Jordan's King Abdullah swears in new government to speed reforms

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Jordan's King Abdullah and Crown Prince Hussein talk to newly-appointed Prime Minister Bisher al Khasawneh during a swearing-in ceremony of the new government in Amman, Jordan October 12, 2020. (Reuters)
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Jordan's King Abdullah and Crown Prince Hussein attend a swearing-in ceremony of the new government in Amman, Jordan October 12, 2020. (Jordanian Royal Palace/Handout via Reuters)
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Jordan's newly-appointed Prime Minister Bisher al Khasawneh takes oath during a swearing-in ceremony of the new government in Amman, Jordan October 12, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 October 2020

Jordan's King Abdullah swears in new government to speed reforms

  • The king appointed Bisher al-Khasawneh as the new prime minister
  • The new Cabinet consists of 31 ministers, but more than half of them have served in previous Cabinets as well

AMMAN: Jordan's King Abdullah on Monday swore in a new government led by veteran diplomat Bisher al Khaswaneh that will seek to accelerate IMF-backed reforms as the economy faces its sharpest contraction in decades due to the coronavirus crisis.
British-educated Khasawneh, 51, was appointed on Wednesday to replace Omar al Razzaz, at a time of rising popular discontent about worsening economic conditions and curbs on public freedoms under emergency laws to contain the pandemic.
The new premier, who comes from a family that has long held senior political posts, has spent most of his public career as a veteran diplomat and peace negotiator with Israel with a last stint as palace adviser.
Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and Finance Minister Mohamad Al Ississ, who oversees the country's reform program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), kept their posts in a 32-member cabinet dominated by a mix of technocrats and conservative politicians who held sway in previous governments.
The new government faces an uphill task to revive growth in an economy that is expected to shrink by around 6% this year as it grapples with its worst economic crisis in many years, with unemployment and poverty aggravated by the pandemic.
Jordan this month saw a near-doubling of total infections since the first cases in early March, bringing warnings of a collapse in health services if it gets out of control.
Khasawneh will oversee parliamentary elections due on Nov 10. The contest will take place under an electoral law that marginalises the main Islamist opposition and independent political parties to keep a majority of pro-government deputies.
Outgoing premier Razzaz, appointed in 2018 to calm protests over IMF austerity moves, had faced criticism for his handling of the pandemic and use of emergency laws to silence dissent.
International rights groups lambasted the authorities for arresting hundreds of teacher activists after dissolving their opposition-led elected union last July.
The detention of dissidents and activists for criticising government policies raised alarm over a tighter authoritarian grip, rights groups and independent politicians say.


US officials: Iran sent emails intimidating American voters

Updated 22 October 2020

US officials: Iran sent emails intimidating American voters

  • Intelligence director: “These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries”

WASHINGTON: US officials accused Iran on Wednesday of being behind a flurry of emails sent to Democratic voters in multiple battleground states that appeared to be aimed at intimidating them into voting for President Donald Trump.
The announcement at a rare, hastily called news conference just two weeks before the election underscored the concern within the US government about efforts by foreign countries to spread false information meant to suppress voter turnout and undermine American confidence in the vote.
The activities attributed to Iran would mark a significant escalation for a nation that some cybersecurity experts regard as a second-rate player in online espionage, with the announcement coming as most public discussion surrounding election interference has centered on Russia, which hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 election, and China, a Trump administration adversary.
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” said John Ratcliffe, the government’s top intelligence official, who, along with FBI Director Chris Wray, insisted the US would impose costs on any foreign countries that interfere in the 2020 US election and that the integrity of the election is still sound.
“You should be confident that your vote counts,” Wray said. “Early, unverified claims to the contrary should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism.”
Wray and Ratcliffe did not describe the emails linked to Iran, but officials familiar with the matter said the US has linked Tehran to messages sent to Democratic voters in at least four battleground states that falsely purported to be from the neo-fascist group Proud Boys and that warned “we will come after you” if the recipients didn’t vote for Trump.
The officials also said Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration data, though such data is considered easily, publicly accessible. Tehran used the information to send out the spoofed emails, which were sent to voters in states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
Ratcliffe said the spoofed emails were intended to hurt Trump, though he did not elaborate on how. An intelligence assessment released in August said: “Iran seeks to undermine US democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections. Iran’s efforts along these lines probably will focus on online influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-US content.”
Trump, speaking at a rally in North Carolina, made no reference to the press conference but repeated a familiar campaign assertion that Iran is opposed to his reelection. He promised that if he wins another term he will swiftly reach a new accord with Iran over its nuclear program.
“Iran doesn’t want to let me win. China doesn’t want to let me win,” Trump said. “The first call I’ll get after we win, the first call I’ll get will be from Iran saying let’s make a deal.”
Both Russia and Iran also obtained voter registration information, though such data is considered easily, publicly accessible. Tehran used the information to send out the spoofed emails, which were sent to voters in states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
Asked about the emails during an online forum Wednesday, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said she lacked specific information. “I am aware that they were sent to voters in multiple swing states and we are working closely with the attorney general on these types of things and others,” she said.
While state-backed Russian hackers are known to have infiltrated US election infrastructure in 2016, there is no evidence that Iran has ever done so.
The voter intimidation operation apparently used email addresses obtained from state voter registration lists, which include party affiliation and home addresses and can include email addresses and phone numbers. Those addresses were then used in an apparently widespread targeted spamming operation. The senders claimed they would know which candidate the recipient was voting for in the Nov. 3 election, for which early voting is ongoing.
Federal officials have long warned about the possibility of this type of operation, as such registration lists are not difficult to obtain.
“These emails are meant to intimidate and undermine American voters’ confidence in our elections,” Christopher Krebs, the top election security official at the Department of Homeland Security, tweeted Tuesday night after reports of the emails first surfaced.