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Riyadh joins Shanghai Cooperation Organization as ties with Beijing grow

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Saudi Arabia’s cabinet approved on Wednesday a decision to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, as Riyadh builds a long-term partnership with China despite U.S. security concerns, Reuters reported.

Saudi Arabia has approved a memorandum on granting the kingdom the status of a dialogue partner in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), state news agency SPA said.

The SCO is a political and security union of countries spanning much of Eurasia, including China, India and Russia, read the report.

Formed in 2001 by Russia, China and former Soviet states in Central Asia, the body has been expanded to include India and Pakistan, with a view to playing a bigger role as counterweight to Western influence in the region.

Iran also signed documents for full membership last year, Reuters reported.

Joining the SCO was discussed during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Saudi Arabia last December, sources have told Reuters.

Dialogue partner status will be a first step within the organisation before granting the kingdom full membership in the mid-term, they said.

The decision followed an announcement by Saudi Aramco (2222.SE) which raised its multi-billion dollar investment in China on Tuesday, by finalising a planned joint venture in northeast China and acquiring a stake in a privately controlled petrochemical group.

Riyadh’s growing ties with Beijing have raised security concerns in Washington, its traditional ally. Washington says Chinese attempts to exert influence around the world will not change U.S. policy toward the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have voiced concern about what they see as a withdrawal from the region by main security guarantor the United States, and have moved to diversify partners. Washington says it will stay an active partner in the region.

Countries belonging to the organisation plan to hold a joint “counter-terrorism exercise” in Russia’s Chelyabinsk region in August this year, Reuters reported.

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Nine Hindu pilgrims dead in India’s Jammu after militant attack, police say

At least nine people were killed and 33 injured when a bus carrying Hindu pilgrims plunged into a deep gorge after a suspected militant attack in the Indian federal territory of Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday, police said.

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At least nine people were killed and 33 injured when a bus carrying Hindu pilgrims plunged into a deep gorge after a suspected militant attack in the Indian federal territory of Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday, police said.

News of the attack came as Narendra Modi took oath as prime minister for a record-equalling third term and drew criticism from the main opposition Congress party, Reuters reported.

“This shameful incident is the true picture of the worrying security situation in Jammu and Kashmir,” opposition leader Rahul Gandhi said on X.

“Militants ambushed the bus” – opposition leader

The Himalayan region, which is also claimed by Pakistan, has been roiled by militant violence since the start of an anti-Indian insurgency in 1989. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, although violence has tapered off in recent years.

“Militants ambushed the bus and fired at it indiscriminately. The bus fell into a gorge, leading to the death of 9 pilgrims, and 33 are injured,” said Mohita Sharma, district police chief of Reasi.

The last major attack on Hindu pilgrims in the region happened in 2017 when a bus was targeted, killing eight people, read the report.

Sunday’s attack comes a day after police chief RR Swain said the number of local militants in the territory was dropping but 70-80 foreign militants remained active.

The injured have been moved to nearby hospitals and a search for the attackers has been launched, police said in a statement.

A state official earlier said at least 10 pilgrims were feared dead.

A forensic official inspects the bus that plunged into a gorge after being shot at by suspected militants. Photo AP

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Pakistan’s army says bomb blast kills seven soldiers

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A bomb blast targeting a military truck killed seven soldiers on Sunday in northwestern Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan, the army said.

The incident took place in the Lakki Marwat district which is on the edge of a lawless tribal region divided on both sides of the border, Reuters reported.

The improvised explosive device exploded near the military vehicle, killing seven soldiers including an officer, the army said in a statement.

“The perpetrators of this heinous act will be brought to justice,” it said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, read the report.

The tribal region has long been a safe haven for Islamist militants who operate on both sides of the border.

An umbrella group of Islamist and sectarian militant groups called Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has been waging a war against the state to try to overthrow the government. It wants to run Pakistan as an Islamic state governed by its own harsh interpretation of Islam, read the report.

Islamabad says the TTP leaders have taken refuge in neighbouring Afghanistan, where they run camps to train Islamist militants to launch attacks inside Pakistan.

Kabul has previously said rising violence in Pakistan is a domestic issue for Islamabad.

Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have soured in recent months. Islamabad says Kabul is not doing enough to tackle militant groups targeting Pakistan.

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Iran announces list of six approved candidates for June 28 elections

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Iran’s Guardian Council, a 12-member election supervisory body, has finalized the list of candidates for president and submitted it to the Interior Ministry, Mohsen Eslami, the spokesperson for Iran’s Election Headquarters, confirmed.

According to IRNA, the council finalized the candidate list for the 14th presidential election on Sunday.

Six candidates have been named. They are Mostafa Pourmohammadi, Massoud Pezeshkian, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh, Alireza Zakani, Saeed Jalili, and Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.

Elections have been called for June 28 and come in the wake of president Ebrahim Raisi’s death in a helicopter crash on May 19.

Head of parliament, Qalibaf, 62, who is a former military commander, has been seen as a potential front-runner. In a speech last week, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei seemed to signal his support for Qalibaf, analysts have said.

The council also approved the candidacies of lawmaker Pezeshkian; Jalili, a former nuclear negotiator and Khamenei’s representative on the Supreme National Security Council; Tehran Mayor Zakani; Ghazizadeh, a conservative deputy to Raisi; and Pourmohammadi, a former interior and justice minister.

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