More than 60 Afghan students are among foreigners stranded in Wuhan, China. Their families in Afghanistan say these students are hurting psychologically since the city has been on lockdown. Food and supplies are running out, and they are losing hope of leaving the city. Today, the Afghan government asked China to keep the students in Wuhan and not send them back to Afghanistan. Their desperate families are asking the Afghan and Chinese governments to help these students. Sayed Hasib Mawdoodi in Kabul met with families, and students who returned from Wuhan 10 days ago.
Nations around the world are evacuating their students and other citizens from coronavirus-stricken China, while other countries are choosing to leave their citizens in Wuhan, the university city where the virus reportedly started.
Around 500 Bangladeshi students are among the stranded in Wuhan. They have called for help on social media, while the Chinese and Bangladesh governments negotiate a strategy.
“Through the social [media] site WeChat, students got informed of the mystery infectious virus that was spreading fast,” Mazharul Islam, a freshman in the School of Electrical Engineering at Wuhan University, told VOA. “However, we were told that there is nothing to get worried about and the virus is under control. Later through WeChat we were advised to use masks when stepping out of the dormitory.”
Islam said there were 30 Bangladeshi students on his campus. Through Chinese social media WeChat, he said, he and others learned there were 500 Bangladeshi students in Wuhan. He said the Bangladesh Embassy in Beijing “would notify us if there were any emergency evacuation taking place.” He said they have been provided with masks and preventive medicines from the university.
Masudur Rahman, the deputy chief of mission at the Bangladesh Embassy in Beijing, said of the 3,000 Bangladeshis in China, most are students and teachers.
“We, from the Bangladesh Embassy in Beijing, are in contact with the Chinese authorities and are trying to find a possible solution in the present situation,” Rahman said. Evacuation would “have to take place through a bilateral arrangement.”
Meanwhile, other countries are arranging flights out of China for their citizens. France – where three cases of the coronavirus have been reported — said it will operate several direct flights under the supervision of medical experts out of China midweek for French citizens who want to leave, AFP reported. The number could “range from a few dozen to a few hundred” of its 800 citizens in China, said Health Minister Agnes Buzyn.
Evacuees will “stay in a holding area for 14 days,” the duration it takes for the virus to incubate, when they land in France, AFP reported.
Morocco ordered the repatriation of 100 Moroccan nationals – mostly students – from the Wuhan area on Monday, according to Reuters. Other countries arranging to have their citizens and students flow out include Japan, Spain, Britain and Netherlands. Canada, which has about 167 nationals in the Wuhan area, has not planned evacuations but has not ruled them out, Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Monday. Each consular request would be evaluated on a “case by case basis,” he told Reuters.
The epidemic, which originated in Wuhan city, has claimed 81 lives in China and infected more than 2,800 people globally, most of them in China.
📌 CORONAVIRUS UPDATE
🇨🇳 China 81
🇨🇳 China 2700
🇺🇸 US 5
🇫🇷 France 3
🇯🇵 Japan 4
🇸🇬 Singapore 4
🇰🇷 South Korea 4
🇹🇼 Taiwan 5
🇹🇭 Thailand 8
🇻🇳 Vietnam 2
🇰🇭 Cambodia 1
(Source: VOA/ AFP)
— The Voice of America (@VOANews) January 27, 2020
The Chinese government has locked down Wuhan and neighboring cities to keep the virus from spreading. Tens of millions of people, including foreigners and students, are among them. Many students left the Wuhan area for Lunar New Year’s holiday and winter break, but others stayed behind.
More than 60 Afghan students are among foreigners stranded in Wuhan. The Afghan government has asked China to keep the students in Wuhan and not send them back to Afghanistan, much to the disappointment of their families in Afghanistan.
“Universities are locked-down, and students are stranded at their rooms and are not allowed to leave their campuses,” said Ahmad Jawed Beheshti, an Afghan student at Sichuan University in China. “Just yesterday, they closed off our university.”
Javed Ahmad Qaem, Afghan ambassador to China, told VOA the students have not been forgotten.
“They are nervous, but Chinese authorities are acting responsibly,” he said. “They have a focal point for each embassy. If and when relocation is allowed inside China or outside China, we will also be at the forefront. So far relocation is not allowed. They are isolated and we are monitoring the situation closely.”
The president of the Indonesian Student Association (PPI) of Chinape, Nur Musyafak, in Wuhan said Indonesian citizens — including students — want to get out of the city. Foreign Ministry data show there are 428 Indonesian citizens studying in Wuhan. Most of those students returned to Indonesia for winter break.
But those remaining in China need a recommendation letter from the Indonesian Republic Embassy if they want to leave.
“We’re gathering all the passport numbers of these 98” Indonesians who remain in Wuhan. “Once we have the data, we will request a letter from the Indonesian Embassy,” Nur told VOA.
The dorm is 20 kilometers from the Huanan Seafood Market, where the coronavirus is suspected of emanating. Campuses in Wuhan have distributed masks, liquid soap, and free thermometers to students, Nur said. The universities have instructed students not to leave their room too often.
Authorities in Myanmar said they had cancelled a planned evacuation of 60 students from Mandalay who were studying in Wuhan. Kyaw Yin Myint, a spokesman for the Mandalay municipal government, told Reuters that a “final decision” had been made to send them back after 14 days, once the virus’ incubation period had passed.
In Russia, direct flights from Wuhan to Moscow were suspended last week. At least 140 Russians, 75 of them students, are known to be in Wuhan and Hubei, the Russian embassy in China said on Monday, Reuters reported from the TASS news agency.
The United States said it would evacuate personnel and citizens in China, several news outlets reported. The U.S. State Department said it will evacuate personnel from its Wuhan consulate to the United States and offer a limited number of seats to private U.S. citizens on a flight. Some private citizens will be able to board the “single flight” leaving Wuhan on Jan. 28 for San Francisco, it said.
Sayed Hasib Mawdoodi of VOA’s Afghan Service in Kabul, Sanjana Feroz and KabirUddin Sarkar of the Bangla Service in Washington, and Rio Tuasikal of the Indonesian Service in Bandung, Indonesia, contributed to this report.
Last year was the deadliest in recent history for extremist violence in the Sahel region of Africa. The trend appears to be continuing in 2020 and experts warn more must be done to avoid a crisis in the region.
Last week, suspected Islamic extremists carried out attacks on two villages in Burkina Faso, killing at least 32 civilians.
In neighboring Niger, terror attacks claimed by extremist fighters killed 89 people this month and 71 soldiers in December.
In both countries and elsewhere in the Sahel region, insurgent and Islamist groups with links to al-Qaida and the Islamic State (IS) terror groups in recent months have increased their attacks against civilian and military targets.
Rise in casualties
U.N. officials say the number of casualties in the region has increased five times since 2016 with more than 4,000 victims in 2019.“
The region has experienced a devastating surge in terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets,” Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the U.N. Special Representative and Head of the U.N. Office for West Africa and the Sahel, told the U.N. Security Council earlier this month.
“Most significantly, the geographic focus of terrorist attacks has shifted eastwards from Mali to Burkina Faso and is increasingly threatening West African coastal states,” he added.
The Sahel is a semi-arid region that stretches from Sudan in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west. It includes countries such as Niger, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. These nations are known as the G5 Sahel countries.
Experts say porous borders, poor governance and unstable economies in these countries have allowed Islamist militants to thrive in the impoverished region.“
It is generally presumed that militant groups in the Sahel region benefit from the black market and trafficking economies that rely on illicit trade transiting the Sahara,” said Alice Hunt Friend, an Africa expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.
“But given the weakness of regional states and their security services, militant coffers are not as important to the balance of power as their boldness and organization,” she told VOA.
Increased cooperation with France
The surge of violence carried out by terror groups in the Sahel region has forced West African nations to reconsider their strategy and build new security partnerships.
Last week, leaders of the G5 Sahel countries convened in France, where they agreed to put aside their differences with France in order to combat terrorism more effectively in the region.
France, a former colonial power in the Sahel region, has agreed to deploy an additional 220 troops to the Sahel in an attempt to prevent the rise in terrorist violence in the region.
France already has about 4,500 troops stationed in Sahel, who have been instrumental in fighting an Islamist insurgency in Mali since 2013.
But with recent terror threats throughout the region, France says its forces would extend military assistance to other countries in the region.“
French troops are in the Sahel to enable West African leaders to fully assume their sovereignty,” French President Emmanuel Macron told G5 Sahel leaders during last week’s summit.
“The priority is Islamic State in the Greater Sahara,” Macron added.
The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, an IS affiliate, is active in the Sahel region. Other extremist groups including Ansar al-Islam in Burkina Faso and the Macina Liberation Front in Mali and other IS and al-Qaida-linked groups also have carried out terrorist attacks in the region in recent years.
Niagale Bagayoko, African Security Sector Network Chair, said although the focus may be on one group, the range of threats in the region is extremely complex.“
“It is becoming evident that the issue at stake is much more complicated. Because you have a very complex mix of different actors. You have rebel groups that mainly want to have autonomy or if not independence. You have also criminal groups. You have also local self-defense militias. And also, of course, you have jihadist groups. But even all those jihadist groups are very different,” she told VOA.
Last month, The New York Times reported that the United States was considering a reduction or even a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from West Africa.
The U.S. has between 6,000 and 7,000 troops in Africa, mainly stationed in West Africa.
The possible reduction of U.S. troops in Africa is reportedly part of a worldwide review by U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who is looking for ways to tighten the focus on China and Russia.
While some experts fear that any such withdrawal would end U.S. support for French military efforts in African countries such as Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso in their war against jihadist fighters, others believe ongoing efforts have not been enough to tackle the issue of extremism in the Sahel.
“The U.S. presence likely limits terrorist activity in the Sahel but has not eliminated it, and neither France nor other Europeans nor governments in the region will standstill in the face of U.S. withdrawal,” analyst Friend of CSIS said.
“The question of whether the French can sustain operations without U.S. support is an open one, although France likely could choose to do so but that would require more resources and domestic political capital,” she added.
On Monday, French Defense Minister Florence Parly visited the Pentagon and met with her U.S. counterpart Defense Secretary Mark Esper. She urged the U.S. to continue supporting the security efforts in the region.
But U.S. officials have expressed concerns about the deteriorating situation in the Sahel region.
“I think [the Sahel] is the most difficult and challenging situation we have now in the continent,” Tibor Nagy, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, said in November during a press briefing.
“The threat of terrorism and violent extremism is expanding. It’s not anymore in north Mali only. It is going down to Burkina Faso and countries like Ghana, Togo, Benin are all on alert,” he said.
The stakes over witness testimony at President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial are rising now that a draft of a book from former national security adviser John Bolton appears to undercut a key defense argument.
Bolton writes in the forthcoming book that Trump told him that he wanted to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in security aid from Ukraine until it helped him with politically charged investigations, including into Democratic rival Joe Biden. Trump’s legal team has repeatedly insisted that the Republican president never tied the suspension of military assistance to the country to investigations that he wanted into Biden and his son.
The account immediately gave Democrats new fuel in their pursuit of sworn testimony from Bolton and other witnesses, a question expected to be taken up later this week by the Republican-led Senate. The trial resumes Monday afternoon with arguments from Trump’s defense team.
Bolton’s account was first reported by The New York Times and was confirmed to The Associated Press by a person familiar with the manuscript on the condition of anonymity to discuss the book, “The Room Where It Happened; A White House Memoir,” ahead of its release March 17.
When the Times report went online Sunday night, the seven House Democratic managers immediately called on all senators to insist that Bolton be called as a witness and provide his notes and other relevant documents. Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, issued the same call.
Trump denied the claims in a series of tweets early Monday. “I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens,” Trump said in a tweet. “In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book.” Trump said people could look at transcripts of his call and statements by Ukraine President Vlodymyr Zelinskiy that there was no pressure for such investigations to get the aid.
I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens. In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book. With that being said, the…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 27, 2020
He also falsely claimed Monday morning that the Democrat-controlled House “never even asked John Bolton to testify.” In fact, Democrats did ask Bolton to testify, but he didn’t show up for his deposition. They later declined to subpoena Bolton, as they had others, because he threatened to sue, which could lead to a prolonged court battle.
Bolton, who acrimoniously left the White House a day before Trump ultimately released the Ukraine aid on Sept. 11, has already told lawmakers that he is willing to testify, despite the president’s order barring aides from cooperating in the probe.
“Americans know that a fair trial must include both the documents and witnesses blocked by the President — that starts with Mr. Bolton,” the impeachment managers said in a statement.
First, though, Trump’s legal team will begin laying out its case in depth, turning to several high-profile attorneys to argue against impeachment.
The lawyers revealed the broad outlines of their defense in a rare but truncated Saturday session, at which they accused House Democrats of using the impeachment case to try to undo the results of the last presidential election and drive Trump from office.
WATCH: Trump Impeachment Defense Closes First Week of Trial
The legal team is expected to pick up on that theme and also dive into areas that received negligible attention during the Democrats’ presentation, including the now-concluded investigation into ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Trump’s lawyers aren’t expected to take as much time for their arguments as the Democrats, whose impeachment managers spoke for about 24 hours over three days. But they also don’t need to: Acquittal is likely in a Senate where Republicans hold a 53-47 majority, with a two-thirds vote needed for conviction. Still, they see an opportunity to counter the allegations, defend the powers of the presidency and prevent Trump from being weakened politically ahead of November’s election.
Trump faces two articles of impeachment. One accuses him of abusing his power by asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, his Democratic rival, while his administration withheld hundreds of millions of dollars from the country. The other alleges that Trump obstructed Congress by directing aides to not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.
The legal team will portray Trump as having been harassed by investigations from federal agents — and Democrats — since he took office and will seize on the FBI’s recent acknowledgment of surveillance errors during the Russia probe. The lawyers have already hinted that they will focus attention on Biden just as he campaigns for a first-place finish in next week’s Iowa caucuses.
Monday’s presentation is expected to include appearances by Alan Dershowitz, who will argue that impeachable offenses require criminal-like conduct, and Ken Starr, the independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation that led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is also expected to make arguments.
Many legal scholars reject Dershowitz’s arguments, saying the Founding Fathers meant for impeachable offenses to incorporate a broad range of conduct by presidents. Dershowitz told The Associated Press last week that he understood that some critics thought his argument was “bonkers” but encouraged them to listen nonetheless.
Democrats argued their side of the impeachment case for three days last week, warning that Trump will persist in abusing his power and endangering American democracy unless Congress intervenes to remove him before the 2020 election.
On Saturday, the president’s attorneys said there was no evidence that Trump made the military aid contingent on the country announcing an investigation into Biden. They also accused Democrats of omitting information that was favorable to Trump’s case.
Once Trump’s team concludes, senators will have 16 hours to ask questions of both the House impeachment prosecutors and the president’s legal team. Their questions must be in writing, and Chief Justice John Roberts, who has been presiding over the trial, will read them aloud.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told reporters Saturday that Republicans expected to get together on Monday to start formulating a list of questions.
“We will meet as a conference and decide what questions we want to pose, what the order may be of those of those questions,” he said.
After the question-and-answer time has elapsed, the Senate will take up the question of whether to consider new witnesses and evidence — a question that could be more politically complicated with the account in Bolton’s book.
Trump on Monday objected to the idea of calling Bolton, insisting it was up to House, “not up to the Senate!” to hear witnesses, even though the Senate has that right and is likely to consider the question of witnesses this week.
Four Republicans would have to break ranks to join Democrats t o call any witnesses, whic h would extend the trial for an undetermined amount of time.
Democrats have been especially seeking testimony from Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
An attempt to call either probably would lead to a showdown with the White House, which claims both men have “absolute immunity” from being called to testify before the Senate, even in an impeachment trial.
A passenger plane crashed in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province Monday afternoon in a Taliban-controlled area, making collection of casualty details and rescue efforts difficult. So far, it was not clear how many passengers were on board the plane and whether anyone survived the crash.
The provincial police chief Mohammad Khalid Wardak confirmed the crash in Dehak district but could offer no further details. Initial reports suggested the plane belonged to Ariana airline, but the airline issued a statement rejecting such reports.
A member of Ghazni’s provincial council, Abdul Jami Jami, said the plane crashed near Sadu and Ibrahimzai villages but that the Taliban were not at the crash site yet.
Afghanistan’s Tolo news reported the government was planning to send special forces to the crash site which is inaccessible to regular Afghan security forces.
Kobe Bryant was as “an outstanding and true Olympic champion,” IOC President Thomas Bach said Monday.
The basketball great, who was killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles on Sunday, helped the United States win Olympic gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games and the 2012 London Games.
Bryant also worked with the Olympic hosting bid for Los Angeles, the city where he won five NBA titles with the Lakers. When Los Angeles hosts the 2028 Olympics, men’s basketball will be played at the Staples Center, where Bryant played with the Lakers.
“He embraced the power of sport to change people’s lives,” Bach said in a statement published by the International Olympic Committee. “After retiring from the game he loved so much, he continued to support the Olympic Movement and was an inspiration for the Olympic Games LA 2028.”
Bryant narrated the final filmed segment of the L.A. bid team’s presentation in July 2017. He was a member of the bid’s board of directors.
“There are so many different cultures represented here, so many different ethnicities represented here,” he said of Los Angeles in the video,” It’s an opportunity to learn no matter where you look.”
The 41-year-old Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among nine people who died in the crash in Calabasas in foggy weather conditions Sunday morning.
“We will all miss his energy and his humble nature,” Bach said. “Our thoughts are with his family and friends and all the other victims.”
International basketball federation secretary general Andreas Zagklis described Bryant as a “sun in the basketball universe, shining on and off the court.”
Private American citizens living and working in Wuhan are being warned there will not be room for many of them on an evacuation flight being prepared for U.S. consular staff in the epicenter of the Coronavirus epidemic.
“The Department of State is making arrangements to relocate its personnel stationed at the U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan to the United States,” the U.S. Embassy in Beijing wrote on Sunday, adding that the flight will travel directly from Wuhan to San Francisco.
“This capacity is extremely limited and if there is insufficient ability to transport everyone who expresses interest, priority will be given to individuals at greater risk from coronavirus,” a statement said.
An American citizen teaching at a university in Wuhan, who asked that her name not be used for fear of Chinese retribution, told VOA that neither the consulate nor the U.S. Embassy in Beijing has yet contacted most American citizens in the city.
“Maybe they have reached out to a few privileged individuals, but on the whole, they are not reaching out to average American citizens. We have received almost no support and no help,” the woman told VOA’s Mandarin Service.
An announcement on the U.S. Embassy’s website directs citizens to apply for a seat on the plane by contacting American Citizen Services with their passport information.
“There are thousands of us Americans in Wuhan,” the American citizen said. “A 747 seats like 250 people, they’re not going to take everyone out. Even if every single person wanted to leave, they would not take all of us,” she said, referring to the Boeing 747 jet that will likely be chartered for the flight.
The announcement comes amid travel restrictions around the wider region, but especially in the city of Wuhan. The streets have been largely quiet amid ambiguous regulations on which vehicles can and cannot be on the road, even in urban areas.
Some Wuhan residents have reported that early in the outbreak, individuals were arrested and accused of spreading “rumors” about the disease on social media. The American teacher said that in addition to the restrictions on her travel, the disinformation and fear of authority in Wuhan have added to the stress produced by the outbreak.
“This is the craziest experience I’ve ever lived through in my entire life. I wish it weren’t happening. It’s it’s a nightmare,” she said.
The disease, which has killed 56 people and sickened almost 2,000 around the world, has spread to about 15 countries, including France, Canada and the United States, where a third confirmed case was reported in southern California late Saturday.
The World Health Organization said Thursday the potentially deadly virus has not yet developed into a worldwide health emergency.