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Key aide of Pakistan’s Imran Khan resigns amidst standoff with army

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(Last Updated On: May 25, 2023)

A key aide of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Wednesday he was quitting politics, dealing a further blow to the embattled ex-premier’s party as a standoff with the military intensified, Reuters reported.

Former Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry’s resignation is the latest – and highest profile – in a string of departures from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which the civilian government on Wednesday threatened to ban.

“I have decided to take a break from politics, therefore, I have resigned from party position and parting ways from Imran Khan,” Chaudhry said in a post on Twitter.

The former information minister spent days in detention after violent protests swept the country this month after the detention of Khan on corruption charges, read the report.

Chaudhry condemned the protests by Khan’s supporters, who attacked military installations, including army headquarters, and government buildings.

Khan says the corruption allegations were fabricated and that his associates are being forced out under duress from the government and the military in a manoeuvre to dismantle his party before elections scheduled later this year.

He has been embroiled in a tussle with the military since he was removed from power last year in a parliamentary vote which he says was orchestrated by the country’s top generals. The military denies this.

Khan is Pakistan’s most popular leader according to local polls, while the military is its most powerful institution, having ruled directly or overseen governments throughout Pakistan’s 75-year history, Reuters reported.

The face-off has raised new fears about the stability of the nuclear-armed South Asian country of 220 million people as it struggles with its worst economic crisis in decades.

Chaudhry is the second former federal minister to leave Khan. On Tuesday, former Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari announced she was leaving politics, citing health concerns, after spending 12 days in detention.

Most of the top leaders of the PTI have been taken into custody. A number of former parliamentarians and mid-tier leaders have quit the party or politics entirely over the last few days.

Another key aide, former Finance Minister Asad Umar also announced on Wednesday, hours after he was released from detention, that he was resigning from his party position of secretary general.

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told reporters on Wednesday that the government is considering banning the PTI for attacking the “very basis of state” and this could not be tolerated.

A ban would be likely to further enrage Khan’s supporters and exacerbate the confrontation with the military establishment.

PTI party lawyer Ali Zafar said any such step would be challenged in court. He said an entire party cannot be blamed for acts committed by individuals.

Khan, 70, became prime minister in 2018 with the tacit support of the military, though both sides denied it at the time. But he later fell out with the generals after being seen as having tried to interfere in key promotions in the security sphere.

After being removed from power last year, Khan has been campaigning for a snap general elections, rallying supporters across the country. But the prime minister who replaced him, Shahbaz Sharif, has rejected calls for a poll ahead of the due date late this year.

Khan has said the corruption charges were made up to banish him from politics.

He was detained on May 9 but was later freed on bail.

In an address on Wednesday, Khan said he would form a negotiating committee that will offer to talk with state authorities to seek a way out of the impasse, Reuters reported.

He said if that committee was convinced the matter could be resolved by him stepping aside from politics or from not holding snap elections, he would comply.

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi killed in helicopter crash

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(Last Updated On: May 20, 2024)

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister were killed in a helicopter crash in mountainous terrain and icy weather, an Iranian official said on Monday, after search teams located the wreckage in East Azerbaijan province, Reuters reported.

“President Raisi, the foreign minister and all the passengers in the helicopter were killed in the crash,” the senior Iranian official told Reuters, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Iran’s Mehr news agency confirmed the deaths, reporting that “all passengers of the helicopter carrying the Iranian president and foreign minister were martyred”.

An Iranian official earlier told Reuters the helicopter carrying Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian was completely burned in the crash on Sunday.

State TV reported that images from the site showed the aircraft slammed into a mountain peak, although there was no official word on the cause of the crash.

State news agency IRNA said Raisi was flying in a U.S.-made Bell 212 helicopter.

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

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali 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.

PRAYERS, SEARCHES

Rescue teams fought blizzards and difficult terrain through the night to reach the wreckage in the early hours of Monday.

“With the discovery of the crash site, no signs of life have been detected among the helicopter’s passengers,” the head of Iran’s Red Crescent, Pirhossein Kolivand, told state TV.

Earlier, the national broadcaster had stopped all regular programming to show prayers being held for Raisi across the country, read the report.

In the early hours of Monday, it showed a rescue team, wearing bright jackets and head torches, huddled around a GPS device as they searched a pitch-black mountainside on foot in a blizzard.

Several countries expressed concern and offered assistance in any rescue.

The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden had been briefed on reports about the crash. China said it was deeply concerned. The European Union offered emergency satellite mapping technology.

HARDLINER, POSSIBLE SUCCESSOR TO KHAMENEI

The crash comes at a time of growing dissent within Iran over an array of political, social and economic crises. Iran’s clerical rulers face international pressure over Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme and its deepening military ties with Russia during the war in Ukraine.

Since Iran’s ally Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, provoking Israel’s assault on Gaza, conflagrations involving Iran-aligned groups have erupted throughout the Middle East.

In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is Raisi’s 85-year-old mentor Khamenei, supreme leader since 1989, who holds decision-making power on all major policies.

For years many have seen Raisi as a strong contender to succeed Khamenei, who has endorsed Raisi’s main policies.

Raisi’s victory in a closely managed election in 2021 brought all branches of power under the control of hardliners, after eight years when the presidency had been held by pragmatist Hassan Rouhani and a nuclear deal negotiated with powers including Washington.

However, Raisi’s standing may have been dented by widespread protests against clerical rule and a failure to turn around Iran’s economy, hamstrung by Western sanctions, Reuters reported.

Raisi had been at the Azerbaijani border on Sunday to inaugurate the Qiz-Qalasi Dam, a joint project. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, who said he had bid a “friendly farewell” to Raisi earlier in the day, offered assistance in the rescue.

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Iranian President Raisi feared dead as helicopter wreckage found

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(Last Updated On: May 20, 2024)

Hopes are fading that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister have survived a helicopter crash in mountainous terrain and icy weather, an Iranian official said on Monday after search teams located the wreckage, Reuters reported.

“President Raisi’s helicopter was completely burned in the crash … unfortunately, all passengers are feared dead,” the official told Reuters.

Rescue teams fought blizzards and difficult terrain through the night to reach the wreckage in East Azerbaijan province in the early hours of Monday.

“We can see the wreckage and the situation does not look good,” the head of Iran’s Red Crescent, Pirhossein Kolivand, told state TV.

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

A Turkish drone identified a source of heat suspected to be the helicopter’s wreckage and had shared the coordinates of the possible crash site with Iranian authorities, Anadolu news agency said earlier on X.

State news agency IRNA said Raisi was flying in a U.S.-made Bell 212 helicopter.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power with a final say on foreign policy and Iran’s nuclear programme, sought to reassure Iranians, saying there would be no disruption to state affairs.

The chief of staff of Iran’s army ordered all resources of the army and the elite Revolutionary Guards to be put to use in search and rescue operations.

Earlier, the national broadcaster had stopped all regular programming to show prayers being held for Raisi across the country.

In the early hours of Monday, it showed a rescue team, wearing bright jackets and head torches, huddled around a GPS device as they searched a pitch-black mountainside on foot in a blizzard, Reuters reported.

“We are thoroughly searching every inch of the general area of the crash,” state media quoted a regional army commander as saying. “The area has very cold, rainy, and foggy weather conditions. The rain is gradually turning into snow.”

Several countries expressed concern and offered assistance in any rescue.

The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden had been briefed on reports about the crash. China said it was deeply concerned. The European Union offered emergency satellite mapping technology.

HARDLINER, POSSIBLE SUCCESSOR TO KHAMENEI

The crash comes at a time of growing dissent within Iran over an array of political, social and economic crises. Iran’s clerical rulers face international pressure over Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme and its deepening military ties with Russia during the war in Ukraine.

Since Iran’s ally Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, provoking Israel’s assault on Gaza, conflagrations involving Iran-aligned groups have erupted throughout the Middle East, read the report.

In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is Raisi’s 85-year-old mentor Khamenei, supreme leader since 1989, who holds decision-making power on all major policies.

For years many have seen Raisi as a strong contender to succeed Khamenei, who has endorsed Raisi’s main policies.

Raisi’s victory in a closely managed election in 2021 brought all branches of power under the control of hardliners, after eight years when the presidency had been held by pragmatist Hassan Rouhani and a nuclear deal negotiated with powers including Washington.

However, Raisi’s standing may have been dented by widespread protests against clerical rule and a failure to turn around Iran’s economy, hamstrung by Western sanctions.

Raisi had been at the Azerbaijani border on Sunday to inaugurate the Qiz-Qalasi Dam, a joint project. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, who said he had bid a “friendly farewell” to Raisi earlier in the day, offered assistance in the rescue.

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Putin arrives in China to deepen strategic partnership with Xi

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(Last Updated On: May 16, 2024)

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Beijing early on Thursday for talks with Xi Jinping that the Kremlin hopes will deepen a strategic partnership between the two most powerful geopolitical rivals of the United States, Reuters reported.

China and Russia declared a “no limits” partnership in February 2022 when Putin visited Beijing just days before he sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine, triggering the deadliest land war in Europe since World War Two.

By picking China for his first foreign trip since being sworn in for a six-year term that will keep him in power until at least 2030, Putin is sending a message to the world about his priorities and the depth of his personal relationship with Xi.

In an interview with China’s Xinhua news agency, Putin praised Xi for helping to build a “strategic partnership” with Russia based on national interests and deep mutual trust.

“It was the unprecedentedly high level of the strategic partnership between our countries that determined my choice of China as the first state that I would visit after officially taking office as president of the Russian Federation,” Putin said.

“We will try to establish closer cooperation in the field of industry and high technology, space and peaceful nuclear energy, artificial intelligence, renewable energy sources and other innovative sectors,” Putin said.

Putin, 71, and Xi, 70, will take part in a gala evening celebrating 75 years since the Soviet Union recognised the People’s Republic of China, which was declared by Mao Zedong in 1949, read the report.

Xinhua confirmed his arrival for what China’s state press has described as a state visit from an “old friend”.

Putin’s arrival and visit is the top trending item on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, with 1.4 million search requests amid a stream of images, videos and comments.

The United States casts China as its biggest competitor and Russia as its biggest nation-state threat while U.S. President Joe Biden argues that this century will be defined by an existential contest between democracies and autocracies.

Putin and Xi share a broad world view, which sees the West as decadent and in decline just as China challenges U.S. supremacy in everything from quantum computing and synthetic biology to espionage and hard military power.

Putin will also visit Harbin in northeastern China, a city with historic ties to Russia. A mall devoted to Russian-made goods representing some 80 Russian manufacturers opened on Thursday, the China Daily reported.

XI AND PUTIN

China has strengthened its trade and military ties with Russia in recent years as the United States and its allies imposed sanctions against both countries, particularly against Moscow for the invasion of Ukraine, Reuters reported.

The West says China has played a crucial role in helping Russia withstand the sanctions and has supplied key technology which Russia has used on the battlefield in Ukraine.

But China, once the junior partner of Moscow in the global Communist hierarchy, remains by far the most powerful of Russia’s friends in the world.

Putin’s arrival follows a mission to Beijing late last month by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in part to warn China’s top diplomat Wang Yi against deepening military support for Russia.

Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said that the two leaders would hold informal talks on Thursday evening over tea and that they would touch on Ukraine, Asia, energy and trade.

Putin’s newly appointed defence minister, Andrei Belousov, as well as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Security Council Secretary Sergei Shoigu and foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov, will also attend, along with Russia’s most powerful CEOs.

It was not immediately clear if Gazprom (GAZP.MM), opens new tab CEO Alexei Miller would go to China as he was on a working visit to Iran on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

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