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Iran launches matchmaking app as fertility rates fall

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(Last Updated On: July 21, 2021)

Iran, facing a fall in fertility rates, has launched a state-approved matchmaking app to promote marriages in the Islamic country which restricts contact between unrelated men and women.

Hamdam (Companion), developed by a state-affiliated Islamic cultural body, requires users to verify their identity and carries out psychological compatibility tests and gives advice for young singles seeking a marriage partner.

The app offers matching and counselling services to prospective couples and their families, and remains in touch with them for four years after marriage, the semi-official news agency Fars reported.

Western-style dating is banned under Iran’s Islamic laws but many young people reject traditional arranged marriages and want to decide their own future.

Officials have expressed concern that Iran’s population could be among the oldest in the world in two decades after the fertility rate among Iranian women dropped 25% over the past four years, according to Iranian media reports. The fertility rate is about 1.7 children per woman.

Iran started reversing its family planning policies a decade ago, making contraception, which had been available for free, gradually more difficult to get.

In 2014 Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued an edict that said boosting the population would “strengthen national identity” and counter “undesirable aspects of Western lifestyles”.

Iran’s parliament has passed provisions to provide financial incentives for childbirth and marriage, including loans and handouts to young married couples with several children.

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Biden, Kadhimi seal agreement to end U.S. combat mission in Iraq

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(Last Updated On: July 27, 2021)

U.S. President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi sealed an agreement on Monday formally ending the U.S. combat mission in Iraq by the end of 2021, but U.S. forces will still operate there in an advisory role.

The agreement comes at a politically delicate time for the Iraqi government and could be a boost for Baghdad.

Kadhimi has faced increasing pressure from Iran-aligned parties and paramilitary groups who oppose the U.S. military role in the country.

Biden and Kadhimi met in the Oval Office for their first face-to-face talks as part of a strategic dialogue between the United States and Iraq.

“Our role in Iraq will be … to be available, to continue to train, to assist, to help and to deal with ISIS as it arises, but we’re not going to be, by the end of the year, in a combat mission,” Biden told reporters as he and Kadhimi met.

There are currently 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq focusing on countering the remnants of Islamic State. The U.S. role in Iraq will shift entirely to training and advising the Iraqi military to defend itself.

The shift is not expected to have a major operational impact since the United States has already moved toward focusing on training Iraqi forces.

Still, for Biden, the deal to end the combat mission in Iraq follows decisions to carry out an unconditional withdrawal from Afghanistan and wrap up the U.S. military mission there by the end of August.

Together with his agreement on Iraq, the Democratic president is moving to formally complete U.S. combat missions in the two wars that then-President George W. Bush began under his watch nearly two decades ago.

A U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in March 2003 based on charges that then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s government possessed weapons of mass destruction. Saddam was ousted from power, but such weapons were never found.

In recent years, the U.S. mission was focused on helping defeat Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

“Nobody is going to declare mission accomplished. The goal is the enduring defeat of ISIS,” a senior administration official told reporters ahead of Kadhimi’s visit.

The reference was reminiscent of the large “Mission Accomplished” banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier above where Bush gave a speech declaring major combat operations over in Iraq on May 1, 2003.

“If you look to where we were, where we had Apache helicopters in combat, when we had U.S. special forces doing regular operations, it’s a significant evolution. So by the end of the year we think we’ll be in a good place to really formally move into an advisory and capacity-building role,” the official said.

U.S. diplomats and troops in Iraq and Syria were targeted in three rocket and drone attacks earlier this month. Analysts believed the attacks were part of a campaign by Iranian-backed militias.

The senior administration official would not say how many U.S. troops would remain on the ground in Iraq for advising and training. Kadhimi also declined to speculate about a future U.S. drawdown, saying troop levels would be determined by technical reviews. 

Kadhimi, who is seen as friendly to the United States, has tried to check the power of Iran-aligned militias. But his government condemned U.S. air strikes against Iran-aligned fighters along its border with Syria in late June, calling it a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. read more

In remarks to a small group of reporters after the talks, Kadhimi stressed that his government was responsible for responding to such attacks. He acknowledged that he had reached out to Tehran to address them.

“We speak to Iranians and others in an attempt to put a limit to these attacks, which are undermining Iraq and its role,” he said.

The United States plans to provide Iraq with 500,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech (PFE.N), COVID-19 vaccine under the global COVAX vaccine-sharing program. Biden said the doses should arrive in a couple of weeks.

The United States will also provide $5.2 million to help fund a U.N. mission to monitor October elections in Iraq.

“We’re looking forward to seeing an election in October,” said Biden.

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Torrential rains kill over 160 in India, dozens trapped in landslides

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(Last Updated On: July 26, 2021)

Rescue teams in India were digging through thick sludge and debris on Monday to find over 60 people trapped in landslides caused by torrential monsoon rains that have so far claimed more than 160 lives in four days.

The western states of Maharashtra and Goa, as well as Karnataka and Telangana in the south, are the most affected by heavy rains that have flooded croplands over thousands of hectares and forced authorities to move over 230,000 people to safer places.

In Maharashtra, 149 people have died mainly in landslides and other monsoon-related accidents, while another 64 are still missing, the state government said in a statement.

“We are trying hard to rescue people trapped under landslide debris in Raigad and Satara but the possibility of evacuating them alive is remote. They are trapped under mud for more than three days,” said a senior official with the state government, referring to two badly affected districts.

Rescuers couldn’t reach affected villages quickly because approach roads were cut off by overflowing rivers and landslides, officials said.

In Karnataka and Telangana, more than a dozen people died because of floods but waters in the main Krishna and Godavari rivers are receding, authorities said.

In Goa, a hugely popular tourist destination on the western coast, hundreds of houses were damaged as the state recorded the worst floods in nearly four decades, the state’s chief minister Pramod Sawant said.

Rains are easing on the west coast and that will help in rescue operations, said a Pune-based senior scientist with the India Meteorological Department.

“This week also, the west coast will receive rainfall, but the intensity would be much lower compared to the last week,” he said.

Last week, parts of India’s west coast received up to 594 mm (23 inches) of rainfall over 24 hours, forcing authorities to evacuate people from vulnerable areas as they released water from dams that were threatening to overflow.

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Peru socialist Castillo confirmed president after lengthy battle over results

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(Last Updated On: July 25, 2021)

Peru’s electoral authority on Monday named socialist Pedro Castillo as the country’s next president, having officially won the June 6 runoff against right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori, who accepted the result but said she had been cheated.

The official result had been delayed by appeals from Fujimori aimed at annulling some ballots over fraud accusations. She said she was nonetheless bound by law to recognize the ruling of the National Jury of Elections.

“I proclaim Pedro Castillo as president of the republic and Dina Boluarte as first vice president,” elections chief Jorge Salas said during a televised ceremony on Monday night, Reuters reported.

Earlier in the day, Fujimori said she would recognize the official result “because it is what the law and the constitution that I have sworn to defend, mandates. The truth is going to come out anyway.”

“They have stolen thousands of votes from us,” Fujimori, the daughter of jailed former President Alberto Fujimori,told a news conference. She called on her followers to protest, reported Reuters.

“We have the right to mobilize … but in a peaceful manner and within the framework of the law,” she said.

The Organization of American States, the European Union and Britain have all said the election was clean. The U.S. Embassy in Lima sent a tweet, welcoming the announcement. “We value our close ties with Peru and hope to strengthen them with President elect Pedro Castillo after his inauguration on July 28,” the tweet said.

Castillo, in his first comments as president-elect, called for national unity. “I ask for effort and sacrifice in the struggle to make this a just and sovereign country,” he said.

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