Iran flood death toll rises to 76, causes up to $2.5 bln damage

Iranian authorities ordered the evacuation of six cities along the Karkheh river in southwestern Khuzestan province on April 5, after more rain sparked fears of new flooding, state news agency IRNA said. (AFP/Tasnim News/Mehdi Pedramkhoo)
Updated 14 April 2019
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Iran flood death toll rises to 76, causes up to $2.5 bln damage

  • Hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated from cities and villages
  • The floods have caused extensive damage to homes, roads, and infrastructure

LONDON: Seventy-six people have been killed in Iran by floods in recent weeks, according to a new toll published Sunday with warnings still in place for large swathes of the country.
“With the death of five people in the Khuzestan province flood and another person in Ilam province the death toll has now reached 76,” since March 19, according to a statement published online by the coroner’s office.
Floods caused by heavy rain across Iran in recent weeks have caused an estimated $2.5 billion in damage to roads, bridges, homes and agricultural land, state media cited ministers as telling lawmakers on Sunday.

The flooding, which began on March 19, has killed 76 people, forced more than 220,000 people into emergency shelters, and left aid agencies struggling to cope. The armed forces have been deployed to help those affected.

“The recent floods are unprecedented... 25 provinces and more than 4,400 villages have been affected,” Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli was quoted as saying in parliament by state news agency IRNA.

Fazli said the floods had caused around 350 trillion rials ($2.5 billion) worth of damage.

Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mohammad Eslami said 14,000 kilometers (8,700 miles) of road had been damaged and more than 700 bridges completely destroyed by landslides and flood water.

The government has said it will pay compensation to all those who have incurred losses, especially farmers but the Islamic Republic’s state budget is already stretched as US sanctions on its energy and banking sectors have halved Iranian oil exports and restricted access to some revenues abroad.

Morteza Shahidzadeh, head of Iran’s sovereign wealth fund, said President Hassan Rouhani had asked permission from the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to withdraw $2 billion from the fund for reconstruction in flood-hit areas.

Shahidzadeh said Khamenei has in principle agreed to the request.

Iranian officials have repeatedly said the massive floods have not affected production and development at any oilfields, nor impeded the flow of crude through pipelines to recipient markets.

Karim Zobeidi, an official at the National Iranian Oil Company, was cited as saying on Sunday that it was still too early to estimate the extent of the flood damage to Iran’s energy sector.

Mehr news agency also quoted Zobeidi as saying that some oil wells in western Iran had been closed as a precaution to guard against any flooding.


Turkish civil society leaders on trial over 2013 protests

Updated 27 min 2 sec ago
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Turkish civil society leaders on trial over 2013 protests

  • The 657-page indictment seeks to paint the protests as a foreign-directed conspiracy with links to the Arab Spring
  • There has been a renewed crackdown on dissidents since a coup attempt in 2016

SILIVRI, Turkey: Sixteen leading Turkish civil society leaders went on trial Monday, accused of seeking to overthrow the government during the “Gezi Park” protests of 2013 — charges dubbed an absurd sham by critics.
The group includes renowned businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, whose detention since November 2017 has made him a symbol of what his supporters say is a crackdown on civil society.
Kavala rejected the “irrational claims which lack evidence” in his opening statement, shortly after the trial began under high security in the prison and court complex of Silivri on the outskirts of Istanbul.
He is accused of orchestrating and financing the protests which began over government plans to build over Gezi Park, one of the few green spaces left in Istanbul.
The rallies snowballed into a nationwide movement that marked the first serious challenge to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s brand of Islamic conservatism and grandiose development projects.
The 657-page indictment seeks to paint the protests as a foreign-directed conspiracy with links to the Arab Spring, which, ironically, the Turkish government supported.
“None of these actions were coincidental... they were supported from the outside as an operation to bring the Turkish Republic to its knees,” the indictment says.
Amnesty International’s Andrew Gardner said the trial “speaks volumes about the deeply flawed judiciary that has allowed this political witch-hunt to take place.
“It is absurdly attempting to portray routine civil society activities as crimes,” he said.
“The idea that Osman Kavala led the conspiracy is utterly outlandish and unsupported by any credible evidence,” Emma Sinclair-Webb, the Turkey director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), told AFP.
One of the allegations is the claim that a map on Kavala’s phone showing bee species actually depicted his plans to redraw Turkey’s borders.
There has been a renewed crackdown on dissidents since a coup attempt in 2016, blamed by the government on US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, with thousands arrested and tens of thousands sacked from public sector, media and military jobs.
A respected figure in intellectual circles, Kavala is chairman of the Anatolian Culture Foundation, which seeks to bridge ethnic and regional divides through art, including with neighboring Armenia, with which Turkey has no diplomatic ties.
“I was involved in projects contributing to peace and reconciliation. There is not a single piece of evidence or proof in the indictment that I prepared the ground for a military coup,” Kavala told the court.
Think tank researcher Yigit Aksakoglu was also in pre-trial detention — since November — while six of the rest are being tried in absentia after fleeing Turkey, including actor Memet Ali Alabora and dissident journalist Can Dundar.
The case against Alabora focuses on his appearance in a play featuring a revolt against the ruler of a fictional country.
Others, including architect Mucella Yapici, have already been tried and acquitted for their role in the Gezi Park protests in 2015.
“I am on trial for the second time on the same charges. Peaceful protests cannot be banned. They are a right,” Yapici told the court on Monday.
Erdogan has linked Kavala to US billionaire George Soros, whose efforts to promote democracy around the world have made him a target for several authoritarian leaders.
Last year, Erdogan said Kavala was the representative in Turkey of the “famous Hungarian Jew Soros” whom he accused of trying to “divide and tear up nations.”
Soros’s Open Society Foundation, which ceased activities in Turkey last year, called Monday’s trial a “political sham.”
“At some earlier stage in Turkey’s descent into authoritarian rule, one might have described this trial as a test of judicial independence... but such exams have already been held, and the failing grades were handed down long ago,” wrote Freedom House, a US-based rights group, this week.
“The point of the coming show trial is quite simply to intimidate Turkish citizens and deter them from exercising their rights,” it added.
The hearing will continue on Tuesday.