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Germany urges Iran to comply with nuclear pact

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German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (pictured) called on Monday (22 February) for salvaging the 2015 nuclear pact between Iran and world powers which he said was in Tehran’s interest, writes Stephanie Nebehay.

Addressing the U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, he noted the Biden’s administration’s stated readiness to rejoin the pact, adding: “It is in Iran’s best interest to change course now, before the agreement is damaged beyond repair.”

Maas said that Germany expected “full compliance, full transparency and full cooperation” from Iran with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), whose chief Rafael Grossi returned on Sunday from a trip to Tehran.

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Disasters

Hope of finding survivors of blast in German industrial park fades

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A view shows Chempark following an explosion in Leverkusen, Germany, July 27, 2021. REUTERS/Leon Kuegeler

The operator of a German industrial park that was rocked by an explosion on Tuesday (27 July) dampened hopes of finding more survivors in the debris and warned residents near the site to stay away from soot that rained down after the blast, write Tom Kaeckenhoff and Maria Sheahan, Reuters.

Two people were found dead after the explosion at the Chempark site, home to chemicals companies including Bayer (BAYGn.DE) and Lanxess (LXSG.DE), and 31 were injured.

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Five are still missing, Currenta chief Frank Hyldmar told journalists on Wednesday, adding that "we have to assume that we will not find them alive".

With the focus on the scene still on finding the missing people, including with the aid of high-resolution drones, the company said it was still too early to say what caused the explosion, which led to a fire in a tank containing solvents.

Experts are also analysing whether soot that rained down on the surrounding area after the blast could be toxic.

Until the results are in, residents should avoid getting the soot on their skin and bringing it into the house on their shoes, and they should not eat fruit from their gardens, Hermann Greven of the Leverkusen fire department said.

He also said that playgrounds in the area have been closed.

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Google takes legal action over Germany's expanded hate-speech law

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The logo of Google is seen on a building at La Defense business and financial district in Courbevoie near Paris, France, September 1, 2020.  REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo
Google app is seen on a smartphone in this illustration taken, July 13, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Google said on Tuesday (27 July) that it was taking legal action over an expanded version of Germany's hate-speech law that recently took effect, saying its provisions violated the right to privacy of its users, writes Douglas Busvine, Reuters.

The Alphabet (GOOGL.O) unit, which runs video-sharing site YouTube, filed suit at the administrative court in Cologne to challenge a provision that allows user data to be passed to law enforcement before it is clear any crime has been committed.

The request for a judicial review comes as Germany gears up for a general election in September, amid concerns that hostile discourse and influence operations conducted via social media may destabilise the country's normally staid campaign politics.

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"This massive intervention in the rights of our users stands, in our view, not only in conflict with data protection, but also with the German constitution and European law," Sabine Frank, YouTube's regional head of public policy, wrote in a blog post.

Germany enacted the anti-hate speech law, known in German as NetzDG, in early 2018, making online social networks YouTube, Facebook (FB.O) and Twitter (TWTR.N) responsible for policing and removing toxic content.

The law, which also required social networks to publish regular reports on their compliance, was widely criticised as ineffective, and parliament in May passed legislation to toughen and broaden its application.

Google has taken particular issue with a requirement in the expanded NetzDG that requires providers to pass on to law enforcement personal details of those sharing content suspected to be hateful.

Only once that personal information is in the possession of law enforcement is a decision foreseen on whether to launch a criminal case, meaning that data of innocent people could end up in a crime database without their knowledge, it argues.

"Network providers such as YouTube are now required to automatically transfer user data en masse and in bulk to law enforcement agencies without any legal order, without knowledge of the user, only based on the suspicion of a criminal offence," a Google spokesperson said.

"This undermines fundamental rights, we have therefore decided to have the relevant provisions of the NetzDG judicially reviewed by the competent administrative court in Cologne.”

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Blast in German industrial park kills two, several missing

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An explosion in a German industrial park on Tuesday (27 July) killed at least two people and injured 31, setting off a fierce blaze that sent a pall of smoke over the western city of Leverkusen. Several people were still missing, write Maria Sheahan, Madeline Chambers and Caroline Copley, Reuters.

Emergency services took three hours to extinguish the fire at the Chempark site, home to chemicals companies Bayer (BAYGn.DE) and Lanxess (LXSG.DE), that flared up after the blast at 9h40 (7h40 GMT), park operator Currenta said.

"My thoughts are with the injured and with loved ones," said Chempark chief Lars Friedrich. "We are still searching for the missing people, but hopes of finding them alive are fading," he added.

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Police said five of the 31 injured people were affected seriously enough to need intensive care.

"This is a tragic moment for the city of Leverkusen," said Uwe Richrath, mayor of the city, which lies north of Cologne.

The area and surrounding roads were sealed off for much of the day.

Police told residents living nearby to stay indoors and shut doors and windows in case there were toxic fumes. Currenta said locals should also turn off air conditioning systems while it measured the air around the site for possible toxic gases.

Firefighters stand outside Chempark following an explosion in Leverkusen, Germany, July 27, 2021. REUTERS/Leon Kuegeler
Smoke billows following an explosion in Leverkusen, Germany, July 27, 2021, in this still image taken from social media video. Instagram/Rogerbakowsky via REUTERS

Chempark's Friedrich said it was not clear what had caused the explosion, which led to a fire starting in a tank containing solvents.

"Solvents were burned during the incident, and we do not know precisely what substances were released," Friedrich added. "We are examining this with authorities, taking samples."

Sirens and emergency alerts on the German civil protection agency's mobile phone app warned citizens of "extreme danger".

Leverkusen is less than 50 km (30 miles) from a region hit last week by catastrophic floods that killed at least 180 people.

More than 30 companies operate at the Chempark site in Leverkusen, including Covestro (1COV.DE), Bayer, Lanxess and Arlanxeo, according to its website.

Bayer and Lanxess in 2019 sold Chempark operator Currenta to Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets (MQG.AX) for an enterprise value of €3.5 billion ($4.12bn).

($1 = €0.8492)

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