New protests in Iran over rial crash

A man withdraws Iranial rials from an automated teller machine in Tehran on July 31, 2018. (AFP / ATTA KENARE)
Updated 03 August 2018
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New protests in Iran over rial crash

  • Iranian currency now trading at a rate of more than 120,000 to the dollar
  • Iranian police have been busy breaking up protest rallies across the country lately

JEDDAH: Fresh protests broke out in several Iranian cities on Thursday amid growing concern and anger over the dramatic drop in the value of the country’s currency, and other economic problems, ahead of the impending imposition of renewed American sanctions.

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency said that about 100 people took to the streets in the northern city of Sari, as well as unspecified numbers in Shiraz, Ahvaz and Mashhad. The agency reported that none of the protests had received official permission and were broken up by police.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, about 200 people demonstrated in the city of Karaj, west of Tehran, according to IRNA. Police said the demonstrators had attempted to damage public buildings but were unable to, the agency reported without giving any further details.

In videos that circulated on social media, purportedly filmed in the town of Gohardasht, a suburb of Karaj, dozens of demonstrators can be seen in the streets setting fire to police vehicles and shouting “Death to the dictator.” Police responded with tear gas. The authenticity of the videos could not immediately be verified.

The Iranian rial has fallen to a record low amid growing concern about the renewed American sanctions, which are due to take effect on Monday.

Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, said the protests were steadily growing and spreading.

“The very dire social conditions underlying the unrest that led to the Iranian revolution in 1979 seem to be very much in play today,” he said. “The fact that much of these protests are taking place both in major towns and villages in the countryside is a major concern for the leadership in Tehran.”

He said any kind of economic bailout is unlikely given the imminent international sanctions Iran is facing.

“This means that Iran’s energy exports are not likely to offer the desperately needed economic windfall that Tehran needs to stem the hemorrhaging of its currency and rapidly rising inflation,” said Shahbandar. “The ensuing political and social instability will undoubtedly crescendo into an existential crisis for (Supreme Leader Ali) Khamenei’s rule if popular demands for reform are not met in earnest.”

Harvard scholar Majid Rafizadeh, an expert on Iranian affairs, said the protests were the continuation of a nationwide anti-government movement that began in late December.

“The latest unrest broke out in the major cities of Isfahan, Karaj, Shiraz, Rasht and Tabriz, and are rapidly spreading across Iran,” he said. 

“Many of the protesters initially took to the streets to express outrage over an ongoing crisis of unemployment and currency devaluation but the demonstrations quickly took on a political tone, with calls for the ouster of the Iranian government.”

Rafizadeh said that the value of the Iranian rial hit a record low on Wednesday, trading at a rate of more than 120,000 to the dollar.

“The protests that erupted the following day made it clear that the Iranian people place the blame for their economic hardships squarely on the mismanagement and corruption of the ruling regime,” he said. “Unless the Iranian regime addresses people’s grievances and alters its policies fundamentally, the protests, which are of a political and economic nature, will more than likely continue to grow and potentially endanger the hold on power of the Iranian regime.”


UN to deliver aid to Syrians trapped near Jordan border

Updated 40 min 53 sec ago
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UN to deliver aid to Syrians trapped near Jordan border

  • An estimated 50,000 women, children and men are stranded at the Rukban camp in southeast Syria near the Iraqi and Jordanian border
  • Jordan has allowed several humanitarian aid deliveries to the area following UN requests, but the borders remain closed

DAMASCUS, Syria: The UN said it was organizing a joint aid convoy with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to tens of thousands of Syrians stranded in the desert near the Jordanian border.

The world body said the convoy would deliver “humanitarian assistance to an estimated 50,000 women, children and men who are stranded at the Rukban camp in southeast Syria near the Iraqi and Jordanian border.”

“The overall humanitarian situation inside the Rukban camp is at a critical stage,” said Ali Al-Za’tari, the UN’s top official in Damascus.

Linda Tom, a spokeswoman for the UN’s humanitarian coordination office, OCHA, said the world body was “deeply concerned over the deteriorating humanitarian situation” at the camp.

A suicide bombing claimed by Daesh in June 2016 killed seven Jordanian soldiers in no-man’s land near the nearby Rukban crossing.

Soon afterwards, the army declared Jordan’s desert regions that stretch northeast to Syria and east to Iraq “closed military zones.”

The kingdom, part of the US-led coalition fighting Daesh, has allowed several humanitarian aid deliveries to the area following UN requests, but the borders remain closed. 

The camp, home to displaced people from across Syria, also lies close to the Al-Tanf base used by the US-led coalition fighting IS.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the camp suffers from a severe lack of food and medicines, compounded by its remote desert location, the closure of the Jordanian border and regime forces cutting off all roads to it.

The last delivery of UN aid to Rukban took place in January 2018 through Jordan.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF last week urged warring parties in Syria to allow basic health service deliveries to the camp, saying two babies without access to hospitals had died there within 48 hours.

On Thursday, UN humanitarian aid expert Jan Egeland confirmed the regime had agreed to allow convoys of aid to the Rukban area.

He said Russian officials had told him Syria’s regime had withdrawn a controversial law that allowed for authorities to seize property left behind by civilians who fled fighting in the country’s civil war.

Egeland of the office of UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura also confirmed he will leave his post in November. 

He spoke a day after de Mistura told the UN Security Council that he is leaving for “personal” reasons.

The envoy said that he will make a final effort before stepping down next month to advance toward a new constitution for Syria — a key step in ending the country’s civil war.

De Mistura announced at the end of a Security Council briefing that he is leaving the job in late November for “purely, purely personal reasons” related to his family after four years and four months in one of the toughest UN jobs.

He told council members that objections by the Syrian government are still holding up the launch of the committee meant to draft a new constitution.

While there is agreement on the 50-member government and opposition delegations for the drafting committee, de Mistura said the government objects to a third 50-member delegation that the UN put together representing Syrian experts, civil society, independents, tribal leaders and women.

De Mistura said he has been invited to Damascus next week to discuss the committee’s formation.

He said he also intends to invite senior officials from Russia, Turkey and Iran — the guarantor states in the so-called “Astana process” aimed at ending the violence in Syria — to meet him in Geneva, and to talk to a group of key countries comprising Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Britain and the US.