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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Rouhani acknowledges Iranian discontent as protests continue” was written by Saeed Kamali Dehghan Iran correspondent, for The Guardian on Sunday 31st December 2017 19.09 UTC

Iranian authorities have threatened a crackdown against protesters and scrambled to block social media apps allegedly used to incite unrest as the biggest demonstrations in nearly a decade continued for a fourth day.

People across Iran took to the streets again on Sunday evening in defiance of a heavy presence of riot police and state warnings to stay away.

The demonstrations began over economic grievances on Thursday but have since taken on a political dimension, with unprecedented calls for the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to step down.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, in his first comments about the protests, aired on national television on Sunday night, said “people have the right to criticise”, but said the authorities would not tolerate antisocial behaviour. He said criticism was “different from violence and destroying public properties”.

Officials said they arrested at least 200 people during demonstrations in central Tehran on Saturday. It was not clear how many were arrested in the provinces, which saw protests on a bigger scale than the capital. Two protesters were killed in western Iran on Saturday.

The protests are the biggest in Iran since 2009, when demonstrators called for the removal of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president after what they regarded as his fraudulent re-election.

Videos posted on social media from Saturday night in Tehran showed protesters taking down large banners depicting the ayatollah’s image, in acts of resistance rarely seen since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

One video showed demonstrators taking down an image of the leader of Iran’s powerful Quds force, Qassem Suleimani, who is spearheading Iran’s involvement in regional affairs, particularly the war in Syria.

Rouhani, urging the nation to be vigilant, acknowledged that people were unhappy about the state of economy, corruption and a lack of transparency. “People are allowed under the constitution to criticise or even protest but […] in a way that at the end they lead to a better situation in the country for the people,” he said.

Condemning the US president, Donald Trump, who has voiced support for the protests, Rouhani said: “This gentleman who today sympathises with our people has forgotten that a few months ago he called us a terrorist nation. The one who has opposed the Iranian nation from his head to his toe has no right to express sympathy for people of Iran.”

On Sunday Trump tweeted that “people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism”, adding that the US was “watching very closely for human rights violations”.

Earlier in the day, Iran’s interior minister, Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazil, said authorities would not tolerate the “spreading of violence, fear and terror”, which he said would “definitely be confronted”.

“Those who damage public property, disrupt order, people’s security and break the law must be responsible for their behaviour and should answer and pay the price,” he said, according to the website of the state broadcaster Irib.

The broadcaster said authorities had blocked Instagram and the messaging app Telegram, which is the most popular social networking platform in Iran, citing an anonymous source who said the move was “in line with maintaining peace and security of the citizens”. Authorities said the filtering was temporary.

It’s hard to overstate the power of Telegram in Iran. Of its 80m population, an estimated 40m use the free app created by Russian national Pavel Durov. Its clients share videos and photos, subscribing to groups where everyone from politicians to poets broadcast to fellow users.

While authorities ban social media websites like Facebook and Twitter and censor others, Telegram users can say nearly anything. In the last presidential election, the app played a big role in motivating turnout and spreading political screeds.

Telegram touts itself as being highly encrypted and allows users to set their messages to “self-destruct” after a certain period, making it a favourite among activists and others concerned about their privacy. That too has made it a worry of Iranian authorities.

A channel run by an exiled journalist, Roohallah Zam, helped organise some of those who took to the street, including times and locations for protests, and was suspended by Durov after Iranian authorities complained that it was inciting violence.

Zam, who denies the allegations, responded by launching new channels to spread messages about upcoming protests before the government ordered the app shut down. 

Telegram’s CEO, Pavel Durov, said it had blocked access to the popular Amadnews channel after it had “started to instruct their subscribers to use Molotov cocktails against police”.

A source in Iran told the Guardian the state had started blocking access to Telegram, but it was not covering all provinces yet.

Authorities said two protesters were killed in the western province of Lorestan on Saturday, but denied it was the result of clashes between demonstrators and riot police.

The deputy governor for Lorestan, Habibollah Khojastehpour, said police and security guards had not opened fire, and instead blamed “Takfiri groups” – Iran’s term for Sunni extremists – and foreign intelligence services. “Unfortunately in these clashes two citizens from [the city of] Doroud were killed,” he said.

Iran protests new version

Many senior figures within the reformist camp and the opposition Green movement remain perplexed as to how to respond to the current wave of unrest. The sharp nature of some of the slogans, which have challenged the foundations of the Islamic republic, has left them mute.

There have been anti-Khamenei chants such as “Death to the dictator” and slogans opposing Iran’s regional policy, including “Let go of Syria, think about us” and “I give my life for Iran, not Gaza, not Lebanon”.

There were also nostalgic slogans in support of the monarchy and the late shah, as well as some with a nationalistic nature, including “We are of Aryaee [Aryan] race, we don’t worship Arabs.” Relatively fewer chants were heard in support of two opposition leaders under house arrest, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

Some videos showed protesters apparently setting bins on fire and trying to break into government buildings. The semi-official Tasnim news, which is close to the elite Revolutionary Guards, published a photo that it said showed a protester setting fire to the Iranian flag. There were chants of “Death to the Revolutionary Guards” in at least one city.

Many Iranians are sceptical about how the protests have spread so quickly. One prominent senior reformist commentator, Hamidreza Jalaipour, said reformists were opposed to protests instigated by “advocates of regime change”, implying that the new wave of protests was not spontaneous.

A protester from Tehran University told the Guardian by phone that although students were puzzled about how the protests were organised and spreading so quickly, they were not “getting leads from anyone”.

Ali Vaez, Iran project director at International Crisis Group, called the protests “an explosion of the Iranian people’s pent-up frustrations over economic and political stagnation”, but he said: “This is neither a revolution nor a movement.”

Vaez said: “Given its lack of leadership, organisation and mission, it is likely to peter out or will be quelled. The Rouhani administration has two options: it can follow the example of its predecessors ([Ali Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani after the protests of the early 1990s and [Mohammad] Khatami after the 1999 student uprising) and opt for a more cautious path, or capitalise on public discontent to push the system towards more genuine reforms. That choice will ultimately determine the Islamic Republic’s fate.”

Iranian conservatives, while acknowledging ordinary people were protesting for what they said were mainly economic reasons, accused foreign powers of inciting violence and exploiting the situation.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Person Who Flown With Biden In Recent Days Tests Positive For COVID-19

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(ABC News) — The Biden campaign has announced that someone who flew with former Vice President Joe Biden to Ohio on Monday and Florida on Tuesday has tested positive for COVID-19. The positive result was discovered through the contact tracing that the campaign undertook following the positive diagnosis of Sen. Kamala Harris’ communications director and a non-staff flight crew member.

“Around noon on Thursday, October 15th, we learned – as part of our contact tracing of the crew member on Senator Harris’ plane that tested positive for COVID last night – that an administrative member of the Aviation company that charters Vice President Biden’s aircraft tested positive for COVID-19,” Campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon wrote in a statement.

However, the campaign says that Biden and the member who tested positive did not have any passing or close contact during the flight and he is not required to isolate.

“Vice President Biden was not in close contact, as defined by the CDC, with this individual at any time. In fact, the Vice President did not even have passing contact: this individual was over 50 feet from VP Biden at all times, entered and exited the aircraft from a rear entrance, and both the individual and the Vice President wore masks for the entire flight. Given these facts, we have been advised by the Vice President’s doctor and the campaign’s medical advisors that there is no need for the Vice President to quarantine,” she added.

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US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell States Senate Has Enough Votes To Confirm Amy Coney Barrett As Supreme Court Justice

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(The Guardian) — The Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said he has the votes to confirm the nomination of conservative Amy Coney Barrett as a supreme court justice as the upper chamber’s judiciary committee scheduled a vote for 22 October to advance the nomination towards a full Senate ballot shortly after.

Barrett’s progression towards taking up the seat vacated by the death of the liberal favorite Ruth Bader Ginsburg now appears virtually assured, but the unprecedented nomination of a new justice so close to a presidential election – and one who will shift the balance of the court rightward – has been contentious.

Barrett raised alarm among Democrats at her confirmation hearings this week for taking an agnostic view on the legality of voter intimidation and on the question of whether a president might unilaterally delay an election, neither of which in the view of experts is a close legal call.

Barrett likewise declined to say whether she would recuse herself from any case that might reach the supreme court that could help decide the November election – though Donald Trump has made clear that one reason he wants her on the court is to help him prevail in such a scenario.

Democrats on the judiciary committee, who are in the minority and who signaled on Thursday that they were out of tools and tactics to stop the Barrett nomination from advancing, additionally expressed concern that Barrett refused to say whether she accepted the science of climate change. She also appeared poised to help vacate the Affordable Care Act and left open the possibility that the watershed Roe v Wade ruling protecting reproductive rights might be overturned.

But with a 53-47 Republican majority in the Senate, McConnell expressed optimism that his caucus would be able to overcome Democratic objections and make Barrett Trump’s third supreme court justice to be installed in just four years. The last president to install justices so quickly was Ronald Reagan, who saw three justices confirmed during his second term in the late 1980s.

“We have the votes,” McConnell told reporters.

Two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have signaled that they would not back the Barrett nomination, out of concern that it fell too close to a presidential election.

But the rest of the Republicans have fallen in line, including those who objected to a Barack Obama nominee in March 2016 on the grounds that the nomination fell too close to an election being held eight months later.

“This goose appears to be cooked,” Senator Cory Booker, a Democratic member of the judiciary committee, said during deliberations on Thursday preceding witness testimony.

The increasing regularity with which supreme court confirmations were achieved under unusual circumstances pointed to the corrosive presence of outside influences that had hijacked the process for their own purposes, said committee member Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, a Democrat.

Whitehouse said the refusal by the same committee to consider the Obama nominee Merrick Garland in 2016, and the subsequent refusal by the committee to credit substantial sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s second nominee, pointed up the deterioration of the process.

He warned that a return to bipartisan comity on the question of future supreme court questions was difficult to envision.

“Republicans shouldn’t think that they will have any credibility if the shoe is on the other foot to come to Democrats and say, ‘Yeah, I know you can do that, but you shouldn’t’,” Whitehouse said.

“That credibility will die if they continue to proceed this way with this supreme court nomination.”

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Irish tourist accused of defacing Rome’s Colosseum

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An Irish tourist has been accused of vandalizing Rome’s Colosseum after security staff spotted him allegedly carving his initials into the ancient Italian structure.

The Carabinieri police said the 32-year-old man was caught by the Colosseum’s private security on Monday and immediately reported to officers.

The man’s two initials, about 6 centimeters (2 inches) high, were said to have been carved with a metal point on a pillar of the first floor of the 2,000-year-old monument.

The Colosseum, considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world, is a World Heritage Site, along with 54 other Italian sites that comprise the city’s historic center.

The unnamed man is accused of damaging a historical and artistic landmark, the Carabinieri confirmed to CNN, a crime according to Italian law. He could face a hefty penalty if convicted.

The crime is punishable with up to one year in prison or a fine of no less than 2,065 euros ($2,400).

“The Colosseum, like any monument that represents the history of all of us, must be preserved and handed over to future generations,” archaeologist Federica Rinaldi, responsible for the ancient Roman amphitheater, said to CNN.

Back in 2014 a Russian tourist was fined 20,000 euros for carving the letter “K” on a section of brickwork.

Construction on the Colosseum, believed to be the largest amphitheater in the world, began sometime between 70 and 72 CE under the Flavian emperors. It seated around 50,000 spectators who came to watch gladiators in combat with each other and dangerous animals.

“It is a monument that deserves everyone’s respect because it belongs to everyone, and it must remain so,” Rinaldi said.

“Carving one’s initials, in addition to being a crime, seems to be a gesture of those who want to appropriate the monument. Better take a selfie!”

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