Archive for February, 2016
February 26, 2016
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Polls opened Friday in Iran’s parliamentary elections, the country’s first since its landmark nuclear deal with world powers last summer. The vote is in part seen as a referendum on the policies of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who is credited with bringing about the deal that curbed Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of crippling international sanctions.
At the same time as parliamentary elections, Iranians are also voting for the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body empowered to choose or dismiss the country’s supreme leader. State TV showed long lines of people waiting to cast their ballots in the twin elections as the polls opened.
Some 53,000 polling stations throughout Iran are taking ballots for the 290-member parliament and the 88-member Experts Assembly. Nearly 55 million Iranians are eligible to vote. In the parliament vote, reformists seeking greater democratic changes and moderates supporting Rouhani are pitted against hard-liners who oppose the nuclear deal and openings with the West.
The balloting is unlikely to change Iran’s course over major policies regardless of who wins but a win by reformists and moderates will give Rouhani the support he needs as he tries to repair the economy and move toward warmer ties with the United States.
The barring of a majority of reformists from the race by the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog that vets election candidates, means they are unlikely to win a majority alone but a substantial bloc would mean a new shift in Iran’s politics.
Among those who cast their ballot in the first hours of the voting was Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader who has the final say on all state matters. He had urged Iranians to vote, saying it was both a “right” and a “responsibility” and that a high turnout would boost Iran’s image and might.
“Whoever likes Iran and its dignity, greatness and glory should participate in this election,” he said after casting his ballot in Tehran. “We have enemies who are eyeing us greedily. Turnout in the elections should be such that our enemy will be disappointed and will lose its hope. People should be observant and vote with open eyes.”
A high turnout is likely to help reformists and moderates to return in significant numbers in order to reduce hard-liners’ ability to block Rouhani’s agenda of economic, social and political reforms. Late Thursday, Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli predicted a turnout of 70 percent.
Saturday, 20 February 2016
Saudi Arabia announced on Friday that it is planning to supply the moderate Syrian opposition with surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), AlKhaleej.com has reported. Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir made the announcement during an interview with the Germany weekly Der Spiegel; his comments were then reported widely by other media outlets.
“We believe that introducing surface-to-air missiles in Syria is going to change the balance of power on the ground,” he told Der Spiegel. “It will allow the moderate opposition groups to neutralize the helicopters and aircraft that are dropping chemicals and have been carpet-bombing them.” He noted that something similar happened previously in Afghanistan.
Al-Jubeir repeated his calls for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad “to step down in order to enable a political solution to the five-year-long war.” He suggested that Russian interference does not help the Assad regime in the long term.
Source: Middle East Monitor.
ANKARA – Turkey’s air force on Monday began five days of air defense exercises with Saudi Arabia, the Turkish military said, as the two countries forge an increasingly tight alliance on Syria.
Six Saudi F-15 fighter jets will take part in the air defense training in the central Turkish region of Konya, the military said in a statement.
The exercises are within the framework of cooperation and military training between the two countries and had been scheduled in advance, it added. They will last until Friday.
But the start of the exercises comes just two days after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced that Saudi jets would be based at Turkey’s air base of Incirlik in Adana province to fight Islamic State (ISIS) militants.
He also said that Turkey and Saudi could even launch a ground operation in Syria against ISIS, while emphasizing no decision had been taken.
Saudi Arabia and Turkey both see the ousting of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as essential for ending Syria’s five-year civil war and are bitterly critical of Iran and Russia’s support of the Syrian regime.
The two overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim powers have in recent months moved to considerably tighten relations that had been damaged by Riyadh’s role in the 2013 ousting of Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, a close ally of Ankara.
Turkey and Saudi back rebels who are seeking to oust Assad and both fear the West is losing its appetite to topple Assad on the assumption he is “the lesser of two evils” compared to the ISIS jihadists.
Source: Middle East Online.
Wed Feb 17, 2016
A group of families in Mali, who lost their loved ones in the last September Hajj tragedy, are planning to file complaints against Riyadh, they lawyer says.
Marcel Ceccaldi on Tuesday criticized Saudi Arabia’s response to the deadly human crush which took place in Mina, near the Saudi city of Mecca, and said that the families of the victims are considering filing complaints against Riyadh in Mali and with the European Union.
Ceccaldi also rapped the response of the Mali government to the crush.
Some 320 pilgrims from Mali lost their lives in the Mina disaster which took place on September 24, 2015 when two large masses of pilgrims were directed by Saudi authorities toward one another and fused at a crossroads in Mina. The pilgrims were on their way to participate in the symbolic stoning of Satan in Jamarat.
Saudi Arabia claims nearly 770 people were killed in the incident, but officials with Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization say about 4,700 people, including 465 Iranians, lost their lives in the tragedy.
The AP record says 2,426 pilgrims died in the incident.
Saudi Arabia has come under harsh criticism over its role and handling of the Mina incident.
Iran says Riyadh’s incompetence in handling safety at the rituals caused the deadly incident.
The Mina disaster came days after a massive construction crane collapsed into Mecca’s Grand Mosque, killing more than 100 people and leaving over 200 others wounded.
Separately, a fire at a 15-story hotel in Mecca on September 21, 2015 forced the evacuation of some 1,500 people. A fire also broke out at another hotel in the city days earlier, which left a number of foreigners injured.
February 17, 2016
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A senior Iranian Oil Ministry official says his country won’t freeze its oil output but will keep increasing crude exports until it reaches levels attained before international sanctions were imposed on Tehran.
The remarks by Mahdi Asali, Iran’s OPEC envoy, are a direct snub to a proposed cap to crude oil production that was agreed to by four oil-producing countries during a meeting the day before in Qatar. Asali says the fall in oil prices should be blamed on oversupply and that it’s up to Saudi Arabia and others to cut down production to boost oil prices.
Iran has already announced plans to increase its oil production by 500,000 barrels per day after sanctions were lifted last month under a landmark nuclear deal with world powers.
February 16, 2016
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Bahrain has arrested four American journalists covering the anniversary of its 2011 uprising amid a long crackdown on dissent in the tiny Gulf nation, witnesses said Monday.
Police said they detained four Americans for providing “false information that they were tourists,” while also alleging one took part in an attack on its officers. The U.S. Embassy in Manama said it was “aware of the arrest of four U.S. citizens in Bahrain” on Sunday but could not discuss the case due to privacy concerns.
Police said one of the journalists was a woman and three were men. Witnesses identified the woman as Anna Therese Day, an American freelance journalist from Boise, Idaho, who previously had contributed to The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast.
In a statement, The Post told The Associated Press that Day, who had blogged on the website and appeared on its HuffPost Live program, was not on assignment for the outlet at the time of her arrest. “The safety of journalists is of utmost importance to The Huffington Post and we have security measures in place for our reporters around the world,” the statement read. “Anna Day is not employed or contracted by The Huffington Post.”
Jesse Ayala, a friend in New York, said Day and her crew “were not on an exclusive assignment” when they were arrested. “The allegation that they were in any way involved in illegal behavior or anything other than journalistic activities is impossible,” Ayala said in a statement.
Photographs of the reporters working in Sitra, a largely Shiite community south of the capital that has seen repeated protests, circulated on social media, including one image of Day being filmed while speaking to a masked protester.
On Sunday, police arrested a photographer working with the group, the two witnesses said. Later that night, police surrounded the area with checkpoints and arrested the other three, they said. The witnesses spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity for fear of being arrested.
An Interior Ministry statement alleged one of the four journalists “was wearing a mask and participating in attacks on police alongside other rioters in Sitra.” The statement also said the journalists entered the country between Thursday and Friday on tourist visas.
“At least some of the arrestees were in the country as members of the international media but had not registered with the concerned authority and were involved in illegal activities,” the statement said, without elaborating on what those activities were.
Bahrain requires international journalists to obtain special media visas before entering to work. The island kingdom allows citizens of many countries, including the U.S., to get a tourist visa on arrival. Obtaining a media visa takes several days, and activists say Bahrain has denied media visas for some journalists since the 2011 protests.
A statement on the state-run Bahrain News Agency said the journalists had “been afforded full legal rights in line with the kingdom’s procedures and constitution while investigations continue.” Bahraini officials did not respond to questions from the AP about the arrests.
U.S. Ambassador William V. Roebuck also met with Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa on Monday, according to a late statement on the Bahrain News Agency. The 2011 protests in Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, were the largest of the Arab Spring wave of demonstrations to rock the Gulf Arab states. They were driven by the country’s Shiite majority, who demanded greater political rights from the Sunni-led monarchy.
The protests were quashed after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent in reinforcements. Bahrain blamed regional Shiite power Iran for stirring up the demonstrations, though a government-sponsored investigation into the unrest said there wasn’t a “discernable link” between the protests and the Islamic Republic based on the information the government gave them.
Bahrain’s government committed to a number of reforms in the wake of the 2011 demonstrations, but low-level unrest continues, particularly in Shiite communities. Small groups of activists frequently clash with riot police and bombs occasionally target security forces. Hundreds of Bahraini youths protested Sunday on the fifth anniversary of the uprising.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists called for the immediate release of the American journalists, saying at least six other reporters are being held by the kingdom over their work. “It is sad that the fifth anniversary of the protests is marked by the arrest of yet more journalists in Bahrain, which has since become one of the worst jailers of journalists in the Arab world,” said Sherif Mansour, the committee’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.
Associated Press writer Adam Schreck contributed to this report.
Sunday, 14 February 2016
Saudi military jets have arrived in Turkey’s Incirlik air base in southern Adana province to carry out missions against Daesh, a Saudi military spokesman said late Saturday.
Brigadier Ahmed al-Assiri told Al Arabiya television network that the aircraft will be used in joint operations against Daesh in Syria.
Assiri also said that no Saudi ground forces had been sent yet.
About the possibility of a ground operation in Syria, the Saudi official said that military specialists were still analyzing the situation and details would be finalized in the upcoming days.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also said Saturday that no decision about a possible Turkish ground operation in Syria had been made yet. “[There is] currently… no decision or a strategy to conduct ground operations,” although Turkey has long advocated land operations in Syria, Cavusoglu said.
Turkey, together with coalition forces, has been making efforts to eliminate Daesh in Syria.
Source: Middle East Monitor.