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40 Taliban members killed by US-backed forces | World News

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Two senior Taliban leaders and at least 38 fighters have been killed by US-backed Afghan forces. 

The strikes were carried out in northern and western regions of Afghanistan on Saturday night.

A senior security official in the capital Kabul said the attack was intended to foil action planned by the Taliban on Afghan forces.

Clashes between the two sides have escalated following the breakdown of diplomatic talks planned between the group and America earlier this month.

The Taliban’s designate governor for northern Samangan province, Mawlavi Nooruddin, was killed in Dara-e-Soof Payeen district, according to the defence ministry.

This was rejected by the Taliban, with spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid saying: “He is alive.”

A statement from an Afghanistan official, Mohibullah Mohib, that Mullah Sayed Azim, a Taliban designate governor for Anar Dara district in western Farah, was also killed was not commented on by the group.

Elections are to be held in Afghanistan on 28 September, prompting senior security officials in Kabul to reveal a number of joint operations are being launched against Taliban and Islamic State fighters to prevent attacks.

Officials say 100,000 members of the security forces have been readied for polling day.

Violence has escalated in the region after US President Donald Trump cancelled plans to meet with leaders of the Taliban earlier this month in America just days before the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

He made the announcement after the Taliban said they were behind an attack which killed a US soldier and several others.

On Thursday, a Taliban suicide car bomber killed four Afghan special forces troops on the outskirts of Kabul.

More than 2,400 American troops have been killed since the US invaded Afghanistan to go after the Taliban, who were harbouring al Qaeda leaders responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

About 13,000 troops still remain in Afghanistan, and cancelling the talks appears to go against Mr Trump’s pledge to withdraw them and end US involvement in the country.

Meanwhile, the Taliban has revoked its ban on the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Afghanistan.

The group gave a guarantee of security for the emergency crisis group’s staff doing humanitarian work in areas under their control.

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Grace Millane’s former partner: She asked me to choke her during sex | World News

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British backpacker Grace Millane belonged to BDSM dating sites and allowed a former partner to choke her during sex, a court has heard.

An ex-boyfriend of the university graduate from Essex said they had used a system of safe words and signals to make sure she was never in danger.

A statement from the man, whose identity is protected, was read to the jury at the trial of a 27-year-old New Zealander accused of strangling Grace to death at the end of a Tinder date.

Grace Millane entering hotel after date with alleged killer
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Grace Millane entering hotel after date with the man accused of murdering her

The defendant, who also cannot be named for legal reasons, says Miss Millane died accidentally during consensual sex at his apartment in Auckland last December after she asked him to put his hands on her neck during rough sex.

Miss Millane’s former partner said in a statement read to Auckland High Court: “When we researched it we knew the word was asphyxiation.

“Grace and I discussed keeping hands wide and on the side of the neck, never on the front.

“Grace and I would have a safe word most of the time which we had discussed, something like “turtle” or something ridiculous. Grace and I used a tapping practice too. If Grace tapped me three times then it would stop.

“Grace would tap out maybe one in four times.

“Grace would be sure to do this and I trusted that anytime it was too much for Grace she would do this. Grace and I were careful to discuss not only the physical but the psychological aspects to practising BDSM.”

The suspect cannot be identified for legal reasons
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The suspect cannot be identified for legal reasons

Statements from police revealed that Miss Millane had been active on BDSM dating site Whiplr an hour before meeting the defendant outside a central city casino.

Defence barrister Ron Mansfield told the jury: “All the evidence shows that Miss Millane was a loving, bright, intelligent young woman and she was.

“That is her reputation and that should be her reputation and her memory at the start of this trial and at the conclusion if it.

“The fact that we need to discuss with you what she liked to do in the bedroom should have no impact on he reputation at all.”

But, he said: “It’s important that we are fully informed. It’s not the time for embarrassment or immaturity.

“If this couple engaged in consensual sexual activity which included pressure being applied to her neck with her consent and that went wrong, that is not murder.

“Death through this mechanism may thankfully be rare but it does happen and sadly it happened here.”

Mr Mansfield said the defendant admits Grace died from pressure he placed on her neck but said expert evidence was consistent with his account that it was consensual, not violent.

In a police interview, the trial heard last week, he said he only realised Grace was dead when he found her lying on the floor but admits then cramming her body into a suitcase which he buried in a shallow grave in the woods.

Mr Mansfield said his failure to call for help, disposal of Grace’s body and lies to police were due to panic.

“He may have thought he wouldn’t be believed,” Mr Mansfield told the jury, “but don’t prove him right.”

Grace Millane's parents David and Gillian arrive at Auckland High Court
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Grace Millane’s parents David and Gillian have been at the trial in Auckland

The court also heard that Miss Millane had drunk so much that night that her heart may have gone into a “terminal tailspin” when she was choked during sex.

Pathologist Dr Fintan Garavan, appearing as a defence witness, told the jury a combination of obstruction of the blood flow, pressure on her nervous system and being drunk meant she might have died quickly.

There were no signs of her having struggled and her plight “would not be obvious to a person nearby unless you know what you are looking for,” he said.

Defence barrister Ian Brookie said Miss Millane had drunk four mango cocktails, one tequila shot, two whisky cocktails herself and shared three half litre jugs of margheritas and sangria with her alleged killer during their night out.

Dr Garavan said the alcohol, in conjunction with the choking, was “an iceberg making its way into the shipping lane”.

“It very likely has become an important indirect player in causing death,” he said, explaining that being drunk could turn off a “safety valve” which would normally trigger someone to fight for breath.

Dr Garavan, who examined hundreds of photographs of Grace’s body, agreed the primary cause of death was asphyxiation, which he said would have required just one kilogram of pressure.

But he said the absence of deeper haemorrhages in the neck muscles, fractures or scratches to the skin “would favour consensual” choking.

The trial continues.

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Protesters in Iran warned of ‘decisive’ action if unrest continues | World News

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Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have warned of “decisive” action if protests in the country continue.

At least five people have been killed in the unrest, which began on Friday after the announcement of fuel rationing and a 50% hike in the price of petrol.

At least 100 banks, buildings and cars were torched, according to state media.

Iranian authorities shut down the internet on Saturday but videos shared online before then contained sounds of gunfire and images of badly injured people.

In a statement, the country’s main security force said: “If necessary we will take decisive and revolutionary action against any continued moves to disturb the people’s peace and security.”

Fars, a semi-official news agency in Iran, said there had been more than 87,000 protesters across the country and that around 1,000 had been arrested.

The streets were reportedly calmer on Monday and General Gholamreza Soleimani, head of the Basij, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, insisted security forces had acted with “restraint and patience”.

An Iranian man checks a scorched gas station that was set ablaze by protesters during a demonstration against a rise in gasoline prices in Eslamshahr, near the Iranian capital of Tehran, on November 17, 2019
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A petrol station in Eslamshahr, near the Iranian capital of Tehran, was targeted

Iran is home to the world’s fourth-largest crude oil reserves and cheap oil is almost seen as a birthright but even this has not saved the economy from difficulty.

Since US President Donald Trump withdrew his country from the 2015 nuclear deal last year and imposed sanctions instead, jobs have become scarce and the currency has collapsed.

When the nuclear deal was put on ice, Iran’s rial was trading at 32,000 to $1 but this has worsened to more than 123,000 to $1.

Sky News diplomatic editor Dominic Waghorn said: “Iran’s government had claimed US sanctions were uniting the people behind them but these scenes [of the protests] suggest a different story.”

Parliamentary elections are due in February and the unrest, the worst since 2017, will be another challenge for President Hassan Rouhani.

Mr Rouhani had said the petrol price rises would help raise money for handouts to 18 million families struggling families, which begin this week.

US Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo said he was monitoring the protests and was deeply concerned by reports of fatalities.

But Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif hit back with: “A regime that impedes food and medicine to ordinary people, including the elderly and the sick, by economic terrorism can never get away with the obscene claim of supporting the Iranian people.”

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Trump administration announces softer US stance on Israeli settlements in West Bank | UK News

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Mike Pompeo has said the US is softening its position on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank – the latest move from the Trump administration to anger Palestinians.

The US Secretary of State rebutted a 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law”.

The move weakens Palestinian claims to statehood and puts the US at odds with other nations working to end the conflict.

Mike Pompeo announced that the Trump administration does not consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law
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Mike Pompeo announced that the Trump administration does not consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law

However the latest US backing of Israel came as a victory for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is struggling to remain in power after two inconclusive elections this year.

Mr Pompeo said US statements regarding the settlements – which Israel captured during a 1967 war – had been inconsistent.

He said Democrat President Jimmy Carter found they were not consistent in 1978, and that Republican President Ronald Reagan said he did not view them as inherently illegal in 1981.

Mr Pompeo said that legal questions about the issue should be addressed by Israeli courts.

He added: “Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace.

“The hard truth is that there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict and arguments about who is right and who is wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace.”

His announcement was praised by Mr Netanyahu but condemned by Palestinian officials.

Tear gas fumes are fired during a demonstration by Palestinian journalists alongside Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank
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Tear gas fumes are fired during a demonstration by Palestinian journalists alongside Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank
A Palestinian journalist carries away a child as other photojournalists assist a falling woman as they walk amidst tear gas canisters
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Palestinian journalists help a child and a falling woman as tear gas is fired around them

The US also issued a warning to Americans in the region to exercise greater vigilance because those opposing the move “may target US government facilities, US private interests and US citizens”.

Mr Netanyahu said the US decision “rights a historical wrong” and called on other countries to take a similar stance.

A statement from Mr Netanyahu’s office said: “Israel is deeply grateful to President Trump, Secretary Pompeo and the entire US administration for their steadfast position supporting truth and justice, and calls upon all responsible countries who hope to advance peace to adopt a similar position.”

Meanwhile Palestinians voiced outrage.

A spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas condemned Mr Pompeo’s announcement, claiming settlements are illegal under international law.

Trump's move might have been designed to help Benjamin Netanyahu as he struggles to stay in power
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Trump’s move might have been designed to help Benjamin Netanyahu as he struggles to stay in power

“The US administration has lost its credibility to play any future role in the peace process,” spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh said.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Trump administration was threatening “to replace international law with the ‘law of the jungle'”.

Ayman Safadi, Jordan’s foreign minister, said the US policy change would have “dangerous consequences” for the prospects of reviving peace talks. He called settlements “a blatant violation of international law and United Nations Security Council resolutions.”

Past Trump administration pro-Israeli moves include President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as well as the movement of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the closure of the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington.



Video from a traffic camera in central Israel captured the moment on Tuesday when a rocket strikes a major highway only metres from several passing vehicles.







Gaza-fired rocket lands on Israel highway

Mr Pompeo said the move was not intended to prejudge the status of the West Bank, which the Palestinians hope will become part of an eventual Palestinian state in a wider resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“This is for the Israelis and the Palestinians to negotiate,” he said, adding that the US decision was not meant “to compel a particular outcome nor create any legal obstacle to a negotiated resolution”.

Mr Pompeo’s announcement is likely to please evangelical Christians – an important part of Mr Trump’s political base – which he is relying on to help him win re-election in 2020.

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