At least 10 people were killed in central Iran on Wednesday as a train derailed near Tabas on the line between the cities of Mashhad and Yazd, state media reported. "Ten people were killed and a number of others injured in the incident," national rescue service spokesman Mojtaba Khaledi was quoted as saying by state television. "Twelve of the injured are in critical condition and have been transferred to hospital," he added. The deputy head of Iran's state-owned railways, Mir Hassan Moussavi, told the state broadcaster that the train was carrying 348 passengers. It "derailed after hitting an excavator" that was near the track, he added. Five of the train's 11 coaches came off the track in the 5:30 am (0100 GMT) accident, emergency services said. The train derailment comes after a tower block collapsed in southwestern Iran last month killing at least 43 people. In 2016, two trains collided and caught fire in northern Iran, killing 44 people and injuring dozens.
DUBAI: Dubai police said Friday they arrested and planned to extradite a British man to Denmark, wanted there for allegedly masterminding a $1.7 billion tax scheme, one of the country’s largest-ever fraud cases.
Sanjay Shah poses for a photograph on the Palm Jumeriah in Dubai on Sept 29, 2020. Dubai police said June 3, 2022, they arrested and planned to extradite Shah, a British national, to Denmark over his alleged involvement in a $1.7 billion tax scheme, one of the country’s largest-ever fraud cases. Shah has maintained his innocence. (AP) The arrest of hedge fund trader Sanjay Shah came after Danish officials signed an agreement in March allowing for extradition between the United Arab Emirates and Denmark. Shah has maintained his innocence in interviews with journalists while living in Dubai over the last few years on the city state’s man-made Palm Jumeirah archipelago, but never appeared in Denmark to answer the accusations. It wasn’t clear if Shah, 52, had a local lawyer in the Emirates.
A court date did not appear to have been set in Dubai, the commercial capital of the seven-sheikhdom federation of the UAE. Prosecutors did not respond to a request for comment on Friday, the start of the Emirati weekend. A spokesman once associated with Shah, who ran the firm Solo Capital Partners, did not respond to a request for comment. The hedge fund manager had run a center for autistic children in Dubai that shut down in 2020 amid the attempts by Denmark to extradite him. He also ran the British-based charity Autism Rocks, which put on shows by major performers to raise money.
In a statement, Dubai police Brig. Gen. Jamal Al Jallaf said the emirate received an international arrest warrant from Denmark for Shah. Al Jallaf said Shah was accused of a fraud that saw foreign businesses pretend to own shares in Danish companies and claim tax refunds for which they were not eligible. “The fraud scheme, known as ‘cum-ex’ trading, involved submitting thousands of applications to the Danish Treasury on behalf of investors and companies from several countries around the world in order to receive dividend tax refunds,” Al Jallaf said.
Danish authorities say the scheme ran for some three years beginning in 2012. In a joint statement, Denmark’s Justice and Foreign Ministries praised Dubai’s arrest of Shah, whom they described as a target of the country’s prosecutors since 2015. “The Danish Treasury has been cheated for a staggering amount, and of course it should not be possible for suspected perpetrators to hide in the Middle East and thus avoid being held accountable in a Danish courtroom,” Justice Minister Mattias Tesfaye said. “Now I am awaiting the legal process in the United Arab Emirates, and crossing my fingers that it will end up that we can get Sanjay Shah on a plane to Denmark, so he can be prosecuted in this country,” he added. Shah is one of several suspects in the tax scheme sought by Danish authorities.
Bangladesh authorities accused a container depot operator on Monday of not telling firefighters about a chemical stockpile before it exploded with devastating consequences, killing at least 49 people — nine of them from the fire service. The toll from the giant blast, which followed a fire at the BM Container Depot in Sitakunda and sent fireballs into the sky, was expected to rise further. Some containers at the depot were still smouldering on Monday, more than 36 hours after the explosion, preventing rescuers from checking the area around them for victims. Around a dozen of the 300 injured were in critical condition.
The nine dead firefighters are the worst toll ever for the fire department in the industrial-accident-prone country, where safety standards are lax and corruption often enables them to be ignored.
“The depot authority did not inform us that there were deadly chemicals there. Nine of our officers were killed. Two fighters are still missing. Several people are also missing,” fire department official Mohammad Kamruzzaman told AFP. Purnachandra Mutsuddi, who led the fire-fighting effort at the 26-acre facility on Saturday night, said it “didn't have any fire safety plan” and lacked firefighting equipment to douse the blaze before it turned into an inferno. “The safety plan lays out how the depot will fight and control a fire. But there was nothing,” Mutsuddi, an assistant director of the Chittagong fire station, told AFP. “They also did not inform us about the chemicals. If they did, the casualties would have been much less,” he said. The BM Container Depot in Sitakunda, an industrial town 40 kilometres from Chittagong Port, is a joint venture between Bangladeshi and Dutch businessmen with around 600 employees, and began operations in 2012. Its chairman is named on its website as Bert Pronk, a Dutch citizen, but AFP was unable to reach him for comment. Few European businessmen operate in the country. Local newspapers said another of its owners is a senior official of the ruling Awami League party based in Chittagong, who is also the editor of a local Bengali daily. Police have yet to lay charges over the fire. “Our investigation is going on. We will look into everything,” said local police chief Abul Kalam Azad.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has expressed grief over the loss of lives in the incident and extended his condolences to the people of Bangladesh.
“Sad to hear about the loss of precious lives in a fire incident in Bangladesh. My heartfelt condolences & most sincere sympathies are with the government and people of Bangladesh,” he said in a tweet.
'Falling like rain' Wisps of smoke rose into the bright morning sky from dozens of 20-foot containers at the depot on Monday. “Some 30 to 40 containers are still smouldering,” said fire department inspector Harunur Rashid. “Fire is under control. But chemicals are main problems.” Once the flames are entirely out, rescuers will search the area for more victims, he said. Mujibur Rahman, a director of BM Container Depot, said the cause of the initial fire remained unknown. The container depot held hydrogen peroxide, according to fire service chief Brigadier General Main Uddin, and witnesses said the entire town shook when the chemicals exploded. “The explosion sent fireballs into the sky,” said Mohammad Ali, 60, who runs a nearby grocery store. “Fireballs were falling like rain. “We were so afraid we immediately left our home to find refuge,” he added. “We thought the fire would spread to our locality as it is very densely populated.” Elias Chowdhury, the chief doctor in Chittagong, said doctors at multiple hospitals had been called back from holidays to help treat the hundreds of injured. Around 90 per cent of Bangladesh's roughly 100 billion dollars in trade — including clothes for H&M, Walmart and others — passes through the Chittagong port at the top of the Bay of Bengal.
Rakibul Alam Chowdhury from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) said that about 110 million dollars worth of garments were destroyed in the fire. “It is a huge loss for the industry,” he said.
KYIV: Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Sunday that Moscow will hit new targets if the West supplies Ukraine with long-range missiles, hours after several explosions rocked the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. If Kyiv is provided with such missiles “we will draw the appropriate conclusions and use our arms… to strike targets we haven’t hit before,” Putin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying. He did not specify which targets he meant.
Putin’s comments came after the United States last week announced that it would supply Ukraine with advanced missile systems. Ukrainian officials earlier on Sunday said Russian missiles hit railway infrastructure sites in the first such strikes on Kyiv since April 28. Russia said that it had destroyed tanks supplied to Ukraine by eastern European countries during the strikes. “High-precision, long-range missiles fired by the Russian Aerospace Forces on the outskirts of Kyiv destroyed T-72 tanks supplied by eastern European countries and other armoured vehicles that were in hangars,” Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
One person was wounded and AFP reporters saw several buildings with blown-out windows near one of the sites that was targeted. Leonid, a 63-year-old local resident who used to work at the facility, said he heard three or four explosions. “There is nothing military there but they are bombing everything,” he said. Vasyl, 43, said he heard five blasts. “People are afraid now,” he said, walking back to his damaged home with two loaves of bread. Ukrainian authorities did not want to identify the precise locations of the explosions for security reasons.
Severodonetsk ‘divided’ Meanwhile, in the east of the country, the battle for control of Severodonetsk raged on. The city is the largest still in Ukrainian hands in the Lugansk region of the Donbas, where Russian forces have been advancing gradually after retreating or being beaten back from other parts of the country, including Kyiv. Lugansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said that Russian forces had lost ground in the city and it was now “divided in two”. “The Russians were in control of about 70 percent of the city, but have been forced back over the past two days,” he said on Telegram.
“They are afraid to move freely around the city.” Russia’s army on Saturday claimed some Ukrainian military units were withdrawing from Severodonetsk, but Mayor Oleksandr Striuk said Ukrainian forces were fighting to retake the city. “We are currently doing everything necessary to re-establish total control” of the city, he said in an interview broadcast on Telegram.
‘Put Russia in its place’ Tens of thousands of people have been killed, millions forced to flee and towns turned into rubble since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an all-out assault on his pro-Western neighbour on February 24. Western powers have imposed increasingly stringent sanctions on Russia and supplied arms to Ukraine, but divisions have emerged on how to react. French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday Putin had committed a “fundamental error” but that Russia should not be “humiliated” so that a diplomatic solution could be found.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reacted Saturday by saying such calls “only humiliate France” and any country taking a similar position. “It is Russia that humiliates itself. We all better focus on how to put Russia in its place,” he said. Despite diplomatic efforts, the conflict has raged in the south and east of the country. The press service of the Ukrainian president’s office on Sunday reported nine civilians killed in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions from shelling.
Fears over food Apart from the human toll, the conflict has caused widespread damage to Ukraine’s cultural heritage. On Saturday, Ukrainian officials reported a large Orthodox wooden monastery, a popular pilgrim site, had burnt down and blamed Russia shelling. Moscow continues to prove “its inability to be part of the civilised world,” Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said in a statement.
Russia’s defence ministry blamed “Ukrainian nationalists” for the blaze. Russian troops now occupy a fifth of Ukraine’s territory, according to Kyiv, and Moscow has imposed a blockade on its Black Sea ports, sparking fears of a global food crisis. Ukraine and Russia are among the top wheat exporters in the world.
The United Nations said it was leading intense negotiations with Russia to allow Ukraine’s grain harvest to leave the country. The UN has warned that African countries, which normally import over half of their wheat consumption from Ukraine and Russia, face an “unprecedented” crisis. Food prices in Africa have already exceeded those in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings and the 2008 food riots.
‘Game of survival’ Away from the battlefield, Ukraine will be fighting for victory over Wales in Sunday’s play-off final as the war-torn country aims to reach its first football World Cup since 2006. “We all understand that the game with Wales will no longer be about physical condition or tactics, it will be a game of survival,” said Ukraine player Oleksandr Zinchenko. “Everyone will fight to the end and give their all, because we will play for our country.” – AFP
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia aims to triple foreign tourism this year as pandemic restrictions ease, hajj pilgrims return and the first elements of the crown prince’s signature projects open, its tourism minister told AFP Sunday. The famously conservative and closed-off kingdom inaugurated tourist visas in September 2019, just months before the coronavirus pandemic decimated the industry globally. An uptick in domestic travel in 2020 and 2021 – authorities tallied a record 64 million “domestic visits” last year – helped save the nascent Saudi tourism sector from collapse, and now authorities want to seize more of the international market, Ahmed Al-Khateeb said in an interview. “Now we are pushing and moving to attract more… international visitors,” he said, specifying the goal for this year was 12 million, up from 4 million in 2021. “We are back and we are very optimistic. Countries started to open their borders, restrictions started to ease down and people started to travel,” he said. Saudi Arabia has raised eyebrows with its goal of attracting 100 million visitors by 2030, an element of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform agenda intended to diversify the oil-dependent economy and open up to the world. While the kingdom has in recent years relaxed rules barring cinemas, gender-mixed concerts and sporting extravaganzas, other regulations including an alcohol ban remain in place, potentially denting its appeal. Khateeb specified Sunday that of the 100 million targeted visitors for 2030, 30 million are meant to come from abroad while the rest would be people travelling within Saudi Arabia. Some 30 million visits will be religious trips by both residents and foreigners, largely to Makkah and Madinah, Islam’s two holiest sites. Next month authorities plan to allow one million pilgrims to perform the hajj, after two years in which the coronavirus pandemic forced drastic limits on numbers for the annual ritual. Another high-profile feature of the tourism push is so-called giga-projects spearheaded by Prince Mohammed, including the $500 billion futuristic megacity known as NEOM and Diriyah, the seat of the first Saudi state which is being redeveloped as a heritage and entertainment destination. A restaurant district in Diriyah is set to open in September, while other elements of such projects will come online “from 2025 onwards”, Khateeb said. “This is a new level of tourism which does not exist today,” said Khateeb who sits on the board of NEOM. “Saudi Arabia will change the tourism landscape globally… the destinations that Saudi will offer by 2030, it’s something completely different,” he added. – AFP
JEDDAH: An auto repair garage in Saudi Arabia is turning to an untapped source for new car mechanics: Saudi women, who just four years ago weren’t even allowed to drive. At the Petromin Express garage in Jeddah, on the Red Sea coast, new female recruits check oil and change tyres alongside their male counterparts, part of a nationwide push to bring more women into the workforce.
Yet the women trainees have, perhaps inevitably, encountered a host of barriers as they enter a field that is male-dominated the world over – and even more so in the conservative Muslim kingdom. Several told AFP their first months on the job have brought flashes of self-doubt, skepticism from relatives and outright hostility from some customers.
One “old man” who came by the garage immediately ordered all the women out, saying he didn’t want them going near his car, recalled recruit Ghada Ahmad. “At the beginning, it’s normal not to trust us, because I’m a woman and he doesn’t trust my work as a woman,” said Ahmad, wearing grease-streaked white gloves and a long blue overcoat. “It’s something new for them… After years of only seeing men, now comes a woman.”
As she struggled to learn the basics, Ahmad had moments when she wondered if such men might have a point. “I used to go home with swollen hands, crying and saying: ‘This job is not for me. It looks like their words were correct,’” she recalled. But as her skills improved, so did her confidence – aided by other customers who were more encouraging. “One man came and said: ‘I’m very proud of you. You are honoring us. You are a crown on our heads.’”
Expanding women’s rights is central to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 agenda, intended to diversify the oil-dependent economy while softening Saudi Arabia’s image. The highest-profile change came in 2018, when Prince Mohammed oversaw the end of a decades-old ban on women driving. The country has also eased so-called “guardianship” rules that give men arbitrary authority over female relatives.
Yet women mechanics in Jeddah told AFP they could never have started working without their husbands’ consent. Ola Flimban, a 44-year-old mother of four, first heard about the jobs from a social media post, and immediately asked her husband, Rafat Flimban, if she could apply. Rafat agreed and helped his wife prepare for the interview by teaching her the names of spare parts.
“Now she has experience in different car types, how to change oil, how to check cars. She’s even checking my car,” he said. The support at home has made it easier for Ola to deal with wary customers at the garage. “They are surprised that girls work in this field, and ask us to explain how we fell in love with this field,” she said. “That is the most common question.”
As she spoke, 20-year-old Mechaal drove up in his silver sedan for an oil change. He admitted being “shocked” that the task would be carried out by a woman, but he soon came around. “If they are here, it must mean they are trained,” he said, “and maybe they understand my car better than me.”
Petromin vice president Tariq Javed said his company was “confident that this initiative will encourage more women to join the automotive industry in all stages”. The company says its training covers “all express services, including oil, battery, tyres, A/C, and other automotive requirements”.
Perhaps the biggest winners from the firm’s initiative are the city’s women drivers. “We make girls feel relaxed when we operate on their cars,” said 30-year-old Angham Jeddawi, who has been at the garage for six months. “Some girls feel shy when dealing with men. They don’t know how to talk with them, and they don’t know what will be done with the car. But with us they are free to talk a lot.”
For Jeddawi, the job has fulfilled a lifelong goal she once thought impossible. “My dream was to enter the automobile sector, but for a Saudi woman this field was not available. So when the opportunity came, I applied straight away,” she said. The knowledge she’s gained has encouraged her to hit the road herself. She has been studying for her driving test and hopes to have a license within a month. “If I face a problem in the middle of the road, now I know how to react,” she said. – AFP
WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel planned for late June has now been postponed to July, various US media outlets reported on Saturday. Speculations about the visit started in mid-May and several US media outlets reported last week that Mr Biden might visit the two Middle Eastern countries as early as late June. On Friday, President Biden acknowledged that he plans to visit Saudi Arabia soon but indicated that the trip might not take place in June.
“I have been engaged in trying to work with how we can bring more stability and peace to the Middle East,” he said on Friday. “There is a possibility that I would … meet both the Israelis and some Arab countries at the time, including, I expect, Saudi Arabia.”
But he also said that he had “no direct plans at the moment” and was looking at various possibilities. When journalists contacted the White House for clarification, they were told the visit might happen in July, not June as speculated. It would be Biden’s first trip to the region since he came to office in January last year. The trip would include a summit in Saudi Arabia with the leaders of nine Arab countries, followed by visits to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. US media outlets reported that Biden would also meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman when he visits the kingdom. The reports speculated that larger political and strategic interests would persuade Biden to meet the prince despite his concerns about his alleged involvement in the murder of a Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing states agreed to boost their output by 648,000 barrels per day in July and to a similar increase in August. But Washington wants a greater increase to ease the impact of its sanctions on Russian oil, imposed after Moscow invaded Ukraine. The United States and Israeli media reported that Israel has also been talking to Washington about how to establish diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia continues to publicly proclaim its commitment to the Palestinian cause and insists that it will not normalise its relations with Israel until this issue is resolved.