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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Rouhani acknowledges Iranian discontent as protests continue” was written by Saeed Kamali Dehghan Iran correspondent, for The Guardian on Sunday 31st December 2017 19.09 UTC

Iranian authorities have threatened a crackdown against protesters and scrambled to block social media apps allegedly used to incite unrest as the biggest demonstrations in nearly a decade continued for a fourth day.

People across Iran took to the streets again on Sunday evening in defiance of a heavy presence of riot police and state warnings to stay away.

The demonstrations began over economic grievances on Thursday but have since taken on a political dimension, with unprecedented calls for the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to step down.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, in his first comments about the protests, aired on national television on Sunday night, said “people have the right to criticise”, but said the authorities would not tolerate antisocial behaviour. He said criticism was “different from violence and destroying public properties”.

Officials said they arrested at least 200 people during demonstrations in central Tehran on Saturday. It was not clear how many were arrested in the provinces, which saw protests on a bigger scale than the capital. Two protesters were killed in western Iran on Saturday.

The protests are the biggest in Iran since 2009, when demonstrators called for the removal of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president after what they regarded as his fraudulent re-election.

Videos posted on social media from Saturday night in Tehran showed protesters taking down large banners depicting the ayatollah’s image, in acts of resistance rarely seen since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

One video showed demonstrators taking down an image of the leader of Iran’s powerful Quds force, Qassem Suleimani, who is spearheading Iran’s involvement in regional affairs, particularly the war in Syria.

Rouhani, urging the nation to be vigilant, acknowledged that people were unhappy about the state of economy, corruption and a lack of transparency. “People are allowed under the constitution to criticise or even protest but […] in a way that at the end they lead to a better situation in the country for the people,” he said.

Condemning the US president, Donald Trump, who has voiced support for the protests, Rouhani said: “This gentleman who today sympathises with our people has forgotten that a few months ago he called us a terrorist nation. The one who has opposed the Iranian nation from his head to his toe has no right to express sympathy for people of Iran.”

On Sunday Trump tweeted that “people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism”, adding that the US was “watching very closely for human rights violations”.

Earlier in the day, Iran’s interior minister, Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazil, said authorities would not tolerate the “spreading of violence, fear and terror”, which he said would “definitely be confronted”.

“Those who damage public property, disrupt order, people’s security and break the law must be responsible for their behaviour and should answer and pay the price,” he said, according to the website of the state broadcaster Irib.

The broadcaster said authorities had blocked Instagram and the messaging app Telegram, which is the most popular social networking platform in Iran, citing an anonymous source who said the move was “in line with maintaining peace and security of the citizens”. Authorities said the filtering was temporary.

It’s hard to overstate the power of Telegram in Iran. Of its 80m population, an estimated 40m use the free app created by Russian national Pavel Durov. Its clients share videos and photos, subscribing to groups where everyone from politicians to poets broadcast to fellow users.

While authorities ban social media websites like Facebook and Twitter and censor others, Telegram users can say nearly anything. In the last presidential election, the app played a big role in motivating turnout and spreading political screeds.

Telegram touts itself as being highly encrypted and allows users to set their messages to “self-destruct” after a certain period, making it a favourite among activists and others concerned about their privacy. That too has made it a worry of Iranian authorities.

A channel run by an exiled journalist, Roohallah Zam, helped organise some of those who took to the street, including times and locations for protests, and was suspended by Durov after Iranian authorities complained that it was inciting violence.

Zam, who denies the allegations, responded by launching new channels to spread messages about upcoming protests before the government ordered the app shut down. 

Telegram’s CEO, Pavel Durov, said it had blocked access to the popular Amadnews channel after it had “started to instruct their subscribers to use Molotov cocktails against police”.

A source in Iran told the Guardian the state had started blocking access to Telegram, but it was not covering all provinces yet.

Authorities said two protesters were killed in the western province of Lorestan on Saturday, but denied it was the result of clashes between demonstrators and riot police.

The deputy governor for Lorestan, Habibollah Khojastehpour, said police and security guards had not opened fire, and instead blamed “Takfiri groups” – Iran’s term for Sunni extremists – and foreign intelligence services. “Unfortunately in these clashes two citizens from [the city of] Doroud were killed,” he said.

Iran protests new version

Many senior figures within the reformist camp and the opposition Green movement remain perplexed as to how to respond to the current wave of unrest. The sharp nature of some of the slogans, which have challenged the foundations of the Islamic republic, has left them mute.

There have been anti-Khamenei chants such as “Death to the dictator” and slogans opposing Iran’s regional policy, including “Let go of Syria, think about us” and “I give my life for Iran, not Gaza, not Lebanon”.

There were also nostalgic slogans in support of the monarchy and the late shah, as well as some with a nationalistic nature, including “We are of Aryaee [Aryan] race, we don’t worship Arabs.” Relatively fewer chants were heard in support of two opposition leaders under house arrest, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

Some videos showed protesters apparently setting bins on fire and trying to break into government buildings. The semi-official Tasnim news, which is close to the elite Revolutionary Guards, published a photo that it said showed a protester setting fire to the Iranian flag. There were chants of “Death to the Revolutionary Guards” in at least one city.

Many Iranians are sceptical about how the protests have spread so quickly. One prominent senior reformist commentator, Hamidreza Jalaipour, said reformists were opposed to protests instigated by “advocates of regime change”, implying that the new wave of protests was not spontaneous.

A protester from Tehran University told the Guardian by phone that although students were puzzled about how the protests were organised and spreading so quickly, they were not “getting leads from anyone”.

Ali Vaez, Iran project director at International Crisis Group, called the protests “an explosion of the Iranian people’s pent-up frustrations over economic and political stagnation”, but he said: “This is neither a revolution nor a movement.”

Vaez said: “Given its lack of leadership, organisation and mission, it is likely to peter out or will be quelled. The Rouhani administration has two options: it can follow the example of its predecessors ([Ali Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani after the protests of the early 1990s and [Mohammad] Khatami after the 1999 student uprising) and opt for a more cautious path, or capitalise on public discontent to push the system towards more genuine reforms. That choice will ultimately determine the Islamic Republic’s fate.”

Iranian conservatives, while acknowledging ordinary people were protesting for what they said were mainly economic reasons, accused foreign powers of inciting violence and exploiting the situation.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Donald Trump Jr tests positive for Coronavirus

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President Donald Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr has tested positive for Coronavirus.

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Polls start to close as an unprecedented campaign comes to an end

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The first polls are closing as millions of Americans vote on the electoral fates of President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, who offered sharply divergent visions for the future amid a Covid-19 pandemic that shows no sign of abating.

Voting has closed in eastern Kentucky and parts of Indiana at the start of an election night in which more than 100 million early and mail-in ballots have already been cast.

At the end of what has been a remarkably stable race, the President crossed the finish line after a frenetic sprint across the battleground states, during which he continued to undermine the integrity of the election by falsely raising the specter of cheating in the possible tipping point state of Pennsylvania. He painted a dark portrait of what America could look like under a Biden administration, claiming that the former vice president would trigger an economic collapse with extended lockdowns to stamp out the virus.

After months of refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power and repeatedly lodging false claims about widespread voter fraud — when there is no evidence that it exists — the President gave a more muted interview to “Fox & Friends” Tuesday morning, predicting that he had a “very solid chance of winning” and said he would declare victory “when there’s victory, if there’s victory,” adding there is no reason to play games. He later visited Republican National Committee offices in northern Virginia and predicted a “great night ahead,” but also reflected the uncertainty of Election Day, saying he had prepared neither a victory speech nor a concession speech.

“Hopefully we’ll be only doing one of those two and you know, winning is easy. Losing is never easy. Not for me it’s not,” he said.

Speaking with reporters Tuesday afternoon, Biden reminisced about the lessons he has learned over nearly five decades in politics and said that he was hopeful about the changes he has seen in race relations and political engagement. In response to Trump’s efforts to undermine the election, he underscored his view that a president cannot determine the outcome of an election — only the voters can.

Biden ended his final day of campaigning on a more optimistic note, promising to unite the country and calling it the “beginning of a new day.” On Tuesday morning, he sought to remind Americans of his blue-collar roots with a visit to his childhood home in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he was surrounded by supporters on the street outside who chanted “Scranton loves Joe.”

Inside on one of the living room walls where he grew up, he wrote: “From this House to the White House with the Grace of God,” signing his name and the date “11.3.2020,” before heading to Philadelphia where the campaign is hoping to drive up turnout in the final hours.

Historic amount of early votes

Across the country, officials were counting the more than 100 million votes that were cast before Election Day, according to a survey of election officials by CNN, Edison Research and Catalist. Those early votes represent more than 47% of registered voters nationwide and six states crossed their 2016 threshold of ballots cast. Signs of an extraordinarily engaged electorate continued on Tuesday.

In an unprecedented move, which could indicate some mail-in votes are in danger of not reaching their destination in time to be counted, a federal judge in Washington ordered the US Postal Service to start sweeping all processing facilities by 3 p.m., including in parts of battleground states Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas, New Hampshire and Florida. Democrats had previously criticized the US Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump donor, for introducing reforms in the agency that they said could slow down the delivery of mail-in ballots.

Democrats are nervous about widespread slowdowns within the Postal Service system after budget cuts and staff shortages, which has led to intense scrutiny of DeJoy’s motivations. In the closing days of the campaign, Trump went so far as to suggest that vote counting extensions in Pennsylvania could be “physically dangerous.”

In Arizona, where the early ballots cast showed remarkably even levels of engagement by both Democrats and Republicans, long lines formed Tuesday morning in populous Maricopa County, which encompasses Phoenix and its suburbs, and also in Republican strongholds including Chandler, Glendale, Gilbert and Surprise.

Polls will begin closing at 6 p.m. ET but there are wide variations in ballot counting rules across the country. Florida, for example, has been tabulating early ballots under state rules, but some areas of Pennsylvania will not begin opening vote-by-mail ballots until Wednesday morning.

The economy Is the top issue on the minds of voters Tuesday, according to the preliminary results of a nationwide CNN exit poll. Those results are incomplete because Americans were still voting, but in those early measures about a third said the economy is the most critical issue. About 1 in 5 said racial inequality is the top issue and 1 in 6 said the coronavirus pandemic was most important to their vote. However, a majority said the nation should prioritize containing Covid-19 over rebuilding the economy.

Republicans have made a huge effort to invalidate ballots and limit voter turnout through legal challenges and questionable monitoring tactics that bordered on voter intimidation in some states. Trump spent his final days trying to cast aspersions on vote counting, insisting that a winner should be declared on Tuesday night, even though America has long counted ballots well into the days and weeks after Election Day.

The variation in counting procedures and the historic numbers of vote-by-mail ballots that must be opened and tabulated means that early night tallies after the polls close will not necessarily be predictive of the final results, in part because polls show that Democrats have favored mail-in ballots while many Republicans preferred to cast ballots in person on Election Day.

With Biden leading in many national and battleground state polls, the President’s team is counting on explosive Election Day turnout within the GOP and relying on their intensive, data-driven ground game to turn out quiet Trump voters, who they say have not been reflected in the polls.

A campaign of contrasts comes to an end

Trump plans to hold an election night gathering of some 250 people at the White House despite admonitions from the administration’s own medical experts against indoor gatherings at a time when coronavirus cases are rising in most states. Biden plans to address supporters in his home city of Wilmington, Delaware.

Through the bitter end of the campaign, Trump never moderated the angry, xenophobic tone of his rallies even as he faced alarming drops in his support among suburban women, seniors who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and even White working class voters with no college degrees who overwhelmingly supported him in 2016.

Biden’s team has been emboldened by signs of huge turnout among young voters, as polls suggest that he has built a massive lead among female voters while cutting into Trump’s margins with blue collar voters, particularly in the critical Midwest region. At the same time, the former vice president has not appeared to be matching Hillary Clinton’s levels of support among Latino voters and among Black men, leading to an intense final push by the Democratic team to turn out more of those voters for Biden.

As both campaigns eye multiple paths to 270 electoral votes, Biden must hold the swing states that Clinton won in 2016, including Nevada, Colorado, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and then, in the most viable scenario for the former vice president, rebuild the so-called “Blue Wall” in the Midwest that Trump blasted through in 2016 by retaking Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania for the Democrats.

That route appears most favorable for Biden because CNN’s Poll of Polls shows Biden’s current lead in Wisconsin at 10 points; a lead in Michigan at 9 points and a narrow advantage in Pennsylvania with 6 percentage points. If Biden is not able to flip Pennsylvania, he needs to create an alternative route to power through tighter battleground states in the Sun Belt, such as North Carolina, Florida, Georgia or Arizona.

Trump is facing a more difficult path to 270 electoral votes, but his team is confident that they have outmatched the Biden team with their ground game, particularly after the Democrats pulled back on their door-to-door canvassing efforts due to the pandemic.

The President is trying to replicate his 2016 map, but if he loses Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to Biden, he only has a theoretical path to the presidency by playing on Democratic turf where he campaigned this past week. Those paths could include Trump flipping Minnesota, a goal of his ever since a narrow loss in the state in 2016, or a combination of Nevada and New Hampshire.

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Trump Adviser Rudy Giuliani Captured In Compromising Position With Woman He Was Told Was A Reporter In ‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’

The forthcoming “Borat” sequel reportedly features Rudy Giuliani engaging in provocative behavior with a woman he’d been told was a reporter.

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(The Hill) — The forthcoming “Borat” sequel reportedly features Rudy Giuliani engaging in provocative behavior with a woman he’d been told was a reporter.

The adviser to President Trump appears to have unknowingly participated in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” the comedy starring Sacha Baron Cohen that is poised to be released Friday on Amazon Prime Video.

According to multiple reports, Giuliani sits down for an interview at a New York hotel with the character Tutar, Borat’s teenage daughter who’s posing as a TV journalist and was played by 24-year-old actress Maria Bakalova.

The 76-year-old former New York mayor is heard complimenting the supposed reporter and following her to a bedroom, where eventually he stretches out on the bed.

Vanity Fair describes the scene captured on hidden cameras, saying of Giuliani, “His hand is in his pants. Watching it, your brain turns into an exclamation point.”

Cohen, as Borat, then reportedly runs into the hotel room sporting a bikini and exclaiming, “She’s 15. She’s too old for you.”

Giuliani did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment.

He told the New York Post in July that he had agreed to participate in what he believed was an interview about the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response.

“This person comes in yelling and screaming,” Giuliani said of Cohen, “and I thought this must be a scam or a shake-down, so I reported it to the police. He then ran away.”

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