September 13, 2020

This is VOA news. Reporting by remote, I'm David Byrd.

The head of Afghanistan's peace council, Abdullah Abdullah, said on Saturday negotiators would discuss a reduction in violence as a priority when they met Taliban representatives on Sunday and that both sides would need to find compromises on contentious issues.

A ceremony to launch talks aimed at ending 19 years of war took place in Qatar's capital Doha after months of delays following a meeting between representatives of both sides to work out how talks should proceed.

Abdullah told Reuters in an interview that a cease-fire would be one of the first issues discussed when negotiators met Sunday.

"As, as one of the top most issues on the minds of the people, reduction in violence in significant way, in a way that it's palpable, and also getting to humanitarian cease-fire, and hopefully permanent cease-fire."

In addition to terms of a permanent cease-fire, the parties were expected to discuss the rights of women and minorities and the disarming of tens of thousands of Taliban fighters and militants loyal to warlords, some of them aligned with the government.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Saturday the United States remains "deeply concerned" about Turkey's actions in the eastern Mediterranean, urging a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

N a fleeting trip to Cyprus on Saturday to meet with that country's president, Pompeo said that countries in the region need to resolve their disagreements peacefully and diplomatically.

"We remain deeply concerned by Turkey's ongoing operations surveying for natural resources in areas over which Greece and Cyprus assert jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean."

Tensions in the eastern Mediterranean have risen over claims and counter claims pitting Turkey against Greece and Cyprus in maritime areas thought to be rich in natural gas.

This is VOA news.

AstraZeneca has resumed British clinical trials of its COVID-19 vaccine, one of the most advanced in development. after receiving the green light from safety watchdogs. Reuters Francis Maguire reports.

A major drug company's hopes of delivering a coronavirus vaccine were lifted on Saturday, when safety regulators gave AstraZeneca the go-ahead to resume clinical trials. It comes as a relief for the drug maker.

Earlier this week, late-stage tests of its experimental vaccine were suspended when a study subject became ill in the UK.

The patient involved had reportedly suffered from neurological symptoms linked to a rare spinal inflammatory disorder. But AstraZeneca, who are working with the University of Oxford, said British authorities had now confirmed it was safe to resume trials.

Governments around the world are desperate for a vaccine to help end the global health crisis. Leading U.S. and European developers have said, though, they will not bow to political pressure to rush the process.

That's Reuters Francis Maguire.

Coronavirus infections in the states of North and South Dakota have been growing faster than anywhere else in the nation over the last two weeks. AP's Ben Thomas reports.

Johns Hopkins University researchers say North and South Dakota have led the country in per capita cases. The states have also posted some of the country's highest positivity rates for COVID-19 tests. That's an indication there are more infections than tests are catching.

The infections have been spurred by schools and universities reopening as well as mass gatherings like the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Nonetheless, the governors of North and South Dakota, both of whom are Republican, have resisted mask requirements.

I'm Ben Thomas.

A group of Hong Kong families on Saturday demanded the urgent return of their activist relatives detained last month by mainland Chinese authorities as they tried to flee the city by boat to Taiwan. Reuters Fred Katayama reports.

Speaking in Cantonese, one detainee's mother, whose son needs allergy medicine, said, "I hope Hong Kong can help the detainees come back. We don't even know if he is dead or alive."

The local government's office in Guangdong said the 12 detainees are in what it called "good physical condition and have hired representatives FROM mainland lawyers."

The arrests come as a sweeping new national security law imposed by Beijing in July takes full effect.

Earlier this week, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said if the detainees had been arrested for breaking mainland law, then they - quote - "have to be dealt with according to the mainland laws."

That's Reuters Fred Katayama.

Reporting by remote, I'm David Byrd, VOA news.