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Taliban leaders hold talks on forming government with deposed Afghan politicians

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Senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Muttaqi is said to be in Afghanistan’s capital negotiating with Kabul’s political leadership.

Those involved in the talks include Abdullah Abdullah, who once headed the country’s negotiating council, and former president Hamid Karzai.

Mr Muttaqi was a higher education minister when the Taliban last ruled and he began making contacts with Afghan political leaders even before President Ashraf Ghani secretly slipped away from the Presidential Palace last weekend. His departure left a devastating vacuum that Taliban who were surrounding the city strode in to fill.

It is understood the talks are aimed at bringing other non-Taliban leaders into the government that Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen has said will be an “inclusive Afghan government.”

The UN Security Council called for talks to create a new government in Afghanistan after Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned of “chilling” curbs on human rights and violations against women and girls.

Many Afghans fear the Taliban will return to past harsh practices. During their 1996-2001 rule, women could not work and punishments such as public stoning, whipping and hanging were administered.

Mr Shaheen told Dunya News the Taliban would improve the security of Kabul and “respect the rights of women and minorities as per Afghan norms and Islamic values”.

He added the new regime would ensure representation of all ethnicities and that the Taliban were keen to work with the international community to rebuild the country.

French nationals and their Afghan colleagues line up to board a French military transport plane at Kabul airport. Photograph: AFP via Getty Images
French nationals and their Afghan colleagues line up to board a French military transport plane at Kabul airport. Photograph: AFP via Getty Images

There is little indication about the substance of the talks, but Mr Shaheen earlier said that a government will be announced after negotiations with non-Taliban leaders are completed.

Meanwhile, military flights evacuating diplomats and civilians from Afghanistan restarted early on Tuesday after the runway at Kabul airport was cleared of thousands of people desperate to flee after the Taliban seized the capital.

The number of civilians at the airport had thinned out, a Western security official at the facility said, a day after chaotic scenes in which USpolice fired gunshots to disperse crowds and people clung to a US military transport plane as it taxied for take-off.

“Many people who were here yesterday have gone home,” the official said. Reuters witnesses, however, could still hear occasional shots coming from the direction of the airport, while streets elsewhere in Kabul appeared calm.

US forces took charge of the airport, the only remaining exit point from Afghanistan as the Taliban held control of all ground routes following their dramatic advances across the country during the past week, which climaxed on Sunday when the insurgents streamed triumphantly into Kabul, capturing the capital without a fight.

US president Joe Biden defends his actions on Afghanistan during a speech in the East Room of the White House in Washington DC. Photograph: EPA
US president Joe Biden defends his actions on Afghanistan during a speech in the East Room of the White House in Washington DC. Photograph: EPA

Flights were suspended flights for much of Monday, when at least five people were reportedly killed, although it was unclear whether they had been shot or crushed in a stampede. A US official said two gunmen who had appeared to have fired into the crowd were killed by US troops.

Media reported two people fell to their deaths from the underside of a US military aircraft after it took off.

Against the scenes of panic and confusion in Kabul, US president Joe Biden defended his country’s decision to withdraw US forces after 20 years of war.

Mr Biden insisted he had to decide between asking US forces to fight endlessly in what he called Afghanistan’s civil war or follow through on an agreement to withdraw negotiated by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Mr Biden said. “After 20 years I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces. That’s why we’re still there.”

Facing a barrage of criticism, from even his own diplomats, he blamed the Taliban’s takeover on Afghan political leaders who fled and its army’s unwillingness to fight.

The Taliban captured Afghanistan’s biggest cities in days rather than the months predicted by US intelligence, in many cases after demoralised government forces surrendered despite years of training and equipping by the United States and others.

European Union foreign ministers will meet in emergency session on Tuesday via teleconference to discuss the unfolding crisis.

Irish and EU efforts in the coming days are expected to focus on the extraction of their citizens from Afghanistan, officials said, though EU ministers are likely to signal that any aid to the next government in Kabul will be conditional on human rights being respected by the new regime.

Irish officials stressed the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls, a core element of Irish foreign policy.

– AP/Reuters

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Asking price on average British home hits a record high of £338,462

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The average price tag on British homes has hit a record high of £338,462 as the competition heats up among ‘power buyers’, according to new figures.    

Average asking prices for homes increased by 0.3 per cent, or £1,091, month-on-month in September, according to figures from Rightmove. 

Wales, South West England, the East Midlands, the East of England and the South East – are experiencing annual asking price growth of more than 8 per cent.

Fierce competition continues among buyers for the low number of properties for sale.

Average asking prices for homes increased by 0.3 per cent, or £1,091, month-on-month in September, according to figures from Rightmove. Pictured: A house on sale for £340,000 in Brighton

Average asking prices for homes increased by 0.3 per cent, or £1,091, month-on-month in September, according to figures from Rightmove. Pictured: A house on sale for £340,000 in Brighton 

Rightmove added that buyers who are ready to move – including those who have already sold their own home, have cash in the bank, or are first-time buyers with a mortgage agreed – are ‘out-muscling’ those who still need to sell their home in order to buy. 

The frenzied market activity has helped to push up the average asking price of a newly-listed property to a new record for the fourth consecutive month, according to Rightmove.

The average asking price has climbed £21,389 higher in just six months to £338,447, according to the property listing website’s index.

Rightmove’s Tim Bannister said: ‘We predict that the number of completed sales will be the highest ever seen in a single month when June’s data is released by HMRC.

‘This means it’s likely that the first half of 2021 has seen a record number of moves when compared with the first six months of any other year, induced by the pandemic’s side-effect of a new focus on what a home needs to provide.’

Frenzied activity has helped to push up average property asking prices, says Rightmove

Frenzied activity has helped to push up average property asking prices, says Rightmove

It comes as it was revealed earlier this month that the prices houses are actually selling for are now 13 per cent higher than before the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The figures come in contrast to predictions from agents, who thought the end to the Covid-19 stamp duty holiday would see demand for properties dramatically fall and take heat out of the housing market.  

The Government’s stamp duty holiday, introduced when the pandemic hit last year, fuelled a rapid rise in house prices, but the stamp duty band was halved from £500,000 to £250,000 from July, and will revert to £125,000 from September 30.

Rightmove said that in the month to mid-July, asking prices rose 0.7 per cent – the equivalent of £2,374 and the largest monthly rise at this time of year since July 2007, at the peak of the boom just before the financial crisis.

The price data is based on Rightmove’s asking prices, while the data on the number of sales is a prediction of what the next HMRC transactions will show, based on Rightmove data that looks at properties being marked ‘under offer’ or ‘sold subject to contract’.

Rightmove attributed the increase to a lack of supply of homes for sale and identified a shortfall of 225,000 homes for sale which, if available, would have helped to maintain a more normal level of property stock for sale and stabilise prices.

This stark shortfall, along with frenzied buyer activity, is fuelling record high prices and leading to record lows in available stock for sale.  

The high levels of activity have continued, according to Rightmove, despite the end of the stamp duty holiday.

The stamp duty holiday, which ended on 30 June, saw no tax on the first £500,000 of a property purchase price replaced by none on the first £250,000 until the end of September. Stamp duty is due to return in full after that.

Rightmove said there is an ‘urgent need’ for low stocks of property for sale to be rebuilt so that stability in prices can return.

Rightmove said that the average value of a home in Britain currently stands at £338,462

Rightmove said that the average value of a home in Britain currently stands at £338,462

Mr Bannister said: ‘First-time buyers are currently benefitting from their sector having the most buyer-friendly conditions. Choice is still more limited when compared to the same period in 2019, but price rises are the most subdued of any sector.

‘Saving a deposit is still very hard, but 5 per cent is now an option, and with many paying rising rents, buying your own home on a lower deposit is becoming an opportunity again. The opportunity is also there for property owners to come to market, as it’s still a great sellers’ market despite the recent end of the tax holiday in Wales and its scaling back in England.

‘We’ve also seen a much more efficient housing market over the past year, with the strong buyer demand and faster churn of homes leading to a much higher percentage of sellers finding a buyer for their home, and fewer unsold homes being withdrawn from the market.

‘Buyer sentiment remains strong, and the growth in new households combined with people living longer and having changed housing needs is exacerbating long-term housing stock shortages.’

Rob Sabin, of estate agents Miles & Barr, said: ‘East Kent’s property market continues to be very active during the first six months of 2021 with buyers continuing to purchase the limited housing stock available.

Wales, South West England, the East Midlands, the East of England and the South East - are experiencing annual asking price growth of more than 8 per cent. Pictured: A house on sale for £340,000 in Bristol

Wales, South West England, the East Midlands, the East of England and the South East – are experiencing annual asking price growth of more than 8 per cent. Pictured: A house on sale for £340,000 in Bristol

‘The number of sellers coming to market has slowed as the year has progressed, which means we’ve seen the level of new listings coming to the market significantly decrease year on year, while in turn total available stock levels across the market is at the lowest we have seen in a number of years.

‘While the number of new listings has dropped, our results remained strong with 945 homes listed accepting an offer. East Kent has also seen the number of buyers looking to relocate to either the countryside or by the coast increase with a fifth of applicants registered coming from Greater London.’

Marc von Grundherr, of estate agents Benham and Reeves, said: ‘The UK property market continues to defy expectation, with house prices reaching yet another record high despite whispers of a decline in values as a result of the tapered stamp duty holiday deadline.

‘There’s no doubt the stamp duty holiday has been the catalyst for this impressive market performance. However, it isn’t the driving factor behind the intent to purchase for UK homebuyers and so a robust level of activity will remain long after it has expired. 

‘When you couple heightened demand with a severe shortage of stock, it’s very likely that property values will remain buoyant for the remainder of the year 2021 buyer frenzy reveals 225,000 shortfall in number of homes for sale.’ 

But property price growth has still seen a ‘surprising’ increase in August, with Nationwide Building Society figures placing it at 11 per cent higher than one year earlier. 

However, ONS figures released five days ago suggest the average UK house price dropped £10,000 in July.

The typical home was worth £255,535 in July, according to the Land Registry-based index – around £19,000 higher than a year earlier but significantly below the £265,448 peak in June.  

This translated to annual house price inflation slowing to 8 per cent in July, from 13.1 per cent the previous month.

In a reversal of fortune for the property market compared to the recent past, the North East is the UK’s hottest property market in terms of average price rises, with homes up almost 11 per cent in a year, while London is seeing the lowest gains at 2 per cent, ONS figures show. 

Rightmove added that buyers who are ready to move - including those who have already sold their own home, have cash in the bank, or are first-time buyers with a mortgage agreed - are 'out-muscling' those who still need to sell their home in order to buy. Pictured: A house on sale for £340,000 in Norfolk

Rightmove added that buyers who are ready to move – including those who have already sold their own home, have cash in the bank, or are first-time buyers with a mortgage agreed – are ‘out-muscling’ those who still need to sell their home in order to buy. Pictured: A house on sale for £340,000 in Norfolk 

Tim Bannister, Rightmove’s director of property data, said: ‘Competition among potential buyers to secure their next home is now more than double what it was this time in 2019.

‘To be in pole position in the race for the best property you need to have greater buying power than the rest of the field.

‘That traditionally would mean deeper pockets to outbid other buyers, but in the most competitive market ever, today’s ‘power buyers’ also need to have already found a buyer for their own property, or to have no need to sell at all.

‘Agents report that buyers who have yet to sell are being out-muscled by buyers who have already sold subject to contract.

Pictured: A house on sale for £340,000 on Washington Road in Leicester

Pictured: A house on sale for £340,000 on Washington Road in Leicester 

‘Proof that you are mortgage-ready or can splash the cash without needing a mortgage will also help you to get the pick of the housing crop.’

But there are signs of a re-balancing in the housing market. In the first two weeks of September, the number of new listings was up by 14% compared with the last two weeks of August.

Rightmove said a wider choice of properties should also encourage more homeowners to come to market as the number of potential onward purchases grows.

Mr Bannister continued: ‘This 14% increase in the number of new sellers coming to market in the first half of September is only an early snapshot, but autumn is traditionally a busy period, as those owners who have hesitated thus far during the year see the few months before Christmas as an opportunity to belatedly get their moving plans under way.’ 

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Zappone turns down invitation to appear before committee to discuss envoy role

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Former minister Katherine Zappone has turned down an invitation to appear before an Oireachtas committee to explain the circumstances surrounding her now-scrapped appointment as a special envoy.

The chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan confirmed on Monday that Ms Zappone had declined an invitation to attend to discuss the matter.

The committee, which met last Wednesday in private session, agreed to write to the former minister and invite her to appear before it.

It is understood the decision was taken at a private meeting after it was proposed by Sinn Féin spokesman on foreign affairs John Brady and his Social Democrats counterpart Gary Gannon.

The committee is also to invite Martin Fraser, the secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach and the State’s highest-ranking civil servant, to address the issue of precisely when Ms Zappone’s name was communicated to the Department of the Taoiseach.

Controversy erupted over an attempt by Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to appoint Ms Zappone as a special envoy for freedom of expression and LGBTQ+ rights.

Mr Coveney – who is attending UN meetings this week in New York – last week faced down a motion of no confidence as a result of his handling of the matter.

Earlier this month, Mr Coveney told the Oireachtas Committee Ms Zappone was mistaken in her belief she had been offered the job last March.

Mr Coveney also rejected claims that Ms Zappone lobbied for the position or that he breached Freedom of Information legislation by deleting texts between himself and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

However, Mr Coveney apologised for “sloppiness”, and for making mistakes in the past few weeks.

Records released by the Department of Foreign Affairs show Ms Zappone texted Mr Coveney to thank him on March 4th “so, so much for offering me this incredible opportunity”.

In mid-July she sent another message of thanks but Mr Coveney has insisted nothing had been formally agreed until it came to Cabinet on July 27th.

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Lori Loughlin and fashion designer husband drop $13M on Palm Desert vacation home

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Former Full House actress, Lori Loughlin, and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, have dropped $13million on a gated Palm Desert, California, oasis, following their release from prison for their involvement in the college-admissions scandal.  

Loughlin, who was released from prison in December, with her husband following in April, appear to be celebrating their newfound freedom with the purchase of their vacation getaway in the La Quinta community.

The five-bedroom, 5.5 bathroom home, situated in the guard-gated exclusive Madison Club, comes lavished with several amenities, including a wine cellar, movie theater, two pools, two spas, a wet bar and an outdoor projector-theater.  

Former Full House actress, Lori Loughlin, and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, have dropped $13million on a gated Palm Desert, California, oasis, following their release from prison for their involvement in the college-admissions scandal.

Former Full House actress, Lori Loughlin, and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, have dropped $13million on a gated Palm Desert, California, oasis, following their release from prison for their involvement in the college-admissions scandal.

The open dining and living room area is perfect for watching L.A sunsets

The open dining and living room area is perfect for watching L.A sunsets 

The home comes equipped with several outdoor fireplaces, perfect for entertaining guests on chilly evenings

The home comes equipped with several outdoor fireplaces, perfect for entertaining guests on chilly evenings 

Opulent swimming pools encompass the outdoor area, in addition to an outdoor projector for watching films

Opulent swimming pools encompass the outdoor area, in addition to an outdoor projector for watching films 

The home comes lavished with several amenities, including a wine cellar, movie theater, two pools, outdoor fireplaces, two spas, a wet bar and an outdoor projector-theater

The home comes lavished with several amenities, including a wine cellar, movie theater, two pools, outdoor fireplaces, two spas, a wet bar and an outdoor projector-theater 

Former 'Full House' actress, Lori Loughlin, (right) and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, (left) have dropped $13 million on a gated Palm Desert, California, oasis

Former ‘Full House’ actress, Lori Loughlin, (right) and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, (left) have dropped $13 million on a gated Palm Desert, California, oasis

Built in 2019, the home was formally owned by Assurance co-founder Michael Rowell and his wife, Alexis, who purchased it for only $9.5 million. 

A few of their neighbors include Kris Jenner, Kourtney Kardashian, Nike’s Phil Knight, Cindy Crawford and Scooter Braun. 

The purchase comes a year after Loughlin and Giannulli bought a $9.5 million modern farmhouse in the Hidden Hills area of Los Angeles.      

A federal judge in Boston recently granted Loughlin ‘expedited’ permission to travel to Canada to possibly rekindle her career. The request was necessary as she remains on probation.

The five-bedroom, 5.5 bathroom home is situated in the guard-gated exclusive Madison Club in the La Quinta community

The five-bedroom, 5.5 bathroom home is situated in the guard-gated exclusive Madison Club in the La Quinta community

Built in 2019, the home was formally owned by Assurance co-founder Michael Rowell and his wife, Alexis, who purchased it for only $9.5 million

Built in 2019, the home was formally owned by Assurance co-founder Michael Rowell and his wife, Alexis, who purchased it for only $9.5 million

An large dining area opens out onto the terrace, as an intricate chandelier hangs from the ceiling

An large dining area opens out onto the terrace, as an intricate chandelier hangs from the ceiling

Also featured in the amenities is a chic, oversized wine cellar

Also featured in the amenities is a chic, oversized wine cellar 

Loughlin was unable to travel due to her prison sentence and ensuing community service commitments stemming from her involvement in the ‘Operation Varsity Blues’ scheme, which involved wealthy parents paying large sums of money to get their kids into elite universities.    

‘Ms. Loughlin anticipates she will be traveling for about one week’ and is ‘being offered a filming production project’ if granted permission, her initial request sent by a probation official stated.   

It emerged in 2019 that Lori and Giannulli bribed their daughters Olivia and Isabella’s way into University Of Southern California.

Lori and her fashion designer husband paid $500,000 to falsely pass the girls off as potential college rowers on USC’s rowing team.

Although they initially claimed to be innocent, Mossimo pled guilty last May to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and honest services and mail fraud, while Lori pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud.  

Giannulli was sentenced to five months, while Loughlin served two months behind bars.

It emerged in 2019 that Lori and Giannulli bribed their daughters Olivia and Isabella's way into University Of Southern California

It emerged in 2019 that Lori and Giannulli bribed their daughters Olivia and Isabella’s way into University Of Southern California

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