locations on lockdown.

A total of 48 patients, including young children with gunshot wounds, are have been admitted to Christchurch hospital for treatment.

New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said four people have been taken into custody — three men and one woman. Police do not believe there are any other suspects but said it was still an open investigation.

Two improvised explosive devices were attached to vehicles as part of the attack, Bush told reporters. These had been “made safe by the defense force.”

“This goes to the seriousness of the situation,” he said.

Police were still treating the incident as ongoing into Friday evening local time and urged Christchurch residents to stay indoors and monitor the police website and social media.

The situation was also considered as not limited to Christchurch and Bush asked “anyone who was thinking of going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand today not to go. To close your doors until you hear from us again,” he said.

In a press conference, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the attack as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.”

“What has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence,” she said, adding that the attackers have “no place in New Zealand.”

“For now my thoughts and I’m sure the thoughts of all New Zealanders are with those who have been affected their families,” she said.

Police said they have mobilized every national police resource to respond to the incident.


Authorities said that they “will not be discussing the offenders’ possible motivations or the causes of this incident” at this stage.

However, in a social media post just before the attack, an account that is believed to belong to one of the attackers posted a link to an 87-page manifesto that was filled with anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim ideas and explanations for an attack. The manifesto was not signed.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that at least one of the individuals taken into custody is an Australian born citizen.

He called shooting as being at hands of a “extremist right wing, violent terrorist” at a press conference Friday.

Ardern confirmed that one of the attackers was Australian.


Armed police were deployed after first receiving reports of the shootings at 1:40 p.m. Friday local time. It is the busiest day for many mosques around the world when Muslims convene for Friday prayers.

Speaking to CNN, witness Mohan Ibn Ibrahim said he was inside the mosque when the shooting began and that he heard the gunman “continuously shooting for ten to 15 minutes.”

“It’s a big mosque and there were more than 200 people inside. The gunmen came from the backside. Gunshots went on for a long time. We had to jump the wall to escape. I saw lots of broken glass and bricks on the backside of the mosque,” he said.

“I came to the street I saw one person got shot on his chest,” he said, adding that the ambulance and police then arrived on the scene.

He said that he had a friend in another mosque in the area had told him a gunman had opened fire there as well and five people were dead.

“I could not contact two of my friends who are in the mosque as well,” he said.

A spokesperson at Christchurch Hospital told CNN that “multiple” casualties had been sent there, but did not confirm the number.

One witness, who did not want to be named, said he was driving by the scene and saw a man with a “with his 3 or 4-year-old daughter” who had been shot in the back.

“He was screaming like get her to the hospital and the ambulance couldn’t come in until it was secured so I just got my truck and loaded up him, and his daughter, and this other guy had been shot in the leg, and took them to the hospital,” he said.

One man outside the mosque said that he prayed that the gunman would “run out of bullets.”

“I was thinking that he must run out bullets you know, so what I did was basically waiting and praying to God, oh God please let this guy run out of bullets,” he said. He said a man told him to remain still when the gunman shot the man “straight in the chest.”

Police are aware of a video shared online and not verified by CNN that purports to show a gunman walking into an unnamed mosque and opening fire. They have asked social media users to stop sharing graphic footage circulating online relating to the incident in Christchurch.

“We would strongly urge that the link not be shared. We are working to have any footage removed,” the New Zealand police said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Facebook New Zealand, Mia Garlick, said videos that appeared to show the Christchurch shootings were quickly taken down.

“New Zealand Police alerted us to a video on Facebook shortly after the livestream commenced and we removed both the shooter’s Facebook account and the video. We’re also removing any praise or support for the crime and the shooter or shooters as soon as we’re aware,” she said.

Christchurch was put on lockdown with all schools and council buildings shut and roads closed across the city.
By 6 p.m. local time New Zealand police said the lockdown on schools had been lifted.

In 2010 and 2011 the city suffered a series of devastating earthquakes, with the most destructive at 6.3 magnitude, which killed nearly 200 people and destroyed thousands of buildings.

Just 1% of New Zealand’s population of almost five million are Muslim, according to government statistics, less than 50,000 people in 2013.

Journalist Chris Lynch, a radio host on New Zealand station ZB Radio, told CNN that one of the shootings had occurred at “the biggest mosque in all of Christchurch.”

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Modi urges celebrities to ‘inspire’ voters in 29-tweet blitz

In 29 rapid-fire tweets, Modi tagged cricketers Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Bollywood actors Ranveer Singh and Vicky Kaushal, asking them to inspire others to exercise their franchise in the world’s largest democracy.



NEWS DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched an early-morning Twitter blitz on Wednesday calling directly on Bollywood and sports stars and others to urge Indians to vote in the country’s upcoming mammoth elections.

In 29 rapid-fire tweets, Modi tagged cricketers Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Bollywood actors Ranveer Singh and Vicky Kaushal, asking them to inspire others to exercise their franchise in the world’s largest democracy.

“Dear @msdhoni, @imVkohli and @ImRo45. You are always setting outstanding records on the cricketing field but this time, do inspire the (1.3 billion) people of India to set a new record of high voter turnout in the upcoming elections,” one message ran. “When this happens, democracy will be the winner!”

Modi, 68, swept his right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to power in 2014, forming the country’s first majority government in almost three decades.

But despite remaining popular, he faces a challenge to repeat the feat when India’s 900 million voters cast ballots between April 11 and May 19.

The opposition says Modi’s flagship policies have failed to produce promised jobs, while thousands of debt-ridden farmers have committed suicide in recent years.

His party, however, seems to have gained ground after India launched air strikes on Pakistan last month in response to a suicide bombing that killed 40 Indian troops in Kashmir.

Modi, who has a massive 46.3 million followers on Twitter, also reached out to his political rivals, including Rahul Gandhi who heads the centre-left Congress party.

“A high turnout augurs well for our democratic fabric,” he said in his tweet marked to Gandhi.

In his tweet to Bollywood stars Singh and Kaushal, Modi picked dialogues from their hit movies “Gully Boy” and “Uri: The Surgical Strike” and said they could motivate youngsters to use their voting right.

“It is time to tell them (youngsters): Apna Time Aa Gaya Hai (our time has come) and that it is time to turn up with high Josh (fervour) to a voting centre near you.”
Results from the election are due May 23.

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