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Taliban council agrees to cease-fire in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban’s ruling council agreed Sunday to a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan, providing a window in which a peace agreement with the United States can be signed, officials from the insurgent group said. They didn’t say when it would begin.

A cease-fire had been demanded by Washington before any peace agreement could be signed. A peace deal would allow the U.S. to bring home its troops from Afghanistan and end its 18-year military engagement there, America’s longest.

There was no immediate response from Washington.

The U.S. wants any deal to include a promise from the Taliban that Afghanistan would not be used as a base by terrorist groups. The U.S. currently has an estimated 12,000 troops in Afghanistan.

The Taliban chief must approve the cease-fire decision but that was expected. The duration of the cease-fire was not specified but it was suggested it would last for 10 days. It was also not specified when the cease-fire would begin.

Four members of the Taliban negotiating team met for a week with the ruling council before they agreed on the brief cease-fire. The negotiating team returned Sunday to Qatar where the Taliban maintain their political office and where U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been holding peace talks with the religious militia since September, 2018.

Talks were suspended in September when both sides seemed on the verge of signing a peace pact. However, a surge in violence in the capital Kabul killed a U.S. soldier, prompting President Donald Trump to declare the deal “dead.” Talks resumed after Trump made a surprise visit to Afghanistan at the end of November announcing the Taliban were ready to talk and agree to a reduction in violence.

Khalilzad returned to Doha at the beginning of December. It was then that he proposed a temporary halt to hostilities to pave the way to an agreement being signed, according to Taliban officials.

Taliban officials familiar with the negotiations spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media outlets.

A key pillar of the agreement, which the U.S. and Taliban have been hammering out for more than a year, is direct negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the conflict.

Those intra-Afghan talks were expected to be held within two weeks of the signing of a U.S.-Taliban peace deal. They will decide what a post-war Afghanistan will look like.

The first item on the agenda is expected to address how to implement a cease-fire between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s National Security Forces. The negotiations, however, were expected to be prickly and will cover a variety of thorny issues, including rights of women, free speech, and changes to the country’s constitution.

The intra-Afghan talks would also lay out the fate of tens of thousands of Taliban fighters and the heavily armed militias belonging to Afghanistan’s warlords. Those warlords have amassed wealth and power since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 by the U.S.-led coalition. They were removed after Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida carried out the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The Taliban had harbored bin Laden, although there was no indication they were aware of al-Qaida’s plans to attack the United States.

Even as the Taliban were talking about ceasing hostilities, insurgents carried out an attack in northern Afghanistan on Sunday that killed at least 17 local militiamen.

The attack apparently targeted a local militia commander who escaped unharmed, said Jawad Hajri, a spokesman for the governor of Takhar province, where the attack took place late Saturday.

Local Afghan militias commonly operate in remote areas, and are under the command of either the defense or interior ministries.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack.

Last week, a U.S. soldier was killed in combat in the northern Kunduz province. The Taliban claimed they were behind a fatal roadside bombing that targeted American and Afghan forces in Kunduz. The U.S. military said the soldier was not killed in an IED attack but died seizing a Taliban weapon’s cache.

The U.S. military in its daily report of military activity said airstrikes overnight Sunday killed 13 Taliban in attacks throughout the country.

Taliban as well as Afghan National Security Forces aided by U.S. air power have carried out daily attacks against each other

The Taliban frequently target Afghan and U.S. forces, as well as government officials. But scores of Afghan civilians are also killed in the cross-fire or by roadside bombs planted by militants. The United Nations has called on all sides in the conflict to reduce civilian casualties. The world body said increased U.S. airstrikes and ground operations by Afghan National Security Forces, as well as relentless Taliban attacks, have contributed to an increase in civilian casualties.

Last year, Afghanistan was the world’s deadliest conflict.


Gannon reported from Islamabad.

Legal smoking age change unclear for some businesses

HUNTINGTON — In Huntington, confusion and a lack of details surround a new law prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.

That new law has officially gone into effect, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. At least 19 states had already raised the legal age to purchase tobacco products, but West Virginia had not.

Last week, President Donald Trump signed a spending bill to keep the government operating and to stave off another shutdown crisis. That sweeping bill granted federal employees paid paternity leave, allocated money for Trump’s planned Space Force branch of the military and officially raised the legal age to buy tobacco, among other things.

On Friday, the FDA updated its tobacco retail guidelines to state: “It is now illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product — including cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes — to anyone under 21. FDA will provide additional details on this issue as they become available.”

However, those details were not immediately clear to some retail establishments in Huntington. Some business owners and employees said they felt out of the loop on the sudden change in the law.

At Stogie’s Discount Tobacco & Beer along U.S. Route 60, employees said they were not sure when the new law went into effect. However, they stressed the store would follow federal law once they had more information.

At one Huntington vape store, an employee said she was not aware of how the law would effect the sale of vaporizers and tobacco vape juice to anyone under 21. She was also unaware the law was already in effect.

Imad Jarwan, co-owner of Lulu Mart on Huntington’s West End, said he was not sure if the new law affected all retail establishments or only federal establishments like military commissaries. Jarwan said he was concerned the ban could affect cigarette and vaporizer sales at his store.

“You’re a legal adult,” he said. “You can go out and join the military, but you can’t buy cigarettes.”

Advocates for raising the legal smoking age say the change could help save lives, making it more difficult for teens to get access to the deadly and addictive products.

According to a West Virginia Division of Tobacco Prevention study, approximately 147,900 children in the state were expected to become smokers by 2014. Of those, about 47,000 are expected to die from smoking-related illnesses.

The rate at which high school students were denied tobacco sales because of their age was about 15% in 2013.

This year, two bills were introduced to raise the legal smoking age to 21 in West Virginia (excluding active duty military members who are at least 18 years old). However, both bills failed to gain support.

In September, Ohio implemented a law making it illegal for anyone under 21 to purchase cigarettes, tobacco products or vaping products. Virginia and Pennsylvania were among 19 other states to implement similar laws.

States charge more for electric cars as new laws take effect

The new year will bring new charges for some owners of electric vehicles, as an increasing number of states seek to plug in to fresh revenue sources to offset forgone gas taxes.

In Hawaii, the charge will be $50. In Kansas, $100. In Alabama and Ohio, $200.

New or higher registration fees go into effect Wednesday for electric vehicle owners in at least eight states. For the first time, a majority of U.S. states will impose special fees on gas-free cars, SUVs and trucks — a significant milestone as the trend toward green technology intersects with the mounting need to pay for upgrades and repairs to the nation’s infrastructure.

Though electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles comprised less than 2% of new vehicle sales in 2018, their market share is projected to rise substantially in the coming decade. State officials hope the new fees will make up for at least part of the lost gas tax revenue that is essential to their road and bridge programs.

“I think states are still trying to determine what is a fair or equitable fee on these electric vehicle owners,” said Kristy Hartman, energy program director at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Imposing fees on electric vehicles is one of several societal trends reflected in laws taking effect in 2020.

Twenty-one states will raise their minimum wage, including several to $12 an hour or more. Illinois will become the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana for adults. And California will join about 10 states that enacted measures this past year relaxing deadlines to sue or prosecute for prior sexual abuse — a reaction to the ongoing sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church.

Until now, the federal government and some states have offered incentives to people to buy electric vehicles. But federal tax credits are phasing out for some of the most popular models made by Tesla and General Motors, and some states also are switching course.

Illinois, for example, had offered a two-year license plate for electric vehicles for $35, a sizable discount over its basic $98 annual registration fee. Under a law that raised both registration fees and fuel taxes, electric vehicle owners will have to pay the new basic annual rate of $148, plus an additional $100 intended to offset the lost fuel taxes.

“It’s kind of a blanket penalty for anyone who chooses to go electric,” said Neda Deylami, a Tesla owner who founded Chicago for EVs, a group that advocates for electric vehicles.

Three-quarters of the revenue from Alabama’s new $200 fee on electric vehicles and $100 fee for plug-in hybrids will go to fund state and local roads and bridges. The other quarter will fund grants for electric charging infrastructure, and will expire once electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles surpass 4% of all vehicles in the state.

The fee is designed to bring “more than just a fairness relative to maintenance and construction of infrastructure,” said Alabama state Rep. Bill Poole, a Republican, who sponsored the legislation. “I think it went further in terms of planning for the future.”

Because average commuting distances vary by vehicle owner, it’s difficult to set a universally fair fee for electric vehicles, said Loren McDonald, a California-based industry analyst who runs the website EV Adoption.

“States are actually being very reasonable about this,” McDonald said, noting that some are charging less than what vehicle owners might otherwise pay for fuel taxes.

Other states with new or higher electric vehicle fees taking effect in 2020 include Iowa, Oregon and Utah. California, which accounts for nearly half of all electric vehicle sales in the U.S., is to collect a $100 fee on new “zero-emission” vehicles starting July 1.

Some other notable laws set to take effect Wednesday include:

Police use-of-force

The nation’s oldest law governing when police can use deadly force is being revamped in California to become what the American Civil Liberties Union describes as one of the strongest in the U.S. California’s previous law allowed deadly force when officers had “reasonable fear” for their safety. The new law will allow it only when necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious injury to officers or bystanders, but it doesn’t include a definition of “necessary.”

Another new California law increases officers’ training on handling confrontations. The changes come after Sacramento police in 2018 fatally shot Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old black vandalism suspect, leading to major protests.


A new California law will create greater state oversight of doctors who write medical exemptions for school children’s vaccinations. The law generated passionate legislative debate and drew hundreds of supporters and opponents to the Capitol this past year. It will allow the state to investigate doctors who grant more than five medical exemptions in a year and schools with vaccination rates under 95%, the threshold that experts say means a population is resistant to a disease such as measles. The law will phase out existing medical exemptions over the coming years.


A Colorado “red flag” law will law allow family, household members or law enforcement to petition a court to have guns seized from people deemed a threat to themselves or others. A seizure can be extended to 364 days, and the burden of proof is on the gun owner to get firearms back.

The law was championed by Democratic Rep. Tom Sullivan, whose son, Alex Sullivan, was killed in the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting. Some Republican lawmakers and the group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners have sued to try to block the law, and about 12 of the state’s 64 counties have passed resolutions declaring themselves 2nd Amendment “sanctuaries” in response to it. Some sheriffs have said they won’t enforce the court orders.

By contrast, a Tennessee law could allow people to more easily get permits to carry concealed guns. The law creates a less-expensive permit option that doesn’t require live-fire training and instead allows people to take an online firearms training or safety course.


Arkansas will become the latest state to wade into the national immigration debate with a new law cutting off discretionary state funding for “sanctuary” cities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Other Republican-led states have enacted similar laws. By contrast, several Democratic-led states have adopted sanctuary laws restricting local law enforcement officers from asking about people’s immigration status or notifying federal authorities when an immigrant is about to be released from state custody.


A North Carolina law will alter the process to request and fill out mail-in-absentee ballots in response to a fraud investigation of the 9th U.S. House District race in 2018 that led to a do-over election in 2019. Much of the new law targets a practice called “ballot harvesting,” in which political operatives gathered hundreds of absentee ballots from voters and forged signatures or filled in votes. The new law will keep information confidential about people who request absentee ballots until the actual in-person election day.


At least seven states will begin requiring electronic prescriptions for controlled substances such as opioids. The movement to do away with handwritten prescriptions by doctors is one of many steps states have been taking to try to curb opioid addictions and overdoses.

New laws taking effect in Arizona, Iowa, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Tennessee mean a dozen states will now have such laws. Virginia is to implement its law in July, and 13 additional states have passed electronic prescription laws that are to kick in during 2021.


A California measure described as the nation’s most sweeping data privacy law will require many companies to tell consumers, upon request, what personal data they collect about them, why it’s collected and what other entities receive it. Consumers can ask companies to delete their personal information and not sell it. The law also prohibits companies from selling data related to children younger than 16 without consent. An economic analysis prepared for the state attorney general’s office has estimated the total cost of initial compliance with the law at $55 billion.

Another new California law will bar police from using facial recognition software in body-worn cameras, a move that follows New Hampshire and Oregon.

An Illinois law seeks to shed light on the use of artificial intelligence during the hiring process. Employers who ask applicants to self-record video interviews and submit them for consideration will have to notify applicants and obtain their consent if they intend to use artificial intelligence to analyze the person’s facial expressions or fitness for the position.


Twenty years after voter approval, Massachusetts will enact the final reduction in a gradual state income tax cut. The 2000 ballot measure was to reduce the state’s 5.95% tax rate to 5% by 2003. But lawmakers froze the rate at 5.3% in 2002 and passed a law allowing a more gradual step down to resume if the state hit certain revenue benchmarks. With those conditions satisfied, the tax rate is finally to fall to 5% in 2020.

In Missouri, a corporate income tax law signed in the final hours before former Gov. Eric Greitens resigned in May 2018 will go into effect in 2020. The law will cut Missouri’s corporate income tax rate from 6.25% to 4%, making it one of the lowest rates in the nation. But another provision in the law will do away with an option for calculating corporate income that could result in higher Missouri tax bills for some multi-state businesses.

Paid leave

Employees in Washington can start applying for time off under the state’s new paid family leave law. Businesses and workers have been paying into the program — approved by the Legislature in 2017 — for the past year through premiums on wages. Starting in 2020, eligible workers can receive 12 weeks paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child or for a serious medical condition of the worker or a family member, or 16 weeks for a combination of both. Washington is the fifth state to launch a paid family leave law, to be followed by Washington, D.C., in July. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine and Oregon have passed laws that take effect between 2021 and 2023.

City offering free Christmas tree disposals

HUNTINGTON — Now that Christmas is over, people have an opportunity to dispose of their trees for free, thanks to the City of Huntington.

Sanitation workers will be collecting real Christmas trees at six locations around the city:

  • St. Cloud Commons (upper parking lot)
  • Harris Riverfront Park (upper parking lot on the 12th Street end)
  • Altizer Community Park
  • Parking lot of old League 6/Riverside baseball field on Ferguson Road
  • West end of the former Olympic Pool property
  • Deitz Hollow drop-off site. The times for this specific location are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the third Saturday of the month.

People were urged not to place their old Christmas trees out with their household garbage. The sap from the trees can damage equipment on the trash packer trucks.