Zemmour, French Far-right Pundit, Launches Presidential Run

A far-right former TV pundit with multiple hate-speech convictions officially entered the race for France’s presidency on Tuesday and warned his supporters that they will likely be called racists for backing his anti-immigration and anti-Islam views that have already shaken up the election campaign.  

The launch of Eric Zemmour’s run for the presidency made official a candidacy that had been gathering steam for months before it then stumbled of late — notably after the 63-year-old raised a middle finger at a woman who did likewise to him over the weekend.  

That flash of temper — which Zemmour later acknowledged on Twitter was “very inelegant” — cast fresh doubt on the temperament and electability of the author and former journalist who has polled in low double digits since September despite having no hands-on political experience. Zemmour has drawn comparisons in France to former U.S. President Donald Trump because of his rabble-rousing populism and ambitions of making the jump from the small screen to national leadership.

Name-dropping Joan of Arc, Napoléon Bonaparte, Gen. Charles de Gaulle and others who shaped France’s history, Zemmour announced his candidacy in a pre-recorded video, reading from notes and speaking into a large microphone. The pose evoked imagery of radio addresses that De Gaulle famously delivered during World War II as he urged France to rally to his call against Nazi Germany.

But the message Zemmour delivered was far from that of the wartime leader who later served as president from 1959-1969. Along with images of people on filthy streets and in ramshackle shantytowns, he drove home his view of France as a country mortally threatened by immigration and “in the process of disappearing.”  

“You feel that you are no longer in the country that you knew,” Zemmour said. “Your feel like foreigners in your own country. You are exiles, from the inside.”

The people that Zemmour was shown meeting in the video and the campaign supporters and crowds filmed at his rallies were nearly all white. And the vast majority of people shown doing jobs in the video — a mathematics teacher, a nuclear worker, cooks, suited business leaders, a butcher, a cattle farmer and others — were nearly all white men.

People of color, in contrast, were shown lining up for food handouts, pushing into a crowded train, milling around in a litter-strewn tent city and on a street corner and, in a scene at the start, seemingly taking part in a street deal. Other images showed Paris streets filled with Muslims kneeling down in prayer. Images of women protesting, some with breasts bared, were cut with violent scenes of people attacking police.

“It is no longer time to reform France but to save it,” Zemmour said. “That is why I have decided to stand in the presidential election.”  

He warned supporters to brace for a bruising campaign.

“They will tell you that you are racist,” he said. “They will say the worst things about me.”  

Zemmour joins a crowded spectrum of candidates, from far left to far right. President Emmanuel Macron is expected to seek a second term but hasn’t yet declared his candidacy.

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Rights Group: Taliban Committing ‘Revenge Killings’ Against Former Afghan National Security Forces

ccording to the group Human Rights Watch, the Taliban have carried out hundreds of summary executions and forced disappearances in a series of revenge attacks since seizing power in Afghanistan in August following the withdrawal of Western forces. Henry Ridgwell reports.

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Taliban Committing ‘Revenge Killings’ Against Former Afghan Security Forces

Taliban forces have carried out more than 100 summary executions and forced disappearances in just four Afghan provinces, in a series of revenge attacks since the militant group seized power in August following the withdrawal of Western forces, according to Human Rights Watch. 

The attacks were documented in Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, and Kunduz provinces between August and the end of October, but it’s believed such incidents have occurred across Afghanistan.

“They were targeting the people they had fought with. And many of the cases we investigated were people really on the front lines, people who were known to the Taliban in particular localities,” said report author Patricia Gossman, in an interview with VOA.

 

Revenge 

She said the attacks have taken place despite Taliban promises that they would not seek revenge.

“They offered an amnesty; they have claimed this from their senior officials in Kabul. But what we see on the ground is in fact it doesn’t apply, at least for some people. They are deliberately going after people either based on personal relationships and enmities or because of the role they played,” Gossman said.

Researchers gathered evidence from 67 in-person and telephone interviews with witnesses, relatives, former government officials and Taliban officials.

Employment records 

The report says the Taliban used employment records left behind by the former government to identify people for arrest and execution.

“What started out maybe as a kind of rush maybe of initial revenge killings in the first weeks, now seems to be much more deliberate. It’s spread to other provinces and it seems part of maybe a strategy to ensure that there isn’t any opposition remobilizing against them,” Gossman told VOA. 

Human Rights Watch notes that the Taliban leadership directed members of surrendering Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) units to register with them in order to receive a letter guaranteeing their safety. “However, the Taliban have used these screenings to detain and summarily execute or forcibly disappear individuals within days of their registration, leaving their bodies for their relatives or communities to find,” the report says.

It cites the death of Baz Muhammad, who had been employed in Kandahar province by the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the former Afghan state intelligence agency. 

“Around September 30, Taliban forces came to his house in Kandahar city and arrested him; relatives later found his body. The murder, about 45 days after the Taliban had taken over the country, suggests that senior officials ordered or were at least aware of the killing,” the report says.

 

Night raids

Human Rights Watch accused previous Afghan governments of using enforced disappearances against their opponents, including Taliban fighters and supporters. They accuse the Taliban of engaging in similar tactics. “[They] have also engaged in abusive search operations, including night raids, to apprehend and, at times, forcibly disappear suspected former civilian and security force officials,” according to the report.

It also accuses the Taliban of targeting people they accuse of supporting the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), an affiliate of the Islamic State terror group. 

Taliban response

The Taliban told Human Rights Watch that they have dismissed those responsible for abuses but did not provide any further details or evidence. 

In a speech aired on state media Saturday, the Taliban’s Mullah Mohammed Hassan Akhund – who claims to be Afghanistan’s prime minister – accused former government officials of stirring up trouble. 

“Nation, be vigilant. Those left over from the previous government in hiding are making remarks and are causing anxiety, misleading the people to distrust their government. Nation, be vigilant, that the enemy does not overrun us again, defiant of our holy government, our security,” Akhund said.

Human Rights Watch is calling for continued United Nations scrutiny and investigation of abuses committed by the Taliban. 

Humanitarian disaster 

The United States, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund froze Afghan central bank assets worth $9.5 billion and blocked cash shipments to the country after the Taliban forcibly seized power on August 15 from the internationally recognized government of President Ashraf Ghani. 

Aid agencies warn of an impending humanitarian disaster with millions unpaid or out of work, basic services on the brink of collapse, and many Afghans forced to flee their homes. 

“We fear and predict that up to 23 million Afghans will be in crisis or [need] emergency levels of food insecurity. This will likely worsen indeed over the winter,” Deborah Lyons, the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, warned earlier in November.

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Malawi Policeman Builds Sports Complex to Reduce Crime

One could mistake Kanduwa Sande for a contractor hired to clear up the once-dilapidated public football pitch in Machinga.

But Sande is an officer at the Machinga Police Station — and has a passion for sports.

The 42-year-old sub-inspector, also an athletics coach, has volunteered to turn a once-forsaken pitch into a sports complex with facilities like a track, netball court and climbing walls for children.

He says the aim is to help develop sports and reduce crime such as rape and sexual assault now rampant in his community.

“One of our responsibilities as police officers is also to reduce crime — to prevent people from doing crime,” Sande said. “So, when one is idle, surely that person will indulge him- or herself in other bad behaviors like committing crimes.”

Sande has been doing voluntary work since 2011 using savings from his monthly salary and working during his free time.

“I don’t spend my lunch hour (break), one hour and 30 minutes, eating only,” Sande said. “No. I also work for maybe 50 minutes. Every day of my lunch hour is sacrificed for voluntary work.”

Over the years, Sande ignored insults from people who didn’t understand the motive behind his work, with some calling him crazy. He asked his wife to also ignore them.

Sande said, “Because I knew people would say so many things to my wife: ‘Are you allowing this one to do this job? Are you married to this person, this mad person?’ So, I said, ‘Don’t tell me anything you hear from other people that will derail me from doing this.’” 

In 2017, his dedication to volunteer work earned him an innovation award for sports, which involved a month-long visit to China, where he learned how best to proceed with his initiative.

 

Soon after, he purchased and began using machinery to fast-track his initiative.

Government sports officials and community leaders sometimes visit the facility to express appreciation for the work he is doing.

Charles Mandela is the village chief of the area Sande picked to build the sports complex. 

Mandela  said, “Ours is just an appeal to other well-wishers to help Sande in areas he can’t do on his own, like constructing a fence around the ground so that all the sporting activities should be done inside the fence.”

The Ministry of Sports and the Machinga district council will run the facility because it remains government property.

Sande said the sports complex is now nearly complete and expected to officially open to the public at the end of December.

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Blinken in Latvia for NATO Security Talks

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Latvia Tuesday for talks with the country’s leaders and a NATO ministerial meeting as the alliance expresses concern about Russia’s military buildup along the border with Ukraine.

Blinken’s schedule in Riga includes sessions with Latvian President Egils Levits, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins and Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics. He is also due to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the ministerial talks later in the day.

Levits told reporters after his own talks with Stoltenberg on Monday that Russia’s military presence represents direct pressure on Ukraine, and that NATO “will remain in solidarity with Ukraine.”

Stoltenberg called on Russia to reduce tensions in the region, saying the military buildup is “unprovoked and unexplained.”

“Any future Russian aggression against Ukraine would come at a high price and have serious political and economic consequences for Russia,” Stoltenberg said.

A main focus of work at the NATO ministerial meeting is updating what the group calls its Strategic Concept, which was last changed a decade ago.

Stoltenberg said it is important to revisit the strategic document given the changed nature of the threats NATO faces, what he called a “more dangerous world.”

“We see the behavior of Russia, we see cyber, we see terrorist threats, we see proliferation of nuclear weapons,” Stoltenberg said. “And we see the security consequences of China which is now becoming more and more a global power.”

The talks in Riga also come as NATO members Latvia, Lithuania and Poland deal with a border crisis with neighboring Belarus.

The European Union accuses Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of enticing thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, to travel to Belarus and try to cross into Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in order to destabilize the European Union. The EU says Lukashenko is retaliating for sanctions it imposed against his government.

Blinken is scheduled to travel Wednesday to Sweden to meet with fellow ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and to discuss bilateral ties with Swedish officials.

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US Envoy on Afghanistan to Return to Doha to Meet Taliban

The U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan will visit Doha next week for two days of meetings with leaders of the Taliban, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Tuesday.

“They’ll discuss … our vital national interests when it comes to Afghanistan,” said Price. “That includes counterterrorism, that includes safe passage for U.S. citizens and for Afghans to whom we have a special commitment and that includes humanitarian assistance and the economic situation of the country.”

The U.S. envoy, Tom West, earlier this month attended a meeting of the so-called extended Troika, comprising Pakistan, China, Russia and the United States to discuss Afghanistan. The group had also met with senior Taliban representatives.

West was also part of the U.S. delegation in meetings with Taliban officials in Doha in October, the first such talks between Washington and the Taliban after United States’ chaotic end to its two decade-long war in Afghanistan on Aug. 31.

An abrupt withdrawal of most foreign development support after the Taliban seized power on Aug. 15 from Afghanistan’s Western-backed government has sent the economy into freefall. There is a shortage of hard cash and Taliban leaders are under Western sanctions.

With winter approaching, deeply impoverished Afghanistan has emerged from all-out war into a humanitarian crisis. Millions face growing hunger amid soaring food prices and a drought.

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