- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Pilgrims urged to avoid flu

CAIRO | Egypt has become the latest country to warn vulnerable Muslims against pilgrimage to Mecca, after an Egyptian woman back from Saudi Arabia became the first swine flu death in the Middle East and Africa.

Egypt’s Health Ministry has warned the elderly, pregnant women, children and those suffering from chronic illness not to undertake the hajj, the official Middle East News Agency reported late Monday.

Upward of 2 million people are expected in Saudi Arabia during the next five months on pilgrimages to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina in the west part of the kingdom. The warning came ahead of a meeting of Arab health ministers in Cairo on Wednesday to coordinate arrangements and precautions to be taken during the pilgrimage season.

Egypt on Sunday reported its first death linked to swine flu after a 25-year-old woman returning from a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia died in a hospital.

In Iran, a health ministry official on Tuesday repeated calls for elderly Iranians and children to avoid traveling to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage as the number of confirmed swine flu cases in the Islamic republic rose to 16.

Saudi Arabia in June warned elderly Muslims and pregnant women against undertaking the hajj because of the threat of swine flu. Oman issued a similar warning on July 6.


Police clamp down to prevent protests

TEHRAN | Security forces and pro-government militiamen clamped down in the Iranian capital to prevent protests Tuesday as the country’s police chief warned that his forces would take a tough line if the opposition tries to take to the streets.

Plainclothes Basiji militiamen hit passers-by with batons on a crowded main Tehran street to ensure they wouldn’t gather, according to video posted online. A young woman in a head scarf can be seen arguing with the Basijis, who shove her.

Regular police were out in large numbers in parts of central Tehran, causing large traffic jams; but witnesses across the city, speaking to the Associated Press, did not report that any protests formed. There was no immediate report of arrests in the day’s clampdown.

Some opposition activists had called for demonstrations Tuesday to mark the passage of 30 days since the killing of Neda Agha Soltan, a 27-year-old woman fatallyshot during a Tehran demonstration on June 20. Her dying moments on the street were caught on video, and she was elevated to a symbol of the mass-protest movement that erupted after Iran’s disputed June 12 presidential election.


Khamenei wants deputy sacked

TEHRAN | Iran’s top authority wants President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to dismiss a senior official who has said Iran was friends with everyone, even the people of arch-foe Israel, a senior member of parliament said on Tuesday.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, re-elected for a second four-year term in a disputed presidential vote last month, has come under fire from fellow hard-liners for appointing Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie last Thursday as his first vice president.

The view of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that Mr. Mashaie should be dismissed “has been conveyed in a written way to the president,” said Mohammad-Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard, parliament’s first vice speaker, the ISNA news agency reported.

Mr. Aboutorabi-Fard is a leading conservative and is seen as close to Ayatollah Khamenei, who has endorsed Mr. Ahmadinejad’s victory in the June 12 election.


Islamists plotting attacks arrested

BEIRUT | The Lebanese army said Tuesday it had uncovered a militant Islamist network that had been plotting to carry out attacks against U.N. peacekeepers in southern Lebanon and against the army itself.

The army said it had detained the cell’s 10 members. A security source said the men belonged to the al Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam group, which fought a 15-week battle with the army in 2007.

The network, made up of members of different Arab origins, most from outside Lebanon, also planned to help “wanted terrorists” get out of the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp, where many of them are holed up.

The security source told Reuters news agency that the ringleader of the arrested group, a Syrian national, had been found with six forged passports. The army statement said the network was also plotting attacks outside Lebanon.

From wire dispatches and staff reports.

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