Iran president apologizes anew as protests continue over power blackouts

Iran president apologizes anew as protests continue over power blackouts
Iran's outgoing president Hassan Rouhani offered a rare apology Tuesday for the country's most severe summer power outages in recent memory, as blackouts cripple businesses and darken homes for hours a day. (AP)
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Updated 08 July 2021

Iran president apologizes anew as protests continue over power blackouts

Iran president apologizes anew as protests continue over power blackouts
  • President Rouhani was forced to apologize for the second day in a row as demonstrations took place in several cities

JEDDAH: Angry Iranians protested throughout the country on Wednesday as a series of daily power cuts hit homes and businesses in summer temperatures of over 50˚C.

President Hassan Rouhani, who leaves office next month, was forced to apologize for the second day in a row as demonstrations took place in Shiraz and Kazeroun in the south, Amol and Kordkuy in the north, and Tehran.

“We regret the problems the people have had in the past few days,” Rouhani said. “On the one hand, our output has dropped due to the condition of hydroelectric power plants, and on the other consumption has gone up.”

He attributed the surge in demand to “industrial growth and extreme heat,” along with energy-intensive cryptocurrency mining operations.

On Tuesday, Rouhani said: “I apologize to our dear people who have faced problems and suffering in the past few days and I urge them to cooperate (by curbing power use). People complain about power outages and they are right,” Rouhani said in remarks carried by state TV.

“The Energy Ministry is not at fault... but the minister should come and explain to the people what the problem is and we have to find a solution.”

Rouhani urged the Energy Ministry to prevent any cuts outside of the scheduled blackouts of at least two hours a day. He also blamed US sanctions for blocking investment in energy infrastructure.

“The result is having no capital, and then big projects cannot be done,” said Rouhani. “Who would want to invest when the country’s risk goes up?”The Energy Ministry has published schedules for rolling blackouts but many homes and businesses have lost power unexpectedly in recent days.

Azam, a hairdresser in Tehran, blamed the government for failing to “provide the basics” such as electricity. “It’s not like we’re asking for much,” she said, “but all they do ask the people to be patient and endure.”

Hamid, a private company employee, said: “All our business requires electricity, and this has disrupted our life.”Angry residents gathered in several cities to protest against the outages, which often did not follow blackout schedules announced by the state-run electricity companies, according to Iranian news outlets and postings on social media.

Protests turned political is some areas, with people chanting “Death to the dictator” and “Death to (Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei” and other slogans during blackouts, according to videos posted on social media.

Reuters could not independently verify the videos’ authenticity.

“Protesters said the frequent power outages had caused many problems, including water cuts in apartments, spoilage of meat and poultry and other items in refrigerators, and damage to household appliances,” the semi-official ISNA news agency reported from the northeastern town of Kordkuy.

(With Reuters)


Abu Dhabi updates entry rules, COVID-19 test no longer required for UAE travelers

Abu Dhabi updates entry rules, COVID-19 test no longer required for UAE travelers
Updated 41 min 3 sec ago

Abu Dhabi updates entry rules, COVID-19 test no longer required for UAE travelers

Abu Dhabi updates entry rules, COVID-19 test no longer required for UAE travelers
  • Abu Dhabi had restricted entry into the emirate to those with a negative PCR test
  • The Covid-19 testing requirements to enter will be removed starting Sunday, Sept. 19

DUBAI: The Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee announced that residents, tourists or citizens traveling from within the UAE are no longer required to present a COVID-19 test result to enter the emirate effective Sunday.

The UAE's capital had restricted entry into the emirate to those with a negative PCR test. 

The comittee said the Covid-19 testing requirements to enter will be removed starting Sunday, Sept. 19. 

The rule applies to residents, citizens and tourists traveling to Abu Dhabi from within the UAE. 

The Abu Dhabi Media Office said the decision follows the announcement of a decreased Covid-19 infection rate in the emirate of 0.2 per cent of total tests and the activation of the green pass system to enter some public places.

“The committee will continue to monitor infection rates & urges all citizens, residents & visitors to continue adhering to precautionary measures to protect public health & safety, maintain successes, & advance the nation’s sustainable recovery,” the media office said on Twitter. 

On Friday, the ministry of health in the UAE announced 521 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of recorded cases in the country to 731,828. 

It also announced 2 deaths due to COVID-19 complications, bringing the total number of deaths in the country to 2,071.

An additional 614 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 723,337.


Three Iranian dissidents to be honored by PEN America

Iranians wearing protective masks cross a main road in Tehran during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP file photo)
Iranians wearing protective masks cross a main road in Tehran during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP file photo)
Updated 18 September 2021

Three Iranian dissidents to be honored by PEN America

Iranians wearing protective masks cross a main road in Tehran during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP file photo)
  • The PEN gala is scheduled for Oct. 5 at its longtime venue the American Museum of Natural History, with Awkwafina serving as host

NEW YORK: Three imprisoned Iranian dissidents will be honored next month at Pen America’s annual gala.
The literary and human rights organization announced on Thursday that writer-filmmaker Baktash Abtin, novelist-journalist Keyvan Bajan and author-critic Reza Khandan Mahabadi are this year’s recipients of the 2021 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.
All three are members of the anti-censorship Iranian Writers Association and are serving a collective 15.5 years on charges including endangering national security and “spreading propaganda.”
“Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi are embodiments of the spirit that animates our work at PEN America. They are writers who are called not only to offer prose and ideas on a page, but to live fearlessly — and sacrifice immensely in service of the liberties that underpin free thought, art, culture, and creativity,” PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.
“By taking up the mantle of leadership within Iran’s literary community, they have served as beacons for countless authors and thinkers whose ability to imagine, push boundaries, and challenge repression under the most dangerous conditions is fed by the knowledge that they do not stand alone.”
The PEN gala is scheduled for Oct. 5 at its longtime venue the American Museum of Natural History, with Awkwafina serving as host.


Spoons become a new symbol of Palestinian ‘freedom’

Palestinians shop at a market in the old city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. (AFP)
Palestinians shop at a market in the old city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. (AFP)
Updated 18 September 2021

Spoons become a new symbol of Palestinian ‘freedom’

Palestinians shop at a market in the old city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. (AFP)
  • Prisoners carried out jail break with the utensil

JERUSALEM: The humble spoon has taken its place alongside traditional flags and banners as a Palestinian resistance symbol, after prisoners were said to have carried out one of Israel’s most spectacular jail breaks with the utensil.

When the six Palestinian militants escaped through a tunnel on Sept. 6 from the high security Gilboa Prison, social networks shared images of a tunnel at the foot of a sink, and a hole dug outside.
A hashtag, “the miraculous spoon,” suggested how the Hollywood-style feat might have occurred.
But whether or not the utensil had really been involved or its role was cooked up was at first unclear.
Then on Wednesday a lawyer for one of the fugitives who has since been recaptured told AFP that his client, Mahmud Abdullah Ardah, said he had used spoons, plates and even the handle of a kettle to dig the tunnel from his cell.
He began scraping his way out from the northern Israeli institution in December, the lawyer, Roslan MaHajjana, said.
Ardah was one of four fugitives later arrested after the army poured troops into the occupied West Bank as part of a massive manhunt.
All six were accused of plotting or carrying out attacks against Israelis.
Two men remain on the loose following the extremely rare escape. Israel has begun an inquiry into lapses that led to the embarrassing incident, which Palestinians see as a “victory.”
“With determination, vigilance... and cunning, and with a spoon, it was possible to dig a tunnel through which the Palestinians escaped and the enemy was imprisoned,” writer Sari Orabi said on the Arabi 21 website.
Palestinian cartoonist Mohammed Sabaaneh says the escape has served up “black humor” and exposed Israel’s security system to ridicule.
He has made several drawings featuring the utensil, including one titled “The Tunnel of Freedom.”
The issue has also stirred admiration outside the Palestinian territories, where spoons have been carried in demonstrations supporting prisoners detained by Israel.
In Kuwait, the artist Maitham Abdal sculpted a giant hand firmly clasping a spoon — the “spoon of freedom,” as he calls it.
Similarly inspired, Amman-based graphic designer Raed Al-Qatnani symbolically depicted six silhouettes taking a bridge to freedom, represented by a spoon.
For him, it also evokes the numerous hunger strikes undertaken by Palestinian prisoners to protest their incarceration.
In Tulkarem, a city in the West Bank occupied since 1967 by Israel, the escape brought back memories for Ghassan Mahdawi. He and another prisoner escaped from an Israeli prison in 1996 through a tunnel dug using not kitchen implements but nails.
He had been arrested for belonging to an armed group during the first Palestinian intifada, which lasted until the early 1990s.
“There’s nothing prisoners can’t do ... and there is always a flaw” in the system, said Mahdawi, who was rearrested and then released after a total of 19 years in custody.
In his view, the most recent escapees may have used tools other than spoons, obtained inside the prison, to carry out what every prisoner dreams of but few accomplish.
“To escape from an Israeli prison is something each inmate thinks about,” Mahdawi said.
To have done it with a spoon, he added, is something that “will go down in history.”


Ex-Algerian leader Bouteflika, ousted amid protests, dies

Ex-Algerian leader Bouteflika, ousted amid protests, dies
Updated 18 September 2021

Ex-Algerian leader Bouteflika, ousted amid protests, dies

Ex-Algerian leader Bouteflika, ousted amid protests, dies
  • Bouteflika became president of Algeria in 1999 as the former French colony emerged from a decade of civil war that killed nearly 200,000 people

ALGIERS: Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who ruled Algeria for two decades before resigning in 2019 as huge protests engulfed the country, died on Friday aged 84, public television announced.
The former strongman had left office in April 2019 under pressure from the military, following weeks of demonstrations over his bid to run for a fifth term in office.
After quitting, he had stayed out of the public eye at a residence in western Algiers.
Bouteflika became president of Algeria in 1999 as the former French colony emerged from a decade of civil war that killed nearly 200,000 people.
Dubbed “Boutef” by Algerians, he initially won respect for helping foster peace, notably with an amnesty law that prompted thousands of Islamist fighters to hand in their weapons.
Bouteflika went on to be elected for three more consecutive five-year terms, most recently in 2014.
Journalist Farid Alilat, who has written a biography of Bouteflika, says that at the height of his rule in the early 2000s, the president had “all the levers of power.”
Crucially, he was backed by the army and the intelligence services.
“He became an absolute president,” Alilat told AFP.
Algeria was largely spared the wave of uprisings that swept the Arab world in 2011, with many crediting still-painful memories of the conflict in the 1990s for keeping a lid on tensions.
But Bouteflika’s rule was marked by growing corruption, leaving many Algerians wondering how a country with vast oil wealth could end up with poor infrastructure and high unemployment that pushed many young people overseas.
In his later years, Bouteflika’s ill health started weighing on his credibility as a leader.
Despite suffering a mini-stroke in April 2013 that affected his speech and forced him to use a wheelchair, he decided to seek a fourth mandate despite growing public doubts about his ability to rule.
His bid in 2019 for a fifth term sparked angry protests that soon grew into a mass movement against his regime.
When he lost the backing of the army, he was forced to step down.
The Hirak mass protests continued, with demands for a full overhaul of the ruling system in place since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962.
But while some key Bouteflika-era figures were eventually jailed in corruption cases, including Bouteflika’s powerful brother Said, the long-sought changes did not happen.
Bouteflika’s successor Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected in late 2019 on record low turnout, with the Hirak calling for a boycott.
A referendum on a constitutional amendment seen as aiming to torpedo the Hirak generated even less interest from voters.
But the protest movement was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic and has struggled to regain momentum as the government cracks down on opposition.
According to the CNLD prisoners’ group, around 200 people are in jail in connection with the Hirak or over individual freedoms.
And with the Bouteflika-era old guard still largely ruling the country, the legacy of two decades of his rule is mixed.
“For his entire life, Abdelaziz Bouteflika was driven by two obsessions: take power and keep it at any price,” said Alilat.
“But it was this obsession... that sparked the revolt that drove him from power.”


Erdogan and Putin to discuss Syria in Sochi

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi, Russia. (REUTERS file photo)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi, Russia. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 18 September 2021

Erdogan and Putin to discuss Syria in Sochi

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi, Russia. (REUTERS file photo)
  • The March 2020 agreement followed weeks of fighting that brought Turkey and Russia close to conflict and displaced nearly a million people

ANKARA: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will visit Russia later this month for talks with President Vladimir Putin about the violence in northwestern Syria, where Moscow and Ankara back opposing sides, two Turkish officials said on Friday.
Turkey supports fighters who sought to topple President Bashar Assad, while Russia has helped shore up Assad after a decade of conflict.
Both sides have complained about violations of a truce they agreed 18 months ago in the northwestern Idlib region, the last rebel bastion left in Syria, where Ankara says two Turkish troops were killed in an attack on Saturday.
“The main agenda point is Syria, namely Idlib,” a senior Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said of the planned talks in Russian resort of Sochi. “The conditions set out in the Idlib agreement have not been fully implemented.”
The March 2020 agreement followed weeks of fighting that brought Turkey and Russia close to conflict and displaced nearly a million people.
“There should not be any new instability in Syria,” another Turkish official said.
Erdogan’s planned two-day visit will follow his trip to the UN General Assembly in New York next week, the officials said, without specifying exact dates.
Despite backing opposing sides in both the Syrian and Libyan conflicts, Turkey and Russia have forged close cooperation in the defense, energy and tourism sectors.