Iran adds advanced machines at underground enrichment plant — IAEA

Iran adds advanced machines at underground enrichment plant — IAEA
Video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, last week showed various centrifuge machines at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. (AP/File)
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Updated 22 April 2021

Iran adds advanced machines at underground enrichment plant — IAEA

Iran adds advanced machines at underground enrichment plant — IAEA

VIENNA: Iran has installed extra advanced centrifuges at its underground uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and plans to add even more, a report by the UN atomic watchdog on Wednesday showed, deepening Iran’s breaches of its nuclear deal with major powers.
The report is the latest evidence that Iran is pressing ahead with the installation of the advanced machines, even though it is not allowed to use them to produce enriched uranium under the 2015 agreement.
The accord only lets Iran produce enriched uranium at its underground Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz with first-generation IR-1 centrifuges, which are far less efficient than the advanced models.
“On 21 April 2021, the Agency verified at FEP that: ... six cascades of up to 1,044 IR-2m centrifuges; and two cascades of up to 348 IR-4 centrifuges ... were installed, of which a number were being used,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report to member states said, referring to the underground Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz. The report was seen by Reuters.
According to a previous report, the IAEA verified on March 31 that Iran was using 696 IR-2m machines and 174 IR-4 machines at the FEP.
Wednesday’s report also said Iran informed the IAEA that it plans to install four more cascades, or clusters, of IR-4 centrifuges at the FEP, where both of the IR-4 cascades it had planned have now been installed.
Meanwhile, the European parties to the agreement have seen progress in the first two rounds of indirect US-Iran negotiations to revive the deal but said on Wednesday that there were still major hurdles to overcome. The United States withdrew from the accord in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. (Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Grant McCool)


Turkey’s notorious mafia leader claims close state ties

Turkey’s notorious mafia leader claims close state ties
Updated 3 min 15 sec ago

Turkey’s notorious mafia leader claims close state ties

Turkey’s notorious mafia leader claims close state ties
  • Concern over criminalization of politics as opposition calls for parliamentary inquiry

JEDDAH: Turkish government officials entered into a war of words with the country’s well-known mafia leader, Sedat Peker, who released a series of videos about schemes within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) involving some of its deputies.

The claims pushed opposition politicians to call for the truth behind the claims in order to fight against the criminalization of politics.

Ultranationalist convict Peker alleged that former interior minister, Mehmet Agar, and his son, Tolga Agar, who is currently a deputy for the AKP, were involved in the suspicious death of a 21-year-old Kazakh journalist, Yeldana Kaharman, two years ago, a day after she interviewed Tolga Agar.

Kaharman allegedly committed suicide, but it is claimed that the autopsy report shows otherwise. However, the case was quickly closed by the local prosecutors at the time.

Peker claimed that Agar was “the head of deep state” in Turkey.

Former justice minister of the ruling government and current member of the presidency’s higher advisory board, Cemil Cicek, urged the judiciary to investigate Peker’s claims about the Agar family.

“If even one-thousandth of these claims are true, this is a disaster and very problematic . . . Turkey has had enough experience in the past concerning similar issues,” Cicek said on May 12.

“We should learn the necessary lessons. The relevant prosecutor needs to take action and do what is necessary,” Cicek said.

Mehmet Agar claims that the state can examine him whenever required.

The claims pushed opposition parties to try to make the government accountable for its ties with the mafia leader.

Last year, the Turkish government passed a controversial amnesty law that freed up to 90,000 inmates from Turkish prisons for non-political crimes, but excluded dissident journalists and politicians.

The law resulted in the mass release of organized gang leaders, including Alaattin Cakici, a notorious mafia kingpin closely connected to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). During the time that Cakici was behind bars, his rival Peker consolidated his grip on the Turkish underworld.

The group deputy of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ozgur Ozel, said that Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu was the connection point between the AKP, its ally MHP and the mafia.

Ozel also claimed that the interior minister was closely tied to mafia leader Peker and that the government turned a blind eye to Peker’s previous actions in the northern city of Rize, where he threatened the dissident academics of the country, saying: “I will shower them with their own blood.”

In the latest video he released, Peker confessed that he had played a role in the support shown for Interior Minister Soylu when the minister decided to resign from his post in April 2020. Peker allegedly organized a Twitter campaign to object to Soylu’s resignation.

Since 2019, Peker has lived in Balkan countries where he regularly met Bosniak political leaders. He claimed that he had to leave Turkey because of a personal hostility with the Turkish president’s son-in-law and former finance minister, Berat Albayrak.

After being arrested earlier this year in North Macedonia with a fake ID and passport, he was deported to Kosovo where he had a business residence permit. He is currently believed to live in Dubai.

Peker, with a strong network in Istanbul’s underworld, was previously blamed by some politicians, such as Baris Atay of the Workers’ Party of Turkey, for using gangs to attack dissidents in the streets. Atay was seriously beaten up in a busy street of Istanbul after he was verbally targeted by Soylu.

The opposition now urges the government to form a parliamentary inquiry commission and inform the public about these allegations.

Ayhan Sefer Ustun, former head of the parliamentary Human Rights Commission and founding member of the breakaway Future Party that is led by the country’s former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said the allegations should spark a serious campaign against “deep state” in Turkey.

“Turkey should launch a countrywide campaign against deep state and a widespread mafia structure that reached out to the inner circles of the state,” he told Arab News.

“A parliamentary commission should be established where each party at the parliament will be represented equally to investigate Peker’s claims,” he said.

“Any connection between the politics and public security should be put under broad daylight,” Ustun added, referring to the 1996 Susurluk scandal in Turkey where close ties between the state and the mafia were revealed after strong popular insistence.

Interior Minister Soylu will file a lawsuit against the allegations made by Peker, and he called on the mafia leader to surrender to Turkish justice.

Peker has been tried several times by Turkish courts over his involvement in criminal gangs.

He was sentenced to 14 years in jail in 2007 for establishing and leading a criminal organization, and for forgery.

His sentence, however, was later reduced to 10 years and he was released from jail in 2014.

The number of Peker’s damaging video releases are expected to reach 12 in total.


Canada slams ‘unconscionable’ Iran conduct since airliner shootdown

People hold placards in January with images of the victims of the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, which was shot down near Tehran by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. (Reuters/File Photo)
People hold placards in January with images of the victims of the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, which was shot down near Tehran by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 29 min 37 sec ago

Canada slams ‘unconscionable’ Iran conduct since airliner shootdown

People hold placards in January with images of the victims of the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, which was shot down near Tehran by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight shortly after it took off from Tehran Airport
  • Canada is compiling its own forensic report into the disaster and will be releasing it in the coming weeks

OTTAWA: Canada on Thursday condemned Tehran’s “unconscionable” conduct since Iranian forces shot down an airliner last year, killing 176 people, including dozens of Canadians, and vowed to keep pressing for answers as to what really happened.

The comments by Foreign Minister Marc Garneau were among the strongest Ottawa has made about the January 2020 disaster.

“The behavior of the Iranian government has been frankly unconscionable in this past 15 months and we are going to continue to pursue them so we have accountability,” Garneau told a committee of legislators examining what occurred.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight shortly after it took off from Tehran Airport. Iran said its forces had been on high alert during a regional confrontation with the United States.

Iran was on edge about possible attacks after it fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing US forces in retaliation for the killing days before of its most powerful military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a US missile strike at Baghdad airport.

Garneau complained it had taken months of pressure for Iran, with which Canada does not have diplomatic relations, to hand over the flight recorders for independent analysis and said Tehran had still not explained why the airspace had not been closed at the time.

In March, Iran’s civil aviation body blamed the crash on a misaligned radar and an error by an air defense operator. Iran has indicted 10 officials.

At the time, Ukraine and Canada criticized the report as insufficient. But Garneau went further on Thursday, saying it was “totally unacceptable ... they are laying the blame on some low-level people who operated a missile battery and not providing the accountability within the chain of command.”

Canada is compiling its own forensic report into the disaster and will be releasing it in the coming weeks, he said.


An Egyptian psychotherapy platform offers online help amid pandemic

Ashraf Bacheet (R), CEO and co-founder of the online platform O7, along with Nader Iskander and Ashraf Adel. (Supplied)
Ashraf Bacheet (R), CEO and co-founder of the online platform O7, along with Nader Iskander and Ashraf Adel. (Supplied)
Updated 13 May 2021

An Egyptian psychotherapy platform offers online help amid pandemic

Ashraf Bacheet (R), CEO and co-founder of the online platform O7, along with Nader Iskander and Ashraf Adel. (Supplied)
  • Three Egyptian entrepreneurs created O7 Therapy to help connect people with mental health professionals
  • Nearly all face-to-face interactions in different fields have shifted to online platforms over the past one year

CAIRO: Using their industry knowledge and the power of technology, three Egyptians have built an online platform designed to help people cope with mental health difficulties.

Talks about O7 Therapy had been continuing for almost a year before the pandemic started, according to Ashraf Bacheet, CEO and co-founder of the online platform.

However, as the world slowly started to close down and the pandemic spread widely, Bacheet, together with Nader Iskander and Ashraf Adel, were motivated to quickly launch their newly founded business venture.

Since the coronavirus pandemic started, nearly all face-to-face interactions have shifted to online platforms. Learning, grocery shopping and even attending events now lack the in-person intimacy of the past. Like everything else, psychotherapy sessions have become virtual, conducted behind a screen.

Following internationally acclaimed strict acceptance policies helped O7 Therapy attract some of the best psychologists and psychiatrists. (Supplied)

A recently released survey from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that in the last week of June 2020, adults in the US experienced “considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19.”

Using validated screening instruments, the CDC established that 40.9 percent of 5,470 respondents reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, trauma-related symptoms, new or increased substance use, or thoughts of suicide.

While social anxiety may seem to be a temporary issue, experts warn that a sizable minority of people will experience mental health disorders that will long outlast the pandemic.

Being a pharmacist, Bacheet had spotted quite a few loopholes in Egypt’s health care industry long before it was hit by the coronavirus storm.

“Whether it was health care or education, people in Egypt are paying hefty amounts of money for mediocre quality in both sectors,” he said.

THENUMBER

* 40.9% - CDC respondents who reported adverse mental or behavioral health conditions.

After months of exploring the idea of merging tech and health care in one holistic solution, the trio were ready to roll up their sleeves and start working on O7 Therapy.

“At the time, two years ago, we barely had any competition. No one in the region was offering a customized tool that spoke directly to Arabs and addressed their problems, from age-old stigmas to cultural idiosyncrasies,” Bacheet said.

“Our main goal was to build a complete ecosystem for mental health services; a platform that connected people who really needed help with doctors who offered it.”

Following internationally acclaimed strict acceptance policies helped O7 Therapy attract some of the best psychologists and psychiatrists. “Doctors on the O7 Therapy platform undergo extensive screening before joining our team of therapists,” Bacheet said.

“Our 20 percent acceptance rate is proof that every doctor on our platform holds at least a master’s degree and has a clear understanding of modalities, psychometric tests and specific therapy techniques, which helps them in offering their service in the most efficient and professional manner.”

Patients seeking help on the O7 Therapy platform can gain access to art therapy, online counselling, e-prescriptions, drug management services, and more. (Supplied)

From peer reviews and case-management sessions to drug-review meetings, all the doctors on the platform offer each other praise, positive guidance and constructive criticism to ensure increased patient safety, updated modes of treatment and overall quality of care.

While O7 Therapy started its funding journey by bootstrapping, it is currently closing a pre-series A round of investment.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve the level of service we offer on our platform,” Bacheet said.

“We have designed a HIPAA and GRDP-compliant AI-powered novelty software that offers solutions to ensure personalized customer experiences and seamless patient engagement.

“By gaining insight into the patient’s journey, O7 Therapy aptly matches every patient with their respective doctor while providing comprehensive data security and data encryption features.”

Patients seeking help on the O7 Therapy platform can gain access to art therapy, online counselling, e-prescriptions, drug management services, and more.

“O7 Therapy has bridged location gaps, overcome cultural stigmas associated with seeking therapy, and created a safe space for people to openly face their problems and actively seek solutions,” Bacheet said.

“We’re constantly working on improving our platform, with bi-weekly updates that allow customer satisfaction within a user-friendly environment.”

  • This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.

Boom in MENA parenting and family startups defies pandemic pressures

Despite the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant boom in parenting and family startups in the MENA region. (Shutterstock)
Despite the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant boom in parenting and family startups in the MENA region. (Shutterstock)
Updated 13 May 2021

Boom in MENA parenting and family startups defies pandemic pressures

Despite the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant boom in parenting and family startups in the MENA region. (Shutterstock)
  • Funding for MENA startups is creating opportunities for more niche ventures to flourish, particularly in family and parenting 
  • Five MENA startups share their insights on how they adapted and remained profitable during the COVID-19 pandemic 

CAIRO: Entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa region has been growing rapidly over the past decade, with a record $1 billion in funding pumped into local startups in 2020 alone, according to MAGiTT’s MENA Venture Investment Report.

This growth is creating opportunities for more niche ventures to flourish, particularly in the family and parenting spheres.

Five such startups share their insights, offering a glimpse into the reasons for their success.

As a PR professional, Shamim Kassibawi knows the value of market research. She did plenty of it and tested her concept before launching Play:Date in 2017. This app helps parents connect their children with like-minded friends.

“We’ve really taken the time to prove our concept,” Kassibawi said. “We’re three years old. The average startup at this point would be booming, but because we’ve been testing and perfecting it, we’re ready to use investment money the right way.”

Simona Agolini also relies on being customer and data-centric. She is the CEO and co-founder of QiDZ, an online marketplace for children’s activities in the UAE and Egypt.

“We speak with customers on a daily and weekly basis. We have data analytics, and we customize based on what customers are telling us,” Agolini said. “Some people fall in love with a concept, but it’s not validated.”

Clockwise from top: Ozlem Erbas Soydaner and Katerina Papatryfon, the founders of Sprout; Simona Agolini, the CEO at QiDZ; Dina Abdul Majeed, the founder and CEO of 360 Moms; and Karim Beidas, the founder and CEO of Kidzapp. (Supplied) 

Agolini advises startups to test their ideas to make sure they are viable, not only for customers, but also for financial resilience.

Kidzapp, an online family guide for activities in the UAE and Egypt, had to find ways to stay relevant when the emirates went into lockdown last year.

“We knew that our core business was mostly going to have to be on hold for a while,” said Karim Beidas, CEO and founder of Kidzapp. “So, we thought about how we could help and engage parents, and also strengthen our relationship with our partners.”

As a result, the company decided to develop its digital content arm. “Because of the lockdown, we ended up building much stronger digital content capability in video, and we’re now heading in that direction,” Beidas said.

Jordanian interactive parenting platform 360 Moms is another startup that had to make lasting changes in its business.

“We turned our workshops into webinars,” said Dina Abdul Majeed, CEO and founder of 360 Moms. “Our webinars covered everything — from parenting to dealing with stress and marriage.”

THENUMBER

* $1bn - Funds invested in MENA startups in 2020.

To date, the company has organized 40 such events, making the format an integral part of its platform.

Sprout, a producer of ready-to-heat, nutritionally rich foods for children and families in the UAE, launched its website during lockdown, which forced the team to make changes quickly.

“We had to rethink our marketing in no time,” said Sprout co-founder Katerina Papatryfon. “We launched at a time when people were wary about ordering in, so we just had to jump at things that made sense to us as parents.”

Instead of using a third-party service, the founders decided to deliver the food themselves.

“We would be in the kitchen cooking all day, and then, on weekends, we would be going door to door to do the deliveries. It was exhausting, but it added an element of trust,” Papatryfon said.

This trust helped the company establish a solid relationship with its customers.

In 2020 alone, some $1 billion was invested in MENA startups. (Shutterstock)

Attracting the right backers is essential for successfully expanding any startup. Play:Date recently secured funding from an investor providing financial support and expertise to help the business grow.

“This is absolutely amazing because they give you money and services, so they are going to be giving it their all,” Kassibawi said.

The timing of investments is equally important. While Beidas is ready for Kidzapp to enter Saudi Arabia, he is cautious about scaling up too soon.

“Many investors encourage startups to grow quickly, which is great, but if you grow too quickly and need the next round of funding and don’t get it, you die,” Beidas said, adding that growing sustainably is key.

“There are these two tensions, and you have to be somewhere in the middle,” he said.

  • This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.

Lebanon spends Eid Al-Fitr under strict quarantine

Lebanon spends Eid Al-Fitr under strict quarantine
Updated 13 May 2021

Lebanon spends Eid Al-Fitr under strict quarantine

Lebanon spends Eid Al-Fitr under strict quarantine
  • Authorities allow only 30 percent capacity at mosques for the Eid prayers as worshippers spread out in the open-air squares in central Beirut
  • Religious leader raps errors of government and warns of ‘revolt of the hungry’ during holiday sermon

BEIRUT: Eid Al-Fitr celebrations in Lebanon were very scarce on Thursday as the country was in the middle of a two-day total closure and curfew to combat the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

As people avoided gatherings in homes and public places during what is supposed to be a joyous time, one prominent religious leader expressed fear during his Eid sermon.

“People will starve as a result of the errors and sins of the government, and from an explosion or social violence, which will lead to the revolt of the hungry,” said Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian, grand mufti of Lebanon.

“When this happens, remorse will not be helpful.”

He also accused “political officials of regressing to low levels of violating the constitution, striking the judiciary, resorting to sectarian delusions, and dividing citizens.”

The joy of Eid could not be seen on the faces of the Lebanese people as living conditions continue to deteriorate in a country gripped in financial and political turmoil. 

Authorities allowed only 30 percent capacity at mosques for the Eid prayers as worshippers spread out in the open-air squares surrounding the Al-Amin Mosque in central Beirut.

The prayers were led by Sheikh Derian as Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab were among the many who participated in the prayer.

The Israeli-Gaza violence and unrest dominated the Eid sermon, but the political reality and the poor living conditions within Lebanon were also addressed in the sermon from Sheikh Derian.

“The collapse and devastation that we are living through it can only be stopped by the birth of a government that addresses the corruption and decay that Lebanon has seen for the first time in decades,” Mufti Derian said. “We need a government that carries out the required reforms. Anything else counts as deception.”

He also criticized “those working in public political affairs for failing their citizens when they indulged in corruption and prevented the formation of a government capable of stopping the collapse, beginning reconstruction, and seeking help from the international community.”

It was noticeable that the Arab and Islamic diplomatic presence was absent from the central Eid prayer in downtown Beirut.

The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Walid Bukhari, performed Eid prayers in the garden of his residence in the Yarze district while a number of ambassadors of Arab and Islamic countries and embassy staff joined him. The embassy took the initial precautionary measures related to the coronavirus.

Measures to remove subsidies on more subsidized food commodities, fuel and medicines added even more concern to a continuing list of hardships experienced by the Lebanese people even before Ramadan.

Many pharmacies closed their doors because owners did not receive the minimum needs of medicine and baby milk from agents and warehouses.

Despite the complete closure, petrol stations remained busy as people fear more fuel shortages.

“The ships that produce power will stop on Saturday, and the factories will follow suit,” Abdo Saadeh, president of the Association of Private Generator Owners, said on Thursday.

“This means that the rationing of electric current in Lebanon may exceed 20 hours. In parallel, there is a shortage of diesel that feeds private generators, which means we are on the verge of a big problem.”

The fuel crisis affects vital sectors in Lebanon, as the secretary-general of the Lebanese Red Cross, Georges Kettaneh, announced that the Red Cross “has prepared a plan to fill its cars with fuel, and there is no crisis yet.”

The head of the Syndicate of Private Hospital Owners, Suleiman Haroun, said: “If Lebanon enters darkness as a result of not providing the funds allocated for the purchase of fuel, many patients in need of oxygen and dialysis machines will be affected.”

Haroun warned that private hospitals have generators, but it is impossible to ask hospitals to supply themselves with electricity 24 hours a day because “these generators are there to support the network and be a substitute for any malfunctions that occur.”