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On Her Way Home: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe Pictured on Plane As She Returns to UK – After Six Years in Iran Prison

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British-Iranian nationals Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori are on their way home to the UK after years in Iranian prisons.

Confirming the news to MPs on Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told the House of Commons: “They are on their way home. They will land in the UK later today, and they will be reunited with their families.”

It was later revealed the pair had already touched down in Oman, from where they were expected to board a flight to the UK.

Oman’s foreign minister, Badr Albusaidi, tweeted a picture of Mrs Zaghari Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori arriving in his country, posting: “Soon they will be with their loved ones at home.”

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a charity worker from Hampstead, northwest London, had been detained since her arrest in 2016 on charges of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government, which she denies.

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Retired civil engineer Mr Ashoori, 67, was arrested in Iran in 2017 while visiting his mother, and was jailed for 10 years on spying charges.

Ms Truss said another British-Iranian, who also has American citizenship, Morad Tahbaz has been released from prison in Iran on furlough and the UK government would continue to work to secure his “long overdue” permanent release.

The environmental conservationist, from Hammersmith, West London, was arrested in 2018 accused of espionage after using cameras to track endangered species.

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Anoosheh Ashoori is on his way back to the UK

Ms Truss said that the “whole country will rejoice at this news and will share in relief that their horrendous ordeal is over”.

“Their release is the result of years of tenacious British diplomacy,” the foreign secretary added, as she vowed that “the agonies endured by Nazanin, Anoosheh, Morad and their families must never happen again”.

Ms Truss told MPs: “For now, to Nazanin and Anoosheh, I’m pleased that in just a few hours’ time we will be able to say welcome home.”

UK ‘settles’ GBP400m debt with Iran

The foreign secretary confirmed the UK has also “settled” a GBP400m debt the UK has owed to Iran for more than 40 years. Iran has agreed the money can only be used to purchase humanitarian goods, she added.

The debt related to contacts signed with Iran’s defence ministry in the 1970s, but which were left unfulfilled following the country’s revolution.

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Morad Tahbaz is an environmental conservationist who was imprisoned in 2018

Ms Truss told MPs she had asked her officials to be “as creative as possible” in finding a resolution to the dispute.

“We have found a way to make the payment in full in compliance with UK and international sanctions and global counter-terrorism financing and anti-money laundering regulations,” she said.

“A sum of GBP393.8m has now been paid, which will only be available for humanitarian purposes.”

The foreign secretary said the terms of the agreement would “remain confidential to both parties”.

Speaking on his visit to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “thrilled” about the release of the trio.

“It’s been a lot of work by a lot of people,” he said.

“I want to pay particular tribute, in the case of Nazanin, to her husband, Richard, and it’s fantastic that she’ll now be able to come back and see her family, see her daughter, Gabriella.

“I should also thank some of the people who worked hard, the Omanis have been very useful and I thank them – a huge team have been on it for a long time.”

Dodging a question about his involvement in the case when he was foreign secretary, Mr Johnson said: “We must always realise that, sadly, the regime in Tehran is capable of holding people in this way, I think people do need to recognise that.

“I’m glad that after a great deal of UK diplomacy, we’ve been able to to to get her out, get back to her family, and I’m absolutely thrilled for for Nazanin, for Richard and for Gabriella.”

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1:11

Nazanin husband: ‘Huge relief’

‘Beginning of a new life’

Richard Ratcliffe, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, said he is “so relieved” his wife is on her way back to the UK and said they can “start being a normal family again”.

He said she will probably want him to make her a cup of tea and tidy the house.

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3:33

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s story

Mr Ratcliffe said the past few days have been “bumpy” as his wife did not know if she would finally be allowed back, but the Iranian Guard picked her up at 10am Tehran time (7.30am GMT) today to take her to the airport.

And he revealed there have been some “scary” conversations over the past few days in which “people” have been making sure she “behaves once she’s back”.

Mr Ratcliffe added there would be “challenges ahead after six years apart” but it will be “the beginning of a new life, a normal life” and they will “live in the future, not the past”.

He said his wife’s release would not have happened without the “level of kindness and care from all walks of life” up and down the UK.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s MP, Labour’s Tulip Siddiq, paid tribute to Mr Ratcliffe’s “relentless campaigning” as he watched Ms Truss’s statement to MPs from the Commons’ public gallery.

“I also think he’s really set the bar high for all husbands,” Ms Siddiq said.

“Can I say to Nazanin, welcome home, after six long years. And can I say to Gabriella (Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s daughter), this time mummy really is coming home.”

Ms Siddiq had earlier tweeted a photo of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe on a plane, adding that she “can’t believe I can FINALLY share this photo” of her constituent “flying away from six years of hell in Iran”.

The MP also told Sky News that Gabriella had told her she wants to take her mother to Peppa Pig World because they were due to go when she was detained.

‘A long time coming’

Fellow Labour MP Janet Daby, who is Mr Ashoori’s MP, told the Commons that she was “thrilled beyond belief for his release and for Nazanin”.

“I’m incredibly happy for Anoosheh’s wife Sherry, for his children, as well as for their families and friends,” she added.

“And today I spoke to Sherry, indeed I had been speaking to her yesterday as well, and she tells me that she has had several years of heartache and separation.”

Ms Daby told MPs that her constituent had been detained for more than 1,650 days and “these are days of his life that cannot be returned to him”.

A statement from Mr Ashoori’s family said they were “delighted” to confirm he is returning to the UK, adding it is a day that has “been a long time coming” as they thanked everyone involved in bringing him home.

“1,672 days ago our family’s foundations were rocked when our father and husband was unjustly detained and taken away from us,” they said.

“Now, we can look forward to rebuilding those same foundations with our cornerstone back in place.”

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Mr Ashoori’s family has been campaigning for his release

How their release was secured

Multiple foreign secretaries have tried to get the three Britons released, but failed.

Ms Truss, who became foreign secretary in September 2021, said she dispatched a team of Foreign Office negotiators to Tehran to secure the release of British detainees in October and November last year.

There was a last round of negotiations to sign off an agreement to release the trio and settle the debt.

The Labour Party on Wednesday called for an inquiry into what more could have been done to secure the three detainees’ release.

Image:
Anoosheh with his daughter Elika at her graduation

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy told MPs there were “serious lessons that need to be learned from this appalling episode”.

He also criticised the prime minister as he praised Ms Truss, telling the Commons: “She showed more skills in diplomacy than her bungling boss.”

When Mr Johnson himself was foreign secretary, in 2017, he was accused of risking a longer detention spell for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe due to his remarks about her case.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was taking her then-22-month-old daughter, Gabriella, to visit family when she was arrested at Tehran Airport and sentenced to five years in jail, spending four in Evin Prison and one under house arrest.

According to her family, she was told by local authorities that she was being detained because of the UK’s failure to pay the outstanding GBP400m debt to Iran.

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Gabriella was only 22 months old when Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested

‘Gabriella wants to prove to friends she has a mummy’

There have been several times over the years where it has appeared that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was to be released but it did not happen, so there was reticence over the news on Wednesday morning.

Mr Ratcliffe’s lawyer, Penny Madden, told Sky News his wife’s return is of “the most enormous relief and celebration” and comes after “days of anxiety”.

Read more: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – The six-year fight for freedom

She said Gabriella, their now seven-year-old daughter, is “beyond excited at being reunited with her mummy”.

Image:
Richard Ratcliffe has been fighting for his wife’s release

It was only when the “wheels were off the ground and she was in the air” that the “enormity hit them”, Ms Madden added.

Mr Ratcliffe’s sister, Rebecca Ratcliffe, told Sky News when she sees her sister-in-law there will be “lots of tears and hugging but probably not much speaking”.

She added that Gabriella is most looking forward to “her mummy picking her up from school to prove to her friends she really does have a mummy”.

Richard Ratcliffe’s continuous fight for his wife’s freedom

During her detention, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family and friends in the UK kept up a continuous fight for her freedom, which saw her husband on hunger strike, and there has been an international outcry for her release.

The Foreign Office advised Mr Ratcliffe to not speak out in the media but his lawyer told Sky News she thinks his decision to do so helped.

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‘Overwhelming’ day for Ratcliffe family

In March 2020, his wife was freed from jail due to the coronavirus pandemic and kept under house arrest, but hopes of her being granted clemency were later dashed and in April last year she was given an additional one-year jail term and banned from leaving Iran for a year.

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Original Article: news.sky.com

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WHO Estimates 15m People Have Died Directly or Indirectly From COVID – More Than Double Official Death Toll

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The World Health Organisation estimates that 15 million people worldwide have now died of coronavirus – or as a result of its impact on health services.

WHO data shows the number of excess COVID mortalities to be somewhere between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people from 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2021. This is more than double the official death toll of around six million.

Excess mortality refers to the number of people who have died of the virus either directly or indirectly by being unable to access health services for other conditions.

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The figures were compiled using country-reported data and statistical modelling, the WHO said.

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There were 14.9 million excess deaths associated with COVID-19 by the end of 2021, the UN body said on Thursday.

Most excess COVID deaths (86%) happened in Asia, Europe and the Americas, according to the figures.

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Middle-income countries accounted for 81% of deaths, with 28% occurring in upper-middle-income countries and 4% in low-income ones.

Some 68% of all excess deaths worldwide happened in just 10 countries.

There was a higher rate for men (57%) than there was for women (43%), with more excess deaths among the elderly than younger generations.

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WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commented: “These sobering data not only point to the impact of the pandemic but also to the need for all countries to invest in more resilient health systems that can sustain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems.

“WHO is committed to working with all countries to strengthen their health information systems to generate better data for better decisions and better outcomes.”

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Original Source: news.sky.com

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Pope Francis Seen Using Wheelchair for the First Time for Mobility Reasons

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The Pope has been pictured using a wheelchair – the first time he’s used one in public due to the knee pain that’s made it hard for him to walk and stand.

Francis, 85, was wheeled on stage and helped into a seat during an audience with a group of nuns and religious superiors from around the world at the Vatican.

He appears to be having a flare-up of sciatica, a nerve condition he suffers with that he’s called his “troublesome guest”.

The Pope has had to cancel or cut short activities several times in the last month because of pain in his right knee.

He was pictured in a wheelchair last July after major intestinal surgery, but this is believed to be the first time he’s used one in public due to his mobility problems.

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Before Thursday’s event, he was able to walk the roughly 10 metres or so from the side entrance of the stage to his seat with some help.

He recently received some injections to try to relieve the pain but has continued to struggle.

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His impaired movement was apparent over Easter when he attended but did not take charge of masses at St Peter’s Basilica, instead delegating a cardinal or archbishop to preside.

During a trip to Malta in April he was also pictured using an elevator platform to get on and off the plane.

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Original Article: news.sky.com

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Woman Pulled Alive From Rubble Six Days After Building Collapsed

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A woman has been found alive in the rubble of a building that partially collapsed almost six days earlier, Chinese state media has said.

At least five people are confirmed to have died and possibly dozens are still missing following the disaster in the city of Changsha, in central China‘s Hunan Province, on 29 April.

The unidentified woman has become the 10th survivor and was rescued shortly after midnight today, about 132 hours after the rear of the six-storey building suddenly caved in, the official Xinhua News Agency has reported.

The woman was conscious and told rescuers how to pull her out without causing further injury, Xinhua added.

Teams had used dogs and hand tools as well as drones and electronic life detectors in the search.

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All the survivors were reportedly in good condition after being treated in a hospital and it is thought intermittent rain showers over the last few days may have helped their chances of survival without food or water.

At least nine people have been arrested in relation to the collapse of what Xinhua has described as a “self-built building”.

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This includes its owner, on suspicion of ignoring building codes or committing other violations.

Three people in charge of design and construction were also held, along with five others who allegedly gave a false safety assessment for a guest house on the building’s fourth to sixth floors.

The building also housed residences, a cafe and shops.

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An aerial photo shows the site of the collapsed residential building in Changsha, central China’s Hunan Province

There has been increase in the number of collapses of self-built buildings in recent years.

Last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for additional checks to uncover structural weaknesses.

Following the building collapse at the weekend, he urged for more victims to be found in the rubble “at all costs”.

Poor adherence to safety standards, including the illegal addition of extra floors and failure to use reinforcing iron bars, is often blamed for similar disasters.

China also suffers from decaying infrastructure such as gas pipes that has led to explosions and collapses.

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Source: news.sky.com

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