Iran's Rouhani urges greater 'competition' in presidential poll

Iran's Rouhani urges greater 'competition' in presidential poll
Rouhani in a weekly Cabinet meeting said he wished Iran’s Guardian Council would give more would-be candidates the opportunity to run. (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 May 2021

Iran's Rouhani urges greater 'competition' in presidential poll

Iran's Rouhani urges greater 'competition' in presidential poll
  • Rouhani said he wished Iran’s Guardian Council would give more would-be candidates the opportunity to run
  • “I am holding consultations to make the election scene more competitive and participatory”: Raisi

TEHRAN: Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday called for greater "competition" in an election for his successor next month after several hopefuls were barred from running against ultraconservative candidates.
Rouhani said he had asked the Islamic republic's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to intervene and warned that "the heart of elections is competition. If you take that away it becomes a corpse."
Iran's ultraconservative judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi is now widely seen as the frontrunner to replace Rouhani, a moderate, after the powerful Guardian Council prevented several prominent figures from standing for election.

Raisi appeared to object to the large number of disqualifications on Tuesday.
"Since yesterday evening, when I was informed of the results, ... I have made contacts and I am holding consultations to make the election scene more competitive and participatory," Raisi said on Twitter.
Seven candidates, five of them ultraconservatives, were approved for the June 18 poll, which comes at a time Iran is in talks with world powers to revive the tattered nuclear deal that former US president Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018.
The Guardian Council disqualified several well-known figures, including long-time parliament speaker Ali Larijani, a moderate-conservative ally of Rouhani who had been seen as the main challenger to Raisi.
The president, speaking at a televised cabinet meeting, also warned of the risk of low voter turnout and said the system's "continued legitimacy" was at stake.
Rouhani, an advocate of detente with the West and of ending Iran's international isolation, won office through an alliance with reformist and moderate forces but must step down this year after serving two consecutive terms.
Iran was plunged into a deep recession after Trump torpedoed Rouhani's signature achievement, the 2015 nuclear deal which offered sanctions relief in return for Iran's pledge never to acquire an atomic weapon.
Negotiations are now underway in Vienna aiming to bring Washington back into the accord, lift punishing sanctions on Iran and get Tehran to reverse the nuclear steps it took in retaliation to the US withdrawal.
The election comes amid a climate of general discontent amid Iran's deep economic and social crisis, and after the violent repression of waves of protests in the winter of 2017-2018 and in November 2019.
For the reformers and moderates who have governed with Rouhani since 2013, the solution to the country's problems lies in the discussions underway in Vienna.
Ultraconservatives and many conservatives meanwhile accuse Rouhani of shirking responsibility by blaming Iran's woes solely on the United States, and on the Europeans for failing to help Tehran counter the devastating effects of US sanctions.
Iran's candidate disqualifications caused dismay in the reformist press.
"Goodbye reformism?" read the front-page headline of a Shargh daily article that said "not even the most sceptical" had imagined the latest development.
It argued that reformists' woes partly stem from the economic crisis hurting their middle class base, which it said now lacks "any energy" to push forward their agenda.
The ultraconservative Kayhan daily meanwhile strongly defended the council's decision on candidates, arguing it was in line with the constitution and "not based on personal preference".
It also said a possible low turnout would be the fault of Rouhani's administration over its handling of the economy.
A record 57 percent of Iranians stayed away from legislative elections in February last year after thousands of candidates, many of them moderates and reformists, were disqualified.
The Guardian Council, the unelected body responsible for overseeing elections, this time selected the seven candidates from a field of about 600 hopefuls.
Rouhani said that, in his request for a revision of the list, "I sent a letter to the supreme leader yesterday on what I had in mind and if he can help with this".
According to Rouhani, the supreme leader has "seldom intervened" during previous elections, but "there have been times when he added someone back in with an order".
This happened in 2005, when he reversed the Guardian Council's decision to bar two reformist figures - Mostafa Moein and Mohsen Mehralizadeh, the latter of whom is also an approved candidate this year.
Larijani, however, has already conceded his disqualification, writing on Twitter that "I am content with God's will".


Lebanon signs central bank audit contract with A&M

Lebanon signs central bank audit contract with A&M
Updated 17 September 2021

Lebanon signs central bank audit contract with A&M

Lebanon signs central bank audit contract with A&M
  • The audit is a key requirement for Lebanon to secure foreign aid

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s finance minister Youssef Khalil on Friday signed a new contract with restructuring consultancy Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) to carry out a forensic audit at the country’s central bank, the ministry said in a statement.
A&M will give an initial report to the ministry within 12 weeks of its team starting work, the ministry said.
Lebanon is suffering one of the deepest economic depressions in modern history. Three-quarters of its population is now classified as poor by the United Nations and the local currency has lost 90 percent of its value in the past two years.
The plan for an audit, a key requirement for Lebanon to secure foreign aid amid its financial meltdown, hit a roadblock in November when A&M withdrew, saying it had not received the information it needed from the central bank.
Parliament then agreed in December to lift banking secrecy for one year, amid much back-and-forth between Lebanese officials including the ministry and the central bank over whether certain information could be disclosed.
The finance ministry said in April the central bank had agreed to hand over some documents.
Khalil, a former top central bank official, was appointed finance minister as part of a new cabinet cobbled together by Prime Minister Najib Mikati and President Michel Aoun after a year of political deadlock that has compounded the country’s economic meltdown.
Mikati’s cabinet has said it was committed to a resumption of talks with the International Monetary Fund, pre-conditions for which include a restructuring of the banking sector and public debt.
Last year’s IMF talks were derailed when politicians and bankers disputed the scale of financial losses mapped out in a financial recovery plan drawn up by the then government.


Houthi militia group arrested for assassination plot on government military officials

Houthi militia group arrested for assassination plot on government military officials
Updated 17 September 2021

Houthi militia group arrested for assassination plot on government military officials

Houthi militia group arrested for assassination plot on government military officials

LONDON: Police in Yemen's province of Marib arrested a group of Houthi militia planning to bomb public places with the aim to assassinate government military officials, state news agency Saba reported on Thursday.
The commander of Special Forces in Marib Brig. Gen. Saleem Al-Sayyaghi told Saba that a cache of explosives and maps of bomb sites were seized in possession of the Houthi members.
Initial investigations, he said, revealed that those arrested “steered by the Iran-backed Houthi militia” and were tasked with bombing civilian crowds and military leaders.

Sayyaghi claimed that the plot comes as the militia failed to take Marib in the battlefield despite sending fighters towards the army positions over the past months.  


Amnesty condemns ‘impunity’ over Iran custody deaths

Amnesty condemns ‘impunity’ over Iran custody deaths
Updated 17 September 2021

Amnesty condemns ‘impunity’ over Iran custody deaths

Amnesty condemns ‘impunity’ over Iran custody deaths
  • The head of Iran’s prison system admitted that videos purportedly obtained by a self-described hacker group that show abuses at the Islamic Republic’s notorious Evin prison are real

NICOSIA: Amnesty International has condemned the “climate of impunity” that prevails in Iran over deaths in custody despite reports of more than 70 such cases over the past decade.
“Iranian authorities have failed to provide accountability for at least 72 deaths in custody since January 2010, despite credible reports that they resulted from torture or other ill-treatment or the lethal use of firearms and tear gas by officials,” said the London-based rights group.
The latest documented case involved a 31-year-old whose death was reported to his family by intelligence ministry officials in Urumieh, West Azerbaijan province on September 8, Amnesty said in a statement.
“Reports of the death of Yaser Mangouri in suspicious circumstances further exposes how the prevailing climate of impunity further emboldens security forces to violate prisoners’ right to life without any fear of consequence or accountability,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director.
The group’s report follows an admission by Iran’s prisons chief last month that “unacceptable behavior” had taken place at a notorious Tehran prison after videos published abroad appeared to show violence against detainees.
The footage of prison guards beating and mistreating detainees was reportedly obtained by hackers who accessed surveillance cameras at Evin prison.
Amnesty International said the leaked video footage “offered disturbing evidence of beatings, sexual harassment, and other ill-treatment of prisoners by prison officials.”
It said that in 46 of the 72 deaths in custody, informed sources said they had resulted from “physical torture or other ill-treatment at the hands of intelligence and security agents or prison officials.”
Another 15 deaths were caused by the use of firearms or tear gas by prison guards to suppress protests over Covid-19 safety fears, said Amnesty.
For the remaining 11 cases, the deaths occurred in suspicious circumstances, but no further details about potential causes were available, it added.
“Iranian authorities typically blame deaths in custody on suicide, drug overdose or illness in a rushed manner and without conducting any independent and transparent investigations,” the watchdog said.
In July, Amnesty and nine other rights groups urged member states of the UN Human Rights Council to establish a mechanism to collect, preserve and analyze evidence of the most serious crimes committed in the Islamic republic.
Iran regularly defends itself against reports by the United Nations or international rights groups criticizing its treatment of prison inmates.


Over 50% of UAE residents are affected by heart disease

Over 50% of UAE residents are affected by heart disease
Updated 17 September 2021

Over 50% of UAE residents are affected by heart disease

Over 50% of UAE residents are affected by heart disease
  • The survey commissioned by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi showed that 55 percent of respondents had been directly affected by heart disease
  • The survey has also shown that 53 percent of UAE residents have not had their heart health checked for more than two years

DUBAI: Over 50 percent of residents in the UAE have been affected by heart disease, according to a study of more than 1,000 people.

The survey commissioned by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi showed that 55 percent of respondents had been directly affected by heart disease, Al-Arabiya news channel reported.

The report further said heart disease was the main cause of death in the country, with symptoms showing a decade earlier than their counterparts in other developed countries.

“These results make clear the tragic impact that heart disease has on our community. Each and every heart disease diagnosis ripples out from the patient to their family and friends, naturally causing a great deal of anguish for all concerned,” Dr Ronney Shantouf, a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi said.

The survey has also shown that 53 percent of UAE residents have not had their heart health checked for more than two years, while 30 percent said they had never done so.

“It is very concerning that despite the tremendous strain heart disease places on our community and the high level of awareness we see, people are still reluctant to visit the doctor and take steps to prevent heart disease,” Shantouf said.

The study has further shown that 15 percent of respondents did not have any risk factors of heart disease.

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Iran dismisses IAEA’s work as ‘unprofessional’

Iran dismisses IAEA’s work as ‘unprofessional’
Updated 16 September 2021

Iran dismisses IAEA’s work as ‘unprofessional’

Iran dismisses IAEA’s work as ‘unprofessional’

VIENNA: Iran on Thursday dismissed the UN nuclear watchdog’s work as “unprofessional” and “unfair” shortly before the two sides are due to hold talks aimed at resolving a standoff over the origin of uranium particles found at old but undeclared sites in Iran.
The issue is a thorn in the side of both Tehran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since the particles suggest Iran once had undeclared nuclear material at three different locations, but the IAEA has yet to obtain satisfactory answers from Iran on how the material got there or where it went.
“The statement of the Agency in its report is completely unprofessional, illusory and unfair,” Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said in a statement to a meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors.
Gharibabadi was referring to a passage in an IAEA report last week that said the lack of progress was seriously affecting the IAEA’s ability to determine that Iran’s program is entirely peaceful, as Tehran says it is.
Failure to resolve the issue complicates efforts to restart talks aimed at bringing the US and Iran fully back into the fold of the 2015 nuclear deal, since Washington and its allies continue to pressure Iran to give the IAEA answers.