Iran cuts social media access as unrest turns deadly

Iran cuts social media access as unrest turns deadly
Access to Telegram, which the government has accused of fomenting violence during the protests, was cut on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 31 December 2017

Iran cuts social media access as unrest turns deadly

Iran cuts social media access as unrest turns deadly

TEHRAN: Iran cut access to social media on Sunday in a bid to head off further protests after days of unrest that saw two people killed and dozens arrested.
The interior minister warned protesters will “pay the price” as footage on social media showed thousands marching across the country overnight in the biggest test for the Islamic republic since mass demonstrations in 2009.
The spate of demonstrations began in second city Mashhad on Thursday over high living costs, but quickly spread throughout the country and turned against the system as a whole, with slogans such as “Death to the dictator.”
Lorestan province deputy governor Habibollah Khojastehpour told state television that two people were killed in clashes in the small western town of Dorud late on Saturday, but denied security forces were responsible.
There were no signs of major protests during the day on Sunday, though officials appeared to be bracing for unrest after dark.
In an apparent attempt to stave off more unrest, the authorities began blocking access to photo sharing and online messaging services on mobile phones, including Telegram, which the government accused of being used to foment violence, local media and Telegram’s CEO said.
After an initial silence, state media has begun showing footage of unrest, focusing on young men violently targeting banks and vehicles, an attack on a town hall in Tehran, and images of a man burning the Iranian flag.
“Those who damage public property, disrupt order and break the law must be responsible for their behavior and pay the price,” Interior Minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli said on state television.
“The spreading of violence, fear and terror will definitely be confronted,” he added.
US President Donald Trump said the “big protests” showed people “were getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism.”
“Looks like they will not take it any longer,” he wrote on Twitter, warning that Washington is “watching very closely for human rights violations!“
British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said he was “watching events in Iran with concern.”
Iranian authorities have sought to distinguish anti-regime protesters from what they see as legitimate economic grievances.
“Do not get excited,” parliament director for international affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian wrote in a tweet directed at Trump.
“Sedition, unrest and chaos are different from gatherings and peaceful protests to pursue people’s livelihoods,” he said.
But there have been reminders of the continued support for the regime among conservative sections of society, with pro-regime students holding another day of demonstrations at the University of Tehran on Sunday.
They had outnumbered protesters at the university the day before, although online videos showed significant protests around parts of central Tehran later in the evening.
The total number of arrests from the protests around the country remained unclear.
An official in Arak, around 300 kilometers (190 miles) southwest of Tehran, said 80 people had been detained there overnight.
Police have so far taken a relatively soft approach to the unrest, and there has been no sign that the powerful Revolutionary Guards have yet been deployed.
President Hassan Rouhani has so far not made any statement since the protests started.
He came to power in 2013 promising to mend the economy and ease social tensions, but anger over high living costs and a 12-percent unemployment rate have left many feeling that progress is too slow.
Unemployment is particularly high among young people, who have grown up in a less restrictive environment and are generally considered less deferential to authority.
“Rouhani has run an austerity budget since 2013 with the idea that it’s a tough but necessary pill to swallow to manage inflation and currency problems and try to improve Iran’s attractiveness for investment,” said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of the Europe-Iran Forum.
“But choosing years of austerity immediately after a very tough period of sanctions is bound to test people’s patience,” he told AFP.
Since the ruthless repression of the 2009 protests against a disputed presidential election that gave hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term, many middle-class Iranians have abandoned hope of securing change from the streets.
But low-level strikes and demonstrations have continued, with bus drivers, teachers and factory workers protesting against unpaid wages and poor conditions.


Nine Turkish soldiers killed in military helicopter crash: Defence ministry

Nine Turkish soldiers killed in military helicopter crash: Defence ministry
Updated 44 min 34 sec ago

Nine Turkish soldiers killed in military helicopter crash: Defence ministry

Nine Turkish soldiers killed in military helicopter crash: Defence ministry

ISTANBUL: A military helicopter crashed in southeast Turkey, killing nine soldiers and injuring four, the defence ministry said on Thursday.
The helicopter took off from the Bingol province at 1055 GMT, it said in a statement, adding that search operations were launched after it lost contact at 1125 GMT.
It described the crash as accidental, but did not elaborate. The four injured soldiers were being taken to hospital, the ministry added.


Sudan to start vaccine rollout next week after getting COVAX doses

Sudan to start vaccine rollout next week after getting COVAX doses
Updated 04 March 2021

Sudan to start vaccine rollout next week after getting COVAX doses

Sudan to start vaccine rollout next week after getting COVAX doses
  • Sudan received 828,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-produced vaccine on Wednesday at Khartoum airport
  • The delivery follows that of 4.5 metric tons of syringes and disposal boxes through COVAX in late February

KHARTOUM: Sudan will begin vaccinating health care workers followed by people aged 45 or older with chronic conditions for free next week after becoming the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to benefit from COVAX facility vaccines.
Sudan received 828,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-produced vaccine on Wednesday at Khartoum airport, a health ministry official said. The delivery follows that of 4.5 metric tons of syringes and disposal boxes through COVAX in late February.
Sudan says it expects to receive the remainder of a total 3.4 million doses through COVAX, a vaccine-sharing program co-led by the World Health Organization, in the second quarter of this year.
It aims to cover 20% of its population of 44 million through COVAX by September, health ministry officials said.
“This is an essential part of our battle against coronavirus,” Health Minister Omer Elnageib said.
Sudan was also in initial discussions to produce the vaccine domestically, Elnageib added.
Sudan is a young country, with only about 4% of its population over the age of 65, according to UN statistics.
It has been suffering from a long economic crisis that has left it unable to import some basic medicines and its health care system suffered from decades of neglect and sanctions under former President Omar Al-Bashir before his overthrow in 2019.
As of March 1, Sudan had officially recorded 28,545 cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic one year ago, including 1,895 deaths.


Iran accepts ‘technical meetings’ with IAEA from early April

Iran accepts ‘technical meetings’ with IAEA from early April
Updated 04 March 2021

Iran accepts ‘technical meetings’ with IAEA from early April

Iran accepts ‘technical meetings’ with IAEA from early April
  • France, Britain and Germany planned to introduce a resolution at a meeting of the IAEA’s board of governors criticizing Iran’s suspension of some IAEA inspections
  • Diplomats said the resolution will now not be put forward

VIENNA: Iran has accepted holding a series of meetings with the UN nuclear watchdog in order to “clarify a number of outstanding issues,” the body’s Director General Rafael Grossi said Thursday.

“We are going to be starting this process... with a technical meeting which will take place in Iran at the beginning of April, which I hope will be followed by other technical or political meetings,” Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told reporters at a press conference.

The new process will be aimed at clarifying queries the IAEA has raised about the possible previous presence of nuclear material at undeclared sites.

Meanwhile, The European nations will not go ahead with a planned resolution criticising Iran at this week’s meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog, diplomatic sources said on Thursday.

France, Britain and Germany had planned to introduce a resolution at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors, with the support of the United States, criticising Iran’s suspension of some IAEA inspections.

However, diplomats said the resolution, which had not yet been formally submitted, will now not be put forward.

The decision to hold off was taken “to give time to diplomacy,” one diplomatic source said, pointing to “initiatives undertaken by (IAEA Director General Rafael) Grossi” and signs of “good faith” on the Iranian side.

The latest moves come at a delicate moment for diplomacy on the Iranian nuclear issue, with fragile efforts underway to revive the ailing 2015 deal between Iran and world powers on its nuclear programme.

The Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Kazem Gharib Abadi, tweeted on Thursday that “due to extensive diplomatic consultations” at the IAEA, “a glimpse of hope is looming to prevent unnecessary tension.”

“Wisdom prevails,” he added.

The US told IAEA that Iran has been given a chance to address the concerns on uranium particles found at undeclared, old sites and Washington will watch closely.

“Iran has now been given another opportunity by the Director General to offer up the necessary cooperation before this Board next meets,” the US statement to the board said, shortly after diplomats said plans for a resolution criticizing Iran had been scrapped.

“The United States, like all Board members, will calibrate our views on the Board’s next steps according to whether Iran seizes the opportunity now before it to finally and credibly address the IAEA's concerns,” it added.

US President Joe Biden has said he is willing to bring the United States back to the landmark 2015 deal, known as the JCPOA.

It has been unravelling since Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement in 2018.

Earlier this week, a report in the Iranian Vatan-e-Emrouz newspaper said Tehran had “temporarily suspended the production of uranium metal on the order of the President (Hassan Rouhani).”

The government in Tehran has not disputed the accuracy of the report.

The production of uranium metal goes against a 15-year ban in the JCPOA on “producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys”

However, Iran says it has the right to breach this and a series of other constraints on its nuclear activities laid down in the deal in retaliation for the US withdrawal from the accord and subsequent imposition of sanctions.

Iran says the uranium metal production is part of its plans to provide advanced fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.

But the topic is sensitive because uranium metal can be used as a component in nuclear weapons.

Late last month Iran suspended some IAEA inspections as US sanctions had not yet been lifted, described by Grossi as a “huge loss” for the agency.

However, after two days of talks with Iranian officials in Tehran, a three-month arrangement was agreed under which Iran pledged to keep recordings “of some activities and monitoring equipment” and hand them over to the IAEA as and when US sanctions are lifted.

Iran had threatened to suspend that arrangement in the event of a critical resolution at the IAEA.

European states and the US criticised Iran’s suspension of inspections in their statements to the IAEA's board this week.

“How does ending such monitoring serve Iran’s goal of re-establishing confidence in its nuclear programmes and intentions?” asked US Charge d'Affaires Louis L Bono.

“These steps are counterproductive, and Iran should reverse them,” he added.


US blasts ICC decision to probe Israel over war crimes

US blasts ICC decision to probe Israel over war crimes
Updated 04 March 2021

US blasts ICC decision to probe Israel over war crimes

US blasts ICC decision to probe Israel over war crimes
  • Secretary of state: International Criminal Court ‘has no jurisdiction over this matter’
  • ICC prosecutor: Decision to investigate ‘followed painstaking preliminary examination that lasted close to five years’

CHICAGO: US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken condemned the decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open a formal investigation into war crimes committed by both Israel’s military and Palestinian militants.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who will be replaced by Karim Khan on June 16, said in December 2019: “War crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”

She named both the Israel Defense Forces and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators.

Blinken said: “The ICC has no jurisdiction over this matter. Israel is not a party to the ICC and has not consented to the court’s jurisdiction, and we have serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel.”

The Biden administration “firmly opposes and is deeply disappointed” by this decision, he added. “The Palestinians do not qualify as a sovereign state and therefore are not qualified to obtain membership as a state in, participate as a state in, or delegate jurisdiction to the ICC.”

Despite his denunciation, Blinken said the US “remains deeply committed to ensuring justice and accountability for international atrocity crimes. We recognize the role that international tribunals such as the ICC can play — within their respective mandates — in the pursuit of those important objectives.”

The US “believes a peaceful, secure and more prosperous future for the people of the Middle East depends on building bridges and creating new avenues for dialogue and exchange, not unilateral judicial actions that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution,” he added.

“We will continue to uphold our strong commitment to Israel and its security, including by opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly.”

Israel also denounced the ICC decision, while the Palestinian Authority welcomed it. Bensouda said the decision to open an investigation “followed a painstaking preliminary examination undertaken by my office that lasted close to five years.”

She added: “In the end, our central concern must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides.”

Ned Price, State Department press secretary, said despite opposing an ICC investigation, the Biden administration “would always stand up for human rights.”

He added: “We are thoroughly reviewing sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13928 as we determine our next steps.”

Executive Order 13928, issued by former US President Donald Trump in June 2020, “blocks property of certain parties associated with the International Criminal Court.”


UAE reports 2,742 new coronavirus cases, 17 deaths

UAE reports 2,742 new coronavirus cases, 17 deaths
Updated 04 March 2021

UAE reports 2,742 new coronavirus cases, 17 deaths

UAE reports 2,742 new coronavirus cases, 17 deaths
  • An additional 1,691 individuals have recovered from the contagious disease

DUBAI: UAE health officials reported 2,742 new coronavirus infections and a further 17 deaths overnight as the country further expanded its testing protocols with an additional 235,797 COVID-19 tests done in the past 24 hours.
The Ministry of Health and Prevention said that recorded COVID-19 cases now stand at 402,205 while the total number of fatalities was at 1,286.
An additional 1,691 people have recovered from the disease, state news agency WAM reported, bringing the total number of recoveries to 387,278.
The UAE has implemented stringent protocols to curb the spread of coronavirus to complement its widespread inoculation campaign.
In Sharjah, security inspection teams apprehended 13 people who were playing cricket which violated measures to combat COVID-19, a separate WAM report said.
Neighboring Ajman emirate meanwhile has mandated workers employed in businesses including restaurants, cafes, supermarkets, gyms, men’s and women’s salons, and food and meal delivery companies to undergo weekly PCR examinations.
Employees who have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are exempted from the latest regulation.