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Friday,17-September-2021

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Contradicting US intel, Donald Trump says COVID-19 developed in lab

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US President Donald Trump said he has evidence that the novel coronavirus originated in a lab in Wuhan, China, an unproven theory that contradicts the country’s National Intelligence, which hours earlier had rejected claims of that the virus had an artificial origin.

After learning that government officials pressured intelligence agencies to look for evidence of the COVID-19 having originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Thursday ruled out the possibility of an artificial origin of the virus, Efe news reported.

“The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified,” it said in a statement.

The federal agency added that the intelligence community “will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan”.

This was the first clear response from American intelligence debunking conspiracy theories – both from the US and China – that the virus is a bio-weapon.

But the possibility that the coronavirus could have inadvertently leaked from a research facility has not yet been disproven, said a BBC report.

Hours after the statement, which was unusual for the agency, Trump claimed to be unaware of its content and said he had evidence � which he refused to disclose � that the virus actually originated inside a laboratory in Wuhan.

When asked by a reporter if he had concrete evidence “that gives you a high degree of confidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the origin of this virus”, Trump replied: “Yes, I have… I think that the World Health Organization should be ashamed of themselves because they’re like the public relations agency for China.”

Asked to explain what evidence he had seen, Trump said: “I can’t tell you that. I’m not allowed to tell you that.”

“Whether they (China) made a mistake, or whether it started off as a mistake and then they made another one, or did somebody do something on purpose?

“I don’t understand how traffic, how people weren’t allowed into the rest of China, but they were allowed into the rest of the world. That’s a bad, that’s a hard question for them to answer,” he added.

The Washington Post reported on Thursday that senior US officials had begun exploring the possibility of imposing punitive measures or seeking economic compensation from China for its alleged mismanagement of the pandemic.

The options being considered include taking away its sovereign immunity so that both the government and victims can file lawsuits against the Asian country, and cancelling some of the debt obligations.

Trump, however, was inclined towards imposing fresh tariffs on China rather than stop paying its debt.

“We can do it with tariffs. We can do it other ways even beyond that without having to play that game,” said the President.

This latest development comes as the US currently accounts for the highest number of coronavirus cases, as well as deaths in the world.

As of Friday morning, the cases increased to 1,069,424, with 63,006 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

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Acting Afghan PM Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund calls on former officials to return home

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Afghanistan’s new Acting Prime Minister Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund has called on former officials who fled when the Taliban seized power last month to return to the country, saying the group “will guarantee their security and safety”, Al Jazeera reported.

In an interview with Al Jazeera on Wednesday, Akhund also said that the caretaker government would guarantee the security of diplomats, embassies and humanitarian relief institutions, stressing that the group wanted to establish positive and strong relations with countries in the region and beyond.

Akhund, a close associate and political adviser to the late Mullah Omar, the founder of the Taliban and its first supreme leader, said the movement’s leaders faced “a great responsibility and test” towards the Afghan people.

“We have suffered huge losses in money and lives for this historical moment in the history of Afghanistan,” Akhund added.

“The stage of bloodshed, killing and contempt for people in Afghanistan has ended, and we have paid dearly for this.”

Akhund also reiterated the Taliban’s promise of amnesty for anyone who has worked alongside the US and the administration it backed following its 2001 invasion, the report said.

“No one will be able to prove that he was subjected to revenge. And in such tense circumstances, it is easy to do what you want. But the movement is disciplined and controls its gunmen. And, we have not harmed anyone because of his previous actions,” he said.

On Tuesday night, the Taliban announced the formation of Afghanistan’s caretaker government, with Akhund appointed as Acting Prime Minister.

In a statement following the announcement, the Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, said the urgent task would be to carry out reconstruction and rehabilitation, and the country would seek “strong and healthy relations” with its neighbours and all other countries.

Besides the appointment of Akhund, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Abdul Salam Hanafi were named acting Deputy Prime Ministers, while Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, son of Mullah Omar, was appointed as Acting Defense Minister.

Amir Khan Muttaqi was appointed as Acting Foreign Minister, and Sarajuddin Haqqani, son of the founder of the Haqqani Network terror group, was named Acting Interior Minister.

According to the Taliban, the appointments were not final as these were acting positions, and the remaining posts would be announced later.

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Beware of anti-liberation forces’ conspiracy against nation: Sheikh Hasina

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Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday urged the people to remain alert as “anti-liberation forces”, along with their associates, are still conspiring against the country, “taking assistance from abroad”.

“War criminals, defeated forces, August 15 killers, and their children are still conspiring against Bangladesh. They’re plotting against the country,” she said in her address at a programme of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), the student wing of her Awami League, at Krishibid Institution, Bangladesh (KIB) to mark the National Mourning Day.

“Evil forces are pampered by some international forces which had acted against Bangladesh’s Liberation War. The nation must remain alert about it,” she said, joining the programme virtually from her official residence Ganobhaban.

At the beginning of the programme, a one-minute silence was observed to show respect to the martyrs of the August 15, 1975 massacre, where her father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and most of the family were killed.

Hasina, the chief patron of BCL, asked its members and ruling party activists and leaders to work for the country being imbued with patriotism and follow the ideals of Bangabandhu, the Father of the Nation.

Referring to his hectic nation-building hectic effort, she said the defeated forces staged the August 15 massacre when they saw Bangladesh cannot be stopped from its economic march forward. “We’ve to move forward keeping that in our mind.”

She said the defeated forces of 1971 took their revenge with the August 15 carnage and distorted the history of Bangladesh after that, including its liberation struggle.

About Ziaur Rahman, who seized power after Sheikh Mujib’s assassination, and his engagement in the Liberation War in 1971, Hasina said there is no instance that he fired a single shot at the Pakistani forces. “No one can prove that.”

She mentioned that Mustaq, Rashid and Farooq, proclaimed killers of Sheikh Mujib, in their interviews with the BBC, admitted that Ziaur Rahman was always with them. “Zia was the source of all power (for them), he betrayed Sheikh Mujib,” she stressed.

The PM said she is surprised that these people, who had always visited Bangabandhu’s house for various purposes, including personal matters, killed him. “How could they do that!”

She also highlighted the sacrifice of her mother Bangamata Fazilatunnesa Mujib.

“My father could fully engage in the service of the country as he got such a companion beside him… this is a rare instance,” she said.

The Prime Minister stressed all that Bangladesh has many enemies and massive hurdles in every step of its development journey

“Our path of progress is not smooth. It is rather full of hurdles, but we’ve to move forward overcoming all the odds and obstacles, and we’re doing that,” she said, adding Bangladesh has stood out on the world stage in the last 12 years.

The Prime Minister earlier unveiled a book titled “Matribhumi” and the “Joy Bangla Magazine”.

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IAF plane with 35 evacuees from Kabul lands at Hindon

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The Indian Air Force (IAF) plane, C-17 Globemaster carrying 35 evacuees from Kabul, landed at the Hindon Air Force Station in Ghaziabad on Thursday.

The 35 evacuees comprised 24 Indian and 11 Nepali nationals.

All the evacuees will be taken by ITBP buses from the airport to a quarantine centre at Chhawala.

India has continued the air rescue operation, named as Ops Devi Shakti, from Kabul, as well as from other countries like Qatar and Tajikistan. Indian officials are making all round efforts to evacuate not only Indians but Afghan nationals too.

The operation was announced by the External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on August 24.

A Special Afghan Cell was set up on August 16 to coordinate repatriation and other requests from Afghanistan in a streamlined manner, Jaishankar in an all party meet held on Thursday.

As per evacuation data shared by Jaishankar, a total of 175 embassy personnel 263 other Indian nationals, 112 Afghan nationals including Hindus and Sikhs, 15 third country nationals have been evacuated so far.

He said that a total of 565 persons have been evacuated so far.

The Central government has also facilitated the evacuation of Indians by other agencies.

These evacuees have been brought to New Delhi from various routes such as Doha in Qatar, Dushanbe in Tajikistan and other neighbouring countries in special flights of Air India and some private carrier too.

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