News & Current Affairs

July 6, 2009

Iran frees eighth embassy worker

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Iran frees eighth embassy worker

The eighth of nine British embassy employees detained by Iranian authorities has been released, the UK foreign office says.

The last remaining detainee, an Iranian, is the embassy’s chief political analyst. He has been charged with acting against national security.

UK PM Gordon Brown described the continued detention as “unacceptable and unjustified”.

Meanwhile Iran’s supreme leader warned the West not to “meddle”.

“Some leaders of Western countries at the level of president, prime minister and foreign minister openly intervened in Iran’s internal affairs that had nothing to do with them,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying on Iranian state television.

“Then, they said they don’t intervene in Iran’s internal affairs.”

‘Honourable and patriotic’

Speaking at a news conference following a Franco-British summit in the French town of Evian, Mr Brown warned of concerted action against Iran.

“The Iranian regime must be clear that if this action continues and we are forced to act, we will act together with our European partners”, he said.

It is very important that my cold anger… doesn’t turn into a rhetorical volley at the Iranian regime
Foreign Secretary David Miliband

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said earlier that every effort would be made to secure the remaining detainee’s release.

He said he had learned the “good news” of the eighth release during his daily telephone conversation with Britain’s ambassador to Iran.

“[The ambassador] was told by the deputy foreign minister that the eighth person would indeed be released today, that the papers had been signed, that there would not be a court process or charges,” Mr Miliband said.

“That leaves one more in custody and all of our efforts are now directed towards getting that person out.”

On Saturday, the man’s lawyer, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, said he had been unable to meet him in Evin prison in Tehran where he is being held, or see the text of the indictment.

Mr Miliband said the man was “an honourable, patriotic Iranian, who has been working in a completely open and transparent way for the UK”.

“The allegations of improper conduct have absolutely no basis,” he said.

Nuclear question

Protests gripped Tehran and other Iranian cities after June’s presidential election, amid claims the vote had been rigged in favour of the incumbent, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Tehran has repeatedly accused foreign powers, especially Britain and the US, of stoking unrest after the election – something they deny.

The embassy workers, who are all Iranian, were arrested last weekend amid accusations they had been involved in the demonstrations.

On Friday, Ahmad Jannati, leader of the Iran’s supreme legislative body the Guardian Council, said: “The British Embassy had a presence and some people were arrested.

Protests outside British embassy in Tehran

Protests have taken place outside the British embassy in Tehran

“Well, inevitably they will be put on trial. They have made confessions too.”

Mr Miliband said he was angry, but would try not to inflame the already sensitive situation further.

“It is very important that my anger, my cold anger, about the way our staff have been treated… doesn’t turn into a rhetorical volley at the Iranian regime, because that doesn’t do anything either for our people or for reform in Iran,” he said.

“What’s important is that I turn my anger into determination to see that justice is done by our people.”

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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 police disperse protests

Iran police disperse protests

Police at Enghelab Square, Tehran, 20 June, 2009, from Persian TV

Witnesses sent pictures of police near Enghelab Square

Iranian police have used water cannon, batons and tear gas to disperse protests over the presidential election, witnesses in Tehran say.

Police had earlier warned protesters not to gather, but many people made their way to the central rally site.

Our correspondent at Enghelab Square said there was a huge security operation, including military police, anti-riot police and Basij militia.

There were also reports of a bombing at the shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Two Iranian news agencies reported that the suicide bomber died and two people were injured in the bombing near the shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 revolution.

There was no evidence to support the report, the BBC’s Jon Leyne says from Tehran.

The country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei had warned protesters a day earlier not to continue their rallies, but correspondents say the warning appears to have made some protesters more determined.

1320GMT TEHRAN
Silhouette
BBC CORRESPONDENT

I’m in the centre of Tehran close to Enghelab Square where the demonstration was supposed to have been held. But there’s a huge security presence here, thousands of men from every possible service: police, revolutionary guard, military police, the riot police in full riot gear, and the much-feared Basij – religious paramilitaries who see themselves as the shock troops of the Islamic revolution.

It’s impossible for any groups of people to get through these to Enghelab Square and hold their demonstration.

If this continues and the opposition can’t find some way around fierce security then the protests against the results of the presidential election will have been defeated.

It was unclear if political leaders had backed their supporters gathering.

People contacting the BBC from Tehran spoke of a heavy security presence in the area around Enghelab Square.

One witness told AFP news agency that he saw police beating people trying to reach the rally site.

There were also between 1,000-2,000 protesters in front of Tehran University, near Enghelab Square, AFP quoted witnesses as saying.

The reports could not be independently confirmed, and foreign news organisations – including the BBC – have been subjected to strict controls which prevent reporters from leaving their offices.

Confusing signals

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

But later reports said first that Mr Mousavi would be making a statement – which still has not been delievered – and then an aide to Mr Karroubi said his party had cancelled the protest.

Speaking on state TV, deputy police chief Ahmad Reza Radan warned police would “certainly fight against any form of illegal gathering and protest”. He also said protest organisers would be arrested.

It seems this may be the big moment of confrontation, our correspondent says.

Tensions have mounted over the previous week, with scores of people arrested and tough restrictions imposed on foreign media, including the BBC.

Recount offer

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

Iranian pro-government supporters burn a US flag in Tehran

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

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, which certifies elections, on Saturday.

But neither Mr Mousavi nor Mr Karroubi attended the meeting – which suggests, our correspondent says, they have abandoned their legal challenge to the election results.

State TV quoted the Guardian Council as saying it was “ready” to recount a randomly selected 10% of ballot boxes.

It had previously offered a partial recount of disputed ballots from the election, rather than the full re-run of the election demanded by protesters.

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

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.

‘The Islamic Republic would not cheat’

“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.

But correspondents say the ayatollah’s warning only appeared to incite protesters, and the nightly chants of “God is great” – which have echoed from rooftops around Tehran in a call to protest – became louder on Friday night.

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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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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September 26, 2008

West ‘agrees new Iran resolution’

West ‘agrees new Iran resolution’

Iran maintains that the purposes of its nuclear programme are peaceful

The foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany have agreed a draft resolution on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Diplomats said the new resolution would reaffirm three earlier rounds of UN sanctions, and make it clear that the Security Council wants Iran to comply.

The agreement came after discussions between the US and Russia in New York.

On Wednesday, Iran’s president warned it would resist “bullying powers” who tried to thwart its nuclear ambitions.

Addressing the UN General Assembly in New York, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country supported dialogue but would not accept “illegal demands”.

Western powers suspect Iran wants to build a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran says its nuclear programme is peaceful.

The UN Security Council has already imposed three packages of sanctions against Iran for defying its calls to halt uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing, and refusing to answer questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In a report last week, the agency said that without further information, it would not be able to provide assurances about Iran’s nuclear programme to the international community.

September 10, 2008

Iran raps Israel ‘kidnap threat’

Iran raps Israel ‘kidnap threat’

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Mr Eitan suggested Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could be brought to trial

Iran has protested to the UN after an Israeli minister suggested his country could kidnap Iran’s president over threats he has made against Israel.

Iran’s UN ambassador called the remark “outrageous and vicious” and called on the UN Security Council to take action.

Israeli minister Rafi Eitan suggested President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could be kidnapped and brought to trial.

Mr Eitan, an ex-intelligence chief, was involved in the kidnap of leading Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Argentina in 1960.

In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, Mr Eitan suggested that such an operation could be staged to bring Mr Ahmadinejad before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The Iranian leader has made a number of threats against Israel, repeatedly predicting the state will soon disappear.

Mr Ahmadinejad also drew international rebuke by quoting the view of the late Iranian spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khomenei, that Israel was a tumour that needed to be erased from history.

‘Resolute response’

In a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, the ambassador Mohammad Khazee said Mr Eitan’s remarks reflected Israel’s “aggressive and terrorist nature”, Iran’s Irna news agency reported.

“These dangerous threats of resorting to criminal acts against the officials of a sovereign country, or threatening to use force against a member of the United Nations not only constitute manifest violations of international law and contravene the most fundamental principles of the Charter of the United Nations, but are against the basic values of the civilised world,” he said.

Mr Khazee said such remarks demanded “a resolute and clear response” by the UN and its security council.

Iran, he said, had never threatened any other nation but “would not hesitate to act in self-defence to respond to any attack against its territory or its people”.

Israel has expressed increasing concern about what it considers to be a threat from Iran’s nuclear programme and recently suggested it might resort to military force to stop it.

Iran has insisted its nuclear ambitions are solely peaceful.

September 7, 2008

Fireworks, spectacle open Beijing Paralympics

Fireworks, spectacle open Beijing Paralympics

BEIJING, China (AP) — The Paralympic Games opened in Beijing on Saturday with a burst of fireworks as China welcomed another chance to cement its role as a global player to an international audience.

Fireworks at Beijing's National Stadium greet the opening of the 2008 Paralympics.

Fireworks at Beijing’s National Stadium greet the opening of the 2008 Paralympics.

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Thousands of cheerleaders and dancers in puffy, rainbow-colored suits performed a dance routine in the center of the field at the National Stadium before athletes from 148 countries were introduced. The crowd cheered and waved flags as China’s Communist Party leaders and foreign dignitaries looked on.

The guest list included Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, German President Horst Koehler and South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo.

Earlier Saturday, they shook hands and posed for photos with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China’s legislature in the heart of Beijing. Hu gave a brief speech and toasted the games.

“Caring for the disabled is an important symbol for social civilization and progress,” Hu said before raising his glass.

“China’s people and government have always attached great importance to the cause of the disabled,” he said in remarks televised on state television. “We insist on putting people first, carrying forward a humanitarian spirit and advocating equality and opposing discrimination.”

Opening just two weeks after the Beijing Olympics ended, the Paralympics are designed to be a parallel games for athletes with a wide range of physical disabilities. The 10-day competition begins Sunday.

Some 4,000-plus athletes will use many of the same Olympic venues, with 148 countries represented and 472 medal events contested — 170 more than the Olympics.

Hosting the Olympics and the Paralympics is a source of national pride for China and a way to showcase the country on the international stage. The Aug. 8-24 Olympics was overshadowed at times by human rights and censorship disputes surrounding the event.

China is keen to use the Paralympics to underscore what is says it has done for the country’s 83 million disabled citizens.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Beijing used much of its US$100 million budget for the Paralympics to improve handicapped facilities in competition venues, airports, the public traffic system, hotels, hospitals and tourist attractions like the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.

An editorial on the front page of the ruling Communist Party’s People Daily newspaper hailed the games as a “stage for the world’s handicapped people to realize their dreams.”

“Remarkable progress has been made in basic living standards, medicare, education and employment for the disabled,” the editorial said, “and the preparation for the Beijing Paralympics … recorded fresh achievement made by China in promoting the cause for the disabled.”

But the country has also had a contentious history with dealing with its disabled population.

The government has long advocated sterilizing mentally handicapped people. In the early 1990s, a draft law was presented to the legislature to reduce the number of disabled through abortion and sterilization, a move that unleashed international criticism.

In 1994, China ratified a law calling for the abortion of fetuses carrying hereditary diseases and restrictions on marriages among people suffering mental problems or contagious diseases.

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More recently, Beijing Olympic organizers issued an apology in June for clumsy stereotypes used to describe disabled athletes in an English-language manual compiled for thousands of volunteers.

One section described the physically disabled as “isolated, unsocial and introspective; they usually do not volunteer to contact people. They can be stubborn and controlling.

August 17, 2008

Iran launches satellite carrier

Iran launches satellite carrier

Iran says it has successfully launched a rocket capable of carrying its first domestically built satellite.

Officials said only the rocket had been fired, correcting state media reports that the communications satellite itself had been sent into orbit.

The White House voiced concern, saying the technology could also be used for launching weapons.

Tehran has pursued a space program for years, despite international concern over its nuclear plans.

In February it sent a probe into space as part of preparations for the launch of the satellite.

Long-held ambition

Footage aired on Irinn (Islamic Republic of Iran News Network) showed the launch of the Safir rocket in darkness.

The presenter said that the satellite launch was a trial which was successful. State and military officials confirmed the launch had taken place.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was at the event, said one report.

In October 2005 a Russian-made Iranian satellite named Sina-1 was put into orbit by a Russian rocket.

Sunday’s launch comes amid a long-running dispute over Iran’s nuclear activities.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said: “The Iranian development and testing of rockets is troubling and raises further questions about their intentions.

“This action and dual use possibilities for their ballistic missile program are inconsistent with their UN Security Council obligations.”

The US and some European countries have demanded that Iran curtail uranium enrichment – but Iran protests that its purposes are peaceful and says it has a right to continue.

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