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Past gun-toting Taliban, some Kabul residents venture back to work

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Some Kabul residents cautiously ventured back to work through quiet streets on Tuesday, fearful after a night broken by the sound of gunfire and facing questions from their new Taliban rulers stationed at checkpoints across the Afghan capital.

The Islamist Taliban, who stopped women from working and administered punishments including public stoning during their previous 1996-2001 rule, swept the country in days as U.S.-backed government forces melted away.

While the Taliban have pledged there will be no retribution against opponents and promised to respect the rights of women, minorities and foreigners, many Afghans are sceptical.

But they also know life must go on.

“I am scared but what made me open my shop is feeding my family,” 48-year-old grocery shopkeeper Mohammadullah told Reuters by phone.

“I don’t have any other way of income. If I don’t open my shop then how can I feed my family of 12?” he said, adding that there were far fewer customers than usual.

The majority of shops and supermarkets in Kabul were shuttered and schools were closed, residents said. But some small grocery shops and butchers were open, as were hospitals.

Traffic was light, but there were several pick-up trucks with mounted white flags that were carrying Taliban gunmen.

“It was with the nation supporting us that the Americans failed here, and the Islamic system is established,” said a Taliban commander on the street, Mawlavi Haq Dost.

“This is a legal system and we assure our people whether they are Hazara, Tajik or Turk (minorities) that there won’t be any harassment from mujahideen to them.”

FREE TO WORK

Asadullah Wardak, a doctor in Afghanistan for 12 years, said he decided to return to work after staying home for two days. His children, who live in Canada, have urged him to leave, but he has opted to stay in Kabul where he works as a gynaecologist.

On his way to work at the Sana Medical Hospital, two Taliban men checked his car and his identity card. He said they told him he was free to work and gave him phone numbers to call in case his hospital encountered problems with blood supplies or medicine shortages.

They also asked him to ensure women patients and female doctors work separately while male doctors are only allowed to see female patients in the presence of another female doctor, he said.

Alberto Zanin, medical coordinator of an Italian medical charity in Kabul, said his hospital had treated several patients with gunshot wounds in the last 24 hours, some of whom were injured in the chaos at Kabul airport as hundreds of citizens tried to flee aboard diplomatic evacuation flights.

He said there was a lot of gunfire during the night and that the situation in the city remained tense, with armed Taliban soldiers stopping people at checkpoints close to his home.

“In the city, there is much less traffic, far fewer people out and about,” he said. “People are worried.”

One German officer who served in Afghanistan in recent years showed Reuters, on condition of anonymity, desperate pleas for help he had received from a local interpreter in Kabul he used to work with.

“I fear for my wife and kids,” the interpreter said in one message to the officer. “Taliban will…punish us for our work for you.”

(Reporting by Kabul bureau, Rupam Jain, Crispian Balmer in Rome and Sabine Siebold in Berlin; Writing by John Geddie; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick Macfie)

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Canada seeks to attract U.S. frequent flyers with perks on Air Canada

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Canada is trying to use the lure of travel perks to convince America’s frequent-flying elite to fly north on Air Canada, as the country steps up efforts to revive crucial traffic from the United States, a Canadian official said.

COVID-19 has battered travel from Canada‘s largest tourism market. During the first half of 2021, Canada had only about 178,000 overnight arrivals from the United States, compared with 6.8 million during the same period in 2019, according to government data.

To help reverse that decline, government tourism body Destination Canada on Monday rolled out its first campaign targeting U.S. frequent flyers, in partnership with the country’s largest carrier.

It is part of broader, C$14 million ($11.2 million) efforts by the tourism commission to boost traffic after Canada recently opened its borders to vaccinated travellers. It is not clear how much the specific frequent flyer campaign will cost.

“This is super-focused in terms of our ability to reach frequent flyers,” Gloria Loree, Destination Canada‘s chief marketing officer told Reuters, ahead of the launch.

Under the plan, up to 20,000 U.S. frequent flyers with carriers like American Airlines, Southwest Airlines Co and Delta Air Lines could get matching status when flying Air Canada north of the border.

Delta declined to comment and American Airlines did not immediately respond.

Southwest, which does not serve Canada directly, said by email that the government arm’s support contributes to the industry’s collective efforts “to restart substantive air travel.”

Frequent-flyer status gives travelers perks like priority boarding that would normally cost a premium fare or a fee.

While status-matching is common among airlines, Destination Canada said this is the first time a tourism organization has used the practice to attract tourists to their country.

“This is the push to get them coming to Canada,” Loree said.

Eligible U.S. frequent flyers who book and travel north on AC before Jan. 15, 2022, will keep their status with the carrier for all of 2022, she said.

It comes as countries ease restrictions on international travel, with the United States set to reopen in November to vaccinated air travelers from 33 countries.

Loree said funding frequent-flyer status matching is no different from other incentives paid for by Destination Canada, such as a separate campaign this year with Air Canada‘s rival, WestJet Airlines.

Loree said the goal is to restore routes from the United States, while trying to attract travelers who will return to Canada.

In April, hard-hit Air Canada received an estimated C$5.9 billion ($4.7 billion) government aid package with the country gaining a stake of roughly 6% in the carrier.

While Canada‘s high vaccination rate could reassure tourists, the cost of the country’s COVID-19 PCR test requirements for arrivals could dissuade some travelers, said Frederic Dimanche, director of the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University.

Loree said targeting U.S. frequent flyers is a plus because they are largely accustomed to those requirements.

“They’ve figured out how to travel,” Loree said. “So we want them to consider Canada as their next trip.”

Air Canada shares closed up 3.48% in Toronto trade.

($1 = 1.2652 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal. Additional reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh in ChicagoEditing by Denny Thomas, Lisa Shumaker and Matthew Lewis)

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Canada’s clean energy lobby groups call for changes to draft Clean Fuel Standard

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One of Canada‘s flagship pieces of climate regulation has run into criticism from clean fuel lobby groups as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepares to start his third term in office , with industry advocates arguing it is out of step with Canada‘s goals to achieve net-zero emissions.

The Clean Fuel Standard is set to come into force in December 2022, and was envisaged as a pillar of Canada‘s carbon emissions reduction plan. But a coalition of 26 clean fuel trade associations, producers and climate think tanks are now warning that the regulation in its current form will delay rather than incentivize the adoption of low-carbon fuels.

“The CFS as the draft is now proposed shouldn’t go ahead,” said Ian Thomson, president of Advanced Biofuels Canada, one of the organisations calling for a change.

“It has the potential to be a great regulation … but the messaging right now is essentially going to defer by a decade the adoption of fuels that are critical to net-zero future.”

Advanced Biofuels Canada and other industry groups have been lobbying the government privately for months to toughen up the regulation. They said so far the government has shown little inclination to do so, and risks missing an opportunity to boost Canada‘s clean fuel industry.

Criticism of the CFS from some key stakeholders underlines how Trudeau’s Liberal government is being pushed to take tougher action to deliver on climate promises ahead of the COP 26 international climate summit https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/eu-countries-struggle-agree-approach-cop26-climate-talks-2021-09-23 in the United Kingdom in November.

Major Liberal environmental policies include the CFS, a carbon tax and a pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030. But Canadian emissions have grown in the six years Trudeau has been in power, and research coalition Climate Action Tracker this month rated Canada‘s polices and actions as “highly insufficient” in tackling the climate crisis.

Canada‘s Environment ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

UPSTREAM VS DOWNSTREAM CREDITS

The CFS is modelled on similar regulations in the European Union and California and was first proposed in 2016.

It requires producers and importers of gasoline and diesel to reduce the amount of carbon in their product, and was meant to cut Canadian emissions by 20 megatons annually by 2030, although critics say the cut will be more like 15.5 megatons.

The clean fuel lobby says the regulation puts too much emphasis on giving credits for emissions cut during the “upstream” oil production and refining process, and does not incentivize fuel suppliers to switch to lower-carbon sources of energy like biofuels, hydrogen and electricity.

It wants the government to introduce a limit to how much fuel suppliers can rely on upstream credits to meet their CFS obligations, similar to EU regulations.

Around three-quarters of the full life-cycle emissions of a barrel of oil come from being burned in a combustion engine, known as downstream emissions. The transportation sector accounts for 25% of Canada‘s greenhouse gas output.

“Downstream emissions are the elephant in the room and the CFS is not tackling that,” Thomson said.

A recent slew of carbon capture and storage announcements from Canada‘s oil patch, which would allow producers to meet emissions targets by burying carbon underground rather than reducing oil output, increases the likelihood that upstream CFS credits will dominate the market, critics say.

If fuel suppliers can buy or generate cheap credits to meet their obligations, they may not switch to using lower-carbon fuels. That could in turn dent investment in Canada‘s clean fuel industry, said Bora Plumptre, senior analyst at the Pembina Institute clean energy think-tank.

“It’s really fair for clean fuel organisations to question whether there will be a market signal for their products. That’s the misalignment I’m worried about, and the government does not appear to appreciate that concern,” he added.

A 2021 Advanced Biofuels Canada report estimates the clean fuel industry could add 21,000 new jobs and grow to a C$15.2 billion ($12.01 billion) industry by 2030, from C$5.2 billion in 2020.

($1 = 1.2652 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Nia Williams in CalgaryEditing by Denny Thomas and Matthew Lewis)

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White House: Xi raised case of Huawei CFO in recent call with Biden

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The White House on Monday said a near-simultaneous release of a top Huawei executive and two Canadians detained shortly after her arrest was not a prisoner swap, but said the moves came up in a call between the Chinese and American presidents weeks before.

On Friday, Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou flew home to China from Canada after reaching an agreement with U.S. prosecutors to end the bank fraud case against her, a point of tension between China and the United States.

Within hours of the news of the deal, the two Canadians who were arrested shortly after Meng was taken into custody were released from Chinese jails and were on their way back to Canada. Beijing had denied that their arrests were linked.

When asked if the White House was involved in brokering a “prisoner swap,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki rejected the premise.

The deferred prosecution agreement with Meng was “an action by the Department of Justice, which is an independent Department of Justice. This is a law enforcement matter,” she said, adding, “There is no link.”

But Psaki also confirmed that in a call on Sept. 9, two weeks before the announcements, Chinese President Xi Jinping brought up Meng’s case and U.S. President Joe Biden pressed for the release of the two Canadians, businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig, who had been held in China for more than 1,000 days.

“It should not come as a surprise that President Xi raised the Huawei official, but …there was no negotiation on this call. These two leaders raised the cases of these individuals but there was no negotiation about it,” Psaki said.

When asked, Psaki said she had no information on whether Biden knew about the status of the negotiations between Meng’s lawyers and the Justice Department.

Meng had been arrested at Vancouver International Airport in Canada on a U.S. warrant, and was indicted on bank and wire fraud charges for allegedly misleading HSBC in 2013 about the telecommunications equipment giant’s business dealings in Iran.

The years-long extradition drama had been a central source of discord in increasingly rocky ties between Beijing and Washington, with Chinese officials signaling that the case needed to be dropped to help end a diplomatic stalemate.

Psaki emphasized the deal announced on Friday did not indicate a softening of U.S. concerns about Chinese behavior.

“Our policy has not changed, our policy toward China,” Psaki said. “We are not seeking conflict. It is a relationship of competition and we are going to continue to hold the PRC to account for its unfair economic practices, its coercive actions around the world and its human rights abuses,” she said, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China.

 

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper and Steve Holland; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Heather Timmons)

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