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Iran

Iran - US Consular Information Sheet
July 1, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Iran is a constitutional Islamic republic with a theocratic system of government where ultimate political authority is vested in a religious scholar, the Supreme Leader

Shia Islam is the official religion of Iran, and Islamic law is the basis of the authority of the state.
The Iranian Constitution guarantees freedom of worship to Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, though they are sometimes the subject of discrimination and repression.
The workweek in Iran is Saturday through Thursday; however, many government offices and private companies are closed on Thursdays.
Friday is the day of rest when all establishments are closed.
Offices in Iran are generally open to the public during the morning hours only.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Iran for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Should you decide to travel to Iran despite the current Travel Warning, a passport and visa are required, except for travel to Kish Island.
To obtain a visa, contact the Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Pakistan located at 2209 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20007; tel. 202-965-4990, 91, 92, 93, 94, 99, fax 202-965-1073, 202-965-4990 (Automated Fax-On-Demand after office hours).
Their web site is http://www.daftar.org/Eng/default.asp?lang=eng.

U.S. citizens traveling to Iran are being fingerprinted upon entry.
The Iranian press has reported that foreign tourists may obtain seven-day tourist visas at the airport in Tehran.
However, U.S. citizens are not eligible to receive these visas and have to obtain valid visas from the Iranian Interests Section in Washington.
Note:
possession of a valid Iranian visa will not guarantee entry into the country.
Some American travelers with valid visas have been refused entry at the border without explanation.
U.S. citizens do not have to obtain a visa for travel from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to Kish Island.
U.S. passports are valid for travel to Iran.
However, the Iranian government does not recognize dual nationality and will treat U.S.-Iranian dual nationals solely as Iranian citizens.
Thus, U.S. citizens who were born in Iran, who became naturalized citizens of Iran (e.g. through marriage to an Iranian citizen), and children of such persons—even those without Iranian passports who do not consider themselves Iranian—are considered Iranian nationals by Iranian authorities.
Therefore, despite the fact that these individuals hold U.S. citizenship, under Iranian law, they must enter and exit Iran on an Iranian passport, unless the Iranian government has recognized a formal renunciation or loss of Iranian citizenship.
Dual nationals may be subject to harsher legal treatment than a visitor with only American citizenship.
(See section on Special Circumstances below.)
In the past, U.S.-Iranian dual nationals have been denied permission to enter/depart Iran using their U.S. passport; they have also had their U.S. passports confiscated upon arrival or departure.
(Depending on the circumstances, the individuals were sometimes able to retrieve their U.S. passports after renouncing their Iranian citizenship.)
Recently, Iranian authorities have prevented a number of Iranian-American citizen academics, journalists, and others who traveled to Iran for personal reasons from leaving, and in some cases have detained and imprisoned them on various charges, including espionage and being a threat to the regime.
Americans of Iranian origin should consider the risk of being targeted by authorities before planning travel to Iran.
Iranian authorities may deny dual nationals’ access to the United States Interests Section in Tehran, because they are considered to be solely Iranian citizens.

As a precaution, however, it is advisable for U.S.-Iranian dual nationals to obtain in their Iranian passports the necessary visas for the country which they will transit upon their return to the U.S. so that, if their U.S. passports are confiscated in Iran, they may depart Iran with their Iranian passport.
These individuals can then apply for a new U.S. passport in that third country.

Dual nationals whose U.S. passports are confiscated may also obtain a “Confirmation of Nationality” from the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of Switzerland, which is the U.S. protecting power.
This statement, addressed to the relevant foreign embassies in Tehran, enables the travelers to apply for third-country visas in Tehran.
Dual nationals finding themselves in this situation should note in advance that the Swiss Embassy would issue this statement only after the traveler's U.S. nationality is confirmed and after some processing delay.
Dual nationals must enter and depart the United States on U.S. passports.

Visa extensions are time-consuming and must be filed at least one week in advance of the expiration date.
As of March 21, 2006, a foreign national and anyone accompanying him/her will pay a fine of 300,000 rials or 30,000 ottomans per day for each day of unauthorized stay in Iran.

All Iranian nationals, including U.S.-Iranian dual nationals, must have an exit permit stamped in their Iranian passports in order to depart Iran.
The stamp is affixed to the Iranian passport when it is issued and remains valid until the expiration date of the passport.
All Iranian nationals residing abroad and in Iran, including U.S.-Iranian dual nationals, are now required to pay an exit tax regardless of the duration of their stay in Iran.
More specific information on Iranian passport and exit visa requirements may be obtained from the Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, D.C.
Non-Iranian-national women who marry Iranian citizens gain Iranian nationality upon marriage.
If the marriage takes place in Iran, the woman’s American passport will be confiscated by Iranian authorities.
They must have the consent of their husbands to leave Iran or, in his absence, must gain the permission of the local prosecutor.
Iranian law combined with the lack of diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran means that the U.S. Interests Section in Tehran can provide only very limited assistance if an American woman married to an Iranian man has marital difficulties and/or encounters difficulty in leaving Iran.

After divorce or death of the husband, a foreign-born woman has the choice to renounce her Iranian citizenship but any of the couple’s children will automatically be Iranian citizens and their citizenship is irrevocable.
They will be required to enter and depart Iran on Iranian passports.
For a divorce to be recognized it should be carried out in Iran or, if outside Iran, in accordance with Sharia law.
Upon divorce, custody of the children normally goes to the mother until the child reaches age 7, at which point custody is automatically transferred to the father.
However, if the courts determine that the father is unsuitable to raise the children, they may grant custody to the paternal grandfather or to the mother, if the mother has not renounced her Iranian citizenship and is normally resident in Iran.
If the courts grant custody to the mother, she will need permission from the paternal grandfather or the courts to obtain exit visas for the minor children (under age 18) to leave the country.
Iran is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
Please see the Department of State’s International Parental Child Abduction flyer on Iran for further information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
U.S. citizens who travel to Iran despite the Travel Warning should exercise caution throughout the country, but especially in the southeastern region where westerners have been victims of criminal gangs often involved in the smuggling of drugs and other contraband.
American citizens should avoid travel to areas within 100 kilometers of the border with Afghanistan, within 10 kilometers of the border with Iraq, and generally anywhere east of the line from Bam and Bandar Abbas toward the Pakistan border.

Terrorist explosions have killed a number of people since 2005.
Be aware that the Iranian government has blamed the U.S. and/or UK governments for involvement in the February 2007 bombing that killed Iranian military forces in Zahedan in the southeast and the 2005/2006 bombings in Ahvaz/Khuzestan in the southwest.
A number of British firms were damaged in attacks in August and November 2005.

U.S. citizens are advised to avoid demonstrations and large public gatherings.
Increased tension between Iran and the West over the past several years is a cause of concern for American travelers.

Iranian security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance.
Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.
Photography near military and other government installations is strictly prohibited and could result in serious criminal charges, including espionage, which carries the death penalty.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the Travel Warning for Uzbekistan and the Worldwide Caution can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security, including safety and security in Iran, can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Major crime is generally not a problem for travelers in Iran, although foreigners occasionally have been victims of petty street crime.
Young men in unmarked cars have robbed foreigners and young men on motor bikes have snatched bags.
There have been reports of robberies by police impersonators, usually in civilian clothing.
Insist on seeing the officer’s identity card and request the presence of a uniformed officer/marked patrol car.
Travelers should not surrender any documents or cash.

Travelers should not carry large amounts of hard currency.
In view of the possibility of theft, passports, disembarkation cards, other important documents and valuables should be kept in hotel safes or other secure locations.
Pre-booked taxis are safer than those hailed from the street.
Americans should check with their hotel or tour guide for information on local scams.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran or the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Because of the lack of a U.S. Embassy in Iran, the processing time for a replacement passport takes longer at the U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy than elsewhere.

If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Interests Section for assistance.
The staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, Swiss Embassy officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent of the “911” emergency line in Iran is as follows:
115 for ambulance service, 125 for fire and 110 for police.
English speakers, however, are generally unavailable. See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Basic medical care and medicines are available in the principal cities, but may not be available in rural areas.
Medical facilities do not meet U.S. standards and sometimes lack medicines and supplies.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
In 2006, there were reports of Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, mostly in the southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan province.
See www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs208/en for more information.
Iranian authorities have confirmed outbreaks of avian influenza (bird flu) in January 2008 in northern Iran, as well as earlier reports among wild swans in the Anzali Wetlands and in domestic poultry in the northern provinces of Azerbaijan and Gilan.
There have been a number of fatalities from avian flu reported in eastern Turkey, 45 kilometers from the Iranian border.
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Iran is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:
Travelers in possession of International Driver’s Permits may drive in Iran, though the U.S. Interests Section in Iran does not recommend that tourists drive in Iran.
Iran has a very high rate of traffic accidents, the second highest cause of mortality in the country.
Drivers throughout Iran tend to ignore traffic lights, traffic signs and lane markers.
Urban streets are not well lit.
It is therefore particularly dangerous to drive at night.
Sidewalks in urban areas only exist on main roads and are usually obstructed by parked cars.
In the residential areas, few sidewalks exist.
Drivers almost never yield to pedestrians at crosswalks.
If you are involved in an accident, no matter how minor, do not leave the scene.
Wait until the police arrive to file a report.

Iranian authorities sometimes set up informal roadblocks, both in cities and on highways, often manned by young, inexperienced officers.
They are often suspicious of foreigners.
Ensure you carry a form of identification with you and avoid getting into disputes.
Pollution levels from cars are very high, particularly in Tehran, which can trigger respiratory problems. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the U.S. by carriers registered in Iran, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Government of Iran’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
Civil aviation in Iran continues to experience air incidents and accidents, including five crashes with fatalities between April 20, 2005, and November 27, 2006.
Incidents have included engine failure and planes veering off the runway.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
The Iranian Government has seized the passports and blocked the departure of foreigners who work in Iran on tax/commercial disputes.

In addition to being subject to all Iranian laws, U.S. citizens who also possess Iranian citizenship may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on citizens of Iran, such as military service or taxes. Iranian-citizen males aged 18-34 are required to perform military service, unless exempt.
Iranian-Americans, even those born in the U.S., are included.

Dual nationals sometimes have their U.S. passports confiscated and may be denied permission to leave Iran, or encounter other problems with Iranian authorities.
Likewise, Iranian authorities may deny dual nationals’ access to the U.S. Interests Section in Tehran, because they are considered to be solely Iranian citizens.
Refer to the above section entitled "Entry/Exit Requirements" for additional information concerning dual nationality.

U.S. citizens who are not dual U.S.-Iran nationals are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passport (biodata page and page with Iranian visa) with them at all times, so that if questioned by local officials, proof of U.S. citizenship is readily available.
Carry some other form of identification with you, such as a drivers license or other photo identification at all times as well.
Credit cards and bank cards are not widely accepted in Iran.
It is difficult to change dollars to rials in Iranian banks and you may not be able to access your U.S. bank accounts via the Internet from Iran.
You will not be able to access your U.S. bank accounts using ATMs in Iran.
Travelers checks can be difficult to exchange.
Bring enough hard currency to cover your stay, but make sure you declare this currency upon entry.
There is no Western Union or similar institution and bank transfers may not be possible.
Exchange money only at banks or an authorized currency exchange facility, not on the street, and keep your exchange receipts.

Pre-paid overseas calling cards are available at most newsagents.
The Internet is widely used in Iran.
There are Internet cafes in most hotels.
Usage may be monitored.

Do not work illegally.
You will be deported, fined and/or imprisoned.
You may also be prevented from entering the country again.
Islamic law is strictly enforced in Iran.
Alcohol is forbidden. Importation of pork products is banned.
Consult a guide book on Iran to determine how to dress and behave properly and respectfully.
Women should expect to wear a headscarf and jacket that covers the arms and upper body while in public.
There may be additional dress requirements at certain religious sites, e.g., women might need to put on a chador (which covers the whole body except the face) at some shrines.
During the holy month of Ramadan, you should in general observe the Muslim tradition of not eating, drinking or smoking in public from sunrise to sunset each day, though there are exemptions for foreign travelers who eat in hotel restaurants.
(See the Criminal Penalties section below for more information.)
In general, it is best to ask before taking photographs of people.
Hobbies like photography and those involving the use of binoculars (e.g., bird-watching) can be misunderstood and get you in trouble with security officials.
(See the Safety and Security section above for warnings on photography.)
For specific information regarding Iranian customs regulations, contact the Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, DC.
Please see our Customs Information for U.S. regulations.
Most laptops are controlled items.
It is unlawful to bring controlled items into Iran, even on a temporary basis, unless specifically authorized by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in a manner consistent with the Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act of 1992 and other relevant law.
U.S. Government economic sanctions still govern imports of Iranian-origin goods and services and exports to Iran.
Except for carpets and foodstuffs, and information or informational materials and gifts valued at $100 or less, the importation of Iranian-origin goods or services into the United States is prohibited.
The exportation or re-exportation of goods, technology or services directly or indirectly from the United States or by a U.S. person to Iran also is prohibited, except in the following cases: articles donated to relieve human suffering (such as food, clothing and medicine), gifts valued at $100 or less, licensed exports of agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices, and trade in informational materials.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), Department of Treasury, provides guidance to the public on the interpretation of the current economic sanctions.
For further information, consult OFAC’s Compliance Programs Division, at 202-622-2490, visit the OFAC web site at http://www.treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/, or obtain information via fax at 202-622-0077.
For information concerning licensing of exports, contact OFAC’s Licensing Division at:

Licensing Division
Office of Foreign Assets Control
U.S. Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Treasury Annex
Washington, DC 20220
Telephone (202) 622-2480; Fax (202) 622-1657

Iran is prone to earthquakes.
Many people have died in recent years, most notably in the city of Bam in 2003, killing 30,000.
In February 2005, an earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale struck Zarand in southeast Iran.
In March 2006, several earthquakes occurred in Restan province, western Iran, killing around 100 and injuring 1200.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Iranian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Fines, public floggings, and long prison terms are common.
Former Muslims who have converted to other religions, as well as persons who encourage Muslims to convert, are subject to arrest and possible execution.
Drinking, possession of alcoholic beverages and drugs, un-Islamic dress, as well as public displays of affection with a member of the opposite sex are considered to be crimes.
Relations between non-Muslim men and Muslim women are illegal.
Adultery, sex outside of marriage and gay sex are all illegal under Iranian law and carry the death penalty.
DVDs depicting sexual relations and magazines showing unveiled women are forbidden.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Iran are severe and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Iran executes many people each year on drug-related charges.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

U.S. citizens in Iran who violate Iranian laws, including laws that are unfamiliar to Westerners (such as those regarding the proper wearing of apparel,) may face severe penalties.

The Iranian Government reportedly has the names of all individuals who filed claims against Iran at the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal at The Hague pursuant to the 1981 Algerian Accords.
In addition, the Iranian Government reportedly has compiled a list of the claimants who were awarded compensation in the Iran Claims Program administered by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission.
The Iranian government is allegedly targeting award-holders who travel to Iran.
It is reported that upon some claimants' entry into Iran, Iranian authorities question them as to the status of payment of their respective awards with a view to recouping the award money.
It is also reported that the Iranian Government has threatened to prevent U.S. claimants who visit Iran from departing the country until they make arrangements to repay part or all of their award.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION/U.S. INTERESTS SECTION LOCATION:
There is no U.S. Embassy or Consulate in Iran.
The Embassy of Switzerland serves as the protecting power for U.S. interests in Iran.
The U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy is currently located at Afrika Avenue, West Farzan Street, no. 59, Tehran.
The telephone numbers for the U.S. Interests Section are (98) 021-8878-2964 and 98-021-8879-2364, fax 98-021-8877-3265, email: tie.vertretung@eda.admin.ch.
The workweek is Sunday through Thursday.
Public service hours are 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon.
The Interests Section does not issue U.S. visas or accept visa applications.
The limited consular services provided to U.S. citizens in Tehran include:
(a) registering U.S. citizens;
(b) answering inquiries concerning the welfare and whereabouts of U.S. citizens in Iran;
(c) rendering assistance in times of distress or physical danger;
(d) providing U.S. citizens with passport and Social Security card applications and other citizenship forms for approval at the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland;
(e) performing notarial services on the basis of accommodation; and,
(f) taking provisional custody of the personal effects of deceased U.S. citizens.
Americans living or traveling in Iran are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Iran.
They may also register on the web site of the U.S. Interests Section at www.eda.admin.ch/tehran.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate before flying to Iran.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the U.S. Interests Section to contact them in case of emergency.
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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated June 5, 2007, to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Special Circumstances, Criminal Penalties and Registration/U.S. Interests Section Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri 26 Jul 2019
Source: Tehran Times [edited]

More than 16,000 cases of brucellosis were diagnosed in Iran during the past Iranian calendar year (March 2018-March 2019), said Behzad Amiri, the head of the zoonotic diseases department at the Ministry of Health.

According to the WHO, brucellosis is a bacterial disease caused by various _Brucella_ species, which mainly infect cattle, swine, goats, sheep, and dogs. Humans generally acquire the disease through direct contact with infected animals, by eating or drinking contaminated animal products, or by inhaling airborne agents. Consumption of unpasteurized milk and dairies as well as contact with an animal or animal product infected with the _Brucella_ bacterium are the main causes of brucellosis, Amiri said.

Western, north-western, and north-eastern provinces are the most affected regions in Iran, he added. "Information dissemination to animal farmers as well as vaccination of livestock have been conducted in this region," he noted.

The disease has been reported in more than a half-million people each year in 100 countries, according to the WHO.

General symptoms of brucellosis are often vague and similar to influenza. They may include fever, back pain, body-wide aches and pains, poor appetite and weight loss, headache, night sweats, weakness, abdominal pain, and cough.
=====================
[This infection, a bacterial zoonosis, is classified among the category B biowarfare agents. Natural transmission to humans occurs after occupational exposure or through ingestion of contaminated food products. Although brucellosis has become a rare entity in the United States and many industrialized nations because of animal vaccination programs, this condition remains a significant health problem in many developing countries.

Each species of _Brucella_ has a specific animal reservoir in which chronic disease is present. The bacilli tend to localize in the reproductive organs of the animals, causing sterility and abortions, and are shed in large numbers in the animal's urine, milk, and placental fluid. This localization allows for efficient spread to farmers, veterinarians, slaughterhouse workers, and consumers.

Among the 4 species known to cause disease in humans, _Brucella melitensis_ (from goats, sheep, or camels) may be the most virulent, producing the most severe and acute cases of brucellosis with disabling complications. A prolonged course of illness, which may be associated with suppurative destructive lesions, is associated with _B. suis_ (from feral or commercially raised pigs) infection. _B. abortus_ (from cattle, buffalo, and camels) is associated with mild-to-moderate sporadic disease that is rarely associated with complications.

In the Maghreb and the Middle East, human brucellosis is usually contracted through consumption of raw goat/ewe's milk or local artisanal cheese made from raw milk, and _Brucella melitensis_ is responsible for the great majority of the reported cases, with a marked predominance of its biovar 3, as in other Mediterranean countries. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Mon, 8 Jul 2019 13:54:29 +0200

Tehran, July 8, 2019 (AFP) - A 5.7-magnitude earthquake struck southwest Iran near the border with Iraq on Monday, causing one death due to a heart attack and dozens of injuries, the country's relief and rescue organisation said.

The quake, whose epicentre was in the Masjed Soleiman area of Khuzestan province, hit at 11:30 am (0700 GMT) at a depth of 17 kilometres, the national seismological centre reported.   The region was rattled by seven aftershocks, the strongest of which measured 4.7 magnitude, it said.   At least 45 people were injured, the head of Iran's relief and rescue organisation, Morteza Salimi, told state TV.   "One citizen at Masjed Soleiman also passed away due to a heart-attack after the earthquake," Salimi said.   In nearby cities and villages affected by the quake, there were "only minor cracks in buildings" and roads to some villages were cut off.

Iran sits on top of major tectonic plates and sees frequent seismic activity.  In November 2017 a 7.3-magnitude tremor in the western province of Kermanshah killed 620 people.   In 2003, a 6.6-magnitude quake in southeast Iran decimated the ancient mud-brick city of Bam and killed at least 31,000 people.   Iran's deadliest quake was a 7.4-magnitude tremor in 1990 that killed 40,000 people in northern Iran, injured 300,000 and left half a million homeless.
Date: Sun, 30 Jun 2019 18:55:01 +0200

Tehran, June 30, 2019 (AFP) - Iran will no longer require Chinese visitors to obtain visas, state media reported Sunday, as the sanctions-hit country attempts to boost tourism in the face of an economic crisis.   "The cabinet has agreed to waive visa requirements for Chinese nationals entering the Islamic Republic of Iran," state news agency IRNA said.   Tourism board chief Ali Asghar Mounesan told IRNA that "we aim to host two million Chinese tourists per year using our country's numerous attractions."   He said the sector is "unsanctionable" and could help offset the economic hardships caused by tough sanctions Washington reinstated after withdrawing from a multilateral nuclear deal last year.   The sanctions have particularly targeted Iran's vital oil exports and international financial transactions, and were a major factor in the country's ongoing recession.

According to IRNA, some 52,000 Chinese tourists visited Iran during the 12 months to March.   In another bid to boost tourist arrivals, Iran recently announced it would no longer stamp visitors' passports, allowing them to bypass a US entry ban on travellers who have visited the Islamic Republic.   China is one of the remaining partners in the nuclear deal and has rejected the Trump administration's policy of seeking to cut Iranian oil exports to zero.   Tehran has threatened to abandon some of its commitments under the nuclear deal unless the remaining partners -- Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia -- help it circumvent US sanctions, especially on oil sales.
Date: Sun 2 Jun 2019
Source: Tehran Times [edited]

Since the beginning of the current Iranian calendar year [21 Mar 2019], 12 people have been diagnosed with Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever and 2 of them lost their lives, said Mohammad Mahdi Guya, the Director of Communicable Diseases Department at the Ministry of Health, ISNA reported on [Sat 1 Jun 2019].

The prevalence of Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever in the country has decreased to half in comparison to the same period during the last year, however the disease happens more in hot weather hence more precise statistics will be revealed in late summer, he explained.  The disease was spotted in the cities of Iranshahr, Zabol, Kermanshah, and Bandar Abbas as well as Gilan province, he said.  Those who work in slaughterhouses or keep livestock at their home and those who live in rural places are more endangered, he said.

The virus is primarily transmitted to people from ticks and livestock animals. Human-to-human transmission can occur resulting from close contact with the blood, secretions, organs, or other bodily fluids of infected persons.

The contact with meat which is frozen for more than 24 hours does not transmit the virus, he explained.  He also warned about nurses and medical staff who may [care for] a patient with Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, he said.  Well-cooked meat does not transmit the virus, however, eating raw meat may transmit the virus, he warned.

According to health ministry, annually, some 100 to 150 cases of Crimean-Congo fever are reported in Iran.

According to World Health Organization, the Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever virus causes severe viral hemorrhagic fever outbreaks. The CCHF is a widespread disease caused by a tick-borne virus. The CCHF virus causes severe viral hemorrhagic fever outbreaks, with a case fatality rate of 10-40 percent.
======================
[The report above mentions Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF) case numbers for 2019, beginning 21 Mar 2019 according to the Iranian calendar. Iran is one of the countries where CCHF has been endemic for many years and cases are reported form many provinces on a regular basis.

CCHF is a tick-borne zoonotic disease with high case fatality rates in humans and the potential to cause outbreaks. Of the epidemic-prone diseases prioritised by the WHO Research & Development (R&D) Blueprint; CCHF is the most widespread, found in around 30 countries across Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent and is expected to continue to expand its range (<https://www.who.int/blueprint/priority-diseases/key-action/crimean-congo-haemorrhagic-fever/en/>).

Although this roadmap focuses on the development of new or improved products and medical 36 countermeasures, other public health preparedness actions are also critical for successful prevention of CCHF epidemics. Foremost amongst these is the need for regional, national, and international surveillance, reporting not only human CCHF cases but also monitoring tick and animal reservoirs for evidence of CCHFV or seroconversion. This will require agreements and mechanisms 40 for data sharing in real time and cooperation and coordination between the human, animal, and environmental health sectors for the good of public-health disease control. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Iran:
Date: Fri, 17 May 2019 16:32:13 +0200

London, May 17, 2019 (AFP) - London warned British-Iranian dual nationals against all travel to Iran on Friday due to Tehran's "continued arbitrary detention and mistreatment" of such citizens.   The move comes as Britain continues to try to secure the release from jail of dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.   Tehran has also recently sentenced an Iranian British Council employee, Aras Amiri, to 10 years in prison on charges of spying.   In a statement, the Foreign Office said British-Iranian dual nationals faced an "unacceptably higher risk of arbitrary detention and mistreatment" than nationals of other countries.   "The security forces may be suspicious of people with British connections, including those with links to institutions based in the UK, or which receive public funds from, or have perceived links to, the British government," the statement said.   British-Iranian mother Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested by Iranian authorities in 2016 as she was leaving Tehran.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was put on trial and is now serving a five-year jail sentence for allegedly trying to topple the Iranian government.   "Dual nationals face an intolerable risk of mistreatment if they visit Iran," Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said.   "Despite the UK providing repeated opportunities to resolve this issue, the Iranian regime's conduct has worsened.   "Having exhausted all other options, I must now advise all British-Iranian dual nationals against travelling to Iran.   "The dangers they face include arbitrary detention and lack of access to basic legal rights, as we have seen in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been separated from her family since 2016."   The Iranian government does not recognise dual nationality, meaning the Foreign Office's ability to provide consular support is limited.   Hunt added: "Regrettably, I must also offer a message of caution to Iranian nationals resident in the UK -- but who return to visit family and friends -- especially where the Iranian government may perceive them to have personal links to UK institutions or the British government."
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 20 Aug 2019 05:21:07 +0200 (METDST)

Bangkok, Aug 20, 2019 (AFP) - At least 13 Chinese tourists were killed and dozens injured when their bus skidded off the road and plunged 30 metres into a ravine in Laos, a police officer said Tuesday.   The bus was carrying more than 40 Chinese nationals heading towards the tourist town of Luang Prabang when the accident occurred late on Monday.   "At this moment, 13 bodies have been recovered... while two are still missing," police officer Xaiyaphon Chitavong told AFP, blaming brake failure for the accident.   He added that 31 people were receiving medical treatment.    Chinese state media showed photos of rescuers wading through ankle-deep floodwaters.

Traffic accidents in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar are common, with safety regulations often flouted and law enforcement low.    The monsoon season from June to October also drenches rural roads with heavy rains creating slippery conditions.   Tourism to communist-run Laos has grown in recent years, and visitors from China increased by 13 percent in the first half of 2019 compared to the year before, according to the state-backed Vientiane Times.
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 20:57:15 +0200 (METDST)

Bukavu, DR Congo, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - A child has died from Ebola in DR Congo's South Kivu, health authorities said Monday, the second person to succumb to the virus since the epidemic spread to the eastern province.   The announcement last week of the first confirmed cases in South Kivu revived concerns that the highly contagious disease could cross the porous borders of the central African country, where it has claimed more than 1,900 lives since August last year.   "A seven-year-old child died yesterday (Sunday) of Ebola" in South Kivu's Mwenga region, said Claude Bahizire, communication officer of South Kivu's provincial health division.

The first death in South Kivu was a woman in her twenties who evaded movement controls to travel from the North Kivu town of Beni, the epicentre of the outbreak, to South Kivu's capital Bukavu and then Mwenga.    She died on Wednesday, and her seven-month-old son has been diagnosed with the virus and is receiving treatment.   Bahizire said that "two other suspected cases, two women, have been detected and admitted to Bukavu's transit centre".   The two women "were in contact with the woman who died last week while she was staying in Bukavu on the way to Mwenga," he added.

The outbreak of the haemorrhagic virus began in North Kivu on August 1, 2018 and spread to Ituri province.   The health ministry also announced that "a new health zone had been assigned in North Kivu".   A confirmed case of Ebola has been recorded in North Kivu's Pinga region, in Walikale territory, a source said without providing further details.   According to the latest numbers published on Sunday, 1,934 people have since died, while 862 have been cured.

The latest outbreak is the second-deadliest on record after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014-2016.   Also on Monday, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on the nine countries that share a border with DR Congo to show solidarity to stop the spread of Ebola.   "We now have an Ebola vaccine that is more than 97 percent effective and treatments that are more than 90 per cent effective if used early enough," he said in Republic of Congo capital Brazzaville.
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 19:48:07 +0200 (METDST)
By Alain JEAN-ROBERT

Paris, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - French construction workers wearing protective masks returned to the site of stricken Notre-Dame cathedral on Monday after a three-week pause due to the risk of lead contamination.   Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud was given a tour of the scorched monumet wearing a white protective suit while workers could again be seen surveying the structure which was left damaged and weakened in a massive fire in April.

Restoration of the cathedral has yet to begin with efforts focused entirely on securing the building. The culture ministry has warned it is still at risk of collapse.   Efforts to remove lead from the area around Notre-Dame began last week after alarm grew over the presence of the toxic metal.   Hundreds of tonnes of lead in the roof and steeple melted during the April 15 blaze that nearly destroyed the gothic masterpiece, with winds spreading the particles well beyond the church grounds.

Residents have accused the Paris authorities of underplaying the risk from the lead although the culture ministry insists safety is the top priority.   But prefect Michel Cadot, the government's top official for the Paris region, approved the resumption of the works after visiting the site.   "I saw that the different recommendations of the labour inspectors had been implemented," he said, adding the decontamination work would help keep contractors safe.   Securing the structure is required before the restoration work can start.    The culture ministry said that stones had fallen from the nave vault during a heatwave in July.   "It is only the urgency linked to the persistent risk of a collapse that justifies the rhythm of work undertaken" since the fire, it said in a statement Wednesday.

President Emmanuel Macron has set an ambitious target of five years for the restoration to be finished. But the ministry said the work would not even begin until next year.   Paris prosecutors said in June that a poorly stubbed-out cigarette or an electrical fault could have started the fire and opened an investigation into criminal negligence, without targeting any individual.

French investigative news site Mediapart published a report this week accusing the ministry of repeatedly ignoring warnings by labour inspectors about the dangers posed by the lead until work was finally suspended on July 25.   Critics have accused the city of failing to notify the public about the test results, while an environmental group has filed a lawsuit alleging that officials failed to sufficiently contain the contamination.   The ministry rejected Mediapart's allegations it had failed to pay attention to the risks encountered by workers on the site.
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 13:26:06 +0200 (METDST)

Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - Scores of people including children were wounded Monday after a series of explosions shook the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, as the country's independence day was marred by bloodshed.

As many as 10 blasts were reported in and around the city in Nangarhar province, authorities said, and casualty numbers rose as the day wore on.   "The explosions were caused by IEDs in different parts of the city and as groups of people were celebrating independence day," the Nangarhar governor's spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said, referring to improvised explosive devices.   Jalalabad is the scene of frequent bomb attacks, and the surrounding terrain is home to both Taliban fighters and the Islamic State group's local affiliate.

At least 52 people were wounded, Khogyani said. Zaher Adel, a spokesman for a local hospital, said 66 wounded people had been brought in. An AFP correspondent saw children among the victims.   This year's August 19 celebrations mark 100 years of Afghan independence from British influence.   The day was supposed to be one of national pride and unity, but was overshadowed by an IS suicide attack Saturday on a crowded Kabul wedding hall that killed at least 63 people.

In Kabul, locals took to the streets to wave the black-red-and-green Afghan flag, but several public events to commemorate the date were scrapped as Kabul mourns and due to fears of a fresh attack.    "We postponed the celebrations to honour the victims, but we will definitely take revenge for our people," Afghan President Ahraf Ghani said.   "We will avenge the blood of our people, every drop of it."

Mayhem from Afghanistan's war continues to wreak havoc on Afghans every day, even though the US and the Taliban are in final negotiations for a deal that would see US troops begin to quit Afghanistan and could potentially lead to a reduction in violence.
Date: Wed 14 Aug 2019
Source: Universitat Hohenheim [in German, trans. Britta Lassmann, edited]

The University of Hohenheim and the Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology [IMB] have detected spotted fever in a hyalomma tick, the 1st time such a tick is suspected to have caused disease in a human in Germany.

This tick feeds on humans and can transmit a form of spotted fever in Germany. What were still unanswered questions about the tropical giant tick hyalomma is now certainty. At the beginning of August [2019], it was suspected that for the 1st time, a human in Germany had contracted a disease with the typical symptoms of rickettsiosis from the bite of a hyalomma tick. Experts from the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart and the IMB in Munich were able to detect the pathogen _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_ in the tick. The number of hyalomma ticks in Germany increased significantly in 2019 compared to the previous year [2018]. In nearly half of the hyalomma ticks, _R. aeschlimannii_ can be detected. The tick researchers continue to ask the population to send them suspicious ticks.

It was probably no coincidence that this 1st case was in a horse owner. Tropical ticks of the genus _Hyalomma_ feed on large mammals. For several years, these ticks have been on the rise in Germany. Now tick researchers report the 1st suspected case of spotted fever transmitted in Germany. "Not only do we now know for sure that the hyalomma tick is also targeting humans," says Prof Dr Med Ute Mackenstedt, a parasitologist at the University of Hohenheim, "but also that there is the urgent suspicion that the transmission of spotted fever by these ticks is actually possible here in Germany."

The case: At the end of July [2019], the horse owner from near Siegen was bitten by a hyalomma tick. He sent the tick to the tick researcher in Hohenheim. He then presented to the hospital only a few days later with severe symptoms. Spotted fever caused by the bacterium _R. aeschlimannii_ was suspected. The tick was sent by courier service to the IMB in Munich, where the pathogen was detected in the tick. Thereafter, the patient received targeted antibiotic therapy, and his symptoms rapidly improved.

"We are talking about a suspected case, because direct detection of the pathogen from the patient was not possible," explains PD Dr Med Gerhard Dobler, medical doctor at the IMB. "The treatment of the patient came 1st. But the preceding tick bite, the typical symptoms
and, above all, the proof of the pathogen in the tick suggest that the case was spotted fever. The fact that the patient responded to targeted antibiotic therapy further supports this."

_R. aeschlimannii_ causes a feverish infection with headache and muscle pain, extreme joint pain, and a burning sensation. Typical for the disease, however, is the rash that gave the disease its name. This classic sign shows mainly on the extremities. The incubation period is about one week.

"If spotted fever is suspected after a hyalomma bite, a swab should be taken from the bite site and sent for examination," advises PD Dobler. "If there are questions, you are welcome to contact us. Ideally, we would also like to examine the tick."

About half of the hyalomma ticks, the researchers say, are infected with rickettsia. Transmission takes place exclusively via tick bite. "The number of hyalomma ticks in Germany is significantly higher this year [2019] than in the previous year [2018]," reports Prof Dr Med Mackenstedt, referencing the publication in which the situation was presented in 2018. The Hohenheim parasitologist not only cooperates closely with the IMB in Munich, but also with the working group of Prof Dr Med Christina Strube at the Veterinary University (TiHo) Hannover. "Together they already have found 50 such ticks in Germany in 2019. Last year [2018] there were a total of 35." Last year, these ticks had survived the winter in Germany for the 1st time.

"Rickettsia are the only pathogens that we have been able to detect so far," explains PD Dr. Dobler. "We have not found the virus that causes the dangerous Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever, nor the pathogens _Theileria equi_ and _Babesia caballi_, both of which can be transmitted from ticks to horses."

The research team continues to ask the population for support to further explore the spread and potential dangers. In case of a tick bite, it's best to remove the tick with a tick remover, TickCard, or tweezers. Then send the animal in a small, tightly closed container to:
University of Hohenheim
Prof. Dr. Ute Mackenstedt
Department of Parasitology
Emil-Wolff-Strasse 34
70599 Stuttgart

Background: Tick genus _Hyalomma_
_Hyalomma marginatum_ and _Hyalomma rufipes_ are native to the dry and semi-arid areas of Africa, Asia, and southern Europe. Until recently, they did not occur in central and northern Europe. Their striped legs are striking, and they are much larger than the native ixodes ticks.

The adult ticks feed on large animals. They are active hunters and move quickly towards their host. They cover a distance of up to 100 m [328 ft]. Humans can serve as hosts. In contrast, tick larvae and nymphs mainly infest birds and small mammals and can stay up to 28 days with their hosts. Migratory birds can introduce larvae and nymphs to Germany.

In Eurasia, both _Hyalomma_ species are considered transmitters of the Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever virus and the Arabic hemorrhagic fever virus (Alkhumra virus). They also transmit the bacterium _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_, which causes a form of spotted fever.

Reference:
Chitimia-Dobler L, et al. Imported _Hyalomma_ ticks in Germany in 2018. Parasites & Vectors. 2019; 12 (134).

More information:
Picture and video material [in German]
Press release: Tropical ticks in Germany: University of Hohenheim asks to send conspicuous tick finds [in German]
Press release: Tropical ticks: New immigrant species winters in Germany for the 1st time [in German]
-----------------------------------
communicated by:
Roland Hubner
Superior Health Council
Brussels
Belgium
====================
[Given that the ticks were found last year (2018) and that they overwintered and were found again this year (2019), it is likely that this genus of tick is becoming established in Germany. Although the species of _Hyalomma_ that infected the man with _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_ was not determined, there is a clear association of this rickettsia with the 2 species of _Hyalomma_ that were tested. The published report cited above states, "35 ticks with an unusual appearance or behaviour were reported to us during summer-autumn 2018. For 17 of them, the description or photos implied that they belong to the hard tick genus _Hyalomma_. The remaining 18 ticks were sent to us and were identified as adult _Hyalomma marginatum_ (10 specimens) or adult _Hyalomma rufipes_ (8 specimens). All ticks tested negative for CCHF virus, _Coxiella burnetii_, _Coxiella_-like organisms, _Babesia_ spp. and _Theileria_ spp. The screening for rickettsiae gave positive results in 9 specimens. The _Rickettsia_ species in all cases was identified as _R. aeschlimannii_." Given that these ticks can be transported by birds migrating from Africa, continued surveillance in Germany for the rickettsia and the other pathogens that were not found currently is prudent. - ProMED Mod.TY]

The first human case of _R. aeschlimannii_ infection was identified in a patient who had fever, rash, and an eschar similar to _R. conori_ infection (Mediaterrian spotted fever) after travel in Morocco (1). _R. aeschlimannii_ infections in humans have been previously confirmed in South Africa, in Algeria, and in Tunisia (2). To our knowledge, the first human case of _R. aeschlimannii_ infection reported in Europe occurred in Greece and was reported in 2013 (3).

1. Raoult D, Fournier PE, Abboud P, Caron F. First documented human Rickettsia aeschlimannii infection. Emerg Infect Dis. 2002; 8: 748-9. doi: 10.3201/eid0807.010480
2. Demoncheaux JP, Socolovschi C, Davoust B, Haddad S, Raoult D, Parola P. First detection of _Rickettsia aeschlimanii_ in _Hyalomma dromedarii_ ticks in Tunisia. Ticks Tick Borne Dis. 2012; 3: 398-402.
3. Germanakis A, Chochlakis D, Angelakis E, Tselentis Y, Psaroulaki A. _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_ infection in a man, Greece. Emerg Infect Dis. 2013; 19: 1176-7.  - ProMED Mod. LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Germany:
Date: Wed 19 Aug 2019, 12:48 PM
Source: Kazakh Telegraph Agency [edited]

A total of 4 anthrax cases have been confirmed in the Akmola region, reports the health care department. "Up to [now] 5 [suspected cases of] anthrax have been recorded; lab tests have confirmed 4. The cause of contamination was cow butchering without a veterinary certificate in a private yard," said the interlocutor.

"Epidemiological situation in the Akmola region and Nur-Sultan is stable," said the department. "The situation is being constantly monitored by the committee," said Ludmila Burabekova, chairfigure of the committee of quality control and goods safety. "Anti-epidemic and anti-epizootic arrangements have been organized in the area," she added.
*****************************
Date: Wed 19 Aug 2019, 12:04 PM GMT
Source: Radio Free Europe [edited]

A village near the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan, is under quarantine after lab tests confirmed anthrax infections in several people.

The Health Ministry said on [19 Aug 2019] that 5 residents of the village of Olginka, 100 km [about 62 mi] east of Nur-Sultan, have been hospitalized in recent days with anthrax symptoms, 4 of whom tested positive for _Bacillus anthracis_ -- the bacterium that causes the infectious disease. According to the statement, the situation in the village in the Aqmola region is under the control of the authorities and all necessary measures are being taken to prevent the possible spread of the disease.

In 2016, in nearby Qaraghandy Oblast, 2 people died as a result of anthrax infections.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), domestic and wild animals -- such as cattle, sheep, goats, antelope, and deer -- can become infected by inhaling or ingesting spores in contaminated soil, plants, or water. CDC says all types of anthrax infections can cause death if they are not treated with antibiotics.
========================
[Olginka is in north-central Kazajhstan; see:

There is a measure of rural poverty in northern half of Kazakhstan, with the result that sick and moribund animals get butchered and eaten. Fortunately, as this village is within 100 Km [about 62 mi] of the Kazakh capital the affected have had the advantage of hospital care and proper laboratory confirmation. The coincident 5th person may have just shown a fever when the medical authorities were looking for clinical cases or it may be a false negative.

Folk have a habit of self-treating with antibiotics and this would have reduced the number of circulating vegetative cells available to testing. My friend Benyamin Cherkasskyi, the Soviet anthrax expert, used to tell me that only some 30%-40% of cutaneous cases would test positive. You have to know to insert your needle in under the lesion to draw out the fluid there which will contain cells, blood, and toxins. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 03:45:54 +0200 (METDST)

Lomo del Pino, Spain, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - A raging wildfire on the Spanish holiday island of Gran Canaria forced the evacuation of some 5,000 people, authorities said Sunday, warning it could take days for the blaze to be brought under control.   The fire, which has spread to the mountainous Cruz de Tejeda region popular with tourists for its breathtaking views, is "extremely fierce" and "unstable", said Canary Islands president Angel Victor Torres in a statement.   No fatalities have been reported.

More than 600 firefighters and 14 aircraft battled to contain the flames, hampered by strong winds and high temperatures.   With the temperature set to rise Monday, authorities estimate it could take days before the blaze is brought under control.   "The next few hours will be very important because the weather forecast for the night is not good," Torres said.   The fire broke out days after another wildfire in the same region forced the evacuation of hundreds.

Gran Canaria is the second most populous of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic off the northwest coast of Africa.   The Canary Islands received 13.7 million foreign visitors last year, over half of them from Britain and Germany.   Spain is frequently plagued by huge forest fires because of its arid summer climate.
Date: Sun, 18 Aug 2019 23:01:00 +0200 (METDST)

Lisbon, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Portuguese fuel tanker drivers whose strike has caused fuel shortages at the summer holiday season on Sunday ended their industrial action.   Drivers have been staging a strike since Monday to demand further wage increases in 2021 and 2022, prompting the government to declare an energy crisis.   "Since all the conditions are now in place to negotiate, we decided to end the strike," Pedro Pardal Henriques, spokesman for the National Union of Dangerous Goods Carriers (SNMMP), told reporters.

A meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, the union President Francisco Sao Bento said, adding that the union did not "rule out new strikes being called if Antram (the employers association) adopts an uncompromising attitude".   Police had launched an operation to escort fuel tankers with extra supplies and Portugal also mobilised about 500 members of the security forces to replace the strikers and drive the trucks.   Despite the shortages, Energy Minister Joao Pedro Matos Fernandes said about two-thirds of the country's 3,000 or so petrol stations had not run dry.
Date: Sun, 18 Aug 2019 11:47:26 +0200 (METDST)
By By Emal Haidary and Mushtaq Mojaddidi

Kabul, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Joy and celebration turned into horror and carnage when a suicide bomber targeted a packed Afghan wedding hall, killing at least 63 people in the deadliest attack to rock Kabul in months, officials and witnesses said Sunday.   The massive blast, which took place late Saturday in west Kabul, came as Washington and the Taliban finalise a deal to reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan and hopefully build a roadmap to a ceasefire.   The groom recalled greeting smiling guests in the afternoon, before seeing their bodies being carried out hours later.

The attack "changed my happiness to sorrow", the young man, who gave his name as Mirwais, told local TV station Tolo News.   "My family, my bride are in shock, they cannot even speak. My bride keeps fainting," he said.   "I lost my brother, I lost my friends, I lost my relatives. I will never see happiness in my life again."   Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said at least 63 people had been killed and 182 injured.   "Among the wounded are women and children," Rahimi said. Earlier he stated a suicide bomber carried out the attack.

Afghan weddings are epic and vibrant affairs, with hundreds or often thousands of guests celebrating for hours inside industrial-scale wedding halls where the men are usually segregated from the women and children.   "The wedding guests were dancing and celebrating the party when the blast happened," recounted Munir Ahmad, 23, who was seriously injured and whose cousin was among the dead.   "Following the explosion, there was total chaos. Everyone was screaming and crying for their loved ones," he told AFP from his bed in a local hospital, where he is being treated for shrapnel wounds.

Images from inside the hall showed blood-stained bodies on the ground along with pieces of flesh and torn clothes, hats, sandals and bottles of mineral water. The huge blast ripped parts of the ceiling off.   The wedding was believed to be a Shia gathering. Shia Muslims are frequently targeted in Sunni-majority Afghanistan, particularly by the so-called Islamic State group, which is also active in Kabul but did not immediately issue any claim of responsibility.

Wedding guest Hameed Quresh told AFP the young couple were saying their vows when the bomb went off.    "We fainted following the blast, and we don't know who brought us to the hospital," sobbed Quresh, who lost one brother and was himself wounded.   Another guest told Tolo that some 1,200 people had been invited. With low security, weddings are seen as easy targets.   The attack sent a wave of grief through a city grimly accustomed to atrocities. President Ashraf Ghani called it "barbaric", while Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah described it as a "crime against humanity".

- Withdrawal deal expected -
The attack underscores both the inadequacy of Afghanistan's security forces and the scale of the problem they face. While the police and army claim they prevent most bombings from ever happening, the fact remains that insurgents pull off horrific attacks with chilling regularity.   On July 28, at least 20 people were killed when attackers targeted Ghani's running mate Amrullah Saleh as he campaigned in presidential elections.    The incident showed how even amid tight security and known threats, insurgents can conduct brazen attacks.   The issue also goes to the heart of a prospective deal between the US and the Taliban that would see Washington begin to withdraw its approximately 14,000 soldiers from Afghanistan.

The deal relies on the Taliban providing guarantees they will stop jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda and IS from using Afghanistan as a safe haven. Saturday's attack suggests any such promise would be tough to keep.   The "Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide platform for terrorists," Ghani said.   Few believe such a deal will bring quick peace.

Many Afghans fear the Taliban could return, eroding hard-won rights for women in particular and leading to a spiralling civil war.   Meanwhile, in the northern province of Balkh, 11 members of the same family were killed when their car hit a roadside bomb, officials said. The provincial governor blamed the Taliban for planting the device.
Date: Sun, 18 Aug 2019 05:28:47 +0200 (METDST)
By Amélie BOTTOLLIER-DEPOIS

Paris, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Seafood lovers who prize the mussel for its earthy taste and succulent flesh may be unaware of its growing potential in the fight against water pollution.   The mussel is the hoover of the sea, taking in phytoplankton for nourishment along with microplastics, pesticides and other pollutants -- which makes it an excellent gauge.

One day, it may also be pressed into service to cleanse water.   "It's a super-filter in the marine world, filtering up to 25 litres of water a day," says marine biologist Leila Meistertzheim.   "It's a real model of bioaccumulation of pollutants generally speaking."   As they pump and filter the water through their gills in order to feed and breathe, mussels store almost everything else that passes through -- which is why strict health rules apply for those destined for human consumption.

Like canaries in a coal mine, mussels have long been used as "bio-indicators" of the health of the seas, lakes and rivers they inhabit.   Little-known pollutants can turn up to join the usual suspects, with increasing attention paid to microplastics containing bisphenol A and phthalates, both thought to be endocrine disruptors.

Meistertzheim heads a study for France's Tara Ocean Foundation using mussels to gauge the health of the estuaries of the Thames, Elba and Seine rivers.   The mussels, placed in fish traps, are submerged in the waters for a month before researchers dissect them to determine what chemical substances lurk in their tissues.   The idea of deploying mussels across the oceans to absorb ubiquitous microplastics is just a dream for now, but for other pollutants, the bivalves are already at work.   "In some places, mussels are used, as well as oysters, to cleanse the sea of pesticides, for example," Meistertzheim notes.

- E. coli busters -
Richard Luthy, an environmental engineer from California's Stanford University, says that, in most cases, mussels harvested from contaminated waters should not be eaten.   But if the contaminant is E. coli, mussels can be thanked for the "removal and inactivation" of the faecal material, he says, calling the service a "public health benefit".   The mussels are edible because they "excrete the bacteria as faeces or mucus," he says.   Mussels living in waterways affected by eutrophication -- often marked by abundant algae -- are also fit for human consumption, researchers say.   The phenomenon is often the result of waste dumped into the waterway containing phosphates and nitrites, such as detergents, fertilisers and sewage.   The nutrients in these substances encourage the proliferation of algae, which in turn starves the water of oxygen, upsetting the ecosystem.

Mussels "recycle" these nutrients by feeding on the algae, says Eve Galimany, a researcher of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Milford Laboratory who has experimented with mussels in the Bronx River in New York.   The recycling principle is already at work in a pilot project titled Baltic Blue Growth in Sweden, Denmark and the Baltic countries which grows mussels to be fed to animals such as poultry, fish and pigs.   "Eutrophication... is the biggest problem of the Baltic Sea, the most urgent one," says project head Lena Tasse. Mussels "could be part of a solution".   Why feed them to animals if they are safe for humans? Because Baltic mussels are too small to be of interest to seafood lovers, says Tasse, adding: "Swedes like big mussels."

Meanwhile, the jury is still out on the effects of microplastics on human health.   A recent report by WWF said that humans ingest an average of five grammes of microplastics a week -- about the weight of a credit card.   A 2018 study published in the journal Environmental Pollution, based on samples from British coastlines and supermarkets, estimated that every 100 grammes (3.5 ounces) of mussels contained 70 tiny pieces of plastic.   Should we be worried? Meistertzheim thinks not.   "I eat them," she says. "A dish of mussels is not necessarily worse than organic hamburger meat wrapped in plastic."