Internet disruption reported in southeast Iran amid unrest

A woman uses a smartphone while standing along a street in the Iranian capital Tehran on November 23, 2019. (AFP/File)
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Updated 28 February 2021

Internet disruption reported in southeast Iran amid unrest

  • Crowds with light arms and grenade launchers descended on Kurin checkpoint near Iran’s border with Pakistan on Thursday
  • The Iranian government previously has cut off internet access and cellphone service in tense times

DUBAI: Iran’s impoverished southeast has been experiencing wide disruptions of internet services, experts said, as unrest gripped the remote province after fatal border shootings.
Several rights groups reported in a joint statement that authorities shut down the mobile data network in the restive province of Sistan and Balochistan, calling the disruptions an apparent “tool to conceal” the government’s harsh crackdown on protests convulsing the area
The reports of internet interference come as Iranian authorities and semiofficial news agencies increasingly acknowledge the turmoil challenging local authorities in the southeast — a highly sensitive matter in a country that seeks to repress all hints of political dissent.
Starting Wednesday, the government shut down the mobile data network across Sistan and Balochistan, where 96% of the population accesses the internet only through their phones, rights groups said, crippling the key communication tool.
After four days of unverified “localized regional network disruptions” amid the protests, NetBlocks, which monitors worldwide internet access, confirmed a new disruption to internet connectivity in the province beginning late Saturday.
“This is Iran’s traditional response to any kind of protest,” Amir Rashidi from Miaan Group, a human rights organization that focuses on digital security in the Middle East, told The Associated Press on Saturday. “Shutting down the internet to block news and pictures getting out makes (authorities) feel more comfortable opening fire.”
The week saw a series of escalating confrontations between police and protesters. Crowds with light arms and grenade launchers descended on Kurin checkpoint near Iran’s border with Pakistan on Thursday, Abouzar Mehdi Nakhaie, the governor of Zahedan, the provincial capital, said in comments carried by Iran’s semiofficial ISNA news agency. The violence killed one policeman, he added.
Earlier this week, protesters attacked the district governor’s office and stormed two police stations in the city of Saravan, outraged over the shootings of fuel smugglers trying to cross back into Iran from Pakistan on Monday. The border shootings and ensuing clashes killed at least two people, the government said. Many rights activists in the area reported higher death tolls without offering evidence.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, vowed Friday to investigate the deaths. Officials insisted that calm had returned to the streets.
The Iranian government previously has cut off internet access and cellphone service in tense times. In the fall of 2019, for instance, Iran imposed a near nationwide internet blackout as anti-government protests sparked by an increase in fuel prices roiled the capital of Tehran and other cities. Hundreds were reportedly killed in the crackdown nationwide.
Given that authorities targeted the mobile network and not the landline in Sistan and Balochistan, the disruption likely wouldn’t appear on regular network data, said Mahsa Alimardani, researcher at Article 19, an international organization that fights censorship. The area already suffered from unreliable internet connections.
"This targeted shutdown was very intentional because they knew the realities of this province,” where people are poor and use cheap phones as opposed to computers, Alimardani said.
Sistan and Balochistan is one of most unstable and least developed parts of Iran. The relationship between its predominantly Sunni residents and Iran’s Shiite theocracy long has been fraught. A low-level violent insurgency in Sistan and Balochistan involves several militant groups, including those demanding more autonomy for the region.
The area also lies on a major trafficking route for drugs and petrol, which is highly subsidized in Iran and a key source of income for smugglers.


NATO forces will leave together from Afghanistan, Blinken says

Updated 50 min 36 sec ago

NATO forces will leave together from Afghanistan, Blinken says

  • NATO foreign and defense ministers will discuss their plans later on Wednesday via video conference

BRUSSELS: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that it was time for NATO allies to withdraw from Afghanistan and that the alliance would work on an adaptation phase, after Washington announced plans to end America’s longest war after two decades.
“I am here to work closely with our allies, with the (NATO) secretary-general, on the principle that we have established from the start: In together, adapt together and out together,” Blinken said in a televised statement at NATO headquarters.
NATO foreign and defense ministers will discuss their plans later on Wednesday via video conference.


Queen returns to royal duties after death of Prince Philip

Updated 14 April 2021

Queen returns to royal duties after death of Prince Philip

  • Prince Philip died at the age of 99
  • The royal family is observing two weeks of mourning

LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II has returned to royal duties, four days after the death of her husband, Prince Philip.

The 94-year-old British monarch attended a retirement ceremony for a senior royal official on Tuesday, according to the Court Circular, the official record of royal engagements.

The royal family is observing two weeks of mourning for Philip, who died Friday at the age of 99. The palace has said members of the royal family will “undertake engagements appropriate to the circumstances” during the mourning period.

The queen attended a ceremony at Windsor Castle for Lord Chamberlain Earl Peel, who has retired as the royal household’s most senior official. He oversaw arrangements for the funeral of Prince Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, until handing over to his successor days before the duke’s death.

Philip’s funeral will take place Saturday at Windsor Castle, with attendance limited to 30 because of coronavirus restrictions.

Servicemen and women from the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and Royal Air Force will take part in the funeral procession, and Philip’s coffin will be borne to St. George’s Chapel at the castle on a specially adapted Land Rover, which he designed himself.


Russia seeking to ‘provoke’ in Ukraine conflict: Germany

Updated 14 April 2021

Russia seeking to ‘provoke’ in Ukraine conflict: Germany

  • The growing Russian presence at the Ukrainian border has caused concern in the West in recent days

BERLIN: Germany on Wednesday accused Russia of seeking provocation with its troop build-up along the border with Ukraine.
“My impression is that the Russian side is trying everything to provoke a reaction,” German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told ARD public television.
“Together with Ukraine, we won’t be drawn into this game,” she added.
The growing Russian presence at the Ukrainian border has caused concern in the West in recent days, with the United States saying that troop levels are at their highest since 2014, when war first broke out with Moscow-backed separatists.
Moscow has said it sent troops to its western borders for combat drills because of “threats” from transatlantic alliance NATO.
But Kramp-Karrenbauer voiced doubt at Moscow’s claim.
“If it is a maneuver like the Russian side says, there are international procedures through which one can create transparency and trust,” she said, adding that Germany was monitoring developments very closely.
Ukraine has so far reacted in a “sober” manner, said the minister, stressing that NATO stands by Kiev’s side.
“We are committed to Ukraine, that is very clear,” she said.
At the same time, she said, it is also clear that Moscow “is just waiting for a move, so to speak, from NATO, to have a pretext to continue its actions.”


Somali president signs law extending mandate for two years

Updated 14 April 2021

Somali president signs law extending mandate for two years

  • Somalia’s lower house of parliament on Monday voted to extend the president’s mandate — which expired in February
  • The new law paves the way for a one-person, one-vote election in 2023

MOGADISHU: Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has signed a controversial law extending his mandate for another two years, despite threats of sanctions from the international community.
State broadcaster Radio Mogadishu said the president, better known by his nickname Farmajo, had “signed into law the special resolution guiding the elections of the country after it was unanimously passed by parliament.”
Somalia’s lower house of parliament on Monday voted to extend the president’s mandate — which expired in February — after months of deadlock over the holding of elections in the fragile nation.
However the speaker of the Senate slammed the move as unconstitutional, and the resolution was not put before the upper house, which would normally be required, before being signed into law.
Speaker Abdi Hashi Abdullahi said it would “lead the country into political instability, risks of insecurity and other unpredictable situations.”
Farmajo and the leaders of Somalia’s five semi-autonomous federal states had reached an agreement in September that paved the way for indirect parliamentary and presidential elections in late 2020 and early 2021.
But it fell apart as squabbles erupted over how to conduct the vote, and multiple rounds of talks have failed to break the impasse.
The new law paves the way for a one-person, one-vote election in 2023 — the first such direct poll since 1969 — which Somalis have been promised for years and no government has managed to deliver.
A presidential election was due to have been held in February. It was to follow a complex indirect system used in the past in which special delegates chosen by Somalia’s myriad clan elders pick lawmakers, who in turn choose the president.

The international community has repeatedly called for elections to go ahead.
The United States, which has been Somalia’s main ally in recovering from decades of civil war and fighting Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists, said Tuesday it was “deeply disappointed” in the move to extend Farmajo’s mandate.
“Such actions would be deeply divisive, undermine the federalism process and political reforms that have been at the heart of the country’s progress and partnership with the international community, and divert attention away from countering Al-Shabab,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement.
He said the implementation of the bill would compel the US to “re-evaluate our bilateral relations... and to consider all available tools, including sanctions and visa restrictions, to respond to efforts to undermine peace and stability.”
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also threatened “concrete measures” if there was not an immediate return to talks on the holding of elections.
A coalition of opposition presidential candidates said in a joint statement that the decision was “a threat to the stability, peace and unity” of the country.
In February some opposition leaders attempted to hold a protest march, which led to an exchange of gunfire in the capital.
Somalia has not had an effective central government since the collapse of Siad Barre’s military regime in 1991, which led to decades of civil war and lawlessness fueled by clan conflicts.
The country also still battles the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab Islamist militant group which controlled the capital until 2011 when it was pushed out by African Union troops.
Al-Shabab retains parts of the countryside and carries out attacks against government, military and civilian targets in Mogadishu and regional towns.
Somalia still operates under an interim constitution and its institutions, such as the army, remain rudimentary, backed up with international support.
The 59-year-old Farmajo — whose nickname means cheese — was wildly popular when he came to power in 2017.
The veteran diplomat and former prime minister who lived off and on for years in the United States had vowed to rebuild a country that was once the world’s most notorious failed state, and fight corruption.
However observers say he became mired in feuds with federal states in a bid for greater political control, hampering the fight against Al-Shabab, which retains the ability to conduct deadly strikes both at home and in the region.


LEGO’s heart-warming Ramadan greeting goes wrong as toymaker mistakes holy month for Eid

Updated 14 April 2021

LEGO’s heart-warming Ramadan greeting goes wrong as toymaker mistakes holy month for Eid

  • Despite the fact that Ramadan has been observed each year for more than 14 centuries, a few companies are still mistaking the holy month of Ramadan for Eid Al-Fitr
  • The picture attached with the LEGO congratulatory Ramadan tweet displayed a text showing “Eid Mubarak” instead of Ramadan Kareem

LONDON: Every year just before Ramadan begins, congratulations and greetings are widely circulated to family, friends, employees and the general public to celebrate the commencement of the holy month.

Some businesses make use of this celebratory period by sending out Ramadan greetings while simultaneously marketing their products. Yet, despite the fact that Ramadan has been observed each year for more than 14 centuries, a few companies are still mistaking the holy month of Ramadan for Eid Al-Fitr, the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan.

Indeed, on the first day of Ramadan this year, the toy company, LEGO, tweeted what is likely intended to be a Ramadan greeting that reads: “Make it a celebration to remember with a LEGO set and open the door to quality family time spent together.”

So far so good, right? Well not necessarily, because the picture attached with the tweet displayed a text showing “Eid Mubarak” instead of Ramadan Kareem, or any other traditional Ramadan greeting.

Although people were not hugely disturbed by the mistake, most comments on the greeting acknowledged the effort from the part of LEGO, but highlighted that Eid is not due for another 30 days.