Cricket-British PM Johnson asks Australia to help resolve Ashes stand-off

FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks on as Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks in the garden of 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, June 15, 2021. Dominic Lipinski/Pool via REUTERS

September 23, 2021

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has asked his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison to help ease strict quarantine rules to allow the families of England’s cricketers to tour with the players during the upcoming Ashes series.

England players are seeking assurances their family members will be allowed to join them in Australia during the five-test series in December and January.

Australia’s borders are effectively shut in an effort to control COVID-19, with caps on international arrivals and limited places available in the country’s mandatory hotel quarantine regime.

Johnson said he had discussed the Ashes with Morrison in Washington this week when the pair met for dinner.

“I raised it and he said he was going to do his best for the families,” Johnson told reporters in Washington.

“He totally got the point that for cricketers it is very tough to ask people to be away from their families over Christmas.

“He merely undertook to come back and see if he could find a solution.”

The England and Wales Cricket Board said last month it was “very confident” the Ashes, starting in Brisbane on Dec. 8, would go ahead as planned despite England players saying they may skip the tour if families are unable to travel to Australia.

Australia plans to ease border and quarantine restrictions by the end of 2021, when at least 80% of adults are expected to have received two COVID-19 vaccination shots.

However, officials in the COVID-free states of Western Australia and Queensland have said they will set their own timetables for opening up and may keep their borders shut for longer.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)





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European business group calls for China to end self-reliance strategy

FILE PHOTO: A man takes a call next to a poster stating “China meets Europe in Florence” at China International Fair for Trade in Services in Beijing, China, May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee

September 23, 2021

BEIJING (Reuters) – China should abandon a top-level strategy promoted by President Xi Jinping to increase self-reliance, or risk harming innovation and growth prospects, said a European business group on Thursday.

“There are troubling signs that China is increasingly turning inwards … and this tendency is casting considerable doubts over the country’s future growth trajectory,” the report from the European Chamber of Commerce said.

A desire for political control and a “fear of volatility” are to blame, Chamber president Joerg Wuttke said at a briefing.

China has been trying to cut its dependence on overseas markets and technology in its long-term development, a shift brought on by a deepening rift with the United States, in a so-called “dual-circulation” strategy.

Continuing policy support for state-owned companies, the “unsettling” influence of national security concerns on economic policy and efforts to increase control over the private sector, will drag on innovation and efficiency, said the report.

“Although the costs of such an approach may not be felt for several years, they are considerable and should not be overlooked.”

Dual circulation will require China to “deviate from the spirit” of the 1970s reforms that opened up the country’s economy and spurred decades of rapid growth, it said, resulting in less foreign investment, misallocation of resources and growing push-back abroad.

“China runs the risk of punching below its weight,” said Wuttke.

‘MARKET EXIT’

China’s policymakers have stressed the country will continue to open up and welcomes foreign firms.

While some foreign companies, such as those in the chemicals sector, which have technology China needs, are encouraged, others are not, the Chamber report said.

Some foreign suppliers of network equipment and services have told the Chamber that “market exit is inevitable” due to increased scrutiny on the grounds of national security. Suppliers of health equipment, for example, are sometimes unable to sell as hospitals try to “buy Chinese”, said Wuttke.

The report also urged China to de-escalate tit-for-tat sanctions against Europeans that are holding back the ratification of a key investment agreement with the European Union.

The bloc had imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over alleged human rights abuses in the western region of Xinjiang, to which Beijing responded with its own sanctions on Europeans including European lawmakers.

The bloc’s executive arm, the European Commission, unveiled plans in May to cut dependency on Chinese and other foreign suppliers in six strategic areas.

Foreign companies contribute to significant chunks of China’s tax revenue, trade and employment, said Wuttke, and in turn China remains a key market for European companies which helped prop up operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In many cases…the China operations are the ones that stabilize headquarters and basically bring business to the group,” he said.

(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Alex Richardson)





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BlackBerry beats quarterly revenue expectations on cybersecurity boost

FILE PHOTO: The Blackberry logo is seen on a smartphone in front of a displayed stock graph in this illustration taken February 5, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

September 23, 2021

(Reuters) -Canada’s BlackBerry Ltd beat Wall Street estimates for second-quarter revenue on Wednesday amid strong demand for its cybersecurity and Internet of Things software products.

U.S.-listed shares of the company, which rose 9.1% to $10.43 in extended trading, had already risen 8% ahead of the results.

Firms such as BlackBerry are benefiting from an uptick in demand for cybersecurity and IoT products as more businesses and government organizations shift their operations to the cloud in order to support hybrid working.

As a result, the company was able to offset weakness from sluggish demand for its QNX software from automakers like Volkswagen, BMW and Ford Motor, as the auto industry struggled to maintain production amid a persistent chip shortage crisis.

BlackBerry was dubbed a “meme stock” after a social media driven retail trading frenzy that began earlier this year sent its shares soaring. BlackBerry’s stock has surged 40% so far this year.

However, the company warned that a drop in automobile production volumes due to COVID-19 closures and chip shortages will continue to adversely affect the company in the next two quarters this fiscal year.

BlackBerry also appointed John Giamatteo, formerly of cybersecurity firm McAfee, as the President of its cybersecurity business.

Revenue fell to $175 million for the quarter ended Aug. 31, from $259 million a year earlier, but beat analysts’ expectation of $163.5 million, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Net loss widened to $144 million, or 25 cents per share, from $23 million, or 4 cents per share, a year earlier. The company said a non-cash accounting adjustment to the fair value of convertible debentures, due to market and trading conditions, accounted for approximately $0.12 loss per share.

Excluding items, the company posted a loss of 6 cents per share, nudging past analysts’ expectations of loss of 7 cents.

(Reporting by Chavi Mehta in Bengaluru; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri)





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As debt limit looms, U.S. Senate Democrats see showdown vote next week

FILE PHOTO: The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is seen as the sun sets on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 26, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott/File Photo

September 22, 2021

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Senate aims to vote next week on raising Washington’s borrowing authority and keeping the government funded, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat said on Wednesday, as a House Democrat warned that Republican opposition could lead to a historic default on the nation’s debt.

Senator Dick Durbin said the chamber sometime next week would take up the bill passed in a party-line House of Representatives vote. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said his caucus will sink the emergency legislation to suspend the $28.4 trillion federal debt ceiling.

Republicans have said Democrats should act alone to raise the debt ceiling, using a maneuver called “budget reconciliation.”

Time is short as funding for federal agencies expires on Oct. 1 and the U.S. Treasury has warned it could run out of money to pay the government’s bills by some time in October, potentially triggering a default.

House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth said “parliamentary obstacles” prevent Democrats from including language to raise the debt ceiling in a social spending bill moving through Congress under the budget reconciliation maneuver that circumvents the need for Republican votes.

“The ball is now in Senator McConnell’s court. If he doesn’t support this (House-passed) bill – or at least ensure it is not filibustered – our country will default and our government will shut down,” Yarmuth said in a statement. “The decision is now his.”

It further complicates a messy picture for Congress, where talks aimed at police reform collapsed https://www.reuters.com/world/us/republicans-are-refusing-back-police-reforms-trump-supported-white-house-2021-09-22 on Wednesday and the moderate and progressive wings of President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party are deeply divided https://www.reuters.com/world/us/splits-among-democrats-plague-effort-pass-bidens-domestic-agenda-2021-09-21 on the size of a proposed $3.5 trillion social spending bill that is at the core of the White House’s domestic legislative agenda.

Republicans are betting that dragging out the debt debate will further stymie https://www.reuters.com/world/us/republicans-see-opportunity-us-debt-ceiling-standoff-2021-09-22 Democrats.

Republicans say they support additional spending to keep the government operating with the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year and to help communities recover from recent natural disasters.

But they refuse to vote for it, saying raising the nation’s borrowing authority is Democrats’ problem because of the $3.5 trillion spending plan to invest in expanded social services and address climate change.

Democrats note that they voted to raise the nation’s debt limit during Republican Donald Trump’s administration even though they opposed deep tax cuts that added to the debt.

‘ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY’

Durbin said: “There comes a point where you have to accept responsibility” for avoiding a U.S. government default on its debt in coming weeks and provide temporary federal funding for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1 to avoid the third partial U.S. government shutdown in a decade.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said on Wednesday it is “very important” for Congress to raise the federal debt ceiling in a timely fashion and that no one should assume the central bank can fully protect the economy or financial markets in the event of a U.S. debt default.

Biden met on Wednesday with a number of Democratic lawmakers in an attempt to heal divisions over his $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation plan of climate and social spending measures that Democrats aim to pass in coming weeks using special procedures that do not require Republican support.

Moderate Democrats see the price tag as too high, while some House progressives are threatening to vote down a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill backed by the president, and set for a Monday vote, unless the $3.5 trillion bill is also nailed down.

Biden met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, then held separate sessions with moderate and more liberal lawmakers from his party.

There was a “robust” discussion of the top line for the budget reconciliation plan, Senator Mark Warner, one of the moderate lawmakers, told reporters after the meeting.

“He (Biden) just basically said: ‘Find a number you’re comfortable with, based on the needs that we still have, and how we deliver to the American people,’” said Senator Joe Manchin, another moderate. Manchin has urged the price tag be no more than $1.5 trillion.

A third Democratic moderate, Senator Jon Tester, said: “I think he (Biden) wants to get something by the first part of next week” in terms of agreement on the reconciliation plan.

But there were fresh signs of Democratic infighting as 11 liberal senators supported the House progressives who want the planned Monday vote on infrastructure delayed.

Senator Bernie Sanders and the other 10 senators said in a statement they had voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill with the understanding that the two bills would move together.

“Passing the infrastructure bill first would be in violation of that agreement,” they said. “That is what we agreed to, it’s what the American people want, and it’s the only path forward for this Congress.”

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell, David Lawder and David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)





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Some Haitians at U.S. border released, others deported as pressure builds on Biden

Migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. walk towards a bus to San Antonio at a gas station after being released from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in Del Rio, Texas, U.S., September 22, 2021. REUTERS/Marco Bello

September 22, 2021

By Daina Beth Solomon

CIUDAD ACUNA, Mexico (Reuters) – Amid deteriorating conditions in migrant camps on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. authorities on Wednesday tried to deal with thousands of the mostly Haitian migrants that have gathered, releasing some in south Texas while deporting others on flights.

Wade McMullen, an attorney with the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization said several hundred people, mostly pregnant women and parents with children, had been released in Del Rio, Texas over the past several days, straining resources at a local volunteer-run welcome center. The center does not have overnight capacity, he said.

“People are sleeping at the bus station outside or outside of the airport waiting for their bus or their plane,” to join family or other sponsors in the United States, he said.

The U.S. government said it was continuing to fly hundreds of people, including families, back to Haiti, which has been hit by recent political turmoil and natural disasters.

It has been trying to clear the encampment under the international bridge in Del Rio, which reached as many as 14,000 people at its peak. Authorities have moved thousands away for immigration processing and deported more than 500 Haitians since Sunday.

A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesperson said those who cannot be expelled under a sweeping Trump-era public health order known as Title 42 will be placed in immigration hearings, without specifying who would qualify for those exemptions.

Biden ended the expulsion of unaccompanied children under Title 42 but has continued to expel some families. The spokesperson said people who are not expelled are either detained or released with a notice to appear in immigration court, adding that everyone passes background checks and has their biometric information collected.

McMullen said family members who are not parents or legal guardians of minor children are being separated from the rest of their families. In one instance, a grandmother who had been traveling with her daughter and grandson was separated from them, he said. The daughter and grandson were released, not knowing where the grandmother was. DHS did not immediately respond to a question about the separations.

Meanwhile, thousands still languished at the camp, waiting to be processed after being issued color-coded tickets.

Reuters images showed people with small babies and toddlers, one with an untreated hernia on his stomach, under makeshift shelters made out of reeds on the banks of the Rio Grande.

Clothing was hung out to dry and trash was strewn on the ground, while parents washed their children using jugs of river water and tried to find patches of shade in the punishing heat. Migrants said food remained scarce and there were not enough portable toilets.

On Wednesday morning, a trickle of people – mostly men – crossed back into Mexico across the Rio Grande in search of food.

Some have decided to stay on the Mexico side in Ciudad Acuna, across from Del Rio, citing shortages of food and poor conditions on the U.S. side. By Wednesday, around 200 people had set up a handful of camping tents and tarps as shelter.

One family in Ciudad Acuna was constructing a hut out of cardboard boxes. A line formed outside a Doctors Without Borders truck hoping to get medical consultations, with one woman worried about her 7-year-old son with a cough.

Most of the Haitians have not arrived direct from Haiti. Many had previously tried to settle in South America, but recounted difficulties finding work amid pandemic-related restrictions and the economic downturn.

Jenny Joseph, a 37-year-old Haitian migrant in Ciudad Acuna, said she had lived for two years in Chile but left because she was unable to obtain legal status. She said her cousin was deported back to Haiti with his family after three days in the U.S. camp and she had decided to steer clear of the U.S. side.

REPATRIATION FLIGHTS

U.S. politicians from both parties have criticized Biden’s handling of the situation. Republicans have said the Biden administration has encouraged illegal immigration by relaxing some of the hardline policies put in place by his predecessor, former President Donald Trump. Border arrests have reached 20-year highs this year.

“I think any unbiased person would say that the Biden administration’s border and immigration policies have been nothing short of a monumental disaster,” said Republican Senator Mitt Romney at a Congressional hearing on Tuesday.

Democrats have expressed anger over an incident over the weekend in which mounted U.S. border agents used reins like whips to intimidate migrants trying to cross the river. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the agents involved had been pulled from front-line duties.

On Wednesday, Vice President Kamala Harris said she “raised her grave concerns” about the incident in a call with Mayorkas and stressed the need for all border agents “to treat people with dignity, humanely and consistent with our laws and our values.” She said Mayorkas shared her concerns.

The expulsion flights to Haiti have also faced criticism. There is profound instability in the Caribbean nation, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, where a presidential assassination, rising gang violence and a major earthquake have spread chaos in recent weeks.

Filippo Grandi, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, has warned that expulsions to such a volatile situation might violate international law.

Some of the deported Haitian migrants on Tuesday reacted angrily as they stepped off flights in Port-au-Prince after spending thousands of dollars on arduous voyages to reach the U.S. border.

Mexico has begun transporting some of the migrants via planes and buses towards its border with Guatemala in the south. Flights have sent some 130 people to the southern Mexican city of Villahermosa, and another 130 people to Tapachula on the Guatemala border, a Mexican government official said.

On Tuesday evening, officers from Mexico’s national migration institute (INM) entered two budget hotels on a small street in Ciudad Acuna and escorted about two dozen migrants, including toddlers, onto vans.

One woman, speaking from behind a partition, told Reuters she did not know where they were being taken.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon in Ciudad Acuna; Additional reporting by Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Additional reporting and writing by Mica Rosenberg in New York; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)





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Wall St ends higher as Fed signals bond-buying taper soon

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., September 22, 2021. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

September 22, 2021

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The three major U.S. stock indexes rose 1% on Wednesday as investors mostly took in stride the latest signals from the Federal Reserve, including clearing the way for the central bank to reduce its monthly bond purchases soon.

The S&P 500 registered its biggest daily percentage gain since July 23.

While trading was choppy following the Fed’s latest policy statement and comments by Fed Chair Jerome Powell, stocks finished close to where they were before the central bank news.

In its statement, the central bank also suggested interest rate increases may follow more quickly than expected and said overall indicators in the economy “have continued to strengthen.”

Stocks began the day higher as concerns eased over a default by China’s Evergrande. Evergrande’s main unit said it had negotiated a deal with bondholders to settle interest payments on a domestic bond.

Bank shares rose following the Fed news, with the S&P banks index ending up 2.1% on the day, and S&P 500 financials up 1.6% and among the biggest gainers among sectors.

Some strategists viewed the Fed’s comments as mixed.

“So they said we’re going to probably start to taper, but they haven’t said when and haven’t said how much, so we’re kind of back where we were a day ago,” said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Investment Management in Chicago.

“Those remain open questions,” he said. “Also, financial conditions remain very easy, and that’s part of the reason why markets aren’t going crazy at this point.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 338.48 points, or 1%, to 34,258.32, the S&P 500 gained 41.45 points, or 0.95%, to 4,395.64 and the Nasdaq Composite added 150.45 points, or 1.02%, to 14,896.85.

Apple and other big technology-related names gave the S&P 500 its biggest boost.

On the downside, FedEx Corp tumbled 9.1% after posting a lower quarterly profit and as the delivery firm cut its full-year earnings forecast.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 3.88-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.38-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted nine new 52-week highs and eight new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 52 new highs and 66 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 9.91 billion shares, compared with the 9.99 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

(Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch; additional reporting by Ambar Warrick and Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel and Lisa Shumaker)





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13-Minute News Hour with Bobby Eberle – Border Crisis? Kamala Harris BLASTS Border Agents Instead 9/22/21


Kamala Harris actually made a statement about the border crisis. She has practically disappeared from the scene, but Harris emerged this week to comment on the southern border. Rather than addressing Haitian migrants or the flood of illegal border crossings, Harris criticized Border Patrol agents instead.

Some Border Patrol agents took to horseback to try to maintain order and keep migrants from escaping. Harris blasted the efforts as “inhumane.” Kamala Harris is supposed to be the “border czar,” but what has she done to help?

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0:40 Harris blasts Border Patrol agents on horseback
5:01 Biden delivers globalist speech, dodges WH reporters
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Kamala Harris wants COVID ‘accountability’ but fails to call out China

Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday called for countries to embrace COVID-19 “transparency” and “accountability” – without directly calling out China’s refusal to come clean about the origins of the pandemic.

Harris made the remark while announcing that the Biden administration would give $250 million to a new World Bank pandemic preparedness fund and request another $850 million from Congress.

“To avoid the mistakes of the past and meet this present moment, we must also ensure transparency and accountability to ensure that all countries meet our global health obligations,” Harris told a United Nations-organized web conference.

“To that end, the United States also supports a global health threats council that would monitor progress and identify gaps. It is yet another step we must take to ensure that political leaders remain committed to the goal of preparedness.”

Vice President Kamala Harris led a session of the president’s online COVID Summit on Sept. 22, 2021.
REUTERS/Tom Brenner

US spy agencies last month assessed it’s “plausible” that the deadly virus leaked from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2019.

Although President Biden said in a written statement on Aug. 27 that China must be transparent about COVID-19 origins, he rarely mentions it publicly and the communist-run country has refused to cooperate with a World Health Organization investigation. A preliminary and widely scorned WHO review that was controlled by China said the virus likely emerged naturally from animals.

And White House press secretary Jen Psaki has declined to say if Biden pressed for pandemic transparency during a 90-minute call with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sept 9. Psaki previously said Biden doesn’t support former President Donald Trump’s demand that China pay $10 trillion in reparations for allowing the virus to spread by concealing early data.

Vice President Kamala Harris did not mention China by name when calling for transparency.
Vice President Kamala Harris did not mention China when she called for COVID-19 transparency.
REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Documents published this month by The Intercept revealed that US health officials indirectly funded research at the Wuhan lab that sought to better understand viruses by manipulating them — including modifying three bat coronaviruses distinct from COVID-19 and discovering they became much more infectious among “humanized” mice when human-type receptors were added to them.

The documents boosted a theory that “gain of function” research may have caused the pandemic.

Vice President Kamala Harris
Vice President Kamala Harris announced the Biden administration would give $250M to a new World Bank pandemic preparedness fund.
REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Trump claimed during the presidential campaign last year that China would “own” the US if Biden won, in part because of his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China. The first son reportedly still owns 10 percent of an investment fund controlled by Chinese state-owned entities. The fund was formed 12 days after Hunter Biden joined his father aboard Air Force Two for a December 2013 trip to Beijing.

Harris spoke about the COVID-19 pandemic as other international controversies buffeted the Biden administration — including a US-Mexico border crisis, with about 10,000 Haitian citizens crowded under a bridge near Del Rio, Texas. Harris was tapped by Biden in March to address the “root causes” of illegal immigration, but the number of apprehensions continued to grow.

House Democrats on Tuesday removed a $1 billion donation to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system from a bill that would increase the US national debt. The White House vowed to attach those funds to a subsequent bill, despite opposition from left-wing Democrats.



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My harrowing escape from Afghanistan without US gov’t help

On Tuesday afternoon, Rohullah Sadat boarded a Kam Air flight out of Afghanistan to Doha, Qatar — and prayed that he was finally free.

Since the United States withdrew their troops in late August and the country fell to the barbaric Taliban, the 29-year-old medical student, who had also worked as a translator for journalist Toby Harnden, was desperate to leave his home country.

“In Afghanistan, nothing is guaranteed; not my life,” Sadat told The Post from Doha. “The Taliban — not all, but most — are really cruel. They are uneducated. They shot people like birds. In Western countries, you don’t even treat birds the way they treat people. We live by chance.”

Until this week, Sadat was one of the many citizens, visa-holders and Afghan allies still trapped in the country desperately seeking to escape. Since President Biden’s chaotic withdrawal, they’ve been forced to rely on ad-hoc networks rather than any US government support.

Twice, Sadat spent 24 hours on a bus attempting to board a flight in Kabul and was turned away — once by the Taliban, another by an American soldier. While at the airport, he witnessed people trampled to death and his foot was gruesomely split open after being crushed by a panicked crowd.

And he narrowly missed the horrific suicide bombing outside the Kabul airport that killed 169 Afghans and 13 US service members, leaving the gate minutes before the attack.

Frustrated and losing faith, he wondered if he would ever make it out alive.

Sadat’s first freedom selfie taken from Doha, Qatar
Courtesy of Rohullah Sadat

But when he finally landed in Qatar with only a backpack filled with a change of clothes, a laptop and some medical textbooks, he knew his guardian angels had come through for him. He took his first free breath in over a month.

“I am extremely tired but deeply happy. I prayed, but I couldn’t believe it until I reached Doha. I am fine and happy, but it is still a dream to me,” said Sadat, who had slept for only one hour over the previous two days.

Sadat was able to flee his homeland thanks to a network of people spurred into action by Harnden, who had been tweeting about Sadat’s plight as the situation in Afghanistan worsened.

Harnden — who has worked for The Telegraph and The Sunday Times — has now written two books on Afghanistan and spent a lot of time in the war-torn country. He met Sadat while working on his most recent tome, “First Casualty: The Untold Story of the CIA’s Mission to Avenge 9/11,” about the early days of the US invasion. Sadat had been an invaluable resource to Harnden — not only acting as an interpreter but also tracking down important sources for his book. The pair remained friends.

“I still don’t know who specifically helped me out, but I know this all happened through Toby. He helped me a lot. He tried his best. I am so thankful,” Sadat said.

Harnden credits private organizations on the ground.

Journalist Toby Harnden (left) with translator Rohullah Sadat at the memorial for Michael Spann.
Journalist Toby Harnden (left) with translator Rohullah Sadat at the memorial for Michael Spann.
Rohullah Sadat

“It’s like an underground railroad. It is improvised networks working together to get this done,” Harnden told The Post. “These groups are still helping even though the US left and it looked like it the window closed and it was all over. The United Sates government had nothing to do with this.”

Initially, Harnden — a British-born US citizen based in Northern Virginia — had applied for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) for Afghans on behalf of Sadat. But he only received an automated reply.

“To this day, I have never gotten a response or a case number or anyone saying they were going to process anything,” said Harnden.

Desperate to help his friend, the journalist took to social media on August 22, tweeting a thread about Sadat’s harrowing bid to escape. His heartbreaking story caught the attention of various private organizations working to get American allies out, and Harnden began sharing his information in hopes he could facilitate a visa or some escape plan.

While Sadat prayed, Harnden waited every day for “proof of life texts” from his interpreter.

“We were talking nearly every day, and I felt like he was never going to get out. He is saying, ‘Please help me.’ I was doing my best. It was never a guarantee, so I always had this fear that the Taliban would find him and he disappears. Or that I was going to have to say at some point, ‘I am really sorry but we tried,’ ” said Harnden.

The contents of Sadat's backpack
The contents of Sadat’s backpack
Courtesy of Rohullah Sadat

Finally all of their efforts paid off. In Kabul he was contacted by an Afghan man who gave him a rendezvous point.

He is now in Doha, staying in a refugee center. He was tested for COVID-19 (thankfully he was negative) and is undergoing other screenings. Grateful, he still remains on edge.

“I will not be satisfied until I am settled,” said Sadat.

Sadat and fellow travelers anxiously wait to board a flight to Doha in the Mazar-i-Sharif airport.
Sadat and fellow travelers anxiously wait to board a flight to Doha.
Courtesy of Rohullah Sadat

Sadat grew up in Kandahar but had been living in Mazar-i-Sharif for the last few years. He learned English from watching cartoons and Hollywood movies. Among his favorites: “The Expendables” and, quite fitting, “Captain America.”

He was only five months from finishing up his medical degree when the US withdrawal happened, but he and his family decided to prioritize his safety and future over his education.

“They say everything happens for your own good. I have seen extreme adversities in my life. This might be a better chance for me. I left my entire education. I want to go to America. I want to improve my English and continue in my field,” said Sadat, who hopes to become an orthopedic surgeon.

Harnden said he hopes Sadat can get to the United States, where he said his door is open for him.

“Everything from Afghanistan has been so grim and depressing. It’s just a great feeling a great person has gotten out, survived and is looking forward to living his life,” Harnden said. “I told him in many years time, you will tell your grandchildren about today.”



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Italian priest arrested for stealing church funds for drugs, parties

An Italian Roman Catholic priest has been placed under house arrest for allegedly stealing over $117,000 in church funds and parishioners’ donations for drugs and lavish gay sex parties in his home.

The Rev. Francesco Spagnesi, 40, of Prato, Italy, who was locally known for his inspiring homilies, was caught after police were tipped off that his roommate had imported a liter of the common date rape drug GHB from the Netherlands, according to the Times.

Police are in the process of interviewing 200 people who’ve said they have attended his parties in the last two years. The two men are alleged to have used online dating sites to invite guests to their home, where drugs were used and sold, the Times reported.

Officers reportedly found homemade crack pipes from bottles during a raid on the apartment.

Spagnesi is a former medical student who dropped out to join the priesthood at the age of 26, reportedly saying he found a “fullness and a joy in making myself available to others,” according to the Times.

Spagnesi had withdrawn over $117,000 from the parish’s bank account, which police suspect was used to purchase drugs, the paper reported.

Police reportedly plan to interview hundreds of people who attended the priest’s parties.
DAPRESS/SplashNews.com

When the bishop halted access to the priest’s funds, he began stealing money from the Mass collections and asking parishioners for money, telling them he was raising aid for poor families.

The priest, beloved in the community, quickly raised thousands of dollars from the unsuspecting churchgoers. They have since begun to take legal action against Spagnesi, demanding their money back, according to the Times.

Spagnesi’s lawyer, Costanza Malerba, told the Times the priest had confessed to supplying drugs to others at parties and is expected to admit stealing church funds.

No charges have been filed at this time.



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