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Monday, September 16, 2019

World News, World News Updates, World News Headlines, Latest World News, Current Affairs

World News, World News Updates, World News Headlines, Latest World News, Current Affairs


In Hong Kong, Employees Hide Their Political Leanings as Beijing Forces Companies to Take Sides

Posted: 16 Sep 2019 01:24 AM PDT

By day, Lucy is a flight attendant. Dressed in a neat uniform, she politely offers passengers meals and drinks while they cruise at 35,000 feet. Recently though, she’s been switching shifts to make sure that she’s in town to join the protests that have rocked Hong Kong for the last 15 weeks. For those, she trades in her meticulous Cathay Pacific attire for a black t-shirt, accessorized with a yellow hardhat and a facemask: the uniform of Hong Kong’s young protesters.

Lucy, 30, who asked to be identified by only her first name, says her friends describe her as “deep yellow,” local slang which means she is a staunch supporter of the democracy movement. She camped out on the streets during the 2014 Umbrella Movement, and she’s taken to the streets again this year.

Demonstrations have roiled Hong Kong every weekend since June. They began as a few peaceful marches against a now suspended extradition bill that critics say would have allowed Beijing to use politically-motivated charges to ship dissenters off to face trial in the Communist Party controlled court system. But they have since escalated into intense pro-democracy protests that often end in violent clashes with police.

In the last few months, Lucy says she has been teargassed several times and hit on the head by a projectile fired by police. “It’s hard to go from a flight attendant to a gas-masked protester,” she tells TIME.

Her employer has been sucked into the fight between the city’s youthful protesters and Beijing. In August, China’s aviation authority banned any Cathay Pacific staff who had taken part in “illegal protests” from flying mainland routes, and threatened not to allow any flights without an approved crew list into Chinese airspace.

For Cathay Pacific, which counts 26 of its 111 destinations on the mainland, and earns half of its income from tickets purchased in Hong Kong and China, losing access to Chinese airspace would be a blow from which it might never recover.

“Any company that gets most of its revenue from the mainland is in a pickle,” Alexander Zwagerman, Senior Lecturer at Arnhem Business School, tells TIME. Beijing clearly demands that [companies] disavow any semblance of an allegiance to the Hong Kong people and even punishes workers with links to the protesters.”

In the wake of what Zwagerman calls “Beijing’s most heavy-handed use of its economic clout to date,” Cathay Pacific quickly capitulated. Several employees were fired for protest-related reasons, and a few senior staff members, including the CEO and the chairman, have since stepped down.

Cathay has now warned employees that it will take a zero-tolerance approach to “any support for or participation in illegal protests, violent activities or overly radical behavior.” But employees like Lucy say they have no plans to stop. “The company has no right to control our minds or our speech when we’re not working,” she tells TIME.

Lucy has nevertheless taken steps to make sure she’s not found out, like setting her Instagram profile to private. When she worked a flight to Beijing last month, she left her phone at home for fear of having it searched by mainland officials.

Foreign and Hong Kong companies wanting access to China’s vast consumer market have long had to comply with Beijing, but the protests have seen a dramatic intensification of China’s expectations.

“We’ve rarely seen Hong Kong firms so publicly brought to heel as we have over the past few months,” Jude Blanchette, Freeman Chair of China Studies at the Washington D.C.-based think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, tells TIME.

Several other large companies have been dragged into the fray. After staff of the so-called Big 4 accounting firms crowdfunded a pro-protest advertisement in a local newspaper, the Chinese state-run Global Times urged management at the firms to fire “pro-riot staff” who “have the wrong stance on the current Hong Kong situation.”

One of the companies, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) quickly issued a statement saying it firmly opposed “any action and statement” that challenged “national sovereignty.”

In September, fast fashion giant Zara was forced to issue a statement declaring support for China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong, after Chinese netizens went into a frenzy on the microblogging site Weibo because the retailer shut down its Hong Kong stores on the day of a strike in the city.

Other local businesses that have shown allegiance toward either side have drawn the ire of customers.

An extensive Google Doc circulating around the Reddit-like forum LIHKG, for example, details restaurants that should be avoided by pro-democracy diners. Justifications for blacklisting establishments on the crowd-sourced list are as tenuous as someone overhearing a waiter saying protesters are paid by foreign governments.

Isaac Lawrence—AFP/Getty Images Riot police stand in front of a restaurant while patrolling after an anti-government rally in Hong Kong on August 18, 2019.

Big brands, like the sports drink Pocari Sweat, have pulled advertisements from a local television station viewed as pro-Beijing to avoid losing customers.

Some protesters have called for boycotts the city’s subway system, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR), because it closes stations near protest locations but has been found to be transporting riot police.

One MTR employee in his early 30’s tells TIME that although he is an unwavering supporter of the protesters, his job with the majority-government-owned operator puts him in a tight spot. He fears that he’ll be fired if he takes part in protests. So instead he spends weekends at his computer screen, glued to live stream videos of the events unfolding on the streets below him, cheering the protesters on.

Read More: Hong Kong Businesses Are Reeling Amid the Protests, But Their Workers Say ‘Freedom’ Is More Important

The politicization of Hong Kong’s companies has hurt the business hub’s reputation. “Hong Kong’s position as a global hub for finance and business has suffered an irrevocable wound,” Blanchette says.

In what is perhaps the clearest signal yet that trust in the city’s safeguards has been undermined, Fitch Ratings announced the downgrade of Hong Kong’s credit rating and outlook on Sept. 6, citing China’s growing influence in the territory’s affairs. The “perimeters and pliability of the ‘one country, two systems’ framework” has been tested in recent months, with mainland officials “taking a more public stance on Hong Kong affairs than at any time since the 1997 handover,” Fitch said in its press release.

Despite orders from Beijing for companies to tell their employees to fall into line, some of their workers say they will keep fighting.

Antonia (a pseudonym), 31, a PwC employee, says she’s furious about the tactics police have used against young protesters. She tells TIME that she won’t stop attending rallies until the government agrees to an independent inquiry into the police—even if she has to pretend to be going on vacation in order to do so, like she did for several days in June.

And Lucy the flight attendant says she’ll keep switching shifts to make sure she can be on the front lines with her fellow Hongkongers.

“I still think I’m doing the right thing and I should keep doing it,” she says.

But for Hong Kong companies that depend on access to the Chinese market for their bottom line, things aren’t quite so simple. In the Hong Kong business world, Zwagerman says: “Beijing has made it clear who’s boss.”

With reporting by Aria Hangyu Chen

India Arrests a Senior Kashmiri Leader Under a Controversial Law

Posted: 16 Sep 2019 01:13 AM PDT

(NEW DELHI) — A Parliament member who is a senior pro-India politician in Indian-controlled Kashmir was arrested Monday under a controversial law that allows authorities to imprison someone for up to two years without charge or trial.

Farooq Abdullah, 81, who also was the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, was arrested at his residence in Srinagar, the summer capital of the disputed Himalayan region.

“We have arrested him, and a committee will decide how long the arrest will be,” said Muneer Khan, a top police official.

Abdullah is the first pro-India politician who has been arrested under the Public Safety Act, under which rights activists say more than 20,000 Kashmiris have been detained in the last two decades.

Amnesty International has called the PSA a “lawless law,” and rights groups say India has used the law to stifle dissent and circumvent the criminal justice system, undermining accountability, transparency, and respect for human rights.

Abdullah’s residence was declared a subsidiary jail and he was put under house arrest on Aug. 5 when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government in New Delhi stripped Jammu and Kashmir of semi-autonomy and statehood, creating two federal territories.

Thousands of additional Indian troops were sent to the Kashmir Valley, already one of the world’s most militarized regions. Telephone communications, cellphone coverage, broadband internet and cable TV services were cut for the valley’s 7 million people, although some communications have been gradually restored.

On Aug. 6, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah denied to the lower house of Parliament that Abdullah had been detained or arrested.

“If he (Abdullah) does not want to come out of his house, he cannot be brought out at gunpoint,” Shah said, when other parliamentarians expressed concern over Abdullah’s absence during the debate on Kashmir’s status.

Many anti-India protesters as well as pro-India Kashmiri leaders have been held in jails and other makeshift facilities to contain protests against India’s decisions, according to police officials.

Kashmir’s special status was instituted shortly after India achieved independence from Britain in 1947. Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in its entirety, but each controls only part of it.

India has often tried to suppress uprisings in the region, including a bloody armed rebellion in 1989. About 70,000 people have been killed since that uprising and a subsequent Indian military crackdown.

Rights Group Calls for the Release of Uighur Children Detained in Xinjiang

Posted: 15 Sep 2019 10:45 PM PDT

A human rights group has called on the Chinese government to release an undetermined number of Uighur children being arbitrarily held in so-called “child welfare” institutions and boarding schools in Xinjiang.

In a statement Monday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said “Chinese authorities have housed countless children whose parents are detained or in exile in state-run child welfare institutions and boarding schools without parental consent or access.”

An estimated one million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims are held in Chinese political reeducation camps in Xinjiang. HRW says an additional unknown number are held in prisons and other detention centers.

The rights group’s China director, Sophie Richardson, said “The Chinese government’s forced separation of children is perhaps the cruelest element of its oppression in Xinjiang. Children should be either immediately returned to the custody of relatives in China or allowed to join their parents outside the country.”

According to HRW, Xinjiang government documents do not indicate whose consent is needed for children to be held in institutions, which government agencies make decisions about removals, or “whether there are procedures for determining consent or challenges to such determinations.”

It added that it was “deeply concerned about practices in these facilities that appear to deny children their basic rights and cultural heritage,” pointing out that the children were taught in Chinese instead of their own language, and made to “sing and dance to propagandistic songs.”

Beijing’s treatment of Uighurs has been strongly condemned. In July, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called China’s treatment of the Muslim minority group the “stain of the century.”

Trump Says the U.S. Is ‘Locked and Loaded’ for a Response to the Saudi Oil Attack

Posted: 15 Sep 2019 06:42 PM PDT

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A weekend drone attack on Saudi Arabia that cut into global energy supplies and halved the kingdom’s oil production threatened Sunday to fuel a regional crisis, as the U.S. released new evidence to back up its allegation that Iran was responsible for the assault amid heightened tensions over Tehran’s collapsing nuclear deal.

President Donald Trump said the U.S. had reason to believe it knew who was behind the attack — his secretary of state had blamed Iran the previous day — and assured his Twitter followers that “we are … locked and loaded” depending on verification and were waiting to hear from the Saudis as to who they believe was behind the attack and “under what terms we would proceed!”

The tweets followed a National Security Council meeting at the White House that included Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

A U.S. official said all options, including a military response, were on the table, but said no decisions had been made Sunday. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the internal deliberations.

Hours earlier, senior U.S. officials said satellite imagery and other intelligence showed the strike was inconsistent with one launched from Yemen, where Iranian-backed Houthi rebels had claimed responsibility.

Iran, meanwhile, called the U.S. claims “maximum lies,” while a commander in its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard reiterated its forces could strike U.S. military bases across the Mideast with their arsenal of ballistic missiles.

The U.S. government produced satellite photos showing what officials said were at least 19 points of impact at two Saudi energy facilities, including damage at the heart of the kingdom’s crucial oil processing plant at Abqaiq. Officials said the photos show impacts consistent with the attack coming from the direction of Iran or Iraq, rather than from Yemen to the south.

Iraq denied Sunday that its territory was used for an attack on the Kingdom and U.S. officials said a strike from there would be a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.

The U.S. officials said additional devices, which apparently didn’t reach their targets, were recovered northwest of the facilities and are being jointly analyzed by Saudi and American intelligence. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, did not address whether the drone could have been fired from Yemen, then taken a round-about path, but did not explicitly rule it out.

The attacks and recriminations are increasing already heightened fears of an escalation in the region, after a prominent U.S. senator suggested striking Iranian oil refineries in response to the assault, and Iran warned of the potential of more violence.

“Because of the tension and sensitive situation, our region is like a powder keg,” said Iranian Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh. “When these contacts come too close, when forces come into contact with one another, it is possible a conflict happens because of a misunderstanding.”

Actions on any side could break into the open a twilight war that’s been raging just below the surface of the wider Persian Gulf in recent months. Already, there have been mysterious attacks on oil tankers that America blames on Tehran, at least one suspected Israeli strike on Shiite forces in Iraq, and Iran shooting down a U.S. military surveillance drone.

The attack Saturday on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq plant and its Khurais oil field led to the interruption of an estimated 5.7 million barrels of the kingdom’s crude oil production per day, equivalent to more than 5% of the world’s daily supply. It remained unclear how King Salman and his assertive son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will respond to an attack targeting the heart of the Saudi oil industry.

Crude oil futures shot up 9.5% to $60 as trading opened Sunday evening in New York, a dramatic increase. A spike in oil prices could have negative effects for the global economy.

Saudi Arabia has promised to fill in the cut in production with its reserves, but has not said how long it will take to repair the damage. The Wall Street Journal cited Saudi officials as saying a third of output would be restored on Monday, but a return to full production may take weeks.

Trump said he had approved the release of U.S. strategic petroleum reserves “if needed” to stabilize energy markets. The president said the final amount of the release, if any, would be “sufficient to keep the markets well-supplied.”

AP This Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. shows thick black smoke rising from Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia.

Images from the European Commission’s Sentinel-2 satellite examined by the AP showed black char marks at the heart of the Abqaiq plant on Sunday, marks not seen over the prior month. Identical marks are visible on the U.S. imagery. The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies in August identified the area with the char marks as the plant’s stabilization area. The center said the area includes “storage tanks and processing and compressor trains — which greatly increases the likelihood of a strike successfully disrupting or destroying its operations.”

The state-run oil giant Saudi Aramco, which the kingdom hopes to offer a sliver of in a public stock offering, did not respond to a request for comment.

Pompeo directly blamed Iran for the Saudi attack on Twitter late Saturday, and officials worked to provide evidence for his claim the following day.

“Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” Pompeo wrote. “There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”

The U.S., Western nations, their Gulf Arab allies and U.N. experts say Iran supplies the Houthis with weapons and drones — a charge that Tehran denies.

U.S. officials previously alleged at least one recent drone attack on Saudi Arabia came from Iraq, where Iran backs Shiite militias. Those militias in recent weeks have been targeted themselves by mysterious airstrikes, with at least one believed to have been carried out by Israel.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi on Sunday dismissed Pompeo’s remarks as “blind and futile comments.”

“The Americans adopted the ‘maximum pressure’ policy against Iran, which, due to its failure, is leaning toward ‘maximum lies,'” Mousavi said in a statement.

Separately, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s office issued a statement on Sunday denying the drone attack came from there. Oil-rich Kuwait also said it would increase security around the country’s “vital sites” over the attacks.

Houthi leader Muhammad al-Bukhaiti reiterated his group’s claim of responsibility, telling The Associated Press on Sunday it exploited “vulnerabilities” in Saudi air defenses to strike the targets. He did not elaborate.

Iran, meanwhile, kept up its own threats.

Hajizadeh, the brigadier general who leads the country’s aerospace program, said in an interview published across Iranian media Sunday that Revolutionary Guard forces were ready for a counterattack if America responded, naming the Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar and Al-Dhafra Air Base near Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates as immediate targets, as well as U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea.

“Wherever they are, it only takes one spark and we hit their vessels, their air bases, their troops,” he said in a video published online with English subtitles.

It wasn’t just Iran making threats. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican close to Trump, suggested retaliatory strikes targeting Iran. “Iran will not stop their misbehavior until the consequences become more real, like attacking their refineries, which will break the regime’s back,” Graham wrote on Twitter.

With the U.N. General Assembly taking place in a little over a week, there had been speculation of a potential meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the summit’s sidelines, possibly in exchange for the lifting of some economic sanctions the American leader imposed on Tehran after unilaterally withdrawing from the nuclear accord over a year ago.

But Trump seemed to reject that idea Sunday night, tweeting: “The Fake News is saying that I am willing to meet with Iran, ‘No Conditions.’ That is an incorrect statement (as usual!).” In fact, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters last week that “the president has said that he is prepared to meet with no conditions.”

If Iran had a hand in Saturday’s attack, it could be to bolster their position ahead of any talks, analysts say.

“The main point for Iran, in my opinion, is not necessarily to derail a meeting between Trump and Rouhani but to increase its leverage ahead of it,” said Michael Horowitz, the head of intelligence at the Bahrain-based risk management firm Le Beck International. “By carrying out such a major attack, Iran wants to send the message that the only way to decrease tensions is to comply with its demands regarding sanctions relief.”

However, he warned there could be a danger of Iran “overplaying” its hand.

“There will be no political benefit for Trump in a meeting with Rouhani if this meeting sends the message that the U.S. simply surrendered to Iranian demands,” he said.

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Miller reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.

‘The Madder Hulk Gets, the Stronger Hulk Gets.’ British Prime Minister Boris Johnson Compares Himself to the Incredible Hulk

Posted: 15 Sep 2019 07:47 AM PDT

(LONDON) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has compared himself to the Incredible Hulk in a newspaper interview emphasizing his determination to take Britain out of the European Union next month.

The prime minister faces considerable legal and political hurdles but told the Mail on Sunday he will meet the Oct. 31 deadline no matter what.

“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets,” Johnson told the widely read tabloid, invoking the comic-book and film character known for formidable but destructive strength.

Johnson remains defiant even though Parliament has passed a law requiring him to seek an extension to the Oct. 31 deadline if no deal is reached by mid-October. He has also lost his working majority in Parliament and been told by Scotland’s highest court that his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal.

Johnson portrays himself as undaunted and more convinced than ever that Britain will break with the EU at the end of October.

He will have a lunchtime meeting in Luxembourg Monday with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to try to modify the Irish backstop that has been a main sticking point, but EU leaders do not thus far seem impressed by Johnson’s invocation of the Hulk.

The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, said the comments showed a lack of maturity.

“Even to Trumpian standards the Hulk comparison is infantile,” he tweeted. “Is the EU supposed to be scared by this? The British public impressed?”

Juncker, who has downplayed hopes of a breakthrough at Monday’s meeting, also expressed alarm that many people in Britain seem to feel a British departure without a deal with the EU would be a positive thing.

“It would be terrible chaos,” he said in an interview with Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio. “And we would need years to put things back in order. Anyone who loves his country, and I assume that there are still patriots in Britain, would not want to wish his country such a fate.”

The Oct. 31 deadline looms large because Johnson has not said he will seek another extension if no deal is reached, despite legislation passed by Parliament shortly before it was suspended.

Britain’s Supreme Court this week will rule on whether Johnson overstepped the law when he shut the legislature for a crucial five-week period.

Johnson also continues to take flak from former Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the 2016 referendum on Brexit.

Cameron said in an interview published Sunday that Johnson didn’t really believe in Brexit when he broke ranks and led the campaign to take Britain out of the European Union. Cameron had been expecting Johnson’s help during the hard-fought campaign.

Cameron says of Johnson: “The conclusion I am left with is that he risked an outcome he didn’t believe in because it would help his political career.”

Cameron is giving interviews to gain publicity for his upcoming memoirs.

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Associated Press writer Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.

Iran Denies U.S. Claim That It Was Behind Saudi Arabia Oil Field Attacks

Posted: 15 Sep 2019 06:33 AM PDT

(DUBAI, United Arab Emirates) — Iran denied on Sunday it was involved in Yemen rebel drone attacks the previous day that hit the world’s biggest oil processing facility and an oil field in Saudi Arabia, just hours after America’s top diplomat alleged that Tehran was behind the “unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.”

The attacks Saturday claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels resulted in “the temporary suspension of production operations” at the Abqaiq processing facility and the Khurais oil field, Riyadh said.

That led to the interruption of an estimated 5.7 million barrels in crude supplies, authorities said while pledging the kingdom’s stockpiles would make up the difference. The amount Saudi Arabia is cutting back is equivalent to over 5% of the world’s daily production.

While markets remained closed Sunday, the attack could shock world energy prices. They also increased overall tensions in the region amid an escalating crisis between the U.S. and Iran over Tehran’s unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.

Late Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo directly blamed Iran for the attack on Twitter, without offering evidence to support his claim.

“Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” Pompeo wrote. “There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”

The U.S., Western nations, their Gulf Arab allies and U.N. experts say Iran supplies the Houthis with weapons and drones — a charge that Tehran denies.

U.S. officials previously alleged at least one recent drone attack on Saudi Arabia came from Iraq, where Iran backs Shiite militias. Those militias in recent weeks have been targeted themselves by mysterious airstrikes, with at least one believed to have been carried out by Israel.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi on Sunday dismissed Pompeo’s remarks as “blind and futile comments.”

“The Americans adopted the ‘maximum pressure’ policy against Iran, which, due to its failure, is leaning towards ‘maximum lies’,” Mousavi said in a statement.

Separately, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s office issued a statement on Sunday denying the drone attack came from there.

Iraq “abides by its constitutions that prevents the use of its lands to launch aggressions against neighboring countries,” the statement said.

First word of Saturday’s assault came in online videos of giant fires at the Abqaiq facility, some 330 kilometers (205 miles) northeast of the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

Machine-gun fire could be heard in several clips alongside the day’s first Muslim call to prayers, suggesting security forces tried to bring down the drones just before dawn. In daylight, Saudi state television aired a segment with its local correspondent near a police checkpoint, a thick plume of smoke visible behind him.

President Donald Trump called Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to offer his support for the kingdom’s defense, the White House said. The crown prince assured Trump that Saudi Arabia is “willing and able to confront and deal with this terrorist aggression,” according to a news release from the Saudi Embassy in Washington.

Saudi Aramco describes its Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq as “the largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world.”

The facility processes sour crude oil into sweet crude, then transports it onto transshipment points on the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea or to refineries for local production. Estimates suggest it can process up to 7 million barrels of crude oil a day. By comparison, Saudi Arabia produced 9.65 million barrels of crude oil a day in July.

The Khurais oil field is believed to produce over 1 million barrels of crude oil a day. It has estimated reserves of over 20 billion barrels of oil, according to Aramco.

There was no immediate impact on global oil prices as markets were closed for the weekend. Benchmark Brent crude had been trading at just above $60 a barrel.

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Associated Press writers Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.