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Iran to Ban Saudi Flights to Curb Swine Flu

Iran is taking further steps to slow the spread of the H1N1 virus, canceling flights to Saudi Arabia before Ramadan. The government has already banned its citizens from making pilgrimages to Mecca during the Muslim holy month, which starts in less than two weeks.

Government officials say the last flight from Iran to Saudi Arabia will be Monday and all Iranian pilgrims now in the Arab country will be flown home before Ramadan.

State television announced the ban Sunday, three days after the government barred citizens from making Umra, a pilgrimage to Mecca popular during the holy month.

The government says 144 Iranians have contracted the virus, commonly known as swine flu, about half of them falling sick after visiting Saudi Arabia.

An Iranian Health Ministry official (Mohammed Mehdi Gouya) stressed the need for all Iranians to observe precautionary measures to stop the spread of the disease.

Saudi Arabia has led an effort to protect those most vulnerable to the deadly virus, placing limits on those who want to take part in the Hajj pilgrimage later this year.

Health ministers of several Arab nations have agreed to only allow pilgrims with no chronic health problems and between the ages of 12 and 65 to make the journey.

Also Sunday, Iraq reported the nation's first death from the H1N1 virus. A health ministry official said the victim was a young woman living in southern Iraq.