Iran COVID-19 death toll passes 70,000

Iran COVID-19 death toll passes 70,000
Chairman of parliament's health committee Dr. Hosseinali Shahriari, receives Covid-19 vaccine at Eram Grand Hotel in Iran that announced on Monday death toll passed 70,000. (AP)
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Updated 27 April 2021

Iran COVID-19 death toll passes 70,000

Iran COVID-19 death toll passes 70,000
  • Monday's figures bring the total number of deaths to 70,070, with over 2.4 million cases
  • Iran has never imposed a general lockdown on its 82 million people

TEHRAN: The Covid-19 death toll in Iran passed 70,000 on Monday, according to health ministry figures, with a record 496 coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours.
Iran is battling the Middle East's deadliest outbreak, and is struggling amid the latest wave of the infections.
Monday's figures bring the total number of deaths to 70,070, with over 2.4 million cases.
The previous record single-day death toll was 486 in November.
Some officials have admitted actual virus numbers are likely higher than official figures.
Iran has never imposed a general lockdown on its 82 million people.
But more than 300 Iranian cities and towns, including the capital Tehran, are classified as "red", the highest rating on its coronavirus risk scale, requiring all non-essential businesses to close.
Like many other countries, the Islamic republic is hoping vaccinations will help combat the health crisis, but the rollout of its inoculation campaign, which started in early February, has progressed more slowly than authorities had wanted.
The health ministry said Monday that Iran had administered more than 824,000 jabs.
Authorities are also hoping to produce one or more domestically developed vaccines.


Lebanon banks under fire as PM promises audit

Lebanon banks under fire as PM promises audit
Updated 12 sec ago

Lebanon banks under fire as PM promises audit

Lebanon banks under fire as PM promises audit
  • There are 63 banks operating in Lebanon with more than 1,000 branches and 25,000 employees

BEIRUT: The conduct of Lebanese banks amid the country’s worsening economic crisis has been defended by Salim Sfeir, head of the Association of Banks of Lebanon, who responded on Tuesday to criticism by MPs from the Hezbollah and Free Patriotic Movement blocs.

The condemnation of the country’s banks came during during Monday’s vote of confidence.

In a response statement, Sfeir said: “Banks invested their surplus of liquidity in the Lebanese Central Bank. Banks demanded the adoption of a law that establishes capital controls while the multiple formulas offered by others aim to legislate cash withdrawals and international transfers.”

Lebanon was hit by an unprecedented economic crisis in 2019, leading to the collapse of its currency and an inability to pay its debts. The country’s political class was accused of looting the country’s local treasury, siphoning off middle-class wealth and exercising authority without responsibility.

In its statement, the ABL urged the Lebanese Parliament “to speed up the reforms required by the international community,” and called on the new government to “start serious work” to launch international aid packages and put the country back on the international map “by enhancing communication with Lebanon’s friends from Arab and foreign states.”

It said: “There is a pressing need to stop the collapse. Therefore, the government must immediately commit to its obligations in accordance with its ministerial statement that noted a prompt resumption of talks with the International Monetary Fund to address the negative impacts of previous policies.”

It added that the government must begin talks with debtors, reform the banking sector and approve a budget — “all of which are clauses that the ABL has demanded since the start of the crisis.”

There are 63 banks operating in Lebanon with more than 1,000 branches and 25,000 employees.

According to Sfeir, the banking sector constituted “an engine of growth in the country through loans that outgrew the size of the economy.” He added: “The formal banking sector’s taxes are some of the major public treasury income items.”

A group of Lebanon’s bondholders — that include some of the largest investment funds in the world — also urged the new government “to start talks to restructure the country’s debts as early as possible to help deal with the crushing economic crisis in the country.”

Lebanon defaulted on its external debt in March 2020, leaving it unable to service a debt burden that was then worth more than 170 percent of its gross domestic product.

The group said it “hopes and expects the new government to promote a speedy, transparent and equitable debt restructuring process. Such a process will need the government to engage meaningfully with the IMF as well as Lebanon’s international creditors.”

At the end of the vote of confidence, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said: “Discussions with the IMF have begun. The talks are not a picnic and the fund is not a charity. This issue is not an option but a mandatory passageway that must succeed in order to serve as the first foundation toward salvation and the right way for Lebanon’s revival.”

He urged Lebanon’s Parliament to act quickly to approve a capital control law as early as possible, and promised to carry out “a forensic audit of all institutions and ministries without any exceptions.”

Mikati was quick to note the importance of the banking sector in any economic recovery: “I wish there were any banks left in Lebanon to help them. Do you know the reality of the banking sector? There is no economic recovery without banks.”

However, the prime minister added: “More than $10 billion was spent in the past on subsidies for banks — money that could have been used to build power plants, treat waste and construct roads.”


Hezbollah threatens Beirut blast probe judge: reports

Hezbollah threatens Beirut blast probe judge: reports
Updated 21 September 2021

Hezbollah threatens Beirut blast probe judge: reports

Hezbollah threatens Beirut blast probe judge: reports
  • ‘Should he drift off the course, we will remove him from his position,’ says head of Hezbollah’s Liaison and Coordination Unit
  • Judge Tarek Bitar continues to question and subpoena former ministers and current MPs about the deadly Aug. 4, 2020 explosion

BEIRUT: Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the investigation into the August 2020 Beirut Port blast, received a threat from the militant Hezbollah group, according to Lebanese news reports.

Arab News learned that the head of Hezbollah’s Liaison and Coordination Unit, Wafiq Safa, visited Public Prosecutor Judge Ghassan Oweidat and the head of the Supreme Judicial Council, Judge Suhail Abboud, on Monday.

The motives behind the visits were unknown but Safa reportedly said, “Bitar’s performance has raised the ire (of Hezbollah) and we will keep a close eye on his work until the end, and should he drift off the course, we will remove him from his position.”

In response to the threat, Bitar said: “It is fine, I do not care how they will remove me,” according to Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation reporter Edmond Sassine.

Bitar, who issued several arrest warrants over the past few weeks pertaining to his investigation, set up sessions to question former ministers and current MPs Ali Hassan Khalil, Ghazi Zeaiter, and Nohad Al-Machnouk about their knowledge of the deadly Beirut Port explosion.

Bitar summoned Khalil for interrogation on Sept. 30 and Zeaiter and Machnouk and Oct. 1. The judge took advantage of the expiration of the extraordinary parliament mandate after the Najib Mikati government was granted the vote of confidence in a session held on Monday, and the automatic lifting of parliamentary immunities, pending the launch of the regular mandate in mid-October.

The Beirut Port explosion on Aug. 4, 2020, killed more than 200 and left 6,500 injured when thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate detonated along with quantities of seized explosives. The deadly blast destroyed the Beirut waterfront and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Bitar charged the former ministers with “a felony of probable intent to murder” in addition to “a misdemeanor of negligence” because they were aware of the presence of ammonium nitrate and “did not take measures to avoid the explosion.”

Parliament had previously refused Bitar’s request to question the current MPs and Prime Minister Hassan Diab, arguing that it was not within his jurisdiction and the case is the subject of prosecution before the Supreme Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers.

In August, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah questioned Bitar, who had summoned political and security officials for interrogation. 

“Where is the evidence?” Nasrallah asked. “Based on what is he accusing them of? Why has the judiciary not published the results of the technical investigation?”

Nasrallah further accused Bitar of “playing a political game,” saying that either he sticks to a clear, technical investigation, or the judiciary has to find another judge.


Biden renews offer to ‘return to full’ nuclear deal ‘if Iran does the same’

Biden renews offer to ‘return to full’ nuclear deal ‘if Iran does the same’
Updated 21 September 2021

Biden renews offer to ‘return to full’ nuclear deal ‘if Iran does the same’

Biden renews offer to ‘return to full’ nuclear deal ‘if Iran does the same’
  • US president uses first UNGA speech to say a sovereign and democratic Palestinian state is the “best way” to ensure Israel’s future

NEW YORK: President Joe Biden told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday that the United States would return to the Iranian nuclear deal in “full” if Tehran does the same.
He said the US was “working” with China, France, Russia, Britain and Germany to “engage Iran diplomatically and to seek a return to” the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which America left in 2018.
“We’re prepared to return to full compliance if Iran does the same,” he added.

Earlier, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said negotiations between Iran and world powers should resume in the coming weeks.

During his first speech to the General Assembly, Biden said a sovereign and democratic Palestinian state is the “best way” to ensure Israel’s future.
“We must seek a future of greater peace and security for all people of the Middle East,” Biden said.
“The commitment of the United States to Israel’s security is without question and our support for an independent Jewish state is unequivocal,” he said.
“But I continue to believe that a two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable, sovereign and democratic Palestinian state,” he said.
“We’re a long way from that goal at this moment but we should never allow ourselves to give up on the possibility of progress.”
More broadly, Biden said the US is not seeking a new Cold War with China as he vowed to pivot from post-9/11 conflicts and take a global leadership role on crises from climate to COVID-19.
He promised to work to advance democracy and alliances, despite friction with Europe over France’s loss of a mega-contract.
The Biden administration has identified a rising and authoritarian China as the paramount challenge of the 21st century, but he made clear he was not trying to sow divisions.
“We are not seeking a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs,” Biden said.


Egypt seeks to strengthen relations with Libya

Egypt seeks to strengthen relations with Libya
Updated 21 September 2021

Egypt seeks to strengthen relations with Libya

Egypt seeks to strengthen relations with Libya
  • During a meeting in New York with Mohamed El-Menfi, chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya, Shoukry reiterated Egypt’s full support
  • Shoukry praised the efforts of the Libyan House of Representatives in preparing the electoral law as an important step toward holding presidential and parliamentary elections

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has affirmed his country’s keenness to strengthen relations with neighboring Libya.

This follows visits by officials from both sides and last week’s meeting of the Egyptian-Libyan Joint Higher Committee in Cairo.

During a meeting in New York with Mohamed El-Menfi, chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya, Shoukry reiterated Egypt’s full support for efforts to meet the aspirations of the Libyan people, stabilize the country and develop its various regions. 

Shoukry praised the efforts of the Libyan House of Representatives in preparing the electoral law as an important step toward holding presidential and parliamentary elections.

He also affirmed Egypt’s firm support for the preservation of Libyan sovereignty and opposition to foreign interference.


Iran says nuclear talks with world powers to resume in few weeks

Abbas Araghchi (C-L), political deputy at Iran’s Foreign Ministry, and Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Gharib Abadi (C-R) are returning to the ‘Grand Hotel Wien’ during closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna. (File/AFP)
Abbas Araghchi (C-L), political deputy at Iran’s Foreign Ministry, and Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Gharib Abadi (C-R) are returning to the ‘Grand Hotel Wien’ during closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna. (File/AFP)
Updated 21 September 2021

Iran says nuclear talks with world powers to resume in few weeks

Abbas Araghchi (C-L), political deputy at Iran’s Foreign Ministry, and Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Gharib Abadi (C-R) are returning to the ‘Grand Hotel Wien’ during closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna. (File/AFP)
  • World powers held six rounds of indirect talks between the US and Iran in Vienna
  • The talks stopped in June, pending the start of Iran’s new government

DUBAI: Iran said on Tuesday that talks with world powers over reviving its 2015 nuclear deal would resume in a few weeks, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported.
“Every meeting requires prior coordination and the preparation of an agenda. As previously emphasized, the Vienna talks will resume soon and over the next few weeks,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said, according to IRNA.
The world powers held six rounds of indirect talks between the United States and Iran in Vienna to try and work out how both can return to compliance with the nuclear pact, which was abandoned by former US President Donald Trump in 2018.
The Vienna talks were adjourned in June after hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi was elected Iran’s president and took office in August.
Ministers from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia will not meet jointly with Iran at the United Nations this week to discuss a return to the talks, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters on Monday.
But Khatibzadeh said Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian would meet individually with ministers from those countries on the sidelines of the annual UN gathering of world leaders and the nuclear deal and the Vienna talks would be among the main topics under discussion, IRNA reported.