Iran ‘enriches 6.5 kg of uranium to 60 percent’

Iran ‘enriches 6.5 kg of uranium to 60 percent’
Iran has made 6.5 kg (14 lb) of uranium enriched to up to 60%, the government said on Tuesday. (File/AFP)
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Updated 16 June 2021

Iran ‘enriches 6.5 kg of uranium to 60 percent’

Iran ‘enriches 6.5 kg of uranium to 60 percent’
  • US in touch with regional allies about indirect talks with Tehran, says expert

RIYADH: Iran has made 6.5 kg of uranium enriched to up to 60 percent, the government said on Tuesday, detailing a move that rattled the country’s nuclear talks with world powers by taking the fissile material closer to the nuclear weapons-grade of 90 percent.

State media reported that government spokesman Ali Rabiei said Iran had also produced 108 kg of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity, indicating quicker output than the rate required by the Iranian law that created the process.

Tehran said in April it would begin enriching uranium to 60 percent purity, a move that would take it much closer to the 90 percent suitable for a nuclear bomb, after the government accused arch-foe Israel of sabotaging a key nuclear site, according to Reuters.

Khalid Al-Matrafi, a Saudi political writer, told Arab News that Western powers will not allow the regime to possess nuclear weapons for military use.

He said that the Iranian move is based on attempts to strengthen its position at the negotiating table, especially after the setbacks the regime has recently endured, including the exposure of its nuclear program secrets.

“It is very important to remember that the US has confirmed through various officials that it is consulting its allies in the region, most notably Saudi Arabia, about the talks it is conducting indirectly with Iran, and this will help avoid the mistakes of the previous agreement,” he added.

Al-Matrafi was referring to the deal that was signed in July 2015 under US President Barack Obama. It offered Tehran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for agreeing to curb its nuclear program.

Stressing the need for Iran to abandon its 40-year policy of confrontation, Al-Matrafi said the countries in the region now want to see peace after decades of conflicts.

He said it is difficult for regional powers to coexist alongside a country that regularly reveals its intentions to act in a way that would negatively affect its neighborhood.

Tuesday’s disclosure comes amid Tehran and Washington holding indirect talks in Vienna aimed at finding ways to revive the 2015 deal between Iran and world powers.

Iran’s hard-line parliament passed a law last year to oblige the government to harden its nuclear stance, partly in reaction to former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018.

A quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear activities by the UN nuclear watchdog in May said that as of May 22, Tehran had produced 62.8 kg of uranium enriched up to 20 percent, and 2.4 kg of uranium enriched up to 60 percent, with the next level down being enriched to between 2 percent and 5 percent, Reuters reported.


As COVID-19 surges in Tunisia, oxygen is in short supply

As COVID-19 surges in Tunisia, oxygen is in short supply
Updated 04 August 2021

As COVID-19 surges in Tunisia, oxygen is in short supply

As COVID-19 surges in Tunisia, oxygen is in short supply
  • Traders have seized on an opportunity for profit, buying supplies of oxygen and other treatments and then renting them or selling them at higher prices
  • Tunisia consumed between 25,000 and 30,000 liters of oxygen daily before the pandemic

KAIROUAN, Tunisia: As Tunisia faces a surge of COVID-19 cases, demand for life-saving oxygen has grown higher than the supply, leaving patients desperate and family members angry at the government as they say they are forced to find oxygen on their own.
As the misery grows, traders have seized on an opportunity for profit, buying supplies of oxygen and other treatments and then renting them or selling them at higher prices. The profitable enterprise that is growing online has prompted citizens to call on authorities for intervention.
“I was subjected to various types of blackmailing. People were trading and brokering with everything. Believe me, with everything,” said Abdou Mzoughi, 43, whose nearly 80-year-old mother died June 26 from COVID-19 after he spent six days trying, but failing, to get the lifesaving oxygen treatment she needed.
“We were looking for a bed with oxygen in any hospital,” he said. He couldn’t even find her a place in a field hospital, or obtain a larger oxygen concentrator for at-home treatment.
The pandemic comes as the nation in North Africa — the only success story of the Arab Spring of a decade ago — finds itself beset by overlapping political and economic crises. Last month President Kais Saied fired the prime minister, froze the parliament and took on executive powers in what he says is a bid to save the country. He began ruling by decree after nationwide protests over the nation’s deteriorating social and economic situation — topped by the raging coronavirus epidemic.
Tunisia, with a population of 12 million, has reported more deaths per capita in the pandemic than any African country and has had among the highest daily death rates per capita in the world in recent weeks. More than 20,000 Tunisians have died so far, and the vaccination rate remains low.
Mzoughi said the market price of oxygen has more than doubled as demand grows in Kairouan, an ancient desert city that is considered among the holiest in Islam and is recognized by UNESCO for its rich architectural heritage. It is also one of the poorest cities in Tunisia.
Renting an oxygen concentrator can now cost up to $200 a week — an amount that Mzoughi roughly makes in a month with a steady job in the regional office of an online newspaper.
Now he visits his mother’s grave daily and describes still being in a state of shock over her death.
Private hospitals and clinics are also witnessing unprecedented pressure and intense demand for resuscitation and oxygen beds. That has caused a shortage of liquid oxygen in hospital tanks, and prompted the health authorities to request supplies from Algeria to enhance its strategic stock and avoid interruption in health units.
It has also led to the use of spare oxygen bottles, or the transfer of some patients to other hospitals.
Authorities have now ordered private clinics to contribute oxygen until there is a return to the normal oxygen supply pattern.
Tunisia consumed between 25,000 and 30,000 liters of oxygen daily before the pandemic. Now, the North African nation consumes 10 times the amount, between 230,000 to 240,000 liters of oxygen per day. Meanwhile, it’s production capacity is only at 100,000 liters per day, according to the Ministry of Health.
An especially moving video posted in mid-July on social media showed a man described as an official of Mateur Hospital, in the north, collapsing in tears because there was no oxygen for his patients. The video, posted by a Tunisian journalist, made the rounds at home and was widely picked up by French media.
However, the ministry denies claims that the health system in Tunisia is collapsing, saying it has received adequate aid from Arab and European countries, including oxygen machines, vaccines and field hospitals.


One killed in fire on military bus in Damascus - state media

One killed in fire on military bus in Damascus - state media
Updated 56 min 11 sec ago

One killed in fire on military bus in Damascus - state media

One killed in fire on military bus in Damascus - state media

BEIRUT: One person died and three were injured when a fire broke out on a military bus in a heavily fortified army compound in Damascus early on Wednesday, Syrian state news agency SANA reported.
One source at the site of the explosion suggested an electrical fault had set the petrol tank on fire, the agency reported.
The explosion happened in the bus while it was near the entrance of a heavily fortified Republican Guards housing compound in the west of the Syrian capital, SANA said.
Another source with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be named, said at least five military personnel were killed and 11 other personnel were wounded in the blast.
Blasts in Damascus have been rare since forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad took control of rebel enclaves around the city.
Ten years into Syria’s conflict, President Bashar al-Assad has survived the insurgency which started with peaceful protests in March 2011.
He now holds sway over most of the country, helped by Russia’s military presence and Iran’s Shi’ite militias.
There have been several attacks this year on army vehicles in eastern Syria by suspected Daesh militants who still operate in the sprawling desert area. 


UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots

UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots
Updated 04 August 2021

UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots

UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots
  • The booster shot would be available to people considered at high risk three months after their second vaccine dose
  • The regional tourism and business hub has among the world’s highest immunization rates

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates will start providing a booster shot against COVID-19 to all fully vaccinated individuals in the Gulf Arab state, the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) said on Tuesday.
It said on Twitter the booster shot would be available to people considered at high risk three months after their second vaccine dose, and six months for others.

The Gulf state, which has approved five types of COVID-19 vaccines, had in June begun providing booster shots to those initially immunized with a vaccine developed by the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm).
The regional tourism and business hub has among the world’s highest immunization rates. Around 79 percent of the population of roughly 9 million had received one vaccine dose, while some 70 percent had been fully vaccinated, according to latest official data.


Amid anger and despair, Lebanon braces for port explosion anniversary

People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
Updated 04 August 2021

Amid anger and despair, Lebanon braces for port explosion anniversary

People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
  • Legislative authority yet to decide on Judge Tarek Bitar’s request to lift the immunity of three MPs

BEIRUT: The families of the Beirut port explosion victims are reticent about revealing the steps they will take on Wednesday to commemorate the first anniversary of the explosion.

The massive blast — the country’s worst peacetime disaster — destroyed a large section of the capital on Aug. 4, 2020, killed at least 214 people, and injured more than 6,500.
It was caused when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored at the port for several years without proper safety precautions, ignited during a fire and exploded.
On the occasion of the first anniversary, UNICEF reported that six children were among the deceased as more than 1,000 children were also injured in the blast.
“All that can be said is that people are angry and will express their anger,” an activist among the groups that will participate in planned protests on Wednesday told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
“We will see some unexpected action if the security forces confront the protesters with violence. We know that tight security measures will be taken. Public institutions and administrations will be occupied and the sit-in will only end once the immunity is lifted for officials summoned by the judiciary in the port explosion investigation.”
The Lebanese parliament is yet to decide on Judge Tarek Bitar’s request to lift the immunity of three MPs accused in the Beirut port explosion: former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, former Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, and Former Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk.
Caretaker Interior Minister Mohamed Fahmy refused to lift the immunity of the defendant Abbas Ibrahim, director-general of the Lebanese General Security, last week. Only the Bar Association lifted the immunity of the accused lawyers. Judge Bitar had previously charged the three MPs, and former minister Youssef Fenianos, with “negligence” and “possible intent to murder” because they were aware of ammonium nitrate “and did not take measures to spare the country the risks of an explosion.”
The legislative authority has so far refrained from lifting the immunity of any politicians and has not authorized prosecuting security officials.
In addition, Judge Bitar also requested to question Ibrahim and Director-General of State Security, Maj. Gen. Antoine Saliba, as well as several judges.
Civil society groups appealed to Lebanese citizens this week and asked them to join victims’ families along with the civil defense and the fire fighting brigade, which also lost several members in the explosion.
A vigil is scheduled after the call to prayer, which will be followed by a mass held by the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi. “The groups that will participate in the commemoration are retired soldiers, trade unionists, and self-employed professionals,” the activist said.

FASTFACTS

• The massive blast — the country’s worst peacetime disaster — destroyed a large section of the capital on Aug. 4, 2020, killed at least 214 people, and injured more than 6,500.

• It was caused when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored at the port for several years without proper safety precautions, ignited during a fire and exploded.

“They will head to several locations, the politicians’ residences included.”
He pointed out that the American University Hospital in Beirut alerted its emergency department to be on high alert for Wednesday’s protests.
Medical teams from the hospitals damaged in the blast, including Saint Georges, Hotel Dieu, Geitaoui, Rizk, and Wardieh hospitals will also gather at the port.
The victims’ faces will accompany people attending the vigil as they head to the port since volunteer artists drew the faces of many victims along the walls of the sidewalks leading to where the blast occurred.
Lebanon will mark the day of mourning on Wednesday as all institutions will be closed, including banks, restaurants, and cafes. The flags will be lowered and black flags will be raised above the buildings.
“I expect a major turnout because people are furious and those responsible for this crime must be held accountable. We will try to avoid getting injured, but we do expect some injuries among our ranks,” the activist said.
Activists took to social media to call on “soldiers and officers in the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces, whose salaries have become less than $70, not to protect the killers and suppress the angry people on Aug. 4.”
Lebanese expatriates in Paris, Geneva, Berlin, Barcelona, Brussels, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, New York, San Francisco, and Cleveland are organizing sit-ins to stand with Beirut.
Most notably, France and the UN are organizing an Aug. 4 international conference “to address the humanitarian needs of Lebanon’s most vulnerable people.”
The spokesman for the families of the victims, Ibrahim Hoteit, had given the politicians a 30-hour deadline, ending on Wednesday afternoon, to lift the immunity. He said in a press conference that the protests would be “a bone-breaking battle now that we are done with the routine peaceful movements.”
Political parties joined the commemoration of Aug. 4, but they did so on Aug. 2 and 3, in order to avoid any clashes between their supporters and other protesters.
Economic and living crises are ever-increasing amid the political deadlock.
These crises have exacerbated the citizens who lack electricity, medicine, and fuel, while they lost 90 percent of their income’s value in light of the Lebanese pound’s devaluation.
In a statement issued on the eve of the anniversary of the port explosion, the International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG) renewed its solidarity “with the families of the victims and all those whose lives have been affected.”
The ISG, which includes representatives of the UN, China, France, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, the UK, the US, the EU, and the League of Arab States, urged the Lebanese authorities to “swiftly complete the investigation into the port explosion so that the truth may be known and justice rendered.”
Meanwhile, Democracy Reporting International (DRI) accused the Lebanese authorities of “continuing to weaken the judicial investigations and prevent the lifting of immunity for MPs, ministers and security leaders who remained silent or tolerant of the presence of ammonium nitrate, and did nothing.”


Tunisian labor union urges new PM appointment to ease crisis

Supporters of the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces. (AP/File Photo)
Supporters of the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 03 August 2021

Tunisian labor union urges new PM appointment to ease crisis

Supporters of the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces. (AP/File Photo)

TUNIS: Tunisia’s powerful labor union urged the president on Tuesday to rapidly announce a new government that should be small and led by an experienced premier, after he seized executive control in a move his opponents called a coup.

President Kais Saied has defended his actions as constitutional and said he will govern alongside a new prime minister during an emergency period, but nine days after his intervention, he has yet to name one.

“We can’t wait 30 days for the announcement of a government,” said Sami Tahri, a spokesman for the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces.

UGTT chief Noureddine Taboubi said later on state television later on Tuesday that the cabinet should be small and headed by somebody with experience, sending a positive message to both Tunisians and international lenders.

“We must speed up the formation of the government to be able to face economic and health challenges,” he said.

Saied’s sudden intervention on July 25 appeared to have widespread public support but raised fears for the future of the democratic system that Tunisia adopted after its 2011 revolution that triggered the Arab Spring.

On Tuesday Saied removed Tunisia’s ambassador to Washington, the latest in a string of dismissals of senior and mid-ranking officials over the past week including several ministers. He did not immediately name a replacement.

He is also still to announce a roadmap to end an emergency period that he initially set at one month but later announced could be two months.

A source close to the presidential palace in Carthage said earlier that Saied might announce the new premier on Tuesday. Sources have told Reuters that Central Bank Governor Marouane Abassi and two former finance ministers, Hakim Hammouda and Nizar Yaich, are contenders.

Saied’s most powerful organized opponent, the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, has meanwhile been riven by internal splits over its response to the crisis and its longer-term strategy and leadership.

Tunisians had over the past decade grown ever more frustrated by economic stagnation, corruption and bickering among a political class that often seemed more focused on its own narrow interests than on national problems.

The coronavirus pandemic ripped through Tunisia over the past two months as the state vaccination effort crawled, leading at one point to the worst infection and death rates in Africa. Pandemic counter-measures last year hammered the economy.

On Monday Saied replaced the finance, agriculture and telecoms ministers after having said last week that “wrong economic choices” had cost the country.

On Sunday he said there were contacts with “friendly countries” for financial assistance. (Reporting by Tarek Amara, writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by William Maclean and Mark Heinrich)