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UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan urged the international community on Thursday to persuade India to immediately end its blatant oppression of the Kashmiri people, reverse all unilateral and illegal measures instituted since August 5, 2019, and halt the genocidal settler project in the occupied territory.

In a message on the Right to Self-Determination Day, Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Munir Akram also urged international human rights and humanitarian organisations to “take cognisance of India’s crimes in Kashmir.”

On Jan 5, 1949, the United Nations Commission for India & Pakistan (UNCIP) adopted a historic resolution calling for a free and impartial plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir under the auspices of the United Nations. The resolution is an emblem of the UN’s commitment to the longstanding struggle of the Kashmiri people to realise their right to self-determination.

Pakistanis and Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control and the world observe Jan 5 as the Right to Self-Determination Day to remind the United Nations of the need to implement its own resolutions on this dispute.

“The United Nations, especially the Security Council, has an abiding responsibility to deliver on the promise it made to the people of Jammu and Kashmir 73 years ago,” Ambassador Akram said in his statement issued in New York.

“At the same time, the international community must ensure that massive human rights violations and crimes committed by India do not go unpunished. The perpetrators must be held accountable,” he added.

Ambassador Akram pointed out that India’s extremist Hindutva regime had deployed almost 900,000 troops in the occupied Kashmir who were “responsible for unleashing a brutal reign of terror through curfews and communications blackouts; incarceration of Kashmiri political leaders and illegal detention of thousands of Kashmiri youth.”

The occupation troops, he said, had also committed extra-judicial killings; violent suppression of peaceful Kashmiri protests, including by using pellet guns that have blinded even young children; and the demolition of entire neighborhoods and villages as a form of collective punishment.

Ambassador Akram alerted UN member states of their duty to stop India’s Hindutva leaders from implementing the so-called ‘final solution’ in Kashmir. Under this policy, India was trying to “permanently alter the demography of the internationally recognized disputed State,” he added.

Since August 5, 2019, India has issued millions of fake domiciles with the aim of eventually transforming the Muslim majority State into a Hindu majority territory. These actions constitute a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law including the Genocide Convention.

The Taliban have ordered shop owners in western Afghanistan to cut the heads off mannequins, insisting figures representing the human form violate Islamic law.

A video clip showing men sawing the heads off shop dummies in Herat has gone viral on social media, drawing scorn both inside and outside the country.

Since returning to power in August, the Taliban have increasingly imposed a harsh interpretation of Islamic law and severely curtailed freedoms — particularly those of women and girls.

While the group has not issued any formal national policy on mannequins — or other creeping restrictions — various local authorities are clamping down on what they say are immoral practices.

Aziz Rahman, head of the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Herat, confirmed the order to AFP on Wednesday.

Some shopkeepers had tried to get around the decapitation order by covering mannequin heads with scarves or bags, but Rahman said that did not go far enough.

“If they just cover the head or hide the entire mannequin, the angel of Allah will not enter their shop or house and bless them,” he said.

Several shopkeepers in the city of around 600,000 were angered by the order.

“As you can see, we have cut the heads off,” Basheer Ahmed, a garment seller, told AFP, adding each dummy had cost 5,000 afghanis (around $50).

“When there is no mannequin how do you expect us to sell our products? The customer likes it when the garment is draped properly over a mannequin.”

After returning to power on August 15 the Taliban promised a softer version of the harsh rule that characterised their first stint in power, from 1996 until 2001, when any artificial representation of the human form was outlawed.

But restrictions have been creeping back including local reports of orders for people to attend prayers five times a day, for men to grow beards, and for Western clothing to be discouraged.

Women, in particular, are feeling the brunt of the new orders, and are slowly being squeezed out of public life.

Most secondary schools for girls are shut, women are barred from government employment apart from select specialised areas, and last week new guidelines stated they cannot undertake long journeys unless accompanied by a male relative.

The Taliban have also stepped up raids on liquor sellers, rounded up drug addicts and banned music.

Their takeover has devastated aid-dependent Afghanistan's economy, with billions of dollars of assets frozen by the United States and international aid largely paused.

However, the UN Security Council last week adopted a US resolution to help humanitarian aid reach desperate Afghans while keeping funds out of the hands of the Taliban government, which has yet to be recognised by any country.

Turkey's lira weakened 1.4 per cent on Tuesday as investors weighed the consequences of a surge in the country's inflation rate to its highest in 19 years following the implementation of an unorthodox rate-cutting policy.

The lira stood at 13.15 to the dollar, as of 0500 GMT, weakening from a close of 12.96 on Monday. The lira hit a record low 18.4 two weeks ago before rebounding following the government's steps to support the unit.

Last year, the lira weakened 44pc, making it by far the worst performer in emerging markets and marking its worst year since President Tayyip Erdogan came to power nearly two decades ago.

Data on Monday showed consumer prices surged 36.08pc year-on-year in December, higher than a poll forecast of 30.6pc, driven by an increase in annual transportation prices, food and drinks.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting on Monday, Erdogan said he was saddened by the inflation data and that his government was determined to lower it to single digits, blaming the climb on global commodity prices and a weaker lira.

Since September the central bank has cut its policy rate by 500 basis points to 14pc as Erdogan pushes a “new economic programme” focused on credit and exports.

To curb the lira weakness, Erdogan unveiled a scheme two weeks ago in which the state protects converted local deposits from losses versus hard currencies. He said on Monday that 78 billion lira ($6 billion) had been deposited in such accounts.

($1 = 13.1039 liras)

Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi vowed revenge against Donald Trump if the former US president is not tried over the killing of Qasem Soleimani, as Tehran marked two years since the commander's death.

“The aggressor and the main assassin, the then president of the United States, must face justice and retribution,” Raisi said.

“It would be ok if the trial of Trump, (former secretary of State Mike) Pompeo and other criminals was held in a fair court where their horrible crimes were addressed and they faced justice for their actions,” he added.

“Otherwise, I will tell all US leaders that without a doubt the hand of revenge will emerge from the sleeve of the Muslim nation.”

Raisi was addressing thousands at Tehran's biggest prayer hall, at Iran's main event to mark Soleimani's death anniversary during a week of commemorations.

Participants held national flags and portraits of the slain commander, state TV showed.

Raisi called Soleimani a symbol of the Iranian revolution and of “bravery and rationality”.

Soleimani, former commander of the Quds' force, the foreign operations' arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, was killed along with his Iraqi lieutenant Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in a US drone strike near Bagdad's airport on January 3, 2020.

Five days later, Iran retaliated by firing missiles at a US airbase in Ain Al Assad housing American troops in Iraq, and another near Arbil in the north.

No US troops were killed in those strikes but Washington said dozens suffered traumatic brain injuries from the blasts.

Trump said at the time he had ordered the drone strike in response to a number of attacks on US interests in Iraq, and with more expected.

Iran's foreign ministry said in a Twitter post on Friday that “the current US government bears definitive international responsibility for this crime”.

US President Joe Biden and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky are due to speak by phone on Sunday amid growing fears that a Russian military buildup near the border with its pro-Western neighbour heralds an invasion.

The show of US support for Ukraine comes days after Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin of severe consequences if Moscow invades the former Soviet country.

Using some of his most direct language yet, Biden said Friday, “I'm not going to negotiate here in public, but we made it clear he cannot — I'll emphasise, cannot — invade Ukraine.”

The US leader added, in remarks to reporters during a holiday stay in Delaware, that he had “made it clear to President Putin that we will have severe sanctions, we will increase our presence in Europe, with Nato allies” if Russia invades Ukraine.

The White House said that in Sunday's call with Zelensky, Biden will “reaffirm US support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, discuss Russia's military build-up on Ukraine's borders, and review preparations for upcoming diplomatic engagements to help de-escalate the situation in the region”.

Zelensky tweeted: “Look forward to talking again with @POTUS this Sunday to coordinate our steps for the sake of peace in Ukraine and security in Europe.”

Washington and its European allies accuse Russia of threatening Ukraine with a new invasion. Some 100,000 Russian troops are massed near the border of the country, where Putin already seized the Crimea region in 2014 and is accused of fomenting a pro-Russian separatist war which erupted that same year in the east.

Moscow describes the troop presence as protection against the expansion of Nato, although Ukraine has not been offered membership in the military alliance.

High-ranking US and Russian officials are due to sit down on January 9 and 10 in Geneva to discuss the crisis.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke Friday with Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg; afterwards, Blinken urged Russia to “engage meaningfully” in the upcoming talks on the tense standoff between Moscow and Kiev.

Stoltenberg said that Nato was “united” and “prepared for dialogue”.

In Thursday's call, Biden warned Putin against invading Ukraine, while the Kremlin leader said anti-Moscow sanctions would be a “colossal mistake”. After a 50-minute phone call — their second in just over three weeks — both presidents indicated support for further diplomacy.

Putin was “pleased” overall with the talks, foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov told reporters.

A senior US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the tone “was serious and substantive”. But there was no disguising the depth of disagreement — or the dangerously high stakes on the fringes of eastern Europe.

WASHINGTON: Outlining US foreign policy goals for 2022, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has promised to look ‘intensely’ at options to put more liquidity into the Afghan economy. At a year-ender news conference on Thursday afternoon, the US foreign policy chief identified “Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine, Iran’s nuclear program, and China’s efforts to challenge the rules-based international order” as some of the major challenges of 2022.

Responding to a question about Afghanistan, he pointed out that the US has participated in the release of about $280 million recently in the Afghan Trust Fund. “And we are looking intensely at ways to put more liquidity into the Afghan economy, to get more money into people’s pockets,” he added.

The United States, he said, was doing that with other countries and partners and their goal was to “put in place the right mechanisms to do that in a way that doesn’t directly benefit the Taliban but does go directly to the people.”

The United States is the largest single provider of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and has already contributed about $500 million to these funds.

The US assistance, however, goes through UN agencies and international institutions as Washington refuses to provide direct assistance to the Taliban regime.

Mr. Blinken said that such restrictions aimed at ensuring that the Taliban make good on the expectations of the international community. He reminded Kabul’s new rulers that they need to reform their policies if they want recognition. The suggested measures include upholding human rights, allowing freedom of movement, stopping reprisal attacks and countering terrorism, he added.

Earlier this week, the Biden administration appointed two special envoys for defending women’s rights in Afgha­nistan. Secretary Blinken said the env­oys will work closely with him on issues like “fundamental freedoms of women, girls, and other at-risk populations.”

The appointment followed the imposition of new restrictions in Kabul, forbidding women from traveling long distances without a male companion or attending colleges and universities on their own. The restrictions violate the pledges Taliban made after their Aug 15 takeover.

The Biden administration has also retained a series of sanctions against Taliban to persuade them to change their regressive policies.

Secretary Blinken said that despite these concerns, the Biden administration has issued multiple general licenses to ensure that “other countries, institutions, feel free to move forward with their assistance (to Afghanistan) and not be concerned about the application or implementation of sanctions against them.” The licenses also allow US officials to deal directly with Taliban and the Haqqani Network.

“We’re very conscious of the fact that there is an incredibly difficult humanitarian situation right now, one that could get worse as winter sets in. And so that’s an area of intense focus for us working closely with allies and partners,” he said.

The United States froze nearly $9.5bn of Afghan assets in August but it’s not clear if the exemptions would also lead to the release of these frozen assets.

Palestinian journalists have raised the alarm over what they describe as unjust suppression of their content on Facebook, a claim backed by rights groups but rejected by the social media giant.

On December 4, Palestine TV correspondent Christine Rinawi posted a video on her Facebook account in which Israeli security forces were seen shooting a Palestinian on the ground, killing him. He had just carried out a knife attack on an Israeli civilian.

Shortly after she posted her video, Rinawi, who has nearly 400,000 followers, noticed it had been removed from her account.

This was not her first experience with Facebook's enforcement, and Rinawi said her account had already been restricted after she shared footage of a November attack in Jerusalem.

In both cases, Facebook said it intervened because the posts violated the platform's standards.

A spokesperson for Facebook's parent company Meta said its policies “were designed to give everyone a voice while keeping them safe on our apps”.

“We apply these policies to everyone equally, regardless of who is posting.”

Allegations of pro-Israeli bias at Facebook have simmered for years and were renewed in October when Human Rights Watch, a vocal Israel critic, said the platform had “suppressed content posted by Palestinians and their supporters speaking out about human rights issues in Israel and Palestine”.

Palestinian reporters have cited multiple incidents they describe as censorship.

One popular online news outlet, Maydan Quds News, may even have to fire reporters after its main Facebook page with 1.2 million followers was deleted, a source who requested anonymity told AFP.

The Meta spokesperson told AFP it has “a dedicated team, which includes Arabic and Hebrew speakers, who are focused on keeping our community safe by making sure we're removing harmful content”.

It also strives to address “any enforcement errors as quickly as possible so people can keep sharing what matters to them”.

In the midst of a bout of fighting in May between Israel and armed factions in the Gaza Strip — the worst in years — Facebook had acknowledged widescale deletion of Palestinian posts, ascribing it to a technical bug that it sought to fix.

According to Palestinian social media monitoring centre Sada Social, 600 Palestinian accounts or pro-Palestinian Facebook posts were restricted or deleted in 2021 — a record.

The centre helped launch a social media campaign called “Facebook Censors Jerusalem”.

Rama Youssef, a Jerusalem-based journalist who volunteered for the campaign, said Facebook hews to an Israeli point of view and has “double standards”.

The Arab Center Washington DC think-tank said the Israeli government also pushes to censor “tens of thousands of posts and accounts” that support a Palestinian point of view.

Meta did not answer AFP questions about requests from the Israeli government.

But the company denied accusations of bias, saying its community standards prohibit violence, terrorism, hate and large-scale criminal activity, as well as posts supporting those subjects.

Israeli officials have also accused various social media platforms, including Facebook, of failing to curb anti-Semitism.

In February, then-diaspora affairs minister Omer Yankelevich presented Facebook, Google, TikTok and Twitter with proposals to beef up the fight against anti-Semitism, saying it was “running rampant” online.

Media expert Iyad al-Rifai of Sada Social said he regularly meets with Facebook representatives to ask for more transparency.

He said the site appeared to target the word “shahid”, Arabic for martyr, which Palestinians frequently use to describe people killed by Israeli forces, including those who carried out attacks.

Rifai told AFP that Facebook insisted it is bound by American standards which consider “attackers to be terrorists”, not martyrs to a political cause.

But he said censoring the term wholesale ignored the wider context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Meta did not respond to a question about its policies regarding the use of the word “shahid”.

But it said it reviews posts according to its own policies, as well as “local laws and international human rights standards”.

Rifai said he was concerned that deleting accounts might discourage Palestinians from “engaging with pivotal issues” for fear of losing “their digital history and presence”.

He said he obtained from Facebook “promises to improve the working mechanisms of the algorithms so as to differentiate between journalistic content and ordinary content”, but he feared they offered “temporary rather than radical solutions”.

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