Syrian president, Russian deputy PM discuss postwar economic revival
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov discussed a constitutional committee meant to draft the Arab country’s new Constitution as well as Moscow’s efforts to revive the war-ravaged nation’s economy.
During a meeting in the Syrian capital Damascus, President Assad and Borisov exchanged views about ways to improve bilateral cooperation in all fields at different levels and the agreements signed between the two countries in the energy, industry, and trade sectors, the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported.
It added that the two sides also reviewed feasible mechanisms to overcome all the obstacles facing the implementation of the agreements, including the West’s sanctions on Syria, and to promote cooperation in new sectors in a way that would serve the interests of the two nations, Press TV reported.
Borisov, who is also the chairman of the Joint Syrian-Russian Committee for Trade, Economy, Science and Technology Cooperation, briefed Assad on the implementation of the agreements and the obstacles hindering their fulfillment.
He expressed his country’s intention to further support Syria against terrorism until the menace is totally eliminated and security and stability are fully restored to Syria.
Moscow is determined to play a role in Syria’s reconstruction process and to support it in difficult circumstances caused by the economic and terror wars against the country, the Russian envoy pointed out.
“After our meeting in December, we proceeded within the [framework of the] reached agreements and so far expect no breakdowns of planned actions. I am convinced that all our efforts aimed at Syria’s economic revival will be successful,” Borisov said.
Back in December, Borisov’s office said that the diplomat had discussed industrial, medical, and energy cooperation with President Assad in Damascus.
“The range of questions discussed with the Syrian leader included political affairs, Russia’s participation in Syria’s postwar reconstruction and restoration of life to normal, and cooperation in industry, medicine, energy and other branches of the economy,” Borisov’s office said.
Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. The Syrian government says the Israeli regime and its Western and regional allies are aiding Takfiri terrorist groups wreaking havoc in the country.
The Russian deputy prime minister and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem also discussed the promotion of bilateral cooperation in different sectors.
They stressed the importance of enhancing economic cooperation in line with political and military ties until reaching a strategic partnership in a way that would benefit the two nations’ common interests.
During a meeting with the Russian president’s special envoy Alexander Lavrentiev in Damascus earlier on Saturday, President Assad called for progress in stalled talks on a de-escalation zone around terrorist-held Idlib Province in the country’s northwest.
The Syrian president also stressed his government’s determination to eliminate terrorist groups that are holed up in Idlib and attack civilians in neighboring areas.
Assad’s meeting with the Russian diplomat came ahead of fresh Syria talks aimed at ending the conflict in the war-torn country. The new round of Syria negotiations are scheduled to be held on April 25 and 26 in Kazakhstan.
FIff official: Iran’s cinematic models will be taught to world
By Sadeq Dehqan & Hamideh Hosseini
Darolfonoon, a talent campus for young Iranian, regional and world filmmakers at the Fajr International Film Festival (FIff) will hold courses to teach Iranian cinematic models to young talents, said the director of the section.
Maziar Miri told Iran Daily that similar to talent campuses in world festivals, Darolfonoon seeks to identify young talents, filmmakers and cinema enthusiasts.
The campus holds training courses as well as workshops for film enthusiasts to ensure the participants’ success in the film industry, he said.
Speaking about highlighting one aspect of the Iranian cinema each year, in this edition, Darolfonoon is focusing on Iranian cinema, in general, and its social cinema, in particular.
This year’s Darolfonoon is hosting 60 young talents from 21 countries, half of whom are Iranians, said the director of the section, adding that great attempts were made to include young talents from disadvantaged areas.
Speaking about the process of identifying these talents, he said that there would be no registration; therefore, we exchanged a lot of correspondence with universities and filmmaking centers around the world in order to be introduced to their best students.
Miri noted that Darolfonoon participants must be under 27 years of age and must have studied and graduated in filmmaking.
The two themes of ‘family’ and ‘migration’ were proposed for this edition. Young talents have worked on that for months and delivered their proposals to the secretariat of the festival, he said.
University students will attend editing courses during the first two days and will participate in courses in directing, producing, sound recording, cinematography, as well as set and costume design.
Speaking on selecting the best works, he said that this year they will apply a new method called ‘The Elevator Method,’ in which students have three minutes in an elevator to convince their judges to cooperate with them in a filmmaking project.
This year, a German cineaste is in charge of selecting the top work whose director will receive full funding to make his film. The next three top projects will be partly funded for their films.
After three years of experience, a new thing in this edition is to investigate the works and current status of those who participated in the previous editions, he said.
Hossein Amiri-Doomari and Pedram Amiri directed ‘Jandar’, Mahyar Hamidian wrote the film script for ‘Bi Hesab,’ and Reza Zehtabchian directed ‘Watching This Film Is a Crime’.
Mohsen Qaraei and Mohammad Davoudi received the Best Screenplay award for ‘Ghasr-e Shirin’ in the Fajr Film Festival.
A total number of eight individuals who took part in previous editions of Darolfonoon have been invited to share their ideas and experiences with the newcomers, he said.
Most of the participants who have recently entered the film industry and made their first films were previous students of Darlfonoon.
The most important thing they learn in this talent campus is self-confidence to enter the film industry.
Presided over by award-winning writer and director Reza Mirkarimi, the 37th FIff is underway in Tehran until April 26.
Terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka kill more than 200
Iran condemns attacks, urges global action against terrorism
A series of eight devastating bomb blasts ripped through high-end hotels and churches holding Easter services in Sri Lanka on Sunday, killing at least 207 people, including dozens of foreigners.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the attacks – the worst act of violence since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war a decade ago – as “cowardly”, as the government imposed an immediate and indefinite curfew across the entire country of 21 million people, AFP reported.
The powerful blasts – six in quick succession and then two more hours later – left hundreds injured and wrought devastation, including at the capital’s well-known St. Anthony’s Shrine, a historic Catholic church.
At least two of the explosions were carried out by suicide bombers, according to police sources and a hotel official.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said the death toll had risen to at least 207, with over 450 people wounded and that three people had been arrested.
Ravinatha Aryasinha, secretary to the Foreign Ministry, told reporters there were 27 bodies of suspected foreign nationals in the Colombo National Hospital.
A police official said earlier that 35 foreigners were among the dead and hospital sources said British, Dutch and American citizens had been killed, with Britons and Japanese also injured. A Portuguese man and two Chinese citizens were among the dead, news agencies in their countries reported.
Much of the church roof was blown out in the explosion, with roof tiles, glass and splintered wood littering the floor along with pools of blood.
The blasts gutted restaurants at the Shangri-La and Cinnamon Grand hotel, and devastated the St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, north of the capital.
Sri Lanka’s Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, said he had been to two of the attacked hotels and was at the scene at St. Anthony’s, where he described “horrible scenes.”
“I saw many body parts strewn all over,” he tweeted, adding that there were “many casualties including foreigners.”
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the blasts, but documents seen by AFP show that Sri Lanka’s police chief Pujuth Jayasundara issued an intelligence alert to top officers 10 days ago, warning that suicide bombers planned to hit “prominent churches.”
The government ordered an immediate nationwide curfew “until further notice”, and a “temporary” social media ban “in order to prevent incorrect and wrong information being spread.”
The first blast was reported at St. Anthony’s, followed by a second deadly explosion at St. Sebastian’s in Negombo.
Soon after, police confirmed that a third church in the east-coast town of Batticaloa had been hit, along with three high-end hotels in the capital – the Cinnamon Grand, the Shangri-La and the Kingsbury.
A manager at the Cinnamon Grand, near the prime minister’s official residence in Colombo, said a suicide bomber blew himself up at the hotel’s restaurant.
Later in the afternoon, two died in a strike at a hotel in the south of Colombo, while a police source said a suicide bomber killed three officers in the suburb of Orugodawatta in the north of the capital.
President Maithripala Sirisena said in an address that he was shocked by the explosions and appealed for calm.
On Twitter, Wickremesinghe wrote: “I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denounced the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, urging global action to counter the menace of terrorism, Tasnim News Agency reported.
In a post on his Twitter account, Zarif said, “Terribly saddened by terrorist attacks on Sri Lankan worshippers during Easter. Condolences to friendly govt & people of Sri Lanka. Our thoughts & prayers with the victims & their families.”
“Terrorism is a global menace with no religion: it must be condemned & confronted globally,” the Iranian minister added.
Archbishop, Pope anger
Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Ranjith described those behind the attacks as “animals” and called on the authorities to “punish them mercilessly.”
Pope Francis condemned the attacks in Sri Lanka as acts “of cruel violence” as he celebrated Easter mass at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.
“I learned with sadness and pain of the news of the grave attacks, that precisely today, Easter, brought mourning and pain to churches and other places where people were gathered in Sri Lanka,” the pontiff said.
“I wish to express my heartfelt closeness to the Christian community [of Sri Lanka], wounded as it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence.”
Only around six percent of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, but the religion is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the Tamil and majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.
There have been no attacks in Sri Lanka linked to foreign terrorist groups, despite local media reports that a Sri Lankan was killed in Syria while fighting for the Daesh terrorist group.
Pakistani PM arrives in Iran
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan started a two-day visit to Iran on Sunday to hold talks with senior officials about a host of issues, including bilateral relations.
Heading a high-ranking economic and political delegation, Imran Khan arrived in the holy city of Mashhad, northeastern Iran, to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam Reza (AS), the eighth Imam of Shias, Tasnim News Agency reported.
The Pakistani premier is to meet senior Iranian officials in the capital Tehran.
The border security between Iran and Pakistan will be a main topic of Imran Khan’s discussions with Iranian officials.
It is the Pakistani prime minister’s first visit to Iran since he took office.
Ukrainians vote in presidential election
Ukrainians voted on Sunday in an election expected to thrust a comedian with no prior political experience and few detailed policies into the presidency of a nation at war and hungry for change.
Surveys make Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who plays a fictitious president in a TV series, the runaway favorite to defeat incumbent Petro Poroshenko, whose popularity has been hurt by patchy efforts to halt corruption and sliding living standards, Reuters reported.
Both men – who traded insults and accusations in a rowdy debate in a soccer stadium in Kiev on Friday – have pledged to keep Ukraine on a pro-Western course.
But a victory for Zelenskiy would be a dramatic departure for a country whose previous presidents since its 1991 independence have been experienced politicians, including three former prime ministers.
Investors are seeking reassurances that whoever wins will accelerate reforms needed to attract foreign investment and keep the country in an International Monetary Fund program that has supported Ukraine through war, recession and a currency plunge.
A smiling Zelenskiy turned up to vote dressed in a white T-shirt and jacket. “We have united Ukraine,” he said. No matter the result, “it will be a victory for the Ukrainian people.”
Poroshenko meanwhile attended an Orthodox service at Kiev’s gold-domed St. Michael’s monastery, a member of a new national church that Poroshenko helped establish.
“It is very important to be guided by reason during the vote. Because it’s not funny. At first maybe it seems funny and fun, but it should not be painful later,” he said after voting.
Zelenskiy has promised to fight corruption, a message that has resonated with Ukrainians fed up with the status quo in a country of 42 million people that is one of Europe’s poorest nearly three decades after breaking away from the Soviet Union. He has also spoken of the need to try to find a way to end the war against separatists by holding wider Western-backed talks with President Vladimir Putin.
Floods hit southeast Iran
Rouhani assures people of aid on visit to flood-hit provinces
As floods are slowly subsiding in some areas in western Iran, many cities in the southeastern part of the country have been taking preemptive measures in recent days to minimize possible damages after floods hit there on Saturday.
Southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan police said on Sunday that floods caused by heavy rainfalls in neighboring Afghanistan have reached there, blocking roads between three cities.
People in three villages in the province’s Hirmand city were evacuated as several villages were hit by the floods.
In the southwestern province of Khuzestan, inundated by devastating floods in recent days, railroad and road between the city of Ahvaz and Khorramshahr were closed after Karoon River overflowed.
On Saturday, President Hassan Rouhani visited Iran’s flood-stricken provinces of Lorestan and Khuzestan to assess relief operations and pledged to unsparingly support the affected families.
The president took part in a coordination council meeting at Disaster Management Headquarters of Lorestan Province Saturday before visiting the badly-hit city of Poldokhtar, Press TV reported.
“God willing, we will stay with you until your life returns to normal. All the thoughts and efforts of the Leader [of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei] are to rebuild this region,” he told locals.
“We will also stand with you; all the Armed Forces, the Basij and the people will do,” the president added.
Rouhani was accompanied by his chief of staff and ministers of interior; roads and urban development; energy; intelligence and agriculture.
Rouhani said the experience gained during the floods should be used to prepare for possible disasters in the coming years.
The president said once flood relief operations are completed, a specialist committee will try to evaluate Iran’s response to the recent floods and determine probable flaws in a six-month probe.
Rouhani further called for the government to focus on facilitating the replacement or reparation of damaged homes, along with long-term measures such as dam construction, riverbed dredging and further water management measures.
The president further praised the Iranian people for acting as “first responders” in the initial stages of the flood.
Rouhani defended the government’s response which he characterized as quick, saying electricity had been initially cut in 1,145 villages in the Lorestan Province but the figure is now six.
He also said almost all of the 961 villages in the province that had problems in their water supply networks face no more disruptions and that only 44 villages out of an initial 860 still lack accessible roads.
The president lauded the relief response, comparing it to that of the United States, where he said electricity and water systems sometimes take “up to a year” to repair.
Rouhani later headed to the oil-rich Khuzestan Province where floods have sparked mass evacuations in a few towns.
Massive downpours began sweeping the country on March 19, with raging currents of water battering houses, washing away cars and killing people in a few provinces.
The intense rainfalls eventually caused rivers to burst their banks triggering the worst flooding in decades in 25 of the country’s 31 provinces.
Recent heavy rains and a deluge of floods got Iranians by surprise but they highlighted the importance of dams which had become the target of scathing criticism.
According to estimates, the flooding caused an estimated $2.9 billion in damage to roads, bridges, homes and farmland. It affected 4,400 villages, damaged 14,000 kilometers of roads and destroyed more than 700 bridges. Estimates by government agencies suggest that the floods have taken the lives of nearly 80 people and destroyed over 25,000 houses around the country.