155 lightly injured in train collision near Barcelona

155 lightly injured in train collision near Barcelona
A commuter train and a goods train are pictured after they collided, on the outskirts of Barcelona, Spain May 16, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 December 2022

155 lightly injured in train collision near Barcelona

155 lightly injured in train collision near Barcelona

MADRID: More than 150 people were lightly injured Wednesday when a train ran into the back of another at a station near Barcelona, the emergency services and Spain’s Renfe rail operator said Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for the SEM regional emergency services said the vast majority of those hurt in the collision which occurred just before 8:00 am (0700 GMT) sustained light injuries, while five were in moderate condition.
“There was a collision between two trains at 7:50 am at the Montcada i Reixac-Manresa station, on the line heading to Barcelona, that’s to say one train ran into the back of another,” a spokesman for the state rail operator told AFP.
Rail traffic along the line was suspended in both directions and Renfe had opened an investigation into what happened, he said.
“There were 155 people affected of which 150 were lightly injured and five who were moderately hurt,” a spokeswoman told AFP.
She said 18 medical units had been deployed to the area, which lies some 10 kilometers (six miles) north of Barcelona.


US, allies criticize Iran’s response to UN nuclear watchdog report

US, allies criticize Iran’s response to UN nuclear watchdog report
Updated 04 February 2023

US, allies criticize Iran’s response to UN nuclear watchdog report

US, allies criticize Iran’s response to UN nuclear watchdog report
  • Iran claimed that an IAEA inspector had accidentally flagged the changes as being undeclared, and that the matter was later resolved

WASHINGTON: The United States issued a joint statement with France, the United Kingdom and Germany on Friday criticizing Iran’s “inadequate” response to an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on its nuclear program.
The UN nuclear watchdog issued a warning to Tehran on Wednesday after it found that changes had been made without prior notification at the Fordo Fuel Enrichment Plant to equipment that can enrich uranium to up to 60 percent.
Iran claimed that an IAEA inspector had accidentally flagged the changes as being undeclared, and that the matter was later resolved.
“Iranian claims that this action was carried out in error are inadequate,” the joint statement said.
“We judge Iran’s actions based on the impartial and objective reports of the IAEA, not Iran’s purported intent.”
According to the IAEA report, seen by AFP, during an unannounced Fordo inspection on January 21, inspectors found that “two IR-6 centrifuge cascades... were interconnected in a way that was substantially different from the mode of operation declared by Iran to the agency.”
The IAEA did not specify the kind of changes made to the interconnection between the cascades.
The four countries said that the change was “inconsistent with Iran’s obligations” under treaties and that “such lack of required notifications undermines the Agency’s ability to maintain timely detection at Iran’s nuclear facilities.”
“We recall that the production of high-enriched uranium by Iran at the Fordow Enrichment Plant carries significant proliferation-related risks and is without any credible civilian justification,” their statement said.
The Fordo site has been under increased scrutiny since Iran began producing uranium enriched to 60 percent there since November 2022, as well as at its Natanz site.
That far exceeds the 3.67 percent enrichment threshold set by the 2015 agreement between Tehran and major powers, and is close to the 90 percent needed to produce an atomic bomb.


Chinese spy balloon ‘transits’ Latin America after first craft flies over US

Chinese spy balloon ‘transits’ Latin America after first craft flies over US
Updated 04 February 2023

Chinese spy balloon ‘transits’ Latin America after first craft flies over US

Chinese spy balloon ‘transits’ Latin America after first craft flies over US
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancellled China visit
  • China issued rare statement of regret over the first balloon, blaming winds for pushing ‘civilian airship’ into US airspace

WASHINGTON: A Chinese spy balloon has been spotted over Latin America, the Pentagon said Friday, a day after a similar craft was seen in US skies, prompting the scrapping of a rare trip to Beijing by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The Pentagon said the first balloon was now heading eastwards over the central United States, adding it was not being shot down for safety reasons.
Later Friday, Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said: “We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America.”
“We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” he added, without specifying its exact location.
Moments before Blinken’s decision to cancel his trip — aimed at easing tensions between the two countries — China issued a rare statement of regret over the first balloon and blamed winds for pushing what it called a civilian airship into US airspace.
But President Joe Biden’s administration described it as a maneuverable “surveillance balloon.”
With the rival Republican Party already on the offensive, Blinken postponed a two-day visit that was to have started Sunday.
In a telephone call with senior Chinese official Wang Yi, Blinken said he “made clear that the presence of this surveillance balloon in US airspace is a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law, that it’s an irresponsible act.”
Blinken said, however, that he told Wang that “the United States is committed to diplomatic engagement with China and that I plan to visit Beijing when conditions allow.”
“The first step is getting the surveillance asset out of our airspace. That’s what we’re focused on,” Blinken told reporters.
According to Chinese state news agency Xinhua, Wang said the two discussed the incident “in a calm and professional manner.”
“China is a responsible country and has always strictly abided by international law,” Xinhua quoted Wang as telling Blinken.
“We do not accept any groundless speculation and hype,” he said, calling both sides to “avoid misjudgments and manage divergence.”
Blinken would have been the first top US diplomat to visit China since October 2018, signaling a thaw following intense friction under former president Donald Trump.
Last month, Blinken said he would use the trip to help establish “guardrails” to prevent the relationship from escalating into all-out conflict.
Republican lawmakers quickly pounced on the balloon incident, casting Biden — who has largely preserved, and at times expanded, Trump’s hawkish policies on China — as weak.
“President Biden should stop coddling and appeasing the Chinese communists. Bring the balloon down now and exploit its tech package, which could be an intelligence bonanza,” tweeted Senator Tom Cotton, a prominent hard-liner who had urged Blinken to call off his trip.
“Shoot down the balloon!” added Donald Trump on his Truth Social media platform.
After initial hesitation, Beijing admitted ownership of the “airship” and said it veered off course due to wind.
“The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes,” said the statement attributed to a foreign ministry spokesperson.
“The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure,” it said, using the legal term for an act outside of human control.
“The Chinese side will continue communicating with the US side and properly handle this unexpected situation.”
A US defense official said earlier that Biden had asked for military options but that the Pentagon believed shooting the object down would put people on the ground at risk from debris.
The balloon has “limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective,” the defense official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
The United States is also widely believed to spy on China, although generally with more advanced technology than balloons.
The northwestern United States is home to sensitive air bases and nuclear weapons in underground silos.
In the Philippines, visiting US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin this week agreed to expand the US military presence there, weeks after a separate troop deal with another regional ally, Japan.
The US military moves show that the United States is preparing for potential conflict over Taiwan, the self-governing democracy China claims as its own, despite diplomatic efforts.
Biden held a surprisingly cordial meeting in November with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a summit in Bali, where they agreed to send Blinken to Beijing.
A US military officer recently told his forces to be ready for war with China.
“I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025,” Air Mobility Command chief General Mike Minihan wrote in a memo, saying that US elections in 2024 would also “offer Xi a distracted America.”


Biden sounds ready to seek 2nd term while rallying Democrats

President Joe Biden speaks at the Democratic National Committee winter meeting, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP)
President Joe Biden speaks at the Democratic National Committee winter meeting, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP)
Updated 04 February 2023

Biden sounds ready to seek 2nd term while rallying Democrats

President Joe Biden speaks at the Democratic National Committee winter meeting, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP)

PHILADELPHIA: President Joe Biden sounded like a candidate making his case for a second term Friday night as he rallied a raucous meeting of national Democrats who chanted, “Four more years!”
The only thing missing was an official announcement — that’s not expected for at least several weeks.
Speaking to the Democratic National Committee after a strong jobs report, Biden boasted about helping create a strong economy and said his administration had made the country’s most significant federal investments in public works, health care and green technology in decades. He also slammed Republican extremism, suggesting that party is still too beholden to former President Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again movement.
“Let me ask you a simple question. Are you with me?” a grinning Biden asked onstage in Philadelphia as hundreds of party leaders from around the country interrupted him with cries of “Four more years! Four more years!”
He later added, to nearly as loud applause, “America is back and we’re leading the world again.”
Biden has sought to seize the political offensive after a strong midterm election season for his party and as he looks toward 2024, with Trump having already announced another bid for the White House. It’s especially important given mounting pressures in Washington, including a special counsel investigation into his handling of classified documents and a Republican-controlled House eager to serve as a check against Biden and his agenda on Capitol Hill.
Speaking before Biden on Friday night, Vice President Kamala Harris was just as defiant about the GOP and its staunch opposition to issues like abortion rights.
“There are those who want to stand in the way of our momentum,” she said. “The extremist, so-called leaders, who want to distract and divide our nation as they ban books, as they reject the history of America, as they criminalize doctors and nurses and the sacred right to vote.”
At a DNC fundraiser before taking the stage, Harris referenced Democrats’ holding onto Senate control during fall’s midterms and reminded a smaller crowd: “It’s not the time to pat ourselves on the back. It’s the time to see it through.”
“And that’s going to take as much work, if not more, than everything that everyone here put into where we are today,” she said.
Looking to the future himself, Biden told the same reception: “No matter who is president, things are going to change radically in the next 15 years.”
“Are we going to be leading the pack?” he added. “Or are we going to be the end of it?”
Earlier in Philadelphia on Friday, Biden and Harris visited a water treatment plant and hailed $15 billion in funding to remove lead pipes from service lines around the country. That comes from a bipartisan infrastructure package, which is also bankrolling railway projects the president spent this week trumpeting.
“The issue has to do with basic dignity,” Biden said. “No amount of lead in water is safe. None.”
With the State of the Union address coming next week, Biden has renewed calls for political unity, something he’s acknowledged being unable to achieve despite his promises as a candidate in 2020. But those appeals haven’t tempered Biden’s broadsides against Trump and the former president’s MAGA movement.
“This ain’t your father’s Republican Party,” Biden said, adding that the GOP agenda was so extreme that “we have to keep pointing out what the other team wants.” Of Trump loyalists, he said, “These aren’t conservatives.”
That’s made some Democrats anxious to see Biden stay aggressive in touting his record.
“The president is trying to solve the problems of the nation on infrastructure, on microchips, on gun safety, on health care,” said Randi Weingarten, a DNC member and president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Compare (that) to the GOP, which seems to be on a revenge agenda.”
Biden’s speech comes the day before the DNC is set to approve an overhauled presidential primary calendar starting next year that would replace Iowa with South Carolina in the leadoff spot. New Hampshire and Nevada would go second, followed by Georgia and Michigan — a change the president has championed to ensure that voters of color have more influence deciding the party’s White House nominee.
The new calendar would be largely moot if Biden runs again, since party elders won’t want to oversee a drawn-out primary against him. Democrats have been solidly unified in their opposition to the new Republican-controlled House, while no major Democratic challenger is thought to be preparing to run against Biden.
Biden’s advisers haven’t waited for his official reelection announcement, already spending weeks making staffing arrangements and readying lines of political attacks against Republicans seen as early presidential front-runners, including Trump, who launched his campaign in November, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Alan Clendenin, a DNC member from Florida, said Biden has strengthened the economy, reestablished US global standing and promoted inclusive values — the opposite of what Trump and DeSantis stand for.
“They predicted gloom and doom. He’s proved them all wrong,” said Clendenin, who kicked off a DNC Southern caucus meeting by noting that Florida has begun lagging behind other states in key policy areas and joking of its governor, “That’s what happened when you’re led by the devil.”
Biden repeatedly denounced “extreme MAGA Republicans” as a threat to the nation’s democracy in the runup to the midterms and gloated a bit Friday about the results.
“People looked at me like I was nuts,” he said, referring to his repeated emphasis on MAGA Republicans last fall. “They’re nuts. I’m not nuts.”
The president, meanwhile, will have a harder time campaigning on future legislative accomplishments now that the GOP controls the House. A coming fight over extending the nation’s legal debt ceiling may only harden partisan clashes.
Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he and the White House would continue talking about ways to avoid a debt limit crisis. But, referring to federal spending, McCarthy said, “The current path we’re on we cannot sustain.”
Biden has also suggested that simply bashing Republicans won’t be enough, however, noting that Democrats have seen their support among Americans without a college degree decline. He said Friday night that his party “stopped talking to” blue-collar workers.
“We have to get working-class people to say we see them,” the president added.
In a more lighthearted nod to the coming Super Bowl, Biden declared “Fly, Eagles, fly!” and called fans in Philadelphia “the most informed, obnoxious fans in the world.”
That would ostensibly include his wife, Jill, who is a diehard Eagles supporter.

 


MP calls on UK to proscribe Iran guards to end ‘nefarious activities’

MP calls on UK to proscribe Iran guards to end ‘nefarious activities’
Updated 04 February 2023

MP calls on UK to proscribe Iran guards to end ‘nefarious activities’

MP calls on UK to proscribe Iran guards to end ‘nefarious activities’
  • Bob Blackman called for imposing stronger sanctions to ‘bring this regime to its knees’ as they do not respond to negotiations
  • National Council of Resistance of Iran called for the Islamic Center of England to be closed as it spreads the regime’s propaganda across the UK

LONDON: Iran poses a “clear and present danger” and immediate action must be taken to proscribe the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization in the UK, according to a parliamentarian.

“Every day we delay, we give them the opportunity to expand their operations, to carry out other nefarious activities,” Bob Blackman, MP for Harrow East, told Arab News. “We’ve seen evidence of some of the organizations in the United Kingdom that are operating under direct control of the IRGC.”

He said that this was “a serious threat to our homeland security, so it’s key that we have to address it and prompt action is required.”

Blackman said that the British government has already proscribed Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip as terrorist organizations and they “are funded and supported by the IRGC.” The things the regime has done and is doing have been listed, and these are sufficient for it to be proscribed.

The US has done it, other European countries are working on it and “we need to encourage our allies to work jointly with us so they cannot operate anywhere else in the world, but that’s the key challenge,” he added.

Although it has received cross-party support as a matter of national interest and security, the UK has failed to proscribe them so far, and “the only reason why the government, I think, are hesitating over that is that ends negotiations, and if it ends negotiations, well, fine. I don’t mind that,” Blackman said.

Locations of Iranian regime missile sites across the country. (Supplied/NCRI)

Talks to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which was scrapped by then-president, Donald Trump, in 2018, have been deadlocked since September.

“There are no negotiations going on because obviously the IRGC activities and the activities of the regime in Iran is suppressing their people with a position whereby thousands have been arrested, hundreds have been killed, and many face potential execution for the mere crime of protesting against the regime. There’s no time to negotiate on that basis,” he said.

Blackman believes negotiations are a mistake in the first place as there has been evidence that Iran was in violation of its obligations under the current treaty, and talks cannot be held under those circumstances.

(Supplied/NCRI)

“What we do have to do is prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon at all costs. That of course, does mean at all costs. We cannot get them to a point where they’ve got a nuclear weapon and can threaten the region with potential nuclear war. That would just be a complete disaster for everyone in the region and possibly beyond.”

He called for imposing stronger sanctions against individuals to “bring this regime to its knees” because it did not respond to negotiations.

Blackman said that the UK government’s rationale must also be that there are dual nationals and British citizens in Iran, and urged them to leave because they could be captured and used as hostages, which has happened already.

“We’re seeing all sorts of nefarious activities, interference in elections in other countries, terrorist plots which have been foiled not only across the Middle East but also in Europe and in the UK itself, as well as now cyberattacks which are proven to be going on, attacking the House of Commons and the Houses of Parliament generally, for the sole purpose, obviously, of disrupting our data and causing us damage overall.

“That just demonstrates that these people are not to be trusted one iota and therefore need to be proscribed,” he said.

Blackman was speaking on the sidelines of a press conference organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran’s UK office on Thursday to reveal new information about the terrorist activities of the IRGC and the need to proscribe them. He said they have held numerous negotiations with the UK Foreign Office and will now speak with the Home Office, as it was up to them to make the decision.

Hossein Abedini, deputy director of the NCRI’s UK representative office, said they are in touch with many MPs in different parties and there is a strong British committee supporting Iranian freedom in parliament, which has been very active in different debates.

He highlighted to reporters the ways in which the IRGC was an army of terror and oppression, and suppressing the Iranian people, along with their training and military bases and major garrisons around the country and in the capital, Tehran

(Supplied/NCRI)

Abedini shared a classified document in Farsi obtained by the NCRI of minutes of a meeting at the International Directorate of the office of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on May 31, 2022, where representatives of eight terrorist and extremist organizations of the regime participated.

Among the minutes, one representative from the Quds Force — one of five branches of the IRGC — reported bringing a 55-member military delegation from Venezuela to Iran in 2022, “which shows the dimensions of the IRGC’s intervention in a Latin American country,” an English explanation of the document provided by the NCRI said.

Abedini called for the London-based Islamic Center of England, which is under the supervision of the International Directorate Khamenei’s Office and headed by Mullah Seyed Hashem Mousavi, to be closed down as it had agents around the UK that aimed to spread the regime’s propaganda.

Appointment of Seyed Hashem Moussavi as the head of the Islamic Center of England in London by the international director of Khamenei’s Office Mohsen Qomi. (Supplied/NCRI)

On the recent execution of Alireza Akbari, an Iranian-British national who was a former Iranian deputy defense minister, Abedini said that this could add weight to the UK’s decision to proscribe the IRGC.

“That clearly shows that the regime is panicking, and it clearly shows that they are really in a very critical situation. I think it certainly will add, but it’s a political decision, so the UK, if the members of Parliament continue to put pressure, we will reach that point,” he added.


Whistleblower sacked for speaking out on withdrawal from Afghanistan takes UK government to court

Whistleblower sacked for speaking out on withdrawal from Afghanistan takes UK government to court
Updated 04 February 2023

Whistleblower sacked for speaking out on withdrawal from Afghanistan takes UK government to court

Whistleblower sacked for speaking out on withdrawal from Afghanistan takes UK government to court
  • Josie Stewart, who gave an anonymous interview and leaked emails to the BBC about the withdrawal, said the civil service has become ‘dangerously politicized’
  • A former head of illicit finance at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, she is challenging her dismissal under the Public Interest Disclosure Act

DUBAI: A former senior official at Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is taking the UK government to court test the legal protections for whistleblowers, amid concerns they are not sufficient to protect civil servants.

Josie Stewart, who worked at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and was sacked after turning whistleblower to reveal details of the chaotic UK response to the fall of Kabul, said the British civil service has become so dangerously politicized that officials who dare to speak out risk being sidelined or losing their jobs.

She told The Guardian newspaper that former colleagues felt their role was to protect ministers, some of whom were only interested in “looking good,” rather than working in the public interest.

Stewart, who was head of the illicit finance team at the FCDO, was fired over an anonymous interview she gave to the BBC about the government’s handling of the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. She is challenging her dismissal, based on the provisions the Public Interest Disclosure Act.

In her first interview since her dismissal, she said the government’s strategy for the withdrawal of its forces had been shaped by political concerns at home. Ministers were more focused on media coverage and “the political fallout” than saving lives, she added.

Her legal action adds to the pressure on Dominic Raab, who was foreign secretary at the time and who is currently fighting for his political career following allegations of bullying, which he denies. Raab was heavily criticized for failing to return home early from holiday in August 2021 when Afghanistan fell to the Taliban.

Stewart, who worked for two years at the British embassy in Kabul during her seven years with the FCDO, volunteered to work in the Whitehall crisis center when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. One of her allegations was that ministers had not expected the British public to care about the evacuation of locals who had helped British troops amnd officials.

Her case, for which a final hearing is scheduled for September, could set a precedent for how the courts handle similar cases in future, including clarification of whether whistleblowers can avoid dismissal if they disclosed information in “exceptionally serious circumstances” and it should therefore be considered “reasonable” to have done so.

In her interview with The Guardian, 42-year-old Stewart said: “If the law is not tested and used then I don’t know how much it actually means, as potential whistleblowers don’t know which side of the line it is going to fall. Is what they’re going to do likely to be legally protected or not? If they don’t know, then I’m not sure how meaningful the fact the law exists is.”

Stewart, who now works for nonprofit organization Transparency International, alleged that the civil service has been dangerously politicized since the era of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and she accused the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, of failing to stand up for officials.

“I increasingly saw senior officials interpreting their role as doing what ministers say and providing protections to ministers,” she said. “It was almost as if their first loyalty (was) to their political leaders rather than to the public.

“Essentially people who said ‘yes’ and went along with it and bought into this shift in culture and approach were those whose careers went well. Those who resisted either found themselves buried somewhere or looking for jobs elsewhere.

“It threatens the impartiality of the civil service. The civil service is supposed to bring expertise in how to get things done. It risks that expertise being neutered by a slant towards focusing on things that look good rather than achieving impact.”

Stewart also suggested the politicization of the civil service had a dramatic effect on the government’s handling of the evacuation from Afghanistan. Moreover, she highlighted the government’s failure to draw up a plan to help Afghan nationals who had assisted the British, such as translators or contractors, but were not eligible for the existing Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy because they did not work directly for the UK, to leave the country.

“There was no policy because we didn’t intend to do it at all,” Stewart said. “The only reason it came into life during the crisis was because the government was surprised to learn that the British people did actually care and did feel that we owed something to those people.

“Then they thought: ‘Well, people do care and we had better do something about it.’ So it was a misjudgment, politically. Hence the chaos.”

The crisis center received thousands of emails from desperate Afghans asking for help, which remained unopened until pressure from MPs led Raab to promise in the House of Commons that they would all be read by a certain date.

In January 2022 Stewart gave her anonymous interview and leaked emails to the BBC’s Newsnight program that revealed a decision to allow the animal charity Nowzad’s Afghan staff to be evacuated had been taken as a result of instructions from Johnson himself that overruled officials, who had said the workers were not eligible and others were at higher risk. Johnson had denied being involved in the decision.

The unredacted emails were accidentally published on social media by the BBC, revealing Stewart’s identity. She was stripped of her FCDO security clearance and subsequently sacked because, without it, she was unable to do her job.

Stewart’s lawyers expect the government to argue that the protections under the Public Interest Disclosure Act do not apply in this case because she was not, ultimately, dismissed for the act of whistleblowing, and they plan to challenge this.

An FCDO spokesperson said: “We are rightly proud of our staff who worked tirelessly to evacuate more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan within a fortnight.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The cabinet secretary is proud to lead a civil service that works day in, day out to deliver the government’s priorities for the people of this country.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “We take our responsibilities as journalists very seriously and we deeply regret that the name of the email account was inadvertently revealed when the email was published on social media.”

A spokesperson for Boris Johnson declined to comment.