SCORES DIE IN GHANA GAS STATION BLAST
At least 96 people were killed in an explosion at a gas station in Ghana’s capital Accra last night, The Accra City Times reports. Local radio station JOYFM put the death toll at more than 100. Most of the victims had sought shelter at the gas station as torrential rains completely submerged parts of the city. The blast is believed to have been linked to the downpour. Ghana President John Mahama was on site this morning, and the death toll is expected to rise.
Buddhist followers release lanterns into the air at Borobudur temple during celebrations for Vesak Day in Magelang, Indonesia. Vesak is observed during the full moon in May or June and celebrates the life of Buddhism’s founder Siddhartha Gautama.
ISRAEL BOMBS GAZA AFTER ROCKET ATTACK
Israeli forces carried out several airstrikes in Gaza this morning in retaliation for rockets fired from the Palestinian territory yesterday. The raids reportedly hit two Hamas training camps, but no casualties were reported. Read more from The Jerusalem Post.
“Scandals, lawsuits, and bankers chase him. What of it!” French news weekly Marianne writes in this week’s cover story. “Nicolas Sarkozy has but one goal: take back ultimate power on the ‘Republican’ ticket.” The former French president has rattled observers across the political spectrum with his initiative to rebrand his center-right UMP party the “Republicans.”
Read the full article, Extra! Sarkozy's Republican “Hold-Up.”
MUBARAK TO BE RETRIED
This morning an Egyptian appeals court ordered a third trial of former President Hosni Mubarak over the 2011 killings of protesters, Al Jazeera reports. The 87-year-old defendant had been cleared in a November 2014 retrial after originally being jailed for life over the death of 800 people during the revolution.
ON THIS DAY
Today's 57-second shot of history features Angelina Jolie, the Pulitzer Prize and some hot air balloons!
“NO COVER-UP” AFTER CHINA SHIPWRECK
Chinese authorities pledged today that there would be “no cover-up” of the investigation into Monday night’s deadly ship sinking on the Yangtze River that claimed at least 75 lives. Another 370 people are missing and presumed dead, Reuters reports. "We will never shield mistakes and we'll absolutely not cover up," Ministry of Transport spokesman Xu Chengguang said during a press conference yesterday. Search teams have rescued just 14 survivors since the shipwreck, which was caused by a tornado. It could wind up being China’s worst ship disaster in almost 70 years.
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
FIFA OFFICIAL ADMITS TAKING BRIBES
Chuck Blazer, a former top FIFA official, has admitted that he and other members of the executive committee accepted bribes in connection with the choices of the host countries for the 1998 and 2010 World Cups. The revelation comes from a newly released transcript of a 2013 U.S. court hearing in which he pleaded guilty to 10 charges, the BBC reports. Meanwhile, South African sports minister Fikile Mbalula has denied the government bribed FIFA officials with $10 million, as U.S. investigators charge, The Guardian reports.
Once the world's murder capital, Ciudad Juarez — the Mexican city that borders El Paso, Texas — has seen crime plummet. But deeper problems still persist, writes Philippe Boulet-Gercourt for L’Obs: “Some worry that the current peace in Ciudad Juárez may be nothing but a fleeting moment, and warn that other Mexican cities would be wrong to take it as a model. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has softened the rhetoric of ‘war against traffickers’ of his predecessor, preferring to show to the world the economic progress and modernization of his country rather than images of the army fighting against drug dealers. But in reality, Mexico's policy hasn't really changed: beheading drug gangs by eliminating their ‘heads.’”
Read the full article, Miracle Of Ciudad Juarez: A Symbol Of Mexico's Violence Is Reborn.
DOZENS DEAD IN UKRAINE FIGHTING
At least 24 people have been killed in the past 24 hours in eastern Ukraine, as pro-Russian rebels launched a new “major offensive” yesterday near the city of Marinka, the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) reports. According to Edouard Bassourine, spokesman for the so-called “Donetsk People's Republic,” 14 rebels and five civilians have been killed. Yuri Biryukov, a close advisor to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, said five government soldiers were also killed. After attempting to take government positions in Marinka with tanks and artillery, they were beaten back by Ukrainian forces after 12 hours of fighting, Reuters quoted Ukraine's Defense Ministry as saying.
BLATTER RESIGNS, THE WORLD REACTS
Get a glimpse of global reaction to Sepp Blatter’s FIFA resignation in our “Babel” video.
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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