New ‘mercy flight’ leaves Houthi-held Yemen capital: WHO

Yemeni children and their guardians arrive after a UN medical evacuation from Sanaa at Queen Alia International Airport on Feb. 3, 2020, in what the UN hopes will be the first of many "mercy flights". (AFP)
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Updated 09 February 2020

New ‘mercy flight’ leaves Houthi-held Yemen capital: WHO

  • A first "mercy flight" evacuated seven children from Sanaa on Monday for medical treatment in Jordan
  • The United Nations is eager to build the necessary confidence between the parties in Yemen to enable more such evacuations

SANAA: A second medical evacuation flight carrying 24 critically ill Yemenis left the Houthi-held capital Sanaa on Saturday, the World Health Organization said.
"The flight just took off from Sanaa headed to Amman," a WHO spokesperson told AFP.
The plane was carrying men, women and children in need of medical treatment, along with their companions, the spokesperson added.
The flight had been due to leave Sanaa on Friday but was rescheduled for "technical reasons," according to the WHO.
A first "mercy flight" evacuated seven children from Sanaa on Monday for medical treatment in Jordan.
The United Nations is eager to build the necessary confidence between the warring parties in Yemen to enable more such evacuations.
The WHO said Friday it was " committed and working very hard to ensure these Yemeni patients receive the treatment they need."
An Arab coalition that has been fighting in support of the Yemeni government has kept Sanaa airport closed to commercial flights since 2016.
But in November, the coalition announced that it was prepared to allow medical evacuations from the airport as a confidence-building measure to support UN peace efforts.
"This is the first of what we hope will be a number of flights in the medical air bridge," the UN resident coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, told AFP after Monday's flight.
The reopening of Sanaa airport is a key demand of the Houthi militia fighting the government and one of the issues being pursued by UN mediators as they seek to relaunch peace talks.

Tehran mayor sees ‘threat’ in Iranians’ dissatisfaction

Updated 23 min 44 sec ago

Tehran mayor sees ‘threat’ in Iranians’ dissatisfaction

  • The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by 6 percent this year

TEHRAN: Iran’s low voter turnout reflects a wider malaise in a country long buckling under sanctions and more recently also hit hard by the coronavirus, spelling “a threat for everyone,” Tehran’s mayor Pirouz Hanachi told AFP.

“The turnout at the ballot box is a sign of people’s satisfaction level,” said Hanachi, mayor of Iran’s political and business center and largest city, with more than 8 million people.

“When there is dissatisfaction with the government or the state, it then reaches everyone and that includes the municipality too,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

Iran has suffered the double blow of a sharp economic downturn caused by US economic sanctions over its contested nuclear program, and the region’s most deadly COVID-19 outbreak.

Reformists allied with moderate President Hassan Rouhani lost their parliamentary majority in a landslide conservative victory in February, in a major setback ahead of presidential elections next year.

Voter turnout hit a historic low of less than 43 percent in the February polls after thousands of reformist candidates were barred from running by the Islamic republic’s powerful Guardian Council.

Such voter fatigue “can be a threat for everyone, not just reformists or conservatives,” warned the mayor, a veteran public servant with a background in urban development who is tied to the reformist camp.

The conservative resurgence reflects dissatisfaction with the Rouhani camp that had sought reengagement with the West and the reward of economic benefits — hopes that were dashed when US President Donald Trump in 2018 pulled out of a landmark nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions.

The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by 6 percent this year.

“We’re doing our best, but our situation is not a normal one,” Hanachi said. “We are under sanctions and in a tough economic situation.”

As he spoke in his town hall office, the shouts of angry garbage truck drivers echoed from the street outside, complaining they had not received pay or pensions for months.

The mayor downplayed the small rally as the kind of event that could happen in “a municipality in any other country,” adding that the men were employed not by the city itself but by contractors.

Iran’s fragile economy, increasingly cut off from international trade and deprived of crucial oil revenues, took another major blow when the novel coronavirus pandemic hit in late February.

Since then the outbreak has killed more than 12,000 people and infected over 248,000, with daily fatalities reaching a record of 200 early this week, according to official figures.

A temporary shutdown of the economy in recent months and closed borders sharply reduced non-oil exports, Iran’s increasingly important lifeline.

This accelerated the plunge of the Iranian rial against the US dollar, threatening to further stoke an already high inflation rate.

In just one impact, said Hanachi, the Teheran municipality lost 2 trillion rial ($9 million) because of sharply reduced demand for public transport in recent months.

As many Tehran residents got back into their cars to avoid tightly packed subways and buses, this has done nothing to help solve Tehran’s long-standing air pollution issue.

Tehran has had only 15 “clean” air quality days since the March 20 Persian New Year, according to the municipality.

One of Hanachi’s tasks is to fight both the virus and air pollution — a tough juggling act as car travel is safer for individuals but also worsens the smog that often cloaks the capital.

The mayor said he worried that, after restrictions on car travel were reimposed in May to reduce air pollution, subways are once again packed during peak hours, as is the bustling city center.

Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, which is now crowded with shoppers, warned Hanachi, “can become a focal point for the epidemic.”