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Facebook removes Afghan media pages controlled by Taliban

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Facebook has removed the accounts of at least two state-owned media outlets in Afghanistan, the company confirmed
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Facebook has removed the accounts of at least two state-owned media outlets in Afghanistan, the company confirmed Thursday, saying it was complying with laws in the United States listing the Taliban as a “terrorist organisation”.

The Taliban have made liberal use of Facebook and Twitter since seizing power in August last year, and have a firm grip on state-owned media in the country — including radio and TV stations, and newspapers.

While Facebook parent Meta did not list the banned media outlets, state broadcaster National Radio Television Afghanistan (RTA) and the government-owned Bakhtar news agency both said that they had been blocked.

The Facebook pages of privately owned media houses seemed unaffected.

“The Taliban is sanctioned as a terrorist organisation under U.S. law and they are banned from using our services,” a Meta spokesperson told AFP in a statement.

“We remove accounts maintained by or on behalf of the Taliban and prohibit praise, support, and representation of them,” it added.

Government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid criticised the blocking, saying it showed “impatience and intolerance” by the US firm.

“The slogan ‘Freedom of expression’ is used to deceive other nations,” he tweeted.

RTA director Ahmadullah Wasiq said in a video statement that the Pashto and Dari-language pages of the organisation on Facebook and Instagram had been closed “for unknown reasons”.

“RTA is a national institution — the voice of the nation,” he said.

Bakhtar also urged Facebook to reconsider, saying on Twitter: “The only goal of this news agency is to share accurate, timely and comprehensive information to its audiences.”

On Thursday, the hashtag “#BanTaliban” was trending on Twitter, with thousands of users calling for Taliban accounts on that platform to be blocked.

The Taliban have made prolific use of Twitter since seizing power.

While most accounts linked to the former Western-backed government have been dormant since the takeover, new “official” ones have proliferated — although none with Twitter’s blue tick of authenticity.

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Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi hit with $1.2 billion fine

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Didi has been caught up in a crackdown on the technology sector that has ensnared some of China's biggest firms
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China has fined ride-hailing giant Didi 8 billion yuan ($1.2 billion), regulators announced Thursday, concluding a year-long investigation into alleged data security violations.

The probe found “conclusive evidence” that Didi had committed violations of an “egregious nature”, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said in a statement.

It accused Didi of illegally storing the ID information of more than 57 million drivers in plain text instead of a more secure format.

The regulator said the firm also analysed passenger details without their knowledge — including photos on their mobile phones and facial recognition data.

“Even when regulatory authorities ordered corrections, comprehensive and in-depth corrections were not carried out,” the CAC said, adding Didi’s violations took place over seven years starting June 2015.

Didi has been one of the highest-profile targets of a widespread clampdown on China’s tech sector, which saw years of runaway growth and the emergence of supersized monopolies before regulators stepped in. 

The fine amounts to more than four percent of its $27.3 billion total revenue last year.

“We sincerely accept this decision (and will) resolutely obey it,” Didi said in a statement on social media.

“We sincerely thank the competent authorities for their inspection and guidance… We will take this as a warning… (and) further strengthen the construction of network security and data security.”

Didi’s fine is the largest imposed by Chinese authorities since e-commerce behemoth Alibaba was ordered to pay around $2.75 billion in April 2021 for anti-competitive practices.

The ride-hailing firm got into hot water in June last year after it pressed ahead with an initial public offering in the United States, reportedly against Beijing’s wishes.  

Days after it raised $4.4 billion in New York, Chinese authorities launched a cybersecurity probe into the company, sending its shares plunging.  

Since then, Didi’s app has been removed from Chinese stores and it has been unable to register new users.

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American Airlines reports profits despite jet fuel cost drag

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American Airlines reported record revenues on strong flying demand with ebbing of the Covid-19 pandemic
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American Airlines reported a profitable second quarter Thursday as the ebbing of the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in record revenues despite the hit from higher fuel costs.  

The big US carrier said its first profitable quarter since the start of the pandemic was due to operations rather than government support programs.

Profits were $476 million compared with just $19 million in the year-ago period.

Revenues jumped about 80 percent to $13.4 billion, the most in the company’s history. Jet fuel costs were more than double the level from the 2021 period.

Pricey tickets have fueled the surge. From April through June, revenues topped those of the pre-pandemic 2019 quarter by 12 percent, even though capacity was 8.5 percent lower.

American signaled that the trend was holding in the third quarter, when it expects revenues of 10-12 percent above the 2019 level, with capacity down 8-10 percent.

Leisure travel remains above pre-pandemic levels, while American also saw improvements in both business travel and international bookings, Chief Executive Officer Robert Isom said in a letter to employees.

“Making sure American could take advantage of the continued recovery has been our collective focus, and the second quarter is evidence that our actions are producing positive results,” Isom said. 

“There is no better validation of this than reporting our first quarterly profit since the start of the pandemic.”

Shares fell 3.2 percent to $14.73 in pre-market trading.

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Euro up as Russian gas returns, stocks waver ahead of ECB decision

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The European Central Bank is expected to announce its first rate hike in over a decade
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The euro gained ground against the dollar on Thursday after Russia resumed gas supplies to Europe but stock markets were twitchy ahead of a European Central Bank policy meeting, where the guardian of the euro is expected to announce its first rate hike in over a decade. 

At around half-way through the session, London’s FTSE 100 and Frankfurt’s DAX index were both down by nearly 0.5 percent, while the Paris CAC 40 trod water. In Italy, where the Prime Minister Mario Draghi has quit, the FTSE MIB shed nearly two percent.

“The euro is on the front foot… claiming back some of the previous session’s losses to the dollar,” said ActivTrades analyst, Ricardo Evangelista. 

“Russia resumed the supply of gas to Europe through the Nord Stream pipeline, in a move that is positive for the single currency. However, the sigh of relief from euro bulls was limited, as later today the ECB is expected to announce its first rate hike in years.” 

Russia on Thursday restored critical gas supplies to Europe through Germany via the Nord Stream pipeline after 10 days of maintenance, but uncertainty lingered whether the Kremlin would still trigger an energy crisis on the continent this winter. 

– More aggressive tightening? –

ECB watchers are divided over the size of the anticipated rate hike. Until recently, most market players had been betting on a quarter-point increase. 

However, “a larger hike would make sense in the current scenario of high inflation, but could also increase doubts over the growth prospects of the eurozone, and intensify the risk of fragmentation in the periphery,” ActivTrades analyst Evangelista said. 

Markets.com analyst Neil Wilson said there has been “some chatter about a double-hit 50-basis-point hike, which has seen markets move swiftly to price in more aggressive tightening, lifting the euro from its multi-year lows.

“However, I believe it is not in the ECB’s nature to go off-beam and rip up the guidance it issued just weeks ago.”

Complicating the situation was the news of Draghi’s resignation and the ensuing political instability in Italy it will entail.

“Italy’s political turmoil will stay the hand of the ECB,” said Wilson at Markets.com. 

“It seems all too apposite that Mario Draghi, the man who ‘saved’ the euro, is going to fall on his sword the very day the ECB raises rates for the first time in more than a decade, and that the economic problems in Italy that his policies papered over as ECB chief have not been resolved.”

On the commodities markets, oil prices extended their losses — with WTI below $100 — after data showed US stockpiles rose more than expected last week as Americans opted not to pay for expensive petrol.

The figures come despite being at the height of the high-demand summer driving season.

– Key figures at around 1000 GMT –

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.4 percent at 7,232.57 points

Frankfurt – DAX: DOWN 0.3 percent at 13,236.15 

Paris – CAC 40: UP 0.3 percent at 6,203.06

EURO STOXX 50: UNCHANGED at 3,584.78

Rome – FTSE MIB: DOWN 1.6 percent at 21,010.50

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.4 percent at 27,803.00 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: DOWN 1.51 percent at 20,574.63 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 1.0 percent at 3,272.00 (close)

New York – Dow: UP 0.2 percent at 31,874.84 (close)

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0185 from $1.0175 Wednesday

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.1952 from $1.1975 

Euro/pound: UP at 85.22 pence from 84.96 pence

Dollar/yen: UP at 138.70 yen from 138.26 yen

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 4.3 percent at $95.55 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 4.1 percent at $102.50 per barrel

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