SPANISH ELECTION ENDS TWO-PARTY SYSTEM
Yesterdayâ€™s national elections in Spain have left more questions than answers today, as two of the countryâ€™s fledgling political movements made huge gains and the conservative Popular Party lost its majority. â€œSpain knocks down two-party system and leaves the government high and dry,â€ the front page of conservative newspaper El Mundo reads today after Sunday's general election saw the expected rise of newcomers Podemos on the left and Ciudadanos on the right. It's a â€œmessyâ€ situation for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, one El Mundo columnist writes. Despite coming in first, Rajoyâ€™s ruling center-right Popular Party fell well short of securing a majority, meaning it will have to seek support from opponents if it wants to rule. Read more in our Extra! feature.
91 MISSING AFTER CHINA MUDSLIDE
At least 91 people are missing after a mudslide that buried 33 buildings in an industrial park in southeastern Chinaâ€™s Shenzhen City, Xinhua reports. The authorities are blaming the disaster on a man-made mountain of dirt, soil and construction waste piled atop a hill for the past two years. See the shocking aerial pictures of the site here.
The new Star Wars movie The Force Awakens has entered a galaxy of its own, far ahead of the rest of the holiday-release pack, after having the biggest opening weekend of all time, grossing at least $238 million in North America. Worldwide ticket sales earned Disney $517 million, behind record-holder Jurassic World ($524.9 million), though the latter Universal Pictures blockbuster had the advantage of being launched in China at the same time. J.J. Abramsâ€™ take on the George Lucas franchise wonâ€™t open there until Jan. 9.
RECORD LOSS FOR TOSHIBA, HUGE LAYOFFS
Toshiba has warned it expects to lose a record 550 billion yen ($4.53 billion) in the fiscal year ending March 2016, the result of a massive accounting scandal in which it overstated profits for years, Reuters reports. As part of a wide restructuring of the Japanese company, some 7,000 employees will lose their jobs.
ON THIS DAY
The Pilgrims, Plymouth Rock and Samuel L. Jacksonâ€™s birthday â€" all in todayâ€™s shot of history.
OIL PRICES SINK TO 11-YEAR LOW
Prices of brent oil, a type of crude that serves at a global benchmark, fell today to levels unseen since 2004, nearing the $35-dollar-per-barrel mark, The Wall Street Journal reports. Production continues to outpace demand, and major producers such as Saudi Arabia are continuing to boost their levels of production in a bid to preserve their market share, which are threatened by Russia and Iran as well as U.S. shale oil. According to Goldman Sachs, prices could drop even further, to $20 per barrel. Read more from Bloomberg.
Orphaned and forced to live on the streets at just 5 years old, Amporn Wathanavong had a miserable childhood, and was lured to fight in the jungles along the Cambodian border. But as Portal KBR reports, he ultimately got an education and founded an organization to help poor orphans avoid repeating his experience. â€œWathanavong says that young poor children with no guidance can easily be recruited into the same kind of nightmare. â€˜For these children, you know, itâ€™s very easy to lure them to the fighting. If they are in hardship and they have nothing to eat and they have no progress and no income. Society has to understand their situation.â€™â€
Read the full article, How A Thai Orphan Went From Child Soldier To Humanitarian Leader.
ISRAEL SHELLED AFTER HEZBOLLAH LEADER KILLED
Israeli warplanes hit targets in southern Lebanon last night, in response to rocket fire that Lebanese media blamed on the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, The Jerusalem Post reports. The exchange of fire came after news that Samir Kantar, a notorious Hezbollah commander who spent 19 years in an Israeli jail, was killed in an Israeli airstrike near the Syrian capital of Damascus. Lebanonâ€™s Shia group Hezbollah has been fighting alongside the Syrian government forces.
NO DEAL IN YEMEN PEACE TALKS
Yemenâ€™s warring parties failed to reach an understanding on Sunday, after six days of closed-door meetings aimed at bringing the nine-month conflict to an end, Al Jazeera reports. A ceasefire that was often violated will be extended for an additional seven days starting today. Both sides agreed however to meet again next month.
MY GRAND-PÈREâ€™S WORLD
BLATTER, PLATINI RECEIVE SOCCER BAN
FIFA's ethics committee has decided to ban former president Sepp Blatter and wannabe-president Michel Platini from all soccer-related activities for eight years, The Guardian reports. The two are accused of having â€œabusedâ€ their position over a payment of 2 million Swiss francs ($2 million) made by the Swiss to Platini. They are expected to appeal the decision, and Platiniâ€™s hopes to become the next FIFA chairman appear dead in the water. Speaking at a press conference after the news, Blatter said he was â€œsorry that as president of FIFA I am a punching ball.â€
SLOVENIA SAYS NO TO GAY MARRIAGE
An overwhelming majority of Slovenian voters rejected gay marriage in a referendum, outvoting supporters by two-to-one, Slovenian news agency STA reports. But civil partnerships for same-sex couples will continue to be allowed.
A HUGE MISS-TAKE
"I'd like to apologize wholeheartedly to Miss Colombia & Miss Philippines for my huge mistake. I feel terrible," Miss Universe host Steve Harvey wrote on Twitter after an awkward faux pas in which he wrongly crowned first runner-up Miss Colombia instead of the actual winner, Miss Philippines, at the end of Sundayâ€™s ceremony. As the pageant ended, a car crashed into a crowd near the Las Vegas hotel where it was taking place, killing one person and injuring 26. Police believe the crash may have been intentional.
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.
For 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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