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Iran warns UK against escalating tensions, says crew of seized ship safe

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President of Iran Hassan Rouhani addresses the crowd during his visit in Semnan, Iran on December 4, 2018.

IRANIAN PRESIDENCY / HANDOUT | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Iran on Sunday urged Britain to contain “domestic political forces” intent on escalating tensions between the two countries following Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker.

Britain has called Iran’s capture of the Stena Impero in the Gulf on Friday a “hostile act” and rejected Tehran’s explanation that it seized the vessel because it had been involved in an accident.

The “UK government should contain those domestic political forces who want to escalate existing tension between Iran and the UK well beyond the issue of ships. This is quite dangerous and unwise at a sensitive time in the region,”

Iran’s envoy to Britain Hamid Baeidinejad said on Twitter. “Iran however is firm and ready for different scenarios,” he said.

A day earlier British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said Tehran’s actions showed “worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour after Gibraltar’s legal detention of oil bound for Syria.”

The crew of the tanker seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are all safe, the head of the Ports and Maritime Organisation in Hormozgan Province told state TV on Sunday.

“All 23 crew members aboard the ship are safe and in good health in Bandar Abbas port,” Allahmorad Afifipour said.

SANCTIONS

Afifipour said the seized tanker “risked maritime safety” in the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost a fifth of the world’s annual oil consumption passes.

“We are required by regulations to investigate the issue … the duration of the investigation depends on the level of cooperation by the involved parties,” said Afifipour.

The seizure has heightened tension between Iran and Britain, which is a party to Iran’s 2015 multinational nuclear deal. The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on Saturday that London was planning to target Iran with sanctions in the aftermath of the tanker seizure.

In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, Britain said the tanker was approached by Iranian forces in Omani territorial waters where it was exercising its lawful right of passage, and that the action “constitutes illegal interference.”

Stena Bulk, the vessel’s Sweden-based owners, said it is preparing a formal request to visit the crew, who are from India, Latvia, the Philippines and Russia. India has called on Iran to release the 18 Indian crew members.

Tehran for weeks has vowed to retaliate for the seizure by Royal Marines of the tanker Grace 1 carrying Iranian oil near Gibraltar on July 4 which was suspected of violating sanctions on Syria.

“The Revolutionary Guards responded to Britain’s hijacking of the Iranian tanker,” parliament speaker Ali Larijani told a parliament session aired live on state radio.

U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the nuclear agreement with Iran last year and reimposed and tightened sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors.

WAIVERS

Waivers allowing eight countries to keep buying Iranian oil – China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey – expired on May 2.

Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if it cannot export its oil because of the sanctions but cannot legally do so as part of the waterway is in Oman’s territorial waters.

Oman has urged Iran to release the Stena Impero, calling on all parties to exercise restraint and resolve differences diplomatically, state broadcaster Oman TV News reported on Sunday. 

Ships using the Strait also pass through Iranian waters, which are under the responsibility of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Navy.

“Iran is displaying its power without entering a military confrontation.

This is the result of America’s mounting pressure on Iran, ” said an Iranian official, who asked not to be identified.

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Bollywood’s Deepika Padukone’s battle with mental illness, depression

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Bollywood star Deepika Padukone has spoken out about her battle with depression, calling for greater public discussion to help tackle the mental health crisis.

Padukone, who is one of India’s highest-paid actresses, said her experience during a seeming “professional high” revealed the illness’ indiscriminatory nature and inspired her to campaign for other sufferers.

“Mental illness crept up on me when I least expected it,” Padukone said last week.

“The perception and the general understanding was that I was at a professional high,” she said last Tuesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “But what I was also experiencing was this hollow, empty, pittish feeling … I would just cry out of nowhere.”

Padukone was diagnosed with depression in 2014.

The 34-year-old celebrity, who has over 30 movies to her name, said she considered herself lucky that her mother had spotted her symptoms and urged her to seek medical help.

Indian actress Deepika Padukone delivers her acceptance speech during the “Crystal Award” ceremony at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, on January 20, 2020.

Fabrice Coffrini

However, she noted that stigma and lack of awareness surrounding mental illness can make it difficult for sufferers to reach out. In India alone, an estimated 7.5% of the population suffers from some kind of mental illness, according to the World Health Organization, yet provisions remain scarce.

That inspired Padukone to set up the Live, Love, Laugh Foundation in 2015 to support other sufferers. The charity aims to spread awareness of mental health issues, having launched India’s first national campaign, as well as working to help people reach diagnoses.

Learning to understand what she was experiencing was the first step to recovery, Padukone said. She encouraged potential sufferers and the people around them to look out for telltale signs of depression, such as prolonged feelings of sadness, sleeping and eating irregularities, as well as suicidal thoughts.

“The toughest part in the journey for me was not understanding what I was feeling,” said Padukone. “Just having the diagnoses in itself felt like a massive relief.”

Padukone was speaking at the WEF meeting — a gathering of global business leaders and policymakers — where she was honored with the 2020 Crystal Award for her contributions to mental health awareness.

In 2018, she was named as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year.

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More US service members diagnosed with brain injury after Iran missile attack

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A picture taken on January 13, 2020 during a press tour organised by the US-led coalition fighting the remnants of the Islamic State group, shows a view of the damage at Ain al-Asad military airbase housing US and other foreign troops in the western Iraqi province of Anbar.

Ayman Henna | AFP | Getty Images

A total of 50 U.S. service members suffered traumatic brain injury from this month’s Iranian missile attack on Iraqi bases hosting American troops, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

Of those TBI cases, which can include concussions, 31 were treated in Iraq and have returned to duty, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell said in a statement.

Last week, the Pentagon said there were 34 service members diagnosed with concussions and traumatic brain injuries.

Of the 16 new diagnosed cases, 15 service members have returned to duty in Iraq, Campbell said.

Iran launched ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq housing American troops on Jan. 8 local time. The strike was in retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iran’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was commander of its elite Quds Force, in a drone attack outside Baghdad’s airport less than a week before.

No one was killed in Iran’s strikes, and a day after targeting U.S. forces, President Donald Trump said that no one was hurt or killed.

Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman has said that a lot of TBI symptoms are late developing and manifest themselves over a period of time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website that some symptoms of concussions and other traumatic brain injury can appear right away, but other symptoms may not be noticed for days or months after the injury.

One of those new cases involved a service member transported to Germany for further evaluation and treatment, bringing the total taken there to 18. That person had been taken to Germany “for other health reasons and has since been diagnosed with a TBI,” Campbell said.

Last week, another Pentagon spokesman said that eight U.S. service members who were sent to Germany were then taken to the United States.

Campbell’s statement Tuesday said that there was no information as to whether anyone else has returned to the U.S.

A service member that had been taken to Kuwait for treatment has since returned to duty, Campbell said.

Hours after Iran launched missiles against U.S. forces, Iran’s armed forces shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane that departed from Tehran’s airport, in an incident that Iranian officials blamed on “human error” and which Iran’s president has called an “unforgivable mistake.”

All 176 people aboard Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 were killed, including many Iranians and Canadians.

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Global dissatisfaction with democracy at a record high, research says

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Pro-democracy protesters at a Thanksgiving Day rally on November 28, 2019 in Hong Kong.

Chris McGrath | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The world is unhappier with democracy than ever, new research has claimed.

In a report published Wednesday, researchers from Cambridge University analyzed the political sentiment of more than 4 million people, using data from survey projects that covered 154 countries between 1995 and 2020.

The proportion of people who said they were dissatisfied with democracy over the last year hit 57.5%, according to the report, with researchers saying 2019 marked “the highest level of democratic discontent” on record.

Authors noted that over the last 25 years, the number of individuals dissatisfied with democratic politics around the world rose from a third to more than half.

Shifts in satisfaction levels were often a response to “objective circumstances and events” such as economic shocks and corruption scandals, the report said.

Following the financial crisis in 2008, for example, global dissatisfaction with the functioning of democracy jumped by around 6.5%.

Many large democracies, including the U.S., Australia, U.K. and Brazil, were now at their highest-ever level of dissatisfaction with democracy.

According to the report, the U.S. in particular had seen a “dramatic and unexpected” decline in satisfaction with democracy.

When the surveys began in 1995, more than 75% of U.S. citizens were satisfied with American democracy. The first big knock came with the financial crisis, the report showed, and satisfaction has continued to deteriorate year-on-year ever since.

Fewer than 50% of Americans are now content with democracy in their country, marking the first time on record that a majority of U.S. citizens were dissatisfied with their system of government.

“Such levels of democratic dissatisfaction would not be unusual elsewhere,” the report said. “But for the United States, it marks an ‘end of exceptionalism’ — a profound shift in America’s view of itself, and therefore, of its place in the world.”

However, researchers noted that they had found an “island of contentment” in Europe, where satisfaction with democracy had reached all-time highs. Denmark, Switzerland and Norway were among the countries that fell into that category.

Southeast Asia was also described as a regional “bright spot.”

Latin American precedent

Speaking to CNBC in a phone call on Monday, Roberto Foa, lead author of the report, said there were a number of different factors behind the declining approval of democracy.

“In developed democracies, it’s partly about political polarization — this has been gradual in the U.S. but has spiked in the last couple of years in the U.K.,” he said. “Malaise with democracy in the West is often down to longer term economic stagnation and loss of geopolitical influence.”

He noted there was a reasonable amount of research suggesting a rise in unhappiness with democracy tended to provoke changes in political behavior. For example, people would become more likely to vote for populist parties or politicians promising to “shake up the system.”

“We expect a great deal more of this,” Foa told CNBC. “The region that proves this is Latin America — the levels of dissatisfaction have always been very high and we’re seeing (a rise in populist support) there.”

He added that the rest of history could “look more like the south of the Americas than the north” if global satisfaction levels continued to decline.

Cambridge University’s study follows a report published by the Economist Intelligence Unit last week, which found that the U.S. had a “flawed democracy” and the strength of global democracy was at its lowest since 2006.

Meanwhile, research from Edelman last week found that 70% of people around the world believed democracy was “losing its effectiveness as a form of government.”

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