Bus-tanker collision leaves 13 dead in western Iran
At least 13 people were killed in Iran’s western city of Sanandaj after a fuel tanker collided with a passenger bus, causing a big explosion.
The bus bound for Tehran departed from the bus terminal of Sanandaj, capital of the western province of Kurdestan, a few minutes after midnight on Wednesday.
When the bus pulled over to take in more passengers, a fuel tanker struck it from behind, causing a huge explosion that burnt not only the bus and the truck, but also three other vehicles in the vicinity.
One of the two bus drivers who survived in the crash said that bus had stopped to pick up passengers when it was suddenly hit by the tanker.
An official with the fire department of Sanandaj said 13 people have been killed in the crash, including 12 bus passengers and the tanker driver.
Mehr News Agency reported early on Wednesday that the tanker was carrying tar.
The governor of Kurdestan Province has declared three days of public mourning, urging an immediate and detailed report on the cause of the incident.
A number of officials, including president and Parliament speaker, in separate messages condoled with the families of the victims.
President Hassan Rouhani ordered the province’s governor general to launch an investigation into the accident.
“The tragic and terrible accident in Sanandaj passenger terminal that left a number of our fellow Iranians in Kurdestan dead and injured caused great grief and sorrow”, the president said in his message.
Iran has a poor record on traffic safety, with such accidents killing thousands of people each year.
IRNA, Tasnim News Agency contributed to this story.
India’s Iranian oil imports in June hit 592,800 bpd
India’s monthly oil imports from Iran amounted to 592,800 barrels per day (bpd) in June, according to data from industry and shipping sources.
India’s oil imports in June rose 10.1 percent from a year ago to 4.82 million barrels per day (mbd), the data showed, reported Reuters.
Overall purchases climbed on a higher intake of crude from Mexico, the United States and Azerbaijan. Imports from other Middle East suppliers also increased.
State refiners, accounting for about 60 percent of India’s refining capacity, lifted 10 percent more Iranian volumes in June compared to May, at about 454,000 bpd, the data from the sources showed.
On a yearly basis, India’s imports from Iran were 19.5 percent higher, the data showed.
Indian state refiners had cut Iranian oil imports in the 2017-18 financial year because of a dispute over the development rights for an Iranian natural gas field.
However, the state refiners raised their imports in the current fiscal year starting in April after Iran offered free shipping and an extended credit period of 60 days.
For the first six months of 2018, India’s Iranian oil imports increased by 8.4 percent to 585,000 bpd.
In April to June 2018, the first quarter of this fiscal year, India’s oil imports from Iran rose by about 24 percent from the previous quarter to about 647,000 bpd, the data showed.
Imports by state refiners during the period more than doubled to about 413,400 bpd from 191,700 bpd, the data showed.
US softens stance on Iranian sanctions waivers
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Washington would consider requests from some countries to be exempt from sanctions, which are due to go into effect in November, to prevent Iran from exporting oil.
“There will be a handful of countries that come to the United States and ask for relief from that. We’ll consider it,” Pompeo said, according to the text of an interview in Abu Dhabi with Sky News Arabia released by the US State Department. He did not identify any countries.
Washington had earlier told countries they must halt all imports of Iranian oil from Nov. 4 or face US financial measures, with no exemptions.
Among Iran’s major oil clients, South Korea and Japan have sought waivers, but China, India and Turkey have indicated they may not heed US measures. Oil customers in Europe may also be seeking exemptions.
The US pulled out of a multinational deal in May to lift sanctions against Iran in return for curbs to its nuclear program.
Efforts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other producers have led to a tighter oil market after a persistent glut.
The prospect of sanctions on oil exports from Iran, the world’s fifth-biggest oil producer, has helped push up oil prices in recent weeks with both crude contracts trading near 3 ½-year highs.
US crude inventories fell last week by 6.8 million barrels, according to data from industry group, the American Petroleum Institute.
That decline was larger than expected, causing crude futures to gain in post-settlement trading.
Reuters and Press TV contributed to this story.
Leader’s aide in Moscow, hails ‘strategic’ ties with Russia
A top adviser to Iran’s Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei hailed his country’s “strategic relationship” with Russia on Wednesday during a visit to Moscow, part of a diplomatic offensive by Tehran as it braces for renewed US sanctions.
Ali Akbar Velayati, who is in Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin, also took a swipe at US President Donald Trump, saying his “unreliable” actions made Tehran’s close ties with Moscow all the more necessary.
The United States pulled out of a multinational deal in May to lift sanctions against Iran in return for curbs to its nuclear program. Washington says it will reimpose sanctions and has told other countries to halt all imports of Iranian oil as of Nov. 4, or face US financial measures.
“The relationship between Iran and the Russian Federation is a strategic relationship and in recent years the collective bilateral and regional relations have expanded,” Velayati said on arrival in Moscow.
He said he would deliver messages to Putin from Ayatollah Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani and that they would discuss the “very sensitive” global situation.
Velayati cited Russian and Iranian cooperation in Syria, where they both support President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the seven-year Syrian war against “terrorism and its sponsors.”
“Only a strategic and long-term relationship (with Russia) can promote the continuation of such a cooperation,” said Velayati, who was also due to meet Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak in Moscow.
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Trump calls Germany ‘captive’ of Russia
US President Donald Trump traded barbs with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a two-day NATO summit in Brussels on Wednesday after he accused Berlin of being “captive” to Russia and demanded it immediately step up defense spending.
European alliance members were braced for criticism from Trump on defense spending, but his blistering attack on Germany at a breakfast meeting with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg took the summit by surprise.
“Germany is a captive of Russia because it is getting so much of its energy from Russia,” Trump said, taking particular aim at the proposed Nord Stream II gas pipeline, which he has previously criticized.
He said the pipeline project has made Germany “totally controlled” by Russia.
“I have to say, I think it’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia where we’re supposed to be guarding against Russia,” Trump said at breakfast with Stoltenberg. “Everybody’s talking about it all over the world, they’re saying we’re paying you billions of dollars to protect you but you’re paying billions of dollars to Russia.”
The criticism was an unusual one coming from Trump, who has appeared eager to make nice with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Merkel, who grew up in Soviet-dominated East Germany, ramped up the febrile atmosphere of the summit with a sharp reply on arriving at NATO HQ, saying Germany had the right to make its own policy choices.
“I myself have also experienced a part of Germany being controlled by the Soviet Union,” she said.
“I am very glad that we are united today in freedom as the Federal Republic of Germany and that we can therefore also make our own independent policies and make our own independent decisions.”
Trump has long complained that European NATO members do not pay enough for their own defense, accusing them of freeloading on America and singling out Germany for particular criticism.
NATO allies agreed at a summit in Wales in 2014 to move towards spending two percent of GDP on defense by 2024. But Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, spends just 1.24 percent, compared with 3.5 percent for the US.
“These countries have to step it up – not over a 10 year period, they have to step it up immediately,” Trump said.
“We’re protecting Germany, France and everybody... this has been going on for decades,” Trump said. “We’re not going to put up with it, we can’t put up with it and it’s inappropriate.”
Rohingya are victims of ethnic cleansing
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Rohingya Muslims are victims of ethnic cleansing and the world has failed them.
In a write-up published in The Washington Post on Wednesday, the UN secretary general has recounted the ordeal and the bone-chilling experiences he heard from Rohingya refugees who had fled widespread killings in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and sought refuge in Bangladesh.
“Small children butchered in front of their parents. Girls and women gang-raped while family members were tortured and killed. Villages burned to the ground,” Guterres wrote.
“These victims of what has been rightly called ethnic cleansing are suffering an anguish that can only stir a visitor’s heartbreak and anger. Their horrific experiences defy comprehension, yet they are the reality for nearly one million Rohingya refugees.”
Guterres wrote that systematic human rights abuses by the security forces in Myanmar over the past year were designed to instill terror in the Rohingya population, leaving them with a dreadful choice: Stay on in fear of death or leave everything simply to survive.
Describing Rohingya as the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis, he applauded people and the government of Bangladesh for their humanity shown by opening their borders and hearts to the Rohingyas, while larger and wealthier countries around the world are closing doors to outsiders.
However, he stressed the need of a global response to the crisis, adding a Global Compact on Refugees is on the way by UN member states to help Bangladesh in responding to a fleeing wave of humanity.
“Expressions of solidarity are not enough; the Rohingya people need genuine assistance.”
An international humanitarian appeal for almost $1 billion is funded at only 26 percent – a shortfall causing malnutrition, lack of access to water and sanitation and basic education and of course inadequate measures to combat monsoon risks, according to the UN secretary general.
He urged Myanmar to create the conditions for the return of the refugees with full rights and the promise of living in safety and dignity.
“Unless the root causes of the violence in Rakhine state are addressed comprehensively, misery and hatred will continue to fuel conflict. The Rohingya people cannot become forgotten victims. We must answer their clear appeals for help with action,” Guterres pointed out.
Syria widens assault in southwest, hits Daesh pocket
The Syrian government widened its offensive to recover the southwest on Wednesday, extending it to an enclave held by Daesh-affiliated terrorists as Russian warplanes targeted the area, a war monitor said.
The bombardment targeted the Yarmouk Basin area, which is held by the Daesh-affiliated Khalid ibn al-Walid Army, Reuters reported.
President Bashar al-Assad is seeking to recover the entire southwestern corner of Syria in an offensive that got underway last month and has so far recovered swathes of territory from armed groups fighting under the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner.
The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday’s airstrikes marked the first Russian strikes on the Yarmouk Basin area in the war.
Government helicopters had also dropped barrel bombs on the area – containers filled with explosive material, the Britain-based observatory said.
Syrian forces have so far recovered swathes of Dara’a Province in the southwest from FSA armed groups, many of whom have been forced into surrender agreements mediated by Russian officers. The United States, which once armed the southern FSA, told them at the start of the attack not to expect its intervention.
The Syrian government earlier this week took control of a strategically vital strip of the border from FSA armed groups in Dara’a Province, denying them any access to the Jordanian frontier that was once an enemy lifeline.
France peaking perfectly, heads into World Cup final
Should France go on to win the World Cup on Sunday, it would have peaked perfectly after starting the tournament in Russia slowly but gaining momentum when it mattered most.
Tournament experience has been key for both the players and coach Didier Deschamps, who has learnt lessons from the last World Cup in Brazil, where France lost to Germany in the quarterfinal, and the disappointment of missing out on home soil in the European Championship two years ago, Reuters reported.
No more so than on Tuesday as the Frenchmen edged Belgium in the semifinal to put themselves within one game of a second World Cup win, 20 years after their first.
While there were questions asked after a far-from-inspiring start, which included a controversial win over Australia and narrowly beating Peru, France still expectedly secured a knockout round spot early from a first round group where Les Bleus were heavy favorites. They have looked better in each game.
There were, however, no easy rides in the knockout stages where the French had to show its full capability in beating Argentina, Uruguay and then Belgium 1-0 in Tuesday’s semifinal at Saint Petersburg.
“We have prepared well, I can brag a little about that,” laughed Deschamps after securing a place in Sunday’s final in Moscow.
“The older players all played their role as leaders and the youngsters brought their energy. I have a squad with a good blend. They have cohabited happily together.
“No one complains and they all realize the importance of the competition. When there was an opportunity to be seized, they took it.”
There have been many positive aspects to their game. A lack of panic when they were 2-1 down against Argentina in the last-16 before coming back to win a thriller 4-3, and patience in breaking down stubborn Uruguay in the quarterfinals.
Against Belgium on Tuesday, France was watchful and disciplined.
“We have to give a lot of credit to the way France defended, even having certain attacking players defending very deep and giving us a lot of respect in that way,” said opposing coach Roberto Martinez.
Deschamps, who captained France’s only World Cup winning side in 1998, said the march to Sunday’s final has been underpinned by a steely determination.
“There is a spirit in the squad that can move mountains,” he said.
“They are young and they will be even stronger in two and four years’ time.”
‘At gates of paradise’
France’s march into the World Cup final dominated the nation’s headlines on Wednesday, with many already predicting a second title for “Les Bleus” in Moscow, AFP reported.
“The Blue Dream Continues” wrote Le Figaro after a night of celebrations by fans who poured into the streets after the win over Belgium, watched by 19 million according to French broadcaster TF1.
“Didier Deschamps is still on track to join Brazilian legend Mario Zagalle and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer, the only two heros who have reigned over planet football as both player and coach,” the broadsheet wrote.
“Les Bleus grabbed the Devils by the tail in a spectacular match,” wrote Le Parisien, confident the team is already “at the gates of paradise”.
“There’s no Zinedine Zidane but a bunch of great players surrounded by good players. It’s more of a team, a collective instead of a group gathered around a genius.”
Sports daily L’Equipe, hailing the team’s “spectacular mastery of the ball and strategy, also said a second “star” was in reach.
“A second star which would propel them into another galaxy, that of repeat world champions, alongside Italy, Uruguay, Brazil, Germany and Argentina,” it said.
Papers also lavished praise on Samuel Umtiti, a player more used to blocking goals than scoring the one that knocked Belgium out of the running on Tuesday.
“It’s a player who’s injured, getting treatment every day since he landed in Russia, who has opened the doors to the finals,” wrote Liberation.
President Emmanuel Macron, who attended Tuesday’s match, plans to return to Russia for the final with his wife Brigitte on Sunday, his office told AFP on Wednesday.
“We’re in the final. Rendez-vous Sunday to bring it home,” the president, a football lover, tweeted.
Minister highlights moderate thoughts as basis for Iran-Austria ties
Art & Culture Desk
Iran has called for developing moderate and rational thoughts as the basis for relations with Austria.
Iran’s Culture Minister Abbas Salehi, who was speaking in a meeting with Austria’s deputy foreign minister for cultural affairs in Tehran, further referred to the 90 years of diplomatic ties between Iran and Austria and said that President Hassan Rouhani’s recent visit to Vienna indicates the deep political ties between the two countries, IRNA wrote.
He added that Iran’s Embassy in Austria and Austria’s Cultural Association in Iran have made great efforts to develop cultural ties.
Salehi noted, “We are eager to continue and deepen the ties since the development of cultural and artistic relations will pave the way for more sustainable relations.”
Art, science, literature and culture are the fields that Iran and Austria can cooperate on, he said, adding that although Iran has a good status in all, its literature is also world-renowned.
Salehi pointed to some Austrian universities which included Persian language as an optional language on their syllabus, adding that it was a good move to propagate Persian language.
The Austrian official said that she is visiting Iran to follow the cultural agreements made during the Iranian president’s trip to the European country.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Austria pays special attention to cultural activities, she said, adding that it has almost 6,000 to 7,000 joint cultural projects with other countries.
Austrian capital, Vienna plans to host the 8th round of Iran-Austria interfaith dialogue next year.
China vows retaliation for $200 billion US tariff threat
China accused the United States of bullying and warned it would hit back after the Trump administration raised the stakes in their trade dispute, threatening 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods.
China’s Commerce Ministry said on Wednesday it was “shocked” and would complain to the World Trade Organization, but did not immediately say how it would retaliate. In a statement, it called the US actions “completely unacceptable”, Reuters reported.
The Foreign Ministry described Washington’s threats as “typical bullying” and said China needed to counter-attack to protect its interests.
“This is a fight between unilateralism and multilateralism, protectionism and free trade, might and rules,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing on Wednesday.
Beijing has said it would hit back against Washington’s escalating tariff measures, including through “qualitative measures,” a threat that US businesses in China fear could mean anything from stepped-up inspections to delays in investment approvals and even consumer boycotts.
China could also limit visits to the United States by Chinese tourists, a business state media said is worth $115 billion, or shed some of its US Treasury holdings, Iris Pang, Greater China economist at ING in Hong Kong, wrote in a note.
The $200 billion far exceeds the total value of goods China imports from the United States, which means Beijing may need to think of creative ways to respond to such US measures.
On Tuesday, US officials issued a list of thousands of Chinese imports the Trump administration wants to hit with the new tariffs, including hundreds of food products as well as tobacco, chemicals, coal, steel and aluminum, prompting criticism from some US industry groups.
It also includes consumer goods ranging from car tires, furniture, wood products, handbags and suitcases, to dog and cat food, baseball gloves, carpets, doors, bicycles, skis, golf bags, toilet paper and beauty products.
Last week, Washington imposed 25 percent tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese imports, and Beijing responded immediately with matching tariffs on the same amount of US exports to China. Each side is planning tariffs on a further $16 billion in goods that would bring the totals to $50 billion.