25 killed in recent Iran unrest: judiciary

TEHRAN: A total of 25 people were killed in the recent unrest that hit several towns and cities across Iran, the judiciary saidyesterday (Jan 14), with 465 still under arrest. “Twenty-five people, ordinary citizens and our own forces, were killed during the recent troubles,” said judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeie, according to the Mizanonline news agency. “None were killed by shots from the security forces because they were ordered not to use their weapons,” he added. He provided no details on how the members of the security forces or civilians were killed, including six protesters who died while trying to storm a police station in the central province of Isfahan. The figure was four more than the death toll announced during the unrest that spread across the country between December 28 and January 1. “At most, there were 465 people under arrest across the country as of yesterday, while a certain number have probably been released since then,” Mr Ejeie said, adding that the number included 55 in Tehran. Reformist lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi had said last Tuesday (Jan 9) that 3,700 people were arrested during the protests, without saying how many were later released. The unrest began over economic issues, but quickly grew into protests against the Islamic regime as a whole, with attacks on government and police buildings. —AFP

‘No hope of survivors’ on sinking Iranian oil tanker Sanchi

BEIJING: An Iranian official said yesterday that there was no chance any crew members had survived among the 32 aboard an oil tanker on fire off the coast of China for more than a week.

“There is no hope of finding survivors among the members of the crew,” Mohammad Rastad, spokesman for the Iranian rescue team dispatched to Shanghai, told Iran’s state broadcaster.

He added that two-thirds of the Iranian tanker was now under water.

The Sanchi, carrying 136,000 tonnes of light crude oil from Iran, has been in flames since colliding with the CF Crystal, a Hong Kong-registered bulk freighter, 160 nautical miles east of Shanghai on January 6.

It remains unclear if there has been a significant oil leak into the sea.

Rastad said information from members of the Crystal crew suggested all the personnel on the Sanchi were killed in the first hour of the accident “due to the explosion and the release of gas”. —Agencies

UK school wants govt to ban hijab, fasting for children

LONDON: One of the UK’s leading state-funded schools has called on the government to take a firm stand on children wearing hijab and fasting during Ramzan.

St Stephen’s School in Newham, east London, became one of the first schools in the country to ban the hijab for girls under eight in 2016 and intends to ban it for girls under 11 from September 2018.

It also imposed strict rules on Ramzan fasting, a ritual that lasts around 18 hours a day in the summer, on school premises.

The school, with a majority of pupils from Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds and headed by Indian- origin principal Neena Lall wants the UK government to issue clear guidelines on the issue to prevent a backlash from parents. —Agencies

Iran rejects Trump’s demand to change nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Iran said yesterday it won’t accept any changes to its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers after President Donald Trump vowed to pull out of the accord in a few months if European allies did not fix its “terrible flaws.”

In a statement carried by the state-run IRNA news agency, the Foreign Ministry said Iran “will not accept any change in the deal, neither now nor in future,” adding that it will “not take any action beyond its commitments.”

It also said Iran would not allow the deal to be linked to other issues, after Trump suggested that the sanctions relief under the deal be tied to Iran limiting its long-range ballistic missile program.

Trump on Friday extended the waivers of key economic sanctions that were lifted under the agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program. But he said he would work with European allies to remove so-called “sunset clauses” that allow Iran to gradually resume advanced nuclear activities in the next decade.

He paired Friday’s concession with other, targeted sanctions on Iran for human rights abuses and ballistic missile development. The Treasury Department’s action hits 14 Iranian officials and companies and businessmen from Iran, China and Malaysia, freezing any assets they have in the U.S. and banning Americans from doing business with them.

The Iranian statement said the targeting of one of the officials, judiciary chief Sadegh Amoli Larijani, “crossed all behavioral red lines of the international community.” It said the sanctions are against international law and go against U.S. commitments, saying they would bring a “strong reaction” from Iran.

The 2015 nuclear accord, reached after months of painstaking negotiations with the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, lifted international sanctions in exchange for Iran limiting its nuclear program.

Trump has repeatedly criticized the accord, while Iran has accused the U.S. of failing to comply with it. The next sanctions waivers are due in May.  —Agencies

‘Australian train & tram system fail to meet new targets’

By SJA Jafri

MELBOURNE: Melbourne’s train and tram operators could face financial penalties after they both failed to meet beefed-up performance targets introduced last month.

Public Transport Victoria (PTV) said 91.6 percent of Metro Train services were on time in December, just short of the required 92 percent.

Yarra Trams ran at 80.7 percent, below the expected 82 per cent. The Andrews Government set higher benchmarks for Metro and Yarra Trams in new contracts which came into effect on November 30. Previously, Metro Trains was required to run at 88 percent and Yarra Trams at 77 percent. Under the new contract, Metro can face penalties of up to $1.25 million each month and Yarra Trams up to $500,000 a month.

PTV said the penalties for December would be decided in the coming weeks. Its Chief Executive Jeroen Weimar said both operators needed to improve. “We’ve raised the bar in the new contracts with our train and tram operators to deliver a better travel experience for our passengers,” he said in a statement.

But PTV said December was a difficult month, with the Flinders Street car attack, storms and flash-flooding and hot weather causing unavoidable delays.

Metro was fined $1.2 million after a computer malfunction left thousands of passengers stranded last July.

Raymond O’Flaherty, the Executive Director of Metro Trains, said it was not yet clear if the operator would be fined. “It’s month one of a new seven year contract, we’re working very hard to ensure we will consistently meet our new contract requirements,” he said.

“All of the incidents from the month need to be taken into account, so it’s going to take a little bit more time to work through that. While services on the Bendigo and Seymour lines improved, 83 percent of V/Line services were on time in December, its worst overall performance since May.

‘At least four dead in Indian chopper crash’

NEW DEHLI: India’s navy said four bodies had been recovered yesterday after search teams located the wreckage of a helicopter that went missing earlier in the day.

The aircraft, carrying five employees of India’s state-run oil exploration arm ONGC and two pilots, lost contact with air traffic control 15 minutes after taking off from the western city at around 10:30 am (0500 GMT) Saturday.

“Four bodies recovered till now,” the Indian navy said on Twitter, adding that a search for the remaining three was underway.

“Crash position indicator of ill-fated helicopter recovered.” The navy posted photos of boat crews in helmets and life jackets scouring the waters where the debris was found.  The Indian Coast Guard said two of the four victims had been identified by the cards in their wallets, posting photos of an ONGC work ID and a driver’s license. —AFP

Trump implies he did not use the term “shithole countries”

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump yesterday implied that he did not describe African nations and Haiti as “shithole countries” during a meeting with legislators over immigration. “This was not the language used,” he said in a tweet.

During a Thursday meeting with lawmakers on immigration reform, Trump demanded to know why the US should accept citizens from what he called “shithole” countries, according to comments first reported by the Washington Post.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to people briefed on the meeting who spoke with The Washington Post.

The New York Times later reported the same comment, citing unnamed people with direct knowledge of the meeting.

The reported comments sparked outrage, with the United Nations slamming his comments as “racist”.

“There is no other word one can use but ‘racist’,” UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a Geneva news briefing when asked about the comments.

“You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.”  —Agencies

Nepal ends India’s monopoly on internet access with new Chinese link

BEIJING: Nepal ended India’s monopoly on internet access yesterday by opening a new optical fibre link across the Himalayan mountains to China.

Nepal’s information and communication minister Mohan Bahadur Basnet and Chinese ambassador Yu Hong inaugurated the link during a ceremony in Kathmandu, reflecting China’s growing engagement in a region seen as India’s backyard. Till Friday, landlocked Nepal was totally dependent on India for access to the worldwide web through connections at Biratnagar, Bhairahawa and Birgunj, for which it pays a substantial sum as fees and royalties. Besides state-run Indian firms, Nepal has been acquiring bandwidth from private players such as Tata and Airtel and BSNL —Agencies

Melbourne police deny youth crime ‘crisis’

By SJA Jafri

MELBOURNE: Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Andrew Crisp said talk of a “crisis” among the state’s African community was wrong.

“There is not a crisis in this state in relation to crime, or the behaviour we’re seeing of a relatively small number of people of African background,” Crisp told the ABC.

Crisp said there had been a spike in anti-social behaviour over the holidays. That includes a riot where more than 100 youths of Caucasian appearance ran wild in Torquay on January 4, injuring a police officer.

Andrews said there had been some “nasty” incidents but he was confident Victoria Police is turning it around.

Victoria’s new African-Australian community task force is meeting on Friday for the first time to launch its mission to prevent youth crime and ease racial tensions.

Victoria’s “civil libertarian” judges are to blame for youth violence, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton says, but he won’t say if his government will offer any funding to help the state out.

A series of recent high-profile crimes involving youths of African appearance, including assaults, brawls, armed robberies and home invasions in suburban Melbourne, has sparked criticism of the Victorian government’s policies.

Deadly ‘long-lost disease’ rages through Rohingya camps

UKHIA: In a makeshift bamboo clinic, small children struggle to draw breath through surgical masks, victims of a forgotten but deadly disease that has torn through the teeming Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Diphtheria had been all but eradicated in Bangladesh until last year, when more than 650,000 Rohingya poured across the border fleeing a bloody military crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar. Packed into an area meant for a much smaller number of refugees and with little sanitation or healthcare, the new arrivals provided fertile ground for the highly contagious respiratory disease to take hold. It quickly spread through the camps, with the World Health Organization reporting more than 3,600 cases. —AFP