US seeks possession of Venezuelan 747 grounded in Argentina

US seeks possession of Venezuelan 747 grounded in Argentina
This file photo taken on June 6, 2022, shows the Boeing 747-300 registered number YV3531 of Venezuelan Emtrasur Cargo airline after taking off from the international airport in Cordoba to Buenos Aires. (AFP)
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Updated 03 August 2022

US seeks possession of Venezuelan 747 grounded in Argentina

US seeks possession of Venezuelan 747 grounded in Argentina
  • The plane was carrying cargo for several Argentine auto parts companies that it loaded in Mexico before stopping in Caracas and arriving in Argentina

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina: The US Justice Department said Tuesday it is seeking possession of a Venezuelan cargo jet that has been grounded in Argentina since early June because it was previously owned by an Iranian airline that allegedly has ties to terror groups.
The request to Argentina was revealed a day after an Argentine judge allowed 12 of the 19 crewmembers of the plane to leave the country as authorities continue to investigate possible terror ties of those traveling in the Boeing 747. Federal Judge Federico Villena said late Monday that the remaining four Iranians and three Venezuelans must stay.
The US request sent to Argentina on Tuesday followed the unsealing of a warrant in federal court in the District of Columbia that was issued last month and that argues the U.S-made plane should be forfeited because of violations of US export control laws.
The plane, according to the Justice Department, was transferred from Iranian airline Mahan Air — which officials have alleged provides support for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force — to Emtrasur, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned Consorcio Venezolano de Industrias Aeronáuticas y Servicios Aéreos, or CONVIASA. CONVIASA is under US sanctions.
By transferring the airplane to the Venezuelan firm in October without prior US government authorization, Mahan Air violated a 2008 order issued by the Department of Commerce that has since been periodically renewed, the US says. The Justice Department says Emtrasur subsequently re-exported the plane between Caracas, Tehran and Moscow — also without US government approval.
“The Department of Justice will not tolerate transactions that violate our sanctions and export laws,” Matthew Olsen, the head of the Justice Department’s national security division, said in a statement. “Working with our partners across the globe, we will give no quarter to governments and state-sponsored entities looking to evade our sanctions and export control regimes in service of their malign activities.”
The moves marked the latest development in the saga of the mysterious plane, which landed June 6 at Ezeiza International Airport outside Buenos Aires and was grounded two days later.
The case has raised attention in several South American countries as well as the United States and Israel amid allegations that the plane was a cover for Iranian intelligence operations in the region. Iran and Venezuela vehemently deny those claims.
The issue has caught the attention of members of US Congress. On July 26, a dozen US Republican senators wrote a letter to US Attorney General Merrick Garland accusing the Justice Department of failing to assist Argentine authorities in its investigation of the Venezuelan plane.
Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, pressed Olsen about it at a hearing last week and lamented that in his view Iran was not receiving the scrutiny it deserved. Olsen said he was aware of the case but added: “This is an ongoing matter. I can’t talk about the specifics.”
The US Commerce Department took its own action Tuesday, announcing it had suspended for 180 days the export privileges of Emtrasur.
The Israeli government has praised Argentina for grounding the plane and contends at least some the Iranian crew members “were involved directly in the trafficking of weapons to Syria and the terrorist organization Hezbollah of Lebanon.”
Among those who will continue to be prohibited from leaving Argentina is the Iranian pilot of the plane, Gholamreza Ghasemi.
Ghasemi is a former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and is a shareholder and board member of Iran’s Qeshm Fars Air, which the US Treasury Department has said is controlled by Mahan Air and provides material support to the Quds Force.
The other crew members required to remain in Argentina are Abdolbaset Mohammadim, Mohammad Khosraviaragh and Saeid Vali Zadeh of Iran and Mario Arraga, Víctor Pérez Gómez and José García Contreras of Venezuela.
“What is being investigated is whether, under the appearance of legal activity, they are financing terrorism operations (specifically with Hezbollah) or whether they are part of a plan that has ties with” Hezbollah, the judge wrote.
Villena emphasized that connections with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard are not under investigation because Argentina does not consider it to be a terrorist organization.
Mahan Air has denied any ties to the aircraft and Venezuela has demanded that Argentine authorities release the plane.
Yet Argentine authorities who searched the plane found a Mahan Air flight log documenting the aircraft’s flights after the transfer to Emtrasur, including a flight to Tehran in April, the Justice Department said.
The plane was carrying cargo for several Argentine auto parts companies that it loaded in Mexico before stopping in Caracas and arriving in Argentina.
The plane is also under investigation in Paraguay, where the plane landed in May and spent three days in Ciudad del Este, near the border with Argentina, where it loaded cigarettes to transport to Aruba, according to Paraguayan authorities.
There are suspicions the plane’s cargo was “a facade” that hid the real reason for its time in Paraguay, says René Fernández, a former prosecutor who leads Paraguay’s National Anticorruption Secretariat.
Villena said the plane’s stopover in Paraguay was “at least striking” and added that further investigation was needed.


Kyiv summit promotes ‘Grain from Ukraine’ for most vulnerable

Kyiv summit promotes ‘Grain from Ukraine’ for most vulnerable
Updated 8 sec ago

Kyiv summit promotes ‘Grain from Ukraine’ for most vulnerable

Kyiv summit promotes ‘Grain from Ukraine’ for most vulnerable
KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hosted a summit in Kyiv on Saturday to promote its “Grain from Ukraine” initiative to export grain to countries most vulnerable to famine and drought.
The Ukrainian leader said the plan demonstrated that global food security was “not just empty words” for Kyiv. The Kremlin has said that Ukraine’s Black Sea exports during the war have not been reaching the most vulnerable countries.
Zelensky said Kyiv had raised around $150 million from more than 20 countries and the European Union to export grain to countries including Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.
“We plan to send at least 60 vessels from Ukrainian ports to countries that most face the threat of famine and drought,” Zelensky told the gathering.
The summit was attended in-person by the prime ministers of Belgium, Poland and Lithuania and the president of Hungary. Germany and France’s presidents and the head of the European Commission delivered speeches shown by video.
Announced by Kyiv earlier this month, the initiative is in addition to a UN-brokered deal that has allowed some Ukrainian grain shipments through the Black Sea, a vital route for the major wheat producer’s exports that had been blocked.
Flanked by his chief of staff and prime minister on Saturday, Zelensky said the Grain from Ukraine initiative aimed to demonstrate that for Kyiv global food security is “not just empty words.”
“This will be one of the biggest contributions to global stability – a real and very necessary step,” he said.

Huge COVID-19 protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire

Huge COVID-19 protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire
Updated 26 November 2022

Huge COVID-19 protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire

Huge COVID-19 protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire
  • China has put the vast Xinjiang region under some of the country’s longest lockdowns
  • Urumqi protests followed a fire in a high-rise building there that killed 10 on Thursday night

Rare protests broke out in China’s far western Xinjiang region, with crowds shouting at hazmat-suited guards after a deadly fire triggered anger over their prolonged COVID-19 lockdown as nationwide infections set another record.
Crowds chanted “End the lockdown!,” pumping their fists in the air as they walked down a street, according to videos circulated on Chinese social media on Friday night. Reuters verified the footage was published from the Xinjiang capital Urumqi.
Videos showed people in a plaza singing China’s national anthem with its lyric, “Rise up, those who refuse to be slaves!” while others shouted that they wanted to be released from lockdowns.
China has put the vast Xinjiang region under some of the country’s longest lockdowns, with many of Urumqi’s 4 million residents barred from leaving their homes for as long as 100 days. The city reported about 100 new cases each of the past two days.
Xinjiang is home to 10 million Uyghurs. Rights groups and Western governments have long accused Beijing of abuses against the mainly Muslim ethnic minority, including forced labor in internment camps. China strongly rejects such claims.
The Urumqi protests followed a fire in a high-rise building there that killed 10 on Thursday night.
Authorities have said the building’s residents had been able to go downstairs, but videos of emergency crews’ efforts, shared on Chinese social media, led many Internet users to surmise that residents could not escape in time because the building was partially locked down.
Urumqi officials abruptly held a news conference in the early hours of Saturday, denying that COVID-19 measures had hampered escape and rescue but saying they would investigate further. One said residents could have escaped faster if they had better understood fire safety.
Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, said such a “blame-the-victim” attitude would make people angrier. “Public trust will just sink lower,” he told Reuters.
Users on China’s Weibo platform described the incident as a tragedy that sprang out of China’s insistence on sticking to its zero COVID-19 policy and something that could happen to anyone. Some lamented its similarities to the deadly September crash of a COVID-19 quarantine bus.
“Is there not something we can reflect on to make some changes,” said an essay that went viral on WeChat on Friday, questioning the official narrative on the Urumqi apartment fire.
China defends President Xi Jinping’s signature zero COVID-19 policy as life-saving and necessary to prevent overwhelming the health care system. Officials have vowed to continue with it despite the growing public pushback and its mounting toll on the world’s second-biggest economy.
While the country recently tweaked its measures, shortening quarantines and taking other targeted steps, this coupled with rising cases has caused widespread confusion and uncertainty in big cities, including Beijing, where many residents are locked down at home.
China recorded 34,909 daily local cases, low by global standards but the third record in a row, with infections spreading numerous cities, prompting widespread lockdowns and other curbs on movement and business.
Shanghai, China’s most populous city and financial hub, tightened testing requirements on Saturday for entering cultural venues such as museums and libraries, requiring people to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours, down from 72 hours earlier.
Beijing’s Chaoyang Park, popular with runners and picnickers, shut again after having briefly reopened.


Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan to address first rally since being shot

Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan to address first rally since being shot
Updated 26 November 2022

Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan to address first rally since being shot

Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan to address first rally since being shot
  • Shooting the latest twist in months of political turmoil that began when Iman Khan was ousted
  • Rally takes place on a vast open ground between Islamabad and neighboring Rawalpindi

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan: Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan is expected on Saturday to address thousands of supporters at his first public appearance since being shot earlier this month in an assassination attempt he blamed on his successor.
The shooting was the latest twist in months of political turmoil that began in April when Khan was ousted by a vote of no confidence in parliament.
Saturday’s rally is the climax of a so-called “long march” by Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), to press the government to call a snap election before parliament’s term expires in October next year.
“My life is in danger, and despite being injured I am going to Rawalpindi for the nation,” PTI quoted Khan as saying in a morning tweet.
“My nation will come to Rawalpindi for me.”
On Saturday, a video was circulating of aides posing with a now-removed blue cast that Khan wore on his right leg after the shooting.
The rally will take place on a vast open ground between the capital, Islamabad, and neighboring Rawalpindi — the garrison city that is home to the headquarters of the country’s powerful military.
Authorities have thrown a ring of steel around Islamabad to prevent Khan’s supporters from marching on government buildings, with thousands of security personnel deployed and roads blocked by shipping containers.
Khan-led protests in May spiraled into 24 hours of chaos, with the capital blockaded and running clashes across Pakistan between police and protesters.
Police said any attempt by PTI supporters to enter Islamabad this time would be firmly dealt with.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah — who Khan says was involved in the assassination plot — issued a “red alert” Friday warning of security threats to the rally.
“PTI still has the time (to cancel),” he said, listing Pakistan’s Taliban and Al Qaeda among the extremist groups that could harm Khan.
The government says the assassination attempt was the work of a lone wolf now in custody, with police leaking a “confession” video by the junk-shop owner saying he acted because Khan was against Islam.
But Khan, a former international cricket star with a playboy reputation before he married, said he has long warned the government would blame a religious fanatic for any attempt to kill him.
Saturday’s rally takes place two days after the government named a former spymaster as the next military chief.
General Syed Asim Munir’s appointment ended months of speculation over a position long considered the real power in the nuclear-armed Islamic nation of 220 million people.
Munir served as chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency under Khan, but his stint ended after just eight months following a reported falling out.
Pakistan’s military, the world’s sixth-largest, is hugely influential in the country and has staged at least three coups since independence in 1947, ruling for more than three decades.
Since being ousted, Khan has staged a series of mass rallies across the country, drawing huge crowds.
Saturday’s gathering is expected to be one of the biggest yet.
Convoys of PTI supporters were streaming in from around Pakistan, with buses, trucks and cars bearing party flags.

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Taliban’s treatment of women may be crime against humanity: UN experts

Taliban’s treatment of women may be crime against humanity: UN experts
Updated 26 November 2022

Taliban’s treatment of women may be crime against humanity: UN experts

Taliban’s treatment of women may be crime against humanity: UN experts
  • Treatment of women and girls may amount to ‘gender persecution’ under the Rome Statute to which Afghanistan is a party

GENEVA: The Taliban’s treatment of Afghan women and girls, including their exclusion from parks and gyms as well as schools and universities, may amount to a crime against humanity, a group of UN experts said on Friday.
The assessment by the UN Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan Richard Bennett and nine other UN experts says the treatment of women and girls may amount to “gender persecution” under the Rome Statute to which Afghanistan is a party.
Responding to the assessment, Taliban Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Abdul Qahar Balkhi said: “The current collective punishment of innocent Afghans by the UN sanctions regime all in the name of women rights and equality amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
The UN experts said in a statement that women’s confinement to their homes was “tantamount to imprisonment,” adding that it was likely to lead to increased levels of domestic violence and mental health problems. The experts cited the arrest this month of female activist Zarifa Yaqobi and four male colleagues.
They remain in detention, the experts said.
The Taliban took over from a Western-backed government in August 2021. They say they respect women’s rights in accordance with their interpretation of Islamic law.
Western governments have said the Taliban needs to reverse its course on women’s rights, including their U-turn on signals they would open girls’ high schools, for any path toward formal recognition of the Taliban government.
Separately, a spokesperson for the UN human rights office called for the Taliban authorities to immediately halt the use of public floggings in Afghanistan.
Ravina Shamdasani said the office had documented numerous such incidents this month, including a woman and a man lashed 39 times each for spending time alone together outside of marriage. Balkhi said the Taliban administration considered the statement by the United Nations and others by Western officials were “an insult toward Islam and violation of international principals.”


Pakistan envoy helps UK charity raise $1.2m for flood victims

Pakistan envoy helps UK charity raise $1.2m for flood victims
Updated 26 November 2022

Pakistan envoy helps UK charity raise $1.2m for flood victims

Pakistan envoy helps UK charity raise $1.2m for flood victims

LONDON: The Consul General of Pakistan has been working with the UK-based humanitarian charity Penny Appeal to raise “life-changing funds” for communities hit by devastating floods across Pakistan.

“The Consul General of Pakistan, Mr. Ibrar Hussain Khan, honored the charity’s efforts to support the people of Pakistan by attending their fundraising dinners as the chief guest of honor, and making a special guest appearance on the charity’s live appeals which were aired on British Muslim TV,” Penny Appeal said in a statement.

“Khan has played a crucial role in driving the compassion and generosity of the public to secure more funds and extend Penny Appeal’s provisions across Pakistan,” it added.

Devastating floods since June have killed more than 1,700 people, displaced 7.9 million, and inflicted billions of dollars of damage. Pakistani authorities estimate property damage could be as high as $40 billion.

The £1 million ($1.2 million) cheque was presented to the consul general at the Pakistani consulate in Bradford by Penny Appeal’s founder, Adeem Younis.

“With the support of the Pakistani authorities on the ground, Penny Appeal have been working tirelessly across 16 flood-affected districts to deliver life-changing aid, in the form of hot food, safe drinking water, medical aid, shelter, and cash grants to those most in need,” Penny Appeal said.

So far, the charity has delivered over half a million liters of drinking water, distributed over 200,000 cooked meals, and continues to provide food, medical aid and hygiene kits daily.

The charity is now in phase two of its response and is working with the government to provide newly built homes, with 100 homes already being built to accommodate up to 1,000 people.

“Khan has been an incredible asset to the appeal and his passion for helping those in need knows no bounds,” Younis said.

“Thanks to people like him, we are making a real and lasting difference to some of the most vulnerable people in the world, and I am particularly proud of the way we have united in our efforts both here in the UK and across Pakistan to help our brothers and sisters get through this calamity.’’

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