China Resumes Import of Pine Nuts from Afghanistan

China has reactivated a direct air trade link with Afghanistan in a bid to assist the war-ravaged neighbor’s new Taliban rulers in dealing with a deepening economic and humanitarian crisis.

 

A cargo plane carrying 45 tons of pine nuts Sunday flew out of Kabul for Chinese markets, marking the restoration of the commercial corridor after the Islamist Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in August.

 

“We hope the commercial activity will continue and boost our trade ties with China,” Bilal Karimi, a Taliban government spokesman, told VOA.  

 

He said the export of pine nuts was an outcome of recent wide-ranging “good discussions” between Kabul and Beijing, anticipating progress in other areas of bilateral trade in coming days.  

 

“Today’s export of pine nuts in particular marks a new good beginning (in relations between the two countries),” Karimi added.

China, one of the largest importers of Afghan pine nuts, launched the air freight corridor in November 2018 to help Afghanistan increase its exports of dry and fresh fruits to Chinese markets and address a massive trade deficit.  

 

Officials at the time estimated the trade link would enable Afghan exporters to dispatch 23,000 tons of pine nuts annually to China, bringing home up to $800 million in revenue.

 

The initiative boosted the Afghan pine nut industry as Chinese importers last year reportedly were contracted to purchase more than $2 billion of pine nuts over the next five years.  

 

Beijing has long seen bilateral economic cooperation as a way to stabilize Afghanistan and deter anti-China militants from using the country as a launching pad for terrorist attacks, particularly in the western Xinjiang border region.

 

China has been actively working in coordination with neighboring and regional powers to help the Taliban stabilize the country since the United States and NATO allies left Afghanistan in August after nearly 20 years of war.  

 

Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held two days of talks with senior Taliban leaders in Doha, the capital of Qatar.

 

A Chinese post-meeting statement quoted Wang as telling Taliban interlocutors that Beijing has been concerned about “the potential outbreak” of a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.  

 

“Once the security situation in Afghanistan is stabilized, China will discuss with Afghanistan the cooperation in the field of economic reconstruction and support the country to boost its connectivity with the region and its capability to seek independent development,” Wang said after his meeting in Doha.  

 

China has already announced more than $30 million worth of humanitarian aid for Afghanistan. Wang announced an additional $6 million cash and material assistance after last week’s talks.  

 

Washington and the global community at large have not granted legitimacy to the Taliban administration. The U.S. has blocked its access to about $10 billion in Afghan assets parked largely with the U.S. Federal Reserve, even as Afghanistan faces the humanitarian crisis and prospects of an economic meltdown.  

 

The sanctions stem from concerns over human rights and terrorism under the Taliban rule.  

 

China, along with Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and Russia, have been urging Western nations to unfreeze Kabul’s assets abroad and send urgent humanitarian assistance to Afghans.  

 

While Washington and European nations have so far ignored calls for recognizing the Taliban government, they have announced urgent humanitarian aid for Afghanistan.  

The United Nations says more than half of the country’s population of nearly 40 million people will face acute hunger this winter unless urgent aid arrives.

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In Somalia, a Rare Female Artist Promotes Images of Peace

Among the once-taboo professions emerging from Somalia’s decades of conflict and Islamic extremism is the world of arts, and a 21-year-old female painter has faced more opposition than most.

A rare woman artist in the highly conservative Horn of Africa nation, Sana Ashraf Sharif Muhsin lives and works amid the rubble of her uncle’s building that was partially destroyed in Mogadishu’s years of war.

Despite the challenges that include the belief by some Muslims that Islam bars all representations of people, and the search for brushes and other materials for her work, she is optimistic.

“I love my work and believe that I can contribute to the rebuilding and pacifying of my country,” she said.

Sana stands out for breaking the gender barrier to enter a male-dominated profession, according to Abdi Mohamed Shu’ayb, a professor of arts at Somali National University. She is just one of two female artists he knows of in Somalia, with the other in the breakaway region of Somaliland.

And yet Sana is unique “because her artworks capture contemporary life in a positive way and seek to build reconciliation,” he said, calling her a national hero.

Sana, a civil engineering student, began drawing at the age of 8, following in the footsteps of her maternal uncle, Abdikarim Osman Addow, a well-known artist.

“I would use charcoal on all the walls of the house, drawing my vision of the world,” Sana said, laughing. More formal instruction followed, and she eventually assembled a book from her sketches of household items like a shoe or a jug of water.

But as her work brought her more public attention over the years, some tensions followed.

“I fear for myself sometimes,” she said, and recalled a confrontation during a recent exhibition at the City University of Mogadishu. A male student began shouting “This is wrong!” and professors tried to calm him, explaining that art is an important part of the world.

Many people in Somalia don’t understand the arts, Sana said, and some even criticize them as disgusting. At exhibitions, she tries to make people understand that art is useful and “a weapon that can be used for many things.”

A teacher once challenged her skills by asking questions and requiring answers in the form of a drawing, she said.

“Everything that’s made is first drawn, and what we’re making is not the dress but something that changes your internal emotions,” Sana said. “Our paintings talk to the people.”

Her work at times explores the social issues roiling Somalia, including a painting of a soldier looking at the ruins of the country’s first parliament building. It reflects the current political clash between the federal government and opposition, she said, as national elections are delayed.

Another painting reflects abuses against vulnerable young women “which they cannot even express.” A third shows a woman in the bare-shouldered dress popular in Somalia decades ago before a stricter interpretation of Islam took hold and scholars urged women to wear the hijab.

But Sana also strives for beauty in her work, aware that “we have passed through 30 years of destruction, and the people only see bad things, having in their mind blood and destruction and explosions. … If you Google Somalia, we don’t have beautiful pictures there, but ugly ones, so I’d like to change all that using my paintings.”

Sana said she hopes to gain further confidence in her work by exhibiting it more widely, beyond events in Somalia and neighboring Kenya.

But finding role models at home for her profession doesn’t come easily.

Sana named several Somali artists whose work she admires, but she knows of no other female ones like herself.

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With No Sign of Eruption’s End, Ash Blankets La Palma Island

A volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma that has been erupting for six weeks spewed greater quantities of ash from its main mouth Sunday, a day after producing its strongest earthquake to date.

Lava flows descending toward the Atlantic Ocean from a volcanic ridge have covered 970 hectares (2,400 acres) of land since the eruption began on Sept. 19, data from the European Union’s satellite monitoring service, showed. On the way down the slope, the molten rock has destroyed more than 2,000 buildings and forced the evacuation of over 7,000 people. 

But authorities in the Canary Islands, of which La Palma is part, have reported no injuries caused by contact with lava or from inhaling the toxic gases that often accompany the volcanic activity.

Experts said that predicting when the eruption will end is difficult because lava, ash and gases emerging to the surface are a reflection of complex geological activity happening deep down the earth and far from the reach of currently available technology.

The Canary Islands, in particular, “are closely connected to thermal anomalies that go all the way to the core of the earth,” said Cornell University geochemist Esteban Gazel, who has been collecting samples from the Cumbre Vieja volcano.

“It’s like a patient. You can monitor how it evolves but saying exactly when it will die is extremely difficult,” Gazel said. “It’s a process that is connected to so many other dimensions of the inside of the planet.”

Signs monitored by scientists —soil deformation, sulfur dioxide emissions and seismic activity— remained robust in Cumbre Vieja. The Spanish Geographic Institute, or IGN, said that a magnitude 5 quake in the early hours of Saturday was not just felt on La Palma, but also in La Gomera, a neighboring island on the western end of the Canary Islands archipelago.

IGN said the ash column towering above the volcano reached an altitude of 4.5 kilometers (15,000 feet) on Sunday before heavier wind scattered it. Many nearby towns and a telescope base further north that sits on a mountain at 2,400 meters above sea level (7,800 feet) were covered in a thick layer of ash.

The eruption has also turned the island into a tourist attraction, especially as many Spaniards prepared to mark All Saints Day, a Catholic festivity that honors the dead, on Monday.

Local authorities said some 10,000 visitors were expected over the long weekend and 90% of the accommodations on La Palma were fully booked. A shuttle bus service for tourists wanting a glimpse of the volcano was established to keep private cars off the main roads so emergency services could work undisturbed.

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Thousands Protest Results of Georgia’s Local Elections

Thousands of opposition supporters filled the street outside Georgia’s national parliament building Sunday to protest municipal election results that gave the country’s ruling party a near sweep. 

Candidates of the Georgian Dream party won 19 of the 20 municipal elections in runoff votes on Saturday, including the mayoral offices in the country’s five largest cities: Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Rustavi, Batumi and Poti. 

The opposition alleges fraud.

Nika Melia, the head of the main opposition party United National Movement and a mayoral candidate in Tbilisi, claimed that “the victories gained by the opposition in many municipalities were taken away…like they never happened.”

An election observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the “voting and counting were overall assessed positively despite some procedural issues, particularly during counting.”

“The persistent practice of representatives of observer organizations acting as party supporters, at times interfering with the process, and groups of individuals potentially influencing voters outside some polling stations were of concern,” the OSCE observers said in a statement.

Melia told the protest crowd, which shut down the capital’s main avenue, that opposition leaders would be sent to other cities to marshal supporters to come to Tbilisi for a massive rally on Nov. 7. 

The Saturday runoff elections were held after no candidate in the cities won an absolute majority during the first round of nationwide municipal elections on Oct. 2.

The elections were overshadowed by the arrest of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, the founder of the United National Movement, on Oct. 1.

Saakashvili left Georgia in 2013; he was convicted in absentia of abuse of power and sentenced to six years in prison. He returned to Georgia from his home in Ukraine, hoping to boost the opposition in the first round of voting, but was arrested within a day and imprisoned. He called a hunger strike soon after his arrest.

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UN Official Meets with Sudan’s Ousted PM, Who Remains Under House Arrest 

The United Nations discussed possible steps forward with ousted Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok Sunday, a day after hundreds of thousands of people marched in protest of last week’s military coup. 

Volker Perthes, the U.N. special representative to Sudan, said that Hamdok is doing well but remains under house arrest in his residence. 

Protesters remained in the streets Sunday, many of them manning barricades and blocking roads after large demonstrations on Saturday turned deadly. 

Three people were shot dead by security forces in Khartoum’s sister city of Omdurman Saturday, bringing the number of civilians killed since last Monday’s coup to 14. 

Despite some protests and roadblocks, Khartoum returned to relative quiet as strikes in various sectors continued in defiance of General Abdel-Fattah Burhan’s seizure of power and declaration of a state of emergency.

The October 25 move dissolved a transitional government established in August 2019, after months of deadly protests following the ouster of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir. 

Since then, the U.N. and United States have frozen aid to Sudan – a move likely to have a devastating impact on the country which is already suffering an economic crisis.

International condemnation of the military takeover and demands to restore the transitional government echo the calls of hundreds of thousands of protesters in Sudan. 

Images and video footage from Khartoum and other cities Saturday showed crowds carrying Sudanese flags and banners denouncing the military government. Chants and songs that were sung in 2019 when protesters demanded al-Bashir’s ouster have been revived in the latest demonstrations. 

Protests took place around the world as well, with thousands of Sudanese from across the United States marching through Washington Saturday.

The military takeover occurred after weeks of escalating tensions involving military and civilian leaders over Sudan’s transition to democracy.

But even after the landmark power-sharing agreement in 2019, in which Hamdok was named the country’s leader, protests continued. Demonstrators, who often used the word “Medaniya,” or civilian, to call for a civilian government, opposed any military control in the transitional government. 

Burhan said Tuesday the army’s overthrow of the transitional government was necessary to avoid a civil war. 

Some information in this report came from AFP and Reuters. 

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G-20 Leaders Pledge to End Financing for Overseas Coal Plants 

G-20 leaders meeting in Rome have agreed to work to reach carbon neutrality “by around mid-century” and pledged to end financing for coal plants abroad by the end of this year.

The final communique was issued Sunday at the end of a two-day summit, ahead of talks at a broader U.N. climate change summit, COP26, this week in Glasgow, Scotland.

Leaders in Rome addressed efforts to reach the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, in line with a global commitment made in 2015 at the Paris Climate Accord to keep global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and preferably to 1.5 degrees. 

“We recognize that the impacts of climate change at 1.5°C are much lower than at 2°C. Keeping 1.5°C within reach will require meaningful and effective actions and commitment by all countries,” the communique said, according to Reuters.

The group of 19 countries and the European Union account for more than three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Two dozen countries this month have joined a U.S.- and EU-led effort to slash methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030.

Coal, though, is a bigger point of contention. G-20 members China and India have resisted attempts to produce a declaration on phasing out domestic coal consumption.

Climate financing, namely pledges from wealthy nations to provide $100 billion a year in climate financing to support developing countries’ efforts to reduce emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change, is another key concern. Indonesia, a large greenhouse gas emitter that will take over the G-20 presidency in December, is urging developed countries to fulfill their financing commitments both in Rome and in Glasgow.

Also on Sunday, the U.S. and EU announced an end to tariffs on EU steel imposed by the Trump administration, ending a dispute in which the EU imposed retaliatory tariffs on American products including whiskey and power boats.

“Together the United States and the European Union are ushering in a new era of transatlantic cooperation that’s going to benefit all of our people both now, and I believe, in the years to come,” Biden told reporters on the sidelines of the G-20 summit.

Global supply chain

Biden will hold a meeting at the summit’s sidelines to address the global supply chain crisis.The group of 20 countries in the summit account for more than 80% of world GDP and 75% of global trade.

“The President will make announcements about what the United States itself will do, particularly in respect to stockpiles, to improving… the United States’ capacity to have modern and effective and capable and flexible stockpiles,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told VOA aboard Air Force One en route to Rome, Thursday. “We are working towards agreement with the other participants on a set of principles and parameters around how we collectively manage and create resilient supply chains going forward.”

Addressing global commerce disruptions has been a key focus for the Biden administration, which is concerned that these bottlenecks will hamper post-pandemic economic recovery. To address the nation’s own supply chain issues, earlier this month the administration announced a plan to extend operations around the clock, seven days a week, at Los Angeles and Long Beach, two ports that account for 40% of sea freight entering the country.

“Whether it’s you’re talking about medical equipment or supplies of consumer goods or other products, it’s a challenge for the global economy,” said Matthew Goodman, senior vice president for economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Some of the concrete measures to alleviate global supply chain pressure points may need to be longer term, such as shortening supply chains and rethinking dependencies, said Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the U.S. and the Americas program at Chatham House

“Those are not quick fixes,” she said. “But the G-20 is historically set up really to be dealing with short-term crises. So, I think that there will be considerable effort made to really discuss and come to terms with that.”

While global supply chain issues are a key concern for the leaders in Rome, Goodman said he doubts the meeting will result in tangible solutions.

“It’s a very difficult group – the G-20 to get consensus to do very specific things. And this may be one area in which it’s going to be particularly difficult,” he added.

President Xi Jinping of China, considered to be the “world’s factory,” is not attending the summit in person. In his virtual speech to G-20 leaders, Xi proposed holding an international forum on resilient and stable industrial and supply chains, and welcomed participation of G-20 members and relevant international organizations.

Some information in this report comes from the Associated Press and Reuters.

 

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