Iran’s Mahan Air launches direct flights to Venezuela

FILE PHOTO: An Airbus A340-300 of Iranian airline Mahan Air takes off from Duesseldorf airport
FILE PHOTO: An Airbus A340-300 of Iranian airline Mahan Air takes off from Duesseldorf airport DUS, Germany January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay/File Photo

April 8, 2019

LONDON/CARACAS (Reuters) – Mahan Air, a private Iranian airline accused by the West of transporting military equipment to Middle East war zones, on Monday launched a direct flight to Venezuela, as Tehran voices support for Caracas against a U.S. backed opposition.

Mehr news agency quoted the spokesman of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization Reza Jafarzadeh as saying that the route was launched early Monday, and the plane will carry foreign ministry officials to Caracas.

Jafarzadeh said a delegation from Mahan Air was also traveling to Caracas to discuss maintaining regular flights between the two countries. The non-stop Tehran-Caracas flight will take 16 hours.

A Reuters photographer saw a Mahan Air plane parked at Caracas’ main Maiquetia airport on Monday morning. Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not respond to a request to comment about the flight’s purpose.

Mahan Air, established in 1992 as Iran’s first private airline, has the country’s largest fleet of aircraft.

France and Germany banned the airline’s flights earlier this year, accusing it of transporting military equipment and personnel to Syria and other regional war zones.

The United States imposed sanctions on the company in 2011, saying it provided financial and other support to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

Iran has voiced support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro who faces demands from the United States to step down. Russia, China and Turkey have also backed Maduro.

The U.S. government has recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president. Most Latin American countries have done so as well, while European governments are also throwing their support behind Guaido, albeit more cautiously.

Since Guaido began a campaign in January to oust Maduro, whom he denounces as illegitimate, Chinese and Russian planes have also flown supplies and military personnel to Venezuela in support of the government.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London and Carlos Garcia Rawlins in Caracas; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Richard Chang)

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