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Trump to discuss Taliban talks, withdrawing troops from Afghanistan

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U.S. Marines board a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Cpl. Alejandro Pena | U.S. Marine Corps photo

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday was to meet U.S. top advisers about negotiations with the Taliban and the potential for a political settlement that could prompt a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, a senior administration official said.

On a working vacation at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump was to receive an afternoon briefing from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other advisers to get updated on the talks, which have been handled by Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad.

The U.S. military presence in Afghanistan dates to 2001 when then-President George W. Bush launched an offensive against Al Qaeda, which the Taliban government had given haven to, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Trump has been adamant that he would like to withdraw U.S. forces, possibly ahead of the November 2020 election, although a pullout would raise concerns among some in the national security community that the United States could be sacrificing gains it has made there.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Trump ally, said any deal should allow for the United States to maintain a presence in Afghanistan.

“Any peace agreement which denies the U.S. a robust counter-terrorism capability in Afghanistan is not a peace deal,” he said in a statement. “Instead, it is paving the way for another attack on the American homeland and attacks against American interests around the world.”

The senior administration official said a decision was not necessarily expected from the Bedminster meeting, but Trump “has been pretty clear that he wants to bring the troops home.”

The negotiations with the Taliban have been centered around a potential agreement for a U.S. troop withdrawal and talks on a political settlement between the insurgents and a delegation comprising government officials, opposition leaders and civil society members.

Khalilzad also has pressed in nine rounds of negotiations in Qatar for the Taliban to renounce al Qaida, agree to prevent Afghanistan from being use as a base for extremist attacks and embrace a nationwide ceasefire while the intra-Afghan talks continue.

Both sides raised expectations that an agreement was close. Khalilzad repeatedly has said nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

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Moscow tightens coronavirus rules to contain spread

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People in medical masks in Red Square in central Moscow amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared a week off work and urged people to stay home to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Cafes, restaurants, shopping malls and parks are closed in Moscow.

Sergei Bobylev

Moscow authorities will on Monday impose tighter restrictions on residents in an attempt to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said.

Muscovites will only be allowed to go out to buy food or medicines at their nearest shop, get urgent medical treatment, walk the dog or take out the bins.

Those needing to go to work will also be allowed to leave their flats, and authorities will introduce a system of passes in the coming days.

“Gradually but steadily, we will keep tightening control as needed in this situation,” Sobyanin said on his website.

Russia has been relatively lightly hit so far, with nine deaths and 1,534 cases, but it recorded 270 new infections in the past day.

Earlier on Sunday, Sobyanin said the coronavirus outbreak had entered a new phase as the number of cases exceeded 1,000 in the capital and complained that many residents took recommendations to stay home very lightly.

The head of Russia’s Orthodox Church exhorted believers to pray at home and urged people to adhere strictly to authorities’ instructions “before someone dies in our families”.

“Refrain from visiting churches,” Russian news agency RIA cited Patriarch Kirill as saying, even though Orthodox services went ahead, including one led by him.

About 60% of Russia’s 144 million people consider themselves Orthodox Christians, but fewer were worshipping in churches on Sunday and some were wearing masks, according to media reports.

Russia has halted international flights, closed borders, announced a non-working week from this weekend, and closed shops and entertainment venues in Moscow and some other regions.

Sobyanin said many Muscovites were still going out. At least 52,000 people took walks in city parks on Saturday, and many elderly people made long trips on public transport, Sobyanin said.

“The situation with the spread of coronavirus has entered a new phase,” Sobyanin wrote. “An example of miserable Italian and Spanish cities, even New York, where tens and hundreds of people die every day, is in front of everyone’s eyes.”

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Famously boisterous Nigerian mega-city Lagos adjusts to coronavirus lockdown

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Commuters wearing a protective face masks walk on the street of Lagos, as a preventive measure against the spread of the new corona virus, COVIC-19, in Lagos, on March 26, 2020.

NurPhoto

Fear of the coronavirus has induced an extraordinary calm in Lagos, Nigeria’s famously boisterous mega-city where streets known for miles of gridlock have emptied of traffic and eateries serving takeaways are almost the only shops open.

The largest city in sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated 20 million population, has been transformed by a week-long shutdown of public life imposed as part of efforts to stem the spread of the highly infectious disease in Nigeria.

The lockdown order by Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu applies to all non-essential shops – those not selling food, water or medicine – in the sprawling market megalopolis near Nigeria’s Atlantic Ocean coast.

He also banned gatherings of over 25 people and told everyone to stay home with the majority of Nigeria’s confirmed cases – 44 out of 65 – surfacing in Lagos and the state’s health minister warning that the coronavirus is spreading.

As the lockdown began, most residents were compliant but afraid – both of getting sick and of losing much-needed income.

“I believe some of our traders will be stubborn or so because most of them do not have (food) to eat at home,” said Fatai Adedabo, head of Computer Village, a collective market selling electronic accessories and offering phone repairs.

“We still have to monitor them and make sure the market is shut down totally.”

Adedabo was not alone in worrying that poverty could hinder containment of the respiratory pandemic, which has infected more than 531,600 people worldwide and killed more than 24,000.

Sanwu-Olu conceded that a 100% lockdown was not possible due to the large numbers of Lagos residents who could not afford to stockpile essentials. Nigeria’s Senate president said on Thursday authorities needed to help shield the poor from suffering the most on account of blanket closures.

Out of sight of police and yellow-vested enforcement officers patrolling Computer Village, some phone repairman expressed frustration with the shutdown and told Reuters they would continue to seek new clients.

But by mid-morning on Friday, the first full day of the lockdown, most in the typically teeming and exuberant city appeared to be soberly accepting the closure.

Adedabo was not alone in worrying that poverty could hinder containment of the respiratory pandemic, which has infected more than 531,600 people worldwide and killed more than 24,000.

Sanwu-Olu conceded that a 100% lockdown was not possible due to the large numbers of Lagos residents who could not afford to stockpile essentials. Nigeria’s Senate president said on Thursday authorities needed to help shield the poor from suffering the most on account of blanket closures.

Out of sight of police and yellow-vested enforcement officers patrolling Computer Village, some phone repairman expressed frustration with the shutdown and told Reuters they would continue to seek new clients.

But by mid-morning on Friday, the first full day of the lockdown, most in the typically teeming and exuberant city appeared to be soberly accepting the closure.

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Trump will not impose quarantine on New York, New Jersey, Connecticut

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US President Donald Trump speaks to press as he departs the White House in Washington, DC, on March 28, 2020.

Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

President Donald Trump said Saturday he will not seek to impose a quarantine on New York, New Jersey and certain parts of Connecticut, after floating the idea earlier in the day as way to contain the coronavirus from spreading out of hot spots where the disease has taken a particularly heavy toll. 

Trump said he decided a quarantine wasn’t necessary after consulting with the White House task force and the governors of the three states. He has asked the Centers for Disease Control to issue a strong travel advisory, which will be administered by the governors in consultation with the federal government. 

The CDC is urging residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to refrain from nonessential domestic travel for the next 14 days effective immediately. The advisory does not apply to critical industries such as trucking, health professionals, financial services and food supply. The governors of the three states have full discretion to implement the travel advisory, the CDC said.  

Earlier Saturday, Trump said he was considering a two-week quarantine on the three neighboring states and would make a decision later on Saturday, though his authority to impose such a measure was disputed from the beginning. 

“I’m thinking about that right now. We might not have to do it but there’s a possibility that sometime today we’ll do a quarantine,” Trump told reporters at the White House Saturday. “Short-term, two week on New York, probably New Jersey and certain parts of Connecticut.” 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in an interview with CNN, said that preventing people from moving in and out of the tri-state would amount to a federally imposed lockdown, which he believes is illegal. 

“A lockdown is what they did in Wuhan, China,” Cuomo said. “We’re not in China, and we’re not in Wuhan. I don’t believe it would be legal. I believe it would be illegal.”

Cuomo said he did not believe that Trump intended to impose a sweeping quarantine on the region but suggested he could sue if the administration did follow through.

“I’ve sued the federal government a number of times over the years. I do not believe it’s going to come to that on this,” Cuomo said. “This would be a declaration of war on states, a federal declaration of war.”

The federal government does have the authority to detain and medically examine individuals who are believed to have a communicable disease, but the law is less clear on imposing a quarantine for an entire region. 

The governors in the tri-state region said they were in the dark about Trump’s possible quarantine. Cuomo said that while he spoke with the president Saturday morning, a quarantine didn’t come up during their discussions.  New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy told reporters on Saturday that Trump did not bring up a possible quarantine when they spoke on Friday.

“Nothing like quarantine came up,” Murphy said. “I literally saw the story as I was walking into this room. I’ve got no more color on it.”

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont has said the tri-state governors were already implementing certain quarantine measures. Lamont said he wanted to speak “to the president directly about his comments and any further enforcement actions, because confusion leads to panic.”

When NBC News asked White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows what legal authority the administration has to order a quarantine, Meadows replied, “We’re evaluating all the options right now.”

Talk of a possible quarantine comes as New York and the surrounding states have borne the brunt of the infected cases in the U.S. More than 121,000 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the United States, and at least 2,000 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have become the center of the outbreak in the U.S. New York has more than 52,000 cases and at least 728 deaths; New Jersey has reported more than 11,000 cases and 140 deaths; and Connecticut has confirmed 1,291 cases and 27 deaths.

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