Briefly: Saudis say SARS-type virus is no threat to pilgrims

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RIYADH — Saudi Arabia’s health minister says a new respiratory virus related to SARS that has infected two people does not pose a threat to the more than 1 million Muslims set to embark on the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the kingdom.

Abdullah al-Rabeeah said Monday that the virus has been contained.

The germ is a coronavirus, from a family of viruses that cause the common cold as well as SARS, the severe acute respiratory syndrome that killed some 800 people, mostly in Asia, in a 2003 epidemic.

Global health officials suspect two victims from the Middle East may have caught it from animals.

The World Health Organization issued a global alert asking doctors to be on guard for any potential cases of the new virus, which also causes kidney failure.

IRAN

Ahmadinejad vows no retreat on nukes despite sanctions

TEHRAN — Iran will not back down on its nuclear program despite the problems caused by Western sanctions, including a dramatic slide in the value of its currency, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday.

“We are not a people to retreat on the nuclear issue,” he said at a news conference in Tehran. “If somebody thinks they can pressure Iran, they are certainly wrong and they must correct their behavior.”

He made the comments amid an accelerated slide in Iran’s currency, which has lost more than 80 percent of its value compared with a year ago, with 17 percent of its value shed on Monday alone.

The currency, the rial, slipped another 4 percent Tuesday to close at 36,100 to the dollar, according to exchange-tracking websites.

Mr. Ahmadinejad said the plunge is part of an economic “war” waged by the West on the Islamic republic and “a psychological war on the exchange market.”

Iran, he said, has sufficient foreign currency reserves.

Those reserves were estimated at about $100 billion at the end of last year, thanks to surging oil exports.

But the U.S. Treasury, which is monitoring the sanctions, says Iran’s foreign earnings have been cut by $5 billion a month under the Western economic measures.

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