Iran’s Khamenei urges massive vote to bolster regime

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves before speaking to the audience in Tehran on Wednesday. (via Reuters)
Updated 17 May 2017
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Iran’s Khamenei urges massive vote to bolster regime

TEHRAN: Iran’s top two presidential candidates launched a final day of election campaigning Wednesday as the supreme leader called for a massive turnout to bolster the regime against its “enemies.”
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested Iran’s foes would be deterred from pursuing regime change if they saw voters flock to the ballot boxes in Friday’s poll.
“American, European officials and those of the Zionist regime are watching our elections to see the level of participation,” he said in quotes carried on his Telegram messenger account.
“The Iranian nation has enemies. Faced with the enemy, the people should show its determination and calm,” he said.
Turnout is all-important to the Iranian regime, which uses regular elections to demonstrate the legitimacy of its Islamic system.
But on the campaign trail, two starkly different visions of how that system will evolve have been on display.
President Hassan Rouhani, a 68-year-old moderate cleric, defended his international outreach, which included a nuclear deal with world powers that ended many sanctions in exchange for curbs to Iran’s atomic program.
Rouhani told his hard-line opponents they were not equipped to continue his diplomatic efforts.
“You say you want to negotiate with the world, but you don’t know how to speak the global language. You don’t even know how to speak the language of your own people,” he said at a rally in the northern town of Ardebil.
His hard-line opponent, 56-year-old cleric Ebrahim Raisi, has vowed to stick by the nuclear deal, but said the government had made too many concessions to the West and failed to “cash the cheque” offered by the accord.
“A diplomacy of supplication will not solve our problems. We need a diplomacy of strength,” he told supporters in Tehran, according to ISNA news agency.
Raisi said Iran’s continued exclusion from international banking, despite the nuclear deal, was proof that Rouhani’s diplomacy had failed.
“Some people say that if we’re elected, the sanctions will return,” said Raisi.
“But in what measure have the sanctions been lifted? The banking sanctions that were the most important are still in place.”
Campaigning will draw to a close on Thursday morning, 24 hours before polls open.
Rouhani is still seen as the front-runner, though polling is unreliable in Iran.
Early election results are expected on Saturday.
The conservative-dominated Guardian Council selected six candidates to stand in the election but two have dropped out, effectively creating a two-horse race between Raisi and Rouhani.
Conservative Mostafa Mirsalim and reformist Mostafa Hashemitaba are still in the race, though they are not expected to win more than a few percent of the vote.


Sudan protests rumble on as Bashir remains defiant

Updated 17 January 2019
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Sudan protests rumble on as Bashir remains defiant

  • Rights group Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 40, including children and medical staff
  • Bashir has remained steadfast in rejecting calls for him to resign

KHARTOUM: One month after protests erupted across Sudan against rising bread prices, anti-government demonstrations have turned into daily rallies against a defiant President Omar al-Bashir who has rejected calls to resign.
Protest organisers have called for a march on the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum on Thursday, along with simultaneous demonstrations in several other cities.
Authorities say at least 24 people have died since the protests first broke out on December 19 after a government decision to triple the price of bread.
Rights group Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 40, including children and medical staff.
The protests have escalated into nationwide anti-government demonstrations that experts say pose the biggest challenge to Bashir since he took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.
"I have been demonstrating and will continue to demonstrate until this regime is overthrown," vowed Adel Ibrahim, 28, who has participated in demonstrations in Khartoum.
"We are protesting to save our future and the future of our homeland."
Protests initially broke out in the eastern town of Atbara, which has a history of anti-government sentiment, and within days spread to other provinces and then to Khartoum.
Cities like Port Sudan, Gadaref, Kassala and agricultural regions that previously backed Bashir saw protests calling for him to step down, while the western region of Darfur too witnessed rallies against the 75-year-old veteran leader.
Using social media networks to mobilise crowds, most protesters have marched chanting "Peace, freedom, justice", while some have even adopted the 2011 Arab Spring slogan -- "the people want the fall of the regime".
Crowds of demonstrators, whistling and clapping, have braved volleys of tear gas whenever they have taken to the streets, witnesses said.
"There's a momentum now and people are coming out daily," said prominent Sudanese columnist Faisal Mohamed Salih.
"Even the authorities are astonished."
Although the unrest was triggered by the cut in a vital bread subsidy, Sudan has faced a mounting economic crisis in the past year, including an acute shortage of foreign currency.
Repeated shortages of food and fuel have been reported across cities, including in Khartoum, while the cost of food and medicine has more than doubled.
Officials have blamed Washington for Sudan's economic woes.
The US imposed a trade embargo on Khartoum in 1997 that was lifted only in October 2017. It restricted Sudan from conducting international business and financial transactions.
But critics of Bashir say his government's mismanagement of key sectors and its huge spending on fighting ethnic minority rebellions in Darfur and in areas near the South Sudan border has been stoking economic trouble for years.
"If this regime continues like this, we will soon lose our country, which is why we have to fight," said Ibrahim, who has been looking for a job for years.
An umbrella group of unions of doctors, teachers and engineers calling itself the Sudanese Professionals' Association has spearheaded the campaign, calling this week the "Week of Uprising".
"Protesters don't even know the organisers by names, but they still trust them," said Salih.
Sudanese authorities led by the feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) have cracked down on protesters, drawing international criticism.
More than 1,000 people, including protesters, activists, opposition leaders and journalists have been arrested so far, rights groups say.
Bashir has remained steadfast in rejecting calls for him to resign.
"Demonstrations will not change the government," he told a rally in Darfur on Monday as supporters chanted "Stay, stay".
"There's only one road to power and that is through the ballot box. The Sudanese people will decide in 2020 who will govern them," said Bashir, who is planning to run for the presidency for the third time in elections to be held next year.
Two uprisings in Sudan in 1964 and 1985 saw regimes change within days, but experts say this time protesters have a long road ahead.
"At the moment, Bashir appears to have the majority of the security services on his side," said Willow Berridge, a lecturer at Britain's Newcastle University.
Bashir's ruling National Congress Party has dismissed the demonstrations.
"There are some gatherings, but they are isolated and not big," party spokesman Ibrahim al-Siddiq told AFP.
The International Crisis Group think-tank said Bashir might well weather the unrest.
"But if he does, it will almost certainly be at the cost of further economic decline, greater popular anger, more protests and even tougher crackdowns," it said in a report.
Salih said protesters appeared to be determined.
"But the one who tires first will lose," he said.