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Trump sanctions Iranian top leaders

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(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump targeted Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other top Iranian officials with sanctions on Monday, taking a dramatic, unprecedented step to increase pressure on Iran after Tehran’s downing of an unmanned American drone.

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unprecedented step to increase pressure on Iran after Tehran’s downing of an unmanned American drone.

With tensions running high between the two countries, Trump signed an executive order imposing the sanctions, which U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said would lock billions of dollars more in Iranian assets.

Trump told reporters the sanctions were in part a response to last week’s downing of a U.S. drone by Iran, but would have happened anyway. He said Khamenei was ultimately responsible for what Trump called “the hostile conduct of the regime” in the Middle East.

Trump said the sanctions “will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader’s office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support.”

John Smith, who was director of the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) before joining a law firm last year, said the United States had never targeted an Iranian head of state before and that was a sign Trump was getting personal.

“Generally, when you target a head of state you’re not turning back. That is when you believe all options are at an end,” Smith told Reuters.

Some policy analysts say earlier sanctions issued under Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign are why Iran has felt compelled to adopt more aggressive tactics as its economy feels the crunch. The Trump administration wants to force Tehran to open talks on its nuclear and missile programs and its activities in the region.

Iran would not accept talks with the United States while it is under the threat of sanctions, Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht Ravanchi, told reporters at the U.N.

The U.S. decision is another indication it “has no respect for international law and order,” he said.

The U.N. Security Council met behind closed doors on Monday at the request of the United States, whose acting ambassador Jonathan Cohen said evidence showed Iran was to blame for attacks on commercial tankers in the Gulf in May and June and urged the world to tell Tehran its actions were unacceptable.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, responding to the sanctions in a Twitter post, said hawkish politicians close to Trump “despise diplomacy, and thirst for war.” Last year, Trump withdrew the United States from a 2015 international accord to restrict Tehran’s pathway to a nuclear bomb and has since been ramping up sanctions to throttle the Iranian economy.

Mnuchin said Zarif would be targeted with U.S. sanctions later this week.

The latest sanctions are aimed at denying Iran’s leadership access to financial resources, blocking them from using the United States financial system or having access to any assets in the United States.


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24 Hours Across Africa

EU to probe Amazon over use of merchant data

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Amazon became the target of an antitrust investigation by the European Union on Wednesday over its use of merchants’ data, underlining the increasing regulatory scrutiny about how tech companies exploit customers’ information.

The European Commission has been seeking feedback from retailers and manufacturers since September into Amazon’s dual role as a marketplace for merchants and acting as a competitor following complaints from traders about Amazon’s practices.

The Commission said its investigation would focus on Amazon’s standard agreements with marketplace sellers and its use of data in choosing winners of the “buy box”, which allows consumers to add items from a specific retailer directly to their shopping carts.

European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who can fine companies up to 10% of their global turnover, said the issue was crucial as more and more Europeans shop online.

“E-commerce has boosted retail competition and brought more choice and better prices. We need to ensure that large online platforms don’t eliminate these benefits through anti-competitive behavior,” she said.

Amazon said it would cooperate fully with the EU investigation. The company reached a deal with Germany’s antitrust authority on Wednesday to overhaul its terms of service for third-party merchants.

Under its terms of service for Europe here set out on its website, merchants grant Amazon “royalty-free” rights to use in a range of ways their materials, such as technology, trademarks, content and product information.

“There have been concerns around the world that competition authorities have failed to appreciate the market power that comes from ownership of data,” he said.

In Amazon’s case, he said the Commission needed to show “the standard agreements with retailers were anti-competitive in somehow allowing Amazon to use the data to manipulate market outcomes, or that Amazon had in some way abused its dominance.”

The Commission had been struggling to define the market in which Amazon operates in order to identify where the competitive harm could have been, sources said.

This would not be Amazon’s first run-in with the Commission. Two years ago, it was told to pay back taxes of about 250 million euros ($280 million) to Luxembourg because of illegal tax benefits. That same year it settled with the regulator over its distribution deals with e-book publishers in Europe.

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24 Hours Across Africa

US House faults Trump attacks on congresswomen as racist

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Source: BBC-

The US House of Representatives has voted to condemn President Donald Trump after a series of attacks aimed at four congresswomen.

The symbolic resolution denounced Mr Trump’s “racist comments that have legitimised fear and hatred of New Americans and people of colour”.

Mr Trump had been accused of racism and xenophobia for telling the members of congress to leave the country.

The president has since tweeted: “I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!”

Tuesday’s debate in the Democratic-controlled chamber was a highly polarised debate,

with various Republicans insisting the vote itself was a breach of decorum.

It passed by 240 votes to 187.

Four Republicans and the House’s sole independent, former Republican lawmaker Justin Amash, joined all 235 Democrats to approve the resolution

The four Republicans were Texas congressman Will Hurd (the party’s only African American representative), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pennsylvania), Fred Upton (Michigan) and Susan Brooks (Indiana).

Passing a resolution – which is a statement of opinion and not legally binding – criticising presidential conduct is very rare.

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