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At least 285 people feared dead after magnitude 5.9 earthquake hits eastern Afghanistan

At least 285 people were killed and many more wounded after a magnitude 5.9 earthquake hit eastern Afghanistan Wednesday, according to the country’s disaster management authority.

The earthquake hit at 1.24 a.m. about 46 kilometers (28.5 miles) southwest of the city of Khost, which lies close to the country’s border with Pakistan, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
The quake registered at a depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), according to USGS, which assigned the quake a yellow alert level — indicating a relatively localized impact.
Most of the deaths were in Paktika province, where 255 people were killed and 155 others were injured in the districts of Giyan, Nika, Barmal and Zirok, according to the State Ministry for Disaster Management.
In neighboring Khost province, 25 people were killed and several others were injured, and five people were killed in Nangarhar province, the disaster management authority said.
Photos from Paktika province, just south of Khost province, show destroyed houses with only a wall or two still standing amid the rubble, and broken roof beams.
Local officials and residents have warned that the death toll is likely to rise, according to state-run news agency Bakhtar.
A team of medics and seven helicopters have been sent to the area to transport injured people to nearby hospitals, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense said in a tweet on Wednesday.

Najibullah Sadid, an Afghan water resources management expert, said the earthquake had coincided with heavy monsoon rain in the region — making traditional houses, many made of mud and other natural materials, particularly vulnerable to damage.
“The timing of the earthquake (in the) dark of night … and the shallow depth of 10 kilometers of its epicenter led to higher casualties,” he added.
A Taliban deputy spokesperson, Bilal Karimi, said the earthquake had been “severe,” and asked aid agencies to “urgently send teams” to the area affected.
In a tweet on Wednesday, the World Health Organization said its teams were on the ground for emergency response, including providing medicine, trauma services and conducting needs assessments.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif extended his condolences and an offer of support in a tweet on Wednesday. “Deeply grieved to learn about the earthquake in Afghanistan, resulting in the loss of innocent lives,” he wrote. “People in Pakistan share the grief and sorrow of their Afghan brethren. Relevant authorities are working to support Afghanistan in this time of need.”
Pope Francis said he was praying “for those who have lost their lives and for their families,” during his weekly audience on Wednesday. “I hope aid can be sent there to help all the suffering of the dear people of Afghanistan.”
The earthquake comes as the country is in the throes of a hunger crisis. Almost half the population — 20 million people — are experiencing acute hunger, according to a United Nations-backed report in May. It is a situation compounded by the Taliban seizing power in August 2021, which led the United States and its allies freezing about $7 billion of the country’s foreign reserves and cutting off international funding.

In Beijing’s BRICS summit, Putin is back on the world stage

Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa pose during a BRICS meeting held during a G20 summit in Osaka in June 2019.

Western Europeans wilt in early summer heatwave, compounding climate change fears

A farmer pours water on his face as he works in a greenhouse in southern France on June 17 as western Europe struggles with a heatwave.

(Reuters)Spain is seeing its hottest early summer temperatures, one area of France banned outdoor events, and drought stalked Italian farmers as a heatwave sent Europeans hunting for shade and fretting over climate change.

Such was the heat that England’s upscale Royal Ascot Racecourse even saw a rare change of protocol: guests were allowed to shed hats and jackets once the royals had passed.
“Avoid over-exposing to the sun, hydrate and take care of the most vulnerable so they don’t suffer from heat stroke,” was the advice from Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Madrid during an event, fittingly, about desertification.
Temperatures reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in Madrid on Friday, the national weather agency AEMET said. A level not seen so early in the year since 1981.
Northern Italian regions risk losing up to half their agricultural output due to a drought, a farm lobby said, as lakes and rivers start to run dangerously low, jeopardizing irrigation.
The federation of Italian utility companies, Utilitalia, warned this week that the country’s longest river, the Po, was experiencing its worst drought for 70 years, leaving many sections of the vast, northern waterway completely dried up.
The heatwave piled pressure on energy systems as demand for air-conditioning risks driving prices higher, adding to the challenge of building up stocks to protect against any further cuts to Russian gas supplies.
‘Health risk’
In France, the Gironde department around Bordeaux prohibited public events including concerts and those at indoor venues without air conditioning, a local official said.
“Everyone now faces a health risk,” Gironde prefect Fabienne Buccio told France Bleu radio.
Temperatures in many of France’s areas hit 40 Celsius for the first time this year on Thursday and were expected to peak on Saturday, climbing to 41-42 Celsius. A record night temperature for June, 26.8 Celsius, was recorded in Tarascon, southern France.
Fourteen administrative departments were on red alert, with schoolchildren told to stay at home in these areas. Speed limits were lowered in several regions, including around Paris, to limit exhaust emissions and a buildup of harmful smog.
Britain’s weather service said Friday was the hottest day of the year so far, with temperatures above 32 Celsius in some parts of the southeast.
Parks, pools and beaches were packed, and while many enjoyed a day of fun and freedom after two years of periodic pandemic restrictions some were also worried.
“I’m from Cyprus and now in Cyprus it’s raining … and I’m boiling here, so something must change. We need to take precautions about the climate change sooner than later because undoubtedly it’s worrying for all of us,” said student Charlie Uksel, visiting Brighton, south of London.
“Now we are enjoying it, but for the long-term we might sacrifice.”
Mediterranean nations are more and more concerned about how climate change may affect their economies and lives.
“The Iberian peninsula is an increasingly dry area and our rivers’ flow is slower and slower,” Spanish leader Sanchez added.
Firefighters were battling wildfires in several parts of Spain, with Catalonia in eastern Spain and Zamora near the western border with Portugal the worst hit.
In Zamora, between 8,500 and 9,500 hectares turned to ashes.
The cloud of hot air was sparing Portugal on Friday, where temperatures were not as high as in other European nations, with Lisbon likely to reach 27 Celsius.
However, last month was the hottest May in 92 years, Portugal’s weather agency IPMA said. It warned that most of the territory is suffering from a severe drought.
Portugal’s reservoirs have low water levels, with the Bravura dam of the most affected at only 15% full.

Jeff Bridges is loving life after being ‘close to dying’ because of Covid and chemo

Jeff Bridges, here in 2019, stars in a new TV series debuting in June.

Boris Johnson is still in charge. But behind closed doors, rivals are plotting his ouster

Boris Johnson ends the week with reason to be cheerful. On Monday, he survived the biggest challenge to his leadership since becoming Prime Minister, after his Conservative MPs backed him in a confidence vote to remain party leader by 211 to 148.

That victory does, however, come with some major caveats.
Johnson’s government is currently thought to have somewhere between 170-180 MPs on its payroll. As the vote was private, that means as a best-case scenario, Johnson was only able to secure a handful of backbench votes. In a worst-case scenario, people on the payroll voted against him the second they were given the protection of anonymity.
While Johnson and his allies have since claimed the victory was convincing and a decisive result that hands the PM a refreshed mandate, the reality is 41% of his own MPs do not want him in power. That number is worse than the result of a confidence vote in Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, in 2018 and is likely to rise in the coming months.
For now, though, Johnson’s job is safe. Conservative Party rules protect him from another confidence vote for 12 months. There is speculation that the party might try and rewrite those rules, but given the private nature of the Conservatives, it’s hard to get a real sense of how likely this is.
So, what happens next?
Johnson is announcing a flurry of policy ideas designed to cheer up his backbenchers and voters. More houses, more doctors, more police, crackdowns on illegal immigration to name a few.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the National Service of Thanksgiving held at St Paul's Cathedral as part of celebrations marking the Platinum Jubilee of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, in London, Friday, June 3, 2022.

Meanwhile, those who most want to see his downfall are not sitting on their hands. Publicly, MPs say that the result of the confidence vote means they owe Johnson their loyalty — for now. He deserves the time to turn things around, they say.
However, multiple sources confirmed to CNN that those with an eye on the top job are already building their power bases and getting ready to launch leadership bids, should the time come.
Dinners with donors who would fund individual campaigns have already taken place, organized by MPs who have already picked their choice for leader. Influential MPs have been courted to test the water.
“The phone calls tend to start with 15 minutes of insisting that Boris has their full support and that they don’t think a leadership contest will happen. Then they outline their vision of how they would improve things. It’s discreet, but it’s happening,” a senior Conservative told CNN.
The hopefuls acting most openly are unsurprisingly long-term critics of Johnson.
“Most of the activity seems to be around Jeremy Hunt and other former Remainers,” says one veteran Conservative and former cabinet minister, referring to those who wanted the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union. “That makes sense as they never wanted Boris in the first place and have the least to lose.”
Hunt, who has held three cabinet posts, most notably health, is without question the highest-profile contender on the moderate, ex-Remain side of the party. However, he comes with baggage and sources from the opposition Labour Party have told CNN they are already writing attack lines.
Jeremy Hunt is without question the highest-profile contender on the moderate, ex-Remain side of the Conservative Party.

A senior Conservative said that their fellow MPs are aware of this. “It can’t be Jeremy. Labour can say he was running healthcare for six years and failed to prepare for a pandemic. They can say when he was culture secretary he chummed up to the Murdochs during the phone hacking scandal. He will get crushed,” the source said.
Other potential candidates for this side of the party include Tom Tugendhat, a former soldier who chairs the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and the current Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi.
Tugendhat has impressed colleagues with his oratory and seriousness, most notably when he spoke about the fall of Afghanistan, a country where he’d served while in the army.
Despite voting to leave the EU in 2016, Zahawi is widely admired among the moderates in the party. Crucially, as one Conservative source put it, “he’s not been in government long enough to have any obvious defects and, despite supporting Boris even after the confidence vote, is not too tainted by association.”
Obviously running a stealth leadership campaign is harder if you are a sitting cabinet minister. How do you square defending the prime minister after the confidence vote while courting MPs to test the water?
That is the problem facing those considered to be the Leave candidates.
Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, voted Remain in 2016, but has since become one of the loudest Euroskeptic voices in the government, particularly on Northern Ireland. She has a formidable and dedicated team around her — some of whom previously worked in Number 10 — which has been producing slick videos and photos of her looking thoroughly statesmanlike. Which might come in handy if she were to run for leader, a cynic might say.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss voted Remain in 2016, but has since become one of the loudest Euroskeptic voices in the government, particularly on Northern Ireland.

A source working in the Foreign Office told CNN that since Monday, Truss “has been in endless meetings with MPs,” adding that while the meetings are officially about Northern Ireland “it’s been insinuated that she’s seeing what her support base is, should the time come.”
Truss’s office denies that any covert leadership bid is coming. She said before the confidence vote that she backed Johnson “100%” and encouraged colleagues to do the same. After the vote, she urged MPs that it was time to move on “get behind the PM”.
Truss’s most obvious rival is current Home Secretary Priti Patel. One of the Conservative sources said that Patel’s stealth campaign “has been busy, organized and running for about a year.”
Patel is very popular among the party’s grassroots and more conservative wing. She is a longstanding Euroskeptic who has years of hard talk on immigration, crime and economics under her belt. She famously used to support bringing back the death penalty, although she has since distanced herself from this.
Both cabinet ministers publicly support the prime minister and officials say that their focus is on delivering Johnson’s agenda, nothing else.
However, a government minister told CNN that some cabinet ministers are “using their office to raise their profile and engage with MPs.”
While inviting influential MPs into your grand office of state is nothing new, the minister says that the tone in Westminster “has changed since Monday. Everyone expects that there will be a vacancy at some point in the near future.”
The next major hurdle for Johnson to clear is the two by-elections taking place on June 23. If he loses both, which is not impossible, his critics will move again. The party might try to rewrite rules so he faces another leadership vote.
If the party doesn’t rewrite the rules, he has an uphill struggle to turn around both his own popularity and the popularity of his party before the next scheduled election in 2024.
It’s an unenviable task, given the UK is experiencing a cost-of-living crisis and the Conservatives have been in power for 12 years. And under normal circumstances, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Johnson is safe as no one in their right mind wants the job.
But that’s how bad things are. Despite how grim the next few years look for the UK, ambitious politicians are willing to throw their hats in the ring at what might be the worst possible moment and risk their whole career. Because if they don’t, it’s anyone’s guess how far Johnson might pull his party down with him.

UN-mandated rights inquiry rebukes Israel for seeking ‘complete control’

A Palestinian flag flies at the ruins of houses, destroyed by Israeli air strikes during Israeli-Palestinian fighting, in the Gaza Strip in May 2021.

Geneva, Switzerland and JerusalemAn independent commission of inquiry set up by the UN Human Rights Council after the 2021 Gaza war said Israel must do more than end the occupation of land Palestinians want for a state, according to a report released on Tuesday.

“Ending the occupation alone will not be sufficient,” the report said, urging additional action to ensure the equal enjoyment of human rights.
It cited evidence saying Israel has “no intention of ending the occupation” and is pursuing “complete control” over what it calls the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, which was taken by Israel in a 1967 war.
Israel boycotted the inquiry and barred entry to its investigators.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said: “It is a biased and one-sided report tainted with hatred for the State of Israel and based on a long series of previous one-sided and biased reports.”
While prompted by the 11-day May 2021 conflict in which 250 Gaza Palestinians and 13 people in Israel died, the inquiry mandate includes alleged human rights abuses before and after that and seeks to investigate the root causes of the tensions.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price reiterated Washington’s opposition to the inquiry and said the report does nothing to alleviate US concerns over “a one-sided, biased approach that does nothing to advance the prospects for peace.”
Citing an Israeli law denying naturalization to Palestinians married to Israelis, the report accuses the country of affording “different civil status, rights and legal protection” for Arab minorities. Israel says such measures safeguard national security and the country’s Jewish character.
Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but, with the help of Egypt, clamps down on the borders of the enclave now governed by Hamas Islamists. Palestinian authorities have limited self-rule in the West Bank, which is dotted with Israeli settlements.
Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, opened the May 2021 war with rocket attacks following moves to evict Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, and in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site.
The Gaza fighting was accompanied by rare street violence within Israel between Jewish and Arab citizens.
Hamas welcomed the report and urged the prosecution of Israeli leaders in what it said were crimes against the Palestinian people.
The Palestinian Authority also praised the report and called for accountability “in a manner that puts an end to Israel’s impunity”.
The report will be discussed at the Geneva-based Human Rights Council next week. The body cannot make legally binding decisions.
The United States quit the Council in 2018 over what it described as its “chronic bias” against Israel and only fully rejoined this year.
Unusually, the three-member commission of inquiry from Australia, India and South Africa has an open-ended mandate. A diplomat said that its mandate was already a sensitive issue. “People don’t like the idea of perpetuity,” he said.

Restoration of empire is the endgame for Russia’s Vladimir Putin

Reading Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mind is rarely a straightforward task, but on occasion the Kremlin leader makes it easy.

Such was the case on Thursday, when Putin met with a group of young Russian entrepreneurs. Anyone looking for clues as to what Putin’s endgame for Ukraine might be should read the transcript, helpfully released here in English.
Putin’s words speak for themselves: What he is aiming for in Ukraine is the restoration of Russia as an imperial power.
Many observers quickly picked up on one of Putin’s more provocative lines, in which he compared himself to Peter the Great, Russia’s modernizing tsar and the founder of St. Petersburg — Putin’s own birthplace — who came to power in the late 17th century.
“Peter the Great waged the Great Northern War for 21 years,” a relaxed and apparently self-satisfied Putin said. “On the face of it, he was at war with Sweden taking something away from it… He was not taking away anything, he was returning. This is how it was.”
It didn’t matter that European countries didn’t recognize Peter the Great’s seizure of territory by force, Putin added.
“When he founded the new capital, none of the European countries recognized this territory as part of Russia; everyone recognized it as part of Sweden,” Putin said. “However, from time immemorial, the Slavs lived there along with the Finno-Ugric peoples, and this territory was under Russia’s control. The same is true of the western direction, Narva and his first campaigns. Why would he go there? He was returning and reinforcing, that is what he was doing.”
Alluding directly to his own invasion of Ukraine, Putin added: “Clearly, it fell to our lot to return and reinforce as well.”
Those remarks were swiftly condemned by Ukrainians, who saw them as a naked admission of Putin’s imperial ambitions.
“Putin’s confession of land seizures and comparing himself with Peter the Great prove: there was no ‘conflict,’ only the country’s bloody seizure under contrived pretexts of people’s genocide,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. “We should not talk about ‘saving [Russia’s] face,’ but about its immediate de-imperialization.”
A portrait from circa 1700 shows Peter I, who ruled Russia as Peter the Great from 1682 until his death in 1725.

There’s a lot to unpack here, in terms of both history and current affairs. Podolyak was alluding to talk in international capitals about offering Putin a face-saving way to de-escalate or halt the fighting in Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron has led that charge, saying last weekend that the world “must not humiliate Russia” in the search for a diplomatic resolution.
Those arguments may have seemed more reasonable before February 24. In the run-up to the invasion, Putin laid out a series of grievances to make the case for war, from NATO’s eastward expansion to Western delivery of military assistance to Ukraine.
But read the transcript of Putin’s remarks on Thursday more closely, and the facade of rational geopolitical bargaining falls away.
“In order to claim some kind of leadership — I am not even talking about global leadership, I mean leadership in any area — any country, any people, any ethnic group should ensure their sovereignty,” Putin said. “Because there is no in-between, no intermediate state: either a country is sovereign, or it is a colony, no matter what the colonies are called.”
In other words, there are two categories of state: The sovereign and the conquered. In Putin’s imperial view, Ukraine should fall into the latter category.
Putin has long argued that Ukrainians do not have a legitimate national identity and that their state is, essentially, a puppet of the West. In other words, he thinks Ukrainians have no agency and are a subject people.
By summoning the memory of Peter the Great, it also becomes clear that Putin’s aims are driven by some sense of historical destiny. And Putin’s project of imperial restoration could — in theory — extend to other territories that once belonged to the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union, something that should raise alarms in all the countries that emerged from the collapse of the USSR.
Earlier this week, a deputy from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party submitted a draft law to the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, abolishing a Soviet resolution recognizing the independence of Lithuania. Lithuania may now be a NATO member and part of the European Union, but in Putin’s Russia, that kind of neo-colonial posturing is the surest display of loyalty to the president.
And that does not bode well for Russia’s future. If there is no reckoning with Russia’s imperial past — whether in Soviet or tsarist guise — there is less chance that a Russia without Putin would abandon a pattern of subjugating its neighbors, or become a more democratic state.
Former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski famously asserted that Russia could only part ways with its imperial habits if it were willing to surrender its claims to Ukraine.
“It cannot be stressed strongly enough that without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire,” he wrote in 1994.
Putin, however, is counting on something of the opposite: For Russia to survive, he argues, it must remain an empire, regardless of the human cost.

McCarthy misleads about Republican representation on Jan. 6 committee

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks during Thursday's news conference on Capitol Hill.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks during Thursday’s news conference on Capitol Hill.

During his weekly news conference on Thursday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy slammed the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. Among other criticisms, McCarthy said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “rejected the minority’s picks to be on the committee.” He continued moments later, “You reject the minority to have a say in the committee.”

After McCarthy specified that Pelosi had rejected Reps. Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, he alleged that while she rejected “these qualified Republicans, she appointed radical Democrats.”

Facts FirstMcCarthy’s claims are misleading, leaving out critical context. Pelosi did reject two of McCarthy’s five proposed Republican committee members, Banks and Jordan, on account of concerns about their “statements made and actions taken” – but she accepted McCarthy’s three other Republican picks, and she also gave McCarthy a chance to suggest another two members to replace Banks and Jordan. Instead, McCarthy decided to withdraw the three members Pelosi had accepted. Even after he did so, the Republicans’ House minority still had “a say” on the committee: Reps. Liz Cheney, who had already been selected by Pelosi before McCarthy pulled out his own selections, and Adam Kinzinger, whom Pelosi selected later. Both Cheney and Kinzinger are outspoken Trump critics who have been at odds with many of their GOP colleagues, but they are elected Republicans nonetheless.

In addition, all of these developments came after McCarthy had rejected a proposal for a bipartisan commission that would have given equal membership and subpoena power to Democrats and Republicans. After the commission proposal failed in the Senate because of Republican opposition (only six Republicans voted in favor), the House created the Democratic-controlled select committee.

The Jan. 6 committee was tweaking plan for tonight’s hearing up until the last minute, sources say

A large projection screen is seen before Thursday night's hearing.
A large projection screen is seen before Thursday night’s hearing. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The Jan. 6 select committee held final rehearsals for tonight’s prime-time hearing today and sources say members and staff were making final tweaks and adjustments to their plan right up until the last minute.

While the committee had the lion’s share of their plan in place, they were still making final decisions about the order of their presentation, even deciding which videos to share tonight and which to save for later hearings.

Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, the committee chair, and GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, the committee vice chair, are expected to play a starring role, with other members of the committee not contributing much to tonight’s hearing. They instead are being tasked with running separate hearings on later dates.

The hearing will rely heavily on a multimedia presentation to set the stage for what the investigation has uncovered up until this point, and tee up more in depth hearings throughout the month of June.

Fact check: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene falsely claims Schumer rejected National Guard presence for Jan. 6

Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene delivers a speech on the House floor on Thursday.
Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene delivers a speech on the House floor on Thursday. (House TV)

In a speech on the House floor on Thursday, Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia repeated the common Republican claim that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had rejected a National Guard presence for January 6. There is no evidence that the Speaker, who has no authority over the activation of the District of Columbia National Guard, was involved in any such rejection; her office has repeatedly said she wasn’t even consulted.

But Greene went even further than her colleagues — also casting blame on the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer. Greene claimed that Schumer also turned down the Guard and was also responsible for the failure to protect the Capitol on the day of the riot.

Facts FirstGreene’s claim about Schumer is false. Schumer, now the Senate Majority Leader, was Senate Minority Leader at the time of the riot on January 6, 2021; Republican Mitch McConnell, whom Greene did not blame in her Thursday speech, was head of the majority. And even the Senate Majority Leader does not have any authority over the activation of the DC National Guard. The President of the United States has that authorityalong with Department of Defense officials to whom presidential power has been delegated.

Schumer only became Senate Majority Leader two weeks after January 6, when two Democrats who won runoff elections held in Georgia on January 5, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, were sworn in as senators and the Democrats took narrow control of the chamber.

Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman told CNN on Thursday that, during the riot, Schumer asked the Secretary of the Army to approve National Guard assistance at the Capitol. An official timeline released by the Department of Defense confirms that Schumer spoke to the secretary that afternoon.

Greene’s office did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment CNN sent around 3:40 pm.