World reacts, UN weighs in and Iran responds

People demonstrate in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate in support of the protests in Iran.(Reuters)
Updated 02 January 2018

World reacts, UN weighs in and Iran responds

The EU pushed Iran on Monday to guarantee the right to protest as authorities have moved to crack down on days of unrest across the nation. Protests broke out Thursday and have quickly grown to become the biggest test for the regime since mass demonstrations in 2009.

“We have been in touch with the Iranian authorities and we expect that the right to peaceful demonstration and freedom of expression will be guaranteed,” a spokeswoman for the bloc’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor developments,” the spokeswoman added.

The violent protests, which left at least 21 people dead, were sparked by concerns about rising living costs and a stagnant economy, but have escalated into a broader outcry against the regime.

The latest demonstrations on Monday came despite president Hassan Rouhani’s vow that the nation would deal with “rioters and lawbreakers.” Authorities have confirmed more than 400 arrests since the outbreak of the unrest, of whom around 100 have been freed.

Meanwhile, Britain’s foreign minister Boris Johnson called for Iran to engage in meaningful debate about issues raised by protesters which he said were “legitimate and important,” as the worst wave of unrest in almost a decade in the Middle Eastern country continued. Johnson called for freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate peacefully to be respected. “The UK is watching events in Iran closely. We believe that there should be meaningful debate about the legitimate and important issues the protesters are raising and we look to the Iranian authorities to permit this,” he said in a post

German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel expressed concern on Monday about the death of protesters in Iran and appealed to the Iranian government to respect people’s rights. The protests by tens of thousands of people are the biggest in Iran since unrest in 2009 that followed the disputed re-election of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “We appeal to the Iranian government to respect the rights of the demonstrators to assemble and to peacefully raise their voices,” Gabriel said. “After the confrontations of recent days, it is all the more important that all sides refrain from violent actions.” Germany is one of the world powers that agreed to the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran in which sanctions were lifted in return for Iran taking steps to limit its enrichment of uranium.

France said it is concerned by the number of victims and arrests in Iran, a foreign ministry spokesman said as the death toll from anti-government demonstrations rose, declining to confirm the French foreign minister would visit Tehran this week. “The right to protest is a fundamental right,” the spokesman said in a statement on Tuesday. Asked if foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian maintained a planned visit to Tehran, the spokesman said he had no information on this at this stage.

Turkey said today it was concerned by reports of people dying and public buildings being damaged in Iran during a police crackdown against anti-government demonstrations that began last week. “We believe it is necessary to avoid violence and not succumb to provocations,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement, adding it hoped foreign interventions would be avoided.

Canada urged Iranian authorities on Tuesday to respect the rights of protesters after days of unrest have left at least 21 people dead and hundreds arrested. “Canada is encouraged by the Iranian people who are exercising their basic right to protest peacefully,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. “We call on the Iranian authorities to uphold and respect democratic and human rights.” Canadian diplomatic authorities also vowed that “Canada will continue to support the fundamental rights of Iranians, including the right to freedom of expression.”

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres on Tuesday expressed his “regret” at the rising death toll in anti-government protests in Iran, and called on the Islamic Republic to respect the rights of peaceful protesters. “We regret the reported loss of life and hope further violence will be avoided. We expect that the rights to peaceful assembly and expression of the Iranian people will be respected,” Guterres spokesman Farhan Aziz Haq said on behalf of the secretary-general.

In response, Iranian officials have said online accounts in the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia are fomenting protests. Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had blamed the country’s “enemies” earlier Tuesday for almost six days of deadly unrest that have shaken the conservative country. “The enemies have united and are using all their means, money, weapons, policies and security services to create problems for the Islamic regime,” Khamenei said. A fifth night of unrest Monday to Tuesday saw six protesters killed during an attack on a police station in Qahderijan in the central province of Isfahan, state TV said, bringing the death toll to 21.

Passengers stranded as Cypriot airline goes bust

Updated 18 October 2018

Passengers stranded as Cypriot airline goes bust

  • Cobalt Air said it was canceling all flights from shortly before midnight “due to indefinite suspension of Cobalt’s operations”
  • Cobalt’s grounding comes just two weeks after Latvia-based Primera Air filed for bankruptcy and a month since Belgian airline Skyworks took the same course

LARNACA, Cyprus: Cyprus said Thursday it will pay to ensure hundreds of Cobalt Air passengers stranded on the holiday island can return home safely after the sudden collapse of the low-cost carrier.
In a surprise announcement posted on its website late Wednesday, the airline said it was canceling all flights from shortly before midnight “due to indefinite suspension of Cobalt’s operations.”
It warned customers its offices would no longer be staffed and urged them to seek refunds through their credit card company or travel agent.
Cobalt’s grounding comes just two weeks after Latvia-based Primera Air filed for bankruptcy and a month since Belgian airline Skyworks took the same course.
The airline was launched only two years ago, filling the void to become the Mediterranean island’s biggest carrier after state-owned Cyprus Airways went bankrupt in January 2015.
Employing many pilots from the defunct national carrier, it went on to operate 13-15 flights daily, taking up to 3,000 passengers to 23 destinations including Athens, Beirut, Heathrow, Paris and Tel Aviv.
But late on Wednesday night, its website was abruptly replaced with a single-page statement announcing the cancelation of all of its flights from 23:50 pm.
Its last flight was reportedly in the air on the way back to Larnaca from London at the time.
“As a result, future flights or services provided by Cobalt will be canceled and will no longer operate,” the statement said, without elaborating on the reasons.
The airline advised passengers with tickets against going to Larnaca International Airport or attempting to contact its offices “as no Cobalt flights will operate and no Cobalt staff will be present.”
“We sincerely apologize once again and would like to thank our very loyal customers for their support over the last two years of Cobalt operations.”
Nine flights had been scheduled to arrive and nine to depart from Larnaca airport on Thursday.
Hundreds of passengers were left stranded, although it was not immediately clear exactly how many.
Airport authorities said there was no panic in the departures hall, with passengers appearing to have stayed away after learning about the airline’s fate and the flight cancelations.
On Thursday the Cypriot transport minister emerged from an emergency meeting on the situation to say everything would be done to minimize the inconvenience for those stuck in Cyprus and abroad.
Vassiliki Anastassiadou said Cyprus would cover the cost for passengers to return home up until October 24, while adding that this did not absolve the airline of its liabilities toward customers.
“The cost of the tickets will be covered by the state for repatriation purposes only,” the minister told reporters.
“We... feel the need to help passengers trapped either in Cyprus or abroad who want to return to their place of residence.”
Two travel operators on the island had been instructed to manage the repatriations and issue tickets on other airlines.
Anastassiadou described the situation as “regrettable” as it comes at time Cyprus is enjoying a surge in its vital tourism sector with arrivals in 2018 expected to exceed last year’s high of 3.6 million.
The minister confirmed the airline was struggling but had informed authorities it was looking for funding.
“It seems they were not able to do this, but we had also given Cobalt a deadline of October 22 to present its financial situation,” she said.
Officials told the state-funded Cyprus News Agency that Cobalt had accumulated tens of millions of dollars in debt since its first commercial flight in July 2016.
Other reports put the debt at around 100 million euros ($115 million).
They said Cobalt had ceased operations after failing to reach a deal with a potential European investor to help it pay for leasing its six aircraft — two Airbus 319s and four Airbus 320s.
Reportedly, the company had only 15 million euros left in its accounts, which it needed to pay its 200-air crew and 50 ground staff.
There was speculation that it was facing cash-flow problems after two of its aircraft were grounded for two days.
Although Cobalt refused to comment on the rumors, sources within the company reportedly attributed the liquidity problems to difficulties faced by Chinese investors in exporting capital due to Chinese government restrictions.
The airline’s largest shareholder is AJ Cyprus, with 49 percent of the shares. AJ Cyprus is owned by China’s AVIC Joy Air.
Cyprus is a hugely popular holiday hotspot for Britons — with over a million flying to the island each year.