Iran swears in new hard-line president amid regional tension

Iran swears in new hard-line president amid regional tension
Iran's newly elected President Ebrahim Raisi (R) takes the oath at the Iranian parliament in the capital Tehran on August 5, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 05 August 2021

Iran swears in new hard-line president amid regional tension

Iran swears in new hard-line president amid regional tension
  • “The sanctions must be lifted,” Raisi said during his half-hour inauguration speech
  • Amid ongoing sanctions, Iran is grappling with runaway inflation, diminishing revenues, and rolling blackouts

TEHRAN: The protégé of Iran’s supreme leader, Ebrahim Raisi, was sworn in as the country’s new president during a ceremony in parliament on Thursday, an inauguration that completes hard-liners’ dominance of all branches of government in the Islamic Republic.
The former judiciary chief known for his distrust of the West takes the reins at a tense time. Iran’s indirect talks with the US to salvage Tehran’s landmark 2015 nuclear deal have stalled, as Washington maintains crippling sanctions on the country and regional hostilities simmer.
“The sanctions must be lifted,” Raisi said during his half-hour inauguration speech. “We will support any diplomatic plan that supports this goal.”
Wearing the traditional black turban that identifies him in the Shiite tradition as a direct descendant of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, Raisi recited the oath of office with his right hand on the Qur’an.
In his address, Raisi stressed his embrace of diplomacy to lift US sanctions and mend rifts with neighbors, a subtle reference to Sunni rival Saudi Arabia. But he also signaled that Iran seeks to expand its power as a counterbalance to foes across the region.
“Wherever there is oppression and crime in the world, in the heart of Europe, in the US, Africa, Yemen, Syria, Palestine ... we will stand by the people,” he said, referring to Iran-backed militias like Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. His voice rose with emotion, eliciting a clamor of approval from the audience. “The message of the election was resistance against arrogant powers.”
Raisi, who won a landslide victory in an election that saw the lowest voter turnout in the nation’s history, faces a mountain of problems — what he described on Thursday as “the highest level of hostilities by Iran’s enemies, unjust economic sanctions, widespread psychological warfare and the difficulties of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Amid ongoing sanctions, Iran is grappling with runaway inflation, diminishing revenues, rolling blackouts and water shortages that have sparked scattered protests. Barred from selling its oil abroad, Iran has seen its economy crumble and its currency crash, hitting ordinary citizens hardest.
Without offering any specific policies, Raisi pledged to resolve the country’s mounting economic crisis, improve the spiraling currency and “empower poor people.”
Former President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from Iran’s nuclear deal in 2018 has led Tehran to abandon over time every limitation the accord imposed on its nuclear enrichment. The country now enriches a small amount of uranium up to 63 percent, a short step from weapons-grade levels, compared to 3.67 percent under the deal. It also spins far-more advanced centrifuges and more of them than allowed under the accord, worrying nuclear nonproliferation experts, though Tehran insists its program is peaceful.
Raisi, 60, a conservative cleric long cultivated by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has promised to engage with the US But he also has struck a hard-line stance, ruling out negotiations aimed at limiting Iranian missile development and support for regional militias — something the Biden administration wants to address.
The official proceedings in Tehran come just a week after a drone crashed into an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman, killing two crew members.
The US, Israel and the United Kingdom blamed Iran for the raid and vowed a collective response, with Israel’s defense minister on Thursday even warning the country is ready to strike Iran. Although Tehran denied involvement, the assault escalates a yearslong shadow war targeting commercial shipping in the Mideast and threatens to complicate efforts to revive the nuclear deal.
Thursday’s inauguration ceremony, scaled back because of the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the country, still drew leaders and dignitaries from around the world. The presidents of Iraq and Afghanistan flew in for the occasion, along with Enrique Mora, the European Union official who has coordinated the recent nuclear negotiations in Vienna. Senior officials from Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Venezuela and South Korea also attended.


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 37 sec ago

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.


Ex-Algerian leader Bouteflika, ousted amid protests, dies

Ex-Algerian leader Bouteflika, ousted amid protests, dies
Updated 55 min 8 sec ago

Ex-Algerian leader Bouteflika, ousted amid protests, dies

Ex-Algerian leader Bouteflika, ousted amid protests, dies

ALGIERS, Algeria: Former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who fought for independence from France in the 1950s and 1960s and was ousted amid pro-democracy protests in 2019 after 20 years in power, has died at age 84, state television announced Friday.
The report on ENTV, citing a statement from the office of current President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, did not provide the cause of death or other details.
Bouteflika had suffered a stroke in 2013 that had badly weakened him. Concerns about his state of health, kept secret from the Algerian public, helped feed public frustration with his rule that erupted in mass public protests in 2019 that led to his departure.
Earlier in his life, Bouteflika fought for independence from colonial ruler France, successfully negotiated with the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal to free oil ministers taken hostage in a 1975 attack on OPEC headquarters, and helped reconcile Algerian citizens with each other after a decade of civil war between radical Muslim militants and Algeria’s security forces.


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.


Israeli grandfather says he saved, not kidnapped, grandson in Italy

Israeli grandfather says he saved, not kidnapped, grandson in Italy
Updated 17 September 2021

Israeli grandfather says he saved, not kidnapped, grandson in Italy

Israeli grandfather says he saved, not kidnapped, grandson in Italy
  • Eitan Biran's parents, younger brother and 11 other people all died when a gondola plunged to the ground in northern Italy in May
  • Italian media said Shmuel Peleg had driven with his grandson across the nearby border to Switzerland and flown on a private jet to Tel Aviv

JERUSALEM: The grandfather of a six-year-old boy who is the only survivor of an Italian cable car disaster said he was looking out for his grandson’s wellbeing by bringing him to Israel.
He did so against the will of the boy’s family in Italy.
Eitan Biran’s parents, younger brother and 11 other people all died when a gondola plunged to the ground in northern Italy in May. He is now at the center of a custody battle.
The boy moved in with his paternal aunt, Aya Biran, in northern Italy after the accident. A week ago his maternal grandfather, Shmuel Peleg, picked him up for a planned family trip but they never returned, according to the aunt.
Italian media said Peleg had driven with his grandson across the nearby border to Switzerland and flown on a private jet to Tel Aviv.
“What is good for the boy outweighs my personal interests,” Peleg said when told during an interview on Israel’s Channel 12 that Italian authorities are calling his action kidnapping.
“So I decided that I am saving the boy and bringing him to Israel,” Peleg said during the TV interview that aired on Friday. “I took a car, a KIA. I drove with Eitan. The passports were checked at the embassy in Switzerland. Approved. And we took off in a completely legal manner to Israel.”
The boy’s family in Italy has filed a petition in a Tel Aviv family court for his return. Their Israeli lawyer said the court had set a hearing for Sept. 29. It is required to make a ruling within six weeks.
A legal source has said prosecutors in the northern Italian city of Pavia had opened a kidnapping investigation. The prosecutors’ office declined to comment.
Israeli police have said they had received a complaint that a minor had been kidnapped and flown to Israel, and had questioned an unidentified 58-year-old man on suspicion of involvement.
Asked why he did not wait for an Italian court to make a decision, Peleg said “I must say that I lost faith in the Italian judicial system.”
Peleg’s family, through a public relations firm, said earlier in a statement that the Italian consul in Israel came to Peleg’s house to meet with Eitan.
“The message from the consul was that the foreign ministries are working to try to find a compromise between the families,” according to the statement.
Magistrates are still investigating why the cable car, on a line connecting Stresa on the shores of Lake Maggiore to the nearby Mottarone mountain, plunged to the ground.


Amal Clooney named Sudan adviser to ICC prosecutor

In this Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019 file photo, attorney Amal Clooney listens during a panel discussion on media freedom at United Nations headquarters. (AP)
In this Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019 file photo, attorney Amal Clooney listens during a panel discussion on media freedom at United Nations headquarters. (AP)
Updated 18 September 2021

Amal Clooney named Sudan adviser to ICC prosecutor

In this Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019 file photo, attorney Amal Clooney listens during a panel discussion on media freedom at United Nations headquarters. (AP)
  • The UN says 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million people were displaced in the 2003-4 Darfur conflict

THE HAGUE: The International Criminal Court’s new prosecutor on Friday named prominent rights lawyer Amal Clooney as a special adviser on Sudan’s Darfur conflict.
Clooney has previously been involved in a number of cases at the Hague-based ICC, the world’s only permanent war crimes tribunal.
Her post focusing on Darfur is one of several new special portfolios created by ICC prosecutor Karim Khan, a Briton who took office in July.
“I am delighted to welcome such an outstanding group of experts and I am grateful for their willingness to serve as my special advisers,” Khan said in a statement.
Clooney’s husband, the Hollywood actor George Clooney, is a longtime campaigner for human rights in the Darfur region.
The UN says 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million people were displaced in the 2003-4 Darfur conflict.
Fighting broke out when black African rebels, complaining of systematic discrimination, took up arms against deposed dictator Omar Bashir’s Arab-dominated regime.
London-based Amal Clooney represented Darfur victims in a case at the ICC against Ali Kushayb, a leader of the Janjaweed militia — a notorious armed group created by the government.
She has also been involved in a string of human rights cases involving countries including Iraq, Myanmar and the Philippines, and criminal cases covering Lebanon and the former Yugoslavia.
Last year she garnered headlines after resigning her post as a British envoy for media freedom, in protest at the government’s “lamentable” decision to breach its EU divorce treaty.