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Eastern Afghanistan faces blackout amid COVID-19 crisis

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KABUL

An explosion at a high voltage power pylon near Kabul has left the entire eastern part of Afghanistan, including the capital, without electricity, official sources said.

The blackout on Monday comes at a time when the country is under lockdown due to the COVID-19 crisis, with a crucial need for electricity in hospitals and greater demand in the people’s homes.

The pylon, supplying electricity to Kabul and at least seven other provinces from neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, was blown up overnight using explosives, state-owned electricity company DABS spokesperson Wahidullah Tawhidi told Efe news.

Afghanistan, a country with frail power infrastructure, imports around 70 percent of its electricity from neighboring countries, mainly Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

“While inflicting millions of dollars of losses on us, the destruction of the pylon and the power supply cut came at a critical time when our hospitals and households are badly in need of electricity amid the COVID-19 crisis,” Tawhidi said.

The spokesperson further said that at the moment, only 20 percent of the people in Kabul had access to power, along with some hospitals and government institutions providing “urgent services”.

He added that teams have been dispatched to repair the damages and electricity supply was expected to resume in all the affected areas over the next four to five days.

The authorities, who have attributed previous attacks on power infrastructures in northern Afghanistan to the Taliban, are currently investigating the incident.

“The pylon has been destroyed using (an) improvised explosive device. The police are currently investigating to determine who were behind the attack,” Kabul Police spokesperson Firdaws Faramarz said.

This is the second time in a week that Kabul and eastern Afghanistan are facing a blackout, after the insurgents cut off a power transmission line in northern Baghlan province on April 23.

The virus has so far infected 1,703 people in 33 of the 34 provinces in Afghanistan.

Kabul, with 479 coronavirus infections, has so far recorded the highest number of positive cases, followed by the western city of Herat with 420.

The first COVID-19 infection in the country was detected on February 24, and since then it has claimed the lives of 57 people.

International News

India and China hold 12-hr long talks on border point disengagement

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 India and China military delegates deliberated for over 12 hours focusing on disengagement at Patrolling Point 15 — Hot Springs.

The Wednesday meeting between the military commanders of the two countries at Moldo on the Chinese side started at 10 a.m. and ended at 10.30 p.m. This the 14th round of military talks between India and China to resolve the border dispute.

Talking about the military discussions, Indian Army chief General M.M. Naravane said on Wednesday that he hoped for some positive developments in the days ahead.

Along the Northern Borders, the Indian Army has continued to maintain the highest levels of operational preparedness, while engaging in sustained dialogue with the People’s Liberation Army, Gen Naravane had said.

“We hope to resolve Patrolling Point 15 (Hot Spring) in the current round of talks. Once that is done we will look at other issues which predate the current standoff,” he said.

After persistent joint efforts, mutual dis-engagement has taken place at many locations. “So there has been positive movement,” the Indian Army Chief said.

Replying to a query about the positive developments, the officer explained, “Talks have been going on for a long time. It is a good thing that talks are going on. We have to keep talking to each other. The 4-5th round of talks resulted in resolving patrolling point 14, the 9-10th round North and South Bank and Kailash ranges and subsequently patrolling point 17.”

However, the Indian Army chief said that while there has been partial disengagement, the threat has by no means reduced.

General Naravne said the force levels in areas where disengagement is yet to take place have been adequately enhanced. Threat assessment and internal deliberations have resulted in the reorganisation and realignment of forces in keeping with the Army’s mandate of ensuring territorial integrity and to cater for the major augmentation of the PLA forces, and military infrastructure.

Just ahead of talks, China has implemented new border law and has also renamed 15 places in Arunachal Pradesh on its map.

India and China have been engaged in an intense border dispute for around two years and are now in talks to resolve the issues.

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International News

Crisis-hit SL asks China to restructure debt repayments

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 Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has asked China to restructure the crisis-hit island nation’s debt repayments as part of efforts to help the South Asian country navigate its worsening financial situation, the BBC reported.

Rajapaksa made the request during a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday.

In the last decade, China has lent Sri Lanka over $5 billion for projects including roads, an airport and ports, the BBC report said.

China is Sri Lanka’s fourth biggest lender, behind international financial markets, the Asian Development Bank and Japan.

But critics say the money was used for unnecessary schemes with low returns.

“The President pointed out that it would be a great relief to the country if attention could be paid on restructuring the debt repayments as a solution to the economic crisis that has arisen in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Rajapksa’s office said in a statement.

The statement also said China was asked to provide “concessional” terms for its exports to Sri Lanka, which amounted to around $3.5 billion last year, without providing further details, the report added.

Rajapaksa also offered to allow Chinese tourists to return to Sri Lanka provided they adhere to strict coronavirus regulations.

Before the pandemic, China was Sri Lanka’s main source of tourists and it imports goods from the Asian giant more than from any other country.

In recent months, Sri Lanka has been experiencing a severe debt and foreign exchange crisis, which has been made worse by the loss of tourist income during the pandemic, the BBC report said.

The country has received billions of dollars of soft loans from China but the island-nation has been engulfed in a foreign exchange crisis which some analysts have said has pushed it to the verge of default, as per the BBC report.

Sri Lanka has to repay about $4.5 billion in debt this year starting with a $500 million international sovereign bond, which matures on January 18.

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International News

Singhvi says don’t rely on Chinese media, Cong embarrassed

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In a major embarrassment to the party, Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi on Tuesday said that Indian media should not fall for Chinese propaganda after few reports emerged that Chinese have hoisted flag which turned out to be fake.

Singhvi said, “Would urge the Indian media not to take the CCP & Global Times propaganda machinery seriously. They are nothing but an absolute joke especially in the digital age, a psy ops that can be easily busted by few minutes of Google search.”

But his own party on Monday attacked the government on the same report and former Congress President Rahul Gandhi too criticized the government.

The Congress on Monday slammed the government over reports that Chinese troops are celebrating new year at Galwan Valley. “How dare China raise the Chinese flag over Galwan Valley, where only the Indian Tri-colour can be flown, unfurled proudly. How dare Chinese continue to occupy Indian territory in Depsang plains up to ‘Y junction’ and our Prime Minister remains mum? How dare China continue to illegally occupy Indian Territory in Gogra, Hot Springs and our government doesn’t utter a word?” Randeep Surjewala, Congress spokesperson had said.

Now it is clear the PLA was not present at the the disputed area of Galwan Valley on the new year eve, which is now a demilitarized zone after the June 2020 clash between the two militaries and subsequent series of talks between India & China through proper diplomatic channels.

It all started after a video surfaced on social media, shared by the Chinese media, showing PLA troop celebrating new year and unfurled the Chinese national flag, with a caption, ‘China’s national flag rises over Galwan Valley on the New Year Day of 2022’, which read further ‘the flag was special since it once flew over Tiananmen Square in Beijing’.

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