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Two dead, five wounded in Libya car bomb: security source

JEDDAH: Most Turks were eagerly awaiting Sunday to watch the latest video and whistleblowing claims from a notorious gangland figure who was close to the government until recently. In his ninth video, Turkey’s fugitive mafia leader Sedat Peker, who is believed to live in Dubai, claimed that Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu had alerted corrupt…

JEDDAH: Most Turks were eagerly awaiting Sunday to watch the latest video and whistleblowing claims from a notorious gangland figure who was close to the government until recently.

In his ninth video, Turkey’s fugitive mafia leader Sedat Peker, who is believed to live in Dubai, claimed that Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu had alerted corrupt businessman Sezgin Baran Korkmaz to flee the country to avoid prosecution.

Last September, US prosecutors in Utah submitted a list of properties belonging to the Kingston brothers, Korkmaz’s business partners, to a US court and asked them to be reclaimed, as they were found guilty to a $470 million fraud of a government program.

These properties included companies and real estate in Turkey.

US authorities revealed that the brothers transferred huge sums of money in fraudulent proceeds to several companies, some in Turkey, on the instruction of Armenian-Turkish businessman Lev Aslan Dermen, who was allegedly financing Korkmaz’s business activities in Turkey.

In early May, Turkish prosecutors prepared an indictment into Korkmaz over money laundering through the transfer of his income in the US illegally to the companies he owns as part of a decade-long scheme to cheat US authorities out of at least $470 million.

Peker claimed that on Dec. 5, Korkmaz and Soylu met in the interior ministry in Ankara for two hours, and the minister warned Korkmaz that he was being investigated.

Korkmaz fled the country the next day. A detention warrant was issued for Korkmaz as part of a probe into money laundering worth $132 million.

Peker, who said that Korkmaz was invited to the ministry headquarters by a deputy police chief, urged opposition parties to check all security footage of that day when the businessman was filmed when entering the ministry building.

The gangland boss also claimed that a critical $45 million money transaction between Korkmaz and a Turkish businessman was also known to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The transaction came from a purchase made by Korkmaz in September 2020 of Luxembourg-based Silcolux Investment. Forty-five percent of the shares in the company were owned by Turkish businessman Inan Kirac.

This purchase gave Korkmaz 45 percent of the shares of Kirac and about one third of Karsan Automotive a partner of a large group that is designing Turkey’s first indigenous car — one of Erdogan’s “signature” projects.

Last year, Kirac asked Korkmaz to return his shares after the money laundering investigation, but he refused. A deal was reached later after the intervention of the Turkish presidency, Peker claimed.

Peker, a former ally of the Turkish government, has released bombshell videos in which he confesses to corrupt activities and details his partnership with senior government figures.

The mafia boss also fled Turkey due to an approaching investigation against him. He was promised a return to his homeland in April, but a nationwide police operation was launched in April targeting him and his associates.

Although the allegations have shaken Turkish domestic politics, the government has yet to react strongly or provide convincing answers to the claims.

Peker’s latest video, entitled “We are growing not by aging and living, but by resisting,” has been watched by more than 6.6 million people since early Sunday.

With Erdogan and his US counterpart Joe Biden meeting on June 14 at NATO summit, how the US authorities react to the bombshell claims about a key person involved in a major fraud scheme in the US is a source of concern.

Peker said that Metin Kulunk, a senior figure in Turkish domestic politics and a former deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party, recently asked him not to release the video before the Erdogan-Biden meeting.

However, this request appears to have further irritated the mafia boss who claims that wants to take revenge on government officials who were involved in raids on his residence.

In the same video, Peker said he was giving money to Kulunk every month during election periods, and was also sending money to German-based associations connected with the Turkish government in order to support their criminal activities.

In recent years, the German press revealed close links between Kulunk, a confidant of Erdogan, with a boxing group named Osmanen Germania that was involved in organized crime.

The gang was accused of targeting opponents of the Turkish government, especially Kurds living in Germany.

German media, especially Frontal 21, an investigative news program on public broadcaster ZDF and the daily Stuttgarter Nachrichten, accused Kulunk of providing the gang with money to buy weapons and organize protests.

The investigation into the group, which is believed to have 2,500 members in Germany, was based on phone taps and monitoring.

German police revealed that the boxing group had close contact with the Union of European Turkish Democrats, the ruling Justice and Development Party’s lobbying group abroad.

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Virus rule extension endangers Euro 2020 final at Wembley

TOKYO: Japanese medical experts said on Friday that banning spectators at the Olympics was the least risky option for holding the Games, even as they appeared resigned to the possibility of fans in venues during the COVID-19 pandemic.The government and Tokyo 2020 organizers have for months held off deciding whether domestic spectators will be allowed…

TOKYO: Japanese medical experts said on Friday that banning spectators at the Olympics was the least risky option for holding the Games, even as they appeared resigned to the possibility of fans in venues during the COVID-19 pandemic.The government and Tokyo 2020 organizers have for months held off deciding whether domestic spectators will be allowed — overseas fans are already banned — underscoring their desire to salvage the event amid deep public opposition.Japan has avoided the kind of explosive coronavirus outbreaks that crippled many other countries. But the vaccine roll-out has been slow and the medical system pushed to the brink in parts of the country. The government’s drive to hold the Games has been criticized by hospitals and doctors’ unions.“There is a risk the movement of people and opportunities to interact during the Olympics will spread infections and strain the medical system,” the experts, led by top health adviser Shigeru Omi, said in a report issued on Friday.They said that holding the Games without spectators was the “least risky” option and the desirable one.Yet Omi’s experts have already floated the possibility that venues could hold up to 10,000 fans in areas where “quasi-emergency” measures, such as shorter restaurant hours, have been lifted. That has heightened the perception the Games may well be held with spectators.The final decision is expected at a meeting set for Monday between organizers, including Tokyo 2020 and the International Olympic Committee, and representatives from the national and Tokyo governments.The president of Tokyo 2020, Seiko Hashimoto, said that while she accepted the Olympics would be safer without spectators, organizers were still looking for ways to have fans safely in venues, like other events.“Given that other sports events are being held with spectators, I think it’s also Tokyo 2020’s job to continue to look for ways to understand and lessen the risk of infections at the Olympics until we’ve exhausted all the possibilities,” she told a news conference following the release of Omi’s report.The Games were delayed last year as the pandemic raged. Cancellation would be costly for organizers, the Tokyo government, sponsors and insurers.Some 41 percent of people want the Games canceled, according to a Jiji news poll released on Friday. If the Games go ahead, 64 percent of the public want them without spectators, the poll found.Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government decided on Thursday to end emergency coronavirus curbs in nine prefectures including Tokyo while keeping some “quasi-emergency” restrictions.Tokyo is scheduled to be under such restrictions until July 11. The current state of emergency, the third since April last year, expires on June 20.The lifting of previous emergencies has been followed by increased infections and strains on hospitals.Organizers should be prepared to act swiftly to ban spectators or declare another state of emergency if needed, the experts said. If spectators are allowed, rules should be strict, such as limiting fans to local residents, the experts said.Omi, a former World Health Organization official, has become increasingly outspoken about the risks from the event. He told parliament this month it was “not normal” to hold the Games during a pandemic.Other Japanese health experts and medical organization have been much more vocal, calling for the Games to be canceled outright.One of the signatories of Omi’s recommendations, Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura, said he believed canceling the Games would be best, but the decision was for the government and organizers.“If the epidemic situation worsened, no spectators and canceling the Games in the middle (of the event) should be debated,” he told Reuters.The country has recorded more than 776,000 cases and over 14,200 deaths, while just 15 percent of its population has had at least one COVID-19 vaccination.

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UN proposal seeks arms embargo and democracy in Myanmar

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities have conditionally cleared the country’s first coronavirus vaccine for clinical trials, which the producer expects to complete in the next few months.The vaccine, Bangavax, is a new generation mRNA vaccine that, like the Pfizer and Moderna ones, teaches our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our…

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities have conditionally cleared the country’s first coronavirus vaccine for clinical trials, which the producer expects to complete in the next few months.The vaccine, Bangavax, is a new generation mRNA vaccine that, like the Pfizer and Moderna ones, teaches our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. Developed by Dhaka-based Globe Biotech Ltd. (GBL), the vaccine was approved for production by the country’s drug regulator in late December.On Wednesday, the Bangladesh Medical Research Council (BMRC) approved clinical trials of Bangavax under the condition that “before starting any human trial, the vaccine producing company needs to conduct an animal trial on monkeys or chimpanzees,” BMRC director Prof. Dr Ruhul Amin said.GBL has been waiting for the trial approval since January.“It’s a lengthy process,” Amin said. “However, we are doing our best to facilitate the trials of Bangavax.”Dr. Mohammed Mohiuddin, head of quality at GBL, said that while the company is now waiting for the BMRC’s written recommendations, it is preparing to start the trials.“It will take us eight to nine months to complete the whole process,” he said. “Since we are using pure mRNA technology in Bangavax and no virus is used in this process, we are supposedly not required to make an animal trial.” He said that GBL was in touch with organizations abroad as there is no institution conducting animal trials in Bangladesh.“To run an animal trial, some foreign companies are asking for a G2G — government to government contract. We hope the government should extend help to us in this case,” Dr. Mohiuddin said.As Bangavax is estimated to cost $10-$15, several dollars cheaper than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it may help Bangladesh with its immunization drive, in which only 2.6 percent of the country’s 166 million people has been vaccinated so far, mainly due to a shortage of COVID-19 jabs.

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Dr. Mohammed Mushtuq Husain, an adviser at the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said if Bangavax trials prove successful they would position Bangladesh ‘ahead in the vaccine race amid this global crisis period.’

GBL says it has the capacity to produce 10 million doses a month, and its lab tests on mice suggest that one dose would suffice.“We are expecting that it will be a single dose vaccine as we found about 100 percent efficacy rate during lab trial on mice,” Dr. Mohiuddin said.Dr. Mohammad Mushtuq Husain, an adviser at the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said if Bangavax trials prove successful they would position Bangladesh “ahead in the vaccine race amid this global crisis period.”“They (GBL) should be provided with necessary administrative and financial support as and when required. But the highest level of precaution is a must at every stage of the trials,” he said.“If we become successful in this endeavor, Bangladesh may consider exporting vaccine to other developing countries after meeting local demand.”

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Kuwait to allow vaccinated foreigners entry from August

LONDON: Iran-backed militias in Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) employ assassinations, kidnappings and other forms of violence in order to protect the income they derive from widespread and deep-rooted corruption in Iraq, a panel of experts said on Thursday.At an online event hosted by British think tank Chatham House and attended by Arab News, Mohammad…

LONDON: Iran-backed militias in Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) employ assassinations, kidnappings and other forms of violence in order to protect the income they derive from widespread and deep-rooted corruption in Iraq, a panel of experts said on Thursday.At an online event hosted by British think tank Chatham House and attended by Arab News, Mohammad Al-Hakim, senior advisor on economic reform to Iraq’s prime minister, said the country’s corruption crisis extends back to the days of Saddam Hussein’s rule, but is now systemic, politically sanctioned and backed by the threat of violence by Iran-backed groups.“There’s a deep problem with the structure of the Iraqi state. This is very much a legacy that needs to be addressed,” Al-Hakim said. “The Iraqi state system has been deteriorating over 50 years.”Iraq ranks in the bottom 20 countries in the world in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.Government employees from the bottom to the top of Iraqi governance are engaging in systematic corruption, said Al-Hakim.At the highest levels of the Iraqi state, civil servants have developed relationships with politicians that they use to line their own pockets and make money for their political allies.Maya Gebeily, Middle East correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, said one of the underpinnings of this system is the PMF, which operates as a “cartel,” using violence to suppress any opposition or attempt to upturn the status quo.“It’s important to think about this corruption as a cartel. There are players in the cartel who agree with each other on how to divvy up the spoils that are coming in either from tariffs, from a specific project, or into the ministry,” she added.“That’s why there are no ‘turf wars’ … because everyone is benefitting from this system. As soon as the bodies start showing up, that means an economic loss.”But that has not deterred the militias from violence, Gebeily said. They just do not use it against each other.“What they’re doing is using violence against anybody who’s trying to root out corruption. Researchers, activists and others who’ve been extremely vocal about corruption have been kidnapped, murdered or otherwise harassed,” she said.Law-abiding officials have been physically threatened, beaten up or had their families attacked when they refused to be complicit in corruption.“Armed groups use violence as an enforcement mechanism to make sure their economic interests are secured,” said Gebeily.“Let’s say you want to import cigarettes. Cigarettes are extremely lucrative to import, so you need an extremely powerful group — and the one I discovered was importing them was Kata’ib Hezbollah — to be involved in that import.”Iraq’s most powerful armed militia, Kata’ib Hezbollah has directly attacked US forces in the country.It is also widely believed to be behind a string of assassinations and kidnappings, including that of Hisham Al-Hashimi, a journalist who described the Iran-backed group as “the strongest and most dangerous group in the so-called Islamic resistance.”Renad Mansour, director of the Iraq Initiative at Chatham House, said: “If we’re talking about power and where it lies in the Iraqi state, you only need look at the attempt by the prime minister to arrest Qasem Muslih, the leader of a brigade in the PMF, and why the prime minister was unable to keep someone who he accused of having a role in assassinations in jail.”Mansour added: “Actually, these aren’t just militias. They have more connectivity to Iraq’s Parliament, to Iraq’s judiciary, than the prime minister does. They’re effectively connected to power in a more central way than the traditional and formal heads of state.”This reveals the true and farcical nature of power in Iraq, Mansour said. “Those sitting on top of the system struggle with access to the state that they’re meant to be head of,” he added.“Those apparently sitting outside the state actually have more connectivity to the essence, the power, the core of the state.”

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