Fears of deadly infection surge as China abandons zero-Covid policy

Dramatic U-turn following widespread unrest leaves country ill-prepared for Omicron

The portable PCR testing booth dangled in the air over a dark Beijing street, captured on camera as it was winched away by a crane in the middle of the night. The image spread rapidly across Chinese social media, the perfect symbol of the bewilderingly rapid end of a draconian era.

In the face of the most widespread national protests since the bloody crackdown on Tiananmen Square demonstrators in 1989, the Chinese government has abruptly abandoned its flagship zero-Covid policy.

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China’s easing of Covid curbs does not solve Xi Jinping’s dilemma

Loosening controls further could spark a devastating outbreak, but tightening the rules again could trigger unrest

At the end of October, Xi Jinping had secured his position as China’s most powerful leader in decades, his grip on the country cemented by a norm-breaking third term in office.

At the end of November, he faced the most widespread protests China had seen in decades, mostly focused on Covid restrictions but also featuring unprecedented calls for Xi to step down.

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Hu Jintao argued about official papers before being escorted out of congress

Footage shows former Chinese president involved in apparent disagreement over documents

China’s former leader Hu Jintao was arguing about official papers, moments before he was escorted off the stage at a key Communist party meeting in Beijing, new footage shows.

Hu’s apparently reluctant departure from the stage at the 20th congress of the Chinese Communist party (CCP) was a rare moment of unscripted drama at what was otherwise a carefully choreographed week of political theatre.

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‘A loss for the world’: leaders unite in condemning Shinzo Abe assassination

US praises former Japanese leader’s ‘great vision’, while Iran calls shooting an ‘act of terrorism’

From Washington to Tehran, Seoul to Kyiv, political leaders around the world have condemned the assassination of the former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, and paid tribute to the country’s longest-serving leader.

Abe was shot while campaigning for parliamentary elections, and died in hospital several hours later. The US president, Joe Biden, said he was “stunned, outraged and deeply saddened” by the killing. “This is a tragedy for Japan and for all who knew him,” he said. “Even at the moment he was attacked, he was engaged in the work of democracy.”

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Taliban excavates founding leader’s car, buried to escape US troops

The extremist group said the white Toyota, which belonged to Mullah Mohammad Omar, should be displayed

The Taliban have dug up a white Toyota used by their founding leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, to escape into hiding in southern Afghanistan after the US invasion.

Senior officials have called for the vehicle to be put on display at the national museum in Kabul. It already houses the cars and coaches of former kings and prime ministers, including one with bulletproof glass fragmented by an assassination attempt.

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Meeting of Afghan clerics ends with silence on education for girls

Elders call for international recognition but supreme leader tells foreign countries not to interfere

A gathering of thousands of Afghan clerics and elders has ended with a call for international recognition, but silence on the country’s ban on secondary education for girls.

Nearly a year since their surprise military triumph across Afghanistan, not a single country has officially recognised the Taliban as the legitimate government.

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‘It’s our system’: Taliban leader hits out at foreign demands on Afghan regime

Haibatullah Akhundzada gives rare public speech at all-male gathering in which he effectively rules out inclusive government

The Taliban’s reclusive emir has lashed out at foreign demands on his government, as the UN rights chief called for an end to “systematic oppression” of women in the country.

The group’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, made a rare public speech to thousands of clerics at an all-male gathering to discuss Afghanistan’s future.

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Taliban have detained 29 women and their families in Kabul, says US envoy

Report by senior diplomat Rina Amiri raises concerns about number of ‘unjust detentions’ in Afghanistan

The Taliban have detained 29 women and their families in Kabul, a senior US diplomat said on Saturday, adding to concerns about rising numbers of people seized and held indefinitely in Afghanistan.

Rina Amiri, US special envoy for Afghan Women, Girls and Human Rights, said that women were among 40 people seized on Friday. “These unjust detentions must stop,” she said in a tweet.

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Taliban release British journalist Andrew North from detention in Kabul

Journalist and several other reporters freed after being held while on assignment with UNHCR

The Taliban have released a British journalist and several other reporters they had been holding for several days, in an incident that deepened concerns about pressure on media inside Afghanistan.

The group were on assignment for the UN refugee agency reporting on Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis.

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Two suspected British Islamic State recruits seized by Taliban at border

Exclusive: first reported case of attempted international recruitment to IS since US left Afghanistan

Two suspected Islamic State recruits, one of them carrying a British passport, were seized by the Taliban when they tried to slip into Afghanistan last autumn through its northern border, the Guardian can reveal.

The men, who were carrying more than £10,000 in cash, military fatigues and night-vision goggles in their bags, were arrested after a tipoff from Uzbekistan, according to a Taliban source with knowledge of the operation.

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How much longer can China keep up its zero-Covid strategy?

As Beijing pursues its solitary path, observers are asking whether the policy is about protecting public health – or social order

Desperate residents in China’s western Xi’an city are running out of food after they were barred from grocery shopping in a fierce lockdown. In the southern province of Guangxi, people who broke Covid laws were recently publicly shamed by being paraded through the streets in Hazmat suits with placards round their necks.

The rest of the world is learning, slowly and with some difficulty, to live with Covid-19, but in China, authorities are doubling down on their “zero-Covid” policy: trying to stamp out the disease whenever it appears, and at any cost. A single case in a border town led to 200,000 people being locked down late last month.

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Ashraf Ghani blames international allies over Afghanistan’s fall to Taliban

In first interview since fleeing Kabul in August, former president says US ‘erased’ Afghans in years of peace talks with militants

The former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has broken his silence with his first interview since fleeing Kabul four months ago, in effect blaming the international community and in particular the Americans for the fall of the republic.

Ghani told the BBC he was rushed into fleeing Kabul on a helicopter by his “terrified” national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, and the commander of the collapsing presidential security detail.

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Speed of Stand News shutdown sends chilling signal to Hong Kong’s media

Analysis: the police raid and closure of the pro-democracy website has left journalists wondering who will be next

The Christmas attack on Hong Kong website Stand News was no great surprise in a city where all forms of political opposition are being dismantled wholesale, but the scale, speed and nature of the operation to shutter this pro-democracy website were still shocking.

Over 200 police officers swept into the newsroom, and others fanned out over the city making arrests under a harsh sedition law from the days of British colonial rule that had been gathering dust for decades.

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Taliban ‘forcibly evicting’ Hazaras and opponents in Afghanistan

Human Rights Watch has logged illegal seizures of land and homes then given to Taliban supporters

Thousands of people have been forced from their homes and land by Taliban officials in the north and south of Afghanistan, in what amounted to collective punishment, illegal under international law, Human Rights Watch has warned.

Many of the evictions targeted members of the Shia Hazara community, while others were of people connected to the former Afghan government. Land and homes seized this way have often been redistributed to Taliban supporters, HRW said.

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Taliban claim they have changed … but all the signs suggest it’s only for show

As regime talks of tolerance, reports emerge of beatings, house searches and attacks on women

The first time the Taliban took Kabul, 25 years ago they tortured and killed former President Mohammad Najibullah, dragged his body behind a truck through the streets, then hung it from a lamp-post.

Last week, with Kabul surrounded and a second victory almost inevitable, the Taliban ordered their troops to hold back from entering the city, to ensure a peaceful transfer of power. When they did march in, it was to a soundtrack of their commanders offering an “amnesty” for anyone who had opposed them over the last two decades.

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