Iran's Rouhani urges greater 'competition' in presidential poll

Iran's Rouhani urges greater 'competition' in presidential poll
Rouhani in a weekly Cabinet meeting said he wished Iran’s Guardian Council would give more would-be candidates the opportunity to run. (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 May 2021

Iran's Rouhani urges greater 'competition' in presidential poll

Iran's Rouhani urges greater 'competition' in presidential poll
  • Rouhani said he wished Iran’s Guardian Council would give more would-be candidates the opportunity to run
  • “I am holding consultations to make the election scene more competitive and participatory”: Raisi

TEHRAN: Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday called for greater "competition" in an election for his successor next month after several hopefuls were barred from running against ultraconservative candidates.
Rouhani said he had asked the Islamic republic's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to intervene and warned that "the heart of elections is competition. If you take that away it becomes a corpse."
Iran's ultraconservative judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi is now widely seen as the frontrunner to replace Rouhani, a moderate, after the powerful Guardian Council prevented several prominent figures from standing for election.

Raisi appeared to object to the large number of disqualifications on Tuesday.
"Since yesterday evening, when I was informed of the results, ... I have made contacts and I am holding consultations to make the election scene more competitive and participatory," Raisi said on Twitter.
Seven candidates, five of them ultraconservatives, were approved for the June 18 poll, which comes at a time Iran is in talks with world powers to revive the tattered nuclear deal that former US president Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018.
The Guardian Council disqualified several well-known figures, including long-time parliament speaker Ali Larijani, a moderate-conservative ally of Rouhani who had been seen as the main challenger to Raisi.
The president, speaking at a televised cabinet meeting, also warned of the risk of low voter turnout and said the system's "continued legitimacy" was at stake.
Rouhani, an advocate of detente with the West and of ending Iran's international isolation, won office through an alliance with reformist and moderate forces but must step down this year after serving two consecutive terms.
Iran was plunged into a deep recession after Trump torpedoed Rouhani's signature achievement, the 2015 nuclear deal which offered sanctions relief in return for Iran's pledge never to acquire an atomic weapon.
Negotiations are now underway in Vienna aiming to bring Washington back into the accord, lift punishing sanctions on Iran and get Tehran to reverse the nuclear steps it took in retaliation to the US withdrawal.
The election comes amid a climate of general discontent amid Iran's deep economic and social crisis, and after the violent repression of waves of protests in the winter of 2017-2018 and in November 2019.
For the reformers and moderates who have governed with Rouhani since 2013, the solution to the country's problems lies in the discussions underway in Vienna.
Ultraconservatives and many conservatives meanwhile accuse Rouhani of shirking responsibility by blaming Iran's woes solely on the United States, and on the Europeans for failing to help Tehran counter the devastating effects of US sanctions.
Iran's candidate disqualifications caused dismay in the reformist press.
"Goodbye reformism?" read the front-page headline of a Shargh daily article that said "not even the most sceptical" had imagined the latest development.
It argued that reformists' woes partly stem from the economic crisis hurting their middle class base, which it said now lacks "any energy" to push forward their agenda.
The ultraconservative Kayhan daily meanwhile strongly defended the council's decision on candidates, arguing it was in line with the constitution and "not based on personal preference".
It also said a possible low turnout would be the fault of Rouhani's administration over its handling of the economy.
A record 57 percent of Iranians stayed away from legislative elections in February last year after thousands of candidates, many of them moderates and reformists, were disqualified.
The Guardian Council, the unelected body responsible for overseeing elections, this time selected the seven candidates from a field of about 600 hopefuls.
Rouhani said that, in his request for a revision of the list, "I sent a letter to the supreme leader yesterday on what I had in mind and if he can help with this".
According to Rouhani, the supreme leader has "seldom intervened" during previous elections, but "there have been times when he added someone back in with an order".
This happened in 2005, when he reversed the Guardian Council's decision to bar two reformist figures - Mostafa Moein and Mohsen Mehralizadeh, the latter of whom is also an approved candidate this year.
Larijani, however, has already conceded his disqualification, writing on Twitter that "I am content with God's will".


UK, Arab League concerned over Iran’s nuclear program

UK Minister for Middle East and North Africa in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office James Cleverly meets with Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League. (Twitter/@JamesCleverly)
UK Minister for Middle East and North Africa in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office James Cleverly meets with Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League. (Twitter/@JamesCleverly)
Updated 15 sec ago

UK, Arab League concerned over Iran’s nuclear program

UK Minister for Middle East and North Africa in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office James Cleverly meets with Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League. (Twitter/@JamesCleverly)
  • UK minister for Middle East and North Africa met separately with Arab League secretary-general and Egyptian foreign minister
  • All sides also affirmed their countries support the Libyan political process

LONDON: The UK shares concerns over Iran’s nuclear program with Arab countries, a government official said on Tuesday.
Tehran has stopped honoring some of its commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal and has been holding up negotiations aimed at reviving the landmark accord that scales back its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, sparking concern from the UN nuclear watchdog agency.
The comments were made during a meeting in London between the UK Minister for Middle East and North Africa in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, James Cleverly, and Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League.
The meeting dealt with developments in the region, including Iran, Syria and Libya, where Cleverly affirmed his country supports the Libyan political process.

Earlier on Tuesday, Cleverly met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, where he praised Egypt’s role as “a key mediator in regional conflicts, and a leading partner on climate” change.
He also congratulated Shoukry on Egypt’s nomination to host the next UN climate change conference (COP27), adding he looked forward to President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi attendance at the upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow next month, and his meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“I also thanked Shoukry for Egypt’s ongoing engagement in Hamas-Israeli talks,” which “played a leading role in securing the cease-fire,” Cleverly said.
The UK and Egypt also agreed on the importance of Libya sticking to its elections timetable, he added.

(With AFP)


48 Houthi militants killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition

48 Houthi militants killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition
Updated 19 October 2021

48 Houthi militants killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition

48 Houthi militants killed near Yemen’s Marib: Arab coalition
  • Arab coalition says airstrikes hit 14 Houthi targets, also destroying six military vehicles

RIYADH: The Arab coalition in Yemen said on Tuesday it carried out 14 attacks targeting Houthi militia members in two districts near the strategic city of Marib in the last 24 hours.
The coalition said 48 Houthis have been killed and six military vehicles were destroyed in the military operations in Al-Jawba and Al-Kassara.
“We will continue to provide support to the Yemeni National Army to protect civilians from Houthi violations,” the coalition said in a statement.
This is the ninth consecutive day that the coalition has announced strikes around Marib, reporting a total of more than 1,200 Houthi fatalities.
The previously announced bombings were in Abedia about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Marib — the internationally recognized government’s last bastion in oil-rich northern Yemen.
The strikes reported Tuesday were closer to Marib.
Al-Jawba lies about 50 kilometers from the city and Al-Kassara is about 30 kilometers northwest.
According to a government military official on Tuesday, fighting between the two sides “continues on a number of fronts but there are no major advances or changes on the ground in recent hours.”
The Houthis began a major push to seize Marib in February and have renewed their offensive since September after a lull.
(With AFP)


Blinken says Yemen conflict is top US foreign policy priority

Blinken says Yemen conflict is top US foreign policy priority
Updated 21 min 31 sec ago

Blinken says Yemen conflict is top US foreign policy priority

Blinken says Yemen conflict is top US foreign policy priority
  • The US secretary of state congratulates UN envoy to Yemen on his new role during call

LONDON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday reiterated that resolving the conflict in Yemen remains a top US foreign policy priority.
His comments came during a phone call with the newly-appointed UN envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg.
Blinken congratulated Grundberg, who was appointed in August to replace Martin Griffiths, on his new role, the State Department said in a statement.
During the call, they “discussed efforts to engage all parties without preconditions and secure a cease-fire, address urgent humanitarian priorities, restart the political process in Yemen, and ensure accountability for human rights violations and abuses.”

Blinken also welcomed collaboration on the common goal of reaching an “inclusive, durable solution” to end the conflict in Yemen and bringing relief to Yemenis, the statement added.
On Monday, Grundberg ended a visit to Oman, where he met with Omani officials, Houthi representatives, and representatives of the international community about reaching a comprehensive political solution to the conflict in Yemen.

 


Silicon Valley’s Osh Agabi lifts the lid on Koniku’s disease-detection tech

Silicon Valley’s Osh Agabi lifts the lid on Koniku’s disease-detection tech
Updated 19 October 2021

Silicon Valley’s Osh Agabi lifts the lid on Koniku’s disease-detection tech

Silicon Valley’s Osh Agabi lifts the lid on Koniku’s disease-detection tech
  • Koniku Kore uses biotech based on mice neurons to detect diseases, chemicals and even explosives
  • Founded in 2017, Koniku aims to revolutionize health security through robotics and synthetic neurobiology

DUBAI: Artificial intelligence and machine-learning technologies are expected to completely transform the way people live, work and do business. But one area where exciting developments are already becoming a reality is in health.

Osh Agabi, originally from Nigeria, has received funding from tech giants in Silicon Valley to develop his “clinical cyborg” — an innovation that aims to detect more than 4,000 smells simultaneously, resulting potentially in the diagnosis of a variety of diseases.

Agabi has drawn the attention of American venture capitalists impressed by his study of human cells grown on a computer chip.

“One thing that has always been a primary driver for me is, how does the human body essentially function?” he told Arab News.

“How is it possible that we are capable of so much? A human being is essentially a machine but a very advanced one.”

Of course, even the most sophisticated machinery can malfunction from time to time, which means the medical tools needed to diagnose and address these issues must evolve and advance.

With this in mind, Agabi launched his own company in 2017, named Koniku — which translates as “immortal” in Nigeria’s Yoruba dialect — specializing in robotics and synthetic neurobiology.

Among its recent creations is the Koniku Kore, which the company says is capable of detecting and interpreting 4,096 different smells at the same time.

“At any given time, you are exhaling literally thousands of different smells, and these different smells are giving us an indication as to the state of your health,” Agabi said.

“If you have a disease, there’s a smell signature associated with it. So, we now have a platform that could potentially be scaled worldwide to offer comprehensive clinical-grade data in everybody’s bathroom, collecting breath in real time and making every individual the CEO of their health.”

Scientists have long recognized the ability of dogs to sniff out human emotions such as fear and sadness and even detect certain cancers and other illnesses.

Scientists have long recognized the ability of dogs to sniff out emotions and illnesses. (Shutterstock)

Agabi and his team have isolated similar brain cells in mice, genetically modified them to carry proteins that allow them to smell the contents of the air and inserted them into a Koniku chip.

The chip is then placed inside the Koniku Kore, which collects air through a mechanical pump and passes it on to the cells. The cells then detect the smell and give off signals that are interpreted by the device’s onboard computer. Weighing just 700 grams, the device is ideal for home use, says the company.

“Our target, before this decade ends, is to have our technology in 10 million homes to analyze disease in real time,” Agabi said.

Some scientists caution that fusing natural proteins with silicon circuits is a daunting task, citing the fragility of cells and the complexity of their interactions with chemical substances.

A CNN web report of 2020 on Koniku quoted Timothy Swager, a chemistry professor at MIT, as saying that to pull off what the company claims would require “some technical miracle.”

Agabi, who completed a master’s degree in bioengineering at the Imperial College London and later a Ph.D. in computational neuroscience and bioengineering at ETH Zurich, intends to present his invention to potential investors at the upcoming Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh.

“It’s the thing that gets me up every morning and I’m excited about it,” he said.

Agabi is likely to find an enthusiastic crowd of potential investors. He won a startup competition organized by the Misk Global Forum in Saudi Arabia two years ago, so there are sure to be many in the Kingdom’s developing health-tech sector awaiting his return visit.

“It’s something I feel very privileged to do as a person coming from my background, born and bred in Lagos but mostly educated in Europe and now in the US scaling this technology to a global audience,” he said.

Given the healthcare challenges posed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the growing commercial interest in home and wearable health tech, Agabi believes there is a ready market for his creation.

Osh Agabi wants to bring that power to humans. (Supplied)

The device is currently undergoing clinical trials with Treximo and the University of Southern Nevada. Given its potential application as a rapid COVID-19 detection test, Koniku hopes to secure emergency use authorization for its product in the near future. From there, the sky is the limit for a whole new range of bio- and neuro-tech.

“Synthetic neurobiology and biotechnology will be big,” Agabi said. “When we have biotechnology or synthetic biology merged with data, machine learning and AI, what is possible is unprecedented. It will be the next big thing.”

Koniku’s customers to date include Airbus, which uses the technology to detect explosive compounds, and Thermo Fisher Scientific, the world’s largest manufacturer of scientific equipment, to sense fentanyl, methamphetamine and other drugs.

Major oil companies in Saudi Arabia are also in discussions with Koniku to use the technology to detect benzene, toluene, ethylene and xylene.

“During the refining process of oil and other such chemical compounds, there are compounds that are given off that might be carcinogenic for human beings, that decrease people’s quality of life, make the place smell bad, and so on,” said Agabi.

“This is what we have with Exxon Mobil, for instance, and for methane emissions and for all the compounds that are byproducts from the oil and gas industry that decrease the quality of life in the area we’re working on.”

Koniku has also explored several possibilities for the application of its innovations in oil exploration. “Think about our technology as a ‘smell cyborg,’ similar to a camera on your phone, for security, for filming or vision,” Agabi said.

“You can use this ‘smell cyborg’ for many more applications across the whole spectrum. But our strongest application and what our vision aims to bring to this world is diagnosing disease on a global scale.”

Given the healthcare challenges posed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the growing commercial interest in home and wearable health tech, Agabi believes there is a ready market for his creation. (AFP)

For Agabi, the pandemic has made it abundantly clear that the world needs a global system for disease surveillance, where abnormal breath signatures, propagation and growth rates can be detected. In doing so, sickness, death and economic damage could be avoided.

“It is an unfortunate crisis that has cost a lot of life and sorrow,” he said.

“But one of the things we can take from this is the need for a global disease surveillance system through which we can assess the health of people in different cities or states.”

In an increasingly interconnected world, Agabi says every individual has the potential to be a bioweapon until proven otherwise. The only way to make that transparency possible is to develop a technology stack that is able to scan people’s health on a global scale.

“That is what Koniku puts itself forward as,” Agabi said. “That’s what we seek partnerships on. But that is our larger vision, which, with the right partners and resources, we can realize. That’s why I’m very excited to return to the region and form strong partnerships to build this up.”

Twitter: @CalineMalek


Palestinians clash with Israeli police in Jerusalem

Palestinians clash with Israeli police in Jerusalem
Updated 19 October 2021

Palestinians clash with Israeli police in Jerusalem

Palestinians clash with Israeli police in Jerusalem
  • Israeli police said Palestinians hurled rocks at police and public buses near the Damascus Gate leading into the Old City
  • Palestinians say Israeli police moved to restrict the annual gathering in and around Damascus Gate in what they saw as a provocation

JERUSALEM: Palestinians clashed with Israeli police at a popular gathering place just outside Jerusalem’s Old City as thousands celebrated a Muslim holiday.
It was a repeat of violence earlier this year that eventually led to the 11-day Gaza war in May.
Israeli police said Palestinians hurled rocks at police and public buses near the Damascus Gate leading into the Old City. They said 22 suspects were arrested.
Earlier, thousands of Palestinians had marched along the Old City walls and paused at the gate, where a scout band played the Palestinian national anthem. They continued to the Al-Aqsa mosque, where tens of thousands prayed in honor of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.
Palestinians say Israeli police moved to restrict the annual gathering in and around Damascus Gate in what they saw as a provocation.
An Associated Press photographer said a few dozen youths began shouting at police and throwing water bottles, after which police fired stun grenades. The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said it treated 17 people who were wounded, including 10 who were taken to a hospital.
Palestinians clashed with Israeli police on a nightly basis during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in April and May over a decision to place police barricades at Damascus Gate, a popular holiday gathering spot for Palestinians families.
The clashes continued even after the barricades were removed and eventually spread to the nearby Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a flashpoint site sacred to Muslims and Jews. The violence, along with efforts by settlers to evict dozens of Palestinian families from their homes, eventually ignited the fourth war between Israel and the militant Hamas group ruling Gaza.
The Old City is in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally. Israel considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state.
The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of the Jewish temples in antiquity.
Over the last two weeks, sporadic fights have broken out at Damascus Gate between Palestinians and Israelis, and between Palestinians and the police.