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Chinese companies win licensing bids to explore Iraq oil and gas fields

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By Moayed Kenany, Timour Azhari and Adam Makary

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -Chinese companies won bids to explore five Iraqi oil and gas fields on Saturday in a licensing round for hydrocarbon exploration that was primarily aimed at ramping up gas production for domestic use.

An Iraqi Kurdish company also took two of the 29 projects up for grabs in the three-day licensing round across central, southern and western Iraq, which for the first time includes an offshore exploration block in the country’s Arab Gulf waters.

Iraq aims to lure billions of dollars of investments to develop its oil and gas sector as it looks to ramp up local petrochemicals production and end imports of gas from neighbouring Iran that are currently key to producing power.

More than 20 companies pre-qualified for the licensing round, including European, Chinese, Arab and Iraqi groups.

There were notably no U.S. oil majors involved, even after Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia met with representatives of U.S. oil firms during an official visit to the United States last month.

Five bids were won on Saturday by Chinese companies.

Zhongman Petroleum and Natural Gas Group (ZPEC) took the northern extension of the Eastern Baghdad field, in Baghdad, and the Middle Euphrates field that straddles the southern Najaf and Karbala provinces, the oil ministry said.

China’s United Energy Group Ltd won a bid to develop the Al-Faw field in southern Basra, while ZhenHua won a bid to develop Iraq’s Qurnain field in the Iraqi-Saudi border region and Geo-Jade won a bid to develop Iraq’s Zurbatiya field in the Wasit.

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Two oil and gas fields were taken by Iraq’s KAR Group – the Dimah field in eastern Maysan province, and the Sasan & Alan fields in Iraq’s northwestern Nineveh province – the ministry said.

Around 20 more projects are open for bidding on Sunday and Monday.

Falah Al-amri, the Iraqi prime minister’s advisor for oil and gas issues, said the government hoped the new projects would raise oil production to 6 million barrels per day by 2030 from around 5 million now.

The government also wants the projects to produce enough so that, along with plans to all-but eliminate gas flaring by 2030, Iraq could end imports.

“Its too early to talk about (gas) exports. We want to get self-sufficient,” Al-amri told Reuters.

Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia, at one time had targeted becoming a rival to the Gulf Arab kingdom with output of over a tenth of global demand.

But its oil sector development has been hampered by contract terms viewed as unfavourable by many major oil companies as well as recurring conflict and political paralysis.

Growing investor focus in recent years on environmental, social and governance criteria have also had an effect.

Western oil giants such as Exxon Mobil Corp (NYSE:) and Royal Dutch Shell (LON:) Plc have departed from a number of projects in Iraq while Chinese companies have steadily expanded their footprint.

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Comet fragment lights up sky over Spain and Portugal ‘like a movie’

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By Catarina Demony and Ana Cantero

LISBON (Reuters) – A bright comet fragment lit up the skies over parts of Spain and Portugal late on Saturday, according to the European Space Agency (ESA), with one Lisbon resident saying the dazzling display “felt like a movie”.

On Sunday morning, the ESA shared on X a video captured by its “fireball camera” of what it described as a “stunning meteor” over the skies of the western Spanish city of Caceres, near the Portuguese border.

But it later said it appeared to be a “small piece of a comet” and not a meteor, estimating it flew over Spain and Portugal at a speed of 45 km (28 miles) per second before burning up over the Atlantic.

“The likelihood of any meteorites being found is very low,” the ESA said.

In both countries, videos shot in several cities and towns went viral on social media, showing the object crossing the night sky at high speed and illuminating it in bright tones of blue and green.

The Spanish Calar Alto astronomical observatory also said a preliminary analysis by Andalusia’s Institute of Astrophysics revealed the object had a “cometary origin”.

During a concert in the Portuguese city of Barcelos, the object was filmed streaking across the sky as the singer performed. Another video showed the skies of Porto, Portugal’s second biggest city, turning bright for a few seconds.

Many contacted emergency services to report what happened. A spokesperson for the Spanish Emergency service 112, in Madrid, told Europa Press news agency it had received several calls.

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Lisbon resident Bernardo Taborda, 31, told Reuters he was walking around the city with friends when the sky suddenly turned bright green: “It almost looked like daylight … we all looked back and saw it.”

“It felt like a movie, we all looked at each other and we were stunned,” Taborda said. “It was amazing.”

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Helicopter carrying Iran’s President Raisi crashes in mountains, official says

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By Parisa Hafezi and Elwely Elwelly

DUBAI (Reuters) -A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister crashed on Sunday as it was crossing mountain terrain in heavy fog, an Iranian official told Reuters, and rescuers were making their way to the site of the incident.

The official said the lives of Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian were “at risk following the helicopter crash”, which happened on the way back from a visit to Iran’s border with Azerbaijan.

“We are still hopeful but information coming from the crash site is very concerning,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The bad weather was complicating rescue efforts, the state news agency IRNA reported. The chief of staff of Iran’s army ordered all the resources of the army and the elite Revolutionary Guard to be put to use in the search and rescue operations.

State TV stopped all its regular programming to show prayers being held for Raisi across the country and, in a corner of the screen, live coverage of rescue teams deployed on foot in the mountainous area in heavy fog.

The rescue teams were expected to reach the site of the crash later on Sunday evening, state TV reported.

Raisi, 63, was elected president in 2021, and since taking office has ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.

In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is the supreme leader rather than the president who has the final say on all major policies.

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But many have seen Raisi as a strong contender to succeed his 85-year-old mentor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has strongly endorsed Raisi’s main policies.

Raisi’s victory in a closely managed election in 2021 brought all branches of power under the control of hardliners, after eight years when the presidency had been held by pragmatist Hassan Rouhani, who negotiated a nuclear deal with Washington.

However, Raisi’s standing may have been dented by widespread protests against clerical rule and a failure to turn around Iran’s economy, hamstrung by Western sanctions.

Raisi had been at the Azerbaijani border to inaugurate the Qiz-Qalaisi Dam, a joint project.

Interior Minister Ahmed Vahidi told state TV only that one of the helicopters in a group of three had come down in the incident, and that authorities were awaiting further details.

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Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs apologizes after video depicting attack on ex-girlfriend

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By Katharine Jackson

(Reuters) – Music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs posted an apology to social media on Sunday, two days after the release of hotel surveillance video that appeared to show him attacking his ex-girlfriend.

“I’m truly sorry,” Combs said in a video post on his Instagram page. “My behavior on that video is inexcusable. I take full responsibility for my actions in that video. I’m disgusted. I was disgusted then when I did it. I’m disgusted now.”

Addressing the camera directly, Combs said he had sought therapy and gone into rehab.

In the surveillance video from 2016, which was released by CNN on Friday, the rapper appears to grab R&B vocalist Casandra Ventura as she waits by an elevator in a California hotel. Clad only in a towel, he throws her to the floor, kicking her repeatedly before dragging her toward a hallway, the video shows.

A representative for Combs could not be immediately reached for further comment.

Ventura, who performs under the stage name Cassie, sued Combs in 2023, accusing him of serial physical abuse, sexual slavery and rape during a 10-year professional and romantic relationship in which he controlled her through intimidation, drugs and alcohol. The parties settled the matter the following day for undisclosed terms. Representatives for Combs said at the time the settlement was “in no way an admission of wrongdoing.”

The lawsuit was one of at least four civil complaints in recent months that leveled sexual assault allegations against Combs.

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The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in March it had opened an investigation into the hip-hop star and searched his homes in the Miami area and in Los Angeles; it provided no details of the nature of the investigation.

Local television images of the search showed an armored vehicle and officers carrying rifles outside Combs’ Los Angeles home. Authorities detained some people at the property with their hands bound by zip ties.

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