No fewer than seven persons reportedly died in a car bomb outside mosque in Kabul.

A car packed with explosives blew up outside a mosque attended by Taliban members in the Afghan capital, killing at least seven people minutes after Friday (Sep 23) prayers had ended, the interior ministry said.

The explosion occurred in front of Wazir Akbar Khan mosque, not far from the fortified former Green Zone that housed many foreign embassies and NATO before the Taliban seized power in August last year.

The mosque is now often attended by senior Taliban commanders and fighters.

Interior ministry spokesman Abdul Nafy Takor told AFP that at least seven people had been killed and 41 others were wounded, including children.

Italian-NGO run Emergency Hospital said it had received 14 people from the blast, of whom four were dead on arrival.

The explosion occurred when worshippers were heading home, Takor said, adding the explosives were placed in a car.

All casualties are civilians, the exact number is not clear yet, said Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran.

Unverified images posted on social media showed a mangled car engulfed in fire on a road outside the mosque.

In a tweet, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) called Friday’s bombing a bitter reminder of ongoing insecurity and terrorist activity in Afghanistan.

The mosque has been the target of attacks in the past, including a blast in June 2020 before the Taliban returned to power. That attack killed the mosque’s imam and wounded several people.

While overall violence has significantly dropped across Afghanistan since the war ended with the Taliban’s return to power, there have been regular bomb attacks in Kabul and other cities.

Several mosques and clerics have been targeted in these attacks, some claimed by the Islamic State group.

Two Russian embassy staff members were killed in a suicide bombing outside its offices earlier this month, the latest attack in the capital claimed by the group.

No group has so far claimed the attack.

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Central bank of Russia claim Russia SWIFT alternative growing faster as more countries are joining.

The reach of Russia’s alternative to the SWIFT international messaging system has grown at record pace this year, the central bank said on Friday, as Moscow ramps up efforts to resolve financial shortcomings wrought by sanctions.

Sweeping Western sanctions on many of Russia’s top banks in the wake of Russia sending tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine have sorely limited lenders’ access to the global financial system.

SWIFT underpins financial transactions globally.

Alla Bakina, director of the central bank’s national payment system department, said 50 new entities had joined Russia’s alternative system this year, taking the total number to 440, of which more than 100 are non-residents.

The System for Transfer of Financial Messages has shown expansion this year because more foreign participants have joined, Bakina told a banking forum in Kazan.

More participants joined the SPFS in the first half of the year than in all previous years of the system’s existence, she said.

The central bank does not disclose the list of countries whose institutions have joined the SPFS, Bakina said.

Some banks in Russia, including units of some foreign financial institutions blocked from exiting by recent Kremlin laws, still have access to SWIFT and can process payments heading overseas.

More than 11,000 financial institutions in more than 200 countries and territories use SWIFT.

Sanctions have increased the use of the SPFS and the issuance of Mir bank cards, Russia’s alternative to Visa and Mastercard, companies that suspended operations in Russia and their cards that were issued in Russia stopped working abroad.

Bakina said a third of all bank cards in Russia are now Mir cards.

But Mir which means ‘world’ or ‘peace’ in Russian is facing headwinds abroad. Banks in so called friendly countries Turkey, Kazakhstan, Vietnam and Uzbekistan have halted Mir transactions after the latest round of U.S. sanctions.

Washington included National Card Payments System (NSPK) head Vladimir Komlev on its sanctions list, prompting some foreign banks to withdraw support.

Cuba, South Korea and a handful of former Soviet republics have allowed Mir cards use, but Komlev on Thursday said the NSPK had stopped disclosing the list of countries where the cards are accepted.

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NATO Chief refers Putin nuclear threat as dangerous and reckless rhetoric.

President Vladimir Putin’s thinly veiled threat to use nuclear weapons after Russian setbacks in Ukraine was dangerous and reckless rhetoric, NATO’s secretary general said on Wednesday (Sep 21), adding that the only way to end the war was to prove Moscow will not win on the battlefield.

Jens Stoltenberg also told Reuters in an interview that Putin’s announcement of Russia’s first military mobilisation since World War II would escalate the conflict and cost more lives.

But, the NATO chief added, it also represented evidence that Putin had made a big mistake with Russia’s decision to invade its neighbour on Feb 24.

Stoltenberg, speaking to Reuters Editor in Chief Alessandra Galloni in New York on the margins of the annual United Nations General Assembly meetings, said the 30-nation Western defence alliance will stay calm and not engage in that same kind of reckless and dangerous nuclear rhetoric as President Putin.

The only way to end this war is to prove that President Putin will not win on the battlefield. When he realises that, he has to sit down and negotiate a reasonable agreement with Ukraine, Stoltenberg said.

In an address to Russians earlier, Putin announced he would call up 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine and backed a plan to annex parts of the country, hinting to the West he was prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia.

If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will use all available means to protect our people this is not a bluff, Putin said.

Russia possesses lots of weapons to reply, Putin added.

Putin’s speech followed mounting casualties and battlefield setbacks for Russian forces, who have been driven from areas they had captured in northeast Ukraine in a Ukrainian counter-offensive this month and are bogged down in the south.

The speech of President Putin demonstrates that the war is not going according to President Putin’s plans, Stoltenberg said.

He made a big mistake, strategic mistake, Stoltenberg said of Putin, while making a grim prediction.

More troops will escalate the conflict. That will mean more suffering, more loss of lives Ukrainian lives, but also Russian lives, Stoltenberg said.

Putin said, offering no evidence, that officials in NATO member states had threatened to use nuclear weapons against Russia, and that Russia also has various means of destruction.

NATO has not seen any change in Russia’s nuclear posture and readiness, Stoltenberg said, but added that the key was to prevent such an escalation.

We will make sure that there is no misunderstanding in Moscow about the seriousness of using nuclear weapons, And that’s the reason why we have been so clear in our communications with Russia about the unprecedented consequences, about the fact that the nuclear war cannot be won by Russia.

Stoltenberg said that although Russian troops were ill-equipped and lacked proper command and control, it was hard see the conflict ending in the short term as long as Russia refuses to accept that Ukraine is a sovereign and independent nation.

Stoltenberg expressed confidence that throughout, the Western alliance will stay united.

We are prepared for a hard winter. The winter is coming, it’s going to be hard for all of us. But the answer is not to step down and to stop supporting Ukraine.

The answer, if anything, is to step up and further support Ukraine, Stoltenberg added.

As NATO was prepared for a long haul in dealing with Putin, it was now in close dialogue with the defense industry to build back its stocks of weapons and ammunition, Stoltenberg said.

We have reduced a lot of stocks. We need stocks to be prepared. That’s the reason why we are now deeply engaging with the industry, Stoltenberg said, with the aim of ramping up production.

Stoltenberg once again expressed confidence that the NATO membership of Sweden and Finland, which applied to join the alliance in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, would be ratified, even as Turkey continued to express concerns over the move.

NATO does not see China as an adversary, Stoltenberg said, but expressed growing concern over Beijing’s increasingly closer cooperation with Moscow on military exercises and in the diplomatic domain.

China is part of the security challenges we need to face today, Stoltenberg said.

Stoltenberg, who previously served as Norway’s prime minister, has held the post of NATO secretary-general since 2014. NATO allies in March extended his mandate in the post to September 2023.

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Macron keeping an open line with Russian President Vladimir Putin harmful for Kyiv, says Anders Rasmussen.

Diplomatic efforts by French President Emmanuel Macron in response to the war in Ukraine were a failure and “deeply harmful” for Kyiv, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former NATO secretary-general, said in an interview published on Friday (Sep 23).

It was not a success, Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister who was one of the world’s most-senior diplomats until he left the transatlantic defence alliance in 2014, told French magazine Le Point.

His comments come after criticism, especially in eastern Europe, about how Macron kept an open line with Russian President Vladimir Putin with direct phone calls even after the invasion of Ukraine and has warned against humiliating Russia.

Macron astonished us at the beginning of the crisis with his, to say the least, unique and critical statement that Putin should not be humiliated and offered an exit ramp. Such statements were disastrous and deeply harmful, he added.

The French presidential office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

However, Rasmussen’s broadside comes at a time Macron is recalibrating his message and striking a firmer tone against Moscow.

In a speech delivered at the United Nations General Assembly, the French leader reiterated his belief that world leaders needed to keep up the dialogue with Russia, adding that he would again talk to Putin in the coming days to address the safety situation linked to nuclear reactors situated in Ukraine’s war zones.

But according to observers, Macron’s UN speech, in which he accused Russia of a modern day imperialism and urged developing nations to side against Moscow, marked a shift in tone.

Macron stated that peace talks can only work if Ukraine’s sovereignty is respected, its territory liberated and its security protected.

Russia must now understand that it cannot impose its will by military means, said Macron.

He has weakened international cohesion, and I think he is now regretting this and trying to regain the initiative, he said in the interview.

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