Afghanistan’s President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has welcomed the three-day ceasefire announced by the Taliban outfit on Saturday and vowed to set free 2,000 more Taliban detainees to expedite the peace process.
The Taliban leadership on Saturday evening, the eve of Eid al-Fitr, declared a three-day ceasefire, ordering its fighters to stay inside their bases and refrain from fighting.
Afghanistan, like other Muslim countries celebrated Eid al-Fitr on Sunday to mark the end of Muslims’ fasting month Ramadan.
In his short address after offering Eid al-Fitr prayer on Sunday, President Ghani welcomed the Taliban announcement for a ceasefire as a goodwill gesture towards peace and promised to set free 2,000 more prisoners.
Both the Taliban and Afghan government have exchanged more than 1,200 prisoners including more than 1,000 Taliban and some 200 security personnel since inking the U.S.-Taliban peace deal on Feb. 29.
The Afghan president, who ordered his forces to resume offensives on the armed group following deadly attacks on maternity in Kabul and funeral ceremony in Nangarhar weeks ago, also instructed his forces to return to a defensive position to support the ceasefire in the country in his speech on Sunday.
Calling upon the Taliban to reciprocate the release of prisoners and observe permanent ceasefire in the country, Ghani said his negotiating team “is ready to initiate dialogue” with the armed group to end the war in Afghanistan.
Since the observance of the ceasefire in Afghanistan on Sunday, no security incident has been reported.
Zabihullah Mujahid who claims to speak for the Taliban outfit told media that the group’s fighters are in defensive posture during the three-day Eid holidays.
Some countries including the United States, Qatar, Pakistan and India have welcomed the three-day ceasefire observed by warring sides during Eid al-Fitr holidays in Afghanistan.
Nadal stunned by Schwartzman in Italian Open quarter-finals, Djokovic survives Koepfer
Defending champion Rafa Nadal crashed out of the Italian Open with a stunning 6-2 7-5 defeat by Argentine Diego Schwartzman in the quarter-finals on Saturday.
The nine-times Rome champion, who had won all nine previous meetings against Schwartzman, struggled with his serve throughout the match.
He made a series of uncharacteristic unforced errors that proved to be his undoing.
The Italian Open was the Spaniard’s first tournament in over seven months and while he cruised through the previous two rounds, his rustiness showed from the outset against the 15th-ranked Schwartzman.
Nadal committed 30 unforced errors to Schwartzman’s 17 and had his serve broken five times.
“Losing that many serves, you can’t expect to win a match,” Nadal said. “So that’s something that I have to fix. I know how to do it.”
Nadal will now travel to Paris, where he will look to clinch a record-extending 13th French Open title.
Schwartzman will face Denis Shapovalov in the semi-finals after the Canadian defeated Grigor Dimitrov 6-2 3-6 6-2 for his 100th tour-level match win.
Earlier in the day, Novak Djokovic overcame a mid-match wobble against Dominik Koepfer before securing a 6-3 4-6 6-3 win over the unseeded German and a semi-final spot.
The top-ranked Serb had sailed through the previous two rounds, his first matches since being defaulted at the United States Open for hitting a line judge with a ball.
But he faced a potentially tricky test when Koepfer levelled the contest at one set apiece.
However, Djokovic regained his focus to close out the victory and stay on course for his 36th ATP Masters 1000 crown.
He takes on Casper Ruud for a place in the final after the Norwegian battled past fourth seed and local hope Matteo Berrettini 4-6 6-3 7-6(5) in their last-eight clash.
“Clay is definitely Casper’s preferred surface. This is where he feels most comfortable. It’s semi-finals and it’s anybody’s game,” said Djokovic, who will be targeting his 30th victory from 31 matches this year.
“I’ll do some homework and be ready for that one.”
In the women’s draw, 2018 French Open champion Simona Halep advanced to the semi-finals when her opponent Yulia Putintseva retired due to a lower back injury while trailing 6-2 2-0.
The top-seeded Romanian will now meet Spain’s ninth seed Garbine Muguruza, who survived an early scare against Victoria Azarenka to beat the United States Open runner-up 3-6 6-3 6-4.
Halep said: “Every time I played well against her (Muguruza), I was as much as possible aggressive.
“If I play my best game, and if I feel great physically on court, I have a big chance to win the match. But every time is different, because she’s playing so hard. You don’t really know what to expect. It’s tough.”
Two-times champion and fourth seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, who skipped the United States Open to prepare for the claycourt swing, was stunned by Czech Marketa Vondrousova 6-3 6-0.
Number 12 seed Vondrousova will face compatriot Karolina Pliskova in the semi-finals after the defending champion survived a mid-match scare to beat Belgium’s Elise Mertens 6-3 3-6 6-0.
Edited By: Olawale Alabi)
United States initiates ‘snapback’ process to reimpose sanctions on Iran – Pompeo
The United States has initiated the so-called snapback process to restore almost all previously lifted UN sanctions against Iran, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Saturday.
“Today, the United States welcomes the return of virtually all previously terminated UN sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror and anti-Semitism,” Pompeo said.
He said the snapback of previously terminated UN sanctions became effective at 8 pm Washington time (0000 GMT).
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif rejected the United States move, saying that the snapback mechanism and reimposed sanctions were invalid.
“This step is not supported by the UN Security Council because the United States is no longer in the nuclear agreement and accordingly no longer plays a role in UN resolution 2231,” Zarif said referring to the resolution in which the UNSC backed the Iran nuclear deal signed in Vienna in 2015.
The move by Washington was merely a “propaganda trick” ahead of the United States election, Zarif said on Iranian state television.
Washington’s plans to reimpose international sanctions on Iran have been met with overwhelming opposition from other countries.
Other members of the UN Security Council (UNSC), including key United States allies who are part of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, have rejected Washington’s move and have vowed to ignore it.
Under the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Tehran limited its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief.
“Sanctions are being re-imposed on Iran pursuant to the snapback process under UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 2231. On August 20, the United States notified the President of the Security Council of Iran’s significant non-performance of its JCPOA commitments,” Pompeo said in the Saturday statement.
“Virtually all @UN sanctions have returned on Iran, the leading state sponsor of terrorism and anti-Semitism.
“This includes a permanent extension of the arms embargo. This is great news for peace in the region!” Pompeo added on Twitter.
He later added that Washington would soon “announce a range of additional measures to strengthen enforcement of @UN sanctions on Iran.”
“Our maximum pressure campaign on the Iranian regime will continue until it stops spreading chaos, violence, and bloodshed,” he said.
United States special representative for Iran and Venezuela Elliott Abrams had already signalled Washington’s determination to reimpose sanctions on Tehran earlier this week.
The United States launched a formal bid in August to revive the UN sanctions under the “snapback” mechanism included in the Iran deal.
Those sanctions include the indefinite extension of an arms embargo that would otherwise expire in October.
But few countries believe Washington’s move is legal, as United States President Donald Trump unilaterally exited the JCPOA in 2018.
Washington said it would provide more information this weekend and next week on how the United States intended to enforce the global sanctions.
“In the coming days, the United States will announce a range of additional measures to strengthen implementation of UN sanctions and hold violators accountable,” Pompeo said in Saturday’s statement.
“Our maximum pressure campaign on the Iranian regime will continue until Iran reaches a comprehensive agreement with us to rein in its proliferation threats and stops spreading chaos, violence, and bloodshed,” Pompeo asserted.
Trump is likely to address Iran in his speech next week to the UN General Assembly’s largely online meeting of world leaders.
The stand-off between the United States and other member states over the issue threatens a diplomatic crisis at the world body.
Edited By: Emmanuel Yashim
Vulture Day: NCF advocates Vulture Conservation
As the world marks the International Vulture Awareness Day, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) on Saturday underscored the importance of Vultures in the maintenance of balance in the ecosystem.
The NCF in a communique released after its five days webinar forum on Vultures and made available to the News Agency of Nigeria in Lagos, noted that vultures were sanitary officers with a clean-up service on the environment.
Dr Joseph Onoja, Director of Technical Programmes, NCF, in his presentation, revealed that nature had bestowed on humanity vultures with the role of environmental sanitary officers with a clean-up service worth $11,000 a year.
Onoja said: “Without vultures, humans are vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases, because in the absence of vultures, dogs and rats become the clean-up crew.
“’The danger in this is that these animals are not equipped for such and are close to human population, exposing us to diseases.”
In his presentation, Mr Aniekan-Abasi Emmah Uwatt, a conservation biologist and ornithologist, observed that human activities were the major drivers to the vultures’ threatened status.
He added that the world could suffer from negligence if something drastic was not done to preserve the remaining vulture species in Nigeria.
“Imagine a world without vultures, it will lead to disease outbreaks such as anthrax; rabies and botulism.
‘“We would also have dirty environment with dead carcasses and foul smells,” he said.
Another facilitator, Mr Apeverga Paul Tersoo, Lecturer, Federal University, Dutse, Jigawa State , said that Vultures might not be very appealing by their looks, but these birds, also known as scavengers do the dirty jobs of cleaning our environment.
Tersoo said they do this by taking care of carcasses and preventing the spread of diseases, which in turn keeps the ecosystem healthy.
“’The importance of these natural environmental cleaners cannot be over emphasised because the benefits we derive from them for free will cost us so much that it can only be imagined.
“A case study is seen in India where a crash in the vulture population was observed after the birds fed on carcasses of livestock that were treated with Diclofenac.
“The Indian white-rumped vulture was the most hit, with a decline rate of 99.9 per cent.
“What followed was a surge in population of feral dogs that were infected with rabies from litters of carcasses as a result of the absence of our natural cleaners (the vultures).
“Consequently, an increase in human deaths from rabies nearly caused a public health catastrophe that saw the government of India spending about $34 billion to fight the spread of the disease,” he said.
Malam Samaila Mohammed Alkali, Airport Wildlife Hazard Management Coordinator, Kano Airport, said that aviation was a major threat to the survival of vultures.
“This is due to bird strike. Bird strikes occur when bird physically collide with aircraft,” Alkali said
According to him, approximately 10,692 vultures were killed by aircraft between 2008 and 2015, these may represent 1,500 Vultures killed every year for the period of seven years.
Meanwhile, in his presentation, Mr Adewale Awoyemi, Head of Forest Centre, Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan observed that the vanishing vultures had critical implications on human health and existence.
Awoyemi said that the destruction of their habitats by deforestation was a threat to vulture conservation.
International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD) is celebrated on the first Saturday of September every year to reflect on the importance of vultures and the essential role they play in a healthy ecosystem.
It also aims at spreading awareness about range of threat facing vultures and urge the people to take action and prevent extinction of the ecological bird specie.
Edited By: Peter Ejiofor)
Pirlo says Suarez unlikely to join Juventus after all
Juventus are unlikely to sign FC Barcelona and Uruguay forward Luis Suarez afterall, coach Andrea Pirlo said on Saturday as he prepared for the start of the new Serie A season.
Pirlo, who replaced Maurizio Sarri last month in spite of having no senior coaching experience, will make his debut at home to Sampdoria on Sunday.
He said Juventus needed a centre-forward but that there was not enough time for Suarez to obtain an Italian passport.
Juventus have already used up their limit of two non-EU signings following the arrival of Brazilian midfielder Arthur and United States international Weston McKinnie.
They will only be able to add Suarez if he can obtain an EU passport.
“We’re all waiting for a centre-forward. There is still a long way to go in the transfer window. So, we’re calm and happy, we’re not in a hurry,” said Pirlo.
“Suarez is difficult because it takes a long time to get the passport. So, it’s unlikely that it could be him”.
Although Suarez is eligible for Italian naturalisation as his wife is a citizen of the country, the process usually takes several years.
This is a detail overlooked in much of the speculation linking him to the Serie A champions over the last month.
Pirlo said Cristiano Ronaldo and Dejan Kulusevski would share the role against Sampdoria.
“Neither Kulusevski nor Ronaldo will start in the classic centre-forward position. They will try to move according to what the other does,” said Pirlo.
“There will be rotations to allow as many people as possible to arrive in the area.”
The 41-year-old said he was relaxed ahead of the new season where he would be expected, at the minimum, to bring Juventus a tenth successive Serie A title.
“After a month of Juve I have no doubts, but many certainties,” he said. “I have fitted in well, now the pitch will do the talking.”
Edited By: Olawale Alabi)