French FM to visit Iran on March 5

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will visit Iran in March, according to reports in Le Figaro. (REUTERS)
Updated 22 January 2018
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French FM to visit Iran on March 5

PARIS: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will visit Iran on March 5 after canceling a January trip following violent anti-regime protests, French daily Le Figaro quoted him Sunday as saying.
“We have embarked upon a dialogue with Iran on the issue of ballistics and regional questions,” Le Figaro quoted Le Drian as saying in an interview to appear Monday.
He told the paper that Paris “wishes to bring up (Tehran’s) destabilising military influence in the Middle East, its financial support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah and for the Houthi (rebels) in Yemen.”
“That is why ... I shall go to Iran on March 5,” said Le Drian, who will hold talks with counterpart Javad Zarif.
Le Drian announced the rescheduled talks after French President Emmanuel Macron voiced concern on January 2 over countrywide demonstrations in Iran and postponed a visit originally scheduled for January 5 and 6.
Violent unrest fueled by economic grievances erupted in dozens of Iranian cities between December 28 and January 1, leaving 25 people dead according to an official tally and thousands more arrested.
Adding urgency to Le Drian’s visit is a four-month US ultimatum to remedy a 2015 landmark nuclear deal which curbed Iran’s nuclear ambitions in return for the relaxing of punishing sanctions.
US President Donald Trump has lambasted the deal and last October refused to certify Iran was in compliance although he stopped short of withdrawing from it.
The European Union has defended the accord, warning that abandoning it would be a mistake after it was thrashed out over 12 years between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, China, Germany and Russia.
But the EU retains deep concerns over Iran’s continuing ballistic missile program and its meddling in the conflicts in Yemen and Syria.
“If Iran wants to return to the family of nations it must cooperate on these questions or else it will always rightly be suspected of wanting to develop nuclear weapons,” Le Drian told Le Figaro.


Devotees throng Indian flashpoint temple, but no women

Updated 3 min 55 sec ago
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Devotees throng Indian flashpoint temple, but no women

  • India’s Supreme Court ruled in September that all females, including those of menstruating age, could enter the shrine perched in a tiger reserve in the southern state of Kerala
  • Hindu hard-liners clashed with police, assaulted journalists and prevented the court order from being implemented, when the temple reopned

PATHANAMTHITTA, India: Tens of thousands of pilgrims thronged one of Hinduism’s holiest temples in southern India Saturday as it reopened amid high security, but women aged between 10 and 50 were absent despite a court order allowing them to enter.
Hindu activists meanwhile imposed a strike to protest that the security measures were impeding their ability to worship at the Sabarimala shrine, closing shops and reducing traffic to a trickle.
India’s Supreme Court ruled in September that all females, including those of menstruating age, could enter the shrine perched in a tiger reserve in the southern state of Kerala.
But when the temple reopened for several days last month, Hindu hard-liners clashed with police, assaulted journalists and prevented the court order from being implemented.
With thousands of extra riot police on duty and police barricades set up, the hilltop temple reopened late on Friday a day ahead of the start of a Hindu festival period.
Among the several hundred thousand people who have registered to pray at the temple over the coming weeks are around 700 women, setting the stage for a major showdown.
However, no women have yet tried to approach the site ahead of a hearing next week at the Supreme Court of a motion announced late Friday by the board managing the temple site.
It aims to ask the court, likely on Monday, to allow more time to admit women, citing the lack of infrastructure following major floods in August, a spokesman told AFP.
On January 22 the Supreme Court will also hear challenges to its original September ruling, one of a series of recent liberal decisions including the decriminalization of gay sex and of adultery.

One woman who did want to get to Sabarimala on Friday was activist Trupti Desai.
But a crowd of around 500 people staged a sit-in and prevented her from leaving Kochi airport and late Friday she and several women companions flew back to Mumbai, Indian media reported.
“We tried to hire taxis several times but the agitators are not allowing them to take us. They have threatened violence if they do,” Desai told Indian television.
Separately late Friday police arrested another woman, K.P Sasikala, a local community leader, for seeking to defy a ban on spending the night at the temple site.
Sasikala is over 50 so Hindu organizations are not opposed to her entering the site.
Instead they were incensed that restrictions were being imposed on pilgrims and called the local strike for Saturday.
“Hindu community leaders called for the strike and we support it,” P.S Sreedharan Pillai, the local president of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) told AFP.
“The police are putting restrictions on devotees who want to go there and pray,” Pillai added.
A few protesters pelted stones at public buses on the roads in some parts of the state, a Kerala police official told AFP.
Local media reports said about 2,000 protesters gathered around a police station in Pathanamthitta district, 65 kilometers (40 miles) from the temple, where Sasikala was being held.
“Sasikala was detained as the police had instructed that devotees will be not allowed to stay around the temple at night, which she insisted,” Kerala police spokesman Pramod Kumar told AFP.
Women activists say the ban on women between 10 and 50 at Sabarimala reflects an old view that connects menstruation with impurity.
They argue that women are allowed in most Hindu temples and the practice at Sabarimala is part of their tradition, and not anti-women.