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
0

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?"


Russian-backed air strikes hit Daesh in southern Syria — sources

Updated 22 July 2018
0

Russian-backed air strikes hit Daesh in southern Syria — sources

  • Daesh-affiliated forces entrenched in the Yarmouk Basin
  • The agricultural area has become the main battleground in the sensitive border region

AMMAN: Russian and Syrian jets stepped up their bombing of a Daesh bastion along the Jordan-Israel border in southwestern Syria, as the militants pushed into areas abandoned by other rebel groups, diplomatic and opposition sources said.
Daesh-affiliated forces entrenched in the Yarmouk Basin, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Jordan, also repelled a ground attack by the Syrian army and its allies, the sources added.
The agricultural area has become the main battleground in the sensitive border region after a major Russian-backed Syrian army offensive routed other rebel groups who were once backed by Washington, Jordan and Gulf states.
An intelligence source told Reuters 1,000-1,500 Daesh fighters had been holding their ground despite the 10-day-old bombing campaign that he said had hit villages and caused “untold number” of civilian casualties
A former resident in touch with relatives said thousands of civilians whose villages have been bombed have fled to the safety of areas either held by the army or rebels.
Another source familiar with the situation said Daesh had actually been able to expand its territory over the last 20 hours by seizing at least 18 villages abandoned by other rebels under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Daesh was taking advantage of the collapse of its ideological FSA rivals which it views as apostates, the source said.
The United States once armed the southern FSA rebels, but told them at the start of the Russian-Syrian offensive not to expect its intervention. While cutting other aid to the rebels, Washington had continued to provide those fighting Islamic State with weapons, the source added.
The Syrian army said its aerial strikes and shelling of militants in the Yarmouk Basin — the only territorial pocket held by the hard-line Sunni fundamentalists in the country’s southwest — had killed “tens of terrorists” in a campaign whose goal it said was to crush militants.
The army and its allies have been pushing to expand their foothold near the Golan frontier by negotiating surrender deals with rebel groups and allowing them to move to opposition-held areas in northern Syria.