US sets Iran oil sanction deadline as protests continue in Tehran

Shops in Tehran's Grand Bazaar shuttered on Monday as part of strikes and protests against economic hardship. (AFP)
Updated 26 June 2018
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US sets Iran oil sanction deadline as protests continue in Tehran

  • Traders in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar continue strike
  • State Department says world must stop buying Iranian oil by Nov 4

The United States warned countries that they must stop buying Iranian oil before Nov. 4 or face a renewed round of American sanctions.

The deadline was set as strikes and protests continued in Iran on Tuesday after the deteriorating economic situation sparked shopkeepers and traders to close down their businesses.

A senior State Department official said the US would not be “granting waivers” to any country and described tightening the noose on Tehran as “one of our top national security priorities.”

The third day of demonstrations sparked President Hassan Rouhani to scramble to reassure Iranians that the country can withstand the financial pressures of new US sanctions.

Iran emerged from decades of crippling sanctions after signing the nuclear deal with world powers in 2015. 

While the economic benefits hoped for by many failed to materialise, businesses fear a return to the dark days of full US sanctions that are expected after Donald Trump said last month that the US would pull out of the deal.

Fars news agency reported that parts of Tehran’s Grand Bazaar were on strike for the second day, after traders massed outside parliament on Monday to complain about a sharp fall in the value of the national currency.

Video footage posted on social media showed protesters setting fire to garbage dumpsters in Tehran streets to block riot police from attacking them, Reuters reported.

Pictures also showed shopkeepers were on strike in other cities including Arak, Shiraz and Kermanshah.

On Monday, police patrolled the bazaar in Tehran following clashes with protesters angered by the rial's collapse, which is disrupting business by driving up the cost of imports.

Rouhani said on Tuesday the government would be able to handle the economic pressure of new US sanctions.

Defending his economic record, Rouhani said the government’s income had not been affected in recent months, and the fall in the rial was the result of “foreign media propaganda.”

“Even in the worst case, I promise that the basic needs of Iranians will be provided. We have enough sugar, wheat, and cooking oil. We have enough foreign currency to inject into the market,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on state television.

Iran’s rulers are nervous about fresh unrest, particularly related to economic hardship. 

In late December, large demonstrations about the lack of improvement in the economy spread to more than 80 Iranian cities and towns. At least 25 people died in the unrest, the biggest expression of public discontent in almost a decade.

Demonstrators initially vented their anger over high prices and alleged corruption, but the protests took on a rare political dimension, with a growing number calling on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down.

They also chanted against the excessive spending on Iran’s foreign military operations in countries like Syria, while people at home struggled to make ends meet.

Theodore Karasik, a senior advisor to Gulf State Analytics, said the eruption of the new phase of Iranian rioting is now being seen throughout the Iran.  

“The country is entering a phase of discontent with the existing regime,” he told Arab news. 

“The protests are getting louder and more violent and increasingly targeting the regime itself.”

That the new protests are centred around the powerful traders in Iran’s bazaars, is particularly significant Karasik said. 

“The protests and the closures of bazaars throughout the country are at the heart of not only the 1979 revolution but also the Tobacco Protests against a British monopoly in 1891–92, and the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1911.”

Washington is to start reimposing economic penalties on Tehran in coming months after Trump quit the agreement, The nuclear deal lifted sanctions in return for curbs on Tehran’s  nuclear program.

This may cut Iran's hard currency earnings from oil exports, and the prospect is triggering a panicked flight of Iranians' savings from the rial into dollars, Reuters said.

Iran’s judiciary chief warned on Tuesday that the “economic saboteurs,” who he said were behind the fall of rial, would face severe punishment, including execution or 20 years in jail.

“The enemy is now trying to disrupt our economy through a psychological operation. In recent days some tried to shut down the Bazaar, but their plot was thwarted by the police," Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani was quoted as saying by Fars news agency.

Tehran's prosecutor Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi said some protesters near the bazaar were arrested on Monday and would not be released before going to trial.

The Iranian government is implementing new plans to control rising prices, including banning imports of more than 1,300 products, preparing its economy to resist threatened US sanctions.

Rouhani, who is under pressure to change his economic team, said the fresh US sanctions were part of a "psychological, economic and political war", adding that Washington would pay a high price for its actions.

“Withdrawal was the worst decision he (Trump) could make. It was appalling. It hurt America's global reputation,” he said.

 

 


Egypt votes on extending El-Sisi’s rule, country awaits result

Updated 20 April 2019
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Egypt votes on extending El-Sisi’s rule, country awaits result

  • El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital
  • Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms.

CAIRO: Egyptians were voting on Saturday in a referendum that aims to cement the rule of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the former coup leader who presents himself as a rock of stability in a turbulent region.

Voters were being asked to back amendments to the constitution to allow El-Sisi, 64, to run for another six-year term while boosting his control over the judiciary and giving the military even greater influence in political life.

At a polling station in Manyal, a Cairo suburb overlooking the Nile, Mohamed Abdel Salam, 45, told AFP he was voting enthusiastically in support of the changes.

"I don't care about the presidential terms," he said.

"Sisi could stay forever as long as he's doing his job... and he has already done a lot"

The three-day referendum bucks the trend of North Africa's renewed uprisings, in which mass pro-democracy protests this month swept away veteran presidents in Algeria and Sudan.

Sisi himself was among the first to vote when polls opened, casting his ballot in the upmarket Cairo suburb of Heliopolis.

In Shubra, a working-class neighbourhood of the capital, dozens of voters, mostly women carrying their children, queued outside a polling station in the local high school.

In Cairo, troops and police were deployed in numbers although the interior ministry declined to give any nationwide figures.

Egypt is still battling a hardened Islamic insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula that has seen attacks in Cairo and other cities.

Sisi has argued that he needs longer to complete the job of restoring security and stability after the turmoil that followed the overthrow of veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak in the Arab Spring of 2011.

Out on the streets, Sisi's supporters waved flags bearing their campaign motto: "Do the Right" thing, as they pressed passers-by to turn out and vote 'Yes'.

The Egyptian leader won his first term as president in 2014, a year after he led the army in overthrowing elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi following mass protests against his single turbulent year in power.

Standing virtually unopposed after the disqualification or withdrawal of all realistic challengers, he was re-elected in March 2018 with more than 97 percent.

Both elections drew heavy criticism from human rights groups as they were accompanied by swingeing crackdowns on dissent -- both Islamist and secular.

Human Rights Watch also took issue with the referendum on extending Sisi's rule, saying the "constitutional amendments" would "entrench repression".

In a statement Saturday, the New York-based watchdog criticised the "grossly unfree, rights-abusive environment" of the vote.

For the past few weeks, Egypt's streets have been awash with banners and billboards urging citizens to vote for Sisi, while popular folk singers have exhorted voters to go to the polls.

Pro-Sisi campaign volunteers handed out boxed meals at four different polling stations in Cairo to voters after they had cast their ballots, AFP reporters said.

A parliamentarian greeted voters and volunteers gave out vouchers for the meals in the Shubra district.

In Manyal, a DJ blared loud patriotic songs extolling the virtues of Egypt under Sisi's leadership, including a new song by iconic Lebanese diva Nancy Ajram dedicated to Egypt and called "Ragel ibn Ragel" (What a fine man).

But not everyone is upbeat about the changes.

Sporting casual attire, a voter in his mid-30s told AFP in Cairo: "We are all staff in the same company and we were instructed by management to go vote.

"I want to say 'No'... on extending the presidential terms and the amendments related to the judiciary," he said declining to give his name for fear of repercussions.

He pointed to his bosses nearby who were making sure employees were voting.

"Even if I say 'No', they (the authorities) are still going to do what they want in the end," he added despondently.

Earlier in the week, parliament overwhelmingly endorsed the consitutional changes, which also include the creation of a second parliamentary chamber and a quota ensuring at least 25 percent of lawmakers are women.

Think tank the Soufan Center said the main effect of the referendum would be to "solidify Sisi's grip on the Egyptian political regime" in a country that "has become even more autocratic than it was under Mubarak".