Archive for January, 2018

Saudi Arabia frees wealthy prince held in anti-graft drive

2018-01-27

RIYADH – Saudi Arabia released billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal on Saturday nearly three months after his arrest in an anti-corruption drive targeting the kingdom’s elite, a business associate said.

“He (Prince Al-Waleed) is out,” the associate said, requesting anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Prince Al-Waleed, dubbed the Warren Buffett of Saudi Arabia, was among some 350 suspects rounded up since November 4, including billionaire tycoons and ministers who were detained in Riyadh’s luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel.

Prince Al-Waleed is the latest in a series of high-profile detainees to be freed from the hotel. The terms of his release were not immediately clear.

Authorities have previously said most of those detained struck monetary settlements in exchange for their freedom, which could earn state coffers about $100 billion.

Another high-profile detainee, former National Guard chief Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, was released recently following his “settlement” with authorities which reportedly exceeded $1 billion.

Saudi Arabia also on Friday released the owner of the influential Arab satellite network MBC nearly three months after his arrest, sources said.

Waleed al-Ibrahim was among the suspects rounded up since November 4.

Ibrahim held a family gathering at his residence after his release, three MBC employees said on condition of anonymity. The staff also received an official e-mail congratulating them on his freedom.

The Financial Times reported earlier Friday that authorities had ordered Ibrahim to hand over his controlling stake in MBC to secure his release.

Authorities have so far not commented on his case.

The government on Friday also released a number of other detainees including Khaled Tuwaijri, former chief of the Saudi royal court, and Turki bin Nasser, former head of the country’s meteorology agency, a source close to the government said.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old son of the king, has spearheaded the unprecedented crackdown on corruption among members of the government and royal family, as he consolidates his grip on power in the kingdom.

The windfall settlements agreed with those detained will help the government finance a multi-million dollar package announced by King Salman this month to help citizens cope with the rising cost of living, Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan told Al Arabiya television in Davos on Wednesday.

Some critics have labelled the campaign a shakedown, but authorities insist the purge was aimed to target endemic corruption as Saudi Arabia seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy.

The Ritz-Carlton is set to re-open for business next month as the campaign draws to an end, sources at the hotel have said. Its website lists rooms as available from February 14.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=86960.

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Israel plans for railway connecting it with Saudi Arabia

January 16, 2018

The Israeli government has begun preparing plans to build a railway linking Israel with Saudi Arabia to transfer goods and people, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reported yesterday.

Reporting the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the London-based website said that the 15 million shekels ($4.5 million) cost of the plans for this project was included in the 2019 budget, which was approved three days earlier.

The initial plan for the project is to build a railway station in the city of Bisan with a railway network which travels through Jordan to Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Currently, Yedioth Ahronoth said, Israel is transporting goods arriving in Haifa Port and heading to Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States through Jordan, noting that the war in Syria led these countries to use Israeli ports instead of those in Syria.

The paper reported that the Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz called this railway the “Peace Line”, adding that Israel would open a new commercial crossing to deal with goods exported by the Gulf States and Iraq through Israeli ports.

According to the Israeli newspaper, the Israeli Railway Commission has already formed a team of experts to lay down plans for this project, which, it said, would improve Israel’s international status as the railway will connect Europe with the Middle East.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180116-israel-plans-for-railway-connecting-it-with-saudi-arabia/.

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Bahrain sentences six to death for ‘assassination plot’

2017-12-25

DUBAI – Bahrain’s top military court sentenced six men to death on Monday after convicting them of charges including plotting to assassinate the Gulf state’s armed forces chief, state media reported.

It was the first official mention of any plot against the life of Field Marshal Sheikh Khalifa bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, who is a member of the ruling family, but the Bahrain News Agency gave no further details of when or where it was alleged to have taken place.

Tiny but strategic Bahrain has been gripped by unrest for years as its Sunni royal family has resisted demands from its Shiite majority for a constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister.

A judicial source said that all six of those sentenced to death on Monday were Shiites.

BNA said that one of them was a serving soldier before his arrest and that all six were also stripped of their citizenship.

The court sentenced seven other defendants to seven-year jail terms and deprived them too of their citizenship. Five men were acquitted.

Only 10 of the defendants are in custody, BNA said. The other eight are on the run — either inside Bahrain or in Iran or Iraq.

Since crushing Shiite-led street protests in 2011, Bahraini authorities have cracked down on all dissent, banning both religious and secular opposition parties and jailing hundreds.

Human rights watchdogs say that counter-terrorism legislation has been abused to prosecute many peaceful opposition figures.

The United States has criticized Bahrain for its human rights record but the kingdom holds a strategic position just across the Gulf from Iran and provides the home base for the US Fifth Fleet.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=86556.

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Iran FM warns neighbors, says they seeking unrest in Iran

January 08, 2018

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s foreign minister on Monday warned neighboring countries over fomenting insecurity in Iran in a reference to anti-government protests that have roiled the country over the past two weeks.

The remarks by Mohammad Javad Zarif at a security conference in Tehran echoed the Iranian authorities’ stance, which alleges that foreign powers — including regional rival Saudi Arabia — stirred up unrest linked to the protests.

“Some countries tried to misuse the recent incidents,” Zarif said without blaming any specific country, and added that “no country can create a secure environment for itself at the expense of creating insecurity among its neighbors.”

“Such efforts” will only backfire, the official IRNA news agency quoted Zarif as saying. The anti-government demonstrations first broke out in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city, on Dec. 28 and later spread to several other cities and towns. The protests were the largest seen in Iran since the disputed 2009 presidential election. They were sparked by a hike in food prices amid soaring unemployment but some demonstrators later called for the government’s overthrow and chanted against the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

At least 21 people were killed and hundreds arrested. Large pro-government rallies were held in response, and officials have blamed the anti-government unrest on foreign meddling. In the past few days, Iranian authorities said the protests are waning and on Sunday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard claimed the nation and its security forces had ended the wave of unrest.

The powerful Guard blamed the unrest on the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as an exiled opposition group known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, and supporters of the monarchy that was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Zarif also mentioned an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council on Friday. The United States had called the meeting, portraying Iranian protests as a human rights issue that could spill over into an international problem.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said the session had put Iran on notice that “the world will be watching” its actions but envoys from several other countries expressed reservations whether the Council was the right forum for the issue.

Zarif on Monday depicted the session as a fiasco and evidence that the Trump administration is “isolated at the international level.” The world “witnessed that (all other) members of the UN Security Council spoke about preventing the meddling in Iran’s internal affairs,” he said.

Zarif also warned that the Islamic State group is still active and a threat in the region and beyond, despite the destruction of its self-proclaimed “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq and called for a “complete crush” of the militant group.

Also Monday, Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani said despite the abuse of the protests by outsiders, the authorities should heed the message of the people. “People rightfully say: ‘See us, listen to our words,'” Rouhani said.

He stressed that his policy of economic reform is the “right” way forward and urged for the lifting of bans on messaging apps, including the popular Telegram messaging service, that were shut down during the protests.

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Strength of Iran protests uncertain after a week of unrest

January 04, 2018

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The strength of protests shaking Iran was unclear on Thursday after a week of unrest that killed at least 21 people, with fewer reports of demonstrations as government supporters again took to the streets.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the drop in reports of new demonstrations challenging Iran’s theocratic government meant the protests are subsiding or that the authorities’ blocking of social media apps has stopped protesters from offering new images of rallies.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration acknowledged the speed and breadth of the protests took both it and the Iranian government by surprise. The past week’s protests have been the largest since the disputed 2009 presidential election, which ended in bloodshed. While many Iranians denounce the violence that has accompanied some demonstrations, they echo the protesters’ frustration over the weak economy and official corruption.

Thousands rallied on Thursday in support of the government in various towns and cities, including in the northeastern city of Mashhad, where the protests began last week and extended to other cities. State television repeatedly broadcast nationalistic songs and described the pro-government rallies as an “answer to rioters and supporters to the riot.” That appeared to be a reference to President Donald Trump who tweeted in support to anti-government rallies.

The TV also broadcast footage of similar pro-government gatherings Thursday in the cities of Shiraz, Isfahan, Ardabil, Birjand and Yasuj. In a letter Wednesday to United Nations officials, Iranian Ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo complained that Washington was intervening “in a grotesque way in Iran’s internal affairs.” He said Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were personally stirring up trouble.

“The president and vice-president of the United States, in their numerous absurd tweets, incited Iranians to engage in disruptive acts,” the ambassador wrote to the U.N. Security Council president and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Trump’s U.N. envoy, Ambassador Nikki Haley, has called for an emergency Security Council meeting on Iran, saying the U.N. needed to speak out in support of the protesters. As yet, no meeting has been scheduled.

Late Wednesday, senior Trump administration officials acknowledged their surprise that the protests took hold so quickly. “This was not on our radar,” said one official, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

The officials said they believed conservative opponents of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate within Iran’s clerically overseen government, started the demonstrations in Mashhad, but quickly lost control of them. That largely mirrors analysts’ beliefs.

The officials also said internet suppression by Iranian authorities made it difficult for protesters to publish their videos, with an upload sometimes taking the entire day. They said the U.S. government is still looking at its options at helping open up the internet, though no decision has been taken yet.

Associated Press writers Josh Lederman in Washington and Jennifer Peltz at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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Iran protests have violent night; at least 13 dead overall

January 02, 2018

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Protests across Iran saw their most violent night as “armed protesters” tried to overrun military bases and police stations before security forces repelled them, killing 10 people, Iranian state television said Monday.

The demonstrations, the largest to strike Iran since its disputed 2009 presidential election, have seen five days of unrest across the country and a death toll of at least 13 with the slaying of a police officer announced late Monday.

The protests began Thursday in Mashhad over Iran’s weak economy and a jump in food prices and have expanded to several cities, with some protesters chanting against the government and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Hundreds of people have been arrested.

Iranian state television aired footage of a ransacked private bank, broken windows, overturned cars and a firetruck that appeared to have been set ablaze. It said 10 people were killed by security forces during clashes Sunday night.

“Some armed protesters tried to take over some police stations and military bases but faced serious resistance from security forces,” state TV said. In a later report, state TV said killed six people were killed in the western town of Tuyserkan, 295 kilometers (185 miles) southwest of Tehran, and three in the town of Shahinshahr, 315 kilometers (195 miles) south of Tehran. It did not say where the 10th person was killed.

Earlier Monday, the semi-official ILNA news agency quoted Hedayatollah Khademi, a representative for the town of Izeh, as saying two people died there Sunday night. He said the cause of death wasn’t immediately known, though authorities later described one of the deaths as the result of a personal dispute.

Late Monday, Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency said an assailant using a hunting rifle killed a policeman and wounded three other officers during a demonstration in the central city of Najafabad, about 320 kilometers (200 miles) south of Tehran. The slaying marked the first security force member to be killed in the unrest.

Two protesters also were killed during clashes late Saturday in Doroud, some 325 kilometers (200 miles) southwest of Tehran in Lorestan province, authorities have said. On Sunday, Iran blocked access to Instagram and the popular messaging app Telegram used by activists to organize.

President Hassan Rouhani acknowledged the public’s anger over the Islamic Republic’s flagging economy, though he and others warned that the government wouldn’t hesitate to crack down on those it considers lawbreakers.

That was echoed Monday by judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, who urged authorities to confront rioters, state TV reported. “I demand all prosecutors across the country to get involved and the approach should be strong,” he said.

Rouhani also stressed Monday that Iran “has seen many similar events and passed them easily.” U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been tweeting in support of the protesters, continued into the New Year, describing Iran as “failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration.”

“The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years,” he wrote. “They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!” While some have shared Trump’s tweets, many in Iran distrust him because he has refused to re-certify the nuclear deal and his travel bans have blocked Iranians from getting U.S. visas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling the protesters “brave” and “heroic,” said in a video posted to YouTube on Monday that the protesters sought freedom, justice and “the basic liberties that have been denied to them for decades.”

He criticized the Iranian regime’s response to the protests and also chided European governments for watching “in silence” as the protests turn violent. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson issued a statement late Monday saying “there should be meaningful debate about the legitimate and important issues the protesters are raising and we look to the Iranian authorities to permit this.”

“We regret the loss of life that has occurred in the protests in Iran, and call on all concerned to refrain from violence and for international obligations on human rights to be observed,” he said. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel also said in a statement that “after the confrontation of the past days it is all the more important for all sides to refrain from violent action.” Both countries were part of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran’s economy has improved since the nuclear deal, which saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the end of some international sanctions. Tehran now sells its oil on the global market and has signed deals to purchase tens of billions of dollars’ worth of Western aircraft.

That improvement has not reached the average Iranian, however. Unemployment remains high, and official inflation has crept up to 10 percent again. A recent increase in egg and poultry prices by as much as 40 percent, which the government has blamed on a cull over avian flu fears, appears to have been the spark for the economic protests.

While the protests have sparked clashes, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and its affiliates have not intervened as they have in other unauthorized demonstrations since the 2009 election. It wasn’t immediately clear if the Guard would change its posture given the reported attacks on police stations and military bases. In Tehran on Monday, streets were calm, though a heavy police presence was noticeable.

Brig. Gen. Massoud Jazayeri , the Guard commander and deputy chief of staff for Iran’s military, said Monday that Trump’s support of the protesters “indicates planning by the U.S. for launching a new sedition in Iran.”

Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi reported this story in Tehran and AP writer Jon Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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Iran arrests anti-inflation demonstrators

December 30, 2017

The Iranian authorities arrested 52 demonstrators on Thursday in the city of Mashhad and other areas, an official revealed yesterday. Those arrested were taking part in protests against inflationary price rises in the country.

Hundreds of people took to the streets in Mashhad, an important religious center, chanting slogans against the government of President Hassan Rouhani. They accused Rouhani of failing to deal with the economic crisis.

According to AFP, the head of the Revolutionary Court in Mashhad, Hussein Haidari, said that the authorities arrested the demonstrators for chanting “abusive slogans”. Demonstrations are the people’s right, he explained, but the authorities have to consider other people’s feelings.

Apart from chanting “Death to Rouhani”, the protesters also called for Iran’s issues to be prioritized over Gaza and Lebanon. Analysts say that this is an indication of the Iranians’ anger with their country’s concerns about regional issues instead of concentrating on improving the situation inside the country.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171230-iran-arrests-anti-inflation-demonstrators/.

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