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Taliban stops female Afghan students from going abroad for scholarships

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“After the Taliban shut universities for women, my only hope was to get a scholarship which would help me study abroad,” says 20-year-old Afghan student Natkai.

Natkai’s name has been changed for her own safety.

The Taliban have cracked down hard on women who oppose them.

Natkai says she kept studying even though there was little chance of her ever attending university in her homeland.

Then she was granted a scholarship to study at the University of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from Emirati billionaire businessman Sheikh Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor.

The scholarships for Afghan women were announced in December 2022 after the Taliban banned women from university.

The BBC understands a total of 100 Afghan women have been successful in gaining these scholarships. Some Afghan students living abroad have already travelled to Dubai.

On Wednesday 23 July, Natkai said goodbye to her family and set off for the airport.

But her hopes were soon dashed.

“When the Taliban officials saw our tickets and student visas, they said girls are not allowed to leave Afghanistan on student visas,” she tells me, her voice breaking.

Stopped from travelling
Natkai is one of at least 60 girls who were turned away from the airport.

Photos seen by the BBC show young girls wearing black hijabs or headscarves standing next to their luggage in a state of shock and devastation.

The Taliban has banned solo travel for women and only allow them to go abroad with their husbands or a related male companion such as a brother, uncle or father, known as a mahram, a male escort.

But even this was not enough.

“Three girls who had a mahram were inside the plane,” says Natkai. “But officials from the Vice and Virtue ministry took them off the plane.”

The rest of the students were too frightened to talk to the media.

A young man we’re calling Shams Ahmad, accompanied his sister to the airport and described the distress.

“The scholarship gave new hope to my sister after the universities were closed here. She left home with hope and returned in tears,” he says. “All her rights have been taken away.”

Mr Ahmad says some of the women even borrowed money to pay for a visa for a male companion to accompany them but were still stopped.

“Some of these girls are so helpless and poor. They don’t even have 400 Afghanis (£4; $5) for the document verification fee requested by the foreign affairs ministry.”

The University of Dubai and Mr Al Habtoor have confirmed the girls were stopped.

Mr Al Habtoor posted a video message in English on X, formerly known as Twitter. In it, he criticises the Taliban authorities, saying men and women are equal under Islam.

The video also contains a voice note in English from an Afghan girl who was stopped at the airport.

“We are right now in the airport but unfortunately, the government is not allowing us to go to Dubai,” she says. “Even they don’t allow those who have a mahram. I don’t know what to do. Please help us.”

International reaction

This latest Taliban action has created dismay among rights groups and diplomats.

“This is an important and alarming step beyond the extraordinary level of cruelty the Taliban already engage in by denying girls and women education,” says Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch.

“This is holding them prisoner to prevent others from helping them study.”

The former United Nations youth representative from Afghanistan, Shkula Zadran, has posted a message urging the university not to give up on the girls.

The Taliban have not issued any statement or clarification.

A spokesperson for the Vice and Virtue ministry, Mohammad Sadiq Akif Muhajir, told the BBC they were not aware of the incident.

A senior Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, also declined to comment, saying he was travelling and did not have any information.

Natkai is in a state of despondency.

She had graduated from high school and was preparing for the university entrance exam just as the Taliban took power on 15 August 2021.

Natkai thought she had found a way to follow her dreams. She says she has nothing to say to the Taliban because “they don’t accept or respect women”.

She calls on the world not to abandon Afghan girls or their education.

“I missed this opportunity in a country where it is a crime to be a girl. I’m very sad and I don’t know what to do or what will happen to me next.”

(BBC News)

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Hundreds feared dead after landslide flattens remote Papua New Guinea village

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Hundreds are feared dead after a massive landslide levelled dozens of homes and buried families alive in a remote village in northern Papua New Guinea early on Friday, a resident said.

More than 50 homes, many with people still asleep inside, were buried when the landslide hit Kaokalam village around 3 a.m., villager Ninga Role told Reuters by phone. The death toll was nearly 300, among them his brother and cousin, he said.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp and other local media reported that more than 100 people had been killed.

One man who turned back to try and save his two children was buried along with his extended family, Role said.

Social media footage posted by Role showed people clambering over rocks, uprooted trees and mounds of dirt searching for survivors. Women could be heard weeping in the background.

“It’s very impossible, the area covered by the landslide is large and there are rocks and trees everywhere,” Role said.

“It’s very difficult to get them out.”

The village is in Enga province, about 600 km (370 miles) north of the capital, Port Moresby.

Prime Minister James Marape said in a statement he was yet to be fully briefed, but that authorities were responding to the disaster.

“We are sending in disaster officials, PNG Defence Force, and the Department of Works and Highways to meet provincial and district officials in Enga and also start relief work, recovery of bodies, and reconstruction of infrastructure,” Marape said.

“I will release further information as I am fully briefed on the scale of destruction and loss of lives.”

PNG police did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The landslide hit a section of highway near the Porgera gold mine, operated by Barrick Gold through Barrick Niugini Ltd, its joint venture with China’s Zijin Mining.

“The extent of the damage is still being assessed, so it is too early to know the impact, if any, on the operations of the Porgera Gold Mine, which is 100 km away,” a spokesperson for Barrick Gold said.

Porgera currently has sufficient fuel on-site to operate normally for 40 days and other critical supplies for longer, the spokesperson added.

(Reuters)

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New planet that may support life, found

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Scientists have discovered a new planet that may be able to support human life, according to a new study.
The study, published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society on Thursday, named the new planet Gliese 12 b. Scientists said in the study that the planet is “the nearest, transiting temperate, Earth-sized planet found to date.”

The international team of scientists discovered the planet by using NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Scientists say that it’s one of the few rocky planets discovered that has the potential for humans to survive on, but that the planet is 40 light years away.

Gliese 12 b is only a little smaller than Earth. It’s an “exoplanet,” which means that it’s a planet outside of our solar system. The planet orbits a small and cool red dwarf star. The planet also bears some similarities to Venus, which is often dubbed Earth’s “twin” because of the similarities they share.

A year on Gliese 12 b is just 12.8 days on Earth because the planet orbits its star so closely. The planet receives about 1.6 times more energy from its star than Earth does from the sun, scientists said.

The planet has an average estimated surface temperature only 50°F warmer than Earth’s.

“Thrillingly, this planet is the closest Earth-sized and temperature planet we know,” Thomas Wilson, one of the study’s authors, told BBC. “Planets like Gliese 12 b are very few and far between, so for us to be able to examine one this closely and learn about its atmosphere and temperature is very rare.”

In order to find out if Gliese 12 b could support human life, scientists will need to determine if it has an atmosphere similar to Earth—one that could have water on its surface, since that is essential for a planet to be habitable. But scientists said they were still unsure what kind of atmosphere it  has—if any at all. Scientists said the planet was a good candidate for further atmospheric study.

(Time Magazine)

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Netanyahu denounces bid to arrest him over Gaza war

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has angrily condemned the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor for seeking arrest warrants for him alongside Hamas’s leaders over alleged war crimes in the Gaza conflict.

Mr Netanyahu said he rejected with disgust that “democratic Israel” had been compared with what he called “mass murderers”.

Mr Netanyahu’s comments have been echoed by US President Joe Biden, who said there was no equivalence between Israel and Hamas.

The chief ICC prosecutor, Karim Khan, said there were reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Netanyahu and his Defence Minister Yoav Gallant bore criminal responsibility for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza.

The ICC is also seeking a warrant for Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, for war crimes.

Israel and the US, its key ally, are not members of the ICC, which was set up in 2002.

(BBC News)

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