UAE government eases face mask rules in some public places

UAE government eases face mask rules in some public places
Women wearing protective masks look at a cell phone in front of Burj Khalifa in Dubai on March 8, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 22 September 2021

UAE government eases face mask rules in some public places

UAE government eases face mask rules in some public places

DUBAI: The UAE government has removed the mandatory requirement to wear face masks in some public places, the country’s health ministry announced Wednesday. 

The decision means it is no longer obligatory to wear masks while exercising outdoors, sitting at the beach, or by the pool.

Individuals driving in a private car alone or with members of the same household will also not be required to wear them.

Masks will also not be required in indoor places such as hair salons when people are alone. 

The decision came after the number of daily Covid-19 cases decreased by 60 per cent in August this year as compared to the same period last year.


Turkish soldiers beat Afghan asylum seekers, force returns to Iran, claims HRW

Turkish soldiers beat Afghan asylum seekers, force returns to Iran, claims HRW
Updated 15 sec ago

Turkish soldiers beat Afghan asylum seekers, force returns to Iran, claims HRW

Turkish soldiers beat Afghan asylum seekers, force returns to Iran, claims HRW

LONDON: Turkish authorities are violently returning Afghan asylum seekers from Iran as soon as they arrive in Turkey, Human Rights Watch has said.

The practice is in violation of international law and some families have been separated as a result, the rights organization said. 

Six Afghans, five of whom were pushed back, told HRW that the Turkish army had severely beat them and their fellow travelers and expelled them in groups of 50 to 300 people as they tried to cross the border into Turkey.

Some people had their bones broken as a result of the force used. 

“Turkish authorities are denying Afghans trying to flee to safety the right to seek asylum,” said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at HRW. “Turkish soldiers are also brutally mistreating the Afghans while unlawfully pushing them back.”

“EU member states should not consider Turkey a safe third country for Afghan asylum seekers and should suspend all deportations and forced returns of Afghan nationals, including to third countries like Turkey where their rights would not be respected,” Wille said.

“They should also ensure that Afghans entering the EU via Turkey have access to fair and efficient asylum procedures,” he added.

HRW said it had remotely interviewed six Afghans between Sept. 25 and Oct. 11. Five of them were hiding in Turkey to avoid being expelled to Iran, and one had been forcibly returned to Iran for a third time. All had fled Afghanistan shortly before or after Aug. 15, when the Taliban took control of Kabul.

The Afghans said they had traveled through Pakistan and Iran, and that Iranian smugglers took them to the border with Turkey in the middle of the night and told them to run across. Turkish soldiers fired above their heads and two said they were brutally beaten by soldiers.

One of the Afghans said he successfully remained in Turkey on his first attempt while another had been deported back to Iran. The other four said Turkish soldiers forced them back up to three times before they succeeded in remaining in Turkey.

Two said that Turkish forces destroyed their possessions, and those of everyone in the group they were expelled with. 

“Once they arrested us, they confiscated our phones, money, food, and anything else we were carrying and burned all of our things in a big fire,” one woman said. “I assume they did this to send the message that we should not try to cross the border again.” 

One man said they stripped the men in his group down to their underwear, burned their clothes and belongings, and then forcibly returned them.

Another man said that soldiers beat them with the butts of their guns and that several men in his group had broken hands, arms, and legs from the cruel beatings.

Another man said he saw Turkish soldiers beating people he had crossed with and that they were covered in blood and had wounds to their heads.

“They beat me for about 20 minutes with the butts of their guns and sticks, leaving me bleeding,” he said.

One woman said that on her third attempt to cross into Turkey with her two children, her brother, his wife, and their child, Turkish soldiers detained her brother and his wife and expelled them, leaving their child with her.

Turkey hosts the world’s largest number of refugees including 3.7 million from Syria who have been granted temporary protection status, and over 400,000 refugees and migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries. 

HRW has previously documented illegal pushbacks and beatings of asylum seekers, including returning refugees to Syria.

The organization said that while most people interviewed said they were forcibly returned close to the border, one man said that he and eight of his relatives were deported after they went to a local immigration office in Turkey after feeling ill.

“When we got there, the authorities arrested us and took our phones and turned them off, so the rest of our family had no idea what happened to us,” he said.

“They held us for two nights and one day, and only fed us twice … after the second night they put us onto buses with about 100 other people and drove us to the border. One soldier at the border told us, ‘here is the border. Don’t come back. If you do, we will beat you.’”


Iran sentences ex-central bank chief to 10 years in prison

Iran sentences ex-central bank chief to 10 years in prison
Updated 16 October 2021

Iran sentences ex-central bank chief to 10 years in prison

Iran sentences ex-central bank chief to 10 years in prison
  • Besides violating the currency system, Valliollah Seif also had a role in smuggling foreign currency

TEHRAN: A court sentenced the former governor of Iran’s central bank to 10 years in prison for violating the country’s currency system, a judiciary spokesperson said Saturday.
Besides violating the currency system, Valliollah Seif also had a role in smuggling foreign currency, judiciary spokesman Zabihollah Khodaeian told state TV.
Ahmad Araghchi, a then-deputy to Seif, was sentenced to eight years on the same charges, Khodaeian said. Eight others were also sentenced to various prison terms, he said. All of the defendants have the right to appeal.
Seif was governor of Iran’s central bank for five years until 2018 under former President Hassan Rouhani. Araghchi was his deputy from 2017 to 2018.
State TV said they were involved in violations of the currency market in 2016, a time when the Iranian rial sustained considerable losses in value against major foreign currencies.
The defendants illegally injected $160 million and 20 million euros into the market, state TV said.
The rial exchange rate was at 39,000 to $1 in 2017 at the beginning of Araghchi’s time in office but it reached more than 110,000 to $1 by the time he was dismissed in 2018. The change partly coincided with severe US sanctions imposed on Tehran.
The rial has tumbled from a rate of around 32,000 rials to $1 at the time of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers to around 27,000 rials to $1 in recent months. The currency unexpectedly rallied for some time after President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the nuclear deal and reimpose crippling trade sanctions on Iran in 2018.
The sanctions have caused Iran’s oil exports, the country’s main source of income, to fall sharply.


Lebanese Christian group denies Hezbollah claim it planned Beirut bloodshed

Lebanese Christian group denies Hezbollah claim it planned Beirut bloodshed
Updated 16 October 2021

Lebanese Christian group denies Hezbollah claim it planned Beirut bloodshed

Lebanese Christian group denies Hezbollah claim it planned Beirut bloodshed

BEIRUT: The head of the Christian Lebanese Forces party (LF) denied late on Friday his group had planned street violence in Beirut that killed seven people, and said a meeting held the day before was purely political.
Thursday’s violence, which began as people were gathering for a protest called by Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah against the judge investigating last year’s Beirut port blast, was the worst in over a decade and stirred memories of the country’s ruinous sectarian civil war from 1975-90.
Samir Geagea told Voice of Lebanon International radio that a meeting held on Wednesday by a political grouping the LF belongs to had discussed action options should Iran-backed Hezbollah succeed in efforts to remove the judge.
Geagea said the option agreed upon in that event was to call for a public strike, and nothing else.
The powerful Hezbollah group stepped up accusations against the LF on Friday, saying it killed the seven Shiites to try to drag the country into a civil war.
The violence, which erupted at a boundary between Christian and Shiite neighborhoods, has added to concerns over the stability of a country that is awash with weapons and grappling with one of the world’s worst ever economic meltdowns.
Asked whether the presence of LF members in the areas of Ain Al-Remmaneh and Teyouneh, where the shooting erupted, meant the incident was planned, Geagea said they were always present in these areas.
The security coordinator in the party contacted the authorities when they heard a protest was planned and asked for a heavy military presence in the area “as our priority was for the demonstration to pass by simply as a demonstration and not affect civil peace,” Geagea said.
Geagea said his party was assured that would be the case.
“The army has arrested snipers so they need to tell us who they are and where they came from.”
Nineteen people have been detained so far in relation to the incident.


Turkey plans military action against Syrian Kurdish YPG if diplomacy fails

Turkey plans military action against Syrian Kurdish YPG if diplomacy fails
Updated 16 October 2021

Turkey plans military action against Syrian Kurdish YPG if diplomacy fails

Turkey plans military action against Syrian Kurdish YPG if diplomacy fails
  • Erdogan says will eliminate threats, latest attack ‘final straw.’

ANKARA: Turkey is preparing for possible further military action against a US-backed Kurdish militia in northern Syria if talks on the issue with the US and Russia fail, two Turkish officials said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this week Ankara was determined to eliminate threats originating in northern Syria and that a Kurdish YPG militia attack that killed two Turkish police officers was “the final straw.”
Turkey said the police in Syria’s Azaz region were hit in a guided missile attack on Sunday launched from Tel Rifaat by the YPG, which Ankara considers a terrorist group closely linked to militants fighting a decades-old insurgency in southeast Turkey.
“It is essential that the areas, notably the Tel Rifaat region from which attacks are constantly carried out against us, are cleansed,” one senior official told Reuters.
Turkish forces have launched three incursions in the last five years, seizing hundreds of kilometers of border strip and pushing around 30 km into northern Syria.
Russian jets, Iran-backed fighters, Turkish-supported insurgents, jihadists, US troops and Syrian government forces also operate across the patchwork of territories in northern Syria, as well as the Kurdish YPG.
The US views the YPG as a key ally in the fight against Daesh in northeast Syria. Russia has forces in the area to support Syrian President Bashar Assad.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Turkey has carried out three incursions in Syria in recent years.

• Official says YPG militia must be pushed back at least 30 km.

The time and nature of any further Turkish military action was unclear.
The official said the military and national intelligence agency were making preparations.
“The decision for this has been taken and the necessary coordination will be done with particular countries. This subject will be discussed with Russia and the United States,” he added.
The officials said Erdogan would discuss the issue with US President Joe Biden at a G20 summit of the world’s major economies in Rome at the end of October.
Another official said the YPG must be pushed back at least 30 km, noting Russia was completely in control of the areas from which recent attacks had come, along with some Iranian elements.
Erdogan will speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the talks with Biden, he said.
“If there is no outcome from diplomacy and the PYD does not leave these areas, an operation appears unavoidable,” he said, using the abbreviation for the YPG’s political wing and referring to Tel Rifaat and “several other locations.”
On Monday, shells believed to have been fired from a YPG-controlled area east of Tel Rifaat exploded in the Turkish town of Karkamis, across the border from Syria’s Jarablus, causing slight damage, Turkey said.
Azaz and Jarablus have been under the control of rebels backed by Turkey since Ankara’s first incursion into Syria in 2016 — an operation that aimed to drive Daesh militants and the YPG away from the border.
Since then Ankara has launched two other operations in Syria against the YPG, one targeting the northwest Afrin region and one further east.


EU: Iran not ready to resume Vienna talks

EU: Iran not ready to resume Vienna talks
Updated 16 October 2021

EU: Iran not ready to resume Vienna talks

EU: Iran not ready to resume Vienna talks
  • Tehran criticizes UN agency over Israel ‘negligence’

BRUSSELS: Iran is not ready to return to talks with world powers over its nuclear program yet and its new negotiating team wants to discuss the texts that will be put forward when it meets with the EU in Brussels in the next few weeks, a senior EU official said on Friday.
EU political director Enrique Mora, the chief coordinator for the talks, was in Tehran on Thursday to meet members of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, four months after discussions broke off between Iran and world powers.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has so far refused to resume indirect talks with the US in Vienna on both sides returning to compliance with the deal, under which Iran curbed its nuclear program in return for economic sanctions relief.
Diplomats from France, Britain and Germany, who are party to the accord along with China and Russia, said ahead of Mora’s visit that it came at a critical time and things could not be deemed “business as usual” given escalating Iranian nuclear activities and the stalling of negotiations.
The US said time was running short. “They are not yet ready for engaging in Vienna,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity, adding that he believed Tehran was “absolutely decided to go back to Vienna and to end the negotiations.”
The Islamic Republic has repeatedly said it will return to the negotiations “soon,” but it has not given a clearer timeline.
Western diplomats had hoped the Vienna talks might resume before the end of October.
However, after Mora’s visit, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said it would hold talks in the coming days with the EU in Brussels.
“They insisted that they don’t want talks for talks, they want talking with practical results and with a final agreement on how to bring JCPOA (the nuclear deal) back to life,” the official said.
Describing a meeting in Brussels as a “good idea,” the official said it would allow both sides to go through the texts on the table from June and clarify questions that Iran’s new negotiating team may have. “I think we are just clarifying even more the situation for a final destination, which is going to be resuming in Vienna. I expect that soon,” he said.
France’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre said negotiations should resume immediately based on where they left off in June to reach a deal quickly.
“Iran must show a willingness through acts that it shares the same desire to come back to the negotiating table and conclude an agreement,” she told reporters.
Western diplomats have said they are concerned Tehran’s new negotiating team — under a president known as an anti-Western hard-liner, unlike his pragmatist predecessor — may make new demands beyond the scope of what had already been agreed.

BACKGROUND

Iran has repeatedly said it will return to the negotiations ‘soon,’ but it has not given a clearer timeline. Western diplomats had hoped the Vienna talks might resume before October-end.

Separately, Iran sharply criticized the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency for keeping its eyes trained on the Islamic republic while ignoring its arch-enemy Israel’s suspected nuclear program.
Israel is widely believed to be the Middle East’s sole nuclear arms possessor with up to 300 warheads, but it has long refused to confirm or deny it has such weapons and unlike Iran is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“Silence and negligence about Israel’s nuclear program sends a negative message to the NPT members,” Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s ambassador to the UN agency, tweeted.
Being an NPT signatory meant “accepting the robust verifications,” while being outside it meant being “free from any obligation and criticism, and even (getting) rewarded”, he wrote.
“What is the advantage of being both a NPT member and fully implementing the agency’s safeguards?
Gharibabadi was reacting to an interview given by IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi to Energy Intelligence earlier this month.
Asked why the IAEA is so focused on Iran’s nuclear program but not Israel’s, he responded: “Our relation with Israel is based on the one that you have with a country which is not a party to the NPT.”
Iran has been a signatory to the NPT since 1970, the year it came into force, and has always denied it has any ambitions to acquire or manufacture an atomic bomb.
Israel, which has never signed up to the treaty, has repeatedly warned that it will do whatever it takes to prevent Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.
The NPT calls on nations “to achieve the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to undertake measures in the direction of nuclear disarmament.”