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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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Indian farmers say they will resume march to New Delhi

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Protesting Indian farmers say they will resume marching to capital Delhi this week after rejecting a government proposal to buy some crops at assured prices on a five-year contract.
The protesters began marching last week but were stopped around 200km (125 miles) from Delhi.

Since then, farmer leaders were in talks with the government on their demands.

But on Monday night, they said the offer was “not in their interest”.

The government had proposed buying pulses, maize and cotton at guaranteed floor prices – also known as Minimum Support Price or MSP – through cooperatives for five years.

But the farmers say that they will stand by their demand of a “legal guarantee for MSP on all 23 crops”.

“We appeal to the government to either resolve our issues or remove barricades and allow us to proceed to Delhi to protest peacefully,” Jagjit Singh Dallewal, a farm union leader, told local media.

They say they will resume marching from Wednesday.

Farmers form an influential voting bloc in India and and analysts say the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be keen not to anger or alienate them. His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seeking a third consecutive term in power in general elections this year.

Last week, authorities clashed with the protesters, firing tear gas and plastic bullets at them in a bid to halt the march. They fear a repeat of 2020, when thousands of farmers camped at Delhi’s borders for months, forcing the government to repeal controversial agricultural reforms.

The latest round of protests began on Wednesday, when farmers from Haryana and Punjab started marching to Delhi. They say the government did not keep promises made during the 2020-21 protest, and also have demands including pensions and a debt waiver.

But their most important demand is a law guaranteeing a support price for crops.

India introduced the MSP system in the 1960s – first for only wheat and later other essential crops – in a bid for food security.

Supporters of MSP say it is necessary to protect farmers against losses due to fluctuation in prices. They argue that the resulting income boost will allow farmers to invest in new technologies, improve productivity and protect cultivators from being fleeced by middlemen.

But critics say the system needs an overhaul as it is not sustainable and will be disastrous for government finances. They also say that it will be ruinous for the agricultural sector in the long run, leading to over-cultivation and storage issues.

Since last week, federal minister Piyush Goyal and other government officials had held four rounds of talks with the farmers. On Sunday, Mr Goyal told journalists that the discussions had been “positive” and that the government was devising an “out-of-the-box” solution to benefit farmers, consumers and the economy.

But on Monday, farmer leaders said they were dissatisfied with the way the talks were being held, claiming that there was no “transparency”.


(BBC News)

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Greece legalizes same-sex marriage

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Greece has become the first Christian Orthodox-majority country to legalise same-sex marriage.

Same-sex couples will now also be legally allowed to adopt children after Thursday’s 176-76 vote in parliament.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the new law would “boldly abolish a serious inequality”.

But it has divided the country, with fierce resistance led by the powerful Orthodox Church. Its supporters held a protest rally in Athens.

Many displayed banners, held crosses, read prayers and sang passages from the Bible in the capital’s Syntagma Square.

The head of the Orthodox Church, Archbishop Ieronymos, said the measure would “corrupt the homeland’s social cohesion”.

The bill needed a simple majority to pass through the 300-member parliament.

Mr Mitsotakis had championed the bill but required the support of opposition parties to get it over the line, with dozens of MPs from his centre-right governing party opposed.

“People who have been invisible will finally be made visible around us, and with them, many children will finally find their rightful place,” the prime minister told parliament during a debate ahead of the vote.

“The reform makes the lives of several of our fellow citizens better, without taking away anything from the lives of the many.”

The vote has been welcomed by LGBTQ organisations in Greece.

“This is a historic moment,” Stella Belia, the head of same-sex parents’ group Rainbow Families, told Reuters news agency. “This is a day of joy.”

Fifteen of the European Union’s 27 members have already legalised same-sex marriage. It is permitted in 35 countries worldwide.

Greece has until now lagged behind some of its European neighbours, largely because of opposition from the Church.

It is the first country in south-eastern Europe to have marriage equality.

(BBC News)

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Imran Khan’s PTI surges in Pakistani elections despite imprisonment

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Jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party is set to emerge as the leading force in Pakistan’s parliamentary elections, although falling short of an absolute majority, according to reports from Pakistani media.

As of Saturday morning, the latest vote count revealed that PTI-affiliated independent candidates had secured 99 out of the 266 seats, while Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PMLN) won 71 and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) obtained 53 seats. 

A majority requires 133 seats, leaving 43 seats yet to be determined.

Imran Khan, currently in prison, delivered an unexpected victory speech generated by artificial intelligence. 

This unprecedented move comes amidst a crackdown on the opposition, resulting in the imprisonment of Khan and several other party leaders. 

Khan faced convictions in three cases over the past two weeks, involving alleged false marriage, divulging state secrets (connected to a leaked official message he denies), and purportedly selling presents gifted by foreign leaders during his tenure as Prime Minister.

The victory for PTI has stunned many observers, as the party appeared to be in disarray due to the imprisonment of its leader and other prominent figures. Notably, PTI candidates were compelled to run as independents after the Election Commission of Pakistan stripped the party of its familiar cricket bat symbol.

In response to the unexpected results, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who initially claimed victory for PMLN, has now expressed his intention to explore forming a coalition government with the rival PPP led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The outcome of these elections marks a pivotal moment in Pakistan’s political landscape, with the unexpected success of PTI challenging conventional expectations despite the challenges faced by its leadership. 

As the country awaits the final seat tally and potential coalition negotiations, the political future of Pakistan hangs in the balance.

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