Iranian currency falls to record low amid EU plans to expand sanctions against Tehran

Iranian currency falls to record low amid EU plans to expand sanctions against Tehran
Protesters march in central London on January 21, 2023, calling for proscription of Iran's troublesome Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. (AFP
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Updated 22 January 2023

Iranian currency falls to record low amid EU plans to expand sanctions against Tehran

Iranian currency falls to record low amid EU plans to expand sanctions against Tehran
  • 4th round of sanctions eyed over Tehran's repression against demonstrators 
  • Other EU members want to classify the Iran's IRGC as a terrorist organization

JEDDAH: Iran’s troubled currency rial fell to a record low against the US dollar on Saturday amid discussions in the European to impose new sanctions on 37 Iranian officials and organizations over the regime's brutal crackdown on protesters.

Iran's increasing isolation in the global community also comes amid warnings over Tehran's expanding role in stirring unrest within the Mideast region and for supplying drones that are causing massive death and destruction in Ukraine.

Ties between the EU and Tehran have deteriorated in recent months as efforts to revive nuclear talks have stalled. Iran has detained several European nationals and the bloc has become increasingly critical of the violent treatment of protesters and the use of executions.

Foreign ministers from the EU bloc are to agree to adopt the fourth package of sanctions on Tehran over its repression of demonstrators at an already-scheduled meeting in Brussels on Monday. 

The European Parliament called on Wednesday for the EU to list Iran’s Guards as a terrorist group, blaming the powerful force for the repression of protesters and the supply of drones to Russia. The assembly cannot compel the EU to add the force to its list, but the text was a clear political message to Tehran.

Panama’s vessel registry, the world’s largest, has withdrawn its flag from 136 ships linked to Iran’s state oil company in the last four years, the country’s maritime authority said this week.

Demonstrations have swept Iran since the Sept. 16 death of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, 22, after her arrest in Tehran for allegedly failing to adhere to the Islamic republic’s strict dress rules.

Iran has arrested at least 14,000 people in the wave of protests, according to the UN.

Authorities have executed four people for their role in the unrest and imposed the death penalty on a total of 18, triggering widespread international outrage.

The EU has already imposed asset freezes and visa bans on more than 60 Iranian officials and entities over the crackdown on protesters, including targeting Tehran’s “morality police,” Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders and state media.

The dollar was selling for as much as 447,000 rials on Iran’s unofficial market on Saturday, compared with 430,500 the previous day, according to the foreign exchange site Bonbast.com.

The rial has lost 29 percent of its value since nationwide protests began.




Iran's currency has lost 29 percent of its value since the Mahsa Amini nationwide protests started on Sept. 16. (WANA photo via REUTERS/File photo)

Iran’s central bank governor Mohammad Reza Farzin on Saturday blamed the fall of the rial on “psychological operations” which Tehran says its enemies are organizing to destabilize the Islamic Republic.

“Today, the central bank faces no restrictions in terms of foreign currency and gold resources and reserves, and media deceit and psychological operations are the main factors behind the fluctuation in the free exchange rate,” state broadcaster IRIB cited Farzin as saying.

Facing an inflation rate of about 50 percent, Iranians seeking safe havens for their savings have been trying to buy dollars, other hard currencies or gold.

The economic Ecoiran website blamed the continued fall of the rial on an apparent “global consensus” against Iran.

“Increasing political pressures, such as placing the Revolutionary Guards on a list of terrorist organizations, and imposing restrictions on Iran-linked ships and oil tankers ... are factors pointing to a global consensus against Iran, (which may affect) the dollar’s rate in Tehran,” Ecoiran said.

Separately, Iran’s sports minister has ordered a probe into allegations of sexual assault targeting teenagers at a football academy in the country’s northeast.

“A former media manager for the Shahr Khodro football team has claimed on social media that the parents of 15 players from this club and its academy have filed a complaint against the club and its coaches for sexually assaulting their children,” state news agency IRNA reported. Shahr Khodro football club is based in Mashhad.

On Friday, the local newspaper Shahrara reported on its website that the families of players from the club had gathered outside the headquarters of the provincial football organization to protest the “tragedy.”

(With Reuters, AFP)


Spain's PM heads to Morocco to reap benefits of mended ties

Spain's PM heads to Morocco to reap benefits of mended ties
Updated 9 sec ago

Spain's PM heads to Morocco to reap benefits of mended ties

Spain's PM heads to Morocco to reap benefits of mended ties
BARCELONA, Spain: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez travels to Rabat on Wednesday along with 12 ministers before a meeting with Moroccan government officials. This visit comes as part of the European country’s strategy to improve historically complex relations with its neighbor across the Strait of Gibraltar.
It comes 10 months after Sánchez went to meet Moroccan King Mohammed VI and put an end to a diplomatic crisis that had erupted in 2021 regarding Morocco's disputed territory of Western Sahara. During that meeting, Sánchez declared “a new phase of bilateral relations” with Morocco, an important partner with the European Union in fighting extremism and aiding the bloc's irregular migration policies.
Sánchez is flying south again on Wednesday and will attend a forum of business leaders from both countries in Rabat. On Thursday, he will sit down with Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch, a billionaire businessman who won a 2021 election and is considered close to Mohammed VI.
Sánchez’s agenda doesn't include another meeting with the Moroccan king, with whom he shared the Iftar meal to break the day’s fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan last April in the highlight of their reconciliation.
Sánchez’s office said that the prime minister instead had a phone conversation with the monarch in which they agreed that the meeting would “contribute to consolidating this new era in the relations between Morocco and Spain.” It added that Sánchez accepted the invitation by the king to make another official visit to Rabat at an unspecified date.
Moroccans make up the single largest foreign community with 800,000 residents in Spain, and important economic ties unite the neighbors which are separated by just 13 kilometers (8 miles) of water at the nearest point.
But relations between Spain and Morocco were severely damaged in May 2021 after Spain allowed the leader of the Polisario Front, which has waged a low-intensity armed rebellion seeking the Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco, to receive medical treatment for COVID-19 in Spain.
Morocco responded by relaxing its border controls around Spain’s North African exclave of Ceuta and thousands of people crossed over into the city. Tensions remained high until Sánchez did an about-face on Spain’s long-standing position on Western Sahara by backing Rabat’s proposal to give it more autonomy as long as it remains unquestionably under Moroccan control. Madrid maintains that the people of Western Sahara must decide their future via a referendum.
Sánchez paid a high price for moving closer to Morocco.
His shift on Western Sahara angered Algeria, a backer of the Polisario Front and major natural gas supplier to Spain. It was also widely criticized in Spain, which held Western Sahara as a colony until 1975, and caused friction inside Spain’s governing left-wing coalition between Sánchez’s Socialists and its junior partner. Politicians from across Spain's spectrum considered Sánchez to have betrayed the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara for very little tangible gains in return.
Now, Sánchez is aiming to reap some benefits after last year’s return to diplomatic normalcy.
This will be first meeting since 2015 with such a large delegation of ministries represented. Sánchez is taking along his ministers in charge of the economy, energy, foreign affairs, security and policing, agriculture, commerce, transport and migration, among others.
Thursday's meeting between the governments is expected to produce several agreements between ministries and to favor business growth, including the opening of customs offices at the border crossings for Ceuta and its sister exclave, Melilla, which Morocco has never officially recognized as Spanish territories. Melilla’s customs office was closed by Morocco in 2018, while Ceuta has never had one.
Spain is the largest foreign investor in Morocco, accounting for a significant chunk of all foreign investments, making economic cooperation a top priority for the Moroccan government. Morocco is Spain’s third most important non-EU commercial partner after the United States and Britain.
Morocco, in similar fashion to Turkey and other countries in north Africa, has reaped economic benefits from the EU in exchange for curbing irregular immigration to Spain. That, however, has not stopped thousands of migrants and refugees, including young Moroccans looking for a better future in Europe, from attempting a dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean, or a perilous Atlantic journey to the Canary Islands.
The frontier policing methods of both Spain and Morocco have fallen under intense scrutiny following the death of at least 23 African men, many reportedly refugees from Sudan, when they stormed a border fence at Melilla in June.
Rights group Amnesty International held a protest outside the seat of Spain’s government in Madrid on Wednesday, with cutout silhouettes of the victims of the Melilla tragedy. The rights group raises the number of deaths to 37 and says that 77 more people are still missing from the incident.
“A summit today between Morocco and Spain pretends to ignore what happened just seven months ago,” Esteban Beltrán, head of Amnesty International in Spain, said. “We want to remember that (the victims) are with us, and we want to remember the suffering of their families who have no information or a real investigation of what happened.”

Suez Canal tugs working to move broken down tanker, shipping traffic unaffected: Sources

Suez Canal tugs working to move broken down tanker, shipping traffic unaffected: Sources
Updated 01 February 2023

Suez Canal tugs working to move broken down tanker, shipping traffic unaffected: Sources

Suez Canal tugs working to move broken down tanker, shipping traffic unaffected: Sources
  • Canal sources say that shipping traffic is unaffected

CAIRO: Suez Canal tugboats are working to move a broken down LNG tanker called Grace Emilia on Wednesday, two canal sources told Reuters, adding that shipping traffic is unaffected.
The incident happened in a southern section of the canal where a second channel allows for ships to bypass the blockage caused by an engine malfunction, one of the sources said.


Iran says Iraq-based Kurd groups ‘involved’ in drone attack

Iran says Iraq-based Kurd groups ‘involved’ in drone attack
Updated 01 February 2023

Iran says Iraq-based Kurd groups ‘involved’ in drone attack

Iran says Iraq-based Kurd groups ‘involved’ in drone attack
  • Iranian authorities earlier reported “unsuccessful” drone attack

TEHRAN: Iran has accused Iraq-based Kurdish groups of being “involved” in a drone attack last week against a defense ministry site in the central province of Isfahan, Iranian media reported Wednesday.
“Parts of the drones that attacked the workshop complex of the defense ministry in Isfahan, along with explosive materials, were transferred to Iran with the participation and guidance of the Kurdish anti-revolutionary groups based in Iraq’s Kurdistan region,” Nour news agency said.
Iranian authorities reported an “unsuccessful” drone attack late Saturday that targeted a defense ministry “workshop complex” in Isfahan province, home to the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility.
An anti-aircraft system destroyed one drone and two others exploded, the defense ministry said, adding that there were no casualties and only minor damage to the site.
Nour charged that Kurdish groups brought the drone parts and explosive materials into Iran from “one of the hardly accessible routes in the northwest” upon “the order of a foreign security service.”
The news agency, considered close to the Islamic republic’s Supreme National Security Council, did not specify which country’s security service it accused of being behind the attack. It said the drone parts were delivered to the “service’s liaison in a border city.”
“The parts and materials have been assembled and used for sabotage in an advanced workshop by trained forces,” Nour said.
Some Western media have blamed the attack on Iran’s arch foe Israel.
Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region hosts camps and rear-bases operated by several Iranian Kurdish rebel groups, which Iran has accused of serving Western or Israeli interests in the past.
In November, Iran launched cross-border missile and drone strikes against several of the groups in Iraq, accusing them of stoking the nationwide protests triggered by the death in custody in September of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini.


Eight rockets fired at Turkish base in Iraq

Eight rockets fired at Turkish base in Iraq
Updated 01 February 2023

Eight rockets fired at Turkish base in Iraq

Eight rockets fired at Turkish base in Iraq
  • Iraqi contractor in the base was wounded
  • No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack

IRBIL, Iraq: Unidentified attackers fired eight rockets at a Turkish military base in northern Iraq on Wednesday, two of which landed inside the facility, the Counter-Terrorism Group, a security organization in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, said.
A Turkish security source said the attack had caused no damage and there were no casualties in the base, without going into further detail.
An Iraqi security source who declined to be identified said an Iraqi contractor in the base had been wounded.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in the early hours on the Zilkan base, which hosts Turkish troops in Ninevah province of northern Iraq.
Turkiye has been carrying out operations in Iraq for decades against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has bases in the region. It is designated a terrorist group by Turkiye, the United States, and the European Union.
The group launched an insurgency in southeast Turkiye in 1984 in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.


Abbas succession battle could ‘collapse’ Palestinian Authority: Think tank

Abbas succession battle could ‘collapse’ Palestinian Authority: Think tank
Updated 01 February 2023

Abbas succession battle could ‘collapse’ Palestinian Authority: Think tank

Abbas succession battle could ‘collapse’ Palestinian Authority: Think tank
  • Abbas heads the PA, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah, the secular political movement founded by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The future battle to succeed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas could trigger “mass protest, repression” and the outright collapse of the Palestinian Authority, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said Wednesday.
The think tank released its forecast a day after the aging and increasingly unpopular 87-year-old Abbas met in Ramallah with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was in the region to urge calm amid a spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Given Abbas’s age and persistent rumors about his poor health, speculation on his successor is common in the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority (PA) is based.
The Brussels-based ICG predicted in its report that “elections based on legal procedures” were “the least likely” outcome when Abbas vacates the presidency.
Abbas heads the PA, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah, the secular political movement founded by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Abbas was elected president after Arafat died in 2004. Palestinians have had no presidential elections since.
The report says Abbas, who has been unwilling to designate a successor, has also “hollowed out or disabled the institutions and procedures that would otherwise decide who will take his place.”
It is therefore “unclear who will succeed him, and by what process,” ICG said, warning of a possible “descent into mass protest, repression, violence and even the PA’s collapse.”
According to the report, any last-ditch effort to name a successor to ease a transition process “would go awry.”
Abbas has repeatedly called off plans to hold presidential polls, as recently as 2021 when he scrapped scheduled elections citing Israel’s refusal to allow voting in annexed east Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their future capital.
Palestinian experts widely suspected Abbas backed away from the polls over fears Fatah would be trounced by Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.

While Abbas has not named a successor, he has elevated PA civil affairs minister Hussein Al-Sheikh, who he tapped for the number two spot in the PLO.
The ICG report names Sheikh and PA intelligence chief Majid Faraj as possible successors.
Though the two men hold significant power within the PA and are seen as able to work with the international community, the report notes “neither has been able to win much support in Palestinian society.”
It identifies second-tier “would-be successors,” among them Palestinian Football Association chief Jibril Rajoub, prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh and Mohammed Dahlan, a former Gaza security chief exiled to the United Arab Emirates after falling out with Abbas.
“Each of these men has his own network,” the report says, but none “could stand on his own.”