Tunisians protest against president’s power grab as opposition deepens

Tunisians protest against president’s power grab as opposition deepens
Demonstrators carry flags and copies of Tunisian constitution during a protest against the Tunisian President Kais Saied’s seizure of governing powers on Sept. 26, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 September 2021

Tunisians protest against president’s power grab as opposition deepens

Tunisians protest against president’s power grab as opposition deepens
  • President Kais Saied gives himself power to rule by decree two months after he sacked the prime minister

TUNIS: About 3,000 demonstrators gathered in Tunis on Sunday under a heavy police presence to protest against Tunisian President Kais Saied’s seizure of governing powers in July and called on him to step down.
Saied this week brushed aside much of the 2014 constitution, giving himself power to rule by decree two months after he sacked the prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive authority.
“The people want the fall of the coup,” they chanted in the center of Tunis along Habib Bourguiba Avenue, a focal point of the demonstrations that ended the rule of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14, 2011. “Step down.”
The crisis has endangered the democratic gains that Tunisians won in a 2011 revolution that triggered the “Arab spring” protests and has also slowed efforts to tackle an urgent threat to public finances, worrying investors.
Saied has said his actions, which his opponents have called a coup, are needed to address a crisis of political paralysis, economic stagnation and a poor response to the coronavirus pandemic. He has promised to uphold rights and not become a dictator.
Nadia Ben Salem said she traveled 500 kilometers from the south to express her anger in the protest.
“We will protect democracy... the constitution is a red line,” she said, holding up a copy of the constitution.
Saied still has wide support among Tunisians, who are tired of corruption and poor public services and say his hands are clean.
He has not put any time limit on his seizure of power, but said he would appoint a committee to help draft amendments to the 2014 constitution and establish “a true democracy in which the people are truly sovereign.” Tunisia’s largest political party, the moderate Islamist Ennahda, has called Saied’s moves “a flagrant coup against democratic legitimacy” and called for people to unite and defend democracy in “a tireless, peaceful struggle.”
Ennahda has been the most powerful party in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution that led to the ousting of its long-time president, playing a role in backing successive coalition governments.
But Saied’s coup has left it facing a severe split: More than 100 prominent officials of Ennahda, including lawmakers and former ministers, resigned on Saturday in protest at the leadership’s performance.
Tunisia’s influential labor union on Friday rejected key elements of Saied’s action and warned of a threat to democracy as opposition widened against a move his foes call a coup.
A first protest against Saied since his intervention on July 25 took place last week. It consisted of several hundred people.
“The language of dialogue has been disrupted with Saied...He does not like dialogue,” said independent lawmaker Iyadh Loumi.
“He wanted to isolate everyone and he is taking all power...Saied must be sacked and put on trial.”
Four other political parties issued a joint statement condemning Saied on Wednesday and another large party, Heart of Tunisia, has also done so.


Yemen government, Houthis begin Amman talks on ending Taiz siege 

Yemen government, Houthis begin Amman talks on ending Taiz siege 
Updated 26 May 2022

Yemen government, Houthis begin Amman talks on ending Taiz siege 

Yemen government, Houthis begin Amman talks on ending Taiz siege 
  • Desperate civilians hold rallies protesting the Houthi siege, calling for action from international community

Discussions between the Yemeni government and the Iran-backed Houthis on opening roads in the city of Taiz and other provinces started on Wednesday as thousands gathered in the streets of Taiz to demand an immediate end to the Houthis’ siege. 

Hans Grundberg, the UN’s Yemen envoy, said his office would sponsor the meeting between both sides in the Jordanian capital to discuss opening roads in Taiz and the provinces as part of the two-month truce.

“The meeting between Government of Yemen & Ansar Allah representatives on opening roads in #Taiz & other governorates as per the truce agreement starts today in Amman under the auspices of the UN Envoy for #Yemen,” Grundberg tweeted, using the official name of the Houthis.

The Yemeni government delegation said they held a meeting with Grundberg shortly after landing in Amman, adding that they might engage in direct talks with the Houthis over the coming days. 

“We would be pushing for opening roads to pre-war time and resuming the flow of water and power supplies to the city,” Ali Al-Ajar, a member of the government delegation, told Arab News by telephone from Amman. 

The truce, which came into effect on April 2 and is the longest since the beginning of the war, called for a pause in fighting on all fronts, resuming flights from Sanaa airport, allowing fuel ships to enter Hodeidah port and forming a joint committee to discuss opening roads in Taiz, Abyan, Al-Bayda, Marib and the other provinces. 

The meeting was delayed many times as the Houthis refused to name their representatives, despite constant demands from international mediators. 

Meanwhile, hundreds of citizens rallied in the streets of Taiz on Wednesday to demand international action to force the Houthis to end their siege on the city. 

The protesters carried posters and slogans demanding action from Yemeni negotiators in Amman, the UN Yemen envoy and the international community in ending the siege that has cut off the city from the rest of the country. 

“The complete lifting of the siege is an inalienable human right,” read one of the posters. 

This week, people in Taiz challenged the Houthi siege by arranging rallies near the heavily mined checkpoints on the edges of the city, drawing attention to their suffering under the siege. These rallies are rare and reflect the desperation felt by the people living under siege.

During the past seven years, the Houthis have blocked the city’s main entrances and roads that link it with Sanaa, Hodeidah and Aden. The Iran-backed terrorists have planted landmines and deployed snipers in the surrounding areas after failing to seize control of the city’s downtown due to resistance from government troops. 

The siege has pushed thousands of people into famine as the Houthis prevent aid and vital goods from reaching the city, forcing people into using dangerous mountain roads. 

Mohammed Al-Mekhlafi, a Yemeni political analyst, criticized the international community for not mounting enough pressure on the Houthis to lift the siege on Taiz as they did with the Yemeni government and the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen over Sanaa airport and Hodeidah port. 

“The UN and the international community did not use serious and active pressure on the Houthis to open humanitarian corridors in Taiz. The Houthis got many concessions concerning Sanaa airport and Hodeidah seaport without offering anything in return,” Al-Mekhlafi told Arab News.

The Houthis, who usually deny that they are laying a siege on Taiz, said on Tuesday that they closed some roads in Taiz to protect people from clashes. 

“The procedures in Taiz were imposed following military necessities to preserve the lives of citizens,” said Abdul Malik Al-Ajri, a Houthi negotiator, according to the Houthi media. He said the movement has not discussed the truce extension with the UN. 


Slain IRGC officer headed assassination unit: Report

Slain IRGC officer headed assassination unit: Report
No one has taken responsibility for Khodaei’s death. (File/AFP)
Updated 26 May 2022

Slain IRGC officer headed assassination unit: Report

Slain IRGC officer headed assassination unit: Report
  • Hassan Sayyad Khodaei planned kidnappings, killings for Quds Force Unit 840: WSJ
  • Targets included Israeli diplomat, American general, French intellectual

LONDON: An Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer killed outside his home in Tehran on Sunday is thought to have been responsible for the group’s assassination unit, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper reported that Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei planned kidnappings and killings for Quds Force Unit 840, including recent failed plots against an Israeli diplomat, an American general and a French intellectual.  

Some of those the WSJ cited questioned whether any of the operations planned by Khodaei had been successful, noting that he was also tied to a foiled plot to murder an Israeli businessman in Cyprus last year, which led to the arrest of an Azerbaijani national.

No one has taken responsibility for Khodaei’s death, but Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi appeared to blame the US when he referred to the role of the “global arrogance” — a term applied to America — in the killing during a televised statement.

“I have no doubt that revenge for the pure blood of this martyr on the hands of the criminals is inevitable,” he added.

Israel warned that it would respond to acts of Iranian aggression abroad inside Iran, the WSJ reported.


Iran says ‘accident’ near Tehran was at defense research unit

Iran says ‘accident’ near Tehran was at defense research unit
One person has been killed in an “industrial accident” near an Iranian military complex. (Shutterstock)
Updated 26 May 2022

Iran says ‘accident’ near Tehran was at defense research unit

Iran says ‘accident’ near Tehran was at defense research unit
  • One person has been killed in an “industrial accident” near an Iranian military complex, according to state media
  • It gave no details of the cause of the accident.

TEHRAN: Iran’s defense ministry said Thursday that an “accident” in the Parchin area near Tehran, happened at one of its “research units,” and killed one “engineer” and injured another.
“On Wednesday evening, in an accident that took place in one of the research units of the defense ministry in the Parchin area, engineer Ehsan Ghad Beigi was martyred and one of his colleagues injured,” the ministry said.
State media had earlier reported one person killed in an “industrial accident” near the Parchin military complex, which has previously come under scrutiny by the UN nuclear watchdog.
The Parchin complex, southeast of Tehran, is alleged to have hosted past testing of conventional explosives that could be used to detonate a nuclear warhead, something Iran has repeatedly denied.
The site came under renewed scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2015 when Tehran reached a landmark deal with major powers under which it agreed to curb its nuclear activities under UN supervision in return for the lifting of international sanctions.
Iran had previously denied the IAEA access to Parchin, insisting it was a military site unrelated to any nuclear activities, but the agency’s then chief, the late Yukiya Amano, paid a visit.
In June 2020, a gas tank explosion in a “public area” near the complex shook the capital, 30 kilometers (20 miles) away, but caused no casualties, the defense ministry said at the time.
Iran’s nuclear program has been the target of a campaign of sabotage, cyberattacks and assassinations of key scientists that it has blamed on arch foe Israel.
Israeli leaders have repeatedly refused to rule out military action to prevent Iran developing an atomic bomb.
Iran has consistently denied any ambition to develop a nuclear weapon, insisting its activities are entirely peaceful.


Talks begin between Yemeni government and Houthis over reopening of Taiz road

Talks begin between Yemeni government and Houthis over reopening of Taiz road
Updated 26 May 2022

Talks begin between Yemeni government and Houthis over reopening of Taiz road

Talks begin between Yemeni government and Houthis over reopening of Taiz road
  • The negotiations are part of a two-month truce that is due to expire on June 2 but the UN’s special envoy, Hans Grundberg, said working with all parties to extend it
  • He added that also as part of the truce, important progress has been made in efforts to agree the resumption of commercial flights to and from Sanaa airport

NEW YORK: Negotiations began in Amman on Wednesday between Yemen’s government and the Iran-backed Houthi militia over the reopening of roads in Taiz and other governorates.

The talks are taking place under the auspices of the UN. Hans Grundberg, the organization’s special envoy for Yemen, said that they are part of a two-month truce that was agreed in April at the start of Ramadan. He added that it is due to expire on June 2 but he is working with all parties to extend it.

Grundberg called on all of those involved to negotiate “in good faith” and take urgent action to reach an agreement on restoring freedom of movement and improving the living conditions of the people of Yemen.

“Yemenis have suffered for too long from the impact of road closures,” he said. “Opening roads in Taiz and elsewhere is a crucial element of the truce that will allow families divided by front lines to see each other, children to go to school, civilians to go to work and reach hospitals, and essential trade to resume.”

Yemenis protest in Taiz on Wednesday, demanding the end of the blockade imposed by the Houthis on the country’s third city. (AFP)

He added that also as part of the truce, important progress has been made in efforts to agree the resumption of commercial flights to and from Sanaa airport. More than 1,000 passengers have flown so far and the frequency of flights is increasing. Preparations are now under way to resume flights between Sanaa and Cairo, Egypt.

“This will allow more Yemenis to travel abroad to access medical care, educational and trade opportunities, and to visit family,” said Grundberg, who thanked the Egyptian government for its help arranging the flights and its “active support to the UN’s peace efforts.”

Although fighting has abated in Yemen since the truce began, with a significant reduction in civilian casualties, Grundberg raised concerns about reports of continued fighting and civilian casualties in some parts of the country in recent weeks.

“I call on the parties to exercise maximum restraint to preserve the truce and to fulfill their obligations under international law to protect civilians,” said the envoy, who vowed to continue to work with all involved under the terms of the truce to “prevent, deescalate and resolve incidents.”

He added: “We have seen the tangible benefits the truce has delivered so far for the daily lives of Yemenis. The parties need to renew the truce to extend and consolidate these benefits to the people of Yemen, who have suffered over seven years of war.

“The truce has presented a window of opportunity to break with the violence and suffering of the past and move toward a peaceful future in Yemen. The parties need to seize this opportunity by implementing and renewing the truce and negotiating more durable solutions on security, political and economic issues, including revenues and salaries, to support a comprehensive political settlement of the conflict.

“The parties have the responsibility to safeguard and deliver on this potential for peace in Yemen.”


UN Security Council calls for swift formation of new government in Lebanon

UN Security Council calls for swift formation of new government in Lebanon
Updated 26 May 2022

UN Security Council calls for swift formation of new government in Lebanon

UN Security Council calls for swift formation of new government in Lebanon
  • Members also stressed the need for the urgent implementation of economic reforms, and urged all parties to dissociate themselves from external conflicts
  • They reiterated need for a transparent investigation into the 2020 Beirut explosion to be concluded, to meet Lebanese demands for justice and accountability

NEW YORK: The UN Security Council on Wednesday welcomed the fact that parliamentary elections in Lebanon went ahead as planned on May 15, “despite challenging circumstances,” but called for the swift formation of a new, inclusive government and the “urgent implementation” of previously outlined economic reforms.

In a joint statement, council members said that the reforms should include the adoption of “an appropriate” national budget for 2022 that will enable the speedy implementation of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund “to respond to the demands of the Lebanese population.”

The country’s economy has been mired since August 2019 in a crippling crisis, during which the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90 percent of its value and more than three-quarters of the population have fallen into poverty.

Last month, Lebanon and the IMF had reached an agreement on a plan that could unlock about $3 billion of international funding over several years. However, the deal is subject to approval by the management and executive board of the IMF, and hinges on Lebanese authorities implementing a host of economic reforms, including the restructuring of the country’s collapsed banking sector, improved transparency, and unifying the multiple exchange rates that apply to the nation’s spiraling currency.

The Security Council stressed the role Lebanese institutions, including the newly elected parliament, have to play in the implementation of these necessary reforms and underscored the importance of delivering them, “to ensure effective international support.”

Members also called for steps to be taken to enhance the “full, equal and meaningful participation and representation” of women in Lebanese institutions, including the new government.

“These elections were key to enabling the Lebanese people to exercise their civil and political rights,” the council members said.

They reiterated the need for “a swift conclusion of an independent, impartial, thorough and transparent investigation” into the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port on Aug. 4, 2020, which left more than 200 people dead, thousands injured and many more displaced, as well as billions of dollars in property damage.

The council said the investigation is “essential to meet the legitimate aspirations of the Lebanese people for accountability and justice.”

Members also urged all Lebanese parties to implement a tangible policy of “disassociation from any external conflicts, as an important priority, as spelled out in previous declarations, in particular the 2012 Baabda Declaration.”

The Iran-backed Hezbollah party has sent militants to Syria to fight alongside the forces of the Assad regime.