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Security forces tear gas anti-gov’t protesters on centennial | News



Beirut, Lebanon – Angry protesters threw rocks and used metal frames to climb over steel walls surrounding Lebanon’s heavily fortified Parliament complex in central Beirut as security forces fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

A smaller group of demonstrators marched towards Parliament after hundreds of others gathered in Martyrs’ Square on Tuesday to demand justice for victims of the devastating port blast and commemorate the centennial anniversary of the creation of Greater Lebanon.

The protests coincided with the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Beirut for the second time since the enormous explosion at the capital’s port last month, which killed at least 190 people, injured thousands, and left 300,000 others homeless.

The two-day visit came after Lebanese leaders named the country’s former ambassador to Berlin, Mustapha Adib, as the new prime minister-designate, tasking him with the formation of a new government in the wake of the blast.

Hundreds of people gathered in Martyrs’ Square to mark the centennial and protest the ruling class [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Protesters, coming from various parts of the country and representing many civil society groups and political movements, chanted anti-government slogans and demanded the government step down.

“We want them gone, all of them gone,” said a young protester as he threw rocks at steel walls.

Firing tear gas and rubber-coated bullets, security forces pushed back the protesters away from Parliament into Martyrs’ Square. Sporadic clashes erupted between both sides. By late evening, however, only a few dozen demonstrators remained on the streets. 

Earlier at Martyrs’ Square, protesters called for early elections, a new electoral law, and an independent government to resolve the prolonged financial crisis and hold those responsible for the August 4 port explosion accountable.

Many also expressed their rejection for Adib as the country’s new prime minister and Macron’s visit, saying it was a reflection of foreign involvement in the country’s internal affairs.

Ruling class rejected

Nay Elrahi, a 33-year-old university instructor from Mount Lebanon, said she wanted to express her rejection for the ruling elite, including the newly appointed prime minister.

“We are here to say no to the ruling class and to the farcical appointment of Adib. The political parties don’t seem to realise how devastating the blast was,” the activist and protest organiser told Al Jazeera.

“They’re proceeding with the same business-as-usual mode, appointing people in an unconstitutional way,” said Elrahi. “This blatant lack of accountability with appointments by political parties for public offices is what got us where we are.

“Adib has no vision, no plan. He just parachuted into office with the help of an international chaperon.”

Beirut protests [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Protesters use rocks to try to break down steel walls surrounding the Parliament [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Echoing similar sentiments, Rami Finge, a 54-year-old dentist from Tripoli – Adib’s hometown – said while he and a group of 25 other activists came from the northern city to reject Macron’s visit, Adib’s appointment was even more reason for him to participate. 

“Especially we, the residents of Tripoli, have suffered from this regime. Adib represents the same ruling class which we reject completely,” said Finge, adding he went to school with the newly appointed prime minister. 

“He’s not an independent politician, nor is he cut out for this job,” he added. 

Adib was tasked on Monday with forming a new government after he received 90 of 120 votes in favour of his appointment from across the main political parties in power – including Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Amal and the Future Movements. 

A day before his formal appointment, four senior Sunni politicians and former prime ministers – Saad Hariri, Fouad Seniora, Najib Mikati, and Tammam Salam – endorsed Adib for the role, while rumours circulated in local media that Macron had also shown support for Adib.

Adib’s appointment came after his predecessor, Hassan Diab, who came to power by the support of a narrower margin of the country’s ruling elite following anti-government protests that toppled Saad Hariri’s government last year.

‘No to foreign interference’

Doumit Azzi, a 22-year-old university student from Jounieh, north of Beirut, said a principle reason behind his participation was “to show opposition to Macron’s involvement”.

“All it [the visit] does is give international legitimacy to the current regime,” said Azzi, who is also a member of the grassroots Lahaki – For My Rights – movement.

“We are angry at this regime, which has done nothing after the blast. And before that, it did nothing to address the demands of the revolution or solve the economic crisis – now even worse,” he told Al Jazeera. 

On Monday, the World Bank estimated the explosion caused at least $3.2bn in physical damage, mostly to the transport sector, housing, and cultural sites, in addition to at least $2.9bn in losses to the country’s economic output. 

Beirut protests [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Angry protesters use steel frames to climb into the heavily fortified Parliament complex as security forces use tear gas to disperse them [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Even before the blast, Lebanon’s economy was in tatters because of the breakdown of the banking system, skyrocketing inflation, and the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the World Bank projecting that 45 percent of the population would be living under the poverty line this year. 

Neamat Baderaldeen, 39, from Nabatiyeh in south Lebanon, said she came to show her rejection for “foreign interference” in Lebanon’s affairs. 

“I’m against Macron’s visit and any other foreign involvement in our country,” said Baderaldeen. “Whether its tasking Adib or Macron’s visit and his meeting with civil society groups and NGOs, the developments mean there’s been no change. 

“We all know that Macron isn’t here to help us. He’s here for foreign interests.” 

Beirut protests [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Protesters march near Parliament to demonstrate against Lebanon’s ruling class [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Continuing demonstrations

Tuesday’s protest was the first large demonstration since August 8, which left dozens of people injured after thousands of anti-government protesters were met with tear gas, rubber-coated bullets, and sporadic live ammunition fire from security forces, only four days after the blast.

Clashes erupted between rioters and members of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) as demonstrators tried to reach the country’s Parliament building, a site that has often been targeted since the launch of the protest movement in October last year.

Thousands of people have since taken to the streets in mass demonstrations to protest corruption, the lack of basic services, and government mismanagement.

The protest movement experienced a lull as coronavirus-related restrictions were imposed to curb its spread in February. But the centennial and recent developments pushed people back onto the streets.

“We’re here because today marks 100 years since Lebanon was established, but we still have no country,” said 30-year-old Mohamed Sarhan. “We’re here to demand a change.”

Follow Arwa Ibrahim on Twitter: @arwaib

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Iran imposes 10-day restrictions amid sharp rise in COVID cases | Coronavirus pandemic News




Tehran, Iran – Authorities in Iran have been forced to impose fresh nationwide restrictions after lack of control over travels during the Persian new year holidays last month led to an explosive rise in COVID-19 cases.

On Saturday, authorities reported 19,666 cases across the country, with the figure only second behind the highest single-day figure of 22,478 cases registered a day earlier.

Iran has reported more than two million cases since the start of the pandemic, including 64,232 deaths, 193 of those being reported in the past 24 hours.

Starting Saturday, all regions across Iran will undergo various degrees of restrictions based on how they have been classified under a colour-coded scale denoting the severity of outbreaks.

Iran’s coronavirus map looks like a sea of red as more than 250 cities, including all 32 province centres, are now classified “red”, indicating the highest level of severity.

In these regions, only essential services can continue while educational activities, dine-in at restaurants, cinemas, shopping centres, and a variety of retail vendors will have to shut down.

Travelling to those regions using personal vehicles will also be prohibited while up to 50 percent of staff will be allowed inside offices.

A curfew is in place across the country for private vehicles from 10pm to 3am.

However, a report by state television from the streets of Tehran showed traffic jams and people crammed in public transport on their way to work on Saturday.

“They say it’s closed but everything is open,” a citizen told the state TV reporter in front of a packed bus.

Fourth wave

Last week, Iran announced the country is facing a fourth wave of infections which would be the biggest so far.

The announcement came weeks after tens of millions of people were allowed to travel across the country and make in-person visits to family and friends during two-week holidays for Nowruz, the Iranian new year, that was celebrated on March 20.

On Saturday, in a televised address during a session of the national anti-coronavirus task force, President Hassan Rouhani said the main reason for the fourth wave is the large-scale entry of the COVID-19 variant first found in the United Kingdom through the country’s western borders with Iraq.

Iranian health officials now estimate that more than half of all cases reported across Iran are of the UK variant.

The president said massively increased shopping activity prior to Nowruz, in-person visits on the day of Nowruz, and weddings in the past two months were the other big reasons behind the rise. Nowruz travels “that were made without following protocols” also contributed to the numbers, he added.

Rouhani said on average only 56 percent of people are now following health guidelines.

“If more than 90 percent of people follow protocols, then we won’t have a new wave. Our healthcare workers are tired. Our society is tired,” he said.

Iran has imported more than 1.7 million doses of coronavirus vaccines from Russia, China, India, and through COVAX, a global vaccine initiative.

Three locally manufactured candidates are also undergoing human trials and five more are in the works.

But less than 1 percent of the country’s population of more than 82 million people has been vaccinated so far.

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Iran unveils new centrifuges, civilian nuclear ‘achievements’ | Nuclear Energy News




Tehran, Iran – Iran began feeding gas to cascades of new, advanced centrifuges and unveiled dozens of “achievements” to mark its national nuclear technology day in an effort to show its nuclear programme is peaceful.

President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday launched several projects across the country via video link in Tehran that was broadcast live on national television, and an exhibition of 133 technological innovations with civilian and medical uses was also unveiled.

The display comes after the opening week of negotiations in Vienna, Austria, to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers – ended on Friday on a hopeful note, and is slated to continue from Wednesday.

In Isfahan’s Natanz, where Iran’s largest nuclear facilities are located, the order was given to feed gas to 164 all-Iranian IR6 centrifuges, with 10 SWU – separative work units that indicate the amount of separation done by an enrichment process.

The IR6 was also deemed the most sustainably efficient centrifuge Iran currently deploys, which is slated to be mass-produced on an industrial level.

It was said to be able to produce 10 times more uranium hexafluoride (UF6) than IR1, Iran’s first-generation centrifuges.

“We can industrialise these machines without any reliance outside the country,” the engineer who answered Rouhani’s questions said.

Rouhani launched an exhibition of 133 technological innovations with civilian and medical uses [Iran President’s Office]

Rouhani also gave the order to begin feeding gas to test a number of 30 IR5 centrifuges and 30 IR6s centrifuges, numbers that could grow if they are successful.

Moreover, mechanical tests began on the top-of-the-line IR9 centrifuge that has a separative capacity of 50 SWU.

Also in Natanz, a unit to assemble and evaluate advanced centrifuges was launched, where the presenting engineer said more than half of all operations are currently industrialised.

The “terrorist move” to blow up parts of the nuclear facilities in Natanz last year in an attack Israel has been suspected of orchestrating did not stop the progress, the engineer said.

In Arak, the second phase of industrial production of deuterium compounds at the Arak Heavy Water Reactor Facility was launched by the president, who also oversaw the launch of a first-of-its-kind emergency unit aimed at treating radiation burns.

A series of achievements were introduced at the National Centre for Laser Science and Technology in the Alborz province, while the president next discussed advances at a national centre to research stable isotope separation.

‘Ill-placed concerns’

After the new projects were launched, the president delivered a televised address in which he once more emphasised Iran does not seek nuclear weapons, and railed against Western powers for acting based on the presumption that it did.

“These ill-placed concerns have created many problems for our people in the past 15 years,” Rouhani said, referring to multilateral sanctions imposed on Iran prior to its nuclear deal that provided sanctions relief for curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Western intelligence maintains that Iran sought to weaponise its nuclear programme, plans that it abandoned in 2003.

President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday launched several projects across the country [Iran President’s Office]

Israel still repeatedly claims Iran is after nuclear weapons despite thorough inspections of its nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Rouhani also harshly criticised world powers and the IAEA for their lack of assistance in developing Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme.

“We don’t owe them, they owe us,” the president said, adding they should have assisted Iran as part of commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Hours before the unveiling of Tehran’s latest nuclear advances, Reuters news agency cited a confidential IAEA report that Iran has produced a small amount of fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor, containing 20 percent enriched uranium.

The IAEA reportedly said in its report that Iran aims to produce molybdenum, which has many civilian uses, including in medical imaging.

As part of the nuclear deal, Iran’s enrichment of uranium was capped at 3.67 percent, a limit that it started gradually scaling back in 2019, one year after then-United States President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned the nuclear deal and reimposed harsh sanctions on Iran.

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10 Myanmar police killed in attack by ethnic armies: Reports | Conflict News




Fighters from an alliance of rebel groups reportedly attack a police station in a new escalation after the military coup.

An alliance of ethnic armies in Myanmar that has opposed the general’s crackdown on anti-coup protests attacked a police station in the east on Saturday and killed at least 10 policemen, local media said.

The police station at Naungmon in Shan state was attacked early in the morning by fighters from an alliance that includes the Arakan Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, media reported.

Shan News said at least 10 policemen were killed, while the Shwe Phee Myay news outlet put the death toll at 14.

A spokesman for the military did not return calls asking for comment.

Al Jazeera’s Tony Cheng, reporting from neighbouring Thailand, noted the ethnic armies are some of the oldest in the world, having battled central government forces for decades.

“Since the coup, there has been a lot of talk about armed groups operating together but we have not actually seen it before. Today it’s claimed three acted together, joined forces, attacked this outpost manned by Myanmar police, killing a number of policemen,” said Cheng, adding the assault occurred over two hours early on Saturday.

More than 600 people have been killed by the military in the crackdown on protests against the February 1 coup, according to a monitoring group. As violence has escalated, about a dozen armed groups have condemned the coup-makers as illegitimate and pledged to stand with the protesters.

Civilian lawmakers, most of whom are in hiding after their removal, have announced plans to form a “national unity government” – with key roles for ethnic leaders – and are holding online talks about joint resistance to the generals.

Dozens of bodies

Meanwhile, reports from Myanmar say dozens of people may have been killed in a military assault on anti-coup protesters in the city of Bago. About 60 people may have died in the clashes in the city, about 60km (32 miles) northeast of Yangon, according to Radio Free Asia citing witnesses.

News site Myanmar Now cited a protest leader as saying dozens of bodies had been brought inside a pagoda compound where the military was based. Witnesses cited by both media outlets reported hours of gunfire that started early on Friday.

Protests against the February coup continued on Saturday in Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Sagaing, Myeik and many other cities.

The military crackdown has also included reports of protesters being tortured in detention and harsh sentences.

The military issued death sentences on 19 people from Yangon’s North Okkalapa township on Friday. They were charged with beating an army captain, according to Radio Free Asia.

The military coup dismissed the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently under house arrest.

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