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Iran makes friends with Russia, and the U.S. goes to the Stone Age

20-7-2022 |

Fresh - freshly squeezed news from the international press. We prepare it 3 times a week.

CNN: China - record rainfall and scorching heat wave cause havoc

Towns and farmlands inundated by floods, homes and roads buried by landslides, crops withering under scorching heat, hazmat-suited Covid workers collapsing from heatstroke.

Since summer began, scenes of devastation and misery have been playing out across China as the world's most populous nation grapples with an unrelenting torrent of extreme weather emergencies.

Scientists have been warning for years that the climate crisis would amplify extreme weather, making it deadlier and more frequent. Now, like much of the world, China is reeling from its impact.

Since the country's rainy season started in May, heavy rainstorms have brought severe flooding and landslides to large swathes of southern China, killing dozens of people, displacing millions and causing economic losses running into billions of yuan.

In June, extreme rainfall broke "historical records" in coastal Fujian province, as well as parts of Guangdong and Guangxi provinces. At the same time, a sweltering heat wave began to envelop northern China, pushing temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius.

In recent weeks, a total of 71 national weather stations across China have logged temperatures that smashed historical records. Four cities -- three in the central province of Hebei and one in Yunnan in the southwest -- saw temperatures reaching 44 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit), according to the National Climate Center.

The stifling heat has coincided with a surge in Covid cases, making government mandated mass testing all the more excruciating for residents -- including the elderly -- who must wait in long lines under the sun. It has also become a dangerous task for health workers who, as part of the government's 'zero-Covid' policy, are required to spend long hours outdoors covered head to toe in airtight PPE equipment as they administer the tests.

The heat wave has also caused power shortages in some regions and hit the country's crop production, threatening to further push up food prices.

China is a "sensitive area" that has been significantly affected by global climate change, with temperatures rising faster than the global average, according to the country's latest Blue Book on Climate Change, published by the China Meteorological Administration last August.

The changing climate can make extreme weather events -- such as summer floods, which China has grappled with for centuries -- more frequent and intense, said Johnny Chan, an emeritus professor of atmospheric science at the City University of Hong Kong.

For China, the sheer size of its population and economy means the scale of damage caused by extreme weather events is often massive.

Tropical cyclones, floods and droughts are estimated to cost China about $238 billion annually -- the highest in the Asia Pacific region and nearly three times the estimated loss suffered by India or Japan, according to a report released last year by the World Meteorological Organization.

Heat wave-related mortality in China rose by a factor of four from 1990 to 2019, reaching 26,800 deaths in 2019, according to a Lancet study published in 2020.

For many Chinese, the dangers of extreme weather fueled by climate change hit home last summer, when devastating floods killed 380 people in the central city of Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of Henan province.

Last July, the city of 12 million was pelted with what its water station called a "once in a thousand years" downpour, but local authorities were ill-prepared and failed to heed the five consecutive red alerts for torrential rain -- which should have prompted authorities to halt gatherings and suspend classes and businesses.

Flood water gushed into the tunnels of the city's subway system, trapping hundreds of passengers and killing 12 of them in a tragedy that gripped the nation.

Since last summer, many Chinese cities have improved their emergency response systems for extreme rainfall. In May, authorities in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou suspended schools, advised residents to work from home, closed construction sites and suspended public transportation in parts of the city following alerts for torrential rains.

This June, the Chinese government released a new policy document to improve its response to climate change, which it said was not only creating long-term challenges but also made the country more vulnerable to "sudden and extreme" events.

However Liu Junyan, climate and energy project leader for Greenpeace East Asia, said the policy document is a "very big and ambitious" piece of guidance for local governments, but it lacks details on implementation.

The Guardian: Gaddafi's son - playboy, diplomat and ... future president of Libya?

The organiser said it would be “the most amazing party ever done in Punta del Este”, a glamorous seaside resort in Uruguay. He offered his client a sound system, a DJ, decorators, fireworks and “naked models swimming in the pool”. The client – a fixer with close ties to the rulers of Libya – turned down the fireworks.

It appears the fixer wired the organiser $34,300 – and asked him for a whole roast lamb to be delivered every day to the party villa between 30 December 2006 and 6 January 2007. He would be joined there by fellow Libyans and his boss, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who was due to fly in from South Africa.

Saif had reasons to celebrate. He was the heir apparent of his father Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship and its international, acceptable face. He was leading negotiations with Britain over the Lockerbie bombing. The World Economic Forum had named him a “Young Global Leader”. In his free time, he was studying for a PhD in philosophy at the London School of Economics.

Now a cache of emails and documents, seen by the Guardian and Tortoise Media, sheds light on the would-be ruler’s activities at a time when he was entering public life, spearheading a rapprochement with western governments.

The correspondence between Saif and his associates offers a rare glimpse into the heart of the Gaddafi regime, during a pivotal moment in Libya’s relationship with Britain.

The good times would last another four years, before the first Libyan civil war erupted, driven by his father’s kleptocratic rule. Rebels brutally executed Muammar, before capturing Saif, who then disappeared from public view.

A decade later, Saif emerged from captivity in the rebel stronghold of Zintan dressed in berber robes, to announce he would run for president. He signed his candidacy papers with a hand wounded in the airstrikes that had toppled his father’s regime.


Photo: aa.com

Disagreements between rival factions have delayed the elections, sparking a wave of protests this month. The UN is pushing for agreement on a new polling date. When the race for the presidency begins, many Libyans seem ready to lend Saif their votes. Traumatised by years of civil war, they long for the relative stability of the Gaddafi years. It has been a long journey.

“You need to come back slowly, slowly,” he told journalists last November, when announcing his campaign. “Like a striptease.”

There are hurdles. Saif is due to stand trial at the international criminal court, for crimes against humanity, raising questions about his fitness for office. He is being held responsible for the murders and persecution committed by security forces under his control during the war.

When Saif moved to London in 2002, a team of officials and enablers was assembled to manage his affairs. Administrative matters were handled by the Libyan Foreign Investment Company (LFIC) in London, according to a source there.

Extracurricular activities were managed by a group of young Libyans including Faisal Zuwawi, the organiser of the Punta del Este party, who at the time was involved with the Libyan Football Federation. Uruguay was just one of many excursions. Zuwawi handled yachts in the Mediterranean, clubs in the Caribbean, a private plane and call girls.

Saif is said to have started by asking his LFIC fixer for an apartment in Belgravia. Then he apparently extended his demands: more apartments, a butler, driver and security personnel. The fixer is said to have paid the costs, including rent, and then invoiced Saif’s office in Libya, a country where the average income was about a third of Britain’s.

He recalls taking Saif to a briefing with MI6 officers about his personal security. Saif also met with government officials. He had a lot to discuss.

In 2003, after lengthy negotiations, he announced that Libya would “accept responsibility” for Lockerbie and pay out $2.7bn in compensation to the victims’ families.

Saif’s attention then turned to securing the early release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie bomber who was diagnosed with prostate cancer while incarcerated near Glasgow. PR agents were hired to set up a campaign website – www.justiceformegrahi.com – and to lobby journalists.

“By meeting with various personnel within the entire media spectrum,” one agent explained in a briefing note, “I have to behave as if this is not an orchestrated PR campaign.”

Saif also lobbied Gordon Brown’s government. Emails suggest Zuwawi chartered a yacht to Corfu between 1 and 3 August. As has been reported, Saif went to Corfu during that period and met Peter Mandelson, then Brown’s most senior cabinet minister, spending a night at Jacob Rothschild’s seafront villa. One person at the villa recalls that Saif turned up in combat fatigues with his entourage, went with Mandelson to a secluded spot in the garden, and raised the al-Megrahi issue.

Mandelson’s spokesperson said in 2009 the two had discussed the Lockerbie case in a “fleeting” conversation.

High politics mixed with lurid antics in the summer of 2009. Zuwawi had booked a 61-foot motor yacht, with a captain and two other crew members, at a cost of €55,400. The yacht chartering company’s director then put Zuwawi in touch with an escort agency. The email chain contains photographs from the agency of naked women in erotic poses.

Saif mixed with socialites too. In May 2010, he received an email which appears to be from supermodel Naomi Campbell with the subject heading: “Ghislaine Maxwell. Friend of Naomi Campbell coming to Libya”. The email described Maxwell as a “great friend” who wanted to go to Libya “with her boat” for “pleasure” in September. The email asked Saif to make it possible, gave him Maxwell’s email, and signed off with “hugs hugs” and “Love and Light”.

It appears Saif replied: “Hi Naomi, your friend is welcome in Libya. Please tell her to get in touch with Mohamed” – Saif’s right-hand man. It is unclear whether any further contact was made.

Campbell’s spokesperson said: “Ms Campbell does not recognise the alleged email exchange. As the Guardian has refused to provide her with a copy of the alleged exchange or to provide any evidence as to its authenticity she is not in a position to comment.”

Saif was mixing with global power brokers too, at the World Economic Forum. Its founder Klaus Schwab personally invited Saif to attend the annual Davos meeting in January 2011, describing him in a letter as “an avid bridge-builder and a true advocate of dialogue”.

When civil war broke out in Libya two weeks after Davos, Saif promised to “fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet”. The World Economic Forum broke off contact with him.

Soon Faisal Zuwawi switched sides, becoming a cooperating witness in the case against Saif at the international criminal court in The Hague. He forged links with the National Transitional Council that took control of Tripoli after the revolt. It was Zuwawi, in the end, who betrayed Saif’s location, telling a senior member of the council that the dictator’s son was close to Niger and requesting a doctor to treat his mutilated hand.

The Zintan rebels reached him first, and he was whisked away as a valuable hostage. The nature of any deal with his former captors has not been disclosed, but the son of a notorious dictator is free to run for office. The ICC case against him has been no impediment. A Libyan court waved his candidacy through on the grounds that, as yet, Gaddafi’s heir has no criminal record.

Politico: Putin, in Tehran, gets strong support from Iran over Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin won staunch support from Iran on Tuesday for his country’s military campaign in Ukraine, with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei saying the West opposes an “independent and strong” Russia.

Khamenei said that if Russia hadn’t sent troops into Ukraine, it would have faced an attack from NATO later, a statement that echoed Putin’s own rhetoric and reflected increasingly close ties between Moscow and Tehran as they both face crippling Western sanctions.

NATO allies have bolstered their military presence in Eastern Europe and provided Ukraine with weapons to help counter the Russian attack.

“If the road would have been open to NATO, it will not recognize any limit and boundary,” Khamenei told Putin.

Had Moscow not acted first, he added, the Western alliance “would have waged a war” to return the Crimean Peninsula that Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014 back to Kyiv’s control.

In only his second trip abroad since Russia launched the military action in February, Putin conferred with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the conflict in Syria, and he used the trip to discuss a U.N.-backed proposal to resume exports of Ukrainian grain to ease the global food crisis.


Photo: Sergei Savostyanov

Turkey, a NATO member, has found itself opposite Russia in bloody conflicts in Syria and Libya. It has even sold lethal drones that Ukrainian forces have used to attack Russian troops. But Ankara hasn’t imposed sanctions on the Kremlin, making it a sorely needed partner for Moscow. Grappling with runaway inflation and a rapidly depreciating currency, Turkey also relies on the Russian market.

Erdogan made Putin wait for nearly a minute before entering the room for talks and then praised what he described as Russia’s “very, very positive approach” during last week’s grain talks in Istanbul. He voiced hope a deal will be made, and “the result that will emerge will have a positive impact on the whole world.”

Speaking to Erdogan as their meeting began, Putin thanked him for his mediation to help “move forward” a deal on Ukrainian grain exports.

“Not all the issues have been resolved yet, but it’s good that there has been some progress,” Putin added.

U.N., Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish officials had reached a tentative agreement on some aspects of a deal to ensure the export of 22 million tons of desperately needed grain and other agricultural products trapped in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports by the fighting. Reaching the agreement would mark a major step toward alleviating a food crisis that has sent prices of vital commodities like wheat and barley soaring.

The trip to Tehran has symbolic meaning for Putin’s domestic audience as well, showing off Russia’s international clout even as it grows increasingly isolated and plunges deeper into confrontation with the West.

It comes just days after U.S. President Joe Biden’s visited Israel and Saudi Arabia — Tehran’s primary rivals.

From Jerusalem and Jeddah, Biden urged Israel and Arab countries to push back on Russian, Chinese and Iranian influence that has expanded with the perception of America’s retreat from the region.

It was a tough sell. Israel maintains good relations with Putin, a necessity given Russian presence in Syria, Israel’s northeastern neighbor and frequent target of its airstrikes. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have declined to pump more oil beyond a plan approved by their energy alliance with Moscow.

But all the countries — despite their long-standing rivalries — could agree on drawing closer to counter Iran, which has rapidly advanced its nuclear program since former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned Tehran’s atomic accord with world powers and reimposed crushing sanctions. Talks to restore the deal have hit a deadlock.

Backed into a corner by the West and its regional rivals, the Iranian government is ramping up uranium enrichment, cracking down on dissent and grabbing headlines with optimistic, hard-line stances intended to keep the Iranian currency, the rial, from crashing.

Fadahossein Maleki, a member of the Iranian parliament’s influential committee on national security and foreign policy, described Russia as Iran’s “most strategic partner” on Monday. His comments belied decades of animosity stemming from Russia’s occupation of Iran during World War II — and its refusal to leave afterward.

In a sign of increasingly close military cooperation, Russian officials in recent weeks visited an airfield in central Iran at least twice to review Tehran’s weapons-capable drones for possible use in Ukraine, the White House has alleged.

Without sanctions relief in sight, Iran’s tactical partnership with Russia has become one of survival, even as Moscow appears to be undercutting Tehran in the black market oil trade.

France24: Roe v. Wade repeal threatens to take the U.S. back in time

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill protecting gay marriage rights, after the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade imperiled similar precedents that protected rights to same-sex relations and contraception.

The bill, which passed the Democratic-controlled chamber by a vote of 267-157 with support from 47 Republicans, establishes federal protections for gay marriage and prohibits anyone from denying the validity of a marriage based on the race or sex of the couple.

It will now go to the Senate for a vote, where it faces unclear odds in the evenly divided chamber. House Republicans were told to vote with their conscience by party leadership, who did not whip against the bill.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler sponsored the bill after the federal right to an abortion was overturned when the Supreme Court struck down its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said the court should also reconsider its past rulings that guaranteed access to contraception and the 2015 right to gay marriage, because they relied on the same legal arguments as Roe.

Some congressional Republicans have echoed Thomas' arguments. Republican Senator Ted Cruz said on Saturday that the high court was "clearly wrong" in establishing a federal right to gay marriage.

Democrats have argued that Congress must enshrine the right to gay marriage into federal law in case the court revisits its past rulings.

"The rights and freedoms that we have come to cherish will vanish into a cloud of radical ideology and dubious legal reasoning," Nadler said in a statement on Monday.

Under the House bill, states could still restrict gay marriage if the Supreme Court overturns its prior ruling. But such states would be required to recognize marriages that occurred in states where they remain legal.

The House will vote Thursday on a bill to guarantee nationwide access to contraception, another right that Thomas suggested the court revisit.

Democrats are hoping the bills will draw a contrast to Republicans ahead of Nov. 8 midterm elections, in which soaring inflation challenges Democrats' majority hold on the House and the Senate.

Picked and squeezed for you: Irina Iakovleva