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Syria’s Assad wins 4th term with 95% of vote, in election the West calls fraudulent

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(Last Updated On: May 28, 2021)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad won a fourth term in office with 95.1% of the votes in an election that will extend his rule over a country ruined by war but which opponents and the West say was marked by fraud.

Assad’s government says the election on Wednesday shows Syria is functioning normally despite the decade-old conflict, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven 11 million people – about half the population – from their homes.

Head of parliament Hammouda Sabbagh announced the results at a news conference on Thursday, saying voter turnout was around 78%, with more than 14 million Syrians taking part.

The election went ahead despite a U.N.-led peace process that had called for voting under international supervision that would help pave the way for a new constitution and a political settlement.

The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the United States said in a statement criticising Assad ahead of the election that the vote would not be free or fair. Turkey, an Assad adversary, has also said the election was illegitimate.

The win delivers Assad, 55, seven more years in power and lengthens his family’s rule to nearly six decades. His father, Hafez al-Assad, led Syria for 30 years until his death in 2000.

Assad’s years as president have been defined by the conflict that began in 2011 with peaceful protests before spiralling into a multi-sided conflict that has fractured the Middle Eastern country and drawn in foreign friends and enemies.

“Thank you to all Syrians for their high sense of nationalism and their notable participation. … For the future of Syria’s children and its youth, let’s start from tomorrow our campaign of work to build hope and build Syria,” Assad wrote on his campaign’s Facebook page.

Assad’s biggest challenge, now that he has regained control of around 70% of the country, will be an economy in decline.

Tightening U.S. sanctions, neighbouring Lebanon’s financial collapse, the COVID-19 pandemic hitting remittances from Syrians abroad and the inability of allies Russia and Iran to provide enough relief, mean prospects for recovery look poor.

Rallies with thousands of people waving Syrian flags and holding pictures of Assad while singing and dancing took place all day Thursday in celebration of the election.

Officials have told Reuters privately that authorities organised the large rallies in recent days to encourage voting, and the security apparatus that underpins Assad’s Alawite minority-dominated rule had instructed state employees to vote.

The vote was boycotted by the U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces who administer an autonomous oil-rich region in the northeast and in northwestern Idlib region, the last existing rebel enclave, where people denounced the election in large demonstrations on Wednesday.

Assad was running against two obscure candidates, former deputy Cabinet minister Abdallah Saloum Abdallah and Mahmoud Ahmed Marei, head of a small, officially sanctioned opposition party.

Marei got 3.3% of the vote, while Saloum received 1.5%, Sabbagh said.

World

Indonesia Semeru volcanic eruption kills 13; dozens injured

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(Last Updated On: December 5, 2021)

The eruption of Indonesia’s Semeru volcano has killed at least 13 people and injured dozens, the disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) said on Sunday, as search teams looked for victims in a landscape covered in deep layers of ash.

Semeru, the tallest mountain on Java island, threw up towers of ash and hot clouds on Saturday that blanketed nearby villages in East Java province and sent people fleeing in panic, Reuters reported.

The eruption severed a strategic bridge connecting two areas in the nearby district of Lumajang with the city of Malang and wrecked buildings, authorities said.

BNPB official Abdul Muhari said in a news release that 13 people had been killed. Ninety-eight were injured, including two pregnant women, and 902 have been evacuated, the statement said.

Most injuries were burns, authorities said.

Indonesia President Joko Widodo has ordered authorities to find and treat victims, the state secretary said.

Semeru had started emitting hot clouds and lava flows near its rivers recently, and the country’s volcanology center had warned people not to go near it since Wednesday, it said.

In 2010, an eruption of the Merapi volcano on Java island killed over 350 people and displaced 400,000.

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Pakistan receives $3 billion loan from Saudi Arabia

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(Last Updated On: December 5, 2021)

Pakistan on Saturday received a $3 billion loan from Saudi Arabia, the prime minister’s finance adviser said, as part of an economic support package.

The South Asian country has faced growing economic challenges, with high inflation, sliding forex reserves, a widening current account deficit and a depreciating currency, Reuters reported.

Pakistan’s total liquid foreign reserves stand at $22,498.8 million, based on central bank data.

Shaukat Tarin, finance adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan, said in a tweet: “I want to thank His Excellency Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the kind gesture.”

The loan from Saudi Arabia will be for one year at a 4% interest rate under the terms of the package, which was signed last month, Reuters reported.

“This is positive news … and will help bolster both the foreign exchange reserves and sentiments in the forex market,” Saad Hashemy, executive director at BMA Capital said.

The loan comes a week after the International Monetary Fund agreed with Pakistan on measures needed to revive a stalled $6 billion funding program.

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Uzbekistan’s Samarkand city named 2023 World Tourism Capital

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(Last Updated On: December 5, 2021)

Uzbekistan’s historic city of Samarkand was chosen as the 2023 World Tourism Capital at the 24th General Assembly of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in Spain, Uzbekistan’s Tourism and Sports Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

Samarkand will host the 25th General Assembly of the UNWTO, which will be a “historic event” as it marks the first time in history that the gathering will be held in Uzbekistan, read the statement.

The summit in Madrid was attended by a delegation led by Uzbekistan’s Tourism and Sports Minister Aziz Abdukhakimov, who is also the country’s deputy prime minister.

The opportunity to host a UN organization meeting for the first time is the result of the Uzbek government’s policies and efforts to develop tourism in the country, the statement added.

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