SEVERAL KILLED IN GERMAN TRAIN CRASH
At least eight people were killed and more than 150 injured this morning when two passenger trains collided near the southern German town of Bad Aibling, Süddeutsche Zeitung reports. According to the train operator Meridian, both trains had partially derailed. Emergency teams reportedly freed all casualties by midday. â€œThe accident is a huge shock for us. We are doing everything we can to help the travelers, relatives and workers,â€ said Bernd Rosenbach, managing director of the train operator.
VIOLENT PROTESTS ERUPT IN HONG KONG
Hong Kong police resorted to firing warning shots during angry protests in the working-class Mong Kok neighborhood last night, Reuters reports. At least 48 police officers were injured and 24 protestors arrested during the demonstrations, which erupted after authorities tried to shutter illegal street stalls set up for Chinese New Year celebrations. Protesters reportedly hurled bricks at the riot police and set fire to trash bins in what is already being labeled the â€œfishball revolution,â€ in reference to the delicacies sold by Hong Kong street vendors. Thousands more people are expected to gather tonight for additional New Year celebrations, according to the South China Morning Post.
TAIWAN DEATH TOLL COULD EXCEED 100
The number of people killed in Saturdayâ€™s Taiwan earthquake rose to 41 this morning, as rescue workers continued to work the site of a toppled 16-story residential building in Tainan Cityâ€™s Yongkang District, Focus Taiwan reports. The South China Morning Post quoted Taiwan Mayor William Lai Ching-Te as saying that the death toll could exceed 100. The BBC reported that the developer of the Tainan Weiguan Jinlong apartment complex, one of the few buildings to have suffered serious damage, has been arrested. An investigation will seek to determine if shoddy construction contributed to the buildingâ€™s collapse.
ON THIS DAY
Halleyâ€™s Comet was last visible on this day in 1986. Find out when it will make its next appearance in todayâ€™s video shot of history.
â€œI find the level of discourse and discussion distressingly banal and an outrage and an insult to the voters,â€ former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a Financial Times interview published today, speaking about the U.S. presidential race. Adding that American voters deserved â€œa lot better,â€ Bloomberg also said he was looking at â€œall optionsâ€ when asked if he was considering a presidential bid. In January, the New York Times reported that the 73-year-old billionaire had â€œtaken concrete steps toward a possible campaignâ€ as an independent, in which he could spend $1 billion of his estimated $39 billion fortune.
- The Washington Post reports that Donald Trump holds a â€œsizeable leadâ€ on the Republican side for todayâ€™s New Hampshire primary. He hopes to to do better than last week, when he finished second in Iowa to Ted Cruz. Democrat Bernie Sanders is expected to win todayâ€™s primary against Hillary Clinton, who edged him only by a hair in Iowa.
JAPAN STOCKS PLUNGE
The Japanese Nikkei plunged 5.4%, and the yield on benchmark government bonds dipped below zero for the first time this morning, CNN reports. This follows losses for U.S. and European indexes Monday.
27 DIE ON CAPSIZED BOAT NEAR TURKEY
Eleven children were among 27 migrants who drowned yesterday after their boat capsized near the Turkish coast while attempting to reach the Greek island of Lesbos, Hürriyet reports. Three people were rescued by Turkish coastguards and a fourth by a fisherman. The tragedy happened on the same day that German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara to discuss the migrant crisis.
MY GRAND-PERE'S WORLD
A feeling has spread through the popular consciousness: The collapse is near, weâ€™re living on the edge of implosion. But there is another way to look at our complicated world, Roger-Pol Droit writes for Les Echos. â€œOf course, thereâ€™s no shortage of real causes for concern! From ISIS to the melting of glaciers and ice caps, from peoples isolating themselves in conclaves to the everyday barbarism, not to mention the atony of political life and the boredom of our citizenry. The list of our legitimate worries is very real indeed. Sadly, we lack a counterweight to the catastrophist prophecies that risk becoming self-fulfilling. And yet, itâ€™s not necessarily naive, or illusory or foolish to imagine that the dark times weâ€™re living in could end in something entirely different from an implosion.â€
Read the full article, Doomsayers Be Damned, How Our Messy World Always Avoids The Abyss.
Photo: Rahel Patrasso/Xinhua/ZUMA
An incredible 1,282 people have been fined 510 reais ($130) in Rio de Janeiro for urinating in public spaces during the Carnival celebrations, Globo reports. And to break a stereotype, 176 of them were women.
The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.
LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.
Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.
The role of the nuclear pact
Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.
It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.
He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."
The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.
Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020commons.wikimedia.org
Riyadh's warming relations with Israel
Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."
The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."
Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."
Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.
If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.
Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.
Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.
For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.
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