Iran has released a South Korean-flagged tanker seized three months ago in the Gulf, the Foreign Ministries in Seoul and Tehran confirmed on Friday.
"The ship left safely today," the South Korean Foreign Ministry said, adding that the captain of the Hankuk Chemi chemical and oil tanker has also been freed, reports dpa news agency.
Iran's Revolutionary Guard seized the tanker in January and escorted it to the port of Bandar Abbas.
Authorities in Tehran claimed the vessel was leaking oil and polluting the Gulf.
Iran said previously it had released all crew members, aside from the captain, in February.
"After completing the legal investigations, the public prosecutor's office ordered the tanker to be released," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Friday.
Khatibzadeh reiterated that the tanker was seized due to marine pollution.
Tehran has asserted several times in recent weeks that a violation of environmental regulations in Iranian waters was the reason for the detention of the tanker and that there was no political motivation behind it.
The incident occurred amid tensions between the two countries over Iranian bank accounts frozen in South Korea as a result of US sanctions against Tehran.
According to South Korean media reports, $7 billion are at stake.
The Gulf has been at the centre of a smouldering dispute between Iran and several Western states, especially the US.
There have been several incidents, especially in the Strait of Hormuz, which lies between the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. It is one of the most important shipping routes worldwide.
Almost a third of global oil exports are shipped through this strait.
Tennessee will become the latest US state where residents will be allowed to carry guns without a permit after Governor Bill Lee signed an "open carry" bill, a local media report said.
The "constitutional carry" law which takes effect July 1 will allow most citizens over 21 years old and legally in possession of their handguns to carry them in public without further authorisation, dpa news agency quoted the Tennessean newspaper as saying in its report.
"I signed constitutional carry today because it shouldn't be hard for law-abiding Tennesseans to exercise their (2nd Amendment) rights. Thank you, members of the General Assembly and NRA, for helping get this done," the Governor tweeted on Thursday.
The bill has been backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA).
But leading law enforcement groups in Tennessee oppose it, arguing that the change could lead to increases crime and make police officers more vulnerable, according to the Tennessean report.
Of the 50 US states, 31 generally allow what is called open carry in public places without a permit or license, although firearms are still prohibited in specific locations in those states.
President Joe Biden spoke out in favour of gun control on Thursday.
"Gun violence in this country is an epidemic. Let me say it again: Gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it's an international embarrassment," Biden said in a speech on gun violence prevention at the White House Rose Garden.
"Every day in this country, 316 people are shot. Every single day. A hundred and six of them die every day," he asserted.
He urged the US Congress to pass stricter gun laws.
One person was killed and five others injured during a shooting in the US state of Texas, according to local police.
The police said that the shooting took place at an industrial complex at around 2.30 p.m. on Thursday in the town of Bryan, about 160 km northwest of Houston, and four of the five wounded victims were in serious condition, reports Xinhua news agency.
One of the injured victims has been identified as a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) trooper who was shot during a search operation for the suspect.
According to Texas DPS, the officer remained in serious but stable condition.
Bryan Police Chief Eric Buske told reporters he believed the suspect is an employee at the cabinet-making business where the shooting happened.
He said the man was believed to be solely responsible for the shooting.
According to police, the shooter was arrested later in Bedias, a community about 40 km northeast of Bryan.
The reason for the shooting is yet to be determined as several law enforcement agencies are investigating the inceident.
After the shooting, Texas Governor Greg Abbott praised the law enforcement's swift act of arresting the suspect.
"The state will assist in any way needed to help prosecute the suspect," he said.
This incident is the latest in a series of shootings that have occurred across the country in recent days.
On March 31, four people, including a nine-year-old boy, were killed during a mass shooting in the city of Orange, California state.
On March 22, 10 people, including one police officer, were killed in a mass shooting at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado.
On March 16, a series of mass shootings occurred at three spas or massage parlours in the metropolitan area of Atlanta, Georgia, which killed eight people including six Asian women.
US President Joe Biden's administration has imposed sanctions on an alleged Pakistan-based human smuggling organisation, after it was found involved and guilty for smuggling migrants to America.
In a statement, the US Treasury Department confirmed that it has blacklisted Pakistani national Abid Ali Khan and what it labelled the "Abid Ali Khan Transnational Criminal Organization", for being a "prolific human smuggling organisation".
The Department also blacklisted three people and one other entity associated with the organisation.
Khan was indicted on Wednesday by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia for allegedly leading the whole process of smuggling undocumented people into the US from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"Abid Ali Khan allegedly organised and leads a widespread smuggling organisation that facilitates the illegal smuggling of individuals through various countries and to the US," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas McQuaid of the Justice Department's Criminal Division.
The Treasury Department stated that "the organisation has facilitated the smuggling of foreign nationals using various routes through Latin America since at least 2015".
"Khan and members of the organisation coordinate smuggling of foreign nationals to the US for an average of $20,000 per individual.
"The organisations frequently uses a travel route that begins in Pakistan or Afghanistan and transits through several South and Central American countries before arriving at the southern border of the US, often providing fraudulently obtained passports to clients," Treasury it added.
The decision by the Treasury department comes in the wake of a sharp increase in apprehensions on the US-Mexico border, posing serious political challenges to the new administration.
As per the sanctions, all assets of Khan and his affiliates would be frozen, while Americans will be barred from dealing with them.
Pakistan is yet to respond to this announcement by Washington.
However, the Biden administration's decision is tantamount to a different and more rigid and strict stance, Washington is taking when it comes to dealing with Pakistan and taking its relations forward.
Australia's Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly on Friday declared that "nothing is off the table" in order to make up for a shortfall in Covid-19 vaccines.
Kelly urged Australians to remain confident in the country's coronavirus vaccine rollout after use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford jab was limited, reports Xinhua news agency.
Kelly and Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Thursday evening that access to the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, which Australia has acquired 53.8 million doses of, would be limited for citizens under the age of 50 on the advice of medical regulators.
It came after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) advised that "very rare cases of blood clots" were a side effect of the vaccine.
Kelly on Friday said he understood that the announcement could undermine confidence in vaccines but reassured Australians that authorities were working to secure additional doses of safer jabs.
"Of course something like the announcements overnight can affect vaccine confidence," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
"The important thing is for the Australian public to know that as soon as we've known something, as soon as our expert advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) gives us the guidance on immunisation, we went out (and informed the public).
"We've made this preference for not using AstraZeneca in the under 50s on the basis of that safety concern but ... I would really urge people to make sure that they are lining up when their turn comes to get the appropriate vaccine."
Kelly and Morrison said that the Pfizer vaccine, which Australia has only 10 million doses of, is "preferred" for adults under 50 who have not already received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Thursday night's announcement is the latest in a series of significant blows to Australia's vaccine rollout, which has been delayed by supply issues.
On Thursday, Australia surpassed 1 million vaccine doses administered.
In January the government promised that 4 million people would be vaccinated by the end of March.
Kelly told the ABC that "nothing is off the table" as the government seeks to address vaccine shortfalls, flagging a deal with Moderna.
The federal government has previously agreed to acquire 51 million doses of Novavax's vaccine, which has not yet been approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
"We are looking at all of those options right now. We know that Novavax, we have 51 million doses on order, but that is not yet approved by the TGA," Kelly said.
"The TGA will absolutely expedite that matter. And as soon as Novavax is ready to supply to Australia we will be going through those processes."
Despite Thursday's announcement that use of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be limited, biotechnology company CSL, which was contracted by the government to manufacture 50 million doses locally, said it would continue to produce it.
"CSL remains committed to meeting its contracted arrangements with the Australian government and AstraZeneca for locally produced AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines," the company said in a statement on Friday.
The United States has recorded more than 20,000 infection cases of coronavirus variants, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The majority of those variants cases, 19,554 cases were caused by the variant known as B.1.1.7, which was originally detected in Britain, Xinhua news agency reported on Thursday.
There were 424 cases of a new strain initially discovered in South Africa, called B.1.351, and 434 cases of the P.1 strain first discovered in Brazil.
In addition, the B.1.427 and B.1.429 variants, two coronavirus strains first detected in the U.S. state of California, are also being closely monitored by the CDC.
The five coronavirus strains are currently classified by the CDC as "variants of concern," as evidence shows an increase in their transmissibility, increased hospitalizations or deaths, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, and diagnostic detection failures.
Even as the country picks up its Covid-19 vaccination pace, the coronavirus variants are spreading rapidly, and experts warn the variants infections could potentially stall the nation's recovery from the pandemic.
The B.1.1.7 variant is "now the most common lineage circulating in the United States," said CDC Director Rachelle Walensky on Wednesday.
"Testing remains an important strategy to rapidly identify and isolate infectious individuals, including those with variants of concern," she said.
Walensky said earlier the B.1.1.7 strain was starting to become the predominant strain in many regions of the United States, accounting for 26 percent of COVID-19 cases circulating across the nation.
She urged the public to continue pandemic safety measures, such as washing hands, wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
Walensky said the United States must accelerate its vaccination efforts.
About 174 million Covid-19 vaccine shots have been administered by Thursday, while more than 229 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been distributed across the country.
On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden announced that all American adults will be eligible for Covid-19 vaccine by April 19, moving up his original deadline by nearly two weeks.
The overall global Covid-19 caseload has topped 133.7 million, while the deaths have surged to more than 2.90 million, according to the Johns Hopkins University.
In its latest update on Friday morning, the University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) revealed that the current global caseload and death toll stood at 133,796,725 and 2,900,922, respectively.
The US is the worst-hit country with the world's highest number of cases and deaths at 31,000,053 and 560,084, respectively, according to the CSSE.
Brazil follows in the second place with 13,279,857 cases and 345,025 fatalities.
The other countries with more than two million confirmed coronavirus cases are India (12,928,574), France (5,000,023), Russia (4,563,026), the UK (4,384,954), Italy (3,717,602), Turkey (3,689,866), Spain (3,336,637), Germany (2,966,789), Poland (2,499,507), Colombia (2,492,081), Argentina (2,473,751), Mexico (2,267,019) and Iran (2,006,934), the CSSE figures showed.
In terms of deaths, Mexico comes in the third place with 206,146 fatalities.
Nations with a death toll of over 50,000 are India (166,862), the UK (127,224), Italy (112,861), Russia (100,158), France (98,196), Germany (78,049), Spain (76,179), Colombia (65,014), Iran (63,884), Argentina (57,122), Poland (56,659), Peru (53,978) and South Africa (53,173).
The death toll from the floods and landslides triggered by tropical cyclone Seroja in Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara province has increased to 165 with 45 still missing, the National Disaster Management Agency said.
"Two died in Bima district, West Nusa Tenggara province, and 163 others in East Nusa Tenggara province," the agency's head Doni Monardo said.
In addition, 45 people are still missing and another 20,929 are displaced, reports Xinhua news agency.
The Indonesian police and the army have deployed 7,572 personnel to search for the missing people.
Meanwhile, 115 public facilities were damaged, a number of bridges were broken, and agricultural irrigation and rice fields were submerged.
Likewise, 8,322 houses in East Nusa Tenggara and 5,333 others in West Nusa Tenggara were damaged.
The Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency said such extreme weather as heavy rains, strong winds, and high sea waves of up to six meters occurred after the tropical cyclone Seroja was swirled in the Savu Sea, south of East Nusa Tenggara Province with a peak on April 5.
Currently, Seroja moves away from Indonesia's territory, but the impact would still be felt in a number of provinces in the south of the country for the next few days.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry has urged the UN Security Council to take "decisive and immediate measures to prevent the repetition of Israeli attacks on the Syrian territory".
In a statement on Thursday, the Ministry highlighted the need to hold Israel accountable for its "terrorism and crimes committed against the Syrian and Palestinian peoples and its continuous support for terrorist organisations", reports Xinhua news agency.
Israel has yet to respond to the accusation from the Syrian government.
The statement comes as Israeli warplanes fired missiles on Wednesday night against Syrian military positions in the countryside of the capital Damascus.
Pro-rebel activists said four pro-government fighters were killed in the attack while a weapon depot was destroyed.
The Ministry also slammed the Israeli attack as a flagrant violation of the UN Charter, principles of international law and relevant Security Council resolutions that demand respect for the sovereignty of Syria.
According to reports, Israel in recent years has carried out numerous airstrikes against Iranian-linked targets in Syria.
In a boost to the Covid-19 vaccination campaign at home and in Europe, French subcontractor Delpharm started packaging Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in its plant in Saint-Remy-sur-Avre.
President Emmanuel Macron tweeted on Wednesday that the country's goal is "250 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines" in 2021 and "it begins today with the first BioNTech-Pfizer vaccines" in the Delpharm site, reports Xinhua news agency.
"Strengthening of health systems, better distribution of vaccine production capacities thanks to technology transfers, transparency of contracts, sharing of doses: an increase in power is essential for collective security in the face of the risks of variants," he said.
"As long as the virus circulates and evolves, no one is safe," Macron warned, calling for "a coordinated and united response, on a global scale" to contain the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed 97,722 lives in France, the heaviest death toll in Europe after the UK and Italy.
The vaccines packaged in France were made in BioNTech's factory in Germany.
Some 1,700 vaccination centres have been opened across France and 250,000 health professionals are mobilised to ramp up the vaccine rollout, which will be open to people aged between 60 and 70 in mid-April.
The government aims to extend vaccination to those aged between 50 and 60 next month, followed by people under 50 from June 15, and all adults who want to be inoculated by the end of the summer.
To date, about 9.8 million people in France have been given the first shots of a coronavirus vaccine, representing 18.7 per cent of the adult population, according to the Health Ministry.
France has approved the use of four vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.
Islamabad, April 6 (IANS) Since the time the Biden administration has taken over, Pakistan has been putting its efforts to reset its relations with the US through a transformational phase, but all its efforts have been met with a lukewarm response.
The Imran Khan-led dispensation had hoped to opt for a transactional relationship with the new US administration, knowing that President Joe Biden knew Pakistan well as the Vice President earlier, and had a better knowledge of the country, which Islamabad felt would pave the way for a better understanding.
Pakistan's efforts were focused on resetting ties with the US on the basis of security and economic cooperation. However, government officials now admit that the effort has been met with a cold shoulder so far.
The level of interest expressed by Pakistan can be well gauged by the fact that Prime Minister Imran Khan had formed an apex committee to evolve a broad-based agenda for engagement with the Biden administration, with special focus on seeking economic cooperation and not only relying on security cooperation. Enhanced trade ties, energy and climate change, and investment were among the important areas for Pakistan to seek US cooperation.
Pakistani officials maintained that their ambition was to evolve the relationship with the US "through a bilateral lens" and not through the paradigm of China or India. "We want to evolve relationship with the US purely through bilateral lens. We don't want to be perceived through the Chinese lens or Indian lens," said a senior Pakistani official. "However, the trouble is that the new US administration has not given us a positive signal so far," he admitted.
The new US President speaks to heads of various key governments, especially allies, as a normal ritual. Biden, who has been in the White House for over two months now, has not yet spoken to Imran Khan over the phone, and has ignored Pakistan's request for a direct contact.
On the other hand, he has already spoken to the Afghan President and the Indian Prime Minister. While the US's lukewarm response has come as a surprise to many in Pakistan, Islamabad is hopeful that Pakistan's pivotal role in the Afghan peace process and ongoing negotiations will compel Biden to speak to Imran Khan in the coming days.