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Cairo—Al-Qaeda has confirmed the death of Qassim al-Raymi, the leader of Islamist group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Site Intelligence Group reported on Sunday.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced earlier this month that the United States had killed al-Raymi in a counterterrorism operation in Yemen.

The United States regards AQAP as one of the deadliest branches of the al Qaeda network founded by Osama bin LadRead More – Source

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The Epoch Times

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Fears are growing that the coronavirus outbreak could become a pandemic as new cases are reported around the world.

Most infections are in China but other countries including South Korea, Italy and Iran are battling to contain the virus, which causes the respiratory disease Covid-19.

A pandemic is declared when an infectious disease threatens different parts of the world simultaneously.

No vaccine is available so far to prevent the new coronavirus.

About 77,000 people in China, where the virus emerged last year, have been infected and nearly 2,600 have died.

More than 1,200 cases have been confirmed in 26 other countries and there have been more than 20 deaths. Italy reported its fourth death on Monday.

The proportion of infected patients dying from Covid-19 appears to be between 1% and 2%, although the World Health Organization (WHO) cautions that the mortality rate is not known yet.

On Monday Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Bahrain reported their first cases, all involving people who had come from Iran.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had warned that the window of opportunity to contain the virus was "narrowing".

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Iran's deputy health minister has denied a claim of a cover-up over the new coronavirus disease, as the number of confirmed deaths there rose to 12.

A parliamentarian for Qom, the city at the centre of Iran's Covid-19 outbreak, accused the authorities of lying about the full extent of the problem.

Ahmad Amirabadi-Farahani said there had been 50 deaths in Qom alone.

That was rejected by the minister, who vowed to resign if it could be proven that even half that number had died.

"I categorically deny this information," Iraj Harirchi told a news conference.

"This is not the time for political confrontations. The coronavirus is a national problem," he added.

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Government spokesman Ali Rabiei also insisted that officials would be transparent about reporting deaths associated with Covid-19, the infectious respiratory disease caused by the virus.

However, Mr Amirabadi-Farahani refused to retract his claim.

"I have given the names of 40 dead people to the deputy minister. Now, we await his resignation," he was quoted as saying by the Ilna news agency.

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TYENDINAGA, Ontario: Police moved in on Monday morning to clear a rail blockade by an indigenous group in eastern Canada that had been stopping freight and passenger traffic for more than two weeks on one of the country's busiest lines.

Canadian National Railway Co obtained an injunction against those preventing rail traffic from moving along its trunk line near Belleville, Ontario, on Feb 7, but provincial police had taken a cautious approach until now.

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Dozens of Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) descended on the site of the rail blockade a little after 8am. At least three men were handcuffed and put into a police van, but there have been no scuffles.

"Unfortunately, all avenues to successfully negotiate a peaceful resolution have been exhausted and a valid court injunction remains in effect," the OPP said in a statement. Police had given protesters a midnight deadline to move off the tracks.

The OPP said it would still encourage people to leave peacefully, and that more arrests would be made as a last resort.

The Tyendinaga Mohawk campaigners barricaded the line in solidarity with a British Columbia aboriginal band seeking to stop construction of a gas pipeline over its land.

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SYDNEY: Australia is under an "unprecedented" threat of foreign espionage and interference, one of the country's most senior spy chiefs said on Monday (Feb 24).

In a rare speech, Mike Burgess, Director-General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) said a range of nations are seeking to influence lawmakers, government officials, media figures, business leaders and academics.

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"The level of threat we face from foreign espionage and interference activities is currently unprecedented. It is higher now, than it was at the height of the Cold War," Burgess said in a speech in Canberra.

Burgess did not identify the countries seeking to interfere, but Reuters reported in September that Australia's intelligence agencies concluded China was responsible for a cyber-attack on the Australian parliament and three largest political parties.

China denies responsibility for the attack, which came just months before a general election in May 2018.

Australia decided not to reveal the identity of the attackers in order to protect its trading relationship with China, sources familiar with the decision told Reuters.

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JOHANNESBURG: A South African inquiry into the forced sterilisation of dozens of HIV-positive pregnant women said Monday (Feb 24) that their rights had been breached, and called for government action.

The investigation was launched after two women's rights organisations approached South Africa's Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) in 2015 with 48 documented cases of coerced sterilisation.

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CGE obtained sworn affidavits from the complainants on the alleged procedures.

"All the women who had lodged the complaint were black women who were mostly HIV positive," CGE head Keketso Maema said in the report released on Monday on its inquiry.

"Just before giving birth … they were coerced or forced to sign forms that they later learnt through various means were consent forms allegedly permitting the hospital to sterilise them."

The documented incidents took place between 2002 and 2015.

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VANCOUVER—British Columbias attorney general hopes an inquiry into money laundering will answer lingering questions about how the criminal activity flourished in the province and identify those who allowed it to happen.

David Ebys government commissioned three reports that revealed B.C.s gambling, real estate and luxury car industries were hotbeds for dirty money, but he said an inquiry will be able to dig deeper because it can compel witnesses to speak.

“There are a number of people, myself included, who have unanswered questions about how things got as bad as they did, what warnings were ignored, who was profiting from these systems, how did they work exactly and are there other steps the government should be taking,” Eby said in an interview.

Inquiry hearings led by commissioner Austin Cullen begin Monday with opening arguments from more than a dozen participants, including the federal government, B.C. Lottery Corp. and B.C. Real Estate Association.

The inquiry will reconvene in May for a money laundering overview and to quantify the extent of the problem in B.C., before main hearings are held from September through December to dig into specific industries and government responses.

Eby has been pushing for action on money laundering since he was an Opposition member and said he first became concerned about it while working as a lawyer in Vancouvers impoverished Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.

“I watched many of my clients, who were badly addicted to drugs and mentally ill, scraping together money to buy drugs,” he said. “I knew the money was going somewhere and it was a lot of money.”

People carrying bags of cash into casinos were treated as VIPs with “total impunity,” he said, while police were spending a great deal of time on his former clients in the Downtown Eastside.

The NDP government has made several changes since taking power in 2017, including the creation of a public registry of property owners so those investing in real estate cant hide behind numbered companies. It has also pressed the federal government for action.

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More protests in solidarity with Wetsuweten hereditary chiefs sprung up on Saturday, a day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pivoted to take a sterner tone with Indigenous leaders he blames for halting train service across much of Canada.

Crowds of protesters rallied at the Ontario legislature in Toronto, carrying signs that called for RCMP to leave Wetsuweten land and for the federal government to respect Indigenous sovereignty. Another rail-line protest sprung up in Saskatoon.

Local police said they were monitoring the protest along the railway tracks, and a statement from the office of Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said a train was allowed to pass through the protest area as scheduled.

Moes office said the protest must remain lawful and that transport routes cannot be disrupted by illegal blockades.

Trudeau said Friday the blockades must come down and said injunctions to clear the rail lines must be enforced. He pointed the finger at Indigenous leadership, who he said have not been receptive to his governments attempts at negotiation.

The barricades, including one on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in eastern Ontario, are in response to a move by the RCMP to clear protesters who had been blocking access to a pipeline worksite on Wetsuweten territory in northern British Columbia.

Supporters who gathered near the Ontario blockade said they were disheartened by Trudeaus strong words against the protests, with one saying it was Trudeaus shift in tone that drove her to make the 40-kilometre trek to the rail line.

“Ive been meaning to come, but with what he said yesterday, I just said, OK Im going,” said Sarah Dear, who brought small gifts from Mexico she said were symbolic for Indigenous communities there.

“I voted for Trudeau back in 2015 because he promised meaningful reconciliation, and as far as Im concerned hes broken that promise,” she said.

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ISTANBUL—Nine people died and hundreds of buildings collapsed in southeastern Turkey on Sunday after a magnitude-5.7 earthquake struck near the border with Iran, injuring dozens in villages and towns in both countries, government officials said.

The quake centered west of the Iranian city of Khoy and affected villages in the Turkish province of Van.

Three of those killed were children and 37 Turks were injured, including nine critically, Turkeys health ministry said.

The shallow tremor caused more than 1,000 buildings to collapse in Turkey, prompting a brief rescue effort to find those trapped under rubble.

The quake damaged buildings some 90 km to the west in the Turkish city of Van, and to the east in dozens of villages in Iran, where state TV said 75 people were injured including six in hospital, though there were no fatalities.

Crisscrossed by major fault lines, Iran and Turkey are among the most earthquake-prone countries in the world.

Turkish TV footage showed people digging with shovels and their hands in the rubble, as well as furniture and belongings strewn on cracked and snowy roads.

In one village the ground cratered under several buildings, while in others residents were wrapped in blankets outside homes with crumbled and cracked exterior walls, fallen metal roofs and twisted wiring.

“The damage caused loss of life,” the governor of Van, Mehmet Bilmez, told reporters standing in front of a pile of cinder blocks and sheet metal. “There is destruction in all four villages” he visited on Sunday morning, he added.

Turkey Earthquake
Turkey Earthquake
Houses are reduced to rubble after an earthquake hit villages in Baskale in Van province, Turkey, at the border with Iran, on Feb. 23, 2020. (IHA via AP)

The European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) said the quake, which hit at 8:53 a.m. local time, had a depth of 5 km (3.1 miles).

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Voter turnout in Friday's parliamentary elections was 42.57%, the lowest since since the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution, Irans interior ministry said on Sunday – another possible sign of widespread dissatisfaction with the leadership and the state of the economy.

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In comparison, turnout was nearly 62% in the 2016 elections. Turnout has consistently been above 50% since the country's Islamic Revolution more than four decades ago.

But voters had limited options on Friday's ballot, as more than 7,000 potential candidates had been disqualified, most of them reformists and moderates. Among those disqualified were 90 sitting members of Iran's 290-seat parliament who had wanted to run for re-election.

Iran's hard-liners won all 30 parliamentary seats in Tehran, state TV reported.

Iran's supreme leader and other senior officials had urged people to cast their ballots Friday as a show of resistance in the face of US sanctions that have plunged the economy into recession.

Reporting from Tehran, FRANCE 24s Reza Sayah said the Guardian Council's decision to bar around 90 sitting moderate or reformist lawmakers has led many Iranians to question whether Fridays vote was a legitimate democratic exercise.

“Analysts say this apparent purge of reformists is an indication that Irans establishment is reshaping the government from one that was led by the moderates and reformists who wanted to open relations with the West, who wanted the [2015] nuclear deal, to one that now will be dominated by conservatives and hardliners who are going to take a much more firm stance against the US, implementing more anti-US policies, which doesnt bode well for whats left of the nuclear deal and improved relations with the West,” noted Sayah.