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Iraq PM challenges Tillerson on Iran remarks

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Baghdad, Oct 24 : Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met top US diplomat Rex Tillerson in Baghdad, challenging the secretary of state over his comments on Iranian militias in Iraq.

Tillerson, in Riyadh on Sunday, had called on Iranian militias in Iraq to “go home” as the fight against the Islamic State group was ending.

His comments prompted a sharp response from Baghdad.

“The fighters of the Hashed al-Shaabi are Iraqis who have fought terrorism, defended their country and made sacrifices to defeat (IS),” Abadi said yesterday, according to a statement from his office.

The 60,000-strong Hashed was formed in 2014 after IS seized swathes of northern Iraq, routing government forces.

A coalition mostly made up of Iranian-backed militias, it has played a key role in Iraq’s successful fight against the jihadists in the past three years.

The group answers to the prime minister’s office and parliament has voted to integrate it into state forces.

“The Hashed is an institution that depends on the Iraqi state and the constitution does not allow the presence of armed groups outside the law,” Abadi said.

But experts say regular visits to Iraq by Iran’s Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of its Revolutionary Guards’ foreign arm, the Quds Force, reflect Tehran’s influence in the country.

Iraq’s cabinet on Monday insisted the paramilitary forces that helped it to defeat IS were fully Iraqi.

The cabinet added that “nobody has the right to interfere in Iraqi affairs.”

Abadi and Tillerson both attended a landmark meeting between Saudi and Iraqi leaders in Riyadh on Sunday aimed at upgrading strategic ties between the two countries and countering Iran’s regional influence.

Tillerson and Abadi, in Baghdad, discussed “government measures taken to restore the authority of the federal government in Kirkuk,” Abadi’s spokesman Haydar Hamada said.

Last week, central government forces wrested back control of the disputed oil-rich province from Kurdish forces in a sweeping operation after a controversial Kurdish independence vote.

“We are concerned and a bit saddened by the recent differences that have emerged between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi central government,” Tillerson said.

“We are — we have friends both in Baghdad, and we have friends in Arbil, and we encourage both parties to enter into discussion and dialogue.”

The US State Department had on Friday called for Iraqi federal forces to limit their “movements” in areas disputed by the two sides to avoid more violence.

Both federal and Kurdish forces have been key US allies in the war against IS.

On Sunday, as calm returned to the areas in northern Iraq, federal and paramilitary forces said they lost five men in the clashes, adding to 26 deaths reported on the Kurdish side.

The Iraqi operation to retake disputed territories came three weeks after a Kurdish independence referendum condemned as illegal by Baghdad and criticised by Washington.

Before flying to Baghdad, Tillerson earlier on Monday also made a previously unannounced trip to Afghanistan, following the visits to Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

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US Covid-19 catastrophe is Biden’s problem now

Biden has vowed to “manage the hell out of this operation”. There’s a ton of managing to be done, starting with the simple act of masking up, which has gone from public health tool to culture war in the Trump era.

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Joe Biden

New York, Jan 19 : At noon on January 20, 2021, almost a full year after the first coronavirus case was reported in the US, Covid-19 will no longer be Donald Trump’s problem to solve. It will be incoming US president Joe Biden’s.

The pandemic’s winter surge is raging, pushing the total death toll towards 400,000 (398,000 lives have already been lost to the virus), deaths are rising in nearly two-thirds of the country’s 50 states even as a strong variant is taking hold. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, the new variant is about 50 per cent more contagious than the one that has ravaged the country so far.

California, where it all started, became the first state Monday to cross a grim milestone than 3 million coronavirus infections. The state took 292 days to get to 1 million infections on November 11 and just 44 days to sprint to 2 million. California alone accounts for more than 33,600 Covid-19 deaths.

The first wave never really ebbed, the baseline never came down to levels seen in Europe or Asia, US was struggling to hold down new infections even before the variants appeared, millions of Americans are out of work, the US has topped 24 million infections and counting.

“Almost a year later, we’re still far from back to normal. The honest truth is this: Things will get worse before they get better,” Biden said last week, in a nod to the massive challenge facing his “crisis tested” Covid-19 task force.

Biden has a stated goal of vaccinating 100 million people in the first 100 days. What we know so far is all the goals that haven’t been reached. The US had a goal of reaching 20 million vaccinations by end December 2020, and less than 11 million have got shots in arms by Inauguration Day out of about 31.2 million doses of vaccine which have been distributed.

Biden wants to use the Defence Production Act to boost vaccine supplies and set up 100 vaccination centers around the country by the end of his first month in office. He plans to pour $50 billion to expand testing which is seen as a key to reopening K-8 classrooms. About $130 billion is the outlay to help schools reopen safely. A much touted predictive model used by the Trump White House projects a cumulative death toll of more than 550,000 deaths within 100 days from January 20.

Biden has vowed to “manage the hell out of this operation”. There’s a ton of managing to be done, starting with the simple act of masking up, which has gone from public health tool to culture war in the Trump era.

After 24 million infections and 398,000 deaths in America’s deadliest year, Biden is pleading with Americans: “For God’s sake, wear a mask for yourself, for your loved ones, for your country.”

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French government urges Russia to immediately release Navalny

He also informed Putin that France’s own analysis had confirmed Germany’s conclusion that Navalny was poisoned by Novichok “in contravention of international norms on using chemical weapons”.

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emmanuel macron

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday urged his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to urgently shed light on the “attempted murder” of opposition figure Alexei Navalny after French tests confirmed the use of the Novichok nerve agent, the Elysée said.

Macron told Putin in telephone talks that it is “imperative that all light be shed, without delay, on the circumstances of this attempted murder and who is responsible”, the French presidency said in a statement.

Read: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny detained after landing in Moscow

He also informed Putin that France’s own analysis had confirmed Germany’s conclusion that Navalny was poisoned by Novichok “in contravention of international norms on using chemical weapons”.

Putin, for his part, told Macron that it was “inappropriate” to make groundless accusations against Russia over the suspected poisoning of Navalny, the Kremlin said.

The Russian leader said his country wanted Germany to hand over medical test results taken from Navalny, according to a Kremlin readout of the call.

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny detained after landing in Moscow

Russian prison service said he was detained for multiple violations of parole and terms of a suspended prison sentence.

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Alexei Navalny

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was detained at a Moscow airport after returning from Germany on Sunday, the prison service said.

The prison service said he was detained for multiple violations of parole and terms of a suspended prison sentence and would be held in custody until a court makes a decision in his case.

Mr. Navalny, who is President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent and determined foe, had spent the previous five months in Germany recovering from a nerve agent attack that he blamed on the Kremlin.

Mr. Navalny decided to leave Berlin of his own free will and wasn’t under any apparent pressure to leave from Germany.

The prison service made the announcement after the flight carrying Mr. Navalny landed in the Russian capital, though at a different airport than had been scheduled. It was a possible attempt to outwit journalists and supporters who wanted to witness Mr. Navalny’s return.

The prison service last week issued a warrant for his arrest, saying he had violated the terms of suspended sentence he received on a 2014 conviction for embezzlement. The prison service has asked a Moscow court to turn Mr. Navalny’s 3 1/2-year suspended sentence into a real one.

After boarding the Moscow flight in Berlin on Sunday, Mr. Navalny said of the prospect of arrest: “It’s impossible; I’m an innocent man.”

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied a role in the opposition leader’s poisoning.

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