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U.S. strikes at Islamic State militants in Kabul as withdrawal nears end

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A U.S. drone strike on Sunday hit a suicide bomber in a vehicle who was aiming to attack Kabul airport as U.S. forces worked to complete a withdrawal that will end two decades of military involvement in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said.

The strike was the second by the U.S. military since an Islamic State suicide bomb just outside the airport on Thursday killed 13 U.S. troops and scores of Afghan civilians.

The airport has been the scene of a massive airlift by U.S. and allied forces evacuating their citizens and Afghans desperate to leave a country since the Islamist Taliban took control two weeks ago.

Officials said the strike targeted suspected militants from ISIS-K, a local affiliate of Islamic State that is an enemy of both the West and of the Taliban movement that took over the capital on Aug. 15 after a lightning offensive.

One U.S. official said it was carried out by an unmanned aircraft piloted from outside Afghanistan, and that secondary explosions following the strike showed the target had been carrying a substantial amount of explosives. Television footage showed black smoke rising into the sky.

U.S. officials had said they were particularly concerned about the ISIS-K attacking the airport as American troops depart, in particular the threat from rockets and vehicle-borne explosives.

The drone strike took place while remaining civilians waited at the airport to be flown out before the last troops leave, a Western security official told Reuters. A U.S. official told Reuters on Saturday that fewer than 4,000 troops remained.

The Taliban also said the explosion was caused by a U.S missile strike. “The vehicle and those inside it were killed in the drone strike,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

They had started their own investigations to determine whether it was really a suicide bomber driving a vehicle loaded with explosives, he said.

President Joe Biden has said he will stick by his deadline to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Tuesday. He had said on Saturday that his military chiefs had told him another militant attack was highly likely.

The United States and allies have taken about 114,400 people – foreign nationals and vulnerable Afghans – out of the country in the past two weeks, but tens of thousands who want to go will be left behind.

“We tried every option because our lives are in danger. They (the Americans or foreign powers) must show us a way to be saved. We should leave Afghanistan or they should provide a safe place for us,” said one woman outside the airport.

The airlift – one of the biggest such evacuation operations ever – marked the end of a 20-year Western mission in Afghanistan that began when U.S.-led forces ousted a Taliban government that had provided safe haven for the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

The final chapter came after the United States and the Taliban made a deal to end the foreign involvement by Aug. 31. The Western-backed government and Afghan army melted away as Taliban fighters swept across the country, taking control of Kabul on Aug. 15.

A Taliban official told Reuters the Islamist group had engineers and technicians ready to take charge of the airport.

“We are waiting for the final nod from the Americans to secure full control over Kabul airport as both sides aim for a swift handover,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

HONOURING THE DEAD

Biden headed on Sunday to Dover Air Force Base https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-receive-bodies-us-troops-killed-afghanistan-white-house-2021-08-29 to honor members of the U.S. military killed in Thursday’s attack as their remains were returned to the United States.

He vowed to go after the perpetrators and on Saturday the States said on Saturday it had killed two ISIS-K militants in a drone strike. The Taliban condemned https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-condemn-us-drone-attack-prepare-set-up-new-afghan-government-2021-08-28 that strike, which took place in eastern Nangarhar province which borders Pakistan.

Biden’s national security adviser https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/biden-aide-guarantees-safe-passage-americans-afghanistan-2021-08-29, Jake Sullivan, said Washington expected the Taliban to still allow safe passage for Americans and others to leave after the U.S. military withdrawal is completed.

“The Taliban have both communicated privately and publicly that they will allow for safe passage,” Jake Sullivan said in a CBS TV interview.

The Afghan government’s collapse leaves an administrative vacuum that has led to fears of an economic crisis and widespread hunger.

Prices for commodities like flour, oil and rice are rapidly rising and the currency is plunging, with money changers across the border in Pakistan already refusing to accept the afghani.

On Saturday, officials ordered banks to re-open and imposed a limit on withdrawals of $200 or 20,000 afghani. Long queues forming outside bank branches of people trying to get money out.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has said the difficulties will subside quickly once the new administration is up and running.

But with its economy shattered by decades of war, Afghanistan is now facing the end of billions of dollars in foreign aid poured in by Western donors.

Mujahid said the Taliban would announce a full cabinet in the coming days. It had appointed governors and police chiefs in all but one of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, he said.

The Taliban also appealed to the United States and other Western nations to maintain diplomatic relations after withdrawing. Britain said that should happen only if the Taliban allow safe passage for those who want to leave and respect human rights.

The Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule was marked by a harsh version of sharia, Islamic law, with many political rights and basic freedoms curtailed and women severely oppressed.

Afghanistan was also a hub for anti-Western militants, and Washington, London and others fear it might become so again.

Biden has faced criticism at home and abroad for the chaos surrounding the final weeks of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. He has defended his decisions, saying the United States long ago achieved its rationale for invading in 2001.

Britain’s last military flight left Kabul on Saturday. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/uks-johnson-defends-kabul-airlift-criticism-grows-2021-08-29 Britain would not have wished to leave Afghanistan in such a manner.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus and Rupam JainWriting by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Angus MacSwanEditing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Frances Kerry)

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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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