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Iran’s enemies to blame for unrest, says supreme leader, as nine die overnight

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accuses foreign powers of ‘deploying every means at their disposal’, amid intensifying crackdown on protesters

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Iran’s enemies to blame for unrest, says supreme leader, as death toll rises” was written by Saeed Kamali Dehghan and Julian Borger, for The Guardian on Tuesday 2nd January 2018 20.09 UTC

Iran’s supreme leader has blamed the Islamic Republic’s enemies for nationwide unrest, as authorities cracked down with increasing intensity on protesters, leading to the death toll rising.

“In the events of the past few days, the enemies of Iran are deploying every means at their disposal including money, arms and political and intelligence support to coordinate making troubles for the Islamic establishment,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in his first public remarks since the protests began on Thursday.

Videos posted on social networks suggest riot police and protesters are becoming more confrontational. In a sign that the rhetoric is also hardening, Esmail Kowsari, a senior Revolutionary Guards commander, vowed that the elite forces would crush those he said were disturbing the country’s security. In the event that the unrest continued, “the authorities will undoubtedly make a decision and finish the business”, Kowsari said.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, called for international action in solidarity with the demonstrators and said the US would seek emergency UN sessions on Iran.

Haley, one of the most hawkish figures on Iran in the Trump administration, rejected Khamenei’s comments, saying the protests were “completely spontaneous”.

“By the thousands, Iranian citizens are taking to the streets to protest the oppression of their own government. It takes great bravery for the Iranian people to use the power of their voice, especially when their government has a long history of murdering its own people who dare to speak the truth,” Haley said. “We must not be silent,. The people of Iran are crying out for freedom.”

The US Department of State spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, later denied that the US was calling for regime change, saying it was simply backing the right of the protesters to demand changed policies from their government.

The demonstrations, the largest seen in Iran since its disputed 2009 presidential election, resumed on Tuesday evening for the sixth consecutive day.

Iran protests map

The protests began on Thursday when opponents of Iran’s moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, gathered in north-eastern Iran to demonstrate over economic grievances. They then spread nationwide and took on more of an anti-regime dimension, including anti-Khamenei chants.

An intervention by Rouhani on Sunday, when he acknowledged the discontent, failed to quell the anger. Monday night’s disturbances were the most violent so far.

At least 21 people are now thought to have died across the country. More than 450 people have been arrested in Tehran alone since Saturday – nationwide figures have not been released.

The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, expressed his “regret” at the rising death toll and called on Tehran to respect the rights of peaceful protesters. “We expect that the rights to peaceful assembly and expression of the Iranian people will be respected,” his spokesman said.

The protests, stronger in the provinces than Tehran, appear dominated by members of the working class under 25 who have suffered the most in Iran’s sluggish economy.

Observers have said that the partial lifting of sanctions that followed Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with the west delivered uneven economic benefits to the country. “Middle class fortunes have improved somewhat following the nuclear deal… on the contrary, members of the working class… [have been] very vulnerable,” said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, the founder of the Europe-Iran business forum.

While the protests may have begun over economic grievances, they soon took on a political dimension. Chants have called on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down and voiced opposition to Iran’s regional policy, including “Let go of Syria, think about us”.

A senior Iranian official directly blamed Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, for the demonstrations.

Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s supreme national security council, told a Lebanese Arabic-language TV channel that the number of messages on social networks sent online via Saudi Arabia showed the country was involved. He warned that Iran would retaliate with “an appropriate response” in due course.

In the first intervention of its kind, the actor Taraneh Alidoosti – famous for her collaboration with Iran’s Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi – called on Twitter for the authorities to refrain from using violence against protesters and instead to understand their anger and find a way to calm the situation.

A protest in Dorud on Monday.
A protest in Dorud on Monday.
Photograph: AY-Collect/Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock

State TV and semi-official news agencies that used relatively conciliatory language last week are increasingly referring to the protesters as mobs who want to destroy public property. On Tuesday judicial authorities gave an ultimatum to protesters, threatening harsher sentences if the unrest continued.

State television said six protesters had been killed overnight as they tried to attack a police station in the town of Qahderijan in the central Isfahan region. It also said an 11-year-old boy and a 20-year-old man had been killed in the town of Khomeinishahr, while a member of Iran’s paramilitary militia was killed in the town of Najafabad. None of the reports could be confirmed independently.

Observers reported riot police riding on motorbikes and wielding batons on the streets of Tehran. Similar scenes were reported in other cities.

A Tehrani man who drives a taxi for Snapp, Iran’s equivalent of Uber, told the Guardian that motorbike-riding security guards with batons had been out in full force in Tehran on Monday night.

“I was out at 8 or 9pm and the atmosphere was tense. In Tehran the riot police was unleashed near Vanak Square, in Enghelab Street and in Naziabad,” he said. “I was in Vanak Square at 5pm and it was full of security guards.”

The driver said the protests were more widespread in the provinces than in Tehran because working class people in the provinces were the most affected by Iran’s economic problems. “In Kermanshah [in the west of Iran] there was an earthquake recently and a lot of those affected are still living outside,” he said. “In Ahwaz, 30 years after the [Iran-Iraq] war, the situation is still bad.

“The city of Arak has many industries and a lot of people are without jobs. One of my relatives works for a petrochemical company in Arak – they haven’t got salaries for a few months now, that’s why they’re out … Gradually people are getting fed up and raising their voice.”

Rouhani spoke with a number of parliamentarians on Monday in a meeting that officials insisted had been planned before the protests began. The president acknowledged anger over the country’s flagging economy, although he and others warned that the government would not hesitate to crack down on those it considered lawbreakers.

The Economist Intelligence Unit, a UK-based advisory business, said rising inflation and a recent increase in food prices were to blame for the protests, as well as a lack of economic development. Youth unemployment remained at about 40%, the EIU noted, despite a promise by the Rouhani administration that the 2015 nuclear deal would help to create jobs and improve people’s living standards.

The scale and speed at which the protests have spread across Iran have puzzled many in the country, including reformists who are critical of the political atmosphere but are wary of any move towards regime change.

Iran blocked access to social networks including Telegram and Instagram on Sunday but insisted the move was temporary. On Tuesday the US urged Iran to stop blocking social media and advised its citizens to set up virtual private networks, or VPNs, to circumvent censorship.

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. 

One of Iran’s most outspoken MPs, Mahmoud Sadeghi, said on Twitter he had urged the interior ministry not to link the protests with foreign powers, and instead to improve the economic situation, open up state television to diverse opinions and lift restrictions on regime critics.

In his latest tweet on the ongoing unrest, Donald Trump praised protesters for acting against Tehran’s “brutal and corrupt” regime. “The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The US is watching!” Trump wrote. Iran’s foreign ministry responded by saying the US president should focus on “homeless and hungry people” in his own country rather than insulting Iranians.

A spokeswoman for the EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the EU had been touch with authorities in Iran. “We expect that the right to peaceful demonstration and freedom of expression will be guaranteed,” she said.

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‘I pray for Donald Trump, I do’: Bishop Michael Curry addresses US divisions

The preacher who shone at the royal wedding has returned home to the progressive Reclaiming Jesus movement

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “‘I pray for Donald Trump, I do’: Bishop Michael Curry addresses US divisions” was written by Lauren Gambino in Washington, for theguardian.com on Sunday 27th May 2018 11.49 UTC

Faith leaders working with Bishop Michael Curry to turn his sermons of love into a movement see his invitation to preach at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as a moment of divine intervention.

“God used a royal wedding to have the gospel preached probably to the largest audience at one time,” said Jim Wallis, a progressive Christian leader and a founder of the Reclaiming Jesus movement. “My dear friend Bishop Curry was just being himself in that pulpit. But God made that happen in all kinds of humorous and miraculous ways.”

For 24 hours after the ceremony at Windsor Castle last week, Curry rivaled Pope Francis as the most recognizable faith leader in the world. He was interviewed by major networks on both sides of the Atlantic. Fans asked for selfies. He was even parodied on Saturday Night Live.

Then the first African American leader of the Episcopal Church returned home, to embark on a new mission. He wants to address what he and other clergy behind Reclaiming Jesus call “a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches”.

“My hope and prayer is that what we’re really doing is helping the average Christian person of faith find their voice,” Curry told the Guardian. “We’re trying to find a way to bring people together and the values that we share is our starting place for doing that.”

The 65-year-old, who was born in Chicago and raised by his grandmother after his mother’s death, is the descendent of slaves and sharecroppers in North Carolina. His presence at Westminster Abbey, a reflection of Markle’s African American ancestry, was a symbolic moment for two countries riven by race and class. In his speech, Curry invoked Martin Luther King Jr and slavery, telling the couple: “Make of this old world, a new world.”

Bishop Michael Curry gives an address during the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Bishop Michael Curry gives an address during the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images

That was the message he brought to Washington on Thursday, when he linked arms with prominent progressive leaders and led hundreds of Christians in silent procession to the White House. On the sidewalk facing the seat of American power, the elders read from a declaration as hundreds raised votive candles.

The Reclaiming Jesus movement, like other progressive religious groups, is asking people of faith to reject policies that ban refugees and immigrants from the US and equivocations on white supremacy – without joining a political side.

“We don’t tell people how to vote,” Curry said. “We don’t tell people exactly what policies they must stand for. We identify what are the values that will guide you in your life. But the rest? That’s between you and God.”

The lengthy founding document lists six core principles the co-signers hope will help shift the conversation around what they believe are the core teachings of the Bible: a focus on the poor, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged. It does not mention Donald Trump by name but it does repudiate his policies and the forces unleashed by his election.

It calls on Christians to denounce the “resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership”, and rejects Trump’s America First agenda.

The response from Trump’s most ardent evangelical supporters has underlined how deep divisions are carved – and how difficult it will be to find common ground.

“There is nothing wrong with putting America first,” Robert Jeffress, a pastor at First Baptist Dallas and a prominent member of the president’s evangelical advisory board, told Fox News. “That is what a government is supposed to do. That is God’s responsibility for government. As individual Christians, yes, we put others before ourselves but government doesn’t do that.”

Jeffress said Curry was “sincere” in his message but also “sincerely wrong” in his understanding of what the Bible says about the role of government.

Curry said he had expected a strong reaction to the Reclaiming Jesus declaration.

“It’s a spiritual document and spiritual documents are moral and ethical statements so they have implications,” he said. “We identify cultural maladies – we’re not pointing the finger at anybody. We’re not blaming anybody.”

Asked if he prays for the president, Curry replied without reservation: “I pray for Donald Trump, I do. He’s a child of God, just like the immigrant is a child of God.”

Pastor Robert Jeffress with Donald Trump in Washington.
Pastor Robert Jeffress with Donald Trump in Washington. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

If Curry had an audience with the president, he said, he would tell him the same thing he tells himself and anybody else he prays for: “Live by the practice of love for your neighbor.”

“Selfish, self-centered living by any or all of us is what the Christian tradition has meant by sin all along,” he said.

Before the vigil, Curry returned to the pulpit to deliver a soaring if brief sermon at the National City Christian Church.

“Love your neighbor,” Curry said, in the magisterial cadence now recognized around the world. “Love the neighbor you like and the neighbor you don’t like. Love the neighbor you agree with and the neighbor you don’t agree with. Love your Democrat neighbor, your Republican neighbor, your black neighbor, your white neighbor, your Anglo neighbor, your Latino neighbor and your LGBTQ neighbor. Love your neighbor! That’s why we’re here!”

Among those listening were John Carr, who runs the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University. He said what he saw on Thursday was not a political movement but the “rise of the religious middle”.

“In these incredibly polarizing and frankly demoralizing times,” he said, “we need a moral message that’s anchored in faith not ideology and politics”.

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Rudy Giuliani admits ‘Spygate’ is Trump PR tactic against Robert Mueller

  • President’s lawyer gives meandering CNN interview
  • ‘It’s for public opinion’, he says of claims of campaign informant

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Rudy Giuliani admits ‘Spygate’ is Trump PR tactic against Robert Mueller” was written by Tom McCarthy, for theguardian.com on Sunday 27th May 2018 13.47 UTC

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani said on Sunday that his repeated imputations of a supposed scandal at the heart of the Robert Mueller investigation – which Donald Trump calls “Spygate” – amounted to a tactic to sway public opinion and limit the risk of the president being impeached.

“Of course we have to do it to defend the president,” Trump’s lawyer told CNN State of the Union host Dana Bash, who accused him of being part of a campaign to undermine the Mueller investigation. Trump has repeatedly called the special counsel’s work a “witch hunt”, despite its producing five guilty pleas, including by three former Trump aides, and evidence of Russian tampering in US elections.

“It is for public opinion,” Giuliani said of his public campaign of dissimulation. “Because eventually the decision here is going to be impeach or not impeach. Members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, are going to be informed a lot by their constituents. And so our jury – and it should be – is the American people.

“So Republicans largely, many independents, even some Democrats now question the legitimacy of [the Mueller investigation],” Giuliani said. “Democrats I would suggest for their own self-interest, this is not a good issue to go into the midterms.”

As Giuliani acknowledged the political nature of his public campaign against Mueller, Trump advanced that campaign on Twitter, lamenting what he said were “young and beautiful lives … devastated and destroyed” by the investigation of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

“They went back home in tatters!” Trump wrote. It was unclear who he was talking about.

Trump, Giuliani and other allies claim reports that an FBI informant monitored linkes between Trump aides and Russia show there was a “spy” on the Trump campaign. Senior figures in the intelligence community have rubbished such claims.

On ABC’s This Week on Sunday, the Democrat Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House intelligence committee, said: “This is part of the propaganda machine. Let’s spread a completely fallacious story and then say it needs to be investigated, and give it a life of its own.”

Giuliani is a former US attorney for the southern district of New York. In his CNN appearance, he called former CIA director John Brennan and former director of national intelligence James Clapper, both fierce critics of Trump, “two clowns”.

“I have no regard at all for Brennan or Clapper. I think they’re two clowns…” Giuliani said. “They’re not civil servants as far as I know.”

Clapper told the same show: “In the space of a week I’ve progressed from being the dumbest intelligence officer on the planet, from President Trump, to a clown. So it’s progress, I guess.”

Michael Hayden, another former director of the CIA, told ABC Trump was “simply trying to delegitimize Mueller … and he’s willing to throw anything against the wall.

“From the outside looking in, from everything I know, everyone has handled this just about the way it should have been handled.”

Giuliani’s month-old job as a spokesman for the president has been marked by confusion, contradiction and scandal. He began by saying money used to seal a 2016 hush agreement with the porn actor Stormy Daniels had come from Trump, who had earlier flatly denied, on camera, any knowledge of the $130,000.

“We’re not changing any stories,” Trump told reporters. Trump has denied having an affair with Daniels.

Giuliani also said earlier this month Trump would have had his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pay off women in addition to Daniels “if necessary”. Giuliani told ABC he had “no knowledge” of any other payments to women.

Trump has repeatedly excused and praised Giuliani. “He started yesterday,” Trump said on 4 May. “He’ll get his facts straight. It’s actually very simple, there has been a lot of misinformation really.”

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Harvey Weinstein appears in court charged with rape and other sexual offences

Disgraced movie producer handed himself in to New York police on Friday morning over claims by two women

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Harvey Weinstein appears in court charged with rape and other sexual offences” was written by Amanda Holpuch and Jamiles Lartey in New York, for theguardian.com on Friday 25th May 2018 16.51 UTC

The disgraced Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein has been charged with rape, a criminal sex act, sex abuse and sexual misconduct for alleged incidents involving two separate women, after he earlier surrendered to authorities in New York.

During a brief court appearance on Friday, Weinstein remained quiet as his lawyers agreed he would post $1m (£750,000) bail and wear an electronic monitoring device. He also surrendered his passport, and agreed not to travel beyond New York and Connecticut.

A prosecutor told the judge that the investigation was ongoing, and that authorities have encouraged other survivors to come forward.

“The defendant used his position, money and power to lure young women into situations where he was able to violate them sexually,” she said.

Speaking outside court, Weinstein’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said his client intends to plead not guilty. He called the charges “constitutionally flawed” and “not factually supported”.

It is the first criminal case to be brought against Weinstein since the revelations about him erupted last October and sparked the #MeToo movement.

Weinstein, 66, was led in handcuffs, with a detective on either side holding his arms, from the police station into a waiting car. A few minutes later he arrived at criminal court in Manhattan, and was marched in by the detectives to be arraigned on the charges. He has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex.

Weinstein was stone-faced and sullen, and did not respond to questions from reporters.

A statement from the New York police department said: “The NYPD thanks these brave survivors for their courage to come forward and seek justice.”

Weinstein surrendered to police early Friday morning at the NYPD first precinct in Tribeca in lower Manhattan, where the Weinstein Company has its headquarters and where many of the alleged offenses are said to have taken place, either at the offices or a nearby hotel.

 

He stepped from a black SUV wearing a dark jacket over a light blue sweater and white open-necked shirt. He was carrying three books under his arm. He went into the police station before a crowd of news cameras. He did not respond to shouts of “Harvey!”

Two law enforcement officials told the Associated Press the case will include allegations by Lucia Evans, an aspiring actor who has said the Hollywood mogul forced her to perform oral sex on him in his office. She was among the first women to speak out about the producer.

One official said it was likely the case also will include at least one other victim who has not come forward publicly.

After Weinstein’s arrest, Rose McGowan, one of his most prominent accusers, told the UK’s BBC Radio 4: “It’s a concrete slap in the face of abuse of power. I hope we emerge victorious and, if anything, we have emerged victorious, no mater what, because people are listening now.”

Lucia Evans told the New Yorker in a story published in October that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex during a daytime meeting at his New York office in 2004, the summer before her senior year at Middlebury College.

“I said, over and over, ‘I don’t want to do this, stop, don’t,’” she said.

The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, had been under enormous public pressure to bring a criminal case against Weinstein.

A grand jury has been hearing evidence in the case for weeks.

In March, Andrew Cuomo, the New York governor, took the extraordinary step of ordering the state’s attorney general to investigate whether Vance acted properly in 2015 when he decided not to prosecute Weinstein over a previous allegation of unwanted groping, made by an Italian model. That investigation is in its preliminary stages.

More than 75 women have accused Weinstein of wrongdoing. Several actors and models accused him of criminal sexual assaults, but many of the encounters happened too long ago for any prosecution. Rose McGowan said Weinstein raped her in 1997 in Utah, the Sopranos actor Annabella Sciorra said Weinstein raped her in her New York apartment in 1992 and the Norwegian actor Natassia Malthe said Weinstein attacked her in a London hotel room in 2008.

The statute of limitations for rape and certain other sex crimes in New York was eliminated in 2006, but not for attacks that happened prior to 2001.

New York City police detectives said in early November that they were investigating allegations by another accuser, the Boardwalk Empire star Paz de la Huerta, who told police in October that Weinstein raped her twice in 2010. She is not one of the victims in the case on Friday; hers was still pending, officials said.

Authorities in California and London are also investigating assault allegations. Britain has no statute of limits on rape cases; some of the allegations under investigation there date to the 1980s.

Two of the books Weinstein carried into the police station have been identified as Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution by Todd S Purdum, and Elia Kazan: A Biography by Richard Schickel.

Something Wonderful was published last month. Weinstein might see something of himself in the story of successful showmen impresarios credited with changing the cultural landscape.

There are also possible parallels in the story of Elia Kazan, the immigrant director of groundbreaking, multi-award-winning classics such as On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire. Originally a communist, Kazan was later scorned by much of liberal Hollywood for testifying before the House committee on un-American activities in 1952. When Kazan was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1999, dozens of audience members chose not to applaud and 250 demonstrators picketed the event.

Schickel’s 2005 biography also documents Kazan’s many affairs. Three times married, he had affairs with many female actors and leading ladies including Marilyn Monroe. Yet Kazan’s reputation as a formidable Hollywood artist weathered political and personal scandals.

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