Protesters march again in Tehran as 200 arrested, 2 killed

Iranian students run for cover from tear gas at the University of Tehran during a demonstration driven by anger over economic problems, in the capital Tehran on December 30, 2017. Students protested in a third day of demonstrations, videos on social media showed, but were outnumbered by counter-demonstrators. (AFP)
Updated 01 January 2018

Protesters march again in Tehran as 200 arrested, 2 killed

TEHRAN: Some 200 protesters marched through central Tehran Sunday as authorities braced for a possible fourth night of unrest and cut access to social media after days of unrest that saw two people killed.
A security deputy for Tehran’s governor told the ILNA news agency that 200 people had been arrested after protests on Saturday night — including 40 “leaders.”
The interior minister warned that 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 demonstrations began in second city Mashhad on Thursday over high living costs, but quickly spread 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 Saturday, but denied security forces were responsible.
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.
The conservative-linked Fars news agency said around 200 people were taking part in the latest protest in Tehran.
“Contrary to rumors from hostile media, most parts of Tehran are calm. Around 200 people are occasionally chanting here and there,” it said.
Fars said shops closed early Sunday “for fear of damage to their shops by rioters.”
After initial silence, state media has shown 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!“
Trump’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said Iran’s government was “being tested by its own citizens.”
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.
They had outnumbered protesters at the university on Saturday.
The total number of arrests from the protests around the country remained unclear.
Several hundred people were shown gathering in the western city of Kermanshah Sunday, according to footage shared online by a group linked to the powerful Revolutionary Guards.
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.
President Hassan Rouhani has not yet 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.


Saudi-led coalition tightens the screws on Houthi smuggling routes

Iranian-backed militants ride on the back of a police patrol truck after participating in a Houthi gathering in Sanaa, as Yemen’s legitimage government tightens security measures. (Reuters)
Updated 19 min 48 sec ago

Saudi-led coalition tightens the screws on Houthi smuggling routes

  • Security measures intensified around main sea and land entry posts in Yemen to prevent Iran arms supply to rebels

AL-MUKALLA: The Saudi-led coalition and Yemen’s internationally recognized government have intensified security measures around main sea and land entry posts in Yemen to prevent Iran from smuggling arms to Houthis in Yemen.

Over the last couple of months, hundreds of Yemeni coast guard soldiers have been deployed off the Yemeni coasts on the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, as the coalition tightens security checks at the Shihen border crossing in the western province of Mahra.
Dozens of army and security checkpoints have also stepped up the inspection of vehicles that cross into Houthi-controlled territories in northern Yemen. Local army officers and experts say those measures have yielded considerable results, as several arms shipments have been intercepted before reaching the Houthis.

Yemen alert
In the Red Sea, local officers said Yemeni troops had consolidated their presence on the island of Perim near Bab Al-Mandab Strait, and off the coasts of the provinces of Hodeida and Taiz.
The coast guard initiated a hotline for receiving alerts from local fishermen, who were urged to report any suspected movements of boats in the Red Sea.
“Local fishermen are now helping us monitor the sea. They alert us about any ship or a boat suspected of carrying weapons to Houthis,” a coast guard officer in the Red Sea Khokha district told Arab News on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters, adding that coast guard forces had increased sea patrols around Zuqar and Perim Islands with the same aim.
The two islands are located at the southern entrance of the Red Sea, where arms shipments from Iran are thought to pass through.
The same officer said that three ships carrying a large amount of explosive materials heading to Houthis had been intercepted at sea in the last three months.
Last week, the commander of the Yemeni coast guard in the western coast announced seizing a ship carrying 20 tons of urea fertilizer. The material can be used for making bombs.
The investigation with the three Yemeni fishermen captured on the ship showed that they received cargo from unidentified smugglers near the Somali port city of Zeila and were asked to give it to the Houthis for several thousand Saudi riyals.
“A big smuggling network is involved,” the officer who learned about the investigation said.
“We are confident that the Iranian smugglers do not directly hand over shipments to the Yemenis. All directions come from big smugglers in Yemen. We have learnt that Iranian smugglers pretending to be fishermen are active near Somalia.”

FASTFACTS

• The coast guard initiated a hotline for receiving alerts from local fishermen.

• Three ships carrying a large amount of explosive materials heading to Houthis ‘had been intercepted at sea in the last three months.’

• Yemen’s coast guard authority crumbled in late 2014 when Houthis seized control of Sanaa and expanded across the country, triggering a civil war.

In the southeastern province of Hadramout, dozens of soldiers have been deployed across a vast and porous coastline at suspected entry points for arms and drugs.
Maj. Gen. Faraj Salmeen Al-Bahsani, the governor of Hadramout, said the deployment was the last phase of a plan aimed at securing the province’s coasts.
“The coalition has asked us to secure areas between Shiher and Mahra to prevent smuggling,” he told Arab News. “We have discovered several vehicles carrying weapons to the Houthis.”

Starting from scratch
Yemen’s coast guard authority crumbled in late 2014 when Houthis seized control of Sanaa and expanded across the country, triggering a civil war.
When the Saudi-led coalition intervened militarily in support of Yemen’s government, monitoring the country’s sea waters was left to the coalition’s navy. At the same time, the coalition had to rebuild the coast guard by training troops inside and outside Yemen, building facilities and equipping the forces with boats that would enable them to take on the mission.
The governor of Hadramout said that the coast guard branch in the large province was now working without much help as the coalition had furnished them with the equipment needed for the missions.
“We have stood on our feet thanks to great help from the coalition. They provided us with radar and boats,” Al-Bahsani added.

Smuggling focal points
Yemeni experts believed that large shipments of Iranian weapons to the Houthis went through a few seaports that were under rebel control in the western province of Hodeida.
“It is true that the Houthis might bring in light devices and weapons on land through government-controlled areas. But rockets, drones and heavy weapons come through Hodeida,” Yasser Al Yafae, a political analyst, told Arab News.
Hodeida city, which hosts Yemen’s biggest seaport, was the target of a major military offensive that managed to liberate several seaports on the Red Sea and reach the city’s outskirts.
The offensive was canceled in late 2018 under the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement that obliged the coalition-backed Yemeni forces to stop hostilities in exchange for a Houthi withdrawal from Hodeida’s seaport. Two years later, the Houthis have neither pulled out of the seaports nor allowed inspection on ships docked.
“The inauspicious Stockholm Agreement allowed Houthis to use Hodeida seaports to smuggle, weapons, weapons and drones,” Yahya Abu Hatem, a Yemeni military expert, told Al-Arabiya Al-Hadath on Friday.