Iran's Rouhani urges Pakistan to act against group behind border attack

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani. (AP)
Updated 10 March 2019
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Iran's Rouhani urges Pakistan to act against group behind border attack

  • A suicide bomber killed 27 members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards in mid-February on Pak-Iran border
  • Militant group Jaish al Adl (Army of Justice) claimed responsibility for the attack

DUBAI: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called on Saturday for "decisive" action by Pakistan against a militant group behind a deadly suicide attack in a border area, saying failure to act could jeopardise relations.
Iran's state news agency IRNA said Rouhani's remarks were made during a telephone conversation with neighbouring Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan, who said he would soon have "good news" for Iran, according to the report.
A suicide bomber killed 27 members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards in mid-February in a southeastern region where security forces are facing a rise in attacks by militants from the Sunni Muslim minority.
The Sunni group Jaish al Adl (Army of Justice), which says it seeks greater rights and better living conditions for the ethnic Baluchi minority, claimed responsibility for the attack.
"We are awaiting your decisive operations against these terrorists," IRNA quoted Rouhani as telling Khan.
"We should not allow decades of friendship and fraternity between the two countries to be affected by the actions of small terrorist groups, the source of whose financing and arms is known to both of us," Rouhani said.
Iran has blamed its regional rival Saudi Arabia and arch-enemies Israel and the United States for the attack and other cross-border raids, an accusation rejected by the countries.
Khan said Pakistani forces had come close to the attackers' hideout and there would soon be "good news" for Iran, IRNA reported.
"It is in Pakistan's own interest not to allow our territory to be used by terrorist groups, and the Pakistani army is prepared to confront the terrorists more decisively with the information provided by Iran," IRNA quoted Khan as saying.
Revolutionary Guards commanders have vowed to retaliate for the attack, and Rouhani said on Saturday that Iranian forces were "ready to give a decisive answer to the terrorists in coordination with Islamabad," IRNA reported.
In September, the Revolutionary Guards fired missiles at an Iraqi-based Iranian Kurdish dissident group that killed at least 11 people in an attack in a western border area.
In October, Iran fired missiles at Islamic State militants in Syria, whom it blamed for an attack that killed 25 people on its soil.


Egypt begins vote on extending El-Sisi’s rule

Updated 20 April 2019
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Egypt begins vote on extending El-Sisi’s rule

  • El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital
  • Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms.

CAIRO: Voting began on Saturday in Egypt in a referendum on proposed constitutional amendments that would extend President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi's rule.
El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital, state television showed.  

Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms. Critics say they fear that the changes will further limit the space for dissent. 

An amendment to Article 140 of the constitution extends the presidential term to six years from four. An outright bar on any president serving more than two terms will change to a bar on serving more than two consecutive terms. An additional clause extends El-Sisi’s current term to six years from four currently since his election victory in 2018, and allows him to run for a third term in 2024. 

The amendments provide for the creation of a second parliamentary chamber known as the Council of Senators. It would have 180 members, two-thirds elected by the public and the rest appointed by the president. 

Article 200 of the constitution on the role of the military is expanded, giving the military a duty to protect “the constitution and democracy and the fundamental makeup of the country and its civil nature, the gains of the people and the rights and freedoms of individuals.” 

The amendments also create the post of vice president, allowing the president to appoint one or more deputies. 

They task the president with choosing head judges and the public prosecutor from a pool of senior candidates pre-selected by the judiciary. They further create a quota setting women’s representation in Parliament at a minimum of 25 percent. 

Who is behind the amendments? 

The amendments were initiated by the pro-government parliamentary bloc known as Support Egypt, and according to the Parliament’s legislative committee report, 155 members submitted the initial proposal. On Tuesday, 531 out of 596 members of Egypt’s overwhelmingly pro-El-Sisi Parliament voted in favor of the changes. Parliament speaker Ali Abdelaal has said that the amendments were a parliamentary initiative and that El-Sisi may not even choose to run again. 

“This suggestion came from the representatives of the people in gratitude for the historic role played by the president,” the legislative committee report said. 

Proponents of the changes have argued that El-Sisi, a former army chief, came to power with a huge mandate after mass protests in 2013 against President Mohamed Mursi’s one year in office. With macro economic indicators improving, they say El-Sisi deserves more time to build on reforms. The legislative committee report said religious, academic, political and civil society representatives expressed strong overall support for the changes during a consultation period ahead of the Parliament’s final vote. 

What do opponents say? 

The legislative committee acknowledged some opposition to the amendments from members of the judiciary and two non-governmental organizations. Just 22 members of Parliament voted against the amendments. They and other opposition figures say a central promise of the 2011 uprising that toppled then-President Hosni Mubarak is at risk: The principle of the peaceful transfer of power. They say the amendments were driven by El-Sisi and his close entourage, and by the powerful security and intelligence agencies. They also fear the changes thrust the armed forces into political life by formally assigning them a role in protecting democracy. 

“If you want your children and grandchildren to live in a modern democratic country with peaceful transition of power, I do not think this is the amendment we would want,” one of the opposition MPs, Haitham El-Hariri, told Parliament this week. 

While Abdelaal said a wide range of views were given a hearing during the consultation period, opposition figures and activists say genuine debate on the amendments was impossible due to a far-reaching crackdown on political dissent. 

Egyptian officials deny silencing dissent and say that Egyptians from all walks of life were given a chance to debate the amendments, adding that all views were factored into the final proposals. Abdelaal also denied that the amendments prescribe a new role for the military. 

He told Parliament that the armed forces are the backbone of the country and Egypt is “neither a military or a religious state,” state-run Al Ahram newspaper said. “This is part of (El-Sisi’s) consolidation of power,” said Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent US-based think-tank. “From an institutional perspective, Egypt’s counter-revolution is largely complete.” 

What happens next?

Egyptians abroad start voting on Friday, while the vote inside Egypt begins on Saturday, meaning Egyptians have less than four days to read and discuss the changes following their approval by Parliament. Election commissioner Lasheen Ibrahim, who announced the dates of the referendum on Wednesday, did not say when the votes will be counted or the results announced. More than a week before Parliament’s final vote, posters and banners sprung up across the capital Cairo urging people to “do the right thing” and participate, some calling directly for a “yes” vote.