Iran’s leader says enemies have stirred unrest in country

A handout photo provided by the office of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Jan. 2, 2018, shows him delivering a statement in the capital Tehran. Khamenei said Iran’s “enemies” were orchestrating a plot to infiltrate and target the regime as he broke his silence on the days of unrest rocking the country. (AFP/HO/Iranian Supreme Leader’s website)
Updated 02 January 2018
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Iran’s leader says enemies have stirred unrest in country

LONDON: Iran’s Supreme Leader on Tuesday accused enemies of the Islamic Republic of stirring unrest across the country as a crackdown intensified against anti-government demonstrations that began last week.
Police have arrested more than 450 protesters in the capital Tehran over the past three days, the deputy provincial governor said. Protesters also attacked police stations elsewhere in Iran late into the night on Monday, news agency and social media reports said.
One member of the security forces was reported killed on Monday, bringing to at least 14 the death toll stemming from the boldest challenge to Iran’s clerical leadership since unrest in 2009.
In his first reaction to the unrest, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: “In recent days, enemies of Iran used different tools including cash, weapons, politics and intelligence apparatus to create troubles for the Islamic Republic.”
Khamenei said on his website that he would address the nation about the recent events “when the time is right.”
He did not mention any enemies by name but Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, said the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia were behind the recent riots in Iran.
“Saudis will receive Iran’s unexpected response and they know how serious it can be,” Shamkhani was quoted as saying by Tasnim news in an interview with Beirut-based Al Mayadeen TV.

Harsh punishment
Musa Ghazanfarabadi, head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, warned protesters on Tuesday that those arrested would face harsh punishment.
The semi-official ILNA news agency quoted Ali Asghar Naserbakht, the deputy governor of Tehran province, as saying that 200 people were arrested on Saturday in Tehran, 150 people on Sunday and about 100 people on Monday.
Hundreds of others have been arrested in other cities, according to agency reports and social media.
Naserbakht said the situation in Tehran was under control and police has not asked for the help of the Revolutionary Guards special forces.
Deputy Interior Minister Hossein Zolfaghari said 90 percent of the detainees were under 25-years-old, showing frustration among youths from the economic situation and lack of social freedoms.
Mehr news agency quoted a judiciary official as saying that several ringleaders of protests in Karaj, the fourth largest city in Iran, have been arrested.
Ghazanfarabadi said the detainees will be soon put on trial and the ringleaders would face serious charges including “moharebeh” — an Islamic term meaning warring against God — which carries the death penalty.
Iran’s judiciary chief Sadeq Larijani ordered prosecutors on Monday to “punish rioters firmly.”
The demonstrations which broke out last week were initially focused on economic hardships and alleged corruption but turned into political rallies.
Anger was soon directed at the clerical leadership that has been in power since the 1979 revolution, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority in Iran’s system of dual clerical and republican rule.
Iran is a major OPEC oil producer and regional power deeply involved in Syria and Iraq as part of a battle for influence with rival Saudi Arabia.
Many Iranians resent the foreign interventions and want their leaders to create jobs at home, where youth unemployment reached 29 percent last year.
Government spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht said in a news conference that both protesters and the security forces should follow the law.
“People have the rights to protest but there is a difference between demonstration and riot...Even those who are confronting the rioters should act within the framework of law,” he said.
Videos on social media on Monday showed an intense clash in the central town of Qahderijan between security forces and protesters who were trying to occupy a police station, which was partially set ablaze.
There were unconfirmed reports of several casualties among demonstrators.
In the western city of Kermanshah, protesters set fire to a traffic police post, but no one was hurt in the incident, Mehr news agency said.
State television reported that protesters burned down four mosques in villages in Savadkuh County in northern Iran on Monday.
Reactions
Rouhani refrained on Monday from accepting responsibility of problems raised by protesters and he blamed his predecessor and also Iran’s long-time adversary, the United States for the government’s shortcomings.
Rouhani, seen as a pragmatist who is at odds with hard-liners, said: “People on the streets do not ask for bread and water, but for more freedom,” — implying that the protesters were not targetting his government but the more rigid establishment.
US President Donald Trump supported the protesters in a tweet on Monday: “The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!“
Turkey said on Tuesday it was concerned by reports of people dying and public buildings being damaged in Iran.
“We believe it is necessary to avoid violence and not succumb to provocations,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that it hoped foreign intervention would be avoided.
The Russian Foreign Ministry was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying external interference was destabilising the situation and calling it “unacceptable.”
Iran and Russia are the main allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey support rebel groups. (Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara, Editing by Angus MacSwan)


Syria Kurd autonomy under threat after Daesh 'caliphate' falls

Updated 42 min 28 sec ago
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Syria Kurd autonomy under threat after Daesh 'caliphate' falls

  • The Kurdish forces helped in the fight against Daesh
  • The Kurds in the area are demanding for an international observer force

BEIRUT: Now the Daesh group's "caliphate" has fallen, the hard-won limited autonomy of Syria's Kurds will be left in peril if their key US ally goes ahead with its announced pullout.
On Saturday, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces announced the end of the proto-state that the Sunni Arab extremist group declared across large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014.
The Kurds have largely stayed out of Syria's eight-year civil war, instead building their own institutions in a third of the country under their control.
But a planned US military pullout has left them exposed to an attack by Turkey and in need of protection from Damascus, in a massive blow to their dreams of self-rule.
"The Kurds have been caught between a Syrian rock and a Turkish hard place," Syria expert Fabrice Balanche said.
Kurdish fighters have spearheaded the fight against Daesh since late 2014, but neighboring Turkey views them as "terrorists".
The presence of American troops in areas held by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had acted as a shield against any Turkish offensive.
But US President Donald Trump in December shocked Washington's allies by announcing a full withdrawal of all 2,000 US troops from Syria as Daesh had been "beaten".
"The Kurds are facing an uncertain future. The most urgent threat appears to be from Turkey," analyst Mutlu Civiroglu said.
After his announcement, Trump attempted to ease tensions by speaking of a 30-kilometre "safe zone" on the Syrian side of the border.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his country would establish the "security zone" itself if it took too long to implement.
The Kurds have rejected any Turkish implementation, especially since any such buffer would include their major cities.
They are demanding instead the deployment of an international observer force.
"Kobane, Tal Abyad, Darbasiya, Qamishli, Dehik, Derbassiye -- most of the Kurdish cities are on the border line," Civiroglu said.
Turkey and its Syrian rebel proxies have led two previous offensives inside Syria, most recently seizing the northwestern enclave of Afrin from the Kurds last year.
Syria's civil war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
It has since spiraled into a complex conflict, with rebel backer Turkey and regime ally Russia emerging as key powerbrokers.
Beyond American approval, Civiroglu said Turkey would likely need a green light from Russia before any Turkish offensive in Syria.
"Russia's position is going to be very important, because Russia has a strong power over Turkey," he said.
President Bashar al-Assad's regime now controls two-thirds of Syria thanks to Russian military backing since 2015, and its seems determined to also return to oil-rich northeastern Syria.
To protect themselves, the Kurds have dispatched delegations to Washington and Moscow.
And in ongoing talks, they have scrambled to mend ties with Damascus.
After decades of marginalization, the Kurds have developed their own political system in northeast Syria -- holding elections, collecting taxes and running schools teaching the Kurdish language.
"In a war-torn country, the Kurdish system is working fine," Civiroglu said.
"The Kurds want this to be recognized."
They want "Kurdish education to be offered officially", he said, after decades of an effective ban on their mother tongue.
But talks so far have failed to bear fruit, and Balanche warns the Kurds are in a weak position.
"The regime is demanding an unconditional surrender. Damascus does not want to let them retain any autonomy," he said.
Syrian Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayoub said Monday that the government would recapture all areas held by the SDF "in one of two ways: a reconciliation agreement or... by force".
Although the end of the Daesh "caliphate" has been declared, Daesh is still present in eastern Syria's vast Badia desert.
The US Defense Department has warned that without sustained pressure on the extremists, they could resurge in Syria within months.
In the end, the future of the Kurds mainly depends on the United States, says analyst Nicholas Heras of the Center for a New American Security.
"Every other actor in Syria cannot make a move until there is greater clarity on what the United States ultimately decides to do," he said.
And after any troop pullout, the United States could still stay on with a paramilitary force, he added.
"The best hope for the SDF is for the Americans and the coalition to stick it out in Syria for the long haul."
The White House has said that around 200 American "peace-keeping" soldiers would remain in northern Syria indefinitely.
Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan said he would be discussing with NATO partners the potential to establish an "observer force" in the area.