Former Argentine president of Syrian descent Carlos Menem dies

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Carlos Menem, a former Argentine president who delivered short-lived economic stability and forged close ties with the US in the 1990s, has died. (File/AFP)
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Carlos Menem, a former Argentine president who delivered short-lived economic stability and forged close ties with the US in the 1990s, has died. (File/AFP)
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Updated 14 February 2021

Former Argentine president of Syrian descent Carlos Menem dies

  • The dapper lawyer from one of Argentina’s poorest provinces steered Argentina toward a free-market model
  • His colorful political career aside, Menem was a subject of fascination for his personal life

BUENOS AIRES: Carlos Menem, a former Argentine president who delivered short-lived economic stability and forged close ties with the United States in the 1990s even as he navigated scandal and enjoyed an often flamboyant lifestyle, has died.
Argentine President Alberto Fernández confirmed the death of the 90-year-old former leader, who had been ailing in recent weeks.
The dapper lawyer from one of Argentina’s poorest provinces, dismissed by critics as a playboy, steered Argentina toward a free-market model that was, at one point, envied by neighbors and favored by investors. Menem’s accomplishments, however, coincided with growing unemployment, economic inequality and foreign debt.
Menem was also supremely flexible as a politician, beginning his career as a self-styled disciple of Gen. Juan Domingo Peron, who founded the populist movement that bears his name and placed the economy largely under state control. Menem, who served two terms as president between 1989 and 1999, transformed the country - but in the opposite direction.
“I don’t know if I’m going to get the country out of its economic problems, but I’m sure going to make a more fun country,” Menem once said. He relished the company of celebrities, hosting the Rolling Stones and Madonna in Buenos Aires, and memorably shrugged off criticism after receiving a red Ferrari as a gift from an Italian businessman in 1990.
“It is mine, mine and mine,” Menem, an auto racing fan, said in front of television cameras. “Why would I donate it?”
Later, he reluctantly agreed to auction off the car for $135,000, with the proceeds going to state coffers.
The son of Syrian immigrants whose family owned a winery, Menem was a folksy, three-time governor of northwestern La Rioja Province, noted for shoulder-length hair and muttonchop sideburns when he came to international prominence.
He won the Peronist Party nomination and surged to victory in 1989 presidential elections, capitalizing on economic and social chaos in Argentina. The country was mired in 5,000% annual inflation and the poor were sacking supermarkets to obtain food.
Under Menem, the economy registered strong growth, inflation dropped to single digits and the peso, the national currency, enjoyed unprecedented stability as it was pegged to the US dollar. The long hair and sideburns were gone and the flashy clothes replaced by imported, hand-made suits.
The core of Menem’s recovery plan, masterminded by energetic Harvard-educated Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo, was the withdrawal of the state from the economy.
Menem removed controls on prices and interest rates. He sold the state-owned phone company, airlines, race tracks, steel mills and the oil giant YPF, then South America’s largest company. He cut the state payroll and encouraged foreign investment. He curbed once-powerful labor unions that formed the backbone of the Peronist movement and were angered by state payroll cuts that eliminated jobs.
In foreign affairs, Menem withdrew Argentina from the Non-Aligned Movement, a Cold War-era structure that had espoused independence from the United States and — less so — the Soviet Union, and forged strong ties with Washington.
Argentine troops participated in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq and joined UN peacekeepers in Haiti and the former Yugoslavia.
During Menem’s tenure, Argentina was the scene of deadly bombings — against the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and a Jewish center in 1994. Argentina accused Iran of involvement; Iran denied it. Menem was later tried for the alleged cover-up of those responsible for the attack on the Jewish center, but was found not guilty in a trial in 2019.
As president, Menem prevailed in disputes with the Argentine military, whose 1976 coup had led to the extrajudicial killings and disappearances of tens of thousands of people. He trimmed armed forces spending and abolished the highly unpopular military conscription system.
He dismayed human rights groups by granting a pardon to former military junta members serving sentences of up to life in prison for crimes connected to the disappearance of Argentine dissidents during the 1976-1983 dictatorship. The pardon was extended to former guerrillas in what Menem described as a process of national reconciliation.
Menem also renewed relations with Britain, severed after the Argentine dictatorship’s 1982 invasion of the British-held Falkland Islands. The invasion ended in Argentina’s defeat in a 74-day war.
Menem was elected governor of La Rioja in 1973, but his first term was cut short by the 1976 coup. The military rulers sent him to prison, along with other politicians. He later was confined for nearly five years in a small village in northern Formosa province.
Various controversies trailed Menem after his presidency. In 2001, he was detained for several months for alleged involvement in the sale of Argentine weapons to Croatia and Ecuador in the 1990s, at a time of international embargoes on those countries. He was eventually convicted in the case and sentenced in 2013 to seven years in prison, but he was protected from going to jail because he had been elected as a senator in 2005 and enjoyed immunity. The case was dropped in 2017.
His colorful political career aside, Menem was a subject of fascination for his personal life. He dined with actors, models and pop music stars, danced the tango on television, played soccer and posed for the covers of gossip magazines.
In 1966 he married the Argentine Zulema Yoma and they had two children: Carlos Facundo, who died at the age of 26 when the helicopter he was piloting crashed, and Zulema María Eva. The marriage was dissolved amid a scandal that included the eviction in 1990 of the then first lady from the presidential residence.
In 2001, at age 70, Menem married the Chilean television presenter and former Miss Universe Cecilia Bolocco, who was 36. The couple had a son, Máximo. The couple divorced in 2011.
Menem also had a son with the teacher and later Peronist deputy Martha Meza, whom he met when he was confined in Formosa during the dictatorship. Carlos Nair Meza was 25 years old when Menem acknowledged him as his son.


Afghan migrants continue to face abuse from Iranian border guards, traffickers

Updated 14 sec ago

Afghan migrants continue to face abuse from Iranian border guards, traffickers

  • Hundreds of Afghans are trying to cross the Iranian border every day
  • Allegations of mistreatment in Iran have been on the rise since last year

KABUL: When Mohammad Parwiz was trying to cross from Iran to Turkey in search of a better life, he was caught by Iranian police guards and subjected to forced labor before being deported back to Afghanistan.

Parwiz is just one among hundreds of Afghans trying to cross the Iranian border every day to find employment abroad. He is also one of an increasing number to face abuse in the process.
Iran has for decades hosted millions of Afghans fleeing armed conflict in their war-torn country. The number jumped to 5 million from nearly 4 million last year, according to Iranian Foreign Ministry data, as economic restrictions imposed on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover in August 2021 triggered unprecedented levels of poverty.
“As embassies closed in August last year, I had no other way but to go to Iran illegally,” Parwiz, a 22-year-old from the northern Baghlan province, told Arab News.
“I stayed in Iran for three months working at my relative’s bakery. My friends and I were caught by a border police patrol close to Turkey’s border.
“We were kept in jail for 12 days where we were forced to do hard labor and if we didn’t, they would hit us. We wouldn’t get proper food during that time. They constantly threatened us that if we come to Iran again, we may get killed. After 12 days of forced labor, humiliation, abuse and torture by Iran’s police, we were sent back to Afghanistan.”
Allegations of mistreatment of Afghans in Iran have been on the rise since last year. Reports include abuse not only by the Iranian police, but also human traffickers.
Ahmad Jalil, a 19-year-old from Laghman province, tried to leave Afghanistan and go via Iran to Turkey, from where he wanted to reach Europe with a group of 15 other teenagers.
“We paid a lot of money to the trafficker here but when we entered Iran through the border in Nimroz province during the night, we were received by another person after walking in the desert for hours,” he said.
The second smuggler asked them for more money.
“The trafficker would abuse us and would beat some of us,” Jalil said. “He even threatened us with death.”
Eventually, Jalil was abandoned and managed to return to Afghanistan on his own.
“We have cases of Afghan migrants being abused, beaten up and even killed,” Sayed Hazratullah Zaeem, a commissioner at Islam Qala, a border town in Herat province, near the Afghanistan–Iran border, told the Afghan media on Thursday.
Abdullah Qayoum, an official of the Department of Refugees and Repatriation in Herat, confirmed the reports of abuse.
“Afghans who want to go there (Iran), some of them are sent back after being tortured,” he said.
In April, videos circulated on social media showing civilians being manhandled by men dressed like Iranian security forces sparked a wave of demonstrations targeting Iranian diplomatic missions in Kabul and Herat, and a diplomatic protest by Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities.
“The border police in Iran are so brutal. For them we are not even humans,” said Mohammad Karim, a recent graduate from Kabul, who tried to cross from Iran to Turkey earlier this year.
He did not manage to reach his destination after he was injured in a car accident as his traffickers tried to evade Iranian police.
“If they saw our vehicle in the desert, they would shoot at us,” he said.


Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines

Updated 13 August 2022

Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines

  • Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko said Russian authorities repeatedly have blocked efforts to provide state-subsidized drugs to people in occupied cities, towns and villages

KYIV: Ukraine’s health minister has accused Russian authorities of committing a crime against humanity by blocking access to affordable medicines in areas its forces have occupied since invading the country 5 1/2 months ago.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko said Russian authorities repeatedly have blocked efforts to provide state-subsidized drugs to people in occupied cities, towns and villages.
“Throughout the entire six months of war, Russia has not (allowed) proper humanitarian corridors so we could provide our own medicines to the patients that need them,” Liashko said, speaking at the Health Ministry in Kyiv late Friday.
“We believe that these actions are being taken with intent by Russia, and we consider them to be crimes against humanity and war crimes that will be documented and will be recognized,” the minister said.
The Ukrainian government has a program that provides medications to people with cancer and chronic health conditions. The destruction of hospitals and infrastructure along with the displacement of an estimated 7 million people inside the country also have interfered with other forms of treatment, according to United Nations and Ukrainian officials.
The war in Ukraine has caused severe disruptions to the country’s state-run health service, which was undergoing major reforms, largely in response to the coronavirus pandemic, when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade on Feb. 24.
The World Health Organization said it recorded 445 attacks on hospitals and other health care facilities as of Aug. 11 that directly resulted in 86 deaths and 105 injuries.
But Liashko said the secondary effects were far more severe.
“When roads and bridges have been damaged in areas now controlled by the Ukrainian forces... it is difficult to get someone who had a heart attack or a stroke to the hospital,” he said. “Sometimes, we can’t make it in time, the ambulance can’t get there in time. That’s why war causes many more casualties (than those killed in the fighting). It’s a number that cannot be calculated.”


Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry

Updated 13 August 2022

Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry

ANKARA: Two more ships left from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Saturday, Turkey’s defense ministry said, bringing the total number of ships to depart the country under a UN-brokered deal to 16.
Barbados-flagged Fulmar S left Ukraine’s Chornomorsk port, carrying 12,000 tons of corn to Turkey’s southern Iskenderun province, it said. The Marshall Island-flagged Thoe departed from the same port and headed to Turkey’s Tekirdag, carrying 3,000 tons of sunflower seeds.
The statement added that another ship would depart from Turkey on Saturday to Ukraine to buy grains.

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul

Updated 13 August 2022

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul

  • Some women protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts

KABUL: Taliban fighters beat women protesters and fired into the air on Saturday as they violently dispersed a rare rally in the Afghan capital, days ahead of the first anniversary of the hard-line Islamists’ return to power.
Since seizing power on August 15 last year, the Taliban have rolled back the marginal gains made by women during the two decades of US intervention in Afghanistan.
About 40 women — chanting “Bread, work and freedom” — marched in front of the education ministry building in Kabul, before the fighters dispersed them by firing their guns into the air, an AFP correspondent reported.
Some women protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts.
The protesters carried a banner which read “August 15 is a black day” as they demanded rights to work and political participation.
“Justice, justice. We’re fed up with ignorance,” chanted the protesters, many of them not wearing face veils, before they dispersed.
Some journalists covering the protest — the first women’s rally in months — were also beaten by the Taliban fighters.
After seizing power, the Taliban had promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
But many restrictions have already been imposed.
Tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs.
Women have also been banned from traveling alone on long trips, and can only visit public gardens and parks in the capital on days separate from men.
In May, the country’s supreme leader and chief of the Taliban, Hibatullah Azkhundzada, even ordered women to fully cover themselves in public, including their faces — ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.
Some Afghan women initially pushed back against the curbs, holding small protests.
But the Taliban soon rounded up the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying they had been detained.


‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump

Updated 13 August 2022

‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump

  • In Poland, the government has come under heavy criticism for failing to take swift action
  • Officials believe that the fish are likely to have been poisoned

SCHWEDT, Germany: Thousands of fish have washed up dead on the Oder river running through Germany and Poland, sparking warnings of an environmental disaster as residents are urged to stay away from the water.
The fish floating by the German banks near the eastern town of Schwedt are believed to have washed upstream from Poland where first reports of mass fish deaths were made by locals and anglers as early as on July 28.
German officials accused Polish authorities of failing to inform them about the deaths, and were taken by surprise when the wave of lifeless fish came floating into view.
In Poland, the government has also come under heavy criticism for failing to take swift action.
Almost two weeks after the first dead fish appeared floating by Polish villages, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday that “everyone had initially thought that it was a local problem.”
But he admitted that the “scale of the disaster is very large, sufficiently large to say that the Oder will need years to recover its natural state.”
“Probably enormous quantities of chemical waste was dumped into the river in full knowledge of the risk and consequences,” added the Polish leader, as German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke urged a comprehensive probe into what she called a brewing “environmental disaster.”
Standing by the riverbank, Michael Tautenhahn, deputy chief of Germany’s Lower Oder Valley National Park, looked in dismay at the river on the German-Polish border.
“We are standing on the German side — we have dead fish everywhere,” he told AFP.
“I am deeply shocked... I have the feeling that I’m seeing decades of work lying in ruins here. I see our livelihood, the water — that’s our life,” he said, noting that it’s not just fish that have died, but also mussels and likely countless other water creatures.
“It’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
The Oder has over the last years been known as a relatively clean river, and 40 domestic species of fish make their home in the waterway.
But now, lifeless fish — some as small as a few centimeters, others reaching 30-40 cm — can be seen across the river. Occasionally, those still struggling to pull through can be seen flipping up in the water, seemingly gasping for air.
Officials believe that the fish are likely to have been poisoned.
“This fish death is atypical,” said Axel Vogel, environment minister for Brandenburg state, estimating that “undoubtedly tons” of fish have died.
Fish death is often caused by the distortion of oxygen levels when water levels are too low, he explained.
“But we have completely different test results, namely that we have had increased oxygen level in the river for several days, and that indicates that a foreign substance has been introduced that has led to this,” he said.
Tests are ongoing in Germany to establish the substance that may have led to the deaths, but there are early indications of extremely high levels of mercury — although authorities said final results are still pending.
In Poland, prosecutors have also begun investigating after authorities came under fire over what critics said was a sluggish response to a disaster.
Tautenhahn said the disaster would likely carry consequences for years to come.
“If it is quicksilver, then it will also stay here for a long time,” he said, noting that mercury does not disintegrate but would then remain in the sediments.