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Iran resumes uranium enrichment at Fordow plant

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

Tehran, Nov 7 The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) on Thursday said that it has officially started injecting gas into hundreds of centrifuges at the underground Fordow nuclear plant in Tehran’s fourth step to reduce its commitments to the 2015 landmark nuclear deal.

According to an AEOI statement, the operation started at 12 a.m. on Thursday after the transfer of a 2,800-kg cylinder containing 2,000 kg of UF6 (uranium hexafluoride) from Natanz nuclear facility to Fordow – near the city of Qom, where 1,044 centrifuges are installed, Press TV reported.

The 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), allowed the first-generation IR-1 centrifuges at Fordow to spin without uranium gas.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the AEOI, had earlier said the injection of uranium hexafluoride is being monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Kamalvandi said the plant will then resume uranium enrichment, and that the level of purity of enrichment will reach 4.5 per cent by Saturday, when the inspectors will come back to check the process again.

An IAEA spokesman confirmed that UN inspectors were on the ground in Iran and would report back on relevant activities.

The fourth step in Iran’s commitment reductions was initially announced by President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday.

The President had said that Iran was ready to resume its nuclear commitments when the remaining parties to the deal fulfilled their end of the bargain.

On the first anniversary of the US withdrawal from the deal on May 8, 2019, Tehran decided to reduce its commitments to the JCPOA and set a deadline for Europeans to remedy breaches, said the state-run IRNA news agency.

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Israeli PM Netanyahu defiant after corruption indictment

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Jerusalem : Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday became the country’s first prime minister to be indicted in office, on corruption charges, but defiantly condemned the “coup” against him and vowed to hold onto power.

The shock announcement compounded the political chaos gripping Israel, which has been without a government for months and faces the prospect of its third election in a year.

After months of suspense, Israel’s longest-serving premier was charged by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Netanyahu immediately hit back in an often vitriolic 15-minute speech, accusing the judiciary, police and others of plotting against him with “false” and “politically motivated” allegations.

“What is going on here is an attempt to stage a coup against the prime minister,” he charged in a televised address.

“The object of the investigations was to oust the right from government.”

He vowed to stay on as interim premier despite potential court dates and intense political pressure.

“I will continue to lead this country, according to the letter of the law,” he said.

Political rival Benny Gantz, who had been trying to form a coalition government, said it was a “very sad” day for Israel to indict a leader, but called on Netanyahu to “step down from his position and focus on the charges against him”.

“There is no coup in Israel, but rather those that have barricaded themselves in power,” he said.

  • ‘Hard and sad day’ –

The 70-year-old premier, nicknamed “Mr Security” and “King Bibi”, has been in power since 2009 and dominates Israel’s political scene.

The indictment comes with crunch talks due on forming a government, after two inconclusive general elections left the country’s political system deadlocked.

Netanyahu is not legally required to resign unless he is convicted and any subsequent appeals process is exhausted, but political pressure is likely to be intense.

He may now ask the parliament, or Knesset, to grant him immunity from prosecution.

The charges against Netanyahu range from receiving gifts worth thousands of dollars to a deal to change regulatory frameworks in favour of a media group in exchange for positive coverage.

Mandelblit said it was a “hard and sad day” for Israel to indict a leader, but it showed no citizen was above the law.

“The citizens of Israel, all of us, and myself, look up to the elected officials, and first and foremost to the prime minister,” Mandelblit said.

“Law enforcement is not a choice. It is not a matter of right or left. It’s not a matter of politics.”

On a day of high political drama, dozens of Netanyahu supporters gathered outside his official residence, many holding pictures of the PM and slogans attacking Mandelblit.

“We are all Netanyahu,” one sign read.

But on Twitter, many hailed the day’s events, and “happy day” quickly became Israel’s top trending phrase.

  • ‘Fight for political life’ –

A perennial fighter, Netanyahu has outlived many political rivals. Hugh Lovatt, Israel-Palestine analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said he wouldn’t give up power easily.

“Now more than ever Netanyahu will be fighting for his political and personal life,” Lovatt said.

Of the three cases against Netanyahu, the third, known as Case 4,000, is seen as the most serious and carries bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges.

He is alleged to have negotiated with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Israeli telecommunications giant Bezeq, to secure positive coverage on his Walla! news site in exchange for policies benefiting Bezeq.

Elovitch and his wife were also indicted.

Case 1,000 involves allegations Netanyahu and his family received gifts including luxury cigars, champagne and jewellery from wealthy individuals, estimated to be worth more than 700,000 shekels ($200,000, 185,000 euros), in exchange for financial or personal favours.

Another, Case 2,000, concerns allegations Netanyahu sought a deal with the owner of the Yediot Aharonot newspaper that would have seen it give him more favourable coverage.

  • Political turmoil –

The next steps in the process remain unclear, with no trial date yet set.

The developments were set to only deepen the political turmoil in Israel, which has been without a stable majority government for much of the year.

Neither Likud leader Netanyahu nor rival Gantz, head of the centrist Blue and White party, have been able to form a coalition government following deadlocked elections in April and September.

Netanyahu has remained interim prime minister.

The Knesset has 21 days remaining to find a candidate capable of commanding the support of the majority of the country’s 120 MPs, and the indictment is likely to strengthen former army chief Gantz’s claims.

Gantz has reportedly tried to woo Likud MPs to join him in a broad national unity government, but so far there have been no takers.

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Israeli prosecutor accuses Benjamin Netanyahu of fraud, abuse of trust

Both Bezeq and Walla are controlled by the same businessman Shaul Elovitch, who is also charged with his wife Iris.

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Netanyahu Israel

Jerusalem, Nov 22 : Israel’s attorney general has charged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in connection with three separate cases.

Attorney general Avijai Mandelblit formalized the indictment against the acting leader on Thursday, which is a new blow to the unstable and gridlocked Israeli political landscape, Efe news reported.

The prosecution has accused the head of government in connection with three cases, known as Case 1,000, Case 2,000 and Case 3,000, the Ministry of Justice said in a statement.

Mandelblit is expected to present all the allegations in public at a press conference on Thursday evening.

In all three cases, Netanyahu has been accused of fraud and abuse of trust, and in addition in Case 4,000 he is alleged to have committed bribery, the most serious accusation that puts his position in question.

In Case 4,000, also called the Bezeq Case, Netanyahu is accused of having done favors between 2012 and 2017 to Israeli telephony giant Bezeq in exchange for favorable coverage of him and his wife Sara on the Walla news website.

Both Bezeq and Walla are controlled by the same businessman Shaul Elovitch, who is also charged with his wife Iris.

In Case 1,000 he is suspected of accepting luxurious gifts from two millionaires for him and his family, including expensive cigars, jewelry, travel and French champagne worth almost $290,000, in exchange for favors.

Case 2,000 relates to an alleged pact attempt with Arnon Mozes, who is also accused, editor of the national Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot, to get more positive coverage of him in exchange for damaging the distribution of newspaper rival Israel Hayom.

As a defendant, Netanyahu would not be obliged to leave his post as prime minister or deputy, but if he was convicted, parliament could vote for his dismissal if the crime involves “moral depravity” as is the case with the bribery accusation, according to Israeli law.

Mandelblit called a hearing in October to receive the defense’s arguments before finalizing the indictment that now opens the door to a trial.

After publishing the accusation, the prosecutor’s office sent a copy of the document to the Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein “in order to allow the prime minister to notify the Knesset if he wishes to request immunity,” something that a specially created committee should deliberate but that cannot be formed without a new government.

The accusation came amid a political deadlock in Israel which has been without an executive since the September elections.

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Politics

Speculation over Muralitharan becoming Lanka Governor

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Muttiah Muralitharan

Colombo, Nov 21 (IANS) Muttiah Muralitharan, the famous Sri Lanka off-spinner of yesteryear, is tipped as a governor of Northern Province following the presidential elections that gave a clear majority to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a former defence minister of the island nation who in his term defeated Tamil militants headed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, media reports here said, citing anger in the Tamil minority community.

Murli, who scalped 800 Test wickets, is actually an Indian Tamil from Kandy. The 47-year-old had earlier thrown his weight behind Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was on Monday sworn in as the Sri Lankan president a day after he was declared the winner in the closely fought election.

According to reports, Murali will likley join Rajapaksa presidency as the governor of the Northern province, which has a huge majority of Sri Lankan Tamils.

While no official confirmation is out so far, local Tamils are believed to oppose Murali’s appointement as the former cricketer had backed Gotabaya when he was the Defence Secretary between 2005 and 2015 and was accused of war crimes.

The Tamils, both from India and Sri Lanka, had raised their voice for his arrest and prosecution. However, Sri Lankan government had then rejected the demand for his arrest.

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