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Iran’s Rouhani calls for ‘national unity’ after jet downing

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President Hassan Rouhani appealed Wednesday for “unity” and flagged the need for radical changes to the way Iran is run, after a wave of angry protests over the accidental downing of a Ukrainian airliner.

The Kiev-bound Boeing 737 was shot down last week in a catastrophic error shortly after takeoff from Tehran, killing all 176 passengers and crew on board.

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Iran had for days denied claims based on US intelligence that the plane had been downed by a missile, triggering four days of demonstrations as well as international calls for a full and transparent investigation.

One week on from the disaster, Rouhani called for “national unity” in an address broadcast live on state television.

“If there was a delay” by the armed forces to release information about the air disaster, “let them apologise,” he said.

Rouhani also called for a full explanation of what happened in the air disaster, which came hours after Iran’s military fired a wave of missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq.

AFP / ATTA KENARE Iranian students gather for a demonstration over the downing of a Ukrainian airliner at Tehran University on Tuesday, in a fourth day of protests in the capital

The missile attack was launched in retaliation for a US drone strike that killed Iran’s most prominent general, Qasem Soleimani, who headed the Revolutionary Guards’ foreign operations arm.

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Rouhani also said Iranians wanted “diversity” as he urged the electoral authorities to refrain from disqualifying would-be candidates for a February 21 general election.

That would mark a major shift in a country where all candidates are vetted by a constitutional watchdog, The Guardian Council, for their loyalty to the state.

“The people are our masters and we are its servants. The servant must address the master with modesty, precision and honesty,” Rouhani said in his remarks after a cabinet meeting.

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“The people want to make sure that the authorities treat them with sincerity, integrity and trust.

“Allow all parties and groups to run for office,” he said. “Surely you have nothing to lose.

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“The country cannot be governed by one political wing alone. The country belongs to everyone.”

– Crisis after crisis –

Iran has been rocked by crisis after crisis since 2018.

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In May that year, US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from a landmark 2015 agreement that gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

Since then, the US has relentlessly slapped waves of sanctions on Iran as part of a stated campaign of “maximum pressure”.

AFP/File / – Iran initially denied that the airliner had been downed by a missile but later admitted to a catastrophic error

Washington says the campaign is aimed at reining in Tehran’s missile programme and “destabilising behaviour” in the region.

Iran has hit back by progressively reducing its commitments to the nuclear deal.

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On Tuesday, as tensions mounted with the West over the downed airliner, European parties to the deal launched an arbitration process charging Iran with failing to observe its commitments to the accord.

In response Iran warned Britain, France and Germany they must “be prepared to accept the consequences” of their move.

The past year has seen arch-enemies Iran and the United States come to the brink of war on at least two separate occasions.

On June 21, 2019, Trump approved a strike on Iran in retaliation for its downing of a US drone, before cancelling it at the last minute.

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Most recently, Iran had been braced for US counterstrikes after it launched a volley of missiles at US troops in Iraq to avenge Soleimani’s killing. But Trump refrained after the missiles caused no casualties.

– ‘American soldier is not safe’ –

In his address on Wednesday, Rouhani blamed the United States and its allies for causing “insecurity” across the Middle East.

Their “mistakes”, he said, included the Soleimani killing, interventions in Iraq, Yemen and Libya, as well as the US decision to pull out of the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Iranian oil.

“Security in this sensitive and important region will come at the expense of the entire world,” said Rouhani.

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“Today the American soldier is not safe, tomorrow it could be the turn of the European soldier,” he added, warning the US and its allies to leave the region.

The downing of the Ukrainian airliner came after a spate of disasters for Iran.

On January 7, at least 59 mourners were trampled to death at a funeral procession for Soleimani in his hometown of Kerman, in the southeast of the Islamic republic.

The country has also been wracked by heavy flooding since Friday that has claimed the lives of at least three people and left hundreds of villages cut off.

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Referring to the series of disasters which he described as “unimaginable” and “unacceptable”, Rouhani said they should lead to a “big decision” about Iran’s political system.

“And that major decision,” he said, “is national reconciliation.”

“These (parliamentary) elections must be the first step.”


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Key winners at the 2020 Grammy Awards

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Here is a list of winners in key categories at the 62nd annual Grammy Awards, which took place Sunday in Los Angeles.

Teenage goth-pop iconoclast Billie Eilish was the big winner with a total of five golden statuettes, including a clean sweep of the "big four" prizes.

Lizzo, the top nomination getter, won three prizes -- best pop solo performance, best urban contemporary album and best traditional R&B performance.

Album of the Year: Billie Eilish, "When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?"

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How the world discovered the Nazi death camps

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Images of what the Allies found when they liberated the first Nazi death camps towards the end of World War II brought the horror of the Holocaust to global attention.

Many of the ghastly pictures were at first held back from the broader public, partly out of concern for those with missing relatives.

The concentration and extermination camps were liberated one by one as the Allied armies advanced on Berlin in the final days of the 1939-1945 war.

The first was Majdanek in eastern Poland, which was freed on July 24, 1944 by the advancing Soviet Red Army.

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John McEnroe blasts ‘homophobic’ Margaret Court ahead of Grand Slam honor

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John McEnroe blasted fellow tennis great Margaret Court's "offensive and homophobic" views on Monday as the Australian Open prepared to mark 50 years since her calendar-year Grand Slam.

The American said Court, 77, was Tennis Australia's "crazy aunt" and that marking the golden anniversary of her 1970 Grand Slam was a "nightmare" for the governing body.

"There's only one thing longer than the list of Margaret Court's list of achievements: it's her list of offensive and homophobic statements," McEnroe said in a no-holds-barred video for Eurosport.

"Margaret Court is actually a ventriloquist, using the Bible as a dummy to say whatever she wants," added the seven-time Grand Slam winner.

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