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US urges Iran to help locate former FBI agent

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Washington: The US has reiterated a call asking for Iran’s help in finding a retired agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and raised the bounty for his whereabouts.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s appeal on Monday came on the eighth anniversary of Robert Levinson’s disappearance, who Washington said went missing on Iran’s Kish Island during a business trip, as per reported.

“We ask the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to work cooperatively with us on the investigation into Robert Levinson’s disappearance…,” Kerry said in a statement.

Describing Levinson as “one of the longest held US citizens in history”, the top American envoy said: “We remain committed to the safe return of Levinson to his family and appreciate the support and assistance from our international partners.”

He announced that the FBI had increased its reward fivefold to $5 million for information leading to Levinson’s safe return.

Press reports said Levinson was paid by the US Central Intelligence Agency to gather intelligence inside Iran, while Tehran has repeatedly denied that it is holding the American.

Kerry had raised the case of Levinson and other missing Americans directly with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif “on several occasions” when they met time and again in recent months over Tehran’s nuclear programme, State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki told reporters on Monday.

The other Americans allegedly held in Iran are Amir Hekmati, a former Marine, Saeed Abedini, a pastor, and Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter.

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20 killed in Turkey earthquake

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Ankara: At least 20 people were killed and 1,015 others injured after a massive earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale jolted eastern Turkey, authorities said on Saturday.

The quake hit the Elazig province at 8.55 p.m. on Friday night, with its epicentre in Sivrice district, along with neighbouring provinces and countries including Syria and Georgia, reports Anadolu News Agency.

The Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) said that most of the injured were reported in Elazig (560).

The search and rescue operations were continuing and the death toll could rise, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told reporters on Saturday.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the injured were transferred to hospitals and facilities have been opened to serve those who have been affected.

The AFAD said 118 aftershocks, with magnitudes ranging from 2.7 to 5.4, were felt following the initial temblor.

National Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said the army was ready to step into action if necessary.

The quake was also felt in other provinces including Adana, Osmaniye, Tunceli and Hatay, said Anadolu News Agency.

In addition, northern Syrian regions including Idlib, Azaz, Al-Bab, Jarabulus, Afrin and Tal Abyad also felt the tremors.

This is not the first quake to hit Turkey in 2020.

A 5.4-magnitude quake jolted western province of Manisa on Wednesday, while Ankara was rattled by a 4.5-magnitude temblor on Thursday.

A total of 51 people were killed in 2010 when a 6.0-magnitude quake had hit Elazig province.

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