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KABUL, September 19, 2018 (News Wires) - Afghan police and volunteer groups of armed civilians tightened controls across the capital Kabul on Wednesday ahead of Ashura, the holiest day of the Shi’ite Muslim calendar, following a series of attacks on Shi’ite targets by Islamic State militants.

Armed men stood at key points in areas like Dasht-e Barchi, a zone in western Kabul where many members of the mainly Shi’ite Hazara minority live and where some 20 people were killed in a suicide attack on a wrestling club two weeks ago.

For Shi’ites, Ashura, on the 10th day of the month of Muharram, commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein, one of the grandsons of the Prophet Mohammad, and is marked by large public processions that have been targeted by attackers in the past.

“If my life is needed, I will not hesitate for the safety of our people,” said Ghulam Yahya, a 22 year-old standing guard with an AK-47 automatic rifle.

“This gun was provided by the government but there are many people who voluntarily came out with their private weapons even with hunting guns to assist our security forces to assure our people’s safety,” he said.

No up-to-date census data exists for Afghanistan but different estimates put the size of the Shi’ite community at between 10-20 per cent of the total population, mostly Persian-speaking Hazaras and Tajiks.

Afghanistan, a largely Sunni Muslim country, had not suffered the sectarian violence seen in countries like Iraq but hundreds of Shi’ites have been killed over recent years in attacks on shrines and other sites.

Reports that the government had distributed 500 weapons to Hazara groups for self-defense have fueled worries, even among some Hazaras, about the potential for armed private groups to undermine the rule of law.

A senior official in the interior ministry denied the government had handed out weapons to Hazara groups but said security forces and the intelligence service were stepping up controls to head off any attack.

On Tuesday, officials said they had arrested 26 suspected militants from Islamic State, the Sunni militant group which has said its attacks on Shi’ite targets are retaliation for support it says is given to Iran by Afghan Shi’ites.

Arif Rahmani, a Hazara member of parliament, said the task of protecting the roughly 400 Shi’ite mosques in Kabul alone would far exceed the reach of any volunteer force but he said the government had no choice but to allow self-defense groups.

However, he said they should be incorporated into the regular security forces. “Powers for public protection have to be under the law.”

BARCELONA, September 11, 2018 (AFP) - Catalan separatists will seek to put on a show of strength and unity at celebrations of the region's national day on Tuesday, nearly a year after a failed attempt to break away from Spain.

At least 460,000 people have signed up for a Barcelona rally to push for a "Catalan Republic", organisers said, though this would represent a marked fall from last year when a million people marched for separation.

The demonstration will take place on a regional holiday commemorating Barcelona's defeat at the hands of troops loyal to Spain's King Philip V in 1714, and the region's subsequent loss of autonomy.

Since 2012, the holiday has been used by separatists to press for independence.

This year's rally will serve also to gauge the group's strength after a referendum on full autonomy on October 1 last year, and the Catalan parliament's unilateral declaration of independence on October 27, all came to naught.

"Separatists will hit the streets to show they are the most organised political force" in Catalonia, Oriol Bartomeus, a politics professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, told AFP.

Catalan president Quim Torra said the march will mark the start of a "mass mobilisation". Further protests are planned for the anniversary of last year's banned referendum, which was marred by clashes between police and voters.

"Our government has committed to implementing the republic," Torra said in a televised speech on Monday evening.

"This is a nation that feels and wants to be free."

LONDON, August 27, 2018 (News Wires) - London’s famous Notting Hill Carnival transformed the streets into a sea of colour and sound on Sunday as revellers joined one of Europe’s largest open-air parties in their thousands despite heavy rain in the British capital.

The carnival featured steel bands, dance troupes and elaborate floats, with many among the crowds hurling paint and coloured powder at each other while dancing on the city’s streets.

A celebration of Afro-Caribbean community, the two-day event has its roots in a 1964 London procession to bring people together despite racism and a lack of opportunity that blighted day-to-day life.

Police deployed metal-detecting arches to counter potential knife crime and have been additional stop-and-search powers at this year’s carnival based on intelligence and after a spate of violent crime in London over the past week.

PARIS, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) — The Champs Elysees avenue is the beating heart of Paris, a magnet for millions of tourists but also a place of mass gathering when the French want to celebrate.

The emblematic avenue rapidly filled to capacity yesterday as Parisians revelled in France’s second World Cup victory. More than a million people invaded the broad thoroughfare on July 12, 1998, after France clinched the trophy on home soil.

The next day the world champions were driven down the avenue in a double-decker bus, although the crowds prevented them from going right up to the famous Arc de Triomphe.

As cherished by tourists as the Eiffel Tower just across the River Seine, the elegant avenue stretching for two kilometres (more than a mile) from the Arc de Triomphe down to Concorde Square was first laid out in 1670.

Tens of thousands of people daily throng the tree-lined artery which is home to luxury boutiques, chain stores, cafes, cinemas and high-end offices.

The Obelisk of Luxor at Concorde Square, the Tuileries Garden and the Louvre Museum are all visible from what is dubbed “the most beautiful avenue in the world”.

Every year it hosts major popular events like the traditional military parade on July 14, the Bastille Day national holiday — which this year fell on the eve of the World Cup triumph.

The Champs Elysees is also the finish line for the world’s toughest cycling race, the Tour de France, and hundreds of thousands of Parisians and tourists gather there to see in the New Year.

ISLAMABAD, March 23, 2018 (AP) — Pakistanis celebrated on Friday their National Day with a military parade in the capital, Islamabad, showcasing short- and long-range missiles, tanks, jets, drones and other hardware. Troops, including female soldiers, marched past a stand with political and military leaders.

Thousands chanted "Long Live Pakistan" as Pakistani air force jets flew over, showing off the country's air power, and paratroopers jumped out of helicopters.

Pakistan air force has been critical to the military's offensive against militant hideous in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. The military has claimed success in routing militants, but violent attacks have has continued.

As part of security measures in Islamabad, authorities suspended mobile phone services during the parade, presumably as a precaution against homemade bombs being triggered remotely by cell phones.

Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain used the occasion to promise to defeat militants who have killed thousands of people in attacks over the past decade. In a televised speech, he also criticized neighboring India for what he called human rights violations in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Pakistan and India have tensed relations and they have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir.

Authorities blocked some roads in Islamabad during the parade, considered a main event in the day's festivities. Later on Friday, 141 Pakistanis and foreigners are to be honored for outstanding services and achievements, as part of the celebrations.

This year, Cuba's late ruler Fidel Castro is to be honored, in gratitude for sending Cuban doctors to Pakistan in the 2005 earthquake that killed 75,000 people.

Pakistani right activist Asma Jahangir, who died last month in Lahore and often criticized the military's interference in civilian affairs, will also be honored. Her family will receive her award.