Iranians feel protesters’ pain

Protesters hold a banner with the crossed-out portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah during a demonstration in support of the Iranian people in Brussels on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 03 January 2018
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Iranians feel protesters’ pain

TEHRAN: Iran: As Iranians take to the streets in the biggest demonstrations in nearly a decade, residents of the increasingly tense capital say they sympathize with the protesters’ economic grievances and anger at official corruption.
The Associated Press spoke to Iranians in Tehran on the sixth day of protests that have seen at least 21 people killed and hundreds arrested across the country. The protests, which have erupted in several cities, are the largest since those that followed the disputed 2009 presidential election.
Residents cast nervous looks at the growing street presence of police and Basij, a volunteer force that played a key role in the government crackdown that ended the demonstrations nine years ago. But many residents said the country’s soaring unemployment and rising prices had driven people to the point of desperation.
“If authorities do not fight protesters, then they will have peaceful protests,” said Rahim Guravand, a 34-year-old construction worker.
“I’ve been out of work for months. Who is accountable for this? The government should stop spending money on unnecessary things in Syria, Iraq and other places and allocate it for creating jobs here,” he said, referring to Iran’s support for the Syrian regime and regional militant groups.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who was re-elected last year, has expressed sympathy for peaceful protesters worried about how to make ends meet amid high unemployment and 10-percent inflation.
But his support appears to be slipping as many Iranians fail to see any gains from his 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, under which Iran curbed its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of some international sanctions. Iran has made billion-dollar airplane orders and resumed selling its crude oil on the international market, but the benefits have yet to trickle down.
“I voted for Rouhani, but I see his hands are tied and he cannot fulfill his promises,” said Parisa Masoudi, a 23-year-old student at Tehran’s Azad University. “The government should open the political sphere if it intends to keep the people’s support.”
Nasrollah Mohammadi, a mechanic near Tehran’s Enghelab Square, the site of many past protests, said he supports the demonstrators’ demands.
“They are right. Corruption is high and opportunities are given to their own friends,” Mohammadi said, referring to government officials. “I have two sons, 27 and 30, at home without jobs years after graduation.”
In 2009 the protests were largely centered in Tehran, led by middle and upper class supporters of reformist candidates who lost to the hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in an election best by allegations of fraud.
The latest protests began in Mashhad, the country’s second largest city, and have flared across the provinces, with no clear leadership or political platform beyond anger at the government. Tehran has also seen protests, but the most violent clashes have been elsewhere.
Not everyone in Tehran supports the latest demonstrations. Farnaz Asadi, a 31-year-old who sells goods via the popular messaging app Telegram, expressed anger at the government’s decision to shut down the service after protesters used it to organize rallies and share photos and video. The app is used by an estimated 40 million people a day in Iran — half the country’s population.
“It is not fair. Some protesters went into the streets, but why I should pay the price?” she asked. “The government shut down Telegram and my store was shut down too.”
Another university student, 21-year-old Reza Nezami, described the Telegram shutdown as another promise broken by the government. “Rouhani had said his administration would not restrict social networks,” he said.
For others, the protests represent just another hardship.
“I am not happy. Some protesters broke windows and damaged public property,” said Abbas Ostadi, a 45-year-old electrician. “They burned my friend’s taxi. Who is going to compensate him? How will he take home some bread for his family?"


Turkey’s ruling party taunts opposition over early election

Updated 21 April 2018
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Turkey’s ruling party taunts opposition over early election

  • By bringing the vote forward by more than a year, Erdogan hopes to capitalize on nationalist support for the military advances by Turkish troops in north Syria
  • Since AK Party first won a parliamentary election in November 2002, Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics, first as prime minister and then as president

ANKARA: Turkey’s ruling AK Party taunted the main opposition party on Thursday to name a candidate to challenge Recep Tayyip Erdogan for June elections which are expected to tighten the president’s 15-year hold on power.

Government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said the secularist opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) was reluctant to put its leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, forward for the June 24 vote “because they do not believe he can compete with our president.”

Erdogan called the snap election on Wednesday, bringing the vote forward by more than a year so that Turkey can switch to the powerful new executive presidency that was narrowly approved in a divisive referendum last year.

While many people expected the presidential and parliamentary elections to be held early, the new date leaves barely two months for campaigning and may have wrong-footed Erdogan’s opponents.

“Our chief has donned his wrestling outfit, so if Mr.Kilicdaroglu says ‘I’m a soldier,’ then he should put on his wrestler’s tights and come out,” Bozdag said. The CHP says it will decide on a candidate in the next 10 days, and the pro-Kurdish HDP said it would convene on Sunday to discuss its plans. The nationalist MHP party has said it is backing Erdogan.

Only former Interior Minister Meral Aksener, who broke away from the MHP last year to form the Good Party, has announced her plans to stand for the presidency.

“A politician does not run from elections,” Bozdag said, adding he believed Erdogan would win in the first round. “We as the AK Party are ready for elections.”

Since AK Party first won a parliamentary election in November 2002, Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics, first as prime minister and then as president, transforming his poor, sprawling country on the eastern fringes of Europe into a major emerging market.

But Turkey’s rapid growth has been accompanied by increased authoritarianism, which critics at home and in Europe say has left the country lurching toward one-man rule.

Since an abortive military coup in July 2016, authorities have detained more than 160,000 people, the UN says. Nearly two years after the coup attempt Turkey is still ruled under a state of emergency, and the crackdown continues.

The US voiced concern on Thursday about the timing. “During a state of emergency, it would be difficult to hold a completely free, fair and transparent election in a manner that is consistent with ... Turkish law,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a briefing.

Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli said on Wednesday authorities had identified 3,000 armed forces personnel believed to be linked to the US-based cleric Ankara blames for the failed coup. He said they would be dismissed in the coming days.

Media outlets have also been shut down and scores of journalists have been jailed.

 

Early advantage

By calling the vote nearly a year and half early, Erdogan can capitalize on nationalist support for the military advances by Turkish troops in north Syria, where they drove out Kurdish YPG forces, said Goldman Sachs senior economist Erik Meyersson.

The tight schedule “also gives less time for the opposition to organize and choose presidential candidates,” Meyersson wrote in a research note.

The head of a Turkish polling company seen as close to the AK Party said a poll conducted this week had put the AKP on 41.5 percent, with 6 percent for its ally, the MHP.

Mehmet Ali Kulat, chairman of MAK Danismanlik, said that in a presidential election support for Erdogan could outstrip support for his party.

Erdogan’s announcement helped the lira, which has plumbed record lows this month on widening concern about double-digit inflation and the outlook for monetary policy. The currency surged 2.2 percent on Wednesday, its biggest one-day advance in a year. Turkish stocks also rose more than 2 percent.

Economists said the lira rally reflected a belief that the quick timeline for the election reduced the prospect of extra stimulus to maintain economic growth ahead of the vote.

The economy expanded 7.4 percent last year, fueled by stimulus measures including tax changes and an increase in government credit support for small businesses. The government forecasts 5.5 percent growth in 2018 though economists polled by Reuters expect more modest growth of 4.1 percent.