Iran warns protesters will ‘pay the price’ as unrest turns deadly

The protests began in second city Mashhad on Thursday over high living costs, but quickly spread throughout the country and against the Islamic system as a whole, with slogans such as “Death to the dictator.” (Photo courtesy: social media)
Updated 31 December 2017
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Iran warns protesters will ‘pay the price’ as unrest turns deadly

TEHRAN: Iran warned on Sunday that protesters will “pay the price” after a third night of unrest saw mass demonstrations across the country, two people killed and dozens arrested.
Videos on social media showed thousands marching across the country overnight in the biggest test for the Islamic republic since mass protests in 2009.
They showed demonstrations in Mashhad, Isfahan and many smaller cities but travel restrictions and limited coverage by official media made it difficult to confirm reports.
State media began to show footage of the protests on Sunday, focusing on attacks by young men against banks and vehicles, an attack on a town hall in Tehran, and images of a man burning the Iranian flag.
“Those who damage public property, disrupt order and break the law must be responsible for their behavior and pay the price,” Interior Minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli said on state television.
“The spreading of violence, fear and terror will definitely be confronted,” he added.
Lorestan province deputy governor Habibollah Khojastehpour told state television that two people were killed in the small western town of Dorud late on Saturday but denied security forces were responsible.
US President Donald Trump weighed in, saying “oppressive regimes cannot endure forever.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders warned: “The days of America looking the other way ... are over.”
Iranian authorities have sought to distinguish anti-regime protesters from what they see as legitimate economic grievances.
“Do not get excited,” parliament director for international affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian wrote in a tweet directed at Trump.
“Sedition, unrest and chaos are different from gatherings and peaceful protests to pursue people’s livelihoods,” he said.
The protests began in second city Mashhad on Thursday over high living costs, but quickly spread throughout the country and against the Islamic system as a whole, with slogans such as “Death to the dictator.”
But there have been reminders of the continued support for the regime among conservative sections of society, with pro-regime students holding another day of demonstrations at the University of Tehran on Sunday.
They had outnumbered protesters at the university the day before, although online videos showed significant protests around downtown parts of the capital later in the evening.
The total number of arrests was unclear but an official in Arak, around 300 kilometers (190 miles) southwest of Tehran, said 80 people had been detained overnight.
Police have so far taken a relatively soft approach to the unrest and there has been no sign that the Revolutionary Guards have yet been deployed.
Iranian authorities have blamed external forces for fomenting the protests, saying the majority of social media reports were emanating from regional rival Saudi Arabia or exile groups based in Europe.
Internet was temporarily cut on mobile phones on Saturday night but was restored not long after.
President Hassan Rouhani has so far not made any statement since the protests started.
He came to power in 2013 promising to mend the economy and ease social tensions, but anger over high living costs and a 12-percent unemployment rate have left many feeling that progress is too slow.
Unemployment is particularly high among young people, who have grown up in a less restrictive environment and are generally considered less deferential to authority.
“Rouhani has run an austerity budget since 2013 with the idea that it’s a tough but necessary pill to swallow to manage inflation and currency problems and try to improve Iran’s attractiveness for investment,” said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of the Europe-Iran Forum.
“But choosing years of austerity immediately after a very tough period of sanctions is bound to test people’s patience,” he told AFP.
Since the ruthless repression of the 2009 protests against a disputed presidential election that gave hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term, many middle-class Iranians have abandoned hope of securing change from the streets.
But low-level strikes and demonstrations have continued, with bus drivers, teachers and factory workers protesting against unpaid wages and poor conditions.


UN rushes aid to hunger-stricken Yemeni district

Updated 49 min 2 sec ago
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UN rushes aid to hunger-stricken Yemeni district

  • The aid push was directed at a district called Aslam where earlier this month some families were found eating leaves to survive
  • Getting relief to those in need has been complicated because international agencies are required to work from lists that are often compiled by local Houthi authorities

CAIRO: The UN and individual donors are rushing food to a desperate corner of northern Yemen where starving villagers were found to be living off leaves. Aid officials are searching for ways to ensure aid reaches those in need amid alarm that the country’s hunger crisis is worsening beyond the relief effort’s already strained capabilities.
The aid push was directed at a district called Aslam where earlier this month The Associated Press found some families eating leaves. But in a sign of the difficulties in tracking Yemen’s near-famine, conditions appeared to be as bad or worse in a neighboring district, Khayran Al-Maharraq.
On a recent day, Shouib Sakaf buried his 3-year-old daughter, Zaifa, the fifth child known to have died in the district this year from malnutrition-related illness. Sakaf prayed over a grave marked by piles of stones and tangled, dry branches from the surrounding mountain shrubs.
Zaifa was as old as Yemen’s civil war, waged between rebels known as Houthis and a coalition led by Saudi Arabia. Born in the war’s early days, Zaifa succumbed to the humanitarian crisis it has caused — widespread hunger, the collapse of the economy and the breakdown of the health system. In her final weeks, she wasted away, her ribs protruding, her face and feet swollen. At a local medical facility which did not have enough supplies, her father was told she had to be taken to a hospital further away to treat kidney complications. He had no way to pay for transportation there.
“Death came at 2:30 p.m.,” Sakaf said with a deep sigh. “Then we left.”
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock issued a dire warning to the Security Council on Friday, ahead of the world body’s General Assembly, saying, “We are losing the fight against famine” in Yemen.
“We may now be approaching a tipping point, beyond which it will be impossible to prevent massive loss of life as a result of widespread famine across the country,” he said. “We are already seeing pockets of famine-like conditions, including cases where people are eating leaves.”
Across Yemen, around 2.9 million women and children are acutely malnourished; another 400,000 children are fighting for their lives, in the same condition as Zaifa was. This year, the UN and humanitarian groups provided assistance to more than 8 million of the most vulnerable Yemenis who don’t know when their next meal will come. That is a dramatic expansion from 2017, when food was reaching 3 million people a month in the country of nearly 29 million.
Lowcock spoke after the AP alerted UN relief officials to the villagers in Aslam district, an isolated area in Hajjah province.
After the AP report, activists launched an online campaign called: “Rescue Aslam” with bank account details to collect donations. Some 30 food baskets financed by individual donors were distributed over the past days.
The UN’s World Food Program carried out an investigation in Aslam and found that aid hasn’t been reaching all targeted beneficiaries. It has since sent trucks carrying 10,000 food packages to the district, each meant to feed one family for a month. Distribution of the aid is still pending the finalization of registration lists.
Getting relief to those in need has been complicated because international agencies are required to work from lists that are often compiled by local Houthi authorities. Critics accuse those authorities of favoritism in putting together the lists.
Stephen Anderson, the director of the WFP, said there is a “retargeting exercise” underway to make sure that “the poorest and hungriest and most marginalized people, wherever they are, are targeted first.”
The agency is introducing a biometric registration to establish a database of beneficiaries, including their finger prints to avoid forgery and duplications.
Anderson said the system “will help give us an assurance” that situations like those in Hajjah are prevented or at least minimized.
A senior relief official said local authorities have resisted implementing biometric registration and the main Houthi-run aid body, known by the acronym NAMCHA, has sought to do registration and control the database. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of problems with authorities.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by the Houthis, an Iranian-backed Shiite movement that toppled the internationally recognized government.
The conflict has left more than 10,000 civilians dead, driven millions from their homes and sparked a cholera epidemic.