Iran authorities should listen to popular demands: Ex-president Khatami

This file photo taken on July 14, 2004 shows former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami during a press conference in Tehran. (AFP)
Updated 16 January 2018
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Iran authorities should listen to popular demands: Ex-president Khatami

TEHRAN: Iran’s former president Mohammad Khatami on Tuesday called on authorities to listen to popular demands after a wave of deadly unrest over economic woes.
Authorities “should try to identify people’s problems and hardships” instead of “humiliating” them, the reformist said in a statement published online.
He called for “an environment in which people could express their wishes and demands in all security without feeling intimidated” and without undermining the country’s stability.
Khatami spoke after deadly protests across the country from December 28 to January 1 over the dire state of the economy during which some demonstrators called for regime change.
Twenty-five people were killed in the unrest, according to the authorities.
Iranian leaders of all political stripes have accused the country’s “enemies” of fomenting the unrest.
“The enemy seizes any opportunity” to harm the country, Khatami said, but “all institutions must recognize their share of blame” for the “shortcomings” highlighted by the recent protests, Khatami said.
Despite being barred from public appearances over his role in 2009 protests, Khatami remains one of the most popular figures in Iranian politics.
His endorsement was seen as crucial to President Hassan Rouhani’s election in 2013 and 2017.
Rouhani, who secured a key 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, has pushed for greater civil liberties in the wake of the unrest.
On Tuesday, Rouhani called for “reinforcing democracy and listening to people’s opinions.”
The recent protests have exacerbated tensions between Rouhani and ultra-conservatives, who criticize the government’s policy of outreach and accuse the president of neglecting the poorest members of Iran’s population.


Syrian refugees wade through their worst Lebanese winter

A child wades through flood waters at an informal tent settlement housing Syrian refugees following winter storms in the area of Delhamiyeh. (AFP)
Updated 18 January 2019
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Syrian refugees wade through their worst Lebanese winter

  • Aid organizations say they are doing their best to distribute emergency aid to the most vulnerable
  • The Litani River flooded many of the fields stretching across the two majestic mountain ranges flanking the Bekaa

DELHAMIYEH, Lebanon: Snowstorms and weeks of bad weather have turned Lebanon’s lush Bekaa Valley into an unliveable swamp for tens of thousands of Syrian refugees.

The Litani River flooded many of the fields stretching across the two majestic mountain ranges flanking the Bekaa after this year’s second major storm hit on Wednesday.

Some families had barely finished repairing their tents when the most severe winter they have faced yet unleashed another crushing night of snow, wind and flooding.

“We spent all night emptying the tent but the water kept coming in,” said Thaer Ibrahim Mohammed, a red and white headscarf wrapped around his head.

“This is the worst winter,” said the greying man.

Gaggles of children made the most of the afternoon sun and pulled rubber boots on their bare feet to romp in the camp’s sludgy alleys and have snowball fights.

The shelters in “Camp 040,” which lies on the edge of the village of Delhamiyeh and is one of the many informal settlements that dot the valley, are all the same.

They were erected on concrete slabs and their roofs are held down with used tires.

Their tarpaulin walls provide a flimsy protection against strong winds and freezing temperatures.

The camp looks like it could have sprung up just weeks earlier but many of its residents have lived there since 2012, when the Syrian conflict escalated.

Abu Ahmad, a native of Homs spending his seventh winter in Lebanon, said aid was inadequate.

“This year there was a lot of rain. But humanitarian organizations have reduced aid,” he said, standing on a brick placed as a stepping stone in a muddy puddle.

“You just need to look: Do you think this sheeting keeps us warm or keeps the water out? They gave us nothing, no new tarps, no firewood, nothing,” the young man said.

Aid organizations say they are doing their best to distribute emergency aid to the most vulnerable among the estimated 340,000 refugees living in the Bekaa Valley.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said close to 24,000 people were affected by extreme weather conditions.

Some tents were destroyed by the storms that elsewhere in Lebanon have cut the main road to Syria several times, flooded the highway north of Beirut and forced schools to close.

Relief agencies have had to relocate families who were left homeless, once again, in several feet of snow.

Fatima, a 20-year-old refugee originally from the main northern Syrian city of Aleppo, had to leave her tent with her family but opted to squeeze in with neighbors.

“The tent is totally flooded, we can’t live in it. So we took our things and left, what else can we do?”