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Dozens of civilians, 12 U.S. troops killed in bloodbath at Kabul airport

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Suicide bombers struck the crowded gates of Kabul airport with at least two explosions on Thursday, causing a bloodbath among civilians and U.S. troops, and bringing a catastrophic halt to the airlift of tens of thousands of Afghans desperate to flee.

Two U.S. officials put the U.S. death toll at 12 service members killed, making it one of the deadliest incidents for American troops of the entire 20-year war.

There was no complete toll of Afghan civilians but video images uploaded by Afghan journalists showed dozens of bodies of people killed in packed crowds outside the airport.

A watery ditch by the airport fence was filled with bloodsoaked corpses, some being fished out and laid in heaps on the canal side while wailing civilians searched for loved ones.

Several Western countries said the airlift of civilians was now effectively over, with the United States having sealed the gates of the airport leaving no way out for tens of thousands of Afghans who worked for the West through two decades of war.

A Taliban official said at least 13 people including children had been killed in the attack and 52 were wounded, though it was clear from video footage that those figures were far from complete. One surgical hospital run by an Italian charity said it alone was treating more than 60 wounded.

The explosions took place amid the crowds outside the airport who have been massing for days in hope of escaping in an airlift which the United States says will end by Tuesday, following the swift capture of the country by the Taliban.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts, but U.S. officials pointed the finger at Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate, ISIS-Khorosan , which has emerged as enemies of both the West and of the Taliban.

A witness who gave his name as Jamshed said he went to the airport in the hope of getting a visa for the United States.

“There was a very strong and powerful suicide attack, in the middle of the people. Many were killed, including Americans,” he said.

‘COMPLEX ATTACK’

Zubair, a 24 year-old civil engineer, who had been trying for a nearly week to get inside the airport with a cousin who had papers authorising him to travel to the United States, said he was 50 metres from the first of two suicide bombers who detonated explosives at the gate.

“Men, women and children were screaming. I saw many injured people – men, women and children – being loaded into private vehicles and taken toward the hospitals,” he said. After the explosions there was gunfire.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said on Twitter: “We can confirm that the explosion at the Abbey Gate was the result of a complex attack that resulted in a number of U.S. and civilian casualties. We can also confirm at least one other explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, a short distance from Abbey Gate.”

Taliban official Suhail Shaheen said there were two explosions in a crowded area managed by U.S. forces. “We strongly condemn this gruesome incident and will take every step to bring the culprits to justice.”

The Taliban did not identify the attackers, but a spokesman described it as the work of “evil circles” who would be suppressed once the foreign troops leave.

Washington and its allies had been urging civilians to stay away from the airport on Thursday, citing the threat of an Islamic State suicide attack.

In the past 12 days, Western countries have evacuated nearly 100,000 people, mostly Afghans who helped them. But they say many thousands more will be left behind following President Joe Biden’s order to pull out all troops by Aug 31.

The last few days of the airlift will mostly be used to withdraw the remaining troops. Canada and some European countries have already announced the end of their airlifts, while publicly lamenting Biden’s abrupt pullout.

AIRPORT DOORS ‘CLOSED’

“The doors at the airport are now closed and it is no longer possible to get people in,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide said on Thursday.

“We wish we could have stayed longer and rescued everyone,” the acting chief of Canada‘s defence staff, General Wayne Eyre, told reporters.

Biden ordered all troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the month to comply with a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban negotiated by his predecessor Donald Trump. He spurned calls this week from European allies for more time.

The abrupt collapse of the Western-backed government in Afghanistan caught U.S. officials by surprise and risks reversing gains, especially in the rights of women and girls, millions of whom have been going to school and work, once forbidden under the Taliban.

Biden has defended the decision to leave, saying U.S. forces could not stay indefinitely. But his critics say the U.S. force, which once numbered more than 100,000, had been reduced in recent years to just a few thousand troops, no longer involved in fighting on the ground and mainly confined to an air base. It was a fraction of the size of U.S. military contingents that have stayed in places such as Korea for decades.

The U.S. troops killed on Thursday were the first to die in action in Afghanistan in 18 months.

Violence from Islamic State creates a headache for the Taliban who have promised that their victory will bring peace to Afghanistan at last. Fighters claiming allegiance to Islamic State began appearing in eastern Afghanistan at the end of 2014 and have established a reputation for extreme brutality.

Since the day before the Taliban swept into Kabul, the United States and its allies have mounted one of the biggest air evacuations in history, bringing out about 95,700 people, including 13,400 on Wednesday, the White House said on Thursday.

The Taliban have encouraged Afghans to stay, while saying those with permission to leave will still be allowed to do so once foreign troops leave and commercial flights resume.

The Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule was marked by public executions and the curtailment of basic freedoms. The group was overthrown two decades ago by U.S.-led forces for hosting the al Qaeda militants who masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

The Taliban have said they will respect human rights in line with Islamic law and will not allow terrorists to operate from the country.

 

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Stephen Coates, Robert Birsel, Nick Macfie, Peter Graff; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Simon Cameron-Moore, Frances Kerry, Edmund Blair)

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Citi hires Milovanovic from Goldman to head Americas financials M&A group

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Citigroup Inc is hiring Steve Milovanovic to head its investment banking unit which focuses on mergers and acquisitions by financial institutions in the Americas, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters on Thursday.

Milovanovic will join from Goldman Sachs Group, where he was co-head of M&A for the financial institution’s group (FIG) in the Americas, said the memo, the contents of which were confirmed by a Citigroup spokesperson.

“Steve’s experience, judgment and client relationships will further strengthen Citi’s strategic advisory capabilities,” the memo said, noting that Milovanovic will be based in New York.

Milovanovic, who has also worked at Credit Suisse Group in his banking career, has more than 20 years of dealmaking experience, with a focus on financial services.

 

(Reporting by Chibuike Oguh in New York; Writing by David French; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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GM extends EV Bolt production halt to mid-October

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) –General Motors Co said on Thursday it will extend a shutdown of a Michigan assembly plant to mid-October following a new recall of its Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles over battery issues after 12 reported fires.

The largest U.S. automaker said the extension of the production halt at its Orion Assembly plant will go through at least Oct. 15. GM also said it was cutting production at six other North American assembly plants because of the ongoing semiconductor chips shortage.

GM said it will not resume Bolt production or sales until it is satisfied that the recall remedy will address the fire risk issue. It said Thursday it had reports of 12 fires and three injuries.

GM shares were largely unchanged in late trading.

GM in August widened its recall of the Bolt to more than 140,000 vehicles to replace battery modules, at a cost now estimated at $1.8 billion. The automaker said it would seek reimbursement from battery supplier LG.

It is not clear how long it will take GM to obtain replacement battery modules for recalled vehicles and whether it will have diagnostic software that will allow it to certify some modules do not need replacing.

GM said the additional three-week production halt at its Bolt plant comes as it continues “to work with our supplier to update manufacturing processes.”

Earlier this month GM was forced to halt production at most North American assembly plants temporarily because of the chips shortage.

The new production cuts include a Lansing, Michigan, plant that builds the Chevrolet Traverse and the Buick Enclave.

GM is also cutting production of SUVs like the Chevrolet Equinox, Blazer and GMC Terrain at plants in Mexico and Canada. It will also make further production cuts at Michigan and Kansas plants that make Chevrolet Camaro and Malibu cars.

The Commerce Department said on Wednesday it plans a Sept. 23 White House meeting with automakers and others “to discuss the ongoing global chip shortage, the impact the Delta variant has had on global semiconductor supply chains and the industry’s progress toward improving transparency.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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Controversial question in English debate may have galvanized Bloc voters – CBC.ca

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At a bowling alley in Montreal’s east end on a weekday afternoon, Réal Desrochers is playing in his weekly league and also considering his choices in next week’s federal election.

Desrochers had been planning to vote Liberal, but a key moment in last Thursday’s English-language leaders’ debate galvanized identity sentiments in Quebec and spurred him to change his mind and choose the Bloc Québécois led by Yves-François Blanchet. 

“For me, it’s because the Bloc will balance the situation in Ottawa,” Desrochers said. “I know he won’t form a government, but he will defend Quebec [in Parliament].” 

Desrochers called the moment “a direct attack on Quebec, and I don’t like it.”

Réal Desrochers says he was planning to vote Liberal this election but changed his mind and decided to vote for the Bloc Québécois after the English debate. (Alison Northcott/CBC)

Last Thursday, at the beginning of the English leaders’ debate, moderator Shachi Kurl asked Blanchet why he supported bills 21 and 96 — respectively, Quebec’s secularism law and its proposed new law to protect the French language.

“You denied that Quebec has problems with racism yet you defend legislation such as bills 96 and 21, which marginalize religious minorities, anglophones and allophones,” asked Kurl.

“Quebec is recognized as a distinct society, but for those outside the province, please help them understand why your party also supports these discriminatory laws.”

Blanchet shot back, saying, “The question seems to imply the answer you want.”

“Those laws are not about discrimination. They are about the values of Quebec,” he said. 

WATCH | Quebec premier criticizes debate question on secularism law:

Legault slams ‘ridiculous’ question on Quebec secularism, language laws during federal debate

6 days ago

Quebec Premier François Legault slammed a controversial question posed to Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet on the province’s secularism and language laws during last night’s English federal election debate 0:51 

The exchange had the effect of reviving an old wound, leaving Quebecers feeling disrespected and misunderstood by the rest of Canada, according to several experts interviewed by CBC.

It created a situation in which a debate that is typically almost ignored in Quebec may have changed the game for the federal election on the ground.

A bounce for the Bloc

The Bloc Québécois has risen from its slump in the polls back to a level of popularity similar to what it enjoyed during the 2019 election, in which it experienced a dramatic comeback, winning 32 seats after being reduced to 10 in the previous election.

According to a Léger poll published earlier this week, the party went from 27 per cent to 30 per cent of voter support in the province after the English debate.

“It ignited Quebec’s identity sentiments,” said Guy Lachapelle, a political science professor at Concordia University in Montreal. 

“Quebecers are sick of Quebec-bashing in general.… I think there is a misunderstanding of the major issues and debates in Quebec.”

WATCH | Quebec columnists explain why the English debate angered some Quebecers:

How did Quebec react to the English federal leaders’ debate?

5 days ago

Yves Boisvert, columnist at La Presse and Emilie Nicolas, columnist with Le Devoir join Power & Politics to discuss the English federal leaders’ debate. 4:42

Lachapelle doubts the increase in Bloc support will make a huge difference in which party ends up forming a government, though it minimizes the Liberals’ and Conservatives’ already slim chances of forming a majority and reduces the NDP’s chances of making gains in the province to almost nil. 

For Christian Bourque, executive vice-president at Léger, though, that small bounce — accompanied by the Liberals surpassing the Conservatives in the polls this week despite an endorsement of Erin O’Toole by Premier François Legault  — could lead to surprises Monday night. 

“We’re all in these sort of dominoes because the race is so tight,” Bourque said.

There are about 15 three-way races between the Bloc, Liberals and Conservatives, he said.

“Since 2011, Quebec is, around Canada, probably the region where we have the most strategic voters, who will change alliance depending on how they feel the race is going,” Bourque said.

Montrealer Lise Thériault says she decided to switch her vote from NDP to Bloc Québécois after the English-language leaders’ debate. (CBC)

Lise Thériault says she has voted for the NDP since the so-called orange wave in 2011, but this time, she went to an advance poll to vote for the Bloc the day after the English debate. 

“Telling me, at 70 years old, that I’m a racist because I want to be proud of my French language? Non, ça marche pas ça. It doesn’t work,” Thériault said, switching easily between English and French.

“I was insulted, and Monsieur Blanchet did a good job. I’m behind him 100 per cent.”

Lachapelle says many Quebecers had a similar reaction. He, too, thinks English-speaking Canadians are misinformed about the nuances of Quebec issues.

“We typically have a pretty good idea of what’s happening in other provinces in Quebec, but the reverse is not always true,” he said.

Shophika Vaithyanathasarma is the Bloc Québécois candidate in Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie, a riding that has been held by NDP candidate Alexandre Boulerice for 10 years. (CBC)

Thériault lives in the Montreal riding of Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie, the NDP’s last seat in the province, held by incumbent Alexandre Boulerice for the past 10 years. She said that this year, she was proud to vote for the Bloc’s 21-year-old candidate, Shophika Vaithyanathasarma. 

In an interview with CBC this week, Vaithyanathasarma said her own feelings about Bill 21 are complicated. 

She supports the bill but is concerned that there is not enough diversity of candidates and politicians who are part of the conversation about it. 

“That’s one of the reasons I’m involving myself in politics: none of the people who are talking about the bill are racialized,” Vaithyanathasarma said. “I seriously think we have to listen to the citizens that are concerned.”

Vaithyanathasarma, whose parents immigrated from Sri Lanka, says minorities should not be excluded from the discussion. 

“That is one of the biggest mistakes we could make,” she said, smiling.

Mireille Paquet, who holds the research chair on the politics of immigration at Concordia University, told As It Happens the question served Blanchet because “it allowed for Blanchet to speak as if he was representing all of Quebecers, and as if Quebecers were all united around these pieces of legislation.”

Premier Legault’s controversial gambit

The conversation about the debate has overshadowed another significant development in the federal race in the province.

Hours before the English debate, Legault took a public stance against Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, saying Quebecers should “beware of three parties: the Liberal Party, the NDP and the Green Party.”

Legault was irked by those parties’ intentions to intervene in health-care matters, which are under provincial jurisdiction, and said, “For the Quebec nation, Mr. O’Toole’s approach is a good one.” 

WATCH | Liberals react to Legault’s endorsement of O’Toole:

Liberals fight back after Legault’s Conservative endorsement

3 days ago

The Liberal party is fighting back in Quebec following Premier Francois Legault’s endorsement of a Conservative government, including speaking out against the controversial Bill C21. 2:33

But Lachapelle, the Concordia professor, says Legault’s endorsement could backfire. Many Quebecers have grumbled about being told who to vote for. The Conservatives have lost some ground in Quebec since the endorsement and are now polling at 18.4 per cent, according to 338Canada founder Philippe Fournier. 

The voters of Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec party are generally split between voting Bloc, Liberal and Conservative at the federal level. Legault’s gamble may have alienated a good portion of them, Lachappelle said. 

“Legault risks losing a certain amount of his base, especially if the Conservatives win and don’t deliver [on their promises to Quebec].”

Still, as the dust settles following the debate and its controversy, the polls suggest that Quebecers may end up voting along the same lines as they did in 2019.

“I’m under the impression we’re going to have a similar result as the last election,” he said.

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