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Afghan school blast toll rises to 58, families bury victims

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The death toll from an explosion outside a school in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul has risen to 58, Afghan officials said on Sunday, with doctors struggling to provide medical care to at least 150 injured.

The bombing on Saturday evening shook the city’s Shi’ite Muslim neighbourhood of Dasht-e-Barchi. The community, a religious minority in Afghanistan, has been targeted in the past by Islamic State militants, a Sunni militant group.

An eyewitness told Reuters all but seven or eight of the victims were schoolgirls going home after finishing studies.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday blamed the attack on Taliban insurgents but a spokesman for the Taliban denied involvement, saying the group condemns any attacks on Afghan civilians.

Families of the victims blamed the Afghan government and Western powers for failing to put an end to violence and the ongoing war.

Bodies were still being collected from morgues as the first burials were conducted in the west of the city. Some families were still searching for missing relatives on Sunday, gathering outside hospitals to read names posted on the walls, and checking morgues.

“The entire night we carried bodies of young girls and boys to a graveyard and prayed for everyone wounded in the attack,” said Mohammed Reza Ali, who has been helping families of the victims at a private hospital.

“Why not just kill all of us to put and end to this war?” he said.

The violence comes a week after remaining U.S. and NATO troops began exiting Afghanistan, with a mission to complete the drawdown by September 11, which will mark the end of America’s longest war.

But the foreign troop withdrawal has led a surge in fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents with both sides trying to retain control over strategic centres.

(Reporting by Kabul bureau, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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Egypt upholds death sentence for 12 senior Muslim Brotherhood figures

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Egypt’s highest civilian court on Monday upheld death sentences for 12 senior Muslim Brotherhood figures over a 2013 sit-in which ended with security forces killing hundreds of protesters, judicial sources said.

The ruling, which cannot be appealed, means the 12 men could face execution pending approval by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. They include Abdul Rahman Al-Bar, commonly described as the group’s mufti or top religious scholar, Mohamed El-Beltagi, a former member of parliament, and Osama Yassin, a former minister.

Many Muslim Brotherhood figures have been sentenced to death in other cases related to the unrest that followed the military’s ousting of Brotherhood president Mohamed Mursi in 2013, but the Court of Cassation ordered retrials.

Rights groups have documented a sharp rise in the number of executions in Egypt, with at least 51 carried out so far this year according to Amnesty International.

“Instead of continuing to escalate their use of the death penalty by upholding death sentences following convictions in grossly unfair mass trials Egyptian authorities must immediately establish an official moratorium on executions,” Amnesty said in a statement.

Monday’s ruling relates to a mass trial of hundreds of suspects accused of murder and incitement of violence during pro-Brotherhood protests at Rabaa al-Adawiya square in Cairo in the weeks after Mursi’s overthrow.

In September 2018, an Egyptian criminal court sentenced 75 people to death and issued varying jail terms for more than 600 others. Many defendants were tried in absentia.

Forty-four of those sentenced to death appealed to the Court of Cassation. Thirty-one had their sentences changed to life in prison, while death sentences were upheld for 12 others.

A final defendant, the senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam el-Erian, died in prison in Cairo in August 2020. Mursi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, died in prison in 2019.

The court also upheld jail terms for many other defendants including a life sentence for Mohamed Badie, leader of the outlawed Brotherhood, and a 10-year jail term for Mursi’s son Osama, the judicial sources said.

 

(Reporting by Haitham Ahmed; writing by Mahmoud Mourad; editing by Aidan Lewis, William Maclean and Grant McCool)

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Trudeau says he discussed border with Biden, but no deal

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Sunday he has spoken with U.S. President Joe Biden about how to lift pandemic-related border restrictions between the two countries but made clear no breakthrough has been achieved.

U.S. and Canadian business leaders have voiced increasing concern about the ban on non-essential travel in light of COVID-19 that was first imposed in March 2020 and renewed on a monthly basis since then. The border measures do not affect trade flows.

The border restrictions have choked off tourism between the two countries. Canadian businesses, especially airlines and those that depend on tourism, have been lobbying the Liberal government to relax the restrictions.

Canada last week took a cautious first step, saying it was prepared to relax quarantine protocols for fully vaccinated citizens returning home starting in early July.

Trudeau, speaking after a Group of Seven summit in Britain, said he had talked to Biden “about coordinating measures at our borders as both our countries move ahead with mass vaccination.” Canada is resisting calls for the border measures to be relaxed, citing the need for more people to be vaccinated.

The United States is ahead of Canada in terms of vaccination totals.

“We will continue to work closely together on moving forward in the right way but each of us always will put at the forefront the interests and the safety of our own citizens,” Trudeau told a televised news conference when asked the Biden conversation.

“Many countries, like Canada, continue to say that now is not the time to travel,” Trudeau added, though he said it is important to get back to normalcy as quickly as possible.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Will Dunham)

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Man with 39 wive dies in India

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A 76-year-old man who had 39 wives and 94 children and was said to be the head of the world’s largest family has died in north east India, the chief minister of his home state said.

Ziona Chana, the head of a local Christian sect that allows polygamy, died on Sunday, Zoramthanga, the chief minister of Mizoram and who goes by one name, said in a tweet.

With a total of 167 members, the family is the world’s largest, according to local media, although this depends on whether you count the grandchildren, of whom Ziona has 33.

Winston Blackmore, the head of a polygamous Mormon sect in Canada, has around 150 children from 27 wives – 178 people in total.

Ziona lived with his family in a vast, four-story pink structure with around 100 rooms in Baktawng, a remote village in Mizoram that became a tourist attraction as a result, according to Zoramthanga.

The sect, named “Chana”, was founded by Ziona’s father in 1942 and has a membership of hundreds of families. Ziona married his first wife when he was 17, and claimed he once married ten wives in a single year.

They shared a dormitory near his private bedroom, and locals said he liked to have seven or eight of them by his side at all times.

Despite his family’s huge size, Ziona told Reuters in a 2011 interview he wanted to grow it even further.

“I am ready to expand my family and willing to go to any extent to marry,” he said.

“I have so many people to care for and look after, and I consider myself a lucky man.”

 

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal and Adnan Abidi in New Delhi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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