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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

Russia 1st to register Covid vax: Vladimir Putin

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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday said the country has registered the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine.

According to a report by the Tass news agency, Putin said that the vaccine was registered on Tuesday morning.

“As far as I know, this morning for the first time in the world a vaccine against the novel Coronavirus infection was registered,” Putin was quoted as saying as he opened a meeting with the state officials.

Health Minister Mikhail Murashko earlier said that clinical trials of the vaccine developed by the Gamaleya National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology of the Russian Healthcare Ministry were over.

On August 3, a “final medical examination” of participants in clinical trials of the vaccine took place at the Burdenko Main Military Clinical Hospital, the Russian Defence Ministry earlier said in a statement.

The results clearly showed that all volunteers had a clear immune response resulting from vaccination, the ministry said, adding that there were no side effects or abnormalities in the work of the volunteers.

“Thus, the available data of laboratory and instrumental studies allow us to speak about the safety and good tolerance of the vaccine,” the statement added.

Russia, which is facing international scepticism due to its approach to developing the vaccine, is planning mass vaccination against Covid-19 in October, earlier media reports said.

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International News

Bangladesh PM adviser, policymakers woo Chinese entrepreneurs

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Salman F Rahman, advisor to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and policymakers have asked Chinese entrepreneurs to invest in the country and export products back to Beijing using the duty-free access facility.

The issues came up for discussion on Monday at a virtual opening ceremony of the Mandarin version of a report titled “Destination Bangladesh” prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Bangladesh.

Rahman was the chief guest and State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam was the special guest.

Last July, Hasina had invited Chinese entrepreneurs to explore the full potential of business and trade relations with Bangladesh as the country is marching ahead in various areas of economic growth and development.

Recently the Chinese government provided duty-free access for 97 per cent products manufactured in Bangladesh.

On Monday, Rahman said Bangladesh achieved a sustainable economic growth of over 7 per cent in the last few years, but the rate has declined due to the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The country has developed infrastructure both physically and digitally. A large number of people are now earning money using the internet. The country has been working to improve significantly in the ease of doing business index of the World Bank by 2022,” Salman added.

Alam said the bilateral ties between Bangladesh with China was at the highest level in history.

“The Bangladesh government has zero tolerance of corruption and terrorism. Investor confidence is increasing. The government has harmonised policies related to tax and business,” he added.

Paban Chowdhury, executive chairman of the Bangladesh Economic Zone Authority (Beza), said the country currently has no scarcity of land for industrialisation.

The Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Shilpa Nagar at Mirershorai in Chattogram has 40,000 acres of land.

Major General Salahuddin Islam, executive chairman of the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority, said 119 companies from China have invested over $1.1 billion in export processing zones.

Bangladesh Ambassador to China Mahbub Uz Zaman, and HSBC Chief Executive Officer Mahbubur Rahman and Managing Partner of PwC Bangladesh Mamun Rashid also spoke at the event.

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International News

Saudi Arabia holds back oil to Pakistan after Qureshi’s threat to split OIC

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vShah-Mehmood-Qureshi

Saudi Arabia has halted the provision of oil on loan for Pakistan after the Imran Khan government threatened to split the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) over Kashmir.

Hit by a severe economic crisis, Pakistan had borrowed a $6.2 billion loan from Saudi Arabia in 2018.

The loan package included a provision under which Saudi Arabia granted Pakistan $3.2 billion worth of oil, a year on deferred payments.

Pakistani media on Saturday said that the provision meant for Islamabad expired two months ago and has not been renewed by Riyadh.

Instead, Islamabad has prematurely returned $1 billion Saudi loan, four months ahead of repayment period, The Express Tribune said quoting sources and Sajid Qazi, the spokesperson of the Petroleum Division.

Recently Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi during a talk show on a news channel had threatened that if the OIC headed by Saudi Arabia did not convene a foreign ministers’ meeting on Kashmir, Prime Minister Imran Khan would hold it on his own with his allies among the Islamic countries.

“If you cannot convene it, then I’ll be compelled to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir…,” he had threatened on Ary news channel.

The OIC, the biggest bloc of Islamic countries in the world, has repeatedly declined Islamabad’s several requests to hold a meeting on Indian Kashmir — a region which Pakistan Army attempted to invade four times in the last seven decades and where it has been waging a proxy war against India for last three decades.

Since August 2019 when India revoked special status of the Jammu and Kashmir state and brought it directly under the control of the Central government by bifurcating it into two Union Territories, the Imran Khan government has been seeking support of the 57-member OIC over the issue in Pakistan’s favour.

One of the major reasons for OIC’s lack of support for Pakistan has been Riyadh’s displeasure with Islamabad’s proximity with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who nurtures the ambition of replacing Saudi Arabia as leader of all the Sunni Islamic countries.

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