Close ally of supreme leader is favorite to win Iran election

Close ally of supreme leader is favorite to win Iran election
Iran approved seven hopefuls to run in next month's presidential poll, with judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi among the mainly ultraconservative candidates. (AFP)
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Updated 27 May 2021

Close ally of supreme leader is favorite to win Iran election

Close ally of supreme leader is favorite to win Iran election
  • Better known moderates have all been excluded from running in the June 18 vote
  • The danger of a low turnout at the polls could prove highly embarrassing for Khamenei

ATLANTA: The approaching Iranian presidential election on June 18 has been “fixed” in favor of an unpopular candidate whose support from the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has made him the front runner, according to commentators.

On Tuesday, Iran’s the Council of Guardians, the 12-member council of senior religious clerics vetting presidential candidates, disqualified the majority of candidates who were reformists or moderates, leaving judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi and several little known candidates in the running.

The Council of Guardians also approved secretary of the Expediency Council Mohsen Rezaei; former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili; deputy parliament speaker Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi; former vice president Mohsen Mehralizadeh; central bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati; and lawmaker Alireza Zakani.

Iran experts say that Raisi was implicated in the killing of several thousands of Iranian activists and political prisoners in 1988, a stigma that still haunts him. Nevertheless his chances of winning the election remain high.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an opposition group based in Europe, said in an online briefing on Wednesday that Raisi will most likely win the presidency because he is favored by the Supreme leader. The group called the upcoming elections a “sham.”

Mohammad Mohaddessin, the NCRI foreign policy chief, said: “Khamenei specified the criteria for his favorite president, which fit Raisi perfectly. He has dispensed with the ‘moderate-hardliner’ theatrics to secure the presidency for his preferred candidate. In short, this time around, the election is a one-man show.”

Barbara Slavin, Director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council in Washington D.C., told the Arab News that the upcoming presidential election is a “joke.”

Top L to R: Iranian presidential candidate Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi, Iranian judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, Irannian former chief of the Revolutionary Guards Mohsen Rezai, former Iranian vice president Mohsen Mehralizadeh, the head of Iran's Central Bank Abdolnasser Hemmati , conservative presidential candidate, Alireza Zakani, former top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and the national flag of the Islamic republic.(AFP)

She said that because no one of note was allowed to stand in the elections other than Raisi, he seems to be almost guaranteed to win.

“Unless the Supreme Leader changes his mind and allows other credible candidates to run for the election, the turnout will be very low and it will be embarrassing for the government,” she said.

Slavin said that Raisi stands to win the elections because he is very close to Khamenei, who is looking to cement his legacy and may be grooming Raisi as his successor as the Supreme Leader.

The winner of the presidential election will have to handle negotiations with the US and other European countries to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, which the US withdrew under President Donald Trump.

Trump also imposed a strict economic sanctions against Iran that created severe financial and economic difficulties for the Islamic Republic.

Negotiations between Iran and the US and European countries are unlikely to bring immediate relief to the Iranian economy in time for Raisi’s presidency unless the US and Iran reach an interim agreement to either to revive the old JCPOA or initiate a framework for a new agreement.

However, it remains unclear how a Raisi government will conduct nuclear negotiations with the US and its allies, given its hardline credentials.


Lebanese caught between old and new $100 banknotes

Lebanese caught between old and new $100 banknotes
Updated 6 sec ago

Lebanese caught between old and new $100 banknotes

Lebanese caught between old and new $100 banknotes
  • Banks and money changers deny taking commissions on old bills

BEIRUT: Lebanese money changers refusing to accept older $100 banknotes, known as “white notes,” is causing confusion, particularly after some people were charged an extra $5 fee for exchanging $100 white bills.

Dozens of customers flocked to banks to learn more about the news, especially since some of the white $100 notes were issued by banks.

A customer told Arab News: “Every Lebanese is keeping a stack of $100 bills in their home for when they need them the most since the banks confiscated our deposits, and no one dares to deposit a single dollar in the bank nowadays.”

He added: “I went to my bank to inquire about this new rule adopted by money changers. My daughter told me that one refused to exchange the $100 that she gave him, claiming it was an old edition and he had the right to take $5 as commission if she wanted to exchange it. Who gave them the right to do this? I, my wife and my children all work and we save whatever we make in dollars. Does this mean that our savings have become worthless?”

He said: “The bank manager told me that the problem is with money changers, not banks, since they do not have instructions to stop dealing with the old $100 bills; on the contrary, banks are using both the old and new editions. He suggested that I occasionally bring him $200 to $400, in exchange for which he would give me $50 bills until the issue with money changers is resolved.”

Over the past few days, the topic of “old, white” $100 and the “new, blue” $100 banknotes has dominated conversation.

Money transfer companies were also said to have refused to deal with the older notes. Some money changers have taken advantage of the ambiguity to impose a $10 fee for exchanging white $100 bills.

The confusion was said to said to have been stirred by one of the largest money shipping companies, shut down after it was subject to a judicial investigation into smuggling funds abroad after Oct. 17, 2019 — when the financial crisis hit Lebanon, and in light of which Banque du Liban froze transfers inside and outside Lebanon.

Mahmoud Murad, former head of the Syndicate of Money Changers, told Arab News: “This fad has been circulating in the Lebanese financial market for about a week now. We do not know its source, nor who invented it. The problem is that people believe anything in Lebanon.”

He added: “People who come to my business to buy dollar bills only accept the blue-colored edition now. We, as money changers, are buying and selling both the old and new editions; nothing has changed.”

Murad said: “If the $100 notes are worn-out or torn, we buy them from people but never sell them again. Instead, we give them to shipping companies to return them to the US and replace them with brand-new ones.

“But everyone in Lebanon is now a money changer. The Lebanese, the Syrian, the Sri Lankan, the Bengali, the supermarket cashier, the butcher, all engage in exchanging money. Money changers should not be blamed for this.”

Murad said that the Syndicate of Money Changers met on Wednesday and stressed that all money changers follow legal and moral rules when dealing with customers.

However, Banque du Liban revealed in a statement on Wednesday that “some banks and money changers have charged fees for exchanging $100 banknotes, claiming that they are outdated.”

It added: “The specifications of valid $100 notes are determined by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, an agency affiliated with the US Treasury,” noting: “BDL alone determines the specifications of valid Lebanese currency.”

The US Embassy in Lebanon also stated on Wednesday that “it is US government policy that all designs of Federal Reserve notes remain legal tender, or legally valid for payments, regardless of when they were issued. This policy includes all denominations of Federal Reserve notes, from 1914 to present.”

Meanwhile, the Association of Banks in Lebanon announced that “after the great controversy surrounding some money changers taking commissions on old $100 bills, ABL would like to clarify that Lebanese banks deal with banknotes without any amendment to existing procedures. No additional fee is charged for accepting white $100 banknotes.”

OMT Exchange also stated that it “has not stopped accepting white $100 bills, if they are in good condition, and no additional fee is charged at any of our centers. OMT does not accept any banknotes that are torn, burnt, yellowed, or even partially damaged.”


Kuwait detects first case of omicron variant

Kuwait detects first case of omicron variant
Updated 15 min 56 sec ago

Kuwait detects first case of omicron variant

Kuwait detects first case of omicron variant
  • The variant was detected in a European traveler who arrived from an African country

KUWAIT: Kuwait has detected its first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, state news agency KUNA reported on Wednesday.
The variant was detected in a European traveler who arrived to Kuwait from an African country where the variant had been detected, KUNA reported, citing a health ministry spokesman.
Speaking to KUNA, Dr. Abdullah Al-Sanad said the traveler had received both dosages of the COVID-19 vaccine previously and now he is under institutional quarantine, according to the health protocol.
He added that the ministry has taken necessary precautions since several nations announced discovering the new variant.
Currently, the pandemic situation in Kuwait is stable, according to Al-Sanad, however, citizens and residents have been advised to take the booster shot to help the ministry curb the spread.
Studies have shown that current vaccines are effective against omicron, he stressed.
On Wednesday, health authorities recorded 18 recoveries, one death and 33 new coronavirus infections, bringing the cases to a total of 413,588 in Kuwait.


Jordanian politicians stage walk out over ‘energy-for-water’ deal with Israel

Jordanian politicians stage walk out over ‘energy-for-water’ deal with Israel
Updated 26 min 23 sec ago

Jordanian politicians stage walk out over ‘energy-for-water’ deal with Israel

Jordanian politicians stage walk out over ‘energy-for-water’ deal with Israel
  • The two countries and the UAE signed a declaration of intent on Nov. 22 to explore the feasibility of a the joint project

AMMAN: MPs in Jordan walked out of a parliamentary session on Wednesday in protest against the presence of the minister who signed a controversial “energy-for-water” agreement with Israel and the UAE.

Amid angry scenes, veteran MP Saleh Al-Armouti threatened to walk out if the minister remained. Without mentioning the minister by name, Al-Armouti said: “Someone who signed a deal with the Zionist enemy, either he leaves the hall or I leave. I don’t allow his presence (in the chamber).”

When speaker Abdulkarim Al-Dughmi accused Al-Armouti of violating parliamentary rules, the latter walked out of the session and was joined by a majority of MPs, which meant that there was no longer a quorum in the House. A majority of the remaining lawmakers voted in favor of a proposal to hold a special session to discuss the energy agreement.

The declaration of intent to explore the feasibility of a joint energy-for-water project was signed at Expo 2020 Dubai on Nov. 22 by Jordan’s Minister of Water and Irrigation Mohammad Al-Najjar, the UAE’s Minister of Climate Change and Environment Mariam Al-Mheiri, and Israel’s Energy Minister Karine Elharrar.

At the time, the Jordanian government said the declaration was “neither a technical nor legal agreement” and only means that the three nations will begin to carry out feasibility studies early next year for the megaproject. It added that resource-poor Jordan would receive 200 million cubic meters of water a year under the proposed project.

In the past two weeks, hundreds of Jordanians have marched in Amman in protest against the agreement, demanding the resignation of the government over the “shameful deals” with Israel.

Water and Irrigation Ministry spokesperson Omar Salameh previously pointed out that Jordan obtains 35 million cubic meters of water annually from Israel under the 1994 Wadi Araba Peace Treaty between the two countries, and another 10 million cubic meters as a result of a deal in 2010. In October, Jordan signed an agreement with Israel to purchase an additional 50 million cubic meters of water.

A few days before water-far-energy agreement was signed, US news website Axios reported that a massive solar-energy farm will be built in the Jordanian desert as part of a project to generate clean energy that would be sold to Israel in return for desalinated water. Axios said the solar facility would be built by Masdar, the renewable-energy company owned by the Emirati government.

The plans reportedly call for the solar farm to be operational by 2026 and supply 2 percent of Israel’s energy requirements by 2030, with Israel paying $180 million a year that would be divided between the Jordanian government and the Emirati company.


Yemen calls for punishing Iran for military supplies to Houthis

Yemen calls for punishing Iran for military supplies to Houthis
Updated 44 min 47 sec ago

Yemen calls for punishing Iran for military supplies to Houthis

Yemen calls for punishing Iran for military supplies to Houthis
  • The Arab coalition and the Yemeni government have long accused Iran of sending military and financial assistance to the Houthis

AL-MUKALLA: The Yemeni Army battling the Houthis across the country has demanded that the UN Security Council and the UN special envoy to Yemen name and shame the Iranian regime for continuing to send military supplies to the Houthis, responsible for killing thousands of Yemenis and undermining peace and stability. 

Abdu Abdullah Majili, a Yemeni army spokesperson, told Arab News on Wednesday that the Houthis are using advanced weapons from Iran to kill Yemenis and attack targets in neighboring Saudi Arabia and renewed the call to impose sanctions on Iran for fueling violence in Yemen. 

“Yemen is in need of humanitarian assistance, not weapons,” Majili said, commenting on the latest and largest-ever seizure of Iranian weapons bound for the Houthis in Yemen. 

On Tuesday, the US Justice Department announced intercepting two large caches of Iranian weapons, including 171 surface-to-air missiles and eight anti-tank missiles, heading to the Houthis in Yemen on two vessels in the Arabian Sea. 

The Arab coalition and the Yemeni government have long accused Iran of sending military and financial assistance to the Houthis, fueling their deadly military operations in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. 

Meanwhile, the US pledged support to the Yemeni government and the new administration of the Aden-based Central Bank of Yemen in delivering economic policies to rescue the devaluating rial and address aggravating economic problems. 

During a meeting with the new governor of the central bank Ahmed bin Ahmed Ghaleb on Wednesday, Cathy Westley, chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Yemen, said Washington would help him and his economic team to put into place vital reforms to rescue the economy. 

“CDA Westley pledged US support for comprehensive economic reforms to benefit the Yemeni people in her meeting with CBY Gov. Ahmed Ghaleb. They also discussed the need for continued strong international cooperation and financial assistance to help shore up Yemen’s economy,” the US Embassy in Yemen said in a brief statement. 

US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking repeated the same pledges of support to the Yemeni government during a virtual meeting with Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed on Tuesday. 

“The US strongly supports the prime minister office’s efforts to reform the Yemeni economy,” Lenderking’s office said. 

Similarly, the EU welcomed the restructuring of the central bank board and demanded the new leaders work on fixing the severe economic meltdown in the country and fighting corruption. 

“The EU welcomes the appointment of a new governor, deputy governor and the board of the central bank of Yemen, as part of urgently needed economic and monetary reforms. It is essential to stabilize the currency, establish and implement a budget and fight corruption throughout #Yemen,” the EU Mission in Yemen said on Twitter.

The international support to the Yemeni government comes as the Yemeni rial on Wednesday stabilized at 1255 against the dollar for the first time in two weeks, recovering from a historic record of 1700 against the dollar. 

On the ground, dozens of Houthis were killed in fierce fighting on Tuesday and Wednesday morning in contested areas south of Marib, a local military official told Arab News. 

Waves of Houthi fighters attacked government troops on Tuesday night in the Juba district in a desperate attempt to break through defenses and seize control of new areas that would put them closer to the city of Marib.

The consecutive attacks triggered heavy fighting with government troops who managed to push back the Houthis after killing dozens, and the fighting subsided early on Wednesday. 

“The Houthis have carried out human wave attacks in a bid to make a breakthrough. They suffered heavy losses. The attacks sparked intense airstrikes from Arab coalition warplanes,” the official said. 

On Tuesday, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg expressed alarm over the escalating military operations across Yemen and called upon warring factions in the country to end hostilities and comply with UN efforts to reach a peace agreement. 

“Military options won’t result in sustainable solutions. The parties have a responsibility to prioritize the needs of civilians & cooperate with #UN efforts to revive a political process aimed at reaching a just, negotiated settlement to comprehensively end the conflict in #Yemen,” Grundberg said in a statement on Twitter.


Iraqi migrant girl, 4, goes missing along Polish-Belarus border

Iraqi migrant girl, 4, goes missing along Polish-Belarus border
Updated 08 December 2021

Iraqi migrant girl, 4, goes missing along Polish-Belarus border

Iraqi migrant girl, 4, goes missing along Polish-Belarus border
  • Poland has sealed off the region along its frontier with Belarus to outsiders as it has sought to keep out thousands of people from the Middle East and Africa
  • Humanitarian groups reported that the Iraqi girl was separated from her parents after they breached the border into Poland on Monday

WARSAW: A four-year-old Iraqi migrant girl went missing in an icy forest after being separated from her parents in a scuffle with Polish border guards, humanitarian groups said as they pressed for access to the border region to help find the child.
Poland has sealed off the region along its frontier with Belarus to outsiders as it has sought to keep out thousands of people from the Middle East and Africa who traveled to Belarus in the hope of crossing into European Union territory.
The EU accuses Belarus of flying them into the country and then pushing them to cross into Poland and — to a lesser extent — Lithuania and Latvia in retaliation for sanctions imposed on Minsk over human rights abuses.
Humanitarian groups reported on Wednesday that the Iraqi girl, called Eileen, was separated from her parents after they breached the border into Poland on Monday night.
They said the parents handed their daughter to another adult migrant when Polish border guards approached and pushed them back into Belarus, and the girl was last seen with the person accompanying her near the Polish frontier village of Nowy Dwor.
“This girl is probably either already dead or will die very soon. The most dramatic thing is that if it was a Polish child, the whole country would be looking for her,” Kasia Kosciesza from the Families without Borders charity group said.
“The search should have started as soon as they knew of the situation...Chances are diminishing, night is setting in again and temperatures will start falling, so if we want to rescue her, it needs to happen immediately.”
Border Guard spokeswoman Anna Michalska said servicemen started searching for the girl as soon as they received information she was missing around midday on Tuesday.
“Extra patrols were directed to the area where the girl was supposed to be. We also searched from the air using helicopters, but we found no one,” Michalska said.
Campaigners said the authorities’ efforts were inadequate.
Under new rules introduced after a state of emergency in the migrant crisis expired last week, activists who are not resident in the border area cannot enter to help with any search.
International organizations have accused Poland’s right-wing nationalist government of breaching humanitarian standards in forcing some migrants back into Belarus, a charge Warsaw denies.