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The Latest: Elders leader tells UN council to protect rights

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Afghan money changers wait for customers in the courtyard of the currency exchange Sarai Shahzada market in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Wali Sabawoon)

UNITED NATIONS — Former Irish president Mary Robinson, who heads the group of prominent former leaders founded by Nelson Mandela, called on China and Russia especially to tell the Taliban that participation of women in Afghan society and the education of girls are “non-negotiable and must be respected.”

Robinson recalled visiting Afghanistan in March 2002 as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and being with the then minister of women’s affairs and other Afghan women who had been active before the Taliban ruled from 1996-2001 when they drafted a charter of women’s rights.

Now chair of The Elders, Robinson told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday this was “an important reminder that women’s rights are not Western rights — they are fundamental human rights that these Afghan women had reclaimed in accordance with their cultural values.”

Over the past nearly 20 years, she said, “hard-won gains in gender equality and women’s rights have been secured through constitutional, legislative and policy changes.”

“We cannot allow the women and girls of Afghanistan to be deprived of these rights, including the right to leave the country,” Robinson said.

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MORE ON AFGHANISTAN:

Taliban name caretaker Cabinet that pays homage to old guard

US-built databases a potential tool of Taliban repression

Blinken and Austin to visit Gulf to address postwar stresses

Taliban say they took Panjshir, last holdout Afghan province

Over 24 hours in Kabul, brutality, trauma, moments of grace

— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/afghanistan

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations is making an emergency appeal for $606 million to help nearly 11 million people in Afghanistan for the rest of 2021. It says they face a humanitarian crisis exacerbated by drought, displacement, chronic poverty and the sharp increase in hostilities as the Taliban swept to power.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs already has a $1.3 billion appeal for Afghanistan for the entire year of 2021, but it is only 39% funded — at just $498 million.

The agency’s a “Flash Appeal” launched Tuesday includes $413 million from the original appeal that has not been funded and $193 million in new needs through December.

The money aims to assist 11 million people with critically needed food and “livelihood assistance,” including 2 million people not covered in the original appeal. It is also meant to provide essential health services to 3.4 million Afghans, treatment for acute malnutrition for more than 1 million children and women, water and sanitation for 2.5 million people, and protection for 1.5 million people including children and survivors of gender violence.

The agency says even prior to the Taliban takeover, “the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan was one of the worst in the world.”

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WASHINGTON — The State Department says the U.S. is assessing the new Afghan government announced by the Taliban.

“We note the announced list of names consists exclusively of individuals who are members of the Taliban or their close associates and no women,” a State Department statement said. “We also are concerned by the affiliations and track records of some of the individuals.

“We understand that the Taliban has presented this as a caretaker Cabinet. However, we will judge the Taliban by its actions, not words. We have made clear our expectation that the Afghan people deserve an inclusive government,” it said.

On the issue of people trying to leave Afghanistan, the State Department said the U.S. will “hold the Taliban to their commitments to allow safe passage for foreign nationals and Afghans with travel documents, including permitting flights currently ready to fly out of Afghanistan to agreed-upon onward destinations.”

The statement added: “We also reiterate our clear expectation that the Taliban ensure that Afghan soil is not used to threaten any other countries and allow humanitarian access in support of the Afghan people.”

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UNITED NATIONS -- The acting head of the United Nations women’s agency says the Taliban’s exclusion of women in Afghanistan’s new government calls into question its commitment “to protect and respect the rights” of women and girls.

Pramila Patten called women’s political participation “a fundamental prerequisite for gender equality and genuine democracy” and said that “by excluding women from the machinery of government the Taliban leadership has sent the wrong signal about their stated goal of building an inclusive, strong and prosperous society.”

The acting executive director of UN Women also expressed disappointment Tuesday at the Taliban’s apparent decision to no longer include a Ministry of Women in the government’s institutions, calling it “a further step backwards.”

And she expressed “serious concern” at the reported use of force by authorities in Kabul against peaceful protesters, mainly women, “demanding the equal enjoyment of their rights.”

Patten called on the Taliban leadership to comply with its obligations under international treaties that Afghanistan is party to as well as the country’s constitution, which “demand unambiguously the guarantee of equality for all citizens including the full participation of women in political and decision-making processes.”

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban announced an all-male interim government for Afghanistan that is stacked with veterans of their hard-line rule from the 1990s and the 20-year battle against the U.S.-led coalition.

The move seems unlikely to win the international support the new leaders desperately need to avoid an economic meltdown.

Appointed as interior minister was Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is on the FBI’s most-wanted list with a $5 million bounty on his head and is believed to still be holding at least one American hostage. He headed the feared Haqqani network that is blamed for many deadly attacks and kidnappings.

The announcement came hours after Taliban fired their guns into the air to disperse protesters in Kabul and arrested several journalists.

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.N.’s humanitarian chief says a top Taliban leader pledged to let aid workers operate safely and independently and reach the millions of Afghans in need. Now, the U.N. is aiming to get the promises in writing and put them into action.

In a video news briefing Tuesday, Martin Griffiths said a key humanitarian priority is getting safe and dependable access to the Kabul airport and road routes from neighboring countries.

Griffiths met over the weekend with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a longtime Taliban leader. He was named Tuesday to a Cabinet post in their interim government.

Griffiths said he also broached women’s rights with Baradar and his advisers and was heard out, but the topic “needs further work.”

Griffiths says the Taliban leaders appear more willing to engage with the international community than they were in the 1990s, when he also discussed humanitarian work with the Islamic militants. But he says the challenge is “the process of the next many months, when the people of Afghanistan will be learning to live with their new rulers, and so will we.”

The U.N. was already striving to provide humanitarian aid to an estimated 18 million needy Afghans before the Taliban took over the drought-stricken country last month.

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LEDNICE, Czech Republic — The prime ministers of Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia say they are ready to help Afghan refugees after the Taliban took over, but only those who fled to neighboring countries.

Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz says Austria is sending the refugees staying in Afghanistan’s neighboring countries a sum of $18 million.

Kurz has long taken a tough approach to migration issues. He recently said that Austria won’t accept any migrants from Afghanistan because it has taken in a “disproportionately high” number since 2015. In that year 1 million people entered Europe from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Kurz says: “We cannot allow the year of 2015 to repeat” itself.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis says: “There’s really no space for them in Europe.”

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WASHINGTON — The top U.S. military officer is telling troops who participated in the massive and chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan to hold their heads high and ignore the criticism swirling around about the war and how it ended.

In blunt talk to military air crews at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey on Tuesday, Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the war in Afghanistan didn’t end the way many wanted.

“This is not the outcome any of us wanted, but it is the outcome that we have,” Milley told troops who flew evacuees out of Afghanistan. “And know that at the tail end here, what you did as individuals and collectively was something enormously heroic and honorable and noble. You can always hold your heads high.”

Milley spent much of the weekend traveling through Europe, speaking to U.S. service members who participated in the evacuation. The effort got more than 124,000 Americans, Afghans and others out of the country in the wake of the government’s collapse amid a violent and swift Taliban takeover. The Biden administration has been criticized for the turbulent evacuation that left many at-risk Afghans behind, and after an Islamic State suicide attack killed many Afghans and 13 U.S. troops at a Kabul airport gate.

Milley’s messages to the troops has been a thank you, punctuated by a heavy pep talk.

Milley’s audience included the aircrew of the C-17 that took off from Kabul with 823 people crowded on board. In the early days of the evacuation, Afghans frantically climbed onto the aircraft. Rather than force some to get off, the crew decided to take off with what Milley said was three times their normal load of people. Photos of the jammed plane went viral on social media.

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MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan — An Afghan employee of an American organization in Afghanistan says the Taliban are blocking her and hundreds of other people from boarding charter evacuation flights out of Afghanistan.

The woman spoke to The Associated Press anonymously Tuesday, saying she feared for her safety if she is singled out by the Taliban.

The U.S. organization, Ascend, has worked for years with Afghan women and girls. The woman is among several hundred people, reportedly including American citizens and green card holders, who say they have been waiting in large residence halls and hotels for more than a week for permission to board waiting charter flights out of the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

“We think we are in some kind of jail,” the woman told the AP.

She says the American citizens she has met in the group are vulnerable people in their 70s, parents of Afghan Americans in the United States.

Taliban officials say they will let people who have the proper passports and other documentation leave. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday denied claims from Republican lawmakers that the situation in Mazar-e-Sharif amounted to a hostage-taking, after the U.S. government pulled its last troops and diplomats from the country last week.

The Afghan woman who talked to AP says her group has proper passports and visas, but the Taliban are blocking them from entering the airport. She says she went fleeing to the women’s side of her hotel last week when word spread that the Taliban were searching the would-be evacuees, and had taken some away.

“I am scared if they split us up and not let us leave,” she said. “If we can’t get out of here, something wrong will happen. And I am afraid of that.”

— By Ellen Knickmeyer in Oklahoma City

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TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s foreign minister in a phone conversation with former Afghan president Hamid Karzai said his country will keep its borders with Afghanistan open and will continue to trade with the country.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry’s website reported Tuesday that Hossein Amirabdollahian called for an Afghanistan free from war and terrorism.

The Iranian diplomat stressed the need for dialogue between all Afghan groups aimed at forming a government that reflects the country’s ethnicities.

The Taliban on Tuesday announced a caretaker Cabinet that paid homage to the old guard of the group, giving top posts to Taliban personalities who dominated the 20-year battle against the U.S.-led coalition and its Afghan government allies.

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ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has given a cautious response to the Taliban’s new government.

He said at a news conference with Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi in Ankara: “It’s difficult to call it permanent but an interim Cabinet has been announced.”

“We do not know how long this interim cabinet will continue. It is our duty to follow this process carefully at this time,” he said.

Turkey has expressed its desire to help Afghanistan after decades of conflict. Turkish and Qatari technicians are working to return Kabul airport to full operations. However, Turkey’s call for it to provide security for the airport has been turned down by the Taliban.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban have fired gunshots to disperse a rally on Tuesday in Kabul and arrested several Afghan journalists who were covering the demonstration, witnesses and Afghan media outlets said.

The protest began outside the Pakistan Embassy in the Afghan capital to denounce what the demonstrators allege as Pakistan’s interference in Afghanistan, especially Islamabad’s alleged support for the latest Taliban offensive that routed anti-Taliban fighters in Panjshir province.

Posts on social media demanded the release of the arrested reporters.

An Afghan journalist who was among those detained and who was later freed told The Associated Press he was punished by the Taliban. “They made me rub my nose on the ground and apologize for covering the protest,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fears for his safety. “Journalism in Afghanistan is getting harder,” he added.

Afghanistan’s TOLOnews TV channel said its cameraman Wahid Ahmadi was among those arrested.

Since taking control of Afghanistan last month, there have been reports of Taliban beating and threatening journalists. In one known case, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle said Taliban fighters going door to door in a hunt for one of its journalists shot and killed a member of his family and seriously injured another.

— By Tameem Akhgar in Istanbul

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghans with valid visas and passports stranded in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and waiting to take chartered evacuation flights out of the country will be allowed to leave, a Taliban official at the city’s international airport said Tuesday.

Mawlawi Hafiz Mansour said the majority of Afghans waiting to take one of four evacuation flights have neither valid visas nor passports. The Taliban have said only Afghans with passports and valid visas would be allowed to leave.

Mansour did not provide a breakdown of the numbers of those with valid documents and those without.

Speaking from Qatar, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said the Taliban have given assurances of safe passage for all seeking to leave Afghanistan with proper travel documents. He said the United States would hold the Taliban to that pledge.

The U.S. is under pressure to help the remaining Americans and green card holders leave Afghanistan, and it has promised to work with the Taliban to do that.