Welcome to Monday, where the grounded vessel in the Suez is starting to budge, the conflict in Myanmar escalates and the French seek long overdue special status for their daily bread. Meanwhile, Kayhan-London has a disturbing report on child marriage in Iran.
• Myanmar coup violence escalates: Additional deaths are reported today as protesters returned to the streets to challenge the military junta in Myanmar after scores of people were killed this weekend as the post-coup conflict appears to be escalating. Security forces have opened fire at funerals for victims of earlier crackdowns, as international officials accusing the regime of war crimes.
• Ever Given partially freed: Engineers have "partially refloated" the massive container ship blocking traffic through the Suez Canal, though work is still required to reopen the passage.
• Study blames animal transmission for COVID: A joint WHO-China study on the origins of COVID-19 says that transmission of the virus from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely scenario and that a lab leak is "extremely unlikely."
• Dozens killed in Mozambique terror attack: Five days since Islamist militants assaulted the town of Palma, "dozens' are confirmed dead and many other unaccounted for in the remote Mozambique town that is the site of natural gas project led by French energy giant Total.
• Trial begins for cop who killed George Floyd: The trial begins of Derek Chauvin, the white American policeman accused of killing George Floyd. The incident sparked protests in the US and across the world against police brutality and racism. Chauvin, 45, is one of four officers involved to stand trial.
• Australian cabinet reshuffle: Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison reshuffles his cabinet to promote women lawmakers and demotes two ministers amid allegations of sexual abuse and misogyny in parliament.
• France nominates the baguette for UNESCO status: Worldcrunch's Paris-based crew was shocked to learn our best-in-the-world daily bread wasn't already considered intangible cultural heritage.
Colombian daily El Espectador features a picture of rescue operations underway in Neira, in western Colombia, where 11 workers have been trapped in a gold mine for more than 50 hours.
Child marriage in Iran: Is 13 too young? Some are even younger
The Islamic Republic allows girls as young as 13 to marry legally. On top of that, a lack of enforcement means that elementary school age children may be forced into marriage as well, reports daily Kayhan-London:
The laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran require marriage parties to register with a notary and provide valid identity papers (with photos) proving their age. It appears, however, that the law is not being respected nor enforced. Social platform users have used #No2IR (short for "no to the Islamic Republic") to denounce the regime's position on underage marriage — both legal (by allowing girls as young as 13 to marry) and de facto (by turning a blind eye to cases involving even younger children) — as simply horrendous.
According to figures from the Iran Statistics Center, in the three-month period from March 20, 2020, more than 7,000 girls aged 10 to 14 years were married, with one girl aged less than 10 also registered as married. The same body found that the mothers of 346 children born in that period were not yet 15 years old, with mothers aged 15 to 19 giving birth to some 16,000 babies. Additionally, it counted 131 divorces involving a wife aged less than 14 years, and 2,650 divorcées aged 15 to 19 years.
The country's vice-president for women and family affairs, Ma'sumeh Ebtekar, says underage marriage figures "are not that high" and that Iran has a "strong" reactive system to block such situations. For years now, a bill to raise the legal marriage age to 18 has been circulating between the presidency, parliament and the Guardian Council. The latter body ensures legislation does not contravene the constitution or religious laws.
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How the poisoning of a Spanish bear led to a major drug bust
A major bust last week of a Colombian-led narcotics ring deep in the Spanish Pyrenees led to the arrest of 12 people, the seizure of two kilograms of cocaine and the discovery of the laboratory where the drug was processed. Police say the successful operation was all thanks to a dead bear.
Pro and anti-bear associations in Spain all remember the death of Cachou the Bear, whose body had been found last April at the bottom of a ravine in the eastern region of Catalonia. Known to be responsible for several attacks on livestock, the brown bear had many enemies among the locals, and murder was quickly suspected. The theory was confirmed when the autopsy revealed that it had been poisoned with ethylene glycol, a toxic antifreeze used in car coolants.
An investigation was open, which included secret wiretapping of half a dozen people suspected in the death. Hoping to record conversations about the killing of the bear, the investigators instead stumbled on to even more juicy discussions about cocaine purchases and a laboratory where cocaine paste imported from Colombia was processed into ready-to-use doses. Among the suspects arrested last week is a mayor of the region.
"It is as if the animal, in gratitude for the effort (of investigators) responded to them with the alleged organization of drug traffickers," an official source told La Vanguardia.
And what about justice for Cachou? The primary suspect, a forest ranger of the Aran Valley, had been arrested back in November. Still, like with the battle against international drug traffickers, that investigation continues.
➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com
We've known since the early days of the pandemic that a healthy lifestyle can help mitigate the effects of the coronavirus, a study from the University of Navarra in Spain draws for the first time a direct link between the Mediterranean diet (high in vegetables, fruits, cereals, fish, and unsaturated fats like olive oil) and COVID-19 contagion risks, which it says the diet may reduce by an impressive 64%.
We've lost a strong, virtuous woman. A matriarch who held together the Obama family.
— Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta offers condolences after the passing of Sarah Hussein Onyango Obama (affectionately known as "Mama Sarah), the step-grandmother of former U.S. President Barack Obama, who died on Monday at age 99 in Kisumu.
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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