Taliban governor known for fighting Islamic State killed in suicide attack

Mohammad Dawood Muzammil one of the highest-ranking figures killed as Afghan security situation deteriorates

The Taliban governor of Afghanistan’s Balkh province, known for fighting Islamic State (IS) jihadists, was killed in a suicide attack at his office on Thursday, officials said.

The killing, a day after he met top government officials visiting from Kabul, makes Mohammad Dawood Muzammil one of the highest-ranking figures killed since the Taliban stormed back to power in 2021.

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Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom review – heart and feet-warming tale of a Bhutan village

A trainee teacher’s dreams of becoming a singer are interrupted when he is posted to the world’s remotest school in Pawo Choyning Dorji’s gentle drama

This gentle, sweet-natured movie is the debut feature from Bhutan-born and US-educated film-maker Pawo Choyning Dorji: last year it became the first Bhutanese film to get an Oscar nomination for best international feature (losing out to Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car). Despite these unusual credentials, Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom runs on pretty familiar, even traditional lines, although its likability and humour – and almost childlike faith in the power of singing to overcome melancholy and adversity – means you’ll find yourself smiling along.

Ugyen (Sherab Dorji) is a young man in the Bhutanese capital, Thimphu; since his parents’ death, he lives with his formidable grandmother who is exasperated at his aimlessness and shiftlessness. He is four years into a five-year teacher training course, but only wants to hang out with his girlfriend and other friends, and nurtures a dream to go out to Australia and make it as a singer. But a stern government official informs him that he must do a season teaching at the village school of Lunana in the country’s mountainous north-west. It’s the most remote school anywhere in the world, she tells him, with lipsmacking satisfaction. Ugyen whines that he has an “altitude problem”. More like an attitude problem, snaps the official. Like it or not, he’s going.

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Former Fiji prime minister Frank Bainimarama pleads not guilty to abuse of office

Ex-PM has been accused of stopping a police investigation into former staff members at a university

Former Fijian leader Frank Bainimarama has been released on bail and said he “served with integrity,” after pleading not guilty to abusing his power as prime minister by stopping a police investigation.

“I served as prime minister with integrity and with the interests of all Fijians at heart,” he told reporters outside a courtroom in Suva on Friday.

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Arrests made after wave of ‘sushi terrorism’ upends Japan’s restaurant industry

Reports of deliberately unhygienic behaviour have risen in recent weeks, including an incident in which a diner drunk from a soy sauce bottle

Police in Japan have made several arrests after the country’s multibillion dollar revolving sushi industry was rocked by a spate of “sushi terrorism”, including a case in which a customer wiped saliva on food destined for other diners.

The Kyodo news agency reported on Thursday that three people – all part of the same group of diners – had been arrested on suspicion of forcible obstruction of business.

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Growing numbers of Chinese citizens set their sights on the US – via the deadly Darién Gap

Surge in number of disillusioned Chinese citizens fleeing to the US by trekking through the dangerous jungle between Colombia and Panama

On the first day of 2023, Xu was in no mood to celebrate the new year. He had just arrived in the Colombian beach town of Necoclí along with dozens of other Chinese citizens, weary from a two-day bus trip from Ecuador. Their goal was the US via the Darién Gap, a roadless, lawless and extremely dangerous stretch of rainforest connecting South and Central America. He wanted to leave China far behind him.

“After I leave the country [China], I have no plans to go back alive,” says Xu later, speaking to the Guardian in a Necoclí hotel room. “I feel like this country has been deceiving us, persecuting us. I have to do something.”

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Veterans give searing testimony on US withdrawal from Afghanistan at hearing

Witnesses described the chaos and panic of the 2021 US departure during the Republican inquiry, which had people in tears at times

Military members and veterans of the Afghanistan war offered harrowing eyewitness testimony of the chaotic and deadly withdrawal from the country’s longest conflict, during an hours-long congressional hearing on Wednesday. They also pleaded with Congress to help the Afghan allies left behind.

In searing, sometimes graphic detail, several witnesses recounted their experiences as active-duty service members sent to assist with the evacuation of US troops and civilians from Afghanistan as the Taliban swept to power in August 2021.

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China’s rising power and influence in the Pacific explained in 30 seconds

Beijing and Washington are battling for influence in the strategically important Pacific region

Located between the US, China and Australia, the Pacific island countries hold strategic importance for security and defence. The US has long maintained influence and a military presence in the Pacific region. Over the last decade, China has focused on strengthening its ties in Pacific through increased aid, development, diplomacy and security cooperation.

In 2022, Solomon Islands signed a security pact with China, sparking international concern over the possibility of Beijing building its first military base in the region. At the same time, the US ramped up its Pacific diplomacy, hosting a landmark Pacific leaders summit and whirlwind tours by senior officials, including vice-president Kamala Harris, and pledged more aid. In February the US reopened an embassy in Solomons Islands after a 30 year absence. Australia, which had been accused of neglecting its own relationship with Pacific countries, has also conducted a diplomatic push amid fears of Chinese influence growing in the region.

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