Two explosions have killed at least 103 people and injured scores more at a memorial ceremony in Iran marking the fourth anniversary of the US killing of Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force and one of the most powerful men in the Middle East.
A senior official called the blasts a “terroristic” attack, without elaborating on who could be behind them.
Eyewitness reports spoke of two explosions 10 minutes apart in the south-central city of Kerman, while some reports spoke of four different explosions, suggesting that the incident was a highly sophisticated attack.
According to Irna news, the first explosion occurred 700 metres (0.4 miles) from Suleimani’s burial place and the second was one kilometre (0.6 miles) away.
State-run media in Iran cited Babak Yektaparast, a spokesperson for the country’s emergency service, as saying 73 people had been killed and 170 wounded. State television later reported that the death toll had climbed to 103.
Initially, local officials said it was not known if the explosions were owing to gas canisters, or suicide bombers. Later officials said the explosions occurred in two bombs that were detonated remotely, and classified the incident as terrorism.
The blasts occurred on the roads leading to Golzar Shohada, the Garden of Martyrs cemetery in Kerman. Suleimani’s body is buried in the cemetery along with 1,024 other people regarded as martyrs, and the site has become a place of pilgrimage for supporters of the so-called “axis of resistance” against the US and the west.
Suleimani was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad in 2020 and was seen as the leader directing Iranian proxy forces in Iraq and Syria.
It was not immediately clear if the apparent attack was a result of an domestic group or a group directed by Israel.
Iran only recently said it had eradicated a group backed by the Mossad, the Israeli state secret service.
A representative of Kerman province accused agents of Israel of committing the offence, the first elected representative reported to make such an attribution. Sepatately, Kianush Jahanpur, the former spokesman of Iran’s health ministry, said on social media: “The answer to this crime should only be in Tel Aviv, Haifa.”
Some analysts said it was unusual for Israel to undertake a generalised attack on civilians with no high-level military targets and so did not fit a previous pattern of behaviour in what Israel has done to date inside Iran. Israel rarely comments on international operations.
On 25 December, an Israeli airstrike in Syria killed a top commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), prompting Tehran to threaten that Israel would “certainly pay” for its actions.
Iranian state media identified the commander as Razi Mousavi, a senior adviser of the Quds Force, saying he had been killed in an airstrike near the Syrian capital, Damascus.
Israel has in the past carried out the targeted assassinations of nuclear scientists involved in Iran’s nuclear programme.
Hospitals in Kerman and surrounding areas have been put on alert to treat the injured.
Indian train travels over 70km sans driver
The Indian Railways has ordered an investigation after a freight train travelled more than 70km (43.4 miles) without drivers.
Videos shared on social media showed the train zooming past several stations at high speed.
Reports say the train ran without a driver from Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir to Hoshiarpur district in Punjab on Sunday.
The railways says the train was brought to a halt and no-one was hurt.
Officials told the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency that the incident took place between 07:25 and 09:00 local time (01:55 and 3:30 GMT) on Sunday.
The 53-wagon train, carrying stone chips, was on its way to Punjab from Jammu when it stopped in Kathua for a change in crew.
Officials say it began moving down a slope on the railway tracks after the train driver and his assistant got off.
The train moved at a speed of nearly 100km/h and managed to cross about five stations before it was stopped.
Soon after being alerted about the moving train, officials closed off railway crossings along its path.
“The train was stopped after a railway official placed wood blocks on the tracks to stop the train,” officials told PTI.
The wooden blocks helped reduce the speed of the train.
Officials told PTI they are trying to identify the exact reason for the train’s movement after it stopped at Kathua to avoid such incidents in the future.
Tamil Nadu bans cotton candy over cancer risk
Can cotton candy give you cancer?
Some Indian states think so and have banned the sale of the pink, wispy, sugary-sweet treat.
Last week, the southern state of Tamil Nadu implemented the ban after lab tests confirmed the presence of a cancer-causing substance, Rhodamine-B, in samples sent for testing.
Earlier this month, the union territory of Puducherry banned the sweet treat while other states have begun testing samples of it.
Cotton candy, also called buddi-ka-baal (old woman’s hair) in India because of its appearance, is popular with children the world over.
It’s a fixture in amusement parks, fairs and other places of entertainment frequented by children, who like it because of its sticky, melt-in-the-mouth texture.
But some Indian officials say that the candy is more sinister than it seems.
P Satheesh Kumar, food safety officer in Chennai city in Tamil Nadu, told The Indian Express newspaper that the contaminants in cotton candy “could lead to cancer and affect all organs of the body”.
His team raided candy sellers at a beach in the city last week. Mr Kumar said the sweet sold in the city was made by independent sellers and not registered factories.
A few days later, the government announced a ban on its sale after lab tests detected the presence of Rhodamine-B, a chemical compound, in the samples. The chemical imparts a fluorescent pink hue and is used to dye textiles, cosmetics and inks.
Studies have shown that the chemical can increase the risk of cancer and Europe and California have made its use as a food dye illegal.
While banning cotton candy in Tamil Nadu, Health Minister Ma Subramanian said in a statement that using Rhodamine-B in the “packaging, import, sale of food or serving food containing it at weddings and other public events would be punishable under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006”.
Taking a cue from Tamil Nadu, the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh has also reportedly started testing samples of the candy to check for the presence of the carcinogen.
And earlier this week, the New India Express newspaper reported that food safety officials in Delhi too were pushing for a ban on cotton candy.
Indian farmers say they will resume march to New Delhi
Protesting Indian farmers say they will resume marching to capital Delhi this week after rejecting a government proposal to buy some crops at assured prices on a five-year contract.
The protesters began marching last week but were stopped around 200km (125 miles) from Delhi.
Since then, farmer leaders were in talks with the government on their demands.
But on Monday night, they said the offer was “not in their interest”.
The government had proposed buying pulses, maize and cotton at guaranteed floor prices – also known as Minimum Support Price or MSP – through cooperatives for five years.
But the farmers say that they will stand by their demand of a “legal guarantee for MSP on all 23 crops”.
“We appeal to the government to either resolve our issues or remove barricades and allow us to proceed to Delhi to protest peacefully,” Jagjit Singh Dallewal, a farm union leader, told local media.
They say they will resume marching from Wednesday.
Farmers form an influential voting bloc in India and and analysts say the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be keen not to anger or alienate them. His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seeking a third consecutive term in power in general elections this year.
Last week, authorities clashed with the protesters, firing tear gas and plastic bullets at them in a bid to halt the march. They fear a repeat of 2020, when thousands of farmers camped at Delhi’s borders for months, forcing the government to repeal controversial agricultural reforms.
The latest round of protests began on Wednesday, when farmers from Haryana and Punjab started marching to Delhi. They say the government did not keep promises made during the 2020-21 protest, and also have demands including pensions and a debt waiver.
But their most important demand is a law guaranteeing a support price for crops.
India introduced the MSP system in the 1960s – first for only wheat and later other essential crops – in a bid for food security.
Supporters of MSP say it is necessary to protect farmers against losses due to fluctuation in prices. They argue that the resulting income boost will allow farmers to invest in new technologies, improve productivity and protect cultivators from being fleeced by middlemen.
But critics say the system needs an overhaul as it is not sustainable and will be disastrous for government finances. They also say that it will be ruinous for the agricultural sector in the long run, leading to over-cultivation and storage issues.
Since last week, federal minister Piyush Goyal and other government officials had held four rounds of talks with the farmers. On Sunday, Mr Goyal told journalists that the discussions had been “positive” and that the government was devising an “out-of-the-box” solution to benefit farmers, consumers and the economy.
But on Monday, farmer leaders said they were dissatisfied with the way the talks were being held, claiming that there was no “transparency”.
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