Iranian dissidents deserve UN seat, coalition head argues

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Updated 22 September 2022

Iranian dissidents deserve UN seat, coalition head argues

Iranian dissidents deserve UN seat, coalition head argues
  • The NCRI is a parliament in exile, says activist Dr. Ramesh Sepehrrad
  • ‘Democratic, non-nuclear, sectarian republic needed’

CHICAGO: The coalition of Iranian dissidents who are challenging the regime of President Ebrahim Raisi should have a seat at the UN to counter the government’s lies and support of terrorism, a leading pro-democracy activist argued Wednesday.

Dr. Ramesh Sepehrrad said the coalition led by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, or NCRI, have the most credibility and a vision on how to make the nation a democratic “non-nuclear sectarian republic,” replacing the extremist ayatollah-led movement.

Sepehrrad, chairperson of the advisory board of the Organization of Iranian American Communities, OIAC, said the UN should give the Iranian coalitions including the NCRI “formal recognition.” This would allow them to counter the “lies” from Raisi who addressed the UN General Assembly 77 on Wednesday.

“The National Council of Resistance of Iran, as far as we are concerned, it is a parliament in exile. They should be recognized by the UN. And they should be in fact be given the alternative voice to the people of Iran instead of the brutal regime and the terrorist regime whose only agenda is to acquire a nuclear weapon, and cause mayhem and establish its hegemonic role in the Middle East,” said Sepehrrad.

“So, I think this is absolutely the minimum that the UN can do in recognizing the parliament in exile and I think more importantly recognizing the right of the Iranian people to overthrow this regime. We the people of Iran ... deserve the right to overthrow this regime and we will. It is not like the people of Iran are waiting for this type of recognition to continue their campaign. But it is a test of time. It is a question for world leaders to stand on the right side of history with the people of Iran and its rightful resistance the National Council of Resistance versus the ceremonial standing by the brutal regime and people like Raisi who is going to be using the UN podium for its sinister agenda.”

The OIAC has 40 chapters that have helped make this past week’s protests at the UN against Raisi, during his first ever speech to the world body, “the biggest ever,” Sepehrrad said.

“They (anti-regime dissidents) have a very, very strong network inside Iran. In fact, the resistance unit inside Iran continues to grow year over year. I think with comparing 2022 to the previous year, it grew fivefold across all of the main cities and towns in Iran. And they continue to network with the broader segment of Iranian society and representing students, women especially, teachers’ union, labor movement, retired pensioners, a very strong representation from all sectors of society that are networked with the resistance units. It is only natural for them to have the largest turnout,” Sepehrrad said.

“This has been the group that has paid the heaviest price. Ebrahim Raisi is responsible for the 1988 massacre of political prisoners. In the summer of 1988, 30,000 political prisoners were executed under (Ayatollah) Khomeini’s fatwa. And Raisi was a part of the ‘Death Commission.’ Raisi is directly responsible and was engaged in crimes against humanity and genocide. So, this year in particular in our rally we are looking to not only holding the Iranian regime accountable but more importantly hold Raisi accountable.”

She said Raisi had ordered the execution of many political prisoners who had served their sentences and were scheduled for release, and he should not have been given the podium to speak at the UN.

Raisi was named as president of Iran last year by the ayatollahs and his presence has fueled and energized the largest gathering of protestors, both at the UN meeting that began last week, and also inside of Iran itself.

The protests were energized after a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, died in custody of the regime’s “Morality Police” after she was charged with violating a law that mandates the wearing of hijab by all women in public places.

Raisi’s government responded to the protestors in Iran with a violent crackdown that resulted in the killing of at least seven more civilians, Sepehrrad said.

Dissidents including 16 plaintiffs who are survivors or relatives of the victims have brought a lawsuit against Raisi in the Southern District of New York. A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 16, Sepehrrad said.

She added the lawsuit should be brought to the UN and prosecuted by the International Criminal Court, citing several lawsuits that have been filed against Raisi and Iran in the US, Sweden and England.

“I do foresee this to become like a culminating campaign in order to go into the ICC. This (the killings) is a war crime. To make matters worse. Some of the political prisoners had already finished their sentences and they should have been released,” Sepehrrad said.

“But the regime held them based on the fatwa that Khomeini issued. And Raisi was among the ‘Death Committee’ that essentially asked them would they denounce the MEK. And 90 percent of the victims were members of Iran’s main opposition group, the MEK. And they are still in the country and they have significant support outside of Iran. It was a simple question would they denounce the MEK and if the answer to that question was no, then they faced execution.”

The MEK is the underground opposition group that operates inside Iran and is known as the People’s Mojahedin Organization.

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Kim oversees military parade showcasing North Korea’s most advanced weaponry

Kim oversees military parade showcasing North Korea’s most advanced weaponry
Updated 09 February 2023

Kim oversees military parade showcasing North Korea’s most advanced weaponry

Kim oversees military parade showcasing North Korea’s most advanced weaponry
  • The parade was to mark the 75th founding anniversary of the country’s armed forces
  • Missiles were paraded through the square to show off the rogue state's war capability

SEOUL, South Korea: North Korea’s Kim Jong Un oversaw a major military parade showcasing his most advanced weaponry to mark the 75th founding anniversary of the country’s armed forces, state media said Thursday.

The parade, held the evening of February 8 in Pyongyang’s central Kim Il Sung Square, featured fireworks, military bands and uniformed soldiers marching in unison to spell out “2.8” and “75,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported.
Wearing a black coat and fedora — a style of dress also favored by his grandfather and North Korea’s founding leader Kim Il Sung — Kim attended the parade with his wife, Ri Sol Ju, and daughter Ju Ae, state media photographs showed.
Images showed the top leader walking along a red carpet to inspect rows of soldiers holding bayonets, and standing flanked by his top generals, saluting as troops and missile units parade past.

The nuclear-armed country stages military parades to mark important holidays and events, which are closely monitored by observers for clues about the reclusive regime’s progress on its banned ballistic and nuclear weapons.
Columns of missiles were paraded through the square, KCNA reported, including a “tactical nuclear operation unit” which showed off their “mighty war deterrence and counterattack capabilities.”
When a column of the country’s most powerful intercontinental ballistic missiles appeared in the square, it prompted cheering by spectators, KCNA said.

The parade showcased “the transformative development of the DPRK’s national defense capability and the country’s greatest nuclear attack capability,” KCNA said, referring to North Korea by its official name.
The parade emphasised the country’s ability to face down its enemies “nuke for nuke, confrontation for confrontation!” KCNA added.
Commercial satellite images taken by Maxar Technologies at 10:05 p.m. (1305 GMT) on Wednesday night showed a large North Korean flag and thousands of people assembled at Kim Il Sung square.

For years, Pyongyang’s state media never mentioned Kim’s children — Seoul’s spy agency believes he has three with wife Ri — but he unveiled Ju Ae at an intercontinental ballistic missile launch in November last year.
Since then, the 10-year-old has appeared alongside her father at multiple high-profile events, most recently a banquet Tuesday to mark the army’s founding anniversary.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un , his wife Ri Sol Ju and their daughter Kim Ju Ae attend a military parade to mark the 75th founding anniversary of North Korea's army in Pyongyang on Feb. 8, 2023. (KCNA via Reuters)

Analysts say she is the equivalent of a North Korean “princess” and that her constant appearances with her father could indicate she is his anointed successor.
Kim Jong Un’s own father, Kim Jong Il, selected him to be his successor over his elder children because he most resembled him.
North Korea has held four night-time military parades in recent years — including the latest one.
The parade comes after North Korea vowed to expand and intensify military drills to ensure its readiness for war, following a record-breaking year of weapons tests, including firing its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile.
Kim recently called for an “exponential” increase in Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal, including mass-producing tactical nuclear weapons and developing new missiles for nuclear counterstrikes.

MH17 inquiry: ‘Strong indications’ Putin approved missile supply

MH17 inquiry: ‘Strong indications’ Putin approved missile supply
Updated 09 February 2023

MH17 inquiry: ‘Strong indications’ Putin approved missile supply

MH17 inquiry: ‘Strong indications’ Putin approved missile supply
  • Ukrainian separatists were determined to have shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014 with a Russian missile
  • Russian officials say that a decision to provide rebels with military support over the summer of 2014 was in Putin’s hands

THE HAGUE, Netherlands: An international team of investigators said Wednesday it found “strong indications” that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the supply of heavy anti-aircraft weapons to Ukrainian separatists who shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014 with a Russian missile.
However, members of the Joint Investigation Team said they had insufficient evidence to prosecute Putin or any other suspects and they suspended their 8½-year inquiry into the shooting down that killed all 298 people on board the Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
Russia has always denied any involvement in the downing of the flight over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, and refused to cooperate with the international investigation.
Dutch prosecutors said that “there are strong indications that the Russian president decided on supplying” a Buk missile system — the weapon that downed MH17 — to Ukrainian separatists.

“Although we speak of strong indications, the high bar of complete and conclusive evidence is not reached,” Dutch prosecutor Digna van Boetzelaer said, adding that without Russian cooperation, “the investigation has now reached its limit. All leads have been exhausted.”
She also said that, as head of state, Putin would have immunity from prosecution in the Netherlands. The team played a recording of an intercepted phone call in which they said Putin could be heard discussing the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
“Are we disappointed? No, because we think we came further than we had ever thought in 2014. Would we have liked to come further? Of course, yes,” said Andy Kraag of the Dutch police.

The team informed relatives of those killed in the downing of MH17 of their findings before making them public.
“There was disappointment because ... they wanted to know why MH17 was shot down,” Kraag said. “We’re really clear on what has happened, but the answer to the question why MH17 was shot down still remains in Russia.”
Van Boetzelaer said that while the investigation is being suspended, phone lines will remain open for possible witnesses who may still want to provide evidence. If that happens, the inquiry could be reactivated.
Russian officials say that a decision to provide rebels with military support over the summer of 2014 was in Putin’s hands.
A decision to supply arms was even postponed for a week “because there is only one who makes a decision (…), the person who is currently at a summit in France,” the investigative team said, citing a phone conversation that was referring to Putin.
Prosecutors said that at the time Putin was at a commemoration of D-Day in France.
The announcement by the investigative team comes nearly three months after a Dutch court convicted two Russians and a Ukrainian rebel for their roles in shooting down the plane. One Russian was acquitted by the court.
None of the suspects appeared for the trial and it was unclear if the three who were found guilty of multiple murders will ever serve their sentences.
The convictions and the court’s finding that the surface-to-air Buk missile came from a Russian military base were seen as a clear indication that Moscow had a role in the tragedy. Russia has always denied involvement. The Russian Foreign Ministry accused the court in November of bowing to pressure from Dutch politicians, prosecutors and the news media.
But the November convictions held that Moscow was in overall control in 2014 over the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, the separatist area of eastern Ukraine where the missile was launched. The Buk missile system came from the Russian military’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, based in the city of Kursk.
The Joint Investigation Team is made up of experts from the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Belgium and Ukraine. Most of the victims were Dutch. It had continued to investigate the crew of the missile system that brought down the plane and those who ordered its deployment in Ukraine.
As well as the criminal trial that was held in the Netherlands, the Dutch and Ukrainian governments are suing Russia at the European Court of Human Rights over its alleged role in the downing of MH17.
The findings revealed Wednesday will likely strengthen the case at the human rights court and could also be used by prosecutors at the International Criminal Court who are investigating possible war crimes in Ukraine dating to the start of the separatist conflict.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese vowed to keep pursuing justice for 38 Australian citizens and residents who died aboard MH17, describing Putin as “reprehensible.”
“The shooting down of MH17 was an act of terrorism that had an impact here in Australia but on many countries as well. And we will continue to pursue these issues with every avenue at our disposal,” Albanese said in the Australian capital Canberra.
“This is a guy who runs an authoritarian regime, that doesn’t care about human rights, that doesn’t care about devastation of communities — whether it be in Ukraine, whether it be the oppression of his own citizens, or whether it be acts outside of Russia, of which we’ve seen a number,” Albanese added.

Chilean wildfires destroy hundreds of homes, endanger world’s smallest deer

Chilean wildfires destroy hundreds of homes, endanger world’s smallest deer
Updated 09 February 2023

Chilean wildfires destroy hundreds of homes, endanger world’s smallest deer

Chilean wildfires destroy hundreds of homes, endanger world’s smallest deer
  • Wildfires sparked by high temperatures had now spread to over 300,000 hectares in south-central Chile

CHILLAN, Chile: Forest fires across south-central Chile that have left 24 people dead and swallowed up hundreds of houses spread into new areas on Wednesday after raging overnight, burning up the habitats of vulnerable woodland animals.
“We call on everyone who can to take care of the forests which are currently on fire, and also of our animals, specimens of vital importance,” said Valentina Aravena, the manager at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Chillan.
Chile’s national forests association CONAF said on Wednesday the area affected by the fires had now spread to over 300,000 hectares (741,315 acres), an area nearly twice the size of Greater London.
Authorities said some 2,180 people have been injured and 1,180 houses have been destroyed, with most of the deaths and damages in the south-central Biobio, Araucania and Ñuble regions.
Late on Wednesday, Interior Minister Carolina Toha said the government would declare a curfew in some provinces starting on Thursday. She had earlier warned of a shortage of water tanks and urged providers to make them available.
In the rehabilitation center in Chillan, the capital of the Ñuble region, veterinarians treated burns on animals native to the woodlands, such as monito del monte, a small nocturnal marsupial, and pudus, the world’s smallest deer.
Aravena said these were essential species that helped spread seeds.
“We try to stabilize them, treat them, relieve pain from the burns they suffered, and ideally rehabilitate them so they can return to the wild,” she said.
In the vicinity of the nearby city of Quillon, local Enrique Narvaez watched firefighters at work overnight.
“The 2011 wildfire burnt down my house, all the trees, everything,” he said. “I don’t want to go through the same again now.”
Chilean President Gabriel Boric thanked his Brazilian counterpart who offered $672,000 in aid and said he was sending air force jet with firefighting equipment, personnel and experts. Spain, Colombia and Mexico are also giving assistance.
Chilean pulp and wood panel manufacturer Arauco, the forestry arm of Empresas Copec, said 40,000 hectares (98,842 acres) of its plantations could be potentially affected, though the possible extent remained unclear.
A day earlier, a Chilean minister warned that high temperatures forecast for this week could further complicate the situation. 

US forces returning to Philippines to counter China threats

US forces returning to Philippines to counter China threats
Updated 09 February 2023

US forces returning to Philippines to counter China threats

US forces returning to Philippines to counter China threats
  • The Philippine Constitution prohibits permanent basing of foreign troops in the country but allows temporary visits by foreign troops under security pacts

SUBIC BAY, Philippines: Once-secret ammunition bunkers and barracks lay abandoned, empty and overrun by weeds — vestiges of American firepower in what used to be the United States’ largest overseas naval base at Subic Bay in the northern Philippines.
But that may change in the near future.
The US has been taking steps to rebuild its military might in the Philippines more than 30 years after the closure of its large bases in the country and reinforcing an arc of military alliances in Asia in a starkly different post-Cold War era when the perceived new regional threat is an increasingly belligerent China.
On Feb. 2, the longtime allies announced that rotating batches of American forces would be granted access to four more Philippine military camps aside from five other local bases, where US-funded constructions have picked up pace to build barracks, warehouses and other buildings to accommodate a yet-unspecified but expectedly considerable number of visiting troops under a 2014 defense pact.
Manila-based political scientist Andrea Chloe Wong said the location of the Philippine camps would give the US military the presence it would need to be a “strong deterrent against Chinese aggression” in the South China Sea, where China, the Philippines and four other governments have had increasingly tense territorial rifts — as well as a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan, which Beijing views as its own territory to be brought under Chinese control, by force if necessary.
Around the former US Navy base in Subic, now a bustling commercial freeport and tourism destination northwest of Manila, news of the Philippine government’s decision to allow an expanded American military presence rekindled memories of an era when thousands of US sailors pumped money, life and hope into the neighboring city of Olongapo.

“Olongapo was like Las Vegas then,” Filipino businessman AJ Saliba told The Associated Press in an interview in his foreign currency exchange and music shop along what used to be Olongapo’s garish red-light strip.
“Noisy as early as noon with neon lights turned on and the Americans roaming around. Women were everywhere. Jeepney drivers, tricycles, restaurants, bars, hotels — everybody was making money — so if they will return, my God, you know, that’ll be the best news,” he said.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during his visit in Manila last week that Washington was not trying to reestablish permanent bases, but that the agreement to broaden its military presence under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was “a big deal.”
Visiting American military personnel could engage the Philippine military in larger joint combat-readiness trainings, provide help in responding rapidly to disasters and press efforts to help modernize Manila’s armed forces, Austin and his Philippine counterpart Carlito Galvez Jr. said.
“This is part of our effort to modernize our alliance, and these efforts are especially important as the People’s Republic of China continues to advance its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea,” Austin said at a news conference in Manila.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said the US military’s strengthening in the region was escalating tensions and risking peace and stability.
“Regional countries need to remain vigilant and avoid being coerced or used by the US,” Mao told reporters Feb. 2 at a briefing in Beijing.
Austin and Galvez did not reveal the four new locations where the Americans would be granted access and allowed to preposition weapons and other equipment. The Philippine defense chief said local officials, where the Americans would stay, had to be consulted.
In November, then-Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Bartolome Bacarro disclosed that the sites included the strategic Subic Bay, where the Navy base was once a boon to the local economy. But two senior Philippine officials told the AP that Subic, where a Philippine navy camp is located, was not among the current list of sites where Washington has sought access for its forces, although they suggested that could change as talks were continuing. The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
Subic freeport administrator Rolen Paulino said he has not been notified by the government that the former American naval base has been designated as a potential site for visiting US forces.
A renewed US military presence at Subic, however, would generate more jobs and raise additional freeport revenues at a crucial time when many Filipinos and businesses are still struggling to recover from two years of COVID-19 lockdowns and an economic recession wrought by coronavirus outbreaks, Paulino said.
“I see them as tourists,” he said of the US forces whose presence could boost economic recovery.
About the size of Singapore, the former American Navy base at Subic with its deep harbors, a ship repair yard and huge warehouses had been used to support the US war effort in Vietnam in the 1960s and ′70s. It was shut down and transformed into a commercial freeport and recreational complex in 1992 after the Philippine Senate rejected an extension of US lease.
A year earlier, the US Air Force withdrew from Clark Air Base near Subic after nearby Mount Pinatubo roared back to life in the second-largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century and belched ash on the air base and outlying regions.

The American flag was lowered for the final time and the last batch of American sailors left Subic in November 1992, ending nearly a century of American military presence in the Philippines that began in 1898 when the US seized the archipelago in a new colonial era after Spain held the Southeast Asian nation as a colony for more than three centuries. Washington granted independence on July 4, 1946, but maintained military bases and facilities, including Subic.
China’s seizure in the mid-1990s of Mischief Reef, a coral outcrop within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines that extends into the South China Sea, “provided the first hint that the allies may have been too quick to downgrade their relationship,” said Greg Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The Philippine Constitution prohibits permanent basing of foreign troops in the country and their involvement in local combat but allows temporary visits by foreign troops under security pacts such as the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and a 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement.
The 1998 agreement allowed a large number of American forces to be deployed in the southern Philippines to help provide combat training and intelligence to Filipino forces battling the then-Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group, which was blamed for deadly bombings and mass kidnappings for ransom, including three Americans — one of whom was beheaded and another shot and killed in a Philippine army rescue. The third survived.
There is still, however, domestic opposition to a US presence in the Philippines, which left-wing groups have criticized as neo-colonialism, reinforced by the 2014 killing of a Filipino transgender woman by a US Marine, Wong said.
Governor Manuel Mamba of northern Cagayan province, where Bacarro said the US has reportedly sought access for its forces in two local military encampments, vowed to oppose such an American military presence. Cagayan, located on the northern tip of the main Luzon island, lies across a narrow sea border from Taiwan, the Taiwan Strait and southern China.
“It’ll be very dangerous for us. If they stay here, whoever is their enemy will become our enemy,” Mamba told the AP by telephone, adding the Philippines could be targeted by nuclear weapons if the conflict over Taiwan boils over.
“You cannot really remove any presumption by anyone that the Philippines has a nuclear capability through the Americans, who will be here,” Mamba said.

Pope seeks release of Cubans arrested during 2021 protests

Pope seeks release of Cubans arrested during 2021 protests
Updated 09 February 2023

Pope seeks release of Cubans arrested during 2021 protests

Pope seeks release of Cubans arrested during 2021 protests
  • The Catholic Church has political influence in Cuba and on previous occasions has interceded successfully for the liberation of government opponents

HAVANA: Pope Francis hopes Cuban authorities will release and grant amnesty to people arrested and sentenced after the historic protests that took place in 2021, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, who traveled to the island as the pontiff’s special envoy, said Wednesday.
During an act at the University of Havana to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s visit to the island, Cardinal Stella also said the Catholic Church hopes that Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel and US President Joe Biden can hold talks amid current tense relations between the countries.
Stella, who arrived in Cuba in mid-January and will remain there until Feb. 10, recalled the figures of Father Félix Varela and José Martí, considered national heroes in Cuba, and emphasized the need for understanding among Cubans.
Asked by journalists about the possibility the Catholic Church could intercede to have Cuban authorities grant amnesty to people imprisoned during the 2021 protests, the first in decades on the island, Stella said he had talked with the pontiff about the issue before he trip to Cuba.
“The Church wants, seeks, has manifested this proposal (amnesty),” said Stella. “I think the issue is on the table... The Pope very much wants there to be a positive response, whether it is called amnesty, clemency, the words can be secondary, but it is important that the young people who at one point expressed their thoughts... they can go back to their homes.”
According to non-governmental groups, about 1,300 people were arrested following the protests. Some of the demonstrations turned violent, including looting and rioting, and one person was killed. Authorities reported about 700 sentences handed down related to the protests, with sentences ranging from a fine and community work to up to 30 years in prison for sedition.
The protests took place amid a severe economic crisis, shortages and blackouts. Human rights groups and some governments, including Washington, harshly criticized the island for what they considered the repression of free demonstrations by Cubans.
Meanwhile, Havana maintains that it did not repress opponents, but only punished illegal activities like rioting, vandalism, and sedition.
The Catholic Church has political influence in Cuba and on previous occasions has interceded successfully for the liberation of government opponents.
In 2010, thanks to the mediation of the Catholic Church and Spain’s government, a group of opponents who had been imprisoned since 2003 were released and some chose to leave the country.
The Cuban government accused anti-Castro groups based in Florida of promoting riots during the 2021 protests through social networks amid a complex economic situation caused by the paralysis during the pandemic and the increase in US sanctions during the administration of then-President Donald Trump.