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Afghan PM Defends Taliban's Rule       11/28 08:44


   KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghanistan's Taliban prime minister defended the 
group's rule in a public address Saturday, saying it was not to blame for a 
worsening economic crisis and is working to repair the corruption of the ousted 
government. He also dismissed international pressure for the formation of a 
more inclusive Cabinet.

   The half-hour audio played on state-run media was the first such public 
address by Mohammed Hassan Akhund since the Taliban captured Kabul and secured 
their rule over the country three months ago. The Taliban takeover led to a 
shut-off of international aid to the government and the blocking of billions of 
dollars in Afghan assets held abroad, worsening an already crumbling economy.

   Akhund said the problems of worsening unemployment and the financial 
meltdown had begun under the previous, U.S.-backed government, adding that 
Afghans should not believe claims that the Taliban were to blame.

   "Nation, be vigilant. Those left over from the previous government in hiding 
are ... causing anxiety, misleading the people to distrust their government," 
he said.

   The ousted government had run "the weakest system in the world," he said, 
pointing to pervasive corruption. In contrast, he said, the Taliban are 
eliminating corruption and have brought security around the country.

   "We are trying as much as possible to solve the problems of the people. We 
are working overtime in every department," Akhund said, adding that the group 
had formed committees to try to the resolve the economic crisis and pay 
salaries to government employees, who have largely gone without pay for months.

   U.N. officials have warned of a humanitarian crisis with millions of Afghans 
plunging deeper into poverty and facing hunger -- with increasing numbers on 
the verge of starvation. Afghanistan has been hit by one of its worst famines 
in decades, and the economic collapse has meant many people are unable to 
afford food.

   Akhund urged people to pray for an end to the famine, which he called "a 
test from God, after people rebelled against Him."

   The United States and other countries have refused to recognize the Taliban 
government until it includes more of Afghanistan's ethnic and political 
spectrum -- as well as women -- and until it guarantees women's rights.

   All the ministers in the current Cabinet come from the Taliban's ranks. The 
Taliban have not completely barred women from the public sphere as they did 
during their previous rule in the late 1990s. But they have ordered most women 
government employees not to come to work and have not let high school girls 
return to school, though they allowed younger girls.

   Akhund dismissed the demands, saying the government has members from around 
the country. He insisted the Islamic Emirate -- as the Taliban call their 
government -- "has saved women's dignity."

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