Posts Tagged ‘protests’

American sanctions bring more agony to Iran’s dysfunctional economy

August 10, 2018

China is happy to play spoiler

But no one has a plan for what comes next

IT TOOK two years to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran—and a few strokes of a pen to undo it. On August 6th President Donald Trump signed an executive order restoring sanctions aimed at Iran’s car industry, its trade in gold and its access to dollars, among other things. It makes good on the president’s promise to withdraw from the deal, signed in 2015, which gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for limits on its nuclear programme. The sanctions will hurt. Whether they will accomplish anything else is up for debate.

Contrary to his campaign promise, Mr Trump cannot unilaterally “tear up” the deal. It has five other signatories: Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. All say it is working, an assessment backed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which certifies Iran’s compliance.

In an effort to preserve the agreement, the European Union has instructed EU firms not to comply with the sanctions and allowed them to sue in court to recover damages resulting from America’s action. But few think the so-called “blocking” measure will work. Firms are taking seriously Mr Trump’s threat that anyone doing business with Iran will not be allowed to do business with America. Total, a French energy giant, is almost certainly quitting a $2bn deal to develop Iran’s massive South Pars gasfield. Airbus may halt the planned delivery of 100 passenger jets. American firms, such as Boeing, which lost a $20bn contract, are already out of the door.

For months the looming sanctions and expected capital flight have exacerbated a currency crisis in Iran. Last summer a dollar fetched about 38,000 rials on the black market (the official rate has long been out of touch with reality). Since then the rial has lost more than 60% of its value. On July 30th it bottomed out at 119,000 rials to the dollar, a record low. Prices of some staple foods have increased by up to half.

Eager for a scapegoat, the president, Hassan Rouhani, sacked the central-bank governor and his deputy who oversaw foreign exchange. Ahmed Araghchi, the deputy, who served for barely a year, is the deputy foreign minister’s nephew. His bumbling tenure was one example of the nepotism that plagues Iran, which ranks near the bottom of Transparency International’s corruption index. Mr Rouhani has tried to make a show of arresting corrupt businessmen and politicians. Dozens of bankers have been jailed for dodgy loans.

Persian empires

But Iran’s problems run much deeper than a few dirty officials. Large chunks of the economy are dominated by bloated quasi-state enterprises. Take Astan Quds Razavi, a charitable trust, or bonyad, in the northeastern city of Mashhad. It was founded in the 16th century to maintain the shrine of a revered imam. Today it has more earthly concerns: mines, an oil company, even an insurance firm. By its own estimate, it controls 41% of the land in Mashhad. The bonyads sit on vast wealth, all of it tax-exempt. A single Tehran-based trust is thought to control some $13bn in assets, twice as much as the Vatican’s bank.

Every branch of the state has its own economic empire. Beneath Tehran, workers are digging the seventh line of the city’s metro. The lead contractor, Sepasad, is under American sanctions. The US Treasury says it is run by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). It awarded much of the tunnelling to the Hara Company, also allegedly run by the Guards. If these firms need construction materials, they can turn to other IRGC-linked companies that make cement and steel. The state and the bonyads also control 40% of Iran’s private banks, many of them undercapitalised.

Mr Rouhani oversold the benefits of the nuclear deal, promising a flood of new investment. Even before Mr Trump took office, foreign firms were skittish about doing business in Iran. It is hard to compete with vertically integrated empires run by clerics or the IRGC. Iranians were already frustrated with the stagnant economy. Now it will get worse—especially in November, when America reimposes sanctions on Iran’s oil industry. Mr Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, did the same, in partnership with allies, and the volume of Iran’s oil exports fell by 58% between 2011 and 2014.

Mr Trump says he wants a better deal, one that limits Iran’s ballistic-missile programme and does not expire in a decade. It is hard to see how he will achieve that. Far from working with allies, he scorns them. He has a fanciful goal of bringing Iran’s oil exports, currently 2.5m barrels per day, down to zero. But India is looking for alternative payment methods to keep at least some of its 768,000 barrels per day from Iran flowing. Turkey says it will not comply with the sanctions. And China, which buys a quarter of Iran’s crude, is happy to play spoiler. CNPC, a Chinese state-run energy behemoth, has reportedly offered to pick up Total’s share in the South Pars field.

The president has offered to meet Iran’s leaders, perhaps hoping for a reprise of his summit with North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Un. Iran is cool to the idea. So the administration has fixed its hopes on the protests roiling the country. Small groups come out almost every day to complain about the economy. “We would like to see a change in the regime’s behaviour, and I think the Iranian people are looking for the same thing,” says an American official.

On this, the White House and the IRGC are in rare agreement. The commander of the Guards calls the protests “more serious than threats from abroad”. But, though they are persistent, the protests are also small and leaderless. Iran has no coherent opposition to challenge the regime.

At the beginning of the summer, residents of Khorramshahr province found themselves without water. The government arrested protesters, and then dispatched the Guards to install a 90km water pipeline. It was a telling sign. Mr Rouhani had hoped to weaken the IRGC’s grip on both politics and business. He failed. His relatively moderate government will now have to work with the arch-conservatives. This will not make Iran more amenable to Western interests, nor more responsive to its own people. Mr Trump may get a change in the regime’s behaviour—but not the one he says he wants.

This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline “The pain of no deal”
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Iranian central bank’s top foreign exchange official arrested — Talk of Embezzlement roils banking system

August 6, 2018

The Iranian central bank’s top foreign exchange official has been arrested, the judiciary said Sunday, a day after he was sacked and as tensions rise ahead of reimposed US sanctions.

Ahmad Araghchi, who was a vice-governor at the bank in charge of forex, was arrested along with several other unnamed individuals including a government clerk and four currency brokers, said judiciary spokesman Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejeie in a statement, according to state broadcaster IRIB.

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Ahmad Araghchi

The arrests come amid heightened tensions in the run-up to the reimposition of US sanctions on Tuesday, following Washington’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal.

Journalists reported a heavy build-up of riot police on Sunday night, including at least one armoured personnel carrier, in the town of Karaj, just west of Tehran, that has seen days of often-violent protests.

State media said protesters attacked and tried to burn down a seminary in the area on Friday night, and that at least one person was killed, allegedly by demonstrators.

There have been days of sporadic protests, including in key cities such as Isfahan, Mashhad and Shiraz — but severe reporting restrictions have made it impossible to verify social media footage and official accounts.

The embattled government of President Hassan Rouhani has also faced heavy criticism from conservative opponents, who have demanded action on corruption and renewed efforts to rescue the economy.

On Saturday, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri-Hamedani, one of the country’s top religious figures, said “economic corruptors” must face justice.

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Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri-Hamedani

“People are upset when they hear that someone has embezzled billions while other people are living in tough conditions,” he said in a speech, according to the conservative Tasnim news agency.

Araghchi, a nephew of deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi, was fired by the new governor of the central bank on Saturday, apparently over his handling of the currency crisis.

Iran’s rial has lost more than half its value since April, in part over fears of renewed sanctions, but also thanks to an ill-judged attempt to fix the value of the rial that month and make it illegal to trade at a higher rate.

That decision triggered widespread currency speculation on the black market, and accusations that individuals with political connections were abusing the system.

Rouhani sacked the governor of the central bank, Valiollah Seif, last week and replaced him with Abdolnasser Hemati, the former head of Central Insurance of Iran.

Hemati is due to unveil a new foreign exchange policy on Monday, a day after it was approved by the government.

IRIB reported that the new policy is expected to see imports of essential items, including medicines, remain at the official government exchange rate of 42,000 rials to the dollar.

The unofficial rate for the rial fell to a record 119,000 last week, before rallying in response to the government’s efforts to address the crisis, and stood at 98,500 on Sunday night.

https://www.dailysabah.com/economy/2018/08/05/iranian-central-banks-forex-chief-arrested-in-tense-build-up-to-sanctions-return

Iran protests ‘won’t end until regime falls’

August 5, 2018

A religious school was attacked in Iran late Friday as public protests spread, in an uprising one policy expert said would continue “until the regime falls.”

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Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency said Saturday that about 500 protesters attacked a seminary in the northern province of Alborz, hurling stones and leading to several arrests.

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In this video grab made from a video by Nasim News Agency, a cleric speaks to a crowd of protesters demonstrating in Mashhad, in the Khorasan Razavi province, on August 3, 2018. (AFP)

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Protests have rocked major cities across Iran — including Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz and Mashhad — amid mounting anger over the country’s economy and political system.

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Alireza Nader, chair of the Anti-Defamation League’s Iran Task Force and former policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, said the Iranian government was unlikely to listen to calls made by the protesters.

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“Iran is experiencing a nationwide uprising which won’t end until the regime falls or makes fundamental reforms. History shows it won’t pursue the latter,” Nader told Arab News.

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“Iranians simply have had enough of the misery inflicted on them over the past 40 years. The regime could resort to major violence, but that’s likely to create an even bigger rebellion.”

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Videos shared on social media in recent days have shown crowds of protesters in several cities, chanting slogans such as “death to the dictator” and those demanding an end to Iran’s regional interventions in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

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In the city of Mashhad, a cleric was seen in a video telling a sizeable crowd that “most of your representatives don’t care about people’s problems,” according to Qom News.

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Nader said that the protests amount to the “most widespread anti-regime resistance movement” since the 1979 revolution in which Iran’s shah was overthrown.

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The current protests follow unrest in December and January, when at least 25 people were killed in demonstrations that spread to dozens of towns and cities.

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They come ahead of a new wave of US sanctions on Iran, the first phase of which will be introduced Tuesday, and involve blocks on financial transactions and imports of raw materials among other measures.

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1351246/middle-east

Scattered protests in Iran as US sanctions loom

August 4, 2018

Sporadic protests were taking place in cities in Iran for a fourth day, with demonstrators attacking a Shi’ite seminary west of Tehran, according to Iranian news agencies and social media on Saturday, as Iranians brace for a return of US sanctions.

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Hundreds have rallied in cities across the country, including Tehran, Isfahan and Karaj, according to videos posted on social media, to protest against high inflation caused in part by a plunging rial over fears of the reimposition of crippling sanctions on Aug. 7.

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Iranian authorities have barely mentioned days of protests in the cities of Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad and Tehran, driven by concerns over the economy as well as wider anger at the political system. (File Photo: AFP)

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In May, the United States pulled out of a 2015 deal between world powers and Tehran under which international sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

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Washington decided to reimpose sanctions on Iran upon its withdrawal, accusing it of posing a security threat, and has told countries they must halt all imports of Iranian oil from Nov. 4 or face US financial measures.

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The protests have often begun with slogans against the high cost of living and alleged financial corruption but quickly turned into anti-government rallies.

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In the town of Eshtehard, 100 km (63 miles) west of Tehran, riot police intervened late on Friday to disperse about 500 people who chanted slogans against the government, with some throwing rocks and bricks at a Shi’ite Muslim seminary, the semi-official news agency Fars said on Saturday.

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In Tehran, street demonstrators chanted “Death to the dictator,” according to a social media video, which could not be independently verified.

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In Washington, the US State Department said on its Persian-language Twitter account: “While it is ultimately up to the #people_of_Iran to determine their country’s path, #America supports the voice of the Iranian people, which has been ignored for a long time.”

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On Aug. 7, Washington will reimpose sanctions on Iran’s purchase of US dollars, its trade in gold and precious metals and its dealings with metals, coal and industrial-related software.

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Sanctions will also be reapplied to US imports of Iranian carpets and foodstuffs and on certain related financial transactions.

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Iran’s oil exports could fall by as much as two-thirds by the end of the year because of the US sanctions, putting oil markets under huge strain amid supply outages elsewhere in the world.

Reuters

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1350901/middle-east

Iran volatile on eve of US sanctions

August 3, 2018

Iranians are hunkering down for the return of US sanctions on Monday with a run on gold and hard currency as they scramble to protect their savings, and sporadic protests over the already troubled economy.

State news agencies reported “scattered protests” of a few hundred people on Thursday in the cities of Shiraz, Ahvaz, Mashhad and Karaj, which police had brought under control.

Videos posted on social media — whose authenticity could not be verified — have shown days of demonstrations in Iran’s third city Isfahan and minor protests in the capital on Thursday night.

So far, they have not been on the scale of the violent unrest that gripped dozens of towns and cities in December and January.

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Image result for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, photos

But anxiety is everywhere, especially over the collapse of the rial, which has lost nearly two-thirds of its value in six months.

“We are seeing protests and they will continue,” said Adnan Tabatabai, head of the CARPO think tank in Germany.

“The establishment knows they are legitimate but my biggest concern is they will be hijacked by groups inside and outside the country and turn violent.”

A decision to fix the exchange rate in April and arrest unlicensed currency dealers backfired spectacularly and triggered a boom in the black market.

The consequences have sometimes felt absurd. One expat described having to meet a trader under a bridge in central Tehran to change $2,000 (1,700 euros).

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The Iranian currency has lost about half of its value since April because of a weak economy. (AFP)

“He told me to wear a red scarf and came up to me whispering: ‘Show me the money’ like we were in a spy film,” she said.

Many wealthy Iranians are leaving the country, while others have been gripped by a bunker mentality, stocking up on provisions, dollars and gold in order to ride out the storm.

Customers were cheek-to-jowl in the narrow alleys of Tehran’s Grand Bazaar this week.

“People are worried that if they don’t buy things today, they won’t be available tomorrow,” said Ali, who runs a kitchen store in the bazaar, adding that wholesalers were hoarding new stock while they waited to see how the crisis unfolded.

The US walked out of the 2015 nuclear deal in May and is bringing back “maximum pressure” sanctions for most sectors on August 6, and the energy sector on November 4.

Multinational firms that rushed to cash in three years ago — such as France’s energy giant Total and carmakers Peugeot and Renault — are already packing up.

– Loopholes –

But many smaller firms are hunting loopholes and counting on protection from European governments who are determined to keep the nuclear deal alive.

“No one really knows how the sanctions will be. The Trump administration is doing that on purpose to keep everyone feeling threatened,” said a Western businessman in Tehran working in the oil and gas sector.

He said US threats are making some Europeans more furious than afraid.

“I’ve heard of four German pharmaceutical firms who are looking to come to Iran specifically to piss off the US.”

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A group of protesters chant slogans at the old grand bazaar in Tehran, Iran, June 25, 2018. (Iranian Labor News Agency via AP)

The return of sanctions will make things only slightly harder for them, as major international banks were already too scared of US penalties to work with Iran even before Trump tore up the agreement.

“The nuclear deal was good for the oil sector but didn’t help the financial and banking sectors,” said Farid Dehdilani, international affairs adviser for the Iranian Privatisation Organisation.

“We did everything we could to attract foreign investment but without the banks it was limited. The US election in 2016 was always a cloud over the agreement, and in the end it produced the worst possible result.”

– Hitting oil sales –

A major blow for Iran will be the loss of oil sales, which Facts Global Energy analysis firm says could drop from 2.4 million barrels per day to as low as 700,000 by the end of the year.

Some countries like India, China and Turkey say they are too dependent on Iranian crude to obey US orders, but many refiners, particularly in Europe, are already cutting back.

Ironically, Iran’s government may regret cracking down on black market operators that facilitated oil sales during the last sanctions regime, such as billionaire Babak Zanjani who was sentenced to death for corruption in 2016.

“Because (President Hassan) Rouhani went after his opponents and targeted people using the black market… now the US Treasury knows exactly how they bypassed the system,” said Mohammad Reza Behzadian, former head of the Tehran chamber of commerce.

There have been positive signs, with a new central bank governor pledging fresh currency policies in the coming days, and an unprecedented transparency push that has seen dozens of arrests of profiteers with political connections.

But many say it is all too late, with the government never putting a convincing economic plan together when it had the chance.

“It failed to take advantage when conditions were good,” said Behzadian. “It’s much more difficult to act in a crisis.”

AFP

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New protests in Iran over rial crash — “Death to the dictator.”

August 3, 2018

“Social instability will undoubtedly crescendo into an existential crisis for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s rule if popular demands for reform are not met in earnest.”

Image result for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, photos

Fresh protests broke out in several Iranian cities on Thursday amid growing concern and anger over the dramatic drop in the value of the country’s currency, and other economic problems, ahead of the impending imposition of renewed American sanctions.

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency said that about 100 people took to the streets in the northern city of Sari, as well as unspecified numbers in Shiraz, Ahvaz and Mashhad. The agency reported that none of the protests had received official permission and were broken up by police.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, about 200 people demonstrated in the city of Karaj, west of Tehran, according to IRNA. Police said the demonstrators had attempted to damage public buildings but were unable to, the agency reported without giving any further details.

A man withdraws Iranial rials from an automated teller machine in Tehran on July 31, 2018. (AFP / ATTA KENARE)

In videos that circulated on social media, purportedly filmed in the town of Gohardasht, a suburb of Karaj, dozens of demonstrators can be seen in the streets setting fire to police vehicles and shouting “Death to the dictator.” Police responded with tear gas. The authenticity of the videos could not immediately be verified.

The Iranian rial has fallen to a record low amid growing concern about the renewed American sanctions, which are due to take effect on Monday.

Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, said the protests were steadily growing and spreading.

“The very dire social conditions underlying the unrest that led to the Iranian revolution in 1979 seem to be very much in play today,” he said. “The fact that much of these protests are taking place both in major towns and villages in the countryside is a major concern for the leadership in Tehran.”

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Saber rattling? — Iranian navy patrol boat launches a missile. FILE photo

He said any kind of economic bailout is unlikely given the imminent international sanctions Iran is facing.

“This means that Iran’s energy exports are not likely to offer the desperately needed economic windfall that Tehran needs to stem the hemorrhaging of its currency and rapidly rising inflation,” said Shahbandar. “The ensuing political and social instability will undoubtedly crescendo into an existential crisis for (Supreme Leader Ali) Khamenei’s rule if popular demands for reform are not met in earnest.”

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An Iranian made ballistic missile is launched from Yemen by Houthi rebels into Saudi Arabia — Reuters file photo

Harvard scholar Majid Rafizadeh, an expert on Iranian affairs, said the protests were the continuation of a nationwide anti-government movement that began in late December.

“The latest unrest broke out in the major cities of Isfahan, Karaj, Shiraz, Rasht and Tabriz, and are rapidly spreading across Iran,” he said.

“Many of the protesters initially took to the streets to express outrage over an ongoing crisis of unemployment and currency devaluation but the demonstrations quickly took on a political tone, with calls for the ouster of the Iranian government.”

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The Iranian currency has lost about half of its value since April because of a weak economy. (AFP)

Rafizadeh said that the value of the Iranian rial hit a record low on Wednesday, trading at a rate of more than 120,000 to the dollar.

“The protests that erupted the following day made it clear that the Iranian people place the blame for their economic hardships squarely on the mismanagement and corruption of the ruling regime,” he said.

“Unless the Iranian regime addresses people’s grievances and alters its policies fundamentally, the protests, which are of a political and economic nature, will more than likely continue to grow and potentially endanger the hold on power of the Iranian regime.”

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1350341/middle-east

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Blood on Zimbabwe’s Streets: Troops shoot into opposition supporters [Video]

August 2, 2018

Image result for Zimbabwe, soldiers beat protesters, photos

Zimbabwe was on edge Thursday after police and soldiers shot into crowds and beat people they caught.

While awaiting the results of its historic presidential election, troops opened fire on protests against alleged electoral fraud, denting hopes of a new era for the country following the ousting of Robert Mugabe.

The government late Wednesday vowed to enforce a security crackdown to prevent further unrest after the army opened fire to disperse opposition protests in Harare, leaving at least three people dead.

Monday’s polls — the first since autocratic president Mugabe was forced out by a brief military takeover in November — had been meant to turn the page on years of violence-marred elections and brutal repression of dissent.

© AFP | The government deployed troops on the streets of Harare as protests erupted over alleged election fraud

But the mood quickly descended into anger and chaos as supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition declared they were being cheated in the election count.

“You said you were better than Mugabe — you are the picture of Mugabe,” shouted one young male protester wearing a white T-shirt. “We need security for the people.”

Soldiers fired on demonstrators during MDC protests in downtown Harare, AFP witnesses saw, with one man killed after being shot in the stomach.

Official results Wednesday showed that the ruling ZANU-PF party had easily won most seats in the parliamentary ballot — strengthening President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s prospects of holding onto power in the key presidential race.

Emmerson Mnangagwa

MDC supporters, who say their leader Nelson Chamisa won the vote, burnt tyres and pulled down street signs as protests spread from the party headquarters in Harare.

Police confirmed the death toll of three, and Mnangagwa issued a statement blaming the opposition for the unrest and fatalities.

“We hold the opposition MDC Alliance and its whole leadership responsible for this disturbance of national peace,” he said, adding the government “went out of its way” to try to ensure the elections were peaceful.

Mnangagwa, 75, had promised a free and fair vote after the military ushered him to power in November when Mugabe was forced to resign.

In a late-night press conference, Home Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu warned that the government “will not tolerate any of the actions that were witnessed today.

“The opposition… have perhaps interpreted our understanding to be weak, and I think they are testing our resolve and I think they are making a big mistake.”

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A credible and peaceful vote was meant to end Zimbabwe’s international isolation and draw in foreign investment to revive the shattered economy.

The MDC, which accuses the election authorities of falsifying results, said the army had opened fire “for no apparent reason” leading to the deaths of unarmed civilians.

– ‘Un-level playing field’ –

European Union observers had earlier declared they found an “un-level playing field and lack of trust” in the election process. It called for transparency in the release of results.

“On many occasions — preparation, financing, media and hopefully not in the counting — it was advantageous for the ruling party,” EU chief observer Elmar Brok told AFP.

Former colonial power Britain called for “calm and restraint”, urging “political leaders to take responsibility… at this critical moment.”

Under Mugabe’s 37-year reign, elections were often marred by fraud and deadly violence.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) said Wednesday that of 210 parliamentary seats, 205 had been counted with ZANU-PF winning 144 and the MDC Alliance 61.

“The results are biased, trying to give the impression that ZANU has won,” said Lawrence Maguranyi, 21, an MDC supporter and university student protesting at the party headquarters.

MDC leader Nelson Chamisa, 40, said the presidential results were fraudulent.

“We have won this one together. No amount of results manipulation will alter your will,” he tweeted before the army was deployed.

– Delayed results? –

Partial results from the presidential race were expected Wednesday but in the end there was no announcement. The electoral commission warned that final results of the presidential first round may not be known until Friday or Saturday.

Commission chairwoman Priscilla Chigumba, a high court judge, has flatly denied allegations of bias and strongly disputed accusations of rigging.

Mugabe, 94, voted in Harare on Monday alongside his wife Grace after he stunned observers by calling for voters to reject ZANU-PF, his former party.

His attempts to position Grace as his successor are widely thought to have driven the military to intervene and put their favoured candidate, Mnangagwa, in power.

Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former right-hand man, was the clear election front-runner, benefitting from tacit military support and control of state resources.

But Chamisa, a lawyer and pastor who performed strongly on the campaign trail, sought to tap into the youth and urban vote.

Mnangagwa was allegedly involved in violence and intimidation during the 2008 elections when then opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of the run-off after attacks claimed the lives of at least 200 of his supporters.

AFP

Hundreds march against ‘burqa ban’ in Denmark

August 2, 2018

Activists denounced Denmark’s ban on full face coverings, saying it unfairly targeted Muslims and represented an overture to anti-immigrant sentiments. Muslims make up about 5 percent of Denmark’s population.

    
Protesters in Copenhagen hold a sign that reads my clothes, my choice (picture-alliance/AP Photo/Ritzau Scanpix/M.C. Rasmussen)

Some 1,300 Danes gathered on Wednesday in Copenhagen and Denmark’s second-biggest city of Aarhus to protest the new ban on face veils, on the day that the controversial law went into effect. Activists have denounced the government for infringing on women’s right to choose how to dress.

The law was enacted by the Danish parliament in May and its proponents have rejected the notion that it represents a ban on religious clothing.

Read more: Full-face veil ban: How laws differ across Europe

Protesters in Copenhagen wore the niqab veil, which covers the whole body except the eyes, the all-enveloping burqa, and other face coverings. Demonstrators marched from the central district of Norrebro to Bellahoj police station on the outskirts of the capital, where they formed a human chain.

The rally lasted three hours. Protesters included a mix of Muslim and non-Muslim Danes, chanting slogans such as “no racists in our streets” and “my life, my choice.”

Demonstrators with full face coverings in CopenhagenDemonstrators with full face coverings would not be fined during the protest, police said

Sabina, a 21-year-old student who did not wish to disclose her full name, was wearing a niqab at the march and explained to Reuters why she was speaking out against the law.

“We need to send a signal to the government that we will not bow to discrimination and a law that specifically targets a religious minority,” Sabina said.

Read more: Column: I’m an Arab woman; am I oppressed?

Muslims make up around 5 percent of Denmark’s population of 5.7 million. Of these, Sabina is one of approximately 150-200 Muslim women in the country who wear either the niqab or burqa and are directly affected by the ban.

Protesters also marched in Denmark's second-biggest city of AarhusProtesters also marched in Denmark’s second-biggest city of Aarhus

Under the law, police will be able to order women to remove their veils or leave public areas. The women will also face fines of 1,000 Danish crowns ($160) for a first offense to 10,000 crowns for a fourth.

Authorities said that the fines would not be applied to the veiled women during the protests since certain uses of face veils, such as to exercise freedom of speech as part of a peaceful protest, are exempt from the law.

Both Muslim and non-Muslim Danes attended the protestBoth Muslim and non-Muslim Danes attended the protest

Amnesty — law harms freedom

Critics see the law as an overture to anti-immigrant sentiments, pointing to the very slim number of Muslim women in Denmark who actually wear face coverings.

“If the intention of this law was to protect women’s rights, it fails abjectly,” said Fotis Filippou, deputy Europe director of Amnesty International.

“Instead, the law criminalizes women for their choice of clothing – making a mockery of the freedoms Denmark purports to uphold,” Filippou added.

Supporters of the law argue instead that the ban enables better integration of Muslim immigrants into Danish society.

Read more: ECJ headscarf ruling and its consequences

With the ban, Denmark now joins Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, the German state of Bavaria and France, all of which have passed similar measures to curb face coverings.

jcg/rc (Reuters, AFP)

https://www.dw.com/en/hundreds-march-against-burqa-ban-in-denmark/a-44919978

Where is Trump headed with his tougher policy toward Iran? — “Iranian money equals terrorism”

August 1, 2018

President Donald Trump’s offer of dialogue with Tehran belies a hardening of U.S. policy that intensifies economic and diplomatic pressure but so far stops short of using his military to more aggressively counter Iran and its proxies.

U.S. officials tell Reuters that the goal of Trump’s push is to curb Iranian behavior, which America, its Gulf allies and Israel say has fueled instability in the region through Tehran’s support for militant groups.

Trump has also voiced hope for a stronger agreement with Iran to prevent its pursuit of nuclear weaponry than the 2015 deal between Tehran and world powers which Trump pulled out of in May.

But the U.S. government has not clearly defined its desired end state for its Iran policy or outlined a face-saving path for Iran’s rulers that would allow them to deescalate steadily mounting tensions between Washington and Tehran, experts say.

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That has raised concerns of an increasing risk of confrontation. Significantly, Trump has also not articulated what he would do if his policies were to destabilize Tehran, which has been at odds with Washington since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, or if U.S. pressure were to embolden hardliners.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani warned on July 22 that hostile U.S. policies could lead to “the mother of all wars.”

Trump responded on Twitter that Iran must never again threaten the United States or it would suffer “consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before.”

Trump significantly softened his tone on Monday, saying he would meet Rouhani without preconditions. Both men are expected to address the annual United Nations gathering of world leaders on the same day in September, according to a tentative list of speakers.

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The Iranian currency has lost about half of its value since April because of a weak economy. (AFP)

REIMPOSING SANCTIONS

Iran views the United States as acting in bad faith by withdrawing from a deal that it helped negotiate and has long blamed Washington for stoking instability in the Middle East.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman on Tuesday said Trump’s offer to negotiate with Tehran contradicts his actions.

“Sanctions and pressures are the exact opposite of dialogue,” Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by Fars news agency. “How can Trump prove to the Iranian nation that his comments of last night reflect a true intention for negotiation and have not been expressed for populist gains?” he added.

Commentary: Trump’s political theater on Iran

Trump’s policy is already putting significant pressure on the Iranian economy, although U.S. intelligence suggests that may rally Iranians against the United States and strengthen Iran’s hardline rulers, officials say.

Iran’s currency plumbed new depths on Monday, dropping past 120,000 rials to the dollar, as Iranians brace for Aug. 7 when Washington is due to reimpose a first lot of economic sanctions following Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

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This includes reimposing sanctions on Iran’s purchases of U.S. dollars as well as its trade in gold and precious metals.

Iran’s oil exports could fall by as much as two-thirds due to the sanctions, straining oil markets.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has strongly supported Trump’s actions, and Israel’s energy minister has said he believes the sanctions could bring Iran to a decision point within months.

FOMENTING UNREST

The Trump administration has also launched an offensive of speeches and online communications meant to foment unrest and help pressure Iran to end its nuclear program and its support of militant groups, according to U.S. officials.

As part of that effort, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on July 22 compared Iran’s leaders to a “mafia” and promised unspecified backing for Iranians unhappy with their government.

Pompeo said the U.S. government was launching a Farsi-language channel on TV, radio, digital and social media platforms. The U.S. government would also help Iranians get around internet censorship.

LAUNCHING ‘ARAB NATO’

The Trump administration is also pushing ahead with a bid to create a new security and political alliance with six Gulf Arab states plus Egypt and Jordan, in part to counter Iran’s expanding influence.

The plan to forge what officials in the White House and Middle East have called an “Arab NATO” of Sunni Muslim allies would likely contribute to tensions with Shi’ite Iran.

But similar initiatives by previous U.S. administrations to develop a more formal alliance with Gulf and Arab allies have failed in the past and it is unclear what, if any, U.S. military involvement there will be in the alliance.

One of the risks of emboldening regional allies, U.S. officials say, is that they could inadvertently trigger a conflict that could draw in the United States.

BUT NO REGIME CHANGE

The tougher U.S. posture on Iran has fueled speculation that Trump is seeking to promote enough unrest to potentially unseat Iran’s rulers.

But U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on July 27 the Trump administration had not instituted a policy of regime change or collapse toward Iran.

“We need them to change their behavior on a number of threats that they can pose with their military, with their secret services, with their surrogates and with their proxies,” Mattis said.

There have been mixed messages from Trump’s administration about the military’s role in confronting Iranian influence. White House National Security Adviser John Bolton linked the U.S military presence in Syria to the “Iranian menace.”

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The head of U.S. forces in the Middle East, General Joseph Votel, clarified that the U.S. military’s job in Syria was still strictly battling Islamic State militants, which are not linked to Iran. However, the presence of U.S. and U.S.-backed forces presents a de facto check on Iranian expansion.

Reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington; Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy, Lesley Wroughton and Roberta Rampton in Washington, Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Mary Milliken and James Dalgleish

Reuters

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© AFP/File | Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) during a welcoming ceremony on January 23, 2016 in the capital Tehran

Iran rocked by new protests as economy heads for collapse — use of violence to keep power

August 1, 2018

Iran faced fresh warnings over human rights abuses on Tuesday as its economic crisis worsened and hundreds of protesters took to the streets.

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Demonstrations spread to the historic city of Isfahan, with protesters demanding an end to the Iranian regime’s costly interference in the affairs of neighboring countries in the region.

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Iranian protesters chant slogans during a demonstration in central Tehran on June 25. (File Photo: AFP)

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At least 29 people have been arrested on vague charges of “economic disruption,” and some face the death penalty.

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Signs of further unrest emerged on Tuesday as shopkeepers and other workers went on strike in protest at the decline of Iran’s currency.

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“In recent weeks and months we’ve had many protests,” Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, spokesman for the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights group, told Arab News. “Human rights are suffering … and every day they suffer more. Iran is amongst the biggest violators of human rights in the world today.”

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He said the recent arrests were unlikely to have targeted the corrupt officials who occupy the “inner circles” of Iranian public life. The arrests serve two purposes, he said — to suggest the Iranian government is acting to stamp out “huge corruption,” and to instill fear in the public. “There are people who have been executed for economic corruption. But … the trials are not public so nobody knows that what the authorities are claiming is true.

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“From the authorities’ view, these death sentences are more important as instruments of intimidation and spreading fear. If they really want to go after the corruption, they will be in deep trouble because the corruption is at the highest levels.”

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Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Dr. Majid Rafizadeh also said the reasons for Iran’s economic crises go to the top of government. “The Iranian regime’s financial corruption, misuse of public funds, the widespread banking crisis, and the hemorrhaging of billions of dollars … on militia and terror groups are among the major reasons behind the present currency and economic crises,” he said.

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Protests in Isfahan In Isfahan, striking shopkeepers, farmers and truck drivers were joined by other citizens in the Amir-Kabir industrial complex in New Shapur, according to Iranian activists.

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Video footage showed hundreds of protesters shouting: “No to Gaza, no to Lebanon, my soul is Iran’s redemption.” The slogan refers to Tehran’s costly military adventures in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, at the expense of the domestic economy.

BBC NEWS فارسی

@bbcpersian

حضور پلیس ضد شورش در منطقه شاپور جدید اصفهان
گروهی از کسبه و رانندگان شاپور جدید در “اعتراض به گرانی و بیکاری” تجمع کرده‌اند.

Amiry-Moghaddam urged the world to do more to address the human rights situation, which he said was a result of a regime looking to cling on to power. “The main reason for people suffering is the regime: There is a lack of accountability and huge corruption … and use of violence to keep power.”

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The slogan has been repeated at a series of protests that started at the end of last year. It refers to the regime’s expenditure on the regional military interventions instead of using the funds to tackle the country’s economic woes.

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In December and January widespread protests against economic conditions shook the country. At least 25 protesters were killed and nearly 5,000 arrested in a brutal response by the security forces.

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Last month, protesters clashed with police outside parliament in Tehran in three days of protests sparked by the plunging rial.

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On June 25, a strike shut down the stalls of the Grand Bazaar in Tehran and several other markets.

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Meanwhile, a truck drivers’ strike entered its eighth day in cities across the country, according to reports.

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And railway workers in Tabriz, north-east Iran, protested on Monday after receiving no salary over the past four months, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).

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It reported that the workers had cut off the railway route, which connects Tabriz with the rest of the provinces.

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Activists on Tuesday continued to publish pictures showing an intense presence of security forces and police in Tehran.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1349006/middle-east