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Updated: 27 min 51 sec ago
By Firas Makdesi MAALOULA, Syria (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday visited an ancient Christian town recaptured from rebels last week, state media said, as he seeks to persuade minorities that the government is their best protection against hardline Islamists. Assad's Easter visit to Maaloula - a rare appearance outside central Damascus - also highlighted growing government confidence in recent gains against insurgents around the capital and along the Lebanese border. Islamist fighters, including some from the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, had taken over part of Maaloula in December and held several nuns captive until releasing them in March in a prisoner-exchange deal.
By Kwasi Kpodo ACCRA (Reuters) - A U.S.-flagged plane which landed at an airport in the Iranian capital Tehran last week was carrying business executives from Ghana and did not flout international laws, according to the mining firm which leased it. The New York Times reported on Thursday that the plane, owned by the Bank of Utah, was parked at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport on Tuesday. Its presence caused a stir as the United States and Iran have been at loggerheads for decades and the Islamic Republic is subject to economic sanctions, which would generally prohibit U.S.-registered aircraft from flying to the country. It was later reported that the aircraft was leased to Ghana-based mining firm Engineers and Planners (E&P), founded by the Ibrahim Mahama - a multi-millionaire and brother of Ghana's President John Mahama.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani admitted Sunday that women in his country still face discrimination and cultural barriers but he insisted they are not universally treated as second-class citizens. In a speech marking Women's Day in Iran, Rouhani, seen as a moderate reformer, said more had to be done but that the West did not offer a model that had to be followed. The remarks were followed by confirmation that the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had agreed to pardon or commute the sentences of some women prisoners. Rouhani's speech was consistent with his promise of more social freedoms, a cornerstone of the campaign that gave him a surprise victory in the June presidential election.
Iran said on Saturday it had completed watering down and converting more than 200 kilograms (440 lb) of enriched uranium under a deal reached in Geneva last November with world powers over its disputed nuclear program. "Based on the agreement with the West, we were supposed to have half of our 200 kilogram stock of uranium diluted and the other half converted to uranium oxide," Iran's atomic chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, told the Arabic-language Al Alam television channel. The International Atomic Energy Agency said on Thursday that Iran has acted to cut its most sensitive nuclear stockpile by nearly 75 percent in implementing a landmark pact with world powers, but a planned facility it will need to fulfil the six-month deal has been delayed. Salehi, who heads the country's atomic energy organization, said the fast process of uranium conversion was expected to expedite the release of frozen Iranian assets in the West.
Iran on Saturday criticized a U.S. government move to seize a Manhattan skyscraper owned largely by a foundation that promotes its language and Islamic culture, saying this violated the right to religious freedom in the United States. According to a court document filed in New York on Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice agreed to distribute proceeds from the sale of the Fifth Avenue high-rise to families affected by alleged Iranian-aided attacks, including the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. The settlement marks the latest turn in a long-running battle over the 36-storey building owned chiefly by Alavi Foundation, a non-profit Persian and Islamic cultural center. Iran's foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said the decision "lacks legal justification and negates America's commitment to protecting its citizens' religious freedom." "Confiscation of the properties of an independent charity organization raises doubt about the credibility of U.S. justice," she was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.
Two people were killed in a car that blew up in a mainly Shi'ite village in Bahrain on Saturday, and the interior ministry said the initial investigation showed that a homemade bomb had detonated inside the vehicle. Sunni-ruled Bahrain has been hit by several small bombings in recent weeks as the kingdom struggles to end simmering unrest among its Shi'ite Muslim majority, which rose up unsuccessfully in an Arab Spring-inspired revolt in 2011. A third person was wounded and was being treated in hospital for second-degree burns, the statement said, citing the health ministry. Bahrain's Shi'ites want political reforms and an end to alleged discrimination against them, which the government denies.
An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced an Islamist leader on trial for murder alongside deposed president Mohamed Morsi to a year in jail for insulting a prosecutor, judicial sources said. Top Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammed al-Beltagui and Morsi were both in court Saturday accused of inciting the killing of opposition protesters outside the presidential palace in Cairo in December 2012. Their trial is part of a relentless crackdown targeting Morsi and the Brotherhood since the military ousted him on July 3, ending a turbulent single year in office. It is the first time a senior member of the Brotherhood has been given a jail sentence since Morsi's ouster.
Iran's dispute with world powers over its unfinished Arak heavy water reactor has been "virtually resolved," it said Saturday, less than a month before nuclear talks seeking a permanent agreement. The facility -- whose remaining components Iran cannot commission or install under an interim agreement struck in November -- is of international concern as it could theoretically give Tehran a second route to a nuclear bomb. Nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran and the so-called P5+1 group of world powers were now seeing eye to eye on the Arak reactor after Tehran offered to make certain changes.
Iran's Foreign Ministry dismissed as "illegal" plans by US prosecutors to sell an Iran-linked Manhattan skyscraper in the largest terror-related seizure to date, media reports said Saturday. Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said in a statement late Friday the settlement lacked "legal credibility" and was influenced by "anti-Iran political propaganda," according to the reports in Iranian media. The settlement was unveiled on Thursday and has been approved by a federal judge. Its main target is a 36-storey building in the heart of New York City that is majority owned by the Alavi Foundation, a non-profit corporation promoting Islamic culture and the Persian language.
Iran says that a plane which landed in Tehran airport flying the American flag was leased to Ghana's presidential office and carrying a business delegation from the West African nation. The New York Times reported on Thursday that a plane owned by the Bank of Utah was parked in Mehrabad Airport in Tehran on Tuesday. Its presence was noteworthy as the United States and Iran have been at loggerheads for decades and the Islamic Republic is subject to economic sanctions. A State Department spokeswoman said on Friday these sanctions "generally prohibit" U.S.-registered aircraft from flying to Iran.
An explosion in a car killed two people and wounded a third in a mostly Shi'ite village in Bahrain on Saturday, the Interior Ministry said. There were early signs the car contained explosive substances, it added. Bahrain's majority Shi'ite Muslim population wants political reforms and an end to perceived discrimination in the Sunni-Muslim ruled country. Bahrain denies any discrimination.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran has condemned a ruling issued by a U.S. federal judge approving plans to sell a 36-story Manhattan office building and other properties owned by Iran nationwide in what will be the largest terrorism-related forfeiture ever.
By David Rohde and Arshad Mohammed WASHINGTON AND NEW YORK (Reuters) - In September 2001, as the U.S. reeled from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Vladimir Putin supported Washington's imminent invasion of Afghanistan in ways that would have been inconceivable during the Cold War. He agreed that U.S. planes carrying humanitarian aid could fly through Russian air space. He said the U.S. military could use airbases in former Soviet republics in Central Asia. And he ordered his generals to brief their U.S. counterparts on their own ill-fated 1980s occupation of Afghanistan.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A senior Iranian military official has urged the foreign ministry to name a new envoy to the U.N. after the U.S. blocked its chosen ambassador over alleged ties to the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
Iran says that a plane which landed in Tehran airport flying the American flag was leased to Ghana's presidential office and carrying a business delegation from the African nation. The New York Times reported on Thursday that a plane owned by the Bank of Utah was parked in Mehrabad Airport in Tehran on Tuesday. Its presence was noteworthy as the United States and Iran have been at loggerheads for decades and the Islamic Republic is subject to certain economic sanctions. State news agency IRNA on Friday night quoted Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham as saying that the plane was transporting the brother of Ghana's president and a mining delegation.
An Iranian woman on death row for the murder of an ex-intelligence official could be forgiven if "she tells the truth", the son of her alleged victim said Saturday. Interior designer Reyhaneh Jabbari has been sentenced to death for the 2007 slaying of Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, which a UN human rights monitor claims was done in self-defence against a potential rapist. Judiciary officials say there is no date yet for her execution but her lawyer Abdolsamad Khoramshahi warned last week it could be "carried out within a month." Jalal, Sarbandi's eldest son, told Iranian reformist dailies Shargh and Etemad that his family "will not even contemplate mercy until truth is unearthed."