Mohammad Mokhber appointed Iran’s acting President

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Tuesday, 21st May 2024.

Iran’s first Vice President Mohammad Mokhber was appointed acting president of the Islamic Republic on Monday after the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash, which, according to Iranian state agency Irna, occurred due to “a technical failure”.

Mokhber, 68, has largely been in the shadows compared to other politicians in Iran’s Shiite theocracy. Raisi’s death Sunday thrust Mokhber into public view. He is expected to serve as caretaker president for some 50 days before mandatory presidential elections in Iran. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made the announcement of Mokhber’s appointment in a condolence message after the crash. The helicopter was found Monday in northwestern Iran.

Despite his low-key public profile, Mokhber has held prominent positions within the country’s power structure, particularly in its bonyads – groups fuelled by donations or assets seized after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, particularly those previously associated with Iran’s Shah or those in his government. Mokhber oversaw a bonyad known in English as the ‘Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order’, referring to the late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

Mokhber previously worked in banking and telecommunications. He also worked at the Mostazafan Foundation, another bonyad that manages the country’s mega-projects and businesses.

Iranian media reports suggest Mokhber, who holds a doctorate in international law, was crucial in Iranian efforts to bypass Western sanctions on its oil industry. Mokhber has been a member of Iran’s Expediency Council since 2022, which advises the supreme leader and settles disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council, Iran’s constitutional watchdog that also oversees the country’s elections.

Mokhber was born on 1st September 1955, in Dezful in Iran’s southwestern Khuzestan province to a clerical family. He served as an officer in the Revolutionary Guard’s medical corps during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, according to the pressure group ‘United Against Nuclear Iran’.

Date set for Iran’s presidential election

Iran’s presidential electionhas been set for 28th June.

The funeral rites for President Raisi and his entourage will begin today, Tuesday, in Tabriz.Vice President Mohsen Mansouri announced that the funeral will be held on Thursday, May 23, in Raisi’s hometown of Mashhad, in the north-east of the country.“The funeral ceremony of Ayatollah Raisi will take place on Thursday evening in the mausoleum of Imam Reza,” he told IRIB TV. The Imam Reza Mausoleum is one of the main shrines of the Shiites.

Chief of Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces Maj Gen Mohammad Hossein Bagheri has instructed a high-ranking delegation to investigate the cause of the helicopter crash killing President Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

What’s next for Iran’s government?

The death of Iran’s president is unlikely to lead to any immediate changes in Iran’s ruling system or to its overarching policies, which are decided by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But President Raisiwas seen as a prime candidate to succeed the 85-year-old supreme leader, and his death makes it more likely that the job could eventually go to Khamenei’s son. A hereditary succession would pose a potential crisis of legitimacy for the Islamic Republic, which was established as an alternative to monarchy.

Iran holds regular elections for president and parliament with universal suffrage. But the supreme leader has final say on all major policies, serves as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and controls the powerful Revolutionary Guard. The supreme leader also appoints half of the 12-member Guardian Council, a clerical body that vets candidates for president, parliament and the Assembly of Experts, an elected body of jurists in charge of choosing the supreme leader.

ICC seeks arrest warrant for Netanyahu, Hamas leaders

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Monday applied for arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,Defence Minister Yoav Gallantand top Hamas leaders on suspicion of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The landmark request was greeted with outrage in Israel, with Netanyahu describing it as “a scandal”, vowing that “This won’t stop me or us.” Foreign Minister Israel Katz slammed the application as “a historical disgrace that will be remembered forever”. Prosecutor Karim Khan said he was seeking warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant for crimes including “starvation”, “wilful killing”, and “extermination and/or murder”.

“We submit that the crimes against humanity charged were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the Palestinian civilian population pursuant to State policy. These crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day.”

The charges laid against the Hamas leaders including Yahya Sinwar, the head of the movement, include “extermination”, “rape and other acts of sexual violence”, and “taking hostages as a war crime”.

“We submit that the crimes against humanity charged were part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population of Israel by Hamas and other armed groups pursuant to organisational policies,” said the statement. Khan alleged that the two Hamas leaders, and Mohammed Deif, who heads Hamas’s armed wing, were “criminally responsible for the killing of hundreds of Israeli civilians” during the attacks of October 7, 2023. Hamas said it “strongly condemns” the ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants against it leaders, but said it supported the ICC’s move against Netanyahu and Gallant.

ICC judges will now decide whether the application meets the threshold for the warrants to be formally issued.

Gaza attack ‘not genocide’ – Joe Biden

US President Joe Biden strongly defended Israel on Monday, saying Israeli forces were not committing genocide in their military campaign against Hamas militants in Gaza in a rejection of criticism from pro-Palestinian protesters. “What’s happening in Gaza is not genocide. We reject that,” Biden said at a Jewish American Heritage Month event at the White House. Biden has faced protests at many of his events around the country from pro-Palestinian advocates who have labelled him “Genocide Joe” for his support for Israel.

Bidensaid US support for the safety and security of Israelis is “ironclad”. “We stand with Israel to take out Sinwar and the rest of the butchers of Hamas. We want Hamas defeated. We’re working with Israel to make that happen,” he said.

Gaza aid piles up in Egypt as US pier delivery falters

Food and medicine for Palestinians in Gaza are piling up in Egypt because the Rafah crossing remains closed and there has been no aid delivered to a UN warehouse from a US-built pier for two days, UN officials warned yesterday. Senior UN aid official Edem Wosornu said there were insufficient supplies and fuel to provide any meaningful level of support to the people of Gaza as they endure Israel’s military onslaught against Hamas.

“We are running out of words to describe what is happening in Gaza. We have described it as a catastrophe, a nightmare, as hell on earth. It is all of these, and worse,” she said. She told the UN Security Council that the closure of Rafah crossing from Egypt had stopped the delivery of at least 82,000 metric tonnes of supplies, while access at Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing was limited due to “hostilities, challenging logistical conditions, and complex coordination procedures”. Egypt said yesterday that the crossing is closed due to the threat posed to aid work by Israel’s military operation.

Assange wins permission to appeal US extradition

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was given permission to have a full appeal over his extradition to the United States after arguing at London’s High Court on Monday he might not be able to rely on his right to free speech at a trial. Two judges at the High Court said they had given him leave to have a full appeal to hear his argument that he might be discriminated against on the basis the Australian-born Assange is a foreign national.Hundreds of protesters had gathered outside the court ahead of what was a key ruling after 13 years of legal battles, with two judges asked to declare whether they were satisfied by US assurances that Assange, 52, could rely on the First Amendment right if he is tried for spying in the US. The news was met outside court by an eruption of cheering and singing.

‘Clear the court!’: judge explodes at Trump witness over decorum

The prosecution rested their case against Donald J. Trump on Monday in the former president’s hush money trial, which is moving toward a conclusion as soon as next week.Michael Cohen’s testimony finally wrapped up Monday after four days – and 17 hours – on the witness stand as the final witness in the prosecution’s case alleging that Trump falsified business records when he re-imbursed Cohen for the hush money payment made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in the final days of the 2016 campaign.

It wasn’t long after the defence began its case on Monday for things to get heated: Judge Juan Merchan admonished a witness for the defence, Robert Costello, and threatened to remove him from the stand after he audibly complained when the judge sustained objections to the questions he was being asked. The trial briefly descended into chaos when the judge became infuriated by Costello’s behaviour and pandemonium broke out between journalists and court officers. Merchan even cleared the courtroom of the press briefly after dressing down Costello.A respected magistrate who moved with his Colombian parents to the United States when he was a child, Merchan has a reputation among lawyers for being fair but firm.

Cohen admitted in the final stretch of cross-examination Monday that he stole $60,000 from the Trump Organisation by telling then-Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg he needed to be reimbursed for a payment he made on Trump’s behalf to a tech company.Cohen said he had told various prosecutors about this, prompting questions as to why he had never been charged with larceny. Trump was engaged throughout this line of questioning, smirking when Cohen admitted to stealing.

S. Africa’s top court bars Zuma from standing in elections

South Africa’s highest court has barred former President Jacob Zuma from running for parliament in next week’s general election. The Constitutional Court ruled that his 15-month prison sentence for contempt of court disqualified him. Mr Zuma was convicted in 2021 for refusing to testify at an inquiry investigating corruption during his presidency which ended in 2018.

Target to slash prices on 5,000 frequently bought items

Target, the American retail corporation that operates a chain of discount department stores and hypermarkets, will slash prices on at least 5,000 of the store’s most frequently-bought items in an effort to entice customers weighed down by soaring levels of inflation.Shoppers who flock to Target will end up paying less for products such as milk, meat, bread, soda, fresh fruit and vegetables, according to the company.Essentials, like coffee, diapers, paper towels and pet food will also be available for purchase at reduced cost.Targetsaid it had previously cut prices of some 1,500 items.

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