News & Current Affairs

June 22, 2009

West ‘seeks Iran disintegration’

West ‘seeks Iran disintegration’

A protester throws an object towards police in Tehran, 20 June 2009

Saturday saw some of the worst violence since the election

Iranian authorities have deployed thousands of security officers on the streets of Tehran, after a week of mass protests over a disputed election.

Witnesses said there were no rallies in the capital on Sunday, a day after 10 people were reported killed in clashes between police and protesters.

State media said 457 people had been detained over Saturday’s violence.

The authorities have also continued a crackdown on foreign media – expelling the BBC’s Tehran correspondent.

The corporation confirmed Jon Leyne had been asked to leave the country, but said the BBC office in Tehran would remain open.

Campaign group Reporters Without Borders says 23 local journalists and bloggers have been arrested over the past week.

Roof-top chanting

The protests were sparked by the presidential election on 12 June, which officials said incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won by a landslide.

Supporters of his nearest rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi, believe the election was rigged and have demonstrated since the results were announced.

But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has backed Mr Ahmadinejad and made it clear in a speech on Friday that no further protests would be tolerated.

Some analysts interpreted the ayatollah’s speech as giving a green light for security forces to use live ammunition.

Iranian state TV reported that 10 people had died and 100 were injured when protesters and police clashed on Saturday.

On Sunday, thousands of security officers were out on the streets but protesters stayed away.

The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen, in Tehran, says many residents of northern Tehran could be heard shouting from the rooftops “death to the dictator” and “Allahu akbar” on Sunday evening.

The chants have become a popular form of protest, and our correspondents says men, women and children joined in and Sunday’s chanting was much louder than on previous days.

Mousavi’s plea

Security forces continued to round up protesters on Saturday – with state media saying 457 people had been arrested.

Among the detained were several family members of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani – a powerful opponent of Mr Ahmadinejad.

Analysts said the arrests came as a surprise because Mr Rafsanjani is head of the Assembly of Experts – a cleric run group which has the power to remove the supreme leader.

All of Mr Rafsanjani’s relatives were reported to have been freed by Sunday evening.

Meanwhile, Mr Mousavi, whose supporters make up most of the protesting crowds, urged them to continue their rallies.

“Protesting against lies and fraud is your right. In your protests continue to show restraint,” a statement on his website said.

Analysts say Mr Mousavi’s statements and the street protests his supporters have organised represent the biggest challenge to the state in the Islamic republic’s 30-year history.


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June 20, 2009

Iran protests ‘to go ahead’

Iran protests ‘to go ahead’

An Iranian man holds a poster of the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at the conclusion of the Friday prayers, in Tehran, Iran on Friday

Many thousands of Iranians attended the Supreme Leader’s Friday address

A key rally against Iran’s presidential elections will go ahead on Saturday – in defiance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei – opposition sources say.

The wife of defeated candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, and an aide to another rival candidate, Mehdi Karroubi, said the rally would go ahead.

Mr Mousavi later announced he would be giving a statement imminently.

Police warned they will arrest the leaders of any protest rallies, which they said would be illegal.

The warning follows an order from Ayatollah Khamenei on Friday that street protests should cease.

LATEST FROM TEHRAN
Jon Leyne
Jon Leyne

The opposition leader Mir Hussein Musavi has not made the direct statement himself but his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, who has played a key role in his campaign, has said on her facebook site that the rally is going ahead.

If so, this will be the most direct challenge to the authority of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

A huge turnout is expected. Iran and the world will be watching to see how the Iranian security forces respond.

On her page of the social networking website Facebook, Mr Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard said the rally would go ahead.

An aide to Mr Karroubi also told the news that a rally would take place and that it would be attended by Mr Mousavi and Mohammad Khatami – the former president, key reformist and ally of Mr Mousavi.

But the BBC’s Jon Leyne in Tehran says events are moving quickly, with the website of Mr Mousavi’s Kalameh newspaper saying he was due to make an imminent announcement.

Mr Mousavi had been expected, along with fellow challengers Mr Karroubi and Mohsen Rezai, to discuss more than 600 objections they had filed complaining about the poll at a meeting of the Guardian Council on Saturday.

But Iranian media reports suggest that neither Mr Mousavi nor Mr Karroubi turned up for the meeting.

Our correspondent says that, if true, it might suggest they have abandoned their legal challenge to the election results.

The Council, which is the body which certifies the election, had only offered a partial recount of disputed ballots from the election.

Police warning

Iranian officials have warned protest leaders not to launch fresh demonstrations.

Abbas Mohtaj – head of Iran’s State Security Council and also deputy interior minister – issued a direct warning to Mr Mousavi.

Iranian pro-government supporters burn a US flag in Tehran

“Should you provoke and call for these illegal rallies you will be responsible for the consequences,” he said in a statement.

State TV also broadcast a warning by a senior police commander warning that police would not countenance any more street protests.

Official results of the 12 June presidential poll gave President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a resounding 63% of votes, compared to 34% for his nearest rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi.

The result triggered almost daily street protests – a challenge to ruling authorities unprecedented since the Islamic revolution of 1979.

The human-rights group Amnesty International says it believed about 10 people had been killed.

On Friday, US President Barack Obama warned Iran that the “world is watching” events there. He expressed concern at “some of the tenor and tone of the statements that have been made”.

Ayatollah’s address

A new rally on Saturday would directly challenge an order from Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s spiritual leader and highest authority.

“Straight challenge is not acceptable after the election,” Ayatollah Khamenei told thousands of Iranians who massed to hear him on Friday.

“This is challenging democracy and election itself. I want every side to put an end to this method. If they don’t then the responsibility of its consequences, the riots should be shouldered by those who do not put an end to it.”

The ayatollah insisted the Islamic Republic would not “cheat voters” – and blamed foreign powers, in particular the UK, for fomenting the unrest.

He said “bloodshed” would result if the protests went ahead.

The rally was attended by President Ahmadinejad. But former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani – a close associate of Mr Mousavi, and open critic of President Ahmadinejad – did not attend.

Although the Supreme Leader controls many levers of power, Mr Rafsanjani heads the Assembly of Experts, which has the power to elect the leader, supervise him, and theoretically even to dismiss him, our correspondent says.

Behind the scenes, he says, there appears to be both a political battle between two veterans of the Islamic Revolution, but also a titanic dispute about the whole future of Iran, whose outcome no-one can predict.


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August 23, 2008

Somali insurgents ‘take key port’

Somali insurgents ‘take key port’

Wounded man in Mogadishu

Mogadishu’s main market was also bombed on Tuesday

Islamist insurgents in Somalia say they have taken control of the southern port of Kismayo amid fighting that has left dozens of people dead.

A spokesman for al-Shabab, Mukhtar Robow, told the BBC his militia had wrested the city from a local clan militia during a third day of clashes.

A UN official said about 100 people had been killed and up to 25,000 displaced.

There has also been fierce fighting in the capital, Mogadishu, and hijackings by pirates off the north Somali coast.

Al-Shabab is a radical wing of the Union of Islamic Courts, which ruled much of Somalia in 2006 before being ousted and launching a rebellion.

Humanitarian crisis

Kismayo, Somalia’s third city, is strategically important because it serves as a port for the south of the country.

On Friday at least 15 people were reported to have died in the Kismayo fighting and 18 injured, with dozens killed over three days of clashes.

I saw a single wheelbarrow full of bread being mobbed by a crowd of people
Kismayo resident

Mark Bowden, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Somalia, told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme that about 100 people had been killed in Kismayo and as many as 25,000 displaced.

“After four hours [the fighting] ended up in the northern corner of the town, now the town seems to be under the control of al-Shabab,” a human rights worker in the port told on Friday.

Residents said Islamist fighters were patrolling the streets, and that sporadic shooting was continuing in parts of the city.

The fighting is said to have caused an acute humanitarian crisis.

Many people have no access to food and all business activity is reported to have stopped.

“The last three days of fighting has severely affected the town, where people remained in doors,” one resident said.

“Now I am out, to my surprise, I saw a single wheelbarrow full of bread being mobbed by a crowd of people.”

Market hit

In Mogadishu on Thursday, some mortars landed near the compound of President Abdullahi Yusuf, who was out of the country.

Another landed near a mosque in the busy Bakara market, killing at least six people, a witness told the BBC.

Map of Somalia

Witnesses said government troops and their Ethiopian allies responded by opening fire, killing several civilians.

At least 20 people were reported to have been killed in fighting in the capital, though the city was calm on Friday.

Ethiopian troops entered Somalia in December 2006, to oust Islamist forces from Mogadishu.

The police chief in the capital said people who wanted to sabotage talks in neighboring Djibouti between Somalia’s provisional government and its Islamist rivals were behind the most recent violence, our correspondent reports.

Piracy

Somalia has been without a functioning national government since 1991 and has suffered ongoing civil strife.

The UN’s World Food Programme is expanding its programme to feed 2.4 million people in Somalia by the end of the year.

Aid efforts have been hampered by the violence, and the delivery of aid has been threatened by piracy near Somalia’s coast.

On Friday, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said pirates had seized a German cargo ship off the Somali coast a day earlier.

Earlier, a Japanese tanker and an Iranian bulk carrier had been hijacked in the Gulf of Aden, a busy international shipping route to the north of Somalia.

An IMB spokesman said a warship from an international force was tracking the hijacked ships.

Another ship, a Malaysian oil tanker with 39 crew was captured in the same area on Tuesday.

August 7, 2008

Israel mulls military option for Iran nukes

Israel mulls military option for Iran nukes

JERUSALEM – Israel is building up its strike capabilities amid growing anxiety over Iran‘s nuclear ambitions and appears confident that a military attack would cripple Tehran’s atomic program, even if it can’t destroy it.

Such talk could be more threat than reality. However, Iran’s refusal to accept Western conditions is worrying Israel as is the perception that Washington now prefers diplomacy over confrontation with Tehran.

The Jewish state has purchased 90 F-16I fighter planes that can carry enough fuel to reach Iran, and will receive 11 more by the end of next year. It has bought two new Dolphin submarines from Germany reportedly capable of firing nuclear-armed warheads — in addition to the three it already has.

And this summer it carried out air maneuvers in the Mediterranean that touched off an international debate over whether they were a “dress rehearsal” for an imminent attack, a stern warning to Iran or a just a way to get allies to step up the pressure on Tehran to stop building nukes.

According to foreign media reports, Israeli intelligence is active inside Iranian territory. Israel’s military censor, who can impose a range of legal sanctions against journalists operating in the country, does not permit publication of details of such information in news reports written from Israel.

The issue of Iran’s nuclear program took on new urgency this week after U.S. officials rejected Tehran’s response to an incentives package aimed at getting it to stop sensitive nuclear activity — setting the stage for a fourth round of international sanctions against the country.

Israel, itself an undeclared nuclear power, sees an atomic bomb in Iranian hands as a direct threat to its existence.

Israel believes Tehran will have enriched enough uranium for a nuclear bomb by next year or 2010 at the latest. The United States has trimmed its estimate that Iran is several years or as much as a decade away from being able to field a bomb, but has not been precise about a timetable. In general U.S. officials think Iran isn’t as close to a bomb as Israel claims, but are concerned that Iran is working faster than anticipated to add centrifuges, the workhorses of uranium enrichment.

“If Israeli, U.S., or European intelligence gets proof that Iran has succeeded in developing nuclear weapons technology, then Israel will respond in a manner reflecting the existential threat posed by such a weapon,” said Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, speaking at a policy forum in Washington last week.

“Israel takes (Iranian President) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statements regarding its destruction seriously. Israel cannot risk another Holocaust,” Mofaz said.

The Iranian leader has in the past called for Israel’s elimination, though his exact remarks have been disputed. Some translators say he called for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” while others say a better translation would be “vanish from the pages of time” — implying Israel would disappear on its own rather than be destroyed.

Iran insists its uranium enrichment is meant only for electricity generation, not a bomb — an assertion that most Western nations see as disingenuous.

Israeli policymakers and experts have been debating for quite some time whether it would even be possible for Israel to take out Iran’s nuclear program. The mission would be far more complicated than a 1981 Israeli raid that destroyed Iraq’s partially built Osirak nuclear reactor, or an Israeli raid last year on what U.S. intelligence officials said was another unfinished nuclear facility in Syria.

In Iran, multiple atomic installations are scattered throughout the country, some underground or bored into mountains — unlike the Iraqi and Syrian installations, which were single aboveground complexes.

Still, the Syria action seemed to indicate that Israel would also be willing to use force preemptively against Iran.

“For Israel this is not a target that cannot be achieved,” said Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, former head of Israel’s army intelligence.

However, it’s unlikely Israel would carry out an attack without approval from the United States.

Recent signs that Washington may be moving away from a military option — including a proposal to open a low-level U.S. diplomatic office in Tehran and a recent decision to allow a senior U.S. diplomat to participate alongside Iran in international talks in Geneva — are not sitting very well with Israel.

That may help explain recent visits to Jerusalem by Mike McConnell, the U.S. director of national intelligence, and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, each of whom delivered a message to Israel that it does not have a green light to attack Iran at this time.

Senior Israeli officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they do not wish to appear at odds with their most important ally, said they were concerned about a possible softening of the U.S. stance toward Iran.

Apparently to allay Israeli concerns, Bush administration officials last week assured visiting Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak that the U.S. has not ruled out the possibility of a military strike on Iran. And the U.S., aware of Israel’s high anxiety over Iran’s nukes, is also hooking Israel up to an advanced missile detection system known as X-Band to guard against any future attack by Iran, said a senior U.S. defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions over the issue have not been made public.

With sanctions and diplomacy still the international community’s preferred method to get Iran to stop building the bomb, an Israeli strike does not appear imminent.

If it did attack, however, Israel would have to contend with upgraded Iranian defense capabilities, including 29 new Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile systems Iran purchased from Russia last year in a $700 million deal.

Russia has so far not gone through with a proposed sale to Iran of S-300 surface-to-air missiles, an even more powerful air defense system than the Tor-M1. An Israeli defense official said the deal is still on the table, however. This is a big source of consternation for Israel because the system could significantly complicate a pre-emptive Israeli assault on Iran.

Military experts say an Israeli strike would require manned aircraft to bombard multiple targets and heavy precision bombs that can blast through underground bunkers — something Israel failed to do in its 2006 war against Hezbollah. It’s widely assumed that Israel is seeking to obtain bunker buster bombs, if it hasn’t already done so.

Elite ground troops could also be necessary to penetrate the most difficult sites, though Israeli military planners say they see that option as perhaps too risky.

America’s ability to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities is far superior to Israel’s.

Unlike Israel, the United States has cruise missiles that can deliver high-explosive bombs to precise locations and B-2 bombers capable of dropping 85 500-pound bombs in a single run.

Yet the cost of an attack — by the U.S., Israel or both — is likely to be enormous.

Iran could halt oil production and shut down tanker traffic in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, which could send the price of crude skyrocketing and wreck Western economies.

It could stir up trouble for the U.S. in Iraq by revving up Shiite militias there just as Washington is showing some important gains in reining in Iraqi chaos.

It could activate its militant proxies in both Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, from where Israel could come under heavy rocket attack. And it could strike Israel with its arsenal of Shahab-3 long-range missiles — something Israel is hoping to guard against through its Arrow missile defense system.

Perhaps most importantly, any strike on Iran — especially if it’s done without having exhausted all diplomatic channels — could have the opposite of the desired effect, “actually increasing the nationalist fervor to build a nuclear weapon,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born Israeli and expert on Iranian affairs.

Whether an attack on Iran would be worth its cost would depend on how long the nuclear program could be delayed, said Chuck Freilich, a former Israeli deputy national security adviser and now a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.

“A two, three-year delay is not worth it. For a five to 10-year delay I would say yes,” he said.

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