Afghan protesters have taken to the streets for a second day in a row in defiance of the Taliban, which seized control of the country on Sunday. Protests have been held in Kabul and other cities today to mark Afghan Independence Day. Al Jazeera reports two people died in the city of Asadabad after the Taliban opened fire on protesters waving the Afghan national flag during an Independence Day celebration. There were reports the firing began after someone stabbed a member of the Taliban. This comes a day after the Taliban killed three protesters in Jalalabad.
On Wednesday, ousted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke publicly for the first time since fleeing Kabul. Speaking from the United Arab Emirates, Ghani said he left Afghanistan to prevent more bloodshed.
Ashraf Ghani: “All my colleagues in the West told me that if I don’t leave, things would be worse. I could have stayed and started a war, but I had a responsibility to my people, and I didn’t want to start a bloodbath like in Syria and Yemen.”
President Biden says U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan until every American is evacuated, even if that means staying beyond his August 31 deadline. This comes as evacuation flights continue from the airport in Kabul, but many Afghans can’t make it safely to the airport. Taliban fighters have shot at and whipped some of the people trying to flee. Meanwhile, on Wednesday night, U.S. forces fired tear gas at Afghans trying to reach the airport, which is controlled by the U.S. military. Al Jazeera reports at least 12 people have been killed in or around the airport this week.
Meanwhile, President Biden is defending his handling of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. He was interviewed by George Stephanopoulos on ABC.
George Stephanopoulos: “So, you don’t think this could have been handled, this exit could have been handled better in any way? No mistakes?”
President Joe Biden: “No, I don’t think it could have been handled in a way that there — we’re going to go back in hindsight and look, but the idea that somehow there was a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens.”
The Biden administration has announced plans to begin offering vaccine booster shots starting on September 20, citing new CDC studies showing the declining effectiveness of COVID vaccines. The U.S. decision has been widely criticized. On Tuesday, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted, “It’s unconscionable that some #COVID19 vaccine-producing companies are reporting record profits, and some countries are offering boosters, while so many people remain unprotected.” On Wednesday, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy defended the decision.
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy: “Look, I do not accept the idea that we have to choose between America and the world. We clearly see our responsibility to both and that we’ve got to do everything we can to protect people here at home, while recognizing that tamping down the pandemic across the world and getting people vaccinated is going to be key to preventing the rise to future variants.”
On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced all nursing homes must fully vaccinate their staff or risk losing federal Medicare and Medicaid funds. The administration is also considering taking federal action against Florida, Texas and other states that have prohibited mask mandates in schools. Meanwhile, the school board in the city of Paris, Texas, has added masks to the school district’s dress code in an effort to circumvent a ban on mask mandates issued by Republican Governor Greg Abbott, who tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday.
In Tokyo, officials at the upcoming Paralympics have reported the first confirmed coronavirus case in the Olympic Village. This comes five days before the games open. On Tuesday, Tokyo extended a state of emergency in the city until September 12. Meanwhile, Australia has just reported its biggest one-day rise in COVID-19 infections since the pandemic began, as the Delta surge continues to spread rapidly across the globe.
In Haiti, the death toll from Saturday’s devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake has risen to about 2,200, with more than 12,000 people injured. The quake destroyed more than 7,000 homes, leaving tens of thousands homeless. Many hospitals were damaged. Aid has only begun to arrive in some of the affected areas as survivors fear they have been abandoned.
Cadet Souvenance: “If they send aid, we have to receive it. Let them not keep it. They have abandoned the people. We have no president. We have no lawmakers. We have no senators. We have been abandoned. We are just waiting for God.”
In California, the fast-moving Caldor Fire has leveled most of the town of Grizzly Flats, including the town’s elementary school, community church and post office. The fire has expanded to over 62,000 acres. On Wednesday, Cal Fire authorities transferred 30 engines from fighting the massive Dixie Fire to the Caldor Fire. California is now battling at least 13 major fires.
The Texas Supreme Court has ruled absent Democratic lawmakers can be arrested after they fled the state last month to block a vote on a new voter suppression bill. Last week, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House signed 52 arrest warrants to compel the Democrats to return to the Texas Capitol.
An appeals court upheld Texas’s ban on dilation and evacuation, or D&E, the most commonly used abortion method in the second trimester. The decision vacates a ruling last year that said the ban was unconstitutional. Doctors who defy the law could face prison time. “This ban is about cutting off abortion access, and nothing else” said Whole Woman’s Health, a plaintiff in the case.
In Burma, the civilian death toll since the February 1 military coup has topped at least 1,000, according to a local rights group. Over 5,700 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced. A COVID-19 surge is further compounding the crisis in Burma, with shortages in medical resources and many patients too scared to visit hospitals, which have been under attack by the military.
In Burkina Faso, at least 47 people died on Wednesday in an attack by armed men in the town of Arbinda. The dead included 30 civilians and 14 soldiers. Meanwhile, in neighboring Niger, the government has declared two days of mourning after gunmen on motorbikes killed 37 civilians, including 14 children, on Monday. Human Rights Watch reports armed Islamist groups have killed over 420 civilians in western Niger since January.
In a victory for Indigenous rights and the environment, a federal judge on Wednesday blocked construction permits for a massive oil and gas project in northern Alaska known as the “Willow Master Project.” Environmental and Indigenous groups sued the U.S. government to stop the multibillion-dollar deal with ConocoPhillips, which was approved last year by the Trump administration and backed by Biden’s Interior Department. Groups argued the project, which was set to produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years, would disrupt fragile wildlife and contribute to the climate crisis.
The acclaimed Italian surgeon Dr. Gino Strada has died at the age of 73. Strada was the founder of the medical aid group Emergency, which provides assistance to civilian victims of war. He worked in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Rwanda and other countries. In 2015, he won the Right Livelihood Award.
Dr. Gino Strada: “War, just like deadly diseases, has to be prevented and cured. Violence is not the right medicine: It does not cure the disease; it kills the patient. The abolition of war is the first indispensable step in this direction.”