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Taliban enter Afghan capital, president and diplomats flee

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Taliban insurgents entered Kabul and President Ashraf Ghani left Afghanistan on Sunday, bringing the Islamist militants close to taking over the country two decades after they were overthrown by a U.S.-led invasion.

It was not yet clear where Ghani was headed or how exactly power would be transferred following the Taliban’s lightning sweep in recent weeks across Afghanistan. Their advance accelerated as U.S. and other foreign troops withdrew in line with President Joe Biden’s desire to end America’s longest war, launched in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

By evening, the Taliban said they had taken control of most of the districts around the outskirts of the capital.

The U.S. Embassy said there were reports the capital’s airport, where diplomats, officials and other Afghans had fled, had come under fire.

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“The security situation in Kabul is changing quickly including at the airport. There are reports of the airport taking fire; therefore we are instructing U.S. citizens to shelter in place,” an embassy security alert said.

Hundreds of Afghans, some of them government ministers and government employees and also other civilians including many women and children, crowded in the terminal desperately waiting for flights out.

“The airport is out of control… the (Afghan) government just sold us out,” said an official at the scene who declined to be named for security reasons.

American diplomats were flown from their embassy by helicopter to the airport as Afghan forces https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-surge-exposes-failure-us-efforts-build-afghan-army-2021-08-15, trained for years and equipped by the United States and others for billions of dollars, melted away.

Ghani’s destination was uncertain: a senior Interior Ministry official said he had left for Tajikistan, while a Foreign Ministry official said his location was unknown and the Taliban said it was checking his whereabouts.

Some local social media users branded him a “coward” for leaving them in chaos.

Taliban fighers reached Kabul “from all sides”, the senior Interior Ministry official told Reuters and there were some reports of sporadic gunfire around the city.

A Kabul hospital said more than 40 people wounded in clashes on the outskirts were being treated, but there did not appear to be major fighting.

Insurgents entered the presidential palace and took control of it, two senior Taliban commanders in Kabul said. The Afghan government did not confirm this.

During Sunday, the government’s acting interior minister, Abdul Sattar Mirzakawal, said power would be handed over to a transitional administration. He tweeted: “There won’t be an attack on the city, it is agreed that there will be a peaceful handover”.

However, two Taliban https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-key-facts-islamic-militant-group-2021-08-15 officials told Reuters there would be no transitional government. The Taliban said earlier it was waiting for Ghani’s Western-backed government to surrender peacefully.

SHARIA

Many Afghans fear the Taliban will return to past harsh practices in their imposition of sharia, or Islamic religious law. During their 1996-2001 rule, women could not work and punishments such as stoning, whipping and hanging were administered.

The militants sought to project a more moderate face https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-seek-present-moderate-face-they-take-control-afghanistan-2021-08-15, promising to respect women’s rights and protect both foreigners and Afghans.

“We assure the people, particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told the BBC, saying a transfer of power was expected in days.

Many of Kabul’s streets were choked by cars and people either trying to rush home or reach the airport, residents said.

“Some people have left their keys in the car and have started walking to the airport,” one resident told Reuters. Another said: “People are all going home in fear of fighting.”

Early on Sunday, refugees from Taliban-controlled provinces were seen unloading belongings from taxis and families stood outside embassy gates, while the city’s downtown was packed with people stocking up on supplies.

U.S. officials said diplomats were being ferried by helicopters to the airport from its embassy in the fortified Wazir Akbar Khan district. A NATO official said several European Union staff had moved to a safer location in Kabul.

U.S. troops were still arriving at the airport, amid concern heavily armed Afghan security contractors could “mutiny” because they have not been assured Washington is committed to evacuating them, a person familiar with the issue said.

European nations, including France, Germany and the Netherlands, also said they were moving their diplomats to the airport and working to get citizens as well as some Afghan employees out of the country.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he had discussed the rapidly evolving situation with Britain, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands.

AMERICAN EVACUATION

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier in Washington that the embassy was being moved to the airport and has a list of people to get out of harm’s way.

Asked if images of helicopters ferrying personnel were evocative of the United States’ departure from Vietnam in 1975, Blinken told ABC news: “Let’s take a step back. This is manifestly not Saigon.”

A NATO official said the alliance was helping to secure the airport and that a political solution was “now more urgent than ever”.

Russia said it saw no need to evacuate its embassy for the time being.

Earlier on Sunday, the insurgents captured the eastern city of Jalalabad without a fight, giving them control of one of the main highways into landlocked Afghanistan. They also took over the nearby Torkham border post with Pakistan, leaving Kabul airport the only way out of Afghanistan still in government hands.

“Allowing passage to the Taliban was the only way to save civilian lives,” a Jalalabad-based Afghan official told Reuters.

A video clip distributed by the Taliban showed people cheering and shouting “Allahu Akbar” – God is greatest – as a convoy of pickup trucks entered Jalalabad with fighters brandishing machine guns and the white Taliban flag.

Iran said it had set up camps along the Afghan border to provide temporary refuge to Afghans fleeing their country.

Biden on Saturday authorised https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-approves-additional-forces-help-drawdown-personnel-kabul-2021-08-14 the deployment of 5,000 U.S. troops to help evacuate citizens and ensure an “orderly and safe” drawdown of military personnel.

Biden said his administration had told Taliban officials in talks in Qatar that any action that put U.S. personnel at risk “will be met with a swift and strong U.S. military response.”

He has faced rising domestic criticism after sticking to a plan, initiated by his Republican predecessor Donald Trump, to end the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan by Aug. 31.

“An endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me,” Biden said on Saturday.

(Reporting by Kabul and Washington bureausWriting by Andrew Cawthorne and Philippa FletcherEditing by William Mallard, Andrew Cawthorne and Frances Kerry)

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5 things to know today: Canada's 'two-faced' winter forecast – CTV News

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CTV News travels to Pakistan and finds some Afghans who fled and are now homeless, a new weather forecast predicts a “two-faced” winter for many Canadians, and Alberta Premier Danielle Smith tables the controversial sovereignty act. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

1. Refugee camp: CTV News visits a refugee camp in Pakistan, where Afghan children live in flimsy tents set up in a park, without basics like running water or ample food, with only their mothers for protection.

2. Winter forecast: Despite warm and mild temperatures stretching on throughout most of the fall season, the wrath of winter may be coming soon, experts say. But frigid temperatures aren’t expected to last.

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3. Sovereignty act: Danielle Smith introduces the Sovereignty within a United Canada Act in the provincial legislature while trying to reassure Albertans that it has nothing to do with leaving the country.

4. Canada commutes: A new census release from Statistics Canada Wednesday is expected to shed light on how people got to work last year, and what kind of jobs they were doing.

5. China’s reformer: Former President Jiang Zemin, who led China out of isolation after the army crushed the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in 1989 and supported economic reforms that led to a decade of explosive growth, is dead at 96.

One more thing…

Royal bill: King Charles III’s three-day tour of Canada earlier this year cost taxpayers at least $1.4 million, according to documents obtained by CTVNews.ca.

In this May 19, 2022 file photo, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, disembark their plane in Yellowknife during part of the Royal Tour of Canada. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)

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How to apply for Canada's new rental and dental benefits – CTV News

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Starting on Thursday, eligible Canadians can apply through the Canada Revenue Agency to receive funding as part of the first ever federal dental-care program, and as of Dec. 12 applications will open for low-income renters looking to access the one-time top-up to the Canada Housing Benefit.

On Nov. 17 the NDP-backed Liberal affordability bill bringing in both the dental-care benefit and rental boost for lower-income Canadians—known as Bill C-31—became law. At the time, the government committed to having the application process launched before the end of the year.

On Wednesday, the federal financial agency briefed reporters on how the system will work for Canadians looking to apply for these benefits, billing the system as “streamlined and user-friendly.”

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The CRA says it will only take a couple of minutes to apply, because there are some upfront verification built into the system, including checking if your 2021 tax return has been filed.

Here’s what you need to know.

WHAT IS THE “CANADA DENTAL BENEFIT”?

For now, the “Canada Dental Benefit” will be offered to children under the age of 12, with an annual family income of less than $90,000, with the amount provided per child per year dependant on family income.

For example:

  • $650 would be provided per child if the family’s adjusted net income is under $70,000;
  • $390 would be provided per child if the family’s adjusted net income is between $70,000 and $79,999; and
  • $260 would be provided per child if the family’s adjusted net income is between $80,000 and $89,999.

The amount offered is the government’s “best calibration” of how much funding is needed to cover basic dental care—exams, cleanings, X-rays, and fillings— without much left over, according to government officials who briefed reporters on the program in September.

The first phase of dental care will provide eligible parents or guardians with “direct, up-front tax-free payments to cover dental expenses.”

This interim dental benefit is only available for two periods, and parents or caregivers can receive a maximum of two payments for each eligible child.

The first period covers expenses retroactive to Oct. 1, 2022, through to June 30, 2023. The second period will cover dental services the child received between July 1, 2023, and June 30, 2024.

If a child’s dental care costs more than $650 and the parent or guardian has only applied for one benefit period, they may meet the criteria for an additional payment.

HOW TO APPLY FOR DENTAL COVERAGE

Applicants will have two options to access the online portal: either through their CRA “My Account” or through their Service Canada account. For those without access to the online systems, the CRA is setting up a dedicated dental benefit phone line to receive applications.

Either way, those applying will have to make a series of attestations in order to determine eligibility, as well as answer security questions to verify their identity.

For example, parents or guardians making the application will have to confirm:

  • Their child was born on or after Dec. 2, 2010, making them 12 years old as of Dec. 1, 2022;
  • They are currently receiving the Canada Child Benefit as of Dec. 1, 2022;
  • Their child does not have access to private dental care coverage nor are their costs fully covered by another dental program provided by any other level of government;
  • They will have out-of-pocket dental care expenses for which they will use the benefit; and
  • They have filed their 2021 income tax and benefit return.

Applicants can submit to receive this financial support ahead of appointments, but will have to provide proof of eligibility such as contact information for the dental service provider, date of the appointment, and information related to their employer and spouse or partner related to their benefit coverage.

The CRA is highly recommending signing up for direct deposit as the fastest and easiest way to receive this funding, noting that the estimated wait time for payments is five business days if signed up for direct deposit, whereas it could take 10 business days to receive a cheque by mail.

The law has also set up a process for bureaucrats to check eligibility information—including contacting employers—and there could be penalties for those who submit fraudulent claims. The CRA is encouraging those who apply to print and save a copy of their applications as well as any relevant documentation such as receipts, in case verification is needed down the line.

For example, if for some reason a parent or guardian applies for funding in the first period but does not end up having dental care expenses during that timeframe, they will be required to repay that amount and reapply for the second eligibility period.

While only those under 12 years old will get access for now, the government says it remains committed to following through on seeing this stop-gap measure become a fully-fledged national dental care plan by 2025.

WHAT ABOUT THE “CANADA HOUSING BENEFIT” TOP-UP?

A for sale sign outside a home indicates that it has been rented, in Ottawa, on Monday, March 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The other form of federal funding that eligible Canadians can soon access is the one-time $500 top-up to the Canada Housing Benefit. The application process for this funding will launch on Monday, Dec. 12, according to the CRA.

This is a program for low-income renters with adjusted net incomes below $35,000 for families, or $20,000 for individuals who pay at least 30 per cent of their adjusted net income on rent and are paying rent for their own primary residence in Canada.

In order to receive this $500 payment to help cover rent, applicants need to confirm they:

  • Have filed their 2021 income tax and benefit return;
  • Are at least 15 years of age as of Dec. 1, 2022;
  • Are a resident in Canada for tax purposes in 2022;
  • Have their principal residence in Canada as of Dec. 1, 2022;
  • Have paid rent for their own shelter in 2022; and
  • Have paid at least 30 per cent of their 2021 adjusted net family income on rent in the 2022 calendar year.

Applicants need to be ready to provide some basic information such as their address, who they paid rent to and how to contact that person, as well as how many months spent at certain residences if they’ve moved throughout the year.

Same as with the dental benefit, the CRA is suggesting direct deposit as the fastest and easiest way to receive this funding. The estimated wait time for payments is five business days if signed up for direct deposit, whereas it could take 10 business days to receive a cheque by mail.

Here too, applicants will have to keep any relevant documentation to back up their application in case the CRA comes calling in the next six years to validate their eligibility. This includes tax slips, rental property receipts, and landlord contact information.

Applicants found to be ineligible will be required to repay the benefit. 

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Dutch man who harassed B.C. teenager Amanda Todd returned to the Netherlands

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Dutch man who harassed B.C. teenager Amanda Todd returned to the Netherlands

The man convicted of harassing and extorting British Columbia teenager Amanda Todd has been returned to the Netherlands, where the prosecution office says a judge will decide if he serves any of his 13-year Canadian sentences.

Canada’s Justice Department says Aydin Coban was taken back to his home country on Nov. 24, where he will continue serving a nearly 11-year sentence imposed by a Dutch court in 2017 for similar crimes involving more than 30 youths.

Coban was extradited to Canada in 2020 to face charges including extortion, harassment and distribution of child pornography related to Todd, who was 15 when she died by suicide at her home in Port Coquitlam, B.C., in October 2012.

Evert Boerstra, press officer with the Netherlands Public Prosecution Service, says a so-called “conversion hearing” will take place now that Coban has been returned, and the court will decide how his Canadian sentence will be converted to Dutch standards.

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Boerstra says it will be up to a judge to decide whether Coban will serve the 13-year sentence given to him by a B.C. Supreme Court judge last month, after he finishes his Dutch sentence, which was the maximum that could be imposed.

The press officer says because of the similarity between both cases “there is a chance that after conversion there will be no room left to impose punishment in addition to the Dutch sentence as a result of the Canadian verdict.”

In an email, Boerstra says a date for that hearing has yet to be announced.

Carol Todd, Amanda’s mother, has said she knew at the start of Coban’s nine-week trial in B.C. last June that any sentence would be converted once he returned to the Netherlands.

But it wasn’t until a Dutch reporter contacted her after Coban was convicted in August that Todd said she learned it’s possible he may not serve his Canadian sentence because he was already serving the maximum Dutch term for similar crimes committed around the same time he was harassing her daughter.

Todd has said the Dutch reporter spoke with lawyers who indicatedDutch law also stipulates when someone is convicted and sentenced, then found guilty of the same kind of offence in the same time period, the existing punishment applies.

Todd reached out to Crown prosecutors in B.C. after the publication of the Dutch journalist’s story and they verified that was the law, she said in a recent interview.

During Coban’s trial in New Westminster, B.C., the jury heard he used 22 online aliases to harass Amanda over two years, starting when she was 12 years old.

The trial heard Coban sent photos to Amanda’s family, friends and school administrators of her exposing her breasts because she didn’t comply with his demands to perform sexual “shows” in front of a web camera.

The teenager died by suicide a few weeks after posting a video in which she used flash cards to describe being tormented by an online predator.

Todd said her daughter would have turned 26 over the weekend.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2022.

 

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press

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