Iranian President Raisi found dead at helicopter crash site

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Monday, 20th May 2024.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s foreign minister, and others have been found dead at the site of a helicopter crash site, state media report. Raisi was 63. State media gave no immediate cause for the crash. All nine people on board the helicopter died when it crashed on Monday in Iran’s northwestern East Azerbaijan region, state media said. Raisi and Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian were traveling back from a meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. The helicopter disappeared from radar on Sunday afternoon.

“The president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi, had an accident while serving and performing his duty for the people of Iran and was martyred,” Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency said.

Iranian state television had earlier reported there was “no sign of life” at the crash site of the helicopter. “No sign of surviving passengers” were found at the crash site, Mehr News reported, citing the head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society. There has not been any official confirmation about the president’s death.

Drone footage published on state media Fars News Agency showed the chopper’s wreckage on a steep hillside. Raisi was returning after inaugurating a dam on Iran’s common border with the Azerbaijan Republic, when his helicopter crashed upon landing in northern Iran’s Varzaqan region on Sunday evening, according to state news agency Irna. East Azerbaijan’s governor, Malik Rahmati, and Raisi’s security detail were also in the helicopter.The president’s convoy included three helicopters, two of which landed safely, according to Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency.

Communication with Raisi’s chopper was cut off about half an hour into the flight, Iran’s Vice President for Executive Affairs Mohsen Mansouri said. Raisi was travelling to Tabriz city to launch an oil project. Inclement weather conditions and impassibility of the area had hampered search and rescue operations, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps’ chief Pirhossein Koulivand, reportedly said. Turkey and Russia had sent aircraft to help with the search operations.

‘Butcher of Tehran’ seen as a potential successor to Khamenei

Raisi, 63, was elected president in 2021, and since taking office had ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.

Before becoming president1, Raisi held various positions inside the judiciary under the purview of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As a prosecutor, and at the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, he sat on the committee that sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death. The executions earned him the nickname the “Butcher of Tehran” and subsequently subjected him to sanctions by the United States and to condemnation by the United Nations and international human rights organisations.

Since 2006, Raisi has served on the Assembly of Experts, a body that appoints and supervises the supreme leader. For years many saw Raisi as a strong contender to succeed Khamenei, who has endorsed Raisi’s main policies. Khamenei, who holds ultimate power with a final say on foreign policy and Iran’s nuclear programme, had earlier sought to reassure Iranians, saying there would be no disruption to state affairs.

Biden says he’s working for two-state solution

US President Joe Biden says he is “working to make sure we finally get a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during a much-anticipated address at the graduation ceremony of Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Biden stresses a newer message coming from his administration in recent weeks – that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to plan for who will govern Gaza after the war has allowed Hamas to fill the vacuum the IDF had briefly created on the battlefield against the terror group.

“I’ve also been working around the clock for more than just [a] ceasefire. I’m working to bring the region together, working to build a lasting, durable peace,” Biden says, referring to the normalization agreement he is trying to broker between Israel and Saudi Arabia. But the deal is conditioned on Israel agreeing to a pathway to a future Palestinian state – a condition that Netanyahu again rejected on Saturday. “Because the question is – as you see what’s going on in Israel today – What after? What after Hamas? What happens then? What happens in Gaza?”

Biden appears to be referring to speeches Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and war cabinet minister Benny Gantz made last week, demanding the prime minister present his plans for the post-war management of Gaza. The Israeli premier has rebuffed the calls, saying they are largely irrelevant until Israel finishes removing Hamas from power. He has also rejected Gallant’s suggestion that the Palestinian Authority be allowed to take part in the post-war governance of Gaza – a plan backed by the US and much of the international community.

“I’m working to make sure we finally get a two-state solution – the only solution for the two people to live in peace, enjoy their dignity,” Biden adds.

Sullivan evokes a possible Riyadh agreement with Netanyahu

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan had “constructive meetings” with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and briefed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his team on his meetings in Saudi Arabia and the “potential that could now be available to Israel, as well as to the Palestinian people”. This was reported in a note from the White House, which seems to allude to a normalisation agreement between Israel and Riyadh. Sullivan also discussed with Netanyahu “the war in Gaza and the need to minimise civilian casualties”. According to the White House note, Sullivan “reaffirmed the need for Israel to link its military operations to a political strategy that can guarantee the lasting defeat of Hamas, the release of all hostages and a better future for Gaza”. He essentially reiterated the position of Joe Biden and his administration on Rafah.

Today, Roger Carstens, the US special envoy for hostage affairs, is set to travel to Doha, Qatar, to participate in a panel at the Global Security Forum called “The Impacts of Hostage-Taking by State and Non-State Actors,” according to the State Department. Officials said Carstens’ visit would last through Wednesday, and, while there, he would also “meet with Qatari and other attending government representatives and civil society groups to discuss wrongful detention and hostage issues.”

27 killed in central Gaza airstrike as US envoy visits the region

An Israeli airstrike targeting a house in a central Gaza refugee camp killed at least 27 people, mostly women and children, according to a hospital in the area, the Associated Press reported. The Civil Defense suggested the death toll was higher.

The bombing on Sunday happened as fighting raged across northern Gaza and Israel’s leaders aired divisions over who should govern the Palestinian territory after the war, now in its eighth month. It also came as a United States envoy visited the region and met with various leaders through the middle of the week.

Spain’s left rally against right-wing VOX party’s conference

About 1,000 demonstrators voiced concern about the rise of ultra conservative ideology in Europe, as right-wing leaders and politicians from countries including Argentina, France, Italy, and Hungary, took part in the Europa Viva 24 conference in Madrid, organised by Spain’s conservative Vox party. The demonstration was called by a number of groups in response to the weekend Vox event. The protesters gathered under the slogan ‘All to Colón against fascism’. Many saw the meeting in the Spanish capital as a significant step in the international consolidation of far-right ideology.

Meanwhile, nearly 11,000 supporters – according to Vox – packed a former bull ring waving Spanish flags, as well as some from Argentina, Cuba, Venezuela and Israel. They cheered speakers from Le Pen to Ventura, and jeered at every mention of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda, feminism and socialism. France’s presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, Portugal’s Chega, Andre Ventura, and Chile’s presidential runner-up, Jose Antonio Kast, also attended the event. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni appeared via video link, while Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban and former Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki pre-recorded their messages.

Nationalism and sovereignty were at the forefront of the speeches, including one by VOX candidate for the EU elections, Jorge Buxade. ‘‘On June 9 we decide that Europe is still in the hands of globalist fanatics who pursue the destruction of the countryside, the devastation of the middle classes, the unprotection of borders and the submission of Europe to the whims of a bureaucratic caste of UN rapporteurs. Or, on the contrary, we European nations regain control of our lives, our economy, and our freedom,” he said.

French National Rally party leader, Marine Le Pen said, ‘‘The European Union wants to standardise the whole continent. While we want a Europe that guarantees the diversity of cultures and identities of the European peoples. The European Union wants to promote Islamism and the woke movement. Whereas we want a Europe of proud cultures and which allows each people to defend its own identity.’’

VOX leader, Santiago Abascal, acknowledged the growth of right-wing support. “We are not alone. We are alive and we are very well accompanied by all of you and by magnificent international allies. Today we have been able to prove it once again and we have been able to hear voices here that form a chorus alongside ours from both sides of the Atlantic. A choir that proclaims that another world is possible,” he said.

Spain recalls ambassador after Milei calls PM’s wife ‘corrupt’

According to Reuters, Spain recalled its ambassador to Buenos Aires for consultations on Sunday after Argentina’s President Javier Milei made derogatory comments about Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s wife during the far-right rally in Madrid. Milei had called Sanchez’s wife, Begona Gomez, “corrupt” during the rally in Madrid organised by the far-right Vox party and attended by many of its international allies. Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said he expected an apology from Milei.

William Lai is sworn in as Taiwan’s new president

The new president of Taiwan, Lai Ching-te (William Lai), was sworn in, in a ceremony attended by dozens of foreign delegations, as was the new vice president Hsiao Bi-. In his inaugural speech, Lai augered that Taiwan and China  work together “for peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait. “The people of Taiwan and the People’s Republic are not subordinate to each other,” Lai added, calling on China to stop “politically threatening” the island.

Hundreds rally in support of Tunisian president amid series of arrests

Hundreds of people rallied Sunday in downtown Tunis in support of President Kais Saied amid the recent arrests of journalists, lawyers, and other dissenting public figures in Tunisia. The rally came days after an international backlash over the flurry of arrests, which the UN and the EU said were unlawful. President Saied on Thursday blasted the international criticism as foreign “interference” and ordered the Tunisian foreign ministry to summon the ambassadors of several countries. Sunday’s rally also came after a significant protest and strike by lawyers earlier in the week over police raids and arrests in the national bar association.

At least 11 killed as Russia intensifies attacks in northeastern Ukraine

The Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office said six people were killed and 27 injured in a Russian strike on the outskirts of the regional capital, also called Kharkiv. Regional Governor Oleh Syniehubov said that five more people were killed and nine wounded in an attack on the region’s Kupiansk district, southeast of the regional capital. The Russian Ministry of Defence said that its forces in the area were ‘‘continuing to advance into the depths of the enemy’s defence”.

Ukraine’s General Staff said Russia had stepped up its attacks around Kharkiv and that the situation was ‘‘dynamic’’. Ukraine’s overstretched forces are trying to slow Russia on the new front by using bomb-laden drones to destroy military vehicles.

Slovak PM no longer in danger after assassination attempt

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico’s life is no longer in danger following an assassination attempt, Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kalinak said on Sunday. A lone gunman, who appeared in court on Saturday, shot Fico four times and he was at one stage said to be fighting for his life.

“He has emerged from the immediate threat to his life, but his condition remains serious and he requires intensive care,” Kalinak, Fico’s closest political ally, told reporters.  The Slovak premier was shot as he was greeting supporters after a government meeting in the central town of Handlova. He underwent a five-hour operation on Wednesday and another on Friday at a hospital in the central city of Banska Bystrica. “We can consider his condition stable with a positive prognosis,” Kalinak said outside the hospital, adding, “We all feel a bit more relaxed now.” Kalinak said Fico would stay at Banska Bystrica for the moment.

The suspected gunman, identified by Slovak media as 71-year-old poet Juraj Cintula, has been charged with premeditated attempted murder and was ordered held in custody at a hearing on Saturday. Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok said if one of the shots “went just a few centimetres higher, it would have hit the prime minister’s liver”.

Manchester City wins fourth Premier League title in a row

Manchester City wrote history Sunday by winning their fourth consecutive Premier League title by defeating West Ham United 3-1. It took just 79 seconds for Phil Foden to put the Blues ahead, before doubling the advantage in the 18th minute by heading the ball over the line, which was assisted by Jeremy Doku’s cross. However, West Ham reduced the lead to just one as Mohammed Kudus scored a goal just before halftime (the 42nd minute) through a scissors kick. At halftime, City were leading the West Han team 2-1. Foden was awarded Player of the Match. Manager Pep Guardiola won his 17th trophy since taking over at the Etihad and the third of this season after lifting the UEFA European Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup.

Arsenal missed out on a first Premier League title since 2004 despite beating Everton as Manchester City took the glory. To be crowned champions, the Gunners needed to beat the Toffees and hope City failed to win against West Ham. Arsenal suffered a setback when Idrissa Gueye’s deflected free-kick put Everton in front, although Takehiro Tomiyasu equalised three minutes later. While Arsenal did eventually hold up their end of the bargain with Kai Havertz’s late winner, ultimately City’s victory over West Ham took matters out of their hands.

Verstappen holds off Norris charge for Imola win

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen held off a late charge from McLaren’s Lando Norris to win the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. The Dutchman, despite struggling with his tyres in the final part of the race, took his fifth victory in seven races this year to tighten his stranglehold on a fourth world title. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc comfortably beat McLaren’s Oscar Piastri for the final podium place to move into second in the championship, ahead of Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez.

Photo: Yamil Lage/Pool photo via AP

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