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Dozens Hurt as 5.7 Magnitude Quake Shakes Iran

A 5.7-magnitude earthquake struck southwest Iran near the border with Iraq on Monday, causing one death due to a heart attack and dozens of injuries, the country’s relief and rescue organisation said.

The quake, whose epicenter was in the Masjed Soleiman area of Khuzestan province, hit at 11:30 am (0700 GMT) at a depth of 17 kilometers, the national seismological center reported.

The region was rattled by seven aftershocks, the strongest of which measured 4.7 magnitude, it said.

At least 45 people were injured, the head of Iran’s relief and rescue organization, Morteza Salimi, told state TV.

“One citizen at Masjed Soleiman also passed away due to a heart-attack after the earthquake,” Salimi said.

In nearby cities and villages affected by the quake, there were “only minor cracks in buildings” and roads to some villages were cut off.

Iran sits on top of major tectonic plates and sees frequent seismic activity.

FILE – A damaged building is seen following an earthquake in Sarpol-e Zahab county in Kermanshah, Iran. Nov. 13, 2017.

In November 2017 a 7.3-magnitude tremor in the western province of Kermanshah killed 620 people.

In 2003, a 6.6-magnitude quake in southeast Iran decimated the ancient mud-brick city of Bam and killed at least 31,000 people.

Iran’s deadliest quake was a 7.4-magnitude tremor in 1990 that killed 40,000 people in northern Iran, injured 300,000 and left half a million homeless.



Iran Says It Is Enriching Uranium Higher Than Nuclear Deal Limit

Iran’s nuclear energy agency said Monday the country has surpassed the limits on how much it was allowed to enrich uranium under the 2015 international nuclear deal.

Iran said it had passed 4.5% enrichment, breaching the 3.67% limit set in the accord aimed at restraining Tehran’s nuclear weapons development.

Iran said it could consider enriching uranium to 20% as the next step in its move to back away from its commitments under the nuclear deal, unless it gets the help it wants from the accord’s other signatories to overcome the crippling effect of U.S. economic sanctions imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump after he withdrew from the pact last year.

FILE – President Hassan Rouhani listens to explanations of nuclear achievements in Tehran, April 9, 2018.

Uranium enriched to 5% is sufficient to produce fuel for nuclear power plants, but still far below the 90% needed for building a nuclear weapon.

The United Nations atomic watchdog agency said it was in the process of verifying the Iranian claim that it had breached the enrichment limit.

The European Union, one of the signatories to the deal with Iran, said it was “extremely concerned” about Tehran’s action.

“We strongly urge Iran to stop and reverse all activities that are inconsistent with the commitments” it had made under the international agreement, the EU said in Brussels.

Russia said it is concerned about the Iranian action, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it had warned that Trump’s withdrawal from the pact would have negative consequences for global security.

Trump warned Iran on Sunday it “better be careful.”  

He did not specify to reporters any specific reactions his administration was considering, but reiterated the position that “Iran will never have a nuclear weapon.”

Trump made his comment hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that Iran’s decision will lead to “further isolation and sanctions.”

“Nations should restore the longstanding standard of no enrichment for Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s regime with nuclear weapons would pose an even greater danger to the world,” Pompeo wrote.

Iran has threatened further steps away from the deal within 60 days if the remaining signatories do not help it avoid the effects of the U.S. sanctions. The remaining parties, along with Russia and the EU, are Britain, Germany, France and China.

FILE – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a press conference in Tehran, June 10, 2019.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif contended that Britain’s seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar last week has set “a dangerous precedent and must end now.”

Zarif said on Twitter, “Iran is neither a member of the EU nor subject to any European oil embargo. Last I checked, EU was against extraterritoriality. UK’s unlawful seizure of a tanker with Iranian oil … is piracy, pure and simple. It sets a dangerous precedent and must end now.”

British Royal Marines impounded the tanker on suspicion it was carrying oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions, a claim Iran denied.

FILE – A picture taken from La Linea de la Concepcion in southern Spain shows supertanker Grace 1 suspected of carrying crude oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions after it was detained in Gibraltar on July 4, 2019.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said last week Iran was prepared to enrich “any amount that we want” beyond the 3.67% level. He further pledged to resume construction of the Arak heavy water reactor, a project Iran agreed to shut down when it signed the 2015 deal. Iran has also already gone past the 300-kilogram limit for the amount of enriched uranium it is allowed to keep in its stockpile.


US Defeats Netherlands 2-0 in Women’s World Cup Final

The heavily favored United States team has defeated Netherlands 2-0 in the women’s World Cup soccer final in Lyon, France, securing its fourth title and winning back-to-back tournaments for the first time.

The Americans defeated four other European teams — Sweden, Spain, France and England — on their way to the final, and dominated Sunday in defeating the reigning European champion Dutch.

Football analysts say the United States women’s national team went into the match as favorites because of their greater depth and experience than the Dutch.

One of the top American players, Megan Rapinoe, who sat out the semi-final win over the British with a slight hamstring strain, scored the opening goal for the U.S. side on a penalty kick in the 61st minute. Rose Lavelle added a goal in the 69th minute to seal the victory.

U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated the team on their win via Twitter.

Congratulations to the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team on winning the World Cup! Great and exciting play. America is proud of you all!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 7, 2019

The U.S. also won the world title in 1991, 1999 and 2015, along with Olympic gold medals in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012. Germany is the only other country to win multiple women’s World Cups, in 2003 and 2007.

Former U.S. soccer star Julie Foudy explained before the match what was at stake for the Americans.

“They’ve done all the hard stuff. Weathering the storm that was the Spanish game. Beating the hosts in Paris. Knocking out a very good English team. But they … must bring it home to secure their legacy, especially against a team that doesn’t have the same depth of talent and which is playing on less rest,” she said.

US team celebrates after winning the Women’s World Cup final soccer match at the Stade de Lyon in Decines, outside Lyon, July 7, 2019.

Even as its success in the tournament earns it unprecedented acclaim at home, the U.S. women’s team is suing the country’s soccer federation for equal pay with members of country’s much less successful men’s national team. The pay disparity is pronounced, with female soccer players’ base salary roughly $30,000 less a year than their male counterparts. The players agreed to submit to arbitration following the end of the tournament.

The soccer federation awarded the men’s team a $5.4 million bonus after it lost in the round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup, while handing the women’s team $1.7 million when it won in 2015.

FILE – Megan Rapinoe eyes the ball during the Women’s World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Spain and the United States at Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims, France, June 24, 2019.

Rapinoe has also feuded Presiden Trump, saying that in opposition to his presidency she would not accept an invitation to go to the White House if the Americans won the title.

Trump said in response, “Megan should WIN before she TALKS,” and invited the whole team whether it wins or loses the title.


Malawi President Warns of Action Against Protest Organizers

Malawi President Peter Mutharika has warned of unspecified action against the leaders of violent protests following his narrow recent election victory. 

Mutharika, whose legitimacy is being challenged by key opposition leaders, said during the country’s 55th Independence Day celebration in Blantyre on Saturday that he has learned the protests have nothing to do with election results, but are aimed at toppling his government. The protests organizers dispute this and say they cannot be intimidated.

Thousands of Malawians attended the Independence Day Celebration at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre, July 6, 2019. (VOA/Lameck Masina)

The celebrations started with a morning of prayer, with religious leaders appealing for the return of peace and unity to a country now torn by political violence.
Malawi has faced street protests, which in many cases turned violent, since the Malawi Elections Commission announced on May 27 that President Mutharika had been re-elected.
The MEC declared Mutharika the winner with 39 percent of the vote, and said opposition Malawi Congress Party leader Lazarus Chakwera was a close second with 35 percent.
Vice President Saulos Chilima’s opposition United Transformation Movement Party came in third with 20 percent.
Chakwera and Chilima are challenging the election results in court, alleging ballot-stuffing and the use of a popular correction fluid to alter ballots.
Both opposition leaders shunned Mutharika’s Independence Day speech, in which he called for peace.

“This is the day we must raise our flags of patriotism,” said Mutharika. “This is a day everyone must show how we love this country. Malawi is the only country that we have. If we destroy this country, as we are currently doing, we have destroyed ourselves.”

Heavily armed security personel was deployed after resports that some people were planning to disturb the celebrations. (VOA/Lameck Masina)

However Mutharika had harsh words for the organizers of the protests. He said he knows that opposition leaders want to use the protests to unseat him because they lost the election “big time.”   

“Let me assure them that they will take over this government over my dead body. They will never, never take over this country. Let me warn them,” he said.
Mutharika said his government will soon hold accountable those who are leading the violent protests.
Gift Trapence is the deputy chairperson of the Human Rights Defenders Forum, a civil society group organizing the protests.

“We are not targeting unseating the government.  But our issue is with Dr. Jane Ansah, who failed to manage the election,” said Trapence.
Trapence said the protests will continue until Ansah resigns.
“You cannot be intimidated because for us to do demonstration is in our [Malawi] constitution. So, for us to be intimidated because people were exercising their rights, that’s something regrettable,” he said. 
Political commentator Vincent Kondowe said Mutharika could have used the occasion to call for peace talks with the opposition leaders.

“I think the president coult have gone further and reach out to the opposition and probably call for dialogue and then thereafter, moving forward peacefully. Because what it means now, where the tempers are already very high, it sparks more violent protests, on the side of opposition,” said Kondowe.

The protesters said Friday that they would hold another protest in Blantyre on Monday should Ansah fail to resign by before then.





US Call for Syria Troops Divides German Coalition

Discord broke out in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition Sunday, after the United States urged the country to send ground troops to Syria as Washington looks to withdraw from the region.

“We want ground troops from Germany to partly replace our soldiers” in the area as part of the anti-Islamic State coalition, U.S. special representative on Syria James Jeffrey had told German media including Die Welt newspaper.

Jeffrey, who was visiting Berlin for Syria talks, added that he expects an answer this month.

Last year U.S. President Donald Trump declared victory against IS and ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 American troops from Syria.

A small number have remained in northeastern Syria, an area not controlled by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and Washington is pushing for increased military support from other members of the international coalition against IS.

“We are looking for volunteers who want to take part here and among other coalition partners,” Jeffrey said.

A clear rejection of the American request came from Merkel’s junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD).

“There will be no German ground troops in Syria with us,” tweeted a member of the interim SPD leadership, Thorsten Schaefer-Guembel.

“I don’t see people wanting that among our coalition partners” in Merkel’s centre-right CDU, he added.

But deputy conservative parliamentary leader Johann Wadephul told news agency DPA that Germany should “not reflexively reject” the US call for troops.

“Our security, not the Americans’, is being decided in this region,” added Wadephul, seen as a candidate to succeed Ursula von der Leyen as defense minister if she is confirmed as European Commission chief.

Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.

‘This isn’t a banana republic’

Washington has two goals in northeastern Syria: to support the US-backed Kurdish forces that expelled IS from northern Syria as they are increasingly threatened by Turkey, and to prevent a potential IS resurgence in the war-torn country.

The US is hoping Europe will help, pressuring Britain, France and now Germany, which has so far deployed surveillance aircraft and other non-combat military support in Syria.

However Germany’s history makes military spending and foreign adventures controversial.

Berlin sent soldiers to fight abroad for the first time since World War II in 1994, and much of the political spectrum and the public remains suspicious of such deployments.

As well as the SPD, the ecologist Greens, liberal Free Democrats and Left party all urged Merkel to reject the US request for troops.

The US appeal comes after Trump has repeatedly urged Berlin to increase its defence spending, last month calling Germany “delinquent” over its contributions to NATO’s budget.

But such criticisms have more often hardened resistance to forking out more on the military rather than loosening the country’s purse strings.

Former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told business newspaper Handelsblatt on Saturday that Trump wanted “vassals” rather than allies.

“I’d have liked the federal government to tell him once or twice that it’s none of his business” how much Germany spends on defense, Schroeder said.

“This isn’t a banana republic here!”




Joao Gilberto, Brazilian Bossa Nova Pioneer, Dies at 88

Joao Gilberto, a Brazilian singer, guitarist and songwriter considered one of the fathers of the bossa nova genre that gained global popularity in the 1960s and became an iconic sound of the South American nation, died Saturday, his son said. He was 88.

Joao Marcelo said his father had been battling health issues though no official cause of his death in Rio de Janeiro was given. “His struggle was noble. He tried to maintain his dignity in the light of losing his independence,” Marcelo posted on Facebook.

A fusion of samba and jazz, bossa nova emerged in the late 1950s and gained a worldwide following in the 1960s, pioneered by Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, who composed the iconic The Girl From Ipanema that was performed by Gilberto and others. His wife, Astrud Gilberto, made her vocal debut in the song.  

Began guitar at 14

Self-taught, Gilberto said he discovered music at age 14 when he held a guitar in his hands for the first time. With his unique playing style and modern jazz influences, he created the beat that defined bossa nova, helping launch the genre with his song Bim-Bom.

By 1961, Gilberto had finished the albums that would make bossa nova known around the world: Chega de SaudadeLove, a Smile and a Flower; and Joao Gilberto. His 1964 album Getz/Gilberto with U.S. saxophonist Stan Getz sold millions of copies.

“It was Joao Gilberto, the greatest genius of Brazilian music, who was the definitive influence on my music,” singer Gal Costa wrote on social media. “He will be missed but his legacy is very important to Brazil and to the world.”

FILE – Joao Gilberto walks on stage at the Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro, Aug. 24, 2008.

Born in Bahia in northeastern Brazil, Gilberto moved to Rio de Janeiro at a young age. He was influenced by U.S. jazz greats and recorded songs in the United States, where he lived for much of the 1960s and 1970.

Over his career he won two Grammy Awards and was nominated for six, and the U.S. jazz magazine DownBeat in 2009 named him one of the 75 great guitarists in history and one of the five top jazz singers.

An entire subsequent generation of Brazilian musicians, including Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque and Caetano Veloso, are considered his disciples.

Journalist and bossa nova expert Ruy Castro called the death of Gilberto a “monumental” loss.

Castro wrote in his book The Wave that Built in the Sea that Gilberto loved soccer and was a fan of the Fluminense club, whose games he liked to watch with a guitar in his hands.

‘A mystique’

“He managed to create a mystique about him abroad, being who he was and not even speaking English,” he told the Globo television station.

The musician had spent his final years wrapped in legal troubles, debts and disputes with his children. His last live performance was in 2008 and he canceled a commemorative show to mark his 80th year because of health problems.

With little interest in giving interviews, he’d become known as the “reclusive genius” in the streets of Leblon, the neighborhood in a southern part of Rio where he lived but was seldom seen.  

His funeral is to be held on Monday. He is survived by three children.

Singer Daniela Mercury called Gilberto a “genius who revolutionized popular Brazilian music. He taught us how to sing in the most beautiful way in the world.”

“Go in peace, maestro,” she wrote.

Greeks Vote as Leftist Syriza Days in Power Seem Numbered

Greeks vote on Sunday in a snap election that polls say will bring opposition conservatives to power, ending four years of leftist rule blamed for saddling the country with more debt and mismanaging crises.

The election is largely a showdown of two contenders.

Incumbent Alexis Tsipras of the Syriza party is on one side — a 44-year-old radical leftist who stormed to power in 2015 vowing to tear up the austerity rule book, only to relent weeks later.

On the other side of the fence is Kyriakos Mitsotakis, 51, of New Democracy. He is from a famous political dynasty; he hopes to follow the footsteps of his father as prime minister, while a sister of his was foreign minister.

Opinion polls put New Democracy’s lead at up to 10 percentage points, potentially giving it an absolute majority in the country’s 300-seat parliament. Voting starts at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) and ends at 7 p.m., with first official projections expected about two hours after voting ends.

Financial crisis

Greece endured a debilitating financial crisis from 2010 that saw the country needing a cash lifeline from its European Union partners three times.

The economy is the public’s main concern, said Thomas Gerakis of pollsters MARC.

“Voters want to know the government can give Greeks a better tomorrow,” he said. Some voters wanted to punish Syriza for reneging on past pledges, he added.

Tsipras was also roundly criticized for mismanagement of crises on his watch, and for brokering a deeply unpopular deal to end a dispute over the name of neighoring North Macedonia.

One hundred people died in a devastating fire that swept through a seaside village east of Athens last year; while Mitsotakis was quick to the scene to console survivors, Tsipras was out of the public eye for several days.

Greece wrapped up its last economic adjustment program in 2018, but remains under surveillance from lenders to ensure no future fiscal slippage. Though economic growth has returned to the country, unemployment is the eurozone’s highest at 18 percent.

Main opposition New Democracy conservative party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis addresses supporters during a pre-election rally in Athens, July 4, 2019.

New Democracy has promised to invest in creating well-paying jobs with decent benefits. The outgoing government, meanwhile, hopes voters will reward it for upping the minimum wage by 11 percent and reinstating collective bargaining.

Mitsotakis hopes that his reforms will persuade lenders to show more flexibility in due course.

“The first thing that is necessary for economic growth to be boosted is a stable government, a strong majority in the next parliament,” Mitsotakis told Reuters.

Tsipras said that a vote cast in favor of Mitsotakis would go to the political establishment that forced Greece to the edge of the precipice in the first place.

“Each and every one of you must now consider if, after so many sacrifices, we should return to the days of despair,” he told voters, wrapping up the pre-election campaign on Friday.

Report: UK Interior Minister to Back Johnson for PM

British Interior Minister Sajid Javid will soon formally endorse Boris Johnson to be the next leader of the Conservative Party and the country’s next prime minister, the Sunday Times reported. 

Johnson is the front-runner in a contest with Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt to be the next leader. Voting is due to close on July 22, with the winner set to be announced the following day. 

Johnson has pledged to leave the European Union with or without a deal on Oct. 31 if he becomes prime minister, while Hunt has said that he would, if absolutely necessary, go for a no-deal Brexit. 

The Sunday Times said Javid has positioned himself to be Johnson’s finance minister, taking over from current Finance Minister Philip Hammond. 

It reported that in a speech on Tuesday, Javid will say: “Trust in our democracy will be at stake if we don’t make Oct. 31 a ‘deal or no deal’ deadline. To prepare that, we are agreed on the need for ramped-up no-deal preparations, including a budget.” 

The newspaper also said that Johnson would visit the United States before the end of September to meet President Donald Trump. 

Electric Ice Cream Van Fights Air Pollution

As governments around the world try to tackle air pollution problems, some cities are looking to ban fossil-fuel-powered vehicles. But cars and tractor trailers are not the only things that run on dirty fuels. A new vehicle will hit the market to tackle another source of emissions: ice cream trucks. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Selling Leftovers to Help Prevent Food Waste

Leftovers. It’s what’s for dinner. In Germany that saying does not just apply to people who cook too much at home. These days, more and more restaurants are selling their leftovers to hungry city dwellers at reduced prices. It’s good for business, good for the consumer and good for the environment. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.