01/17/2022, 10.20
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A battalion of suicide bombers in the Afghan Taliban army

Today's headlines: Beijing cuts interest rates, retail sales fall; first North Korean goods train since the start of the pandemic returns from a lightning trip to China with 'emergency materials'; Manila says Aung San Suu Kyi is 'indispensable' to restoring democracy in Myanmar; Naval'nyj collaborators blacklisted as terrorists. 



The Taliban announced the creation of a battalion of suicide bombers within the Afghan army. The so-called 'martyrdom brigades' will be under the direct control of the Ministry of Defence. Members of the unit will be used for 'special operations'. Human rights activists speak of a 'horrible and frightening' precedent. 


In response to data indicating a slowdown in economic growth, Beijing decided to cut a key interest rate for the first time in two years. Gross domestic product (GDP) grew 4% in the final three months of 2021, a lower figure than in the previous quarter. Retail sales also fell, which did not exceed 1.7% in December. 



A North Korean goods train has crossed the Yalu River and entered China, its first overland journey since the pandemic blockade imposed in early 2020. It is expected to return today with "emergency materials". Also today, the country fired two short-range ballistic missiles from an airport in the capital Pyongyang. 


For Manila, Aung San Suu Kyi is "indispensable" for the restoration of democracy in the country, which was overthrown by a military coup last February. The Nobel Peace Prize winner and Burmese leader (in prison),  must be "included" in the peace talks said Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin. The junta, he concluded, is using the judiciary to target opponents. 


The government may impose a state of quasi-emergency in Tokyo and surrounding areas to try to contain the increase in cases of Covid-19, linked to the Omicron variant. New positives have reached record levels, with over 25,000 new infections in the last two days. Yesterday, the bed occupancy rate in Covid wards was 19.3%, and if it exceeds 20%, an alert is triggered.


The authorities in Tehran re-imprisoned the French-Iranian scholar Fariba Adelkhah on charges of "knowingly" violating the terms of her house arrest "dozens of times". Kazem Gharibabadi, deputy head of the judiciary, confirmed that she "returned to prison" for repeated violations "despite repeated warnings". 


The Russian state agency Rosfinmonitoring placed Aleksej Naval'nyj's collaborators, Ivan Ždanov and Leonid Volkov, on the list of "dangerous extremists", de facto terrorists. Their bank accounts were frozen and any financial operations were prevented, including inheritance. Both opponents left Russia over a year ago, after the dissolution of the movement.


Kazakhstan's Financial Control Agency detained Deputy Energy Minister Žumabaj Karagaev, along with executives of several energy companies. Behind the arrest was 'the unjustified increase in prices of liquefied gas in the Mangustau region'. The Žanaozen revolt broke out in the area, bringing the country to the brink of civil war.

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