Opposition leaders among 150 detained in Tunisia

Tunisian protesters take to the streets in Siliana, some 130 kms south of Tunis, late on January 11, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 13 January 2018
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Opposition leaders among 150 detained in Tunisia

TUNIS: Tunisian authorities arrested another 150 people including local opposition leaders over unrest against price and tax rises that prompted troop deployments to restive towns, and activists called for renewed rallies at the weekend.
Protests, some violent, flared across Tunisia on Monday, when one protester was killed, before ebbing on Thursday. Protesters have burned dozens of state buildings, prompting the government to send the army into several cities and towns.
Activists and opposition politicians appealed for fresh demonstrations in the capital, Tunis, on Friday and on Sunday, the seventh anniversary of the toppling of authoritarian president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.
On Thursday, unrest was limited to sporadic clashes in the northern city of Siliana, in Sidi Bouzid in central Tunisia and Douz in the south of the North African country.
“The protests have declined and there was no damage, but last night the police arrested 150 people involved in rioting in the past few days, bringing the total number of detainees to 778,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khelifa Chibani said. Sixteen extremists were among those detained, he said.
Three local leaders of the Popular Front, the main opposition bloc, were detained in Gafsa for allegedly setting fire to a government building, a judicial source said.
The Popular Front said its leaders had been targeted in a political campaign that was “reproducing the methods of the oppressive Ben Ali regime.” Party members had also been arrested in Mahdia and Karbariya, it said.
The protests draw on anger over price and tax increases included in this year’s budget that took effect on Jan. 1. The government has blamed the opposition and “troublemakers” for stoking unrest, a charge the opposition has denied. The government has vowed not to back down on the austerity measures, taken to satisfy foreign lenders.
Prices have increased for fuel and some consumer goods, while taxes on cars, phone calls, the Internet, hotel accommodation and other items have also gone up.
Tunisia appears to have little scope to back away austerity. The International Monetary Funds says Tunisia is committed to “decisive action” to reform its economy before the IMF reviews the payment of its next loan tranche.
Last year, the Washington-based IMF agreed a four-year loan program worth about $2.8 billion with Tunisia, but tied to economic reforms.
The 2018 budget also raises customs taxes on some imports, and the Tunis government is trying to cut the public sector wage bill through voluntary redundancies.
While Tunisia is held up by some as the only democratic success story among countries swept up in the Arab Spring, it has had nine governments since Ben Ali’s overthrow, none of which have been able to resolve deep-rooted economic problems.


Nuclear bomb ‘on Iran’s agenda’ as it boosts stockpile of uranium

Updated 18 min 20 sec ago
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Nuclear bomb ‘on Iran’s agenda’ as it boosts stockpile of uranium

  • The factory would have the capacity to build rotors for up to 60 IR-6 centrifuges per day
  • Iran has begun working on infrastructure for building advanced centrifuges at its Natanz facility

JEDDAH: Iran has increased its stockpile of uranium and boosted its ability to enrich it to weapons grade, the head of its atomic agency admitted on Wednesday.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said the regime had imported 550 tons of uranium before the 2015 agreement to curb its nuclear program. It had acquired about 400 tons more since then, bringing the total to between 900 and 950 tons.

Iran has also built a factory that can produce rotors for up to 60 IR-6 centrifuges a day for uranium enrichment, Salehi said.

The announcements came a month after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he had ordered agencies to prepare to increase uranium-enrichment capacity if the nuclear deal falls apart after Washington’s withdrawal.

Under the agreement, which was also signed by Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

The other signatories have been scrambling to save the deal. Iran has said it will wait to see what they can do, but has signaled it is ready to put its enrichment activities back on track.

Salehi insisted the new factory did not break the terms of the agreement. “Instead of building this factory in the next seven or eight years, we built it during the negotiations but have not started it,” he said.

Salehi said last month that Iran had begun working on infrastructure for building advanced centrifuges at its Natanz facility.

The announcements suggest that a nuclear bomb is on Iran’s agenda, Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, told Arab News

“Iran’s negotiating strategy here seems to be pegged to pressuring the EU to provide European businesses protection from complying with renewed US sanctions,” he said.

“IR-6 centrifuges are relatively complex and if Tehran moves forward with enhancing their capacity to mass-produce faster advanced centrifuges, they could easily establish a position to breakout quickly toward nuclear weapon production, if the decision is made.

“The capacity to build en masse more advanced centrifuges in the future doesn’t violate the deal itself, but it sends a strong political signal that nuclear weaponization could very well still be on the agenda in Tehran.”