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Aid trickles in to Afghan earthquake zone, toll at 1,000 dead

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© Reuters. Afghan Red Crescent medics and volunteers transport earthquake victims to hospitals in Spera district, Khost province, Afghanistan, June 22, 2022. Afghan Red Crescent Society/Handout via REUTERS

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By Mohammad Yunus Yawar and Sayed Hassib

GAYAN, Afghanistan (Reuters) -Aid began arriving on Thursday in a remote part of Afghanistan where an earthquake killed 1,000 people but poor communications and a lack of proper roads are hampering relief efforts in a country already grappling with a humanitarian crisis.

The magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck early on Wednesday about 160 km, (100 miles) southeast of Kabul, in arid mountains dotted with small settlements near the border with Pakistan.

“We can’t reach the area, the networks are too weak, we trying to get updates,” Mohammad Ismail Muawiyah, a spokesman for the top Taliban military commander in hardest-hit Paktika province, told Reuters, referring to telephone networks.

The earthquake killed some 1,000 people and injured 1,500 injured, he said. More than 3,000 houses were destroyed.

The toll makes its Afghanistan’s deadliest earthquake in two decades, according to U.S. government data.

About 1,000 people had been rescued from various affected areas by Thursday morning, Sharafat Zaman, a spokesperson for the health ministry told Reuters.

“Aid has arrived to the area and it is continuing but more is needed,” he said.

The town of Gayan, close to the epicentre, sustained significant damage with most of its mud-walled buildings damaged or completely collapsed, a Reuters team said.

The town, with only the most basic roads, was bustling with Taliban soldiers and ambulances as a helicopter bringing in relief supplies landed nearby, whipping up huge swirls of dust. About 300 people sat on the ground waiting for supplies.

‘UNPRECEDENTED CRISIS’

The rescue operation will be a major test for the hard-line Islamist Taliban, who took over last August as U.S.-led international forces withdrew after two decades of war.

The humanitarian situation had deteriorated alarmingly since the Taliban takeover, aid officials say, with the country cut off from much international assistance because of sanctions.

Afghanistan’s economy has all but collapsed, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in an appeal to aid donors in late March.

Drought has undermined food production and 9 million Afghans face famine. Some families have been forced to selling children and organs to survive, he said.

The United Nations said its World Food Programme (WFP) was sending food and logistics equipment to affected areas, with the aim of initially supporting 3,000 households.

“The Afghan people are already facing an unprecedented crisis following decades of conflict, severe drought and an economic downturn,” said Gordon Craig, WFP deputy country director in Afghanistan.

“The earthquake will only add to the already massive humanitarian needs they endure daily.”

Japan and South Korea both said they also plan to send aid.

Large parts of South Asia are seismically active because a tectonic plate known as the Indian plate is pushing north into the Eurasian plate.

In 2015, an earthquake struck the remote Afghan northeast, killing several hundred people in Afghanistan and nearby northern Pakistan.

World

Biden pick for immigration enforcement withdraws after long delay

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Ed Gonzalez testifies on his nomination as director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 15, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ed Gonzalez, a Texas sheriff, said on Monday he had told President Joe Biden that he had withdrawn from consideration for the post of director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after a lengthy delay at getting confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

“More than a year has passed since the president nominated me for this important position, which has not had a Senate-confirmed director since the Obama administration,” Gonzalez said in a tweet, referring to Barack Obama, a Democrat who was president from 2009 to 2017.

A copy of his withdrawal letter sent to Biden on Sunday and seen by Reuters on Monday said he needed to focus on an uptick in violent crime in his county and a court backlog driven by the pandemic that has led to a surge in the jail population.

“All this leads me to the unavoidable conclusion that in 2022, I must devote my full, undivided attention and energy toward fulfilling the duties that the people of Harris Country elected me to perform,” he wrote.

A veteran law enforcement officer and Democrat, Gonzalez has served since 2017 as sheriff of Harris County, the most populous county in Texas and home to Houston, the state’s biggest city. In that role, Gonzalez ended the county’s participation in a program that increased cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities.

Gonzalez had criticized immigration raids during the presidency of Republican former President Donald Trump. Biden nominated Gonzalez as the head of ICE (NYSE:ICE) in April 2021, but his confirmation was stalled in the Senate.

Biden has pledged to move away from the hardline immigration policy of his predecessor. His administration has instructed agents to focus on deporting those people in the United States illegally who have committed dangerous crimes, as well as targeting employers exploiting migrants instead of raiding workplaces to look for people working illegally.

The delay in confirming Gonzalez came after Republican Senator James Lankford raised concerns over an allegation made last year that the sheriff had become “physical or violent” with his wife several years ago, which both the sheriff and his wife deny.

Staff at the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs looked into the domestic abuse charges against Gonzalez and found them without merit, according to a summary of their findings seen by Reuters.

A White House spokesperson responded to Gonzalez’s withdrawal.

“Sheriff Gonzalez has the qualifications and experience to do this important job and would have been a great leader of ICE. We thank Sheriff Gonzalez for his willingness to serve in the face of baseless allegations against his family and thank Homeland Security Chairman Peters for his diligent and hard work in support of the nomination,” the spokesperson said, referring to Senator Gary Peters.

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Trump’s election attorney John Eastman says FBI seized his phone

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: John Eastman, former attorney for former U.S. President Donald Trump, is seen speaking in a video displayed above during the fourth of eight planned public hearings of the U.S. House Select Committee to investigate the January 6 Attack on the

By Kanishka Singh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The FBI seized the phone of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s election attorney, John Eastman, last week, the lawyer said in a court filing on Monday.

Eastman disclosed the search and seizure in a lawsuit he filed in federal court in New Mexico. In the lawsuit, Eastman asked a federal judge to tell the Justice Department to return his property, destroy records it had obtained and block investigators from being allowed to access the phone.

The FBI and the Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

“On the evening of June 22, 2022, federal agents served a search on movant while movant was exiting a restaurant,” the filing said. “Movant’s phone — an iPhone Pro 12 — was seized.”

The filing claimed that Eastman was “forced” to provide biometric data to open the phone.

He was not provided a copy of the warrant until after his phone was seized, according to the filing, which also claimed that the FBI agents appeared to be executing the warrant “issued at the behest” of the Justice Department.

Eastman in particular has been under intense scrutiny in relation to the probes into the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters after the former president falsely claimed that he had won the 2020 election.

Eastman spoke at the Jan. 6, 2021 rally where Trump gave a fiery speech alleging election fraud and urging supporters to march on the Capitol.

Eastman also wrote a memo outlining how, in his view, then-Vice President Mike Pence could thwart formal congressional certification of Trump’s re-election loss. Pence ultimately declined to follow Eastman’s advice.

The House of Representatives Jan. 6 select committee has held five hearings on last year’s deadly attack and will hold a sixth one on Tuesday.

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Missiles strike Ukraine shopping mall; G7 vows to keep pressure on Russia

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A smoke rises over remains of a building destroyed by a military strike, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Lysychansk, Luhansk region, Ukraine June 17, 2022. REUTERS/Oleksandr Ratushniak

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By Simon Lewis

KREMENCHUK, Ukraine (Reuters) -Russian missiles struck a crowded shopping mall in central Ukraine on Monday, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said, as Moscow fought for control of a key eastern city and Western leaders promised to support Kyiv in the war “as long as it takes”.

More than 1,000 people were inside when two Russian missiles slammed into the mall in the city of Kremenchuk, southeast of Kyiv, Zelenskiy wrote on Telegram. At least 16 people were killed and 59 injured, Ukraine’s emergency services said. Rescuers trawled through mangled metal and debris for survivors.

“This is not an accidental hit, this is a calculated Russian strike exactly onto this shopping centre,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an evening video address, adding there were women and children inside. He said the death count could rise.

Russia has not commented on the strike, which was condemned by the United Nations and Ukraine’s Western allies. But its deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, accused Ukraine of using the incident to gain sympathy ahead of a June 28-30 summit of the NATO military alliance.

“One should wait for what our Ministry of Defence will say, but there are too many striking discrepancies already,” Polyanskiy wrote on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR).

As night fell in Kremenchuk, firefighters and soldiers brought lights and generators to continue the search. Family members, some close to tears and with hands over their mouths, lined up at a hotel across the street where rescue workers had set up a base.

Kiril Zhebolovsky, 24, was looking for his friend, Ruslan, 22, who worked at the Comfy electronics store and had not been heard from since the blast.

“We sent him messages, called, but nothing,” he said. He left his name and phone number with the rescue workers in case his friend is found.

The United Nations Security Council will meet Tuesday at Ukraine’s request following the attack on the shopping mall. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the attack was “deplorable”.

Leaders of the Group of Seven major democracies, gathered for their annual summit in Germany, condemned what they called an “abominable” attack.

“We stand united with Ukraine in mourning the innocent victims of this brutal attack,” they wrote in a joint statement tweeted by the German government spokesperson. “Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held to account.”

Dmyto Lunin, governor for Poltava which includes Kremenchuk, said it was the most tragic day for region in more than four months of war.

“(We) will never forgive our enemies … This tragedy should strengthen and unite us around one goal: victory,” Lunin said on Telegram.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, Ukraine endured another difficult day following the loss of the now-ruined city of Sievierodonetsk after weeks of bombardment and street fighting.

Russian artillery was pounding Lysychansk, its twin across the Siverskyi Donets River. Lysychansk is the last big city still held by Ukraine in the eastern Luhansk province, a main target for the Kremlin after Russian troops failed to take the capital Kyiv early in the war.

A Russian missile strike killed eight and wounded 21 others in Lysychansk on Monday, the area’s regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said. There was no immediate Russian comment.

Ukraine’s military said Russia’s forces were trying to cut off Lysychansk from the south. Reuters could not confirm Russian reports that Moscow’s troops had already entered the city.

‘AS LONG AS IT TAKES’

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” to rid the country of far-right nationalists and ensure Russian security. The war has killed thousands, sent millions fleeing and laid waste to cities.

During their summit in Germany, G7 leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, said they would keep sanctions on Russia for as long as necessary and intensify international pressure on President Vladimir Putin’s government and its ally Belarus.

“Imagine if we allowed Putin to get away with the violent acquisition of huge chunks of another country, sovereign, independent territory,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC.

The United States said it was finalising another weapons package for Ukraine that would include long-range air-defence systems – arms that Zelenskiy specifically requested when he addressed the leaders by video link on Monday.

In his address to the G7 leaders, Zelenskiy asked again for more arms, U.S. and European officials said. He requested help to export grain from Ukraine and for more sanctions on Russia.

The G7 nations promised to squeeze Russia’s finances further – including a deal to cap the price of Russian oil that a U.S. official said was “close” – and promised up to $29.5 billion more for Ukraine.

“We will continue to provide financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support and stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” a G7 statement said.

The White House said Russia had defaulted on its external debt for the first time in more than a century as sweeping sanctions have effectively cut the country off from the global financial system.

Russia rejected the claims, telling investors to go to Western financial agents for the cash which was sent but bondholders did not receive.

The war has created difficulties for countries way beyond Europe’s borders, with disruptions to food and energy exports hitting the global economy.

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