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Jeremy Hunt urges Iran to release Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe



Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

As Jeremy Hunt prepared to visit Iran for the first time, he warned the country against using innocent dual-national Britons as political prisoners.

The foreign secretary visited Iran on Monday to make a personal appeal for the immediate release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual citizen. In April 2016, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested while she and her then four-year old daughter Gabriella were about to board a flight from Iran to the UK. Hunt asked Iran not to use Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other dual nationals for diplomatic leverage.

She was found guilty of spying and was awarded a five-year jail sentence. Ever since, she has denied the allegations. She was granted a three-day release from the jail in August and her appeal for extension was rejected. She suffered from a severe panic attack after returning to the prison. It was then that her family decided not to ask for anymore temporary releases because of the trauma she has to go through.

Prior to meeting Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, Hunt said, “More than anything, we must see those innocent British-Iranian dual-nationals imprisoned in Iran returned to their families in Britain. I arrive in Iran with a clear message for the country’s leaders: putting innocent people in prison cannot and must not be used as a tool of diplomatic leverage.”

Hunt has promised Richard Ratcliffe, husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe that he will do his best to for her release.

Hunt is also the first foreign minister of a Western country to visit Iran after the US imposed sanctions on Tehran. He is stressed on the UK-Iran relations amid the nuclear deal. The UK will remain committed to the nuclear deal, should Iran stays focused on its terms. He also discussed the efforts from Europe to keep the nuclear-related sanctions relief going.

“The Iran nuclear deal remains a vital component of stability in the Middle East by eliminating the threat of a nuclearized Iran. It needs 100% compliance, though, to survive. We will stick to our side of the bargain as long as Iran does,” Hunt said.

The foreign secretary raised dire concerns over the UN’s report on Yemen that Iran has supplied weapons of mass destruction to Houthis in violation of security council resolutions.

On Monday, while taking a tour around the Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, Hunt said, “This is part of the world that is quite frankly a tinderbox. We want to move to peace in Yemen – that is our number one priority at the moment. We also have the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other dual nationals who are in prison who should not be. We want to get them home, so all these things have to be discussed.”


Saudi’s Dented Image Faces Rejection from Italian Opera House



La Scala

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which seems unscathed from the consequences of its radical orthodoxies, is actually facing the repercussions it probably wouldn’t have expected. The diversification plan opted by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is certainly not progressing at a pace he envisioned.

Recently, an evidently diverse area touched by the Kingdom, refused to welcome its proposal. One of the most significant opera houses in the world, the Teatro alla Scala in Milan announced to return the Saudi investment of over three million euros, citing the past records of the Arab nation.

Adverse criticism crept in, since the announcement of the concord between Italy’s premier temple of music and the Saudi government. Over the time period of five years, the Kingdom would have invested a total of €15 million for obtaining the position on the board for its culture minister.

On Monday, the board of La Scala voted to return €3.1 million, which was provided by Riyadh as the first share of the funding. The Centre-Left Mayor of Milan Giuseppe Sala highlighted that the funds had been placed in an escrow account, but would now be returned.

According to his statement, the board of directors at the theatre “unanimously decided to return the money” after deliberating over the issue. Sala also stated that it didn’t meant a rebuff to the Saudis. “There is no black list,” he said, adding that the decision was taken because the business was “handled badly”.

On the other hand, the Italian critics argued that the country with a terrifying human rights record shouldn’t be allowed to obtain any position in the opera house. They believe that Saudi’s past violations are uncongenial to the values of a democratic country incorporated by La Scala.

Businesses and institutions across the world have been refraining from accepting Saudi funds, since the Arab nation’s role was proved in the killing and dismemberment of The Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.

For Saudi, La Scala’s rejection is the second this month, which is a result of its oppressive principles and the reported human rights abuses. A talent agency, Endeavor also announced to return a $400 million investment of Saudi Arabia, on March 8.

The Kingdom, which is on the trail of diversifying its economy, is being tremendously dented by its own repressive and extremist theory. A columnist for Corriere della Sera, Giangiacomo Schiavi believes that its “a country that instead of respecting human rights, treads on them”.

While the global institutions are turning down the Arab nation’s substantial investments, Saudi’s plans of diversifying its economy are going in vain. The reputation that the country doesn’t seem to care about, is gradually affecting it at a much deeper level.

The oil-rich Gulf country is also striving to mend the impact of self-inflicted wounds. The Financial Times recently reported that the country has recently signed a $120,000-a-month contract with New York-base Karv Communications, in order to enhance its image and repair the diplomatic damage followed by the Khashoggi killing.

Saudi Arabia is already tussling to save itself from extensive dependency on oil, but its deteriorating repute is becoming a massive obstruction in undertaking the objective. While the circumstances are turning unfavourable, the country is trying to wipe off the traces of its jarring actions. But, could the brutal killing of Khashoggi and other barbarous acts of Saudi be ever forgotten?

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US Decision on Syrian Troops Left Muddled After WSJ Report



US troops Syria

A decision that the United States President Donald Trump took three months ago has been altered as many times as it should have. On December 19, he announced to pull out American troops from the Syrian Arab Republic without any deliberations, causing the White House jitters. The precipitancy of the decision has led to several changes since then.

Another update was recently reported by the Wall Street Journal, stating that the US military is planning to keep nearly 1,000 militants in the war-torn country for achieving their objective of defeating the Islamic State group and averting any potential threats.

The report came as a major shift from Trump’s initial decision of complete withdrawal of more than 2,000 US troops, and was far more than the recent modifications made in the original declaration. Few weeks back, it was announced that a total of 400 American forces would still stay back in Syria, as a reversal to what Trump initially intended.

On Sunday, the Journal reported that the US intends to continue working with the Syrian Kurds, who are under a threat from Turkey. Citing the American officials, it stated that the shift in plans came as the talks between the US, the Kurds, European allies and Turkey have failed to establish a safe zone in Syria.

However, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford refuted the report, calling it “factually incorrect”. He stated, “There has been no change to the plan announced in February and we continue to implement the President’s direction to draw down US forces to a residual presence.”

The US official said that certain plans have exceeded the number of 400 forces, and there are several potential figures that could be announced. However, he confirmed that no final decision has been taken so far. Dunford suggested that the actual plan is to ensure a safe zone in northern Syria by keeping a combined force of about 1,500 troops.

The Journal’s report also stated that the United States is likely to withdraw hundreds of American forces, after “the last bastion” of ISIS is seized.

As per the reports, the US-backed Syrian fighters are on a mission of completely ending the presence of ISIS, by destructing their last enclave in Syria. The operation that was becoming difficult is now on the verge of conclusion, as the forces have seized the Baghouz village giving space to the group.

The claims regarding the American presence in Syria have been changed several times, since the withdrawal has been announced. The decision had initially caused a great turmoil in the White House and had also led to a resignation from one of the most significant members of the administration: Defense Secretary James Mattis.

While the US mission in Syria still remains unachieved, the number of troops that would stay back is also uncertain. Moreover, several changes to the original decision have induced a great confusion about the final decision of the Trump administration.

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Saudi King allegedly devoid Mohammed bin Salman of some authority



Saudi King Salman with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman has been divested of a couple of his financial and economic authority, The Guardian has reported. The throne inheritor did not turn up for some high-profile ministerial and diplomatic meetings in the Kingdom, over the last fortnight.

The impediment to Crown Prince’s responsibilities, if only briefly, is apparently disclosed to a group of senior ministers by his father, King Salman.

The leap in the House of Saud has not been declared publicly, but according to the Guardian, one of the king’s close advisers, Musaed al-Aiban, who was recently appointed as national security adviser, will colloquially supervise investment decisions in lieu of the King.

The father-son relationship, allegedly, turned sour after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul’s Saudi consulate. The CIA concluded Mohammed bin Salman’s involvement in the killing, which provoked international uproar against the Crown Prince.

Moreover, the Saudi-led coalition’s role in the Yemen war has stirred up tension in the Saudi royal court.

Saudi King Salman is, apparently, irked by his son’s absence from the important cabinet meeting held recently, during which many crucial challenges facing the Kingdom were discussed.

According to the Guardian, several concerns over plunging investments into Saudi Arabia were brought to the table. The King ordered for his prior approval for major future financial decisions.

Apart from Khashoggi’s murder and deadly war on Yemen, Saudi Arabia is also facing international backlash over human rights abuses of critics and political detainees, including a dual American-Saudi citizen, Walid Fitaihi, who has been detained without charges.

The tensions between the elderly King and his son further escalated after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman revealed two important decisions, while King Salman left for an official visit to Egypt.

First being the appointment of Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan as Saudi ambassador to the United States, and secondly the promotion of his brother, Khalid bin Salman, to the ministry of defence, without seeking the king’s consent.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman did not receive the King at the airport upon his return to Saudi Arabia from Egypt, according to the protocols.

Further, the declarations to implement the changes were signed by the Saudi Crown Prince in his role as “deputy king,” which was a rare act.

The Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to Guardian’s requests for comment.

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Mass Shootings at New Zealand Christchurch Mosques, Dozens Killed



Christchurch shooting

On Friday, incidences of deadly mass shootings in the New Zealand city of Christchurch shook the entire country. Dozens of people have been killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of people attending the Friday prayer. The police asked the people to remain indoors till the possibility of more than one gunman wasn’t ruled out.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the violence as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”. She also added that the mass shooting in the city of Christchurch represented “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence”.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said that one person has been arrested, but it was too soon to predict the involvement of other people. He also warned people not to be around a mosque anywhere in the country.

The officials have not yet disclosed who they have arrested. However, a man has claimed the responsibility for the shootings. He left a 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto, explaining his identity and giving a reason behind his violent actions. He called the dreadful event a terrorist attack.

The man in his manifesto said he was a 28-year-old white Australian who came to New Zealand just to plan and train for the attack. He also said that he didn’t belong to any organisation, but had worked with many nationalist groups. He said he acted alone in these mass shootings and no group had ordered the attack.

At a news conference, Ardern hinted at anti-immigrant sentiment as the possible motive behind the mass shooting in the city of Christchurch. She said that while many people who have been affected by the incidence may be migrants or refugees “they have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not”.

At least 40 people have been killed and more than 20 wounded. “It’s a very serious and grave situation,” Bush said.

Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch witnessed the most fatal shooting at around 1:45 pm.

Len Peneha, a witness who lives close to the mosque, saw a man dressed in black entering the mosque and then heard multiple shots, with people running out of the mosque. He said the gunman later ran out of the holy place, dropping a semi-automatic weapon in his driveway. Peneha then went inside to help.

“I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque,” he said. “It’s unbelievable nutty. I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.”

Peneha said the gunman, who was white, wore a helmet with a device attached on its top, giving him military-type resemblance.

A second shooting took place at the Linwood Masjid Mosque, police said.

The man who claimed the responsibility of the attacks said his main targets would be mosques in Christchurch and Linwood. He also aimed for a third shooting at a mosque in the town of Ashburton, if possible.

He chose New Zealand as his target location because he wanted to prove that even the remotest parts of the world were not free of “mass immigration”.

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Guardianship Laws of Saudi Arabia Trap Another Woman in its Ploy



Saudi women

Brutality in Saudi Arabia, especially against women, has become so frequent that it might soon normalize. Increasingly, women from the Arab country are looking for ways to escape its “unfair system”. Another victim of the chronic radicalism, Bethany Vierra’s story was highlighted when her cousin, Nicole Carroll decided to share it with The New York Times.

As per the report, Vierra’s first impression of Saudi was so great that she ended up marrying one of its citizen. However, things took a turn towards reality, and the so-called male guardianship system started to impact her life in ways she couldn’t have imagined.

An American from the Washington state, 31-year-old Vierra sought a divorce from her Arabian husband as the relationship became sour. However, she reportedly has been trapped because of the much scorned existence of guardianship laws, which allows men to have an upper-hand over women.

Bethany Vierra with her daughter Zaina

Despite the divorce from her Saudi husband, Vierra is facing restrictions of using her bank account, traveling with her daughter, leaving the Kingdom and even in seeking legal help. The American lady is not permitted to travel with her 4-year-old daughter, Zaina, without the father’s permission. This implies that even if Vierra becomes lucky enough to escape the conservative Saudi, her daughter may not be able to accompany her.

On a phone call from California, 37-year-old Carroll, stated that her cousin is “completely stuck” in the Gulf nation and is “out of options” for escaping the country.

The guardianship system makes Saudi women liable of having legal male “guardian” for seeking permission to take any sort of decision. Foreign women who marry the nationals also fall prey to the system of suppression, just like Vierra.

In several cases, women also fall victim to the male guardianship abuse: an issue became known globally in January, when teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun defied her family, fled to Thailand, and finally receive asylum in Canada.

In last few months, the number of women fleeing from the Kingdom and its oppressive regulations have been mounting. Two Saudi sisters under aliases, Rawan and Reem are also stuck in Hong Kong after running away from their family. The sisters are refraining from going back to their birthplace fearing imprisonment or death, as they seek asylum.

Male domination in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has gradually intensified to an irreparable level, where the government has even facilitated an app called “Absher” meant for tracking women. Under the reign of its barbarous leader, Mohammed bin Salman, the Arab nation and its practices are becoming a growing concern worldwide.

It seems bizarre that even after seeking divorce, the American women, Vierra is unable to run away from the atrocities of Saudi. Carroll stated that her cousin has “no recourse”. She also said that people continuously ask, “What next? What next?”, to which she believes “there is no what next”.

Vierra is just another story added to the list of Saudi’s mounted ruthlessness against humans. While the practices in the country are excessively affecting the global leaders, to human rights activists and the people of Saudi Arabia; their leader is as usual, quite normal.

Patriarchy, execution, detention and killing have become the identity of Saudi Arabia, leaving the entire world terrified, where people have started to even fear visiting the Gulf nation.

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