Sweden advises against travel to Iran as contentious trial verdict looms

A demonstration supporting the Swedish-Iranian doctor and researcher Ahmadreza Djalali, who is imprisoned and sentenced to death in Iran, was held in Stockholm on May 14, 2022. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 23 June 2022

Sweden advises against travel to Iran as contentious trial verdict looms

  • Due to the security situation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises against all travel to Iran
  • Sweden has strongly condemned the death sentence of Ahmadreza Djalali, a Swedish-Iranian disaster medicine researcher

STOCKHOLM: Sweden’s foreign ministry has advised its citizens against traveling to Iran ahead of the conclusion of a trial that has soured relations between the two countries.
“Due to the security situation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises against all travel to Iran,” the ministry said in a statement.
Relations between the two countries soured after Sweden put on trial a former Iranian official on charges of war crimes for the mass execution and torture of political prisoners at an Iranian prison in the 1980s. The verdict is due on July 14.
In turn, Sweden has strongly condemned the death sentence of Ahmadreza Djalali, a Swedish-Iranian disaster medicine researcher that Iran has accused of spying for Israel.
“In recent times, expressions of dissatisfaction with Sweden and other European countries have increased. Iran has in various ways expressed its dissatisfaction with an ongoing trial against an Iranian citizen in Sweden,” Swedish news agency TT said, citing the Foreign Ministry.
Sweden had previously advised against all unnecessary travel to Iran.
Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners in recent years, mostly on espionage charges. Rights activists have accused Iran of using them as bargaining chips. Iran, which does not recognize dual nationality, denies taking prisoners to gain diplomatic leverage.
However, Iran has exchanged several jailed foreigners and dual nationals with Iranians detained abroad.

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Blinken says US is “equal partner” with African countries

Updated 4 sec ago

Blinken says US is “equal partner” with African countries

  • US top diplomat is in South Africa as part of a three-nation tour of Africa including Congo and Rwanda.

JOHANNESBURG: The United States sees Africa’s 54 nations as “equal partners” in tackling global problems, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in South Africa Monday.
“Our strategy is rooted in the recognition that sub-Saharan Africa is a major geopolitical force — one that has shaped our past, is shaping our present, and will shape our future,” Blinken said at the University of Pretoria in a speech detailing the Biden administration’s policies for Africa.
“It’s a strategy that reflects the region’s complexity, its diversity, its agency; and one that focuses on what we will do with African nations and peoples, not for African nations and peoples,” he said.
Blinken said that the United States and African nations “can’t achieve any of our shared priorities — whether that’s recovering from the pandemic; creating broad-based economic opportunities; addressing the climate crisis; expanding energy access; revitalizing democracies; or strengthening the free and open international order — if we don’t work together, as equal partners.”
South African academics and students responded warmly to Blinken’s speech, which was a broad declaration of US intentions toward sub-Saharan Africa. The United States is often faulted for overlooking the continent in recent decades, opening space for Russian and Chinese interests to make significant inroads.
The United States’ top diplomat is in South Africa as part of a three-nation tour of Africa including Congo and Rwanda in what is seen as a contest between Western nations and Russia to win support from African countries over the war in Ukraine.
Blinken’s tour follows recent trips to African countries by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and French President Emmanuel Macron.
South Africa is among many African countries that have taken a neutral stance on the Ukraine war.
Before his speech, Blinken met in Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital, with Minister of International Relations Naledi Pandor. Pandor appears to have maintained her country’s refusal to criticize Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Instead, in a press briefing following the meeting, Pandor criticized the US and other Western powers for focusing on the Ukraine conflict to the detriment of other international issues.
“We should be equally concerned at what is happening to the people of Palestine, as we are with what is happening to the people of Ukraine,” she said.
Before the closed-door meeting with Pandor, Blinken had said that the United States’ good relations with South Africa would allow them to be frank in discussing their differences.
Many African countries have declined to follow the US lead in condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Some were among more than a dozen African governments that have signed security deals with the Wagner Group, a shadowy Russian mercenary group that the US and other countries say is backed by the Kremlin.
Sub-Saharan nations also have been major recipients of Chinese investment through its “Belt and Road Initiative,” which supports infrastructure developments.


Flush with cash, Pfizer buys Global Blood Therapeutics in $5.4 bln deal

Updated 11 min 37 sec ago

Flush with cash, Pfizer buys Global Blood Therapeutics in $5.4 bln deal

  • Pfizer’s 2021 revenue of $81.3 billion was nearly double the mark from the previous year, due to COVID-19 vaccine sales.

LONDON: Pfizer Inc. on Monday agreed to pay $5.4 billion in cash for sickle cell disease drugmaker Global Blood Therapeutics, as it looks to capitalize on a surge in revenue from its COVID-19 vaccine and treatment.
Pfizer will pay $68.50 per GBT share, which represents a 7.3 percent premium to its Friday closing price. The deal is at a more than 40 percent premium where GBT was trading before the Wall Street Journal reported that Pfizer was in advanced talks to buy it on Thursday.
Pfizer’s 2021 revenue of $81.3 billion was nearly double the mark from the previous year, due to COVID-19 vaccine sales. With the addition of its COVID-19 antiviral pill Paxlovid, Pfizer is expected to generate around $100 billion in revenue this year, but sales from both products are expected to decline going forward.
Pfizer has been on the lookout for acquisitions that could bring in billions in annual sales by the end of the decade.
“We have very deliberately taken a strategy of diversification in our M&A deals,” Aamir Malik, Pfizer’s top dealmaker, said in an interview. He said the company was focused on improving growth for the second half of the decade, rather than large deals that generate value through cost cuts.
“We think that there are opportunities across all therapeutic areas that we’re active in,” Malik said, noting that the company was also agnostic about size for future deals.
In May, Pfizer struck an $11.6 billion deal for migraine drug maker Biohaven Pharmaceutical Holding and recently also completed a $6.7 billion deal to buy Arena Pharmaceuticals.
With the acquisition of Global Blood Therapeutics, Pfizer adds sickle cell disease treatment Oxbryta, which was approved in 2019 and is expected to top $260 million in sales this year. It will also pick up two pipeline assets — GBT601 and inclacumab — targeting the same disease.
Pfizer said if they are all approved, it believes GBT’s drugs could generate more than $3 billion in sales annually at their peak.
Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder that affects an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 people in the United States.
GBT Chief Executive Officer Ted Love said that Pfizer’s resources and multinational infrastructure will allow the company to launch Oxbryta in additional markets and boost its uptake.
“We really have no infrastructure outside of that (US and western Europe) and it takes time and money to build out those infrastructures and Pfizer already has all of it,” Love said.
Shares of Global Blood rose 4.5 percent following the deal announcement.


Suspected militants kill 4 Mali soldiers, 2 civilians in north

Updated 08 August 2022

Suspected militants kill 4 Mali soldiers, 2 civilians in north

  • Army blames the attack on ‘terrorists’, using the term it typically uses for militants

BAMAKO: At least four soldiers, two civilians and five assailants were killed on Sunday in an attack in a strategic border zone between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, Mali’s army said.
The army blamed the attack on “terrorists” in an announcement late Sunday, using the term it typically uses for militants.
Earlier, it had said its troops had been repelling an attack by the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) group, affiliated with the Daesh organization.
The army’s death toll could be “much higher,” an elected official said, asking not to be named for security reasons.
The two civilians killed were local elected officials, their relatives said.
Tessit is located on the Malian side of the so-called three-border area in a vast gold-rich region beyond state control.
Armed groups under the umbrella of Al-Qaeda aligned militants Jama’at Nasr Al-Islam wal Muslimin, or JNIM, are fighting ISGS there.
The Malian army, which has a military camp next to the town of Tessit, has frequently been attacked in the area.
UN peacekeepers and, until a few months ago, French soldiers from Operation Barkhane, have also been deployed there.
Thousands of residents have fled the area, many heading to the town of Gao, some 150 kilometers away.
The Tessit area, like the whole of the so-called three-border zone, is even more isolated during the rainy season when heavy rainfall prevents passage.
In a separate attack Sunday morning, five police officers were killed in Sona, in the Koutiala area of southern Mali near the border with Burkina Faso.
On Friday, suspected militants killed about 12 civilians in central Mali with explosives planted in the bodies of slain civilians that relatives had come to collect.
Mali is struggling with a long militant insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Violence that began in the north has spread to the center and south of the country, as well as to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.


Thai pub owner charged in connection with deadly blaze

Updated 08 August 2022

Thai pub owner charged in connection with deadly blaze

  • 27-year-old arraigned for causing death by negligence and operating an entertainment venue without permission

BANGKOK: The owner of a music pub in eastern Thailand where a fire last week killed 15 people and injured more than three dozen others was released on bail when he was brought to court Monday to hear criminal charges against him.
Pongsiri Panprasong, owner of the Mountain B pub in Sattahip district of Chonburi province, about 160 kilometers southeast of Bangkok, turned himself in late Saturday. Police charged the 27-year-old with causing death by negligence and operating an entertainment venue without permission. He could face up to 10 years in jail and a fine of up to 200,000 baht ($5,580).
At his Monday court appearance, he was granted release on bail of 300,000 baht ($8,390) on condition he wear a tracking device.
Live bands regularly played on a stage at the pub, including as the fire started early Friday morning on the ceiling above them. Police have said the venue was licensed only for operation as a restaurant.
The site of the fire, which took place early Friday morning, remained sealed off Monday as forensic police and building inspectors worked to determine the cause of the blaze and whether the pub had met building standards.
“I am sorry. I want to say sorry to the victims’ families,” said Pongsiri to reporters through a window at the back of a police prison van at the court in Pattaya. Pongsiri, whose face was concealed by a mask, a hat and a towel, said he will compensate the victims.
Many of the injured from the fire suffered severe burns that left them in critical condition. Thirteen died at the scene, one more in a hospital on Friday and the 15th victim, Thanakrit Neenoi, died on Saturday. His sister told local media that Thanakrit went to the pub with his wife and friends to celebrate his birthday. His wife remains in the hospital for treatment.
The governor of Bangkok, Thailand’s biggest city, said Saturday that the city had inspected more than 400 entertainment venues in the city before the fire and found 83 places failing to comply with safety standards. Chadchart Sittipunt told reporters the venues would be ordered closed if they did not act to fix their problems.
Sixty-six people were killed and more than 200 injured in a fire during a Jan. 1, 2009, New Year’s Eve celebration at the Santika nightclub in Bangkok. That blaze was apparently sparked by an indoor fireworks display. Toxic smoke flooded the venue and contributed to the death toll as the entire club caught fire.


Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine as third port opens

Updated 08 August 2022

Two more grain ships sail from Ukraine as third port opens

  • Ten ships have already sailed since the first last left week under a deal with Russia to unblock Ukrainian grain exports

ISTANBUL: Two more ships, carrying corn and soybeans, departed from Ukrainian Black Sea ports on Monday, Turkey and Ukraine said, taking the total to ten since the first ship sailed last week under a deal with Russia to unblock Ukrainian grain exports.

The United Nations and Turkey brokered the agreement last month after warnings the halt in grain shipments caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could lead to severe food shortages and even outbreaks of famine in parts of the world.

The Sacura, which departed from Pivdennyi, is carrying 11,000 tons of soybeans to Italy, Turkey’s defense ministry said on Monday, while the Arizona, which left Chornomorsk, is carrying 48,458 tons of corn to Iskenderun in southern Turkey.

Separately, the Polarnet, which departed on Friday, reached its final destination in northwestern Turkey’s Derince on Monday morning to be unloaded, marking the completion of the first shipment since the exports were re-launched.

So far, around 243,000 tons of corn has been exported from Ukraine on seven ships since the first departure on Aug. 1, according to a Reuters tally of data from Turkey’s defense ministry.

The other ships carried 11,000 tons of soybeans, 6,000 tons of sunflower oil and 45,000 tons of sunflower meal.

Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, confirmed the two latest ships left on Monday, adding Pivdennyi, the third Ukrainian port included in the deal, was finally up and running as part of the initiative.

Kubrakov had said previously the opening of Pivdennyi would push Ukraine’s total export capacity up to three million tons a month.

In peacetime, Ukraine exported up to six million tons of grain a month from its ports on the Black Sea and Sea of Azov coast.

The four ships that left Ukraine on Sunday are expected to anchor near Istanbul on Monday evening, Turkey’s defense ministry said, adding they would be inspected on Tuesday.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine for what it calls its “special military operation,” the two countries together accounted for nearly a third of global wheat exports.

The resumption of grain exports is being overseen by a Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul where Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN personnel are working.

The Razoni, which was the first ship to depart, was scheduled to arrive in Lebanon on Sunday but is currently at anchor off Turkey’s southern coast, according to Refinitiv ship tracker data.

Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry said on Sunday the Fulmar S, the first foreign-flagged bulk ship to reach the Black Sea port of Chornomorsk since the conflict, was ready for loading.

A second ship traveling to Ukraine, the Osprey S, was inspected in Istanbul on Sunday and was nearing Ukraine on Monday morning, Refinitiv data also showed.