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Taliban assault on capital Kabul expected

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Taliban insurgents have seized Afghanistan’s second- and third-biggest cities as resistance from government forces crumbled, stoking fears that an assault on the capital Kabul could be just days away.

A government official confirmed that Kandahar, the economic hub of the south, was under Taliban control as international forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of war.

A senior U.S. defence official said there was concern that the Taliban – ousted from power by U.S-led forces in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks on the United States – could make a move on Kabul within days.

Afghan First Vice President Amrullah Saleh said after a security meeting chaired by President Ashraf Ghani that he was proud of the armed forces and the government would do all it could to strengthen the resistance to the Taliban.

The fighting has raised fears of a refugee crisis and a rollback of gains in human rights since the Taliban were ousted. Some 400,000 civilians have been forced from their homes since the beginning of the year, 250,000 of them since May, a U.N. official said.

“The situation has all the hallmarks of a humanitarian catastrophe,” the U.N. World Food Programme’s Thomson Phiri told a briefing, expressing concern about a “larger tide of hunger”. 

Under Taliban rule, women could not work, girls were not allowed to attend school and women had to cover their face and be accompanied by a male relative if they wanted to venture out of their homes. In early July, Taliban fighters ordered nine women to stop working in a bank

Of Afghanistan’s major cities, the government still holds Mazar-i-Sharif in the north and Jalalabad, near the Pakistani border in the east, in addition to Kabul.

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‘Google’ is most searched word on Bing, Google says

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The top entry on Microsoft’s Bing search engine is for its rival Google, Google has said.

The claim was made in court, as Google made its case to appeal against a €4.3bn ($5bn) fine from the European Union for abusing its market power.

The EU accused Google of using Android’s success in the smartphone market to make Google the default search engine.

But Google says its service is simply the most popular.

“We have submitted evidence showing that the most common search query on Bing is, by far, ‘Google’,” lawyer Alfonso Lamadrid told the EU General Court, as first reported by Bloomberg. “People use Google because they choose to, not because they are forced to.

“Google’s market share in general search is consistent with consumer surveys showing that 95% of users prefer Google to rival search engines.”

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Rapid house price growth continues in September

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Annual house price growth of 10% or more has been recorded for each of the past five months, according to data from the Nationwide.

The UK’s largest building society said that prices in September were up 10% compared with a year earlier, a slight slowdown from 11% in August.

The double-digit rise was driven by recent activity in Wales and Northern Ireland, the lender said, with London still seeing the slowest growth.

The typical home now costs £248,742.

Rapidly rising house prices continues to create financial problems for potential first-time buyers, despite record low mortgage rates being offered by lenders.

A recent report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that people in tourist hotspots – which have become increasingly popular for relocating buyers – were at risk of being priced out of buying a home in the areas where they worked.

Nationwide bases its house price estimates on its mortgage data, and Robert Gardner, the building society’s chief economist, said that property values had continued to rise more quickly than earnings, which meant affordability was becoming more stretched.

“Raising a deposit remains the main barrier for most prospective first-time buyers. A 20% deposit on a typical first-time buyer home is now around 113% of gross income – a record high,” he said.

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Fuel diverted from large firms to forecourts in UK to ease crisis

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Fuel is being diverted from large firms in the UK to garage forecourts in a move that could threaten to disrupt online deliveries, The Telegraph reported on Wednesday.

UK government officials have instructed executives running Britain’s network of fuel terminals to send tankers heading for large companies to garages and service stations instead, the newspaper said https://bit.ly/3kSWTL6, citing industry sources.

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