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15 dead as gunmen storm Afghan govt building, 11 killed in bus bombing

HERAT (AFP): A suicide bomb and gun attack by militants on an Afghan government building in Jalalabad on Tuesday killed at least 15 people, some burned “beyond recognition”, officials said, the latest in a series of assaults on the eastern city.

On the other side of the country a roadside bomb apparently intended for security forces hit a passenger bus and killed 11 people, marking yet another bloody day for civilians who have borne the brunt of violence in Afghanistan.

The attack in Jalalabad targeted the compound of the refugees and repatriations department. It ended after more than five hours of intense fighting between militants and security forces, said Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province.

At least 15 people were killed and the same number were wounded, Khogyani said.

Provincial health director Najibullah Kamawal said some of the dead were “burned beyond recognition”.

The raid began with a suicide attacker blowing up a bomb-laden car at the entrance as local representatives of foreign donors and agencies were meeting department employees inside the building.

“About 10 minutes before the end of the meeting we heard an explosion and then gunfire,” a government official told AFP.

“We looked down and saw two attackers entering the building. I and a number of other people at the meeting escaped to a corner on the top floor. I don’t know what happened to the others.”

The driver for one of the people at the meeting said he was on the third floor when the attack began.

“People started screaming and running around,” he told AFP. “I jumped from the third floor onto a wall and then into the lane.” Several people were taken hostage by the attackers, said Zabiullah Zmarary, a provincial council member.

“I saw a black Corolla car drop three armed men at the gate of the refugees and repatriations department,” a witness told AFP.

Khogyani said the two attackers who stormed the compound were killed. Security forces swarmed into the area, and a plume of thick black smoke rose into the sky above the compound. The Taliban denied involvement in the incident in a WhatsApp message sent to journalists.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which comes three days after militants raided a midwife training centre in Jalalabad. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack, which left at least three people dead and several wounded.

Jalalabad has been the scene of multiple attacks in recent months that have killed dozens, as US and Afghan forces continue offensives against militants.

– Civilians under attack –

In the western province of Farah on Tuesday the bomb which hit the bus killed at least 11 people and wounded 31. “It was a bomb planted by the Taliban to hit security forces but… it got a passenger bus,” Farah provincial police spokesman Muhibullah Muhib told AFP.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Taliban that they were responsible. In a separate incident, 22 passengers travelling on a Kabul-bound bus in the eastern province of Paktia were kidnapped by gunmen on Monday night. Officials blamed the Taliban for both incidents.

Most of the attacks in Jalalabad have been claimed by IS, which has a relatively small but potent presence in Afghanistan, mainly in the east and north.

It is not clear why the militants targeted the refugees and repatriations department, but government buildings are frequently hit. On July 11 gunmen raided an education department compound in Jalalabad, sparking an hours-long battle with security forces.

At least 11 people were killed in that attack. All were employees of the education department branch and included the director. A suicide bombing claimed by IS on a crowd of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in Jalalabad on July 1 killed 19 people and wounded 21.

IS emerged in Afghanistan in 2014 and quickly established a stronghold in Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan.

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Turkey court rejects appeal for US pastor’s release

ANKARA (AFP): A Turkish court on Tuesday rejected an appeal to release from house arrest a US pastor whose detention on terror-related charges has strained relations between NATO allies Ankara and Washington, state media reported.

The court in the Aegean region of Izmir rejected an appeal by the lawyer for Andrew Brunson, who ran a Protestant church, to have him released from house arrest and have his travel ban removed, state-run Anadolu news agency said.

The court had last week ordered that Brunson, who had spent almost two years in jail after his initial detention in October 2016, be moved from jail to house arrest at his home in Izmir.

But the move stoked tensions rather than defusing the crisis, with US media reports accusing Turkey of reneging on a deal to free him, which Ankara has denied.

Last week US President Donald Trump threatened to impose “large sanctions” on Turkey if the pastor was not freed, following similar warnings from his Vice President Mike Pence.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted that sanction threats would not force Ankara to take a “step back”, in comments reported on Sunday.

Relations between Turkey and the United States have been tense over multiple issues including American support for a Syrian Kurdish militia who Turkey claims are terrorists as well as the failure to extradite US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen.

Ankara accuses Gulen of organising the July 2016 failed coup, claims which he denies.

Brunson risks up to 35 years in jail if convicted of carrying out activities on behalf of two organisations Turkey deems to be terror groups: the Gulen movement and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Brunson denies the charges while US officials have repeatedly stressed that Brunson is innocent. Trump has previously called the pastor a “fine gentleman”.

Brunson is one of several American nationals caught up in the crackdown after the attempted putsch two years ago.

NASA scientist Serkan Golge, a dual national, was jailed for seven-and-a-half years in February for being a member of Gulen’s movement. Two employees from American missions in Turkey remain in custody and another under house arrest.

The next hearing in Brunson’s trial is on October 12.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is expected to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during this week’s meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

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Van bomb in southern Philippines kills 10

COTABATO (AFP): Ten people, including troops and civilians, were killed when a bomb in a van blew up at an army checkpoint in the southern Philippines Tuesday.

The powerful explosion, claimed by the Daesh group, occurred after soldiers and pro-government militiamen stopped the vehicle just after dawn to search it.

One soldier, five militiamen and four civilians were killed on the outskirts of the mainly Christian city of Lamitan, which is on the predominantly Muslim island of Basilan.

The van driver, a suspected member of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, also died, Philippine military spokesman Colonel Edgard Arevalo told reporters in Manila.

He said government forces had been on heightened alert after receiving reports that extremists planned to plant improvised explosives around the island.

“We can just imagine the tragedy that this would bring to the people of Basilan had we not stopped them at the checkpoint,” he said.

Authorities earlier said at least five people died in the blast.

Basilan is a stronghold of the notorious Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group.

‘War crime’

It is one of several armed groups fighting troops and police in the southern Philippines, where a decades-long rebellion has claimed more than 100,000 lives by government count.

Roderick Furigay, the Lamitan vice mayor, speculated that the explosives could have been intended for a parade on Tuesday morning by 4,000 children in the centre of the town to mark the country´s “nutrition month”.

“That could have been (the target),” he said on ABS-CBN television. “It´s a good thing they were stopped at the checkpoint.”

President Rodrigo Duterte recently signed a law to create an autonomous region in the south to help end the conflict.

Duterte put the southern Philippines including Basilan under martial rule until the end of this year after Abu Sayyaf members based on the island joined pro-Daesh militants who seized the southern city of Marawi last year.

The five-month siege killed 1,200 people and destroyed much of the centre of the city.

Daesh´s propaganda arm Amaq, claiming responsibility for Tuesday´s blast, said “a suicide attack has killed around 15 from the Philippine army” in Lamitan.

Duterte spokesman Harry Roque condemned the Basilan blast, describing it a “war crime” apparently aimed at civilians.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the latest terrorist attack in Basilan perpetrated in violation of our laws,” Roque said in a statement.

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Zimbabwe opposition leader says has done exceedingly well in vote

HARARE (Reuters): Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader said on his official Twitter feed on Tuesday his party had collected results from more than 10,000 polling stations, which showed the MDC had done exceedingly well and was ready to form the next government.

Nelson Chamisa, 40, and 75-year-old President Emmerson Mnangagwa were the main contenders in Monday’s election, the first since long-ruling Robert Mugabe was removed in a bloodless coup in November.

Counting began in Zimbabwe on Monday in the first election since the removal of former president Mugabe, a watershed vote that could pull a pariah state back into the international fold and spark an economic revival.

The election was seen as a two-horse race between Mnangagwa, a long-time Mugabe ally, and Chamisa, a lawyer and pastor who is vying to become Zimbabwe’s youngest head of state.

Mnangagwa was viewed as the frontrunner, though the latest opinion polls showed a tight race. There will be a runoff on Sept 8 if no candidate wins more than half the votes.

Voting closed at 7pm (1700 GMT) on Monday. The official result has to be announced within five days but a likely indication of the outcome is expected today.

Zimbabwe’s electoral commission said voter turnout had averaged 75 per cent, higher than in the last vote in 2013.

Zimbabweans also elected 210 members of parliament and more than 9,000 councillors.

The election winner faces the task of putting Zimbabwe back on track after 37 years of Mugabe rule tainted by corruption, mismanagement and diplomatic isolation that caused a crisis in a country that once had one of Africa’s most promising economies.

A credible vote is essential if Zimbabwe is to exit painful sanctions and secure the donor funding and investment needed to stem chronic cash shortages.

Chamisa said Monday the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) was impeding voting in urban areas where he enjoys strong support but gave no evidence to back the claim.

“The people’s will being negated & undetermined due to these deliberate and unnecessary delays,” he said in a tweet. The ZEC was not immediately available to comment. It has denied Chamisa’s previous allegations of bias.

Reuters spoke to several international observers who said the voting process had been slow at some stations but it did not appear to them to be intentional.

Chamisa said his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) would win if there was no “ballot mischief”, making it likely he will challenge the outcome if Mnangagwa prevails. A contested result is likely to lead to street protests and possible violence.

EU chief observer Elmar Brok said many voters, particularly young women, left voting queues in frustration at long delays. The EU has not yet concluded how to judge the vote, he said.

Dozens of people were killed ahead of a runoff in 2008 between Mugabe and MDC-founder Morgan Tsvangirai, who died of cancer in February.

Mugabe, 94, led the war for independence and since 1980 has dominated the country’s politics. But since he stepped down under military pressure in November he has lived in obscurity.

He emerged on the eve of the election to announce he would vote for the opposition, surprising Mnangagwa who accused him of striking a deal with Chamisa.

‘Democratic space’

Mugabe made no comment to reporters as he cast his ballot around lunchtime accompanied by his wife, Grace. A huge crowd gathered outside, some cheering, many booing.

Mnangagwa, a former intelligence chief, denied Mugabe’s claim that the vote would not be free since it was being run by a “military government”.

“I can assure you that this country is enjoying democratic space which has never been experienced before,” Mnangagwa told public television after voting.

Mnangagwa, of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF), has been president since the military ousted Mugabe in a bloodless coup.

Elections under Mugabe were often marred by intimidation, rigging and violence but the consensus is the build-up to this vote has been better than before, although Chamisa complained about a flawed voters’ roll and opaque ballot paper printing.

“Victory is certain, the people have spoken,” Chamisa said after casting his ballot in Harare as a cheering crowd chanted: “President! President! The president is here!”

“I have no doubt that by end of day today we should be very clear as to an emphatic voice for change.”

Chamisa has attracted young and unemployed voters frustrated with nearly four decades of ZANU–PF rule.

“I’ll vote for Chamisa because it is a vote for change, it is a vote for the youth. Tomorrow we will have a new president,” said Fabian Matsika, a security guard in Harare.

Credibility

“ZANU-PF is the only party that I have voted for,” said Elizabeth Kamhunga, 67, after casting her vote in Harare. “We may have made some mistakes but I think President Mnangagwa is the only person who has the interests of Zimbabwe at heart.”

The European Union, the United States and the Commonwealth have sent observers.

“It is exciting to see so many Zimbabweans casting ballots,” said former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, co-leader of the National Democratic Institute’s observer mission.

“However the public’s faith in the secrecy of the ballot is essential for the credibility of the process. We urge the authorities to do everything possible to ensure the secrecy of today’s vote.”

Mnangagwa has made a big effort to win over foreign opinion; hosting Western ambassadors, courting investors and patching up relations with white commercial farmers who were violently evicted from their farms under Mugabe.

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Fazl rejects ECP claim of fair election

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman has rejected the electoral commission’s claim that all parties were provided level-playing field in the election.

Talking to reporters, the JUI-F chief said “blatant rigging” paved the way for a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) victory in the elections. He demanded the electoral commission to reopen “every single constituency”.

“PTI is involved in one of the worst horse tradings in election history. Nation won’t accept a government that has come to the fore as a direct result of this horse trading,” he added.

Fazl said the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) would take the decision to join parlaiment after consulting other political parties. He added that the multi-party conference would decide on protests against election results.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) earlier dismissed the demand of political parties for resignation of the chief election commissioner.

ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob said that all parties were provided level playing field and that foreign observers also termed general elections 2018 were free and fair.

He urged the candidates to pursue legal framework for their grievances.

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Nawaz Sharif’s health improving in hospital, ex-premier wants to go back to jail

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Health condition of ailing former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif is improving in PIMS hospital.

Nawaz Sharif was shifted to PIMS from Adyala jail after doctors expressed concern over his health, saying he may be suffering from a heart problem.

Former Premier want to go back to the jail, while his personal doctor has advised him to remain under observation of the doctors at the hospital, said sources.

Earlier on Monday, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif arrived at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) to inquire after the health of Nawaz Sharif.

According to sources, the former Punjab chief minister had a meeting with Nawaz Sharif that lasted for about 15 minutes. Two men accompanied Shehbaz to the building but were not allowed to enter Nawaz’s ward. Doctors at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) earlier suggested that Nawaz Sharif to be shifted to another hospital, insisting a proper treatment is not impossible due to lack of medical history.

Earlier on Monday, the ward of PIMS hospital, where former Prime Minister is under treatment was declared a sub-jail.

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Army provides job to physically-challenged voter in Lahore

F.P. Report

LAHORE: Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Tuesday announced that Fajar, the physically-challenged girl from Lahore who went to cast her vote on July 25 will be getting a job through the Pakistan Army.

On July 25, Fajar had gone out to cast her vote and had later taken to social media to urge the public to do the same.

In return, the army announced today that she has received a job with the courtesy of the army.

Taking to Twitter DG ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor added that the nation needs more girls like Fajar, adding that she will also be receiving an opportunity to continue with her studies.

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Bilawal says his party improved despite pressure, rigging

F.P. Report

KARACHI: Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has said that his Party has always struggled for strengthening of democracy and the Parliament pledging that PPP would use the Parliamentary forum to advance its ideology and ideals.

The PPP Chairman was addressing a luncheon meeting with the newly-elected Parliamentarians from the country at Bilawal House on Tuesday. Former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, PPP Women President Faryal Talpur, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Sherry Rehman, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, Khursheed Ahmed Shah, Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, Senator Raza Rabbani and Murad Ali Shah were also present.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that despite difficulties and pre-poll pressures on candidates and workers, the PPP fared better in 2018 general elections than 2013.

He said that some opposition parties were considering to boycott the new parliament but PPP convinced them to join the Parliament and fight for democracy, which a victory for democrats though we had also reservations over the election process.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari emphasized that we have to focus on delivery in Sindh as we are entering a new era where good governance and better performance should the hallmark of the new provincial government. “We cannot let down the people who sent us to the Parliament as we are facing great challenges on international and economic fronts while other political parties are taking extreme positions on key issues,” he added.

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Political parties provided level playing field, says Babar Yaqoob

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Secretary Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Babar Yaqoob has said that the ECP provided level fields for the all the parties during the July 25 general elections.

Babar Yaqoob said this while addressing the media in Islamabad on Tuesday. He said that the electoral body requested the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to not arrest political leaders till after the polls were over.

He added that ECP decided to postpone polls in NA-60, Rawalpindi constituency following PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi’s sentence to ensure that all parties have a level playing field.

Yaqoob reiterated that the ECP has rejected political parties’ demand for the resignation of the chief election commissioner (CEC).

Further condemning the call for the CEC’s resignation, Yaqoob said, “If any candidate has complains then they will be dealt with as per the law and complains should be filed in line with the Constitution.”

Secretary ECP added that one can ascertain that the 2018 General Election was transparent by noting that polls were concluded on time in most parts of the country.

“The voter turnout stood at 52%,” he said while adding that people freely exercised their right to elect their candidates.

Claiming that Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) and EU missions declared the polls were free and fair, the ECP secretary said, “This is an honor for the country’s democratic process.”

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Tax amnesty scheme helps in collection of Rs115 billion tax

Monitoring Desk

ISLAMABAD: The tax amnesty scheme introduced in April to whiten black money has retrieved Rs115 billion in shape of tax on the declaration of domestic and foreign assets.

Majorly domestic assets were said to be declared and whitened by the taxpayers and the tax regulator has projected tax collection via the ongoing tax amnesty scheme could fetch Rs130 billion, reported The News.

It is set to lapse on July 31st and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has cautioned of serious repercussions against tax evaders who don’t come forth to avail this tax amnesty scheme.

Although no exceptional response had been received in the aftermath of the elections held last week, however, a normal surge was anticipated in the last few days before the tax amnesty scheme lapses.

An official shared that no unprecedented rise was witnessed in the declaration of assets via this tax amnesty scheme and was anticipating fetching Rs15 to Rs20 billion tax collection on the last day of the scheme (31st July).

The tax machinery was adamant at initiating a crackdown against evaders after the lapsing of the tax amnesty deadline.

The extension provided last month by the caretaker government failed to attract Pakistani’s living overseas to avail the tax amnesty despite repeated warnings by the tax regulator.

They cautioned once the information from OECD became available, the FBR will be able to launch a severe crackdown after the lapsing of the tax amnesty scheme.

A top official of the FBR said: “We possessed good information and intended to move ahead with an iron hand against potential tax-evaders.”

Although the FBR Chairperson Rukhsana Yasmeen has stated there is no chance of granting a further extension in the tax amnesty scheme and requested all potential non-filers to take advantage of this opportunity which expires on Tuesday (today).

The interim government has declared over 55,2225 declarations were filed in June in which the value of declared overseas assets stood at Rs577 billion and domestic assets at roughly Rs1,192 billion.

The FBR has fetched Rs97 billion from these declarants, of which Rs36 billion have been retrieved on overseas assets, Rs61 billion on domestic assets and $40 million has been repatriated.