Iran candidates exchange barbs in fiery final debate

Supporters of Iranian conservative presidential candidate, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, pose for a selfie during a campaign rally in Tehran. (AFP)
Updated 14 May 2017

Iran candidates exchange barbs in fiery final debate

TEHRAN: Iran’s six presidential candidates exchanged barbs in their final debate on Friday, accusing each other of corruption and economic mismanagement a week ahead of the election.
Seeking a second four-year term, moderate President Hassan Rouhani has been on the offensive all week, framing the vote as a choice between greater social freedoms and repression.
But the theme of Friday’s debate was the economy, where continued stagnation and high unemployment have given plenty of ammunition to his conservative opponents.
Hard-line Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf repeatedly returned to his theme that Rouhani’s administration had only benefited the “four percenters” at the top of society.
“The country is facing an economic crisis, with unemployment, recession and inflation. A tree that has not born any fruit in four years will not yield anything positive in the future,” said Ghalibaf.
“Tens of thousands of our factories have been closed and they are continuing to close.”
Rouhani hit back that Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers had ended sanctions and brought a windfall from the return of oil sales over the past year that could now be invested. “We want to allocate $15 billion for investments... and $3-5 billion for supporting the poor and needy,” he said.
He said handouts would be focused on rural and deprived areas — places where conservatives have tended to perform more strongly.
Cleric and jurist Ebrahim Raisi is seen as the leading conservative, though still a distant second to Rouhani in unofficial polls ahead of the Friday vote. He kept up his efforts to reach out to poor and religiously conservative voters.
“The people expect government members to fear God,” he said.
“Poverty has increased with this government from 23 percent to 33 percent. We must increase direct aid to the poor,” he added, accusing Rouhani’s government of only boosting subsidies at the last minute to grab votes.
“Why did you wait for the election campaign to increase aid? Why didn’t you do it four years ago? The people are intelligent and they will decide.”
The six candidates selected to run by the conservative-dominated Guardian Council are evenly split between moderate-reformists on one side and hard-liners on the other, and the debates have the feel of two teams clashing.
Some of the fiercest exchanges were between Ghalibaf and Iran’s reformist vice president, Eshaq Jahangiri, who accused each other of corruption and making empty promises.


Iraqi protesters shut roads to ports, oil fields

Updated 21 min 39 sec ago

Iraqi protesters shut roads to ports, oil fields

  • Basra saw protesters block access routes to the ports of Khor Al-Zubair and Umm Qasr, as well as Rumailah oil field

BAGHDAD: Anti-government demonstrators in southern Iraq shut roads to two major ports and a key oil field Wednesday, port officials and AFP correspondents said, leading to a brief operational halt.
Correspondent in oil-rich Basra province saw protesters block access routes to the ports of Khor Al-Zubair and Umm Qasr, as well as Rumailah oil field.
Trucks waiting to load up goods from the ports could be seen waiting empty behind crowds of demonstrators.
Khor Al-Zubair is used for some heavy crude exports but also to import fuel products like benzene, while Umm Qasr is the main entry point for food and medicine into Iraq.
“Export and import activities have stopped because trucks cannot enter Khor Al-Zubair or Umm Qasr ports,” one official at Basra’s port authority said.
A second official later said the route to Khor Al-Zubair had been reopened but Umm Qasr remained shut.
Sit-ins have become a go-to tactic for Iraqis demonstrating against their government since early October.
Protesters have shut the road to Umm Qasr several times, causing a delay in offloading operations that on one occasion forced around a dozen ships to unload their cargo in another country.
Road closures have also impacted heavy crude from the Qayyarah field in northern Iraq from reaching Khor Al-Zubair since earlier this month.
The prime minister’s office has warned security forces “will not allow” protesters near key infrastructure, and riot police have forced roads open in deadly crackdowns.
More than 330 people have been killed since rallies erupted on October 1 in Baghdad and across the south.
In the capital’s main protest camp of Tahrir (Liberation) Square, thousands gathered Wednesday to express their ongoing frustration.
Top leaders and political parties have focused their efforts on hiring drives, more welfare and a new electoral law as immediate measures.
Parliament met late Tuesday to discuss a draft voting law that proposes downsizing the house from 329 seats to 251, shrinking districts and distributing votes according to a complex hybrid system.
But the United Nations mission in Iraq (UNAMI) said the draft law needed more work.
“The draft electoral legislation — currently under review by the Council of Representatives — requires improvements to meet public demands,” it said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.
UNAMI chief Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert urged lawmakers to pass legislation that “will reflect the public appetite for a new and different way of conducting politics.”
Protesters have so far been unimpressed by the government’s proposals and large crowds — most of them students — turned out on Wednesday.
“Last night’s session serves their own interests, not those of the people,” said Younes, a 28-year-old protester.
Crowds have spilled over from Tahrir onto three main bridges that lead to the western bank of the Tigris, where key government buildings and embassies are based.
On Tuesday night, they tried to cross two of the bridges to reach the so-called Green Zone but security forces deployed on the bridges fired tear gas to keep them back, a security source told AFP.