Iran hits record daily COVID-19 cases with nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi infected

Residents wear face masks walk on a street after Iranian authorities made it mandatory for all to wear face masks in public following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease. (West Asia News Agency via Reuters)
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Updated 11 October 2020

Iran hits record daily COVID-19 cases with nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi infected

  • Iran’s total confirmed death toll is at 28,544, making it the hardest-hit country in the region
  • Vice president for budget and planning also has the coronavirus

TEHRAN: Iran announced on Sunday its highest single-day death toll from the coronavirus with 251 confirmed dead, the same day local media reported two senior officials had been infected and the nation's currency plunged to its lowest level ever.
Health Ministry spokesperson Sima Sadat Lari said the total confirmed death toll now stands at 28,544, making Iran the hardest-hit country in the region. Iran had just recently recorded its highest daily death toll four days earlier with 239 new fatalities.
A further 3,822 new cases were confirmed over the past 24 hour-period, raising recorded nationwide cases to 500,075. Nearly 4,500 patients are in critical condition.




Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi and presidential aide Mohammad Bagher Nobakht have both been struck down by COVID-19. (AFP/File)


Among those recently infected is the head of the country’s atomic energy organization, the latest senior official to test positive for the virus.
The semiofficial Tasnim news agency said Ali Akbar Salehi, who is also a vice president of Iran, had confirmed positive for the virus last week and has been in home quarantine since. The news agency reported that his health condition is currently good.
A separate report by the news agency said the country’s vice president in charge of budget and planning, Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, had also tested positive for the coronavirus.
Iran has struggled to contain the spread of the virus across this nation of 80 million people, initially beating it back only to see a spike in cases again, beginning in June. The government has largely resisted imposing wide-scale lockdowns as the economy teeters from continued U.S. economic sanctions that effectively bar Iran from selling its oil internationally.
Money exchange shops in Tehran sold the U.S. dollar at 315,000 rials on Sunday, compared to what was 32,000 rials to the dollar at the time of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Salehi is known internationally as one of the key Iranian negotiators who took part in those nuclear talks. The deal curbed Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief, but President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the agreement in 2018 and reimposed crushing economic sanctions.
The currency plummeted further on Sunday after the Trump administration’s decision on Thursday to blacklist 18 Iranian banks that had so far escaped the bulk of re-imposed sanctions. The move subjects non-Iranian financial institutions to penalties for doing business with them, effectively cutting the banks off from the international financial system.
Meanwhile, Iran has seen several top officials contract the virus over past months, including senior Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri and Vice President Massoumeh Ebtekar. A number of Cabinet ministers have also tested positive, including Tourism Minister Ali Asghar Mounesan and the former Industry Minister Reza Rahmani. The head of an Iranian government task force on the coronavirus who had urged the public not to overreact about its spread was among the first senior officials to contract the virus in late February.
The virus first appeared in Iran at the same time the government was trying to shore up support for the country’s parliamentary elections, which saw the lowest voter turnout since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought its clerical leadership to power.
Also on Sunday, state TV reported that a gas explosion killed five people and injured nine in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, which is the capital of the oil-rich Khuzestan province.
The explosion ruined a two-story residential building and damaged nearby buildings in a local market. Rescue teams are searching for other possible victims as authorities probe the cause of the gas explosion.


Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.