ECUADOR INTRODUCES REBUILDING TAX
The death toll in Ecuador after Saturdayâ€™s magnitude-7.8 earthquake continues to rise and now stands at 570, with hundreds more still missing and as many as 4,000 wounded. And with the extensive damage the quake caused, estimated at $3 billion, authorities unveiled yesterday a new series of measures aimed at financing the reconstruction work. Among the measures introduced by President Rafael Correa is a one-time 0.9% tax for people who own more than $1 million in assets. â€œThis is how a modern society responds to this kind of disaster and the way each Ecuadorian, within his ability, contributes to the recovery of his own motherland,â€ Correa said.
EXPLOSION AT MEXICO OIL PLANT
A significant explosion rocked a petrochemical plant on the southern coast of the Gulf of Mexico yesterday, killing three workers and wounding at least 105 people, including 58 workers. According to AP, the blast was felt as far as six miles away. About 2,000 people living in the surrounding areas have been evacuated.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, QUEEN ELIZABETH
The Yorkshire Post wished Queen Elizabeth II a â€œhappy birthday ma'amâ€ on todayâ€™s front page as the monarch turns 90. The Leeds-based daily chose one of three pictures taken for the occasion by acclaimed American photographer Annie Leibovitz. The queen is standing on the steps of Windsor Castle with four of her dogs. See the images here.
ON THIS DAY
And happy 69th, Iggy! That, and more, in your 57-second shot of history.
ANOTHER MIGRANT TRAGEDY
The United Nationsâ€™ Refugee Agency said yesterday that up to 500 migrants died in the Mediterranean Sea last week. If the death toll is as high as believed, it is the worst such tragedy of the last 12 months. According to some of the 41 survivors, who were sailing from Libya, smugglers were transferring the migrants onto a larger boat when it went down. The survivors drifted at sea until they were rescued by a merchant ship, possibly three days later. Read more from The New York Times.
An international team of scientists have shown that close to 2.2 billion people living in tropical and subtropical regions around the globe are at risk, as their environments favor the spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus.
OBAMA HEADS TO LONDON
After his tense visit to Saudi Arabia yesterday. U.S. President Barack Obama will now travel to London, where he is expected to urge British voters to stay in the European Union ahead of the countryâ€™s June 23 referendum. A victory for Brexit, Obama will argue, would jeopardize the special relationship between Britain and the U.S as well as diminish the countryâ€™s influence. Itâ€™s an argument that London Mayor Boris Johnson, who is campaigning to leave the EU, recently described as an â€œoutrageous and exorbitant hypocrisy.â€
OLYMPIC FLAME BEGINS JOURNEY TO RIO
The flame of this summerâ€™s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro was lit this morning in Athens. Over the next week, athletes will carry the torch around Greece, before it heads to Brazil on April 27. As many as 12,000 runners will relay the flame across Brazil before it reaches Rio for the opening ceremony on Aug. 5. Read more about the Olympic flameâ€™s history here.
In America Economia, a Latin American consultant argues that excellence is an end unto itself, something that often gets lost in the pursuit of business. â€œThe reality is that a truly awful carpenter makes tables, a mediocre carpenter makes tables, and an excellent carpenter makes excellent tables, typically with the same supplies in the same amount of time and with the same restrictions,â€ Daniel Mordecki Pupko writes. â€œExcellence is not the result of the amount of effort or intensity of effort â€" not even the suffering that produces the effort, even if it reaches heroic levels.â€
Read the full article, A Rumination On Excellence (Or Why Mediocrity Often Wins).
â€œWe would never leave our parents, country and leader Kim Jong-un,â€ a tearful North Korean waitress told CNN, having returned to Pyongyang after she and her colleagues were apparently tricked by their manager into defecting to South Korea.
JAPAN RAIDS MITSUBISHI OFFICES
Japanese officials raided the offices of Mitsubishi Motors, sending the national carmakerâ€™s shares plunging after the company admitted that employees had falsified fuel-efficiency data. The manipulation affects about 600,000 vehicles and four different models sold in Japan under the Nissan brand. The carmaker has suspended manufacturing and sales of the models. Read more from The Japan Times.
MY GRAND-PEREâ€™S WORLD
Entrance Examination â€" Bangkok, 1993
NEW DOLLAR BILLS
The U.S. Department of Treasury unveiled the new faces of the future $5, $10 and $20 bills yesterday, finally giving women a place in the lineup. But the replacement of Andrew Jackson by former slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill has some Tennesseans concerned.
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WHEN ANGRY BIRDS BECOME REALITY
Even in the small Danish town of Holbæk, officials have resorted to taking out their enemies with a campaign of drone strikes. The target: the eggs of pooping seagulls.
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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