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US blames Iran as it readies to shut Iraq consulate

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Washington, Sep 29 : The US has said it will close its consulate in the Iraqi city of Basra and blamed increasing threats from Iran and Tehran-backed forces.

In a statement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said all but emergency staff would be relocated to Baghdad, the BBC reported on Saturday.

Pompeo said the US would hold Iran responsible for any harm to its citizens or facilities and accused Tehran of failing to prevent recent rocket attacks directed at the American consulate, the BBC said.

The decision comes amid growing tensions with Iran, after President Donald Trump re-instated economic sanctions on Tehran following the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal.

Basra is home to more than two million people and has witnessed violent protests over the past few weeks as protesters set alight government and political buildings, including the Iranian consulate and the headquarters of an Iran-backed paramilitary force, after a number of people were killed in clashes with police.

The protests in the city have been fuelled by growing public anger over poor infrastructure, contaminated water and a lack of jobs in a region that generates much of Iraq’s oil wealth.

They have also denounced what they perceive as Iran’s control of local affairs, said the BBC report.

Pompeo said there were “increasing and specific” threats against Americans and US facilities in Iraq.
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Disaster

Russia’s Coronavirus Cases Surpass 720K

Critics have cast doubt on Russia’s low official mortality rate and accused authorities of under-reporting to play down the scale of the crisis.

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Russia confirmed 6,611 new coronavirus infections Saturday, bringing the country’s official number of cases to 720,547.

Over the past 24 hours 188 people have died, bringing the total toll to 11,205 — a rate considerably lower than in many other countries hit hard by the pandemic.

A total of 8,378 people recovered over the last 24 hours, bringing the overall number of recoveries to 497,446.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Russia as of July 11.

Moscow lifted restrictions including compulsory travel passes on June 8, a move welcomed by residents who rushed out to enjoy the streets and parks.

Many other regions lifted lockdown restrictions ahead of a July 1 national vote despite the pandemic.

Critics have cast doubt on Russia’s low official mortality rate and accused authorities of under-reporting to play down the scale of the crisis.

Russia attributes its lower virus death figures to mass testing which has identified many cases with mild or no coronavirus symptoms.

The Health Ministry is now adjusting how it reports numbers to include all deaths believed to be related to the virus even if the direct cause of death was another condition or the patient tested negative.

Former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, a liberal politician known for his outspoken comments, said Russia’s health system requires more funds and modernization in many regions.

“Medicine is significantly underfunded even according to the current norms and also it needs a serious overhaul,” Kudrin, who heads the Audit Chamber that examines government spending, said in an interview with the state-run TASS state news agency.

“We will carry out a check and show these figures,” he added.

Nevertheless the economist said Russia “is not doing a bad job with the pandemic,” crediting the role of the military, which has built emergency facilities.

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India

India assures support for Rohingyas’ repatriation: Bangladesh

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AK Abdul Momen

Dhaka, July 11 : India supports Bangladesh”s stand on repatriation of Myanmar”s forcibly displaced Rohingyas as it seeks a sustainable and lasting solution to the crisis, Bangladesh Foreign Minister, Dr A.K. Abdul Momen said.

In an exclusive interview to IANS, Abdul Momen said that his Indian counterpart, Dr S. Jaishankar, had sent a letter on July 8, saying that India, as a neighbour of both Bangladesh and Myanmar, felt that the welfare of all lies in the speedy, safe, and sustainable repatriation of Rohingyas in Bangladesh to Myanmar.

India again assured that they will strongly support Bangladesh on the Rohingya issue, he said.

“Jaishankar also mentioned that the two countries will continue to work together always for development. So, we are very happy,” said a smiling Momen.

The Indian Minister also reiterated his commitment to stand by the government and the people of Bangladesh in dealing with the corona epidemic, he added.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: You have long sought the cooperation of neighbouring countries and the United Nations in repatriating the Rohingyas. The Indian Foreign Minister has written to you assuring of his cooperation in repatriating the Rohingyas, you said. Has the letter from a neighbouring country made you optimistic about the repatriation of Rohingyas? What did he explain?

A: Dr Jaishankar mentioned that they are on our side on the issue of the repatriation of the Rohingyas. India congratulated Bangladesh for taking the humanitarian initiative by sheltering the Rohingyas. He wrote that they want a sustainable long-term solution to the Rohingya issue. They also said that they are always with Bangladesh on repatriation of the Rohingyas back to Myanmar, or Europe or America – any other country of the developed world, as I appealed before. The Indian FM has reaffirmed his new commitment to work with Bangladesh on the issue.

Q: So, do you have any plans after India”s new strong approach on the Rohingya issue?

A: We have just received the letter. This is a serious issue… New commitment. We will talk together about this. After all, the Indian matter is very important to us.

Q: Less than 3 years since a crackdown against Rohingya Muslim community in Rakhine state – a campaign of violence that has since led to a genocide case in the UN”s highest court, the Myanmar military is again accused of war crimes against Rakhine”s Buddhists. Do you feel a threat that the Rakhines will enter Bangladesh like the Rohingya refugees?

A: Yes. The letter comes from India, at a time when not only the Rohingyas but also the Rakhine Buddhists are being deported from Myanmar. Now the Myanmar army is once again accused of committing war crimes against their people. The tactics are familiar, but the primary targets this time are Rakhine Buddhists, as well as Rohingya, Mro, Daignet, and Chin communities. Despite sharing faith with Myanmar”s rulers, Rakhine Buddhists have long complained of persecution, and say the development of their state has been stifled by the central government. Repression has now, they say, escalated into violent atrocities.

Before 2016, Rakhines were forced to leave their lands. After 2016, Rohingyas were forced to leave their homes. Now the Rakhines are being forced to leave their homes again. As seen in the media, the military of Myanmar has told the Rakhines: ”Either you get lost from Myanmar, or you”ll be counted a part of the rebel group Arakan Army -so just leave, here a combat operation is going on!” So it is difficult to survive for the Rakhines. This is a big challenge for the Rakhines now.

Q: For more than a year, a long-simmering conflict has escalated between the military and the Arakan Army, a rebel group drawn from Rakhine state”s Buddhist majority, that says it is fighting for greater autonomy. So, Rakhines are leaving Myanmar, are they a threat for Bangladesh, as well as before?

A: Bangladesh is afraid of whether they will cross the border and come to Bangladesh as new refugees. Let”s see if the Rakhines come via the sea. Because the Rohingyas have come to Bangladesh, crossing the sea for decades. But we are not able to bear any more refugees in our small country!

Q: Do you expect India to respond to your call, as you appeal to the United Nations? Or, will India pressure the UN to force Myanmar to repatriate the Rohingyas?

Answer: Our position is very clear. This is not our problem. It is up to the world to take responsibility for the Rohingyas. The good news of this week is that the British government has imposed sanctions on two Myanmar generals for human rights abuses against the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities.

Q: Is this step of the British government enough to pressure the military leaders of Myanmar? And also do you think other countries should also pressure Myanmar as well?

A: No, this step is by no means enough. Myanmar”s trade with the British has multiplied in the last three years compared to 2017. After ethnic cleansing and in the last three years without any pressure on Myanmar, the British government has increased trade with them 11 to 15 times. Myanmar”s exports have increased much.

The development assistance of the British government has increased too. I think, if the British government stops its assistance in Myanmar, the Myanmar army will stop ethnic cleansing. This war of the Myanmar military should be ended.

Q: Have you talked to the British government on this issue?

A. Whenever we talk to the British government, we raise these issues. I have repeatedly appealed in this regard. I used to say it everywhere. I also told the UN even. Multiple countries have given us support. We have many countries with us, including Canada and the Netherlands. They also demanded an end to the war in Myanmar. They have to be humane.

Q: Do you feel hope, Myanmar will implement its commitment to take back the Rohingyas?

A: We are always optimistic. We want to have friendly relations with our neighbors. Hopefully, a solution will come through Myanmar and negotiations. They have repeatedly promised to take their people back, in safety, security, and dignity. They have agreed to build an acceptable environment. But such an environment has not been created yet.

Out of 2.5 lakh Rohingyas who left Myanmar before 1992, Myanmar has taken back 2.3 lakh Rohingyas after 1992. So we do believe Myanmar will keep their words to take their people back soon.

Q: When do you think this repatriation could happen?

A: As soon as possible, better for Bangladesh. Because, if the Rohingyas stay in Bangladesh for a long time, there will be lots of difficulties. Radicalism can develop, there could be more human trafficking.

Different types of crime will increase. The sooner the Rohingyas are repatriated, it is safe for Myanmar, for the whole region… not only for Bangladesh.

Q: In that case, will India put pressure on Myanmar? Or will the Rohingyas be rehabilitated to India?

Answer: India will put pressure on Myanmar. They have come forward to support Bangladesh, to strengthen Bangladesh”s demand, to stand beside Bangladesh. They want a sustainable solution to the Rohingya issue. As India has said, it will continue its efforts to implement the solution for the sake of peace of the region.

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Politics

Indian-American wins New Jersey Republican primary

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Rik Mehta

Washington, July 11 : Businessman Rik Mehta has become the first Indian-American to win the Republican primary for New Jersey’s Senate seat, it was reported.

Mehta, a business executive with a law degree and a doctorate in pharmacy, emerged victorious over Hirsh Singh, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2017; Patricia Flanagan of Lawrenceville; Natalie Lynn Rivera of Merchantville; and Eugene Anagnos of East Hanover, india-West news reported on Friday.

Following his win, he will now face Democratic incumbent Senator Cory Booker in November.

According to a New Jersey Globe report, Mehta was leading Hirsh Singh by 12,532 votes, 39 per cent-34 per cent as of Friday.

As of July 8, Singh and Mehta were atop the five-candidate Republican race, with 38.7 per cent and 36.7 per cent, respectively.

Mehta had recently launched his “Made in America” medicines campaign that will require companies to disclose the country of origin of their prescription drugs, the India-West news reported.

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